By early July we’re fully on island time. Swinging at anchor, reading books, and day dreaming. When we’re low on bread and eggs and our laundry bag is stuffed to the limit, we head for our favorite resort, Gorge Harbour. Then back into the wilderness.
Wednesday, July 1 Von Donop Inlet to Gorge Harbour Marina 50º05.9’N 126º01.3’W
We reluctantly weigh anchor from our lovely anchorage and motor down long narrow Donop Inlet, an excellent find, able to manage dozens of boats. On the way out we spot a cluster of bright purple Ochre Stars: they are back after almost being wiped out by a mysterious disease. This winter, after hundreds of marine study centers and citizen scientists had submitted samples, Cornell University researchers identified the virus responsible for star wasting disease and the mysterious die off from Alaska to Mexico.
After entering the narrow opening of the nearly enclosed Gorge Harbour, we see a resort staffer on near-empty docks waiting to help us tie up. That done, our first question is whether marriage equality has prevailed in the US. We’re relieved to learn it has.
It’s hot. After stripping off clothes and shoes, I go to pay our moorage. “Oh, great”, I say to Sarah, the dock girl, “The last two days of June means lower mooorage fees.” Only later do I realize I’m on a mental time lag, two days out of sync with the rest of the world. I struggle to see where my log has gone a askew and, having made corrections, go online and make a couple of posts.
Since it turns out to be July 1, it’s Canada Day, one of those holidays we’ve almost always missed celebrating. The dock is lined with flags. In the evening, a funky band made up of of what ten years ago I would have called “old timers” sets up under a couple of tents out of the still-hot sun. They play the gamut but square dancing is on the agenda. As families and dogs arrive from the campground and docks to play on the grass, the band’s caller invites them to form squares. Soon the entire deck is filled with dancers.
Though not one to miss celebrations, I’m worn out from the modest effort of laundry and the extreme heat. My single celebratory gesture is to take down the pink and white maple leaf pennant, flapping in tatters under the spreader. Nelson gave it to us the year he and Mona and draft-age American son emigrated across the border, the same year we’d finally learned enough to sail across it. Summers along the BC coast had worn it to shreds so I replace it with the spanking new Canadian flag we’d bought in Campbell River. Soon things quiet down, the tables are pushed back on the dancing deck, and as the sun sets, the moon rises.
Gorge Harbour is great. Local farm goodies from the resort’s grocer. A bike and scooter ride to the ferry dock where Jack finds a phone signal strong enough to restock his Kindle with three new titles. Sun salutations every morning with twenty other yogis and a fine leader. Nightly soaks in the hot tub. But Desolation Sound is waiting.
Saturday, July 4 Gorge Harbour to Homfray Channel 50º16.3’N 124º37.3’W
The sailing is great. Strong winds on the south end of Cortez take us safely around the island’s two long rocky-toothed shoals and past Mink Island. I think to take minute’s worth of video.
Then we head into the Desolation Sound, where winds are just steady. We reach 7.5 knots and are just as smooth as can be. A most beautiful day and nobody out. So I pull out my iPhone for another minute.
We imagine everyone is sleeping in after Canada Day celebrations, with Prideaux Haven and Laura Cove packed to the gills with boats. Not eager to stern tie, we sail up the Sound until the wind dies and the water flattens. Desolation Sound leads north to Homfray Channel, which in turn connects with Toba Inlet and one of the principal glaciers that feeds the Salish Sea. When we were there in 2012, the water was bright, light aqua, color heightened by white glacial till. But now in this second year of severe drought, the Toba River is likely to be sluggish, its glacier anemic.
But didn’t Helen and Ron mention something about new place on Homfray? Slowly we motor up the long, vast passage that is fairly bereft of anchorages, watching the colors change with the waning day. Ahead I spot what looks like the end of a particularly large log and pick up the monocular. Could that be an elephant seal? Like a piece of wet, shiny, mottled born driftwood, it holds its ugly snout firmly aloft. Finally he moves!
At last we turn the corner of Foster Point, and there is Homfray Lodge. A man meets us at the dock, catches the lines, introduces himself as Matt. “Was that an elephant seal we saw?” I ask. Sure thing.
Matt and his brother Dave and at least one other brother acquired the land and built the main house themselves. It was to be a family hideaway. That was until they they looked at the bills and decided it wise to share it. From an old logging operation, they towed in a large float and covered it with smooth planking and a floating garden. They added a couple of cabins and a micro hydro, which alas, this year they’ve needed to supplement with a diesel generator. Now they host conferences, weddings, retreats and the odd boat that ventures up this way.
When I awaken later that evening and find it’s finally dark, I go to deck to see the stars. There are none! And I smell smoke.
Morning is pea soup, The sun never appears. We can’t see across the channel. We figure the sunset will be vivid beautiful sunset but the sun just disappears altogether in the ochre haze. Fortunately, Matt is a good story teller. He teaches us to hear the individual voices of members of a misplaced family of alpine Pika, who have chosen to live at sea level here. He tells us about fishing “outside” off the Brooks Penninsula. About selling his boat and driving a truck on long hauls. About his take on fish farms. And about how he just stopped fishing. “Sometimes a guest goes out there in the channel and hooks a big salmon. I think of everything that fish has gone through. Five years of survival against the odds. Not getting eaten as a fry, making it all the way out. And then, just when he’s almost home, ready to spawn,,,,,,,” His voice trails off, he shakes his head.
Monday, July 6 Homfray Lodge to Lund 49º58.8’N 124º45.8’W
One hundred eighty fires are blazing around British Columbia. Neighborhoods in Port Hardy have been evacuated. The Spourt Lake fire near Port Alberni grows and grows. But it’s the Pemberton blaze that’s sending its burnt particles down both Toba Inlet and the valleys behind Vancouver. To escape the choking air, we take off for the open waters of Georgia Strait. On the way out we run into into Mrs. Elephant Seal. She is not quite as ugly, but almost.
Lund is the tiny town at one end of Route 1. The other end is in Patagonia. It’s a fishing community with 300 year rounders. It’s jointly administered by members of Sliammon Band and non-tribal residents, including cross-continent escapees from the Vietnam War, the draft and Columbia University.
It’s a very fine place. The historic Lund Hotel resembles the Haro in Roche Harbour but is larger and more distinctive. It’s managed by the First Nation and has a general store, with liquor agency, so ingeniously hidden in its lower level that we cannot at first find it even though we’re repeat customers.
Everything else is stretched out around a sweet little bay with a boardwalk. Fresh-from-the-oven loaves, croissants, muffins and cinnamon buns from Nancy’s Bakery infuse the fresh air of every dawn. Locals hang out there, visitors pick up lunch before boarding the water taxi to Savary Island, the only sand island along the coast. Not sand, really. Make that glacial till.
Moorage fees at Lund are the least expensive of our cruise (not counting, of course, days at anchor when we can’t spend a cent) and the facilities among the best. Great restrooms and showers are open to the public 24/7. At night, lamps bathe the wood docks in golden light, while fisher folk relax on the decks of their boats.
We stay an extra day so I can take a kayak tour to the Raggeds, as the locals call the Copeland Islands. But the air quality isn’t good enough and it’s cancelled. Now there are blazes all over the North Pacific – Siberia, the Arctic, Alaska, BC, Washington and Oregon. Instead I join a peaceful session of yoga at the community center.
Wednesday, July 8 Lund to Pender Harbour 49º37.8’N 124º02”W
Late in the day, after our fill of Malespina Strait, we motor into Pender Harbour and call Fisherman’s Bay Marina on the VHF, no longer worried about whether there would be space. Not many people are cruising right now for some reason. We’ve run into former owner Dave Pritchard farther north on the coast and learned that he and Jennifer have sold the place and settled elsewhere on the Sunshine Coast. New guy managing the docks is great. Lives in an interesting doubled ended wooden sailing vessel designed by Sam Devlin. Great meal at Garden Bay pub before retiring below deck where new owners have brought strong internet all the way to the nav station.
Thursday, July 9 Pender Harbour to Lesqueti 49º29.8’N 124º13.8’W
Lots of boats as we approach the roiled waters at the south tip of Texada after crossing Malespina. Whiskey Gulf is active and boats converge here. Jack rails against Whiskey Gulf and notes how once daily war games become part of the nautical chart, a whole great area of open seas often off limits to fishermen, researchers and recreationists. Boats have to go way out of their way whenever Whiskey Gulf is active and when they stray into the boundaries they get called out on VHF 16. We worry about the same thing happening in Olympic National Park if the Navy wins the long drawn out fight and gets to conduct electronic war games there. I sit up with my back to the mast listening to KUOW for the first time in over a month and looking out for military patrol boats.
Ah! At last we’re tucked away for another two days in Boho Bay, large enough to permit a beautiful view and sunset, protected enough to be absolute fun on a day when it rages out on the Straight.
This is our third time here and it’s a keeper. If you’re going to get to know, love and trust and anchorage, it makes sense to keep going back. We drop anchor in 30 feet of water in more or less the same place but radically different conditions. We watch other boats bounce in the new southeasters but we’re in a little hole on next to a big rock and a reef with a nice fix on the setting sun.
This time the birds are all out. Vultures, heron, eagles, and lots of young pigeon guillemots. The latter swim up to check us out and then dive, their silly bright red legs splayed out like the toddlers they are.
Saturday, July 11 Lesqueti Island to Ladysmith 48º59.8’N 123º48.7’W
Our early departure from Lesquiti gives us time to sail but the southeaster does not cooperate. Every tack east requires one to the west. Our VMG – velocity made good – is no good at all. In order to make slack at Dodd Narrows, we turn on the engine and furl sails. Fatigue is setting set but we are not without options. Glaciers have scratched long, narrow, northwest-southeast inlets into all the nearby shores. Ladysmith Harbour is a long gash in Vancouver Island.
Monday, July 13 Ladysmith to Stuart Island
The wind is all wrong for sailing so we watch the seals and the birds. We’ve only been down this channel once before so we try to commit it to memory, particularly where huge ferries from Vancouver weird turns to deliver hundreds of cars and people from Vancouver to south Vancouver Island.
There’s lots of space for rec boats at the State Park floats, buoys, and the dock at Reid Harbor. But all the camping spots available only to crews of non-motorized boats are taken. I count 20 kayaks in Reid and another 20 in Prevost. Latecomers tie up at the dingy dock and have to pitch their tents on the rocky slopes above.
Wednesday, July 15 Stuart Island to Jones Island
The shortest passage of the summer takes us five miles along Spiden Island, where we see a rainbow of sailing kayaks against the low tide shore. Timing is perfect for a mooring buoy.
Friday, July 16, Jones Island to Friday Harbor
We want to sail down the west coast of San Juan Island. Haro Strait is generally smooth – hence all the kayaks – and the J, K and L pods have been hanging out there. Our intention is to gunk hole somewhere around Henry Island. We check out Mitchell Bay and see the Snug Harbor Resort takes up most of it and private buoys the rest. Just another reminder that Washington is not Oregon, where the coast belongs to everyone. Last fall we’d had a great visit to English Camp, going in by road from Roche Harbor, and checked out Garrison Bay. Motoring toward it, a couple of bullying Nordic Tugs push us to the side of the channel where we hit mud. It’s not troublesome but inching along trying to find ten – even six – good feet of water on a falling tide is not fun. We’d noticed only ten sailboat at Roche – lovely in the fall but not our kind of boats today.
So we just put up the sails and head back though Spiden Channel and down into San Juan. We see three historic schooners with sails unfurled but when the wind dies, we assume they are motoring. We tie up at the breakwater float where people come and go and there are never any reservations required. People come and go, including a pretty steel schooner, 36′ on deck, 50′ overall, with a motely crew of about 7. Portlanders, they come over to chat about the Valiant and actually ask to go below deck. We say sure. Throughout the evening the place grows on us. Ferries disgorging weekenders. Friday Harbor is just nice. Unpretentious. It’s chaotic in places, unruffled in others.
Saturday, July 17 Friday Harbor to Port Townsend
I’ve wondered about this before The Prettiest Town on the Inside Passage?