Gravity’s Groceries

Port McNeill

“Port McNeill is a Grade-A stepping stone to outdoor adventure.”

Vancouver North Magazine

Jupiter, making passage at the near north end of Vancouver Island suspends the cruise at Port McNeill to moor up for a day or two to take on fuel and fresh provisions. The crew yearns to stretch their legs and grab a savory small-town burger and fries at Lata’s Kitchen food truck.

Many things are possible at this utilitarian town: hardware, pharmaceuticals, liquor, fuel, outdoor equipment, auto and boat parts and the vital attraction: groceries. At Port McNeill we follow the wisdom of Mick Jagger: “you can’t always get what you want…but…you get what you need.”

The IGA store, located a few blocks up from the waterfront and marinas is friendly and amply stocked. Remarkably, the store invites visiting mariners to to fill their shopping cart and take it from the premises to the docks.

Boaters, lacking land transport and on foot, are encouraged to push that cart from the IGA door several blocks down through town to the marina and leave it there for store retrieval, a practical and thoughtful service.

Seafarers, abnormally acquainted with sea level, also understand gravity and find the compelling downhill route from IGA to the boat ramps irresistible.

In a recent reverie Jupiter’s crew encounters an ancient mariner from down island who relates how he can actually propel an IGA shopping cart from the supermarket door, watch it autonomously travel down through town to end up just where it needs to be by the boat ramp:

First thing is, you need to study the route, the geography and terrain. i walk it, eyeball it, measure every turn before trying it, eh?

Next thing, find the right cart, lube the wheels, check the overall balance, the handlebar, and sniff out seaside corrosion. I bring a tool kit to make adjustments and a level to check structure.

Next, do an empty roll-check in the parking lot and on the sidewalk. You know, this town has proud potholes and cracked cement. Freeze and thaw all winter, eh?

For luck name your cart, eh? I always name mine Sarah for whatever reason, nevermind.

Then get your shopping and know that you’re just not doing this with an overloaded cart. Check out using your own bags with tops closed and wedge them tight in the basket. Even if you don’t need it, buy something really heavy to put on that bottom shelf, but not big melons that can roll out, eh?

I carry a couple of old dock lines to tie everything down. I use a midshipman’s hitch mostly, but the idea is to get that centre of gravity low, and I mean low.

So you might be ready to make a start, but I’d suggest stopping by Gus’s Pub for a cold one and then check the traffic in town. Mid-morning there’s not going to be many big gravel trucks with the high tyres, way-out rearview mirrors and beefy drivers. If I think the groceries are at risk from careless drivers, I fly a Diver-down flag sticking up a meter out the cart top, eh?

Then I stand right about here where I have a clean rolling start down the first wide walkway and where I can see pretty much the entire route because some buildings have been torn down. I’m ready, right, but I can’t just shove her straight. I need to use a little English and lay on the starboard side a bit to round the first hard turn to port.

Now give’r a go. the rest is up to the cart wheels to do their thing following the curb cuts, ramps, avoiding that gravel patch by the pharmacy, gaining speed by the Humpback Inn, then slowing down sharp by the recycling centre.

It’s lovely when this works. I just pick up a double caramel macchiato and use the washroom at Tia’s café then walk casually down to the gate at North Island Marina and grab my groceries.

Nice ride, Sarah, eh?


  1. Dana Starr says:

    You guys are so clever and original !! Trust you’re having a great time. Tip one for me!
    And safe travels to you all and Jupiter! 😎🇺🇸

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