Betty Lowman Carey’s Dugout Canoe, “Bijaboji”, Comes Home

Betty with Bijaboji at the Sandspit Air Terminal where the canoe was on display for 10 years.

In September 2008, Betty Lowman Carey and Neil Carey of Sandspit, Queen Charlotte Islands, attended the celebration of the return of Betty's famed dugout canoe to her hometown in Anacortes, Washington. Betty was 18 when her father gave her the canoe found adrift by the Coast Guard. Growing up with four brothers in the 1930s, Betty was an ardent tomboy, intent on rowing the canoe solo to Alaska. Her father, who was against the idea, eventually gave in with the proviso that Betty be able to swim the 10-miles between between Anacortes, Guemes and Cypress Islands to the northwest—a channel that carries heavy current. Betty passed the test and in June of 1937, four days after her graduation from the University of Washington, she set out to row, not paddle, her canoe to Alaska. Sixty-six days later, she reached her 1500-mile goal in Ketchikan. Then, twenty-six years later, at age 49, Betty reversed her adventure, this time rowing south from Ketchikan to Anacortes. Although three other women in addition to Betty were honored at the 2008 Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival for having rowed the Inside Passage to Alaska (Dale McKinnon, Robin Clark and Susan Dandridge), Betty is the only one to have rowed both north and south.

Betty in front of the Anacortes Museum in September 2008 during the celebration of Bijaboji’s return.

Neil and Betty initially moved from Southern California to the Queen Charlotte Islands where, in 1965, they built a cabin in a remote cove on the west coast of Moresby Island. For three decades they explored nearly every mile of the islands’ coastline, documenting their discoveries, writing about their life and helping scientists and the rare boater who ventured their way. Neil’s A Guide to the Queen Charlotte Islands has been a classic since the publication of its first edition in 1975. Puffin Cove©1982 (Hancock House) describes their life as homesteaders where the only access was by boat or helicopter.

Betty tells the full story of her original canoe voyage in her book, Bijaboji1: North to Alaska by Oar ©2004 (Harbour Publishing). In the Epilogue she writes: In the fall of 1993, when both of us were in our seventies, we left Puffin Cove and our life at sea. We had enjoyed nearly three decades of life free of crowded highways and tight schedules, but full of varied activity and endless surprises. . . . All of this has happened because as a teenager I had an overwhelming desire to get to Alaska, and my father gave me the best birthday present of my life—Bijaboji, a superb Indian dugout and, to me, the world’s best and most beautiful sea-going vessel . . .  

1. Named after her four brothers: Bill, Jack, Bob, Jimmy

Notes: Beginning in April 2009, Betty’s canoe will be on permanent display in the W.T. Preston Heritage Center at Cap Sante Harbor in Anacortes. The Careys still live in Sandspit, Moresby Island, QCIs. Neil and Betty have been friends of Don and Réanne Douglass for many years and have helped in providing information for the Douglass’ Exploring the North Coast of British Columbia.

Photos courtesy of Neil Carey. • Herb Nickles, Editor in Chief
Copyright © 2012 Don and Réanne Douglass