The Fellowship of the Raven–Gillies Bay, Texada Island

“One of the fellowship will greet you.”

It sounded as if we were to meet a wizard or elf, which seemed fitting, surrounded as we were by stately cedars and hemlocks on a secluded, sparsely populated island.  But the volunteer driver who picked us up from the Texada airstrip carried no otherworldly staff, nor did he sport pointy elfin ears.

Elven town
Elvin houses, Gillies Bay

Retired from the Canadian military & originally hailing from Alberta, he did, however, have a generous nature.  Ray not only drove us to the Ravenous Raven Restaurant for lunch, but he also toured us around the town of Gillies Bay in his car.

Airbuzz-Mk-ll-and-Sandra-Sims--electronics-whiz
A very realistic (AirBuzz Mk II) flight simulator with a professional grade computer program for flight training! A display on multiple monitors shows the attitude of the aircraft as it would be viewed from a real cockpit.

Ray knew Texada airport well, having taught for several years at the Texada AeroSpace Camp.  I wish I were 10 years old again, so could go to the camp!  They have  super-cool equipment & demos, such as a wind tunnel with computer driven sensors, a half-scale Sopwith Pup, and a working model rocket launching system, designed by Texada resident Sandra Sims (pictured above).

Gillies Bay low tide
Gillies Bay at low tide

Just past the residential town of Gillies Bay, on the western shore of Texada Island, we stopped for a photo of Dick’s Island, which is only an island at high tide and is currently for sale at a cool $3 million.

Dick's Island (2)
Dick’s Island

Nearby Shelter Point Park is a gorgeous, forested area fronted with a beach-side view of the Georgia Strait.  Ray informed us that the adjacent Bella Maria Campground  is extremely popular in the summer.

 

After our mini-tour, Ray dropped us off at the Ravenous Raven. We’d phoned in advance (604) 486-0471 and talked with Janet Bott, island inhabitant and one of the owners of the Raven.  It was she who had provided phone numbers for “the fellowship”, several resident volunteers who drive visitors about for a donation.

img_5001
We strongly recommend that pilots bring along a tire pump if they want to use the loaner bikes! (there’s a donation box for use of bikes)

There are a number of bicycles available at the airport for those who wish to ride into town, but we’d been uncertain of how steep the climb would be returning from town to airport.  We can happily report that the quiet, pretty road into town from the airport is a gentle descent, and we’re determined to cycle it on our next visit.

 

The congenial atmosphere at the Raven perfectly complemented the mouth-watering food. I had a home-made vegetarian bean burger & salad, and David went with a succulent and flaky halibut with chips.  The heavenly chocolate orange cheesecake is made by Janet herself.

 

Afterwards, Janet showed us one of the delightful rooms available for rent above the Raven, which boasts a lovely balcony view of the Bay itself.

 

Filled to the brim with great food, we strolled along  the Dr. Sanderson trail, which meanders beside the western shore of Gillies Bay.  The little trail provides  picturesque views of the beach, as well as glimpses into the inventive backyards of the locals.

 

For visiting pilots who’d like a more vigorous hike after lunch at the Raven, Paxton Lake is easily accessible from the airport (see my post here on Paxton Lake),  and an old, winding logging road from the airport leads down to a very secluded beach some distance west of Gillies Bay (see my post here).

 

For those who don’t have a plane, you can fly into Texada via KD Air .  If you’re not flying into Texada, you can reach the island by car by taking a 35 minute ferry ride from Westview in Powell River to Blubber Bay on Texada Island; check out the BC Ferry Schedule hereIf you’re coming from Vancouver, you’ll first have to take a ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Gibsons, then drive to Powell River.

Beach Access
Gillies Bay beach access, across the road & westward a wee bit from the Raven

Avgas is available at Texada/Gillies Bay airport (CYGB).  The airport is camping-under-the-wing friendly & has a flush-able toilet and potable water. cygb

Mickey v. Manatee–a sea-cow alternative to Disney World, Florida

“It’s coming straight for you!  Don’t move!” the captain of our little tour boat called.  Face-down in the water & shivering hard despite my wet-suit & snorkel gear, I froze in the “sea-star” float position.  With slow, majestic grace, a 1,000 pound manatee glided inches underneath me, close enough that I could see each whisker on its ever-so-cute snout and trace every patch of algae on its comically rotund body.  This was way better than shaking hands with an oversized mouse dressed in bloated white gloves! Manatee Located about 2 hours northeast of Orlando, Florida, Crystal River is home to about 400 manatees that migrate each winter from the cold Gulf waters to the relatively stable 72 degrees of the freshwater springs of Kings Bay.  A few of these placid vegetarians remain in the bay all year, offering humans a year-long opportunity to view them in their natural habitat. fun3 A plethora of businesses in Crystal River offer paddle-boarding, kayaking, snorkeling, & boating tours to view the manatees, and local bed-&-breakfasts abound. funky neighborhood Rather than join the Spring Break/Easter holiday crush of Disney World (an estimated 2.9 million visitors for spring 2018), we instead drove from Orlando to Crystal River for an unforgettable manatee-swim. floating We broke up the 120 minute drive by stopping en-route at Cooter Pond in Inverness, adjacent to Hwy 41.  Cooters Pond Apparently, the pond’s water-weeds shroud several sunken railroad cars, derailed in 1930.  According to Albert Johnson of Inverness, quoted in an Ocala Star-Banner article, his grandfather saw a flat car and several box cars derail.

 

Loaded with canned hams and women’s apparel, “many town residents lined the banks and dove in”, hoping to salvage the items, but a large alligator scared them off.  Was it the same alligator we saw from the boardwalk while we were stretching our legs?

Cooters pond gator
Gator at Cooter Pond, Inverness (inland, & miles away, from Crystal River)

A short drive after Cooter Pond, we arrived for our manatee-swimming tour at 1:30pm, at Fun 2 Dive , an eco-conscious tour-group that stresses that Crystal River is not an amusement park, that the manatees are here as a survival tactic, and that it is essential that we adhere to rules to limit disturbing them (such as freezing in place when they approach swimmers, and not chasing or touching them).

Fun2Dive
Headquarters of Fun 2 Dive
Geared up
The tour group was limited to 6 folks at a time, and we rocked the wet-suits & gear provided. 

During the 3hr tour, we saw dozens of manatees, both while we were in the water & on the boat, and we were immensely pleased with the experience. Manatee pod Our Captain regaled us with fascinating facts about the manatees & amusing stories about manatee-human interactions, such as stories about “Charlie”, a rather amorous male manatee, or the baby manatee that was prone to hugging & snuggling swimmers one year.

Mother & baby
Mother & baby, swimming right below us (you can see my daughter’s foot in the upper right-hand corner of the photo)

Our Captain even provided a multitude of snacks & hot chocolate after our snorkel experience–which proved necessary, despite the sunshine, as there wasn’t a single one of us who wasn’t shivering hard after the swim!

TIPS:

  1. Go early in the day!
    Rush hour central
    Tourist-central by noon!

    Even if it means getting up at the crack of dawn to drive the distance from Orlando, the earlier the tour you’re on, the less traffic on the river.  The waterways were packed with manatee-viewers by 1:30pm, and despite the quiet natural beauty of Three Sisters Springs and the sober presence of Rangers in kayaks monitoring the human activity, there was a lot of nonsense going on (tour boats blaring music as drunk tourists chugged beers, folks stomping through the water & stirring up silt instead of swimming, & even one tourist in a kayak impulsively cannon-balling into the water, just feet away from a roped off “manatee sanctuary quiet zone”).

    Size of manatee
    A great picture, capturing the size of the manatees
  2. Bring a towel & coat on the boat with you for afterwards!  It’s cold after the swim!

For pilots:

Crystal River Airport – CGC (Captain Tom Davis Field) is located 3 miles southeast of Crystal River, and, according to the Airport Courtesy Car app, a courtesy car is available for visiting pilots.

Colourful hot-air alarm clocks at dawn—Sportsman Airpark, Oregon, USA

A rhythmic whooshing dragged me from sleep.  It was a large, dry sound which, in my dozy state, brought images to mind of both an elephant sighing and a steam locomotive hissing to a stop.img_0586a Continue reading “Colourful hot-air alarm clocks at dawn—Sportsman Airpark, Oregon, USA”