The end of the world is off the tip of Vancouver Island. I meet my ride on the highway outside of Courtenay just before 6 a.m. and we take off north in the early morning darkness. After hours of driving through sparsely inhabited woodland and snaking between mountains, the small town of Port Hardy seems like the end of the world, but it isn’t. Not quite. That’s still a four-hour boat ride away.
Arriving at the dock, I meet George and board his small water taxi—big enough for a dozen or so people and some cargo—and pull out into the cedar-ringed harbour. The harbour is filled with fishing boats in their berths, but wildlife isn’t hard to find either. There are eagles overhead, cormorants and mergansers on the water, and seals under the surface as we leave the quiet community behind.
After that it’s just a short jaunt toward the Duke of Edinburgh Ecological Reserve and past the wild Pine Island; through trailing, sheer curtains of rain and hail; past a small pod of Dall’s porpoises; over modest swells that can grow monstrous (can you see my breakfast from January 21 in the water over there?); dodging logs that have rolled free from their barges to make perches for resting seabirds; and when we feel like we’ve sailed off the edge of the map, it appears: Calvert Island.
George’s boat comes every week to bring new researchers and staff to the island and to take others home. It’s essentially the only connection to the rest of the world, so working on Calvert is a bit like working on the moon, if the moon were in a temperate rainforest and had an okay Internet connection.
The place seems relatively serene now, with just 30 researchers on site. But as the weather warms through the spring the field station will heat up too, with more than 80 visitors occupying every bed here, pleasure boats filling the anchorages, and mealtimes crammed with chatting scientists and staff. People say the shoulder season is the best time to be here, when the famous West Beach can be had to oneself and the winter calm is still lingering. I suppose we'll find out in a month.