Well, we finally did it. On the Fourth of July we were ambling back south but just not ready for it. Comparing destinations with fellow sailors tied up at Baranof Warm Springs, we kept hearing Tracy Arm! This 45-mile fjord south of Juneau is clogged with icebergs and bergie bits that make their way clear into Stephens Passage. The big ones hang around all summer.
In 2009, on our first trip to Alaska, we floated near the entrance of Holkhum Bay contemplating whether to go up Tracy Arm to the Sawyer and South Sawyer Glaciers or up Endicott Arm to its glacier and Ford’s Terror. I’d been the one to chicken out and had not lived it down since.
Canadians Wayne and Randi and Americans Anna and Jim, sit us down, lay out the charts and tell us exactly what to do. “There’s an unnamed cove right at the beginning. Good anchorage once you get in.”
Cool. We know how to squirm into an anchorage.
“When we were there last week an iceberg floated in in the middle of the night and a couple of boats had to move,” says Anna.
Oh. Not so cool. In an attempt to recommend the best place to drop the hook, the four of them discuss iceberg movements. There’s no consensus. The only message is “Just go!”
Tuesday 3 July 2018 Appleton Cove on Peril Strait57º25’N 135º15.7’W
In Sitka we take shore leave from the comfort of our home base on Aurora. On terra firma our minds and muscles get a different kind of workout. For the first time in ten days, Jack and I spend some time apart – more than forty feet!I ride my bike to the laundromat or the library, clear email, have phone meetings, ensure distant aspects of my life are on track.Jack scoots all over town, works out at the community gym, and anguishes briefly over news from Washington that tumbles in all at once. We bathe in chamber music. We walk the docks talking to crews of trollers, gillnetters, seiners, recreational boats, and large tax-haven flagger yachts waiting for their guests. We revisit favorite sites: from the deep dark forest floor we gaze up at the totem poles and the eagles circling, singing above as ravens call out to us. We spend time with Sara and Brian, Gus and Emma and pepper them with all our unanswered questions.
We’d arrived thinking this is the last time we’ll visit Sitka on our own keel.We leave thinking it won’t be.
The clouds hang heavily over the spectacular peaks that rise sharply behind the city the whole week. Twenty minutes after we cast off, dawn breaks, enveloping us in its warm embrace.
We leave as we came, spending just enough time on the buoy at Schultz Cove for lunch and naps before transiting Serguis Narrows at slack.Going through we pass Teas for Two and wave to Helen and Ian, who call on the radio for a brief chat.
Whales, porpoises, dolphins spout and jump. The air is bone dry.Appleton Cove’s Alaska State buoy is unoccupied.Where are our fellow humans?
Wednesday 4 July 2018 Baranof Warm Springs 57º05’N 134º49.9’W
Another beautiful morning on Chatham Strait.We arrive at low tide and Jack turns Aurora 180º with inches under the keel for a starboard tie on the north side of the dock.We head for the bathhouse and get very clean.
Boats come and go, leaving a mostly convivial crowd for Fourth of July celebrations. The exceptions are a couple of larger boats with commercial guests and generators running.While barely audible above the roar of the falls, they spew fumes. Ted, the retired resident who helps collect moorage for the Sitka Harbormaster, requests they desist and they do. But after dark when the last of the outdated, disposable marine flares soar above the bay, the gensets come on after we go to bed. (Which inspires Jack to complain to the Sitka Harbormaster, who replies that a sign with the rule is a good idea.)
Friday 6 July 2018 Cannery Cove in Pybus Bay57º18’N134º08.7’W
There are a dozen seiners in the Bay when we leave Warm Springs, their crews sleeping off a couple of days of fishing. It was so much fun the last time when these big ships flouted the rules and rafted side by side from the float out across the Bay.
Saturday 7 July 2018 Unnamed Cove on Tracy Arm57º48.5’N133º38’W
Monday 9 July 2018 Cleveland Channel
Rather than go on to Portage Bay on the south shore of Frederick Sound, we decide to break the trip to Petersburg in two passages of approximately 5 hours each. So we drop anchor in Cleveland Channel at southwest end of Stevens Passage just north of Cape Fanshaw.
When we check the weather during before dinner drinks, all reports have been updated. It seems rapidly moving low pressure system is on its way, predicted to blow though and wear itself out in about 36 hours. We’re okay with small craft advisories of 15 to 25 knots of wind. This report, however, specifies gusting to 40 knots. And we are not yet around Cape Fanshaw at the point where two huge bodies of water meet: Stephens Passage and Frederick Sound.
We go to bed with the prospect of having to spend a day waiting out the storm and expecting to be awakened by wind starting in the middle of the night.
Tuesday 10 July 2018 Petersburg
We wake up early to the eerie calm that proceeds a storm. It looks like we’ll have no trouble rounding Cape Fanshaw and getting into Frederick Sound. By 5am the anchor is up and we’re underway. Before leaving Stephens Passage we see a couple of humpbacks, the only whales we see in days on two vast bodies of water known for their whales. On a previous trip through Frederick we had to wend our way through dozens of half-sleeping whales.
Soon enough it begins to rain and we lose visibility while neither the wind nor the sea state is troublesome. We don’t see a single ship until we approach Petersburg and find ourselves in the company of a large fuel barge on starboard and a tug and tow on port. Looks like everyone is on target to enter the Wrangell Narrows on a high tide at slack. No sooner do we enter the channel than the tug skipper, who had been shortening his cable, announces to “all concerned traffic” that he’s coming through. We scramble into low water on the side as the huge tug and barge slide by a boat length away.
We head for the fuel dock where the enormous tanker is already unloading gas and diesel. We fill up to ward off winter condensation that will put water not our diesel. I ask the attendant how the fishing is. Not too good. And where are the whales? “Yes. Where are the whales? I’ve been here ten years and a couple of times each week would see groups of humpbacks or orcas head down the Narrows. Not this year.”Aurora’s new home is stall 106 right in front of Ocean Beauty’s huge fish processing operations.
We break the usual long passage north with a stop in Klemtu, where we land at the fuel dock and are greeted by a smiling Alan at the fuel dock.The folks at Shearwater has advised against filling up with their diesel until the huge shipment piped off a barge had settled in their tanks.Alanis welcoming an accommodating.When we request permission to drop anchor in Klemtu’s small bay, Alan says, “You could just pull back onto that extension of the fuel dock.” Oh good. A leg-stretch in this interesting First Nation village without having to inflate the dinghy. When I go up to the office on the dock to pay, Alan asks if I’ve visited Klemtu’s Big House. I haven’t. He has me copy down the phone number of Shane Robinson, who can guide me.
And that is a story still to be written.
Wednesday 13 June 2018 Lowe Inlet53º33.4”N 129º34’W
We leave Klemtu at 6am and twelve and a half hours later drop anchor in Lowe Inlet. This can be a challenge but we nail it, our anchor grabbing the mud on a single narrow goldilocks band between shoal and depths.
Thursday 14 June 2018Kumealon Inlet53º52’N 129º58’W
The rising tide in Lowe Inlet entitles us to a mid morning start and a strong favorable current north on Grenville Channel.I sit on deck leaning back on the mast where I can look out for logs and signal to Jack, who zigs and zags around them. Twice a month, when the moon is full or new, spring tides float the drift from shore into our path.
Into Kumealon Inlet tonight,23 vertical feel of water will flow in and out – six hours to arrive and six to depart. Again we must lay down the hook in the sweet spot, which is just off a rock wall where you can see the rise and fall with your own eyes. We succeed.
Friday 15 June 2018 Cow Bay, Prince Rupert 54º19’N 130º19’W
The new Cow Bay Marina has space. Owner Robin Beattie and his employee Noora are at the docks to take our lines.Currents are strong here.We tie up in 150 feet of water and watch shore rise 25 feet with the falling tide.
In the fog that comes the next morning we can’t see shore. It will not be fun transiting the circuitous Venn Passage on a low spring tide in such conditions.In the end, the lack of visibility on the morning of our rest day enhances our joy when the next morning dawns clear.
Sunday 17 JuneFoggy Bay54º56.9’N 130º56.4’W
Above 54º40’ ! Alaska at last.Jack has called ahead to US Customs and got us permission to spend the night here along with two other slow sailboats.
Monday 18 June 2018 Ketchikan55º20’N 131º38.4’W
As we motor up Revillagigedo Channel we see our first giant cruise ship of the trip, then second, third, four, and fifth towering over the waterfront.Without a suitable dock the largest cruise ship (in the whole world it seems) – the Norwegian Bliss – is anchored out and lightering in its passengers to shore.Today this diminutive town of 13,000 people has nearly 13,000 visitors!
We duck behind the first of these behemoths expecting calm in Thomas Basin. There is none. Strong, noisy williwaws rush down the peaks.As we dock I manage to get the midline on a cleat but nothing else. Aurora fishtails into the neighboring boat whose occupants come out to help.Man rushes to stern, woman grabs a bow line. It takes us ten minutes of struggle to inch the boat in an get it tied up.
Ketchikan is 80º. To escape the heat and check my mail I take the city bus up to Ketchikan’s new library. The ride is pleasant, the chair comfy, the view spectacular, but Alaska libraries aren’t air conditioned. What was I thinking?
When the sun sinks and the big ships are gone, and the fishing boats return, and thing get convivial on the docks. Sage, who organized our rescue is a shipwright who lives aboard with his family. He gives us his card, which we tape to the nav station. It’s hard to find a ready shipwright in Alaska in the summer; Across the way from them on S/V Lionheart are Rachel and Jeff with their baby, toddler and teenager.They are moving from Prince of Wales, where Rachel taught all of Thorne Bay’s third, fourth and fifth graders, to the Olympic Penninsula. John and Jennifer of Cara Babbo visit, bearing fresh corn muffins: turns out they’ve just moved to Port Townsend, where it will be good to have them.Next visit is crew of Teas for Two – the third Foggy Bay boat – Ian from Victoria and Helen from the northern shores of the UK.
Wednesday 20 June 2018Thorne Bay55º40.9’N 132º31.4’W
Whew!We did it.Got into Thorne Bay. Jack on Navionics on iPad standing next to me at helm. Straight line zig zag. My knuckles white.Jack’s voice calm. “One or two more degrees to the right.” “Now hard turn to left and straighten out at about 275º.”
We’re the only boat on the guest dock.We tie up right in front of Toccata, which Sheryl and Greg spent 27 years building in Port Townsend.New Harbormaster, Ron, seems to know everything.Says Sheryl is doing the laundry and Greg is in crafting something in his shop on shore. Somehow we miss them but liveaboards Libby and Jim pay a visit.Once the largest logging camp in the world, Thorne Bay is a quiet community of 400 souls.Libby says 38 of them are named “Jim” and that the second most popular name is Sean/Shawn. Shows some demographic diversity, I say.
Thorne Bay has excellent, empty docks and a liquor store but no bar. Which makes it somewhat unAlaskan. Rachel the teacher and future home schooler suspects her family was “too hippy” for the place.
Thursday 21 June 2018Exchange Island56º12’N 133.04’W
Summer Solstice.A late afternoon west wind is strong enough to spins Aurora opposite the direction the incoming tide has pushed her. I let out 50 more feet of chain I pay attention to our GPS coordinates lest we drag.We don’t.
As the wind subsides and sun sinks, we enjoy drinks on deck. An enormous salmon jumps and splashes as a great blue heron, clearly outmatched, looks on in wonder.
Friday 22 June 2018 South entry to Rocky Pass 56º35’N 133º41’W
Lovely morning passage north behind the Kashevarof Island and into the vast Sumner Strait. Two hulking cruise ships steam south to disgorge thousands on the Ketchikan waterfront when the shops open.An orange blaze appears over the horizon off Pt. Baker. Not a ship on fire but a commercial trawler with its fishing lights on.A large work platform of a boat disappears down Prince of Wales’ west coast.Nothing smaller anywhere around.
We head for Keku Strait, which nothing larger than Aurora can transit.We’ve done it twice before. Cognizance of how tidal level and direction affect passage are essential, especially for the middle 20 miles sections known as Rocky Pass.
So we get the Douglasses’ Exploring Southeast Alaska: Dixon Entrance to Skagway: Details of Every Harbor and Cove.We rail against the outdated 2007 second edition, designed either to terrify or laud the courage of the authors: “Stories abound of good skippers who grounded or ruined their boats in Rocky Pass.Part of the problem is crappy editing by Fine Edge publications. They’ve left in pages of dramatic stuff written long before placement of aids to nav and dredging of a section near Summit Island in the early 00’s.Our aging chart includes 2007 datum and Jack updated our Navionics digital chart plotter just before the trip. Despite some magnetic disturbance at the north end of Rocky Pass, we should make it.
Saturday 23 June 2018 Kake56º56.8’N 133º53.7’W
Make that Peace of Kake.Kake is a Tlingit village at the end of Keku Strait where we are relishing modest triumphs. Our anchor held in the good mud of a vast shallow expanse of wind beaten water as we slept soundly.And when the tide was right mid morning we worked in tight collaboration to transit Rocky Pass.
Here on the good docks of this surprisingly empty harbor, we have been sandwiched by two other recreational sailboats.On starboard is Williwaw, owned by the surviving half of a cruising couple whose family members are delivering it to Anacortes where it will be sold.On port are three generations of Austrians on their third circumnavigation.“Via Panama?” I ask.“No, the Northwest Passage.” Wow. I tell them about Dogbark! and they mention seeing them on AIS earlier this week.
Sunday 24 June 2018Baranof Warm Springs57º05’N 134º50’W
Early morning fog persists all the way across Frederick Sound and up Chatham Strait.As we round the tip of Admiralty Island, a Stellar sealion surprises us with a huge splash off our port beam and explodes above the surface next to the boat on port side, an enormous salmon in his mouth.White; looks like a polar bear.Plays with his food. Throws it up in the air and snatches back in his jaws.
It’s late morning when we get close enough to the dock to see there are 45 free feet waiting for us.Everyone seems to sleeping.Finally the sun breaks over the snowy 4,000 foot peaks above us.Is there any corner of the good earth more beautiful than Baranof Warm Springs?
The docks come alive.We meet Sharon and John, who live aboard Gipsy Lady in Point Hudson.Stu in on Ripple a 26 foot gaff rigged boat built by the Northwest School forWooden Boats.He’s buddy boating with Terry from Powell River, who has a tiny trimiran and helps me tighten the shroud we stretched when we bent the whisker pole and free the main halyard stuck in the mast.
The waterfall roars.We languish in one of the tubs in the bathhouse.When the seiners arrive, four big ones raft to the smallest, which hangs off the end of the dock. The Sitka Harbormaster under whose authority this small dock now falls would not approve. This is a party. Dogs and children spill out of the boats.Good to see beloved traditions endure.
Monday 25 June 2018 Schulze Cove 57º23.5’N 135º35.8’W
A long day starts with spectacular views as we make our early morning exit from Baranof Warm Springs.
We decide to push on in hopes of getting to the Sitka side of Sergius Narrows. In our 10th hour underway, we pull off into Deep Cove to figure out our low slack transit of the Narrows.We try to ignore the dread the Douglasses inspire in Cruising Southeast Alaska so turn to the usually sensible How to Cruise to Alaska without Rocking the Boat Too Much. Here’s what Walt Woodward writes:
Make no mistake about it, Sergius Narrows should be navigated for the first time by an inexperienced skipper only at high water slack; positively and without exception at high water slack. ….Let’s see if I can command your respect of Sergius. In the first place, it is one of only four passes listed in the Pacific Coast Tidal Current Tables for special statistical treatment: the others are Deception Pass, Seymour Narrows, and Isanotski Strait. All of them are awesome in the sudden and sustained way that maximum currents surge through them. The critical portion of Sergius is just 450 feet long, the length of the dredged channel that is 24 feet deep and only 300 feet wide. On one side of the channel is the rock wall of Sergius Point; the other, marked by a nun buoys, includes covered rock and a submerged rock. Through this aperture race mighty and variable-direction currents of almost six knots on the flood and 5.5 on the ebb. At slack water, however, the thing can be a mill pond for about ten minutes, plenty of time to get through. The only problem then would be other ships waiting for the same slack period. An Alaska state ferry can fill most of the channel.
Hmm. We’ve done Sergius twice before but can’t remember if it was high or low slack. No other boats around, at least not westbound. All our tide tables agree that low slack water is at 4:05 pm. And we’re not really inexperienced skippers.
So we go for it. Two powerful eastbound local boats push against the current to transit a couple of minutes early, leaving Serguis for us alone. We go in a minute before dead low slack and emerge a minute after it. Absolutely smooth. Around the corner we find the Alaska State buoy in Schulze Cove waiting for us.
Tuesday 26 June 2018 Sitka 57º03’N 135º21’W
Sublime passage through the swells of Salisbury Sound. The rain stops and the sun breaks through on the early morning trollers.
In Neva Strait we pass a couple of Sitka black-tailed deer, a small subspecies of mule deer that are a stable of the Alaskan diet.
In a narrow passage between Sitka’s first small islands, we pass Dogbark! and chat with Graeme and crew until they disappear into Olga Strait.They’ll head out across the Gulf of Alaska toward Dutch Harbor and continue north along the Bering Sea coast to Nome, where Janna, Talia and Savia will meet them.We’re getting their dispatches online.
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.
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.)
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Friday, May 30 Blunden Harbour50º54’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.
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…”
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.