Voices of Comox

“Here! You should read this!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Sea Otters: Devastatingly adorable

Sea otters are adorable!

Is there any other creature on earth for which that adjective is more apt? Their faces are adorable. Their mannerisms are adorable. And then there is the mutuality of the adoration. When you glide past sea otters they invariably face you, their big eyes looking up at you adoringly. They paddle up on their backs then relax, their long feet sticking up humanlike and just stare, pleasantly. Holding their meal on their bellies with one front paw, they appear to wave with the other. Or they engage more enthusiastically, treading water furiously until they are head, shoulders and mid section above the surface straining to look into your boat. Adoring. Adorable.

Sea Otters pay attention to passersby.

Without the blubber that protects other marine mammals, sea otters have to eat all the time. They  never leave the water, spending long hours foraging about a quarter of their weight daily. They relish a highly varied diet that includes Dungeness crabs, sea urchins and sea cucumbers.


The otters’ preferred foods are among the cash harvests pf the Prince of Wales fishing industry. The produce flies fresh on ice to hungry mouths in China and Japan. Perhaps we should think of it as the Silk Route of artisanal commercial fishing. Sea otters seem to be taking their revenge. They were exterminated in the fur trade of an earlier Northwest economic boom that was followed by an absolute  bust.

What other marine mammal treads water to emerge waist level from the surface?

Luxurious fur with 125,000 hairs per square centimeter also helps sea otters manage without blubber. I’ve twice felt an otter’s pelt. First at the museum in Wrangell, where we stroked skins of beaver, fox, mink, ermine, and otter to understand why the species disappeared in the fur trade. The other time was at the old Icy Bay Cannery in Hoonah, an interpretive center run by the Native Corporation. There was one simple square pillow in the shop. $300. I’ve since thought of this an the ultimate luxury gift and one that might doom the otter anew if experienced too widely by too many people.


Later in the Tlingit village Klawock on the west coast of Alaska’s Prince of Wales Island, I ask if anyone is harvesting otters. I learn about a man – Native people can get harvest rights – who lives in the blue house on stilts at the head of the dock. I look for him to no avail. A week later at Cowpuccino’s in Prince Rupert I hear two fishermen commiserating over the demise of their livelihoods. “Nothing to do. People love the otters.”

Excuse this anthropomorphic slant, but don’t they act like humans?

I consult Marine Mammals of British Columbia by John K. B. Ford that is always at hand on the boat, at home or when I’m docenting at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. Sea otters, a single species, is in the Mustelide family along with the weasels but the only one considered a marine mammal because they rarely if ever leave the water.

Canada has kept a pretty good population counts. Between 1785 and 1809 55,000 pelts were sold in BC, although a portion of these hunted in Washington, then Oregon Territory, and Alaska. The Sea Otter was commercially extinct by 1850 and apart from a handful of pelts and live sightings, did not reappear until 89 individuals from Alaska were reintroduced along the northern part of the west coast of Vancouver Island in 1967. By 1995, reports Ford, aerial surveys showed a population of 1500, representing a remarkable growth rate of 18 or 19 per cent per year. Today, Sea Otters off this coast are reproducing at 8 percent owing to less abundant food. Unlike marine mammals that store calories in blubber, Sea Otters must keep moving, foraging a quarter of their body weight daily.

They are social and hang out in water but don’t haul out on land.

Ford explains that the Sea Otter’s “large hindlimbs are oriented backwards and flattened into flippers for swimming” while its “forelimbs are short with highly dexterous paws.” With the help of a paddle-like tail, it can dive down 50 meters to fetch food from the bottom. “Sea Otters capture prey with their forepaws and can carry it along with rocks or other hard objects – which are used as tools to break open shelled prey – in loose folds of skin under their forearms as they swim,” writes Ford.


We glide past in awe as these furry, whiskered, round-headed, sub nosed marine mammals use their chests tables at which to fix and eat their meals. Adorable. At the same time they are altering the dynamics of the food web, decimating the many invertebrate species on which they feed. Once devastated,they are now devastating.
Wednesday 22 June Klawock 55º33.4’N 133º05.9′ W

The default view  of a relaxed, momentarily satiated sea otter.  No critters or tools on the abdominal butcher block. Mariners may initially confuse them with floating logs until they see notice the eyes in their direction.

More whales and Sea Otters. Perhaps they leave us tired when we enter the proterws bay at Klawock on a lowish tide and entry to public docks confuses us. So we tie up in an empty space at the Tribal docks next to the cannery. I call on the good ladies inside who are cooking lunch for tribal members and organizing a food bank. They say, no, the boat in the place where you are will be back later today and there should certainly be space at the public harbour.


There is indeed. After not getting the Harbour Master on VHF we tie up at an empty space. Nice view of Klawock’s deservedly famous totem park. A fisherman says call Rose and gives me her cell phone. Find this strong little wisp of a woman near on the street. She’s ben Harbour Master for 17 years. Part time no benefits. Her house is across the street. I pay moorage in cash – 11.45 for boats of any size – and thank her for the well designed and maintained restrooms and showers on the ground floor of her office perch with view of skips coming and going.

Log: POW Circumnavigation

Prince of Wales is the largest of the bunch – the third largest in the USA in area, plus a thousand miles of coastline, which are magic to look at even on a map. The true surprise was finding not only wonderful wilderness but also an variety of intriguing small “cities” and Native villages.

Prince of Wales – land of watery wonders and deep culture.

A sign pasted on the inside of our pantry door at home proclaims says “Dream POW-ABC.” It’s the fruit of a collision between my January resolutions and a list of the largest islands in the USA. Did you know that four of the largest are in Southeast Alaska? Prince of Wales, Admiralty, Baranof and Chicago. We’d already done a major part of the shoreline of each one, so why not go back and systematically circumnavigate all of them?

Prince of Wales is the largest of the bunch – the third largest in the USA in area, plus a thousand miles of coastline, which are magic to look at even on a map. With hundreds of small protected coves in which to drop anchor, there would be no need to hurry. All spring we looked forward to our DIY luxury cruise. The true surprise was finding not only wonderful wilderness but also an variety of intriguing small “cities” and villages. Since available books on the area are so out of date we wrote our own Cruisers’ Guide to Prince of Wales Island to document port facilities and other amenities.

Sat 11 June – Kina Cove, Kasaan Bay 55º20’N 131º31’W

Once we flee Ketchikan, we head up Chatham Channel to Kasaan Bay. Kina Cove is the perfect place for a much needed weekend of rest. It’s not the most beautiful spot as there has been recent clear cutting. But no one is there, holding ground is good and we have five bars of AT&T and tether to strong wifi!  I even manage to post the first part of our log.

Mon 13 June – Kasaan 55º32’N 132.23.9’W

This greenhouse with hydroponic and traditional produce can help feed all 65 residents of The Organized Village of Kasaan.
With both hydroponic and traditional produce this beautiful greenhouse helps feed all 65 residents of The Organized Village of Kasaan.

In their decade-old cruising guide the Douglasses say don’t even think about spending the night tied up at Kasaan’s rickety docks. As we glide by, even at a distance, my binocs pick up some rather splendid infrastructure for a village of 65 people. It’s right there on the vast uninhabited shores of Kasaan Bay. As we approach we see the float plane dock, lots of empty slips for boats of all sizes and a hefty float capable of handling a large barge.

Totems stand in old growth forest around the historic 1882 Whalehouse, to be rededicated on September 3, 2016.
The poles in the Kasaan totem park stand in spectacular old growth forest.

We walk up the ramp, along the shore, past the fire hall and a handful of houses. Up the hill are the offices the Organized Village of Kasaan, the health clinic, library and a small modern school that features a climbing wall and a new green house where the villages vegetables are growing in traditional containers and hydroponic tanks. The library seems like the appropriate place to request permission to visit the totem park and get directions to the path. The lure of Kasaan is one of the finest collections of Haida totem poles on coast. “Of course” say the folks in the library, “and place don’t miss visiting the carving shed as well.”

Kassan ege
The turquoise eyeshadow and black mascara are typical of Haida design.

The path through old growth is beautifully maintained and no problem for Jack on his scooter. Just before the totem park, however, the steps onto an otherwise fine log bridge block his progress. I cross and go onto the narrow paths around the poles and take lots of photos. The longhouse, however, is surrounded by orange plastic tape that marks it off limits.

Back down the trail we visit the Carving Shed where Stormy Hamar is carving the top motifs of an enormous yellow cedar log. The drawing he shows us speaks to the sophistication of Haida art (confirmed in the collection of the BC Museum in Victoria.). It represents the fruits of hours of interviews he, in collaboration with master carvers, has carried out with elders. Stormy, who seems barely in his mid thirties, insists he is not a master carver.

The detail of these poles is so rich it makes you wish you were a bird and could get closer.

Again and again on this trip we meet young, dynamic, smart, focussed Native artists, naturalists and political types for whom deference to elders is the norm. I wish I lived in a society like this.

The orange tape, Stormy explains, is because this Whalehouse, one of the oldest Haida structures on the coast, is being restored. Artisans and carvers from neighboring Tlingit tribes are helping these northernmost – and hence minority Haida – with the work. In fact, everyone is preparing for once in a lifetime ceremony to rededicate the Whalehouse on September 3, 2016. Their kin from Haida Gawaii and the coastal mainland BC from whom they are cut off by the international border will be among the guests of honor.

Stormy Hamar and Jack with the enormous yellow cedar being transformed into Kaman's newest pole.
Stormy Hamar and Jack with the enormous yellow cedar being transformed into Kasaan’s newest pole.

On the walls of the carving shed are hung red cedar strips for basket weaving, small ceremonial paddles made by kids and a splendid small Haida canoe with a delicate design burned into its gunwales. I comment that it is very sad that in recent years there’s been no native canoe at the Port Townsend Wooden Bast Festival.

On the wall of the Carving Shed is an exquisite small canoe by Stormy's son Eric Hamar, who is currently studying wooden boat building in Port Townsend.
On the wall of the Carving Shed is an exquisite small canoe by Stormy’s son Eric Hamar, who is currently studying wooden boat building in Port Townsend.

Stormy smiles proudly and says the canoe is his son’s work. In fact, his son is a student at the Port Townsend School for Wooden Boats. Jack and I perk up in recognition: this spring the Port Townsend Leader profiled a young Haida carver. I have the profile of Eric Hamar on my desk and Kasaan Carving Shed has a computer print out tacked to the wall. Our communities are linked.

Tues 14 June – Thorne Bay 55º40.9’N 132º31.4’W

S/V Aurora near Toccata, built by resident crew Greg and Cheryl and launched in Port Townsend.
S/V Aurora near Toccata, built over 28 years by resident crew Greg and Cheryl and launched in Port Townsend.

A tiny break in the thickly treed shoreline marks the long winding entrance to Thorne Bay. Unable to find the fuel dock we call it a day and tie up at the mostly empty new docks, Greg jumps off the 50 foot sailboat docked nearby to welcome us and help with our lines. He and Cheryl are Thorne Bay liveaboards on Toccata, which says Greg, “We’ve been building for the past 28 years.”

Toccata looks pretty shipshape to us and when we’re invited for drinks the next day, we get the whole story. Yes, Greg and Cheryl launched their dream 28 years ago, not to sail blue waters, but to live in mindful comfort in the coastal wilderness. We look through the photos of the long construction process, every stage of which they managed hands on. The splash day in Port Townsend is celebrated with a part for all the people from the boatyard who helped out with this a small floating house for two people. Exquisite woodwork. Wonderful head with colorfully tiled shower. Hasse sails and rigging by Lisa and Dan.

Gary the guy to know in Thorne Bay. Brings fuel right to the boat.
Gary’s the guy to know in Thorne Bay. Brings fuel right to the boat.

We hear that the fuel dock is best visited on a high tide so we head deeper into the bay the next morning. As we prepare to tie up a float plane arrives with the mail and we’re asked to wait. First plane leave and a second flies in to drop another dribble of cartons from Amazon.com and first class mail on the dock. Then we pull up only to find there’s not a single cleat so we use the short lines the float planes uses. Then we discover the electricity is out and the pump won’t run. Gary, the owner, says, “Never mind, it’s pretty shallow here for you anyway, I’ll just bring your diesel over to the dock later.”

After Gary’s visit to us we stop by his store that sells fishing and hunting gear and licenses. We talk about bears, learn that there are no grizzlies, only black bears on the Island. Last year nine bears were taken, some by locals who hunt them mid season for their meat and some by trophy hunters who take them later in the season, when their meat tastes fishy but their coats are thick.

Thur 16 June – Coffman Cove  56º00.6’N 133º37’W

Coffman Cove's large fleet of small boats serves Alaskan families catching salmon to get them through the winter.
Coffman Cove’s large fleet of small boats serves Alaskan families catching salmon to get them through the winter.

Unlike Thorne Bay, Coffman Cove doesn’t hide. It’s houses string along shore and it’s easy to find the docks.  The Doglass guide is again way out of date on the the condition of the facilities. Docks and floats are new, with steel ramps that let folks drive right up to their boats on the floats. There’s lots of space.
The fishing fleet is small, it seems to be mostly personal use and subsistence fishing. Small fleet. Community seems to serve local folks, although I meet an RVer, an Oregonian from Salem, who comes to fish and consume everything he catches on the spot.

We really need a fisherman on board. Just a little bit too much to manage ourselves what with navigation, sailing, VHF underway and cooking, eating, planning, chart organization, exploring, talking to folks on the docks, journaling, reading, and fixing things when we’re not.

Minus tide reveals  Look!  
Two rocks. I snap photo degrees
To remember you 

Unless you get mixed up with those rocks that mark the start of the lagoon beyond the docks, Coffman Cove is easy to enter and exit.  The islands just to the north are rich with sea life.  Humpbacks dive and blow.  Steller Sea Lions swim around our boat to join a huge group of their kin on a rocky shoal.

Again today!
Three hundred sixty degrees
No other humans!

Sat 18 June – Point Baker 56º21’N 133º37’W

Long enchanted by fisherman-author Joe Upton’s accounts of life at Point Baker in Alaska Blues, I want to go. Jack thinks we were there in 2014 but he’s confused it with Port Protection, which is several miles south. Both tiny off grid communities are at the very tip of Prince of Whales above the 56th parallel.

All of Point Baker's government and commercial float.
All of Point Baker’s government and commercial float.

Point Baker will be our northernmost stop. Founded in the 1930s, it has about 35 residents on boat and in houses clustered around a tiny bay. At one end of a long float are the public buildings – post office, community center with library, and fire hall. At the other, the businesses – fuel dock, grocery, bar, laundry and showers – apparently all operated by one family. Up on the hill there’s a communication tower that doesn’t include cell service and a shiny new cluster of lights like you might see around a fancy tennis court. I discover it’s a new tank farm adequate to meet the fuel needs of the gill net and troll fleets. Less than two miles away, in a slightly larger bay is Port Protection, population 63, which offers a similar mix of services.

I go chat with a pair of fisherman, shuttles in hand, who roll their gillnet off the drum to check and repair it. There’s a good rhythm to the work of this father and son as they prepare for this week’s Sunday noon to Thursday noon salmon opening. The knife clenched in his teeth does not deter the father from conversation. They’re out of Wrangell.

A cruise ship, too big for anywhere on POW, is glimpsed through the narrow entrance to Point Baker.
A cruise ship, too big for anywhere on POW, is glimpsed through the narrow entrance to Point Baker.

The net is 24 feet wide and 3/8 of a mile long. It’s a five and one quarter inch net – that’s the distance between knots on opposite side of each individual “net square” when pulled away from each other. There’re aren’t a lot of tears in the net itself because the float tine at the top and the leaded line at the bottom are bound to the net with the lighter thread on the shuttles. Consider it sacrificial: if something big like a shark gets caught in the net, the thread breaks not the net and the shark leaves. They are fishing sockeye and hopefully kings. Last year their best haul netted $3200. Yes, cloudy days are better; when it’s sunny the fish go deeper.

A pretty girl arrives, fresh laundry in hand. She’s the son’s partner, the third fisherman on a pair of 32 foot boats fishing together.

So, I ask, what are rec boats supposed to do when we see a working gill netter? The tiny red buoy that marks the end of the net looks just like what crabbers deploy over their traps. New rule of thumb: Head toward the boat itself. These guys watch for boats, using radar in the fog. You can call them or they will call you.

Point Baker’s float plane dock is extra large because it doubles as a helipad, the communities emergency evacuation point. Unattended boats don’t tie upthere but on a calm sunny day in fishing season this large float makes the perfect net loft.

Monday 20 June – Devilfish Bay 56º05’N 133º22.5’W

This is most varied passage of the trip is from Devilfish Bay.  A garland of splashing Dall’s porpoises crosses our bow as we make a pre-dawn departure from Point Baker.  Heading west we round Port Protection at the tip of  Prince of Wales. Sumner Strait is full of whales.  The rock outcroppings of nearby peaks rise  above the clouds.  Isolated sea otters enjoying the ocean swells give way to larger groups as we  enter Shakan Bay.  Near the mouth of Dry Passage, I spot what looks like a tidewater glacier but cannot be.  It turns out to be the marble mine, newly reactivated if mining mostly marble dust.   I’m at the helm as we wiggle through Dry Passage.   Jack has his iPad open to Navionics and  all we have to do is get the countless red and green aides to navigation in the correct order. We’re just coming off a low tide.  Next is El Capitan, narrow with peaks all around.

When the waters open up again we see an UnCruise boat at anchor.  The Wilderness Discoverer takes only 76 passengers and it would seem a kayak, SUP, skiff or inflatable for each one.  Then again, they are too big to get into where we have come from.

A fleet of tiny boats allow passengers to explore some of the narrow passages we've just exited.
A large fleet of tiny boats allows passengers of this mother ship  entry to the narrow passages S/V Aurora has just exited. 

Tuesday 21 June Kaluk Cove 55º44’N 133º17.5’W

Such a choice of beautiful coves off Sea Otter Sound!
The choice of beautiful coves off Sea Otter Sound is difficult. We’re alone in Kuluk Cove as we are everywhere else.

Day starts with windlass problem. But I’ve got a strong back that I take good care of and the ergonomics of the manual raising are okay. Later it dawns on us that I am the culprit. Jack had suggested that the new inverter should be mounted on the wall of locker in the aft stateroom. The mounting brackets allow air to pass around it. To find a suitable place for it I pick it up only to see a flicker. One the red plastic screw on the back is loose and the copper ring collides with the one on the black screws, causing the short. The new inverter is dead.

We have our pick of pretty coves off Sea Otter Sound and choose Kaluk, which is perfect.

Wednesday 22 June – Klawock 55º33.4’N 133º05.9′ W

From the Tlingit village of Kwalock, a diversity of poles look out over the water.
The hill above the barber in the Tlingit village of Kwalock has a fascinating variety of poles.

To raise the anchor without the windlass we run a line from a winch in the cockpit and snapshackle it to a link of the chain.   Soon the chain is up on deck and even easier than usually to flake in the chain locker.  We embark on another day of whales and sea otters.

Have you ever seen anything like this pair of common murres, the eggs with their future progeny floating to the ground?
Below this pair of common murres, eggs with their future progeny float to the ground.

Perhaps the excitement of it all has left us tired. When we enter the protected bay at Klawock on a lowish tide, we’re not sure how to get to the public docks. So we tie up in an empty space at the Tribal docks next to the cannery.

I call on the good ladies inside who are cooking lunch for their members and organizing the food bank. They say, no, the boat in the place where you are will be back later today. But there should certainly be space at the public harbour.

Is this a Tlingit Guy Fawkes?
Is this a Tlingit Guy Fawkes?

There is indeed. After not getting the Harbour Master on VHF we tie up at an empty space. Nice view of Klawock’s deservedly famous totem park. A fisherman says call Rose and gives me her cell phone. Find this strong little wisp of a woman near on the street. She’s ben Harbour Master for 17 years. Part time no benefits. Her house is across the street. I pay moorage in cash – 11.45 for boats of any size – and thank her for the well designed and maintained restrooms and showers on the ground floor of her office perch with view of ships coming and going.

This large Tlingit village – population 850 – seems like a good place to moor a boat to winter over.  While hardly in the thick of things, Kwalock has a real airport and a harbor that charges an annual moorage rather of only $11 a foot!  Look up from your boat and there is Kwalock’s renowned totem park.

Thursday 23 June – Craig 55º28.6’N 133º08.6’W

We’re in AT&T land so Jack is on the phone with Michele in Craig, a town that captivated us on our last visit. She has a place for us. Jack writes down where it is- behind a blue hulled trawler. After stopping for fuel at Craig’s fuel dock – a first class docking adventure facilitated by young strong life-vest-clad attendants – we slip past the fish packing packing plant and into North Harbor. Narrowness, rocks, traffic, current, you name it. Man, I can’t find that trawler. There’s a blue hull but it’s a troll rig! We go on almost dead ending into shoe and there’s a space. It’s behind a recreational boat resembling a fishing trawler and style recognized as such.

Jack tight turns into the dock for his usual flawless landing for a starboard tie. But something is off. I get down on the stern rail to fend off the trawler, whose crew appears to help. Easy landing, but this is the first sign transmission is awry.

Trawler crew – sixty something Jack and Jills from Washington State are nice. They’re in Alaska for the summer. Going to Kasaan for the September 3 Whale House rededication. A daughter has become Alaskan. They’ve been coming for years. Man says, “It’s addictive.”

When I go to pay moorage, Michelle and I laugh about the “troller” and “trawler” confusion – the two fishing boat styles sound almost the same. From the emergency preparation handouts on her desk, I discover she’s a community activist. Completely attuned to infrastructure vulnerabilities and the need for politically powered community resilience.

Craig docks are wonderful, even better if you’re tied near the ramp to the street and can follow all the comings and goings of the whole community. The last time we were here it was the Fourth of July, Three years olds casting baited hooks in the fish derby; older kids in the log rolling competition. Tradition. Alaska style chaos.

Just across from us is Mixie, crewed by aging commercial fishermen Charlie and Lee. She’s from Craig. They troll in the summer and retire in the winter. And like Greg and Cheryl in Thorne Bay, they built their boat themselves and sailed up from Port Townsend! I learn it’s a Hoquiam hull, distinctively curved, and that there are four similar boat at Craig, including one built by their son.

Mixie has a distinctive Hoquiam hull as does the boat next to it. It was built by Lee and Charlie, Alaska commercial fishermen who spend their off season in Port Townsend.
Mixie has a distinctive Hoquiam hull as does the boat next to it. It was built by Lee and Charlie, Alaska commercial fishermen who spend their off season in Port Townsend.

At Napa store we ask Mike who might be able to answer some of our questions about our inverter. He says find Dave. Retired Master electrician who lives on a sailboat near yours. We find him and sure, he’ll take a look. Climbs around following wires, talking to himself. “What is that I wonder? All right. It’s right there. Okay. Al righty.” There must be a breaker

Like most single handed liveaboards, Dave’s a talker. He worked all over Alaska, turned to alcohol, as many do, lost his family, heard God, embraced an orthodox Catholicism. I find him better informed about Church history and politics than anyone I’ve talked to in a long time. Today his technical smarts make Dave a local legend. Slowly he’s getting back close to his kids.

Wrong headed morning!   
Tired. Spooked. Not ready.
Narrows called Tlevak. 

I recuse myself. 
Jack calculates, navigates.
Gets it right.  Dead on.

Monday 27 June Hydaburg 55º10.1’N 133º41.7’W

The largest Haida village in the United States, Hydaburg is home to one of three large totem parks on Prince of Wales.

Hydaburg is the largest Haida settlement in the United States. We’re the only visiting boat at the spacious and largely empty so everyone knows who we are.   A few people greet us.  Lisa, Chair of the Native Corporation, does so in Haida.  She lets us struggle with a few words before filling us in in English.  Hydaburg’s  big, two-day Fourth of July celebration is coming up and then at the end of July there is culture camp, a week of workshops in traditional skills, arts, and music as well as language classes.

Someone has been collecting red cedar bark, perhaps for the hat and basket weaving workshops during the annual cultural celebration in July.

The houses are modest ranch-style while the school, the health clinic and city hall are stately and well-designed, which seems appropriate for a people of a round shared culture.  The foundation for new longhouse is being built and carvers in the shed are working on the poles. There’s a tiny Alaska Commercial Company store and emergency medical services and a small fleet of three village busses to take people around the island via a road that is slowly being paved.

Hydaburg is the largest Haida settlement in the United States but residents are separated from their Canadian cousins by customs requirement that make the journey between the communities onerous.  Like us, they must enter Canada at Prince Rupert rather than going directly to Haida Gawaii.  And returning from there, they must pass US Customs at Ketchikan.  This is surprising given the special status of Native Communities in both countries.

The weather for crossing back south looks good for the end of the week.  So we leave, curious to come back.

Water’s lavender   
Blues, silvers, sun mirrors mix
Surfaces deceive. 

Wed 29 June – Nichols Bay 54º43’N 132º08’W

Nichols Bay is at the very south tip of Prince of Wales, reached though many hours of wilderness. Forgotten by all save a few commercial fishermen, it lies a couple of miles from the Canadian border. We snug into a little nook off the first bay and turn in early as we have long day ahead.

Thurs 30 June – Prince Rupert 

In the predawn darkness of Nichols Bay, some seaweed “floating” off our stern turns into rocky bumps as the tide ebbs out. We bump into the uncharted drying peaks as we exit but gradually find our way out into the light of early morning.

We sail from the cape
And a flat line of horizon 
Closes around us.

Silky silver sea
Your billowing swells push us.
Where we need to go.

Humpbacks spout, cross bow  
Just as sun burns hole through clouds 
Giving whales haloes.  

Bull kelp grows longer
By a foot each shorter day!
Guiding us past shoals.

The Gnarled Islands   
Misted monochrome west 
Depth, color to east.  

Green Island, the northernmost of Canada's manned lighthouses, welcomes us back south.
Green Island, the northernmost of Canada’s manned lighthouses, welcomes us back south.

After passing customs in Prince Rupert we discover the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club has a space, albeit it a port tie. Jack attempts a bow out-stern in but the transmission is suddenly funny and the current strong. So we give up on that. As I scramble to move fenders and lines to the port side, the usual helpful and competent contingent appears on the docks and helps us in. We sleep soundly leaving boat issues for the morning.

Sailing Fishing Boats

Tango loading lumber in Portland, 1942.

Not too long ago nearly all working boats sailed.  I keep this photo at the ready to remind myself of that. The year is 1942 and the magnificent six mast schooner, Tango, is loading its cargo at a Portland wharf.  Steam-driven passenger ships and new vessels with diesel and gas engines would be moored nearby.  But the War has abetted Tango’s longevity.  I like to think that Rosie the Riveter and her Portland girlfriends have walked past on their way to the Kaiser docks to build Liberty Ships.

This puts my life in a new pocket, a different frame of reference: I arrived on the planet shortly after the end of an age of sail.  As I exit, sometime toward the end of the short Age of Fossil Fuels, sailing working boats will likely have made their comeback.  At least, that’s what I’m thinking.

Along the bountiful North Pacific coast where so many souls fish and so many souls sail there are certainly memories of doing both at once. Joe Upton, a superb writer who fished commercially for decades, says that Alaska’s gillnet fleet was not allowed to use power until the 1950s. Regulations favor fish and motors do not. Somewhere in the minds of old fishermen lie the memories and knowledge of wooden boats rigged with both sails and gillnets.

Sailing fishing ketch Tora in Kake, Alaska

Halibut schooners are still around, though no longer operating under sail. There’s one at Sitka and we’ve chatted with the crew during their long hours of baiting hooks and arranging them artfully around the edge of the baskets (or are they plastic drums?) on top of the coiled longlines. While the schooner had been missing a mast, by this summer the bow spit – a magnificent 40 foot yellow cedar – had broken off.  But she’s still pulling her weight.

Michael Crowley fell in love with halibut schooners as an aspiring greenhorn deckhand in Alaska in the late 1960s. When the docklines of the 65-foot schooner Attu were being thrown off and its cook hadn’t appeared, Crowley began his first of many seasons on halibut schooners out of Seattle. Not a single one was built after 1927 and most came from Ballard where he says “they were shaped with adzes, slicks, steam-powered ship saws, and the brute force and ingenuity of square headed ship carpenters and designers.”

S/V Blue goes fishing

But I only started thinking about sailing and fishing after Tora caught my eye.  It was in the sleepy but well laid out harbor of Kake, Alaska.  What is that?   A sailing ketch with a trolling rig on the aft mast.  Wow!   That was on our northbound leg.  (Coming southbound, on the cusp of salmon season, we followed Tova out of Kake Harbor into Rocky Pass toward the famous fishing grounds off Prince of Wales Island near Point Baker.)

I doubt that it’s efficient to simultaneously sail and operate a commercial troll, which involves managing a couple of dozen individual hooks and handling each salmon with respect.  But sail boats are lightly powered and work well at the 4 knot trolling speed.

Blue with her long trolling poles

In any event, my eyes were opened.  I started to look out for these hybrids.  And Alaska revealed them (while British Columbia did not…probably having to do with commercial fishing regs).

Leaving Sitka – no one leaves Sitka without a smidgen of wistfulness – we spied a small sail wooden sailboat.  And lo and behold she was rigged to troll.   At Baranof Warm Springs, balm to all commercial fishermen, we saw S/V -F/V Blue raft up to a seiner at the dock.  We never got to meet the skipper, who must have headed for a high altitude hot soak, but we learned Blue has a female captain.

When our Aurora made fast at Craig on Prince of Wales Island, an attractive neighbor captured my attention.  Abundance is a triple whammy: a steel boat (I have a thing for steel boats), a sailing ketch and a fishing troller.   I hung around, making numerous trips along a very long float to Craig Harbor’s laundry, showers and restrooms, hoping to get a glimpse of the captain.  My heart sank when I looked up from my boat work to see Abundance leaving the harbor.

Abundance returns to unload her catch.

But the next day, she was back!  Not at dock, mind you, but selling the catch at Craig’s packing plant.  It must have been good because it took a while.  I know because I watched and waited, hoping to welcome Abundance back at the dock.  But the sailing troller just turned around and went back out to fish some more!

Sources:  The photo of the Tango is, I believe, from the archives of the Oregon Historical Society.  I got it from the Facebook page of the Oregon Maritime Museum, which is on the waterfront in my Portland neighborhood.    Joe Upton educated me about trolling and gillnetting in Alaska Blues and about the Alaskan crab industry in Bering Sea Blues. Michael Crowley’s story “Greenhorn” appears in Leslie Leyland Green’s wonderful book Hooked!)

Vancouver Island Circumnavigation (in less than 10 minutes)

For an abridged version of our summer cruise, we’ve put together short slideshows. They feature music composed by Jack the Skipper, photos by the First Mate and words by both of us.

From Port Townsend to Cape Scott
West Coast of Vancouver Island

Daily Sailing Log – July 2 – 18

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.”

There’s no place like Skagway

In 1897 Skagway was a town of several hundred that in the space of a year saw 10,000 people arrive. Then they left.  Today it’s a town of 800 people which in the space of one summer day sees 10,000 people arrive. Then they leave.
There’s no shortage of information about Skagway because the Gold Rush stampeders took photographs or kept journals or, like Jack London, wrote stories about it. And people still do.
Before throwing anything onto that messy pile documenting expectations, disappointments and travel for the sake of travel, let me digest the takeaways from our two day visit to this northernmost point on the Inside Passages. Here are some snapshots.  Consider this a placeholder post.  I’ll be back.