THE crab was literally fighting for its life.
Its spindly legs wrapped vehemently around the first mate's hand, the desperate crustacean's claws were also unmoving, clamped painfully on his fingers.
One of a yield of shellfish pulled up from a trap set the night before just off a dock in Ucluelet, despite its best efforts, the crab's fate was determined. It was to become lunch, sweet revenge for the seasoned sailor it had victimized.
With the help of our captain, Wild Pacific Sailing proprietor Bobby Sherlock, the crab's forceful grip was loosened and it went into a bucket with the others.
Just past 8: 30 a.m., aboard the Pegasus, a 34-foot Hunter 340 sailboat, our itinerary had only just begun, promised a full day of adventure in Barkley Sound and through the Broken Group Islands, a protected area, part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
Not yet 9 a.m., we'd had one West Coast experience to remember, and in an area breathtaking in its untouched beauty and abundance of wildlife, it was time to set sail.
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"We don't get very many people, if ever, when they're leaving that are just kind of like, 'Yeah, I guess that was pretty average.' I think everyone's pretty impressed with the area, so it makes it pretty easy on me," says Sherlock. "All I have to do is take people out and show them. The Barkley Sound does the rest of the work."
A North Vancouver native and Handsworth graduate, Sherlock, 25, moved to Ucluelet five years ago to work as a sea kayak guide. Initially thinking he might launch his own sea kayak tour company, he quickly realized the challenges it would present, due to the number of existing area operators.
Still intent on launching his own business, Sherlock was inspired by a recreational activity he often engaged in, which was proving increasingly popular amongst his social network. During his off hours, Sherlock would take friends and family out aboard a small sailboat.
"People love to sail up here, but it being the Broken Group Islands and the West Coast of Vancouver Island, you have to know the right conditions for sure and it can be intimidating for people to sail on their own or for companies to get started," he says. "Basically, because I've surfed, kayaked and sailed there for a while, I have a really good understanding," he says.
Sherlock conducted some market research and realized there was a definite hole in the Ucluelet and Tofino markets regarding personalized tour and sailing charter companies.
"I thought it was crazy that nobody offers this kind of thing out here," he says. Currently in its second season, Wild Pacific Sailing is marketed as the area's only sailing tour operator and offers upscale, small group sailing tours aboard the Pegasus, ranging from a day tour (seven hours) to a multi-day adventure (two nights and three days). Custom tours are also an option, including for those looking to mark a special occasion, like an anniversary or wedding, taking into account activities as well as culinary offerings.
This year, Sherlock has expanded the company to offer four-by-four off-road tours.
Riding in his Jeep Wrangler, he takes adventurous tourists off the beaten path to see another side of Ucluelet, including stops at Westerly Winds Farm, a self-sustaining local goat cheese and soap producer, and the Thornton Creek Salmon Hatchery, with some black bear watching along the way.
"It's just a different interpretation of the area, especially for people who don't like going on boats," he says. "In Ucluelet if you don't want to go whale watching, fishing, or sailing, there's not much of a tour operation based on sightseeing on the land."
Wild Pacific Sailing also offers a fully furnished waterfront condo for rent, in a new development adjacent to where the Pegasus is moored, complete with kitchen, fireplace, patio and a barbecue, to help clients make their early morning departures with ease.
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Lying motionless in the warm morning sun, the sea lions were difficult to notice at first, their blubbery bodies the same colour as the dock they had come to rest on, lured by the odours of Ucluelet's active fishing industry and the promise of a quick snack.
Those spotted later, after we'd left the harbour behind, on a rock outcrop in the sound, were much easier to detect, their mournful cries dead giveaways.
Countless bald eagles and a humpback whale rounded out the day at sea's wildlife sightings, along with some species of snake, and brightly coloured anemones and starfish on Effingham Island, during a stop to hike to the site of a former First Nations village.
Apart from wildlife sightings, and taking in the scenic landscapes, throughout the journey, Sherlock's enthusiasm for the region was clearly evident as he offered insight into its rich history. The area has long been home to First Nations communities and tales of early European settlers were colourful at times, from an island used for rum-running and then home to a brothel, as well as tragic tales of the many local shipwrecks, contributing to the coastline's nickname: Graveyard of the Pacific.
B.C.'s culinary culture was also celebrated with lunch prepared by Sherlock, who previously honed his skills as a cook at West Vancouver's Dundarave Fish Market. The meal featured a surf and turf spread of steak and the aforementioned fresh-caught crab, spring greens, asparagus and peppers, smoked salmon and local chevre, and offerings of B.C. wines and craft brews.
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Sherlock is proud of his company and his unique approach to Ucluelet tourism. Whale and bear-watching, sailing, beachcombing, fishing and crabbing - Wild Pacific Sailing offers a one-off, handson and educational means of getting the full West Coast experience, with minimal environmental impact.
"It can all be combined as one trip," he says.
Sherlock is grateful to his North Vancouver family for their continued support of the venture; his mother Sue, of Sherlock Communications; and, his father Tom, of Vancouver's Travel By Design.
"I love the area and I love sailing and what I get out of it is I get to take people out there and show them around and show them something that I really feel passionate about," he says.
IF YOU GO:
Wild Pacific Sailing day tours: $175/person. Multiday and custom tours: Call for seasonal rates and specials. Four-by-four tours (three hours): $75/person. Condo rental: Seasonal rates apply. Packages also available. For more information, visit www. wildpacificsailing.com or phone 250-266-0035.