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.
Then we discover I’ve done something completely stupid.
As part of the take off routine the night before, I’d closed the raw water intake to check the filter, saying to Jack’ “Remind me to reopen it”: distrusting my short term memory is part of the routine. Then I figure it’s probably been done as part of the repair and grab my high intensity bike light to peer though the clear plastic lid of the filter. Yep, good to go.
On the way out of Port Ed I notice the exhaust is white and mention it. A few minutes later Jack notices the engine is heating up faster than usual and we put two and two together. I forgot to open the valve!
I rush below and open it but still no water is flowing through the filter or out of the hull. We need to let the engine cool down. Rather than add minutes by going back to the dock, I spy a netfloat about 30 feet long where fishermen repair their gill nets. Dawn is breaking and the big seiners are pulling in to the processing plant, but I figure it’s too early for gill net repair. I get the fenders out but position them way too high. Like so many floats and breakwaters in the area, this one is made of metal detritus left over from Port Ed’s earlier industries, such as the rendering plant that was a sideline at the cannery after salmon fishing crashed. At a short distance the float looks like it’s all wood but it sits on rusty cylindrical tanks which gouge our gel coat.
I tie up, pull the steps from the companionway and find a very hot engine. We need to check the “fresh water” system – really chemical coolant – but I don’t dare open the cap lest hot antifreeze splash all over me. So we wait. Finally, dressed in full foulies and goggles, I out a rubber gloved hand into the engine room and remove the cap. The tank is still full to the brim with coolant. I replace the cap. Funny how you need both the fresh and raw water systems working together.
So we decide it must beworking and fire up the engine. Alas, no bubbling is observed under the transparent top of raw water filter and no water is spraying out with the exhaust. (Nigel Calder says there are two things you check as soon as you start the engine: check the oil pressure and lean over the rail to see if water is spurting out with the exhaust. Lesson now learned.)
All we can think now is that we must have fried the impeller. It’s a spinning valve with rubber teeth. I can show you a picture but you won’t get the whole picture. Impellers are located at the base of the engine and you have to contort your body into a pretzel to get to the place. Then you have to take off the plate covering the impeller and not drop your screws into the bilge, something that has unfathomable consequences when you’re dealing with a closed system.
So changing an impeller is a rite of passage. My First Time was on the west coast of Vancouver Island. We were precariously anchored off a rocky point among 30-foot long fronds of slippery bull kelp. Sea sickening swells were rolling across the open Pacific from Japan. But I did it. And, emboldened with experience, I did it again!
Wednesday 27 July – Lowe Inlet 53º33.5’N 129º33.9’W
Now those coordinates! Write them down! That is the only really good place to anchor in Lowe Inlet. It’s stage left of spectacular Verney Falls, which feeds Lowe Inlet. And it’s not just when the salmon are practicing to jump over the falls and head up into the mountains to spawn and die or not spawn and die anyway in the jaws of a bear. What a spectacular anchorage! Two, three foot salmon thrusting themselves clear out of the water and coming down with a fantastic splash. A little the summertime thrill of fireworks, but all 360 degrees around you so you head is always spinning.
While I’m here – at Lowe Inlet – I must confess that this is the site of the stupidest thing we’ve ever done. But there’s sort of an unwritten statute of limitations on this saga. So patient readers, stay alert. By next summer the time may be right to come clean.
Thursday 28 July – Green Inlet 52º55’N 128.28.9’W
The sun is finally setting when we turn into Green Inlet. The tiny anchorage is tucked behind some islets near its mouth. As soon as it flashes 40 on our depth sounder, Jack calls it out and I drop anchor. Anchor and chain spool out at a ferocious speed, impossible to control. 120 feet! Jack comes forward to help and we get out more chain but don’t feel like putting out all. Instead I’ll sleep on deck and monitor the situation.
Note these coordinates and avoid them. Like the plague. Like Zika. Oh, and by the way the bottomless nook behind the islets is appropriately named Horsefly Cove. Fortunately, horseflies give up at night and as we the days are shortening with the season and our southerly course.
Friday 29 July – Ormidale Harbour 52º11.6’N 128º08.4’W
We survive the night at Green Inlet in 120 feet of water with only 1:2 scope (but all chain.) Worth sleeping on deck rather than trying to find a better spot in this tiny, deep, protected cove. Seems there’s an uncharted bump in the middle of this deep bay that’s only 40 feet.
Heavy fog rolls down Grenville as we pull into the Channel and soon a target – probably a tug and tow – appear on the radar behind us. I hope it’s northbound and out of our way. Jack checks the GIS and finds they’re following us. He hails the vessel whose captain appreciates the call. He sees us on his radar, says we’re in fine place where he can pass on starboard, and tells us there’s another tug and tow following him. Jack confirms with captain #2 as well. We hear the groan of the diesel very near, then a break and the second tug boat passes. Apart from BC Ferries’ Northern Expedition, which plies the Prince Rupert to Port Hardy route every day, these two tugs are about the only commercial boats we’ve encountered
Finally the fog breaks and we see the temporarily coupled tugs and their tows part ways. Not far from Klemtu we grab a cell phone signal and call Christophe at Shearwater. Not a chance of moorage, he reports.
Millbanke is much kinder than on the northbound passage so I peruse the charts and the Waggoners and find this huge protected harbor in Seaforth Channel. We expect it will be ringed with houses but the only thing there is a large new working boat that must belong to the Hieltsuk tribe in adjacent Bella Bella. We find our own little cove and anchor twice to get it just right. Note these coordinates! How come no one talks about this convenient anchorage that is an alternative to the always-crowded Shearwater? It’s a bit open to the Northwest but has a couple of coves and should be good in a storm from the south.
Saturday 30 July – Codville Lagoon 52º03.5’N 127º51’W
Today is a rest day. I lie in bed finishing Heroes of the Frontier, Dave Eggers’ new book that was released on Tuesday. As we said good bye to the land of wifi, the text flowed onto Jack’s Kindle, the reading into my Audible.com library. We’d both pre-ordered as it was Dave Eggers and Alaska and what’s not to like? Well, this book. I don’t get it. It makes me feel uneasy and literarily insecure. All along I think it may erupt into either very dark darkness or full blown satire. Alas, it does neither. Now Jack is reading it and shaking his head but I’m hopeful he’ll have some insight. Is this book just about how poor decisions lead to ever poorer decisions foreshadowing the weathering of otherwise sensible and sensitive young children tethered to a wholly dysfunctional parent? We should be on wifi in another week; it will be interesting to see what the critics have to say about Heroes.
We take a break in our grasse matinée at anchor to move the boat, checking with Christophe at Shearwater on the possibility of space at the dock. Nope, not this trip. Fine. We’ll ration our protein. Cooking will be a lot simpler. Nothing wrong with the boat that needs attention. We’ll live with the dirty laundry. And won’t have to risk risk Lama Passage in deep fog. It’s great that he Hieltsuk tribe has such a successful operation in Shearwater. It would be nice to have a dock in Orimidale or if other tribes along this long long stretch of wilderness offered a few more services.
No sooner are we past Bella Bella when things get weird. Over channel 16 we hear, “Calling the Canadian Coast Guard, calling the Canadian Coast Guard.” (And what other coast guard would reply?) Coast Guard lady answers and asks how they may assist. “There’s a fishing boat harassing a bear. They are preventing it from swimming to shore.” Seems some hysterical environmentalists from Florida on a fancy boat named True East want the coast guard to arrest the fishermen. But the bear is not headed to any old shore – it’s the fish processing plant! Smarter than your average bear!
We continue down Lama Passage, cross Fisher Channel and pull into Codville Lagoon. It’s a wonderful place with dozens of semi private nooks.
Sunday 31 July – Fury Island 51º29’N 127º17’W
Fury Island is wonderful in every way. Nothing as magical as our last trip, perhaps, but still pretty great. White shell beaches. Views of the open ocean beyond at high tide. A soft bottom that hugs your anchor and won’t let it go.
Fury Island is the jumping off place for the rounding of Cape Caution, a day long slog through whales and rocks that look like eggs as open ocean swells ends in great vertical splashes against the formidable headlands.
No matter how much you relax and doze and dream at Fury Cove, you know your supply of adrenalin is restoring itself. And all you you need the next morning at dawn is a good cup of coffee and to be on your way. In any weather Cape Caution makes you pay attention.
Our southbound rounding was as flat and calm and pleasant as the one north. You just never know with Cape Caution.
Monday 1 August – Blunden Harbour 50º54’N 127º51’W
Cape Caution is dead flat and because it’s British Columbia holiday there’s no traffic. We spend a peaceful, windless day out on the water. Blunden, south of Allison Harbour, is the perfect landing place after rounding Caution. Allison the perfect take off place northbound.
Tuesday 2 August – Waddington Cove 50º43’N 126º36.9’W
I love the part of the Broughtons that is all dramatic steep-walled bottomless channels and I love the low islands to the northwest. Waddington is a wonderful anchorage. But at the helm I can’t find the way to it through the rocky islets without Jack on the electronic chart signaling every move.
Wednesday 3 August – Port Harvey 50º34’N 126º16’W
Gail Campbell takes our lines at the dock of the grandly named Port Harvey Marine Resort. Soon afterwards, George roars up in their fast aluminum boat with their daughter, son-in-law and little grandkids.
The couple has been working on their own all summer. A modest new lodge is rising to replace the large two storey structure with restaurant and general store. The old building was on a bladder and sank over the winter; the new one is on a barge. Work has now been put off until next winter so cruisers can be served.
There’s a huge tent on a float where homemade pizza is baked and served. Hot croissants and cinnamon buns are delivered to the dock at 7am. The wifi is strong. Moorage is only $1 a foot. Bravo, Gail and George. You rock!
Thursday 4 August – Blind Channel Resort 50º24.8N 12530’W
While power yachters stay hunkered down at Port Harvey thanks to reports of 35 knot gales hitting Johnstone Strait later in the day, we cast off well before dawn. Jack has put down electronic “breadcrumbs” so we can exit the way we came in. When we reach Johnstone we turn of the running lights and enjoy the light on the water.
Blind Channel Resort, now moving into the hands of the fourth generation of the Richter Family promises fuel, delicious spring water, a fine small grocery with produce from the resort garden and world-class food. Since one of my goals is to get this blog fact written and fact checked, we’re disappointed at the poor quality of the wifi and surprised at the lack of cell phone service. And even with the big yachts around us acting as breakwaters, we rock and roll all night at the dock. We need to find a good place to drop the hook so we can just swing. Options, however, are limited.
Friday 5 August – Von Donlop Inlet 50º08.6’N 124º56.8’W
We’re off mid morning to catch Dent and Yaculta Rapids at slack. We pass tiny Shoal Bay where dozens of boats are rafted five thick at the wharf. Since we’re making such good time it’s not painful to miss the annual Blues Festival and Pig Roast which Mark offers for a $10 donation, with proceeds to a local environmental charity. At Shoal Bay we like to be tied up at the float: getting to shore when rafted or anchored out is tedious. We’ll leave this an early season destination and try to get Mark and Cynthia to visit us in Port Townsend.
We exit Yaculta Rapids into the beautiful grand expanse of Calm Channel. True to its name, the channel has little wind but at least it’s behind us. We pole out the genny on starboard and push the main out over the port rail – wing on wing.
We move slowly slowly just enjoying the sun and warmth. There’s no space at George Harbour and as nice as the hot pool would be this evening, we’re delighted to be at Von Donlop Inlet. We go all three miles in, past the stern-tied boats to the large basin at the end with it’s even bottom and good holding ground.
Saturday 6 August – Ford Cove on Hornby Island 49º29.8’N 124º40’W
Ford Cove represents the one major departure from our usual southbound route. Normally we head down to Desolation Sound then past Lund to the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver.
A brochure we pick up on the Coho Ferry – Denman Hornby – highlights an option. These two islands are not part of the Gulf Islands but rather lay near Vancouver Island at the entrance to Comox. We’ve know the rollicking, often rough passage behind long Denman. Little roundish Hornby sits to the east. To get to Hornby by car you take a small BC Ferries boat to Denman and then an even smaller ferry to Hornby.
According to Ford Cove Harbour Manager Jean Miserendino, Hornby has about 800 year round residents but goes to 5000 in the summer. Sounds like the whole island takes on the ambiance of a three month festival every summer. Fords Harbour is already jammed with local boats: commercial fishing vessels, rec boats, and run about are rafted three deep. Managing comings and goings of community members must take some real cooperation.
We need to come back and explore. Hornby is little and will be easy to get around. Its local park sits atop a bluff overlooking Tribune Bay. With a sandy crescent beach, rare in these parts, Tribune Bay is an inviting anchorage, though it only works in the good weather brought by gentle NW winds.
While finding a dock attached to land at Hornby doesn’t look feasible, the transient float where we tie up is less than 100 feet from a finger that leads smoothly to the pier – easy enough to shuttle Jack’s scooter and then Jack into shore in our little inflatable.
There’s still about 45 feet of free space at our float when the sun sets. Hearing the voices of a crew about to land, I stick my head out of the companionway and see a fine wooden schooner. With Baggywrinkles! I go help with the lines, getting midline and stern with no problem. Even so, a rookie crew member bounds off the bow and rolls onto the float, young and unhurt. The schooner? It’s Nevermore, whose permanent slip is near ours in Port Townsend.
Sunday 7 August – Ladysmith Maritime Society 48ø59.8’N 123º48.7’W
We’re making good time and feeling great. Our predawn departure from Hornby gets us at Dodd Narrows safely before slack, with the water still flowing south. We’ve called Mark at the Ladysmith Maritime Society and there’s space for us.
Eager to end relax after a long day we head through the narrows early. It’s still clear of northbound boats but it’s full of strong whirlpools. And there among the swirls at the neck is a fisherman casting from a very small rowboat! He waves to us as we speed by. A crowd has gathered on both shores to keep an eye on him, not that they could help much. Ah, reentry to the Gulfs and the San Juans! This is our first brush with summer craziness. As we clear the narrows, the first northbound boats are arriving, circling, waiting. Soon the VHF squawks, “Third-foot sailboat northbound through Dodd Narrows. Calling any concerned traffic.” The prudent sailors on the other side are concerned and get the guy – of course it’s a guy – on the radio and help him with the math concerning the speed of his boat and that of current thinks he can overtake.
How good it is to dock at Ladysmith with smiling volunteers on the docks to take your lines! We decide that again this year the Ladysmith Maritime Society has the best marina on the Inside Passage. There is nothing particularly promising about its location in a traditional logging community on a bay still filled with log booms and next to a clamorous milling operation.
But where else is there so much going on? Old timers restoring historic local wooden boats. Birders tracking and banding purple martins. Folks in the little museum trying to understand the material culture of the region’s past. People building the spectacular new marine science float with its windowed deck, touch tanks and interpretive displays. Disabled people learning to sail in specially equipped Marin 16’s and sometimes going off to compete in regular races. Multi-generational families from all over town filling every seat at the Oyster Bay Cafe for a gourmet Sunday brunch. Cruisers just hanging out on their boats, talking to passers by, using Internet, doing laundry, taking long warm free showers all for one small Canadian dollar a foot. And no tax: LMS is a nonprofit. This place rocks!
Monday 8 August – Watmough Bay – 48º25.8’N 122º48.6′W
Out of Ladysmith it’s morning of big boats. Our southbound course takes us to Houston Passage, a tight U- turn around the tip of Salt Spring Island. On Channel 16 a captain is hailing “a northbound sailboat.” No answer. It’s not us being called; we’re still southbound. But then given the Houston’s U, boats from either direction enter northbound and exit southbound. Hmmm. Something to remember.
No sooner do we enter the Passage than a ship, bright orange in the morning glare, appears among the trees. We hail the captain but there’s no reply. Not on 16 and not on 11 (though we should be on 12 as we’re now in Victoria traffic). Then the “northbound sailboat” appears and we have the Argent Sunrise on port and Osprey on starboard. At this particular point, there’s enough room but still. When I see that S/V Osprey is out of Portland, I take it personally. In general, skippers who cruise among the big ships on the Columbia River are unusually skilled at rules of the road and using VHF. If you know Osprey, mention the confusion wrought by their failure to monitor VHF
Out in Boundary Channel we have no trouble reaching the pilot of a large container ship making the 72º turn around Stuart Island. He says we’re fine and thanks us for the call. We cross behind his stern and bring down the pennant.
As we head deeper into the San Juans, things get crazy busy but nowhere more than in narrow channel north of Shaw Island. Huge power yachts roar by rocking us and the folks in kayaks, rowboats and sailing skiffs that should be comfortable in this narrow interesting waterway. Hey, San Juan County, how about a speed limit?
We we finally exit we’re somehow passed by three large Washington State Ferries in the space of five minutes. We forgo Spencer Spit and James Island to avoid being rocked by traffic all evening and head south to Watmough, where we find our first mooring buoy of the summer. This charming bay is closest point in San Juan County to PT and its three mooring buoys are provided free by the local community.
There’s little wind or current in the bay but interestingly we don’t spin. Rather we rock gently all night on what must be swells Pacific swells sneaking all the way in.
Tuesday 9 August – Home in Port Townsend
With a mid morning departure, we can flood home. No wind. No fog. Hardly any other boats. But Growlers. As we slip east of Smith Island we see their Oak Harbor.
Finally we near Point Wilson. There are a couple of ships on the AIS. The fast one is the Victoria Clipper, which passes soon after it appears. Behind it a large cargo ship looms. We’re on the south side of the southbound lane and should be fine. Jack hails the captain to make sure. No answer on 16. We try 12, forgetting that Puget Sound traffic is channel 14. Still, everyone is supposed to on 16.
Suddenly the big ship changes course. We turn into the commercial shipping lane, at it – Matson Line – passes us starboard, leaving us to take the wake. Point Wilson throws its own surprises even without traffic in the mix.
I’m already wary of civilization, missing the wilderness. But some I’m home watching the eagles and herons in the tree above my desk or turning over rocks at low tide and marveling at dozens of exotic creatures.