For me, the best way to enter Vancouver is by boat, preferably on a warm and breezy day like today. With the wind at our backs and a following sea, our sailboat, the *Zephyr*, is on the run, the most comfortable point of sail. We don't have any sense of movement, yet the speed indicator says we are travelling at an astonishing (for us) seven knots an hour (13km/h). At this rate, we will soon reach our destination, False Creek, where we plan to anchor for the night.
We left our home port of River Rock Marina on the Fraser’s North Arm at noon. The tide was against us in the estuary, but today that didn’t matter. We still made a comfortable five knots, and we have all the time in the world.
The trip downriver was relaxing, not too many tugs pulling barges or log booms. We ate sandwiches and watched the familiar landmarks slip past - McDonald Beach, the crumbling pier at the old Celtic Shipyards, the golf courses and finally, Coward’s Cove.
The water at the mouth was a bit lumpy, but we’d seen worse. We made our way out past the shallows, then raised the sails and cut our engine. I set a course north towards Point Atkinson, and Frank trimmed the sails so we were on a beam reach with the wind coming over our port side. We were running parallel to the waves - not very comfortable since we rolled continually from side to side, but we had to put up with it until we cleared Point Grey and Spanish Banks.
Once the red buoy marking the beginning of deep water was behind us, I turned to starboard, towards the head of English Bay. Frank adjusted the sails for the change in wind direction and the *Zephyr* is now gliding with the waves. Heaven!
Today, English Bay is crowded with boats of all kinds. Pleasure craft predominate - sailboats and powerboats. But there are working boats as well - tugs, water taxis, one or two fishing boats, a rail ferry, even a pocket cruiser, perhaps on its way to Princess Louisa Inlet.
Giant deep sea freighters ride at anchor, waiting their turn to proceed to the docks in Burrard Inlet to load or unload cargo. We can see one now, coming through the First Narrows under the Lions Gate Bridge, heading west towards the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean. A glance at our electronic chart reassures us that we are far from the designated shipping lanes, well clear of the freighter’s path. A vessel that size needs a lot of room to manoeuvre, so small boats must give way to them.
Frank takes over at the tiller, and I am able to sit back and look around. From this perspective, it is easy to see why Vancouver has so often made the short list of the world’s most beautiful cities. The North Shore Mountains are an impressive backdrop to the office and residential towers of the downtown core. Beaches and parks encircle the bay, and the streets behind them are shaded by huge maple and oak trees and lined with multi-million-dollar homes. Crowds of tanned and fit people of all ages are out enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.
This urban paradise is a far cry from the wilderness that existed here two centuries earlier when the first Europeans dropped their anchors off-shore. The Spanish were the first to arrive in 1791, followed by Captain George Vancouver and his men in 1792. The names Spanish Banks and English Bay commemorate Vancouver’s meeting here that year with the Spanish explorers, Valdez and Galiano.
Although aboriginal tribes such as the Musqueam and Salish peoples had lived in the region for millennia, the new arrivals immediately claimed it for their distant monarchs and set about naming islands, points, bays and waterways after themselves, their friends and prominent people of the time. Vancouver named the Gulf of Georgia (now called more accurately the Strait of Georgia) after his king, George III, while Point Atkinson, Point Grey, Burrard Inlet and Howe Sound all bear the names of high-ranking officers in the English Royal Navy.
Other names recall more recent history. Towers Beach at the tip of Point Grey refers to the searchlight towers built there during the Second World War.
Just east of Spanish Banks lies the area known as Jericho. The name is believed to be a corruption of Jerry’s Cove, named after Jerry Rogers who first logged Point Grey. The house he built for his family later became the Jericho Country Club. But before Rogers’ arrival, a whaling station occupied the site.
Still farther east, the English Bay Cannery operated in what is now Kitsilano (named after Chief Khahtsahlanogh of the Squamish people), processing all kinds of fish and turning the waste into fertilizer. Fish were abundant then in English Bay. There were huge runs of smelts so thick that people could wade into the water and scoop them up by the handful. Nearby, residents found the smell from the cannery offensive, however, and it closed in 1906.
Kits is now an upscale residential area, and, on a sunny day like today, the beach is crowded with sunbathers. Young men and women play beach volleyball, and all shapes and sizes of dogs take their owners for walks along the seaside paths.
The *Zephyr* glides past the Maritime Museum, the Space Centre and the Vancouver Museum, and then we find ourselves off Vanier Park, a popular spot for kite-flyers. Today is perfect for flying kites, and colourful paper birds, butterflies and airplanes swoop and soar in the air currents.
By now, we are almost at the entrance to False Creek, so we reluctantly start our engine and furl our sails. As we chug slowly eastward under the Burrard Street Bridge, the waterway becomes more congested and we need to be alert to avoid a collision.
Small, brightly painted ferries carry passengers between the north and south shores. Paddlers explore the Creek in kayaks and canoes that can be hard to spot until we are almost upon them. And, of course, a constant stream of sailboats and power cruisers enter and leave the marinas that occupy every available bit of space along the edge of the narrow inlet.
On our starboard side, we pass the fishermen’s terminal, now quite empty since most of the boats are at sea. Just past the public market, we see the docks where boaters can tie up temporarily while they restock their galleys with seasonal fruits and vegetables, freshly baked bread, cakes and pies, and an assortment of meats and seafood.
We pass a clutch of float homes and another marina before we reach our destination, a small indentation on the south shore called Charleson Bay, where we anchor for the night. A number of other boats are there before us, but we finally manage to settle ourselves in a spot that gives us room to swing with the tide without danger of bumping one of our neighbours.
Not long ago, this area would have been even more crowded by boats anchored year-round, many occupied by live-aboards. As of August 2006, a city bylaw prohibits anchoring in False Creek for longer than two weeks in the summer (during a 30-day period) and three weeks for the rest of the year (during a 40-day period), so that all boaters who wish to enjoy the Creek may do so.
The controversy surrounding the displacement of the live-aboards is reminiscent of the times groups of squatters lived below the high-tide line here and in other parts of Burrard Inlet, the most famous being novelist Malcolm Lowry who lived in a shack in Dollarton. The squatters erected small cabins on pilings, and some of the homes were brightly painted and had flowerpots on their windowsills. These residences may have been primitive, but they were considered greatly preferable to crowded, squalid tenements or rooming houses. There were problems, however, mainly in regard to the disposal of sewage and garbage, and eventually the cabins were torn down and their inhabitants forced to move. One such community still thrives, however - Finn Slough in Richmond.
False Creek is now considered a highly desirable place to live, work and play, but, until the 1960s, it was zoned for industry. Shipyards, sawmills, brickyards, cement works and other businesses lined its shores, dumping pollutants into the water and killing the fish and waterfowl. The inlet was an open sewer and the surrounding area was close to becoming a wasteland.
Then, in the ‘70s, the federal, provincial and civic governments joined forces to redevelop False Creek into a major attraction for tourists and locals alike, with a mix of residential space and businesses catering to the arts, to boaters and to the public.
Because the *Zephyr* swings in a 360 degree circle with the tide, during our stay we will have an ever changing view from our cockpit of the high rise towers, the parks, restaurants, and specialty retail stores that occupy the shores of False Creek today. The inlet is encircled by the sea wall, a path full of walkers, joggers, cyclists and rollerbladers. With much of the pollution cleaned up, birds and sea life have returned.
Tonight, we are tired from our long day on the water and decide to remain on board. By the time the boat is secure, the sun is definitely over the yardarm, so we pull the cork on a bottle of Merlot. We take our glasses into the cockpit and settle back on the cushions to watch the working day of the city wind down.
As the shadows lengthen and street lights start to come on, we light the barbecue to grill the rack of lamb we have brought along. I cook new potatoes and green beans from our garden, and as we dine, we watch the shimmering reflections of the lights on the water and listen to the hum of the city, muted by distance.
As Vancouver’s clubs and bistros come alive, we tidy the galley, and then snuggle into our berths, pulling up our duvets for warmth because it is always cool at night on the water. The gentle waves rock us to sleep, in our boat, right in the heart of the city.
SEPTEMBER 2009 - VANCOUVER & LOWER MAINLAND
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