Being married to an artist definitely has its perks. For me, one of the greatest parts of being the Less Creative Other Half to a Creative Genius is getting to accompany my beau on some stellar “art research” excursions. We’ve been invited to experience the inner workings of a chocolate factory before, got to hang out at a micro-brewery when Marty’s custom-designed beer bottles were being filled, and most recently, we were whisked away to a nearby island to be Unofficial Keepers of the Race Rocks Lighthouse for 24 hours! It’s a tough job, but somebody has to be a tag-along bride! 😉
Race Rocks Lighthouse is one of the two oldest lighthouses on Canada’s west coast, and it can only be accessed by boat. (Fisgard is the other oldest lighthouse, and both have been in operation since 1860.) Marty and I had been by Race Rocks Lighthouse before (en route to see the Super Pod of orca whales, natch!), but we never imagined we would ever get to set foot on the sacred island, let alone spend a night at the Lighthouse Keeper’s house! (As Honorary Lighthouse Keepers, even!!) So what if the beacon itself has been automated for decades? Allow me to take a single night’s worth of credit for keeping the passing ships safe… 😉
How on earth did this happen? How did the chance to hang out at Race Rocks Lighthouse fall into our laps?
I’m glad you asked! Last autumn, Marty was asked to donate an item to a charity’s fundraising auction here in Victoria. He generously donated a custom painting of the winner’s choice, and we were thrilled to bits when the auction winner requested a piece of the Race Rocks Lighthouse! Even better was the fact that the winner had actual, physical ties to Race Rocks and could arrange for us to spend an evening there, for “research purposes” obviously. Hanging out at the Race Rocks Lighthouse is not an opportunity that comes along very often or to very many people at all, so you can bet that I dubbed myself Marty’s “Art Manager” ASAP and insisted that I accompany him to the remote island when the invitation was extended. 🙂
Getting ready for our journey, I fretted about what to pack and how to prepare. What, exactly, does one wear to be a Lighthouse Keeper? How much food does one pack, especially if there’s a chance of being stranded on the island? Should I bring my own toilet paper? (Was there even a primitive toilet there?) Would I need a book to read? Would I get any sleep at all? (Race Rocks is home to a substantial bunch of migrating sea lions during many seasons of the year and is a notoriously loud and stinky place while they are there. Thankfully, the sea lions weren’t basking on the surrounding rocks during our visit, so we didn’t need to use our ear plugs or hold our noses for 24 repulsive hours!)
We were told by the auction winner to “bring a sleeping bag and food” with us– in addition to our signed waivers, of course– but I had no idea what to expect from the accommodations. Would we be roughing it on a rustic wooden pallet on the floor? Would we be crammed into a storage closet-sized ‘room’? Would there be heat? Could we cook? Call me naive, but I’d never been an Honorary Lighthouse Keeper before and had no idea what awaited me. (For the record: I resisted the urge to prepare all of the remaining food items we had in our fridge and pantry for a 24-hour stay, and instead packed enough food to last us 2 days, just in case. The weather forecast looked promising for a timely exit from the island, so my OCD kitchen tendencies were kept in check.)
On Wednesday afternoon, we met the official Lighthouse Keeper at the docks of Pearson College with our overstuffed (and impressively heavy) expedition backpacks on hand. We were wearing our most rugged hiking clothes, vintage PFD jackets (on loan from the college), and we had warm and dry clothing reserves waiting in our sacks, just in case our very small and otherwise exposed transportation boat left us soaked and freezing before we even pulled up to the jetty at Race Rocks. Luckily, the sail there was dry and mostly warm, if bumpy and a little nerve-wracking. (Did I mention I don’t know how to swim? Heh.) First hurdle: cleared!
Our first surprise was encountered right at the jetty, where we were supposed to dock and make our way onto the island. Blocking our only pathway to the island was a moulting (read: cranky!) female elephant seal, who snorted, hissed, and generally threatened to bite us when we made even the slightest move towards her.
Race Rocks is a protected ecological reserve site, so one of the first and most important rules for guests is to not disturb the animals, at any cost to themselves. (In realistic terms, this means that regular visitors to the island have to stand back and witness the normal life cycles of resident animals, including mating, birth, death, abandonment, starvation, disease, stand-offs, etc.) This female seal showed no intention of moving off the jetty, and there was obviously no way for us to move her ourselves, so we ended up having to creep around her while grasping to the outside of the protective handrails on the jetty. Welcome to Race Rocks!
I was terrified as I scaled the very outer edge of the jetty, knowing that a sharp drop into still-tumultuous waters awaited me if that female seal lunged in my direction. (The group consensus, made before we exited the boat, was that it would be better to let go of the rail and fall into the water rather than risk being bitten by a moulting seal– if it came to that, which hopefully it wouldn’t. For the record: this is much easier said and done by people who know how to swim. Luckily, I scrambled past the seal without being bitten or plunging myself into the icy waters. Welcome to Race Rocks, indeed!)
Once we were safely past the Unofficial Race Rocks Guardian, we met our next animal friend around the corner– a gigantic male elephant seal named Misery who had taken up residence mere feet from the door of the Lighthouse Keeper’s house.
This particular Misery does not enjoy company (as evidenced by his continued maiming and killing of rival males and young seal pups), so we tiptoed gingerly past him while he slept, sending furtive prayers to the universe to keep him snoring until we were safely inside. Thankfully, the universe obliged. (I don’t know if I could have handled two seal antagonists within mere minutes of arriving at Race Rocks, especially one of the 1000+ lb, Alpha Male variety.)
But the lighthouse! Oh, the lighthouse!
I was blown away by the actual light tower! A giddy grin affixed itself to my face and refused to budge or wane for the next 24+ hours. I was overcome by all sorts of romantic notions about lighthouses and spent most of the time on the island either admiring the light tower, photographing the light tower, thinking about the light tower, climbing the 98+ stairs to the top of the light tower, or enjoying the spectacular views from atop the light tower. Marty and I took occasional breaks inside to make tea or grab snacks, but the majority of our time was spent outside appreciating the magnificence of Race Rocks Lighthouse!
The weather was perfect for the outing– not raining, not too windy, and we visited there the night before the Full Moon, too. We stayed up as late as possible, watching the sunset first and then witnessing the moonlight playing on the light tower several hours after our camera decided it could no longer capture the magnificence of the setting digitally. (The brightness of the full moon enabled us to keep a sharp watch on Misery, too. God knows we wouldn’t want to accidentally trip over him while we were skipping around like fools on the island! Antagonizing a male elephant seal in the dark would have been a definite– and probably fatal– Race Rocks FAIL.)
After what felt like a very short sleep, we crawled out of bed in time to catch the sunrise. (Would we have missed our only sunrise at Race Rocks Lighthouse? Never!!)
(In total, we snapped over 1150 photos in less than 24 hours on the island! Our first sweep helped us whittle this down to 500. It was nearly impossible to “just” pick 20 or so for this post.)
If this is what it’s like to be a “starving artist”, sign me up please! 😉
Final notes and details: The Lighthouse Keeper’s residence at Race Rocks is actually pretty classy and modern. (The Lighthouse Keeper offered us freshly baked cookies right out of the oven, which came in stark contrast to my idea of the house as a tiny, uber-drafty campsite.) There is no flushing toilet on site, but there is a primitive, indoor-outhouse-type toilet that more than suffices, especially when I was bracing myself for a day of peeing on rocks. There’s electricity, heat, a fully-equipped kitchen, and even wireless internet access there! (I decided not to bring our laptop with us, though. Contrary to popular belief, I can last for a day without checking my e-mail.)
Fortunately, the moulting female seal left the jetty during the night, so we didn’t have to deal with her menacing presence on the way back to the boat. Our return trip was delayed by a few hours due to wind and sketchy water conditions, but we had more than enough food to tie us over and the delay just meant more opportunities to take excessive amounts of photos! 🙂
What do you think, dear readers?
Was that an adventure or what?
Was the story worth the wait?
PS: A big thank you to everyone who visited Lake Superior Spirit on Thursday when I had the honour of guest posting in Kathy’s absence! Apologies for being a shoddy guest and not telling you I was even there until after the fact. What can I say? I was lighthouse keeping! (Please feel free to check out Kathy’s blog when you get the chance. She is one of my favourite stops each morning, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to guest post there.)