Updated: Apr 15, 2020
“We’re getting close,” BJ said, looking back, hoping to buoy Nate’s spirits.
Nate sat on the bench at the small table in the boat’s cabin, very much on the sidelines, detached, like the person that doesn’t want to try something and says “You go ahead. I’ll watch.”
BJ, meanwhile, was up front with his dad, grinning ear to ear, and talking excitedly. Mel had borrowed the old water taxi from a friend whose company had upgraded to bigger, faster vessels. “If you know anyone wanting to buy a nice little water taxi …” he said to Mel when he showed it to him at the Cow Bay docks.
They were hoping to see a whale along the way as North Coast waters are famous for its Killer Whales, Humpback Whales and porpoises, which often surprised local boaters and fishermen if they weren’t necessarily looking for them. BJ loved being with his dad, even though he had abandoned him and his mom before BJ had teeth and didn’t reappear for a visit until BJ was seven years old. “He had things to do,” BJ would always say.
Nate got it. Mel was “cool.” He was like your favorite carnival ride: fast, exhilarating, a whole lot of fun but, when he was gone, it was the end of that ride for quite some time. There was a period of disorientation for BJ, of suddenly not feeling so good, followed by quiet and sullenness. Because when Mel said, “just for awhile,” he meant it.
Mel geared the motor down as they approached the dock which, after hours of ocean and islands, was the first sign of civilization in this vast, sparsely populated area of British Columbia. Nate was relieved. Nate had lived by the ocean all his life, but he didn’t care much for being out on it. He didn’t mind lakes or being in Prince Rupert harbour on sunny, calm days. Taking a small boat to the village in near storm conditions, though, did not agree with him. Several times during the trip, Nate felt nauseous and a wave away from tossing his cookies. It was especially rough shortly after they had gotten out on the open ocean, where waves were at their highest and the boat was often literally pointed straight up or down on a wave. Nate was so certain that it would fall over backwards a couple of times, that he had quietly started making his peace with God.
But, every time he thought this could be it, that they were going to flip and die out on the ocean, he was calmed and assured by the sight of BJ’s dad at the wheel. Mel, who still fished in Vancouver, looked like his feet were glued to the floor, or he was in a protective bubble, as he showed no signs of struggling to keep his balance or of any fear that they might capsize. All he had to do, to complete the absurdity, was to start whistling.
As the village came into view through the ocean mist, like a poorly focused movie slowly becoming sharper, Nate audibly sighed with tremendous relief and BJ smiled at him, as if to say I told you it would be fine. Nate nodded with a sarcastic smirk, thinking, not quite.
The dock had seen better years, with one side of it tilting so badly that it was almost underwater. It looked like a tired and sad old dog and, if repairs weren’t made soon, it would submerge. The three other dock fingers that connected to the main dock didn’t look good either and there was a rickety old ramp leading to the road above. Numerous old boats kept the dock company. They were mostly trollers and gillnetters, and many of them were in disrepair, just sitting there, bobbing about, listless and vacant, obviously not having seen action for some time.
Gary was waiting at the dock, waving as the boat putt-putted its way in, gasping and wheezing like an overweight, older man who had ill-advisedly entered a 5-k run. Gary was a shadow in a hooded rain jacket, a lone sentry, as the dock was understandably empty on this dismal night. BJ and Mel were waving back, all smiles, like cruise ship passengers, while Nate looked more like a detainee, a prisoner being delivered to Alcatraz that the guards had taken great physical liberties with en route.
BJ grabbed the rope and enthusiastically jumped onto the dock to tie the boat up, clearly proud of the task, a responsibility Mel had allowed him. He did it with such intensity that it was almost as if he was letting Nate know that, as good a friend as he was, the BJ and Mel club was an exclusive one. It bothered Nate that he felt he had to make such a show of it.
Nate passed some groceries to BJ while Mel also carried some off. Mel groaned as he heaved himself up onto the dock and swore under his breath, having felt a burn behind his right kneecap. BJ glanced at him with concern but didn’t let Mel catch him looking. Injuries were a part of an old fisherman’s life, be it by a specific incident or accumulative effects, and they wanted no sympathy.
“How are you doing, you old boot?” Gary asked, shaking Mel’s hand, then laughing and hugging him.
“Pretty rough out there,” Mel answered as he pulled back from the hug, “But not a big deal.”
Nate carefully made his way off the boat and, once on the dock, stood still for a moment and took a deep breath, getting his bearings and relieved to be off the boat.
“You must be Nate,” Gary said, extending a hand.
Nate smiled and shook his hand.
“Enjoy the ride?”
Nate smiled weakly and let out a big breath, showing his relief to be on firm ground.
Gary nodded and looked to BJ. “What about you, BJ?”
“Wasn’t bad,” said BJ, throwing him a quick glance before finishing stacking two boxes that he intended to carry up the ramp.
“Here, you take that bag and I’ll take those,” said Gary but, before he could reach him, BJ had lifted the boxes – albeit with considerable strain – and said, “No, I got it.”
“You sure?” Gary asked.
“Oh yeah,” said BJ, starting to walk to the ramp.
Gary looked at Mel, who wanted to chuckle but, instead, he just smiled because they both had been there before: a boy trying to prove he wasn’t a boy anymore. Seizing Gary’s suggestion to BJ, Nate said, “I’ll take that bag” and threw it over his shoulder.
“You can help with this,” Mel said to Gary, grabbing one handle of a large tub, “And grab one of those too,” he added, nodding at one of two 24-packs of Lucky Lager beer.
Then, the four of them made their way up the ramp, like a hearty family making its way up the Chilcoot Pass, headed for the Yukon and the gold rush with their ton of supplies and food. And, while much shorter than the Pass, the going was treacherous as the wood was slick and many of the footings were either gone or broken.
When they were all at the truck, the cargo was slid into the bed and the boys took their spots in the small back seat area, which was a tight squeeze as there was sport fishing gear, a rifle, miscellaneous items and garbage (including several Oh Henry bar wrappers) strewn about it.
“Sorry,” smiled Gary as the boys struggled to settle down in back, adding “I meant to clean it out.”
As they set out, they immediately hit a pothole, startling Nate, who thought they were going to tip over. They hit several more potholes and Nate feared his head would hit the cab’s ceiling as Gary refused to slow down accordingly, despite the old Ford’s groans and squeaks of protest. The road was horrific, with craters scattered about it as if a giant had wandered about the village and pounded on it with a ball peen hammer. But, like they dealt with most misfortune and adversity, the locals accepted it and even made a game of it, seeing who could make it from one place to another suffering the fewest potholes. Gary said three was his best score from dock to home – daytime, of course. In the dark of night, all bets were off, although he could remember where the most devastating ones were.