British Columbia Nootka Sound

Zeballos: There's Gold In Them Thar Hills

Tuesday, August 06, 2013S.V. CAMBRIA

The head of Zeballos Inlet

Hoping to take advantage of the incoming tide as we travelled up Zeballos Inlet, we left Queen Cove this morning in the fog.  Once again, we were the only boat left in the anchorage, everyone else having left well before us and Cool Change, who caught up with us yesterday, was nowhere in sight . . . until we arrived at the docks in Zeballos some 15 nautical miles later.

It was a warm, sunny day inland and the waterfront was busy with activity, but away from the harbour, all was quiet. And we spent the better part of the afternoon walking along the dusty roads, past the false-front buildings to the Zeballos Heritage Museum, a name that implies something more significant than the small building which houses it, learning about the history of the town.

The Zeballos River Estuary

Surrounded by rugged mountains and forest, Zeballos is picturesque and inviting but remained relatively unknown until 1935 when the area experienced a large gold rush.  By 1940, housing was at a premium and the boom was in full-swing.  They had electricity, hotels, restaurants, stores, a bank, a school, a hospital, a newspaper a library and, of course, a brothel.  Over the course of a ten years period, $13 million worth of gold was shipped out of Zeballos in the form of large bars: It was a wealthy and thriving community, but you’d never know it today.

Unfortunately, World War II caused a shortage of supplies and men and the mines shut down in 1945.  After the war, several attempts were made to make some of the larger mines profitable, but they were unsuccessful along with an iron mine operation in the 1960s.  Adding to the town’s difficulties, the second largest earthquake in recorded history (a 9.2 magnitude) hit Alaska in 1964, resulting in a tidal wave that brought destruction to the small community, leaving the residents to wonder what was next.

The community center was lifted off its foundation by the tidal wave and no longer sits square to the street

One of many false-front buildings in downtown Zeballos reflecting the town's mining past

Today, like so many other coastal communities, Zeballos relies on logging and tourism for their economy.  Times are difficult, but the residents are hardy and manage to eek out a living in this rough environment.  Only 125 people live there now – down from an estimated 5,000 during its heyday – and many of them only during the summer months to run fishing lodges, kayaking outposts, or the like.  But the resident who remain are friendly and inviting, like the town itself, and it’s easy to understand why they stay.

But it was getting late in the day and we had to go, so we reluctantly untied from the dock and made our way down Zeballos Inlet to anchor in McBrideBay at the top of Nootka Island for the night . . . next to Cool Change. The anchorage receives little attention from the cruising guides but turned out to be a nice surprise and a beautiful spot.  Apart from a small float house tied to the shore of a barrier island, it’s uninhabited and very quiet with a nice beach for shoring the dog.  And to top things off, we were treated to another beautiful sunset as we watched the fog roll up the inlet . . . a really nice ending to an already great day.
Cambria at anchor in McBride Bay

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