Posts Tagged 'Cape Caution'

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.

Advertisements

The Race to Alaska

No, S/V Aurora is not racing anywhere and not even going all the way to Alaska. We’re completely slowed down, gaga over the Race to Alaska, a human-powered trek up the Inside Passage with basically no engines, no support, and almost no rules. The first prize – which should be claimed by the time this blog is posted – is $10,000. The second prize is a set of steak knives, and it will be hotly contested. After that a bunch of singular triumphs.

Normally we’d have left on our summer cruise north mid May. But this year the pull of the race start, of seeing the boats and meeting the teams, kept us in Port Townsend. And although we’ve now definitely cast off, we’ll be nursing this Race to Alaska obsession for the next few weeks, until the last competitor crosses the finish line in Ketchikan.

We’ve been riding the buildup to this singular competition for months, ever since NW Maritime Center Director Jake Beattie announced it at the Wooden Boat Festival, long before the $10,000 prize was crowdsourced on Kickstarter. The original hope was for a handful or two of teams but in the end, the spirit of adventure and a great deal of innovative boat-building took over.

On Wednesday, June 3, Jack and I worked the information tent at the welcome Ruckus for the 57 teams that eventually showed up, their motley craft laying about on the grass at Pope Marine Park, on the beach and along the Point Hudson docks. Before dawn Thursday morning, 600-700 Port Townsend folks showed up on the waterfront to see them off. On Friday, S/V Aurora sailed to Victoria, entering the Inner Harbour along with the last competitor in – two old guys from PT in an 11’11’’ SCAMP they built themselves! On Saturday, we hung out on the docks in front of the BC Parliament taking it all in. Throughout the four days, 90% of the utterances heard were almost uniformly ‘I’m so excited!’ or ‘This is really exciting!’ The other 10% were ’They’re nuts!’ or ’This is crazy!’. Upon learning the race was on the front page of the New York Times sports section, Jake Beattie, in whose fertile imagination the plan was hatched, sat down on the toerail next to S/V Aurora to enjoy the infectious excitement and anticipation as it spread. On Sunday at noon the 31 full-race teams gathered under the statue of Captain Cook for a LeMans start, racing to their boats and rowing them, paddling them, peddling them through the Harbour until the point where those with sails could put them up. Then out into the roiled, confused waters of what Jack calls Cape Victoria, the southern tip of North America’s largest Island.

Here they come out of Victoria's Inner Harbour, small boat first because they were the last to squeeze into the docks where we all spent the weekend..

Here they come out of Victoria’s Inner Harbour, small boat first because they were the last to squeeze into the docks where we all spent the weekend..

How's this for innovative boat building.  Char crew member lying down to pedal while made rows from rear pontoon.

How’s this for innovative boat building?  Kohara crew member lies down to pedal while mates row from rear pontoons and a competitor in an out-rigged kayak follows.

Team Discovery is a multihull built of wooden by products with a weird sail and two intrepid crew.

Team Sea Runners is a multihull built of forest industry by products with a weird sail and two intrepid crew. (Yes, these cropped pics are blurry. Don’t worry; it’s not your eyes.)

This proa is South Pacific in origin. It has  neither bow nor stern, just a pivoting hull with an outrig. It neither tacks or gybe but

This proa is South Pacific in origin. It has neither bow nor stern, just a pivoting hull with an outrig. It neither tacks or gybe but “shunts”.

Team Grim women looking prim in straw hats and semi-open monohull on right.

Team Grim women looking prim in straw hats and semi-open monohull on right.

Version 2

Team UnCruise is a father, his daughter and her boyfriend. Race has got to be good for family cohesion. Note comfortable pedal stations on back of pontoons.

And then there's Team Soggy Beavers, all Canadian students under 25. They'll go the distance.  With attitude to spare.  On arrival in Victoria they changed into dresses to greet other teams. They have loud speakers to learn German during the long hauls. And on days like today when not hurrying seems advised.

And then there’s Team Soggy Beavers, six Canadians under 25. They’ll go the distance. With attitude to spare. On arrival in Victoria they changed into dresses to greet other teams. They have loudspeakers to learn German during the long hauls. And on days like today when not hurrying seems advised.

This big cat is from Nevada but has a crew member from coastal BC crew member.  Team Golden Oldies were fastest in first leg from PT to Victoria.

This big cat is from Nevada but has a crew member from coastal BC crew member. Team Golden Oldies were fastest in first leg from PT to Victoria.

Everyone thought there might be a winner in a week or so. As it happens, Team Elsie Piddock pulled into Ketchikan this afternoon after a mere 5 days and 55 minutes at sea. A couple of other boats are safely around Cape Caution. A few are struggling through the wrong way wind tunnel of Johnstone strait. Most are hunkered down waiting out 40+ knot winds in the Strait of Georgia. There have been drop outs at every stage, saving boats, limbs, lives. There’s been the odd rescue but most tough it out one way or another.

Trio on this well turned out cat borrowed our drill to make a modification only to be dis-masted in the Strait of Georgia. Did they call the Coast Guard?  No! Limped to nearest safe harbor.

Trio on this well turned out cat borrowed our drill to make a modification only to be dis-masted in the Strait of Georgia. Did they call the Coast Guard? No! Limped to nearest safe harbor.

Right now we’re sitting in a cafe on Nanaimo’s Diana Krall Plaza (next to a Portland Loo, the third we’ve already visited this trip). waiting out the 40+ knot winds on the Strait too.

Luna-killer General Jackson nearly does in Aurora and crew

Now that we’re safely back in home waters, it’s time to tell the cautionary tale of our rounding of Cape Caution.  Cape Caution is a promontory that extends into  open water halfway up the coast of British Columbia just beyond the northern tip of Vancouver Island.  Our Waggoner’s Cruising Guide explains:  Although the distance in open water is only 40 miles, the seas can be high and steep.  The bottom shoals from 100+ fathoms (600 feet) off the continental shelf to 20-70 fathoms in Queen Charlotte Sound, causing seas to heap up.  The problem is made worse when these seas are met by outflowing ebb currents from Queen Charlotte Strait, Smith Sound, Rivers Inlet and Fitz Huge Sound.  

The trickiest part of the Inside Passage is rounding Cape Caution.

The trickiest part of the Inside Passage is rounding Cape Caution.

We celebrated our first rounding of Cape Caution in 2009  and have since done five more, each time building on experience and planning with extreme pre-Caution.   So only after considering weather, lighthouse and buoy reports, time and direction of tidal exchange, and reports of swell heights, do we make our decision to go –  to leave lovely Fury Cove  –  Everything conspires for an 5:30 am departure.

There is fog, of course, but fog goes with the calm of early morning before the winds come up.  With three of us on duty this time, we were in good stead.  In the  cockpit, Jack manages navigation, checking paper and electronic charts and AIS, the Automatic Identification System with which large boats are required to announce their position, bearing and TCPA, the Time of Closest Point of Approach.  When AIS signals that we are approaching and need to pass a large ship, Cruz takes over the helm and Jack hails the captain on the VHF radio.  He asks if they see little Aurora on their radar and if they don’t, they look more carefully until they do.  Then the two skippers agree on the best way to pass one another.  Captains of large ships are usually extremely grateful for these calls, especially in the fog.  As for me, I watch out for the smaller boats that don’t have AIS.  I spend most of my time in the bow, where I get nearly another boat length of visibility in the fog.  At intervals, I sound the compressed air fog horn for 5 seconds and, away from the engine noise of the cockpit, listen carefully for  replies in kind.  Between soundings, I run back to check the radar screen in the companionway, where I keep a pair of dry eye glasses that do not fog over as soon as I enter the warmer air.

So this we do all morning, through Fitz Huge Sound, around Cape Caution, past the rollicking ebbing waters of Slingsby Channel and into Richards Passage.   But at noon the fog is as thick as ever.  On the AIS we see a distant vessel called General Jackson and when we’re within about 10 miles, Jack gets on the VHF.  “General Jackson, General Jackson, General Jackson.  This is the sailing vessel Aurora.”  But there is no response.  Given General Jackson’s speed of 9.6 knots, Jack takes it for a tugboat.  A minute later he repeats the call.  Still no response.  The TCPA goes from 8 to 7 to 6 to 5 minutes.  Since we’re in thick fog in a fairly narrow channel, we’re set up for a head on collision unless we make contact.

This is terrifying.  There is no escape route.  Assuming we’re on General Jackson’s radar, it’s best to stay on the same heading so the captain can avoid us, since we haven’t been told how to get out of the way.  Nor can we slow down and compromise our ability to make a quick moves.  When I go back to the cockpit and see we’re in trouble, the only question that comes to mind is “How do we want to hit him?”  This rattles the rest of the crew, who send me forward so we can take advantage of the extra 35 feet of visibility.

Jack continues to yell over the VHF at the ship as the countdown continues.  Time of closest point of approach is 4, then 3, then 2 minutes.  We have no idea whether General Jackson is straight in front of us or ten degrees to the left or right, whether it will pass on port or starboard.

Then suddenly an enormous prow emerges in the fog right in front of us.  As we catch a glimpse of starboard, Cruz pulls the wheel sharply to the right and we slide by port to port.  Whew!  We exhale as the ominous high bow of an  enormous tug disappears into the fog followed by its low stern. We’ve avoided a collision by less than a boat length!  And we get the idea that General Jackson never knew we were there.

We breathe a minute or two and then the tow passes.  The front of a great barge appears briefly before merging into the opaque whiteness.  Then hundreds of feet of heavy equipment on the barge blur by.  Finally we see the stern before it disappears in back into the fog.

We note the time and place.  It’s about 1 pm on Saturday, July 12th and we’re just southeast of McEwan Rock, 51º35.7’N 127º37.9’W.  Only then do I learn that Cruz’s amazingly quick turn in front of the tug, while revving the engine to 4000 rpm, was the only option; McEwan rock further narrows Richards Passage at this point and made passing starboard to starboard too dangerous.

Much as we’re exhausted and blinded by fog and just want to move on, it’s not over yet.   We’re still in the channel where soon there’s another target on the AIS, also coming straight for us.  This time it’s a fast moving boat, most likely a cruising power boat.  Jack gets on the VHF,  “Sea Chalet. Sea Chalet. Sea Chalet. This is sailing vessel Aurora in Richards Channel.”  Again no answer. Again the countdown to doom until we see a white cabin cruiser appear and disappear on our starboard side.

By now we figure our VHF  doesn’t work.  When we call the Canadian Coast Guard for a radio check, however, they come back immediately on channel 16: “We hear you loud and clear.”  At this point, Jack tells what has just happened, mentioning the names of the two vessels.  No sooner does he say “Sea Chalet” than the skipper of the cabin cruiser calls in on 16.  Jack gives him hell with the Coast Guard as witness.

The thought that two skippers have ignored calls we made in complete accordance with rules and protocol will haunt us into the future. Fog suddenly seems too great a price to pay for calm waters.

Two weeks pass.  Finally the sun comes, we move hundreds of miles south through the Broughtons, sail down Johnstone Strait, do all five rapids in a day, continue past Desolation Sound through Malispina Strait and land back in familiar Pender Harbour, where the Garden Bay Pub has good Internet.

So we check out General Jackson.  It is a 261 ton, 104 foot, 1700 horsepower behemoth of the Great Northern Marine Towing Ltd. of New Westminster, British Columbia.  (Among the random photos offered by Google Images is this 2009 holiday card.)

2008-12-19-general-jackson-haig-brownuntitled1

Mega tug General Jackson on 2009 company holiday card.

But wait, there’s more, and it’s shocking.  General Jackson is the tug that killed Luna! One of the worlds most beloved marine mammals, he was the star of the documentary The Whale and the Saving Luna campaign.  Stories here and here. This orca was known to the tribes as Tsuux’iit and to marine biologists as L-98. L-98 means he was from our home waters.

Luna was a film star, spiritual leader and cause célèbre.

Luna – film star, spiritual icon & cause célèbre.

Today I visit  the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor on Washington State’s San Juan Island to learn more about Luna’s short life (1999-2006).  The J, K and L extended orca families are all resident pods of the Salish Sea, who feed primarily on Chinook salmon, what Alaskans call Kings.  They travel out the Juan de Fuca Strait and along the west coast of Vancouver Island, just like we sailors do.   In the 1960s and 70s, however, the capture of orcas for the Sea Worlds of the planet decimated their population.

MV5BMjI1NTIxMDMyMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjA0MTA2MDE@._V1_SY317_CR12,0,214,317_AL_

There’s also a based-on-a-true story movie.

Today they are seriously and officially endangered.  There have been only two births in the Salish Sea pods in the past two years and the L pod is the smallest.  On the plus side, these pods feature a couple of frisky if elderly and presumably menopausal matriarchs. One of Luna’s relatives, L-25, nicknamed Ocean Sun, was born in 1928.  And the matriarch of the larger J pod is J-2, known as Granny was born in 1910.  Earlier this year she was seen breaching – jumping fully out of the water – near Limekiln Lighthouse on the west side of San Juan Island.

The fellow at the Whale Museum urged me to follow recent sightings – many with spectacular photos –  on the website of The Orca Network.  You can meet all our local orcas here.  And when you check the list of births and deaths here you discover that Luna had a brother who went missing in 2008.  L-101’s other name was Aurora.  Perhaps he, too, will someday reappear in the wilds of the north Pacific coast?

 

 

 

 

Log: Deadman’s Reach to Cape Caution

Saturday, June 23 57º28.38’N 133º53.78’W Appleton Cove off Rodman BayThis is the most beautiful day of the summer, and of all our Alaska spring. In T-shirt and sandals with my yoga pants rolled up above my knees, I sit on the spinnaker locker in front of the mast scanning the shores of Olga and Neva straits for bears. It’s early in the day and they could be there. But they aren’t. Creatures of the evening and those of the morning inhabit different worlds.

When the broad waters of Deadman’s Reach put us farther from shore, I go below to brew a pot of Deadman’s Reach dark roast. Kinza introduced us to this coffee several years ago and and bag with nautical chart design was magnetted to the fridge for many months. Only now do I notice the fine work of Ketchikan artist and musician, Ray Troll, and the whimsical addition of place names such as Ray’s Trolling Grounds.

Sunday, June 24 and Monday, June 25 57º05.32’N 134º49.96’W Baranof  Warm Springs

Chatham Strait was full of seiners.

Peter and Kelsey said we had to visit to Baranof Warm Springs, where they’d wintered over as caretakers. (Or was it as caretakers for the caretakers?) While we we the only boat in sight for most of our northbound journey up Chatham Strait a week ago, yesterday we had the company of a couple of dozen of seiners, out on their first opening day. In fairly rough seas, we watched them setting their nets against thickly wooded slopes topped with treeless, snowbound summits.

Tuesday, June 26 56º56.80’N 133º53.78’W Kake

Rocky Pass otter raft.

We navigate Rocky Pass! We exit at a rocky reef with squirming sea lions on starboard. Marvelous orcas on starboard. A male and a female. “They are up to no good,” says Jack. Bad dogs that adapted to the rich pickings of the oceans.

Wednesday, June 27 56º26.09’N 13º54.73’W Alvin Bay on Kuiu Island

This is a wonderful anchorage.   Splendid wildlife all the way here and now the opportunity to watch the behavior of sea otter moms and pups up close.  

Thursday, June 28 56º05.10 N 133º22.54 W Devilfish Bay off El Capitan Passage

We cross Sumner Strait. For ten minutes we have great wind in our sails and a perfect heading to Shakan Strait. Then the wind dies. No other boats until a tug with a tow appears to follow us into Shakan Strait. We think it impossible for it to enter the narrow El Capitan Passage, so named because of the resemblance of the area to the Yosemite Valley. Just as it starts to rain and we lose visibility, the tug turns north toward Marble Creek, where there’s a marble mine, and we head into narrow, shallow El Capitain. Fortunately, the rain abates bringing a riot of wilderness colors and a raft of sea otters. We pass one local boat fishing and four kayaks.

Friday, June 29 55º44.40’N 133º17.75’W Kaguk Cove

Without a clear destination, we continue south through the watery, island-studded wilderness of the west coast of Prince of Wales. South of Sea Otter Cove and after passing many individuals and several rafts of sea otters we drop the hook at Kaguk Cove.

Saturday, June 30  55º28.82’N 133º08.63’W Craig

Every sort of wildlife. Rafts of sea otters, haul out of seals and sea lions, humpbacks spouting on all sides and one passing us close in the channel as the town comes into view. After topping off with deisel at the most pristine fuel dock yet – it’s run by a woman – we tie up at the transient dock in North Harbor. The docks are wide and generous with fine metal pylons with street lights on them. Electricity and hot shower.

Sunday, July 1  Craig

Fourth of July festivities start with an hour long fishing derby for kids, followed by a greased pole event, Cross the pole or fall into the chilled water. There are prizes for ages 3 and up. At ten am barely coordinated tots with miniature fishing poles but real baited hooks invade the docks. We succeed in making the dangerous passage to shore with our heavy sacks and retire to the warmth of the village laundromat. Shopping, schlepping, new charts, oil change, fluids check, etc.

Monday, July 2 Craig

Sick of boat work, I insist on a day to do something more creative. Get a couple of blog posts up on slow internet.

Full moon in Nicholas Bay at south tip of Prince of Wales

Tuesday, July 3 54º42.89’N 132º07.82’W Nicholas Bay at the southern tip of Prince of Wales

We anchored under a full moon right near 54º40 , which marks the border.  Must have been only boat for miles around.     We were near Hada Gawaii and it would have been nice to visit, but needed to first pass Canadian customs at Prince Rupert.   (Same thing northbound when you want to visit Misty Fiords but have to pass US customs in Ketchikan.)

Wednesday, July 4 Prince Rupert 54º19.21’N 130º19.14’W

Days shorten with the season and the latitude.  By the time we wind through Venn Passage it nearly dark.  We check in with Customs by phone from special dock to nowhere.   They know we’ve been through and ask about Cruz, who flew home from Alaska.  Jack passes me the phone when the customs official asks the usual questions about what’s in the fridge.  The unexpected good weather that let us continue across Dixon Entrance has left us with extra fresh food.   I enumerate: one apple, two oranges, one onion, a small head of lettuce, six carrots and a couple of pounds of potatoes.   The potatoes – from Washington State, Husky Brand – are an issue.   The official tells me to put them in the freezer.  Huh?   I ask him if this means I should destroy them and but not dispose of them in Canada?  I figure he doesn’t know that you don’t freeze potatoes don’t freeze.   He says, no, I can keep them.   I say the freezer is tiny and full.  He says okay then just double bag them and put them in the bilge.  Okay I get it.  We can’t eat our potatoes in Canada but we can eat them as soon as we get to the San Juan Islands.  Last year in Friday Harbor we had one pepper and one tomato confiscated so we have a record.  I will be ready to produce the double bagged potatoes from the bilge when asked.    Customs number is #20121860713 .  We’re through.

Prince Rupert is 1200 miles closer to Shanghai than is Long Beach, California.

Since our northbound visit to Prince Rupert, an interpretative center for the Port of Prince Rupert opened. Most interesting with information present with state of the art interactive displays. Good visual explanation of the workings of the grain shipping operations, the coal export dock and the Fairview Container Terminal. Containers are simultaneously loaded and loaded as rail cars and flat bed trucks sidle up. The claim is that Fairview is the most secure terminal in the world, with all incoming and outgoing containers scanned. Prince Rupert is 1200 miles closer to Shanghai than Long Beach. That’s a lot of miles. The Port is being rolled out little by little over the next decade and promises good jobs for everyone there and those who will move in. Prince Rupert is still tiny – maybe 13,000 people, but there isn’t a city in Southeast Alaska remotely like it. Prince Rupert is blessed with road and rail connections, deep water that comes right up to land and a vast natural bay able to accommodate numerous huge trans-Pacific ships.

Thursday July 5 Prince Rupert

The sun broke forth. We went “bare poles.” I rode my bike to the library in a tank top. Scott of the 26-foot S/V Daniel Howard came for supper. A master of small boats, he first sailed around Van Island in a 19 footer with a full keel. He’s headed south and then back to finish for the second time another segment of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Friday, July 6 53º51.93’N 129º58.58’W Kumealon Inlet on Grenville Channel

Perfectly calm day. Very disappointing as we’d hoped to sail a good part of the way. We saw a big Cosco freighter pull out of the Fairview Terminal and head to Asia. passed three big seiners from the Puget Sound. They weren’t flying the Canadian pennant so we figured they were driving straight through. No trouble getting into the inner cover behind the island but the sea bottom is crazily uneven. We dropped in 32 feet which within five minutes had become 64 , so we let out 225 of chain – and suddenly we were in 85 feet. No wind no current. Didn’t see another boat for a couple of hours when we passed the gleaming new aluminum F/V Haida Girl.

Saturday, July 7 53º25.46’N 129º15.05’W Hartley Bay

Good to be done with Grenville, the south end less dramatic than the north. But what lies just south of Grenville is truly spectacular. At Hartley the fuel dock attendant lets down the hose to the low tide float. When I go up to pay the young woman with long dark braids and twin silver studs in her low lip, I ask the status of fight against Enbridge, the pipeline from Alberta and the tankers. They are all weary; the decision will come within the year. With my receipt for the diesel she hands me two stickers: “Clean Water. Wild Salmon. No Enbridge Pipeline. PipeUpAgainstEnbridge.ca” and the far more axiomatic: “No Pipeline No Tankers No Problem”.

As we pull up to the free floats between a beat up seiner and the small plastic rec trawler Far Horizons, George jumps out of the later and takes our line. Soon Trish joins him on the dock. They introduce themselves with words nearly identical to what we’ve heard from other happy, aging cruising couples: “We used to be sailors but we crossed over to the dark side.” They are giddy. Last night they tucked into Lowe Inlet off Grenville, dropped the hook and went to bed. They woke up at first light – there was a small bump – and everything was completely different. “We dragged two miles!” giggles George. “Oh, maybe just one,” Trish laughs. “But it took us a while to get reoriented.” They live in Comox in a small house on the sand spit not far from the north guest docks. “Come see us,” they say.

At Khutze Bay we anchored near the falls with mid-summer ice.

Sunday, July 8 53º05.13’N 128º26.13’W Kurtze Inlet

The waterfall still has ice right at sea level.  Dropped anchor in 40 feet in front of waterfall.  Soon we were in 14.  Brought up anchor.  Dropped in 40 feet a boat length away.   Soon we were in 105.  With barely 2:1 scope.  Anchor didn’t budge.   Even with the afternoon williwaws.   250 feet of heavy chain.  Way to go.

Monday, July 9  Kurtze Inlet

Exquisite day of sun and cold.  Took a hundred photos.  Dinghy ride to figure out shape of tricky shoal.  Crab pot comes up empty.   

For a long while we watched an eagle attempting to fish in the shallows. It would circle, spot a target, find the right angle of approach, and dive quickly talons first. Then a series of awkward flaps and splashes to get airborne again and to fly in a big shallow arc, often just twenty feet or so above our dinghy. It tried and tried, always coming up empty. Clearly an amateur. “Untalon-ted,” said Jack.

Tuesday, July 10 52º35.55’N 128º31.33’W Klemtu

Jack, at 5:30 am calling down the companionway to the cockpit:

“Got you ass in gear?”

“Yes! I’m putting on my boots.

” Well, if you’re putting them on your ass, that’s a problem.”

Klemtu has a wonderful longhouse.

Fog keeps me at the bow with the horn until things clear. We see a couple of other boats and a red and white helicopter playing pick up sticks with huge logs and dropping them into the channel in a small area marked by balloon buoys. We figure it’s the coast guard doing search and rescue exercises. A closer look at the fuselage shows the name Helifor; must be a logging operation. A big beyond a couple of tiny tugs are assembling a log boom.

Undecided on whether to go all the way to Shearwater or to stop in Klemtu. We’re checked out by a couple of sea lions as we enter the narrow channel along Cone Island. The only other rec boat at the dock near the big house is Daniel Howard, so we stop and say hello to Scott.

Wednesday, July 11.  52º08.85’N 128º05.27’W   Old Bella Bella/Shearwater  

Good dry weather but no wind so we motor for a little more than six hours. On the open water of Milbanke Sound, the Columbia passed on its long run from the Aleutians to Bellingham, the bright tents of independent travelers visible on its upper deck. The joy of seeing this fine ship was balanced by the sight a fish farm being towed north. The proliferation of fish farms is shocking but by and large it’s south of the 52nd parallel.

Then there is a busy day of laundry and route planning and provisioning and checking email. Shearwater is a small outpost that is all business. The little settlement across the water from the First Nations town of New Bella Bella serves north south boat as well as those cruising the grounds east and west. It’s a good place to get information. Scott shows up just after we do and with his small boat he’s always tracking weather as far out as possible. The beautiful hot sun is a harbinger of strong northwesterlies that will make rounding Cape Caution tricky.

I pay $10 for the password and it takes the duration of both the washing and the drying cycle for mail to flow in. But it’s convivial. A friendly fellow laundry folder says, “Wasn’t it you who game us those nice herbs in “Koots” Inlet. Face and place name are unfamiliar so I say I don’t think so. Then she talks me through it and I realize “Kootz” is Khutze, which we’ve just been told is pronounced koot-see. Indeed it was from the S/V Melody from which a gift of fresh crab had been delivered by dinghy and herbs from the pot on deck had been sent back with the male half of the crew. As it happens, I’d been admiring the bimmini on S/V Melody, which turned out to be custom-designed by the owners, first prototyped using ordinary plastic tarp. It features three horizontal pockets holding 1 inch PCV pipe into which wooden dowels have been place to get just the right shape. The whole thing is bungied up under the mast and down to either four or six points on deck. It is so perfectly shaped, in fact, they it serves as a rain catcher. 10 inch segments of cord are glued to the edge on either side to direct rain toward the middle bungie, where a funnel and hose can be attached to direct water right into the tanks! Much as we like this model, Jack realizes we can just add the pipes, dowels and bunnies to our current bimmini, which is such a pain to put up. We’ve also come to an agreement that fully enclosed dodgers don’t map sense. Why? They fog up. They impede visibility at the helm. They obstruct views of towering peaks and the stars. They take time to put up and take down? They are frightfully expensive. One of the joys of sailing is the open cockpit. Warmth and protection come with layers of clothes and for rain, rubber boots, back up foulies, and dozens of pairs of gloves. When you’re outdoors you should be outdoors.

Nothing earth shattering in the mail and it’s too slow to check news. The headline of yesterday’s Vancouver Sun is about a new US study lambasting Enbridge’s handling of a 2010 oil pipeline break into Lake Michigan. Central coastal communities are united against the pipeline to Kitamat; let’s hope they will prevail with provincial officials so BC can try to push back on Ottawa. By the time our first fresh provisions since Alaska are stowed, it’s late so we dine at the pub and I quickly post some text on the blog.

Thursday, July 12    51º19’64’N 127º44.13’W Millbrook Cove on Smith Sound

A long 10 hour day starts off in a promising colorful bright pre-dawn but by the time we are in Lama Passage we’re enveloped in the fog. I hate fog but we’re learning to handle it better every time. Jack powers down. I put on the radar and then go up to the bow to listen carefully and put out occasionally 5 second blasts with fog horn and then listen again before running back to the companionway to toggle the radar in and out. The sun is behind the fog and my eyes hurt, my perceptive powers becoming exhausted. But last year we did this drill for a full seven hours. Finally we hear a hefty fog horn somewhere not too far in front of us. Jack gets on the radio to respond to the grateful captain who identifies us on his radar while we find him on ours. He assures us we’ll be out of the fog pretty soon and thanks us again for making contact. Fog lesson: Fog horns echo. When answering a blast wait a few seconds. It’s easy to confuse the echo of your own horn off the mountains or shore with a reply from another ship.

It clears in Fisher Channel and the 10 hour cruise down Fitz Hugh Sound, partly under sail, it spectacular. It’s dry and colors are again crisp. We have a big breakfast. I read Ada Blackjack. Jack does the whale watch and spots quite a few.

Going north, we’ve anchored at Green Island Anchorage, off Fish Egg Inlet but for the trip south Millbrook Cove on the north shore of Smith Sound near the entrance puts you much much closer to Cape Caution. It’s straightforward to enter if you pay attention and once inside calm, comfortable, and pretty with a view outside to the waves crashing upon distant shores. Smith Sound itself has no settlement whatsoever and looks like spectacular wilderness.

Friday, July 13 50º54’26’N 127º17.19’W Blunden Harbour

The weather report last night was ominous. We went to bed not knowing whether we’d leave in the morning or stay holed up in Millbrook unitl Tuesday or later. This morning’s report was slightly more encouraging though the coincidence of Friday and 13 felt weird: we’re only marginally conscious of days and dates. But the water was like glass when we got up at four and we only needed a window of six hours or so.

Out in Cape Caution with the big boys.

We could’ve been out in the darkness had I not jammed the anchor chain while raising it due to poor visibility. But even that I’m better at: this time I used the snubber to manually take weight off the windlass. Had the jam been more severe, I could have brought everything up on deck by cleating the staysail sheet to a link and winching the whole thing up on deck. Problem quickly dealt with we were off before dawn on very calm seas. In fact, it was spectacularly beautiful. We’d reefed down the main hoping to sail but it was too calm. We were cheered by seeing two enormous northbound coastal barges – one with six or seven sizable boats perched on top of layers of containers. We rounded Cape Caution without discomfort even with the swells on our beam.

We saw the fog ahead in Richards Channel and soon enough we were in the thick of it. So we repeated yesterday’s vigilance, with Jack at the helm tracking nearby ships on AIS, which is built into our relatively new VHF radio, and me doing radar, bow watch, careful listening, and the foghorn. On top of that, the radar was throwing up dark grey confetti: it was logs, which we had to dodge on very short notice. Moreover, we had to deal with some turbulence where Slingby Channel empties into Queen Charlotte Strait.

When Jack found us on a potential collision course with Ocean Titan, which he immediately suspected was a tug boat because it was traveling at 8 knots, he hailed the ship using the automatic call button. Again, a grateful captain responded immediately. Jack asked to switch to another channel, reported S/V Aurora to be on a heading of one-five-oh magnetic. The Ocean Titan captain noted our closest point of approach was a mere 0.2 miles and helped determine a plan of action. First he picked us out on his radar from a north bound cabin cruiser – we suddenly saw it passing us – that he said was traveling 20 knots! That reckless hazard out of the way, it was decided that both of us would turn several degrees to starboard and pass port to port. When his sophisticated radar said we were in good stead, he thanked us again and signed off. Advancing slowly, we peered through the thick, moist greenness off the port side of our bow until the shape of a sizable tug loomed before and then beside us before disappearing in the fog just as the much larger tow appeared and then disappeared in turn. Once safely past, the captain again came on the radio, asked us to switch to 10 and once again thanked us for contacting him, implying that it was the correct way to do things (and that the mighty white cabin cruiser had not.) He also suggested that we could listen to Vessel Traffic Service on channel 71 and so we powered up our second, handheld, VHF. As he signed off with more words of appreciation, it hit me that the big boys

Fog Lessons: Monitor AIS and let the big ships know where you are and ask them to tell you what to do. Monitor VTS 71. Recognize that in fog and on a radar screen a tug and tow may appear as unrelated vessels. Nothing would be worse than passing between them. All the information that running light provide to those traveling at night, disappear in the fog. In the fog, radio is your best friend.

After a couple of hours the fog lifted and we had clear views of Vancouver Island across the Queen Charlotte Strait before pulled into Blunden Harbour in full hot sun. We anchored in the 6 fathoms that characterizes the bottom of the entire bay and spent the afternoon, barefoot, bare-legged and bare-armed sprawled out in the cockpit reading in the hot sun. I beg to stay another day.

Saturday, July 14 50º54’26’N 127º17.19’W Blunden Harbour

A bit after midnight I get up to watch a full firmament of stars twinkling in the still water of the anchorage on all sides. I switch off the anchor light to intensify the sight, among the most sublime of sailors experiences. Not a ripple. It would betard to hold a kayak as still as out boat is. Stars are the consolation for shorter days and lower latitudes.

By the time we get up at seven, four of the eight boats sheltering here have left. The others stay. The wind has come up but not cleared the sky for sun. Today there will be no rowing our small inflatable to explore the white shell midden beach. In fact, even the dog walkers stay put. The wind does nothing but grow all day long and by noon, it howls and whistles in the shrouds and covers the bay with “white horses”. Beaufort’s original and poetic name for whitecaps. Out in the Strait it’s already blowing 25 and will build through tomorrow. (On the West Coast of Vancouver, Solander Island is reporting 5 meter wind waves and 40 knots of wind.) Our anchor will hold. It always does but we worry about the other boats. Three other boats come in, later than they should have if they’re southbound. If they’re northbound, perhaps they’ve come just to wait it out.


Archives