One summer long ago I sailed the 30′ sloop Sundance Kid around Vancouver Island. Up the West Coast and down the inside. High on my list of places to stop was Hot Springs Cove. In those it was a legendary natural spring in a remote location that few people had visited — certainly nobody I knew. I noticed the name on the chart when planning the voyage and circled it.
Weeks later, after fighting my way single handed out of Juan de Fuca Strait against gale force winds, I picked up my wife Fiona near Ucluelet. She had somehow cadged a ride from the ferry at Nanaimo over rough logging roads.
We headed north in light winds and fog patches. After anchoring in several remote and rocky bays the prospect of a hot bath was very appealing. Hot Springs Cove is located on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, north of Clayoquot Sound.
As we crossed Clayoquot Sound, motoring in calm seas, a thick fog settled in. We had no instruments other than a compass, so before we lost all visibility I took some bearings and marked our position on the chart, Then I set a compass course for the entrance to the cove. Soon the fog was so thick that we could barely see the bow of our boat. Somehow in the absence of vision the senses of hearing and smell are amplified. Fiona detected a fishy smell in the air, then the sound of a whale blowing came through the fog some distance off to starboard. Minutes later a sperm whale surface right alongside us. He looked at us for a moment with a dinner plate sized eye, the slowly sunk below the waves. giving a final flip of his tale as he went under.
Ahead we could hear a clanging bell, and indeed there was a bell buoy close to our course. It soon came into sight, which gave us an accurate position on the chart. Shortly thereafter the fog lifted, a light wind came up, and we sailed into the cove. It was a glorious sunlit afternoon. Ahead we could see a small public dock, and a native man paddling a canoe towards us.
As we got closer it was revealed to be a fiberglass canoe, not the dugout we had expected. We dropped our sails and spoke to the occupant, a young man in his twenties, with long black hair tied behind him. He turned out to be a hairdresser from Vancouver, although his family lived in nearby Hesquiat. Jared old us where to tie up for the path to the hot spring, described as an easy ten minute hike up the trail from the public dock.
We tied up behind two small salmon trollers. With swimsuits under out clothes and towels in hand, headed up the only path from the dock. For us, although young and fit, it was about half an hour of hard slogging through the rain forest. Some parts of the path had a boardwalk, other parts were muddy and slippery. When we arrived the spring water was bubbling out of the ground at near boiling temperature. Some wag had placed an old claw-footed bath tub there, with a pipe leading the hot water to it. The true purpose of this was revealed by several large crabs cooking.
There was a hot waterfall, followed by cascading pools. The lowest one was at sea level where cold ocean water mixed with the hot fresh water from the spring. One pool up from the bottom were five people, three men and two women, nobody wearing a stitch of clothing. They waved us to join them but we started at the bottom pool to gauge the heat. Soon we discarded out bathing suits and joined them in the next pool up. They were all older than us, and not exactly athletic types. The men eyed Fiona’s trim figure appreciatively, although nothing was said. After a while they departed, fishing their dinner out of the tub on the way, leaving us alone to enjoy the sunset.
We stayed a while longer then dried off, dressed and headed back. By then it was getting dark. The fishing boats were gone, and we had the dock to ourselves. I opened a bottle of wine while Fiona cooked the salmon fillet which had miraculously appeared in our cockpit. After a pleasant evening of reading, we bedded down.
We slept in the next morning. When we awoke there was another sailboat tied to the dock ahead of us. It was a bit bigger than ours, perhaps 35 feet long. There was nobody on board. After a quick breakfast we headed back up to the hot spring for another bath before departing.
Having decided that clothing was optional at the spring, we didn’t bring our suits. The walk up there seemed a little easier the second time, but it was still a goodly distance. When we got there the pool we had used the day before was occupied by a young couple and tow small children. All of them wearing bathing suits. We briefly considered going back for ours, but instead brazened it out, stripped of and got in. They all politely ignored our nakedness but didn’t converse much either.