Barb Hillman: The Unassuming Wildlife & Adventurist Head at Westerly Yacht

A modern nod to Vancouver living, Barbara Hillman - General Manager of Westerly Yacht, graces Coal Harbour with elegance and class. Though it's Monday and the morning is somewhat young, Hillman has a healthy dose of energy and takes some time to chat along the seawall before whisking away on holiday.

She opens up about life in Ontario and what it was like growing up along the Rideau Waterway. "As a child I grew up at a cottage with boats," she recalls, pausing for a moment to gather memories. She later chimes in; "I think so many different things shape your life." Hillman dips an Earl Grey tea bag into her mug and explains a life mantra. "Sometimes it's not what you think life is going to throw at you, it's what life does."

It's clear Hillman is speaking from experience. When she and husband of 17 years, Ron Hillman, came to visit the West Coast, she explains how they fell in love with the ocean. "It's actually a funny story," she says. She quickly glances across the water at Cardero's" Coal Harbour's renowned marine pub - and continues on about how life came to be on the Coast. "When we got out here, we took a look at the waterways and thought you've got to be kidding - we need to be out there!"

When Ron & Barbara did begin to spend more time in Vancouver, they bought their first boat from Westerly - the Swift Trawler 42 - and later an opportunity arose to buy Westerly Yacht itself. And so they did. A breeze sweeps the ocean and follows alongside our conversation. "Ron likes to tell the story that we came to buy a boat but we bought the company," she says smiling.

We loop back along the seawall, and Hillman sits outside her Westerly office and breathes in what the day offers - A salty breeze and the scent of roasted coffee beans from down the street. She fires a question my way - "You know what a great thing about being on a boat is?" she asks. "It really seems to extend time."

Perhaps that's why Hillman feels at home when she is at sea.

She takes a moment and reminisces about her expedition aboard 'The Mother Ship Adventure Cruise,' her presence calm as she tells the story; "We flew into Bella-Bella and went out on an old, reclaimed missionary ship that was restored. In the mornings we'd pop our kayaks into the water and go off with the onboard naturalist for the entire day," Hillman explains. "We were up by grizzly bears, eagles and little cubs, and we had an opportunity to see the Spirit Bear." She takes a second to sip her tea, adding "It was utterly beautiful."

We sit and chat some more about life in Vancouver, touching down on travel and her keenness of the 50s style. Her love for the city is apparent, however her love for nature and wildlife is too.

While en route to Pender Island to visit a friend, Hillman recalls getting a phone call - Probably one of the most bizarre she's ever had. "You guys really have to watch out around you, because I think you're inÂ'Whale Soup'," Hillman says of her friends phrase that day. By this time the breeze has seized, but Hillman carries on.

"We could see a kind of rumbling in the water and within the next ten minutes, 87 whales began to surface." Goosebumps settle along Hillman's skin as she explains being caught in the middle of what is known as a 'Super Pod.' "It was the most unbelievable experience of my life, she says followed by a liberating exhale. Nothing will ever top that."

A wild experience - literally. And an inspirational one at that. As a result, Hillman started a program called 'The Westerly Whale', selling flags while on tours at rendezvous points, and to her clients. "All proceeds go to the Vancouver Aquarium's program for whale research & protection" she says.

Source Credit:     Text by Amber-Lea Nielsen | Photography by Jamie-Lee Fuoco

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