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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new float at Ladysmith features a marine science display.
A new float at Ladysmith features a marine science display.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 9 August – Home in Port Townsend

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

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

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

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


Log: Beyond the Salish Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shoal Bay
Shoal Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Port Harvey Marine Resort floats on a barge.
Port Harvey Marine Resort floats on a barge.

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

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

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

Kayakers cross a placid Johnstone Strait behind us.
Kayakers cross a placid Johnstone Strait behind us.

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

Tiny Telegraph Cove nestles in green slope of Vancouver Island.
Tiny Telegraph Cove nestles in green slope of Vancouver Island.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eagles and gulls compete in feeding frenzy.
Eagles and gulls compete in feeding frenzy.

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

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

Forward Harbour is an old friend of an anchorage.
Forward Harbour is an old friend of an anchorage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger Mann racing to Alaska.
Roger Mann racing to Alaska.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 1  Von Donop Inlet to Gorge Harbour  

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

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

Log: Watery Roads through the Wilderness

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

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

At anchor with waterfalls above.  Jack's photo.
At anchor with waterfalls above. Jack’s photo.

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

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

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

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

Steep cliffs rise from great depths.
Steep cliffs rise from great depths.

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

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

A traditional prawner passes a corporate fish farm.

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

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

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

Cruz on a day to relax & read.
Cruz. On this day to relax and read.

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

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

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

Weird sail plan works well.
Weird sail plan works well.

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

Everything is green this year.
Everything is green this year.

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


Compare with 2012 tidewater ice!
Compare with 2012 tidewater ice!

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

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

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

Cruz at work while the Captain "supervises".
Cruz at work while the Captain “supervises”.

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

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


Rapids, Whirlpools and Tlevak Narrows

This year our north-south transit of Dent Rapids, Gillard Passage, and Yuculta Rapids in one go on a difficult spring low slack was perfect. Taking a whole bunch of things into consideration, Jack worked out a strategy that put Aurora in the middle of each rapids exactly as the tide turned. What’s more we entered the series with the ebb and exited with the flood. It doesn’t get better than this.

When to take the rapids is something that mariners have to work out for themselves after studying tide and current tables and talking to people. Cruising guides such as Waggoners can only offer so much help. After forty years of cruising the Inside Passage, Bob Hale in his one page essay “Running the Rapids” (p. 241) stresses that every rapids has its own personality, characteristics and moods. He lists the four variables that mariners have to assess to find the “window of opportunity” during which they can safely transit.

First, while it’s always desirable to pass rapids at slack, you have to account for differences between high water slacks vs low water slacks.  Second, every fortnight at full and new moons there are spring tides with extreme highs and lows; these are balanced on other weeks of the month by neap tides. Third, rapids are affected by the size and shape of the bodies of water on either side of the narrows.   Fourth, you need to factor in the direction you’re traveling and the speed of your boat.

In time we have learned to visualize these things so that Hale’s conclusions make sense:

  • The window is narrowest at lower low water slack. Spring tides mean waters rise very high and fall very low.
  • The window at high water slack is wider on neap tides than on spring tides. With so much water moving the calm waters between flow and ebb don’t last very long.
  • At high water slack, the window is narrower on the rise from lower low water slack. It’s wider between the high waters of the subsequent tide cycle.

But then we encountered the Tlevak Narrows. This very short span of water just south of Craig, Alaska separates Prnce of Wales Island from Dall’s Island. The Douglass cruising guide had led us to believe they were tricky but had little to offer in the way of guidelines, except one. There’s a red buoy at the north entrance, which is visible from the south entrance as well. The currents through the Narrows are so strong that this buoy regularly disappears under the surface of the water!  The corollary is that you transit only when it’s dead vertical.

So, knowing the value of local knowledge for such challenges, we started asking around “What time is slack at Tlevak Narrows?” The more we asked – the Harbor Master, commercial fishermen, cruisers – the wider the range of answers and opinions we got.  After two days of this we knew every boat Craig Habor that wanted to transit south when we did . Our cumulative experience seemed to indicate that slack would be around 1 pm, that the window was very short, maybe five minutes, and that we should arrive by noon to keep an eye on the red buoy.

The famous buoy #4

It was a beautiful day and while we were underway, Jack decided to check AyeTides on his iPad and, low and behold, slack at Tlevak was listed for 10:45! We radioed the other boats with the news and said we were pressing on ahead. When we arrived the buoy was straight up. No more ripples on one side than on the other. No sooner were we fifty yards beyond it in the middle of the Narrows than we saw ripples indicating the waters were ebbing out to the North, creating problems for the boats behind us. Within five minutes we were exiting the narrow southern end, sharing the space with northbound traffic. On port was a brand new blue 100-ft fishing tender from Seattle. On starboard, a humpback whale!

Behind us our friends in smaller sailboats struggled. It took Scott with his outboarded Daniel Howard a full twenty minutes to make the transit. A Canadian single hander in a slightly bigger sailboat spent an hour searching for back eddies so he could push through.

Looking back on Tlevak

It all ended well and helped us see rapids in new ways. In order to be helpful, local knowledge needs to be experienced and appropriate to similarly powered boats. Tide and current tables do not lie and now they’re available even for out of the way places; $4.99 for the AyeTides app was the best investment of the year.

And now when I think about narrows, I envision the topography of the underwater walls and floor. Bottoms can range from 10 to 500 feet deep. I understand how every minute of the life of a rapids may be different from every other one in any monthly cycle of a tidal pattern. It’s sobering.

Navigation Notes

As you head north toward the Broughtons, where you are far inland from the main channels and the “Inland Passage” to Alaska, the aids to navigation become fewer and farther between. However, key points of danger that cannot be easily be read on a chart – for example in the five sets of rapids – are clearly marked with buoys and on shore towers.

For the rapids, we read as many sources as we could. Guides written by sailors as apposed to power boaters are important here, since the timing of the slack is so much more difficult in a slow boat. Anne Vipond and William Kelley in Best Anchorages of the Inside Passage include a guest essay by the leader of the first Canadian Hydrographic Survey team to develop instruments which could accurately assess the rapids at different times of the tide cycle. Their navigation tips are helpful as are those of Margo Wood in Charlie’s Charts. The exception is her suggestion to northbound travelers to wait for slack Whirlpool Rapids in a bay at the NW end of Chancellor Channel; We couldn’t find place to anchor there but the cove immediately south of the rapids was perfect, for low water slack at least.

The northbound trip through the rapids is considerably more difficult to time in a slow boat than the southbound. When passing the Dent-Gillard-Yaculta trio, keep in mind that you can change your mind between Gillard and Dent and wait our a tide cycle or two in Big Bay. And even ten minutes off slack can be a challenge if you are fighting a drift filled ebb or flood.

While we loved Comox, crossing the bar was counter intuitive. Heading south in one of our are-we-there yet modes, we saw the distinctive bluffs of Cape Lazo and stayed a bit too close to shore. Soon we were heading east looking for two east cardinal buoys which are waaaaaaaay out in the Strait. They are quite distant one from the other and they don’t even look alike; the base of one one is tall, orange and open and the other block, short and squat. Once we found them in our binoculars we could make southerly progress. Then we had to negotiate the bar. Margo Wood says follow the the ranges. Waggonner says use a 222º heading but remember to correct for magnetic. Vipond and Kelly were the most helpful because their directions included reference to the two new red buoys (firmly on starboard this time) which were not on our map.

Thetis Island was easier the second time, but still it’s very shallow rounding into Telegraph Bay. If there is anything that must absolutely be left to “local knowledge” it is The Cut between Thetis and the First Nations Reservation on Kuper. It was hard enough to do in dinghy, yet we watched a 35 foot sailboat head in a high tide.

The term “local knowledge only” actually appears on charts (for an alternate entrance to Victoria’s Oak Bay, for example). That means don’t do it. At the same time, the whole concept of local knowledge is cool. But how do you identify it? Smack in the middle of the entrance to Laura Cove in Desolation Sound National Park there is a submerged rock. But three sailboats, two power boats and a bunch of kayaks were rafted nearby – obviously on a pre-planned multi-family vacation of folks who’d been here. As we crept in, I called out my query and immediately a teenaged girl sprang to one of the bows and pointed to the nefarious place. But short of meeting an old salty fisherman on the dock and then following him out, assuming of course he has the same six feet of draft you do, it’s impossible to take advantage of “local knowledge”. And it’s quite chilling to be taken for local knowledge just because Aurora’s bright work is peeling off and her crew looks comfortingly scruffy.