Creekstone Press

Northern BC's publisher


Review of Oar & Sail: An Odyssey of the West Coast

What compelled [Leighton] to do this, his family cannot explain exactly. He liked to travel, they say, and enjoyed hard work for its own sake. But those are traits, not essence. Why row? Why the needless risk? What, really, propelled Ulysses to Troy?

Leighton had always been active. He ran marathons, climbed mountains, and traveled compulsively, letting his working life lead him to New Zealand, Sweden, Africa, South and Central America. Of his early years in Canada – Leighton was a Scot – he practiced in Alert Bay and Smithers. It was in Alert Bay he got his first taste of the coast.

He had always promised himself, said his wife, Nancy, he would explore that part of B.C.

He had always loved to row, toiling from Tsawwassen to Victoria a couple of times with Nancy, and as far north with her as Desolation Sound.

This time, the trip would be more arduous. So he commissioned the building of the Morag Anne. Fourteen feet from bow to stern, she was a scaled-down model of the boat that Captain William Bligh, master of the Bounty, commandeered 5,800 kilometres after being set adrift in the Pacific by Fletcher Christian and his band of mutineers. Built of cedar, she was fitted with a collapsible awning Leighton could sleep under, and a single mast and sail.

Like all captains Leighton kept a logbook of the trip. It begins with guarded optimism, blisters and the utter joy of traveling alone.

By this stage of the voyage, I am well settled into the routine of rowing all day or most of it. My hands are comfortably calloused and the old muscles don’t creak too much. It is a grand life, and as a bonus, the sun shines every day. The solitude, the water, the magic of adventure crystallize into moments of utter beauty.

Hurricane winds hit in open water as he approaches Cape Caution north of Vancouver Island. Like Ulysses, Poseidon thwarts his way. Leighton, dogged by bad weather, rows back to Vancouver.

He takes a year off, traveling to Uganda for six months to work for CARE. He returns and in 1993 tries again, launching from Port Hardy. This time Cape Caution offers benign seas.

I know I am going to make it this time. Just keep on rowing, steady and hard and I will get it behind me, once and for all. It is a tremendous feeling that makes me long for my companion. Sharing these moments of triumph is more satisfying than their solitary enjoyment. When you have been married as long as I have, such moments cry out for sharing.

Rowing up the Inside Passage, he makes Prince Rupert, not too proud to accept a tow from a yacht for the last leg of his trip. He pines for Nancy, his Penelope.

All odysseys end, of course, but Leighton, at least, had the satisfaction of completing his.

Nancy’s last words to me were, he wrote as he pushed off from Port Hardy at the beginning of his second attempt, Remember, you’re to enjoy this. Don’t feel you must go hurrying on, you’ve got no deadline. Make the most of it. But above all, enjoy it.

Good advice.