Probably one of the most interesting spots on North Island to watch marine wild life is on or near a group of unobtrusive little islands called the Stephenson Islets. There is really no reason for them to have such a low profile considering where they are situated; at the convergence of three of the most important marine traffic routes on the West Coast: Broughton Strait, Johnstone Strait and Weynton Passage, the connector between the former two and Queen Charlotte Strait.
I often wonder how the captains of the various cruise ships decide what course to take when they travel this part of The Inside Passage. When I am painting on or near one of these islets, there is a good view of many of these routes. Some vessels come down Broughton Strait, passing Port McNeill and Alert Bay on the way. Others will come eastward down Queen Charlotte Strait, keep going through Blackfish Sound and Blackney Passage and enter Johnstone Strait near Robson Bight. Many, however, veer sharply to the starboard from Queen Charlotte Strait, past Donegal Head and Stubbs Island to enter Johnstone Strait through Weynton Passage. Who knows what drives the whims of sea captains?
What I do know is that the wake of these monsters has several times nearly swamped my little craft, so if the weather and the tides are right I try to find a spot to paint on dry land right on one of these islands. The smallest ones are home to a myriad of animals and birds and one needs to respect their space. There are rookeries on a couple of them and you can expect to be dive-bombed if you come too near. Seals and, sometimes, sea lions make their base here as well and give the whale watching boats “something extra” for their customers.
The orca in this painting is a transient, typified by a more pointed fin and the fact that they eat mammals. Here he is going to check out the seals on one of the Stephensons. The land mark that “nails down” the location of this painting is the mountain in the background known locally as “The Elephant” because of its profile. Its real name, Mt. Holsworth, is not nearly as exciting!
The next time you are in a boat near these islands, perhaps on your way to your favourite fishing grounds, stop for a few moments, shut off your motor and just drift with the tide. The sounds you will hear are something that people from all over the world come here to experience. It is what kayaking or canoeing is all about, becoming aware of and using all your senses. Whoever invented the phrase “Take time to smell the roses” hasn’t smelled and listened to the open sea off the north end of Vancouver Island!
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