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Learning Journey June 26-July 5th: Gambier Island & The Providence 1903


(Relaxing on the beach. First night on Gambier)


Well, it's a month tomorrow since I returned from my learning journey at Camp Fircom on Gambier Island, and on board The Providence 1903 vessel sailing the Southern Gulf Islands with Ocean Bridge. It was an incredible trip with an even more amazing group of individuals, and I will cherish all the memories we shared for many years to come. I thought I'd take some time to reflect on my trip and show some photos of my time during the learning journey.


Camp Fircom, Gambier Island

(Craigcroft Cabin, Gambier Island)


We started our journey from Horseshoe bay- it was like the first day of class when you excitedly get to home room and look around to see who else is in the class with you. A total of seven of us, we all hopped on the water taxi and began our journey to Camp Fircom. On the island, we stayed in the Craigcroft cabin where we had the entire cabin to ourselves. Stephen, my mentor, had the amazing recommendation of stacking the extra mattresses from the other bunks in the room onto our own beds, so I channeled my inner 'Princess and the Pea' and stacked all three up to form my own little nest. There may have been a few balancing acts while attempting to crawl into the bed, but all in all was a pretty cozy setup.


(Bedroom setup, Craigcroft Cabin)


Now, the weather report for my trip said it was going to be hot, and let me tell you it was SPICY hot. The first day we had some ice breaker games and get to know you style activities, but then we all decided to walk down to the beach and cool off. I guess this is the part where I need to get a bit deep for context, but I did have some anxiety surrounding this trip and being in/sailing on the ocean. As some of my friends and family know I have a condition known as cold urticaria (it's the fancy term for cold hives- basically temperatures around 3-6 degrees or so I develop hives and I carry an epi pen around in the event I fall into water/decide to move back to Alberta in the dead of winter, etc.). I've been a fish out of water since I was a kid, and when I got diagnosed it was very much a hard thing for me to work through (and I still am to be completely honest)- I don't talk about it a lot, but it's a very difficult thing to mentally work through developing a fear for one of the things you love the most. For the most part it's not something I need to worry about on a daily basis, but going on this trip I knew I would need to talk about it so everyone would understand why I wasn't getting in the water or perhaps not able to participate in some activities like kayaking. When we went down to the beach, everyone got in the water and I decided to wander along the beach and investigate the tide pools. Once I adventured around for a bit I decided to literally test the waters and dip my legs in to see if I'd react or not. I was able to wade up a little past my knees with no reaction! YAY! I haven't been in the ocean for a very long time, and a small step like that was a really nice start to the trip- later that night I did let everyone in the group know what was up regarding why they wouldn't see me in the water and they were really supportive and kind. At the beginning of the trip, we were individuals who didn't know anything about each other, but it progressed into this amazing little group where we all seemed to be able to open up and support one another by the end.


(The camp's beach, Gambier Island)


Days at the camp were really relaxing, but also involved some group discussions or activities, free time where I spent a lot of time down on the beach reading (highly recommend reading 'Into the Wild'- it was perfect for this trip), hiking, and just spending time with everyone. One of the hottest days of the trip we travelled up to the Cheakamus Centre in Squamish (https://www.cheakamuscentre.ca/) and I have to say this was one of the most cherished days of my trip. Matthew, Aura, and Henry were our guides for the day teaching us all about the Indigenous history of the area (including a game of 'double ball'), plant medicine, and even cedar weaving. I really enjoyed learning about the area, and although it was incredible hot out- they were very engaging and the experience has made me more aware of why it's essential to involve Indigenous history and knowledge in the conversation surrounding Stewardship. I hope to continue educating myself about these topics and bring that knowledge to my Action Project.


(750 year old Cedar Tree at Cheakamus Centre, Squamish)


The Providence 1903 Sailing Vessel


(The Providence vessel docked on Salt Spring)


For those of you who know me, I'm sure you've heard me refer to myself as a mermaid many times. Although joking (partly), I really do think a large part of me is tied to the ocean. HOWEVER, although I may be a mermaid...I must start this part of the sailing journey with an honest admission that I think I may be more of a harbour mermaid then an open ocean mermaid and soon you'll find out why. Halfway through the trip, we boarded on the sailing vessel known as 'The Providence' which is an incredible ship that was built in 1903 and is tied to a very interesting history...I won't be able to do it justice so click the link to see the in-depth history of where the boat came from, and its journey to what the ship is now (https://www.providence1903.com/history). We climbed on board and met the crew- Carson, Barry, and Sahara and started our journey sailing towards the Southern Gulf Islands. Now, I've never been on a boat like this. I briefly remember going on my uncle's sail boat when I was a kid, but this was like nothing I've ever experienced. Due to the whole fear of falling in the cold ocean and becoming the equivalent of a puffer fish from developing hives, I was VERY nervous about spending three days at sea since I didn't know what to expect and I'm usually a nervous nutcase climbing on a BC Ferries vessel, let alone an 80 foot sailing boat. The trip across the Georgia Straight was beautiful though, with the crew stopping the boat for people to hop in the ocean for a swim, music playing, and just a really picturesque crossing. We even stopped to collect a purple birthday balloon that was floating in the water (it had been there awhile since the one half had the colour rubbed off of it).


(Crossing the Georgia Straight on board The Providence)


The first night we docked at Gabriola Island and continued onto Salt Spring Island the next day where we completed our Stewardship activity- Carson, the Captain of The Providence, had a family member who has been working on restoring a local area and we were able to spend a few hours helping out.


(Shoreline Stewardship Activity, Saltspring Island) Photo credit: Stephen Foucalt


One of the most amazing things of our sailing trip is we got to experience going to all of these small islands which I had never even heard of- including 'Pirates Cove', an island which was inhabited by Edward Arthur Wilson (you may also know him as Brother XII) in the 1920's where he started a cult and inhabited the island. Rumour has it that the island contains gold which he buried throughout his time there. For those who plan to visit, one word of advice. Bring bug spray. We did a small hike...or what turned into a brisk walk/jog as we attempted to run from the swarms of mosquitos. It's a really neat island though, and even has camping available.


(Treasure box beside the Pirates Cove sign)


Our last night we dropped anchor in a small inlet and made pizza and had a kitchen party- I'll never hear 'Riptide' again without thinking of my time with Ocean Bridge. For most of the trip we slept below deck, however on our last night when we dropped anchor we slept outside and it was so quiet out there on the water, it was an amazing way to wrap up the sailing trip. Now. Back to explaining why I'm more of a harbour mermaid. After waking up so peacefully the morning of our departure, I decided to climb to the back of the boat where I once again fell into pure blissful sleep. I was awoken by one of the girls who warned me I should come up to the front of the boat as things were about to potentially get a bit rocky (Gaby, I owe you one for this!). I hiked my sleeping bag up and got to the front of the boat and you could see where the line of calm water was intersected with what would become our new rockin' and rollin' adventure. 3.5 hours later, we made it across the Georgia Straight and back to Gambier. I will say I was terrified, but the group was so amazing at trying to distract me and keep me calm. Everyone else seemed to be living their best lives during the crossing, so maybe it wasn't so bad (haha).


(Sitting on deck during the sail across the Georgia Straight) Photo credit: Unknown


The rest of the trip on Gambier was more relaxed- hiking, beach going, and more reading. I haven't really been on a real vacation for some time where you could just sit and relax, and it was exactly what I needed. I ended up polishing off 'Into the Wild' on our last day there and it was the perfect way to end the trip. As I reflect on the trip as a whole, I'm so grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Ocean Bridge Program. I've only met a fraction of the people involved in the Pacific Regional Team, but I am looking forward to meeting the rest of the cohort throughout the season and continuing to build connections with individuals who care about the ocean and the natural environment as much as I do. Something as short as a ten day trip has re-ignited my passion and love for our waterways and the organisms that live in them. I'm excited to build on this excitement through my Action Project and will keep you all updated on the adventures to come!


(Group photo on our last day of the trip) Photo credit: Stephen Foucalt


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