Sea otter applauds as we pass by
July 2 It’s still drizzling when we wound our way out of the narrow passage between the island with the Walter’s Cove public wharf and the mainland with the village of Kuyquot. Good visibility helped us dodge the rocky islets on the way to the main entrance of the spectacular and isolated Kyuquot Sound. We has just left Rugged Point on starboard when our engine alarm went off signaling overheating. It was a good sign that there was water coming out with the exhaust. We made a u-turn and anchored in a little cove off Rugged Point and set about checking for the problem. Since our engine is new and this had never happened before, we opened up Nigel Calder’s Diesel Engine Maintenance and Repair and worked our way though the checklist. After closing the through-hull we cleared a bit of seaweed out of the raw water strainer but found nothing like a jellyfish or the tenicle of one of those horrible twenty-legged starfish that kept getting stuck on the Walters Cove dock pilings at low tide. Next thing was to take off the raw water intake hose. The hose clamps were rusty and I managed to split the hose while taking if off. Then we cut up a plastic coat hanger leaving a small hook at either end and pushed it down the hose from the strainer and into the open through hull. To make sure there really was no obstruction we took the lead line from our [yet unused] crab pot and pushed about four feet of it out through the hull. Water now fountained up freely. So we dried everything off, unrusted the clamps with WD-40, duct taped the hose, put everything back together,reopened the value on the through hull, pulled up the anchor and set out again into Kyuquot Channel.
No more than 15 minutes later, the engine overheated again so we did another u-turn to Rugged Point and dropped anchor. While a bit discouraged at the prospect of spending more time in the engine room rocked by incoming swells, it was better than being in the open ocean. The next thing on Nigel’s [and everyone else’s] checklist is an impeller change, something we’d not yet done on the new engine. Sure enough the old one had feet going in different directions so with considerable effort, I removed it, and with considerable speed managed to slip in the new one. I take it back: none of this was done with speed. I moved very slowly, thanks to my Dramamine and sunset that would not fall until nearly 10 pm. In engine repairs, speed hurts; consider the trouble of using chopsticks to fish a dropped washer or nut out from unfit the engine or the longer term consequences of a bloody finger. Finally we motored up Kyuquot Inlet, now a thousand shades of grey, and about 45 minutes later turned into our anchorage. Dixie Cove on Hohoae Island consists of two small basins surrounded by old growth forest. A sea otter languishing on his back over supper in the second narrow isthmus stared at us as we passed and dropped the hook in the most magical, clam, secluded inlet we’ve ever experienced. Hungry as horses, we devoured a pasta supper and slept like logs on our laurels.
July 3 Finally a beautiful day. Coffee on deck talking to the sea otter and listening to stereophonic flow of fresh water springs on either side. At low tide the walls of the cove – orange (mussels), bright green (algae) and grey (granite) – became a kaleidoscope of phantasmic monsters reflected on the mirror of the waters. We have never never seen such a fabulous anchorage. We yearned to stay but a weather window was pushing us on to the next open water passage.
No sooner had we entered Clear Passage between the rocky barrier islands and Van Isle than the overheating alarm went off again, making a mockery of all of our valiant efforts. We had no choice but to turn off the engine and drift, which worked very well because it was extremely calm. So that’s how we got through the passage a bit of engine – a bit of drift. The coast was absolutely beautiful and it was wonderful to just sit there with nothing to do. Soon we’d be in the open ocean and as the wind had promised to pick up in the late morning, we could sail.
But the wind never came. It was the doldrums. We drifted. We enjoyed the sun and the view. We brought all of the last three days of wet clothes up on deck. After a long and pleasant day, a bit of wind brought us through the buoys marking Esperanza Inlet, past some Canada Day weekend sports fishermen and sea kayakers, and we sailed on into Queen’s Cove at the beginning of Port Eliza Inlet, which is an inlet not a port with any place to moor except where we were.
July 4. A good night’s sleep and a day off. We sleep, we read, we do not worry about our engine not working. We are off Nootka Island, the second largest island on the BC coast, which snugs into Vancouver Island, the largest (on both the BC coast and all of North America.) Deep fiords around the island connect Nootka Sound, with the villages of Zeballos, from where a long gravel road leads to Port Hardy and Tahsis, connected to Campbell River by a shorter gravel road.
July 5. Lift anchor. Motor out past reef into Port Eliza. The overheating alarm goes on. All within 5 minutes. We drift while Jack radios the Coast Guard. So efficient. They patch us ship to shore to the nearest marine services, inland up the fjords in Tahsis. Problem discussed. They will send a tow. Coast Guard and Westview Marine Services both remain on VHF while we enjoy big breakfast and good books. Finally small open – 19 foot – Pelican pulls into cove. Wade, missing front teeth, in orange survival suit, hands me 50 foot line. He doesn’t know knots but we figure out a bridle on cleats and tie his line on with a bowline. Off we go. He has no chat but…shows he knows. I join Jack in relaxation. After a good lunch, I read and take pictures, he stretches out in the cockpit. Up Esperanza, through narrows, up Tahsis, the clouds part, the sun comes out. I actually take off my sweater and am in a tee shirt. We get almost there. Jack coordinates on VHF with Wade and marina.
July 6 Cruising luxury: No real rain. First chance to do three weeks laundry. Internet: answer email and edit fact sheet for Sustainable Sanitation Alliance. Dinner on the dock grilled Salt Spring lamb. On CBC “Waktell on the Arts in the Summer” Robert LePage b. 1957 author of “Dragon Trilogy” about Canada’s Chinatowns allopicha malady where kids lose all their hair. Knows so much about China. When on NPR do we get an hour long interview that forces us to go to bed an hour later than planned?
July 7 Tahsis Inlet is long and beautiful. We put out the jenny and let the channel winds take us toward the ocean. On the way early morning anglers, the Uchuck III, sea otters, and clear cut lots filling up with second growth. We motor through the narrows, past a tug and log boom treading water. No other cruisers. As Tahsis broadens to Nootka, we put out the jenny and sail toward the Nooktka Light and Friendly Cove. This is the birthplace of British Columbia, if not of the entire Pacific Northwest. Captain Cook pulled in here to make repairs on Discovery in 1778, making contact with the Nuth Chah Nulth headed by chief, or Maquinna. In 1792, the great sea captains George Vancouver and Juan de Bodega Quadra met here, representing their countries in an eventually successful effort to stave off a world war. In 1803, as the fur trade picked up its pace, Captain Robert Stanley guided the Boston in the cove, inadvertently insulted Maquinna, and suffered the revenge of the Natives for a string of similar insults and indiscretions of white explorers and traders over the years. The entire crew of the Boston was massacred, their heads displayed on pols to be identified by the shop’s blacksmith, John Jewitt, who lived to tell the tale. And what a tale it is! The original 1815 edition of his Narrative, today issued as The While Slaves of Maquinna, is a page turner, a movie in print, a thoroughly engaging recitation of cultural context and historical fact.
The wind is blowing hard when we enter the small, exposed cove and pull up at the empty public wharf tucked behind the lighthouse and Coast Guard Station. As I am tying up in the wind, quad comes down the dock to meet us. It is Ray Williams, of the only remaining Mowachat family living in Yuquot, the village of Friendly Cove. He greets us warmly and invites us to come ashore, permission which is necessary to visit any Native land. His son Sanford, a noted woodcarver with a current exhibit at a gallery in Tofino, is at work in his studio on the beach. I say I’ll be up after lunch as Mr. Williams bids us farewell with “cho,” goodbye in his language.
Fatigue takes over and I fall into a deep slumber after lunch and sleep off the afternoon. By the time I get to shore, there’s a closed sign on the trail to Sanford’s shop so I do a quick tour of the rest to ensure it is accessible by scooter – and go get Jack. Behind the two-story house of Williams on the cove is a meadowed hill with a church, built in 1957 as a conventional Catholic sanctuary, later fitted out with totem poles. On the edge of the forest is Yacout’s burial grounds, a mix of granite crosses and totem poles. From the the bluff is the open Pacific from which we could see Estaban Point, our challenge for the morning.
Sailing from Nootka Sound around Estaban Point
July 8 Dressed and ready to go, Jack lets me sleep in until 5:30. The day is calm and clear despite Environment Canada’s prediction of 15 to 20 knot winds. As soon as I am awake – no coffee, one single Dramamime tablet – I untie all the lines and we’re off. Sports fishing boat from all over the vast Nootka Sound are already bobbing on the swells around Friendly Cove light as we head straight west into the Pacific. The Perouse shoals lie off Estaban point and even though we are off them, we are rolled buy swells off the portside stern. We tie ourselves into the cockpit and I take the helm to settle my stomach. Eventually Jack puts on the autohelm and I sit on the edge of the cockpit. The horizon is lumpy and I think I am seeing low-lying shoals so I watch carefully as they flatten. ‘The World is Flat! The World is Flat!” is my mantra, as I tell myself we will get to the edge. It works, even as we turn south and the swells give us a good rocking. On port, we leave the tall, shoal founded Estaban Light, the only place in all of Canada to come under attack during World War II, when the Japanese took a couple of shots of it.
The morning is beautiful. After passing the mouth of Hesquiat Harbour, we sail the jib until we reach Hot Springs Cove.
July 9 Forty years down. Going for fifty. Today is our fortieth wedding anniversary. Forty years ago we had just been married by the Khalifa of the Pasha of Marrakesh and an Andalusian orchestra was playing in the Hotel de Ville for all the King’s men gathered there. The next day we found ourselves in the brief-lived Republic of Morocco, a group of renegade generals having overthrown the King as he celebrated his fifty-sixth birthday, a move that would have been successful had the wily King not persuaded those tasked with finishing him off not to do it. The next two generations of Moroccan school children would not hear of the Skihirat (pronounced Ce qui rate) coup d’etat which made the story of our wedding much more fun to tell when we returned to live in the Kingdom many years later.
When we made it to thirty years – by then also seeing a future following Jack’s accident – we had another Marrakesh celebration. A hundred friends and family, including three of our parents who been at the original weeklong event, made their way back to mid-summer Marrakesh for a week of festivities. We are not prone to throwing parties but this really capped the three decades and left us thankful for the people who have made our lives so rich and those parents who raised us and would all pass away in the intervening decade, in their nineties.
We had every intention of having a big Waterfront Blues bash in Portland for the 40th but once we learned to sail, July 9 fell in the middle of cruising season and since no one showed up despite our invitations, our celebration was modest. On his way out to sea, a Native fisherman from the village in Hot Springs Cove checked his pots and delivered two enormous and very active Dungeness crabs to the public dock where we are tied up. Enjoying the drama of getting them into the pot – one at a time as they were too big – and the mess of hammering away with garlic buttered fingers, we devoured one for lunch and from the second saved more than a pound of flesh. Once we get somewhere where we can buy eggs, we’ll break it out of the freezer for crab cakes. Dinner was roast chicken with a fine Bordeaux Pierre had left in the bilge during our April cruise.
“Hot Springs Cove is one of the reasons cruising boats do the West Coast”, writes Bob Hale. “The challenge of getting to Hot Springs is sufficient to make the reward – a soothing bath in comforting water – worth the entire trip.” Indeed, cruisers have replaced planks in the boardwalk leading to the springs with intricately carved and illustrated planks bearing the names of their ships and the year of their cruise. Since we love BC’s coastal boardwalks – Hartley Bay’s is the best followed closely by Winter Harbour’s – we were disappointed to find that the the Hot Springs boardwalk has 803 up and down steps. So Jack missed his bath and I shared mine with a bunch of other people, some of whom had cheated and come up from Tofino by speedboat and floatplane. The quiet walk through two kilometers of old growth forest, under and over ancient nurse logs, was spectacular. When we get home to Port Townsend, we’ll go to Olympic National Park, where thanks to the ADA, ancient rainforest boardwalks are ramped.
July 10 Finally it feels like summer. Before the warmth can bring in mid-morning fog the way it did yesterday, we are around Sharpe Point and on our way up Sidney Inlet. Grace follows us for a distance; we are amazed that her crew is not taking a rest day after bringing their tiny ship so far through open waters. Sea Otters float past; we slow to admire one fellow on port and realize that a whole ragged raft of a dozen of them has floated past on starboard. I vow to never leave my advance warning wild life alert station at the mast, breakfast or no breakfast. We turn east into Shelter Inlet and take it to the very end. We pass though a narrow inlet and into an enclosed bay where snow capped peaks rise out of the virgin forest. Grassy headed Bacchante Bay reminds me one where we stopped on our way to Alaska and gives me hope that we’ll finally see bears. We anchor a bit too close to the shoal on the first try but on the next drop the sun comes hard out and Aurora remains motionless for the next 20 hours, her anchor chain and snubber both relaxed.
As are her crew. Apart from the distant sounds of a floatplane passing, there is no sign of civilization. We spend the day on deck in the sun reading. I finish John Jewitt’s narrative and pass it on to Jack who relinquished his Kindle, providing the ideal occasion for me to read Paul’s stories. What a wonderful book! Paul Rippey’s Cow of Gowdougou is to Guinea-Conakry what Jane Kramer’s Honor to the Bride is to Morocco. A rollicking, culturally astute literary penetration of the absurdities of another culture. I am in awe of people we can write this way, zeroing in on situations that are too crazy to be true but are. Now that I think about it, I hated Honor to the Bride when I first read it. It came out about the time of our own Moroccan wedding. This was Jack’s fairly sound idea for an event which soon moved completely out of our hands-intentions-responsibilities and into those of others. Jack’s friends not only filled the house with livestock and lined up all the necessary sorts of musicians, but stopped an innocent girl walking past a tailor’s shop and had her measured for a royal purple velours wedding kaftan – a surprise gift – because she looked to be about my size. It got more complicated when my friends arrived from the popular quarters of Casablanca and Beni Mellal. Women live for weddings. Amazing how complex a simple event like a trip to the public baths can get when it’s part of a wedding. No wonder celebrations can never last less than a week. Although no cultural stone went unturned, we survived and even enjoyed ourselves. But then to have Jane Kramer make jokes about a typical Moroccan wedding offended me. Eventually, my dour long-suffering hairy shirt Peace Corps disposition wore off. Today I love Honor to the Bride and Paul’s Cow is right up there with it.
July 11 We reluctantly pulled up anchor in Bacchante Cove under a brief rainstorm that was over by the time we got out into Shelter Inlet. We spotted two sailboats giants the short of the well-named Obstruction Island, which sits right where Millar Inlet meets Shelter. They turned out to be First Light and Reality so we waved to the folks from Port Ludlow we’d met in Port Hardy. Nothing was easier than getting through Hayden Passage at slack and around Obstruction Island and out into broad Millar Inlet. Unfortunately this part of Clayquot Sound has both struggling second growth and fish farms. But we delighted in the sea otters and spent half an hour watching a humpback crisscrossing the channel in front of us.
Finally we pulled into the narrow Mathilda Inlet and pulled up to the dock in front of the Ahousat General Store, which Bob Hale calls a “rough-and-ready place” It was a bit of a challenge to tie up on the rusty cleats home forged out of pipes and Jack found owner Hugh Clarke a bit grumpy when we purchased some fuel. So when I went up the ramp to pay and to pick up some eggs, I took the opportunity to sit in the empty plastic chair opposite the cash register and chat with Hugh and his sister. Their parents had given the 35 acre Hot Springs property to the Province to use as parkland. We talked about the long winter, the slow start to the season, and our nations’ respective party politics. The sister’s question “Which party is the nigger’s?” confirmed the backwoods hillbilly character of the place, magnified in my mind all afternoon by Annie Proux’s Heart Songs. These vivid and desolate stories of the last rural blue-collar folks in New England towns whose old houses become second homes of city folk resonate strongly here on the BC Coast. The difference is that city folks are not buying up properties. Oh sure, there are odd fishing outposts, be it a modest camps or an isolated fly in lodge. But there’s no run on land here. In fact, up and down the coast there are people like the Clarkes who have had their properties up for sale for years.
To be fair to Ahousat, the store is really a general store and the phone in the booth out front works. One hundred and fifty residents of the nearby Native settlement of Marktosis have postal boxes at the store. Nothing is more vital to a community with lots of small fishing boats and float planes than a fuel dock. In the evening, Native families stopped by; one with three little kids paddled up in an Old Town canoe and everyone had an ice cream. At sunset a couple of fishermen pulled up in a tiny boat and laid out an impressive haul of chinook, halibut, and white and green (yes!) ling cod. Hugh and a pretty young U Vic graduate student studying grey whales came down on the docks to chat while the the fishermen cleaned, filleted and zip locked their catch, before taking a room above the store.
July 12 West Whitepine Cove It’s discouraging to pass so many fish farms, the last one anchored way out in our path. But we snuggle into West Whitepine Cove at the foot of Catface Mountain. Inner cove looks better for watching bears but it’s risky with less than a fathom at low tide. I sit on the deck in the sun finally reading back issues of Pacitic Yachting. A letter to the editor from Friends of Clayquot Sound noting that the BC government has renewed the exploration permit of multinational mining company looking for copper and other metals on Catface Mountain and gearing for the fight should they apply for a permit to actually mine, and likely take off the top of Catface. Yikes. Clayquout is spectacularly beautiful. Perhaps twice the size of Puget Sound it has far less than a hundredth of a percent of its population. We need to get to Tofino and find out what’s being done to push back against clearcutting, fish farms and mining.
I’m astounded to see a large sailboat emerge from the inner cove. In Tofino we learn they have a pull-up centerboard and yes there were bears.
July 13 Getting into Tofino is hell. This is the place the Spanish should have name Sucia – dirty. Everywhere shoal, rocks, sandbars, crazy currents and crab pots. Red buoys are unnervingly to our left; I guess this is because we’re coming from the northern part of Clayquot Sound. How did this place even become a port in the first place?
The waterfront is impossibly busy: speedy fishing boats, a tug with tow, float planes landing and taking off, trollers, gillnetters, strangely rigged clamming and crabbing boats, big inflattables with tourists in red survival suits. We call the Harbour Master and get no reply until we are in port, or rather in the channel immediately next to it though which much of this traffic pass. At one point, Jack confesses later, we’re in a mere 8 feet of water (and we draw 6). But suddenly out of nowhere, the Harbour Master appears in an aluminum skiff with two huge dogs and escorts us toward a tiny space, jumps out of the skiff, introduces self and dogs, and grabs the bowline. No bad for one of the craziest ports I’ve ever laid eyes on: fishing boats rafted three abreast, a multideck cruiser tied up to a sailboat, crab traps and ice chests piled on docks, electrical cords and water hoses snaking around everywhere. Yep, Vince Payette knows his stuff – this chaos is managed with a remarkable degree of sophistication. And Vince is a world class talker and share interesting information. We learn oodles from him.
At Mermaid Tales Bookshop we pick up the freebies put out by the enviro groups and refresh our library with some good books after getting recommendations from the owners.
July 14 I awake at dawn to Mireille Mathieu’s rousing rendition of La Marseillaise coming though my Walkman headphones. Nice to have the radio after a week without any. Busy day. Laundry, boat cleaning, and provisioning because Terri, Tom and Midori are coming on board at midnight. Whew. But if our day was long, theirs was longer. They arrive at 1:30 pm cheerful and full of silly apologies for being tardy. I-5 and the “Tacoma Narrows”, customs, ferry to Nainaimo and Route 4 to Tofino, which unbelievably, has a caution sign announcing an 18% downhill grade. Yikes.
July 15 Everyone sleeps in because we are not even going to attempt the channel out of Tofino to the east until dead slack, which falls in the early afternoon. It’s raining. Hard. T and T have been trying to escape the rain all summer and have utterly failed. But we are all excited about Terri fishing and crabbing. They go off for net and bait.
Morning brings visits from Bob of Cool Change, which was moored near us last winter in Olympia, and Doug the DFO inspector whose working boat is rafted to his sailboat Vagabunda which is rafted to a geoduck clammer which is actually tied to the dock. We eat a hot breakfast and cook up a big pot of chili. Everyone and everything is wet; I scare up another $2.75 and dry out my clothes before our departure. By this time the women-crewed Voyager from Ladysmith, escaping from 50 knot winds on the outside, has tied half of its length to the bit of doc on our stern. Then a smaller sailboat rafts to it. By the time our departure time comes, it takes the crews of all three boats to get us out. Tofino is one of those places where helpful cooperation becomes a necessity.
Windy Cove where we drop anchor close to shore is granite walled on one side and old growth all around. It never stops raining. Terri’s out crab pot and pole and wonders if there’s something to cover the cockpit. Deep in the lazaretto we find the bikini and with the extra hands manage to get it up. Wow, what a difference. We sit out, watch the rain, pull up the pot to find lots of too small crabs.
July 16 Temperature up a bit so rain-with-cold has been replaced with rain-with-fog Leaving Windy Bay we get into some shallow water before the GPS can find its satellites. Here in Clayquot sound we’ve used the GPS on the iPad to actually navigate and need to remember to power it up before raising the anchor. Not the sort of thing you do in the deep waters with steeply descending coastlines on the Inside Passage. We continue around Meares Island to Quait Bay, a large place with a floating fishing lodge that is not in operation. Nor are we alone: Mytyme, the Nauticat ketch that come into Tahsis disabled is there as well. We put up the bikini against the rain and Terri sets to work. Just as we’re getting really hungry Terri pulls out of the trap two sizable males, one a Dungeness and one a Red Rock Crab. Thoroughly reenergized despite the constant downpour, she proceeds to teach us how to make Crab Head Soup. Stay tuned for recipe. The evening meal is an all-Crab fest in honor of Tom’s birthday. Terri brings in – literally no gloves – a huge Dungness for head soup and crabmeat while I thaw the crabmeat from Hot Springs Cove for crab cakes. Yum.
July 17 The rain finally gives up. After a leisurely morning we round Meares in semi sun, disappointed to not see the expected wildlife. We wrestle with shoal, springtide currents and crab pots in the channel and make our way back to Tofino. Jack and I prepare for our outside passage by turning in while Terri and Tom pack up their stuff for the long trip back, this time though Victoria and Port Angeles.
June 18 An absolutely splendid passage! Jack and I were both looking up for several great sightings. Shortly out of Tofino a grey whale launched himself entirely out of the water and landed with splash being enough to serious wake us had we been closer. Later another, a bit further off. The rocky coast interspersed with beaches makes great background for whales. All along shore we followed spouting, mostly humpbacks with one especially wonderful dive.
We stayed on LaPerouse Bank – it starts at Estaban Point – and had to get though forests of crab traps but the abundance of birds and mammals made up for it. The sun was bright by the time we turned into Ucluelet’s long inlet. Since we’ve been out nearly 45 days we needed to contact Canadian customs for a routine extention so we first pulled up at the customs dock. There I took a stupid, near calamitous fall which was a learning experience. Jack docked perfectly and I stepped off and secured the mid line with no difficulty. But when I put the sternline under the dock toe rail and started to put my full weight into it, the line caught briefly on the padeye on the boat toenail. So my efforts put me splat flat on my back across the dock where the base of my skull hit the chrome rail of a little outboard boat docked opposite and made me see stars. Just as I’m thinking, “Now, I’ve really gone and ruined this vacation”, a man rushed up, told me to stay put and tied up the boat. I wiggled to see that everything worked – it did but had I failed an inch more to the rear I could have broken my neck. The man looked relieved and as he turned to go I read Harbour Master on the back of his tee shirt. “Are you, Steve?”, I asked. Indeed it was Uclulet’s acclaimed Harbour Master Steve Bird. Jack asked about moorage in the small craft harbour and he went ahead to greet us there on dock D.
The Lesson Learned: After I’d tossed the bowline, Steve took the sternline out of my hand and said. “I don’t usually give guest guests docking advice but this may help. Put the line over the toe rail, not under it. This way you can stop the boat. It won’t tie the boat in the place you want it but it will stop the boat so you can decide what to do next.”