Log: Deadman’s Reach to Cape Caution

Saturday, June 23 57º28.38’N 133º53.78’W Appleton Cove off Rodman BayThis is the most beautiful day of the summer, and of all our Alaska spring. In T-shirt and sandals with my yoga pants rolled up above my knees, I sit on the spinnaker locker in front of the mast scanning the shores of Olga and Neva straits for bears. It’s early in the day and they could be there. But they aren’t. Creatures of the evening and those of the morning inhabit different worlds.

When the broad waters of Deadman’s Reach put us farther from shore, I go below to brew a pot of Deadman’s Reach dark roast. Kinza introduced us to this coffee several years ago and and bag with nautical chart design was magnetted to the fridge for many months. Only now do I notice the fine work of Ketchikan artist and musician, Ray Troll, and the whimsical addition of place names such as Ray’s Trolling Grounds.

Sunday, June 24 and Monday, June 25 57º05.32’N 134º49.96’W Baranof  Warm Springs

Chatham Strait was full of seiners.

Peter and Kelsey said we had to visit to Baranof Warm Springs, where they’d wintered over as caretakers. (Or was it as caretakers for the caretakers?) While we we the only boat in sight for most of our northbound journey up Chatham Strait a week ago, yesterday we had the company of a couple of dozen of seiners, out on their first opening day. In fairly rough seas, we watched them setting their nets against thickly wooded slopes topped with treeless, snowbound summits.

Tuesday, June 26 56º56.80’N 133º53.78’W Kake

Rocky Pass otter raft.

We navigate Rocky Pass! We exit at a rocky reef with squirming sea lions on starboard. Marvelous orcas on starboard. A male and a female. “They are up to no good,” says Jack. Bad dogs that adapted to the rich pickings of the oceans.

Wednesday, June 27 56º26.09’N 13º54.73’W Alvin Bay on Kuiu Island

This is a wonderful anchorage.   Splendid wildlife all the way here and now the opportunity to watch the behavior of sea otter moms and pups up close.  

Thursday, June 28 56º05.10 N 133º22.54 W Devilfish Bay off El Capitan Passage

We cross Sumner Strait. For ten minutes we have great wind in our sails and a perfect heading to Shakan Strait. Then the wind dies. No other boats until a tug with a tow appears to follow us into Shakan Strait. We think it impossible for it to enter the narrow El Capitan Passage, so named because of the resemblance of the area to the Yosemite Valley. Just as it starts to rain and we lose visibility, the tug turns north toward Marble Creek, where there’s a marble mine, and we head into narrow, shallow El Capitain. Fortunately, the rain abates bringing a riot of wilderness colors and a raft of sea otters. We pass one local boat fishing and four kayaks.

Friday, June 29 55º44.40’N 133º17.75’W Kaguk Cove

Without a clear destination, we continue south through the watery, island-studded wilderness of the west coast of Prince of Wales. South of Sea Otter Cove and after passing many individuals and several rafts of sea otters we drop the hook at Kaguk Cove.

Saturday, June 30  55º28.82’N 133º08.63’W Craig

Every sort of wildlife. Rafts of sea otters, haul out of seals and sea lions, humpbacks spouting on all sides and one passing us close in the channel as the town comes into view. After topping off with deisel at the most pristine fuel dock yet – it’s run by a woman – we tie up at the transient dock in North Harbor. The docks are wide and generous with fine metal pylons with street lights on them. Electricity and hot shower.

Sunday, July 1  Craig

Fourth of July festivities start with an hour long fishing derby for kids, followed by a greased pole event, Cross the pole or fall into the chilled water. There are prizes for ages 3 and up. At ten am barely coordinated tots with miniature fishing poles but real baited hooks invade the docks. We succeed in making the dangerous passage to shore with our heavy sacks and retire to the warmth of the village laundromat. Shopping, schlepping, new charts, oil change, fluids check, etc.

Monday, July 2 Craig

Sick of boat work, I insist on a day to do something more creative. Get a couple of blog posts up on slow internet.

Full moon in Nicholas Bay at south tip of Prince of Wales

Tuesday, July 3 54º42.89’N 132º07.82’W Nicholas Bay at the southern tip of Prince of Wales

We anchored under a full moon right near 54º40 , which marks the border.  Must have been only boat for miles around.     We were near Hada Gawaii and it would have been nice to visit, but needed to first pass Canadian customs at Prince Rupert.   (Same thing northbound when you want to visit Misty Fiords but have to pass US customs in Ketchikan.)

Wednesday, July 4 Prince Rupert 54º19.21’N 130º19.14’W

Days shorten with the season and the latitude.  By the time we wind through Venn Passage it nearly dark.  We check in with Customs by phone from special dock to nowhere.   They know we’ve been through and ask about Cruz, who flew home from Alaska.  Jack passes me the phone when the customs official asks the usual questions about what’s in the fridge.  The unexpected good weather that let us continue across Dixon Entrance has left us with extra fresh food.   I enumerate: one apple, two oranges, one onion, a small head of lettuce, six carrots and a couple of pounds of potatoes.   The potatoes – from Washington State, Husky Brand – are an issue.   The official tells me to put them in the freezer.  Huh?   I ask him if this means I should destroy them and but not dispose of them in Canada?  I figure he doesn’t know that you don’t freeze potatoes don’t freeze.   He says, no, I can keep them.   I say the freezer is tiny and full.  He says okay then just double bag them and put them in the bilge.  Okay I get it.  We can’t eat our potatoes in Canada but we can eat them as soon as we get to the San Juan Islands.  Last year in Friday Harbor we had one pepper and one tomato confiscated so we have a record.  I will be ready to produce the double bagged potatoes from the bilge when asked.    Customs number is #20121860713 .  We’re through.

Prince Rupert is 1200 miles closer to Shanghai than is Long Beach, California.

Since our northbound visit to Prince Rupert, an interpretative center for the Port of Prince Rupert opened. Most interesting with information present with state of the art interactive displays. Good visual explanation of the workings of the grain shipping operations, the coal export dock and the Fairview Container Terminal. Containers are simultaneously loaded and loaded as rail cars and flat bed trucks sidle up. The claim is that Fairview is the most secure terminal in the world, with all incoming and outgoing containers scanned. Prince Rupert is 1200 miles closer to Shanghai than Long Beach. That’s a lot of miles. The Port is being rolled out little by little over the next decade and promises good jobs for everyone there and those who will move in. Prince Rupert is still tiny – maybe 13,000 people, but there isn’t a city in Southeast Alaska remotely like it. Prince Rupert is blessed with road and rail connections, deep water that comes right up to land and a vast natural bay able to accommodate numerous huge trans-Pacific ships.

Thursday July 5 Prince Rupert

The sun broke forth. We went “bare poles.” I rode my bike to the library in a tank top. Scott of the 26-foot S/V Daniel Howard came for supper. A master of small boats, he first sailed around Van Island in a 19 footer with a full keel. He’s headed south and then back to finish for the second time another segment of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Friday, July 6 53º51.93’N 129º58.58’W Kumealon Inlet on Grenville Channel

Perfectly calm day. Very disappointing as we’d hoped to sail a good part of the way. We saw a big Cosco freighter pull out of the Fairview Terminal and head to Asia. passed three big seiners from the Puget Sound. They weren’t flying the Canadian pennant so we figured they were driving straight through. No trouble getting into the inner cover behind the island but the sea bottom is crazily uneven. We dropped in 32 feet which within five minutes had become 64 , so we let out 225 of chain – and suddenly we were in 85 feet. No wind no current. Didn’t see another boat for a couple of hours when we passed the gleaming new aluminum F/V Haida Girl.

Saturday, July 7 53º25.46’N 129º15.05’W Hartley Bay

Good to be done with Grenville, the south end less dramatic than the north. But what lies just south of Grenville is truly spectacular. At Hartley the fuel dock attendant lets down the hose to the low tide float. When I go up to pay the young woman with long dark braids and twin silver studs in her low lip, I ask the status of fight against Enbridge, the pipeline from Alberta and the tankers. They are all weary; the decision will come within the year. With my receipt for the diesel she hands me two stickers: “Clean Water. Wild Salmon. No Enbridge Pipeline. PipeUpAgainstEnbridge.ca” and the far more axiomatic: “No Pipeline No Tankers No Problem”.

As we pull up to the free floats between a beat up seiner and the small plastic rec trawler Far Horizons, George jumps out of the later and takes our line. Soon Trish joins him on the dock. They introduce themselves with words nearly identical to what we’ve heard from other happy, aging cruising couples: “We used to be sailors but we crossed over to the dark side.” They are giddy. Last night they tucked into Lowe Inlet off Grenville, dropped the hook and went to bed. They woke up at first light – there was a small bump – and everything was completely different. “We dragged two miles!” giggles George. “Oh, maybe just one,” Trish laughs. “But it took us a while to get reoriented.” They live in Comox in a small house on the sand spit not far from the north guest docks. “Come see us,” they say.

At Khutze Bay we anchored near the falls with mid-summer ice.

Sunday, July 8 53º05.13’N 128º26.13’W Kurtze Inlet

The waterfall still has ice right at sea level.  Dropped anchor in 40 feet in front of waterfall.  Soon we were in 14.  Brought up anchor.  Dropped in 40 feet a boat length away.   Soon we were in 105.  With barely 2:1 scope.  Anchor didn’t budge.   Even with the afternoon williwaws.   250 feet of heavy chain.  Way to go.

Monday, July 9  Kurtze Inlet

Exquisite day of sun and cold.  Took a hundred photos.  Dinghy ride to figure out shape of tricky shoal.  Crab pot comes up empty.   

For a long while we watched an eagle attempting to fish in the shallows. It would circle, spot a target, find the right angle of approach, and dive quickly talons first. Then a series of awkward flaps and splashes to get airborne again and to fly in a big shallow arc, often just twenty feet or so above our dinghy. It tried and tried, always coming up empty. Clearly an amateur. “Untalon-ted,” said Jack.

Tuesday, July 10 52º35.55’N 128º31.33’W Klemtu

Jack, at 5:30 am calling down the companionway to the cockpit:

“Got you ass in gear?”

“Yes! I’m putting on my boots.

” Well, if you’re putting them on your ass, that’s a problem.”

Klemtu has a wonderful longhouse.

Fog keeps me at the bow with the horn until things clear. We see a couple of other boats and a red and white helicopter playing pick up sticks with huge logs and dropping them into the channel in a small area marked by balloon buoys. We figure it’s the coast guard doing search and rescue exercises. A closer look at the fuselage shows the name Helifor; must be a logging operation. A big beyond a couple of tiny tugs are assembling a log boom.

Undecided on whether to go all the way to Shearwater or to stop in Klemtu. We’re checked out by a couple of sea lions as we enter the narrow channel along Cone Island. The only other rec boat at the dock near the big house is Daniel Howard, so we stop and say hello to Scott.

Wednesday, July 11.  52º08.85’N 128º05.27’W   Old Bella Bella/Shearwater  

Good dry weather but no wind so we motor for a little more than six hours. On the open water of Milbanke Sound, the Columbia passed on its long run from the Aleutians to Bellingham, the bright tents of independent travelers visible on its upper deck. The joy of seeing this fine ship was balanced by the sight a fish farm being towed north. The proliferation of fish farms is shocking but by and large it’s south of the 52nd parallel.

Then there is a busy day of laundry and route planning and provisioning and checking email. Shearwater is a small outpost that is all business. The little settlement across the water from the First Nations town of New Bella Bella serves north south boat as well as those cruising the grounds east and west. It’s a good place to get information. Scott shows up just after we do and with his small boat he’s always tracking weather as far out as possible. The beautiful hot sun is a harbinger of strong northwesterlies that will make rounding Cape Caution tricky.

I pay $10 for the password and it takes the duration of both the washing and the drying cycle for mail to flow in. But it’s convivial. A friendly fellow laundry folder says, “Wasn’t it you who game us those nice herbs in “Koots” Inlet. Face and place name are unfamiliar so I say I don’t think so. Then she talks me through it and I realize “Kootz” is Khutze, which we’ve just been told is pronounced koot-see. Indeed it was from the S/V Melody from which a gift of fresh crab had been delivered by dinghy and herbs from the pot on deck had been sent back with the male half of the crew. As it happens, I’d been admiring the bimmini on S/V Melody, which turned out to be custom-designed by the owners, first prototyped using ordinary plastic tarp. It features three horizontal pockets holding 1 inch PCV pipe into which wooden dowels have been place to get just the right shape. The whole thing is bungied up under the mast and down to either four or six points on deck. It is so perfectly shaped, in fact, they it serves as a rain catcher. 10 inch segments of cord are glued to the edge on either side to direct rain toward the middle bungie, where a funnel and hose can be attached to direct water right into the tanks! Much as we like this model, Jack realizes we can just add the pipes, dowels and bunnies to our current bimmini, which is such a pain to put up. We’ve also come to an agreement that fully enclosed dodgers don’t map sense. Why? They fog up. They impede visibility at the helm. They obstruct views of towering peaks and the stars. They take time to put up and take down? They are frightfully expensive. One of the joys of sailing is the open cockpit. Warmth and protection come with layers of clothes and for rain, rubber boots, back up foulies, and dozens of pairs of gloves. When you’re outdoors you should be outdoors.

Nothing earth shattering in the mail and it’s too slow to check news. The headline of yesterday’s Vancouver Sun is about a new US study lambasting Enbridge’s handling of a 2010 oil pipeline break into Lake Michigan. Central coastal communities are united against the pipeline to Kitamat; let’s hope they will prevail with provincial officials so BC can try to push back on Ottawa. By the time our first fresh provisions since Alaska are stowed, it’s late so we dine at the pub and I quickly post some text on the blog.

Thursday, July 12    51º19’64’N 127º44.13’W Millbrook Cove on Smith Sound

A long 10 hour day starts off in a promising colorful bright pre-dawn but by the time we are in Lama Passage we’re enveloped in the fog. I hate fog but we’re learning to handle it better every time. Jack powers down. I put on the radar and then go up to the bow to listen carefully and put out occasionally 5 second blasts with fog horn and then listen again before running back to the companionway to toggle the radar in and out. The sun is behind the fog and my eyes hurt, my perceptive powers becoming exhausted. But last year we did this drill for a full seven hours. Finally we hear a hefty fog horn somewhere not too far in front of us. Jack gets on the radio to respond to the grateful captain who identifies us on his radar while we find him on ours. He assures us we’ll be out of the fog pretty soon and thanks us again for making contact. Fog lesson: Fog horns echo. When answering a blast wait a few seconds. It’s easy to confuse the echo of your own horn off the mountains or shore with a reply from another ship.

It clears in Fisher Channel and the 10 hour cruise down Fitz Hugh Sound, partly under sail, it spectacular. It’s dry and colors are again crisp. We have a big breakfast. I read Ada Blackjack. Jack does the whale watch and spots quite a few.

Going north, we’ve anchored at Green Island Anchorage, off Fish Egg Inlet but for the trip south Millbrook Cove on the north shore of Smith Sound near the entrance puts you much much closer to Cape Caution. It’s straightforward to enter if you pay attention and once inside calm, comfortable, and pretty with a view outside to the waves crashing upon distant shores. Smith Sound itself has no settlement whatsoever and looks like spectacular wilderness.

Friday, July 13 50º54’26’N 127º17.19’W Blunden Harbour

The weather report last night was ominous. We went to bed not knowing whether we’d leave in the morning or stay holed up in Millbrook unitl Tuesday or later. This morning’s report was slightly more encouraging though the coincidence of Friday and 13 felt weird: we’re only marginally conscious of days and dates. But the water was like glass when we got up at four and we only needed a window of six hours or so.

Out in Cape Caution with the big boys.

We could’ve been out in the darkness had I not jammed the anchor chain while raising it due to poor visibility. But even that I’m better at: this time I used the snubber to manually take weight off the windlass. Had the jam been more severe, I could have brought everything up on deck by cleating the staysail sheet to a link and winching the whole thing up on deck. Problem quickly dealt with we were off before dawn on very calm seas. In fact, it was spectacularly beautiful. We’d reefed down the main hoping to sail but it was too calm. We were cheered by seeing two enormous northbound coastal barges – one with six or seven sizable boats perched on top of layers of containers. We rounded Cape Caution without discomfort even with the swells on our beam.

We saw the fog ahead in Richards Channel and soon enough we were in the thick of it. So we repeated yesterday’s vigilance, with Jack at the helm tracking nearby ships on AIS, which is built into our relatively new VHF radio, and me doing radar, bow watch, careful listening, and the foghorn. On top of that, the radar was throwing up dark grey confetti: it was logs, which we had to dodge on very short notice. Moreover, we had to deal with some turbulence where Slingby Channel empties into Queen Charlotte Strait.

When Jack found us on a potential collision course with Ocean Titan, which he immediately suspected was a tug boat because it was traveling at 8 knots, he hailed the ship using the automatic call button. Again, a grateful captain responded immediately. Jack asked to switch to another channel, reported S/V Aurora to be on a heading of one-five-oh magnetic. The Ocean Titan captain noted our closest point of approach was a mere 0.2 miles and helped determine a plan of action. First he picked us out on his radar from a north bound cabin cruiser – we suddenly saw it passing us – that he said was traveling 20 knots! That reckless hazard out of the way, it was decided that both of us would turn several degrees to starboard and pass port to port. When his sophisticated radar said we were in good stead, he thanked us again and signed off. Advancing slowly, we peered through the thick, moist greenness off the port side of our bow until the shape of a sizable tug loomed before and then beside us before disappearing in the fog just as the much larger tow appeared and then disappeared in turn. Once safely past, the captain again came on the radio, asked us to switch to 10 and once again thanked us for contacting him, implying that it was the correct way to do things (and that the mighty white cabin cruiser had not.) He also suggested that we could listen to Vessel Traffic Service on channel 71 and so we powered up our second, handheld, VHF. As he signed off with more words of appreciation, it hit me that the big boys

Fog Lessons: Monitor AIS and let the big ships know where you are and ask them to tell you what to do. Monitor VTS 71. Recognize that in fog and on a radar screen a tug and tow may appear as unrelated vessels. Nothing would be worse than passing between them. All the information that running light provide to those traveling at night, disappear in the fog. In the fog, radio is your best friend.

After a couple of hours the fog lifted and we had clear views of Vancouver Island across the Queen Charlotte Strait before pulled into Blunden Harbour in full hot sun. We anchored in the 6 fathoms that characterizes the bottom of the entire bay and spent the afternoon, barefoot, bare-legged and bare-armed sprawled out in the cockpit reading in the hot sun. I beg to stay another day.

Saturday, July 14 50º54’26’N 127º17.19’W Blunden Harbour

A bit after midnight I get up to watch a full firmament of stars twinkling in the still water of the anchorage on all sides. I switch off the anchor light to intensify the sight, among the most sublime of sailors experiences. Not a ripple. It would betard to hold a kayak as still as out boat is. Stars are the consolation for shorter days and lower latitudes.

By the time we get up at seven, four of the eight boats sheltering here have left. The others stay. The wind has come up but not cleared the sky for sun. Today there will be no rowing our small inflatable to explore the white shell midden beach. In fact, even the dog walkers stay put. The wind does nothing but grow all day long and by noon, it howls and whistles in the shrouds and covers the bay with “white horses”. Beaufort’s original and poetic name for whitecaps. Out in the Strait it’s already blowing 25 and will build through tomorrow. (On the West Coast of Vancouver, Solander Island is reporting 5 meter wind waves and 40 knots of wind.) Our anchor will hold. It always does but we worry about the other boats. Three other boats come in, later than they should have if they’re southbound. If they’re northbound, perhaps they’ve come just to wait it out.

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