Posts Tagged 'people'

Stern ties and cultural (in)competence

Smuggler Sunset

At the end of the day, our flawed stern tie provides this high tide view.

Through the heart of the Salish Sea is a cultural fault line that divides most Canadians from most Americans.

We like to swing and they don’t. They like to tie and we don’t.

I’m talking about the art of stern tying. Stern tying is what you do at an anchorage where people stern tie. After dropping anchor you run a line from the stern of the boat to the shore. This means your boat doesn’t swing, although in the wind the stern tugs at its tether like an annoying dog.

Occasionally stern tying makes sense. Let’s say a storm kicks up in Malaspina Strait and along with most everyone else you head for shelter in tiny Smuggler Cove. More boats can squeeze in when they park side by side around the edges, bows facing in in a neat circle. To facilitate the spacing of boats at this location, Provincial park authorities have installed iron rings at intervals along the shore. But even when there are no rings and lots of scope for swinging, the folks north of the cultural fault line will still stern tie.

And unlike those of us from the south, they are adept at it! No sooner is the anchor down than one of the crew gets in the dinghy, takes the end of a yellow plastic line from a bobbin mounted in the stern of the mother ship to the shore, puts it around a tree or though a ring, bring it back to the boat, and ties it two the stern. Done in less than 5 minutes.

Jack’s log offers a single note on a recent anchorage: “The stern tie from hell!”

There are only three boats there when we pull in to Smuggler Cove, a couple of hours south of Pender Harbour. With our pick of where to anchor, we choose our spot and drop.

As Jack at the helm tries to keep the boat off the rocks, I fumble with the yellow plastic line, get into the dinghy and head for shore. Somehow I manage to lose the end the line and have to go back to the boat to retrieve it. This time Jack unspools a whole lot so we can cover the distance. Fortunately, the yellow plastic line floats and doesn’t foul the propeller.

Stern tie is twisted but t
Here’s our set up on an earlier, imperfect stern tie in Laura Cove.  Note the makeshift bobbin mount, the wet shoes and socks and the fenders on the rail that will complicate a future effort that is going into the books as “The Stern Tie from Hell.”

I reach shore, get wet to the knee as I step out on a large flat rock. I secure the floating dinghy, untie the bitter end of the yellow line and scale the barnacle-encrusted cliff – just as well I’m wearing my snow pants. I find a ring, pass the bitter end through it and head back down to the dinghy, now stuck on the flat rock because the tide is falling pretty fast. I climb back on board Aurora as Jack kills the engine. We assess our twisted lines and check the tide tables.

Oops. We’re a more than an hour from the low low in a full mooned spring tide cycle. We’ve got to re-anchor and do the whole thing again!

Our stomachs are empty and our brunch of poutine will have to wait. I pocket a granola bar and head to the bow to raise the anchor. Rather than taking the trouble to open the hatch and flake the chain back into its locker under the V-berth, I bring the chain up on the deck. Then I accidentally step on the windlass motor button and manage to jam the anchor in the cradle and the taught chain on the windlass. As Jack keeps the boat off the rocks, I fetch the hammer, screwdriver and WD40. Swearing like a sailor, I eventually coax the links off the iron ratchet.

Lunch of poutine.

Our poutine brunch finally comes in the middle of the afternoon.

Finally we can repeat the process.  I drop the anchor and feed out a pile of chain. Then I get back into the inflatable still wearing my wet snowpants and shoes.  I tie the bitter end to the dinghy so the line can follow me.  I paddle out (not row, mind you, thanks to the oarlock that broke in Pender Harbor). The cliff is really high now; a vertical foot of tide has run out during the jammed windlass incident.  But with the end of this saga in sight, I bound to the top of cliff and put the end of the line through it. Now all Jack has to do is feed out the line so I can double it back.

Oh oh. Either my trajectory was loopy or the stern has swung, but now the line between spool and water is badly tangled among the spare fenders hung on either side of the $20-used-barbecue-that-has-never-worked.  Now it’s Jack who is swearing. He pulls fenders back over the rail into the boat, removing all play from the yellow plastic line and making things much worse. In the end he has to untie each of the fender lines.

Finally, standing atop the cliff like a resilient mountain goat, I coil all the line needed to reach the boat.  As I climb back down to the dinghy, the barnacles catch the coils.  Once the line and I are safely down in the dinghy heading back to the boat,  the whole scene changes.  The slack line snags on a rock and then another. As I look back in defeat, my paddling takes the inflatable atop the the half of the line already in place adding a new twist.

Our stern lines are rarely parallel.  Often they look

Our stern lines are rarely parallel; sometimes they do a crazy cat’s cradle.

Canadian stern ties result in neat parallel lines from ship to shore. Ours can be more like cat’s cradle.

Stern tying gives me cultural angoisse, existential anomie. It’s one of those times when the local culture seems impenetrable. How much else about Canadians do I fail to understand?  Does any of this behavior carry over to important differences in, say, the way they park their cars?

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Voices of Comox

“Here! You should read this!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comox2

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

 

Log: Southbound home

Boat Repairs in Exotic Places

Okay so there’s a gap in our itinerary for what cruising sailors refer to as “boat repairs in exotic places.” You have to find a mechanic, parts, and a boatyard to pull the boat out of the water, move off the boat with clothes, stuff and perishable food, manage the crew’s patience and tolerance for uncertainty, and choose whether to spend the time in a cheap motel, on a land excursion or a flight home. Let’s leave this story for some other time.

After three and a half weeks we head back to the boat. Jack carries our two bags and my backpack on the scooter and in Prince Rupert we provision a single bag of groceries, a bottle of gin and a box of wine and take a cab to the Port Edward xboatyard.

We’ve got a congenial and talkative cabbie. Somehow we start talking about Haida Gawaii and he asks if we know the story about the Golden Spruce. We do, we’ve read John Vaillant’s strange tale of the demented environmentalist who chops down this albino tree, as sacred to the Haida as the white Spirit Bear is to the tribes of the coast.

“I drove that guy and his kayak to the ferry,” says the driver says.”

“The blue plastic kayak?” I ask.  “The only evidence of his disappearance ever found?” Yep.

Then he tells us about his tribe, the KitSan, I believe, from the interior of northern BC interior. They warred with the Haida for generations. Mind you we’ve just come from the BC Museum in Victoria, where the vast collections of objects of Haida material culture – especially the argillite carvings – speak of their power and vision. Everybody knows that the Haida must have been an awesome enemy.

“You know,” the cabbie says, “we got a totem in our village. It’s very simple. Just a woman with a baby and a tiny canoe.” With measured drama, he goes on to explain how she was kidnapped by a Haida Chief and bore his child and then built the tiny canoe. One night she escaped with her child and paddled all the way across the terrifying Hecate Strait and up the river to return to their village on the mainland.

Tuesday 26 July – Port Edward

Port Ed is a busy, mixed bag of a working port hidden away behind the coal and grain bulk terminals on Prince Rupert’s Ridley Island.  Finally Aurora is splashed, bills are paid, and we’re good to go with full water tanks and our lone grocery bag of provisions. Just before dawn we’re off, elated.

Port Ed

After two and a half weeks at this Port Ed boatyard, Aurora’s back in the water and we’re headed south.

Then we discover I’ve done something completely stupid.

As part of the take off routine the night before, I’d closed the raw water intake to check the filter, saying to Jack’ “Remind me to reopen it”: distrusting my short term memory is part of the routine. Then I figure it’s probably been done as part of the repair and grab my high intensity bike light to peer though the clear plastic lid of the filter. Yep, good to go.

On the way out of Port Ed I notice the exhaust is white and mention it. A few minutes later Jack notices the engine is heating up faster than usual and we put two and two together. I forgot to open the valve!

I rush below and open it but still no water is flowing through the filter or out of the hull. We need to let the engine cool down. Rather than add minutes by going back to the dock, I spy a netfloat about 30 feet long where fishermen repair their gill nets.  Dawn is breaking and the big seiners are pulling in to the processing plant, but I figure it’s too early for gill net repair. I get the fenders out but position them way too high. Like so many floats and breakwaters in the area, this one is made of metal detritus left over from Port Ed’s earlier industries, such as the rendering plant that was a sideline at the cannery after salmon fishing crashed. At a short distance the float looks like it’s all wood but it sits on rusty cylindrical tanks which gouge our gel coat.

I tie up, pull the steps from the companionway and find a very hot engine. We need to check the “fresh water” system – really chemical coolant – but I don’t dare open the cap lest hot antifreeze splash all over me. So we wait. Finally, dressed in full foulies and goggles, I out a rubber gloved hand into the engine room and remove the cap. The tank is still full to the brim with coolant. I replace the cap. Funny how you need both the fresh and raw water systems working together.

So we decide it must beworking and fire up the engine. Alas, no bubbling is observed under the transparent top of raw water filter and no water is spraying out with the exhaust. (Nigel Calder says there are two things you check as soon as you start the engine: check the oil pressure and lean over the rail to see if water is spurting out with the exhaust. Lesson now learned.)

Sweet little impeller.

Our sweet little impeller.

All we can think now is that we must have fried the impeller. It’s a spinning valve with rubber teeth. I can show you a picture but you won’t get the whole picture. Impellers are located at the base of the engine and you have to contort your body into a pretzel to get to the place. Then you have to take off the plate covering the impeller and not drop your screws into the bilge, something that has unfathomable consequences when you’re dealing with a closed system.

So changing an impeller is a rite of passage. My First Time was on the west coast of Vancouver Island. We were precariously anchored off a rocky point among 30-foot long fronds of slippery bull kelp. Sea sickening swells were rolling across the open Pacific from Japan. But I did it. And, emboldened with experience, I did it again!

Wednesday 27 July – Lowe Inlet 53º33.5’N 129º33.9’W

Now those coordinates! Write them down! That is the only really good place to anchor in Lowe Inlet. It’s stage left of spectacular Verney Falls, which feeds Lowe Inlet. And it’s not just when the salmon are practicing to jump over the falls and head up into the mountains to spawn and die or not spawn and die anyway in the jaws of a bear. What a spectacular anchorage!  Two, three foot salmon thrusting themselves clear out of the water and coming down with a fantastic splash. A little the summertime thrill of fireworks, but all 360 degrees around you so you head is always spinning.

While I’m here – at Lowe Inlet – I must confess that this is the site of the stupidest thing we’ve ever done. But there’s sort of an unwritten statute of limitations on this saga. So patient readers, stay alert. By next summer the time may be right to come clean.

Thursday 28 July – Green Inlet 52º55’N 128.28.9’W

It's not everyday that you see a bird boat with 13 seagull passengers.

It’s not everyday that you see a bird boat with 13 seagull passengers!

The sun is finally setting when we turn into Green Inlet. The tiny anchorage is tucked behind some islets near its mouth. As soon as it flashes 40 on our depth sounder, Jack calls it out and I drop anchor. Anchor and chain spool out at a ferocious speed, impossible to control. 120 feet! Jack comes forward to help and we get out more chain but don’t feel like putting out all. Instead I’ll sleep on deck and monitor the situation.

Note these coordinates and avoid them. Like the plague. Like Zika. Oh, and by the way the bottomless nook behind the islets is appropriately named Horsefly Cove. Fortunately, horseflies give up at night and as we the days are shortening with the season and our southerly course.

Friday 29 July – Ormidale Harbour 52º11.6’N 128º08.4’W

We survive the night at Green Inlet in 120 feet of water with only 1:2 scope (but all chain.) Worth sleeping on deck rather than trying to find a better spot in this tiny, deep, protected cove. Seems there’s an uncharted bump in the middle of this deep bay that’s only 40 feet.

Heavy fog rolls down Grenville as we pull into the Channel and soon a target – probably a tug and tow – appear on the radar behind us. I hope it’s northbound and out of our way. Jack checks the GIS and finds they’re following us. He hails the vessel whose captain appreciates the call. He sees us on his radar, says we’re in fine place where he can pass on starboard, and tells us there’s another tug and tow following him. Jack confirms with captain #2 as well. We hear the groan of the diesel very near, then a break and the second tug boat passes.  Apart from BC Ferries’ Northern Expedition, which plies the Prince Rupert to Port Hardy route every day,  these two tugs are about the only commercial boats we’ve encountered

New this trip is Orimidale Harbour off Seaforth Channel near Bella Bella.

New this trip is Orimidale Harbour off Seaforth Channel near Bella Bella. It’s spacious with a couple of more protected coves.

Finally the fog breaks and we see the temporarily coupled tugs and their tows part ways. Not far from Klemtu we grab a cell phone signal and call Christophe at Shearwater. Not a chance of moorage, he reports.

Millbanke is much kinder than on the northbound passage so I peruse the charts and the Waggoners and find this huge protected harbor in Seaforth Channel. We expect it will be ringed with houses but the only thing there is a large new working boat that must belong to the Hieltsuk tribe in adjacent Bella Bella. We find our own little cove and anchor twice to get it just right. Note these coordinates! How come no one talks about this convenient anchorage that is an alternative to the always-crowded Shearwater?  It’s a bit open to the Northwest but has a couple of coves and  should be good in a storm from the south.

Saturday 30 July – Codville Lagoon 52º03.5’N 127º51’W

Today is a rest day. I lie in bed finishing Heroes of the Frontier, Dave Eggers’ new book that was released on Tuesday.  As we said good bye to the land of wifi, the text flowed onto Jack’s Kindle, the reading into my Audible.com library. We’d both pre-ordered as it was Dave Eggers and Alaska and what’s not to like? Well, this book. I don’t get it. It makes me feel uneasy and literarily insecure. All along I think it may erupt into either very dark darkness or full blown satire. Alas, it does neither. Now Jack is reading it and shaking his head but I’m hopeful he’ll have some insight. Is this book just about how poor decisions lead to ever poorer decisions foreshadowing the weathering of otherwise sensible and sensitive young children tethered to a wholly dysfunctional parent? We should be on wifi in another week; it will be interesting to see what the critics have to say about Heroes.

We take a break in our grasse matinée at anchor to move the boat, checking with Christophe at Shearwater on the possibility of space at the dock. Nope, not this trip. Fine. We’ll ration our protein. Cooking will be a lot simpler. Nothing wrong with the boat that needs attention. We’ll live with the dirty laundry. And won’t have to risk risk Lama Passage in deep fog. It’s great that he Hieltsuk tribe has such a successful operation in Shearwater. It would be nice to have a dock in Orimidale or if other tribes along this long long stretch of wilderness offered a few more services.

No sooner are we past Bella Bella when things get weird. Over channel 16 we hear, “Calling the Canadian Coast Guard, calling the Canadian Coast Guard.” (And what other coast guard would reply?) Coast Guard lady answers and asks how they may assist. “There’s a fishing boat harassing a bear. They are preventing it from swimming to shore.” Seems some hysterical environmentalists from Florida on a fancy boat named True East want the coast guard to arrest the fishermen. But the bear is not headed to any old shore – it’s the fish processing plant! Smarter than your average bear!

We continue down Lama Passage, cross Fisher Channel and pull into Codville Lagoon.  It’s a wonderful place with dozens of semi private nooks.

Codville Lagoon is a wonderful anchorage just two hours south of Shearwater.

Codville Lagoon is a wonderful anchorage just two hours south of Shearwater.

Sunday 31 July – Fury Island 51º29’N 127º17’W

Fury Island is wonderful in every way. Nothing as magical as our last trip, perhaps, but still pretty great. White shell beaches. Views of the open ocean beyond at high tide. A soft bottom that hugs your anchor and won’t let it go.

Fury Island is the jumping off place for the rounding of Cape Caution, a day long slog through whales and rocks that look like eggs as open ocean swells ends in great vertical splashes against the formidable headlands.

No matter how much you relax and doze and dream at Fury Cove, you know your supply of adrenalin is restoring itself. And all you you need the next morning at dawn is a good cup of coffee and to be on your way. In any weather Cape Caution makes you pay attention.

Our southbound rounding was as flat and calm and pleasant as the one north. You just never know with Cape Caution.

Monday 1 August – Blunden Harbour 50º54’N 127º51’W

Cape Caution is dead flat and because it’s British Columbia holiday there’s no traffic.  We spend a peaceful, windless day out on the water.  Blunden, south of Allison Harbour, is the perfect landing place after rounding Caution.  Allison the perfect take off place northbound.

Tuesday 2 August – Waddington Cove 50º43’N 126º36.9’W

I love the part of the Broughtons that is all dramatic steep-walled bottomless channels and I love the low islands to the northwest. Waddington is a wonderful anchorage. But at the helm I can’t find the way to it through the rocky islets without Jack on the electronic chart signaling every move.

Wednesday 3 August – Port Harvey 50º34’N 126º16’W

Gail Campbell takes our lines at the dock of the grandly named Port Harvey Marine Resort.  Soon afterwards, George roars up in their fast aluminum boat with their daughter, son-in-law and little grandkids.

The couple has been working on their own all summer. A modest new lodge is rising to replace the large two storey structure with restaurant and general store.  The old building was on a bladder and sank over the winter; the new one is on a barge. Work has now been put off until next winter so cruisers can be served.

There’s a huge tent on a float where homemade pizza is baked and served. Hot croissants and cinnamon buns are delivered to the dock at 7am.  The wifi is strong.  Moorage is only $1 a foot.  Bravo, Gail and George.  You rock!

Thursday 4 August – Blind Channel Resort 50º24.8N 12530’W

While power yachters stay hunkered down at Port Harvey thanks to reports of 35 knot gales hitting Johnstone Strait later in the day, we cast off well before dawn.  Jack has put down electronic “breadcrumbs” so we can exit the way we came in.  When we reach Johnstone we turn of the running lights and enjoy the light on the water.

We're out on Johnstone Strait at sunrise to catch the current and avoid afternoon gales.

We’re out on Johnstone Strait at sunrise to ride the current, avoid afternoon gales, and catch slack at Whirlpool rapids.

Blind Channel Resort, now moving into the hands of the fourth generation of the Richter Family promises fuel, delicious spring water,  a fine small grocery with produce from the resort garden and world-class food.  Since one of my goals is to get this blog fact written and fact checked, we’re disappointed at the poor quality of the wifi and surprised at the lack of cell phone service.  And even with the big yachts around us acting as breakwaters, we rock and roll all night at the dock.  We need to find a good place to drop the hook so we can just swing.  Options, however, are limited.

Friday 5 August – Von Donlop Inlet 50º08.6’N 124º56.8’W

We’re off mid morning to catch Dent and Yaculta Rapids at slack. We pass tiny Shoal Bay where dozens of boats are rafted five thick at the wharf.  Since we’re making such good time it’s not painful to miss the annual Blues Festival and Pig Roast which Mark offers for a $10 donation, with proceeds to a local environmental charity.  At Shoal Bay we like to be tied up at the float: getting to shore when rafted or anchored out is tedious.  We’ll leave this an early season destination and try to get Mark and Cynthia to visit us in Port Townsend.

We exit Yaculta Rapids into the beautiful grand expanse of Calm Channel.  True to its name, the channel has little wind but at least it’s behind us.  We pole out the genny on starboard and push the main out over the port rail – wing on wing.

Calm breeze in Calm Channel. We pole out the genny on starboard and push the main over port.

Calm breeze in Calm Channel. We pole out the genny on starboard and push the main over port.

We move slowly slowly just enjoying the sun and warmth.  There’s no space at George Harbour and as nice as the hot pool would be this evening, we’re delighted to be at Von Donlop Inlet.  We go all three miles in, past the stern-tied boats to the large basin at the end with it’s even bottom and good holding ground.

wing2

Since sails wing on wing block the view from the cockpit, I hang out in the bow.

Saturday 6 August – Ford Cove on Hornby Island  49º29.8’N 124º40’W

 

Ford Cove represents the one major departure from our usual southbound route.  Normally we head down to Desolation Sound then past Lund to the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver.

A brochure we pick up on the Coho Ferry – Denman Hornby – highlights an option.  These two islands are not part of the Gulf Islands but rather lay near Vancouver Island at the entrance to Comox.  We’ve know the rollicking, often rough passage behind long Denman.  Little roundish Hornby sits to the east.  To get to Hornby by car you take a small BC Ferries boat to Denman and then an even smaller ferry to Hornby.

According to Ford Cove Harbour Manager Jean Miserendino, Hornby has about 800 year round residents but goes to 5000 in the summer.  Sounds like the whole island takes on the ambiance of a three month festival every summer.  Fords Harbour is already jammed with local boats: commercial fishing vessels, rec boats, and run about are rafted three deep.  Managing comings and goings of community members must take some real cooperation.

We need to come back and explore.  Hornby is little and will be easy to get around. Its local  park sits atop a bluff overlooking Tribune Bay.   With a sandy crescent beach, rare in these parts, Tribune Bay is an inviting anchorage, though it only works in the good weather brought by gentle NW winds.

While finding a dock attached to land at Hornby doesn’t look feasible, the transient float where we tie up is less than 100 feet from a finger that leads smoothly to the pier – easy enough to shuttle Jack’s scooter and then Jack into shore in our little inflatable.

There’s still about 45 feet of free space at our float when the sun sets.  Hearing the voices of a crew about to land, I stick my head out of the companionway and see a fine wooden schooner. With Baggywrinkles!  I go help with the lines, getting midline and stern with no problem. Even so, a rookie crew member bounds off the bow and rolls onto the float, young and unhurt.  The schooner?  It’s Nevermore, whose permanent slip is near ours in Port Townsend.

IMG_6133

This fine wooden schooner, Nevermore, has its permanent home near Aurora in Port Townsend.

Sunday 7 August – Ladysmith Maritime Society 48ø59.8’N 123º48.7’W

We’re making good time and feeling great.  Our predawn departure from Hornby gets us at Dodd Narrows safely before slack, with the water still flowing south.  We’ve called Mark at the Ladysmith Maritime Society and there’s space for us.

Eager to end relax after a long day we head through the narrows early.  It’s still clear of northbound boats but it’s full of strong whirlpools.  And there among the swirls at the neck is a fisherman casting from a very small rowboat!  He waves to us as we speed by.  A crowd has gathered on both shores to keep an eye on him, not that they could help much.  Ah, reentry to the Gulfs and the San Juans!  This is our first brush with summer craziness.  As we clear the narrows, the first northbound boats are arriving, circling, waiting.  Soon the VHF squawks, “Third-foot sailboat  northbound through Dodd Narrows. Calling any concerned traffic.”  The prudent sailors on the other side are concerned and get the guy – of course it’s a guy – on the radio and help him with the math concerning the speed of his boat and that of current thinks he can overtake.

Ladysmith Maritime Society. Is there a better marina anywhere long the Inside Passage? Let us know.

Ladysmith Community Marina. Is there a better marina anywhere long the Inside Passage? Let us know.

How good it is to dock at Ladysmith with smiling volunteers on the docks to take your lines!  We decide that again this year the Ladysmith Maritime Society has the best marina on the Inside Passage.  There is nothing particularly promising about its location in a traditional logging community on a bay still filled with log booms and next to a clamorous milling operation.

A new float at Ladysmith features a marine science display.

A new float at Ladysmith features a marine science display.

But where else is there so much going on?  Old timers restoring historic local wooden boats.  Birders tracking and banding purple martins.  Folks in the little museum trying to understand the material culture of the region’s past.  People building the spectacular new marine science float with its windowed deck, touch tanks and interpretive displays.  Disabled people learning to sail in specially equipped Marin 16’s and sometimes going off to compete in regular races. Multi-generational families from all over town filling every seat at the Oyster Bay Cafe for a gourmet Sunday brunch.  Cruisers just hanging out on their boats, talking to passers by, using Internet, doing laundry, taking long warm free showers all for one small Canadian dollar a foot.  And no tax: LMS is a nonprofit.  This place rocks!

Monday 8 August – Watmough Bay – 48º25.8’N 122º48.6′W

Out of Ladysmith it’s morning of big boats.  Our southbound course takes us to Houston Passage, a tight U- turn around the tip of Salt Spring Island.  On Channel 16 a captain is hailing “a northbound sailboat.”  No answer.  It’s not us being called; we’re still southbound. But then given the Houston’s U, boats from either direction enter northbound and exit southbound. Hmmm. Something to remember.

A large ship makes the tight turn through Houston Channel at the north tip of Salt Spring Island.

A large ship makes the tight turn through Houston Channel at the north tip of Salt Spring Island.

No sooner do we enter the Passage than a ship, bright orange in the morning glare, appears among the trees.  We hail the captain but there’s no reply.  Not on 16 and not on 11 (though we should be on 12 as we’re now in Victoria traffic). Then the “northbound sailboat” appears and we have the Argent Sunrise on port and Osprey on starboard.  At this particular point, there’s enough room but still.  When I see that S/V Osprey is out of Portland, I take it personally.  In general, skippers who cruise among the big ships on the Columbia River are unusually skilled at rules of the road and using VHF.  If you know Osprey, mention the confusion wrought by their failure to monitor VHF

Out in Boundary Channel we have no trouble reaching the pilot of a large container ship making the 72º turn around Stuart Island. He says we’re fine and thanks us for the call. We cross behind his stern and bring down the pennant.

The Maple Leaf pennant come down. We're back in the USA.

The Maple Leaf pennant comes down. We’re back in the USA.

As we head deeper into the San Juans, things get crazy busy but nowhere more than in narrow channel north of Shaw Island.   Huge power yachts roar by rocking us and the folks in kayaks, rowboats and sailing skiffs that should be comfortable in this narrow interesting waterway.  Hey, San Juan County, how about a speed limit?

We we finally exit we’re somehow passed by three large Washington State Ferries in the space of five minutes.   We forgo Spencer Spit and James Island to avoid being rocked by traffic all evening and head south to Watmough, where we find our first mooring buoy of the summer.  This charming bay is closest point in San Juan County to PT and its three mooring buoys are provided free by the local community.

There’s little wind or current in the bay but interestingly we don’t spin.  Rather we rock gently all night on what must be swells Pacific swells sneaking all the way in.

Tuesday 9 August – Home in Port Townsend

With a mid morning departure, we can flood home.  No wind. No fog. Hardly any other boats. But Growlers. As we slip east of Smith Island we see their Oak Harbor.

Finally we near Point Wilson.   There are a couple of ships on the AIS.  The fast one is the Victoria Clipper, which passes soon after it appears.  Behind it a large cargo ship looms.  We’re on the south side of the southbound lane and should be fine. Jack hails the captain to make sure. No answer on 16.  We try 12, forgetting that Puget Sound traffic is channel 14.  Still, everyone is supposed to on 16.

Suddenly the big ship changes course.  We turn into the commercial shipping lane, at it – Matson Line – passes us starboard, leaving us to take the wake.  Point Wilson throws its own surprises even without traffic in the mix.

I’m already wary of civilization, missing the wilderness. But some I’m home watching the eagles and herons in the tree above my desk or turning over rocks at low tide and marveling at  dozens of exotic creatures.

Sea Otters: Devastatingly adorable

Sea otters are adorable!

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

SeaOtter4

Sea Otters pay attention to passersby.

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

 

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

SeaOtter5

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

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

 

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

SeaOtter3

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

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

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

SeaOtter2

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

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

 

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

SeaOtter1

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

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

 

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

Log: POW Circumnavigation

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

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

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

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

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

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

This greenhouse with hydroponic and traditional produce can help feed all 65 residents of The Organized Village of Kasaan.

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

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

Totems stand in old growth forest around the historic 1882 Whalehouse, to be rededicated on September 3, 2016.

The poles in the Kasaan totem park stand in spectacular old growth forest.

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

Kassan ege

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

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

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

KasaanFace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again today!
Three hundred sixty degrees
No other humans!

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

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

All of Point Baker's government and commercial float.

All of Point Baker’s government and commercial float.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A fleet of tiny boats allow passengers to explore some of the narrow passages we've just exited.

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

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

Such a choice of beautiful coves off Sea Otter Sound!

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

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

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

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

From the Tlingit village of Kwalock, a diversity of poles look out over the water.

The hill above the barber in the Tlingit village of Kwalock has a fascinating variety of poles.

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

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

Below this pair of common murres, eggs with their future progeny float to the ground.

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

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

Is this a Tlingit Guy Fawkes?

Is this a Tlingit Guy Fawkes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hydaburg

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

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

RedCedarBark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thurs 30 June – Prince Rupert 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Log: North to Alaska with David

On Friday afternoon, May 20 2016, we finally shuttle selves and supplies from house to the docks, grab celebratory drinks at the Pourhouse and take out from 123 Thai and move onto Aurora for the next twelve weeks. We turn in early and are off before dawn, with David still tucked in under his goose down comforter in the V-berth.  Goodbye, Port Townsend.

Sat 21 May – Montague Harbour 48º53.6’N 122º23.8’W

Good old Point Wilson rocks and rolls us before we make a straight shot across Juan de Fuca on the ebb to pick up the push of the flood into Haro Strait. Search for orcas to no avail. David – whose father was from Sashkatschewan – does the honors of flying the Canadian pennant as we dodge a big ship in Boundary Channel.

DavidFlag

Sequestered on the boat at the customs dock at Bedwell Harbour, we watch Captain Jack make his way off the boat, along the float and up the long steep ramp to phone in our arrival. This time the officer up in the dock invites him to sit down and actually apologizes for the inconvenience. “Lots of people find the walk difficult,” he says. “We been trying for years to get this situation fixed.” So he gives Jack phone and email of the higher ups in Ottawa and encourages everyone to complain directly about this egregious accessibility gap.

We’d hope for an unoccupied mooring buoy at Montague Marine Park on Galliano Island so that David could enjoy the challenge and comedy of catching the ring with a pole and tying up. But as it’s a beautiful night with the locals out for the weekend and all are taken,  So we find a space, drop anchor and prepare David to be rudely removed at dawn from his bunk over the anchor chain locker.

Sun 22 May – Ladysmith 48º59.8’N 123.48.7’W

Up and down the coast our movements are determined by tides and currents as well as winds and seas. The Captain has calculated that a late Monday morning transit of Dodd Narrows – ever so narrow and so often clogged with log booms – is optimal. So we have some options of where to wait. I vote for Ladysmith and prevail. On the VHF, Harbormaster Mark tells us they’re full but if we’d anchor he’ll call us when 40 feet of dock became free. So we continue up past the log booms and the sawmill, drop anchor at the head of the inlet, and have a nice lunch.

The community-owned non-profit Ladysmith Maritime Society is the best. Mark and a young man, who was obviously being trained, appear on the dock to take our lines  – the last time anyone will do this for weeks.  Once off ship, Jack rolls right into the handicapped shower, David walks into town to do some last minute shopping for his culinary wonders, and we all wallow in the broad bandwidth.

Mon 23 May – Boho Bay 49º29.8’N 12413.8’W

Dodd goes flawlessly and we sail northeast across Georgia Strait to the little cluster of islands southwest of the mighty Taxeda. Alone in Boho Bay off Lasqueti, we drop the hook in our little spot near the big rocks just as a river otter swims around it in pursuit of dinner. His catch is quick and efficient but eating a whole foot-long fish is something sea otters do not do elegantly. They don’t use their paws but jerk their heads up, taking the fish head first. They snap their heads around, biting, chewing, and swallowing an inch at a time, fishtail in the air. The last time I saw an otter eating, I nearly called marine mammal rescue thinking the captive fish had snagged the poor otter with a stray hook. Now I know otters just look like they are gagging when they eat.

Boho Bay is our first distant, isolated, off-grid anchorage and gets us started on the definition of “wilderness”.  It also is the first of a series of technical adventures regarding our electrical system. It starts when our fairly new carbon monoxide alarm goes off. We figure that when we were anchoring, some diesel exhaust must have entered the salon. So we turn on the engine blower, open up all the hatches and port holes and hang out on deck.

The damn thing continues to scream and the reset works for about two minutes. We consulted Nigel Calder and finally dig out the leaflet with tech info in twenty languages that has not yet been filed in the three-ring binder marked “S/V Aurora Operations Manual – Vol IV”. Finally, I wedge in a piece of bamboo skewer to keep constant pressure on the reset button.

We’d wondered about our ever so slightly bulging batteries, even though folks in Port Townsend had assured Jack they weren’t ready to be changed out. Bank 2 is drawing 9.0 volts of DC juice while Bank 1 has 14. Something’s off.  We decide to check things out in Campbell River.

Tues 24 May – Campbell River 50º02’N 125º14.6’W

It’s a long long long day, but there are no joint Naval Exercises in Whiskey Golf so we power though the rough waters along Taxeda and motor-sail up Georgia Strait under vast clear skies, elated that the Comox glacier appears bigger than last year.  The light-and-color show of sky  on water continues all day. When the view on port appears white and grey and on starboard true blue, I remember to take a photo.

Georgia

Under still glorious skies, Jack catches the back eddy which takes us into the First Nations-owned North Coast Marina. On the adjacent shore is  a boatyard, the Ocean Pacific chandlery, Riptide Pub, a Starbucks, and the biggest supermarket I’ve ever seen. Campbell River is the last town with roads to serve the interior or Vancouver Island plus all the roadless small communities of the Discovery Islands, Desolation Sound,and the Broughtons.

It’s 4:45pm when we tie up so I run up to Ocean Pacific to see if someone can help us the next day. Lisa checks with the manager who says they’re  booked up but they’ll spread the word. Sure enough, Lisa calls the next morning to say someone will be around later in the day. Jack volunteers to wait around and handle it, dispatching David to Starbucks and me to the Campbell River Museum. In the end we gain four new “golf cart” batteries and lose a bit of confidence in our Port Townsend shop, which has recently changed hands.

Thurs 26 May – Shoal Bay 50º27.5’N 125º21.9’W

Could a passage of Seymour Narrows be any less dramatic? We encounter no line up of boats, share the space with no large ships, log booms or barges messily loaded with salvage timber. As we pass through the whirlpools above what is left of Ripple Rock, I tell Jack and David about the tremendous project undertaken to blow its head off. One of the must-see films at the museum is based on newsreels from the 1950s. It took some time for Canadian and US technocrats to rule out a nuclear explosion and years longer to put in place the tunnels required to do the job with conventional explosives. In the end, the massive rock on which so many ships and lives has been lost blew up into the air and the sea in a perfectly executed blast.

Morning rays brush hills
Lighter, brighter greens. Until
Canvas is complete.

North of the narrows everything changes. Is this where the wilderness begins? David is skeptical – there’s evidence of clear cutting. While we see no active camps and replanting of trees was well along, we pass a small tug towing a large log boom. I take David’s picture with it.

DavidNodales

Of more concern are the fish farms, great pens of Atlantic salmon (color added) that attract sea lice and foul anchorages. Nobody knows who owns them – Norwegian and Chilean technologies, yes, but managed by huge multinational corporations. Next to nobody knows anyone who draws an income from this business and if they did, they might not admit it. These farms don’t need farmers: fish are fed fish meal brought in on barges which serve all the pens in an area.

At the “magic chowk” where Cordero Channel crosses Nodales at Frederick Arm, we hang a left toward Shoal Bay with the usual great anticipation. Beautiful as always and there is space at the dock.

Iridescent flash!
Orange hummingbird visits.
“Rufous,” says David.

ShoalBay

Mark has made progress on the house and Cynthia has produced pottery over the winter and is working on a commission for a new lodge. We have drinks and guacamole on the deck as rufous hummingbirds swarm among the petunias, preferring the Mark’s sugar water from the red plastic blossoms on the feeder. There’s one other cruiser, plus several summer helpers, including a Nova Scotian who’s helping build for winter use a mini hydroelectric generator on the bay’s lone small stream.

Hummingbirds

Fri 27 May – Port Harvey 55º.34’N 126º16’W

Jack has timed our departure to so we’re near slack at Green Point and catching a favorable ebb through Whirlpool Rapids. The morning is glorious, the water smooth so we power down and have a nice breakfast when David emerges. We’ve done these rapids more than a dozen times so they present no trouble.

Mirror smooth surface
Johnstone winds cannot ruffle
Whirling Green Point pools

It’s Johnstone Strait beyond them that the huge question mark, no matter what Environment Canada has to stay. But it too is welcoming; there is no need to seek shelter in the bull kelp wilds of Port Neville. Instead we spend a long day going all the way to Havannah Channel, eager to see George and Gail at their mini resort at Port Harvey.

No Johnstone traffic
Save a cabin on its way
To summer moorage

Our Waggonners guide wisely counsels patience as the place is tucked in at the very tip of the inlet. Still the red and white two story lodge just doesn’t appear in our binoculars! What is going on! We decipher the docks, which look fine, and as we approach, George and his dog walk out to meet us.

The lodge has sunk! It’s gone. Totaled. Inventory, equipment, everything: lost. The fine structure with a hardware store/mini grocery down stairs and a deck and restaurant upstairs was on an inflatable bladder.

GeorgeGeorge is all smiles, undeterred. (Dog is sad; he only meets boats in hopes of finding dog friends.)  George and Gail are rebuilding. A sturdy old barge has been secured in place.  The lodge is being framed this month. It will be one story because “a lot of our cruisers are getting older and don’t like the stairs.” A tent is going up on a nice wooden float to shelter cruisers who feel convivial. Electricity will be restored to the docks soon. In the meantime, homemade cinnamon buns are delivered for breakfast and pizza for lunch or supper. Getting all the permits required for the café kitchen will take a little longer.

While David is devouring his enormous bun and chatting with George, I run up to the house to see Gail, the baker. She’s in a pink chenille bath robe and tennis shoes, grey like me, resilient and smiling like her husband. I condole, commenting on the effort before them. “It’s okay, she says, “I love to work.”

Sat 28 May – Waddington Bay 50º43’N 126º36.8’W

May 28th is Mom’s birthday. She would have been 106 today.  And she would have loved knowing that the United Nations chose this date for a new annual awareness day, one for which Anna is representing PHLUSH back in Portland.

Mom, sex ed leader,
do you know your birthday is
Menstrual Hygiene Day?

We cast off and make our way down Port Harvey and up Havannah Channel. Low hanging garlands of mist decorate the dark green hills.

My raisin wrinkles.
Thirsty for dew, face morn’s mist.
Grey skies! Silver sea!

Bleached white shells making an old Native kitchen midden highlight a patch of shore under the bright but shadowless morning.

Streak of bright white.
Bleached shell beach. Native people
Would’ve breakfasted here!

midden

Only David has indulged in cinnamon buns so I go below to make breakfast. Do I sense smoke as I as pass the aft stateroom? Sure enough, there’s a slender plume emanated from the the trusty inverter where we charge our cell phones and laptops. I shut it off, pull the plugs on the greater than usual number of devices there and call Jack down. He turns the switch on the battery banks, shutting down the whole DC system, then pulls the inverter away from the back and side walls of the cabinet and pulls out a bag of cough drops that’s blocking the vents. “See, here’s the problem” he says, chiding me for negligent housekeeping. He goes back to the cockpit to navigate the narrow, kelp-clogged Chatham Channel. “Let it cool down and we’ll try it later. It’ll probably fix itself like so much else.”

What?!  I quickly consider the consequences of an onboard electrical fire. Sure, our fire extinguishers are current, but we don’t even have the dinghy deployed. It’s still tightly wedged – deflated – in the forward locker!! But enough for now, I shift gears as I’m called to the deck to help with the tricky navigation. I stand directly behind Jack, back to back, finding the two red range markers on a distant hillside with my binoculars. When one appears to be directly above the other, it means the boat is on the required 270º bearing. I have to guide Jack in turning a degree or two to port or a degree or two to starboard until we’re precisely on course. Then, thanks to a dogleg in the channel, I turn forward and pick up a second set or ranges in the direction we’re headed. Finally we’re in deeper water emerging toward Knight Inlet and Jack is telling David to be on the lookout for the Pacific white-sided dolphin that like to play in our bow waves.

“Aren’t we going into Lagoon Cove to check out the electrical? It’s ten minutes from here!,”  I say.  There’s some resistance but I stand firm. At least I can deploy the dinghy. We head into The Blowhole and soon are hailing folks on the dock.

We haven’t stayed at Lagoon Cove since master story teller Bill Barber died – it’s just too sad. There’s never been much in the way of amenities, just an extremely caring welcome. The fuel dock serves neighboring shrimpers and crabbers and the people at the fish monitoring station who share their Internet with Lagoon Cove after work. Jean Barber still summers in the house above the docks but this renowned cruising stop in an unspectacular location is now for sale.

A very perky person welcomes us on the VHF and soon we see her bouncing around the dock. She waves us in, grabs a line and introduces herself. “My name is Jam.”

“Hi, Jan.”

“Jam! Like peanut butter and Jam.”

She’s a fellow cruiser. Points to a nice ketch, Sea Esta. Says Jean had to go away for a few days and she’s just helping out. There are only a few boats in.  Jack ventures the question, now with fairly low expectations. “Is there anyone here who can answer some questions about our electrical system.”

“Sure!” say Jam. “My husband is really good at that stuff! Right now he’s out helping someone set the trap so we’ll have prawns for happy hour!”

“You got boats coming?” I ask.

“All the time! Last weekend it was Victoria Day! We really packed them in here!” She does a little hand chop motion to show boats moored stern-in to the dock (rather than tied up laterally to it). Indeed, Lagoon is the only place we’ve ever stayed that practices Mediterranean mooring.

Gratified that people still come and that the host’s huge plate of prawns still graces the pot luck BYO happy hour table, I finish up deck tasks while Jack and David make lunch. After a while a young guy with a bushy red beard shows up. It’s Dave; he towers over Jam, who’s probably a Canadian Filipina. Dave looks at the ancient inverter, shakes his head, says it’s dangerous, you can’t use this. Another cruiser suggests using the cigarette lighter and offers a couple of USB plugs. They don’t work so Dave checks things out and finds out the lighter had just never been wired in and fixes it. Then Jack wonders whether the reason our diesel furnace won’t turn on is that the guy in Cambell River who installed the batteries just forgot to rewire it. This turns out to be the case. In less than an hour Dave has everything in order. By 2pm he’s sitting at our nav station eating the breakfast Jam has delivered because he’s been busy nonstop all day. We say goodbye, put some cash into Dave’s pocket and his name our 2016 Pantheon list.

Knight Inlet’s dolphins let us down but the afternoon has broken warm, dry and colorful. We motor thought a the ever-changing palette all the way to the low islands of the Broughtons.  It’s a long day and there is only a single sign of human habitation.  As we float past, I snap of photo of the First Nation longhouse, while David pulls out his phone, catches some waves from the village cell tower, and text Karen with news of our progress.

Gifford

We watch the sun set from Waddington Bay, the all-around sheltered anchorage with view holes that we discovered on our 2015 South of Cape Caution Cruise.

Sun 29 May – Allison Harbour 51º02.7’N 127º30.7’W

If the weather gods continue to cooperate and we get an early start, we should be able to make it all the way to Allison Harbour. This is the ideal jumping off point for Cape Caution and the weather should hold for a next day crossing.

We rout David from his berth, throw his bedding on top of ours, remove the mattresses, open the anchor locker, and send him up on deck with his first cup of coffee. He activates the windlass with his foot, bringing up the chain in small bites, letting the motor cool off every ten seconds and giving me the chance to flake it neatly in the locker below. Now that we’re in the wilderness, David will be subject to this routine every day.

Under clear skies and on windless seas, we motor on to Allison Harbour and snug into a sweet little cove. Let us remind the unwary reader that “harbour” is a geophysical term. This one bears no signs of human habitation apart from our ephemeral presence.

Mon 30 May – Pruth Bay, Calvert Island 51º39’N 128º07’W

Cape Caution really lived up to its name on our 2014 cruise. Fourteen hours of stomach churning rollers northbound, General Jackson in the fog southbound. This time? Easiest yet. Mirror seas reflect a cirrus-domed firmament with dappled blues and silvers. Small sandy beaches glow golden even though we give the Cape wide berth. The red roofs of the Egg Island light station and the gentle wave of the Maple Leaf flag assure us that someone is keeping watch.

cirrus.jpgWe learn one new lesson, however. Just south of the Cape, Jack hails the pilot of the lone southbound vessel we encounter – a tug towing a large barge. He just wants to confirm that passing port to port works best. He tries on 16 and then on 11, the Victoria Coast guard channel for commercial traffic south of Cape Caution. No answer. Why the tug didn’t answer the call on 16 is a mystery – it’s the law for everyone to monitor it. But not being on channel 11 is less of a mystery. The pilot was probably still on channel 78, which is the Prince Rupert Coast Guard channel used by commercial vessels north of the Cape. The lesson: Cruisers should toggle between channels 11 and 78 to track traffic and to announce their presence in fog. (In our case, we have three VHF radios and can monitor all at once. The reason we happen to have three radios is that in 2014 the handheld failed mid trip. Once back home we purchased the the same model, as it continued to get good reviews. Then we found the new charger charges the old radio charges perfectly well.)

Version 2We get past Cape Caution so fast that we suddenly have a new option. Jack’s conventional wisdom is this: if we’ve been beaten up by twelve hours of rough water, we turn into Fury Cove. If we’ve still got energy, we continue north to Green Island Anchorage. Southbound Fury Cove is preferable to Green Island because it gives a head start on the Cape. Going northbound, Allison is preferable to Blunden Harbour for the same reason.

The new option is Pruth Bay at the north end of Calvert Island. For years I have read about the Hakai Institute, looked longingly at the photos of the georgeous Pacific beaches, and perused charts of all the tiny islands in the Goose Group and in Hecate Passage. In fact the entire Hakai Luxvbalis Conservancy Area has hundreds of small western-facing islands in addition to the two main ones: Calvert and Hunter. This huge, protected, undeveloped provincial park extends nearly to Lama Passage.

So we head to Pruth Bay and have the hook down by 3pm. David and I deploy the dinghy, jump in and row to the Institute dock. Nearly a dozen of their boats range from solid inflatables to aluminum research vessels to small, fast passenger ferries. Several young researchers loading gear say they’re looking at oceanography and nearshore geology. The Institute, run by the Tula Foundation in a former fishing lodge, also studies First Nations culture. There are no services for outsiders apart from a welcome kiosk, a restroom, wifi and a path to the beach.

The Pacific beach is extraordinary, more beautiful than what you sail past as you leave Tofino. I don’t take camera or phone in the dinghy but David does – by accident it seems – and before we return slurps up the latest news on wifi.

Can your mind be free
If you need answers now?
Screw your devices!

Tues 31 May – Shearwater 52º08.8’N 128º05.3’W

We rout David from his slumber in the V berth to raise the anchor. I’m eager to go and bring the chain up in a ten second bights, which results in it getting stuck in the tube. I swear, tug from below, run up on deck, tug from above until I heard the tumble down into the bow. The David gets up in the bow, his foot on the switch, his eyes on his Apple watch stopwatch. We’re still not coordinated.

Anchor up, we’re off into Fitzhugh Sound, waveless, wind-less, whale-less. Gorgeous but disappointing. On clear still days like this you can hear whales splash and blow and flumes of mist linger in the air a bit longer.

leaving Hakai

We’ve never had a shorter passage to Shearwater. Seven hours later, we’re approaching the float, Christophe there to take our lines. Expectations are high: there’s wifi, water, public phones, a pub, and a chandlery. With luck, we’ll be able to charge our now-empty phones, iPads, and laptops as well as batteries for Jack’s scooter and the Milwaukee wrench. Shearwater is the only place between Campbell River and Prince Rupert where cruisers can stop to get things fixed.

While we are comparatively undaunted, David is mystified at the succession of problems we’ve faced. “Can’t you just read Consumer Reports and find a boat that’s reliable?,” wonders David. A skipper from Portland in a UofO cap finds this hilarious, thinks for a minute, and recounts – day by day – equipment failures and maintenance required on their similarly sized sailboat.

The guys go shopping and come back with an inverter that is a tenth the weight and three times the capacity of the old one and a double USB plug for the cigarette lighter. An hour later everything is recharged.

After doing laundry and slurping beer and election news at the pub, Jack needs some downtime. So I explore Bella Bella with David. The tin can ferry is terrifyingly fast – dock to dock in less than five minutes. Bella Bella is one of the largest native villages on the coast, the home of the Heiltsuk Nation. As we stroll through town a woman greets us, excitedly offering the first salmon berries of the season. At the fishing port and the solid waste center, we’re among hundreds of eagles, many flying just above our heads. I realize they have a variety of calls, not just the familiar multi note downward trill. The town has everything: a large school, a hospital, a tribal center, social and environmental non-profits, a good grocery, and variety of colorful totem poles. I am surprised that the wastewater treatment plant is on a hill. Good in a tsunami but it must need powerful pumps and efficient electricity generation.

Thur 2 June – Khutze Inlet 53º04’N 128º3’W

Leaving Shearwater, I bring up the fenders but drop the biggest one overboard. As Jack brings the boat around, I head forward with the fending pole and tell David to fetch the extra one from the shower. I belly down on deck and crawl out over the bow, held by the jib-sheet looped around my foot. One swipe and the fender i.e. retrieved. Thirty seconds. We could not have done that a few years back. Everyone is impressed.

We’ve always loved crossing Milbanke Sound and seeing the pretty light stations south and north of it. This morning however, it’s rough, beats us up, keeps David below, pretty miserable. Then we get the waves behind us and it’s a different day.

Oh, Great Pacific!
You throw us mighty waves.
Ha ha! We surf them!

Once we get in Finlayson Channel, I go below to start some soup. By the time we get to Klemtu, it’s ready so I turn off the gas as we approach the fuel dock. The attendant is not to be found: we call, ask around, have lunch. Finally I get a woman at the grocery store to call. “He’s in a family meeting,” she says. Which means someone has died and there won’t be anyone to pump diesel today.

We set out again, motoring up Graham Reach to lovely Kurtz Inlet. Rather than go on to where the Inlet shoals out into a bear beach, we drop the hook in the shelter a notch near the mouth.

Friday, June 3 – Hartley Bay 53º25.4’N 129º15’W

There is no stretch of wilderness less inhabited and more spectacular than the east coast of Princess Royal Island. This is where you find the tallest trees, the boldest waterfalls. It’s the land of the spirit bear, revered by tribes and adventurers alike and off limits to trophy hunters. Maybe someday we’ll see one.

Where Graham Reach turns into Fraser Reach we stop to take a look at the ruins of the old Butedale cannery. The rickety docks and likely fouled bottom of the bay there have prevented us from every spending the night. But while the decay continues, despite the efforts of a recently retired caretaker, a new aluminum ramp signals that things may improve in the future.

Butedale

Hundreds of canneries have been reclaimed by sea and the forest, however, and maybe that should happen here. (And how many have been saved. Port Edwards near Prince Rupert is the most extensive restoration and hardly anyone goes. Hoonah has turned one into a nice interpretative center and south of Craig one functions as a classy fishing resort. Astoria Oregon has saved a few buildings. Anywhere else? In the Pacific Northwest, weather and wilderness just take over.)

Icy old fingers
Scrapped earth, left waterways
For migrants. Whales. Us.

Liquid silk on stone
Mountain hearts open to showers
Rainforest cascades!

Mackay Reach. Slate grey
With white dots and dashes.
Weather’s Morse Code

By the time we’re in Mackay Reach the color of the water and wave action have changed, as if to tell us something. Wright Sound is rough. We take the waves on various quarters, with a couple of good rocking on the beam. David, having earned, is in the cockpit. We find standing, letting sea legs strengthen works. As we approach the channel into Hartley Bay, Jack says “Oh, no, the depth gauge seems not to be working.” A check of the chart, however, shows we have 1600 feet under our keel! At this depth soundings are impossible and useless. With a few minutes we are back to normal, cruising with 160 feet of water under our keel. Around the bend is the First Nations village of Hartley Bay, population 165.

HartleyPort

We’re barely tied up at the fuel float when the attendant welcomes us and sends down the diesel hose from the dock way above. She suggests I use the long handled hook laying on the dock to grab it and avoid falling in. As the diesel flows, she calls out our progress: 70 liters, 80 liters until I slow to listen for the bubbling that shows our take is full.

I go up to pay and ask to leave the boat a few minutes while I scope out 40 feet of dock space. At the moment there isn’t but it’s busy. We’re the only rec boat but local boats are coming and going including the RCMP -the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Then the fuel attendant reappears and within earshot of the Mountie says, “If that RCMP boat could squeeze into that 37 foot space you could go there. I can’t ask, but you might.” Before I know it, the petite blond has moved her boat, leaving the best spot at the docks for us. So Hartley Bay and so Canadian. I am moved.

As soon as I step down to get one of Aurora’s lines on the new toe rail, I hear loud barks followed by a sustained and barely audible growl. A splendid young husky. I can’t help looking her in the eyes because one is blue and the other brown. When I feel the light touch of teeth through the many layers of cloth on my leg, I tug the second line under the rail and, bitter end in hand, jump back to the safety of the boat.

Later in the evening there’s a knock on deck. I emerge to this picture. The dog, her owner, Kyle Clifton, and an enormous crab he’s brought as a peace offering. Seems the elders told him about the dog drama.

Kyle

I dive into the lazarette for the 12-qt crab pot that hasn’t been used all season because we’re too busy to crab. Crab looks delicious. Huge scary claws, even looks too big for the pot. I ask Kyle if he can break him in two to clean him but he’s a purist, comes with the traditional recipe. I invite him on board to do it right.

Kyle is in charge of a team of wildlife specialists who monitor vast expanses of the Spirit Bear Coast for the Gitga’at First Nation. We pepper him with questions. He tells us where the whales are. We learn that approximately a third of brown bears here are albinos, Spirit Bear. No, there’s no store in Hartley Bay. Folks fish and hunt and provision groceries in Prince Rupert 60 miles away. If they run of sugar borrow from a neighbor. Everyone is in touch on Facebook. We wonder about the new houses along the boardwalks. Earthquake safe? Yep, says Kyle, they’re on still rods punched into the muskeg. Just waiting for folks to new furniture and move in. We hear the history and learn why there are places named Metlakatla north and south of the international border. What about Enbridge? Won’t the pipeline go through now that Keystone XL is stopped? Kyle is fairly confident it won’t. The evidence is in, the legal work done. The Hartley Bay Band of the Gitga’at Nation has been fighting for years. This is where we first heard about this impossible threat, where we got the bumperstickers and posted them on the port side of our salon.

Bumperstickers is probably the wrong word. Hartley Bay has no cars. Apart from several new houses it’s barely changed since our last visit seven years ago. Modest affluence. The foot ferry from Prince Rupert calls twice a week, tying folks here to their kin in the burg of 13,000 sixty miles to the north. Kyle’s family is there and will join him on his boat as soon as school lets out. His wife, who also works for the the tribe is East Indian, via South Africa and Vancouver. We figure that with grand-parentage from Kerala and Calcutta and the Tsimshian and Haida First Nations, nobody but nobody is “more Indian” than Kyle’s kids. Maybe we’ll meet the whole crew on our trip south.

Saturday, June 4 – Kumealon Inlet 53º25.4’N 129º15’W

With Davy still enjoying his zzzz’s, we cast off and get a smooth start on long narrow Grenville Channel.  There’s almost no traffic save a couple  of tugs pulling huge southbound barges with 40 foot containers of frozen fish stacked six-high plus equipment, vehicles, and boats on top of them.  As the second one approaches we hear, “Hailing the northbound sailboat!” on the VHF.  We switch to another channel for instructions on how to pass but the pilot – this must be a hell of a lonely job – just wants to share news of a pod of orcas ahead.  “I got some great video!” he says. I put down my book and focus intently, wearing my eyes out for the next half hour until I see a couple of spouts. No creative orca play but it’s good to know they are there.

A string of small gillnetters passes as does Sleighride, the Ducks from Portland we met at Shearwater.  We encounter them when we turn ino Kumealon Inlet, one of the few good anchorages along Grenville.

Kumeleon

Forgot spring ebb! Oops!
Watch anchorage walls close in!
Twenty-four foot drop!

Of course we should have looked at our tide tables before being tempted by that tiny little cove. We even make fun of Sleighride for dropping anchor in a less picturesque spot the middle of the bay.  We relax, take well deserved naps, pour drinks, go up on deck  and watch the tide roll away.  And it does. In this part of the world we have two high and  two low tides a day.  And this we’re coming off a big spring.  Yikes!  A 23.81 feet drop in maybe six hours:  that’s about a foot every quarter hour.   Like  someone has has pulled the plug.  We scramble to re-anchor a quarter boat length away from shore.

Sunday, June 5  – Prince Rupert 5 59º19.2N 130º19.2’W

SkinnyFloatLanding at one of the skinny metal finger floats at the ancient Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club with current ripping below is challenging. So, too, must be keeping anything in place over 150 feet of water. But someone is waiting to take our lines.

Bald eagles swoop overhead. We have the tallest mast around and in a matter of time one perches on our windex, bending it, immobilizing the vane. We can live with this. We’re sailors and we don’t really need a wind vane to know which way the wind blows.

Prince Rupert’s deep water port has turned it into the biggest city on the Northern BC coast.  Of course, there’s no competition. We discover that the Alaska State Ferry calls there and both picks up and drops off passengers. This happens just after midnight so on our ferry trips we just hadn’t noticed.

Rupert

Wed 8 June – Foggy Bay 54º56.9’N 130º56.3’W

We head out in the fog, me on the bow blowing the horn, rousing David from otherwise undisturbed slumber. We navigate Venn Passage on a low but rising tide and head out into open water. Beautiful morning. We cross the border, haul down the Maple Leaf flag, and pick up some bars of AT&T. Jack calls Customs and Border Protection in Ketchikan to get permission to anchor just over the border, rather than continuing on all the way to Ketchikan. In the afternoon, we wind our way among the rocks through the hidden entrance to Foggy Bay.

It’s a perfect evening and so we hang out on deck. I do a photo shoot of David with Jack for the folks back in Pittsburg.

DavyJack.jpg

Thurs 9 June – Ketchikan

David cheers. We’ve arrived!  We snug into Thomas Basin behind enormous cruise ships. Within minutes the customs officer appears from her office in the federal building overlooking the harbor and were free to roam.  In the monsoonal rains the city is famous for, we do our laundry, bring on a few provisions, and celebrate David’s last day with a trip to Totem Bight.

“Road trips are really hard on a car”

In Southeast, transportation takes a backseat to all other uses of a car. For panhandle Alaskans, their vehicles have other roles. Waterproof shopping carts. Dog kennels. Moveable offices. Giant toolboxes. Ad hoc shelters. Bumpersticker racks.

They certainly have enough cars. Someone in Sitka said there were over twenty thousand vehicles in that town of barely nine thousand souls!  And Alaska’s fourth largest city has a mere 23 miles of streets and roads. They go nowhere really. People in Hoonah brag that they have a road that can take them 14 miles out of the village to hunt and freshwater fish. But like the state capital, Juneau, most towns in Southeast are landlocked. You just can’t get there – or out of there – by car.  Cars come and go only by barge, or by the ferries that make up the Alaska Marine Highway.

(The exceptions are the Southeast towns of Haines and Skagway, which connect with the AlCan Highway. Ambitious folks from British Columbia and the lower 48 arrive via the outposts Whitehorse and Dawson Creek to join car totting ferry passengers and the busses that meet the cruise ships. The result is to turn these two otherwise charming, walkable towns into parking lots.)

Prince of Wales Island is where inhabitants are really proud of their roads.  Most of the communities of the third largest island in the US (after Big Island Hawaii and Kodiak) are connected to one another by road, the exceptions being Point Baker and Port Protection. This means a locksmith in Hydaburg can respond to a call in Whale Pass, a family from Hollis can buy groceries in Coffman Cove, and pet owners from most parts of the island can drive to Craig on the third Friday and Saturday of the month when the vet is in town.  Roads bind Prince of Wales communities into a common local economy.  “More than 2000 miles of roads reach into Prince of Wales Island.” boasts the 2012 Chamber of Commerce brochure.  Then it goes on to say that only 105 miles are paved!

By and large, however, Southeast Alaskans go places on boats and planes. Your car is a runabout, a utility vehicle. It is enough trouble to keep it registered, licensed and insured. Indeed, driver lapses fill the police blotter of every small town newspaper.

So it was not surprising to overhear a Wrangell bar patron say, “Oh. Road trips are really hard on a car”. The bartender had mentioned that her sister wanted to borrow her car, take it by ferry down to the lower 48 and then drive to Montana!   It just wasn’t feasible, was it?    Her customers were utterly sympathetic. Use a car for a road trip?  What would happen to the car?  Just not part of the culture.


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