3 months after leaving Sydney and 9 days after first spotting mountains the ship reaches it’s stated commercial landfall on the North West Coast of America on the 29th of May 1796. I don’t even know whether the crew from Boston know they are from the same continent. The trade in furs is dangerous and American vessels have to fend for themselves and contend with harassment from the British and Spanish Navy. The ‘Otter’ sails close in without landing. They spend 3 June weeks sailing and I presume trying to find profitable trade with trappers in the inlets.
Relationship with Place
The story of the old Greek pilot Juan de Fuca is fiction. No record of it in Spain or Mexico exists. The whole story is a fabrication, a sort of Brigadoon for the Pacific North West. Countless financiers and supercargo aboard East Indiamen believe they can make their fortune if they can only find that illusive North West Passage. However the true value of the waterway is not locked in trading from West to East but in its biodiversity. The whole area is a dynamic ecosystem, the movement of estuary water circulating nutrients and distributing plankton. Tides bringing water from the sea mixing with river run off, phytoplankton feeds zooplankton. All these animals pushing into shallow water and sheltered habitat to create an ideal spawning ground for fish. An abundance of plankton, then fry, then fish transfering up the chain to support everything from migrating gray whale to resident orca, that’s why the Quileutes, the Clallams, the Nitinats, the Clayoquets, the Cowichans and the Makah are all here.
I pack up before dawn and head down from the ‘Heart O’ the Hills’ campground on Hurricane Ridge queing for the Black Ball ferry that operates between Port Angeles and Victoria, it’s 90 minute across the strait. The infrastructure around Port Angeles feels old fashioned, It has that retro feel you find in lots of cool neighbourhoods in big cities but with a conservative rural market town population. Once out in the Strait you see a mix of sport fishermen, US Navy vessels and container ships, onboard their's a diverse range of passengers: shoppers, tourists, students, families and business people. The MV Coho is well kept, hand written signage, polished bells, neat ropes. I see lots of harbour seals lazing on the beach in front of the US Coastguard. Out in the middle of the Strait a pod of six or eight orca crest, spout and breach off the ships starboard, with perfect timing they slip past the stern and head out into the Sound.
What did Tom know of this place? James Cook’s account of the profit that could be made in Pacific North West had been published in London ten years ago. His dad being a merchant with ties to Kent had probably heard something about this, but Tom’s life wasn’t spent thinking about trade. He was more concerned with what he was doing up there at all. The Captain was trying to find the right pelts for business in Canton, the Boston sailors were wondering who the top hats and old coats belonged to that the Indians were wearing ashore and the rest of the crew; castaways, ex-prisoners and stowaways were probably thinking they could skip the hospitality of fermented blubber and were wondering what small possessions they had that could be traded for some deer meat or salmon.
£699 return flight from Edinburgh to Medford, Southern Oregon. Break journey in Seattle. 4 day car hire from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Alamo) £154.76 –. Camping Fees $35 per night (£28.50) 4 nights (£114). Food £50, Petrol £30. Black Ball Ferry between Port Angeles in Washington State, America to Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. £53 each way.