Through the heart of the Salish Sea is a cultural fault line that divides most Canadians from most Americans.
We like to swing and they don’t.
Through the heart of the Salish Sea is a cultural fault line that divides most Canadians from most Americans.
We like to swing and they don’t. They like to tie and we don’t.
I’m talking about the art of stern tying. Stern tying is what you do at an anchorage where people stern tie. After dropping anchor you run a line from the stern of the boat to the shore. This means your boat doesn’t swing, although in the wind the stern tugs at its tether like an annoying dog.
Occasionally stern tying makes sense. Let’s say a storm kicks up in Malaspina Strait and along with most everyone else you head for shelter in tiny Smuggler Cove. More boats can squeeze in when they park side by side around the edges, bows facing in in a neat circle. To facilitate the spacing of boats at this location, Provincial park authorities have installed iron rings at intervals along the shore. But even when there are no rings and lots of scope for swinging, the folks north of the cultural fault line will still stern tie.
And unlike those of us from the south, they are adept at it! No sooner is the anchor down than one of the crew gets in the dinghy, takes the end of a yellow plastic line from a bobbin mounted in the stern of the mother ship to the shore, puts it around a tree or though a ring, bring it back to the boat, and ties it two the stern. Done in less than 5 minutes.
Jack’s log offers a single note on a recent anchorage: “The stern tie from hell!”
There are only three boats there when we pull in to Smuggler Cove, a couple of hours south of Pender Harbour. With our pick of where to anchor, we choose our spot and drop.
As Jack at the helm tries to keep the boat off the rocks, I fumble with the yellow plastic line, get into the dinghy and head for shore. Somehow I manage to lose the end the line and have to go back to the boat to retrieve it. This time Jack unspools a whole lot so we can cover the distance. Fortunately, the yellow plastic line floats and doesn’t foul the propeller.
Here’s our set up on an earlier, imperfect stern tie in Laura Cove. Note the makeshift bobbin mount, the wet shoes and socks and the fenders on the rail that will complicate a future effort that is going into the books as “The Stern Tie from Hell.”
I reach shore, get wet to the knee as I step out on a large flat rock. I secure the floating dinghy, untie the bitter end of the yellow line and scale the barnacle-encrusted cliff – just as well I’m wearing my snow pants. I find a ring, pass the bitter end through it and head back down to the dinghy, now stuck on the flat rock because the tide is falling pretty fast. I climb back on board Aurora as Jack kills the engine. We assess our twisted lines and check the tide tables.
Oops. We’re a more than an hour from the low low in a full mooned spring tide cycle. We’ve got to re-anchor and do the whole thing again!
Our stomachs are empty and our brunch of poutine will have to wait. I pocket a granola bar and head to the bow to raise the anchor. Rather than taking the trouble to open the hatch and flake the chain back into its locker under the V-berth, I bring the chain up on the deck. Then I accidentally step on the windlass motor button and manage to jam the anchor in the cradle and the taught chain on the windlass. As Jack keeps the boat off the rocks, I fetch the hammer, screwdriver and WD40. Swearing like a sailor, I eventually coax the links off the iron ratchet.
Finally we can repeat the process. I drop the anchor and feed out a pile of chain. Then I get back into the inflatable still wearing my wet snowpants and shoes. I tie the bitter end to the dinghy so the line can follow me. I paddle out (not row, mind you, thanks to the oarlock that broke in Pender Harbor). The cliff is really high now; a vertical foot of tide has run out during the jammed windlass incident. But with the end of this saga in sight, I bound to the top of cliff and put the end of the line through it. Now all Jack has to do is feed out the line so I can double it back.
Oh oh. Either my trajectory was loopy or the stern has swung, but now the line between spool and water is badly tangled among the spare fenders hung on either side of the $20-used-barbecue-that-has-never-worked. Now it’s Jack who is swearing. He pulls fenders back over the rail into the boat, removing all play from the yellow plastic line and making things much worse. In the end he has to untie each of the fender lines.
Finally, standing atop the cliff like a resilient mountain goat, I coil all the line needed to reach the boat. As I climb back down to the dinghy, the barnacles catch the coils. Once the line and I are safely down in the dinghy heading back to the boat, the whole scene changes. The slack line snags on a rock and then another. As I look back in defeat, my paddling takes the inflatable atop the the half of the line already in place adding a new twist.
Canadian stern ties result in neat parallel lines from ship to shore. Ours can be more like cat’s cradle.
Stern tying gives me cultural angoisse, existential anomie. It’s one of those times when the local culture seems impenetrable. How much else about Canadians do I fail to understand? Does any of this behavior carry over to important differences in, say, the way they park their cars?
The puzzling movement of large logs on a king tide.
We turn off Sutil Channel into Quadra Island’s Drew Harbour. The place is empty so we have our choice of anchorage. After studying the chart, observing the surface currents, surveying the contours of the land, and predicting the winds through the trees, we drop anchor on a bump off Rebecca Spit.
We find it the perfect anchorage. This is later confirmed by a couple of sailors who had watched us spin peacefully throughout the gale-force winds which battered their similarly sized-boat tied up nearby at the Heriot Bay Public Wharf.
In the late afternoon we stand on deck. Through a break in the trees on the spit we can look across the white-capped channel to Cortes Island and the mountains of Desolation Sound beyond. As the sun sets, the winds stop, the tide peaks, and the salt logs lining the lovely curve of the spit, creep into the water. Over a hundred of them, large and small, float throughout Drew Harbour, glistening a rich brown in the setting sun. Then as the tide peaks, they all return to our curve of the spit. The whole show lasts about 90 minutes.
With the same tide height predicted for the next evening, albeit it an hour later, I persuade Jack to stay up and watch the curious journey of the logs. But this time, it doesn’t happen! There’s some modest log movement off a more southern part of the spit, but yesterday’s logs merely floated briefly before falling back into place.
My Otis Redding frame of mind.
When you’re in an Otis Redding frame of mind “watching the tide roll in” and then “roll away again,” you realize a lot is going on. The interplay of tide, current, depths, heights, and wind is a wondrous mystery.
Isolated logs may be encountered anywhere when you’re underway. They may bounce up on steep waves on when the wind is against current in Johnstone’s Strait. They may float calmly, transporting a dozen gulls or a long bald eagle. We have seen a harbor seal using one to haul out while moving on with the tide.
The rule is if you see one log, you keep an intense lookout for others. And when you see others, you know there are more.
I used to think that logs escaped log booms or slid off barges – which they do, of course – but most of them probably move around under their own steam, or rather, under the power of Nature. They fall in the forest, sometimes over streams. They may be the remains of an cannery that has been decaying since salmon runs nearly collapsed at mid-century. They may simply be among the salt logs which group and regroup along the shores in the spring tide zone. They may be new growth trees a foot-and-a half-or two in diameter or huge old growth trees. In Tidal Passages, Jeannette Taylor’s history of the Discovery Islands, there’s a picture of the Beyers family in front of a fresh log from Von Donop Inlet that is 17 feet in diameter!
Three years ago, coming south from Alaska, I remember tucking into the Broughtons, among the most pristine waters of the coast. Just before Echo Bay we found our passage littered with logs of all shapes and sizes. We motored slowly, weaving in and out of them. Fortunately, the thick morning fog had burned off making the logs starkly visible in the noon sun, which must have coincided with a king tide. I need to check the data on that.
Lots of data!
Back in Port Townsend a bunch of scientists, along with my friend Dave who specializes in marine weather, are studying the way King Tides hit Port Townsend shores. As part of a broad Washington Sea Grant study to predict the impact of the month’s highest tides on sea level rise, they’re feeding data into a broad study. They use some simple sophisticated equipment and also rely on ordinary citizens who monitor the same tides with their cameras. What a wealth of new information there is in photographs stamped with time and GPS coordinates! Maybe we’ll figure this out.
Although flows of water may be riddled with riddles, there is a lot of data. It’s been accumulating since Newton. As I understand it, repeated 18 year series of observations now make it easy to pinpoint the two daily ebbs and flows that characterize our area. Our Ports and Passes manual for 2017 Tides and Currents for Washington Inside Waters, British Columbia and Southeast Alaska is 622 pages long. It’s based on research by the Canadian Hydrographic Service, which cooperates with NOAA (and registers the “negative tides” of the US as the commonsensical “zero tides” of Canada.)
Tides and currents are of course very different. Tides are measured vertically although water flows horizontally. As for currents, let’s not go there now. If you want to see the types of questions they throw up for a mariner, just keyword search the blog for “currents”.
What about non-watery currents and tides?
Thought tides and conceptual currents figure in the way we consider and talk about other realities. Is there any order there?
It seems to me that tides are broad movements. Take gold rushes. There were so many of them along the coasts of the Americas! A gold rush is something that takes root in the minds of many to draw physical tides of people from many locations into a single quest. The past couple of years have brought to European shores tides of refugees, people embedded with compelling notions of freedom or survival.
As in Nature, non-watery tides certainly interact with currents. But currents are sharper, less superficial than tides. They cut vertically. They help explain some of the fault lines in a society. Are the evolving notions of working class and middle class currents in conflict? What about the knife-edged current of contemporary “bathroom bills” that slices through the rising tide of human rights victories for LGBLT folks?
Suddenly, a light blue paperback is thrust before me by a set of hands turning open the cover and luring me in. “You’ll love it.” The woman who’s sidled up up next me goes on, “Stories by 34 women who lived in Haida Gawai and other parts of the North Coast in the 60s and 70s. I’m Jane,” she says, snapping the volume shut and pointing to her name on the title page, “And I got these women to write about their lives.”
We’re at Blue Heron Books in Comox. On arrival I’d greeted the saleslady, telling her how good it was to be back and inquiring what about new titles for our shipboard library. Hidden in the art supplies corner overhearing our exchange is Jane Wilde, who masterminded a unique look at a period and place. By the time I check out Gumboot Girls: Adventure, Love and Survival on the British Columbia’s North Coast a is signed and waiting for me at the cash register.
Jane’s right. Great book. In our three days on the hook off Rebecca Spit I devour it along with Grant Lawrence’s Adventures in Solitude, stories of life in Desolation Sound over the past 50 years. Serendipitous companion volumes.
“When are you going to get rid of your president?”
At the Salvation Army store next to Blue Heron, I find a treasure trove of used forks, teaspoons, chowder spoons, and so many knives that I choose only the smaller bistro style ones. Ten cents each. When I’m ready to pay up, I spread I spread everything out on the glass jewelry case. The clerk wonders if I’m organizing an outdoor wedding, “Nope. This is to help save the Salish Sea! We’re getting rid of plastic at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival.” With so many schools and organizations going plastic free it’s hard to find good utensils I tell her. And yes I’ve left enough behind for a couple of households.
My colors revealed, my fellow shopper voices her distress. She looks a typical Port Townsend progressive. But she’s Canadian and Canadians are taking Trump really hard. They need reassurance.
Slowly and surely the wheels of justice are turning, I say. Meanwhile look at what’s happening at the state and local levels. People in the US are awake, learning the ins and outs of government and taking it back. State legislatures are stepping up to salvage social justice and climate action. And communities everywhere are launching new initiatives to strengthen democracy and local resilience.
“I’ve been here forty years and this was the worst winter yet.”
Jack and I are in line at the Comox Valley Harbour Authority to pay for another day’s moorage at the Fishermans Wharf we can enjoy the Sailfish catamaran races.
The sun is intense. The joy is palpable. Kids skip. Bounces in the steps of sandaled feet. Skin and ink everywhere. The weather out of the northwest seems to have finally vanquished the the unbroken wintry systems from the southeast.
The man ahead of us, shakes his head with a smile. He’s fished these waters – commercially – his entire career. Winter was bad. No, it wasn’t just imagination. Not just aging joints complaining. “Do you remember how it started? Before the end of September? Not a decent stretch of a few days until now.”
A day by day account of how we got where we are. Stay turned for photos, links, and updates.
Saturday, July 22, 2017 Watsmough Bay. 48º25.9’N
“Watsmough Bay: The most scenic anchorage in the San Juans?” asks the cover of the May 2015 issue of Pacific Yachting magazine. We think so. What’s more it’s the San Juan destination closest to Port Townsend. But never is it more beautiful than when hear an anchor drop and discover it’s Martha. Captain Robert Darcy waves. This century old schooner which recently did the TransPacific race lives in Point Hudson in front of the boat shop in the Northwest Maritime Center where owner Darcy is lead shipwright.
Thursday, July 20, 2017. Bellingham 48º45.4’N122º30’W
Bellingham is a much bigger place than the Fairhaven district where we boarded the Alaska Ferry years ago. Indeed the waterfront is vast and forever changing as the city tries to meet the demand for housing.
At the Squalicum Harbour office, where we pay our 75 cents a foot there is not so much as a free map. Figuring out Whatcom County’s capital, visiting friends and exploring its cultural sites will have to wait for another trip. I spend Friday at the library, trying to tie up the week’s loose ends. A stop on the way at the Chamber of Commerce nets an excellent pile of maps and information about the town.
Tuesday, July 18, 2017 Sucia Island 48º45.8’N 122º54.4’W
Have we not been to Sucia since a trip with Kinza years ago? Spanish explorers named northernmost of the San Juan Islands “sucia”, or “dirty” because of the the many reefs surrounding it. We tie up at a buoy and sleep through a bouncy night. To get Washington State Parks’ $15 per night fee to shore we hail a family with a dinghy.
Monday July 17, 2017 Point Roberts 48º58.6’N 123º03.9’W
We raise the main among the 18 gigantic cargo ships anchored in English Bay and head out into the Strait taking the swells uncomfortably on the beam. toward the then rock and roll across the delta of the mighty Fraser River swollen with snow melt from far away BC peaks.
Of Point Roberts, Washington, a visitors’ guide writes this: Locals call it “The Sigh.” You drive through the border, turn right onto Tyee Drive with it towering evergreens and “The Sigh”involuntarily escapes you. Point Roberts is an island of serenity next to the bustle of the Vancouver metropolitan area.
This sleepy, 5-square mile scrap of land that protrudes south of the 49th parallel, is home to 1500 people, many of them dual nationals of Canada and the US. Point Roberts is an isolated enclave that boasts forests and farms and a sandy salt flat with a tear-drop shaped marina carved into it. The enclave borders Tsawwassen, whose busy port accommodates large ships and the BC ferries that connect Vancouver with the mainland.
Friday, July 14, 2017 Vancouver’s Coal Harbour
It’s been more than three years since we docked at Coal Harbour. Our Alaska cruises rarely leave time for it and two years ago smoke from the first fires flowed down the channels to blanket the city. Coal Harbour lies between Stanley Park and Canada Place surrounded on two sides by the city’s renowned promenade, which fills with skaters, skateboarders, walkers, joggers, cyclists and buskers.
We get active. Friday night we do to the entire waterfront – under Lion’s Gate Bridge, into the hot sun setting over English Bay, around Stanley Park, past little sand beaches, the bathing beaches adjacent to the vast public pool and back into downtown on Denman Street for our traditional Mongolian Barbecue. Saturday night, we cross downtown to Granville Island on Vancouver’s new separated cycling lanes before heading up the narrow sidewalk on Granville Street Bridge with its spectacular views. Have a bite (and refresh the scooter batteries) in the place adjacent to the theatre overlooking the dock with the tiny colorful foot ferries and the rest of the Saturday evening parade. One the way back to the boat we ask some cyclists about Burrard Street Bridge. They tell us eastbound line is still under construction but we can and should use it. Wow. Burred Bridge has full-sized separated non-motorized paths in both directions, with cars relegated to a single lane. On Sunday we ride through Chinatown and turn south on Hastings beyond Skid Road as check thrift stores for flatware to replace the remaining plastic at September’s Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend.
Gulalai and Habib come down to the boat bearing luxurious provisions from land-locked Afghanistan: dried white mulberries, giant golden raisins, enormous walnut halves and a season’s supply of figs. We catch up on the last seven months. Everyone is well except Gulalai’s mom, aging with paraplegia suffered in a hospital mishap several years ago. All her kids and grandkids live nearby but she is a quiet woman who loves to read. Gulalai is trying to find her recorded books in Pashto but Dari will have to do
Thursday, July 13, 2017 49º24’N 123º28’W Keats Island
We rock and roll down the coast. The motion of the water on the hull is enough to clear the barnacles and other gremlins from the knot meter, which suddenly – on day 36 – springs to life! We’d tried to pull the through hull and clean it off – always dramatic when the fountain of seawater covers the sole of the salon – but find that the sea creatures have cemented it in place. As the chart plotter gives us SOG – speed over ground – the knot meter is not essential. How nice to have something just fix itself like that!
We’re headed to the spectacular Howe Sound. Jack hands me the Waggoner Guide and says, “You choose.” I expect the nicest wilderness coves on Gambier Island now have real estate. I eschew any waters that are constantly rocked by the many ferries that bind the Sound to the City. Samammish and the high peaks around Whistler are too far, better to save it for a future trip.
So I opt for a mooring buoy in Plumper Cove Marine Park with its great view up the Sound. In addition to the seven mooring buoys, there are new floats on the dock. The family of Canada geese still come up to boats expectantly at supper time. We watch them cross the cove strategically to visit any boat where people appear in the cockpit, exercising their preference for barbecuers and children. Ah, the weedy creatures of civilization!
Wednesday, July 12, 2017 Smuggler Cove 49º30.9’N 123º57.9’W
Lovely place but as Jack remarks in his log: “Stern tie from hell.”
Monday, July 10, 2017 Pender Harbor 49º37.8N 124º02’W
We pole out the jib and fly down Malespina Strait. Dave and Jennifer’s Fisherman’s Marina is now part of John Henry’s grocery and fuel dock. The marina manager is an enthusiastic young women from New Brunswick named Randy. We cross the little wooden bridge to the Garden Bay Pub, where service is slow. I count ten other tables without food and only one with it. But it’s pleasant and a huge portion of french fries begs to be taken home for tomorrow’s poutine.
Jack wants to visit Garden Bay by dinghy. I know I’m up to rowing because another time, long ago when the electric outboard was working, we ran out of juice in a lovely estuary between the mountains off the Bay and I had to row back. This time, the plastic oarlock fails, though toward the end of the journey. If rowing an inflatable is hard work, have you tried paddling?
Friday, July 7, 2017 Powell River 49)49.9’N 124º31’W
I’m not eager to leave Desolation Sound but Jack proposes the Salish Sea circle: we head down the coast to Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Vancouver, cross the Fraser delta and spend some time in Bellingham. Powell River, a town we have passed many times without stopping, is getting great reviews. We soon learn why.
The people of Powell River are fitness freaks and outdoor recreation nuts. The town spreads out on either side of the very short Powell River and its famous mill. There is no natural harbor. Westview Harbour is simply a very long seawall with a ferry dock in the middle. Mill operations are protected by the “incredible hulks”. Log booms and barges of sawdust are protected by a barrier of hulls from nine World War II battleships. As spectacular as is the shore with views of Vancouver Island and the north end of Taxeda, it’s really the town’s backyard. For the people of Powell River, their front yard is the mountains and lakes beyond and hundreds of miles of hiking, biking, and kayak trails that link their favorite destination. Powell River’s tag line “Coastal by Nature” is apt.
Wednesday, July 5, 2017 Laura Cove 50º08’N124º40’W
As the Gorge Harbour docks empty out after the double holiday long weekend, Tom and Terri move from boat to car, leaving thoughtful offerings of coffee, Wisconsin cheeses, pasta, and milk. Across the float, Wyatt and Janet’s tiny antique wooden Monk cruiser rocks as their kids jump on an off. More offerings. “Would you like some red snapper? Or ling cod?” They insist and pass us a three enormous snapper for the freezer. “We’ll just catch more on the way home.”
We head out, around the south end of Cortes and up into the spectacular Desolation Sound. There are a couple of boats in Laura cove, including a noisily happy one with about a dozen children. They splash around, perform stunts on the SUP, swing out over the water on a rope hung high in a tree. We drop anchor near the cove entrance with a view of the mountains of West Redonda. Much as we’d like to leave it there and just swing with the winds and currents, we stern tie, which Jack says is required. After all this is British Columbia’s most beloved and spectacular marine park and you can squeeze in a lot of boats.
We settle in with our books, taking turns in the bow on the zero-gravity folding recliner that was a Father’s Day special at Henery’s Hardware. The kids go home and do not reappear. I wonder if this mobile summer camp is regularly dispatched to a different cove everyday so that parents whose work falls so heavily in the summer can actually work.
Rereading the first chapter of Curve of Time brings me to dreamy tears before I start into Naomi Klein’s new No is Not Enough.
Saturday, July 1, 2017. Gorge Harbour. 50º 06.3 N 125º11.7’W
No sooner do we wind our way through Uganda Passage and shoot straight thought the narrow granite faced channel into Gorge Harbour, than it’s a homecoming. Jon and Steph kayak over from Strangewaves’ anchorage in the bay and Terri and Tom park their car after an all night drive from Portland and walk down the dock. Cold beer for our reunion on the hottest day of the year and Canada’s 150th birthday!
Wednesday, June 28, 2017. Von Donop Inlet. 50º08.5’N 124.56.6’W
After a lazy morning at the spit we make the short but spectacular passage into to the wild heart of Cortes Island. Before the tied drops too low, we enter the long narrow Von Donlop Inlet, also known as Hathayim Provincial Marine Park. More books to read.
Sunday, June 25, 2017. Rebecca Spit. 50º08.5’N 124º11.7’W
Another calm sunny morning with a very light wind. As we enter new territory to the east of Cape Mudge, four male orcas suddenly cross our path about 150 feet off our bow. Jack kills the engine and we watch them swim off toward Campbell River. One has the longest, tallest dorsal fin I’ve ever seen. It towers over those of his kin. In time a whale watching inflatable with passengers in red survival suits appears out of no where. Are these whales tag to tell their whereabouts? Have the whale watchers hacked into an orca’s geotag? Or do they just have good eyes?
We pass a large shellfish operation marked by yellow buoys before reaching the pristine Rebecca Spit which bounds Drew Harbor and provides some protection to Heriot Bay and the ferry dock. Note those coordinates: they are the perfect place to drop anchor. We read books.
Thursday, June 22, 2017. Comox. 49º40’N 124º55.5’W
Light NW winds on calm seas take us Georgia Strait. We turn east behind Denman and Hornby and take Baynes Passage seemingly forever to the guest moorage at Comox Valley Harbour’s Fisherman’s Wharf. We tie up in the basin that nestles in the spit. At low tide neighboring boats with good water under their keels appear to be in the middle of a desert dune.
Finally the weather turns its back on winter. Jack’s favorite place is deck near the bow in his new zero gravity chair. We also tour the town, work out at the Rec Center, enjoy the Seafest catamaran races.
Tuesday, June 20, 2017. Boho Bay on Lasqueti. 49º29’N 124º13.7’W
Calm seas. Some sailing through the lovely colors of dawn on Georgia Strait with Whiskey Golf inactive.
Sunday, June 18, 2017. Nanaimo 49º10’N 124º56’W
After a pleasant transit of Dodd Narrows, we up among the fishing boats in what should be the thick of things. Dreadful cold keeps everyone inside.
Thursday, June 15, 2017. Ladysmith. 48º59.8’N. 123º08’W
Ladysmith is always wonderful but the weather continues its bad behavior. Still Ladysmith never disappoints. (Lots more in previous blog posts.)
Tuesday, June 13, 2017. Cowichan Bay. 48º44.5’N 124º37’W
Great sail around the light house and up Haro Strait. The Sidney Spit boring buoys are tempting but we can’t find enough water under our keel. Figure the winter storms have rearranged the sand. Later we learn that in the best of times there’s only one approach and it has a couple of doglegs in it.
We head to Cowichan Bay, recommended to Jack by Erica’s nephew Peter, who skippers the wooden ketch Thane in both races and twice daily summer sailings for visitors. Peter’s rightly distressed that the Victoria waterfront has lost its feel for maritime history and says Cowichan Bay still has it.
It does. Downright scrappy waterfront at the end of the road with a lethal lack of parking. People come for the fine bakery, cheese store, the community-rooted Maritime Center and a marine science center where dozens of kids, liberated from their school deals, were joyfully tracking low tide critters.
We tie up at Fisherman’s Wharf in the shadow of the bow of Arctic Fox, an old wooden fishing boat newly painted bright red. Soon Wharfinger Marc Mercer appears, musing that he must have been on the pot when we’d radioed. He’s a big handsome guy who spent his career piloting tugs, with a couple of years off to captain a two year sailing cruise up and down the coasts of the Americas timed to be in the Pacific during hurricane season in the Atlantic. Now he live in the vast fertile Cowichan Bay Valley and canoes to work.
Friday, June 9. Victoria Inner Harbour. 48º25.3’N 23º22’W
Close down the house, hop on my bike and catch up with Kinza on her way thought Boat Haven to Aurora. leave at dawn on a sail that’s just about perfect. Full sun, light to moderate winds, balanced helm, wing and wing until we make a single jibe to close haul right at 7 to 8 knots into the troubled waters at the entrance to Victoria Harbour.
Moor at the Causeway floats in front of the Empress and Parliament, after clearing customs. Jump into my Race to Alaska Minion tee shirt and onto my bike and head to Whitefish ?. This small boatyard that produces kayaks, paddle boards, and ocean rowing boats is hosting the party. I’d worked (picking trash) at the big pre-race Ruckus on Wednesday in PT; this party is for the teams and their groupies. After setting up to feed and float with drink a couple of hundred people, I join Penny and Kathleen at the merch table and discovered I love selling swag!
Spend the next day figuring out how each of the Race to Alaska boats worked and talk to crews about strategies. On one tour of the floats I look only at rowing stations; on the next only at pedaling stations. Every year there are smarter innovations. Amanda, Jeff and Ryder stop by. Jack hasn’t seen Ryder since his birthday party and asks Ryder what me remembers. “Alexa!” Ryder shouts. In the evening Kinza comes for supper with Nelson and Mona and a whole bunch of stories.
The Le Mans Race start is always thrilling. After watching the last SUP head out we turn to diagnosing what’s wrong with the solenoid switch for the propane, which had gave out only after dinner was ready. It’s a Sunday – such problems normally present on Sundays are when breakdowns happen – but we gamely bus around to hardware stores, whose clerks laugh at our ancient switch box. We pay another day moorage and are at TroTec Marine when they open at 8am. They order a rocker switch that fits the ancient housing that fits into the teak panel near the store and agree to have it solder up by COB. I pick it up, get clear on how to rewire and pay a grand total of $4 Canadian ($3 US). An awesome business! They were so busy with R2AK racers – who got seriously beaten up on the first leg – that next year they’re providing a shuttle.
Bus 11 every 15 minutes works for us. As soon as the switch is installed I get back on in the other direction and go out to Cadboro Bay to visit Erica, who I find installed in the garden drinking red wine and supping on Alan’s weekly rare cheese. Erica’s had a stroke and is mad as hell that they took her license away so she can’t drive up the hill to U Vic, but otherwise seems pretty fine.
Having cruised around Prince of Wales Island in June 2016, the crew of S/V Aurora would like to share notes and encourage others to make the trip. Since there’s no current cruising guide to this area, we’ve tried to collect key missing details.
Having cruised around Prince of Wales Island in June 2016, the crew of S/V Aurora would like to share notes and encourage others to make the trip. Since there’s no current cruising guide to this area, we’ve tried to collect key missing details.
The information in the Second Edition of Exploring Southeast Alaska by Don Douglass and Réanne Hemingway-Douglass is indispensable for anchorages but a decade out-of-date on docks. Today the Island is well served with new harbor facilities operated by Prince of Wales’ “cities”, sometimes jointly with Native Corporations.
For current information we turned to the 2016 Visitor Guide issued by the Prince of Wales 2016 Visitor Guide issued by the Prince of Wales Chamber of Commerce. While this publication is oriented to visitors traveling by ferry and road, it lists harbormasters’ phone numbers and includes good information on population centers.
Prince of Wales offers wilderness we’ve found nowhere else in Southeast Alaska. The third largest island in the United States lies wholly within Tongass National Forest and has only 3700 inhabitants. Unlike the roadless Admiralty, Baranof and Chicagof Islands, Prince of Wales has roads connecting settlements on its east and west coasts. In this respect Prince of Wales looks inward: roads enable a single electrician or plumber to serve most of the population. Scheduled floatplane service fills the gaps, delivering mail and picking up passengers. Each of the destinations not served by roads maintain helicopter pads and volunteer emergency medical service teams.
The ferries of the Alaska Marine Highway do not serve the island; rather the Inter-Island Ferry Authority provides daily roundtrip service between tiny Hollis and Ketchikan. By and large the traffic is local, devoid of any large cruise ships. All in all, the light footprint of this transportation system has left virtually all of the POW’s thousand mile shoreline unmarred by infrastructure.
Cruising around Prince of Wales means a spectacular sweep of natural beauty teaming with wildlife: whales, dolphins, porpoises, sea otters, seals, sea lions, eagles and heron. Its docks and harbors offer opportunities to meet the people – the Haida,the Tlingit, the gill netters and the trollers. In future blog posts we’ll share our stories and document our anchorages and the passages. Now let’s circumnavigate POW counter clockwise and provide information on visiting the Island’s communities.
Hollis Population 165
Hollis is where the Inter-Island Ferry for Ketchikan leaves every morning at 8am and returns in the evening at 6:30pm. Th 35-mile trip takes three hours each way. Houses dot the shoreline of two coves off the south arm of Kasaan Bay. Unfortunately, it is not an inviting overnight destination. The bay where the ferry calls features a floatplane dock but no other moorage, not even for dinghies. The much larger bay to the south is shallow and seems threatened by williwaws from nearby hills. This is the only place we visited where the 2007 assessment of the Douglasses, who also did not dock here, still holds. “It has been reported that the Hollis Dock is extremely small and usually filled with local boats.”
According to the POW 2016 Visitors Guide this unincorporated community founded in the 1890s as a mining camp offers these additional services: emergency medical services, public telephone, library, accommodations, RV service, and boat launch. More at the website of this unincorporated community- www.hollisalaska.org.
Kasaan Population 65
Located on the northeast shore of Kasaan Bay, the Organized Village of Kasaan is home to members of the Haida First Nation, whose ancestors migrated north from Canada’s Haida Gawaii, until recently known as the Queen Charlotte Islands. They founded “Old Kasaan” seven miles away and in 1976 incorporated at the present site, which had since the late 1800’s hosted a mining camp, sawmill, postoffice, and store and later a cannery that operated until the mid-twentieth century.
While somewhat unpromising at first glance, Kasaan is a must see cultural destination for Inside Passage cruisers. At the end of a trail through heartbreakingly beautiful old growth forest (which hides the second or third growth struggling to cover nearby hills) lies an enchanting totem park and a historic longhouse which is to be rededicated with a once in a lifetime ceremony late this summer. Here’s the story as recounted in the 2016 Visitors Guide.
A two-third mile walk on a forest trail leads to Kasaan Historic Totem District and Chief Son-i-Hat Whale House or Naay I’waans. “The Great House” built around 1880 is the only traditional Haida longhouse in the U.S. In the 1930s, totems from the old villages were moved to the totem park. Between 1938 and 1940, Civilian Conservation Corps carvers restored the longhouse.
Kasaan offers a unique eco-cultural tourism experience in 2016…The Whale House and its house posts have undergone extensive renovation by a team of Haida and Tlingit carvers since 2014 in a joint project of the village corporation, Kavilco, and the tribe, the Organized Village of Kasaan. To celebrate restoration efforts and to honor this historic time for the Haida people of Kasaan, the tribe plans a rededication event for September 3, 2016. For information see http://www.kasaan.org or call 907.755.2261.
Visiting cruisers are greeted by brand new sturdy docks with the essential safety features but no electricity. At one end is the float plane base and the other a hefty float to accommodate small cruise ships, such as the 49 passenger Baranof Dream operated out of Sitka by the Tlingit First Nation. At the time we visited in June, there was no opportunity to pay moorage. Support for the Whale House Rededication, however, can be made online. The tribal newsletter covers the carvers’ progress and things to come.
Kasaan has a clinic, emergency medical evacuation, float plane service, a fine small library, a school, a green house with traditional and hydroponic vegetable gardens, two 2-bedroom vacation cabins, and a new Totem Trail Café. More into at www.kaasan.org.
Thorne Bay Population 500
Lying at the end of a long bay behind a nearly hidden entrance, Thorne Bay offers excellent moorage, unrivaled by anything we’ve seen elsewhere. Brand new floats are broad planked with 9-inch toenails and have electricity, water and the full range of safety features: fire extinguishers, life rings, permanent “swim” ladders, and, at the top of the covered ramp, a bright yellow locker with “Kids Don’t Swim” life jackets. Restrooms are particularly well designed for public use, the shower is roll in and all of the ramps are smooth. I believe moorage was 75 cents a foot.
Shane, the energetic and personable young harbor master is married to a teacher at the local K through 12 school and well integrated in the community. Thorne Bay was founded as a logging camp and incorporated as a residential community in 1982. The A&P (Alaskan and Proud) market is excellent. There are three churches, a liquor store, one of POW’s rare sit down dining restaurants but no bar. Currently, there’s no laundromat: one wonders if there is not a potential mini-business in dockside pick up and delivery. Other services include daily service by three float plane companies, emergency medical, library, sleeping accommodations, RV service, a gas station and a boat launch. Cell service is good.
Thorne Bay’s weak point is its fuel dock, tucked in a nearby shallow bay. Keelboats should purchase fuel only on a mid to high tide and, as we discovered, be prepared to hold as float planes land and disgorge passengers and mail. However, there’s an alternative: fuel can be delivered dockside in 5-gallon containers. Gary, owner of The Port, which runs the fuel dock and the post office, and the Tackle Shop at Throne Bay is very accommodating and highly knowledgeable about hunting and fishing.
With its current huge excess capacity and with moorage at less than $1000 annually, Thorne Bay is an option for cruisers who wish to winter over and fly or ferry in. More on these websites: www.thornebay-ak.gov and www.thornebayalaska.net.
Coffman Cove Population 200
Founded as a logging camp in the 1950s, the City of Coffman Cove was incorporated in 1989. When logging jobs disappeared the community had to reinvent itself and get into the business of recreational and commercial fishing. It’s a pretty but very unpretentious place. Modest vacation rentals and residences are strung along the shores of Clarence Strait with spectacular views of the white peaks beyond Wrangell.
The floats are good and the main ramp to them accommodates vehicles the serve the small commercial fleet of gill netters and trollers. Sport fishing is huge here, serving mostly Alaskans in pursuit of the annual personal use catch that will see them through the long winters. Small boats carry folks across the Strait for the day; a fleet of Lund dinghies takes them to the nearby, wildlife-rich islands.
We couldn’t raise the harbor master on the VHF but easily found dock space and paid fifty cents a foot, dropping a check in the box at the head of ramp. The sign there illustrates three ways to contact Harbor Masters at small Alaskan ports.
Coffman Cove docks are served by electricity but we didn’t connect to shore power as our solar panels love Alaska’s long days. As we were to learn, most electrical outlets belong to permanent moorage tenants. We heard a range of attitudes toward borrowing electricity from a vacant plug. Boats requiring power at smaller ports with part-time harbormaster would do well to contact local authorities during business hours.
Tiny Coffman Cove offers visitors a whole range of modest services. Bait Box Takeout has food and seating. The Riggin’ Shack is a general store with a variety of non perishable groceries. On Monday or Tuesday they get the fat weekend edition of The Ketchikan Daily News from the previous Friday. All the liquids are offered under one roof: Rain Country Liquor, the Dog House Pub and the office of R and R Fuels. There’s no fuel dock but the friendly owners of the business will run a hose to your boats or deliver diesel by dock cart in 5 gallon cans. There’s an excellent coin-operated laundry at the Ocean View RV Park, a short walk from the docks. Other services include an ATM, a clinic, emergency medical service, a float plane dock, and new monthly car ferry service to South Mitkoff Island.
Public phones serve Coffman Cove, which has no cell service. Dial 83 to use a prepaid card or 85 to use a credit. Free calls can be made for the weather (81), for commercial fishing safety reports (82) to call in an emergency spill (84) and to reserve a forest service cabin (86) or a place on the ferry (87).
Free wireless internet is offered around the clock at the Coffman Cove Library, which is staffed by an AmeriCorps volunteer under a program to bring more digital services to small Alaskan Communities. Local people may sit on the porch for hours or just pull up in their cars and quickly check their email. There much more on the official website of this vibrant community – www.ccalaska.com – and you can download a pdf of the brochure “Coffman Cove: Alaska’s best kept secret on Prince of Wales Island.”
Point Baker Population 25
At the northernmost tip of the Island, Point Baker offers an entirely different cultural experience, one immortalized for me by former fisherman-resident Joe Upton in Alaska Blues. In the third week of June this tiny floating community was crammed with gill netters preparing for a Monday through Thursday opening. There was no space at the dock and the small bay does not easily accommodate boats anchored out. On the recommendation of a fisherman, we rafted to a ferrocement boat, seemingly abandoned. No one asked for a moorage fee.
Port Baker is an unincorporated community of about 25 households. All public and commercial buildings are moored on the lee side of a 440-foot state dock with boats docked along the other side. A post office, community center, and small store operate very limited hours while the fuel dock,laundry and showers appear to serve boat and crews 24/7. A pub opens seasonally and there is some overnight accommodation. The state dock in good condition and offers a clear pathway whereas access to buildings is unkind to disabled cruisers.
There’s no cell service but there’s a public phone that requires a pre-paid card number. The large float plane dock doubles as a heliport. During salmon openings, fishermen raft their boats and repair nets there.
The evening before we pulled out of Point Baker, the Calder Mountain Lodge put up their welcome sign and opened for to serve sports fishing clients brought in from Petersburg. Their kind reply to my inquiry confirms they do not normally serve cruisers. For current info try the Point Baker Community association phone – 907.559.2204.
Port Protection Population 63
Port Protection is two miles and 2 minutes of latitude south of Point Baker but these two tiny fishing communities have no roads and are not connected. It lies at the end of a cove named for Wooden Wheel Johnson at the beginning of the last century. At mid century there was a trading post and a permanent community was established here in 1981 through the State of Alaska land disposal program.
We didn’t visit this year but enjoyed watching the low-key activity around this pretty and well-protected bay when there in 2014. We tied up at the free state float in the company of a variety of active and inactive local boats.
Seasonal services include float plane service, emergency medical, fuel, groceries, simple accommodations, a library and a public phone. The 2016 Visitors Guide recommends calling Wagon Wheel trading Post at 907.489.2222 for information.
El Capitan Cave Dock
Since this float does not accommodate cruising vessels, we simply mention it in passing. We do recommend, however, that all cruisers experience Dry and El Capitan Passes on their southbound journey and this route takes them right past this dock. It is owned by the State of Alaska and marked with a US Forest Service sign indicating the El Capitan Cave Interpretive site. Dinghies that tie up here are a mere 45-minute walk to the largest of the Islands’s more than 500 caves.The US Forest Service offers free tours of the cave several times a day in the summer. Visitors can reserve a spot for a specific tour by calling 907.828.3304 at least two days in advance. Maximum group size is six; minimum age is seven.
Boats can conceivably anchor nearby and dinghy in, although the nearest sound anchorage is Devilfish Cove, four miles south. An alternative would be to have a member of your crew drop others off and remain with the boat until the tour is finished 90 minutes to two hours later.
Naukati Bay Population 140
Located in the strait between the main Island and Tuxekan Island off Sea Otter sound, Naukati Bay lies about a quarter of the way down the southbound route. With so many exquisite anchorages in the area, we expect most cruisers move on to drop the hook, as we did. As the webpage of the community association boasts “Naukati Bay is the center for world class saltwater sportfishing, record black bear and Sitka black-tail deer hunting, breathtaking scenery, whale watching extraordinaire, sea kayaking and canoeing, spelunking, hiking, stream fishing for big steelhead trout.”
According to the POW Chambers 2016 Visitors Guide, “the newly constructed floating dock and boat launch are near the Naukati Bay Shellfish Nursery where oyster spat (seeds) are grown and provided to many oyster farms in the area.” Naukati Bay boasts float plane service, EMS, groceries, fuel, and an ATM. On the Fourth of July local kids compete to find huge skunk cabbage leaves, which dwarf them. For more information call the Naukati Bay Community Association at 907.629.4104 and visit the website www.naukatibay.com.
Klawock Population 850
The traditional summer camp for the Tlingit community from Tuxekan Island, it was chosen chosen as a permanent site by Chief Kloowah. It is also home of Alaska’s first cannery, established by San Franciscans in 1878, and its second oldest hatchery. Today, Klawock is best known for the twenty-one extraordinary poles in its totem park. There are replicas from the 1930s of poles that stood at Tuxekan as well new poles by contemporary Tlingit carvers, which have been raised with great ceremony by the community.
The well-built modern public dock and floats lie inside a sheltered peninsula with view of Klawock’s renowned totem park. On entering the harbor, your first see a set of floats between the cannery and a wharf with a large tidal grid. These busy floats belong to the tribal association. Go on into the harbor to the public facilities; the narrow channel is deeper than it first appears.
Because so many boats were out long term or for the day when we arrived, there was lots of space at the dock. Most of the spaces are rented, however, and owner’s lines may be on the dock but you can tie up and then check with the Harbormaster if you have not done so ahead of time. Electricity is another matter, as permanent tenants are already paying the meter and electricity is seldom offered. In all the POW ports except Craig, S/V Aurora was the only visiting cruising boat.
The Harbor Master’s phone is 907.755.2260 and the office is at the top of the ramp along with excellent restrooms with showers, baby changing tables and other amenities. I noticed that the women’s sometimes appeared locked but it’s a design flaw. The shower stall is spacious and ADA accessible but as stall door does not reach the floor, someone taking a shower might lock behind herself in the interest of safety. Rose Kato, Kwalock Harbor Master for seventeen years is retiring in July 2016. Transient moorage is a rather mysterious $11.45 a day for all boats regardless of size. Mariners interested in leaving boats to winter over in Alaska will be delighted to know annual moorage is a mere $11 a foot.
Craig Population 1,127
Craig is a charming little town with both the north and south coves of its harbor packed with tolling vessels, most local but many from the Puget Sound. The historic waterfront boasts an impressive series of wharves. Up the hill there are great views of the waters surrounding Craig’s compact peninsula. Known as West Craig, this is where you find the library, a traditional general store and chandlery atop a pier, the float plane dock, the popular Dockside Cafe, a convivial bar, and Voyageur Books and Coffee, with a fine selection of titles by Alaskan authors and books about Alaska. East of the harbor is a large Alaska Commercial Company supermarket and liquor store, a laundromat, and a whole range of services.
Most cruisers arriving from the north stop for fuel at the large sturdy Petro Marine float near the tank farm outside of town. Often rough waters can make tying up difficult but the staff is competent and helpful. This is a good place to confirm slip availability, even if arrangements have been made ahead of time. Craig is a port that practices hot berthing and asks boats to declare departures as well as arrivals. The Craig Harbormaster can be reached on 907.826.3404 or VHF 16. The office is located on the road that links East and West Craig and separates North and South Coves above year-round public restrooms with heated public showers. There’s much more information on the city website www.craigak.com.
Hydaburg Population 376
The largest Haida village in the United States, Hydaburg was founded in 1912 and is perhaps the best place in Southeast Alaska to appreciate the age-old culture and contemporary politics of a Native community.
Nearly a century before George Vancouver explored the area, a group of Haida people from Haida Gawaii – the former Queen Charlotte Islands – migrated to Prince of Wales Island. The first group settled at Kasaan on the east coast while others established villages on the west coast; in 1911 these villages came together at Hydaburg.
The village was incorporated in 1927 and governance passed to the Hydaburg Cooperative Association when it was founded in 1938. The HCA Mission is “to honor, strengthen and preserve our Haida Culture and Language through fostering healthy children and families who have pride and dignity in the community and culture, and by creating economic development opportunities for all our people.” This community appears to doing exactly that, with the HCA, the economic development-oriented Haida Corporation and The City of Hydaburg all playing a part.
At the time we were there, Hydaburg folks were busy planning for two major July celebrations. July 3rd and 4th are packed with races, parades and events to commemorate U.S. Independence Day. Each summer at the end of July, the Hydaburg Culture Camp brings together elders from this village and elsewhere to teach the Haida language, song, and dance and traditional skills of wood carving, weaving, beadwork, and food gathering and preparation. We were warmly welcomed to these festivities and hope to attend on a future cruise. In addition to organizing these events, Hydaburg folks will join their fellow tribe members at Kassan for the September 3, 2016 dedication of the Whale House.
Dominating the central water front in front of a large modern school, is Hydaburg’s totem park. The colorful poles are both intricate and bold. Some are well-preserved replicas of village poles that were carved in the 1930s while others are the work of contemporary artists. Recent years have seen a number of communal pole raisings. Master carvers remain busy in the Carving Shed at waters edge, sculpting works for the community’s new Tribal House being built nearby.
Hydaburg has a state-of-the-art complex of docks, floats, several hundred feet of breakwater with moorage space, and a boat launch with its own long float. While docks are well lighted, electric meters have not yet been installed at all slips and there are no restrooms or showers at the site. Hydaburg City Clerk Stacia Miller serves as Harbor Master. Phone her at 907.285.3761 to request moorage and pay fifty cents a foot at city hall. As there is currently excess capacity, cruisers are welcome to leave their boats over the winter. Hydaburg has excellent cell coverage; wifi is available at city hall and at the library in the school when it is open. There’s a small Alaska Commercial Company grocery, a health clinic, emergency medical service and a float plane dock but no fuel.
Getting to and from Prince of Wales Island
Crossing US-Canadian border requires approval from customs and border authorities before proceeding to other coastal areas. Northbound cruisers must pass U.S. Customs at Ketchikan, Alaska and southbound cruisers must pass Canadian Border Services at Prince Rupert, B.C. It’s important to become familiar with current official procedures as well as guidelines for navigating large ship traffic into and out of these two key ports.
Ketchikan lies 82 nautical miles north of Prince Rupert, a logical stop following the long passage along the coast before crossing the open waters of Dixon Entrance. Check tides and currents if you plan to exit Prince Rupert via the narrow and shallow Venn Passage.
After crossing Dixon, weather conditions and/or boat speed may make it advisable to anchor in US waters enroute to Ketchikan. This, however, requires prior approval from US Customs and Border Protection. You may contact US authorities in Ketchikan from Prince Rupert or by phone from your boat. The number is 907.225.2254. U.S. Customs officials normally approve overnights at Foggy Bay and will expect to see you the next day.
As soon as you tie up at a Ketchikan dock, all crew must remain on the boat until you receive clearance. U.S. Customs officials have always visited our boat to check our passports and personally welcome us. The wait has never been very long, particularly at Ketchikan’s Thomas Basin, which is adjacent to the federal building. You’ll probably want to spend the night before continuing up Tongass Narrows to Chatham Strait and the east coast of Prince of Wales Island.
This requirement to enter the United States at Ketchikan and Canada at Prince Rupert is why most cruisers take a counter-clockwise route around Prince of Wales.
Cruisers leaving the west coast of Prince of Wales can anchor at the south tip of the Island before crossing the open waters where the Gulf of Alaska and West Dixon Entrance. Nicholas Bay offers good protection but be aware of poorly charted rocks beyond the main channel. Nichols Bay is miles from the Canadian border and just north of Haida Gawaii. Unfortunately the protected wilderness and rich First Nations culture of these islands can only be accessed after entering Canada at Prince Rupert.
Our passage from Nichols Bay to Prince Rupert in beautiful weather took over 13 hours. We set up an informal watch system to manage our stamina so we would be sufficiently rested to navigate Venn Passage, pass customs dock and moor or anchor for the night.
To pass Canadian Customs, the traditional option is to tie up at the Lightering Dock which lies somewhat isolated near the center of the Prince Rupert waterfront but with no access to land. From this unattended location you can call Canadian Border Services at 888.226.7277 using your cell phone or the phone on the dock. Your request will be processed by an official based in Ontario with a closed circuit camera view of your boat.
Canadian authorities recently started to allow cruisers to check in with customs as soon as they dock Prince Rupert. To the south of the Lightering Dock are Fairview Small Craft Docks and terminals for BC and Alaska ferries. Just north is Cow Bay, with a new marina of the same name and the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club, and beyond that the Rushbrooke Floats.
Cruising with differently-abled crew members
Unlike most sports teams, cruising crews accommodate a range of ages and abilities. And as cruisers age or find themselves in recovery from accidents, invasive treatments, or joint replacements, they are less likely to want to go hiking or squeeze into an airplane seat for a vacation in Europe, Africa or Asia. During our time on S/V Aurora, we’ve been considering the services offered to crews of mixed abilities and documenting the accessibility and safety of moorage facilities on the inside waters of the Pacific Northwest.
We were delighted to find that most of the harbors on Prince of Wales Island allow the user of a wheelchair or electric scooter to roll safely along a float, up the ramp, onto the wharf, and out into the community. Nothing in the informational literature or standard cruising guides had prepared us for this pleasant surprise. The harbors at Craig, Klawock and Thorne Bay, moreover, offer well-maintained restrooms with grab bars and roll in showers. By and large, stores carrying groceries and essential gear were also accessible.
The gateway cities of Prince Rupert and Ketchikan have also made improvements. Moorage along Prince Rupert’s waterfront floats over about 150 feet of water, where wakes, tidal currents and wind perpetually rock boats. Now all sections of the Rushbrooke Floats have been joined by metal plates and the ramp offers wheelers a smoother transition. The Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club has a new ramp; while metal finger docks are still narrow and dangerous, staff helps tie up arriving boats. New in summer 2016 is Cow Bay Marina at Atlin Terminal with safe, accessible facilities: wide wooden floats with water, electricity, laundry, restrooms, and showers. Ketchikan has thoroughly rewired floats and added wide, covered, metal ramps at Thomas Basin and helpful, uniformed harbor staff visit boats to collect moorage.
We visited two important Prince of Wales sites maintained by the National Forest Service. The tour of El Capitan, one of the largest caves in the US, is open only to fit hikers over the age of seven. However, a related – and in many ways much more interesting site – is the Beaver Falls Karst Interpretive Trail. It demonstrates the dynamics and features of the ongoing formation of the Island’s sinkholes and caves. A beautifully laid out 0.7 mile boardwalk takes visitors through scrub forest, over muskeg, past pools whose acidic waters dissolve limestone, through dark old growth forest and over deep caverns adorned with exotic plant life and waterfalls. Detailed, illustrated interpretative signs are placed all along the route. The first specified this: “The trail was designed to be barrier-free to the extent possible without disturbing the site. The distance between the rest areas exceeds AA standards. Maximum distance between the rest areas is 300 feet with a maximum grade of 14% for 30 feet.”
Also impressive is how many communities lend life vests through the Kids Don’t Float. This was the brainchild of the Homer, Alaska Fire Department in 1996. Later the same year, the Alaska Department of Health, the U.S. Coast Guard and community groups collaborated to grow the program. Now life jackets for children, teens and adults are found at most docks. Look for them in phone-booth type lockers, trunks or loaner boards with attractive graphics and motivating messages.
Kids Don’t Float spread to Canada in 2003, supported by police, municipalities, and businesses. This is a good idea . Let’s work with authorities, ports and marinas, and civic groups to bring more Kids Don’t Float facilities to Washington and Oregon.
Map of Prince of Wales Island
This map is from the Prince of Wales Chamber of Commerce 2016 Visitors Guide, which is available free in print and online. While we primarily anchored out in the Island’s wilderness bays and coves during our cruise, we found this the best source of current information on POW’s unique communities. Folks at the Chamber can be reached at 907.755.2626 0r firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’d like to hear from readers as well. Please share your thoughts below, both news of your discoveries and corrections we should make to our brief “Cruisers’ Guide to Prince of Wales Island.”
Just a quick placeholder post for family and friends who may be checking up on where we are. Make that Campbell River at the far end of the Salish Sea. Four days – we made great time while taking advantage of the balmy days. Not a drop of rain has fallen on our heads and we’ve succeeded with every problem solving challenge thrown our way.
We’ve got a third crew member northbound in David Mundie. Jack’s roommate at Cal and Bordeaux. A great cook and master birdwatcher, he’s also documenting the trip on his Facebook page. Isn’t this a cool photo of Jack the Skipper coming up the companionway to greet another day?
I’ll get around to taking notes and posting a real post soon, but for the time being I’ve just been sitting up on the spinnaker box leaning on the mast, keeping watch and taking in the suddenly broadened horizons. What a change from cleaning boat, provisioning, cleaning house, and finally casting off! Despite the not insignificant physical toil of keeping boat and crew moving north, the strain and pain of just getting out of town have disappeared and I feel great.
If there is anyone who has documented her travels, it’s my friend Kinza. As I’ve had the good fortune to take trips with her, or at least follow in her recommended footsteps around Manhattan, Morocco and Yemen, her accounts are treasures. I have files of her writing, both electronic and paper. New hard copy acquisitions come every year with her expressions of gratitude, compassion and encouragement, notes written in her tiny, regular hand.
Kinza doesn’t blog, which is unfortunate as her passion is immigration and refugee rights, vital issues about which few know anything. And she doesn’t normally read blogs, which is understandable as she works with people up against unbelievable challenges and shows no sign of ever stopping. But Kinza says she appreciates knowing what books I am reading. So this list is for her.
For the onboard library that helps us understand what we’re experiencing along the Inside Passage, I take four new books from Port Townsend add three more en route.
A beautiful book that should be welcome on every boat and coffee table in our region is Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest by Audrey DeLella Benedict and Joseph K. Gaydos. I heard Joe speak at the annual meeting of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC) this spring and all the excitement he generated in the room comes across in these pages. This is recent science in colorful, jaw-dropping prose and photography.
Whelks to Whales: Coastal Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest by Rick Harbo (Harbour Publishing, Maderia Park, 2011). This inexpensive, fully color illustrated, easy to use handbook lists species phylum by phylum. I’ll have it in hand to answer visitors’ questions at the PTMSC and whenever cruising on the boat. The only thing missing are the birds that join the seals and cetaceans as marvelously efficient deep sea divers.
John K.B. Ford’s Marine Mammals of British Columbia is a 460-page handbook published by the Royal BC Museum in 2014 that brings up to date this exploding field of mammalian research. Readable, heavily illustrated,and referenced with a 20 page bibliography this is a much needed addition to our onboard library. I pick it up for $28 Canadian at the wonderful general store in Lund so we could read about elephant seals. We learn that elephants dive deeper and stay down longer than other seals or sea lions, surfacing for very short periods of time, floating snouts in the air, motionless. “Mariners often mistake elephant seals for floating logs.” Ah ha!
Spirited Water: Soloing South Through the Inside Passage by Bellingham kayak outfitter Jennifer Hahn is a mixed bag. The author thrives on the solitude of nature but feels weirdly vulnerable to stranger danger. While there is little to learn here about tides, currents, chart reading or navigation, the author’s insights on river otters and on forging are brilliant. There’s lots on catching and eating sea urchins though the approach of French cuisine is not covered. I remember our daughters digging into a platter of two dozen served by Papillon, the ancient, diminutive waiter at Chalet de la Plage in Essaouria. The kids were still aged in the single digits and fascinated by eating live food. The urchins had been cleaned, however, although they were raw and the wriggling spikes of the upside shells moved them across our plates. I wonder. Are there Pacific Northwest foodies who prepare urchins this way? As for eating salmon, Hahn is reluctant. On pp. 242-243 she puts to prose the sentiments expressed by Matt, the former fisherman at Homfray Lodge.
From this week’s volunteer “lighthouse keepers” on Stuart Island I buy a copy of The History of Stuart Island (2012) The stories, photos and documents are the source material for the two museums on this northernmost of the San Juan Islands. Resident author James Berquist has done a good job putting everything together in this 183-page volume he considers a “work in progress”.
Finally, another book to shuttle between house and boat is Aldona Jonaitis’ Art of the Northwest Coast, which catches my eye on the shelf at the U’Mista Cultural Center. The volume is smartly laid out with hundreds of large colored well captioned plates and text by Native and non-native experts which captures the historical and geographic sweep of the subject. Finally I’m getting a grasp on the various linguistic groups and their interactions. Published by the University of Washington, the work does rare justice to the southernmost tribes and even to their textile arts; I remember trying my hand at Salish band braiding as a ten-year old. Good to learn mainstream museums are moving more and more pieces into their permanent exhibits. Even better that Kawkwaka’wakw, especially, have revived the potlatch and continue to design new masks, coppers and regalia.
Anyone who cruises the Inside Passage and knows anything about George Vancouver’s 1792 expedition is awestruck by its accomplishments: enormous swatches of the coast – both the Inside Passage and the west coast of Vancouver Island – documented in startlingly accurate maps in one season! How did they do it? Add expeditionary zeal to a skillful crew of highly specialized members managed in a tight hierarchy, with teams rowing long boats into every nook and cranny of the coast. Somehow many of these crew members found the time and wherewithal to write. Editor Richard Blumenthal has brought together these various eyes on the situation. With Vancouver in Inland Washington Waters contains excerpts from the journals of 12 crewmen written from April to June 1792. Jack reads all of them and sends me to the writings of Peter Puget. Why? Because Puget describes, with delicious delight, discovering under the sands of a drying lagoon on the southeast corner of Indian Island, “our” rich, dependable vein of native littleneck clams!
Of the remaining books I’ve piled onto the boat, I sadly do not get to Paul Stammets’ Mycelium Running nor to rereading Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language, which I now own, having first read Paul’s copy, probably some thirty odd years after he did. These are high on my list and I welcome anyone who wants to join me in a mini online book club.
I thought Rob Hopkins was going to talk patterns in The Transition Companion: Making your community more resilient in uncertain times, an un-cracked volume mislaid in our move from Portland. Published in 2011, it’s a bit disappointing and I don’t see patterns. I soldier through, however, unearthing some ingenious techniques and unearthing references to “my” groups, Transition PDX and Local 20/20.
Now two books I really like which I’m not going into here because I will elsewhere. The Origin of Feces is by David Waltner-Toews, the founder of Canada’s Veternarians without Borders. This is his big picture book – free of unnecessary footnotes and citations. After all Waltner-Toews has published extensively on everything from natural selection to cattle feeding operations to the recent rash of food-borne – make that shit-borne – epidemics. The Origin of Feces: What Excrement Tells Us About Evolution, Ecology and a Sustainable Society lives up to its subtitle. Everyone will love this book. The other book is Bathroom by Barbara Penner, so titled as one of a series that includes Bridge, Chair, Computer, Dam, etc. But it’s a sweeping history of hygiene and the material culture and architecture that make it possible. And Penner is especially good on all the discomfort and contradictions that come into play once flush toilets go mainstream in the early 20th century.
By now you may be asking, “You’re on summer vacation and you’re not reading fiction? What’s up?” Well, I’m listening to it. Listening nicely complements the many small responsibilities that go with cruising yet without the distractions of being online or having a phone or being at home.
My top favorites remain the two works of historical fiction I mentioned earlier: The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which I read on Jack’s recommendation and Kamel Daoud’s Mersault Investigation – Camus’ L‘Etranger reinterpreted from the point of view of the brother of “the Arab” – which Jack reads on my recommendation. I’d preordered the latter along with The Book of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu, so got to “read” them hot off the press.
Looking though my audible library I see that the rest of the books I’ve finished are all Audible Daily Deals that cost from 99c to $3.99. Such pricing makes it easier to set them aside should they not live up to expectations. In April and May I added some great titles to my library, unlike the “summer reading” titles offered this month.
I end up with some great non fiction that works well without the footnotes. Alex Kotiowitz’ There are no Children follows two African American brothers and their intrepid mother who live in packed household in a Chicago housing project. It’s that same powerful blend of anthropology, journalism, and memoire of Oscar Lewis’ Children of Sanchez. And I loved Heinrich Harrer’s straightforward telling of the story of his Seven Years in Tibetas well as the short message from the Dalai Lama that precedes it.
How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life is based on interviews by McKinsey consultants Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston relies with women from all over the world, from Christine LaGarde to NGO leaders in Africa. The five elements of what the authors call Centered Leadership – meaning, framing, connecting, engaging, and energizing–to work – reveal universal aspects of leadership that studies of male leaders have missed. The Formula: How Algorithms Solve all our problems…and create more by Fast Company writer Luke Dormehl really keeps my attention.The algorithimization of life fascinates the researcher in me while the specter of formulas creating reality creeps me out.
Finally the odd books: I think that Asif Mandvi’s reading of his genuinely funny essays tell far more about the complex culture-crossings of Muslim South Asians than any academic analysis. No Man’s Land is a great listen. As for Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, I thought I had read it but instead must have gotten mixed up in the onslaught of literary reviews in 1962, when I paid attention to such things. Marc Vietor’s narration is brilliant and now I’m ordering a hard copy so I can read the poem, giggle along with all those erudite citations, and learn some new stuff. Without looking everything up on line. On our next unplugged cruise, it’ll stowed away. Pale Fire is still very hot.
We spend the better part of a week at Ladysmith and Stuart Island, two destinations with welcoming communities and robust, volunteer-powered organizations. This international mini cruise is likely to call us back in the future.
Along the tribal lands on one side of Ladysmith Harbour lie several miles of log booms. On the opposite shore is the old sawmill town that dates back to the 1890s. Local traffic and small tugs we see working the logs will make for a rocky anchorage, so we run down the options for docking. Our Waggoners likes the guest dock at Ladysmith Community Marina but warns that fills up with boats that have reservations. Since the day is getting on Jack uses up a couple of roving minutes and phones to see if we can get in. We can.
Ladysmith Community Marina
We’re met at the dock by a couple of folks wearing royal blue tee shirts embroidered with the white letters LMS – Ladysmith Maritime Society, or LMS. I trot down the dock to register with another blue-shirted person at the welcome desk of what looks like the lobby of a fine floating hotel!
The next morning we roll out of bed and down the dock for coffee and breakfast at the Oyster Bay Cafe, where aromas of fresh baked goods have penetrated the dawn. The Cafe shares the lobby with the Welcome desk and a lounge with comfortable chairs, board games, a fire place and a silent flatscreen reporting the weather. A doorway leads to the spacious restrooms with accessible stalls, the laundry, showers, bulletin boards, and an elevator to community meeting rooms on the upper level. The door with the wheelchair icon opens on a fully accessible bathroom with a roll in shower with grab bars and a flip down seat. Jack, who uses our phone booth-sized shower on the boat, sends me for his towel and soap and emerges Sunday scrubbed.
Breakfast is fresh fruit and berry salad and sun dried tomato and feta quiche. Lunch will find us back in our comfortable chairs feasting on local catch chowder and a grill blackened oysters in a Louisiana style po’ boy sandwich. By now the tables outside the soaring beams of the lovely structure are filled with visiting boaters, live-aboards, and Sunday brunchers from the community at large. I am too awed by the beautiful food coming from a small counter and an outdoor grill to think to photograph it. Even more impressive is the couple who prepare, plate and bring to the tables Oyster Bay’s fine cuisine. Call it sublime choreography. Not the experience you expect in the floating clubhouse of a milltown marina but nothing is ordinary here.
The soaring wooden-beamed ceiling of the structure is held up by two sections of the main mast of the Canadian Navy’s historic schooner Oriel; we once toured it on an official stop at Fisherman’s Marina. Floor to ceiling windows look our on growing activity along the docks. Everywhere you look there are colorful hand-painted banners, no two alike.
We visit the boat house with two historic wooden boats painstaking restored by LMS volunteers. Another building houses a small museum with exhibits on the history of nautical gear, outboard motors and woodworking tools and a boat selected for the next restoration project once the Society raises the necessary funds. On shore just up the hill from the docks LMS has opened a new Maritime Heritage Center which shares a historic waterfront building with their woodworking shop and the Ladysmith Arts Council.
Best of all, we decide Ladysmith Community Marina is the most accessible marine facility for mobility-impaired sailors we’ve seen anywhere along 900 miles of the Inside Passage. We give it a five on the Jack-and-Carol rating scheme, knocking Gorge Harbour off its perch.
The awareness and attention of LMS’ non-profit board and 200 volunteers is partly the result of their marina being chosen to host the British Columbia Disabled Sailing Society on this part of the coast. Two specially outfitted Martin 16 racing boats enable adults and children with severe physical disabilities to sail, either accompanied or independently.
LMS deserves recognition here so help us add this to the kudos they already enjoy. They are certified by the Georgia Strait Alliance as a BC Clean Marina, the only one we saw. They’ve received an outstanding achievement award from Heritage BC for the historic restoration of the 1909 M/V Saravan.
And the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations has recognized them for their extraordinary contributions to the recovery of the Purple Martin. Not so long ago there were only 10 breeding pairs of Purple Martins on the BC coast. Today there are 80 pairs at the Ladysmith Community Marina alone. Serendipitously, our visit coincides with the annual banding of the newly hatched. Purple shirt wearing people put up an exhibit on the tented float. Berry pickers proffer purple smoothies.
Purple martin parents dive bomb the volunteer who heads up a ladder and gently removes the chicks from the nest, putting them one by one into a soft cotton draw string bag.
A second volunteer reaches into the bag, removes a chick, cradles it in her hand, head between thumb and index finger. Her nails are lacquered purple except for a gold nail on her right ring finger and a silverish one on the left. This turns out to be an aide-memoire. She holds the chick’s leg so a third volunteer can apply a bronze band on the right leg and the silverish one on the left. Bird still in hand, volunteer #2 then compares the color of the chick’s feathers with life-sized photos to determine age.
It’s volunteer #3 who records everything: house number, nest population, and, ultimately, the age of each chick. House number C10 has 6 nestlings ranging in age from 13 to 19 days. Then volunteer #1 takes the drawstring bag with the banded birds back up to the nest. Each of the volunteers is shadowed by a trainee, who occasionally steps in to help. By nightfall, hundreds of ankle-braceleted chicks have been tucked back into their nests. It seems the parents are getting used to this and stand by as patiently as possible with huge dragon flies in their mouths. Comfort food.
Stuart Island is some distance from Ladysmith. Along the beautiful west coast of Salt Spring Island, there are few nooks to anchor but fine scenery and harbor seal haulouts and curious seals swimming up to check us out. Around Cowichan Bay there’s traffic – huge ferries from Vancouver along with all sorts of small craft.
But soon we’re crossing Boundary Channel toward Stuart Island, the most northerly of the San Juans. Jack phones for US custom clearance; we’ve had our I-68 interview with ICE Officer Vela in Port Townsend and no longer have to check in at Friday or Roche Harbor. We cut across the waters frothing off Turn Point to avoid a northbound tanker and hug the shore down to Reid Harbor.
Although there are a surprising number of houses tucked away around Stuart’s shores, we do not encounter a single homeowner, summer resident, or parks official. This is a quiet place where we can hang out with no phone and no internet. That’s part of the welcome; the rest comes through the year-round efforts of local history buffs and non-profit entrepreneurs.
I take off on foot, up the most dangerous ramp yet and a difficult trail. (Jack will have to to wait to get to shore. There’s a boat launch onto a county road and with ext batteries and nerve he can probably make it out to Turn Point on a future visit.) A couple of hikers suggest a short cut over the mountain to the school; no longer maintained, it must have been used by school kids.
At a clearing I spot Stuart Island’s beautiful modern school that has operated on and off whenever there are enough children, most recently in 2013. The library is in the old one-room school nearby. Next to it a splendid small museum occupies the teacherage. (My dictionary says this word, which parallels vicarage and parsonage, is strictly North American; so why then no doctorage, nurseage, or keeperage?)
Historic photos and well-drafted text document the challenges of homesteading such a remote place. Each of the early families is introduced in the majestic formalism that itinerant photographers had mastered by the turn of the 20th century. We meet fishermen, woodcutters, the people that ferried groceries and mail, and lighthouse keepers. Among a succession of young schoolteachers is Louise Bryant, who would go off to the Bolshevik Revolution with John Reed.
The library and the school are open – unattended – every day except Monday. Nearby is one of the Island’s “Treasure Chests”, attractive stalls filled to the brim with postcards, notecards,and tee-shirts designed by local kids. On Stuart Island, the honor system is the rule – you take an envelop and send a check whenever you get the chance..
I continue on to Turn Point on the county road, all other roads being private. I pass lovely old farms overlooking Prevost Harbor and am passed only by other hikers and one green, antique, GMC truck. Now property of the US Bureau of Land Management, Turn Point has been owned by homesteaders, the Lighthouse Service, the Coast Guard, and Washington Parks. The light and associated weather stations have been automated since the early 1970s.
Today the grounds and buildings are shipshape, thanks largely to the Turn Point Light Preservation Society (TPLPS) and the elbow grease of volunteers. The Mule Barn houses the museum and there are plans for the fog signal station and the small former fuel shed out on the point. To my surprise, the keepers’ house – a fine 1893 duplex – is open. I am shown around not by local people but by a pair of cousins from Wisconsin and Alaska. They are lighthouse aficionados, spending the week for the price of their TPLPS membership. Sound good? Membership form here.
By early July we’re fully on island time. Swinging at anchor, reading books, and day dreaming. When we’re low on bread and eggs and our laundry bag is stuffed to the limit, we head for our favorite resort, Gorge Harbour. Then back into the wilderness.
Wednesday, July 1 Von Donop Inlet to Gorge Harbour Marina 50º05.9’N 126º01.3’W
We reluctantly weigh anchor from our lovely anchorage and motor down long narrow Donop Inlet, an excellent find, able to manage dozens of boats. On the way out we spot a cluster of bright purple Ochre Stars: they are back after almost being wiped out by a mysterious disease. This winter, after hundreds of marine study centers and citizen scientists had submitted samples, Cornell University researchers identified the virus responsible for star wasting disease and the mysterious die off from Alaska to Mexico.
After entering the narrow opening of the nearly enclosed Gorge Harbour, we see a resort staffer on near-empty docks waiting to help us tie up. That done, our first question is whether marriage equality has prevailed in the US. We’re relieved to learn it has.
It’s hot. After stripping off clothes and shoes, I go to pay our moorage. “Oh, great”, I say to Sarah, the dock girl, “The last two days of June means lower mooorage fees.” Only later do I realize I’m on a mental time lag, two days out of sync with the rest of the world. I struggle to see where my log has gone a askew and, having made corrections, go online and make a couple of posts.
Since it turns out to be July 1, it’s Canada Day, one of those holidays we’ve almost always missed celebrating. The dock is lined with flags. In the evening, a funky band made up of of what ten years ago I would have called “old timers” sets up under a couple of tents out of the still-hot sun. They play the gamut but square dancing is on the agenda. As families and dogs arrive from the campground and docks to play on the grass, the band’s caller invites them to form squares. Soon the entire deck is filled with dancers.
Though not one to miss celebrations, I’m worn out from the modest effort of laundry and the extreme heat. My single celebratory gesture is to take down the pink and white maple leaf pennant, flapping in tatters under the spreader. Nelson gave it to us the year he and Mona and draft-age American son emigrated across the border, the same year we’d finally learned enough to sail across it. Summers along the BC coast had worn it to shreds so I replace it with the spanking new Canadian flag we’d bought in Campbell River. Soon things quiet down, the tables are pushed back on the dancing deck, and as the sun sets, the moon rises.
Gorge Harbour is great. Local farm goodies from the resort’s grocer. A bike and scooter ride to the ferry dock where Jack finds a phone signal strong enough to restock his Kindle with three new titles. Sun salutations every morning with twenty other yogis and a fine leader. Nightly soaks in the hot tub. But Desolation Sound is waiting.
Saturday, July 4 Gorge Harbour to Homfray Channel 50º16.3’N 124º37.3’W
The sailing is great. Strong winds on the south end of Cortez take us safely around the island’s two long rocky-toothed shoals and past Mink Island. I think to take minute’s worth of video.
Then we head into the Desolation Sound, where winds are just steady. We reach 7.5 knots and are just as smooth as can be. A most beautiful day and nobody out. So I pull out my iPhone for another minute.
We imagine everyone is sleeping in after Canada Day celebrations, with Prideaux Haven and Laura Cove packed to the gills with boats. Not eager to stern tie, we sail up the Sound until the wind dies and the water flattens. Desolation Sound leads north to Homfray Channel, which in turn connects with Toba Inlet and one of the principal glaciers that feeds the Salish Sea. When we were there in 2012, the water was bright, light aqua, color heightened by white glacial till. But now in this second year of severe drought, the Toba River is likely to be sluggish, its glacier anemic.
But didn’t Helen and Ron mention something about new place on Homfray? Slowly we motor up the long, vast passage that is fairly bereft of anchorages, watching the colors change with the waning day. Ahead I spot what looks like the end of a particularly large log and pick up the monocular. Could that be an elephant seal? Like a piece of wet, shiny, mottled born driftwood, it holds its ugly snout firmly aloft. Finally he moves!
At last we turn the corner of Foster Point, and there is Homfray Lodge. A man meets us at the dock, catches the lines, introduces himself as Matt. “Was that an elephant seal we saw?” I ask. Sure thing.
Matt and his brother Dave and at least one other brother acquired the land and built the main house themselves. It was to be a family hideaway. That was until they they looked at the bills and decided it wise to share it. From an old logging operation, they towed in a large float and covered it with smooth planking and a floating garden. They added a couple of cabins and a micro hydro, which alas, this year they’ve needed to supplement with a diesel generator. Now they host conferences, weddings, retreats and the odd boat that ventures up this way.
When I awaken later that evening and find it’s finally dark, I go to deck to see the stars. There are none! And I smell smoke.
Morning is pea soup, The sun never appears. We can’t see across the channel. We figure the sunset will be vivid beautiful sunset but the sun just disappears altogether in the ochre haze. Fortunately, Matt is a good story teller. He teaches us to hear the individual voices of members of a misplaced family of alpine Pika, who have chosen to live at sea level here. He tells us about fishing “outside” off the Brooks Penninsula. About selling his boat and driving a truck on long hauls. About his take on fish farms. And about how he just stopped fishing. “Sometimes a guest goes out there in the channel and hooks a big salmon. I think of everything that fish has gone through. Five years of survival against the odds. Not getting eaten as a fry, making it all the way out. And then, just when he’s almost home, ready to spawn,,,,,,,” His voice trails off, he shakes his head.
Monday, July 6 Homfray Lodge to Lund 49º58.8’N 124º45.8’W
One hundred eighty fires are blazing around British Columbia. Neighborhoods in Port Hardy have been evacuated. The Spourt Lake fire near Port Alberni grows and grows. But it’s the Pemberton blaze that’s sending its burnt particles down both Toba Inlet and the valleys behind Vancouver. To escape the choking air, we take off for the open waters of Georgia Strait. On the way out we run into into Mrs. Elephant Seal. She is not quite as ugly, but almost.
Lund is the tiny town at one end of Route 1. The other end is in Patagonia. It’s a fishing community with 300 year rounders. It’s jointly administered by members of Sliammon Band and non-tribal residents, including cross-continent escapees from the Vietnam War, the draft and Columbia University.
It’s a very fine place. The historic Lund Hotel resembles the Haro in Roche Harbour but is larger and more distinctive. It’s managed by the First Nation and has a general store, with liquor agency, so ingeniously hidden in its lower level that we cannot at first find it even though we’re repeat customers.
Everything else is stretched out around a sweet little bay with a boardwalk. Fresh-from-the-oven loaves, croissants, muffins and cinnamon buns from Nancy’s Bakery infuse the fresh air of every dawn. Locals hang out there, visitors pick up lunch before boarding the water taxi to Savary Island, the only sand island along the coast. Not sand, really. Make that glacial till.
Moorage fees at Lund are the least expensive of our cruise (not counting, of course, days at anchor when we can’t spend a cent) and the facilities among the best. Great restrooms and showers are open to the public 24/7. At night, lamps bathe the wood docks in golden light, while fisher folk relax on the decks of their boats.
We stay an extra day so I can take a kayak tour to the Raggeds, as the locals call the Copeland Islands. But the air quality isn’t good enough and it’s cancelled. Now there are blazes all over the North Pacific – Siberia, the Arctic, Alaska, BC, Washington and Oregon. Instead I join a peaceful session of yoga at the community center.
Wednesday, July 8 Lund to Pender Harbour 49º37.8’N 124º02”W
Late in the day, after our fill of Malespina Strait, we motor into Pender Harbour and call Fisherman’s Bay Marina on the VHF, no longer worried about whether there would be space. Not many people are cruising right now for some reason. We’ve run into former owner Dave Pritchard farther north on the coast and learned that he and Jennifer have sold the place and settled elsewhere on the Sunshine Coast. New guy managing the docks is great. Lives in an interesting doubled ended wooden sailing vessel designed by Sam Devlin. Great meal at Garden Bay pub before retiring below deck where new owners have brought strong internet all the way to the nav station.
Thursday, July 9 Pender Harbour to Lesqueti 49º29.8’N 124º13.8’W
Lots of boats as we approach the roiled waters at the south tip of Texada after crossing Malespina. Whiskey Gulf is active and boats converge here. Jack rails against Whiskey Gulf and notes how once daily war games become part of the nautical chart, a whole great area of open seas often off limits to fishermen, researchers and recreationists. Boats have to go way out of their way whenever Whiskey Gulf is active and when they stray into the boundaries they get called out on VHF 16. We worry about the same thing happening in Olympic National Park if the Navy wins the long drawn out fight and gets to conduct electronic war games there. I sit up with my back to the mast listening to KUOW for the first time in over a month and looking out for military patrol boats.
Ah! At last we’re tucked away for another two days in Boho Bay, large enough to permit a beautiful view and sunset, protected enough to be absolute fun on a day when it rages out on the Straight.
This is our third time here and it’s a keeper. If you’re going to get to know, love and trust and anchorage, it makes sense to keep going back. We drop anchor in 30 feet of water in more or less the same place but radically different conditions. We watch other boats bounce in the new southeasters but we’re in a little hole on next to a big rock and a reef with a nice fix on the setting sun.
This time the birds are all out. Vultures, heron, eagles, and lots of young pigeon guillemots. The latter swim up to check us out and then dive, their silly bright red legs splayed out like the toddlers they are.
Saturday, July 11 Lesqueti Island to Ladysmith 48º59.8’N 123º48.7’W
Our early departure from Lesquiti gives us time to sail but the southeaster does not cooperate. Every tack east requires one to the west. Our VMG – velocity made good – is no good at all. In order to make slack at Dodd Narrows, we turn on the engine and furl sails. Fatigue is setting set but we are not without options. Glaciers have scratched long, narrow, northwest-southeast inlets into all the nearby shores. Ladysmith Harbour is a long gash in Vancouver Island.
Monday, July 13 Ladysmith to Stuart Island
The wind is all wrong for sailing so we watch the seals and the birds. We’ve only been down this channel once before so we try to commit it to memory, particularly where huge ferries from Vancouver weird turns to deliver hundreds of cars and people from Vancouver to south Vancouver Island.
There’s lots of space for rec boats at the State Park floats, buoys, and the dock at Reid Harbor. But all the camping spots available only to crews of non-motorized boats are taken. I count 20 kayaks in Reid and another 20 in Prevost. Latecomers tie up at the dingy dock and have to pitch their tents on the rocky slopes above.
Wednesday, July 15 Stuart Island to Jones Island
The shortest passage of the summer takes us five miles along Spiden Island, where we see a rainbow of sailing kayaks against the low tide shore. Timing is perfect for a mooring buoy.
Friday, July 16, Jones Island to Friday Harbor
We want to sail down the west coast of San Juan Island. Haro Strait is generally smooth – hence all the kayaks – and the J, K and L pods have been hanging out there. Our intention is to gunk hole somewhere around Henry Island. We check out Mitchell Bay and see the Snug Harbor Resort takes up most of it and private buoys the rest. Just another reminder that Washington is not Oregon, where the coast belongs to everyone. Last fall we’d had a great visit to English Camp, going in by road from Roche Harbor, and checked out Garrison Bay. Motoring toward it, a couple of bullying Nordic Tugs push us to the side of the channel where we hit mud. It’s not troublesome but inching along trying to find ten – even six – good feet of water on a falling tide is not fun. We’d noticed only ten sailboat at Roche – lovely in the fall but not our kind of boats today.
So we just put up the sails and head back though Spiden Channel and down into San Juan. We see three historic schooners with sails unfurled but when the wind dies, we assume they are motoring. We tie up at the breakwater float where people come and go and there are never any reservations required. People come and go, including a pretty steel schooner, 36′ on deck, 50′ overall, with a motely crew of about 7. Portlanders, they come over to chat about the Valiant and actually ask to go below deck. We say sure. Throughout the evening the place grows on us. Ferries disgorging weekenders. Friday Harbor is just nice. Unpretentious. It’s chaotic in places, unruffled in others.
Saturday, July 17 Friday Harbor to Port Townsend
I’ve wondered about this before The Prettiest Town on the Inside Passage?
We catch the 8:40 ferry from Port McNeill, arriving in Alert Bay about 45 minutes later. It’s our first time in a place I’ve been hankering to visit all the years we were speeding north, usually through the sheltered northern route through the Broughtons. And all the more so this year, since the report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools was finalized on June 2nd. Our Waggoner’s cruising guide says this of Alert Bay : “One can learn more about native culture here, in less time, than anywhere on this part of the coast.” This turns out to be true, although I think that getting a grasp of the cultures of traditional Pacific Northwest peoples from the Nisqually Reach to Sitka is more of a lifelong endeavor.
We disembark at the ferry dock, where a carved sign hung from log gate adorned with native art proclaims ‘Namgis First Nation – Gilakas’la – Welcome. We take the fine boardwalk northwest around the Bay. We run into a bald eagle resting on the boardwalk rail, two local elders worrying about its health, and the owner of a nearby coffee shop who will contact animal rescue. We pass the Anglican Church, sugar white Victorian confectionery, 1892-style. At regular intervals along the boardwalk are log pavilions decorated with totem-type sculptures, among them the first of many Thunderbird and a Sun Man motifs we’ll see throughout the day.
Finally, I catch up with Jack at our destination, a traditional plank and beam longhouse that houses the U’mista Cultural Center. The Center represents the culture of the Kwakwala-speaking peoples, also known as the Kwakiutl. If the Salish Sea is the homeland of speakers of the Salish languages, these waters might be called the Kwakiutl Sea. The waters start at Campbell River and extend north deep into the mainland beyond Cape Caution and around the top of Vancouver Island to Quatsino Sound. The local ‘Namgis Band, who migrated here from the mouth of the Nimpkish River near Port McNeill are just one of many many groups.
U’mista embodies the idea of ‘return home’. The Center was built to contain the regalia, masks, rattles, whistles and coppers seized by the government, with participants hauled off to prison, in 1921 and returned in 1980. The potlatch, perpetually misunderstood, was outlawed in 1885, but continued underground in the communities on this part of the coast. I’ll let the Center’s leaflet explain potlatch:
Since time beyond recollection, the Kwak’wala speaking groups had expressed their joy through the potlatch. The word “potlatch” comes from Chinook jargon, a trade pidgin formerly used along the coast. It means “to give” and came to designate a ceremony common to peoples on the Northwest Coast and parts of the Interior. The potlatch ceremony marks important occasions in the lives of the Kwakwaka’wakw: the naming of children, marriage, transferring rights and privileges and mourning the dead. Guests witnessing the event are given gifts. The more gifts distributed, the higher status achieved by the potlatch host. It is a time for showing the masks and dances owned by the chief giving the potlatch.
Although there was no immediate opposition to the potlatch at the time of initial contact with the white man, such opposition began to grow with the coming of missionaries and government agents. Frustration over unsuccessful attempts to ‘civilize’ the people of the potlatch led officials, teachers, and missionaries to pressure the federal government into enacting legislation prohibiting the ceremonies.
The exhibit of stolen and returned treasures is introduced by stunning footage contemporary pot latches. It’s possible that no one does potlatches better than the ‘Namgis and the U’mista Cultural Center has kept traditions alive. Rather than borrow the century old masks from the museum – the Tlingit around Sitka periodically don their regalia displayed in the US National Park Visitors Center – they have created their own. Their carvers have created both reproductions and brilliant contemporary renditions. Every family has a capes and tunics hand sewn in traditional styles, many with motifs outlined with hundreds of shell button. The women know how to remove cedar bark in long strips without harming the trees and weave the conical hats. Cedar strips, twisted, knotted or simply hanging loose, hula-skirt fashion, also complete the costumes of the highly acrobatic male dancers.
Filmed in the large ceremonial big house we later walk up the hill to see, the center’s documentary shows a recent celebration. Chiefs, drummers, dancers, and processioners with small children in their arms circle a live fire in the middle of the room. The entire community, turned out in full dress, is seated three tiers deep along the four walls. Dance, costumes and music are spectacular.
We witness some of this live because our visit happens to coincide with National Aboriginal Day. “The band is celebrating with a procession at noon followed by a salmon bake,” the young man at the U’mista reception desk tells us as we enter, “You’re invited to join us for lunch.” Really?
When head outside after our U’mista visit, sure enough, a tent with seating has been set up on the waterfront and several feeble members of the band are being carefully wheeled from the elders’ home on the hill. Soon a small procession led by newly elected Mayor Deborah arrives. It is such a hot day that the walkers immediately cast off their robes, leaving on only their protective cedar bark hats.
“Please, have something to eat,” says a bystander.
“Let us wait until others are served,” we say, noticing the short line. We wander off only to be engaged in conversation by a couple lunching on lawnchairs in the deep shade of a cedar tree.
“Have you had lunch?” they ask. We say no. Having just noticed the site where the Indian Residential School stood we ask when it was taken down.
“Oh just this year,” they say, introducing an attractive man sitting on the grass nearby. “Larry was a student there.”
“I was there until it closed in 1976,” says Larry, shaking his head. “It’s good not to see that old building there. Come on, I’m taking you to get some lunch.”
True, there are copious amounts of food: especially salmon but also potato salad, carrot sticks, tossed salad, water melon and delicious warm morsels of what Alaskans call ‘fry bread’ and people here call ‘bannock’. If the potlatch is central to the local culture and giving is the spiritual core potlatch, it makes sense that there is more than enough food for everybody.
We learn a lot about giving and taking and destroying and restoring during our day at Alert Bay.
In addition to the permanent exhibit of potlatch items, the U’mista Cultural Center also has rotating exhibits. Along the ramp to the main hall are historic photos of native villages throughout the Kwakwaka’wakw region, including many sites where we’ve anchored or docked. Each is paired with documents from a 1980s oral history project: a striking photo of an elder and text with his or her words. These elders speak less about everyday activities and material culture than about the stories that explain the spiritual heritage of that particular First Nation. Several of these refer to quaking earth and deluge, which would be the Cascadia Subduction Zone seismic event of January 1700, also documented by the Japanese the “orphan Ttsunami'” and recently affirmed by contemporary seismologists thanks to the work of geologist Brian Atwater. (You can download this intensely interesting, profusely illustrated account from the USGS website here.)
But the U’mista exhibit that really wallops me is Speaking to Memory: Images and Voices from St. Michael’s Indian Residential School. One of the largest ofthe Indian Residential Schools, St. Mike’s became the home to generations of children who were forcibly removed from their homes throughout the far flung network of islands and Inlets of the Kwakwaka’wakw region. The gallery at U’mista contains selected items from the larger 2014 exhibit at MOA, the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. Dominating the center of the hall are participatory works of art – a miniature dugout racing canoe covered with thousands of colorful, individually decorated, Scrabble-like tiles and a couple textile panels incorporating messages in the native language. But it’s the text and photographs around the edges that grip me to tears for an hour and a half.
The first wall pairs two photos, one taken in 1930 and the other in 2013. Alert Bay’s St. Michael’s Indian Residential School, one of the 120 federally administrated schools across Canada, was the forced detention center for children from villages throughout the Broughtons and the villages of Vancouver Island. It was operated by the Anglican Church of Canada until 1976 and had stood empty as no appropriate use could be found for the building. Until several months ago it filled the space between U’mista and the attractive modern health clinic and adjacent home for elders. Colorful sticky notes and whiteboard messages in English and Kwakiutl record the feelings of Alert Bay citizens about the final erasure of St. Mike’s from their village landscape.
Next I move along two walls move on which are tacked floor to ceiling photos of students in BC residential schools coupled with poignant recollections of life in them. I read every single word. The “student” testimonies are those of adults looking back in the early 1990s. Most, not all, refer to heartbreaking injustices inflicted on children. Most, not all authors, are Anonymous: the past has not yet receded and there’s still risk of retribution. (I am too shattered to think about notes; after all, everything is now part of the historical record. But before walking out into the mid day sunlight I snap a quick photo of a couple of the testimonies, a random souvenir.)
And they did not spare the rod, perhaps that’s where our people learned to hit as a way of getting their way. And when we got into alcohol, we drank as if there was no tomorrow. If there is anything good to be said about St. Mikes, it would be soccer. They brought soccer to us. Oh yea, as a special treat on Easter Sunday we had one hard-boiled egg. The only time we had an egg.
We were not allowed to pass the line. We couldn’t go near the boys and the boys couldn’t come near us, and we weren’t allowed to go outside the gate or outside the fence. If we did that we got punished. We were well protected you know. That’s what I like about that. That saved me maybe from a lot of things, you know. When they get strict with us and we learn obedience and we learn to try and follow the rules, you know.
I wonder how this all plays out. Alert Bay’s Anglican church is still shipshape and beneath the totems of the village’s contemporary burial grounds is the odd headstone in the form of a cross. Forbearance and inclusivity seem to reign. Mentally I run through the churches we’ve seen all along the coast. From the Bible church at the foot of Washington’s Hood Canal, the graves of its cemetery decked out in tinsel, to the onion-domed gem in Ninikchuk, Alaska, whose Native priest gave us a tour, speaking with pride about Orthodoxy’s deep global roots and the Fourth Century priests who made their way from the Eastern Mediterranean to China. I wonder: is it overarching tradition of Native spirituality that fosters such forbearance and inclusivity?
At last I come to the final room of the exhibit, a series of seven long scrolls bearing official letters of apology from the Prime Minister and from the heads of the churches with whom the Canadian federal government contracted to operate the schools across the country. Here’s an excerpt from the long letter from Prime Minister Stephen Harper:
The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian residential Schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on Aboriginal culture, heritage and language. While some former students have spoken positively about their experiences at residential schools, these stories are far over-shadowed by tragic accounts of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse and neglect of helpless children, and their separation from powerless families and communities.
The panel with the letter from Anglican Bishop Michael Peers is a litany of contrition.
I have felt shame and humiliation as I have heard of suffering inflicted by my people,and as I think of the part our church played in that suffering.
I am deeply conscious of the sacredness of the stories that you have told and I hold in the highest honor those who have told them.
I have heard with admiration the stories of people and communities who have word at healing, and I am away of how much healing is needed.
I also know that I am in need of healing, and my own people are in need of healing , and our church is in need of healing. Without that healing, we will continue the same attitudes that have done such damage in the past. ….
I am sorry, more than I can say, that we were part of a system which took you and your children fromhome and family.
I am sorry, more than I can say, that we tried to remake you in our image, taking from you your language and the signs of your identity.
I am sorry, more than I can say, that in our schools so many were abused physically, sexually, culturally and emotionally. …
This resonates with me. This is the time and place for it to do so. My past is longer than my future. I have experienced – albeit at some distance – so much injustice spiraling without resolution, no end in sight. In the past two weeks, I’ve read two compelling works of fictional realism on the great anti-colonial wars of my lifetime. Kamel Daoud’s recently translated Mersault Investigation is set in Algeria, where we spent our honeymoon in 1971. At the time, the nation’s honeymoon with national liberation following a valiant fight still had not dissipated into violent score settling of age old strife. The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen gets to the heart of the sad saga of the war in Vietnam. Our invasion, the war without reason, and its retributive aftermath. Vietnam is where I plan to celebrate my 70th birthday on a bicycle trip with our daughter Selena.
The next book in my queue came just when I needed it. The Book of Forgiving is a new work by Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Mpho, an Anglican priest. Archbishop Tutu has witnessed some of the worst crimes people can inflict on others. So wherever he goes, he inevitably gets asked this question: ‘How do I forgive?’ This book is his answer. He and his daughter lay out the simple but profound truths about the significance of forgiveness, how it works, why everyone needs to know how to grant it and receive it, and why granting forgiveness is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves when we have been wronged. This is a How to Book and it’s good. Illustrating with myriad examples,the authors explain the four-step process of forgiveness—Telling the Story, Naming the Hurt, Granting Forgiveness, and Renewing or Releasing the Relationship.
As I start the last chapter of the beautiful, short Book of Forgiving we come in range of wifi and learn this: A young white supremacist, welcomed into a Bible study group at an historic Black church, shoots everyone there, killing most, including the pastor, who is a State Senator. Three days later I watch a video of the parishioners addressing the accused who has been taken into custody. They talk to him one by one, telling him forgiveness is there. Not just from God but also from their community. It’s as if they have read the Tutus’ book.
Wednesday, June 17 Campbell River to Shoal Bay 50º27’N 125º22’W
Slackers waiting for slack, we head to the Canadian Superstore to stock up on bread, eggs, and fresh vegetables and then pick up wine the liquor store opens at 9. Jack takes the stuff back to the boat – improbably moored on A dock with the small sports fishing boats. Sea Runners and Puffin have both left while Dan and Heather aka Team Coastal Express, are still bedded down, preparing for their first day of vacation. Forced back twice by Seymour Narrows this invariably cheerful pair is taking their adventure back south.
We motor the five miles up dodging stray logs on the way to Maud Island to get our first look at the waters. We hit the Narrows 50 minute before slack, shooting through and letting the ebb carry us north. This is where the waters between Vancouver Island and the (so-called) Mainland where the tide ebbs north and floods south. To our stern is the Salish Sea, where the flood has been north and the ebb south. We pass two southbound tugs with barges, one haphazardly loaded with second rate clear cut, the type of load that helps explain the errant logs.
In wild Plumper Bay, opposite the tiny Vancouver Island community of Brown Bay we spot the distinctive upside-down yellow triangle of Sea Runners’ sail and the masted monohull of Team Puffin.
As concern for these end of the pack Racers to Alaska dissipates, we embark on a gorgeous dreamy cruise up Discovery Passage. Vancouver rightly saved the name Discovery for this fine section of the coast as well as for the Bay which with Port Townsend Bay forms the Quimper Penninsula. The latter, richly timbered, served as the shipyard for HMS Discovery and the other ships of the Captain’s small fleet.
We continue Northeast through Nodales Channel, presumably named by Vancouver’s respected contemporary, Spanish Captain Quadra, until we enter the great carrefour, the spectacular chowk where Frederick Arm meets Cordero Channel. The short distance to perfect little Shoal Bay with its imposing view up Phillips Arm, snowless again this year.
At the Shoal Bay wharf a happy handful of boaters on the dock find us the 41 one feet we need and squeeze us in. Salmon fry splash about, tiny silver torpedoes. The sun has taken it out of us so we lunch and nap and rest below deck until a knock on the companionway hatch brings notice of happy hour. (Or is it “appy” hour?) We pull humous from the fridge, pita chips from a locker, folding chairs from the lazarette and head a boat length down the float. Like us, people who love Shoal Bay come back year after year.
“I love it!” says Wharfinger Mark McDonald. “A boater-managed dock!” He’s watching approaching boats through binoculars from home on shore, where I’ve gone to pay up – 50 cents a foot. Two sizable Grand Banks trawlers approach Aurora as Jack appears on deck to help them raft to us. Since our arrival, port side fenders have been out – Shoal Bay Protocol.
That evening, I join Tom and Karen from Sandpoint and Helen and Ron from Nanaimo at the pub – vacated earlier in the day when the logger lodgers flew off for their long weekend in a tiny, playful, bright yellow helicopter. Helen interviews Mark. For years we’d thought he was some IT guy who taken his money and run. Then he shows up with a new bride, a widow he’d known years before. Thanks to Cynthia, who’s put up some pictures showing Mark with fine horses and the likes of Willy Schumacher, we’re now getting the story. Born in New Westminister, Mark had always been around horses so when it was time for college, it needed to be someplace near a racetrack. Soon enough he’d abandoned his studies in southern Calfornia to train horses. After 25 years he became a off-grid homesteader on this mining townsite, once home to 5,000 people, now reclaimed by the forest. In his spare time, he’s a horse broker who serves a mostly British clientele without every leaving Shoal Bay.
Friday, June 19th Shoal Bay to Blind Channel 50º25’N 125º30’W
Did we mention this was going to the the laziest cruise yet? After the leisurely morning we cast off for the short ride to our next destination, dumping contents of our toilet along the way. I have gotten too bold with my experiments in fluid dynamics and inadvertently watered down the poop pot. But everything is back together with a fresh bed of desiccating coir fiber by the time we arrive at the Blind Channel Resort, expertly run for many years by the Richter family. I eschew hiking the trails in favor of downloading some serious reading in ecological sanitation and exchanging Tweets with other Race to Alaska fans. Everyday a new team arrives at the finish, everyday another welcome bash thrown by the good folks of Ketchikan.
Dinner hour coincides conveniently with a rising tide. As we shove the scooter up on the ramp, Eliott Richter meets us and ushers us to the dining room. Blind Channel is known for its cuisine. There is a rich garden and fishing boats stop at the dock, often to meet to float planes which deliver the fresh catch to Vancouver for flights to Japan.
Saturday, June 20 Blind Channel to Port Harvey 50º34’N 126º66’W
Port Harvey, not to be confused with the city of Port Hardy, is a geographic feature, a body of water rather than a settlement.
Now it boasts the Port Harvey Marine Resort, which is top-notch in its simplicity. It consists of a structure on a barge floating in a bay opposite some tied looking forestry operations at the end of Havannah Channel. You are greeted at the dock with a wifi password, a simple menu of hamburgers and pizza, and the understanding that there is no obligation whatsoever to partake of either. And yet even now in June nearly every table at the little cafe off the deck over the store is full. And it’s right-sized for the communal conversation that owners George and Gail Cambridge keep animated as they proffer drinks,food and their famous desserts. Helping this summer is Tom an amiable, sailor, adventurer, cook, bartender, dock fisherman, and handyman whose perfect RP (Received Pronunciation) bespeak fine schooling on the other side of the Atlantic pond.
Jack goes for the burger with fries me the pizza. I’ve brought containers from the boat so Jack can have his poutine for lunch. For breakfasts in transit, nothing is better than leftover pizza heated on the stove top toaster George has sold me. Jam packed with practical items, Port Harvey’s store is a minor wonder on this coast. It seems the Cambridges are transitioning from the hardware business in Alberta.
Port Harvey offers great shelter at the dock or at anchor just a short distance from Johnstone Strait. Pointing to an exposed line of Doug Firs on the shore, George says, “Just look at those trees. If they’re not moving, you can head out with no problem.” There’s never been a place in Port Harvey for rec boats to tie up and Gail and George have the right mix of business experience and the middle age stamina to make this place a success. Without a fuel dock, the Pacific water is clean: folks catch crab right off the dock. As fresh water is in short supply, however, they’ll be limited in the services they can offer. This is a good thing.
Monday June 22 – Port Harvey to Port McNeill 50º34’N 127º05’W
What a beautiful passage! Johnstone Strait is like glass and this section is new to us. Shrouds of fog lift so we enjoy the views and wildlife. We pass the famous reserve at Robson’s Bight where British Columbia’s pods of resident orcas breed. They’re away now but porpoises hobby horse through the water and Pacific white-sided dolphins come and play with our waves. We pass tiny Telegraph cove, set between mountain and sea. I wonder what management skills it must take to shoehorn boats into such as small space. We pass Cormorant and Malcolm Islands before landfall on Vancouver Island, where we pass the small ferry that connects Port McNeill with the villages of Alert Bay and Sointula.
George has recommended the Fuel Dock, now rebranded as North Island Marina. Jessica Jackman meets us as we tie up against strong current. The marina doesn’t offer post card views but is competently run. Fuel hoses can reach rec boats tied up on one side while serving commercial vessels on the other. Port McNeill is on Vancouver Island so that means roads which can take recycling and garbage, water to operate a lundromat, and roads to other places. Jessica even offers a complementary car and suggests a visit Telegraph Cove. We’re here, however, for Alert Bay and Sointula and the BC Ferries schedule can accommodate visits to both in a single day. As it happens, our time at Alert Bay is so full and gives us so much to ponder, we simply eschew the former commune founded by Finnish socialists in the early 20th century.
Wednesday, June 24 Port McNeill to Echo Bay 50º45’N 126º30’W
Port McNeill near the north end of Vancouver Island is our westernmost point as we turn north into the Broughtons. Jack suggests we go to the well known Pierre’s Eco Bay Lodge and Marina. Last year he volunteered to walk up to the store to pay the moorage and found the lack of handrails made docks and stairs dangerous to navigate. (Think rainforest moss on wet wood.) He mentioned the situation to Pierre’s wife, Tove, and just wants to see if anything had changed. It hasn’t. Jack doesn’t leave the boat. I photograph the eight obstacles to get from the boat to the restrooms, laundry and showers.
Latish in the evening I corner Pierre, trying to match his charm and easy-going-ness. “Look at the type of people who love to come here year after year,” I say. “They’re not young. They’re hip-replacement candidates. They may be cruising because they’re recovering from something and can only walk with difficulty. Or they’re here for a wedding or family reunion with elders in wheelchairs in tow.” I tell him there are fixes, like the rubber covered aluminum plates that bridge the docks at North Island Marina in Port McNeil and promise to send some photos. I complement him on the new Adirondack chairs; at least weary walkers can have a seat. He is nice and I am nice.
Before turning in, I come up with a rating system for docks.
1 = Stay on your boat. It may be secure but you are not when you’re on the docks. Athleticism required to access services. Everything moves. (Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club’s strange metal docks. The alternative in Prince Rupert, the port facility at Rushbrook, was a 1 in 2012 but then in 2014 metal bridges joining floats had been installed.)
2 = Anyone with the slightest mobility impairment or an uncoordinated child must be accompanied at all times to be safe. Dangerous gaps between floats or floats and ramp. Steps without handrails. Leaning or unsteady floats. (Pierre’s Echo Bay; up from a ‘1’ thanks to the new Adirondack chairs.)
3 = Allows partial independence for mobility impaired. A visitor who uses a wheelchair or scooter will need assistance at some places on the docks or at some points in the tide cycle. (North Island Marina in Port McNeill; Blind Channel Resort.)
4 = Pretty safe in good weather. Smooth, flat, unobstructed docks, with toe rails and hand rails. (Port Harvey, where entire resort currently floats – access to land and dog walking is still difficult; Nanaimo, where only problems are heavy dock gates and ramp angles on low tides.)
5 = Independent wheelchair users can access all facilities. (Gorge Harbor!)
Thursday, June 25 Echo Bay to Waddington Bay 50º43’N 126º37’W
We’re at anchor in 30 feet of water. It’s sheltered and peaceful even as the sun goes hot and the winds come up in the afternoon. Not much to report. Reading, listening to audible books, daydreaming, cooking, fixing things that need to be fixed. And organizing photos and writing this blog.
Supper is ling cod with mushrooms, scalloped potatoes and onions with Parmesan, Swiss chard, very long grain black rice left over from a former voyage, a tossed salad and fresh cherries, purchased in Campbell River for $3 Canadian a pound because the hot sun has brought the British Columbia crop to abrupt maturity far earlier than normal. The origin of the long cod? Remember Matt and Elizabeth of the cement schooner Peregrine and Salt Spring Island? Here they offer just-caught and filleted ling cod to the boats moored off Lesqueti Island.
Saturday, June 27 Waddington Bay to nook on Crease Island behind Goat Island 50º37’N 126º38’W
The wind is blowing when we drop anchor in about 24 feet of water but things soon calmed down and everything is just perfect. 360º of an ever-changing light and color show as the sun drops in the sky. I stay up until 10 to take photos.
It’s Dave who recommended Goat Island; he doesn’t like to be hemmed in; needs the view. Dave and Janet are Valiant 40 owners we met at Echo Bay. They were in the Peace Corps in on a Pacific Island and – like us – had to get married to serve together. Then they learned to sail and sailed home to Portland in their first boat. We toured each Valiant. Theirs looks the same except for a deck that extends 18 inches toward the bow to allow headroom in the V-berth.
Sunday, June 28 Goat Island to Forward Harbor 50º29’N 125º45’W
My pleas to just stay put another day do not cut it with Jack the Skipper, who notes that there are still hundreds more anchorages waiting for us. The weather is good and he is eager to get into Knight Inlet and Johnstone Strait and have the sails catch the light NW winds.
We head out at dawn, enthralled by the play of light on the dark water. Flocks of rhinoceros auklets swim past each followed by a line of sun sparkles. A line of cormorants splashes drops of gold in their awkward struggle to take flight. Very pretty this morning, but they are designed to fly underwater. Porpoises cut in and out of the water, something much larger snorts off our stern and disappears, but our beloved Pacific white-sided dolphins ignore us. We associate Knight Inlet with our first prolonged encounter – with about 100 of them.
The golden dawn turns to the morning as the Inlet opens wide, a succession of mountains and bays in every tone of grey. A boat passes, throwing curving swaths of silver glitter on the water. There is no wind.
There must be a herring ball causing the feeding frenzy near Minstrel Island. The auklets simply flip upside down from the water’s surface but the gulls are diving in flight, trying to stay out of the way of eagles talons. Gulls, eagles, and crows – our everyday birds at home – are all smart and acrobatic. But it’s their interactions that are especially fascinating.
We take the bull kelp clogged Chatham Channel near low slack prepared for very low waters but we rarely have less 25 feet under our keel. Out in Havannah Channel the wind is brisk and Johnstone looks perfect. The day is getting on and there are the usual strong wind warnings but it comes to nothing. We have to motor the whole way to Forward Harbor.
We drop anchor at the edge of the shelf, our depth waving from 30 to 60 feet as we let out 150 feet of chain. I have forgotten how spectacular Forward Harbor is. I put the folding chairs out on the bow and we have a simple supper watching the sun set on the high peaks at the end of the bay.
Monday, June 29 Forward Harbor to Shoal Bay 50º27’N 125º22’W
I need to flake the first 50′ of cain so it fits properly in the re-designed locker under the V-berth but once that is done, I can let the remaining 100 feet in more smoothly, stopping only to knock only to the peak so that the chain does not pile up and jam. Redesign is good for this. But when I’m on the last 25 feet, the windlass quits! I have to bring up the remaining chain and the anchor by hand. What is the problem? A blown fuse? I reset the trip switch, which appears not to have tripped off.
We navigate past a log boom waiting with its tug at the neck of the bay and pass the swirlls and outfalls of Green Point rapids. Then I go below and use my 700 lumens bike light to check the cables that lead to the solenoid and windlass motor. Nothing seems amiss but the foot switch still doesn’t work. We discuss options – someone at Blind Channel may help with a diagnosis when we stop for the essential liquids: diesel, water, wine and gin. But one more try with the windlass and it works! Either switch is cranky – it looks perfect – or it just had to cool off. In any event, we’ll just raise the anchor more slowly from now on.
Thanks to a “changing of the guard” the whole north side of the Shoal Bay dock is free. The southbound boats have left and shortly northbound boats will take their place. And when the northbound boats cast off, they leave space for southbound boats, which arrive an hour to two later. One goal of this cruise is to help us better predict things like this. And the winds in Johnstone, the back-eddies off Cape Mudge, the energy our solar panels are capturing, and the sounds of the anchor chain on the sea bottom. We dream of making a new variation of this trip every summer for years to come. To be safe and comfortable doing so, means draft and tweaking rules of thumb.
We’re greeted at the dock with “We used to have a Valiant, too.” Marilyn and Jim have “passed over to the dark side” and now have of Blue Coyote, a 26′ Ranger Tug which “bobs like a cork.” Back problems were making things hard for Marilyn. We chat for a good long time about the adaptations they’d made when they bought their Valiant in Trinidad and how Bob Perry either loved or hated them when they met him at a Port Ludlow rendezvous. You can feel their nostalgia for their old boat. Jack says “Hey, I’m a qudriplegic” and explains how – until his First Mate breaks down – we’re going to stick with our boat. Later I learn this lively pair we take to be in their mid-60s are both well into their 70s.
The logger lodgers with the toy yellow helicopter have left and the Shoal Bay Pub is open. I go up to pay my $0.50 a foot and join Mark and Cynthia a couple of others there for a beer. We exchange stories about the Race to Alaska. A week without Internet means my last news is Roger Mann’s arrival in Ketchikan. I remember I took a screen shot of his boat.
“That’s him!” yelps Mark. Seems they ran into Roger and his strange craft in Brown Bay, the place just north of Seymour Narrows where they leave their truck so they can provision in Campbell River. They meet him briefly as he exits the shower. Yes, old and cheerful. And also a short and compact. This would have been the morning after Roger had fallen into the raging waters of Seymour Narrows in the middle of the night.
Tuesday, June 30 Shoal Bay to Von Donop Inlet on Cortez Island 50º085’N 124º56’W
There are two northern doors to Salish Sea. One is Seymour Narrows which flows between Vancouver and Quadra Island and leads to Discovery Channel and then either to Johnstone Strait or to the “Inside Inside Channel” route via Nodales Channel. The other consists of the neck of water that flows through Dent, Gaillard and Yucalta Narrows. North of these two areas confused waters, the ebb is north and the flood south; south of them the flood is north and the ebb south.
That south ebb takes us into broad and beautiful Calm Channel with its many options for exploration to in the northern reaches of the Salish Sea watershed, such as Toba Inlet, its waters light blue with fresh water melt from its glacier. We continue south and dip into Von Donlop Inlet, which extends long and narrow into Cortez Island. It’s very low tide and what do I see in the bright green seaweed-fringed crevices in the rocks! Purple and bright pink Ochre Sea Stars! This is the species so decimated by sea star wasting, the disease recognized just this year – thanks in part to sample collection by citizen scientists – as caused by a virus. Without sea stars the Salish Sea food web is broken. This is cause for celebration.
We motor the shallow Inlet past several nice anchorages, where most boats are stern tied. Yes, we are back in the land of this strange Canadian custom. We continue on realizing that even the middle of the channel is safely anchor-able. But there’s lots of room at the head of the Inlet. As we approach the sweeping low tide beach and prepare to point into the wind, I call out to folks on the deck of a boat already anchored, “We want to pass behind you if there’s enough water. Are you stern tied?” “Yes, lots of water. No stern tie! Is that a Valiant?”
Nothing is sweeter to the ears of a boat owner than appreciation of one’s boat. Late in the afternoon the crew of Northern Girl from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory stop by in their dinghy after watering their two black labs. Kara and Fraser Smith are Bob Perry fans with a Bob Perry boat – a Northwind Islander – with the most ingenious feature. A door in its transom opens as a ramp down to the dinghy. Perfect for dog lovers who have to make the four daily trips to shore and back.
Wednesday, July 1 Von Donop Inlet to Gorge Harbour
Pull into to Gorge Harbour on the south end of Cortez Island, ready for some Internet and the opportunity to post a couple of blog posts. Despite keeping a daily blog, I have somehow managed to be two days behind the calendar date. I’d always wanted to celebrate Canada Day but thought it was Friday. Turns out it’s today.
There’s a heat wave, just like the first time we came here. In the eighties here but much much worse in Portland and Seattle. While the docks are half empty, the Gorge Harbour lodge, restaurant and campground are full of people. The kids have built lantern boats but, alas, they can’t be lit thanks to the drought-caused fire danger. Instead a fire is lit in the big fireplace on the stone patio where a very funky band of local old guys is playing. One is calling square dances and managing to get people up on their feet. It’s too hot for me but when the sun finally sets and the big full moon rises I got out and enjoy the end of the evening.
While we got a late start for our summer cruise, it’s been fueled by the extra weeks of anticipation that accumulated throughout May as we watched the Boat Haven shipyard empty of the working boats and head north along with the early cruisers. What kept us in PT was the start of the first human-powered Race to Alaska. While people have been human powering to Alaska for centuries, there’d never been a race. It appears that the notion was born in Hop Diggity saturated minds of mariner-adventurers gathered at the 2013 Wooden Boat Festival and given shape when Jake Beattie threw down the gauntlet a year later to have it picked up by sixty intrepid teams of paddlers, rowers and sailors who showed up with an array of watercraft the likes of which Port Townsend had never seen.
Meanwhile, the extra weeks at the end of the school year let me pick up some of the unfamiliar skills of landlubbers. I was able complete a Master Composters course with Washington State University and a bio char workshop that attracted passionate experts from four counties. Neither course would’ve happened without the efforts of my kick-ass activist friend Nina. We also squeezed in a hop over to Seattle to throw a party for Cait Rippey the day she got her MD degree. She and Jay cycled out to Shilshole on the Burke-Gilman Trail with 3-year old Finn and a whole string of well wishers. We also welcomed Qamar Schuyler from Australia and to meet partner Frank and 7-month Max. Floating Bistro Aurora served 23 guests. We have perhaps 175 square feet of the most efficient living space anywhere – and it moves. Now it’s moving North.
Friday, June 5 – Port Townsend to Victoria
Jack the Skipper’s log notes that we threw off the lines from our Port Townsend slip at 6:15 am and got through a blob of fog near Point Wilson. Then a single tack takes us all the way to Victoria at 4 or 5 knots. Along for the ride are fellow mariners and Portland-transplants, Jon and Matt, who bless breakfast with mimosas and proceed to finish off two bottles of bubbly before we need to declare our liquor to Canadian Customs. Approaching the city, we pass a SCAMP, a not quite 12-foot-long wooden boat built and piloted by Simeon and a friend. We tie up at in the Inner Harbour in time to cheer the Race to Alaska’s Team Noddy’s Noggins across the finish line. Hats off the oldest crew and the smallest boat. They are among the teams doing only the first leg of the race: the passage from Port Townsend takes them 35 hours and 30 minutes.
Moored right in front of the historic Empress Hotel and British Columbia’s majestic Parliament, we are in the thick of the action: buskers along the shore, waterbug-like taxis, survival-suited whale watchers on fast commercial boats, and the majestic Coho, its splendid multi toned steam whistle announcing another arrival of people and cars from Port Angeles. All of the Race to Alaska craft are rafted along adjacent slips, so we finally have the chance to see them all, meet the crews, lend tools to those making repairs and last-minute modifications.
We tell our Victoria friends to come down to have a look. Erica and Alan, Mona and Nelson, and Amanda with 3 year old Ryder all gather on Saturday. Erica not only turns up with Lebanese hors d’oeuvres and dessert but introduces us all to her great-nephew Captain Peter Reed, who is taking a group out on a sunset cruise on historic ship Thane.
The next morning I bike up to the top of the hill above the Harbour to Christ Church Cathedral to hear the bells. Alan and Erica are among the ten bell ringers who mount the 72 steps to the tour a couple of times every Sunday to put on a 30 minute performance. I was to have seen it but I am late and the church folks seem less than keen on showing me the way up, which greatly annoys Erica, who has taken pains to set it all up. But now we have an excuse to sail back during the winter, plus a Nexus pass that allows us to reenter the US without the inconvenience of passing customs at Friday Harbor. I need to keep up with this friend and mentor who has set me straight on many things. She and Alan are now in their late 80s, sharp minded academics who surprised us this spring with a short visit to PT enroute from a conference in Seattle.
Later Sunday morning Jack and I cros the Blue Bridge and take the long winding waterfront trail to Westbay, where we find the beautiful new Esquimault Loo, a Portland export, on the way to Stephanie’s beautiful 25 foot sailboat moored among elegant float homes. Stephanie is Jon’s Québeçoise girlfriend, a long distance cyclist and cross country hitchhiker who became a live aboard after on a short sail on Aurora this spring. We take Steph’s new home out and drop anchor to watch the noon start of the full state Race to Alaska until a harbor official in an inflatable reminds us we we’re in a no anchor zone. We retreat to land where we take photos of the craft and watch a mother deer and a pair of Canadas play on shore with new babies.
Monday, June 8 – Victoria to Montague Harbour 48º537’N 123º24’W
“Rough, choppy waters on an otherwise fair, low wind day”, notes Jack in his log, “‘Cape Victoria’ is evil sister of Cape Scott.” Yes, indeed, we have a new name for the essentially unnamed southernmost tip of North America’s largest island, which pushes the international boundary deep into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Could it ever be as bad as Cape Scott at the north end? Probably not, but we round it with deep admiration for that little SCAMP that sailed in on Friday and the human-powered Alaska-bound boats who left on Sunday.
We motor up the coast to Montague Harbour on Galiano Island where we grab a Marine Park mooring buoy. When a nice lady motors up to take our fees, we say two nights please and give her $24 in greenbacks, having been too busy to get Canadian cash. We start the vacation part of our cruise thankful for the much needed Wi-Fi blackout and no need to do anything more than take naps, read, and enjoy being the last boat on which the sun sets over the isthmus that separates Montague’s big bay from Tricomali Channel.
Wednesday, June 10 – Montague Harbour to Thetis Island
Early morning departure takes us up Tricomali Channel where we forego Porlier Pass to revisit Thetis Island with its charming little marina with pub, tiny store and post office. This, however, ends our Internet break. When we log on to the Race to Alaska tracker, we’re astonished to see that the lead boats have made astonishing headway toward the northwest,against NW winds, while several promising contenders, including PT’s Team Turnpoint Design with their purpose-built craft, have dropped out in the face myriad difficulties. Jake’s daily updates plus the growing coverage by the media and impassioned onlookers mean there’s a lot to read. While scanning my Twitter feed for #r2ak hashtags that evening I happen on a tweet from KPLU’s Gabriel Spitzer requesting an interview (on toilets, should you need to ask). Since we don’t have to throw off the lines until 10 am to catch slack at Dodd Narrows, I’m able to take the Skyped call and address concerns about social equity, basic dignity, and human rights. Spitzer seems okay with the ambient noise of the marina waking up, perhaps he’s good good techs and the Gulf Islands are on the far edge of the listening range of his Seattle based NPR station.
Thursday, June 11 – Thetis Island to Nanaimo – 49º10’N 123º55’W
Lovely sail through the islands with Jack piloting in the cockpit and me sitting on the spinnaker box watching out for logs. The closer we get to Dodd Narrows, the more there are: the telephone pole type logs not old growth spring tide drift. We arrive on the end of a northward flood and just as we’re about to go through, the captain of a southbound tug informs “all concerned traffic” on 16 that he’s barging through with a log boom.
The narrows are only about 75 feet across. Maybe running against the tide gives better control and by the looks of the logs bouncing against the rocks to say nothing of the loose ones we’ve encountered he needs it. As soon as the first boom struggles through, a second follows. Perhaps they’ll be reconfigured as one for the southbound journey but we don’t stick around to find out.
I take lookout on the bow and we slip through into Norththumberland Bay, its west shore lined with rough milling operations and sawdust mountains, its east with tiny tugs preparing more booms for shipment.”You don’t want to know this,” says Jack,”but coming out we were in six and half feet of water.” That’s six inches under our keel. Just enough.
The wild west of the area soon succumbs to the easy urbanity of Nanaimo. We tie up in the city port on the new Cameron Island dock, for which a commercial pier acts as breakwater. It’s continuation of the public port which shelters rec boats, the fishing fleet, passenger ferries, and small tugs. Everything is integrated into the city’s contemporary waterfront, its pleasant walkways with distinctive white steel barriers a-bustle with buskers, bicycles, baby carriages, and bare arms and legs, bewitchingly tattooed. We visit the farmers’ market and a craft fair, where a young couple from The Netherlands takes our photo and we take theirs.
On Sunday we head several blocks up the hill to the Old City Quarter, which we’ve never visited. We see the century old homes and churches along leafy streets and Nainamo makes more sense. Like Port Townsend, it must have kept its genteel uptown separate from the riffraff of the traditional downtown waterfront, now razed, sanitized, transformed. We spend the afternoon at Nanaimo’s annual International Street Festival. Three stages and a couple of dozen booths show off the city’s crazy quilt mix of First Nations and ethnic groups from every continent. A Sri Lankan woman proffering garden starts of rare Asian vegetables offers me a taste of her homemade date lime chutney. After tasting it with our Oregon farm raised pork chops, I regret leaving with only one, generous $6 jar.
The strong winds out on the Strait coupled with whitecaps right in the Port keep us in Nainamo an extra day. Number of the Race to Alaska teams are also holed up along the shores. But the excitiment continues as Team Elsie Piddock – three guys in a 25 foot trimaran – crosses the finish line in Ketchikan to win the Race to Alaska in a mere 5 days and 55 minutes! CHECK and cite some articles. One of the crew is Graeme Esary, son-in-law of our Point Hudson neighbors Tom and Marie, spouse of writer Janna Cawrse Esarey whose book is memorably titled The Motion of the Ocean: 1 Small Boat, 2 Average Lovers, and a Woman’s Search for the Meaning of Wife.
Sunday, June 14 – Nanaimo to Lesqueti Island 40º295’N 124º137’W
When the wind finally calms down, we head out and put up the sails. We’re flying along nicely but after about an hour with the rail in the water we decide to practice heaving to and reef the main. After all this vacation is about remembering to do things the easy way and bringing the boat to a comfortable stop in the middle of a raging ocean is magic. Once the sail is reefed, we go just as fast – hull speed – but our VMG – velocity made good – is bad. We end up near the mainland but far south of where we want to be. So we turn on the motor and head up toward Taxeda Island and drop the hook in Lesqueti Island’s Boho Bay. Down day. Time to read, write log and process the photos that ever since digital we now shoot will nilly.
About 5 pm I go up to the deck to to find that we are now five boats – all sailing vessels – in this little bay that could accommodate many in a storm. Three of us are two-nighters, the other two arrived today, one from Blaine, Washington and one flying the Maple Leaf with a not so young crew, who emerg from their hammpck-like catboat’s sail where they were lounging, dived in, swam around their modest boat and then climbed into a small sailing dinghy and a kayak to explore. About six we were visited by Elizabeth and Matt, a fit and nicely tattooed pair from an intriguing (two night) schooner who dinghy up offering on beautifully filleted slabs of freshly caught ling cod, a decided delicacy anywhere on the coast. At first I thought they either lacked freezing capacity or wanted to sell. Neither, they just like to fish. Turns out this catch is a 30 inch, 15 pounder who never took their hook but grabbed a smaller rock fish who had. Bounty upon bounty.
The day has been long and hot, intensified by the approaching solstice, something we’ve mostly experienced at higher latitudes. Abnormal? Or the new normal? The CBC is talking about British Columbia stepping in for California’s Central Valley, assuming enough water can be secured. We’ve had supper, the sun has dropped behind the bank, Jack has turned in, and the guitar and voice from the Sea Gypsy from Blaine is permeating the silence. Very nice. But still, we need some cold rainy days. In 2012 we had a solid month of them along this coast.
Tuesday, June 16 Boho Bay on Lesqueti to Campbell River 50º019’N 125º145’W
From Skipper’s Log: ‘Sabine Channel choppy (as always) Georgia Strait glassy, calm, no sailing. Had to slow down to avoid full spring flood at Mudge Point. Saw Orcas. Got great back eddies up Discovery Channel. Saw R2AK Team Sea Runners arriving 1800 Campbell River.’
Jack logs the big points by the time my sun burned body has cleared the decks of books, binoculars, cameras, and much cast off clothing. The orcas are four females who jump, snort and blow right off our port side before disappearing with a synchronized dive. We decide to dine at the Riptide Pub on condition they had Internet. Bingo. Good draft IPA, spectacular seafood linguini, and the fastest Internet we’ve experienced anywhere in years. As we leave, Team Puffin walks in – beaming and elated – to join fellow two person, small boat R2AK Teams Coastal Express and Sea Runners.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours. As I remember he says 10,000 hours devoted to a pastime is generally a mark of ability. He claims it’s sort of an experience quota that ensures that performance can be executed competently and repeatedly.
I started thinking about this when Selena emailed an oblique musing to the effect of “I hope you’re not too old to be doing this.” Meaning cruising to Alaska, round trip, nearly every summer. It’s been a while since I counted the 365 days that would pre-qualify me to work for my Captain’s license but I’m sure I’m there now. You need to be out moving on the water for at least 4 hours each of those days. So I’ve put in my days. There’s no way, however, I’ve spent 10,000 hours out on the water in a moving vessel, even if you count my days canoeing and leading canoe trips in the Adirondacks.
Still, Jack and I are getting closer: more competent and more confident. We don’t stop learning when we stop moving between passages. We’re still on the water. Dropping anchor is an art born in continuous problem solving. Where do we drop? In what depth? Where are we in the tide cycle? Is it ebbing or flooding? Is this a spring tide with a 24 foot feet of water rushing in and out in a six hour period? Or is a neap tide with a mere 8, 10, or 12 foot change from high to low? And do we have the swinging room we need? Where is the wind? And where might it be in the middle of the night? Should we snug into that sweet one-boat cove? Or stay father out? The are just a few of the variables to consider. On this trip we’ve been experimenting. For instance, anchoring very close to lovely, rain-forested shores, then rowing around Aurora and the larger anchorage in the dinghy with our new handheld depth meter, and often re-anchoring to ensure a good night’s sleep.
Docking has even more variables. As we approach a dock we need to manage our speed and angle of approach in relation to the wind and the current. Currents are always current. Their direction and velocity change with tidal effects including sea level, current speed, and the effects of the contours of the sea flooring physical infrastructure such as breakwaters. Every dock is different, every dock is a challenge to be met. Some cooperate, others catch us unaware, others we understand in their complexities. Docking includes tying up. I step off at the shrouds, midline in hand to wrap under a toe rail or snag a clear before grabbing bow and stern lines, which I’ve drawn midships. Then to guard against collisions with other boats or in response to wind and currents, spring lines need to be placed. Lines aft spring the boat forward, forward lines spring it aft.
We still mess up quite a lot, and that’s a plus in the experience column. So is limiting damage, being open to negative consequences of the more benign variety. Little by little we’re getting a grasp on the multitude of variables that affect performance in sailing and navigation. It’s okay to repeat an action or just rehearse the performance on that particular stage, under those specific conditions.
Apart from boat handling, there’s the challenge of keeping our summer home shipshape. Problem solving and active learning continue once the vessel is secure. A ship is a body of systems that need to be monitored. Fuel, oil, transmission fluid, water with coolant. Filters for raw and bilge water need to be cleaned. Electrical inputs from solar and through alternators and draws for frig, pumps, and lighting need to be understood, batteries checked, the location of breakers not forgotten. Do we have adequate drinking and wash water? A management plan for recycling, garbage, greywater, urine and feces produced on the ship? Ordinary housekeeping on board requires mindfulness and know how.
Step off the boat into the dinghy and there’s more to productively ponder. Which of those shellfish, seaweeds, and shore plants are edible and which might kill you? Can I explore that shoreline between those rocky islands or will a current flat me away faster than I can row against it? Bears swim; will they follow me?
Consider being tied up at dock in a northern port. What a wealth of boat forms and functions! How are these boats fitted out? What’s the rigging? Where’ve they been and where are they headed? Talk to people about the work their doing on their boats. Chat with gill netters repairing nets or longliners baiting their halibut hooks. Or if you need a break, simply put out a folding chair and sit in it. You learn at lot of stuff.
As magical as coastal cruising can be, there are very few off hours. You stay engaged, if in a progressively relaxed manner once you’ve put in some time. Sure, you need several hours of unbroken sleep at your destination. Getting to a safe and sound place calls for the skills practiced underway – predicting weather, timing currents, navigation, sailing, piloting. Coastal cruising calls for a complexity of endeavors and ceaseless figuring it out. Then, it seems to me, experience matures into competence and confidence.
Okay so there’s a gap in our itinerary for what cruising sailors refer to as “boat repairs in exotic places.” You have to find a mechanic, parts, and a boatyard to pull the boat out of the water, move off the boat with clothes, stuff and perishable food, manage the crew’s patience and tolerance for uncertainty, and choose whether to spend the time in a cheap motel, on a land excursion or a flight home. Let’s leave this story for some other time.
After three and a half weeks we head back to the boat. Jack carries our two bags and my backpack on the scooter and in Prince Rupert we provision a single bag of groceries, a bottle of gin and a box of wine and take a cab to the Port Edward xboatyard.
We’ve got a congenial and talkative cabbie. Somehow we start talking about Haida Gawaii and he asks if we know the story about the Golden Spruce. We do, we’ve read John Vaillant’s strange tale of the demented environmentalist who chops down this albino tree, as sacred to the Haida as the white Spirit Bear is to the tribes of the coast.
“I drove that guy and his kayak to the ferry,” says the driver says.”
“The blue plastic kayak?” I ask. “The only evidence of his disappearance ever found?” Yep.
Then he tells us about his tribe, the KitSan, I believe, from the interior of northern BC interior. They warred with the Haida for generations. Mind you we’ve just come from the BC Museum in Victoria, where the vast collections of objects of Haida material culture – especially the argillite carvings – speak of their power and vision. Everybody knows that the Haida must have been an awesome enemy.
“You know,” the cabbie says, “we got a totem in our village. It’s very simple. Just a woman with a baby and a tiny canoe.” With measured drama, he goes on to explain how she was kidnapped by a Haida Chief and bore his child and then built the tiny canoe. One night she escaped with her child and paddled all the way across the terrifying Hecate Strait and up the river to return to their village on the mainland.
Tuesday 26 July – Port Edward
Port Ed is a busy, mixed bag of a working port hidden away behind the coal and grain bulk terminals on Prince Rupert’s Ridley Island. Finally Aurora is splashed, bills are paid, and we’re good to go with full water tanks and our lone grocery bag of provisions. Just before dawn we’re off, elated.
Then we discover I’ve done something completely stupid.
As part of the take off routine the night before, I’d closed the raw water intake to check the filter, saying to Jack’ “Remind me to reopen it”: distrusting my short term memory is part of the routine. Then I figure it’s probably been done as part of the repair and grab my high intensity bike light to peer though the clear plastic lid of the filter. Yep, good to go.
On the way out of Port Ed I notice the exhaust is white and mention it. A few minutes later Jack notices the engine is heating up faster than usual and we put two and two together. I forgot to open the valve!
I rush below and open it but still no water is flowing through the filter or out of the hull. We need to let the engine cool down. Rather than add minutes by going back to the dock, I spy a netfloat about 30 feet long where fishermen repair their gill nets. Dawn is breaking and the big seiners are pulling in to the processing plant, but I figure it’s too early for gill net repair. I get the fenders out but position them way too high. Like so many floats and breakwaters in the area, this one is made of metal detritus left over from Port Ed’s earlier industries, such as the rendering plant that was a sideline at the cannery after salmon fishing crashed. At a short distance the float looks like it’s all wood but it sits on rusty cylindrical tanks which gouge our gel coat.
I tie up, pull the steps from the companionway and find a very hot engine. We need to check the “fresh water” system – really chemical coolant – but I don’t dare open the cap lest hot antifreeze splash all over me. So we wait. Finally, dressed in full foulies and goggles, I out a rubber gloved hand into the engine room and remove the cap. The tank is still full to the brim with coolant. I replace the cap. Funny how you need both the fresh and raw water systems working together.
So we decide it must beworking and fire up the engine. Alas, no bubbling is observed under the transparent top of raw water filter and no water is spraying out with the exhaust. (Nigel Calder says there are two things you check as soon as you start the engine: check the oil pressure and lean over the rail to see if water is spurting out with the exhaust. Lesson now learned.)
All we can think now is that we must have fried the impeller. It’s a spinning valve with rubber teeth. I can show you a picture but you won’t get the whole picture. Impellers are located at the base of the engine and you have to contort your body into a pretzel to get to the place. Then you have to take off the plate covering the impeller and not drop your screws into the bilge, something that has unfathomable consequences when you’re dealing with a closed system.
So changing an impeller is a rite of passage. My First Time was on the west coast of Vancouver Island. We were precariously anchored off a rocky point among 30-foot long fronds of slippery bull kelp. Sea sickening swells were rolling across the open Pacific from Japan. But I did it. And, emboldened with experience, I did it again!
Wednesday 27 July – Lowe Inlet 53º33.5’N 129º33.9’W
Now those coordinates! Write them down! That is the only really good place to anchor in Lowe Inlet. It’s stage left of spectacular Verney Falls, which feeds Lowe Inlet. And it’s not just when the salmon are practicing to jump over the falls and head up into the mountains to spawn and die or not spawn and die anyway in the jaws of a bear. What a spectacular anchorage! Two, three foot salmon thrusting themselves clear out of the water and coming down with a fantastic splash. A little the summertime thrill of fireworks, but all 360 degrees around you so you head is always spinning.
While I’m here – at Lowe Inlet – I must confess that this is the site of the stupidest thing we’ve ever done. But there’s sort of an unwritten statute of limitations on this saga. So patient readers, stay alert. By next summer the time may be right to come clean.
Thursday 28 July – Green Inlet 52º55’N 128.28.9’W
The sun is finally setting when we turn into Green Inlet. The tiny anchorage is tucked behind some islets near its mouth. As soon as it flashes 40 on our depth sounder, Jack calls it out and I drop anchor. Anchor and chain spool out at a ferocious speed, impossible to control. 120 feet! Jack comes forward to help and we get out more chain but don’t feel like putting out all. Instead I’ll sleep on deck and monitor the situation.
Note these coordinates and avoid them. Like the plague. Like Zika. Oh, and by the way the bottomless nook behind the islets is appropriately named Horsefly Cove. Fortunately, horseflies give up at night and as we the days are shortening with the season and our southerly course.
Friday 29 July – Ormidale Harbour 52º11.6’N 128º08.4’W
We survive the night at Green Inlet in 120 feet of water with only 1:2 scope (but all chain.) Worth sleeping on deck rather than trying to find a better spot in this tiny, deep, protected cove. Seems there’s an uncharted bump in the middle of this deep bay that’s only 40 feet.
Heavy fog rolls down Grenville as we pull into the Channel and soon a target – probably a tug and tow – appear on the radar behind us. I hope it’s northbound and out of our way. Jack checks the GIS and finds they’re following us. He hails the vessel whose captain appreciates the call. He sees us on his radar, says we’re in fine place where he can pass on starboard, and tells us there’s another tug and tow following him. Jack confirms with captain #2 as well. We hear the groan of the diesel very near, then a break and the second tug boat passes. Apart from BC Ferries’ Northern Expedition, which plies the Prince Rupert to Port Hardy route every day, these two tugs are about the only commercial boats we’ve encountered
Finally the fog breaks and we see the temporarily coupled tugs and their tows part ways. Not far from Klemtu we grab a cell phone signal and call Christophe at Shearwater. Not a chance of moorage, he reports.
Millbanke is much kinder than on the northbound passage so I peruse the charts and the Waggoners and find this huge protected harbor in Seaforth Channel. We expect it will be ringed with houses but the only thing there is a large new working boat that must belong to the Hieltsuk tribe in adjacent Bella Bella. We find our own little cove and anchor twice to get it just right. Note these coordinates! How come no one talks about this convenient anchorage that is an alternative to the always-crowded Shearwater? It’s a bit open to the Northwest but has a couple of coves and should be good in a storm from the south.
Saturday 30 July – Codville Lagoon 52º03.5’N 127º51’W
Today is a rest day. I lie in bed finishing Heroes of the Frontier, Dave Eggers’ new book that was released on Tuesday. As we said good bye to the land of wifi, the text flowed onto Jack’s Kindle, the reading into my Audible.com library. We’d both pre-ordered as it was Dave Eggers and Alaska and what’s not to like? Well, this book. I don’t get it. It makes me feel uneasy and literarily insecure. All along I think it may erupt into either very dark darkness or full blown satire. Alas, it does neither. Now Jack is reading it and shaking his head but I’m hopeful he’ll have some insight. Is this book just about how poor decisions lead to ever poorer decisions foreshadowing the weathering of otherwise sensible and sensitive young children tethered to a wholly dysfunctional parent? We should be on wifi in another week; it will be interesting to see what the critics have to say about Heroes.
We take a break in our grasse matinée at anchor to move the boat, checking with Christophe at Shearwater on the possibility of space at the dock. Nope, not this trip. Fine. We’ll ration our protein. Cooking will be a lot simpler. Nothing wrong with the boat that needs attention. We’ll live with the dirty laundry. And won’t have to risk risk Lama Passage in deep fog. It’s great that he Hieltsuk tribe has such a successful operation in Shearwater. It would be nice to have a dock in Orimidale or if other tribes along this long long stretch of wilderness offered a few more services.
No sooner are we past Bella Bella when things get weird. Over channel 16 we hear, “Calling the Canadian Coast Guard, calling the Canadian Coast Guard.” (And what other coast guard would reply?) Coast Guard lady answers and asks how they may assist. “There’s a fishing boat harassing a bear. They are preventing it from swimming to shore.” Seems some hysterical environmentalists from Florida on a fancy boat named True East want the coast guard to arrest the fishermen. But the bear is not headed to any old shore – it’s the fish processing plant! Smarter than your average bear!
We continue down Lama Passage, cross Fisher Channel and pull into Codville Lagoon. It’s a wonderful place with dozens of semi private nooks.
Sunday 31 July – Fury Island 51º29’N 127º17’W
Fury Island is wonderful in every way. Nothing as magical as our last trip, perhaps, but still pretty great. White shell beaches. Views of the open ocean beyond at high tide. A soft bottom that hugs your anchor and won’t let it go.
Fury Island is the jumping off place for the rounding of Cape Caution, a day long slog through whales and rocks that look like eggs as open ocean swells ends in great vertical splashes against the formidable headlands.
No matter how much you relax and doze and dream at Fury Cove, you know your supply of adrenalin is restoring itself. And all you you need the next morning at dawn is a good cup of coffee and to be on your way. In any weather Cape Caution makes you pay attention.
Our southbound rounding was as flat and calm and pleasant as the one north. You just never know with Cape Caution.
Monday 1 August – Blunden Harbour 50º54’N 127º51’W
Cape Caution is dead flat and because it’s British Columbia holiday there’s no traffic. We spend a peaceful, windless day out on the water. Blunden, south of Allison Harbour, is the perfect landing place after rounding Caution. Allison the perfect take off place northbound.
Tuesday 2 August – Waddington Cove 50º43’N 126º36.9’W
I love the part of the Broughtons that is all dramatic steep-walled bottomless channels and I love the low islands to the northwest. Waddington is a wonderful anchorage. But at the helm I can’t find the way to it through the rocky islets without Jack on the electronic chart signaling every move.
Wednesday 3 August – Port Harvey 50º34’N 126º16’W
Gail Campbell takes our lines at the dock of the grandly named Port Harvey Marine Resort. Soon afterwards, George roars up in their fast aluminum boat with their daughter, son-in-law and little grandkids.
The couple has been working on their own all summer. A modest new lodge is rising to replace the large two storey structure with restaurant and general store. The old building was on a bladder and sank over the winter; the new one is on a barge. Work has now been put off until next winter so cruisers can be served.
There’s a huge tent on a float where homemade pizza is baked and served. Hot croissants and cinnamon buns are delivered to the dock at 7am. The wifi is strong. Moorage is only $1 a foot. Bravo, Gail and George. You rock!
Thursday 4 August – Blind Channel Resort 50º24.8N 12530’W
While power yachters stay hunkered down at Port Harvey thanks to reports of 35 knot gales hitting Johnstone Strait later in the day, we cast off well before dawn. Jack has put down electronic “breadcrumbs” so we can exit the way we came in. When we reach Johnstone we turn of the running lights and enjoy the light on the water.
Blind Channel Resort, now moving into the hands of the fourth generation of the Richter Family promises fuel, delicious spring water, a fine small grocery with produce from the resort garden and world-class food. Since one of my goals is to get this blog fact written and fact checked, we’re disappointed at the poor quality of the wifi and surprised at the lack of cell phone service. And even with the big yachts around us acting as breakwaters, we rock and roll all night at the dock. We need to find a good place to drop the hook so we can just swing. Options, however, are limited.
Friday 5 August – Von Donlop Inlet 50º08.6’N 124º56.8’W
We’re off mid morning to catch Dent and Yaculta Rapids at slack. We pass tiny Shoal Bay where dozens of boats are rafted five thick at the wharf. Since we’re making such good time it’s not painful to miss the annual Blues Festival and Pig Roast which Mark offers for a $10 donation, with proceeds to a local environmental charity. At Shoal Bay we like to be tied up at the float: getting to shore when rafted or anchored out is tedious. We’ll leave this an early season destination and try to get Mark and Cynthia to visit us in Port Townsend.
We exit Yaculta Rapids into the beautiful grand expanse of Calm Channel. True to its name, the channel has little wind but at least it’s behind us. We pole out the genny on starboard and push the main out over the port rail – wing on wing.
We move slowly slowly just enjoying the sun and warmth. There’s no space at George Harbour and as nice as the hot pool would be this evening, we’re delighted to be at Von Donlop Inlet. We go all three miles in, past the stern-tied boats to the large basin at the end with it’s even bottom and good holding ground.
Saturday 6 August – Ford Cove on Hornby Island 49º29.8’N 124º40’W
Ford Cove represents the one major departure from our usual southbound route. Normally we head down to Desolation Sound then past Lund to the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver.
A brochure we pick up on the Coho Ferry – Denman Hornby – highlights an option. These two islands are not part of the Gulf Islands but rather lay near Vancouver Island at the entrance to Comox. We’ve know the rollicking, often rough passage behind long Denman. Little roundish Hornby sits to the east. To get to Hornby by car you take a small BC Ferries boat to Denman and then an even smaller ferry to Hornby.
According to Ford Cove Harbour Manager Jean Miserendino, Hornby has about 800 year round residents but goes to 5000 in the summer. Sounds like the whole island takes on the ambiance of a three month festival every summer. Fords Harbour is already jammed with local boats: commercial fishing vessels, rec boats, and run about are rafted three deep. Managing comings and goings of community members must take some real cooperation.
We need to come back and explore. Hornby is little and will be easy to get around. Its local park sits atop a bluff overlooking Tribune Bay. With a sandy crescent beach, rare in these parts, Tribune Bay is an inviting anchorage, though it only works in the good weather brought by gentle NW winds.
While finding a dock attached to land at Hornby doesn’t look feasible, the transient float where we tie up is less than 100 feet from a finger that leads smoothly to the pier – easy enough to shuttle Jack’s scooter and then Jack into shore in our little inflatable.
There’s still about 45 feet of free space at our float when the sun sets. Hearing the voices of a crew about to land, I stick my head out of the companionway and see a fine wooden schooner. With Baggywrinkles! I go help with the lines, getting midline and stern with no problem. Even so, a rookie crew member bounds off the bow and rolls onto the float, young and unhurt. The schooner? It’s Nevermore, whose permanent slip is near ours in Port Townsend.
Sunday 7 August – Ladysmith Maritime Society 48ø59.8’N 123º48.7’W
We’re making good time and feeling great. Our predawn departure from Hornby gets us at Dodd Narrows safely before slack, with the water still flowing south. We’ve called Mark at the Ladysmith Maritime Society and there’s space for us.
Eager to end relax after a long day we head through the narrows early. It’s still clear of northbound boats but it’s full of strong whirlpools. And there among the swirls at the neck is a fisherman casting from a very small rowboat! He waves to us as we speed by. A crowd has gathered on both shores to keep an eye on him, not that they could help much. Ah, reentry to the Gulfs and the San Juans! This is our first brush with summer craziness. As we clear the narrows, the first northbound boats are arriving, circling, waiting. Soon the VHF squawks, “Third-foot sailboat northbound through Dodd Narrows. Calling any concerned traffic.” The prudent sailors on the other side are concerned and get the guy – of course it’s a guy – on the radio and help him with the math concerning the speed of his boat and that of current thinks he can overtake.
How good it is to dock at Ladysmith with smiling volunteers on the docks to take your lines! We decide that again this year the Ladysmith Maritime Society has the best marina on the Inside Passage. There is nothing particularly promising about its location in a traditional logging community on a bay still filled with log booms and next to a clamorous milling operation.
But where else is there so much going on? Old timers restoring historic local wooden boats. Birders tracking and banding purple martins. Folks in the little museum trying to understand the material culture of the region’s past. People building the spectacular new marine science float with its windowed deck, touch tanks and interpretive displays. Disabled people learning to sail in specially equipped Marin 16’s and sometimes going off to compete in regular races. Multi-generational families from all over town filling every seat at the Oyster Bay Cafe for a gourmet Sunday brunch. Cruisers just hanging out on their boats, talking to passers by, using Internet, doing laundry, taking long warm free showers all for one small Canadian dollar a foot. And no tax: LMS is a nonprofit. This place rocks!
Monday 8 August – Watmough Bay – 48º25.8’N 122º48.6′W
Out of Ladysmith it’s morning of big boats. Our southbound course takes us to Houston Passage, a tight U- turn around the tip of Salt Spring Island. On Channel 16 a captain is hailing “a northbound sailboat.” No answer. It’s not us being called; we’re still southbound. But then given the Houston’s U, boats from either direction enter northbound and exit southbound. Hmmm. Something to remember.
No sooner do we enter the Passage than a ship, bright orange in the morning glare, appears among the trees. We hail the captain but there’s no reply. Not on 16 and not on 11 (though we should be on 12 as we’re now in Victoria traffic). Then the “northbound sailboat” appears and we have the Argent Sunrise on port and Osprey on starboard. At this particular point, there’s enough room but still. When I see that S/V Osprey is out of Portland, I take it personally. In general, skippers who cruise among the big ships on the Columbia River are unusually skilled at rules of the road and using VHF. If you know Osprey, mention the confusion wrought by their failure to monitor VHF
Out in Boundary Channel we have no trouble reaching the pilot of a large container ship making the 72º turn around Stuart Island. He says we’re fine and thanks us for the call. We cross behind his stern and bring down the pennant.
As we head deeper into the San Juans, things get crazy busy but nowhere more than in narrow channel north of Shaw Island. Huge power yachts roar by rocking us and the folks in kayaks, rowboats and sailing skiffs that should be comfortable in this narrow interesting waterway. Hey, San Juan County, how about a speed limit?
We we finally exit we’re somehow passed by three large Washington State Ferries in the space of five minutes. We forgo Spencer Spit and James Island to avoid being rocked by traffic all evening and head south to Watmough, where we find our first mooring buoy of the summer. This charming bay is closest point in San Juan County to PT and its three mooring buoys are provided free by the local community.
There’s little wind or current in the bay but interestingly we don’t spin. Rather we rock gently all night on what must be swells Pacific swells sneaking all the way in.
Tuesday 9 August – Home in Port Townsend
With a mid morning departure, we can flood home. No wind. No fog. Hardly any other boats. But Growlers. As we slip east of Smith Island we see their Oak Harbor.
Finally we near Point Wilson. There are a couple of ships on the AIS. The fast one is the Victoria Clipper, which passes soon after it appears. Behind it a large cargo ship looms. We’re on the south side of the southbound lane and should be fine. Jack hails the captain to make sure. No answer on 16. We try 12, forgetting that Puget Sound traffic is channel 14. Still, everyone is supposed to on 16.
Suddenly the big ship changes course. We turn into the commercial shipping lane, at it – Matson Line – passes us starboard, leaving us to take the wake. Point Wilson throws its own surprises even without traffic in the mix.
I’m already wary of civilization, missing the wilderness. But some I’m home watching the eagles and herons in the tree above my desk or turning over rocks at low tide and marveling at dozens of exotic creatures.
Is there any other creature on earth for which that adjective is more apt? Their faces are adorable. Their mannerisms are adorable. And then there is the mutuality of the adoration. When you glide past sea otters they invariably face you, their big eyes looking up at you adoringly. They paddle up on their backs then relax, their long feet sticking up humanlike and just stare, pleasantly. Holding their meal on their bellies with one front paw, they appear to wave with the other. Or they engage more enthusiastically, treading water furiously until they are head, shoulders and mid section above the surface straining to look into your boat. Adoring. Adorable.
Without the blubber that protects other marine mammals, sea otters have to eat all the time. They never leave the water, spending long hours foraging about a quarter of their weight daily. They relish a highly varied diet that includes Dungeness crabs, sea urchins and sea cucumbers.
The otters’ preferred foods are among the cash harvests pf the Prince of Wales fishing industry. The produce flies fresh on ice to hungry mouths in China and Japan. Perhaps we should think of it as the Silk Route of artisanal commercial fishing. Sea otters seem to be taking their revenge. They were exterminated in the fur trade of an earlier Northwest economic boom that was followed by an absolute bust.
Luxurious fur with 125,000 hairs per square centimeter also helps sea otters manage without blubber. I’ve twice felt an otter’s pelt. First at the museum in Wrangell, where we stroked skins of beaver, fox, mink, ermine, and otter to understand why the species disappeared in the fur trade. The other time was at the old Icy Bay Cannery in Hoonah, an interpretive center run by the Native Corporation. There was one simple square pillow in the shop. $300. I’ve since thought of this an the ultimate luxury gift and one that might doom the otter anew if experienced too widely by too many people.
Later in the Tlingit village Klawock on the west coast of Alaska’s Prince of Wales Island, I ask if anyone is harvesting otters. I learn about a man – Native people can get harvest rights – who lives in the blue house on stilts at the head of the dock. I look for him to no avail. A week later at Cowpuccino’s in Prince Rupert I hear two fishermen commiserating over the demise of their livelihoods. “Nothing to do. People love the otters.”
I consult Marine Mammals of British Columbia by John K. B. Ford that is always at hand on the boat, at home or when I’m docenting at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. Sea otters, a single species, is in the Mustelide family along with the weasels but the only one considered a marine mammal because they rarely if ever leave the water.
Canada has kept a pretty good population counts. Between 1785 and 1809 55,000 pelts were sold in BC, although a portion of these hunted in Washington, then Oregon Territory, and Alaska. The Sea Otter was commercially extinct by 1850 and apart from a handful of pelts and live sightings, did not reappear until 89 individuals from Alaska were reintroduced along the northern part of the west coast of Vancouver Island in 1967. By 1995, reports Ford, aerial surveys showed a population of 1500, representing a remarkable growth rate of 18 or 19 per cent per year. Today, Sea Otters off this coast are reproducing at 8 percent owing to less abundant food. Unlike marine mammals that store calories in blubber, Sea Otters must keep moving, foraging a quarter of their body weight daily.
Ford explains that the Sea Otter’s “large hindlimbs are oriented backwards and flattened into flippers for swimming” while its “forelimbs are short with highly dexterous paws.” With the help of a paddle-like tail, it can dive down 50 meters to fetch food from the bottom. “Sea Otters capture prey with their forepaws and can carry it along with rocks or other hard objects – which are used as tools to break open shelled prey – in loose folds of skin under their forearms as they swim,” writes Ford.
We glide past in awe as these furry, whiskered, round-headed, sub nosed marine mammals use their chests tables at which to fix and eat their meals. Adorable. At the same time they are altering the dynamics of the food web, decimating the many invertebrate species on which they feed. Once devastated,they are now devastating.
Wednesday 22 June Klawock 55º33.4’N 133º05.9′ W
More whales and Sea Otters. Perhaps they leave us tired when we enter the proterws bay at Klawock on a lowish tide and entry to public docks confuses us. So we tie up in an empty space at the Tribal docks next to the cannery. I call on the good ladies inside who are cooking lunch for tribal members and organizing a food bank. They say, no, the boat in the place where you are will be back later today and there should certainly be space at the public harbour.
There is indeed. After not getting the Harbour Master on VHF we tie up at an empty space. Nice view of Klawock’s deservedly famous totem park. A fisherman says call Rose and gives me her cell phone. Find this strong little wisp of a woman near on the street. She’s ben Harbour Master for 17 years. Part time no benefits. Her house is across the street. I pay moorage in cash – 11.45 for boats of any size – and thank her for the well designed and maintained restrooms and showers on the ground floor of her office perch with view of skips coming and going.