December 20, 2022 – Jaunty red deck chairs under red awnings draw passers-by in to explore Ports & Passes, the newest retail shop in QB’s East Village.
Open the door, and you are embraced by a warmly-lit, wood-accented West Coast ambience.
This shop is filled with all things marine and nautical. Everything from children’s books and fanciful sea creature stuffies to exquisite carved wood topographical maps depicting favourite West Coast shorelines. And books, books about the sea.
For decades, local publisher Chyna Sea Ventures Ltd. has been operating from this Qualicum Beach location, supplying nautical books, maps and charts for the West Coast of North America.
Chyna Sea Ventures publishes a painstakingly detailed guide to Pacific Northwest tides and currents based on accurate, current Canadian and U.S. hydrographic sources.
This guide, Ports and Passes, the company’s flagship book, is produced annually by QB resident expert Kevin Monahan.
Fohla Burton, Chyna Sea’s effervescent business manager, says “Basically, if you’re a serious boater on this coast, you have that book on your boat. I’ve had people come in and tell me that book has saved their lives out there.”
The Ports & Passes retail shop is Fohla’s brainchild.
A Lasquetian girl (that’s a Lasqueti Island resident for those not in the know), she was hired by Chyna Sea Ventures in February 2022 to run the publishing arm of the business.
Monahan wanted to focus on producing the technical marine and nautical books.
Fohla says, “Kevin phoned me up one day and said, ‘I have a proposal for you. I want to retire [from running the publishing side of the business]. I want you to take over, and run it as you see fit.’ I thought it was a great opportunity to learn something new, so I did.”
“Kevin Monahan is our expert on tides and currents,” says Fohla. “Absolutely the most knowledgeable person you could find for this coast.”
“Kevin puts together the Ports and Passes annual guide. He writes the Radar book, the GPS navigation book, the skipper’s reference. He also teaches. This is him being retired,” she laughs.
Fohla’s background is in hospitality management. She ran several well-known restaurants in Vancouver for many years, was the food and beverage manager at Tigh-Na-Mara in Parksville for seven years, and then spent some time in Okanagan wine country where she ran Poplar Grove’s wine tasting room.
“Then Covid struck, and I thought maybe it’s time to change what I am doing,” she says.
“That’s when Kevin called me up out of the blue. It was just so perfect. This allows me to utilize all the skills I’ve acquired over the years and be learning new things constantly, so it was perfect for me.”
Fohla says Mark Bunzel, who “owns the whole shebang,” (Chyna Sea Ventures Ltd.) and runs Fine Edge, the U.S. sister publishing company from his base in Anacortes, Washington, was very supportive.
Fine Edge produces the Waggoner Cruising Guide that covers Washington, British Columbia and southeast Alaska. “It has cool places to anchor, places to visit, marinas, anchorages, passages,” says Fohla.
She describes Mark as an avid cruiser who leads big flotillas of boats up and down the West Coast. [He’s] “a very knowledgeable boater,” says Fohla, “knowledgeable about the whole West Coast, from the States through to the north.”
Fohla recalls that the idea for a retail store came to her fairly early on. “I’m a fun-time boater, never the captain of the ship!” says Fohla, but her marketing and business skills rose to the fore.
“We supply all the retailers of marine books, maps and charts, all the big marine stores, all the chandleries on all of Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland, Gulf Island, Sunshine Coast but there’s nothing [nautical] here in Qualicum. I just thought, why not open up a little store?”
“I’ve never had a retail store,” says Fohla. I went to Kevin and Mark and said, ‘What do you think if I did a retail store at some point in this space?’ They were super supportive and basically said, ‘go for it, follow your instincts, do what you want’.”
They say entrepreneurs are, by nature, optimistic ideas people.
“I thought, we’re in this space (building) anyway (publishing). Why don’t we turn half of it into retail space, bring in local artists, support local staff, sell our books and let people know, oh my gosh, this is where these nautical book publishers are!”
Fohla says “it was really a blessing to be given carte blanche” to create her vision.
“I’ve had this incredible amount of freedom to be creative and make things happen. And now here we are! I’m still learning, I’m learning every day.”
Stepping into Ports & Passes immediately invokes a West Coast nautical vibe.
The renovation “has been this collaborative labour of love,” says Fohla. “Lots of exchange of ideas, and it kind of evolved as we did it. It was like, ‘well, what about doing this?’ It’s been really cool.”
“I had an incredible contractor, his name is Mark Franks. He came in, tore all the walls down, put in all the wood accents.
A friend of mine, Mark Shoemaker, did all the counters and the shelves, and he diamond-cut the cement floor.”
The warm wood features are accented by a gorgeous hammered tin ceiling. “The hammered tin ceiling was here already, so I can’t take credit for that, but isn’t it great?”
Asked what sort of challenges she faced when she took over running the business, did she take a deep breath after saying yes to the job?
Laughing, Fohla replies, “You know, I never take a deep breath. I always just jump in at the deep end. That’s just who I am.”
“I had the business side of it down. Pretty much you can tranfer that across industries,” she says, “but I’d never run a publishing company before, or talked about paper weights, or ink or anything like that. I had never really thought about currents and tides to this degree, or boating.”
“I love boating — I’m a West Coast girl — but I’ve learned a tonne. It’s been a heavy learning curve on that side.”
Having just launched the retail store in mid-November 2022, Fohla was hesitant to stay open for Moonlight Madness two weeks later because Ports & Passes, being so new, might be a bit off the beaten track, off people’s radar.
“I thought maybe we’d close at 5:30 pm. We didn’t close until 9 pm. People kept wandering in!”
Oh, and that Lasquetian thing? Turns out Fohla has known Kevin Monahan “all my life.” He was best friends with her parents back when they all lived on nearby Lasqueti Island.
Trusting one’s intuition, hard work and a little help from some friends has helped make Fohla’s vision a reality.
Ports & Passes | on Berwick Road (across from Fern & Cedar) | Qualicum Beach, BC | Tel. 250.594.1184