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Stern ties and cultural (in)competence

Smuggler Sunset

At the end of the day, our flawed stern tie provides this high tide view.

Through the heart of the Salish Sea is a cultural fault line that divides most Canadians from most Americans.

We like to swing and they don’t. They like to tie and we don’t.

I’m talking about the art of stern tying. Stern tying is what you do at an anchorage where people stern tie. After dropping anchor you run a line from the stern of the boat to the shore. This means your boat doesn’t swing, although in the wind the stern tugs at its tether like an annoying dog.

Occasionally stern tying makes sense. Let’s say a storm kicks up in Malaspina Strait and along with most everyone else you head for shelter in tiny Smuggler Cove. More boats can squeeze in when they park side by side around the edges, bows facing in in a neat circle. To facilitate the spacing of boats at this location, Provincial park authorities have installed iron rings at intervals along the shore. But even when there are no rings and lots of scope for swinging, the folks north of the cultural fault line will still stern tie.

And unlike those of us from the south, they are adept at it! No sooner is the anchor down than one of the crew gets in the dinghy, takes the end of a yellow plastic line from a bobbin mounted in the stern of the mother ship to the shore, puts it around a tree or though a ring, bring it back to the boat, and ties it two the stern. Done in less than 5 minutes.

Jack’s log offers a single note on a recent anchorage: “The stern tie from hell!”

There are only three boats there when we pull in to Smuggler Cove, a couple of hours south of Pender Harbour. With our pick of where to anchor, we choose our spot and drop.

As Jack at the helm tries to keep the boat off the rocks, I fumble with the yellow plastic line, get into the dinghy and head for shore. Somehow I manage to lose the end the line and have to go back to the boat to retrieve it. This time Jack unspools a whole lot so we can cover the distance. Fortunately, the yellow plastic line floats and doesn’t foul the propeller.

Stern tie is twisted but t
Here’s our set up on an earlier, imperfect stern tie in Laura Cove.  Note the makeshift bobbin mount, the wet shoes and socks and the fenders on the rail that will complicate a future effort that is going into the books as “The Stern Tie from Hell.”

I reach shore, get wet to the knee as I step out on a large flat rock. I secure the floating dinghy, untie the bitter end of the yellow line and scale the barnacle-encrusted cliff – just as well I’m wearing my snow pants. I find a ring, pass the bitter end through it and head back down to the dinghy, now stuck on the flat rock because the tide is falling pretty fast. I climb back on board Aurora as Jack kills the engine. We assess our twisted lines and check the tide tables.

Oops. We’re a more than an hour from the low low in a full mooned spring tide cycle. We’ve got to re-anchor and do the whole thing again!

Our stomachs are empty and our brunch of poutine will have to wait. I pocket a granola bar and head to the bow to raise the anchor. Rather than taking the trouble to open the hatch and flake the chain back into its locker under the V-berth, I bring the chain up on the deck. Then I accidentally step on the windlass motor button and manage to jam the anchor in the cradle and the taught chain on the windlass. As Jack keeps the boat off the rocks, I fetch the hammer, screwdriver and WD40. Swearing like a sailor, I eventually coax the links off the iron ratchet.

Lunch of poutine.

Our poutine brunch finally comes in the middle of the afternoon.

Finally we can repeat the process.  I drop the anchor and feed out a pile of chain. Then I get back into the inflatable still wearing my wet snowpants and shoes.  I tie the bitter end to the dinghy so the line can follow me.  I paddle out (not row, mind you, thanks to the oarlock that broke in Pender Harbor). The cliff is really high now; a vertical foot of tide has run out during the jammed windlass incident.  But with the end of this saga in sight, I bound to the top of cliff and put the end of the line through it. Now all Jack has to do is feed out the line so I can double it back.

Oh oh. Either my trajectory was loopy or the stern has swung, but now the line between spool and water is badly tangled among the spare fenders hung on either side of the $20-used-barbecue-that-has-never-worked.  Now it’s Jack who is swearing. He pulls fenders back over the rail into the boat, removing all play from the yellow plastic line and making things much worse. In the end he has to untie each of the fender lines.

Finally, standing atop the cliff like a resilient mountain goat, I coil all the line needed to reach the boat.  As I climb back down to the dinghy, the barnacles catch the coils.  Once the line and I are safely down in the dinghy heading back to the boat,  the whole scene changes.  The slack line snags on a rock and then another. As I look back in defeat, my paddling takes the inflatable atop the the half of the line already in place adding a new twist.

Our stern lines are rarely parallel.  Often they look

Our stern lines are rarely parallel; sometimes they do a crazy cat’s cradle.

Canadian stern ties result in neat parallel lines from ship to shore. Ours can be more like cat’s cradle.

Stern tying gives me cultural angoisse, existential anomie. It’s one of those times when the local culture seems impenetrable. How much else about Canadians do I fail to understand?  Does any of this behavior carry over to important differences in, say, the way they park their cars?

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Musings about Tides and Currents

The puzzling movement of large logs on a king tide.

We turn off Sutil Channel into Quadra Island’s Drew Harbour. The place is empty so we have our choice of anchorage. After studying the chart, observing the surface currents, surveying the contours of the land, and predicting the winds through the trees, we drop anchor on a bump off Rebecca Spit.

We find it the perfect anchorage. This is later confirmed by a couple of sailors who had watched us spin peacefully throughout the gale-force winds which battered their similarly sized-boat tied up nearby at the Heriot Bay Public Wharf.

Rebecca Spit 1

As the king tide peaks and carries the beach logs off Rebecca Spit, we can see across Sutil Channel to Cortes Island and Desolation Sound beyond.

In the late afternoon we stand on deck. Through a break in the trees on the spit we can look across the white-capped channel to Cortes Island and the mountains of Desolation Sound beyond. As the sun sets, the winds stop, the tide peaks, and the salt logs lining the lovely curve of the spit, creep into the water. Over a hundred of them, large and small, float throughout Drew Harbour, glistening a rich brown in the setting sun. Then as the tide peaks, they all return to our curve of the spit. The whole show lasts about 90 minutes.

RebeccaSpit 2

Soon the logs from Rebecca Spit float throughout Drew Harbour!

With the same tide height predicted for the next evening, albeit it an hour later, I persuade Jack to stay up and watch the curious journey of the logs. But this time, it doesn’t happen! There’s some modest log movement off a more southern part of the spit, but yesterday’s logs merely floated briefly before falling back into place.

My Otis Redding frame of mind.

When you’re in an Otis Redding frame of mind “watching the tide roll in” and then “roll away again,” you realize a lot is going on. The interplay of tide, current, depths, heights, and wind is a wondrous mystery.

Isolated logs may be encountered anywhere when you’re underway. They may bounce up on steep waves on when the wind is against current in Johnstone’s Strait. They may float calmly, transporting a dozen gulls or a long bald eagle. We have seen a harbor seal using one to haul out while moving on with the tide.

The rule is if you see one log, you keep an intense lookout for others. And when you see others, you know there are more.

I used to think that logs escaped log booms or slid off barges – which they do, of course – but most of them probably move around under their own steam, or rather, under the power of Nature. They fall in the forest, sometimes over streams. They may be the remains of an cannery that has been decaying since salmon runs nearly collapsed at mid-century. They may simply be among the salt logs which group and regroup along the shores in the spring tide zone. They may be new growth trees a foot-and-a half-or two in diameter or huge old growth trees.  In Tidal Passages, Jeannette Taylor’s history of the Discovery Islands, there’s a picture of the Beyers family in front of a fresh log from Von Donop Inlet that is 17 feet in diameter!

Three years ago, coming south from Alaska, I remember tucking into the Broughtons, among the most pristine waters of the coast. Just before Echo Bay we found our passage littered with logs of all shapes and sizes. We motored slowly, weaving in and out of them. Fortunately, the thick morning fog had burned off making the logs starkly visible in the noon sun, which must have coincided with a king tide. I need to check the data on that.

Lots of data!

Back in Port Townsend a bunch of scientists, along with my friend Dave who specializes in marine weather, are studying the way King Tides hit Port Townsend shores. As part of a broad Washington Sea Grant study to predict the impact of the month’s highest tides on sea level rise, they’re feeding data into a broad study. They use some simple sophisticated equipment and also rely on ordinary citizens who monitor the same tides with their cameras. What a wealth of new information there is in photographs stamped with time and GPS coordinates! Maybe we’ll figure this out.

Although flows of water may be riddled with riddles, there is a lot of data. It’s been accumulating since Newton. As I understand it, repeated 18 year series of observations now make it easy to pinpoint the two daily ebbs and flows that characterize our area. Our Ports and Passes manual for 2017 Tides and Currents for Washington Inside Waters, British Columbia and Southeast Alaska is 622 pages long. It’s based on research by the Canadian Hydrographic Service, which cooperates with NOAA (and registers the “negative tides” of the US as the commonsensical “zero tides” of Canada.)

Tides and currents are of course very different. Tides are measured vertically although water flows horizontally. As for currents, let’s not go there now. If you want to see the types of questions they throw up for a mariner, just keyword search the blog for “currents”.

What about non-watery currents and tides?

Thought tides and conceptual currents figure in the way we consider and talk about other realities. Is there any order there?

It seems to me that tides are broad movements. Take gold rushes. There were so many of them along the coasts of the Americas! A gold rush is something that takes root in the minds of many to draw physical tides of people from many locations into a single quest.  The past couple of years have brought to European shores tides of refugees, people embedded with compelling notions of freedom or survival.

As in Nature, non-watery tides certainly interact with currents. But currents are sharper, less superficial than tides. They cut vertically. They help explain some of the fault lines in a society. Are the evolving notions of working class and middle class currents in conflict? What about the knife-edged current of contemporary “bathroom bills” that slices through the rising tide of human rights victories for LGBLT folks?

 

Voices of Comox

“Here! You should read this!”

Suddenly, a light blue paperback is thrust before me by a set of hands turning open the cover and luring me in. “You’ll love it.” The woman who’s sidled up up next me goes on, “Stories by 34 women who lived in Haida Gawai and other parts of the North Coast in the 60s and 70s. I’m Jane,” she says, snapping the volume shut and pointing to her name on the title page, “And I got these women to write about their lives.”

We’re at Blue Heron Books in Comox. On arrival I’d greeted the saleslady, telling her how good it was to be back and inquiring what about new titles for our shipboard library. Hidden in the art supplies corner overhearing our exchange is Jane Wilde, who masterminded a unique look at a period and place. By the time I check out Gumboot Girls: Adventure, Love and Survival on the British Columbia’s North Coast a is signed and waiting for me at the cash register.

Jane’s right. Great book. In our three days on the hook off Rebecca Spit I devour it along with Grant Lawrence’s Adventures in Solitude, stories of life in Desolation Sound over the past 50 years. Serendipitous companion volumes.

“When are you going to get rid of your president?”

At the Salvation Army store next to Blue Heron, I find a treasure trove of used forks, teaspoons, chowder spoons, and so many knives that I choose only the smaller bistro style ones. Ten cents each. When I’m ready to pay up, I spread I spread everything out on the glass jewelry case. The clerk wonders if I’m organizing an outdoor wedding, “Nope. This is to help save the Salish Sea! We’re getting rid of plastic at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival.” With so many schools and organizations going plastic free it’s hard to find good utensils I tell her. And yes I’ve left enough behind for a couple of households.

My colors revealed, my fellow shopper voices her distress. She looks a typical Port Townsend progressive. But she’s Canadian and Canadians are taking Trump really hard. They need reassurance.

Slowly and surely the wheels of justice are turning, I say. Meanwhile look at what’s happening at the state and local levels. People in the US are awake, learning the ins and outs of government and taking it back. State legislatures are stepping up to salvage social justice and climate action. And communities everywhere are launching new initiatives to strengthen democracy and local resilience.

“I’ve been here forty years and this was the worst winter yet.”

Jack and I are in line at the Comox Valley Harbour Authority to pay for another day’s moorage at the Fishermans Wharf we can enjoy the Sailfish catamaran races.
The sun is intense. The joy is palpable. Kids skip. Bounces in the steps of sandaled feet. Skin and ink everywhere. The weather out of the northwest seems to have finally vanquished the the unbroken wintry systems from the southeast.

The man ahead of us, shakes his head with a smile. He’s fished these waters – commercially – his entire career. Winter was bad. No, it wasn’t just imagination. Not just aging joints complaining. “Do you remember how it started? Before the end of September? Not a decent stretch of a few days until now.”

Comox2

The wharf on the seawall had music and a beer garden, the perfect place to watch the Seafest multi-hull races, which featured everything from professional trimarans to small cats crewed by very agile teenagers.

 

Log: 2017 Salish Sea Circle Cruise

Saturday, July 22, 2017 Watsmough Bay. 48º25.9’N

“Watsmough Bay: The most scenic anchorage in the San Juans?” asks the cover of the May 2015 issue of Pacific Yachting magazine. We think so. What’s more it’s the San Juan destination closest to Port Townsend. But never is it more beautiful than when hear an anchor drop and discover it’s Martha. Captain Robert Darcy waves. This century old schooner which recently did the TransPacific race lives in Point Hudson in front of the boat shop in the Northwest Maritime Center where owner Darcy is lead shipwright.

Martha.jpg

The century old schooner and recent star in the TransPacific race normally lives right in Point Hudson near our house.

Thursday, July 20, 2017. Bellingham 48º45.4’N122º30’W

Bellingham is a much bigger place than the Fairhaven district where we boarded the Alaska Ferry years ago.  Indeed the waterfront is vast and forever changing as the city tries to meet the demand for housing.

At the Squalicum Harbour office, where we pay our 75 cents a foot there is not so much as a free map. Figuring out Whatcom County’s capital, visiting friends and exploring its cultural sites will have to wait for another trip. I spend Friday at the library, trying to tie up the week’s loose ends. A stop on the way at the Chamber of Commerce nets an excellent pile of maps and information about the town.

Georgia Pacific.jpg

The old Georgia Pacific site on Bellingham’s long waterfront has just been cleaned up and is ready for development.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017 Sucia Island 48º45.8’N 122º54.4’W

Have we not been to Sucia since a trip with Kinza years ago? Spanish explorers named northernmost of the San Juan Islands “sucia”, or “dirty” because of the the many reefs surrounding it. We tie up at a buoy and sleep through a bouncy night. To get Washington State Parks’ $15 per night fee to shore we hail a family with a dinghy.

Baker from Sucia

Our view out the wide mouth of Echo Bay on Sucia Island includes Mt Baker and a sweep of other snow-capped Cascades.

Monday July 17, 2017 Point Roberts 48º58.6’N 123º03.9’W

We raise the main among the 18 gigantic cargo ships anchored in English Bay and head out into the Strait taking the swells uncomfortably on the beam. toward the then rock and roll across the delta of the mighty Fraser River swollen with snow melt from far away BC peaks.

Of Point Roberts, Washington, a visitors’ guide writes this:  Locals call it “The Sigh.” You drive through the border, turn right onto Tyee Drive with it towering evergreens and “The Sigh”involuntarily escapes you. Point Roberts is an island of serenity next to the bustle of the Vancouver metropolitan area.

Point Roberts.jpg

Carved into a salt flat just a mile south of the Canadian border, Point Roberts is home to boats from all over the world but has lots of space when many are out cruising.

 

This sleepy, 5-square mile scrap of land that protrudes south of the 49th parallel, is home to 1500 people, many of them dual nationals of Canada and the US.  Point Roberts is an isolated enclave that boasts forests and farms and a sandy salt flat with a tear-drop shaped marina carved into it. The enclave borders Tsawwassen, whose busy port accommodates large ships and the BC ferries that connect Vancouver with the mainland.

Friday, July 14, 2017 Vancouver’s Coal Harbour

Howe Gambier Is.jpg

In Vancouver’s back yard, Howe Sound is especially peaceful before the business day begins.

It’s been more than three years since we docked at Coal Harbour. Our Alaska cruises rarely leave time for it and two years ago smoke from the first fires flowed down the channels to blanket the city. Coal Harbour lies between Stanley Park and Canada Place surrounded on two sides by the city’s renowned promenade, which fills with skaters, skateboarders, walkers, joggers, cyclists and buskers.

 

We get active. Friday night we do to the entire waterfront – under Lion’s Gate Bridge, into the hot sun setting over English Bay, around Stanley Park, past little sand beaches, the bathing beaches adjacent to the vast public pool and back into downtown on Denman Street for our traditional Mongolian Barbecue. Saturday night, we cross downtown to Granville Island on Vancouver’s new separated cycling lanes before heading up the narrow sidewalk on Granville Street Bridge with its spectacular views. Have a bite (and refresh the scooter batteries) in the place adjacent to the theatre overlooking the dock with the tiny colorful foot ferries and the rest of the Saturday evening parade. One the way back to the boat we ask some cyclists about Burrard Street Bridge. They tell us eastbound line is still under construction but we can and should use it. Wow. Burred Bridge has full-sized separated non-motorized paths in both directions, with cars relegated to a single lane. On Sunday we ride through Chinatown and turn south on Hastings beyond Skid Road as check thrift stores for flatware to replace the remaining plastic at September’s Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend.

Gulalai and Habib come down to the boat bearing luxurious provisions from land-locked Afghanistan: dried white mulberries, giant golden raisins, enormous walnut halves and a season’s supply of figs. We catch up on the last seven months. Everyone is well except Gulalai’s mom, aging with paraplegia suffered in a hospital mishap several years ago. All her kids and grandkids live nearby but she is a quiet woman who loves to read. Gulalai is trying to find her recorded books in Pashto but Dari will have to do

Thursday, July 13, 2017 49º24’N 123º28’W Keats Island

We rock and roll down the coast. The motion of the water on the hull is enough to clear the barnacles and other gremlins from the knot meter, which suddenly – on day 36 – springs to life! We’d tried to pull the through hull and clean it off – always dramatic when the fountain of seawater covers the sole of the salon – but find that the sea creatures have cemented it in place. As the chart plotter gives us SOG – speed over ground – the knot meter is not essential. How nice to have something just fix itself like that!

We’re headed to the spectacular Howe Sound. Jack hands me the Waggoner Guide and says, “You choose.”  I expect the nicest wilderness coves on Gambier Island now have real estate. I eschew any waters that are constantly rocked by the many ferries that bind the Sound to the City. Samammish and the high peaks around Whistler are too far, better to save it for a future trip.

PlumperCove.jpg

Plumper Cove from stem to stern.  At right are new floats for boats that arrive too late for a buoy and the expansive views of Howe Sound and the Coastal Range.

So I opt for a mooring buoy in Plumper Cove Marine Park with its great view up the Sound. In addition to the seven mooring buoys, there are new floats on the dock. The family of Canada geese still come up to boats expectantly at supper time. We watch them cross the cove strategically to visit any boat where people appear in the cockpit, exercising their preference for barbecuers and children. Ah, the weedy creatures of civilization!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017 Smuggler Cove 49º30.9’N 123º57.9’W

Lovely place but as Jack remarks in his log: “Stern tie from hell.”

Bow to stern panorama of Smuggler Cove, a gem of a safe anchorage off often angry waters.

Monday, July 10, 2017 Pender Harbor 49º37.8N 124º02’W

We fly down Malespina Street with only the jib, poled out.

We pole out the jib and fly down Malespina Strait. Dave and Jennifer’s Fisherman’s Marina is now part of John Henry’s grocery and fuel dock. The marina manager is an enthusiastic young women from New Brunswick named Randy. We cross the little wooden bridge to the Garden Bay Pub, where service is slow. I count ten other tables without food and only one with it. But it’s pleasant and a huge portion of french fries begs to be taken home for tomorrow’s poutine.

Jack wants to visit Garden Bay by dinghy. I know I’m up to rowing because another time, long ago when the electric outboard was working, we ran out of juice in a lovely estuary between the mountains off the Bay and I had to row back. This time, the plastic oarlock fails, though toward the end of the journey. If rowing an inflatable is hard work, have you tried paddling?

Friday, July 7, 2017 Powell River 49)49.9’N 124º31’W

I’m not eager to leave Desolation Sound but Jack proposes the Salish Sea circle: we head down the coast to Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Vancouver, cross the Fraser delta and spend some time in Bellingham. Powell River, a town we have passed many times without stopping, is getting great reviews. We soon learn why.

No we didn’t take this picture. It’s from a poster invitation to Powell River, where active outdoor recreation rules. The Tin Hat hut, one of 15 along the Sunshine Coast Trail, is visited year round by locals.

The people of Powell River are fitness freaks and outdoor recreation nuts. The town spreads out on either side of the very short Powell River and its famous mill. There is no natural harbor. Westview Harbour is simply a very long seawall with a ferry dock in the middle. Mill operations are protected by the “incredible hulks”. Log booms and barges of sawdust are protected by a barrier of hulls from nine World War II battleships. As spectacular as is the shore with views of Vancouver Island and the north end of Taxeda, it’s really the town’s backyard. For the people of Powell River, their front yard is the mountains and lakes beyond and hundreds of miles of hiking, biking, and kayak trails that link their favorite destination. Powell River’s tag line “Coastal by Nature” is apt.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017 Laura Cove 50º08’N124º40’W

As the Gorge Harbour docks empty out after the double holiday long weekend, Tom and Terri move from boat to car, leaving thoughtful offerings of coffee, Wisconsin cheeses, pasta, and milk. Across the float, Wyatt and Janet’s tiny antique wooden Monk cruiser rocks as their kids jump on an off. More offerings. “Would you like some red snapper? Or ling cod?” They insist and pass us a three enormous snapper for the freezer. “We’ll just catch more on the way home.”

Flag flags, sails remain unfurled but Desolation Sound is as spectular as ever.

We head out, around the south end of Cortes and up into the spectacular Desolation Sound. There are a couple of boats in Laura cove, including a noisily happy one with about a dozen children. They splash around, perform stunts on the SUP, swing out over the water on a rope hung high in a tree. We drop anchor near the cove entrance with a view of the mountains of West Redonda. Much as we’d like to leave it there and just swing with the winds and currents, we stern tie, which Jack says is required. After all this is British Columbia’s most beloved and spectacular marine park and you can squeeze in a lot of boats.

We settle in with our books, taking turns in the bow on the zero-gravity folding recliner that was a Father’s Day special at Henery’s Hardware. The kids go home and do not reappear. I wonder if this mobile summer camp is regularly dispatched to a different cove everyday so that parents whose work falls so heavily in the summer can actually work.

Rereading the first chapter of Curve of Time brings me to dreamy tears before I start into Naomi Klein’s new No is Not Enough.

Saturday, July 1, 2017. Gorge Harbour. 50º 06.3 N 125º11.7’W

No sooner do we wind our way through Uganda Passage and shoot straight thought the narrow granite faced channel into Gorge Harbour, than it’s a homecoming.  Jon and Steph kayak over from Strangewaves’ anchorage in the bay and Terri and Tom  park their car after an all night drive from Portland and walk down the dock.  Cold beer for our reunion on the hottest day of the year and Canada’s 150th birthday!

Gorge

Tom and Terri have a car and take us to visit the spectacular Cortes Island beach at Smelt Bay.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017. Von Donop Inlet. 50º08.5’N 124.56.6’W

After a lazy morning at the spit we make the short but spectacular passage into to the wild heart of Cortes Island. Before the tied drops too low, we enter the long narrow Von Donlop Inlet, also known as Hathayim Provincial Marine Park.  More books to read.

VonDonop

We drop anchor near the trail to Squirrel Cove. As they paddle by before the 10 km hike, Rhonda and Jim stop by to say they are members of the Port Townsend Yacht Club.

Sunday, June 25, 2017. Rebecca Spit. 50º08.5’N 124º11.7’W

Another calm sunny morning with a very light wind. As we enter new territory to the east of Cape Mudge, four male orcas suddenly cross our path about 150 feet off our bow. Jack kills the engine and we watch them swim off toward Campbell River. One has the longest, tallest dorsal fin I’ve ever seen. It towers over those of his kin. In time a whale watching inflatable with passengers in red survival suits appears out of no where. Are these whales tag to tell their whereabouts? Have the whale watchers hacked into an orca’s geotag? Or do they just have good eyes?

We pass a large shellfish operation marked by yellow buoys before reaching the pristine Rebecca Spit which bounds Drew Harbor and provides some protection to Heriot Bay and the ferry dock. Note those coordinates: they are the perfect place to drop anchor.  We read books.

Thursday, June 22, 2017. Comox. 49º40’N 124º55.5’W

Light NW winds on calm seas take us Georgia Strait. We turn east behind Denman and Hornby and take Baynes Passage seemingly forever to the guest moorage at Comox Valley Harbour’s Fisherman’s Wharf.  We tie up in the basin that nestles in the spit. At low tide neighboring boats with good water under their keels appear to be in the middle of a desert dune.

Low tide along spit.

Low tide along Comox spit.

Finally the weather turns its back on winter. Jack’s favorite place is deck near the bow in his new zero gravity chair.  We also tour the town, work out at the Rec Center, enjoy the Seafest catamaran races.

Jack

The broad glacier-headed Comox Valley stretches out to the west beyond the Fisherman’s Wharf

Tuesday, June 20, 2017. Boho Bay on Lasqueti. 49º29’N 124º13.7’W

Calm seas. Some sailing through the lovely colors of dawn on Georgia Strait with Whiskey Golf inactive.

BohoBoat

Trim is a halibut boat built in 1945 and fitted out for comfortable living by Royce and Penny of Vancouver. Stabilizers kept them balanced in strong evening gusts.

 

Sunday, June 18, 2017. Nanaimo 49º10’N 124º56’W

After a pleasant transit of Dodd Narrows, we up among the fishing boats in what should be the thick of things. Dreadful cold keeps everyone inside.

NanaimoCoal

The coal mine at the Nanaimo Museum gives an unforgettable glimpse into the labors on which the town was built. Mined coal seams under the sea joined the city with Protection Island.

Thursday, June 15, 2017. Ladysmith. 48º59.8’N. 123º08’W

Ladysmith is always wonderful but the weather continues its bad behavior.  Still Ladysmith never disappoints. (Lots more in previous blog posts.)

Ladysmith

Mark at the Ladysmith Maritime Society Community Marina, says a member of his board designed their lovely floating cafe and boathouse. Showers, laundry and elevator to community room are in the rear.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017. Cowichan Bay. 48º44.5’N 124º37’W

Great sail around the light house and up Haro Strait. The Sidney Spit boring buoys are tempting but we can’t find enough water under our keel. Figure the winter storms have rearranged the sand. Later we learn that in the best of times there’s only one approach and it has a couple of doglegs in it.

We head to Cowichan Bay, recommended to Jack by Erica’s nephew Peter, who skippers the wooden ketch Thane in both races and twice daily summer sailings for visitors. Peter’s rightly distressed that the Victoria waterfront has lost its feel for maritime history and says Cowichan Bay still has it.

It does. Downright scrappy waterfront at the end of the road with a lethal lack of parking. People come for the fine bakery, cheese store, the community-rooted Maritime Center and a marine science center where dozens of kids, liberated from their school deals, were joyfully tracking low tide critters.

Cowichan

The Cowichan Valley community has preserved old marine ways as a museum and traditional working boatyard.

We tie up at Fisherman’s Wharf in the shadow of the bow of Arctic Fox, an old wooden fishing boat newly painted bright red. Soon Wharfinger Marc Mercer appears, musing that he must have been on the pot when we’d radioed. He’s a big handsome guy who spent his career piloting tugs, with a couple of years off to captain a two year sailing cruise up and down the coasts of the Americas timed to be in the Pacific during hurricane season in the Atlantic. Now he live in the vast fertile Cowichan Bay Valley and canoes to work.

Friday, June 9. Victoria Inner Harbour. 48º25.3’N 23º22’W

Close down the house, hop on my bike and catch up with Kinza on her way thought Boat Haven to Aurora. leave at dawn on a sail that’s just about perfect. Full sun, light to moderate winds, balanced helm, wing and wing until we make a single jibe to close haul right at 7 to 8 knots into the troubled waters at the entrance to Victoria Harbour.

Moor at the Causeway floats in front of the Empress and Parliament, after clearing customs. Jump into my Race to Alaska Minion tee shirt and onto my bike and head to Whitefish ?. This small boatyard that produces kayaks, paddle boards, and ocean rowing boats is hosting the party. I’d worked (picking trash) at the big pre-race Ruckus on Wednesday in PT; this party is for the teams and their groupies. After setting up to feed and float with drink a couple of hundred people, I join Penny and Kathleen at the merch table and discovered I love selling swag!

Spend the next day figuring out how each of the Race to Alaska boats worked and talk to crews about strategies. On one tour of the floats I look only at rowing stations; on the next only at pedaling stations. Every year there are smarter innovations. Amanda, Jeff and Ryder stop by. Jack hasn’t seen Ryder since his birthday party and asks Ryder what me remembers. “Alexa!” Ryder shouts. In the evening Kinza comes for supper with Nelson and Mona and a whole bunch of stories.

Vic

Lovely to look out the portholes on the British Columbia Parliament.

The Le Mans Race start is always thrilling. After watching the last SUP head out we turn to diagnosing what’s wrong with the solenoid switch for the propane, which had gave out only after dinner was ready. It’s a Sunday – such problems normally present on Sundays are when breakdowns happen – but we gamely bus around to hardware stores, whose clerks laugh at our ancient switch box. We pay another day moorage and are at TroTec Marine when they open at 8am. They order a rocker switch that fits the ancient housing that fits into the teak panel near the store and agree to have it solder up by COB. I pick it up, get clear on how to rewire and pay a grand total of $4 Canadian ($3 US). An awesome business! They were so busy with R2AK racers – who got seriously beaten up on the first leg – that next year they’re providing a shuttle.

Bus 11 every 15 minutes works for us. As soon as the switch is installed I get back on in the other direction and go out to Cadboro Bay to visit Erica, who I find installed in the garden drinking red wine and supping on Alan’s weekly rare cheese. Erica’s had a stroke and is mad as hell that they took her license away so she can’t drive up the hill to U Vic, but otherwise seems pretty fine.

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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

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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.


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