Here you will find tales of voyages past and present on our trusty Pacific Seacraft Dana 24, "Sockdolager," from Port Townsend, Washington, USA. In 2009 we sailed north from Puget Sound up the west coast of Vancouver Island to the Queen Charlotte Islands (now called Haida Gwaii.) In 2010 we went back to the west coast of Vancouver Island. In July 2011 we left the Northwest, and in March 2012 we crossed the Pacific to French Polynesia, then on to the Cooks, Niue and Tonga. We spent several months in New Zealand, and in May 2013 loaded the boat (and ourselves) on a container ship for San Francisco. In June and July 2013 we sailed north along the California, Oregon and Washington coasts, and in August we arrived home. In October 2016 Sockdolager found new owners, and we are now enjoying Raven, a unique wooden 29' powerboat. Plans are to head north. We hope you enjoy reading about our adventures as much as we enjoy having them. (And there will be more.)



Friday, October 9, 2009

The Crew, The Boat, The Voyage

It’s autumn now and we’re back from this Summer of 2009 Excellent Adventure, but there will be more.  Meanwhile, an introduction for anyone who has just stumbled upon this blog…

The Crew:  Jim Heumann and Karen Sullivan are a couple of recent retirees (him: IBM; her: US Fish and Wildlife Service) who met at a sailing rendezvous and discovered they each owned identical sailboats, loved rowing, loved folk music, loved casseroles, and had enough yadda yadda yadda in common to make Match Dot Com belch.  But there are plenty of differences, too.  For example, they don’t always agree on when to reef.  He likes sci-fi and beer.  She likes literature and Bordeaux.  There is enough room on the boat for lots of beer, or lots of Bordeaux, or lots of books, but not lots of beer, Bordeaux and books.  



The Boat:  Pacific Seacraft Dana 24.  Two of them, his and hers.  Uh-oh.  For specs and descriptions, Google it or start at: http://www.48north.com/mar_2004/dana24.htm  and http://www.seacraft.com/Dana24.htm  Karen bought her Dana, Minstrel, in 2001, after test-sailing one to see if anything that cute could actually sail out of its own way.  She was shocked to find that it was faster than a 21-foot waterline had any right to be, beating out boats with waterlines 5-10 feet longer.  She promptly sailed it up to Prince Wiliam Sound and Seward, Alaska, where she cruised it for 5 years.  In 2005, Jim researched the market thoroughly, looking for the highest quality boat that was easy for a novice to sail and maneuver.  He found his Dana (now named Sockdolager) on the Great Lakes and had her shipped to Puget Sound.  He’s a novice no more, but he’s more convinced than ever that the Dana is the right boat.  Sockdolager was the boat that made the voyage this summer.

The Voyage:  We sailed more than 1600 miles and now we are readjusting to land life. This is a photo of Jim on the first day back. To see a route map, scroll down.  









The Song:  We sailed away from Port Townsend on a four-month cruise,

Out the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the ocean blue,

Up the Island of Vancouver’s fabled western coast,

To the Queen Charlotte Islands, and now we can boast,

We sailed, we fished, we laughed, we wished, we had more time,

But this must rhyme, so… we’ve been everywhere, man, we’ve been everywhere!

This little ditty is the intro to a 5-verse song we wrote about our voyage, to the tune of Johnny Cash’s “I Been Everywhere,” with profuse, abject apologies to Mr. Cash.  We promise to sing our song upon request, and to record it and place the recording on this blog when we can find the time.

Some good links: 

Queen Charlotte Islands Visitor Centre:  http://www.qcinfo.ca/

Parks Canada web site on Gwaii Haanas National Park: http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/bc/gwaiihaanas/index_e.asp

The Council of the Haida Nation:  http://www.haidanation.ca/

(This is the symbol of Gwaii Haanas)


Cruising permit:  You will need to get a permit to cruise Gwaii Haanas National Park, but it's worthwhile because of the "Watchmen" interpretive program at various historic sites, and because visitors really do need a solid orientation before they go.  Most boats travel north and then cross Hecate Strait from the north tip of Banks Island (only 60 miles of open water) and go through the orientation at Skidegate or Sandspit.  We were allowed to do the orientation remotely because we were entering Gwaii Haanas from the south.  They were very helpful and courteous, and sent us a DVD and booklets.  For information, contact them at:

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve & Haida Heritage Site of Canada

P.O. Box 37
Queen Charlotte, B.C., Canada V0T 1S0 
(250) 559-8818 
www.pc.gc.ca/gwaiihaanas

Got updates?  If you would like to be added to our email updates list for future adventures, or you just want to get in touch with us, you can use this address:  karenandjimsexcellentadventure followed by the symbol for "at" followed by gmail dot com.  

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Post Card from the Ocean Road - Home at Last

Home are the sailors, home from the sea, but still feeling the gentle rock and sway of swell that finds its way around corners into snug anchorages, and we’re planning for the next trip. 101 days, wow. You’d think they’d all blur together, so many good ones crowded into a bright blue and sunny summer, but they don’t blur because we wrote down the stories. In a while we’ll post a final route map, some links to good web sites in case you are planning to visit the Queen Charlottes/Haida Gwaii, and other information. And, for all the requests (!!) we’ll put a slide show together.


Photo: Port Townsend waterfront.

Meanwhile, here’s an account of the home stretch: From Comox we sailed to Lasqueti Island and anchored in False Bay. Karen wanted to meet the in-laws of an Australian friend of hers, and we had a nice time with Kath at the pub. (Vic was recovering from a painful hip surgery and couldn’t come.) The winds have been southeasterly since we started trying to go in that direction, but that’s nothing new to the doughty Sockdolagerians, so off we went into the teeth of a nose wind (well what do you call the opposite of a tail wind, anyway?) We made it to Nanaimo, where, with Jim’s old college roommate Bo and his wife Devi, we enjoyed a fun evening at the famous Dinghy Dock Pub. More on that later.

Photo: The welcoming sign at False Bay, Lasqueti Island.



That night about three am, a line squall blew in with winds of 30-35 knots. We knew Sockdolager was securely anchored, but Nanaimo Harbour is a rather open roadstead, with a lot of boats anchored nearby. Like, several dozen boats. Suddenly Karen heard voices (not just the ones in her head) and arose to check it out. “Get up!” she said to Jim, “There’s a boat right in front of us!” And there we were, fending off a 33 foot sailboat T-boned sideways on our bow. It was dragging its anchor merrily through the harbor, and threatening to catch its rudder or propeller on our anchor rode. The panicked owner tried to put his boat in gear just as it came to rest on our rode, and Karen figured this was probably not the best time to tell him not to do that because he wasn’t listening anyway. So we held them off, prayed that this boat had a full keel that would prevent its propeller from turning into a high-speed rope winch, and our prayers were answered. The boat slithered nicely down our starboard side without bumping our hull, and was easy to fend off. Then off they went into the night and the next victim. Soon they got it under control, came back and anchored right next to us—so close that we had to adjust our anchor rode a couple hours later, but hey, who was sleeping anyway? Dennis the Menace was gone by first light--we hope to a marina. Our varnished bow platform and green topsides were unsullied.

While we were whiling away the remainder of the night, Jim said, “Do you realize that the whole time we four people fended each other’s boats off, that not a single word was spoken?”

Karen replied, “Do you suppose it may have had something to do with the fact that you were stick stark naked in a 35 knot gale?”

“But I didn’t have time to get dressed!” he protested. We decided that we may have accidentally discovered a new shock (and awe) technique to cut down on all the yelling and blaming that goes on when a boat drags into you in the middle of the night.


Photo: A schooner broad reaching under foresail and jib, Strait of Georgia.


















From Nanaimo we traversed the whirlpools of Dodd Narrows. Hey! Did you hear about the time when the Canadians were going to put a dam across Dodd Narrows, but gave it up because they didn’t want to live with the name Dodd Dam? Us neither, but it was too bad a pun not to include.

Anyway, a howling gale met us in Stuart Channel so we ducked into a small cove to wait out the blow and visit with a couple who are planning to sail their J-36 to Mexico. Because of strong southerly winds forecast, we changed our own plans, and instead of sailing across the Strait of Georgia for the third time to check into US Customs at Point Roberts and meet a friend at Sucia Island, we sailed down the west side of Saltspring Island and spent two days waiting for better weather at Musgrave Landing, once home to Brigadier Miles and Beryl Smeeton and their famous ketch Tzu Hang. The Smeetons, though long gone now, are two of Karen’s sailing heroes. They sailed around Cape Horn twice, and wrote humorously and well of their adventures and misadventures. We hiked trails and roads all around Musgrave Landing, but most traces of the Smeetons seem to have been ploughed under the expensive new homes and older logging roads. However, the best dock party of the summer materialized the minute we got back to the boat. Three very friendly Canadian couples on cruising powerboats invited us to share appetizers with them, and by the end of the evening we were swapping zingers and laughs, singing songs, and keeping up a lot of people in those expensive waterfront homes. The Smeetons would have approved, we think.

Photo: Impromptu dock parties are always the best.









We crossed Haro Strait in gale force nose winds, because we wanted to be out there. Roche Harbor on San Juan Island was a wind-hole as we tied up at the Customs dock, but we found a sheltered spot to anchor for the night. The next day we caught the tides perfectly (for once!) and made it across a flat calm Strait of Juan de Fuca to anchor off Port Townsend in mid-afternoon. Not 15 minutes went by before Jim’s phone rang. We’d been spotted! Holy halibut! The reunions have been joyful, and we’ve missed all our friends.


Now that we’re home and looking forward to the Wooden Boat Festival, we’d like to share some of the best of a best summer with you.

THE VERY BEST STUFF:

Photo: Jim with his best catch. This one took awhile to eat.

Best Sounds: The sound of a large whale breathing. It is, well, breathtaking. Also, the sound of several thousand seabirds waking up hungry in the morning.

Best Tides: Canada wins. 24 feet is a lotta water to move every 6 hours (Skidegate Channel.) Unless you go all the way to Alaska’s Cook Inlet, where you get 34 feet plus tidal bores, which are anything but boring.

Best Stories from Other Cruising Boats: Just after we crossed Hecate Strait back to the mainland from the Queen Charlotte Islands, we met a lone Frenchman in Spicer Island anchorage. He bought his boat, a sturdy steel cutter, in Singapore, and sailed it from there to the northern BC coast. He went via the Great Circle Route, past Japan and through the Aleutians. It took him 122 days, nonstop.

The Hats Off prize goes to Foxglove, a 40 foot sloop owned by Yoshi and Fumiko, from Japan. Actually, the prize is Fumiko’s, because the 72-day crossing of the Pacific (for which they’d only put 65 days worth of food aboard) was her FIRST sail. That woman has chutzpah.

Best Pub: We doubt anyone can beat the floating Dinghy Dock Pub at Protection Island in Nanaimo Harbour, where the “parking” signs say ‘Bow in, please,’ the Friday night race fleet sails within ten feet of the pub’s deck, which rocks and rolls in ferry wakes, and the bartender calls the race (which goes through the anchorage) play-by-play in a most racy manner over the pub’s sound system. All this and excellent food and grog, too!

Best Beer--Canadian or American? Are you kidding? You think we want to start a war or something? The only thing we’ll say about it is Jim’s quote: “Cheap beer tastes the same the world around.” But we have to give the Most Original Packaging Award to Canada, whose Pacific brand comes with a sailboat on every can and an insulated backpack for each case. We kid you not. A real beer backpack.

Cutest Sign Ever: We nominate Meeghan’s General Store in Queen Charlotte City as the winner. The photo shows their business hours. Meeghan’s, which sells fishing tackle as well as hardware, bills itself as “The best little lurehouse in Queen Charlotte City.” That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.























Best So-Called Food: Cuisines are fairly similar, but some things stand out. Potato chips: No one beats Miss Vickie’s Canadian chips. Grab every bag you can get your greasy little fingers on. Cheerios: Do the Canadians like them mushy? American version is better. Ketchup: Canada’s is zingier and we like it better. Baked beans: Definitely American, Canadians don’t understand the recipe. Sliced, individually wrapped sandwich cheese: The Canadian stuff melts in the ice box and tastes weird. Buy real cheese. Candy: Malteasers vs Whoppers: Malteasers don’t even tease. Buy Whoppers.

Photo: Karen cooks fresh-caught Salmon a la Sockdolager. Mae and Marty from Prince Rupert were our guests that night. Marty Bowles photo.

Other foodstuffs: Lest you think we ate nothing but junk food washed down with beer, we found Canadian fresh produce to be locally grown more often than you see in the States unless you go to a food co-op. Their meats are comparable in price and quality except in remote areas, where it’s all frozen and very, very expensive. Learn to fish. For some strange reason we don’t get, Wonder Bread dominated the bread shelves while multi-grain bread was scarce. Learn to bake bread. We did both, ate like kings, and even managed to lose weight.

Best New Words in Sockdolagerese: One thing we learned from this trip is that there are not enough words to describe some of the things we encountered. For example, what do you call it when the water is so roiled with little whirlpools that it knocks the boat’s bow off course? That word is “currentiferous.” A companion adjective describes the situation when you encounter the engine-stopping qualities of narrow, kelp-clogged channels.

Karen: “The port side of the channel is rather kelpaceous.”

Jim: “I’m steering around it.”

You know how it can be blowing really hard but it’s sunny, so you go sailing anyway, but if it was blowing the same amount with dark clouds you’d stay in port? Jim invented a word for the visual degree of dark rainy threat from the sky.

Jim, looking out a porthole: “The ominiscity’s way up.”

Karen: “Let’s stay in port.”

We invite you to help come up with a word for when the GPS course on an electronic chart tries to take you over dry land. Winner will be announced right here.

Photo: Jim & Karen enjoying a night of cribbage with Mae and Marty aboard Wild Abandon. Marty/Jim vs Mae/Karen. Is the winner obvious, or what? Marty Bowles photo.
















AND FINALLY… Best Boat Names with Unintended Meanings: Earlier in this blog you read about boat names such as “Rita’s Mink” and “Passing Wind,” which tend to elicit speculation on the owner’s judgment for inflicting them on others over the radio. Try to imagine the reaction in a hardworking Coast Guard rescue office:

Coast Guard: “Vessel Requesting Assistance, this is the United States Coast Guard. Can you say again your name and the nature of your distress?”

Vessel Requesting Assistance: “Passing Wind! We’re Passing Wind!”

Coast Guard (stifled laughter): “Er, is that your name, sir, or the nature of your distress?”

Some name-karma is self-inflicted. For example, never name your boat “Payday” unless you want strong, vigorous responses every time you use the radio. Ditto for “Bon Bon.” Of course, with a name like Sockdolager, Jim was just asking to spend an inordinate amount of time explaining its meaning and pronunciation to passers-by, so we should talk, huh? But while we’re at it, boat names like “Post Card” or “Ghost Bard” are probably ill-advised, too. There is one name, however, that we would absolutely LOVE to see. Would someone please name their boat “Spartacus”? Oh, we hope so, it would be such fun on the radio:

First Boat: “Spartacus, Spartacus, Spartacus, this is Sockdolager.”

Second Boat: “I AM SPARTACUS! Go to Channel 68.”

Third Boat: “I AM SPARTACUS! Channel 9!”

Fourth Boat: “I AM SPARTACUS!” etcetera. Fun, huh?

But we started this little rant talking about unintended meanings. Sometimes it happens by accident. For example, one of the boats in the Nanaimo Dinghy Dock Pub racing fleet was a sleek, black-hulled racing machine named “Blackadder,” and it had this problem. Just below the outboard mount, the letters “ck” were nearly chafed off, so that from a short distance away you’d read the boat’s name as the “Blaadder.” Considering this particular boat’s beer-loving crew, the new name kind of works.

There are two boats cruising in Canada that we know of named “Kafka.” On the first, crewed by a nice couple of deep thinkers, the name is clearly visible on their gleaming transom. On the second, the letter “f” is blocked from view by their outboard rudder. Maybe they have more time to think deeply because they get so few radio calls.

Finally, there’s a powerboat on Puget Sound called the “Salty Lass,” but when they swing their transom gate open, the “y” in Salty and the “L” in Lass disappear. Makes you wonder…

Photo: Happiness is a good day sailing...


Monday, August 31, 2009

Our route so far

The Home Stretch


We’re in Comox, on Vancouver Island. Nice little town, about 150 miles from home. The weather is still more like San Diego than Canada, hot days and clear starry nights with the odd rainy day the exception, but in spite of worries about climate change everyone on the water is saying “What a summer!” The photo above is a typical wall of fog; one minute it's clear and the next you can't see your toes.

Our approximate date for arrival in Port Townsend is September 8, in time for the Wooden Boat Festival. But we’re still not in any hurry, and are stretching out the end of the cruise to make this lovely summer last as long as possible. Winter lasts awhile and you never know what you’ll get with summers in the Northwest—last year was dreary and wet. Let’s catch you up since the last post.

Broughton Islands redux: The rest of our stay in the Broughtons was good and we’d like to go back there.



Besides several lovely anchorages that we had all to ourselves or shared with cruising boats with whom we visited, a big highlight was the Lagoon Cove marina at Minstrel Island. Naturally, we had to stop there since the island is named after Karen’s boat… or something like that. What a place! It has been described as a summer camp for adults. Happy Hour with steamed prawns (free!) and cruiser-supplied hors d’oeuvres on the deck of an “historic” old workshop is a tradition. Then there are the hiking trails up the mountain, the whimsical metal sculptures, the exceptional trading library, the crab cooking shack, and the sheer friendliness. The owners heard that we’d had poor luck catching crabs in our new trap and gave us five or six huge Dungeness crabs, on which we chomped in an elbow-dripping feast with enough left over for crab cakes. The fishing continues to be good, and we’ve been able to catch dinner nearly every time we try. We visited Simoom Sound because of its intriguing shape on the chart, the glowing descriptions in the cruising guide, but mostly because of its lyrical name. But the sound of multiple chain saws and big trees going CRACK! as they fell, and the sight of mountainsides stripped bare of old- and second growth trees, marred the beauty of Simoom Sound.

Photo: another lousy sunset in the Broughtons.


Water comets deluxe: In the smallest hours of a starry night in a splendid little cove near Seabreeze Island, Karen heard a splash, then a light thump on the hull. She came fully awake and went topside to investigate. The water reflected the stars until she realized those weren’t reflections-- dots of light and tiny comets streaked all around the boat as tiny fish fed on phosphorescent plankton. The thump on the hull might have been a large fish or a seal. “You awake? You gotta see this!” We marveled at thousands of streaks and flashes. Karen whirled a mop handle in the water to create a galaxy of phosphorescence, and Jim created his own galaxy of phosphorescence in a way only men can do.

Photo: Da Bidness end of a lingcod.




Johnstone Strait reflux: This time it was smooth and windless—a bit disappointing to Jim, who’d heard its reputation was fierce, but very much a relief to Karen, who’s transited it twice. We encountered the famous Johnstone Strait orca pod, which had stationed six or seven of the nine killer whales we observed in a circle, where they stayed in place at the surface as the youngsters played together. “Killer whales, yippee!” we yelled. We slowed down and altered course away so as not to disturb them, and the biggest one did a quick spyhop to get a look at us. Then it made a noise. A rather unusual noise for a killer whale. A more usual noise for a human. “Did you hear that?” said Karen. “I did,” said Jim, “I never knew whales could fart.” “Me neither,” said Karen. “Maybe it was a Bronx cheer, ya think?”
Whatever it was, it was a loud one.

Octopus’s Garden nyuk nyuks: Instead of going via Dent-Yaculta Rapids we decided to try the Okisollo Channel and visit the Octopus Islands. Cool name! Wouldn’t you want to go to a place named Octopus? Karen sang a slightly off-key version of “Octopus’s Garden” to Jim as they shot through the rapids at near-slack tide. (‘I’d like to be….under the sheets….in an octopus’s garden….with youuu!’) Though the islands were crowded with boats, those suckers were fun. We visited with a cruising boat named ‘Kafka’ after asking them if they were deep thinkers (they are), and rowed ashore to the Cruiser’s Gallery, an old wood shack stuffed with driftwood art and name-board signs made by cruisers. We left our contribution, a tiny driftwood name-board that Karen carved. There is one other cruisers gallery we know of, in the Wallace Islands Marine Park (Canada’s Gulf Islands.) Then we sailed away, through Surge narrows, to Heriot Bay and now through the Strait of Georgia.

Photo: Sockdolager leaves her mark at the Cruiser's Gallery.



Meedle and Bob: Okay, so it’s time we addressed this issue once and for all. Inquiring minds want to know. What is it they ask? “When you’ve been together 24/7 nonstop for ninety-odd days on that tiny little boat, how do you keep from tearing each others’ hair out?” Sockdolager is relieved to report that though it has not been without its moments, both Jim and Karen retain full and healthy heads of hair. Most of the “moments” have revolved around miscommunications. Not everyday miscommunications, mind you, like the time in Johnstone Strait when Karen admired a sturdy ketch designed by the famous marine architect William Garden and said, “What a well-kept Garden ketch!” to which Jim replied, “Do you think they have any tomatoes?” No, not those kinds of miscommunications, we mean another kind. The dreaded gender-based kind.
If you subscribe to the theory of gender stereotyping, you might say that in matters of speech, women have a tendency to be more indirect than men. This can result in a lot of annoying little clarification discussions. For example...
Karen at helm, noticing Jim’s leg is blocking her view of the depth sounder: “In a few minutes I’m going to need to see the depth sounder.” (Translation: I would like you to get this hint because your leg is posing a threat to life and safety.)
Jim: “Okay.” (He doesn’t move his leg.)
Karen, a few seconds later: “It’s getting shallow. I need to see the depth sounder now.”
Jim looks down at his leg. “Why didn’t you just say move yer damn leg?”
Karen: “I dunno, it sounds kind of rude.”

So, in order to satisfy the simultaneous needs to be direct yet not rude, we invented a few acronym-words that are short, sharp and satisfyingly ambiguous. The new word for “Move yer damn leg!” is “MYDL!” Pronounced meedle so it’s not confused with the medication for women only. In the event the recipient does not register the meaning of this command after two utterances, the helmsperson gets to bark (but only once), “MYGDL!”
Here is another: BOB. Posed as a question, answered as a statement.
Jim: “BOB?”
Karen: “BOB.”

Meaning, “Have you turned the battery switch this morning so that both will be charging when we start the engine?”
“Yes, the battery switch is turned to both.”
Batteries on both. BOB. Saves 26 words, which is significant before we’ve had our second cups of coffee.

There are a couple more, but this should not be overdone. “ISTE.” Comes after BOB and means I’m starting the engine. Finally, a favorite of Jim’s: “AO!” Rhymes with Day-oh. Means the anchor is up. Yes, Jim knows it would be more correct to say “AU!” but he doesn’t care because he likes hollering “AAAYYYYY-Oh!” from the foredeck.

Wait, there’s one more needed. It comes at the end of a long day’s run in more crowded waters, where people call dumb stuff to each other over the radio on VHF channel 16 and half the continent can hear it. You can almost hear the Coast Guard groaning.
“Hey, Rita’s Mink. Rita’s Mink, Rita’s Mink. Ya gotcher ears on? This is Passing Wind calling.” (We kid you not, these are real boat names.)

There can only be one response. That acronym is “TODR!” Turn off the damn radio.

We leave Comox tomorrow, headed in the direction of Lasqueti Island. We’ll try to rendezvous with a friend in the San Juans before we get to Port Townsend. What a summer, what a marvelous summer!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

At Eastern End of Johnstone Strait

We're off to shoot some rapids! Currently we are up Mayne Passage at the Blind Channel Marina. On enthusiastic advice from a family cruising on a Bristol Channel Cutter named Tarquin, we have decided to go via the Okisollo Channel to the Octopus Islands Marine Park, where the anchorage, a favorite of theirs, is unique. The Broughton Islands were great, Johnstone Strait was an easy passage this time, and we'll post more later when we stop longer. Celebrating Jim's birthday today!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Route to date (Aug 20, 2009)

In the Broughton archipelago

We rounded Cape Caution in dense fog two days ago. Before we did, we talked about its name. "I think the name is kind of unspecific and negative, don't you?" said Jim. "Yeah," Karen replied, "Either they should call it Cape Fearful or give it something pleasant, but not a mushy word like Caution."

"How about Cape Carefree?" asked Jim.
"I like it!" said Karen.

But Cape Carefree it wasn't. Those wily Canadians were right.

Funny thing, it didn't look foggy from our view at the snug anchorage of Fury Cove in a group of islets called Schooner Retreat. Hmmm...

"It's not foggy this morning!" said Jim as we arose at 0500. "Yay! Let's go!" said Karen. We left with high hopes of a pleasant downwind sail and ran into a fog bank about half an hour out. When we say fog in BC, we mean industrial strength. No cute little cat's feet for THIS fog. It creeps like a cougar, not a kitty. "It won't last," we reassured each other. Weather reports agreed. Since we don't have radar, we proceeded carefully with Jim being lookout to port and Karen peering to starboard, both looking fore and aft constantly. And listening hard. And blowing our fog horn. And paying close attention to the vessel traffic channel on our VHF radio. Just like everyone did in the olden days. It paid off as we passed two tugs with barges in tow, unseen but clearly heard. One used its horn and the other gave a Securite call on the radio, to which we responded. Ten hours and fifty miles later, with eyes streaming from the strain, we reached the entrance to Blunden Harbor just as the sun emerged to the irony of a gorgeous sparkling day.

"This is the beginning of the fog season," said a boatowner at the very tony floating village at Sullivan Bay on Broughton Island, where we are now. Although it's great to have the same name as the bay and village you're in, it won't even get you a cup of coffee. But Karen did buy the T-shirt. We walked around the floating "road system" (our favorites being named Halibut Heights and Hootchie Lane, where we are docked) and we saw a helicopter on the roof of one of the houses. At dinner we learned that the village is owned by nine couples (several with large motor yachts from Seattle) who have floating summer homes here. Thought it was something like that. Sailboats are outnumbered 10-1 by very large powerboats, not only here but surprisingly at most of the places we've been, including some of the remote inlets.

One note of caution for cruisers who may stop at Bella Bella: although the town was filled with friendly people, the dockmaster was quite rude. Karen remembers being treated rudely in 2001 when she stopped there, too. In the morning after the potlatch we moved Sockdolager to the fuel dock, and the dockmaster angrily refused to give or even, when we asked, to sell us any water (this after several days of rain had considerably helped their supplies) and told us we had to leave immediately. He had just given water, lots of it, to a large powerboat next to us, so it didn't make sense. What provoked him we don't know. So we left and went across the harbor to Shearwater. A couple other boats there had had similar experiences. Our tanks were nearly empty. The water in Shearwater is brown, needs to be boiled, and is undrinkable. The locals don't drink it. We learned about a large-volume water hose on a rickety pier near the ferry dock in McLoughlin Bay to the south of Bella Bella, and found it had plenty of good water. Whew. But cruisers should conserve fresh water supplies just in case.

And a note on wildlife so this post doesn't end on a downer: There was a whale in Seaforth Channel near the entrance to Lama Passage, which is fairly far inland. It was the largest humpback we've seen so far, and it made a dive close by as it approached us as we sailed wing and wing at five knots. We worried about hitting it, but we needn't have. It stayed down a long, long time and we were awed by our memory of the huge size of it. Two days and fifty miles later as we approached Fury Cove, this same whale was there, right near the entrance. Karen recognized it by the odd shaped dorsal fin and the nearly all-black tail flukes. Again it dived nearby as if to welcome us, and this time we were utterly delighted! After anchoring, we climbed over some rocks to watch it frolic right in front of us off the beach. Ahhhhhh.....

A few days later, outside the entrance to the Broughtons at Wells Passage, we saw birds in numbers we hadn't seen before. Karen counted one raft of about 2000 birds sitting on the water; probably 600 gulls and 1400 rhinoceros auklets. This in addition to 600 rhinos sitting outside Blunden Harbor! Then, closer inshore, another raft of a thousand rhinoceros auklets, plus 500-600 gulls feeding frenziedly. Haven't seen birds like that since the Aleutians! It was a lovely sight to see so much bird life all in one place.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Route to date

Back on Canada's Mainland and Heading South


The Inside Passage:
We are in Shearwater/Bella Bella. After 75 days of sailing in these waters, we finally joined the Inside Passage for the first time on August 12 (just north of Klemtu). Since then we’ve seen more boats than we’ve seen on our entire trip. Even the oceans have highways, byways and remote trails. Although going off the beaten track takes more effort and requires a bit more self-reliance, it’s worth it. Currently we’re experiencing a slight re-entry shock at all the civilization here in this village, but our laundry was beginning to speak audibly from its dank corner, we ran out of fresh vegetables, meat and ice, and we wanted to check in with the world. It would be nice to be able to send and receive email and hear the latest news from remote anchorages, but that would require a ham or single-sideband radio. It’s on the list. Jim’s investigating getting licensed and we’re trying to figure where we might fit the radio on the boat. Meanwhile, here’s a catch-up:

Fond farewell to the Queen Charlottes: Can you see the sleeping figure in this photo?
While we were anchored off Queen Charlotte City, we wanted to transit the intricate Skidegate Channel to the west coast, but nearly a week of 40-knot winds after we last wrote kept us from doing that. Even the fishermen told us we shouldn’t attempt it, because the seas that met them at the other end were, they said, huge. And if a fisherman tells you the seas are huge it’s probably wise to believe it. This is a photo of relatively protected waters during the gale. So we rented a car for a day and drove to the far north side of Graham Island, through several interesting villages to the body of water known as Dixon Entrance, across which lay Alaska. Dixon was living up to its wild reputation that day, and we photographed the surf explosively hitting a rock blowhole at a beach. The people along the way were very friendly, the totem poles in several villages were exquisitely carved by the late, beloved Bill Reid and other Haida artists, and the brand new museum at Skidegate Village was breathtaking.
The weather finally moderated. We arose at 0430, got ready, turned the engine key, and... nothing. By the time we replaced the ignition switch it was too late to go that day, and we'd lost our good-weather window for another few days. Still, once it moderated again it wasn’t easy to leave a place like that. Such warm people, such history, scenery and beauty.
Photo: a Haida canoe awaiting its crew.

The Outside Passage: The 73-mile crossing of Hecate Strait took only one long day, starting with the anchor up at first light, and ending 15 ½ hours later. In the photo you can see a sunrise optical illusion, where the sun loses its roundness and becomes columnar--it did this for about ten minutes.

It was also a terrific sail, with beam seas of only 1-2 meters and a nice northwest wind that eventually increased to about 30 knots and saw Sockdolager double-reefed and going like a scalded cat, but comfortably. We actually sailed a bit north on this leg (to the north side of Banks Island) because we wanted to see the little-known “Outside Passage” and sail down Principe and Petrel Channels, with their little-used harbors.

One of the best things about cruising is the people you meet, and this area was no exception. A 30-foot sailboat with the intriguing name of “Wild Abandon” sailed in to the inlet we were in, and within two days we had gone fishing (and caught fish!), had a couple of dinners and many laughs together, some cribbage lessons, and one Big Adventure. “We’re going to Buchan Inlet,” said Marty and May, who are from Prince Rupert, when we discussed whether we’d meet again that night. “We might go there too,” we replied, as we left a couple hours before they did. The cruising guide gave a tiny mention, in its description of Buchan Inlet, that a boat might want to enter the beautiful back lagoon, which is more sheltered than the outer bay, at high slack water. However, it declined to say why. It did show the entrance to be narrow, but lots of entrances are narrow.

So, thinking that Marty and May knew the place and had gone in there a bunch of times, we reconnoitered it and then blasted through the narrows. The outgoing current was around 4 knots and rocks were visible close by, so this qualified as the most hair-raising entrance we’d ever done. Later, Marty zoomed in on his dinghy with eyes wide. ‘HOW THE HELL DID YOU GET IN HERE?” he said. We told him, then said, “We thought you’d done this before and meant to come in here as your anchorage.” “Good God no!” he said. “I’d never come in here after looking at those narrows!” They anchored in the outer bay, and after dinner aboard their boat we had one of the scariest dinghy rides imaginable back to Sockdolager, skimming over a spot that was bare rock shortly after. Here's a photo of the entrance at mid-tide, but wait'll you see the video when we figure out how to post it.
Even the inner cove was not spared from current. Sockdolager was spinning around her anchor like a compass in the Bermuda Triangle. It was muggy and buggy, and there were uncharted rocks and no crabs in there. We decided that this chapter of the cruising guide should be thrown out.

Exiting Constipation Cove would be tricky, so we decided to wait for high water slack the next afternoon. That day we rowed over to the narrows and were shocked: whitewater rapids foamed and surged and flowed into the cove at 7 to 9 knots. Yeeks! We climbed a rocky island in the middle of the channel and filmed them, because it will be hard to believe you could get a sailboat through there, and we intend to prove we did. Finally, with hearts thumping, we threaded the narrows at high tide and got out of jail free. UPDATE: At the end of this post we've added 4 video clips to give you an idea of what the entrance to Buchan Inlet is like. Rest assured, we will NEVER try that again.

Continuing our nautical ramble, the pace of which Jim has described as “Progress akin to that of a wounded snail,” we spent a couple of days riding out a gale anchored on Campania Island among a gorgeous maze of tiny islands stuffed with noisy crowds of ancient murrelets, mergansers, Sabine’s gulls, and eagles that in any other place would be a national park. Did we mention noisy? It sounded like a ballfield at the World Series where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is trying to teach everyone “The Messiah” after too many beers and a no-hitter. Those birds could sing. The transit through Laredo Sound went through a bit of open sea, and we met big swells again, but by the end of a long day the sailing was good and we navigated a little-used channel called Meyers Passage, an inland cut that avoids the open sea.

It feels pretty good to have been out for 75 days without being on any of the “beaten tracks.” Now we are, and there will be plenty of company. We look forward to meeting new friends and reuniting with old ones.

Potlatch! We heard our friend Roly Brown, of F/V Tropic Isle, on the radio and rendezvoused with him at the Bella Bella government dock. There was a huge potlatch going on and the entire town plus tribal members from other villages were there—perhaps two hundred in all. Someone invited us in, and we watched quietly and with awe as the long, emotional ceremonies unfolded. Although we didn’t understand them all, the dancing, drumming and singing were compelling, and we witnessed the giving of special names and gifts such as blankets. A revered elder, a woman named Shirley, was honored with a new carved hat and ornate set of Chief's robes.
In this photo Chiefs are dancing. Their carved wooden hats are hung with ermine skins, and some are topped with sea lion whiskers, which form a kind of cage for loose eagle and swan's down. The scattering of these white feathers as a Chief dances is a traditional sign of peace. Rattles and decorative attachments to the costumes are sometimes made of deer hooves, and they make quite a sound. Combined with drumming and chanting, the effect is hypnotic. In another ceremony, an elder named Al who had been forcibly sent to a boarding school in his childhood was honored and publicly enfolded back into the community. They literally wrapped him in a blanket and hugged him and then his entire extended family circled the hall as the rest of us stood to honor him. It was quite moving, and a real privilege to witness.
And that’s part of the potlatch tradition: everyone is a participant because the act of witnessing the passing of names, possessions, stories or traditions is as important as passing them on. Potlatches, which we learned evolved as a traditional economic as well as cultural system for First Nations in the Northwest, were outlawed in the 1880s and only recognized at mid-century. Of course, they continued to be held in private, called “church suppers” and other ambiguous names. This potlatch started in late afternoon and was to go well into the night. We three stayed for awhile, but reluctantly left to go rustle up some supper.

The Fishing is Ridiculous: Yes, you read that right. Adjectives are flying about this fishing season, including “obscenely good.” And you’ll be pleased to know that we finally have it figured out and can go fishing with reasonable chance of success. In fact, too much fresh salmon can be, well… no we have not reached that point yet but we’re close. Jim, observing hundreds of jumping salmon, could stand it no longer. He said, “I know we have a long way to go, but let’s go over to that reef and fish for fifteen minutes. Just fifteen, okay?” He sounded like an addict needing a fix. After a few minutes of trolling he looked worriedly at his watch and said, “Only six minutes left.” Then, BANG! “FISH ON!” Karen yelled at the zizz of the line. Jim reeled it in as she netted it: a dinner-sized pink. Now Jim is saying things like, “I just want to catch a fish. I don’t really want to eat more fish right now, I just wanna catch another one.” In the photo Jim is doing the traditional "kiss your first salmon" gesture, albeit three or four salmon into his new career. Is he hooked, or what?

Détente: Just as Americans take delight in pointing out differences in speech patterns, Canadians are no less enthusiastic about it. We say “huh?” while they say “Eh?” We end most of our sentences on a down-tone, while they end with up-speak. We have weird signs and so do they. (A TV Society? Wonder what the initiation rites are like...)
The BC accent has pleasant Scottish and Irish undertones, which delight our ears. Our flat pronunciations amuse and sometimes puzzle their ears, especially when we use place names, which are so unusual and fun to say that we wrote a song to the tune of Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere.” BC’ers love to hear us rattle off a playful rhyming string of their place names as we sing “We’ve Been Everywhere (in BC).”
Occasionally a spot of politics will creep into conversations. Mostly, Canadians remain baffled by the last eight years and gently probe us to ascertain that we haven’t lost our marbles or been abducted by aliens or something. We assure them that most Americans, with a few notable exceptions, are perfectly sane and rational. We tell them we’re trying to get back to whatever passes for normal these days, as best we can. They are reassured by the individual, startled by the masses, when it comes to dealing with Americans.

But one international issue refuses all attempts to resolve it. There is no quarter given, no conciliatory détente, no mercy, and this is very troubling. It is serious. It is the price of Canadian beer. You think we’re kidding? The cheapest Canadian beer is three times the price of average-grade American. Shock and awe for the unwary. It’s a stealth technique for identifying Americans who might otherwise pass without notice. Unfailingly, the scene unfolds like this:
Jim and Karen, upon entering a liquor store: “GASP! GASP!”
Clerk: “You’re Americans, aren’t you?”

Don’t say we didn’t warn you. One hopeful sign is the rumor that the Canadian government is considering placing defibrillators at the doorways.

Dethump: Karen has developed the habit of whacking her head on any available part of the boat. She sits up in bed, whack. Fails to see the hatch is closed as she ascends the steps, whack. Throws her head back to laugh, whack. She even hit her head on the boat’s compression post, which thundered all the way to the cockpit and caused Jim to ask, “How’d you do that?” While all this whacking gives much amusement, it also gives headaches and lumps. Perhaps she has a case of Whackheimers. But why, after all this time of owning a Dana 24 herself, is this malady just now appearing, and on someone who’s only five-foot two? Karen’s only consolation is her newly minted word for the condition of repeatedly hitting the same body part on unyielding objects such as a boat: a whackadundant.

Depart: Tomorrow we’ll leave civilization to continue heading toward home. The challenge of going faster than a wounded snail is proving to be a daunting one, as temptation lurks at every bend in the channel. We’ll make stops in the Broughton Islands and will attempt the Dent-Yaculta rapids route instead of Seymour Narrows. But a rapids-infested channel named Dent does give a boat owner pause to wonder why it has that name…

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Leaving Charlottes

Planning to cross Hecate Strait tomorrow. Forecast is 20 to 25 from the NW and sunny. Ye ha.

Sent from my iPhone

Friday, July 24, 2009

Adventures Offshore and in the Queen Charlotte Islands


We have been in the Queen Charlottes (also called Haida Gwaii because it's the home of the Haida Nation) since June 30, but we've been in remote wilderness the entire time. As the guidebook says, "You have entered a different world. One as far removed as possible from flashing neon and smog, from traffic jams and street lights..." There are over 400 islands in this archipelago that sits about 70 miles west of the British Columbia Coast, just south of the Alaska border. So, that's a quick orientation on where we are.

Our course was northward from the southern tip. We are now at the Sandspit marina on the northeast tip of Moresby Island, about halfway up the archipelago. Earlier this month we rafted with our new friends Kirk and Karen Palmer from F/V Light Scout, and visited S’Gang Gwaay together. S'Gang Gwaay, on Anthony Island at the southwest tip of the archipelago, is a World Heritage site and a partially restored Haida village with the most complete group of totem poles of any historic site here. We rowed ashore, walked through the ancient village, and hiked a trail around the island.

Back at the raft-up with Kirk and Karen, we yakked and told stories for two straight days and had a fabulous time. Serendipitously, they had extra diesel aboard and, coincidentally, we had run very low after our long crossing, so they gave us 5 gallons, which made a big difference in our ability to get into the remoter areas where winds and currents are fickle. Kirk and Karen were due to leave at 0400 the next morning, and we all swore we’d stop talking early so they could get some sleep, but we couldn’t stop. It was just too danged much fun. Finally at midnight we all cooked supper, and they took off at oh-dark-thirty to make the hundred-mile crossing back to Port Hardy. They must have been tired. We asked them to post a quick note on this blog, which they did, but we forgot to tell them that you can’t post photos via email, so we will put their photos alongside ours later, when we see them again in Victoria, before returning to Port Townsend in September. Now for some catching up:

AOOGA! AOOGA! a fish has been caught! But before we regale you with that astounding moment, a little backstory first: June 24: Leaving hospitable Port Alice and cruising back to Winter Harbour and Browning Inlet at the mouth of Quatsino Sound, we spent a couple of days readying the boat for an open-ocean crossing to the southern tip of the Queen Charlotte Islands, a 164-mile voyage if done in a straight line, which sailboats never do. The forecast was for southeast winds, which would make it a downwind sail. We wanted to sail offshore, to see what Triangle Island looked like, and get some sea room for when the winds went back to the northwest, so we plotted a course south of and paralleling the islands that jut 50 miles out to the west from Vancouver Island’s north tip (ending at Triangle Island, about which a fisherman told us later, “It always blows fifty there!”) More on that later. Fifty miles out from Quatsino, a course change to a northwesterly bearing for a landfall east of St James Island at the southern tip of the Queen Charlottes would, we figured, make a total run of 25-35 hours. If you haven’t noticed yet, we are optimists.

We rigged extra lifelines, the storm trysail, preventers for the mainsail, set up the running backstays, lashed the anchor down, made sandwiches and stocked the larder and snack bins, and then, the last thing before turning in for the night, we got a final weather forecast. The predicted SE wind had been upgraded to a gale warning of 35. We talked about it. Once this southerly weather system blew through, the winds would swing around again to 25 on the nose, which has been the prevailing direction so far all summer. We decided that 35 knots downwind, though uncomfortable, was do-able and would give us a faster passage than beating into a head-wind and seas. It is much easier to sail downwind in a small boat like this than it is to beat to windward. We’ve sailed downwind in 35 before, but not on the open ocean. We figured the small staysail combined with our roller furling genoa would give us enough downwind drive and flexibility to cope with the larger seas. Although Sockdolager is only 24 feet on deck, she’s heavily built. Dana 24s are easily capable of going offshore in safety if not in big-boat comfort. It was a go. We arose at 0400 on Friday June 26 and tuned into the weather as we made coffee. Our hearts sank. Storm warnings in Queen Charlotte Sound and Hecate Strait, with winds of 40-50 knots meant no go. We plotted where the low was, where it would be later, and with great disappointment, did the only sensible thing: we went back to bed. THEN we went fishing. End of backstory.

Now, if you want to bumfuzzle a line of 20-foot C-Dorys and Alumawelds bristling with fishing gear as they troll over the local reefs, join them in a full-keeled sailboat rigged for sea, troll your flasher-rigged hootchie with its slip-weight as if you were born with it, and look nonchalant, just another weird-looking fishing boat. We watched surreptitiously as they reeled in and netted their many catches, and we learned what not to do, after three escapees shook off our barbless hooks. “Nice fish!” we called to a nearby pair of fishermen as they hauled one in. “Yeah, we’re limited out now, gotta go,” they said. “Yeah,” we replied, “We think we’ll stay, we’re not quite limited out yet.”

Then, a miracle happened: a fish not only bit our hootchie, it stayed on. Jim reeled it in and Karen scooped it into the net, an honest-to-God coho salmon, exactly 22 inches long and a little over 4 pounds (yes, Jim measured it.) You could hear our shrieks all the way to the Quatsino lighthouse. We high-fived, danced in the cockpit, and sang victory medleys all the way back to the little cove we chose to ride out the gale in. And we barbecued our fish. Two eagles sat in a tree nearly overhead and watched us like… well, like hawks. Let the wind blow high, let the wind blow low, we got our coho mojo on, yeah!






June 28, 2009: 0530 departure for offshore: For a couple of days while the gale blew, we kept listening to the weather, hoping for the wind to veer to a stretch of southwest before it went northwest with another possible gale due in a few days. The forecast was good: southwest winds for 36 hours followed by gentle northwest of 5-15, then 10-20. No new gales in sight. Yay! The gentle weather was forecast to last for four to five days. The wave height forecast was a tad daunting, though - 2 to 3 meters with some 4 meter seas thrown in, but we figured they would subside quickly with a switch in wind direction and speed. So, excited and a bit nervous, we left Quatsino Sound for the open ocean. Immediately outside the Sound we met the sport fishing fleet, each boat perched atop a huge wave and disappearing in the troughs. The charterboat customers did not look pleased, and even a few skippers were chumming. These were no 3 meter seas. They were at least twelve to fifteen feet, steep as cliffs and close together. Five meters, yeeks! And it was chaotic: a big swell from the northwest overlain by wind waves from the southeast and even a few coming in from the west. It was a bit like sailing in a washing machine. Karen looked at Jim to see if he wanted to turn back. Jim looked at Karen for the same. Neither said a word. Stubborn buggers. Both rationalized that these seas were probably higher because of the nearshore effects of the bottom outside Quatsino Sound. Later on, we switched from rationalization to hope: these seas WILL subside, they’ve got to because there’s not enough wind to create them anymore, or even sail over them! The promised southwest 15-20 knot wind was west, 5-10 knots-almost on the nose. At one point Sockdolager’s bow sailed off the top of a wave into thin air. Karen, at the helm, looked straight down, anticipated a crash landing, and muttered “This could be ugly…” but the boat merely tipped down and surfed nicely down the back side of the wave! That’s what a good sea boat with a full keel will do.

You may be expecting some exciting photos of us sailing in this mess, but reaching for a camera was not our highest priority right then. We shot some video of ten-foot swells, but frankly the camera lens flattens out the seas, which nullifies their size and effects on one's equilibrium. So verbal descriptions will have to do.

By nightfall we made the turn at Triangle Island, and so did the wind, dagnabit. Northwest, right on the nose. So we made long tacks, 3 hours at a time to correspond with our watch schedule of 3 on and 3 off. Two hundred twenty miles’ worth of tacking, 56 hours in all. Except for about twelve hours of pure joyful sailing in sparkling beam seas with just the right amount of wind, we had either too much or not enough wind, and big lumpy disorganized seas that degraded windward progress so much that we used the engine at low rpm so as not spend a third night at sea.

Did we mention seasickness? Jim was very seasick for most of the voyage but remained amazingly functional, and Karen experienced the most severe nausea ever, of any voyage she’s ever made. However, she managed to hang onto her digestive composure throughout. The larder full of sandwiches went begging and the snack bins stayed closed. A few queasy nibbles on crackers and some sips of lemonade and water were all either of us could handle in the bashing nausea-thon. This is a photo of Karen in her foulies before it got rough.





And did we mention hallucinations? You never saw people hit the bunk faster on the off-watch than we did. Fully clothed, too. But sometimes the pure sensory overload and nausea kept sleep away, and that’s when some sort of half-awake dream state would make images float by all free-associated, with the dreamer fully aware of the open door to the unconscious. Both of us dreamed of mythical wildlife. It was actually enjoyable to dream like that. Then, when the off-watch would come up on deck for his or her turn on watch, there was a steady parade of real wildlife keeping us company nearly the whole way across. Dozens of passes by several chocolate-colored albatrosses with kind dark eyes that examined the boat, the dinghy, and us in our bright red and orange foulies. Heavy-bodied short-tailed shearwaters and tiny storm petrels swooping, occasional whales (but fewer than near the coasts) and one large shark came to visit and check us out. At one point about two-thirds into the trip, each of us looked longingly to leeward, thinking how easy it would be to turn downwind and stop the seasickness, but neither of us said anything, so we kept going. And we made it.

Cruising in Haida Gwaii (Canada’s Queen Charlotte Islands): The next three weeks were the most enjoyable ever, starting in the southern part of Moresby Island, visiting the unique World Heritage Site S’Gang Gwaay with its awesome totem poles and ancient Haida village, then sailing on the west coast where we spent five days.
Several whales swam back and forth outside our cove the whole time, and the most amazing “cloud waterfall” spilled over the mountain and put on a show each afternoon.


One humpback whale playfully escorted us for several miles. While in Looscoone Inlet on the west coast, we tied to a mooring buoy that was thoughtfully connected to a water hose that came from a gushing mountain stream, and we did laundry, washed ourselves and the boat, and filtered fresh water into our drinking supply, which we had feared was getting low. We carry 45 gallons. To our surprise, we found that we had only used 15 gallons since leaving Winter Harbour, and have been using only about a gallon and a half per day for all our needs! When you can do your bathing and dishes in clean salt water with a quick freshwater rinse, it makes conserving fresh water supplies a lot easier. Joy dishwashing liquid will lather in salt water, and you can wash your hair in it quite nicely. This photo is Jim doing laundry in a bucket, with unlimited fresh water.



New friends: Although there are fewer than two dozen cruising boats registered in Haida Gwaii, we managed to meet a few, plus occasional kayakers, in various anchorages. There were Kirk and Karen from Victoria aboard Light Scout, whom we mentioned earlier. Then we met Yoshi from Japan on Foxglove, a 40’ Sparkman & Stephens sloop. Yoshi, a retired fireman, sailed from Japan in 72 days with his wife. Crossing the Pacific was her first time sailing! There were Jack and Kay from Minnesota on Eagle Spirit, with whom we explored Burnaby Narrows by dinghy and who later raided their freezer and fridge to give us steak, chicken, fresh veggies and ice! Eagle Spirit is a spacious, sturdy “Grand Alaskan” powerboat, but Jack and Kay are ex-sailors who quickly figured out we were out of fresh supplies. Then there were Glenn and Cindy on Mystery Ship, a large Nordhavn Trawler. They are headed for Mexico this fall with plans for the South Pacific. So many interesting people are out here on the ocean road!

Ports visited: For anyone following via charts, we visited Rose Harbour, Gray's Cove, Etches Cove, Looscoone Inlet, Ikeda Cove, sailed through Skincuttle Channel where we caught two small halibut, anchored in Bag Harbour, navigated the dreaded Burnaby Narrows (also called Dolomite Narrows) then visited Island Bay, a favorite, then retreated north and inland to the primeval-looking Sac Bay, far up De la Beche Inlet in Juan Perez Sound, to ride out a gale. Sac Bay looks like the kind of place where you’d half expect to see a Tyrannosaur jump out of the bushes. After a couple of days of heavy rain and wind (and unable to figure out the inscrutable directions on our cribbage board), we felt a bit of cabin fever. Not that we ran out of conversational topics, mind you… Even though Sac Bay had at least 3 large waterfalls, it had very little possibility for walking ashore, and we were unable to stretch our legs at all. This can be an issue in some of these remote places where dense forest grows right up to the tide line and no trails exist. Most of the time we’d make up the lack by rowing, but it was storming too hard here. In spite of its beauty, we were happy to sail out of Sac Bay and into better weather at a cove on Ramsey Island, across from the best hot springs anywhere.

Hot Springs…Aaaaaaaahhh. So maybe it’s a lot of work to get here, but it’s SO worth it. After being unable to stretch our legs for awhile, we walked ashore and visited all the natural rock pools, which ranged from hot tub size to 10' X 20'. Every pool had a great view of the ocean. We soaked, floated and swam in these hot springs for several hours (again, by ourselves!) and were noodles again by afternoon, as we sailed up to Murchison Island to anchor. The next morning as we sailed out we were boarded by a very polite and professional crew of RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) except that their “mount” was a boat, not a horse. They were just checking visiting boats, and we had a good conversation. The Canadian Coast Guard does not have enforcement authority, it’s the RCMP who does all that, including federal, provincial and local law. Efficient but a challenging job, we concluded.

Running on empty: With four weeks passing since the last provisioning and having run out of most fresh food, bread, cereal, ice, and pretty much anything interesting to eat, (plus Jim’s beer supply was dangerously low) we decided to head north to the Skidegate Channel area where we could re-provision and dump a month’s worth of garbage. Yes, there is nowhere to put it ashore, and you must keep it aboard. Luckily, ours all fit crammed into a cockpit locker, but barely.

Welcome, Haida style: Before we reached Skidegate (prounounced “SKID-i-git”) channel, we visited two more of the major Haida sites in Gwaii Haanas National Park, where ancient villages once stood. The Haida have a program called the “Watchmen,” who are a group of volunteers who get paid a small stipend for spending a month at a time in the rustic but beautiful and comfortable cabins provided, and who give interpretive tours of the sites, many of which were thoroughly looted in the early 1900s. These Watchmen are awesome. You could not find friendlier and more eager-to-share people anywhere. The village sites are located mostly on exposed coastal promontories, so visiting boats must choose the weather carefully and anchor or tie to the lone mooring buoy on a potential lee shore. There are Watchmen at S’Gang Gwaay, Hot Springs Island, Windy Bay, Tanu, and Skedans, plus a few others. We stopped at Windy Bay intending to stay only an hour because we had far to go and the wind was forecast to rise, but the warm hospitality of the Haida family there enticed us to stay several hours. Gladys (Jiixa), a Haida elder who is helping keep the language alive, invited us into her kitchen and showed us a spruce root hat she was weaving. She is a renowned artist and her baskets are so intricate and tightly woven that they can hold water. We enjoyed talking with her, and then her husband Al and their grandson Josh returned from a walk, and we went off to hike with Al on a trail through old-growth cedar forest that included a wade across a cold salmon stream. Al’s fascinating interpretation, plus being among trees that were nearly a thousand years old, made this walk a treat. When we returned, Gladys again invited us into her kitchen and asked, “Have you ever eaten fried bread?” She brought out a huge pan of freshly-risen bread dough and started to fry pieces of it in a 100 year-old iron pot. We were wrapped into that Haida family for a brief time and treated to a traditional food served hot with butter and Glady’s’ homemade jam. She gave us a couple pieces of fry bread “for the road,” and also the recipe. We left Windy Bay with happy hearts and called our thanks to them on the radio-in Haida, which Gladys had taught us. ('ah gan hla Kyang gaay 'laa! Look after yourself! Howa! Thank you!)

Shortly after that a pod of killer whales romped past the entrance to Windy Bay, and we sailed up to Tanu, the next ancient village site. Tanu’s young Watchmen are Sean and Helen, an archaeologist and an anthropologist, and the depth of their knowledge seemed infinite. We were so fascinated that we stayed longer there, too. I’ll try to write up more on Haida ancient village sites later, as it would be too lengthy now. We did get safely to anchor late that night, happy after a very full month’s stay in Gwaii Haanas National Park.


Back to the future: Which brings us back to Sandspit, where we are now. The tide range is 24 feet here and you have to watch the navigation. We’ll stay another day or two, then sail over to Queen Charlotte City to reprovision. We may head west out Skidegate channel to see a bit of the west coast at this latitude, a little over 53 degrees North.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Photos from Gwaii Haanas


One of S'Gang Gwaay's Watchmen drying freshly caught halibut at his cabin.










A row of totem poles at S'Gang Gwaay. These poles are at least a hundred fifty years old and were memorial poles carved to tell the story and house the remains of honored persons such as chiefs.

Enjoying a day with Kirk and Karen Palmer from Victoria aboard their boat Light Scout enroute to S'Gang Gwaay, a partially restored ancient Haida village on Anthony Island, west coast of the Queen Charlottes.

Jim and Karen in Queen Charlottes

Jim and Karen are safely anchored in the Queen Charlottes.  Long sail, big seas, blog more later.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Post Cards from the Ocean Road




The stories behind these photos are posted below. But a photo of the Cap'n right after he fell in from the dinghy was just too darned good not to share.