Log: Watery Roads through the Wilderness

Wednesday, May 28  Campbell River  50º28.9’N 125º45.2’W Rips, ripples, and whirlpools. All day. Which get us off to a slow start because we have to wait for slack before traversing the notorious Seymour Narrows. The waters froth and bubble but are good enough to get us out of civilization and into the wilderness. Straight north along Discovery Passage. We’re headed for Alaska so no niceties like stopping by to see Mark and Cynthia in our beloved Shoal Bay are all reserved for the return trip. Instead of turning right into Nodales Channel we turn left into a section of Johnstone Strait and plow the seas against the tide all afternoon, in the teeth of a south flowing flood and the strong wind on our nose. This leaves a 4 or 5 knot gap between our boat speed and our speed over land. It’s beautiful day and I’m happy to be at the helm, but completely unaware how exhausted it’s leaving me.

As soon as we got to Mayne Channel we shot though with the flood into Greene Point Rapids. The long day is fading and we are way past slack by the time we get to Whirlpool Rapids. We pull into Forward Harbour and drop the hook, too close to shore, as it happened. Bringing the anchor up I scream at myself for jamming it so soon after figuring out how to avoid doing so. The next try puts us right in front of a fishing boat. Its skipper didn’t appear on deck  – probably is asleep – so we let it be, have supper, feel the wind die and sleep.

At anchor with waterfalls above.  Jack's photo.
At anchor with waterfalls above. Jack’s photo.

Thursday, May 29  Katwsi Bay  50º52’N 126º14’W  Imagine an anchorage from which you can look straight up through your galley hatch at a rock face with three waterfalls whose rushing flow competes with the songs of forest birds. It’s a little like being moored at the foot Half Dome. We are in Katwsi Bay, a finger of watery wilderness off Tribune Channel. A hundred feet from shore we were in hundred feet of water so we had to snug in close to the shore, less than a boat length away. We’ll be out of here before tomorrow’s spring low low tide.

It was a long day punctuated by naps. Johnstone Strait was on its best behavior and delivered us to Havannah Channel. Cruz took us through narrow Chatham Channel, steady on 271º east and then through the Blowhole along Minstrel Island. It is so named because back in the days when loggers and fishermen still lived in these parts year round, the settlement here hosted minstrel shows.

Today the year-rounders are corporate extractors. On the north side of Tribune Channel a new brown ribbon of clear cutting appears several hundred feet above the forested shoreline. It runs for several miles. As we see no skids, we figure the logs were removed one by one by helicopter and dropped into the water, where the log booms were formed. Must have been a huge operation. The international corporations that operate the farms that raise Atlantic salmon (color added) are taking up more and more of the shoreline, ugly large pens bolted to the shore, marked by large yellow plastic floats. There’s even one in front of Lacy Falls. What fish farming “extracts” is the purity of the waters and the genetic exclusivity of native stocks of chinook, coho, and sockeye.

Up here there are no ports, no trollers, gillnetters,or longliners, though you see the occasional family shrimping operation. We saw one small boat with its DIY processing and packing area built out significantly over the stern. It’s unlikely this boat has a freezer, so it probably calls a float plane when the shrimp is ready to ship.

Steep cliffs rise from great depths.
Steep cliffs rise from great depths.

So does this leave recreational boaters with no place to tie up? Not exactly.There are nearly a dozen seasonal, family run marinas that dot the maze of the Broughtons narrow channels. One finds them every 25 miles or so. They serve cruisers in the same way that country inns served motorists a century ago in the earliest days of road trips. Mostly are float operations tethered to the shore in small bays among the steep glacier carved cliffs that rise straight from the sea.  (Hiking is impossible most places and boats with dogs on board simply shun the Broughtons.) The owners and managers of these magical marinas are passionate about the area and possess the practical knowledge required to provide electricity and water and dispense diesel fuel while making sure their guests take their trash and other wastes away with them.

No one was better at this than Bill Barber. His renowned Lagoon Cove has no store, no café, a single shower stall and a wi-fi modem shared in off hours with a nearby aquatic research station. But Bill could tell stories like nobody else and always made sure there was a plate of fresh shrimp at 5 pm pot luck happy hours. When Bill passed away from cancer in the spring of 2013, a great sense of loss descended over the cruising community. As we’d missed last summer, we stopped with condolences and found the marina filling up with early season boats. Pat and Bob, the managers, said we’d just missed Bill’s widow, Jean, who’d been there with a realtor a few days earlier. Selling the place will not be easy as it requires an owner with Bill’s level of energy, creativity, and ability to solve complex problems in the wilderness.

A traditional prawner passes a corporate fish farm.

Friday, May 30  Blunden Harbour 50º54’N 127º16.7’W We pull the hook at 5:40am, rousing Cruz just long enough to flake the chain in the locker in the bow so it doesn’t jam. Dawn is a spectacular play of light, color and mist. We wend our way through the deep fiords of the “Mainland” and exit into Queen Charlotte Strait through Wells Passage. We’re making incredibly good time heading west and northwest in favorable weather, which comes in that same direction and strengthens in the afternoon. It’s too strong to continue on to Allison Harbour so we pull into Blunden.  In the past we’ve sheltered among as many as twenty-five boats while waiting for favorable weather to get past Cape Caution. This time we are alone. In fact, we have not seen a single recreational boat since we left Lagoon Cove.

Saturday, May  31  Green Island  51º38.5’N 127º50.3’W  Wow! Not only have we rounded Cape Caution, we’ve come farther than we could have imagined a week ago. Rhythm among the crew is now well established so we spell one another and manage. Departure at 5 am is no problem for Jack and me and S/V Aurora is appropriately named. Cruz is a night owl who spells us when we start to fade and and is cooking on all three burners by 8 pm when it’s time for dinner followed by bed. Today we’ve covered nearly 60 nautical miles and, as expected, the roughest seas to date. On the first 28 miles on the way to Cape Caution, Jack hailed the skipper of a southbound tug with tow to who said conditions aroun Caution were better than where we were. Which was heading into the particularly roiled waters where Slingsby Channel dumps into the Pacific.

Only a handful of boats rounded Caution this morning and morning is what counts: Three powerful tugs, two with tows, a gill netter, a Canadian Coast Guard cutter, and three rec boats – a southbound ketch a and northbound a big powerboat, a big, fast sloop and us. Once round Caution, we pushed on rather than wend our way though the Egg Islands and their neighboring rocks. As I hadn’t reviewed Jack the Skipper’s navigation plan, I suffered the why-aren’t-we-there-yets all afternoon. Approaching the gaping mouth of Fitzhugh Sound we zig zagged, hitting the 9 foot swells first on the bow quarter and then getting some relief by having them push us on the stern quarter. In time we were in, motoring up the Sound past the Addenbrooke Island Light Station but disappointed to find that the Humpbacks were not yet feeding. At 3:30pm we pulled into the well-known and well-protected Green Island anchorage in Fish Egg Inlet. We’re the only boat here. A welcoming party from the Canadian Coast Guard cutter and some of their Fish and Wildlife cronies stopped by in an inflatable, checking decks for fishing gear and traps, we suspect. We’ve no time for that, you can only get licenses on line and we’re completely unplugged and enjoying the wilderness.

Cruz on a day to relax & read.
Cruz. On this day to relax and read.

Sunday, June 1. Bella Bella/Shearwater 52º08.8’N 128º05’W  We motored through Fitzhugh Sound through many shades of grey. Yet the sun was burning hot by  the time we reached the First Nations community of Bella Bella and neighboring Shearwater, the first outpost for communications and provisions since Campbell River.  The passage was windless and the waters wide. We’re making progress on our route and through our books.  Harbor Master Christophe met us on the Shearwater dock with the news that new WiFi reaching all boats was only two days old.   Relaxing day.  I did laundry, Cruz polished up the deck and Jack cheered us  on.   Back into the wilderness tomorrow, with an overnight at wonderful Khurtz Inlet on Grenville Channel.

Monday, June 2. Khutze Inlet  53º05.2N 128º28.1’W We got off a late start – nearly seven according to Jack’s log – thanks to an old salt who called over to me at the dumpster as he was waking up with coffee and a cigarette. I agreed that the weather was promising and commented that Shearwater looked great, particularly the new mural commemorating the top twelve of Shearwater and Bella Bella, Native and not alike. He said yes, it’s taken awhile for the Central Coast to get organized but now they are. And went on to rail against Enbridge, fish farms,and corporations, sprinkling it all with references to ancient history and the Bible. A group of attractive, muscular young men went by, packs dangling hiking boots, short shovels in hand. Clam diggers? No, tree planting. They start at $200 a day but one once got so good at it he made $900. What kind of trees, I wonder. “Oh, there’s not trees for harvest,” the skipper of the Clowchan Spirit says. “The Tribes want the land restored to its original state. So it’s a mix.”

We pull out into the fog, even turn the radar on, but it’s not needed. In the channels between two of the prettiest light stations on the coast is Joanna Rock. Ugly. Barren. Low lying. I figure the guy that named this place mush have really had something against Joanna, whoever she was. Then the sun beams as we pull out into Milbanke Sound with its open ocean horizon and Japan beyond. It’s dead flat. Then north into with a bit of push. When Cone Island appears we take the Klemtu Channel to get some diesel. Apart from the school on the hill, the lovely Great House on the water and the now scheduled flights from Bella Bella in a twin engine goose plane that lands on its belly, Klemtu seems a bit more down at the heals every time we pass. The dock’s still a mess. No sign of a fuel dock but with binoculars we spot some hoses and pull up behind a boat noisily disgorging farm fish into a processing plant. It looks as though they are moving a lot of product as standing by to filled and then to southern markets are huge new refrigerator trucks, minus their cabs. BEAUTIFUL BC FARMED SALMON screams across the sides in four-foot high all caps. Salmon, my eye. Frankenfishy descendants of an extinct Atlantic species raised in prison. Color added. In fact, what’s all that pink scum around the dock? Klemtu seems sad. So different from Shearwater/Bella Bella; a universe of difference from the tidy Gitma’at Band of subsistence fishers at Hartley Bay. For some reason a tune comes into my head: the way we learned to count backwards. “Ten little, nine little, eight little Indians…”

Weird sail plan works well.
Weird sail plan works well.

We fill up – Jack guesses we can take 100 liters and feels smart it turns out to be 97. No bad for all the way from Lagoon Cove plus the stresses endured rounding Cape Caution. The wind in Tolmie Channel is on our nose as it has been for much of the trip. The sunny days and warm breezes that have been with us the whole trip don’t want to quit, which is fine. The high pressure system, however, means northwest winds that circle in clockwise from the sea to brake our headway. But then for some strange reason, the wind changes direction and is on our stern! With the tide moving in the same direction, no less. Suddenly it gets animated in the cockpit, as Jack and Cruz try to squeeze out a little more speed than brought by the jib, which is poled out on port. Rather than start over and turn into the wind to bring up the main and go wing on wing, they figure out way to do it. Traveller gets moved was far as it will to starboard, the mainsheet out all the way, reefing cords dangling just above the surface of the water. Then they raise the main half way up against the shroud. Voilà a “square sail”. It works. Water, wind, boat move silently all together along our chosen course. My jaw drops as a little trough appears between two wavelets in front of our bow and just stays there. A beautiful sail.

Everything is green this year.
Everything is green this year.

As the sun disappears behind the mountains, we pull into Khutze Inlet, a favorite place the Inside Passage and the first with tidewater ice. As there is considerably less snow on the peaks than in previous years, we wonder how big the blocks of ice that fall to water level from the cascades above will be. On arrival, the falls are blanketed in green: there is no ice whatsoever!   (Check out photos of the ice on _____and  July 8, 2012.)


Compare with 2012 tidewater ice!
Compare with 2012 tidewater ice!

Tuesday, June 3. Lowe Inlet. 53º334’N 129º34’W  Today this log is just the essentials. Something stupid happened and I’m not ready to talk about it. Amazingly, Skipper Jack kept upbeat. “Just think! This is a story you’ll never forget.” True. That made me think of the last time something like this happened. Over a decade ago I finally got my driver’s license. Had to drive out to a Commonwealth of Virginia DMV testing site somewhere way outside Arlington, Virginia. So far so good. Then I passed the test.

Got back in the car and Jack was so nervous that he made me drive. Into what was then a driving grey rainstorm. Going over a bridge less than two miles from the DMV I managed to sideswipe a big grey car passing me. No damage anyone other than both cars. Completely undone, disgraced, forlorn. The only person I managed to tell about it was Jerry Schwarz. He hooted. “That’s one great story! And you’ll have it for the rest of your life!” True.

Wednesday, June 4. Prince Rupert. 54º19’N 130º19’W An early start, well before 5 am. Mostly because only Jack got a night’s sleep and getting up at four is normal. A rare bit of drizzle as we moseyed up Grenville, alternating naps. Then the confused confusing approach to Prince Rupert, shirting the board Skeena River delta on the east and a bunch of pesky rocks on the west. Plus a couple of what I can only call TMT moments. Too Much Testosterone. Jack and Cruz started racing a couple of boat behind us and then raced to the dock when they heard the other boats trying to line up moorage but unable to get through on their satellite phones.   When we lower the main, we find one of the battens has blown out of the slug that moved up and down the track in the main.  And the ring in the pins of adjacent slugs need replacing.  One more thing for the Prince Rupert to do list.

Cruz at work while the Captain "supervises".
Cruz at work while the Captain “supervises”.

The ancient and grandly named Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club is a rattle of metal floats; you tie up at grillwork over styrofoam 18 inches wide. Pad eyes rather than cleats or the nice wooden toerails you find everywhere else in Canada. The whole thing floats over a hundred feet of water, so so rock filled sea walls to control the slurp and rush of the flow.

The staff are nice as can be but too busy to helping boats get in across the impossible currents to respond to VHF hailing, or for that matter, sat phone calls. So when we’re close we just tie up on the outside finger and the guy runs down to us and sends us to where he thinks we’re supposed to be. And the TMT team just goes for it, knowing the other hapless (nice elderly Canadian) boats may be out of luck. And the current slams us into the the end of the big ugly rusted pipe that serves as the breakwater. And suddenly there’s more work to do. Cruz takes it on. Jack does a bit of supervision but mostly pits in Kindle time. Cruz and me, we stay really busy in Prince Rupert.



Author: Carol McCreary

10 Inside Passages to Alaska. 10,000 miles. 10,000 hours on the S/V Aurora. This is the story of how Jack and I took up sailing late in life and are now finally getting the hang of it.

5 thoughts on “Log: Watery Roads through the Wilderness”

  1. Sounds like you are being spoiled by the weather.
    What a great adventure – can’t wait to learn the upcoming confession.
    -Tom C.

  2. Sad to hear Bill Barber at Lagoon Cove passed away last year. We enjoyed his Happy Hour hospitality in 2009. Jean gave us a bucket of shrimp heads the next morning before we left for Glendale Cove. We caught more crabs than we could eat that night!
    Lagoon Cove was one of the highlights of that trip.I hope it finds new owners who can take good care of the place for years to come. Your blog is bringing back lots of happy memories. Thank you.

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