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Experience = figuring things out x time spent

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.

Log: Southbound home

Boat Repairs in Exotic Places

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.

Port Ed

After two and a half weeks at this Port Ed boatyard, Aurora’s back in the water and we’re headed south.

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.)

Sweet little impeller.

Our sweet little impeller.

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

It's not everyday that you see a bird boat with 13 seagull passengers.

It’s not everyday that you see a bird boat with 13 seagull passengers!

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

New this trip is Orimidale Harbour off Seaforth Channel near Bella Bella.

New this trip is Orimidale Harbour off Seaforth Channel near Bella Bella. It’s spacious with a couple of more protected coves.

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.

Codville Lagoon is a wonderful anchorage just two hours south of Shearwater.

Codville Lagoon is a wonderful anchorage just two hours south of Shearwater.

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.

We're out on Johnstone Strait at sunrise to catch the current and avoid afternoon gales.

We’re out on Johnstone Strait at sunrise to ride the current, avoid afternoon gales, and catch slack at Whirlpool rapids.

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.

Calm breeze in Calm Channel. We pole out the genny on starboard and push the main over port.

Calm breeze in Calm Channel. We pole out the genny on starboard and push the main over port.

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.

wing2

Since sails wing on wing block the view from the cockpit, I hang out in the bow.

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.

IMG_6133

This fine wooden schooner, Nevermore, has its permanent home near Aurora 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.

Ladysmith Maritime Society. Is there a better marina anywhere long the Inside Passage? Let us know.

Ladysmith Community Marina. Is there a better marina anywhere long the Inside Passage? Let us know.

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.

A new float at Ladysmith features a marine science display.

A new float at Ladysmith features a marine science display.

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.

A large ship makes the tight turn through Houston Channel at the north tip of Salt Spring Island.

A large ship makes the tight turn through Houston Channel at the north tip of Salt Spring Island.

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.

The Maple Leaf pennant come down. We're back in the USA.

The Maple Leaf pennant comes down. We’re back in the USA.

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.

Sea Otters: Devastatingly adorable

Sea otters are adorable!

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.

SeaOtter4

Sea Otters pay attention to passersby.

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.

SeaOtter5

What other marine mammal treads water to emerge waist level from the surface?

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.”

SeaOtter3

Excuse this anthropomorphic slant, but don’t they act like humans?

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.

SeaOtter2

They are social and hang out in water but don’t haul out on land.

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

SeaOtter1

The default view  of a relaxed, momentarily satiated sea otter.  No critters or tools on the abdominal butcher block. Mariners may initially confuse them with floating logs until they see notice the eyes in their direction.

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.

A Cruisers’ Guide to Prince of Wales Island

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.

IPOWislands

While it’s tempting to spend every night in one of hundreds of delightful anchorages, don’t miss the Island’s diverse communities with excellent moorage facilities.

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.

CruiousSeaOtter

Sea otters swim up to your boat to make eye contact.

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.

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Sea lions frolic or lounge among spouting, diving humpback whales.

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.

The 1880 Whale House at Kasaan has been rebuilt and will be dedicated on September 3, 2016.

Kasaan’s 1880 Whale House,  recently rebuilt by Haida and Tlingit carvers, will be rededicated in a September 3, 2016 ceremony.

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.

Kasaan docks

While it’s tempting to spend every night in one of hundreds of delightful anchorages, don’t miss the Island’s diverse communities with excellent moorage facilities.

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.

Thorne Ramp

While it’s tempting to spend every night in one of hundreds of delightful anchorages, don’t miss the Island’s diverse communities with excellent moorage facilities.

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.

Thorne Gary

If the tide’s low at the fuel dock, Gary will bring diesel right to your boat.

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.

Coffman Floats

Kasaan’s 1880 Whale House,  recently rebuilt by Haida and Tlingit carvers, will be rededicated in a September 3, 2016 ceremony.

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.

Coffman Harbor Master

Ways to contact the Harbor Master.

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.

Coffman Liquids

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).

Coffman Library

Folks stop by the Coffman Cove Library 24/7 to use the free wifi.

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.

Point Baker

All of Point Baker’s commercial and civic buildings float along a single long dock.  Boats raft several deep on the opposite side. 

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.

Port Protection

There are nice views of Port Protection all around from the state float.

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.

El Capitan

There’s no moorage at this State of Alaska dock at the foot of the trail to El Capitan Cave. 

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.”

Naukati

Naukati Bay is surrounded by fine anchorages among the small islands of Sea Otter Sound.

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.

Klawock

Klawock’s park of extraordinary totem poles is just up the hill from the docks.

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.

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Here’s a view of Klawock floats looking toward the harbor entrance. 

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.

Craig Docks

Craig is the home base for most of Prince of Wales’ fleet of trollers.

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.

Hydaburg thin

Bold, sophisticated art typifies Hydaburg’s totem park.

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.

Hydaburg docks

Hydaburg’s docks and floats are state-of-the-art and currently have excess capacity.

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.

Ketchikan

Ketchikan’s Thomas Basin has brand new ramps, a renovated electrical system and friendly uniformed staff.

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.

IMG_5029

Cow Bay is the animated heart of the Prince Rupert waterfront.

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.

Craig Shower

ADA-compliant roll-in showers are found at  Craig, Thorne Bay and Klawock harbors. 

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.”

Karst trail

The 0.7-mile Karst Interpretive Trail, which demonstrates how caves like El Capitan are formed, exceeds ADA standards and has rest areas every 300 feet.

Kids Don't Float

Loaner life jackets for kids and adults are found at the head of most docks.

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 info@princeofwalescoc.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.”

Bon Voyage and smooth sailing!

island-map

Log: North to Alaska with David

On Friday afternoon, May 20 2016, we finally shuttle selves and supplies from house to the docks, grab celebratory drinks at the Pourhouse and take out from 123 Thai and move onto Aurora for the next twelve weeks. We turn in early and are off before dawn, with David still tucked in under his goose down comforter in the V-berth.  Goodbye, Port Townsend.

Sat 21 May – Montague Harbour 48º53.6’N 122º23.8’W

Good old Point Wilson rocks and rolls us before we make a straight shot across Juan de Fuca on the ebb to pick up the push of the flood into Haro Strait. Search for orcas to no avail. David – whose father was from Sashkatschewan – does the honors of flying the Canadian pennant as we dodge a big ship in Boundary Channel.

DavidFlag

Sequestered on the boat at the customs dock at Bedwell Harbour, we watch Captain Jack make his way off the boat, along the float and up the long steep ramp to phone in our arrival. This time the officer up in the dock invites him to sit down and actually apologizes for the inconvenience. “Lots of people find the walk difficult,” he says. “We been trying for years to get this situation fixed.” So he gives Jack phone and email of the higher ups in Ottawa and encourages everyone to complain directly about this egregious accessibility gap.

We’d hope for an unoccupied mooring buoy at Montague Marine Park on Galliano Island so that David could enjoy the challenge and comedy of catching the ring with a pole and tying up. But as it’s a beautiful night with the locals out for the weekend and all are taken,  So we find a space, drop anchor and prepare David to be rudely removed at dawn from his bunk over the anchor chain locker.

Sun 22 May – Ladysmith 48º59.8’N 123.48.7’W

Up and down the coast our movements are determined by tides and currents as well as winds and seas. The Captain has calculated that a late Monday morning transit of Dodd Narrows – ever so narrow and so often clogged with log booms – is optimal. So we have some options of where to wait. I vote for Ladysmith and prevail. On the VHF, Harbormaster Mark tells us they’re full but if we’d anchor he’ll call us when 40 feet of dock became free. So we continue up past the log booms and the sawmill, drop anchor at the head of the inlet, and have a nice lunch.

The community-owned non-profit Ladysmith Maritime Society is the best. Mark and a young man, who was obviously being trained, appear on the dock to take our lines  – the last time anyone will do this for weeks.  Once off ship, Jack rolls right into the handicapped shower, David walks into town to do some last minute shopping for his culinary wonders, and we all wallow in the broad bandwidth.

Mon 23 May – Boho Bay 49º29.8’N 12413.8’W

Dodd goes flawlessly and we sail northeast across Georgia Strait to the little cluster of islands southwest of the mighty Taxeda. Alone in Boho Bay off Lasqueti, we drop the hook in our little spot near the big rocks just as a river otter swims around it in pursuit of dinner. His catch is quick and efficient but eating a whole foot-long fish is something sea otters do not do elegantly. They don’t use their paws but jerk their heads up, taking the fish head first. They snap their heads around, biting, chewing, and swallowing an inch at a time, fishtail in the air. The last time I saw an otter eating, I nearly called marine mammal rescue thinking the captive fish had snagged the poor otter with a stray hook. Now I know otters just look like they are gagging when they eat.

Boho Bay is our first distant, isolated, off-grid anchorage and gets us started on the definition of “wilderness”.  It also is the first of a series of technical adventures regarding our electrical system. It starts when our fairly new carbon monoxide alarm goes off. We figure that when we were anchoring, some diesel exhaust must have entered the salon. So we turn on the engine blower, open up all the hatches and port holes and hang out on deck.

The damn thing continues to scream and the reset works for about two minutes. We consulted Nigel Calder and finally dig out the leaflet with tech info in twenty languages that has not yet been filed in the three-ring binder marked “S/V Aurora Operations Manual – Vol IV”. Finally, I wedge in a piece of bamboo skewer to keep constant pressure on the reset button.

We’d wondered about our ever so slightly bulging batteries, even though folks in Port Townsend had assured Jack they weren’t ready to be changed out. Bank 2 is drawing 9.0 volts of DC juice while Bank 1 has 14. Something’s off.  We decide to check things out in Campbell River.

Tues 24 May – Campbell River 50º02’N 125º14.6’W

It’s a long long long day, but there are no joint Naval Exercises in Whiskey Golf so we power though the rough waters along Taxeda and motor-sail up Georgia Strait under vast clear skies, elated that the Comox glacier appears bigger than last year.  The light-and-color show of sky  on water continues all day. When the view on port appears white and grey and on starboard true blue, I remember to take a photo.

Georgia

Under still glorious skies, Jack catches the back eddy which takes us into the First Nations-owned North Coast Marina. On the adjacent shore is  a boatyard, the Ocean Pacific chandlery, Riptide Pub, a Starbucks, and the biggest supermarket I’ve ever seen. Campbell River is the last town with roads to serve the interior or Vancouver Island plus all the roadless small communities of the Discovery Islands, Desolation Sound,and the Broughtons.

It’s 4:45pm when we tie up so I run up to Ocean Pacific to see if someone can help us the next day. Lisa checks with the manager who says they’re  booked up but they’ll spread the word. Sure enough, Lisa calls the next morning to say someone will be around later in the day. Jack volunteers to wait around and handle it, dispatching David to Starbucks and me to the Campbell River Museum. In the end we gain four new “golf cart” batteries and lose a bit of confidence in our Port Townsend shop, which has recently changed hands.

Thurs 26 May – Shoal Bay 50º27.5’N 125º21.9’W

Could a passage of Seymour Narrows be any less dramatic? We encounter no line up of boats, share the space with no large ships, log booms or barges messily loaded with salvage timber. As we pass through the whirlpools above what is left of Ripple Rock, I tell Jack and David about the tremendous project undertaken to blow its head off. One of the must-see films at the museum is based on newsreels from the 1950s. It took some time for Canadian and US technocrats to rule out a nuclear explosion and years longer to put in place the tunnels required to do the job with conventional explosives. In the end, the massive rock on which so many ships and lives has been lost blew up into the air and the sea in a perfectly executed blast.

Morning rays brush hills
Lighter, brighter greens. Until
Canvas is complete.

North of the narrows everything changes. Is this where the wilderness begins? David is skeptical – there’s evidence of clear cutting. While we see no active camps and replanting of trees was well along, we pass a small tug towing a large log boom. I take David’s picture with it.

DavidNodales

Of more concern are the fish farms, great pens of Atlantic salmon (color added) that attract sea lice and foul anchorages. Nobody knows who owns them – Norwegian and Chilean technologies, yes, but managed by huge multinational corporations. Next to nobody knows anyone who draws an income from this business and if they did, they might not admit it. These farms don’t need farmers: fish are fed fish meal brought in on barges which serve all the pens in an area.

At the “magic chowk” where Cordero Channel crosses Nodales at Frederick Arm, we hang a left toward Shoal Bay with the usual great anticipation. Beautiful as always and there is space at the dock.

Iridescent flash!
Orange hummingbird visits.
“Rufous,” says David.

ShoalBay

Mark has made progress on the house and Cynthia has produced pottery over the winter and is working on a commission for a new lodge. We have drinks and guacamole on the deck as rufous hummingbirds swarm among the petunias, preferring the Mark’s sugar water from the red plastic blossoms on the feeder. There’s one other cruiser, plus several summer helpers, including a Nova Scotian who’s helping build for winter use a mini hydroelectric generator on the bay’s lone small stream.

Hummingbirds

Fri 27 May – Port Harvey 55º.34’N 126º16’W

Jack has timed our departure to so we’re near slack at Green Point and catching a favorable ebb through Whirlpool Rapids. The morning is glorious, the water smooth so we power down and have a nice breakfast when David emerges. We’ve done these rapids more than a dozen times so they present no trouble.

Mirror smooth surface
Johnstone winds cannot ruffle
Whirling Green Point pools

It’s Johnstone Strait beyond them that the huge question mark, no matter what Environment Canada has to stay. But it too is welcoming; there is no need to seek shelter in the bull kelp wilds of Port Neville. Instead we spend a long day going all the way to Havannah Channel, eager to see George and Gail at their mini resort at Port Harvey.

No Johnstone traffic
Save a cabin on its way
To summer moorage

Our Waggonners guide wisely counsels patience as the place is tucked in at the very tip of the inlet. Still the red and white two story lodge just doesn’t appear in our binoculars! What is going on! We decipher the docks, which look fine, and as we approach, George and his dog walk out to meet us.

The lodge has sunk! It’s gone. Totaled. Inventory, equipment, everything: lost. The fine structure with a hardware store/mini grocery down stairs and a deck and restaurant upstairs was on an inflatable bladder.

GeorgeGeorge is all smiles, undeterred. (Dog is sad; he only meets boats in hopes of finding dog friends.)  George and Gail are rebuilding. A sturdy old barge has been secured in place.  The lodge is being framed this month. It will be one story because “a lot of our cruisers are getting older and don’t like the stairs.” A tent is going up on a nice wooden float to shelter cruisers who feel convivial. Electricity will be restored to the docks soon. In the meantime, homemade cinnamon buns are delivered for breakfast and pizza for lunch or supper. Getting all the permits required for the café kitchen will take a little longer.

While David is devouring his enormous bun and chatting with George, I run up to the house to see Gail, the baker. She’s in a pink chenille bath robe and tennis shoes, grey like me, resilient and smiling like her husband. I condole, commenting on the effort before them. “It’s okay, she says, “I love to work.”

Sat 28 May – Waddington Bay 50º43’N 126º36.8’W

May 28th is Mom’s birthday. She would have been 106 today.  And she would have loved knowing that the United Nations chose this date for a new annual awareness day, one for which Anna is representing PHLUSH back in Portland.

Mom, sex ed leader,
do you know your birthday is
Menstrual Hygiene Day?

We cast off and make our way down Port Harvey and up Havannah Channel. Low hanging garlands of mist decorate the dark green hills.

My raisin wrinkles.
Thirsty for dew, face morn’s mist.
Grey skies! Silver sea!

Bleached white shells making an old Native kitchen midden highlight a patch of shore under the bright but shadowless morning.

Streak of bright white.
Bleached shell beach. Native people
Would’ve breakfasted here!

midden

Only David has indulged in cinnamon buns so I go below to make breakfast. Do I sense smoke as I as pass the aft stateroom? Sure enough, there’s a slender plume emanated from the the trusty inverter where we charge our cell phones and laptops. I shut it off, pull the plugs on the greater than usual number of devices there and call Jack down. He turns the switch on the battery banks, shutting down the whole DC system, then pulls the inverter away from the back and side walls of the cabinet and pulls out a bag of cough drops that’s blocking the vents. “See, here’s the problem” he says, chiding me for negligent housekeeping. He goes back to the cockpit to navigate the narrow, kelp-clogged Chatham Channel. “Let it cool down and we’ll try it later. It’ll probably fix itself like so much else.”

What?!  I quickly consider the consequences of an onboard electrical fire. Sure, our fire extinguishers are current, but we don’t even have the dinghy deployed. It’s still tightly wedged – deflated – in the forward locker!! But enough for now, I shift gears as I’m called to the deck to help with the tricky navigation. I stand directly behind Jack, back to back, finding the two red range markers on a distant hillside with my binoculars. When one appears to be directly above the other, it means the boat is on the required 270º bearing. I have to guide Jack in turning a degree or two to port or a degree or two to starboard until we’re precisely on course. Then, thanks to a dogleg in the channel, I turn forward and pick up a second set or ranges in the direction we’re headed. Finally we’re in deeper water emerging toward Knight Inlet and Jack is telling David to be on the lookout for the Pacific white-sided dolphin that like to play in our bow waves.

“Aren’t we going into Lagoon Cove to check out the electrical? It’s ten minutes from here!,”  I say.  There’s some resistance but I stand firm. At least I can deploy the dinghy. We head into The Blowhole and soon are hailing folks on the dock.

We haven’t stayed at Lagoon Cove since master story teller Bill Barber died – it’s just too sad. There’s never been much in the way of amenities, just an extremely caring welcome. The fuel dock serves neighboring shrimpers and crabbers and the people at the fish monitoring station who share their Internet with Lagoon Cove after work. Jean Barber still summers in the house above the docks but this renowned cruising stop in an unspectacular location is now for sale.

A very perky person welcomes us on the VHF and soon we see her bouncing around the dock. She waves us in, grabs a line and introduces herself. “My name is Jam.”

“Hi, Jan.”

“Jam! Like peanut butter and Jam.”

She’s a fellow cruiser. Points to a nice ketch, Sea Esta. Says Jean had to go away for a few days and she’s just helping out. There are only a few boats in.  Jack ventures the question, now with fairly low expectations. “Is there anyone here who can answer some questions about our electrical system.”

“Sure!” say Jam. “My husband is really good at that stuff! Right now he’s out helping someone set the trap so we’ll have prawns for happy hour!”

“You got boats coming?” I ask.

“All the time! Last weekend it was Victoria Day! We really packed them in here!” She does a little hand chop motion to show boats moored stern-in to the dock (rather than tied up laterally to it). Indeed, Lagoon is the only place we’ve ever stayed that practices Mediterranean mooring.

Gratified that people still come and that the host’s huge plate of prawns still graces the pot luck BYO happy hour table, I finish up deck tasks while Jack and David make lunch. After a while a young guy with a bushy red beard shows up. It’s Dave; he towers over Jam, who’s probably a Canadian Filipina. Dave looks at the ancient inverter, shakes his head, says it’s dangerous, you can’t use this. Another cruiser suggests using the cigarette lighter and offers a couple of USB plugs. They don’t work so Dave checks things out and finds out the lighter had just never been wired in and fixes it. Then Jack wonders whether the reason our diesel furnace won’t turn on is that the guy in Cambell River who installed the batteries just forgot to rewire it. This turns out to be the case. In less than an hour Dave has everything in order. By 2pm he’s sitting at our nav station eating the breakfast Jam has delivered because he’s been busy nonstop all day. We say goodbye, put some cash into Dave’s pocket and his name our 2016 Pantheon list.

Knight Inlet’s dolphins let us down but the afternoon has broken warm, dry and colorful. We motor thought a the ever-changing palette all the way to the low islands of the Broughtons.  It’s a long day and there is only a single sign of human habitation.  As we float past, I snap of photo of the First Nation longhouse, while David pulls out his phone, catches some waves from the village cell tower, and text Karen with news of our progress.

Gifford

We watch the sun set from Waddington Bay, the all-around sheltered anchorage with view holes that we discovered on our 2015 South of Cape Caution Cruise.

Sun 29 May – Allison Harbour 51º02.7’N 127º30.7’W

If the weather gods continue to cooperate and we get an early start, we should be able to make it all the way to Allison Harbour. This is the ideal jumping off point for Cape Caution and the weather should hold for a next day crossing.

We rout David from his berth, throw his bedding on top of ours, remove the mattresses, open the anchor locker, and send him up on deck with his first cup of coffee. He activates the windlass with his foot, bringing up the chain in small bites, letting the motor cool off every ten seconds and giving me the chance to flake it neatly in the locker below. Now that we’re in the wilderness, David will be subject to this routine every day.

Under clear skies and on windless seas, we motor on to Allison Harbour and snug into a sweet little cove. Let us remind the unwary reader that “harbour” is a geophysical term. This one bears no signs of human habitation apart from our ephemeral presence.

Mon 30 May – Pruth Bay, Calvert Island 51º39’N 128º07’W

Cape Caution really lived up to its name on our 2014 cruise. Fourteen hours of stomach churning rollers northbound, General Jackson in the fog southbound. This time? Easiest yet. Mirror seas reflect a cirrus-domed firmament with dappled blues and silvers. Small sandy beaches glow golden even though we give the Cape wide berth. The red roofs of the Egg Island light station and the gentle wave of the Maple Leaf flag assure us that someone is keeping watch.

cirrus.jpgWe learn one new lesson, however. Just south of the Cape, Jack hails the pilot of the lone southbound vessel we encounter – a tug towing a large barge. He just wants to confirm that passing port to port works best. He tries on 16 and then on 11, the Victoria Coast guard channel for commercial traffic south of Cape Caution. No answer. Why the tug didn’t answer the call on 16 is a mystery – it’s the law for everyone to monitor it. But not being on channel 11 is less of a mystery. The pilot was probably still on channel 78, which is the Prince Rupert Coast Guard channel used by commercial vessels north of the Cape. The lesson: Cruisers should toggle between channels 11 and 78 to track traffic and to announce their presence in fog. (In our case, we have three VHF radios and can monitor all at once. The reason we happen to have three radios is that in 2014 the handheld failed mid trip. Once back home we purchased the the same model, as it continued to get good reviews. Then we found the new charger charges the old radio charges perfectly well.)

Version 2We get past Cape Caution so fast that we suddenly have a new option. Jack’s conventional wisdom is this: if we’ve been beaten up by twelve hours of rough water, we turn into Fury Cove. If we’ve still got energy, we continue north to Green Island Anchorage. Southbound Fury Cove is preferable to Green Island because it gives a head start on the Cape. Going northbound, Allison is preferable to Blunden Harbour for the same reason.

The new option is Pruth Bay at the north end of Calvert Island. For years I have read about the Hakai Institute, looked longingly at the photos of the georgeous Pacific beaches, and perused charts of all the tiny islands in the Goose Group and in Hecate Passage. In fact the entire Hakai Luxvbalis Conservancy Area has hundreds of small western-facing islands in addition to the two main ones: Calvert and Hunter. This huge, protected, undeveloped provincial park extends nearly to Lama Passage.

So we head to Pruth Bay and have the hook down by 3pm. David and I deploy the dinghy, jump in and row to the Institute dock. Nearly a dozen of their boats range from solid inflatables to aluminum research vessels to small, fast passenger ferries. Several young researchers loading gear say they’re looking at oceanography and nearshore geology. The Institute, run by the Tula Foundation in a former fishing lodge, also studies First Nations culture. There are no services for outsiders apart from a welcome kiosk, a restroom, wifi and a path to the beach.

The Pacific beach is extraordinary, more beautiful than what you sail past as you leave Tofino. I don’t take camera or phone in the dinghy but David does – by accident it seems – and before we return slurps up the latest news on wifi.

Can your mind be free
If you need answers now?
Screw your devices!

Tues 31 May – Shearwater 52º08.8’N 128º05.3’W

We rout David from his slumber in the V berth to raise the anchor. I’m eager to go and bring the chain up in a ten second bights, which results in it getting stuck in the tube. I swear, tug from below, run up on deck, tug from above until I heard the tumble down into the bow. The David gets up in the bow, his foot on the switch, his eyes on his Apple watch stopwatch. We’re still not coordinated.

Anchor up, we’re off into Fitzhugh Sound, waveless, wind-less, whale-less. Gorgeous but disappointing. On clear still days like this you can hear whales splash and blow and flumes of mist linger in the air a bit longer.

leaving Hakai

We’ve never had a shorter passage to Shearwater. Seven hours later, we’re approaching the float, Christophe there to take our lines. Expectations are high: there’s wifi, water, public phones, a pub, and a chandlery. With luck, we’ll be able to charge our now-empty phones, iPads, and laptops as well as batteries for Jack’s scooter and the Milwaukee wrench. Shearwater is the only place between Campbell River and Prince Rupert where cruisers can stop to get things fixed.

While we are comparatively undaunted, David is mystified at the succession of problems we’ve faced. “Can’t you just read Consumer Reports and find a boat that’s reliable?,” wonders David. A skipper from Portland in a UofO cap finds this hilarious, thinks for a minute, and recounts – day by day – equipment failures and maintenance required on their similarly sized sailboat.

The guys go shopping and come back with an inverter that is a tenth the weight and three times the capacity of the old one and a double USB plug for the cigarette lighter. An hour later everything is recharged.

After doing laundry and slurping beer and election news at the pub, Jack needs some downtime. So I explore Bella Bella with David. The tin can ferry is terrifyingly fast – dock to dock in less than five minutes. Bella Bella is one of the largest native villages on the coast, the home of the Heiltsuk Nation. As we stroll through town a woman greets us, excitedly offering the first salmon berries of the season. At the fishing port and the solid waste center, we’re among hundreds of eagles, many flying just above our heads. I realize they have a variety of calls, not just the familiar multi note downward trill. The town has everything: a large school, a hospital, a tribal center, social and environmental non-profits, a good grocery, and variety of colorful totem poles. I am surprised that the wastewater treatment plant is on a hill. Good in a tsunami but it must need powerful pumps and efficient electricity generation.

Thur 2 June – Khutze Inlet 53º04’N 128º3’W

Leaving Shearwater, I bring up the fenders but drop the biggest one overboard. As Jack brings the boat around, I head forward with the fending pole and tell David to fetch the extra one from the shower. I belly down on deck and crawl out over the bow, held by the jib-sheet looped around my foot. One swipe and the fender i.e. retrieved. Thirty seconds. We could not have done that a few years back. Everyone is impressed.

We’ve always loved crossing Milbanke Sound and seeing the pretty light stations south and north of it. This morning however, it’s rough, beats us up, keeps David below, pretty miserable. Then we get the waves behind us and it’s a different day.

Oh, Great Pacific!
You throw us mighty waves.
Ha ha! We surf them!

Once we get in Finlayson Channel, I go below to start some soup. By the time we get to Klemtu, it’s ready so I turn off the gas as we approach the fuel dock. The attendant is not to be found: we call, ask around, have lunch. Finally I get a woman at the grocery store to call. “He’s in a family meeting,” she says. Which means someone has died and there won’t be anyone to pump diesel today.

We set out again, motoring up Graham Reach to lovely Kurtz Inlet. Rather than go on to where the Inlet shoals out into a bear beach, we drop the hook in the shelter a notch near the mouth.

Friday, June 3 – Hartley Bay 53º25.4’N 129º15’W

There is no stretch of wilderness less inhabited and more spectacular than the east coast of Princess Royal Island. This is where you find the tallest trees, the boldest waterfalls. It’s the land of the spirit bear, revered by tribes and adventurers alike and off limits to trophy hunters. Maybe someday we’ll see one.

Where Graham Reach turns into Fraser Reach we stop to take a look at the ruins of the old Butedale cannery. The rickety docks and likely fouled bottom of the bay there have prevented us from every spending the night. But while the decay continues, despite the efforts of a recently retired caretaker, a new aluminum ramp signals that things may improve in the future.

Butedale

Hundreds of canneries have been reclaimed by sea and the forest, however, and maybe that should happen here. (And how many have been saved. Port Edwards near Prince Rupert is the most extensive restoration and hardly anyone goes. Hoonah has turned one into a nice interpretative center and south of Craig one functions as a classy fishing resort. Astoria Oregon has saved a few buildings. Anywhere else? In the Pacific Northwest, weather and wilderness just take over.)

Icy old fingers
Scrapped earth, left waterways
For migrants. Whales. Us.

Liquid silk on stone
Mountain hearts open to showers
Rainforest cascades!

Mackay Reach. Slate grey
With white dots and dashes.
Weather’s Morse Code

By the time we’re in Mackay Reach the color of the water and wave action have changed, as if to tell us something. Wright Sound is rough. We take the waves on various quarters, with a couple of good rocking on the beam. David, having earned, is in the cockpit. We find standing, letting sea legs strengthen works. As we approach the channel into Hartley Bay, Jack says “Oh, no, the depth gauge seems not to be working.” A check of the chart, however, shows we have 1600 feet under our keel! At this depth soundings are impossible and useless. With a few minutes we are back to normal, cruising with 160 feet of water under our keel. Around the bend is the First Nations village of Hartley Bay, population 165.

HartleyPort

We’re barely tied up at the fuel float when the attendant welcomes us and sends down the diesel hose from the dock way above. She suggests I use the long handled hook laying on the dock to grab it and avoid falling in. As the diesel flows, she calls out our progress: 70 liters, 80 liters until I slow to listen for the bubbling that shows our take is full.

I go up to pay and ask to leave the boat a few minutes while I scope out 40 feet of dock space. At the moment there isn’t but it’s busy. We’re the only rec boat but local boats are coming and going including the RCMP -the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Then the fuel attendant reappears and within earshot of the Mountie says, “If that RCMP boat could squeeze into that 37 foot space you could go there. I can’t ask, but you might.” Before I know it, the petite blond has moved her boat, leaving the best spot at the docks for us. So Hartley Bay and so Canadian. I am moved.

As soon as I step down to get one of Aurora’s lines on the new toe rail, I hear loud barks followed by a sustained and barely audible growl. A splendid young husky. I can’t help looking her in the eyes because one is blue and the other brown. When I feel the light touch of teeth through the many layers of cloth on my leg, I tug the second line under the rail and, bitter end in hand, jump back to the safety of the boat.

Later in the evening there’s a knock on deck. I emerge to this picture. The dog, her owner, Kyle Clifton, and an enormous crab he’s brought as a peace offering. Seems the elders told him about the dog drama.

Kyle

I dive into the lazarette for the 12-qt crab pot that hasn’t been used all season because we’re too busy to crab. Crab looks delicious. Huge scary claws, even looks too big for the pot. I ask Kyle if he can break him in two to clean him but he’s a purist, comes with the traditional recipe. I invite him on board to do it right.

Kyle is in charge of a team of wildlife specialists who monitor vast expanses of the Spirit Bear Coast for the Gitga’at First Nation. We pepper him with questions. He tells us where the whales are. We learn that approximately a third of brown bears here are albinos, Spirit Bear. No, there’s no store in Hartley Bay. Folks fish and hunt and provision groceries in Prince Rupert 60 miles away. If they run of sugar borrow from a neighbor. Everyone is in touch on Facebook. We wonder about the new houses along the boardwalks. Earthquake safe? Yep, says Kyle, they’re on still rods punched into the muskeg. Just waiting for folks to new furniture and move in. We hear the history and learn why there are places named Metlakatla north and south of the international border. What about Enbridge? Won’t the pipeline go through now that Keystone XL is stopped? Kyle is fairly confident it won’t. The evidence is in, the legal work done. The Hartley Bay Band of the Gitga’at Nation has been fighting for years. This is where we first heard about this impossible threat, where we got the bumperstickers and posted them on the port side of our salon.

Bumperstickers is probably the wrong word. Hartley Bay has no cars. Apart from several new houses it’s barely changed since our last visit seven years ago. Modest affluence. The foot ferry from Prince Rupert calls twice a week, tying folks here to their kin in the burg of 13,000 sixty miles to the north. Kyle’s family is there and will join him on his boat as soon as school lets out. His wife, who also works for the the tribe is East Indian, via South Africa and Vancouver. We figure that with grand-parentage from Kerala and Calcutta and the Tsimshian and Haida First Nations, nobody but nobody is “more Indian” than Kyle’s kids. Maybe we’ll meet the whole crew on our trip south.

Saturday, June 4 – Kumealon Inlet 53º25.4’N 129º15’W

With Davy still enjoying his zzzz’s, we cast off and get a smooth start on long narrow Grenville Channel.  There’s almost no traffic save a couple  of tugs pulling huge southbound barges with 40 foot containers of frozen fish stacked six-high plus equipment, vehicles, and boats on top of them.  As the second one approaches we hear, “Hailing the northbound sailboat!” on the VHF.  We switch to another channel for instructions on how to pass but the pilot – this must be a hell of a lonely job – just wants to share news of a pod of orcas ahead.  “I got some great video!” he says. I put down my book and focus intently, wearing my eyes out for the next half hour until I see a couple of spouts. No creative orca play but it’s good to know they are there.

A string of small gillnetters passes as does Sleighride, the Ducks from Portland we met at Shearwater.  We encounter them when we turn ino Kumealon Inlet, one of the few good anchorages along Grenville.

Kumeleon

Forgot spring ebb! Oops!
Watch anchorage walls close in!
Twenty-four foot drop!

Of course we should have looked at our tide tables before being tempted by that tiny little cove. We even make fun of Sleighride for dropping anchor in a less picturesque spot the middle of the bay.  We relax, take well deserved naps, pour drinks, go up on deck  and watch the tide roll away.  And it does. In this part of the world we have two high and  two low tides a day.  And this we’re coming off a big spring.  Yikes!  A 23.81 feet drop in maybe six hours:  that’s about a foot every quarter hour.   Like  someone has has pulled the plug.  We scramble to re-anchor a quarter boat length away from shore.

Sunday, June 5  – Prince Rupert 5 59º19.2N 130º19.2’W

SkinnyFloatLanding at one of the skinny metal finger floats at the ancient Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club with current ripping below is challenging. So, too, must be keeping anything in place over 150 feet of water. But someone is waiting to take our lines.

Bald eagles swoop overhead. We have the tallest mast around and in a matter of time one perches on our windex, bending it, immobilizing the vane. We can live with this. We’re sailors and we don’t really need a wind vane to know which way the wind blows.

Prince Rupert’s deep water port has turned it into the biggest city on the Northern BC coast.  Of course, there’s no competition. We discover that the Alaska State Ferry calls there and both picks up and drops off passengers. This happens just after midnight so on our ferry trips we just hadn’t noticed.

Rupert

Wed 8 June – Foggy Bay 54º56.9’N 130º56.3’W

We head out in the fog, me on the bow blowing the horn, rousing David from otherwise undisturbed slumber. We navigate Venn Passage on a low but rising tide and head out into open water. Beautiful morning. We cross the border, haul down the Maple Leaf flag, and pick up some bars of AT&T. Jack calls Customs and Border Protection in Ketchikan to get permission to anchor just over the border, rather than continuing on all the way to Ketchikan. In the afternoon, we wind our way among the rocks through the hidden entrance to Foggy Bay.

It’s a perfect evening and so we hang out on deck. I do a photo shoot of David with Jack for the folks back in Pittsburg.

DavyJack.jpg

Thurs 9 June – Ketchikan

David cheers. We’ve arrived!  We snug into Thomas Basin behind enormous cruise ships. Within minutes the customs officer appears from her office in the federal building overlooking the harbor and were free to roam.  In the monsoonal rains the city is famous for, we do our laundry, bring on a few provisions, and celebrate David’s last day with a trip to Totem Bight.

Underway!

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.

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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.

 

For Kinza: Books

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.

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Toward the peaceful solitude of Desolation Sound

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.

View from a favorite reading spot: Shoal Bay

View from a favorite reading spot: Shoal Bay

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 Tibet as 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.


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