In Cortes Bay on Cortes Island, we met a man who lived out his dream and built himself a five-story castle. The life story of the “King of Cortes” fascinated both of us and his easygoing personality charmed us.
It was a blue-sky, sunny day with a steady breeze as we sailed from Lund to nearby Savary Island to visit friends who lived in a charming beach-front cottage. Even though the island lacks an all-weather anchorage, good temporary holding is available in Keefer Bay, east of the public wharf where wooden boardwalks protect the fragile beaches from erosion. Making sure that our anchor was well set, we piled our gear and picnic lunch into Tink and briskly rowed to shore. Laurence went fishing with the boys while I joined the girls for an up-hill cycling tour of the island, as catching fish is not my forte; we planned to all meet at the beach-front tennis court for a couple of friendly games before happy hour and a salmon BBQ at the cottage.
Our cycling tour completed, we freewheeled downhill to the courts where I saw Laurence on the beach, intently surveying the anchorage – a front was passing and a north westerly was building rapidly. Ten minutes later the wind was gusting 25-knots and Dreamspeaker was straining on the anchor off a lee shore. No time for a bracing gin and tonic – we had to get back to the boat as fast as Tink’s oars and Laurence’s arms could row us. We launched into the surf struggling to make progress off the beach. Our home-on-the-water looked so far away and it felt as if we were moving an-inch-a-minute as Laurence laboured through cresting, breaking waves that swamped the dingy.
We finally reached Dreamspeaker who was being violently tossed bow to stern in steep, choppy seas. Our sturdy boarding ladder secured amid-ships was a welcome sight; ascending while coordinating the ladder, waves and wobbly knees was a challenge. Finally we were both on board with Tink securely tethered and the ladder stowed. The wind was a steady 30 knots gusting 35 straight out of the north, thankfully the engine spluttered to life; no heroics trying to sail out of this one. The final ordeal was for Laurence to get the anchor chain up by hand, a few arm lengths at a time while I motored steadily forward to take up the slack.
The familiar sound of the anchor slipping into the bow roller was a relief; we even managed to wave to our bewildered friends on shore while motoring into the eye of the gale – we then headed north out of the bay towards Cortes Island. With wind and spray everywhere it took us an hour before we came into the protected lee of Cortes Island. The starboard light and cliffs on the southern shore clearly marked the entrance and guided us into the protection of Cortes Bay.
Once inside the bay, the water was flat but the wind still whistled through. It was full house at the public wharf, with boats rafted two and three deep. We anchored north east of the wharf, a spot where we had found good holding in the past. With the anchor set and snubbed, and halyards snugged down, we began to relax. A cool Chardonnay was uncorked and a glass or two went down well with the freshly caught salmon. Laurence added another adventure to his log book before we both dived under the duvet, exhausted but with a sense of achievement.
Anchored in Cortes Bay we were protected, the holding was good, the sun shone and our anchor held fast for three gusty days. On one of our land-based exploits, armed with camera and note book, we took a pleasant walk along Cortes Bay Road and turned right on Manzanita Road to discover the renowned King Karl’s Castle. A medieval wooden sign directed us up a steep, unpaved driveway that led to the castle’s stone steps and arched, solid timber door. Being mid-week and late in the season, there were no signs of visitors but our presence was announced by the sharp, loud bark of a very small dog which brought Karl out of his workshop to see what all the fuss was about.
Terry, the castle’s official “Queen”, a rare, six-year-old, miniature pinscher rat terrier, was no threat other than her deafening bark. Tipping his brown cloth cap King Karl greeted us with a welcoming smile, mud covered gum boots and a hand full of tools. We took to his warm personality instantly, as he was clearly a working king, and the four of us became good friends over the next few days.
In his mid-seventies, Karl is charismatic with or without his ceremonial, hand-crafted crown, highlighted with vibrant jewels, and his flowing, fur collared, burgundy velvet cloak. He wears these for special social events at the castle, ribbon-cutting ceremonies on the island and the jubilant Cortes Day parade in July. His choice festivity is the fall drag queen fashion show, held in the castle hall, where he has the honour of crowning the show’s winner “Queen of Cortes” for a one-year reign.
It took him 12 years and 13,000 cement blocks to complete his five-story imperial residence. Most of it he built alone, by hand, with the help of his pony to drag timber and logs from the nearby beach. He began by laying blocks to form the lower outer walls, then just kept building atop each layer from the inside until he had completed the exterior shell. Help came from local residents when it was time to lay the huge timber joists and roof beams. Karl proceeded to fit out the interior of his castle in hearty medieval style, right down to forging his own suit of armour and family coat of arms. He is proud of his interior walls’ decorative work, which he created using soft concrete, a cake icing bag and an assortment of small pottery tools. The robust pieces of wooden furniture throughout the castle, including the enormous banquet table, are all King Karl’s lovingly crafted creations. As soon as the castle was complete, Karl moved in and lived there for four years. The royal quarters operated as an unusual bed and breakfast, a location for king-size, medieval feasts, serving over 100 people in the banquet hall, and a popular destination for distinctive island birthday parties. Cortes residents officially crowned Karl their king in November 2001. Visitors flocked to see the castle’s eight bedrooms, three turrets, two cannons, one drop-loo, a life-like and scary dungeon and one very friendly king. With all this activity, King Karl had no peace; so, he decided to move back into his workshop to watch over his labour of love and go fly-fishing whenever he pleases. He still relies on visitor donations for the castle’s upkeep.
The following day Laurence and I were invited to watch King Karl’s well-loved video, produced by the CBC for the TV series “On the Road Again.” In this excellent blend of history and humour, Karl comes across as a man passionate about fulfilling his dreams and a most charming king. Terry was the star of the show as the cameras focused on her being lowered down from the third-floor doggie door. “As a puppy she needed to go to the bathroom every few hours,” says Karl, “and I wasn’t going to get dressed up and take her down all those stairs.” So, he invented a cushy sling that transported her to the lawn and back up again in style. In no time, she was castle trained and grew to love her nightly escapades – so fitting for an elegant, four-legged queen with her own jewel-studded tiara.
The westerly wind had temporarily abated so we said goodbye to our new-found friends who had given us such joy during our brief visit to Cortes Bay. We had plans to head farther north along Cortes Island’s eastern shoreline to visit Squirrel Cove. We wanted to hike to beautiful Von Donop Inlet before venturing into the delights of Desolation Sound Marine Park.
More stories about the wonderful coastal personalities we have met while cruising appear in our on-board log book and published travelogue, Voyage of the Dreamspeaker – Harbour Publishing.