“I’m stranded here,” my mother said when I called her one evening last week.
An eye infection in her good eye has left mom totally blind, in a sea of darkness in her room at Birchview Home.
It made me think of Pesuta. She’s been stranded for ninety years, since 1928, the year mom was born.
Named Pezuta at birth in 1918 in Raymond, Washington, she started life as a 264-foot-long schooner before becoming a Canadian around 1926. Steam-powered, in her prime Pesuta was three storeys tall. But like many old schooners in the early 1900s, she was converted into a timber-carrying barge. A hard worker, she could load herself and carry 800,000 feet of logs. Towed by a steam-powered tug, Pesuta’s job was freighting logs across Hecate Strait on the Queen Charlotte Islands (now Haida Gwaii) to lumber mills in the province.
Hecate Strait is one of the deadliest bodies of water in Canada. On December 11, 1928, Pesuta was being towed by the tug Imbricaria when they were both struck by a wicked storm in the shoals on the east coast of Graham Island. The tempest of gale-force southeasterlies and pounding waves snapped the towing cable. Pesuta collided with Imbricaria, her logs drifted free and she listed in the shallow water. No lives were lost and Imbricaria was saved. Pesuta wasn’t so lucky. Her hull was a total loss; she couldn’t refloat. They salvaged parts of her machinery and a scow load of fittings, then abandoned Pesuta.
Over the years, powerful waves and punishing winds drove Pesuta ashore. Her timbers are rotting, her metal is rusting, she’s sinking into the sand and she’s listing hard to port. But her bow is intact and, like mom, she’s high and dry but holding her own.
Pesuta’s been described as a “stunning wreck that ranks among the most approachable on Earth.” Sitting on a long beach of pebbly sand and treasured agates in what’s now Naikoon Provincial Park, Pesuta attracts lots of visitors. It’s an easy seven-kilometre hike through the rainforest and alongside the gentle waters of the Tlell River to get to her. There, Pesuta’s view, could she see, is of sand dunes, soft and undulating as a feather comforter, and on the other side, a lookout over the Strait to infinity.
In James Houston’s book Hideaway, referring to the cottage he and his wife Alice bought, he writes of gentler days in the Tlell River area in the 1950s. The couple were avid flyfishers not hikers, but he does mention the Pezutta. “Cape Ball is not too far north of the old shipwreck of the Pezutta, which lies exposed on the beach, one of the most hauntingly beautiful places I’ve ever seen.”