Save room for Coombs when coming to Bamfield

Amanda loves tide poolsby Amanda Kahn

One of the two driving routes to get to Bamfield takes Trans-Canada Hightway 1 north from Victoria up to Nanaimo, then BC-19 to Parksville, then takes Highway BC-4 W toward Port Alberni.  From there, it’s a route along the logging roads.  However, a slight detour, taking Highway BC-4a instead of BC-4, adds only a few minutes and takes you through a wonderful town called Coombs.

To be honest, I’ve only really explored one little part of Coombs, and that is the Old Country Market…better known as “Goats on the Roof” market.

Old Country Market

The official name, the Old Country Market, in Coombs, BC. Credit: D Ludeman 2011

Inside the market, there are delicious gourmet breads, cheeses, cuts of meat, a fantastic little deli and cafe, and lots of international decorations–really, there’s a bit of everything in there.  Farther down the road from the market is also an ice cream shop (hey, yet another way to get ice cream while working in Bamfield! Cash only.), and a very affordable produce stand with local BC produce.  Also, the roof is an environmentally friendly sod roof, and to keep the grass cut economize on space entertain people / be really awesome, there are goats that live on that roof.  My favorite quotation from the reviews on about the market: “Goats on the roof = automatic awesomeness.

Goats on the roof of Coombs market

Oh, that’s normal for the market…goats on the roof. Credit: A Kahn 2012

Coombs is a great place to stop at on the way into Bamfield, to pick up specialty gourmet foods before needing to order things in or depend on what you find in the stores there.  Apparently, there are also a few other destinations in the tiny town, although I’ve never been to these:

Butterfly World and Gardens – Butterflies, reptiles, and an orchid garden populate the Butterfly World and Gardens in Coombs.  If you miscalculate the time it takes to get to the ferry in Nanaimo and have to wait for the next one, you may want to check this place out.

World Parrot Refuge – The refuge provides a place for previously-owned pet parrots to live out their lives.  They also invite visitors in to learn about parrots and have a huge volunteer base.  Seriously, if I lived near a parrot refuge, I’d be a volunteer!  How cool is that?

Also, a rodeo and a bluegrass festival bring visitors to the tiny town each summer.  Wow.  I’m going to bet every tiny town has as much going on in it as tiny Coombs–I’m just familiar with the happenings of this little place.  Definitely take the detour–it will only be a few minutes extra driving and will let you stock up on hot sauces and specialty Italian cookies before heading out to Bamfield, plus you’ll see goats!  On a roof!

This post empowers free access to ice cream cones for all. You’re welcome.

Amanda loves tide poolsby Amanda Kahn

Unlike when one takes a course or the Fall Program, there is no orientation for researchers coming out to BMSC.  When I arrived for the first time, I did not know what the different buildings were called, whom to talk to if seeking out supplies or equipment, or what resources were available when I arrived.  One of the goals of this blog is to serve as a repository of information, tips, and procedures for working at BMSC.

When I first arrived in Bamfield, I heard people mentioning taking rowboats across the inlet to the West Side.  I figured that I wouldn’t need such a thing–the whole station is on the East Side, and there is a store on the East Side fulfilling any needs I might have.  However, over time it became apparent that a trip or two to the West Side would become necessary, especially once I learned that the Bamfield General Store serves ice cream cones in summer.  Many of the locals live on the West Side, Brady’s Beach and Scott’s Bay are accessible by foot from the West Side, and the Coast Guard, Bamfield General Store, Boardwalk Bistro, and dock for the Francis Barkley are all on that side of the water.

So how does one use the rowboats?  And who can use the rowboats?  You can check out the full details in the WCUMSS guide, but here’s a short rundown:

Any students or researchers who are working at BMSC can use the rowboats between 8:30 and 4:30.  After-hours (but still daylight–no rowing in the dark) and weekend use requires a check-in person, whom you must contact before you leave with an estimated return time.  That person is responsible for reporting a possible disappearance, so don’t be late and don’t forget to contact the person when you return.  Row boats cannot leave the inlet, but inside of the inlet, where the water is calm and relatively unperturbed, it’s easy to cross or to row up the inlet all the way to the Boardwalk Bistro.

Procedure for checking out a rowboat:

  • LoligoSign out one of the two rowboats, Loligo or Postelsia, providing the name of all people going across (max. 4 people), departure time, estimated return time, where you are going, and who your check-in person is, if it is after 4:30. This can be done on the sign out sheet at the dive shed in the North facing cubby.


  • Grab Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) from the closet next to the boat sign-out nook of the dive shed, distributing them for all members going across.  Everyone MUST wear a PFD when down on the dock and when using the boats.
  • Check that the boat you checked out has the required safety equipment: oars, a bailing device, a whistle, and line to throw out in case of a man overboard.  Also check that oarlocks (where the oar fits into a holder on the boat) are tight and secure.  Bail the boats if needed, such as if it’s been raining.
  • Designate a rower: that person faces toward the aft (rear) of the boat and rows while facing backwards.  As probably all of us have learned, rowing isn’t tricky but it isn’t easy either–the first few times, go out in good weather with knowledgeable partners in the boat, and practice turning and maneuvering. It’s useful to have someone facing forward to help direct you across, but otherwise find a spot on the shore opposite your destination and keep facing it.
  • Untie the boat from the dock and pull the bumpers up inside the boat–otherwise you’ll continually be veering into a circle as you try to row in a straight line!

Check for oars, a whistle, throw line, bailer, and that all boaters have PFDs. The front of the boat (stern) is the side that has the boat’s name on it. The one who is rowing will face away from the stern, toward the rear (aft) of the boat.

  • Row out to your destination.  Be careful when crossing the inlet–technically as a non-motor-powered boat you have the right of way, but it is wise and courteous to try to time your crossing so you don’t force other boats (and seaplanes!) to work around you.
  • If you’re just going to the General Store, you can park the boat anywhere in the white spaces in front of the General Store dock (the “Store Dock” in this picture).  If you’re going elsewhere, park the boat in the government dock (just to the right of the store dock in the picture).  Throw the bumpers over the side and tie the boat up to the dock using a clove hitch followed by two half hitches.

How to tie up the boat: a clove hitch:

Follow that up with two half hitches and you’re done!  The boat will be secure.

  • Make sure that when you return, you tie up the boats in line with the white markers painted on the docks.  This will ensure the two rowboats do not bump and damage each other if waves or swells come through.
Clove hitches should be tied where the white paint is, unlike what you see in this photo.

Clove hitches should be tied where the white paint is, unlike what you see here. Credit: N Webster 2012

Clove hitches are in the correct place, overlapping the white painted lines on the dock.

Clove hitches are in the correct place, overlapping the white painted lines on the dock.

  • Return life vests and sign back in.  Also, contact your check in person if you had one.

Hooray!  Now you have a quick reference to how to use the rowboats.  Still, once you get to Bamfield for the first time, make sure to go out with someone who knows what they are doing first and check for any changes in boating policy.

I hope you know what this means–you now have the ability to cross to the West Side for an ice cream cone!!  I am sure you’re as excited about that as I was when I figured that out–see you there!

P.S.  This does not give you access to a free ice cream cone, just free access to getting across to buy an ice cream cone.  Tricky wording?  Maybe, but not if you read it carefully…  It’s all in the word order.

How it’s possible to eat sushi in Bamfield

Amanda loves tide poolsby Amanda Kahn

So you’ve decided to come to Bamfield.  You’re out here, delving into your research, working in the field, when suddenly, a craving strikes!  Wouldn’t sushi be delicious right now?  Then another realization strikes: there isn’t a sushi restaurant within an hour’s drive of Bamfield.  Or many other restaurants, for that matter.  What are you going to do?


Yeah, not going to happen.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do.  First and foremost, the people at BMSC are superbly creative, capable folks who can do science AND know how to roll sushi!  Well, some must know how to make sushi.  Chances are high that asking around will find you someone who has a sushi roller, someone else with sticky rice, nori, wasabi, or pickled ginger.  So, evening dinner party it is!

Tides and Trails Market

Catch the morning low tide, revive with a warm coffee or an ice cream. Credit: A Kahn 2012.

If you can’t find anyone with yams and you really want to make some yam tempura to go along with your sushi, you’ll have to head to one of the two stores in town.  On the east side of town (the same side as the marine station, and accessible by car or walking from the station) is the Tides and Trails Market.  This market stocks a small selection of fruits and vegetables, dairy, dry goods like pastas, rice, and even rice noodles, themed sections with a variety of diverse foods–including soy sauce for your sushi.  There is also a freezer with a few different types of meat, pizzas, raviolis, frozen veggies, juices, and sometimes ice cream.  A special ice cream freezer also has treats like ice cream sandwiches and ice cream bars.  There is also a candy counter and a variety of warm baked goods.

Bamfield General Store

The ramp leading down to the dock is where boats tie up to go to the store. Credit: A Kahn 2012

On the west side of town, accessible from the marine station only by boat, is the Bamfield General Store.  The General Store has a larger selection of fruits and vegetables, dairy section, more frozen veggies and meats, tasty imported chocolates, plenty of dry goods, and an ice cream section that serves huge scoops of ice cream on waffle cones.  On hot days, locals sit outside the general store with their ice cream cones.

A couple of other options for those hard-to-find or specific items: one is to ask someone when they’re driving in from town and if they can pick up some groceries for you in Port Alberni.  Another is to make a big order from Safeway, which costs a bit extra but will ship in the order on the Francis Barkley, which comes into Bamfield three times a week.  Finally, you could catch a ride out to Port Alberni, at the end of the logging road, to visit a sushi restaurant there.

So, in spite of being at a remote field station, there are ways–many ways!–to enjoy sushi or whatever else strikes your fancy.  Doing so just requires a bit of creativity and ingenuity.