Posts Tagged 'Inside Passage'

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.

Log: Beyond the Salish Sea

Wednesday, June 17  Campbell River to Shoal Bay 50º27’N 125º22’W

Slackers waiting for slack, we head to the Canadian Superstore to stock up on bread, eggs, and fresh vegetables and then pick up wine the liquor store opens at 9. Jack takes the stuff back to the boat – improbably moored on A dock with the small sports fishing boats. Sea Runners and Puffin have both left while Dan and Heather aka Team Coastal Express, are still bedded down, preparing for their first day of vacation. Forced back twice by Seymour Narrows this invariably cheerful pair is taking their adventure back south.

Dan and Heather, aka Race to Alaska Team Coastal Express, resume their cruising lifestyle.

Dan and Heather, aka Race to Alaska Team Coastal Express, resume their cruising lifestyle.

We motor the five miles up dodging stray logs on the way to Maud Island to get our first look at the waters. We hit the Narrows 50 minute before slack, shooting through and letting the ebb carry us north. This is where the waters between Vancouver Island and the (so-called) Mainland where the tide ebbs north and floods south. To our stern is the Salish Sea, where the flood has been north and the ebb south. We pass two southbound tugs with barges, one haphazardly loaded with second rate clear cut, the type of load that helps explain the errant logs.

In wild Plumper Bay, opposite the tiny Vancouver Island community of Brown Bay we spot the distinctive upside-down yellow triangle of Sea Runners’ sail and the masted monohull of Team Puffin.

Whew! Teams Sea Runner and Team Puffin made it through Seymour Narrows on the flood!

Whew! Teams Sea Runner and Team Puffin made it through Seymour Narrows on the flood!

As concern for these end of the pack Racers to Alaska dissipates, we embark on a gorgeous dreamy cruise up Discovery Passage. Vancouver rightly saved the name Discovery for this fine section of the coast as well as for the Bay which with Port Townsend Bay forms the Quimper Penninsula. The latter, richly timbered, served as the shipyard for HMS Discovery and the other ships of the Captain’s small fleet.

We continue Northeast through Nodales Channel, presumably named by Vancouver’s respected contemporary, Spanish Captain Quadra, until we enter the great carrefour, the spectacular chowk where Frederick Arm meets Cordero Channel. The short distance to perfect little Shoal Bay with its imposing view up Phillips Arm, snowless again this year.

At the Shoal Bay wharf a happy handful of boaters on the dock find us the 41 one feet we need and squeeze us in. Salmon fry splash about, tiny silver torpedoes. The sun has taken it out of us so we lunch and nap and rest below deck until a knock on the companionway hatch brings notice of happy hour. (Or is it “appy” hour?) We pull humous from the fridge, pita chips from a locker, folding chairs from the lazarette and head a boat length down the float. Like us, people who love Shoal Bay come back year after year.

“I love it!” says Wharfinger Mark McDonald. “A boater-managed dock!” He’s watching approaching boats through binoculars from home on shore, where I’ve gone to pay up – 50 cents a foot. Two sizable Grand Banks trawlers approach Aurora as Jack appears on deck to help them raft to us. Since our arrival, port side fenders have been out – Shoal Bay Protocol.

Shoal Bay

Shoal Bay

That evening, I join Tom and Karen from Sandpoint and Helen and Ron from Nanaimo at the pub – vacated earlier in the day when the logger lodgers flew off for their long weekend in a tiny, playful, bright yellow helicopter. Helen interviews Mark. For years we’d thought he was some IT guy who taken his money and run. Then he shows up with a new bride, a widow he’d known years before. Thanks to Cynthia, who’s put up some pictures showing Mark with fine horses and the likes of Willy Schumacher, we’re now getting the story. Born in New Westminister, Mark had always been around horses so when it was time for college, it needed to be someplace near a racetrack. Soon enough he’d abandoned his studies in southern Calfornia to train horses. After 25 years he became a off-grid homesteader on this mining townsite, once home to 5,000 people, now reclaimed by the forest. In his spare time, he’s a horse broker who serves a mostly British clientele without every leaving Shoal Bay.

Friday, June 19th Shoal Bay to Blind Channel 50º25’N 125º30’W

Ron and Helen, crew of S/V Parsifal out of Nanaimo.

Ron and Helen, crew of S/V Parsifal out of Nanaimo.

Did we mention this was going to the the laziest cruise yet? After the leisurely morning we cast off for the short ride to our next destination, dumping contents of our toilet along the way. I have gotten too bold with my experiments in fluid dynamics and inadvertently watered down the poop pot. But everything is back together with a fresh bed of desiccating coir fiber by the time we arrive at the Blind Channel Resort, expertly run for many years by the Richter family. I eschew hiking the trails in favor of downloading some serious reading in ecological sanitation and exchanging Tweets with other Race to Alaska fans. Everyday a new team arrives at the finish, everyday another welcome bash thrown by the good folks of Ketchikan.

Dinner hour coincides conveniently with a rising tide. As we shove the scooter up on the ramp, Eliott Richter meets us and ushers us to the dining room. Blind Channel is known for its cuisine. There is a rich garden and fishing boats stop at the dock, often to meet to float planes which deliver the fresh catch to Vancouver for flights to Japan.

Blind Channel Morning

We leave Blind Channel before dawn to catch Greene Point Rapids at slack.

Saturday, June 20  Blind Channel to Port Harvey 50º34’N 126º66’W

Port Harvey, not to be confused with the city of Port Hardy, is a geographic feature, a body of water rather than a settlement.

Now it boasts the Port Harvey Marine Resort, which is top-notch in its simplicity. It consists of a structure on a barge floating in a bay opposite some tied looking forestry operations at the end of Havannah Channel. You are greeted at the dock with a wifi password, a simple menu of hamburgers and pizza, and the understanding that there is no obligation whatsoever to partake of either. And yet even now in June nearly every table at the little cafe off the deck over the store is full. And it’s right-sized for the communal conversation that owners George and Gail Cambridge keep animated as they proffer drinks,food and their famous desserts. Helping this summer is Tom an amiable, sailor, adventurer, cook, bartender, dock fisherman, and handyman whose perfect RP (Received Pronunciation) bespeak fine schooling on the other side of the Atlantic pond.

Port Harvey Marine Resort floats on a barge.

Port Harvey Marine Resort floats on a barge.

Jack goes for the burger with fries me the pizza. I’ve brought containers from the boat so Jack can have his poutine for lunch. For breakfasts in transit, nothing is better than leftover pizza heated on the stove top toaster George has sold me.  Jam packed with practical items, Port Harvey’s store is a minor wonder on this coast. It seems the Cambridges are transitioning from the hardware business in Alberta.

Port Harvey offers great shelter at the dock or at anchor just a short distance from Johnstone Strait. Pointing to an exposed line of Doug Firs on the shore, George says, “Just look at those trees. If they’re not moving, you can head out with no problem.”  There’s never been a place in Port Harvey for rec boats to tie up and Gail and George have the right mix of business experience and the middle age stamina to make this place a success. Without a fuel dock, the Pacific water is clean: folks catch crab right off the dock. As fresh water is in short supply, however, they’ll be limited in the services they can offer. This is a good thing.

Monday June 22 – Port Harvey to Port McNeill 50º34’N 127º05’W

Kayakers cross a placid Johnstone Strait behind us.

Kayakers cross a placid Johnstone Strait behind us.

What a beautiful passage! Johnstone Strait is like glass and this section is new to us. Shrouds of fog lift so we enjoy the views and wildlife. We pass the famous reserve at Robson’s Bight where British Columbia’s pods of resident orcas breed. They’re away now but porpoises hobby horse through the water and Pacific white-sided dolphins come and play with our waves. We pass tiny Telegraph cove, set between mountain and sea. I wonder what management skills it must take to shoehorn boats into such as small space. We pass Cormorant and Malcolm Islands before landfall on Vancouver Island, where we pass the small ferry that connects Port McNeill with the villages of Alert Bay and Sointula.

Tiny Telegraph Cove nestles in green slope of Vancouver Island.

Tiny Telegraph Cove nestles in green slope of Vancouver Island.

George has recommended the Fuel Dock, now rebranded as North Island Marina. Jessica Jackman meets us as we tie up against strong current. The marina doesn’t offer post card views but is competently run. Fuel hoses can reach rec boats tied up on one side while serving commercial vessels on the other. Port McNeill is on Vancouver Island so that means roads which can take recycling and garbage, water to operate a lundromat, and roads to other places. Jessica even offers a complementary car and suggests a visit Telegraph Cove. We’re here, however, for Alert Bay and Sointula and the BC Ferries schedule can accommodate visits to both in a single day. As it happens, our time at Alert Bay is so full and gives us so much to ponder, we simply eschew the former commune founded by Finnish socialists in the early 20th century.

Wednesday, June 24 Port McNeill to Echo Bay 50º45’N 126º30’W

Port McNeill near the north end of Vancouver Island is our westernmost point as we turn north into the Broughtons. Jack suggests we go to the well known Pierre’s Eco Bay Lodge and Marina. Last year he volunteered to walk up to the store to pay the moorage and found the lack of handrails made docks and stairs dangerous to navigate. (Think rainforest moss on wet wood.) He mentioned the situation to Pierre’s wife, Tove, and just wants to see if anything had changed. It hasn’t.  Jack doesn’t leave the boat. I photograph the eight obstacles to get from the boat to the restrooms, laundry and showers.

Latish in the evening I corner Pierre, trying to match his charm and easy-going-ness.  “Look at the type of people who love to come here year after year,” I say. “They’re not young. They’re hip-replacement candidates. They may be cruising because they’re recovering from something and can only walk with difficulty. Or they’re here for a wedding or family reunion with elders in wheelchairs in tow.” I tell him there are fixes, like the rubber covered aluminum plates that bridge the docks at North Island Marina in Port McNeil and promise to send some photos. I complement him on the new Adirondack chairs; at least weary walkers can have a seat. He is nice and I am nice.

Before turning in, I come up with a rating system for docks.

1 = Stay on your boat. It may be secure but you are not when you’re on the docks. Athleticism required to access services. Everything moves. (Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club’s strange metal docks. The alternative in Prince Rupert, the port facility at Rushbrook, was a 1 in 2012 but then in 2014 metal bridges joining floats had been installed.)

2 = Anyone with the slightest mobility impairment or an uncoordinated child must be accompanied at all times to be safe. Dangerous gaps between floats or floats and ramp. Steps without handrails. Leaning or unsteady floats. (Pierre’s Echo Bay; up from a ‘1’ thanks to the new Adirondack chairs.)

3 = Allows partial independence for mobility impaired. A visitor who uses a wheelchair or scooter will need assistance at some places on the docks or at some points in the tide cycle. (North Island Marina in Port McNeill; Blind Channel Resort.)

4 = Pretty safe in good weather. Smooth, flat, unobstructed docks, with toe rails and hand rails. (Port Harvey, where entire resort currently floats – access to land and dog walking is still difficult; Nanaimo, where only problems are heavy dock gates and ramp angles on low tides.)

5 = Independent wheelchair users can access all facilities. (Gorge Harbor!)

Thursday, June 25 Echo Bay to Waddington Bay 50º43’N 126º37’W

We’re at anchor in 30 feet of water. It’s sheltered and peaceful even as the sun goes hot and the winds come up in the afternoon. Not much to report. Reading, listening to audible books, daydreaming, cooking, fixing things that need to be fixed. And organizing photos and writing this blog.

A gift of freshly caught and filleted ling cod is delivered to us at anchor.

A gift of freshly caught and filleted ling cod is delivered to us at anchor.

Supper is ling cod with mushrooms, scalloped potatoes and onions with Parmesan, Swiss chard, very long grain black rice left over from a former voyage, a tossed salad and fresh cherries, purchased in Campbell River for $3 Canadian a pound because the hot sun has brought the British Columbia crop to abrupt maturity far earlier than normal. The origin of the long cod?  Remember Matt and Elizabeth of the cement schooner Peregrine and Salt Spring Island?  Here they offer just-caught and filleted ling cod to the boats moored off Lesqueti Island.

Saturday, June 27 Waddington Bay to nook on Crease Island behind Goat Island 50º37’N 126º38’W

The wind is blowing when we drop anchor in about 24 feet of water but things soon calmed down and everything is just perfect. 360º of an ever-changing light and color show as the sun drops in the sky. I stay up until 10 to take photos.

It’s Dave who recommended Goat Island; he doesn’t like to be hemmed in; needs the view. Dave and Janet are Valiant 40 owners we met at Echo Bay. They were in the Peace Corps in on a Pacific Island and – like us – had to get married to serve together. Then they learned to sail and sailed home to Portland in their first boat. We toured each Valiant. Theirs looks the same except for a deck that extends 18 inches toward the bow to allow headroom in the V-berth.

Sunday, June 28 Goat Island to Forward Harbor 50º29’N 125º45’W

My pleas to just stay put another day do not cut it with Jack the Skipper, who notes that there are still hundreds more anchorages waiting for us. The weather is good and he is eager to get into Knight Inlet and Johnstone Strait and have the sails catch the light NW winds.

A passing boat throws early morning sun sparkles on Knight Inlet.

A passing boat throws early morning sun sparkles on Knight Inlet.

We head out at dawn, enthralled by the play of light on the dark water. Flocks of rhinoceros auklets swim past each followed by a line of sun sparkles. A line of cormorants splashes drops of gold in their awkward struggle to take flight. Very pretty this morning, but they are designed to fly underwater. Porpoises cut in and out of the water, something much larger snorts off our stern and disappears, but our beloved Pacific white-sided dolphins ignore us. We associate Knight Inlet with our first prolonged encounter – with about 100 of them.

The golden dawn turns to the morning as the Inlet opens wide, a succession of mountains and bays in every tone of grey. A boat passes, throwing curving swaths of silver glitter on the water. There is no wind.

Eagles and gulls compete in feeding frenzy.

Eagles and gulls compete in feeding frenzy.

There must be a herring ball causing the feeding frenzy near Minstrel Island. The auklets simply flip upside down from the water’s surface but the gulls are diving in flight, trying to stay out of the way of eagles talons. Gulls, eagles, and crows – our everyday birds at home – are all smart and acrobatic. But it’s their interactions that are especially fascinating.

We take the bull kelp clogged Chatham Channel near low slack prepared for very low waters but we rarely have less 25 feet under our keel. Out in Havannah Channel the wind is brisk and Johnstone looks perfect. The day is getting on and there are the usual strong wind warnings but it comes to nothing. We have to motor the whole way to Forward Harbor.

Forward Harbour is an old friend of an anchorage.

Forward Harbour is an old friend of an anchorage.

We drop anchor at the edge of the shelf, our depth waving from 30 to 60 feet as we let out 150 feet of chain. I have forgotten how spectacular Forward Harbor is. I put the folding chairs out on the bow and we have a simple supper watching the sun set on the high peaks at the end of the bay.

Monday, June 29  Forward Harbor to Shoal Bay 50º27’N 125º22’W

I need to flake the first 50′ of cain so it fits properly in the re-designed locker under the V-berth but once that is done, I can let the remaining 100 feet in more smoothly, stopping only to knock only to the peak so that the chain does not pile up and jam. Redesign is good for this. But when I’m on the last 25 feet, the windlass quits! I have to bring up the remaining chain and the anchor by hand. What is the problem? A blown fuse? I reset the trip switch, which appears not to have tripped off.

In the narrow neck of Forward Harbour the captain of a tug prepares a log boom for transit though Whirlpool Rapids.

In the narrow neck of Forward Harbour the captain of a tug prepares a log boom for transit though Whirlpool Rapids.

We navigate past a log boom waiting with its tug at the neck of the bay and pass the swirlls and outfalls of Green Point rapids. Then I go below and use my 700 lumens bike light to check the cables that lead to the solenoid and windlass motor. Nothing seems amiss but the foot switch still doesn’t work. We discuss options – someone at Blind Channel may help with a diagnosis when we stop for the essential liquids: diesel, water, wine and gin. But one more try with the windlass and it works! Either switch is cranky – it looks perfect – or it just had to cool off. In any event, we’ll just raise the anchor more slowly from now on.

Thanks to a “changing of the guard” the whole north side of the Shoal Bay dock is free. The southbound boats have left and shortly northbound boats will take their place. And when the northbound boats cast off, they leave space for southbound boats, which arrive an hour to two later. One goal of this cruise is to help us better predict things like this. And the winds in Johnstone, the back-eddies off Cape Mudge, the energy our solar panels are capturing, and the sounds of the anchor chain on the sea bottom. We dream of making a new variation of this trip every summer for years to come. To be safe and comfortable doing so, means draft and tweaking rules of thumb.

We’re greeted at the dock with “We used to have a Valiant, too.” Marilyn and Jim have “passed over to the dark side” and now have of Blue Coyote, a 26′ Ranger Tug which “bobs like a cork.” Back problems were making things hard for Marilyn. We chat for a good long time about the adaptations they’d made when they bought their Valiant in Trinidad and how Bob Perry either loved or hated them when they met him at a Port Ludlow rendezvous. You can feel their nostalgia for their old boat. Jack says “Hey, I’m a qudriplegic” and explains how – until his First Mate breaks down – we’re going to stick with our boat. Later I learn this lively pair we take to be in their mid-60s are both well into their 70s.

The logger lodgers with the toy yellow helicopter have left and the Shoal Bay Pub is open. I go up to pay my $0.50 a foot and join Mark and Cynthia a couple of others there for a beer. We exchange stories about the Race to Alaska. A week without Internet means my last news is Roger Mann’s arrival in Ketchikan. I remember I took a screen shot of his boat.

Roger Mann racing to Alaska.

Roger Mann racing to Alaska.

“That’s him!” yelps Mark. Seems they ran into Roger and his strange craft in Brown Bay, the place just north of Seymour Narrows where they leave their truck so they can provision in Campbell River. They meet him briefly as he exits the shower. Yes, old and cheerful. And also a short and compact.  This would have been the morning after Roger had fallen into the raging waters of Seymour Narrows in the middle of the night.

Tuesday, June 30 Shoal Bay to Von Donop Inlet on Cortez Island 50º085’N 124º56’W

There are two northern doors to Salish Sea. One is Seymour Narrows which flows between Vancouver and Quadra Island and leads to Discovery Channel and then either to Johnstone Strait or to the “Inside Inside Channel” route via Nodales Channel. The other consists of the neck of water that flows through Dent, Gaillard and Yucalta Narrows. North of these two areas confused waters, the ebb is north and the flood south; south of them the flood is north and the ebb south.

Ochre sea stars, decimated two years ago by a viral

Ochre sea stars, decimated two years ago by a viral “wasting” disease, reappear on Cortez Island shores at low tide.

That south ebb takes us into broad and beautiful Calm Channel with its many options for exploration to in the northern reaches of the Salish Sea watershed, such as Toba Inlet, its waters light blue with fresh water melt from its glacier. We continue south and dip into Von Donlop Inlet, which extends long and narrow into Cortez Island. It’s very low tide and what do I see in the bright green seaweed-fringed crevices in the rocks! Purple and bright pink Ochre Sea Stars! This is the species so decimated by sea star wasting, the disease recognized just this year – thanks in part to sample collection by citizen scientists – as caused by a virus. Without sea stars the Salish Sea food web is broken. This is cause for celebration.

We motor the shallow Inlet past several nice anchorages, where most boats are stern tied. Yes, we are back in the land of this strange Canadian custom. We continue on realizing that even the middle of the channel is safely anchor-able. But there’s lots of room at the head of the Inlet. As we approach the sweeping low tide beach and prepare to point into the wind, I call out to folks on the deck of a boat already anchored, “We want to pass behind you if there’s enough water. Are you stern tied?” “Yes, lots of water. No stern tie! Is that a Valiant?”

Fraser Smith closes transom door of S/V Northern girl after having

Fraser Smith closes transom door of S/V Northern girl after “walking” the two chocolate labs.

Nothing is sweeter to the ears of a boat owner than appreciation of one’s boat. Late in the afternoon the crew of Northern Girl from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory stop by in their dinghy after watering their two black labs. Kara and Fraser Smith are Bob Perry fans with a Bob Perry boat – a Northwind Islander – with the most ingenious feature. A door in its transom opens as a ramp down to the dinghy. Perfect for dog lovers who have to make the four daily trips to shore and back.

Wednesday, July 1  Von Donop Inlet to Gorge Harbour  

Pull into to Gorge Harbour on the south end of Cortez Island, ready for some Internet and the opportunity to post a couple of blog posts.  Despite keeping a daily blog, I have somehow managed to be two days behind the calendar date.  I’d always wanted to celebrate Canada Day but thought it was Friday.   Turns out it’s today.

There’s a heat wave, just like the first time we came here.  In the eighties here but much much worse in Portland and Seattle. While the docks are half empty, the Gorge Harbour lodge, restaurant and campground are full of people. The kids have built lantern boats but, alas, they can’t be lit thanks to the drought-caused fire danger.  Instead a fire is lit in the big fireplace on the stone patio where a  very funky band of local old guys is playing.  One is calling square dances and managing to get people up on their feet.  It’s too hot for me but when the sun finally sets and the big full moon rises I got out and enjoy the end of the evening.

Log: Watery Roads through the Wilderness

Wednesday, May 28  Campbell River  50º28.9’N 125º45.2’W Rips, ripples, and whirlpools. All day. Which get us off to a slow start because we have to wait for slack before traversing the notorious Seymour Narrows. The waters froth and bubble but are good enough to get us out of civilization and into the wilderness. Straight north along Discovery Passage. We’re headed for Alaska so no niceties like stopping by to see Mark and Cynthia in our beloved Shoal Bay are all reserved for the return trip. Instead of turning right into Nodales Channel we turn left into a section of Johnstone Strait and plow the seas against the tide all afternoon, in the teeth of a south flowing flood and the strong wind on our nose. This leaves a 4 or 5 knot gap between our boat speed and our speed over land. It’s beautiful day and I’m happy to be at the helm, but completely unaware how exhausted it’s leaving me.

As soon as we got to Mayne Channel we shot though with the flood into Greene Point Rapids. The long day is fading and we are way past slack by the time we get to Whirlpool Rapids. We pull into Forward Harbour and drop the hook, too close to shore, as it happened. Bringing the anchor up I scream at myself for jamming it so soon after figuring out how to avoid doing so. The next try puts us right in front of a fishing boat. Its skipper didn’t appear on deck  – probably is asleep – so we let it be, have supper, feel the wind die and sleep.

At anchor with waterfalls above.  Jack's photo.

At anchor with waterfalls above. Jack’s photo.

Thursday, May 29  Katwsi Bay  50º52’N 126º14’W  Imagine an anchorage from which you can look straight up through your galley hatch at a rock face with three waterfalls whose rushing flow competes with the songs of forest birds. It’s a little like being moored at the foot Half Dome. We are in Katwsi Bay, a finger of watery wilderness off Tribune Channel. A hundred feet from shore we were in hundred feet of water so we had to snug in close to the shore, less than a boat length away. We’ll be out of here before tomorrow’s spring low low tide.

It was a long day punctuated by naps. Johnstone Strait was on its best behavior and delivered us to Havannah Channel. Cruz took us through narrow Chatham Channel, steady on 271º east and then through the Blowhole along Minstrel Island. It is so named because back in the days when loggers and fishermen still lived in these parts year round, the settlement here hosted minstrel shows.

Today the year-rounders are corporate extractors. On the north side of Tribune Channel a new brown ribbon of clear cutting appears several hundred feet above the forested shoreline. It runs for several miles. As we see no skids, we figure the logs were removed one by one by helicopter and dropped into the water, where the log booms were formed. Must have been a huge operation. The international corporations that operate the farms that raise Atlantic salmon (color added) are taking up more and more of the shoreline, ugly large pens bolted to the shore, marked by large yellow plastic floats. There’s even one in front of Lacy Falls. What fish farming “extracts” is the purity of the waters and the genetic exclusivity of native stocks of chinook, coho, and sockeye.

Up here there are no ports, no trollers, gillnetters,or longliners, though you see the occasional family shrimping operation. We saw one small boat with its DIY processing and packing area built out significantly over the stern. It’s unlikely this boat has a freezer, so it probably calls a float plane when the shrimp is ready to ship.

Steep cliffs rise from great depths.

Steep cliffs rise from great depths.

So does this leave recreational boaters with no place to tie up? Not exactly.There are nearly a dozen seasonal, family run marinas that dot the maze of the Broughtons narrow channels. One finds them every 25 miles or so. They serve cruisers in the same way that country inns served motorists a century ago in the earliest days of road trips. Mostly are float operations tethered to the shore in small bays among the steep glacier carved cliffs that rise straight from the sea.  (Hiking is impossible most places and boats with dogs on board simply shun the Broughtons.) The owners and managers of these magical marinas are passionate about the area and possess the practical knowledge required to provide electricity and water and dispense diesel fuel while making sure their guests take their trash and other wastes away with them.

No one was better at this than Bill Barber. His renowned Lagoon Cove has no store, no café, a single shower stall and a wi-fi modem shared in off hours with a nearby aquatic research station. But Bill could tell stories like nobody else and always made sure there was a plate of fresh shrimp at 5 pm pot luck happy hours. When Bill passed away from cancer in the spring of 2013, a great sense of loss descended over the cruising community. As we’d missed last summer, we stopped with condolences and found the marina filling up with early season boats. Pat and Bob, the managers, said we’d just missed Bill’s widow, Jean, who’d been there with a realtor a few days earlier. Selling the place will not be easy as it requires an owner with Bill’s level of energy, creativity, and ability to solve complex problems in the wilderness.

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A traditional prawner passes a corporate fish farm.

Friday, May 30  Blunden Harbour 50º54’N 127º16.7’W We pull the hook at 5:40am, rousing Cruz just long enough to flake the chain in the locker in the bow so it doesn’t jam. Dawn is a spectacular play of light, color and mist. We wend our way through the deep fiords of the “Mainland” and exit into Queen Charlotte Strait through Wells Passage. We’re making incredibly good time heading west and northwest in favorable weather, which comes in that same direction and strengthens in the afternoon. It’s too strong to continue on to Allison Harbour so we pull into Blunden.  In the past we’ve sheltered among as many as twenty-five boats while waiting for favorable weather to get past Cape Caution. This time we are alone. In fact, we have not seen a single recreational boat since we left Lagoon Cove.

Saturday, May  31  Green Island  51º38.5’N 127º50.3’W  Wow! Not only have we rounded Cape Caution, we’ve come farther than we could have imagined a week ago. Rhythm among the crew is now well established so we spell one another and manage. Departure at 5 am is no problem for Jack and me and S/V Aurora is appropriately named. Cruz is a night owl who spells us when we start to fade and and is cooking on all three burners by 8 pm when it’s time for dinner followed by bed. Today we’ve covered nearly 60 nautical miles and, as expected, the roughest seas to date. On the first 28 miles on the way to Cape Caution, Jack hailed the skipper of a southbound tug with tow to who said conditions aroun Caution were better than where we were. Which was heading into the particularly roiled waters where Slingsby Channel dumps into the Pacific.

Only a handful of boats rounded Caution this morning and morning is what counts: Three powerful tugs, two with tows, a gill netter, a Canadian Coast Guard cutter, and three rec boats – a southbound ketch a and northbound a big powerboat, a big, fast sloop and us. Once round Caution, we pushed on rather than wend our way though the Egg Islands and their neighboring rocks. As I hadn’t reviewed Jack the Skipper’s navigation plan, I suffered the why-aren’t-we-there-yets all afternoon. Approaching the gaping mouth of Fitzhugh Sound we zig zagged, hitting the 9 foot swells first on the bow quarter and then getting some relief by having them push us on the stern quarter. In time we were in, motoring up the Sound past the Addenbrooke Island Light Station but disappointed to find that the Humpbacks were not yet feeding. At 3:30pm we pulled into the well-known and well-protected Green Island anchorage in Fish Egg Inlet. We’re the only boat here. A welcoming party from the Canadian Coast Guard cutter and some of their Fish and Wildlife cronies stopped by in an inflatable, checking decks for fishing gear and traps, we suspect. We’ve no time for that, you can only get licenses on line and we’re completely unplugged and enjoying the wilderness.

Cruz on a day to relax & read.

Cruz. On this day to relax and read.

Sunday, June 1. Bella Bella/Shearwater 52º08.8’N 128º05’W  We motored through Fitzhugh Sound through many shades of grey. Yet the sun was burning hot by  the time we reached the First Nations community of Bella Bella and neighboring Shearwater, the first outpost for communications and provisions since Campbell River.  The passage was windless and the waters wide. We’re making progress on our route and through our books.  Harbor Master Christophe met us on the Shearwater dock with the news that new WiFi reaching all boats was only two days old.   Relaxing day.  I did laundry, Cruz polished up the deck and Jack cheered us  on.   Back into the wilderness tomorrow, with an overnight at wonderful Khurtz Inlet on Grenville Channel.

Monday, June 2. Khutze Inlet  53º05.2N 128º28.1’W We got off a late start – nearly seven according to Jack’s log – thanks to an old salt who called over to me at the dumpster as he was waking up with coffee and a cigarette. I agreed that the weather was promising and commented that Shearwater looked great, particularly the new mural commemorating the top twelve of Shearwater and Bella Bella, Native and not alike. He said yes, it’s taken awhile for the Central Coast to get organized but now they are. And went on to rail against Enbridge, fish farms,and corporations, sprinkling it all with references to ancient history and the Bible. A group of attractive, muscular young men went by, packs dangling hiking boots, short shovels in hand. Clam diggers? No, tree planting. They start at $200 a day but one once got so good at it he made $900. What kind of trees, I wonder. “Oh, there’s not trees for harvest,” the skipper of the Clowchan Spirit says. “The Tribes want the land restored to its original state. So it’s a mix.”

We pull out into the fog, even turn the radar on, but it’s not needed. In the channels between two of the prettiest light stations on the coast is Joanna Rock. Ugly. Barren. Low lying. I figure the guy that named this place mush have really had something against Joanna, whoever she was. Then the sun beams as we pull out into Milbanke Sound with its open ocean horizon and Japan beyond. It’s dead flat. Then north into with a bit of push. When Cone Island appears we take the Klemtu Channel to get some diesel. Apart from the school on the hill, the lovely Great House on the water and the now scheduled flights from Bella Bella in a twin engine goose plane that lands on its belly, Klemtu seems a bit more down at the heals every time we pass. The dock’s still a mess. No sign of a fuel dock but with binoculars we spot some hoses and pull up behind a boat noisily disgorging farm fish into a processing plant. It looks as though they are moving a lot of product as standing by to filled and then to southern markets are huge new refrigerator trucks, minus their cabs. BEAUTIFUL BC FARMED SALMON screams across the sides in four-foot high all caps. Salmon, my eye. Frankenfishy descendants of an extinct Atlantic species raised in prison. Color added. In fact, what’s all that pink scum around the dock? Klemtu seems sad. So different from Shearwater/Bella Bella; a universe of difference from the tidy Gitma’at Band of subsistence fishers at Hartley Bay. For some reason a tune comes into my head: the way we learned to count backwards. “Ten little, nine little, eight little Indians…”

Weird sail plan works well.

Weird sail plan works well.

We fill up – Jack guesses we can take 100 liters and feels smart it turns out to be 97. No bad for all the way from Lagoon Cove plus the stresses endured rounding Cape Caution. The wind in Tolmie Channel is on our nose as it has been for much of the trip. The sunny days and warm breezes that have been with us the whole trip don’t want to quit, which is fine. The high pressure system, however, means northwest winds that circle in clockwise from the sea to brake our headway. But then for some strange reason, the wind changes direction and is on our stern! With the tide moving in the same direction, no less. Suddenly it gets animated in the cockpit, as Jack and Cruz try to squeeze out a little more speed than brought by the jib, which is poled out on port. Rather than start over and turn into the wind to bring up the main and go wing on wing, they figure out way to do it. Traveller gets moved was far as it will to starboard, the mainsheet out all the way, reefing cords dangling just above the surface of the water. Then they raise the main half way up against the shroud. Voilà a “square sail”. It works. Water, wind, boat move silently all together along our chosen course. My jaw drops as a little trough appears between two wavelets in front of our bow and just stays there. A beautiful sail.

Everything is green this year.

Everything is green this year.

As the sun disappears behind the mountains, we pull into Khutze Inlet, a favorite place the Inside Passage and the first with tidewater ice. As there is considerably less snow on the peaks than in previous years, we wonder how big the blocks of ice that fall to water level from the cascades above will be. On arrival, the falls are blanketed in green: there is no ice whatsoever!   (Check out photos of the ice on _____and  July 8, 2012.)

 

Compare with 2012 tidewater ice!

Compare with 2012 tidewater ice!

Tuesday, June 3. Lowe Inlet. 53º334’N 129º34’W  Today this log is just the essentials. Something stupid happened and I’m not ready to talk about it. Amazingly, Skipper Jack kept upbeat. “Just think! This is a story you’ll never forget.” True. That made me think of the last time something like this happened. Over a decade ago I finally got my driver’s license. Had to drive out to a Commonwealth of Virginia DMV testing site somewhere way outside Arlington, Virginia. So far so good. Then I passed the test.

Got back in the car and Jack was so nervous that he made me drive. Into what was then a driving grey rainstorm. Going over a bridge less than two miles from the DMV I managed to sideswipe a big grey car passing me. No damage anyone other than both cars. Completely undone, disgraced, forlorn. The only person I managed to tell about it was Jerry Schwarz. He hooted. “That’s one great story! And you’ll have it for the rest of your life!” True.

Wednesday, June 4. Prince Rupert. 54º19’N 130º19’W An early start, well before 5 am. Mostly because only Jack got a night’s sleep and getting up at four is normal. A rare bit of drizzle as we moseyed up Grenville, alternating naps. Then the confused confusing approach to Prince Rupert, shirting the board Skeena River delta on the east and a bunch of pesky rocks on the west. Plus a couple of what I can only call TMT moments. Too Much Testosterone. Jack and Cruz started racing a couple of boat behind us and then raced to the dock when they heard the other boats trying to line up moorage but unable to get through on their satellite phones.   When we lower the main, we find one of the battens has blown out of the slug that moved up and down the track in the main.  And the ring in the pins of adjacent slugs need replacing.  One more thing for the Prince Rupert to do list.

Cruz at work while the Captain "supervises".

Cruz at work while the Captain “supervises”.

The ancient and grandly named Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club is a rattle of metal floats; you tie up at grillwork over styrofoam 18 inches wide. Pad eyes rather than cleats or the nice wooden toerails you find everywhere else in Canada. The whole thing floats over a hundred feet of water, so so rock filled sea walls to control the slurp and rush of the flow.

The staff are nice as can be but too busy to helping boats get in across the impossible currents to respond to VHF hailing, or for that matter, sat phone calls. So when we’re close we just tie up on the outside finger and the guy runs down to us and sends us to where he thinks we’re supposed to be. And the TMT team just goes for it, knowing the other hapless (nice elderly Canadian) boats may be out of luck. And the current slams us into the the end of the big ugly rusted pipe that serves as the breakwater. And suddenly there’s more work to do. Cruz takes it on. Jack does a bit of supervision but mostly pits in Kindle time. Cruz and me, we stay really busy in Prince Rupert.

 

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.

Log: Anchorages and Outposts on the way North

Sunday, May 20   Shoal Bay  50º27.49’N 125º21.95’W

Mark MacDonald is as full of life as ever. More so because this is early season. We notice the new “Cold Beer” sign on the wharf.  He serves us dark drafts in icy mugs in the lodge, their kitchen-dining room.   He and Cynthia have around the table this month a Spaniard, a New Zealander and a Swede. The garden is in and damages wreaked by winter storms are being repaired. The lawn’s even mowed – yes, it’s a lawn, a bit weird for a wilderness settlement. I remember Cynthia pushing a mower, sweat falling from the brim of her straw hat, when I first set set eyes on her. The lawn means that   kayakers have a place to pitch their tents and there is a stupendous view from everywhere.  (In fact, it was from the lawn that the masthead picture of Aurora was taken.)  I’m so sorry we won’t make the pig roast and International Music Festival. Mark says it’s almost reached its natural capacity of about 100 people on the lawn. The bay doesn’t have much room for people to anchor and not that many come by kayak or water taxi.

Monday, May 21 Forward Harbour 50º28.93’N 125º45.29’W

Jack checked and rechecked the times of slack for both Whirlpool and Green Point Rapids but in the end tide and time mean a wait for vigilant sailors.  We spent a long afternoon in a stiff wind at anchor in the little nook just before the second set of rapids.  I did the watch on deck and anchor held nicely.  No sooner were we through, we turned into pretty Forward Harbor to anchor as it was too late to go on.

Tuesday, May 22 Lagoon Cove 50ªº35.93 N 126º18.85’W

When we pull up to Lagoon Cove. Bill remembers our names again although he was tying up another boat and we know he didn’t have time to run to his records. Jean, his apple-cheeked non-wrinkled blond spouse of many years, seems back in her element. Mentions she’s 77 and is ready to give it up at 80. It’s the twentieth summer for them, the seasonal rhythm of the hard work of running a marina part of who they are.

There are only three boats, about 20 people at happy hour to consume the huge plate of prawns our hosts traditionally set out. Bill’s noosed bear story is as great as ever. Jean gives us a tour of the house, which was built on Minstrel Island, floated over to East Cracroft and winched up on the hill. Combining skills of logging, raft building and seamanship, people in these parts are quite at ease moving dwellings from place to place.

Since she knows we cast our lines off early,  Jean appears at the boat later in the evening to bid us farewell with a huge bunch of rhubarb stalks, wrapped in a large leaf.

Clear early morning. Leaving Cruz asleep in his bunk over the anchor locker, we are the first boat out of the cove. I notice a commotion off starboard and discover a group of Pacific white-sided dolphins splashing merrily around. The first ones we’ve encountered, despite being on the lookout. Suddenly, in unison, they beeline for our boat. “Oh, great, they’re coming to play!” I shout. Then they disappear under our ship. Their beeline points to a prawner that has followed us. After packing shrimp all night, they must be ready to dump the heads overboard. Dolphins are dogs of the sea, dogs that returned to the sea.  Man’s best friend on the water as well.

Wednesday, May 23 Sullivan Bay 50º53.10’N 126º49.63W

Aurora’s the only visiting boat at Sullivan Bay, the only other guest a woman from Alberta, a fly-in fisherman. Manager Debbie helps us top off with diesel. She wants to take our picture so her blog can show Sullivan Bay is open for business. We take hers in return.

At the yet unnstocked store we find needed stapes among last season’s goods: toilet paper, toothpaste and salt. They don’t even have sugar. When Cruz needs more sugar to make a cobbler with leftover strawberries and Jean’s rhubarb, it’s provided by the new chef at Sullivan Bay’s restaurant, who has arrived by float plane within the hour.

A hundred emails dribble in on wifi. With my annual spring cleaning, I’m unsubscribed from lists so it’s kernels not chaff. A real time exchange with Abby Brown confirms she’s moving mountains so that PHLUSH can give Jack Sim a proper welcome. Not only has she set up his presentation at Mercy Corps, she’s gotten Congressman Earl Blumennauer, a champion of international assistance for water and sanitation, to introduce the Founder of the World Toilet Organization!

Thursday, May 24 Allison Harbour 51º02.67’N 127º30.84’W

The passage from Sullivan Bay out into Queen Charlotte Strait is almost as beautiful as the one from Lagoon Cove to Sullivan Bay. Mist-covered four thousand foot peaks rising up from fathomless seas, the mountainsides gashed with long triangular landslides, old and recent.

We enter Queen Charlotte Sound as the sun breaks on Vancouver Island (and a cruise ship, one of only two we would see underway our whole trip!)  It’s windless so we motor on, passing the safe haven of Blunden Harbour to navigate the rock strewn entrance to Allison, which is that much closer to our open water rounding of Cape Caution. 

Friday, May 25   Still at Allison Harbour 

Thrity-five knot gales on Queen Charlotte mean a second day and welcome down time with good books. Aurora stays tucked in a cranny of Allison Harbour, the last safe anchor before the Cape Caution run. At dawn, Environment Canada lets us know that today it will blow itself out to be promising for tomorrow. Jack has uploaded onto my hand-me-down iPad Kindle his favorite reads of the past year as well as several of Kinza’s. Yesterday I finished Amore Towle’s Rules of Civility. At first I tripped on silly similes but soon imagination conspired with our arrival north of the 51st parallel to pull me father from my quotidian Portland existence. The nicely developed characters bounced off one another in a period piece reminiscent of the Great Gatsby. Today I finished Jim Lynch’s Truth Like the Sun, a beautifully fashioned piece of historical fiction on Seattle, with alternating chapters set in 1962 and 2001. Now I’m on to Walking Home, by Lynn Schooler, an Alaskan writer who rarely disappoints, introduced to us by a Juneau bookseller three years ago,

Saturday. May 26 Green Island Anchorage off Fish Egg Inlet

We chose the right day to round Cape Caution and then headed way out in the Sound to avoid the turbulence around Egg Island heading into Fitz Hugh Sound. Berry bushes – probably invasive Himalayan blackberries deposited by mariners – that make the little island in the middle of this multiply protected anchorage so blindingly green. Pulling out a bit after 5 in the morning, we notice several new boats. This a favored anchorage for everyone rounding the Cape, whether from the Broughtons or from God’s Pocket in the archipelago off the tip of Vancouver Island.

Sunday, May 27   Shearwater Marina at Old Bella Bella

I’d forgotten that Shearwater is a major stopping place but it makes sense. It’s the original Bella Bella:  the new First Nations town now sits a couple of miles away. It’s on a section of the coast dotted with crumbling canneries and the main supply point between Campbell River and Prince Rupert. Since it’s Sunday, the store, post office, and chandlery are all closed and Christophe, the new harbour master recently retired from piloting supply barges up and down the coast, has run out of Internet passwords to sell.  But the coin-operated laundry is open. It is strategically placed, claims to be the nicest on the BC Coast, and features an enormous wooden table made from a single slice of a tree. 

While folding our enormous heap, I chat with Doug, who works with the US Fish and Wildlife Service on the Kenai Penninsula. His family is taking a new, used Nordic Tug home so they can spend the rest of their summers exploring Alaska. We agreed on Alaska and shared similar disquiet about consequences of proposed mega projects, namely the Enbridge pipeline and the Pebble Mine.

Monday, May 28 Kurtze Inlet off Princess Royal Channel  53º05.17’N 128º26.04’W

We got an early start and had a long day. The First Nations settlement of Klemtu now has a new cultural center, an electrical generating station and a modern ferry dock in addition to its handsome traditional big house. In contrast, the once thriving cannery town of Bute Bay continues to fall into the water.

We sail through the glistening waters near Hartley Bay but leave our visit to this enchanting First Nations village for the return trip.  Instead we head up the long narrow Grenville Channel  until we reach Kurtze Inlet, towering peaks on both sides but opening to a broad valley.   We drop anchor right in front of an ice covered waterfall. Bursts of setting sun drop rainbows around the bay and on the green flood plain of the river.  Our most magical anchorage yet.

Tuesday, May 29 Lowe Inlet off Grenville Channel  53º33.18’N 129º34.48’W

Progress up Grenville.  Nice current plus wind at our back lets us sail some wing and wing, that is, main on one side, jib furled on the other.   The view ahead is lush green punctuated with waterfalls tumbling down from frozen peaks.  Looking back off the stern the narrow channel is bordered in white: the north faces of these peak near more warmth before a melt.

Wednesday, May 30 Kumealon Inlet off Grenville Channel  53º51.87’N 129º58.64’W

Short trip. There’s a low front is off Prince Rupert, our destination, so we shelter here and spend the rest of the day reading and swinging at anchor.  A single hander in a small sailboat flying the Maple Leaf arrives and anchors off the stern.  We puzzle over this.

Thursday, May 31 and Friday, June 1   Prince Rupert  54–35.59’N 130º53.54’W

Prince Rupert. Rain. Grocery shipping. Internet at Cowpuccino’s and at the library. Chats with folks on dock. Supper out – our first – at nice bar overlooking boats.

Saturday, June 2 54º35.59’N 130º53.54’W Dundas Island

Sailed downwind. Anchored with gusto because we were so hungry.  Interrupted naps to reanchor as rudder was on the bottom.  No mosquitoes. No deer. No anybody.

Prettiest town on the Inside Passage?

Dictated by promises, plans and the tide turn to a long ebb that would take us across Juan de Fuca, our departure was just before dawn. As the sky blazed orange, the purple of the Cascades culminated in Mt. Baker far to the north. We passed the Maritime Center where later in the day and evening, dozens of people from very young to very old would come to learn and share traditional skills.

As we headed around Point Wilson the sun broke, glistening on the windows of the Victorian homes with their widow’s walks and the white squat buildings of the Point Hudson. In the background the massif of the Olympics towered blue and pink.

We had to admit that while we would see extraordinary places on our voyage, it was unlikely there would be a town lovelier than our home Port Townsend.

Open Ocean Adventure – Sitka, Alaska to Port Townsend, Washington

After Hoonah and Sitka, worsening problems with Aurora’s 29-year-old transmission made it unwise for us to return to the lower 48 through the Inside Passage.   Without a reliable engine how could we anchor at night and cross the numerous rapids along that route? But since Aurora is a tried-and-tested offshore vessel, we figured it was time for us to try blue-water sailing.   And maybe the sooner, the better, since we might not like it at all.

Captain Peter Frost and Kelsey Boesch

So we engaged a young licensed captain from Port Townsend named Peter Frost.  After walking us through the preparations, he met us in Alaska on July 6th along with his partner, Kelsey Boesch.   Here is the account of our voyage on the Outside, a hundred miles off the Alaska and British Columbia coasts.

In struggling find the words to describe this extraordinary voyage, I feel a bit like a space traveler who knows she’s done something few others have had the opportunity to do.   But it should be clear that we loved the trip.   In fact, it promises to alter the course, reorder our priorities and reshape our dreams.

Day 1   Wednesday, July 7, 2010    Seasick!

Coordinates at noon:  56º45’N 135º46’W
We cast off from Sitka at 7 am and motor straight out through a couple of remaining “piles of rocks” until we we’re in the open ocean. A curious sea otter, his breakfast on his stomach, watches us go by.  Looking up, we notice instrument failure number one.   The wind vane at the top of the mast has lost its tail and is bobbing around uselessly.  The damage is recent, certainly done by a large bald eagle, undeterred by the bird proofing mechanism. Seagulls abound in other fishing harbors, but in Sitka there are none to be seen.  Eagles rule the roost, hovering over vessels as they unload, darting after what they can get or just standing watch on masts.
The fog is thick so I volunteer for bow watch, and a shot at real concentration because the queasiness I’d feared is taking hold.  When I start vomiting it’s the best place to be so I just stay up tethered in front and tough it out.
Finally my stomach settles a bit and I head back along the jackline to the cockpit.   On my way, I stoop down to move the jib sheet car back along its track.  With that simple gesture my right thumb joint gets stuck in flexed position.  I can straighten it manually but it doesn’t stay.  As I climb into the cockpit puzzling over this, the other four fingers of my left hand spasm out and become useless.  Within a minute my left calf lumps up with a painful cramp and immediately after that a whole complex of muscles in my right thigh contract violently.  Imagine my confused terror as four limbs fail at once!
Peter calmly reassures me that this is a common symptom of sea sickness.  My body is making a bunch of micro adjustments as it gets used to the motion of the waves and swell.  And he’s dead right.  Within a couple of minutes the  paralyzing cramps and spams subside.  I continue my watch, feeling a strange kind of gratitude that my body knows what it’s doing.  Soon enough my nausea has waned and the physical self confidence I had been so carefully nurturing with daily yoga has returned.

Offshore seascape

The familiar fauna soon yield to albatross, ponderous in size, dark in color, and nearly horizontal in flight.  (According to Wikipedia,”Albatross have high glide ratios, around 22:1 to 23:1, meaning that for every metre they drop, they can travel forward 22 metres.”)  I am tempted to see them as creepy but suppose it’s just a figment of fragment of Coleridge haunting  my imagination.  But then Peter dispels any doubts by recounting an incident during a voyage back from Hawaii, when an albatross flew into the mylar sail of a racing vessel and ripped it in half with its beak!

When we are well off shore – about 40 miles out – we adjust our course toward the south. Aurora’s engine works fine since we have no reason to idle nor reverse and the transmission is regularly nurtured with small doses of fluid.  So we continue to motor through weak and uncertain weather.  Peter has carefully thought out our route so that we’ll be in a position to catch the northwesterlies when they begin.  At noon he pencils in our coordinates on the chart and consults his GPS to verify our course and strategy.   Soon we discover instrument failure number two: the cigarette lighter-style DC power outlet in the companionway does not work.  So we must use AA batteries, of which we have barely enough.  Throughout the trip, Peter will combines his years of experience in navigation with judicious use of his GPS.   Since a compass fix is needed in the open ocean, he determines the course and we stay on it using the compass on the binnacle.
We’re still far north and the days are long.  Toward the end of our 2000 to midnight watch, Jack and I can no longer read the compass.  But we have no idea how to turn on the red night light in the compass, and neither does Peter.  In fact, since we’ve never navigated at night, we had neglected to include the compass when verifying the instrument lights according to the checklist Peter had sent about a week earlier.  With calm aplomb the captain moves us beyond equipment failure number three by duct taping the little red flashlight Jack bought to the permitter of the dome on the binnacle.

Day 2 Thursday, July 8     Routine

Coordinates at noon:  54º46’N 134º55’W
Segmenting this account into days is misleading since we never stop. Every day includes night and the period of darkness lengthens as we cross parallels going southward.
We’re setting into our watch schedule, which combines two daytime watches of six hours each with three evening-night-early ones of only four hours.   Today’s looks like this:
0800-1400   Peter & Kelsey
1400-2000 Jack & Carol
2000-0000 Peter & Kelsey
0000-0400 Jack & Carol
0400-0800 Peter & Kelsey
This rotation is a flip of yesterday’s. In the last 24-hour period Jack and I had 14 hours on duty at the helm; in this one we have only 10 but it includes the midnight to 4 am watch.   The new team comes up from below on ten to fifteen minutes before the previous watch ends to be briefed and get the feel for the point of sail, the height and intervals of the waves, and the (steady or gusty) quality of the winds.
When Jack and I go above for our 4 am watch, Peter and Kelsey brief us on the graveyard shift saying they’d enjoyed the Northern Lights.

Off watch sleeping through a long port tack

Nice as it would be to see everything, it’s more important for us to go below, cook some hot food, and get some sleep.  We are very small beings in the middle of vast seas and our bodies seem to know what they need.  Sleep comes easily;  the best we can be is ready for the next watch as well as anything for which extra hands are required.

Peter has been doing 24-hour watches since he was a child and now as a licensed captain sleeping in snatches while being alert to ship and crew seems to be instinctive.  No only does he come up the companionway to check on us, he uses whatever issue Jack and I are musing about as an opportunity for hands on instruction.
Unlike Steve Plantz, Peter was not one of those kids raised at sea.  Thanks to a fortuitous set of circumstances, however, every summer he was able to step out of an otherwise normal American childhood.  Starting at the age of nine he spent summers crewing on a sailing vessel which plied the Great Lakes 24 hours a day.   Peter credits the Canadian youth program that seems almost a throwback to British naval training in 18th century with providing a solid foundation.  He returned to the brigantine every summer until he was fourteen, when they were shipwrecked.  As only of three of a crew of 33 neither injured nor a victim of seasickness, Peter recounts the details of this unwelcome opportunity to perform under stress.  Jack and I listen in grateful amazement that this seafarer, not yet thirty years old, has nearly twenty years offshore experience.
We are under sail about 100 miles out.  Our southeast course takes us past Prince of Wales Island in the morning and past Dixon Entrance in the afternoon.

Day 3   Friday, July 9     Weather

Coordinates at noon: 53º18’N 134º21′

At reports of worsening weather, we make a detour, motoring several hours to get out its path.  Now southerly winds mix with rain and push us on.  Opposite the Queen Charlotte Strait, the weather turns nasty. Peter and Kelsey take over at the helm and Jack and I go below.

Deck with troublesome swim ladder

Although we’ve cleared the deck of most everything, the preventer – a line  that restrains the boom to prevent an accidental jibe – gets caught on  on the aluminum swim ladder, bending it and forcing Peter to go forward to unhook it.   Now that we’re rid of the old hard shell skiff  that covered the place where the ladder is bolted to the deck we’ll have to do something about it.  At the same time, the absence of skiff has vastly improved visibility.  In fact, now we can sit on port or starboard and maintain our course by lining up numbers on the compass with stationary guides positioned 45º degrees to either side of the desired heading.

Sitting at the helm and using the compass works less well in coastal cruising.  Along a coast you have one eye on the chart, the other usually on the point of land to which you’re headed.  Water depths constantly change thanks to irregular bottoms and the high tides of the North Pacific.  The shape of the land affects the velocity and direction of the winds and accounts for crazy currents and roiling rips.  And you need to pay attention to other boats, and hope they are paying attention to you.  After thinking about it a bit, Jack and I realize that offshore sailing under the tutorage of a skilled instructor and navigator can work for fledgelings learning to sail.
At the same time we’re thankful the skills in coastal navigation we’ve acquired and the different sort of concentration sailing in more sheltered water takes.  We rarely do more than ten or twelve hours at a stretch between anchorages but long days are exhausting and often leave the First Mate pleading for extra hands on deck.  But unless they’ve got specific assignments and really want to be there, having friends on board can be distracting.  So we ponder ways to manage more challenging voyages and the practicality and prudence of well-thought out watches.
Watches also make a small boat feel much bigger. Except for a pre-departure dinner, we have not shared a meal with Peter and Kelsey.  We’re hot berthing, sleeping in the same places close to the mast.  That leaves accessible space for personal effects fore and aft.  Finding things in a hurry is important.  My undocumented stashing of foodstuffs in fridge, lockers and bilge has had us rifling a bit but [almost] never for important things like headlamps, gloves, wrenches, extra line, binoculars, duct tape and the like.

Day 4    Saturday, July 10      Musings

Coordinates at noon: 51º48’N 131º58’W

Brilliant hues of sunrise

The view constantly changing

Jack and I pull daybreak and afternoon watches.  The gleam of morning sneaks over the horizon covering the enormous swells with a skim of crinkled, pink foil.  Minutes later the sea is billows golden chiffon.   The hues are so vivid that we are tempted to wake up Peter and Kelsey but we regale them with stories and photos when they come on watch.  After all we missed the aurora borealis; in 24/7 passage making you just can’t experience everything happening around you, although this comes pretty close.

Our six-hour afternoon watch follows a long satisfying nap and a good meal.  Winds are from the northwest, seas are high, sun is full.  In sweater sleeves – it’s warm –  Jack and I alternate 30 minutes at the helm.  We’re headed southeast – 135º magnetic – with ten knot winds moving Aurora along at five and a half knots.  The lightness of the winds make it all the more difficult to keep the compass needle between 130ºM and 140ºM.

Captain Peter emerges briefly from the companion way to demonstrate the micro movements the helmsman must master.  I keep my hands steady on the wheel, note the approximate orb and make it part of my rhythm. There no need to twirl the wheel or make big adjustments, if one stays attentive.  And without headlands, mountains or stars to head for, all my focus is on the compass in front of me.

The sky is cloudless and the line of the horizon distinct.  From where we are sitting in the cockpit, the horizon is a mere three and a half miles away.  This is our own tiny patch of the Pacific.  No wonder we’ve seen no other boats since that troller in the fog less than an hour out of Sitka.

Getting the hang of the helm

The nearness of the horizon inspires reverence and respect.  Our planet is small: it drops off quickly.  When we gaze out on successive ranges of mountains, as you might do heading inland from the Oregon Coast, or looking  northwest from Islamabad or Boulder, the world seems much bigger than it really is.  The seas don’t lie.  If we stand up on the spinnaker box on the deck against the mast, we might see a seven or eight miles radius to the horizon, from the top of the mast perhaps 25.  A very compact area.  Almost cozy.  Nothing like I’d imagined.   No wonder the ancient mariners knew the earth was a sphere, something it took centuries for their land-lubbing cousins to grasp.

I get better at keeping the yellow needle of the compass on target.  I watch intensely as the black disk, all 360 degrees calibrated in white, bibs and spins in its ocean of oil under the glass dome of the compass.  The compass is about 7 inches across, the radius to its horizon three-and-a-half inches, which echos the three-and-a-half miles of ours.  Our great dome of the sky is now evenly light grey, like milky glass, the slate purple grey of the sea gently rocking and bobbing Aurora exactly in its center.  I imagine a miniature sailing ship in a glass bottle, although this time it is a tiny Aurora floating at the center of the compass enclosed in the hemispherical glass dome atop the binnacle.

Day 5    Sunday, July 11    Encounters!

Coordinates at noon: 49º55’N 130º00’W
At about 50º10’N 130º30’W, when I am at the helm facing heavy seas, something smacks low against the keel.  “Look at that sunfish!” Peter exclaims  I manage to stay focussed and not turn around but Jack says it looks something like a huge barn door.  “A barn door that must really hurt.” [ Wikipedia on sunfish: “unique fish whose bodies come to an end just behind the dorsal and anal fins, giving them a “half-a-fish” appearance….the largest of the ray-finned bony fishes, recorded at up to 3.3 metres in length and 2 tonnes in weight.]

When the wind kicks up, we reef the main.

The winds are stiffening now, but I am getting the hang of the helm.  The helm is usually Jack’s task so this is great experience for me.  To keep the ship on our heading of 135º magnetic, I need to keep that compass needle somewhere between 1-3-0 and 1-4-0 on the dial.  Despite the good wind, the seas are rolling us a bit.  My attention needs to be sharp and complete but  my shoulders and hands relaxed as I turn the wheel.  Toward the end of my watch, I enter yogic space between ease and effort and feel my practice is finally bringing results.

Then suddenly, the boom whirls across the cockpit in an accidental jibe.  Worse, the force pulls the preventer, a block and line designed to prevent the wind from getting on the wrong side of the sail, right out of the boom.  I am devastated.
Peter rushes up to deck and gets Aurora back on the proper heading.   With a spare line about sixty feet in length we rig a makeshift preventer, tying one end to the boom and the other to a cleat in the bow, dipping and rising between great following waves.  When Peter finishes, he asks me gently if I’m “ready to get back on the horse.”  It’s noon, so I take the helm briefly while he goes below to check our position and progress of the past 24 hours and pencil them on the chart.  When he emerges from the companionway, he says with a broad smile, “You’ll be interested to know that we’ve just crossed an area of magnetic disturbance.”  Ah, ha!   It was the compass that got mixed up!

Jack takes helm as swells rise behind him

For four days we’ve had our bit of ocean to ourselves, but on the evening watch Jack and I spot a southbound ship on the horizon and then another and another.  Their massiveness is half hidden by the horizon and the huge swells make them disappear all together.  At a distance of a couple of miles they are as benign as the three ships of the Christmas Carol sailing toward [landlocked] Bethlehem.   But we know we are near an open ocean shipping lane and we intersperse visual checks of the horizon every five minutes with checks of the radar, which is bouncing with all the noise the waves are throwing up.

At midnight Kesley and Peter take over at the helm and shortly afterwards (49º30’N 128º20’W) Kelsey calls me back on deck.  There’s a ship bearing at 2 o’clock and the disposition of its lights suggests it’s headed toward us and they are not responding to radio calls.  Peter has turned into the wind in an attempt to speed past it, moving from his 090 heading to 060.  Kelsey and I each take one of the high powered emergency lamps we’re carrying.  I flood the sails with strong light while she flashes her light at the ship.
But the distance is closing and soon we see red and green: when both the port and starboard navigation lights are visible it indicates a collision course. I take the VHF and just keep hailing “the northbound freighter off the west coast of Vancouver Island”.   No response, nothing, silence.   Then miraculously, a weighty, Slavic accented voice responds.  It’s a miracle.  The Zim Djibouti asks our heading.  “Okay,” says the captain, “I’m changing my heading.”  Slowly the red light disappears and the white masthead lights creep apart to tell us we have their starboard safely abreast of ours.  To come that close in such a huge ocean!   The guy on the Zim Djibouti is clearly surprised but as relieved as we are.   He is very nice.  Explains that he couldn’t see us on his radar.  Advises us to get a new reflector but our radar reflector is a good one and designed for offshore. It’s interesting how nearly everyone seems to have suggestions on stuff you can buy for your boat, even the captain of a passing freighter.  [Later I check the Internet and learn that M/V Zim Djibouti is “one of the largest container ships operating in the world” and travels at 25.8 knots. And btw our radar detector is top of the line. Swells just too big. ]
As the night lengthens, my gratitude for the escape from danger multiplies and Nature co-conspires to regale us with a sublimely glorious encounter.  Aurora’s wake is now a broad phosphorescent path behind the stern and the waves breaking around the cockpit are full of light.   It’s the phenomenon of bio-luminesence, tiny marine organisms that emit light when surrounding waters are disturbed.  It’s the sprinkles of sparkles seen when paddling at night, or in the splashes of a bucket drawn from the sea, or whirling around in the bowl of the head when it is flushed.  But tonight we have a full-blown show.  All around us – even at some distance – are light-capped waves.  Billions and billions of creatures are performing for us!   And then suddenly there are ribbons of light streaming alongside the boat, forward and aft, port and starboard. Dolphins! They dart to and fro, playing in our bow waves, enjoying their strength.  In the tubes of light in which they swim we see their large white spots.  Like firework-spouting tug boats escorting a great ocean liner into port, a pod of Pacific-white sided dolphins are our escort through this patch of wilderness night.
Beyond the continental shelf along Vancouver Island, the ocean floor slopes down to minue 10,000 feet or more to what is known as the Abbysmal Plain.  But from these depths rise seamounts, knolls and ridges, giant underwater mountains.  A few rise to just 1500 to 2000 feet below sea level, bringing rich habitat and dolphin feeding grounds just beneath our keel.  This time the short intense blackness of our night has coincided with a wondrous display.

Day 6     Monday, July 12    Speed

Coordinates at noon: 48º52’N 126º30′

Peter keeps us on course in heavy seas

The adrenaline is flowing, keeping Peter’s judgement sharp and energy  unflagging. He’s been at the helm most of the day and is totally in his element.  He and Kelsey have double tethered and opted to stay on deck through our watch.  Jack and I hand up Clif bars and exchange words from the companionway.

It’s too rough for Jack to go up to the cockpit; we both struggle to move around safely below as it is.  Whereas we’ve been been using one salon berth and the floor below it – port or starboard as appropriate – now we are both bedded down on the sole. Were the boat to get tossed Jack would too and land on top of me.  We feel the speed through the length of our spines as Aurora creaks and groans.
Peter has been sailing the Gulf of Alaska for years. In fact, this his second trip this summer, the first taking him from Seward to Juneau following a coastal cruise down the Inside Passage.  Back when he started college in Olympia, he bought an old 27-foot Oday to have a place to live.  Soon enough he had it fixed up and seems to sailed up the coast at every possible opportunity.  So when the Environment Canada announces 25 to 35 knot winds he knows that not only is that fine, it’s also probably an exaggeration.  Indeed, Jack and I have rarely experienced winds as strong as official Canadian predictions.

Kelsey in a trough between huge swells

But today the winds are forty knots and gusting well above that. We thought that the Brooks Peninsula, which sticks out from the top of the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, might break up the swells a bit, but it is not to be.  Kelsey has put the drop boards in the companionway hatch but occasionally will take the top one off and shout down “Fourteen and a half knots!”   Anybody who knows anything about hull speed knows a forty foot boat can’t move this fast.  But under these extraordinary conditions of high winds, broadly spaced swells and following seas, Aurora is surfing, riding half out the water, surfing.

A blend of intense concentration, physical strength, quiet confidence and sheer joy can be seen on Peter’s face every time we look up the companionway.  He’s been at the helm fourteen hours straight and is going strong.  There is nothing quite as efficient as forty feet of Valiant with Carol Hasse sails and free air.
The distant shore of Vancouver Island finally begins to recede as we round the southern tip.  Once we have been soundly shaken by the confused winds and currents of the approach to the West Entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, we got up on deck in the waning sun. This is our first time here but years of marine weather reports have established its reputation for being pretty terrible most of the time.
Dusk brings weariness. Justifiable for Peter and Kelsey, it becomes contagious.  The shore of Washington state is in the distance: in a way we have arrived.  As we cross the great shipping lanes of the Strait, we need to inform radio vessel traffic service  that we’ve entered the strait.  We hail “Seattle traffic” on channel 5A but get no response; maybe our VHF defaults to channel 5.  We then try  VTS for south of Seattle on channel 14, but they fail to respond.  We’re down to our last set of fresh AA batteries for the GPS unit, though we can recycle the old ones and ones stolen from ordinary radios and flashlights.  Remaining on the lookout in all directions, we cross the lane for the local westbound traffic, then the one for ships bound for the  Pacific, then the mile-wide separation lane, and the eastbound, for vessels headed to Vancouver and Seattle, finally landing in the lane for local eastbound boats.  Jack is consulting the Navionics charts on his iPhone, but the information he’s getting doesn’t gel with what Peter’s has.  As black night closes tightly in, a ship passes in a place it clearly  shouldn’t be.  The currents are troubled and although I’ll confess it to no one, I suddenly feel my first discouragement all trip.
Peter reviews our options.  We are opposite the reservation of the Makah Nation at the tip of the Olympic Peninsula, where the lights of Neah Bay twinkle seductively.  The promise of sleep brings the alertness we need to guide our ship and anchor in its tiny harbor.

Day  7      Monday, July 13    Stars

Coordinates at noon:  48º21’N 124º36′W
The sun streaming through the plexiglas of the aft cabin hatch finally wakes me from long uninterrupted sleep.  The others are up.  Kelsey and Peter smile broadly, as if on a drug-induced high, but thoroughly revived after going without sleep for more than twenty-four hours.   Peter pencils the noon coordinates on the paper chart and discovers that we have covered 150 miles a day for three days in row.  This is unheard of.  Who gets back from Alaska that fast?  Peter recounts how at one moment clocked a speed of 17.5 knots, the fastest he’s ever gone in any sailboat.   It happened when a gust of 60 or 70 knots shoved a cresting swell from behind causing Aurora to soar and surf.  On either side, walls of water shot past, enclosing the cockpit.

Setting sun on Juan de Fuca floods cockpit

At last able to cook and safely cut up our remaining fresh fruit, we sit down to a huge breakfast.  Some of us check voicemail and messages, others are just not ready.  After a singular grasse matinee we lift anchor, tie up at the village dock,  top off with fresh water and head to shore for AA batteries.  Neah Bay is by no means affluent, but the waterfront seems forward looking with finishing touches being put on a new casino.  Interestingly, Neah Bay is a dry town, like British Columbia’s Hartley Bay.  Unlike the latter, however, there are stores.   The big hardware store sports a bulletin board with up to date notices.  Out front a girl at a card table is signing up people for an event.  When pay for our batteries, we admire Makah baskets, drums and shell jewelry newly crafted by Neah Bay residents.

It’s already early afternoon when we head back out into the Strait.   It’s blowing with gentle steadiness from the West.  Soon our broad reach turns into wing and wing and eventually we pole out the jib on starboard.  It’s a beautiful day, but there are hardly any other boats.  We stay a mile or two off the Washington shore, passing Clallam Bay, Crescent Bay and Freshwater Bay, relishing the growing heights of the snowy Olympic peaks.  Warm sun floods the cockpit.  We thaw out a huge hunk of the king that Mike gave us back early June and feast on salmon, vegetables and rice and the dregs of plastic bag of Franzia merlot we find hiding behind the water bottles.
The mainsail on one side and the genoa on the other signal our forward progress as the fiery orb sinks behind a luminous horizon.
Then the stars appear, more and more and more of them.   They come right down to the blackness of the land, to the jagged line where the Olympics fall to the sea.  The firmament is a star-speckled blanket with a great cream stripe of Milky Way in the middle.  We are still wing and wing with Peter at the helm.   Unwilling to miss any part of it, he recommends three hour watches.  I get to stay on deck while Jack and Kelsey go below.

Running wing and wing under the stars

The glow of lights that is Port Angeles passes on starboard and on port those of Victoria in the distance, on the more familiar shore.  A westbound ship briefly breaks through the darkness and the silence and is gone.  There is nobody else around. The Milky Way arches above us, framing the sails perfectly parallel to our beam.   Engulfed in the theatrical resplendence of it all.

Suddenly Peter asks me to go below and bring up the high powered lamps.  He has eyes in the back of his head and has seen or heard something I missed.  Indeed, when I return I notice the green and red lights of a ship headed toward our port side aft.   I throw a bright beam on our sails while he aims the second straight on the approaching vessel.  Soon enough they hail us on the radio.  It’s the Coast Guard and it’s their practice to board recreational boats, which after some discussion on their end, they decide they will do “as soon as we can get a boarding party together.”  They ask if we have any arms; we reply no.
For the next two hours the peaceful silence of our run under sail is broken first by the Coast Guard cutter out of Port Angeles, which follows us throughout, and eventually by a noisy inflatable that draws up alongside.  Weird as it is to have armed men enter your home in the middle of the night, we are ready.   Back in Sitka, Jack has checked all the safety equipment according the checklist provided by Pacific NW Expeditions and Aurora’s documents are all in a plastic envelop in the nav station.  Since my name’s on them as co-owner, I can handle it; Jack opts to stay holed up in our diminutive “aft cabin”.
Neither boarding a boat under sail nor being boarded is easy, much less in the black of night. But Peter’s cool at the helm and we figure we’re providing an excellent training opportunity to young Coast Guard recruits.  The first man to stumble on says he needs to check to see if it’s safe for others in the boarding party.  He goes down the companionway and checks all the bilges before giving the all clear.  The inflatable pulls alongside again and dumps out two more guys.  They are polite as they go through the checklist:   Everybody’s got life jackets.  Fire extinguishers recently checked and tagged. Emergency flares up to date.  VHF works. “No Oil Dumping” decal posted (fortunately they have no authority to cite us for a dirty bilge). Navigation rulebook on the shelf.  Correct illumination of navigation lights (this catches them up since few ever board boats under sail at night.) Documentation in order.  The team leader sits in the cockpit, working on a little backlit PDA.  I wonder why I need to sign on the screen before he prints out the little receipt but when I do everything checks out.  He assures me that the receipt should protect us from routine boardings for three years.   But, gee, two hours time with twenty men burning fuel idly in a 72-foot cutter and an 18-foot tender.  Doesn’t the Coast Guard have more important things to do?  Couldn’t we do this at dock? Just like we take our cars to garages for DEQ emissions checks?
We are still running gently wing and wing when Kelsey comes on watch to enjoy the quiet stars before the dawn dims them.

Day 8    Tuesday,  July 14  Home

Coordinates: 48º6′N 122º46′W

Triple-masted schooner rounds Point Wilson

I have just fallen into my deepest dreamiest sleep, when Kelsey wakes me.    Deep fog has closed in, the currents are rushing together confused, and we’re nearing the point where the traffic lanes from Vancouver, Seattle, Bellingham and the Far East converge.  It’s time to unhook the whisker pole that holds out the genoa and take down the sails.  The fog shoves the horizon in near the boat.  With the engine now, we won’t hear the behemoths that ply these waters so attention to both radar and our circle of horizon is all important.  Even though we can see nothing, this is familiar territory.    Juan de Fuca filled with fog and the crazy currents you endure rounding Point Wilson are the price you pay to get to Port Townsend.  And today we are facing the height of the ebb with Puget Sound and Rosario Strait rushing into one another as they empty into the Pacific.  Getting home seems to take forever.

But there is a silver lining in our slow, at times non existent progress against the current.  Shortly after we have heard the last blow of Point Wilson’s fog horn, the sun breaks and its lovely red and white lighthouse comes into view.  As we round the headland, we see the first of more than a hundred Native canoes.  The annual canoe journey of the coastal tribes has come to Port Townsend this year!   In two months in Alaska we saw Tlingit canoes every day: the ceremonial canoes of Hoonah are kept in front of the school, under a wooden canopy guarded by great totems, while Sitka’s great painted canoe is displayed on the waterfront park next to the library.  But this is the first time we see one underway.

Paddlers head to campsite on Port Townsend beach

Native canoe with Mt.Baker in the background

The canoes are long and short, with anywhere from six to twenty paddlers.  Some are dressed in full regalia, others are bare chested.  Some paddle confidently, others are flagging.  There are vessels with high, elegantly carved bows.  Others are covered with the distinctive stylized designs in the traditional red, turquoise, black and white.  Many sport large flags.  We watch the first canoes beach just west of the Marine Science Center and their tired crews disembark.  As we round Point Hudson we see the long line of canoes emerging from Puget Sound.   We later learn that this year’s Celebration will take the paddlers, and their accomplices in power boats laden with supplies, all the way to Neah Bay as it is the Makah Nation that is hosting the crowning event.  Having just come from there, we have an idea of what they will be up against, and applaud their determination.

As wonderful as is Sitka, there is no town more beautiful and welcoming to mariners than Port Townsend.  Still, when we tie up at the dock, I feel that familiar pang of regret.  This voyage is over.

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