All Aboard the Union Jack

A certified landlubber discovers the beauty of the B.C. coast aboard a heritage tugboat.

BC Coast - Union Jack Tugboat TourPhoto: Deborah Ashton-McColman
The Union Jack and another fine day in Desolation Sound.

Confessions of a Card-Carrying Landlubber

I am not a fan of being on the water. I’m convinced that sea monsters or some other evil is lurking under the surface to take down the boat that I am on. So trust me—the irony of me writing about my incredible adventures on B.C. waters last summer does not escape me. My adventure actually began seven years ago when my husband, Mark, and his friend, Neil, purchased a boat to help share their love of the water with others. I suppose that “others” also included me, an idea I fought against for, well, about seven years, until last summer.

“Trust me,” my husband said. “You’ll see. You might actually like it.”

For those of you who love the water, you will laugh at my hesitation when I tell you that this boat is an 80-foot wooden tugboat. Yes. 80 feet! And a tug. You cannot get any sturdier than this baby. Built in 1941, this vessel began by working the rivers, then was sent off to assist in the war. It has now been renovated for comfort and adventure—for anyone who is looking for magic on the seas. And apparently for those who aren’t. I hopped on board the Union Jack at the Vancouver Maritime Museum and joined my family, some friends and the crew, including a chef! The goal was to explore the B.C. coast for three weeks. To say that I was apprehensive was an understatement—just ask the chef who hugged me and told me that everything would be okay as we pushed off the dock. Our captain, Captain Drew, took us to the most fascinating places in our three weeks! We discovered an island with its feral sheep (what a sight that was!), swam in its warm waters and picnicked on its white sandy beaches.

BC Coast - View from ship's top deckPhoto: Deborah Ashton-McColman
Top deck outside Deborah’s room.

The Magic of the B.C. Coast

One morning, while enjoying my cup of coffee, Captain Drew called to me, “Head to the bow!” Oh, the magic! Pacific white dolphins were playing at our bow! Watching two, no three, no six dolphins playing at our bow was both magical and breathtaking. I was the only one at the bow to witness this beauty, this joy, this playfulness. My face hurt from smiling. My soul burst with joy. So much for sea monsters.

BC Coast - Desolation SoundPhoto: Deborah Ashton-McColman
View from above the waterfall at Teakerne Arm.

Serene Scenery

As we chug-a-lugged from one destination to another, I was amazed at the beauty of the B.C. coast. The greens, the blues, the sunsets, the sunrises, those stars—and most of all the silence, the stillness, the peace. I have never slept so well, ate so well, relaxed so much.

Oh, the food! I haven’t mentioned the food. It was so delicious! Salmon burgers for lunch—so good that I asked for one for breakfast the next day. The steaks were heavenly. And whatever she did to make her salad dressing—all I can say is she needs to talk to the hosts of Dragon’s Den and get that dressing on the grocery store shelves! Yummy!

BC Coast - Whale WatchingPhoto: Deborah Ashton-McColman

Wondrous Wildlife Encounters

One of my favourite days was the day that Captain Drew looked to his left and looked to his right and asked me, “Hey, Deb, left to watch the orcas or right to watch the humpbacks?” The previous version of me would have replied, “Drew, whichever one gets me to land the fastest.” That day, I exclaimed, “RIGHT!” What magical creatures all whales are, but watching those humpbacks feed was awe inspiring. Drew kept a respectful distance from the whales, and with our binoculars, we witnessed pure beauty. Drew invited Jackie Hildering (known as the “Marine Detective”) on board to educate us about the humpback whales that she researches. Her enthusiasm and her passion made me want to be a marine biologist. May I remind you that I am not supposed to like the water?

BC Coast - Teakerne Arm WaterfallPhoto: Deborah Ashton-McColman
Waterfall near Teakerne Arm.

Hidden Gems of the B.C. Coast

Then there was the day we went ashore at Teakerne Arm Provincial Park, walked past the top of a waterfall and swam in a freshwater lake. The water was refreshing and cool, and the snacks that were packed went down really well.

View From PortholePhoto: Deborah Ashton-McColman
View from the salon porthole.

We also visited Yorke Island, which was established as a coastal fort to protect Vancouver during the Second World War. We met a passionate historian who, as he toured us around the old buildings, shared the stories of the men who protected our coast. Once again, we encountered people passionate about the work they do and the area they protect.

BC Coast - Sunset in Desolation SoundPhoto: Deborah Ashton-McColman
Sunset in Desolation Sound.

While in Alert Bay, we stood on the grounds of St. Michael’s, a former residential school, and visited the U’mista Cultural Centre, which was both educational and gut wrenching. Learning about the history of Canadian Indigenous people through this centre broke my heart, but also increased my admiration for their resiliency; I was humbled and filled with respect.

Remote West Coast Adventures - Union Jack Heritage TugboatPhoto:

I’m in awe of the beauty and passion of the people who work and live on the B.C. coast. I also admire the courage of Mark and Neil, who embarked on a journey to share all of it aboard the Union Jack with Remote West Coast Adventures. Remember when Mark said, “Trust me. You might actually like it.”? Well, he was wrong. I loved it.

For more adventures on the B.C. coast, check out 25 reasons to visit Vancouver Island.

Originally Published in Our Canada