Through the heart of the Salish Sea is a cultural fault line that divides most Canadians from most Americans.
We like to swing and they don’t.
Through the heart of the Salish Sea is a cultural fault line that divides most Canadians from most Americans.
We like to swing and they don’t. They like to tie and we don’t.
I’m talking about the art of stern tying. Stern tying is what you do at an anchorage where people stern tie. After dropping anchor you run a line from the stern of the boat to the shore. This means your boat doesn’t swing, although in the wind the stern tugs at its tether like an annoying dog.
Occasionally stern tying makes sense. Let’s say a storm kicks up in Malaspina Strait and along with most everyone else you head for shelter in tiny Smuggler Cove. More boats can squeeze in when they park side by side around the edges, bows facing in in a neat circle. To facilitate the spacing of boats at this location, Provincial park authorities have installed iron rings at intervals along the shore. But even when there are no rings and lots of scope for swinging, the folks north of the cultural fault line will still stern tie.
And unlike those of us from the south, they are adept at it! No sooner is the anchor down than one of the crew gets in the dinghy, takes the end of a yellow plastic line from a bobbin mounted in the stern of the mother ship to the shore, puts it around a tree or though a ring, bring it back to the boat, and ties it two the stern. Done in less than 5 minutes.
Jack’s log offers a single note on a recent anchorage: “The stern tie from hell!”
There are only three boats there when we pull in to Smuggler Cove, a couple of hours south of Pender Harbour. With our pick of where to anchor, we choose our spot and drop.
As Jack at the helm tries to keep the boat off the rocks, I fumble with the yellow plastic line, get into the dinghy and head for shore. Somehow I manage to lose the end the line and have to go back to the boat to retrieve it. This time Jack unspools a whole lot so we can cover the distance. Fortunately, the yellow plastic line floats and doesn’t foul the propeller.
Here’s our set up on an earlier, imperfect stern tie in Laura Cove. Note the makeshift bobbin mount, the wet shoes and socks and the fenders on the rail that will complicate a future effort that is going into the books as “The Stern Tie from Hell.”
I reach shore, get wet to the knee as I step out on a large flat rock. I secure the floating dinghy, untie the bitter end of the yellow line and scale the barnacle-encrusted cliff – just as well I’m wearing my snow pants. I find a ring, pass the bitter end through it and head back down to the dinghy, now stuck on the flat rock because the tide is falling pretty fast. I climb back on board Aurora as Jack kills the engine. We assess our twisted lines and check the tide tables.
Oops. We’re a more than an hour from the low low in a full mooned spring tide cycle. We’ve got to re-anchor and do the whole thing again!
Our stomachs are empty and our brunch of poutine will have to wait. I pocket a granola bar and head to the bow to raise the anchor. Rather than taking the trouble to open the hatch and flake the chain back into its locker under the V-berth, I bring the chain up on the deck. Then I accidentally step on the windlass motor button and manage to jam the anchor in the cradle and the taught chain on the windlass. As Jack keeps the boat off the rocks, I fetch the hammer, screwdriver and WD40. Swearing like a sailor, I eventually coax the links off the iron ratchet.
Finally we can repeat the process. I drop the anchor and feed out a pile of chain. Then I get back into the inflatable still wearing my wet snowpants and shoes. I tie the bitter end to the dinghy so the line can follow me. I paddle out (not row, mind you, thanks to the oarlock that broke in Pender Harbor). The cliff is really high now; a vertical foot of tide has run out during the jammed windlass incident. But with the end of this saga in sight, I bound to the top of cliff and put the end of the line through it. Now all Jack has to do is feed out the line so I can double it back.
Oh oh. Either my trajectory was loopy or the stern has swung, but now the line between spool and water is badly tangled among the spare fenders hung on either side of the $20-used-barbecue-that-has-never-worked. Now it’s Jack who is swearing. He pulls fenders back over the rail into the boat, removing all play from the yellow plastic line and making things much worse. In the end he has to untie each of the fender lines.
Finally, standing atop the cliff like a resilient mountain goat, I coil all the line needed to reach the boat. As I climb back down to the dinghy, the barnacles catch the coils. Once the line and I are safely down in the dinghy heading back to the boat, the whole scene changes. The slack line snags on a rock and then another. As I look back in defeat, my paddling takes the inflatable atop the the half of the line already in place adding a new twist.
Canadian stern ties result in neat parallel lines from ship to shore. Ours can be more like cat’s cradle.
Stern tying gives me cultural angoisse, existential anomie. It’s one of those times when the local culture seems impenetrable. How much else about Canadians do I fail to understand? Does any of this behavior carry over to important differences in, say, the way they park their cars?
Wednesday, June 17 Campbell River to Shoal Bay 50º27’N 125º22’W
Slackers waiting for slack, we head to the Canadian Superstore to stock up on bread, eggs, and fresh vegetables and then pick up wine the liquor store opens at 9. Jack takes the stuff back to the boat – improbably moored on A dock with the small sports fishing boats. Sea Runners and Puffin have both left while Dan and Heather aka Team Coastal Express, are still bedded down, preparing for their first day of vacation. Forced back twice by Seymour Narrows this invariably cheerful pair is taking their adventure back south.
We motor the five miles up dodging stray logs on the way to Maud Island to get our first look at the waters. We hit the Narrows 50 minute before slack, shooting through and letting the ebb carry us north. This is where the waters between Vancouver Island and the (so-called) Mainland where the tide ebbs north and floods south. To our stern is the Salish Sea, where the flood has been north and the ebb south. We pass two southbound tugs with barges, one haphazardly loaded with second rate clear cut, the type of load that helps explain the errant logs.
In wild Plumper Bay, opposite the tiny Vancouver Island community of Brown Bay we spot the distinctive upside-down yellow triangle of Sea Runners’ sail and the masted monohull of Team Puffin.
As concern for these end of the pack Racers to Alaska dissipates, we embark on a gorgeous dreamy cruise up Discovery Passage. Vancouver rightly saved the name Discovery for this fine section of the coast as well as for the Bay which with Port Townsend Bay forms the Quimper Penninsula. The latter, richly timbered, served as the shipyard for HMS Discovery and the other ships of the Captain’s small fleet.
We continue Northeast through Nodales Channel, presumably named by Vancouver’s respected contemporary, Spanish Captain Quadra, until we enter the great carrefour, the spectacular chowk where Frederick Arm meets Cordero Channel. The short distance to perfect little Shoal Bay with its imposing view up Phillips Arm, snowless again this year.
At the Shoal Bay wharf a happy handful of boaters on the dock find us the 41 one feet we need and squeeze us in. Salmon fry splash about, tiny silver torpedoes. The sun has taken it out of us so we lunch and nap and rest below deck until a knock on the companionway hatch brings notice of happy hour. (Or is it “appy” hour?) We pull humous from the fridge, pita chips from a locker, folding chairs from the lazarette and head a boat length down the float. Like us, people who love Shoal Bay come back year after year.
“I love it!” says Wharfinger Mark McDonald. “A boater-managed dock!” He’s watching approaching boats through binoculars from home on shore, where I’ve gone to pay up – 50 cents a foot. Two sizable Grand Banks trawlers approach Aurora as Jack appears on deck to help them raft to us. Since our arrival, port side fenders have been out – Shoal Bay Protocol.
That evening, I join Tom and Karen from Sandpoint and Helen and Ron from Nanaimo at the pub – vacated earlier in the day when the logger lodgers flew off for their long weekend in a tiny, playful, bright yellow helicopter. Helen interviews Mark. For years we’d thought he was some IT guy who taken his money and run. Then he shows up with a new bride, a widow he’d known years before. Thanks to Cynthia, who’s put up some pictures showing Mark with fine horses and the likes of Willy Schumacher, we’re now getting the story. Born in New Westminister, Mark had always been around horses so when it was time for college, it needed to be someplace near a racetrack. Soon enough he’d abandoned his studies in southern Calfornia to train horses. After 25 years he became a off-grid homesteader on this mining townsite, once home to 5,000 people, now reclaimed by the forest. In his spare time, he’s a horse broker who serves a mostly British clientele without every leaving Shoal Bay.
Friday, June 19th Shoal Bay to Blind Channel 50º25’N 125º30’W
Did we mention this was going to the the laziest cruise yet? After the leisurely morning we cast off for the short ride to our next destination, dumping contents of our toilet along the way. I have gotten too bold with my experiments in fluid dynamics and inadvertently watered down the poop pot. But everything is back together with a fresh bed of desiccating coir fiber by the time we arrive at the Blind Channel Resort, expertly run for many years by the Richter family. I eschew hiking the trails in favor of downloading some serious reading in ecological sanitation and exchanging Tweets with other Race to Alaska fans. Everyday a new team arrives at the finish, everyday another welcome bash thrown by the good folks of Ketchikan.
Dinner hour coincides conveniently with a rising tide. As we shove the scooter up on the ramp, Eliott Richter meets us and ushers us to the dining room. Blind Channel is known for its cuisine. There is a rich garden and fishing boats stop at the dock, often to meet to float planes which deliver the fresh catch to Vancouver for flights to Japan.
Saturday, June 20 Blind Channel to Port Harvey 50º34’N 126º66’W
Port Harvey, not to be confused with the city of Port Hardy, is a geographic feature, a body of water rather than a settlement.
Now it boasts the Port Harvey Marine Resort, which is top-notch in its simplicity. It consists of a structure on a barge floating in a bay opposite some tied looking forestry operations at the end of Havannah Channel. You are greeted at the dock with a wifi password, a simple menu of hamburgers and pizza, and the understanding that there is no obligation whatsoever to partake of either. And yet even now in June nearly every table at the little cafe off the deck over the store is full. And it’s right-sized for the communal conversation that owners George and Gail Cambridge keep animated as they proffer drinks,food and their famous desserts. Helping this summer is Tom an amiable, sailor, adventurer, cook, bartender, dock fisherman, and handyman whose perfect RP (Received Pronunciation) bespeak fine schooling on the other side of the Atlantic pond.
Jack goes for the burger with fries me the pizza. I’ve brought containers from the boat so Jack can have his poutine for lunch. For breakfasts in transit, nothing is better than leftover pizza heated on the stove top toaster George has sold me. Jam packed with practical items, Port Harvey’s store is a minor wonder on this coast. It seems the Cambridges are transitioning from the hardware business in Alberta.
Port Harvey offers great shelter at the dock or at anchor just a short distance from Johnstone Strait. Pointing to an exposed line of Doug Firs on the shore, George says, “Just look at those trees. If they’re not moving, you can head out with no problem.” There’s never been a place in Port Harvey for rec boats to tie up and Gail and George have the right mix of business experience and the middle age stamina to make this place a success. Without a fuel dock, the Pacific water is clean: folks catch crab right off the dock. As fresh water is in short supply, however, they’ll be limited in the services they can offer. This is a good thing.
Monday June 22 – Port Harvey to Port McNeill 50º34’N 127º05’W
What a beautiful passage! Johnstone Strait is like glass and this section is new to us. Shrouds of fog lift so we enjoy the views and wildlife. We pass the famous reserve at Robson’s Bight where British Columbia’s pods of resident orcas breed. They’re away now but porpoises hobby horse through the water and Pacific white-sided dolphins come and play with our waves. We pass tiny Telegraph cove, set between mountain and sea. I wonder what management skills it must take to shoehorn boats into such as small space. We pass Cormorant and Malcolm Islands before landfall on Vancouver Island, where we pass the small ferry that connects Port McNeill with the villages of Alert Bay and Sointula.
George has recommended the Fuel Dock, now rebranded as North Island Marina. Jessica Jackman meets us as we tie up against strong current. The marina doesn’t offer post card views but is competently run. Fuel hoses can reach rec boats tied up on one side while serving commercial vessels on the other. Port McNeill is on Vancouver Island so that means roads which can take recycling and garbage, water to operate a lundromat, and roads to other places. Jessica even offers a complementary car and suggests a visit Telegraph Cove. We’re here, however, for Alert Bay and Sointula and the BC Ferries schedule can accommodate visits to both in a single day. As it happens, our time at Alert Bay is so full and gives us so much to ponder, we simply eschew the former commune founded by Finnish socialists in the early 20th century.
Wednesday, June 24 Port McNeill to Echo Bay 50º45’N 126º30’W
Port McNeill near the north end of Vancouver Island is our westernmost point as we turn north into the Broughtons. Jack suggests we go to the well known Pierre’s Eco Bay Lodge and Marina. Last year he volunteered to walk up to the store to pay the moorage and found the lack of handrails made docks and stairs dangerous to navigate. (Think rainforest moss on wet wood.) He mentioned the situation to Pierre’s wife, Tove, and just wants to see if anything had changed. It hasn’t. Jack doesn’t leave the boat. I photograph the eight obstacles to get from the boat to the restrooms, laundry and showers.
Latish in the evening I corner Pierre, trying to match his charm and easy-going-ness. “Look at the type of people who love to come here year after year,” I say. “They’re not young. They’re hip-replacement candidates. They may be cruising because they’re recovering from something and can only walk with difficulty. Or they’re here for a wedding or family reunion with elders in wheelchairs in tow.” I tell him there are fixes, like the rubber covered aluminum plates that bridge the docks at North Island Marina in Port McNeil and promise to send some photos. I complement him on the new Adirondack chairs; at least weary walkers can have a seat. He is nice and I am nice.
Before turning in, I come up with a rating system for docks.
1 = Stay on your boat. It may be secure but you are not when you’re on the docks. Athleticism required to access services. Everything moves. (Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club’s strange metal docks. The alternative in Prince Rupert, the port facility at Rushbrook, was a 1 in 2012 but then in 2014 metal bridges joining floats had been installed.)
2 = Anyone with the slightest mobility impairment or an uncoordinated child must be accompanied at all times to be safe. Dangerous gaps between floats or floats and ramp. Steps without handrails. Leaning or unsteady floats. (Pierre’s Echo Bay; up from a ‘1’ thanks to the new Adirondack chairs.)
3 = Allows partial independence for mobility impaired. A visitor who uses a wheelchair or scooter will need assistance at some places on the docks or at some points in the tide cycle. (North Island Marina in Port McNeill; Blind Channel Resort.)
4 = Pretty safe in good weather. Smooth, flat, unobstructed docks, with toe rails and hand rails. (Port Harvey, where entire resort currently floats – access to land and dog walking is still difficult; Nanaimo, where only problems are heavy dock gates and ramp angles on low tides.)
5 = Independent wheelchair users can access all facilities. (Gorge Harbor!)
Thursday, June 25 Echo Bay to Waddington Bay 50º43’N 126º37’W
We’re at anchor in 30 feet of water. It’s sheltered and peaceful even as the sun goes hot and the winds come up in the afternoon. Not much to report. Reading, listening to audible books, daydreaming, cooking, fixing things that need to be fixed. And organizing photos and writing this blog.
Supper is ling cod with mushrooms, scalloped potatoes and onions with Parmesan, Swiss chard, very long grain black rice left over from a former voyage, a tossed salad and fresh cherries, purchased in Campbell River for $3 Canadian a pound because the hot sun has brought the British Columbia crop to abrupt maturity far earlier than normal. The origin of the long cod? Remember Matt and Elizabeth of the cement schooner Peregrine and Salt Spring Island? Here they offer just-caught and filleted ling cod to the boats moored off Lesqueti Island.
Saturday, June 27 Waddington Bay to nook on Crease Island behind Goat Island 50º37’N 126º38’W
The wind is blowing when we drop anchor in about 24 feet of water but things soon calmed down and everything is just perfect. 360º of an ever-changing light and color show as the sun drops in the sky. I stay up until 10 to take photos.
It’s Dave who recommended Goat Island; he doesn’t like to be hemmed in; needs the view. Dave and Janet are Valiant 40 owners we met at Echo Bay. They were in the Peace Corps in on a Pacific Island and – like us – had to get married to serve together. Then they learned to sail and sailed home to Portland in their first boat. We toured each Valiant. Theirs looks the same except for a deck that extends 18 inches toward the bow to allow headroom in the V-berth.
Sunday, June 28 Goat Island to Forward Harbor 50º29’N 125º45’W
My pleas to just stay put another day do not cut it with Jack the Skipper, who notes that there are still hundreds more anchorages waiting for us. The weather is good and he is eager to get into Knight Inlet and Johnstone Strait and have the sails catch the light NW winds.
We head out at dawn, enthralled by the play of light on the dark water. Flocks of rhinoceros auklets swim past each followed by a line of sun sparkles. A line of cormorants splashes drops of gold in their awkward struggle to take flight. Very pretty this morning, but they are designed to fly underwater. Porpoises cut in and out of the water, something much larger snorts off our stern and disappears, but our beloved Pacific white-sided dolphins ignore us. We associate Knight Inlet with our first prolonged encounter – with about 100 of them.
The golden dawn turns to the morning as the Inlet opens wide, a succession of mountains and bays in every tone of grey. A boat passes, throwing curving swaths of silver glitter on the water. There is no wind.
There must be a herring ball causing the feeding frenzy near Minstrel Island. The auklets simply flip upside down from the water’s surface but the gulls are diving in flight, trying to stay out of the way of eagles talons. Gulls, eagles, and crows – our everyday birds at home – are all smart and acrobatic. But it’s their interactions that are especially fascinating.
We take the bull kelp clogged Chatham Channel near low slack prepared for very low waters but we rarely have less 25 feet under our keel. Out in Havannah Channel the wind is brisk and Johnstone looks perfect. The day is getting on and there are the usual strong wind warnings but it comes to nothing. We have to motor the whole way to Forward Harbor.
We drop anchor at the edge of the shelf, our depth waving from 30 to 60 feet as we let out 150 feet of chain. I have forgotten how spectacular Forward Harbor is. I put the folding chairs out on the bow and we have a simple supper watching the sun set on the high peaks at the end of the bay.
Monday, June 29 Forward Harbor to Shoal Bay 50º27’N 125º22’W
I need to flake the first 50′ of cain so it fits properly in the re-designed locker under the V-berth but once that is done, I can let the remaining 100 feet in more smoothly, stopping only to knock only to the peak so that the chain does not pile up and jam. Redesign is good for this. But when I’m on the last 25 feet, the windlass quits! I have to bring up the remaining chain and the anchor by hand. What is the problem? A blown fuse? I reset the trip switch, which appears not to have tripped off.
We navigate past a log boom waiting with its tug at the neck of the bay and pass the swirlls and outfalls of Green Point rapids. Then I go below and use my 700 lumens bike light to check the cables that lead to the solenoid and windlass motor. Nothing seems amiss but the foot switch still doesn’t work. We discuss options – someone at Blind Channel may help with a diagnosis when we stop for the essential liquids: diesel, water, wine and gin. But one more try with the windlass and it works! Either switch is cranky – it looks perfect – or it just had to cool off. In any event, we’ll just raise the anchor more slowly from now on.
Thanks to a “changing of the guard” the whole north side of the Shoal Bay dock is free. The southbound boats have left and shortly northbound boats will take their place. And when the northbound boats cast off, they leave space for southbound boats, which arrive an hour to two later. One goal of this cruise is to help us better predict things like this. And the winds in Johnstone, the back-eddies off Cape Mudge, the energy our solar panels are capturing, and the sounds of the anchor chain on the sea bottom. We dream of making a new variation of this trip every summer for years to come. To be safe and comfortable doing so, means draft and tweaking rules of thumb.
We’re greeted at the dock with “We used to have a Valiant, too.” Marilyn and Jim have “passed over to the dark side” and now have of Blue Coyote, a 26′ Ranger Tug which “bobs like a cork.” Back problems were making things hard for Marilyn. We chat for a good long time about the adaptations they’d made when they bought their Valiant in Trinidad and how Bob Perry either loved or hated them when they met him at a Port Ludlow rendezvous. You can feel their nostalgia for their old boat. Jack says “Hey, I’m a qudriplegic” and explains how – until his First Mate breaks down – we’re going to stick with our boat. Later I learn this lively pair we take to be in their mid-60s are both well into their 70s.
The logger lodgers with the toy yellow helicopter have left and the Shoal Bay Pub is open. I go up to pay my $0.50 a foot and join Mark and Cynthia a couple of others there for a beer. We exchange stories about the Race to Alaska. A week without Internet means my last news is Roger Mann’s arrival in Ketchikan. I remember I took a screen shot of his boat.
“That’s him!” yelps Mark. Seems they ran into Roger and his strange craft in Brown Bay, the place just north of Seymour Narrows where they leave their truck so they can provision in Campbell River. They meet him briefly as he exits the shower. Yes, old and cheerful. And also a short and compact. This would have been the morning after Roger had fallen into the raging waters of Seymour Narrows in the middle of the night.
Tuesday, June 30 Shoal Bay to Von Donop Inlet on Cortez Island 50º085’N 124º56’W
There are two northern doors to Salish Sea. One is Seymour Narrows which flows between Vancouver and Quadra Island and leads to Discovery Channel and then either to Johnstone Strait or to the “Inside Inside Channel” route via Nodales Channel. The other consists of the neck of water that flows through Dent, Gaillard and Yucalta Narrows. North of these two areas confused waters, the ebb is north and the flood south; south of them the flood is north and the ebb south.
That south ebb takes us into broad and beautiful Calm Channel with its many options for exploration to in the northern reaches of the Salish Sea watershed, such as Toba Inlet, its waters light blue with fresh water melt from its glacier. We continue south and dip into Von Donlop Inlet, which extends long and narrow into Cortez Island. It’s very low tide and what do I see in the bright green seaweed-fringed crevices in the rocks! Purple and bright pink Ochre Sea Stars! This is the species so decimated by sea star wasting, the disease recognized just this year – thanks in part to sample collection by citizen scientists – as caused by a virus. Without sea stars the Salish Sea food web is broken. This is cause for celebration.
We motor the shallow Inlet past several nice anchorages, where most boats are stern tied. Yes, we are back in the land of this strange Canadian custom. We continue on realizing that even the middle of the channel is safely anchor-able. But there’s lots of room at the head of the Inlet. As we approach the sweeping low tide beach and prepare to point into the wind, I call out to folks on the deck of a boat already anchored, “We want to pass behind you if there’s enough water. Are you stern tied?” “Yes, lots of water. No stern tie! Is that a Valiant?”
Nothing is sweeter to the ears of a boat owner than appreciation of one’s boat. Late in the afternoon the crew of Northern Girl from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory stop by in their dinghy after watering their two black labs. Kara and Fraser Smith are Bob Perry fans with a Bob Perry boat – a Northwind Islander – with the most ingenious feature. A door in its transom opens as a ramp down to the dinghy. Perfect for dog lovers who have to make the four daily trips to shore and back.
Wednesday, July 1 Von Donop Inlet to Gorge Harbour
Pull into to Gorge Harbour on the south end of Cortez Island, ready for some Internet and the opportunity to post a couple of blog posts. Despite keeping a daily blog, I have somehow managed to be two days behind the calendar date. I’d always wanted to celebrate Canada Day but thought it was Friday. Turns out it’s today.
There’s a heat wave, just like the first time we came here. In the eighties here but much much worse in Portland and Seattle. While the docks are half empty, the Gorge Harbour lodge, restaurant and campground are full of people. The kids have built lantern boats but, alas, they can’t be lit thanks to the drought-caused fire danger. Instead a fire is lit in the big fireplace on the stone patio where a very funky band of local old guys is playing. One is calling square dances and managing to get people up on their feet. It’s too hot for me but when the sun finally sets and the big full moon rises I got out and enjoy the end of the evening.