Posts Tagged 'Race to Alaska'

Log: Beyond the Salish Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shoal Bay

Shoal Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blind Channel Morning

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

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

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

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

Port Harvey Marine Resort floats on a barge.

Port Harvey Marine Resort floats on a barge.

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

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

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

Kayakers cross a placid Johnstone Strait behind us.

Kayakers cross a placid Johnstone Strait behind us.

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

Tiny Telegraph Cove nestles in green slope of Vancouver Island.

Tiny Telegraph Cove nestles in green slope of Vancouver Island.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eagles and gulls compete in feeding frenzy.

Eagles and gulls compete in feeding frenzy.

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

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

Forward Harbour is an old friend of an anchorage.

Forward Harbour is an old friend of an anchorage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger Mann racing to Alaska.

Roger Mann racing to Alaska.

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

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

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

Ochre sea stars, decimated two years ago by a viral

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 1  Von Donop Inlet to Gorge Harbour  

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

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

Log: The Salish Sea to Campbell River

While we got a late start for our summer cruise, it’s been fueled by the extra weeks of anticipation that accumulated throughout May as we watched the Boat Haven shipyard empty of the working boats and head north along with the early cruisers. What kept us in PT was the start of the first human-powered Race to Alaska. While people have been human powering to Alaska for centuries, there’d never been a race. It appears that the notion was born in Hop Diggity saturated minds of mariner-adventurers gathered at the 2013 Wooden Boat Festival and given shape when Jake Beattie threw down the gauntlet a year later to have it picked up by sixty intrepid teams of paddlers, rowers and sailors who showed up with an array of watercraft the likes of which Port Townsend had never seen.

Meanwhile, the extra weeks at the end of the school year let me pick up some of the unfamiliar skills of landlubbers. I was able complete a Master Composters course with Washington State University and a bio char workshop that attracted passionate experts from four counties. Neither course would’ve happened without the efforts of my kick-ass activist friend Nina. We also squeezed in a hop over to Seattle to throw a party for Cait Rippey the day she got her MD degree. She and Jay cycled out to Shilshole on the Burke-Gilman Trail with 3-year old Finn and a whole string of well wishers. We also welcomed Qamar Schuyler from Australia and to meet partner Frank and 7-month Max. Floating Bistro Aurora served 23 guests. We have perhaps 175 square feet of the most efficient living space anywhere – and it moves. Now it’s moving North.

Friday, June 5 – Port Townsend to Victoria

The Race to Alaska stage #1 finish line was in front of the BC Parliament, where we tied up with all the competitors.

The Race to Alaska stage #1 finish line was in front of the BC Parliament, where we tied up with all the strange wonderful fleet of the competitors.

Jack the Skipper’s log notes that we threw off the lines from our Port Townsend slip at 6:15 am and got through a blob of fog near Point Wilson. Then a single tack takes us all the way to Victoria at 4 or 5 knots. Along for the ride are fellow mariners and Portland-transplants, Jon and Matt, who bless breakfast with mimosas and proceed to finish off two bottles of bubbly before we need to declare our liquor to Canadian Customs. Approaching the city, we pass a SCAMP, a not quite 12-foot-long wooden boat built and piloted by Simeon and a friend. We tie up at in the Inner Harbour in time to cheer the Race to Alaska’s Team Noddy’s Noggins across the finish line. Hats off the oldest crew and the smallest boat. They are among the teams doing only the first leg of the race: the passage from Port Townsend takes them 35 hours and 30 minutes.

Moored right in front of the historic Empress Hotel and British Columbia’s majestic Parliament, we are in the thick of the action: buskers along the shore, waterbug-like taxis, survival-suited whale watchers on fast commercial boats, and the majestic Coho, its splendid multi toned steam whistle announcing another arrival of people and cars from Port Angeles. All of the Race to Alaska craft are rafted along adjacent slips, so we finally have the chance to see them all, meet the crews, lend tools to those making repairs and last-minute modifications.

Erica Dodd introduced us to her great-nephew Peter Reed, Captain of the historic ketch Thane.

Erica Dodd introduced us to her great-nephew Peter Reed, Captain of the historic ketch Thane.

We tell our Victoria friends to come down to have a look. Erica and Alan, Mona and Nelson, and Amanda with 3 year old Ryder all gather on Saturday. Erica not only turns up with Lebanese hors d’oeuvres and dessert but introduces us all to her great-nephew Captain Peter Reed, who is taking a group out on a sunset cruise on historic ship Thane.

The next morning I bike up to the top of the hill above the Harbour to Christ Church Cathedral to hear the bells. Alan and Erica are among the ten bell ringers who mount the 72 steps to the tour a couple of times every Sunday to put on a 30 minute performance. I was to have seen it but I am late and the church folks seem less than keen on showing me the way up, which greatly annoys Erica, who has taken pains to set it all up. But now we have an excuse to sail back during the winter, plus a Nexus pass that allows us to reenter the US without the inconvenience of passing customs at Friday Harbor. I need to keep up with this friend and mentor who has set me straight on many things. She and Alan are now in their late 80s, sharp minded academics who surprised us this spring with a short visit to PT enroute from a conference in Seattle.

Always nice to encounter a Portland Loo, the Portland export that British Columbia has embraced.

Always nice to encounter a Portland Loo, the Portland export that British Columbia has embraced.

Later Sunday morning Jack and I cros the Blue Bridge and take the long winding waterfront trail to Westbay, where we find the beautiful new Esquimault Loo, a Portland export, on the way to Stephanie’s beautiful 25 foot sailboat moored among elegant float homes. Stephanie is Jon’s Québeçoise girlfriend, a long distance cyclist and cross country hitchhiker who became a live aboard after on a short sail on Aurora this spring. We take Steph’s new home out and drop anchor to watch the noon start of the full state Race to Alaska until a harbor official in an inflatable reminds us we we’re in a no anchor zone. We retreat to land where we take photos of the craft and watch a mother deer and a pair of Canadas play on shore with new babies.

Monday, June 8 – Victoria to Montague Harbour  48º537’N 123º24’W

“Rough, choppy waters on an otherwise fair, low wind day”, notes Jack in his log, “‘Cape Victoria’ is evil sister of Cape Scott.” Yes, indeed, we have a new name for the essentially unnamed southernmost tip of North America’s largest island, which pushes the international boundary deep into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Could it ever be as bad as Cape Scott at the north end?  Probably not, but we round it with deep admiration for that little SCAMP that sailed in on Friday and the human-powered Alaska-bound boats who left on Sunday.

Montague

Tie up at mooring buoy #13 in mid June and your boat will be the last in the bay to enjoy the setting sun.

We motor up the coast to Montague Harbour on Galiano Island where we grab a Marine Park mooring buoy. When a nice lady motors up to take our fees, we say two nights please and give her $24 in greenbacks, having been too busy to get Canadian cash. We start the vacation part of our cruise thankful for the much needed Wi-Fi blackout and no need to do anything more than take naps, read, and enjoy being the last boat on which the sun sets over the isthmus that separates Montague’s big bay from Tricomali Channel.

Wednesday, June 10 – Montague Harbour to Thetis Island

Early morning departure takes us up Tricomali Channel where we forego Porlier Pass to revisit Thetis Island with its charming little marina with pub, tiny store and post office. This, however, ends our Internet break. When we log on to the Race to Alaska tracker, we’re astonished to see that the lead boats have made astonishing headway toward the northwest,against NW winds, while several promising contenders, including PT’s Team Turnpoint Design with their purpose-built craft, have dropped out in the face myriad difficulties. Jake’s daily updates plus the growing coverage by the media and impassioned onlookers mean there’s a lot to read. While scanning my Twitter feed for #r2ak hashtags that evening I happen on a tweet from KPLU’s Gabriel Spitzer requesting an interview (on toilets, should you need to ask). Since we don’t have to throw off the lines until 10 am to catch slack at Dodd Narrows, I’m able to take the Skyped call and address concerns about social equity, basic dignity, and human rights. Spitzer seems okay with the ambient noise of the marina waking up, perhaps he’s good good techs and the Gulf Islands are on the far edge of the listening range of his Seattle based NPR station.

Thursday, June 11 – Thetis Island to Nanaimo – 49º10’N 123º55’W

Lovely sail through the islands with Jack piloting in the cockpit and me sitting on the spinnaker box watching out for logs. The closer we get to Dodd Narrows, the more there are: the telephone pole type logs not old growth spring tide drift. We arrive on the end of a northward flood and just as we’re about to go through, the captain of a southbound tug informs “all concerned traffic” on 16 that he’s barging through with a log boom.

We wait as log booms struggle through Dodd Narrows.

We wait as log booms struggle through Dodd Narrows.

The narrows are only about 75 feet across. Maybe running against the tide gives better control and by the looks of the logs bouncing against the rocks to say nothing of the loose ones we’ve encountered he needs it. As soon as the first boom struggles through, a second follows. Perhaps they’ll be reconfigured as one for the southbound journey but we don’t stick around to find out.

I take lookout on the bow and we slip through into Norththumberland Bay, its west shore lined with rough milling operations and sawdust mountains, its east with tiny tugs preparing more booms for shipment.”You don’t want to know this,” says Jack,”but coming out we were in six and half feet of water.” That’s six inches under our keel. Just enough.

Framed on the Nanaimo waterfront.

Framed on the Nanaimo waterfront.

The wild west of the area soon succumbs to the easy urbanity of Nanaimo. We tie up in the city port on the new Cameron Island dock, for which a commercial pier acts as breakwater. It’s continuation of the public port which shelters rec boats, the fishing fleet, passenger ferries, and small tugs. Everything is integrated into the city’s contemporary waterfront, its pleasant walkways with distinctive white steel barriers a-bustle with buskers, bicycles, baby carriages, and bare arms and legs, bewitchingly tattooed. We visit the farmers’ market and a craft fair, where a young couple from The Netherlands takes our photo and we take theirs.

On Sunday we head several blocks up the hill to the Old City Quarter, which we’ve never visited. We see the century old homes and churches along leafy streets and Nainamo makes more sense. Like Port Townsend, it must have kept its genteel uptown separate from the riffraff of the traditional downtown waterfront, now razed, sanitized, transformed. We spend the afternoon at Nanaimo’s annual International Street Festival. Three stages and a couple of dozen booths show off the city’s crazy quilt mix of First Nations and ethnic groups from every continent. A Sri Lankan woman proffering garden starts of rare Asian vegetables offers me a taste of her homemade date lime chutney. After tasting it with our Oregon farm raised pork chops, I regret leaving with only one, generous $6 jar.

The strong winds out on the Strait coupled with whitecaps right in the Port keep us in Nainamo an extra day. Number of the Race to Alaska teams are also holed up along the shores. But the excitiment continues as Team Elsie Piddock – three guys in a 25 foot trimaran – crosses the finish line in Ketchikan to win the Race to Alaska in a mere 5 days and 55 minutes! CHECK and cite some articles. One of the crew is Graeme Esary, son-in-law of our Point Hudson neighbors Tom and Marie, spouse of writer Janna Cawrse Esarey whose book is memorably titled The Motion of the Ocean: 1 Small Boat, 2 Average Lovers, and a Woman’s Search for the Meaning of Wife.

Sunday, June 14 – Nanaimo to Lesqueti Island 40º295’N 124º137’W

When the wind finally calms down, we head out and put up the sails. We’re flying along nicely but after about an hour with the rail in the water we decide to practice heaving to and reef the main. After all this vacation is about remembering to do things the easy way and bringing the boat to a comfortable stop in the middle of a raging ocean is magic. Once the sail is reefed, we go just as fast – hull speed – but our VMG – velocity made good – is bad. We end up near the mainland but far south of where we want to be. So we turn on the motor and head up toward Taxeda Island and drop the hook in Lesqueti Island’s Boho Bay. Down day. Time to read, write log and process the photos that ever since digital we now shoot will nilly.

About 5 pm I go up to the deck to to find that we are now five boats – all sailing vessels – in this little bay that could accommodate many in a storm. Three of us are two-nighters, the other two arrived today, one from Blaine, Washington and one flying the Maple Leaf with a not so young crew, who emerg from their hammpck-like catboat’s sail where they were lounging, dived in, swam around their modest boat and then climbed into a small sailing dinghy and a kayak to explore. About six we were visited by Elizabeth and Matt, a fit and nicely tattooed pair from an intriguing (two night) schooner who dinghy up offering on beautifully filleted slabs of freshly caught ling cod, a decided delicacy anywhere on the coast. At first I thought they either lacked freezing capacity or wanted to sell. Neither, they just like to fish. Turns out this catch is a 30 inch, 15 pounder who never took their hook but grabbed a smaller rock fish who had. Bounty upon bounty.

The day has been long and hot, intensified by the approaching solstice, something we’ve mostly experienced at higher latitudes. Abnormal? Or the new normal? The CBC is talking about British Columbia stepping in for California’s Central Valley, assuming enough water can be secured. We’ve had supper, the sun has dropped behind the bank, Jack has turned in, and the guitar and voice from the Sea Gypsy from Blaine is permeating the silence. Very nice. But still, we need some cold rainy days. In 2012 we had a solid month of them along this coast.

Tuesday, June 16 Boho Bay on Lesqueti to Campbell River 50º019’N 125º145’W

From Skipper’s Log: ‘Sabine Channel choppy (as always) Georgia Strait glassy, calm, no sailing. Had to slow down to avoid full spring flood at Mudge Point. Saw Orcas. Got great back eddies up Discovery Channel. Saw R2AK Team Sea Runners arriving 1800 Campbell River.’

Jack logs the big points by the time my sun burned body has cleared the decks of books, binoculars, cameras, and much cast off clothing. The orcas are four females who jump, snort and blow right off our port side before disappearing with a synchronized dive. We decide to dine at the Riptide Pub on condition they had Internet. Bingo. Good draft IPA, spectacular seafood linguini, and the fastest Internet we’ve experienced anywhere in years. As we leave, Team Puffin walks in – beaming and elated – to join fellow two person, small boat R2AK Teams Coastal Express and Sea Runners.

The Race to Alaska

No, S/V Aurora is not racing anywhere and not even going all the way to Alaska. We’re completely slowed down, gaga over the Race to Alaska, a human-powered trek up the Inside Passage with basically no engines, no support, and almost no rules. The first prize – which should be claimed by the time this blog is posted – is $10,000. The second prize is a set of steak knives, and it will be hotly contested. After that a bunch of singular triumphs.

Normally we’d have left on our summer cruise north mid May. But this year the pull of the race start, of seeing the boats and meeting the teams, kept us in Port Townsend. And although we’ve now definitely cast off, we’ll be nursing this Race to Alaska obsession for the next few weeks, until the last competitor crosses the finish line in Ketchikan.

We’ve been riding the buildup to this singular competition for months, ever since NW Maritime Center Director Jake Beattie announced it at the Wooden Boat Festival, long before the $10,000 prize was crowdsourced on Kickstarter. The original hope was for a handful or two of teams but in the end, the spirit of adventure and a great deal of innovative boat-building took over.

On Wednesday, June 3, Jack and I worked the information tent at the welcome Ruckus for the 57 teams that eventually showed up, their motley craft laying about on the grass at Pope Marine Park, on the beach and along the Point Hudson docks. Before dawn Thursday morning, 600-700 Port Townsend folks showed up on the waterfront to see them off. On Friday, S/V Aurora sailed to Victoria, entering the Inner Harbour along with the last competitor in – two old guys from PT in an 11’11’’ SCAMP they built themselves! On Saturday, we hung out on the docks in front of the BC Parliament taking it all in. Throughout the four days, 90% of the utterances heard were almost uniformly ‘I’m so excited!’ or ‘This is really exciting!’ The other 10% were ’They’re nuts!’ or ’This is crazy!’. Upon learning the race was on the front page of the New York Times sports section, Jake Beattie, in whose fertile imagination the plan was hatched, sat down on the toerail next to S/V Aurora to enjoy the infectious excitement and anticipation as it spread. On Sunday at noon the 31 full-race teams gathered under the statue of Captain Cook for a LeMans start, racing to their boats and rowing them, paddling them, peddling them through the Harbour until the point where those with sails could put them up. Then out into the roiled, confused waters of what Jack calls Cape Victoria, the southern tip of North America’s largest Island.

Here they come out of Victoria's Inner Harbour, small boat first because they were the last to squeeze into the docks where we all spent the weekend..

Here they come out of Victoria’s Inner Harbour, small boat first because they were the last to squeeze into the docks where we all spent the weekend..

How's this for innovative boat building.  Char crew member lying down to pedal while made rows from rear pontoon.

How’s this for innovative boat building?  Kohara crew member lies down to pedal while mates row from rear pontoons and a competitor in an out-rigged kayak follows.

Team Discovery is a multihull built of wooden by products with a weird sail and two intrepid crew.

Team Sea Runners is a multihull built of forest industry by products with a weird sail and two intrepid crew. (Yes, these cropped pics are blurry. Don’t worry; it’s not your eyes.)

This proa is South Pacific in origin. It has  neither bow nor stern, just a pivoting hull with an outrig. It neither tacks or gybe but

This proa is South Pacific in origin. It has neither bow nor stern, just a pivoting hull with an outrig. It neither tacks or gybe but “shunts”.

Team Grim women looking prim in straw hats and semi-open monohull on right.

Team Grim women looking prim in straw hats and semi-open monohull on right.

Version 2

Team UnCruise is a father, his daughter and her boyfriend. Race has got to be good for family cohesion. Note comfortable pedal stations on back of pontoons.

And then there's Team Soggy Beavers, all Canadian students under 25. They'll go the distance.  With attitude to spare.  On arrival in Victoria they changed into dresses to greet other teams. They have loud speakers to learn German during the long hauls. And on days like today when not hurrying seems advised.

And then there’s Team Soggy Beavers, six Canadians under 25. They’ll go the distance. With attitude to spare. On arrival in Victoria they changed into dresses to greet other teams. They have loudspeakers to learn German during the long hauls. And on days like today when not hurrying seems advised.

This big cat is from Nevada but has a crew member from coastal BC crew member.  Team Golden Oldies were fastest in first leg from PT to Victoria.

This big cat is from Nevada but has a crew member from coastal BC crew member. Team Golden Oldies were fastest in first leg from PT to Victoria.

Everyone thought there might be a winner in a week or so. As it happens, Team Elsie Piddock pulled into Ketchikan this afternoon after a mere 5 days and 55 minutes at sea. A couple of other boats are safely around Cape Caution. A few are struggling through the wrong way wind tunnel of Johnstone strait. Most are hunkered down waiting out 40+ knot winds in the Strait of Georgia. There have been drop outs at every stage, saving boats, limbs, lives. There’s been the odd rescue but most tough it out one way or another.

Trio on this well turned out cat borrowed our drill to make a modification only to be dis-masted in the Strait of Georgia. Did they call the Coast Guard?  No! Limped to nearest safe harbor.

Trio on this well turned out cat borrowed our drill to make a modification only to be dis-masted in the Strait of Georgia. Did they call the Coast Guard? No! Limped to nearest safe harbor.

Right now we’re sitting in a cafe on Nanaimo’s Diana Krall Plaza (next to a Portland Loo, the third we’ve already visited this trip). waiting out the 40+ knot winds on the Strait too.


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