Lost on Murchison

Murchison - Louise Narrows


Linda Leitch

Lesson Learned and Birthday Rescued

We were cruising for two weeks in Gwaii Haanas. Spread out among three boats, (a Campion, a Bayliner Trophy and an Iron Wood) we were seven adults, four children and one large dog. We dropped the boats in the water at Moresby Camp and spent a few days traveling south. By Day 4 we found ourselves in a very nice little anchorage known as Civa Cove, Murchison Island.   

Our first evening anchored here three of us decided to snorkel across the bay in a bit of a stronger current alongside a nameless little island. It was by far the most spectacular snorkeling I’ve ever done. There was nowhere to place a foot or hand on the ground without touching something alive. The kelp beds were bubbly flowing works of art and there seemed to be a bit of everything in a multitude of colours; star fish, sea anemones, sea urchins, cucumbers, crabs, scallops, goeducks and abalone. If it belonged on the north coast it seemed to be here by this little island.

Murchison - Great swimmingOnly because the sun was starting to set and the smells of dinner were wafting across the bay did we decide to go back to camp. We clung to the side of the tender while Dann commenced a valiant attempt at getting the little motor started. The three of us in the water were having too much fun and were toasty warm in our 6mm wetsuits, so after a few minutes we decided to swim across the bay pulling the tender behind us while Dann continued the good fight. 

Half way across the bay I heard a strange puff and wondered briefly if there was a curious seal somewhere nearby. My brain was still struggling to interpret the noise when two enormous Grey Whales surfaced in the water only 100 meters away. The three of us without speaking; unanimously changed our plan and jumped in the tender so quick we almost knocked Dann overboard and then, like Olympic champions, paddled for shore. The whales stayed in the cove for about an hour and were magical to watch. There was something special about sharing their underwater world briefly and knowing what they were seeing beneath the surface of the silvery water. 

Murchison Island anchorageWe decided to stay for another day at Murchison so we could bring some of the kids snorkeling with us. The next morning was brilliantly sunny and we had a leisurely breakfast on shore. Over breakfast the boys from the Campion told us about a hike they had done the day before; it was 10 minutes over easy terrain and when you reached Maggie Bay on the other side, the beach was covered in shiny shells and there was a beautiful view of Gandle K’in Island, which at the time, held three large hotspring pools. 

One of the children, Lillias, was going to be turning 8 while we were in the park and her siblings needed some time alone to make her surprise presents from things they found around the forest and along the shore. There was still plenty of time before the tide would be right for snorkeling, so in an effort to distract the soon-to-be birthday girl, we hiked across the island with Dann, Lillias, her father Mike, the dog Narnia and myself. 

The walk and Maggie Bay were everything our fellow cruisers had promised us. We leisurely walked the shore looking at all the different shells and combed the edge of the forest for any treasures that might have been thrown up during winter storms. For a while we all just sat quietly together on a log enjoying the eastern view. Eventually we decided that enough time had passed and it would be safe for us to go back to camp. We were also eager to get some lunch in our bellies and go snorkeling again. 

The hike over had been straight forward and we headed off into the bush in the same direction we’d come from. About 10 minutes went by and Dann started to suggest that we were perhaps walking the wrong way. A jovial disagreement started, I actually said things like “Dann I would follow you to the moon” and I genuinely meant it. Yet, I continued to walk off in the wrong direction. 

Honestly, I still can’t explain how much I firmly believed I was going the right way. 

Murchison - From shore

Eventually Dann climbed to the top of a big hill and turned back and said something blurry to us and then disappeared over the edge. The dog strained on his leash to follow him and Lillias even started to walk toward him, but I stopped them and again laid claim to my belief that I was going the right way. Mike agreed. We figured Dann was just scouting around, being the great bushman that he is, and would return shortly. As they were tied to Mike in different ways, Lillias and the dog were both obligated to follow us.

It turns out the blurred words Dann shouted to us were, “Camp is right here I can see the tents”. He then headed off assuming we would follow him. When he arrived, the others were all off on their own adventures and camp was empty. He threw a few more pieces of wood on the fire and then promptly fell asleep in the sunshine on a great mound of moss. He did this, as Mike, Lillias, the dog and I confidently hiked right by camp and into the wilderness. 

It is such an odd feeling to walk full circle and reappear where you set out from; it had never happened to me before and it was kind of like being in a cartoon. After about an hour we found ourselves again standing in Maggie Bay looking at Gandle K’in only this time without Dann. 

I can honestly assure you that there was some form of vaguely intelligent reasoning for every step we took for the next few hours but I also cannot explain the stupidity of our choices. 

At this point I would like to state that this is where the lesson of the whole story is learned “If you are ever lost, stay where you are, light a fire, get comfortable and wait to be rescued.”

This is not what we did.

Murchison - Hot spring

We decided that we should not try to cross the island again; instead we should walk around the island following the shore. We both apparently remembered it to be a smaller island – smaller than what? We should have asked ourselves.

We were more or less dressed appropriately except for Lillias who was wearing her older sisters bright red Holey Soles and they were about 3 times too big for her essentially making them clown shoes. In my pockets I had half a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, and a camera, Mike had a utility knife. 

This is the rugged pacific coast and the hiking was not exactly easy going. There were places where we just could not stay on the beach and would head into the forest still following the shore only to run into cliffs that we would have to scale or circle around with Mike and I gently handing Lillias up or down to each other. We all took turns falling down and brushing it off like champs. We sang songs and told stories. We picked berries and ate them as we walked. We found someones old homestead that looked like something from the Swiss Family Robinsons. The homestead was on an island in the middle of a lagoon where the trees were all festooned with old man’s beard moss and we were tempted to stay here and play but Mike reminded us we should keep going.  We were still having such a good time.

We were standing high on a cliff, well into the forest trying to navigate our way around a deep crevasse that ran to the ocean when we heard an outboard motor, and then from around the corner through the trees, we could see Sheldon (one of our group) in the tender cruising slowly around the shoreline. Mike is by trade a professional opera singer and at this point he unleashed his voice at its fullest volume. Lillias and I joined in with everything our voices could muster. The shear volume and intent of our voices combined should have been enough to ring in Sheldon’s eardrums. We tried to get to the edge of the tree line where he might see us but it was too steep we couldn’t get there, we let the dog go to race over the slippery obstacles and chase the boat, but none of it worked and Sheldon cruised right by.


Murchison - Cool tree!

It was reassuring to know that people were looking for us, and at this point we admitted that we were maybe a little lost and in over our heads. We talked about turning around, but that was quickly dismissed. Like mindless Smurfs we felt camp had to be just around the next corner. The only way we had to gauge time was by the sun and that’s difficult to do when you’re this far north and the days last 20 hours. We started a little mantra when we entered each new bay, with confidence we would state “It’s got to be just around the next corner”. 

It never was.

After a pretty long grueling stint in the forest we finally emerged onto a sandy beach. It was getting late and we judged we’d been walking for 8 hours with only berries in our bellies. One of Lillias’s shoes fell off for the millionth time and getting frustrated, she let flow the only tears seen all day. We plopped down for a rest in the sand. It had been hours since we saw Sheldon and it was time to change our strategy. We finally decided that we would stop here and light a huge fire on the beach so we would be easy to find. Carefully, and patiently we chose the best looking fire starter from our surroundings. I handed the pack of cigarettes and lighter over to Mike and he went about lighting a fire. 

Within 20 minutes of us arriving at this beach, I was wandering around gathering wood when we again heard the hum of an outboard. The fire had lit on the first try and was sending up a good plume of smoke, I took off my red rain coat and started running down the beach toward the noise waving the coat over my head as I went. Mike let loose his voice again. Narnia ran around barking and then finally from around the corner came Sheldon in the tender. This time I knew he saw us right away, but I did not stop waving my coat until he was 20 meters away from me. The dog ran out in the water and leapt in the boat giving Sheldon big slurpee kisses, and then we all walked out into the water and climbed aboard before he even reached the shore. 

There was of course much to say. We assured him we were all fine and just really wanted to get underway. He gave us water and the handheld radio squawked to life. Sheldon announced that he had us all onboard and every one was fine, we could hear the cheering from everyone on the other side of the radio. We came out from behind a small island and could see the rest of the boats charging toward us like something right off of The Beachcombers TV show. 

I thought Susan, Lillias’s mother, might fall right overboard as she reached out to grab her birthday girl before we had even come along side safely. I also leapt from the tender to the Bayliner and right into Danns arms, promising I would never stray from his lead again. 

It was shocking for us to find out we were still half an hour from camp by boat. A quick glance at the map on the Lowrance had us shaking our heads in disbelief at our poor judgement. During the ride back to the anchorage we heard the story behind our rescue.

Murchison - watching for rocks

When the others started to trickle back into camp Dann woke up and realized we were missing. Immediately Mic and Barney from the Campion hiked back across the island to look for us in Maggie Bay. We were of course not there.

Then they sent out Sheldon in the tender to circumnavigate the island. When he also came back empty handed they started to make more serious plans. Susan in the Ironwood and Dann in the Bayliner also started to circle the island from opposite directions while Mic and Barney started a search inland with hand help GPS’s. Everyone had a task. Anna, age 10, sometimes suffered from seasickness but she rode with Dann with her eyes glued to the shoreline through binoculars; a hard thing for anyone to do in a speeding boat and she did not get sick. Lisa, age 5, rode with Susan and stood attentively listening for any news on the radio. Eddie, age 13, stayed at camp to keep watch for our return.

They were all gathering in a flotilla about to call in search and rescue when Sheldon found us.

They brought us back to camp and spoiled and scolded us. We ate and drank and as we lay next to the fire began to stiffen from all the exertion.

I crawled into our berth on the Bayliner and a few exhausted tears slid down my cheek before I fell blissfully asleep. 

In the morning we pulled anchor and headed to Gandle K’in.  I lowered my sore body into the hot water and then stretched out floating with my face to the sky and body just below the surface. It was Lillias’s birthday and all the kids frolicked joyfully in the warm pools. 

I became reflective. They had found us 12 hours after we’d hiked away from camp. We’d made it to the most northern tip of the island, but we would have had to walk for 3 more days to get anywhere close to our camp. We had fallen, scraped, banged, sang and giggled our way along the rugged coastline. We were lucky.

Murchison - Captain Dann

Our trip around Gwaii Haanas continued but we didn’t get to go as far south as we had planned because a lot of fuel and been burned up in the rescue effort. Many more amazing things happened on that trip but none were as exciting as being lost on Murchison.


Photo Captions

Photo 1 – Passing through Louise Narrows on the way back to Moresby Camp.

Photo 2 – The swimming was all fine and dandy until the whales showed up.

Photo 3 – The anchorage at Murchison Island.

Photo 4 – This is the view inside Murchison anchorage from shore.

Photo 5 – This is the scene the day after the rescue when everyone could relax in the hot spring and celebrate the birthday – what a relief!

Photo 6 – This is the one shot I took with Mike and Lillias while we were lost. Cool tree!

Photo 7 – Watching for rocks as we enter Murchison anchorage.

Photo 8 – Captain Dann – I would follow him to the moon!


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