JOHNSTONE STRAIT — Mike Robson spent much of his youth on the deck or in the cabin of the M.V. Gikumi, but when he brought his seven-year-old son for his first trip aboard the boat, it turned out to be a new experience for both father and son.
“The Gikumi has changed a lot,” the soft-spoken Robson said after accepting an invitation from boat owners Jim and Mary Borrowman of Telegraph Cove for a whale-watching outing last week with his son, Theo, his wife Gayle and eight other passengers.
“They’ve done a great job with it.”
The wood boat was built in 1954 by Robson’s grandfather, Fred Wastell, who for decades ran the sawmill at Telegraph Cove.
One of four boats built by Wastell during his four-plus decades of business in the area, the Gikumi was used to haul logs and other supplies, and on occasion to take medical patients to the hospital in nearby Alert Bay.
Robson, the son of Wastell’s daughter, Bea, worked aboard the Gikumi each summer during his teen years. Last week’s outing gave him his first look at the reconfigured Gikumi, which has twice had both its cabin and wheelhouse expanded.
Inside, the stove is in the original location of the old cookstove, and the boat sports its original wheel, taken from a freighter that plied Vancouver Island in the 1880s, according to Borrowman. But little else was the same for Robson, who admired the polished wood, brass trim, white ceiling tiles and padded benches adorning the former “working boat.”
“We used to tow booms of logs, and also had loads of logs on the dock for delivery,” said Robson, whose well-known father, Jim, is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame after serving as the voice of the Vancouver Canucks on radio and television from the team’s inception in 1970 until 1999.
“The way this is laid out it’s so much better for groups.”
Robson took Theo down the steps to the remodeled belowdecks — “Are we underwater, dad?” the youngster asked — and reminisced with Borrowman in the wheelhouse.
“My grandfather used to steer with his feet, and sometimes he’d fall asleep in the chair,” Robson said. “I’d get nervous when we’d start getting close to land, but I was hesitant to wake him. He always woke up just in time.”
Borrowman, who first began leasing the Gikumi from Wastell in the late 1970s before buying the boat in the 1980s, remembered as well.
Showing Robson the placement of the pole behind his captain’s chair, Borrowman leaned back against the pole and placed his shoes on the wheel.
“We had to maintain some traditions,” Borrowman said.
Robson is appreciative of the Borrowmans’ restoration work on the Gikumi, which he said was “the jewel” of his grandfather’s fleet, particularly since nearly all traces of Wastell’s sawmill were removed to make way for Dockside 29, the long, two-story building of modern suites constructed by Telegraph Cove Venture in 2002 on the former sawmill site.
Robson was last in Telegraph Cove in 1997 for a family reunion, and got his first look at the complex last week.
“It was our understanding the new owners would keep part of the sawmill for a museum,” Robson said. “I guess things have to progress, but my grandfather would be disappointed.”
That makes the M.V. Gikumi one of the family’s last links to Telegraph Cove, and it did not disappoint during their visit.
Robson said his son had never seen a whale in the wild, but the sharp-eyed youngster was the first passenger to spot the spout of a humpback early into the excursion. With a large grin, Theo joined the other passengers on deck as the Gikumi exposed them to three more humpbacks, a trio of swimming sea lions, numerous Dall’s porpoises, a harbour seal, and, finally, the mother lode — a pod of transient killer whales.
Warming up in the cabin on the return trip, Theo was treated to a reading of The Rescue of Nanoose by Mary Borrowman.
Robson said the reading reminded him of an author presenting her own work, then chuckled when Borrowman pointed out she is the author.
At the end of the trip, she presented Theo with an autographed copy of the book.
Asked his favourite part of the trip, Theo replied, “Everything.”