Crew and A: Oriana Smy
If you’ve emailed or phoned Outer Shores in the past two years, you’ve been in contact with Oriana Smy. Basically, she IS the Outer Shores office. It follows her around, whether she’s in Victoria, Haida Gwaii, or pulling the strings from behind the scenes at her current base, a float home in Cowichan Bay. Oriana is the voice of Outer Shores and always working on creating and sourcing new content to keep our guests and followers engaged and informed. Typically preferring to be the interviewer, we thought it was time to reverse the scope to get to know what goes on behind the lens.
Where are you from?
I was raised here in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. I grew up with a seven-acre forest next to my house where I spent my days exploring and walking up creeks, climbing trees, and building treehouses. I guess you could say I was encouraged to explore nature from a young age. My mom says I still have the curiosity of the eight-year-old in me.
How did you connect with Outer Shores?
It’s funny, back in 2012 I had a job interview for a company call S.E.A. Programs (Sailing Education Adventures) and the interview was actually in the salon on Passing Cloud, one of three boats in their fleet at the time. I remember walking in and falling in love with the boat. Shortly after being hired as mate, I learned it had been sold and I wouldn’t have the opportunity to work on it. Over the years, I heard about the things this scientist was doing with Passing Cloud…going up the coast to Haida Gwaii and to all these amazing remote places I had always wanted to visit. Fast forward to 2016 and a friend of mine mentioned the Outer Shores job posting. As it turned out, I would end up working on Passing Cloud after all! It’s funny how things can come full circle.
What’s the toughest part of your job?
Probably wearing so many hats at the same time. I have an official title, but there’s a lot of roles and tasks within that title. It can be challenging handling all the technical things like the website and administration, and getting the planning and many logistics in order, along with taking bookings and chatting with guests, all the while trying to be creative with graphic design, writing, photography, and video projects to make interesting and engaging content. It’s basically tough doing all of the things at the same time, but that’s also what keeps it so exciting!
What do you find most rewarding about your job?
There are many rewards that come with working for an adventure travel company. There are the obvious benefits of exploring vast, remote and wild spaces, and being encouraged to learn about the diverse wildlife and cultures of the BC Coast. But I find it most rewarding to get to know the guests who join us aboard the Passing Cloud. To learn about their expedition hopes and their reasons for joining us on board. I love being able to see the look on their faces after these life-changing experiences. I also feel very lucky to work with such an amazing collection of people. We have scientists, chefs, naturalists, and mariners, all with such impressive backgrounds and specialties. I find it incredibly rewarding to get to know them and help tell their stories.
So, what was it like being able to work out of Haida Gwaii for three months last summer?
It was other-worldly. It’s like nowhere else. Although it reminded me of other places I have travelled – and surprisingly similar to the jungles of Costa Rica in its wild, lush forests and perpetual wetness – there’s just something different about it there. There’s a presence about the place. Almost a supernatural kind of feeling. I wouldn’t describe myself as a particularly spiritual person, but there’s something very special there. The natural world is almost a given, but things just seem to be, I don’t know, heightened. The colour of the grass is a brighter green, almost glowing in vibrance, and the trees, well, definitely some of the biggest ones I’ve come across! But what really brings it all together are the people. The sense of community and the sense of pride in the Haida culture. It’s contagious. It was an honour to be included in that unique community, even if only part-time. I’m definitely looking forward to my return this summer.
What’s your favourite place on the BC coast?
It seems like I discover a new one every year. Obviously, I have an affinity for Haida Gwaii, and that will always remain at the top for me, but this past fall I got to explore a new area of the Central Coast. We visited this incredible Inlet in Kitasoo/Xai’xais territory in the Great Bear Rainforest. There were these dramatic granite cliffs that really demanded your attention, as well as an intricate estuary system, and a pretty magical lagoon – it was literally jaw-dropping. That whole expedition was like something out of a fairy tale. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, a whale would surface beneath a rainbow, or a grizzly with cubs emerged, or you’d hear a wolf calling in the distance. That’s pretty hard to beat.
What’s your most memorable wildlife encounter?
That’s a very tough question. Working for Outer Shores, there are so many! One that really stands out would have to be my spirit bear encounter this past fall. We were in the Great Bear Rainforest. It was Day 2 of the expedition, and the stoke was already pretty high. We were going to check out a presumed bear fishing area. We didn’t expect to see a spirit bear immediately upon our arrival, but that’s exactly what happened. We posted up across the river from the bear and spent hours taking photos and watching it fish in the river. Then, just upstream, as if one wasn’t enough, we saw a second spirit bear emerge from the forest. Not one, but two spirit bears! It was amazing.
Is it hard to work out of your office when most of your colleagues are sailing on Passing Cloud?
Sometimes yes, but I’m pretty lucky that we have a very excited and animated crew. Every time I’m on the satellite phone with them, they’re informing me of everything that’s going on. I get to live vicariously through these stories. Sometimes I even get a play-by-play and receive a call with just the sounds of whale calls coming from the hydrophone. Basically, I get phone calls from whales. I’m also very lucky in that I do get to go on a couple of expeditions every year. Which makes it all the more exciting every time I’m onboard.
What are some projects you’re working on this year?
Well, a big focus this year is video. With all of the logistics that go into expeditions, the creative stuff often gets pushed to the back burner. I was a participant in the Adventure Filmmaker Workshop at the Banff Mountain Film Fest last fall, and that really fuelled the fire for some ideas I’ve been thinking about. I’m excited to see some projects I’ve started finally come to fruition. Outside of Outer Shores I’m also (unofficially) starting a media collective with a few friends of mine. A big takeaway for me from Banff is remembering there’s so much power in collaboration. I often work pretty solo on creative projects, as I think most people in the creative industry do, so I decided to pull together friends and colleagues from varied disciplines within media and the digital arts, to encourage conversation around that. It’s basically a peer review group for education, encouragement, and hopefully collaboration in the future. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and being able to pull together and work with a community of like-minded and complimentary-skilled individuals is pretty awesome.