#631 Vassilopoulos goes west
Adventures on the West Coast of Vancouver Island
by Peter Vassilopoulos
Delta: Pacific Marine Publishing, 2018
$39.95 / 9780919317512
Reviewed by John Hutchings
In this new book by Peter Vassilopoulos — the well-known, prolific, South African-born author of numerous books on boating in the coastal waters of British Columbia – we are taken to the rugged outer west coast as well as the more sheltered western inlets of Vancouver Island. The format and style are evidently intended to make Adventures on the West Coast of Vancouver Island a browsable coffee-table book, unlike the detailed and practical coastal cruising guides that comprise most of his books. Like his earlier books, Adventures is lavishly illustrated with photographs of the many beautiful locations visited along the vast and wild west coast of Vancouver Island. While Vassilopoulos prefers a powerboat, the book is intended for anyone visiting the outer west coast by sea.
Having sailed — in sailboats — the inland waters from Desolation Sound to the Gulf Islands and San Juan Islands for decades, but never ventured to the outer Pacific coast, I found the book exciting and interesting, but far from a real guide as to how to make such a trip.
In the book’s various introductions and prefaces, the reader is invited to join in reliving the multiple trips that are its basis. Indeed, the text appears in many places to be a digest of journals and log entries made at the time — an indulgent personal diary. Nevertheless, the reader definitely becomes engaged in the personal stories that are recounted. Lively and informal, the narrative certainly gives a good feel of the experience of making a boat trip along the length of the wild Pacific coast of Vancouver Island. While the aim is possibly to interest a readership broader than those who are avid boaters, the narrative contains many precise references to navigational details and boating activities that will not interest more general readers. At the same time, there is a fair amount of repetition, a mix of units (fathoms, metres, miles, and feet) that at times are confusing or unnecessary. There are even occasional American spellings and a stronger editorial hand might have been employed.
This reviewer is left with a sense of the remoteness and beauty of the island’s west coast destinations and the experience, equipment, skill, and care that such expeditions require. Appreciation of the scenery and geography of the destinations is left largely to the reader, aided by the many photographs. Vassilopoulos provides a lot of detail on sea passages, moorages, hazards, and marine weather conditions — thereby implying that those are the main interests of the intended reader.
Beyond the boating aspects, the book includes delightful anecdotes of people who live on the west coast, whom the author has met and got to know, along with their family histories and the changes that have occurred in the settlements over the past several decades. The histories of European explorers and settlers who mapped and laid claim to the regions are also variously recounted as an interesting background to the evolving situation we have now, with aquaculture, fish farms, resort destinations, and environmental tourism new to the scene. While reference is made to the Indigenous people who were encountered in the early days, their side of the story is, however, not given much attention, and of course could warrant an entire book on its own.
Those not familiar with Vancouver Island’s outer west coast will learn a lot of its beauty, remoteness, and sheer extent, so the book is worth a read just for that aspect. Most British Columbians will never see the intricate Pacific-facing coast, relatively nearby as they are. More will be familiar with destinations around Tofino and Port Alberni and other more southerly locations that are relatively easy to reach by road. The book does deal at greater length with these places, and is particularly detailed on the Barkley Sound area, while still giving a boater’s view that will add to the experiences of most landlubbers.
I have a few quibbles about the content of the book itself. The charts that appear throughout have varied levels of detail, and I found myself paging back and forth a lot to follow the descriptions in the text. A few pages of good maps somewhere would have made things easier and more satisfying. The one map of the whole island near the beginning has the North vector somewhat in the wrong direction, too.
Given that the book merges accounts from many trips, along with notes of changes, I would have valued a table summarizing all of Vassilopoulos’s major trips, with dates and boats provided. Given his boating background, I would also have been interested in comments comparing sail versus power for such trips, what type of boat is recommended, how long the trips took, and some idea of fuel costs and consumption.
The photographs, as in all Vassilopoulos’s west coast marine books, are mostly excellent and generally well captioned. I found the older pictures more interesting, both as illustrations of the histories recounted and because I have observed personally the changes in some of the more southerly places. Some of the smaller pictures don’t add much. The many aerial photos are outstanding and interesting, and I initially wondered who took them. I gathered from other reading that these too were taken by the author (when?), perhaps for the purpose of this very book.
As it is, this is definitely a boater’s book for boaters. With the same background, it could be expanded and redirected to have a much wider appeal and readership. Given the extensive writing career of the author, presumably it is the way he intended it. As an “inside-coast” boating person, I very much enjoyed Adventures on the West Coast of Vancouver Island and will dip into it often. Others may find much of it outside their real interest, in spite of the lavish presentation and illustration.
John Hutchings is an astronomer whose research has used telescopes around the world and in space, and from X-ray to radio wavelengths. Also born in South Africa, he has worked at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Victoria since 1967 and collaborated with colleagues and space agencies around the world. He led Canadian participation in a series of space missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope, and the James Webb Space Telescope. He also writes mystery novels based on his travels — stories about ordinary people who get involved in adventures beyond their normal experience from shady dealings in the wine trade (A Fine Drop, 2011) to difficult situations on coastal British Columbia (Death in Remote Places, 2013) and South America (The Clue from Cusco, 2017). He has boated in the waters of the Salish Sea, and explored its islands and coastlines for some decades in sailing boats, but never done the West Coast. He has watched places like Tofino and Bamfield grow and change over the years too. John Hutchings lives in North Saanich.
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