The Quest….  by Sheila Ann Robinson

A sailing trip in the Gulf Islands in September, with friends…. a delightful prospect to contemplate…..waters that can be glassy-calm or fiercely wind-roiled, salty air, classic coastal misty clouds nesting on dark green hills, lingering sunsets in quiet coves at anchorage, sleeping deeply to the rocking of the boat.  I muse, will there be wind or not, sun or not, rain or not, will we see whales? Shall I pack one pair of long underwear, or two?


This crew of five has done this before and knows the drill.  Which drill, you might ask?  Is it the packing, schlepping, unpacking and storing gear in the boat’s nooks and crannies?  Is it the chaotic trip to provision the crew for a week’s worth of meals and appropriate grog, and then dragging the groceries back to the boat? No, not those?  Then it must be the review of the navigation system, the ropes, oh, and those knots, how to get the knots right? No? Then what about the compulsory “man overboard” drill?  No?  No.  The drill, in fact, is in relation to a quest. Every hero and heroine’s journey requires a gallant quest, and no less so for a sailing trip in the magical realm of the BC coast.


You see, two of the three men aboard, one of whom is the Captain, and “the Captain rules”, are of British stock, one English and one Welsh.  And they require sweets with their morning and afternoon tea breaks, and my goodness, what is dinner without pudding?  Not that the rest of us object, mind you.  Thus, the guiding quest is for home baked goods to fuel the crew’s needs and wants.  And these goods are to be sourced from homes, farmers markets and shops in small towns and villages along the route. Indeed this quest has been known to drive some, if not all, of a sailing itinerary.  For not fulfilling this quest might have dire consequences, mateys!


The last time this crew was assembled 2 years ago, it was June, a different season and a different set of islands, but the same magical realm. The quest then was for cinnamon buns. A very productive two weeks, as I recall, judging by the poundage put on.   This time it is September, a decidedly different season, a season abundant in ripe fruit.  Thus the quest is for Pie…. lots of Pie.  


So you might ask what does the drill look like? Well, on first provisioning, one has to settle for laying in “good cookies” to tide the crew over until the first opportunity for sourcing real pie.  Once under sail, the quest is really on, a grave responsibility, unknown terrain and perhaps potential danger; we shall not be daunted!


Our first landfall is Van Ander, on Texada island, not the most picturesque of islands. Abandoned rusted equipment lying about reflects a bygone era of mining, and we understand it is one that may be revived.  Nonetheless, Cap’n Dave recalls that there is a “Pie Lady” afoot on this island; he can’t remember her name or exactly where she lives, but by gum, we’ll find her!  So we tie up and off we go, the five of us, trekking up the road from the rusted marina.


Things are pretty quiet in September, houses here and there, mostly empty, not many people about.  We ask the odd person we pass about a “pie lady”, to no avail. We then head for the local café, they will surely know; oops, closed for the day.  While contemplating our next move, we see coming toward us a man walking with a phalanx of five enormous German Shepherds that fill the road.  How can he help us?…. no, he has no knowledge of this Pie Lady, but would we like to come up to his house for coffee, albeit no pie. Of course we would, as encounters with strange beasts and interesting characters are always part of any quest.  It turns out that in addition to being a Shepherd rescuer and rehabilitator extrordinaire , he is also the local fire chief and sole paramedic, builder of the largest real log house we have ever seen, and collector of antique English glassware…. a character indeed!


After this encounter, followed by ice cream at the local store to assuage the absence of homemade pies, two of the crew abandon the search and head back to the boat. Cap’n Dave, flanked by the two women, carry on…..the house is on one of these roads…. he will know it if he sees it… we just have to wander.   Sure enough, 30 minutes later we are knocking on the screen door of a modest house set in a garden full of fairies and gnomes. The woman in the housecoat with vacuum cleaner in hand responds to Dave’s query about pies with a smile, apologizes that they are frozen now, as the farmers markets are finished, she could heat them if we like, and would we like savoury or sweet?    After a friendly chat about her recent hip surgery and upcoming knee replacement, and the exchange of a modest sum, we walk down the path with one each of peach, strawberry-rhubarb, and apple pie in hand.  Pie Lady, indeed!


Several days later and recently out of the Pie Lady’s offerings, we anchor in Clam Bay, off Thetis Island.  While the Captain stays behind with the ship, the four crew bravely head out in the dinghy through a narrow passage for Telegraph Cove seeking eggs and jam at the marina store. Jam they have, locally made of course, but sorry, no eggs.  While we linger over another ice cream, the shopkeeper mentions there is a small shop up the road apiece that may still be open and have eggs.  It is cash only and on the honour system.  We are intrigued. Sure enough, two hundred metres up the road is a inviting looking shack with an open door, wafting folk music and sporting a sign reading Howling Wolf Farm.  Walking inside - could this be real or have we conjured this up?—not only are there the needed eggs, but fresh vegetables, frozen meats, and most amazingly a table laid out with fresh baked cinnamon buns, scones, bread and yes, Pies!  CDs of the local musical artist are also for sale.  Not a person in sight, only a register to record your purchase, and a portable tin cash box with a slit in the top for your money. Incredulous at our good fortune, we head back with a very large sour cherry pie, our mouths watering.  Have we stumbled on Pie nirvana?


In our pride and enthusiasm to share our find with Cap’n Dave, we have a near mishap on the return; what is a quest without peril?   An inauspicious entry into the dinghy results in one crew member perilously suspended between the dock and the dinghy- feet on the dinghy, arms grasping the dock for dear life, bum just skimming the surface.  In our awkward efforts to right the situation, at which we barely succeed, it isn’t clear if we are more concerned about her or the pie ending up in the drink.  Whew!


All is well until two days before final docking, when there is grumbling over scant pastry in the galley.  We tie up at a marina in late afternoon; not a shop in sight.  Three of us head out again, with little hope.  After a longish walk in a mounting drizzle, searching for we know not what, a golf course appears ahead. Aha, hope, it has a cafe.  Oh, were you looking for a meal, so sorry we are about to close, rain and all.  No worries, but by chance would you have any desserts we could take away?  Well, it turns out ALL she has are some locally made Nanaimo Bars and a few Butter Tarts. Hmm, shall we, it is not pie, after all; but they are home made, and you couldn’t get more Canadian!  While we linger over our first real coffee in days she makes us up a package- will ten of each do?   And then-- I can’t let you walk all the way back to the marina in this, let me give you a ride, the van is just outside.  And so it is that the slightly sodden crew with a surfeit of sweets is magically transported back to the boat! 


Yes, the waters of the Gulf Islands were both glassy-calm and fiercely wind-roiled.  The odd sailing day required both pairs of long underwear as well as rain gear and wellies.   The misty clouds did not disappoint, nor did the sunsets, or the three sightings of breaching humpbacks.  As for this journey’s particular quest—well as with many gallant quests, this one turned out to yield far more than what the participants sought.  The abundance of darn good pies was truly remarkable, and appreciated with gusto.   However it turns out that the true magic of this magical realm is another abundance – that of the kindness, trust and generosity of strangers.  


Pie, anyone?

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