My husband, Patrick, and I, with our two cats, are aboard our 50-foot cutter-rigged sailboat Tenacious, heading north along the British Columbia coast for the summer. Last week we were in the Broughton Archipelago, a jigsaw puzzle of small islands between the mainland and northern Vancouver Island, with thousands of fascinating places to anchor and explore. (Above, see CBC footage of some of the fjords- Ed.)

A few days ago, we sailed into one of our favorite anchorages and dropped anchor in front of its white-shell midden beach. The tide was almost out; I asked Patrick to give me a ride ashore so I wouldn’t have to keep track of the dinghy. The tides on this part of the coast average 12 to 14 feet, so the place you beach your dinghy is not necessarily the same place you find it a couple of hours later. I wanted to enjoy a few hours in the late day sun doing some beachcombing. Satiny beach glass, rusty hand-hammered iron logging spikes, and mounds of broken and sun-bleached clam shells attested to the hundreds and perhaps thousands of years of human habitation in this place.

Starting on one edge of the little beach, I crouched down to watch the sea life in the receding water. I marveled at the miniscule feather-like fronds of barnacles briskly waving through the water. Tiny, many-colored shore crabs skittered away from my shadow. I spotted a hermit crab who was between shell homes, and searched unsuccessfully for an empty snail shell I might put in its path. I was startled at first by the harsh croaks, carks and clicks of a voluble raven. Lost in that noisy silence, I started along the shoreline when I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. I glanced up — and there was a bear in front of me.

I froze. He froze. We looked in each other’s eyes while a series of thoughts flashed through my mind. First, I estimated that he was about 30 feet from me. I could see that he was young (I thought of him as a ‘he,’ though I can assure you that 30 feet was blessedly not close enough for me to verify the fact) and small enough that he was probably a yearling, out on his own from his mother but not yet full grown. I guessed he weighed around 200 pounds. My second thought was to slowly back away and radio Patrick to pick me up in the dinghy. Finally, as I stood tall with my arms up so that I looked as large as possible, I thought that I had no wish to bother this bear, and sincerely hoped that he had the same thought about me.

I don’t believe either of us felt any sort of threat. I was never afraid. My tension came not from the encounter with the bear in front of me, but from the idea of an encounter with a bear. Even as my mind raced, my eyes examined the dense thickness of his glossy sable fur. I could see the calm curiosity in his small dark eyes. There was no sense of confrontation.

The young bear had come out of the woods on the far side of the tiny crescent-shaped section of the beach we shared, ambling along toward me when we spotted each other. That part of the beach is only about 40 feet across and is bordered mostly by trees. Behind me was a rocky area with beach ball–size boulders marking the path of a freshwater creek that flowed into our anchorage. The rocky creek bed separated what I thought of as “the bear’s beach” from another much larger part of the beach. As I slowly backed away, I kept track of the bear, describing the situation to Patrick over the radio. As we quietly talked and I sloshed backward through the shallow water, the bear calmly turned and disappeared back in to the thick brush, as though saying, “Oh! Excuse me, I didn’t realize anyone else was here.”

Good sense overcame my desire to explore that particular part of the beach, but I still wanted to do some more beachcombing. I took a deep breath and called off the rescue. Patrick reluctantly agreed, and I began picking my way through the boulders to the larger part of the beach.

The creek bed was treacherous with slippery rockweed, sea lettuce and unstable rocks, so I kept my eyes on where I was going as I worked my way away from the bear’s beach. I looked up when I reached the edge of the creek, and lo and behold – there was my bear again. He had gone up into the woods and must have practically sprinted through the undergrowth in order to get back down to the beach ahead of me.

That was enough for me. One more rather terse radio conversation with Patrick brought my rescue. The bear continued his beachcombing undisturbed. From the dinghy, we silently watched him as he continued to forage serenely along the beach. Finally, he turned and walked back up into his forest. He was absolutely beautiful.

Post Script: The locals up here in British Columbia talk about the two kinds of bears that roam this area: black bears and brown bears. Black bears are familiar in most of the U.S.; brown bears are what we call grizzlies. It is recommended when walking in the woods that one carry a noise-maker, such as a string of bear bells or a can of small rocks, that can be shaken to warn off nearby bears, as well as bear spray (like pepper spray) in case the noisemakers don’t scare off the bear. Black bears eat a lot of insects, shore crabs and especially berries. You can tell you are in a black bear’s territory when you see scat that is full of berry seeds. You can tell you are in a brown (grizzly) bear’s territory when you see scat that is full of bear bells and bear spray cans.

Lydia Chaverin McKenzie ( and her husband of 18 years, Patrick, are both retired from careers in the computer industry. They winter in Sarasota, Fla., and spend their summers from June to September living aboard their 50-foot sailboat, Tenacious, exploring the Pacific Northwest. So far their perigrinations have taken them from Portland, Ore., up the Oregon-Washington coast, into the San Juan Islands, Gulf Islands, the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia and now to the north coast of BC. They keep trying to get to Alaska but always seem to find way too many fascinating people, places, creatures and experiences to hurry along just to meet some arbitrary schedule. But hey, maybe this year!

Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Jennifer July 13, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    Great adventures on tenacious!