|The green line is heading north, and red is going south.|
Thursday, December 20, 2018
Tuesday, August 28, 2018
Our friends at OffCenter Harbor have started a new thing we like: Slow August. In it, they present short videos with no narration, just late summer bluebird days with those slurpy chuckling water sounds of a boat at anchor near a beach, or someone rowing, or other quiet August scenes meant to restore the sanity of anyone trapped in a cubicle office. They’re great, except Jim said, “We just came back from almost four months of that, so I kind of fast-forwarded through them.”
“Did you know they dubbed us the King and Queen of Slow? And featured our blog on their site?”
“I haven’t gotten to that email yet,” he said.
“I rest my case. To us, those videos are regular speed.”
“The King of Slow, huh? If my racing friends find out, I’ll never hear the end of it.”
**Edit, much later: Off Center Harbor filmed this video interview of us, about going slow, small and simple up the Inside Passage.
**Edit, much later: Off Center Harbor filmed this video interview of us, about going slow, small and simple up the Inside Passage.
We’re home. You know you’re out of the wilderness when, aboard your single-engine, small quiet cruising boat, you are “outraced” at harbor entrances by large, tsunami-generating gin palaces seeking the last remaining whatever in the harbor before you get to it.
|Ugh, gack, giant, surfable wakes. Makes small boat cruisers mildly homicidal.|
We even heard one of them say on the radio, “White sailing vessel, alter your course!” Which confirms the unfortunate inequality trend toward “might makes right” out on the water. Watching these fiberglass stampedes is reminiscent of some warped Evacuation of Dunkirk Billionaires scene as multiple fortresses plow giant furrows past you at close quarters, racing each other to the harbor spoils and giving you the feel of being a contestant in “Bowling for Small Boats.” It’s the sudden ejection from slow wilderness into the anti-universe of Breakneck Speed August at Mergers and Acquisitions Harbor that gets me every time. I won’t say exactly where this is, but you will know if you’ve been there in August trying to check into US Customs. I sometimes use an ancient traditional greeting when they roar past and we buck and jump in their wakes, and I sometimes chant, “May your props become tulips.”
|Bet you thought I meant the OTHER ancient, traditional gesture. At least this one got a few laughs.|
We met our old friend Roly Brown, with his wife Marian, aboard Tropic Isle just south of Shearwater, and as we held the two boats together while floating around, we had a nice gam for a few minutes.
|Tropic Isle with Roly and Marian.|
So, the remaining voyage details: we left Shearwater and made tracks to revisit Green Island Anchorage off Fitzhugh Sound, one of our favorite spots.
|Here comes the fog!|
Although there were three other boats at anchor in the main cove, our narrow little side slough was free and we spent a peaceful night. Even after a stay in a small remote marina these days, I find myself aching to get back to anchor. We also realize the value of cruising out of season, because back in May, except for tugs with barges, there wasn’t another boat to be seen for days—maybe the weather’s not as good then, but you sure find the solitude a lot easier. Shhh, don’t tell anyone.
At breakfast, watching Jim dip a Pop Tart in his coffee:
Me: “I wish I had something easy like that.”
“You could learn to like them.”
“They taste like gourmet cardboard.”
“A bite here, a bite there, I think you'd like them if you tried.”
“You mean, that’s the same Pop Tart you had a few days ago?”
“No, but they actually taste amazingly good when they're stale.”
This from a man who won’t eat bread that’s more than a few days old.
Since the next day was the best forecast of the coming week, we decided to go for it, and rounded Cape Caution, where swells from the Pacific gave way to a chop that wasn’t pleasant but was a lot better than the wind that was coming.
And the fog, oh my. Jim has never actually seen Cape Caution in all the times he’s rounded it. I saw it once, about 17 years ago.
Jim: “This fog looks like we’re in a bell jar.”
Me: “So, we’re in like, a little maritime terrarium?”
Later: “Lotta logs out here in this fog, you gotta keep a sharp eye out. Where do you suppose they’re all coming from?”
The multitudes of rhinoceros auklets (a small seabird with a punk-rock look) flying, landing, diving and just hangin’ with their homies in the fog was a pleasure to watch.
|Rhinoceros auklet. Credit: Planet of Birds.|
And then the fog cleared as we entered Queen Charlotte Strait. Off McEwan Rock a whale surfaced less than 100 feet from us; the seas calmed, the wind went aft, and for a short time it was an easy-weather day.
When you see a couple hundred excited birds of several species circling low over the water, (we call this a bird-nado) watch, because something interesting’s bound to happen. Sure enough, there were whales feeding. Five more whale sightings, we think all humpbacks, brought this day’s total to six. Then the tide changed, the wind increased and the seas stood up—this was Queen Charlotte Strait after all, whose tides can run at four-plus knots and which funnels daily gales into Johnstone Strait, so as the seas rose we decided to bail out at Blunden Harbor on the mainland side instead of going to a nice-looking spot in the Pearse Islands near Alert Bay to anchor. Glad we did, because just as we entered lovely snug Blunden and dropped the hook, it began to blow pretty hard, maybe 30 knots. And even with cutting the journey short, it was still a 74-mile day, which for a small boat is pretty good.
We don’t have an anemometer, so we just estimate the wind speed, and the way it works is: as soon as we notice ourselves getting uncomfortable and starting to worry a bit, it’s time for Plan B. The threshold for concern is a little lower on Raven than it was for Sockdolager, but Raven still took some pretty impressive seas with aplomb on this voyage. Sockdolager, by the way, has been renamed “Ouzel” (a nifty water bird) and was in these same waters with her new owner, preparing for a solo offshore sail down the west coast of Vancouver Island. Go Chris! We didn’t have cell signals and couldn’t arrange a rendezvous, but look forward to meeting up with Chris and Lisa soon.
|There were a lot of interesting clouds before the front came through. Claydon Harbor, Broughtons.|
Johnstone Strait’s forecast wasn’t sounding like much fun, and because we’d heard there was a fishing opener happening soon, we detoured into the Broughton Islands’ watery maze to a nice bay called Claydon Harbor.
|Ruins in Claydon Harbor.|
The cruising guide urges you to anchor in a small arm in its north corner, and sure enough that’s where at least six boats had crammed together, leaving the entire western bay free for our anchoring pleasure. There was a thunderstorm in the night, an occurrence so unusual in these parts that seeing the lightning flash through my eyelids, I recall thinking sleepily, we must tape over whatever instrument light bulb is malfunctioning, it’s really annoying! Then the thunder boomed. Oh wow. But the wind behaved and a good night’s sleep was had by all.
|With all the rain that falls (this is a rainforest) Nature takes manmade structures back pretty fast.|
Later, underway, a look at the chart: “Oooh, there’s Mistake Island!”
“Are you sure that’s right?”
|The beautiful Broughtons.|
Gale warnings continued in Johnstone Strait, so Raven wandered up and down channels in easy weather through the Broughtons, to the very hospitable and tiny Kwatsi Bay Marina (we wanted to try one more remote marina) which is truly in the middle of nowhere. The owners and some cruisers who’ve been coming there for decades held their regular BYOB happy hour with snacks on a covered dock—very pleasant. The marina’s for sale, in case you’re interested…
Exiting the Broughtons, you see ranges posted here and there, beacons for keeping you on course. As we passed one, Jim pointed: You see that? You could put a floating home right there.”
“But that’d be a lousy place for a floating home, it’s exposed…”
Yeah, but then you’d have a home on the range.”
|Home on the range, nyuk, nyuk.|
Expecting favorable currents back in Johnstone Strait the next day, we were surprised that it was adverse, until POW! Near Helmcken Island, we got 9 to 12 knots of boat speed for the next ten miles, woot!
Dall’s porpoises frolicked in the current and some standing waves off Tyee Point and weren’t the least bit interested in the King and Queen of Slow’s bow wave. Raven’s economical 20-hp Yanmar pushes her at 5.5 to 6 knots, so in these currents we almost needed seat belts as the shoreline flew past. There was a 6+ knot current in some places, with boils and whirlpools that required careful hand-steering.
|Small whirlpool close up, Johnstone Strait.|
We try to avoid whirlpools whenever possible. Okay, that’s a bizarre thing to say, but when you hit a small one, it knocks you off course, and when you hit a big one it causes your boat to lean over as you sway off course. The harder the flow and the bigger the whirlpool, the further you lean over when it grips your boat. Here are some whirlpool photos. They don’t look like a big deal, but they are.
|Big, herkin' whirlpool.|
In places where whirlpools and boils are truly dangerous, large ships have sunk, so in the backs of our minds was some worry about the turbulence at the fearsome Seymour Narrows down the way, where currents can get to 16+ knots at spring tides, and 19 knots is not unheard of. In fact, it's one of the most turbulent bodies of navigable water in the world. Here’s a video of a big boat bucking a 10-knot ebb in Seymour Narrows. Remember when watching this that currents can get to nearly twice this speed!
We were a little nervous, because coming up was a big spring tide. The cruising guide said to plan your transit of Seymour for times when there isn’t a spring tide, and the tide table said currents in the Narrows were 14 to 15 knots that week, (plus, one of the cruisers at Kwatsi Bay said he’d once missed the tide and took his little 10-knot powerboat through at 23 knots, something he said he never wanted to do again,) so timing the passage for slack water, however little time it might last, would be crucial.
The amount of smoke filling the air was also startling. Whole mountains dissolved into what we realized wasn’t mist, but smoke from dozens of wildfires burning in BC.
|The mountains disappeared behind curtains of smoke that were thicker the higher in altitude they went.|
This was August 12, and we would have red-orb sunsets through dense smoke and would not see blue sky again until August 27.
|Smoke makes for spectacular sunsets. Granite Bay, off Discovery Passage.|
We anchored in Granite Bay, a bomb-proof little cove off Kanish Bay next to Discovery Passage, and plotted out our transit of Seymour Narrows. The best thing is to approach it on the last of an adverse current, which we did next morning, in order to be ready to take advantage of the favorable current when the tide turned. In this part of Canada, the ebb runs north and the flood runs south—very confusing. There was a strong ebb to fight at first, 4 knots out in the middle of Discovery Passage, so the only way we could make any headway toward the Narrows was to sneak down the side of the channel about 50-100 feet off the shoreline, avoiding rocks. There was even a one knot counter-current in some places! A wide bay called Brown Cove, just up from Seymour Narrows, is a good place to wait for slack tide, and we decided to go there.
Me, at 9:00 am: “The cruising guide says southbound boats should arrive half an hour ahead of slack tide when it’s as strong as this. Slack is at 1:15 pm. So we should arrive at a quarter to one, what do you think?”
Jim: “How about eight?”
Blank stare at horizon.
Me: “Um, Sweetie, didn’t you get enough sleep last night?”
“Oh,” he said, covering his gaffe, “I was thinking we could time travel.”
“I get it. You’ve been reading too much sci-fi, haven’t you.”
|We took two-hour watches at the helm. That felt just about right when navigating through narrow waters.|
One thing about being in wilderness in the e-book era: you get to read a lot of books. I have no idea how many we read, but Jim finished and went well beyond the entire Lawrence Block series of seventeen books and I lost track of the number I enjoyed, including two long tomes by David Foster Wallace (Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again) and a thousand-page Michener epistle called “Alaska,” (which we both read) among who knows how many other books. Our friends John and Lisa gave us a copy of Passage to Juneau by Jonathan Raban at the dock as a parting gift in May; that is the fourth copy of this book I have owned, having lent out the other three to people who loved it so much they never returned them, and it’s just as good after multiple reads as it was the first time.
It’s kind of cool being able to read an online book review when you get the rare one or two bars of cell signal in the middle of a place like Frederick Sound, with not a shred of civilization in sight, and then saying, “I want to read that book,” and then buying and downloading it right there before the cell signal disappears. This is the happiest marriage of two unusual qualities: phone-free wilderness, where you reclaim your once-fractured attention span, and the odd brief cell signal, which allows you to download more books. Yessss! The bridesmaids at this wedding are the two solar panels that let us recharge our ebook habit without having to run the engine. (Oh, and also turning the fridge down to nuclear winter to keep the fish frozen that Jim caught.)
The challenge, now that we’re home, will be to continue to hang on to this reclaimed attention span.
Facing a fearsome narrows is a good time to take a brief break and tell you something we forgot to mention in the last blog post: Another bear story! During our stay In Dodge Cove on Digby Island near Prince Rupert, we went for a hike, which we described in the previous post. What we didn’t tell you about was the sign at the trail entrance: CAUTION, it said, A GRIZZLY BEAR has been seen on Digby Island near Point Elizabeth. It appears to be HANGING OUT IN THAT AREA.
Jim said, “Where’s Point Elizabeth?”
“I dunno, but this is a big island, it has to be in some remote part, right?”
“Yeah, it couldn’t be around here, these folks would haze it until it went away.”
“Yeah. It’s probably on the Hecate Strait side, I mean there’s a city right over there,” I pointed to Prince Rupert’s shipping docks. “Bears avoid stuff like that.”
“Yeah. Let’s keep going.”
There must have been four or five varieties of juicy, sweet ripe berries along the trail network, and during our two-hour hike we gorged ourselves until our fingers were red and purple and berry juice was running down our chins and we smelled like a couple of berry tarts. “Let’s walk out to the point over there,” we said, and found the trail ended in a tall pier across the harbor from where Raven was docked. Oops, dead end, retrace steps, walk the path again, back to town, we’re sitting on the porch drinking homemade wine with the two fishermen who asked, “So did you see the bear?”
“No, it’s out at Point Elizabeth, right?”
“Yeah…?” Raised eyebrows.
“Um, where’s Point Elizabeth?”
“Right there,” they pointed at the pier we’d just been on.
|Just kidding. We met only friendly bears. Actually, we didn't meet any up close. Except by dinghy. That was close.|
Back to some drama at Seymour Narrows. Just as we rounded Separation Point a small humpback whale dived and showed its tail. Wow! In the past we’ve seen orcas but never humpbacks here. This trip we saw no orcas in these waters. As soon as the right time arrived to get going from Brown Cove toward the Narrows, two tugs and barges appeared, going very slow and pretty much filling up the channel. We waited until they passed, then fell in line well behind the second barge, which was stuffed full of logs hanging thirty feet off each side and piled high.
Its tug seemed tiny in comparison, and I got a bad feeling, so we dropped back, figuring missing slack tide was probably safer than tangling with this barge, which was also far to port, on the wrong side of the channel. We stayed on the starboard side. Then suddenly, the barge turned sideways in the current; the tug struggled to straighten it out, and succeeded after ten minutes, but then the barge turned sideways again; the tug disappeared behind it and the barge was seized by some stray powerful whirlpool because it shot sideways from east to west across Seymour Narrows like a horizontal guillotine, completely out of control. And this was near slack tide!
|The log barge gets sideways to its tug, a dangerous situation.|
|Completely sideways and with the tug disappeared behind it, the log barge shoots across Seymour Narrows at high speed.|
We couldn’t see the tug, which was no doubt struggling. Whirlpools and boils swirled ominously everywhere, but there was nothing we could do; though we wanted to go faster, we had to creep along at two-plus knots, keeping bare steerageway in order to stay away from this barge, which had unintentionally commandeered the entire narrows less than a mile ahead of us. Fast boats could pass, but slower boats; no. Finally the barge drifted slower and was pulled out of the main channel, but now we could see that the tug was being pulled sideways by the barge, leaning way over as it struggled with the tow lines. This is how tugs capsize, and it looked very close. Thankfully and with the aid of a second tug, the little tug slowly came upright. But if we had proceeded at normal speed through Seymour Narrows, it would have been a close call with that barge; we would’ve been right in its path when it shot across the channel.
Whew! Onward. A stop in some very tight quarters at a marina in Campbell River; we wanted to see this town because we’d never been there before, and it’s worth it. After a pub stop at Dockside Fish & Chips (excellent) we were off early next morning to catch a salmon off Cape Mudge. But with 35 to 40 fizzboats all trolling in a small area, it felt chaotic and maybe time to give the salmon a break, so we moved on without catching anything, anchoring in Mud Bay south of Comox. Skies were still smoky but a little less so.
|Smoky sunrise, 7:00 am. On our way to fish off Cape Mudge.|
|Smoke particles were drawn up into the atmosphere, as high as seven miles.|
|A wreck next to an oyster farm at Mud Bay.|
Off Qualicum Beach next day there were two humpback whales, one large and one small. The large one enthusiastically slapped its tail for at least ten minutes. Perhaps it was a mother and calf, with the mother slapping the water to let the calf know where she was—there were a lot of fishing boats trolling where they were feeding, and their engine noises may have bothered her.
While passing outside of the Canadian Navy’s restricted area off the Winchelsea Islands, we were treated to an example of their superb courtesy and humor, in comparison to the sometimes huffy, officious responses we’ve witnessed from the American Navy. In an authentic you-get-more-flies-with-honey approach, a Canadian Navy radio operator, talking above the audible noise of a military helicopter towing sonar in the water looking for submarines, said to a boat that wandered into active training operations, “Sir, you are in an active torpedo range. A healthier course would be to make a sharp turn to starboard.” Healthier. Of course it is!
At Nanaimo we anchored and made a beeline for our beloved Dinghy Dock Pub. This one is a strong contender for first place in the World’s Longest Pub Crawl.
|Dinghy Dock Pub, a fave.|
Next morning, Dodd Narrows, far smaller and less fearsome than Seymour, but still plenty wide enough for small cruising boats going in both directions, was like a freeway at rush hour with no lanes.
|Just a few of the boats headed for Dodd Narrows. Yikes!|
Dodd is still worth transiting at or near slack tide, but
it’s not like you’re crawling through death’s jaws or anything. Still, everyone
was babbling on the radio, trying to warn everyone else HERE I COME, which
sounded more like LOOK OUT YOU FOOLS I DON’T KNOW IF I CAN CONTROL THIS THING,
and instead of turning the radio’s power setting down to one watt so only local
boats could hear, far too many were blasting away at 25 watts until you could
hear them all the way to Ladysmith. A few hours of that and reality TV starts
to sound pretty good. You really can slip right through Dodd
Narrows in line without talking on the radio, and you don’t have to take your
half of the channel out of the middle.
SECURITE SECURITE, THIS IS THE… UH, POWERBOAT… UH, WE’RE IN DODD NARROWS…
SECURITE, SECURITE, THIS IS THE 42 FOOT TRAWLER SUN CHASER (we had seen this boat; its swim ladder blocked part of the U and we thought it said “Sin Chaser,” which we liked much better) WE ARE SECOND IN LINE, SOUTHBOUND, REPEAT SOUTHBOUND, RIGHT BEHIND THE, UH, POWERBOAT… ANY CONCERNED TRAFFIC COME BACK ON CHANNEL 16.
…WE ARE THIRD IN LINE, REPEAT, THIRD, ANY CONCERNED TRAFFIC… FOURTH, FIFTH, etc. All the way to seven or eight or nine boats in line calling in, clogging the airwaves, asking for concerned traffic. Yeesh. The radio sounded like check-in time at nautical summer camp, this session being Maritime Correctness on Caffeine meets Trivial Pursuit. All you need is to follow the lead boat, and maybe call if you’re last in line to give the other side an idea of how long the line is.
SECURITE SECURITE, SECURITE, THIS IS THE TWENTY FIVE FOOT SAILING VESSEL BEEP-BEEP, BEEP-BEEP, BEEP-BEEP. (I swear to god, someone whose boat was really named Beep-Beep said this that day.) WE ARE SIXTH IN LINE BETWEEN (names boats) TRANSITING DODD NARROWS SOUTHBOUND. ANY CONCERNED TRAFFIC COME BACK ON CHANNEL 16.
“Well,” I said, “I’m concerned about climate change.”
“I wonder what it would be like if someone named their boat ‘Traffic’?”
“What if I did a meep-meep Roadrunner schtick in reply to that guy?”
“Nah, better not.”
|Raven enters Ladysmith Harbour to stay on a guest mooring.|
At Ladysmith we stopped for a nice visit with our friends Marty and Mae, and they arranged for us to stay on a guest mooring (Thanks Wilf!) M&M had just bought a magnificent schooner and were sorting things out as they moved aboard. It’s currently named Phillip William, but they will soon change the name to Wind Gypsy.
|The 42' LOD Brandlmeyer schooner Wind Gypsy.|
Oh my, what gorgeousness in every detail of this boat! We are very happy for them.
|Marty steers Wind Gypsy.|
They took us for a sail, and I got all nostalgic for sailing boats of this size and rig (I used to own a schooner way back).
|A nice reach, one of a schooner's favorite points of sail.|
We were deck crew, helmspeople, and cabin top snoozers in the sun.
|K&J take a snooze on deck.|
And we were cookers of snapper and salmon in garlic butter topped with toasted almonds and raspberry chipotle sauce.
|Oh yeah, behbeh! Salmon (left) and snapper (right) all caught by Jim. Pan-sauteed in garlic butter and topped with toasted almonds and raspberry chipotle sauce.|
And consumers of the finest box wine. And some Bourbon.
|Dinner on the ole Raven.|
We were big smilers and laughers who promised not to let too much time pass before seeing each other again.
The horse smelled the barn, and we were eager to get home. Once again we were looking for a weather window to cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It came two days later, to be followed by 25 knots of wind, so we went for it with a couple of long days and crossed on a glass-smooth sea, back to our beloved Port Townsend. As we entered the narrow channel into Boat Haven, there was Leif, Raven’s designer and builder, with his camera. And at the dock there was a big welcoming committee we hadn’t expected! Oscar, Carol, Leif, Anna, Peter, Denis, Gordon, and a little puppy named Indie. It was a wonderful welcome, with everyone grinning to beat the band. Home is a place, but also a feeling.
|Da Gang waiting. Oscar waves us in.|
We are “of a certain age” (and what’s so “certain” about it we don’t know) where most of us worry about and freely discuss with our certain age peers our eyesight, creaking joints, cholesterol, heart health, and the condition of other personal items you don’t want to hear about. But one thing we are certain about is that we love where we live. (As if to prove the point about eyesight, Autocorrect changed ‘we love where we live’ to ‘we Lloyd where we live.’ If anyone knows how to Lloyd where you live, please inform the makers of Autocorrect.) But I digress.
Although we come from an unhurried town where gentrification and car culture are slowly oozing their way across its fair acres, you can still walk miles of trails, some of which lead nowhere in particular except into the woods, which is precisely the point in an age obsessed with always going somewhere. It’s the shore-based version of the Slow August philosophy, which will, I’m certain, one day be pedestaled up there as the Sixth Great Philosophy of Life. The first five philosophies are: Epicureanism, Stoicism, Platonism, Aristotelianism, and one more I forget but vaguely recall that it’s grumpily incompatible with the five W’s, which are: wine, women, welshing, wasting and woolgathering. Don’t worry, I wasn’t going to go all motivational moment on you with the other five W’s of life, which are who, what, when, where and why we’re all so special.
In small towns everywhere you could probably extend that Slow August feeling into September, well into autumn, and even winter, though at that point it might be Molasses January. The point is, as the Off Center Harbor folks say, “Start off slow, then ease up.” When you slow down, you’ll notice things more; the sense of appreciation seems to increase with a proportional decrease in life speed. You end up actually spending more time with yourself as well as with your friends.
Take it from the King and Queen of Slow, this is the antidote for a hopped-up, stressed-out world.
|Boat Haven fairway, entering for the first time in nearly four months. Good to be home.|
I love the fact that in our town we can still get a good breakfast at the local pharmacy’s dining section while gazing across the aisle at shelves full of horehound candy, Forever Comfy Gel (gel??), Lint Lizards, and a Potato Express. The latter brings an image of a Lionel train set loaded with Idaho spuds going around and around, to nowhere. But these are the kinds of things that make you pause over your eggs and wonder, who spent their life’s energy inventing that? This is a town where, at the Rose Theatre someone with note cards comes out before the movie begins and tells behind-the-scenes stories about the making of the movie you’re about to see, and then you clap for her and she says “Enjoy!” and the movie starts.
It’s a town that, because it’s that good, you may need to leave every so often in order to feel the homesickness and remember how much you belong, how much you’re going to appreciate it when you get home. It’s home, and home goes just as well with Slow August as away does.
“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” –Lin Yutang
|Start off slow, then ease up.|
Oh, and to all our readers, followers and commenters--thanks!
Tuesday, August 7, 2018
|Jim as a sea otter.|
“You might want to make a note for the blog,” said Jim as we left Craig, Alaska, on Prince of Wales Island, bound for another spell in the wilderness. “Five fishermen have warned us about Skookumchuck Narrows—but maybe you should wait to see if we survive it.”
“Roger dodger, my codger.”
Actually, our biggest fear was not tidal currents but uncharted rocks. The charts aren’t always accurate, especially about depth, and the cruising guide says surprises exist and to watch out.
|Raven anchored at Port Refugio, a good harbor.|
Also known as Tlevak Narrows and nicknamed Skookumchuck by fishermen, this passage is easy enough if you go through on slack tide, so we did. But the critter action! Oh my. It was so distracting we could hardly steer straight. You try keeping your boat on course in some narrow channel when a whale surfaces 50 feet off your starboard bow, while nearby another whale is bubble-feeding on schools of herring hippity-hopping out of the water like showers of little silvery arrows, as eleven eagles (Jim counted) sit on a branch of a big overhanging tree watching you watch the whales stirring up the herring. It felt like a Friday night in junior high school at the McDonald’s parking lot.
We are mighty glad the whales and eagles were finding enough to eat, because the fishing wasn’t that good for us humans. We had no luck catching salmon, shrimp or crabs, but did catch a couple of rockfish. Even commercial fishermen were having a hard time; everyone said the salmon run was late, that because of the hot dry weather they were waiting for rain to swell the streams they needed to swim up in order to spawn. Who knew salmon did that?
Trolling back and forth in the Strait, we caught nothing. “We’re throwing everything we’ve got into this effort,” said Jim, “I have a diver, a flasher, and a hootchie down there.”
“How about a kootchie? What fish is going to want a hootchie without some kootchie, too?” (And was I right? Huh? We caught nada.)
|Um, Sweetie, we've gotta get the milk thing under control since we turned the fridge down to nuclear winter.|
To make conversation (as if we need a prompt, nyuk nyuk) Jim pointed and said, “We’re passing the Petrel Islets.”
“In the anti-universe they’d be the Petrel Isn’t-lets.”
We anchored in a couple of nice coves going down the strait, including Breezy Bay, where Jim paddled the kayak and I rowed the dinghy up a tidal stream past a couple of sandhill cranes standing on a sandbar. They watched us warily.
|Nice to see sandhill cranes here! Port Refugio.|
The good news about rowing is it’s fun and feels good. The bad news about rowing is that you go forward while facing backward, which renders you unable to see what’s ahead. From his kayak Jim said, “There’s a bear right in front of you.” The best news about a rowboat is that you have brakes. We held a silent staring contest with the bear, which it would have surely won had we been ashore.
|Karen spun around. "Did you say 'bear in front of me'?"|
We decided to try a remote tiny anchorage further down the strait that has a difficult rock-studded entrance, called Ham Cove.
|Otters in their kelp spa outside Ham Cove (some are splashing)|
We have no idea how it got that name. Just outside the entrance, not far from a bunch of otters lounging in kelp, another whale, a small humpback, surfaced; honestly, it’s either been like the cetacean welcoming committee has been working overtime this summer, or whales just love cove entrances; regardless, we are loving every minute of it. Easing between the whale and the (charted) rocks into Ham Cove proper, which doesn’t show any rocks on the chart, we nosed into the little side anchorage that’s just big enough for one boat. Several species of birds were busy diving for something in the water. As we glided forward toward the middle, a seagull landed on the water right in front of us and was obviously not going to move. That’s odd, I thought, and turned slightly to go around it. Suddenly Jim, who was at the bow, turned back toward me pointing straight downward, with a shocked worried expression. “ROCK!” he said. I looked down, and we were right on top of it. Our worst nightmare came true, but there were no scraping sounds or bumps yet, so I threw the engine into reverse and looked down at the rock, which had appeared from nowhere and resembled granite with its little bits of gray and white, slightly stripey, which caused me to identify the rock as a very fine specimen of gneiss (weird things run through your head when you’re on a rock.). And then, like something biblical, the rock parted. It flowed around the boat. It was not lava from some underground volcano, no, it was, as the song goes, a genuine shoal of herring, or maybe baby salmon, so thick and all lined up that it resembled a solid mass of rock, and it scared the living bejesus out of us. We anchored in 30 rockless feet of water in Ham Cove’s center.
|The best anchorage (if you can stand the terror) is the blue cove to the right of the island.|
|Sunset, Ham Cove|
Whew. Let’s try to relax. “I’m going to put the pot out,” said Jim, “and see if I can catch a ham.”
We explored a large shallow lagoon with two waterfalls.
|This is good bearbitat. Back lagoon, Ham Cove.|
The next morning there was one small, very happy rock crab in our trap, which we could almost hear giggling as it slipped out through the bars and plopped into the water. But our ham steaks that night were delicious, so who cared, and the ham-lentil soup later still makes our mouths water. We confess, though, that a nice crab dinner would have been great in Ham Cove.
One rather unpleasant incident—as we motored south along the east coast of Dall Island, a speeding boat appeared on the horizon, probably coming back from fishing off Cape Muzon, which juts into the North Pacific. It seemed to be heading straight toward us at a very high rate of speed, so we made a 45 degree turn to starboard to let its captain know our intentions to pass port to port. But as it drew near it turned toward us, and now we could see it was moving at around 40 or 50 knots. Since we had no sea-room on our starboard side and wanted to make our intentions crystal-clear, we did a 135-degree turn to port while the speeding boat was still a mile away, which put Raven, doing her full 6 knots, at a 90 degree angle to their course and heading away from them. With the speed they were going there’d be no room for error in a close pass, so we wanted to make our intentions clear that we were giving them right-of-way regardless of the law. Our wish to avoid them was obvious.
But again they turned toward us, and now we knew it was deliberate. They were making their intentions known that they would pass very close to us at a high rate of speed. It’s very intimidating, so we got out the binoculars and barely managed to read the large lettered name and see an image of an anchor on the side of the 30 or 35-foot aluminum hull as they roared past at close to 50 knots with a boatload of waving passengers, some of whose blurred faces appeared to be laughing. A boat that size going that fast, with passengers aboard to boot, has no business intimidating a smaller, slower boat.
“Norma J, Norma J, Norma J, this is the motor vessel Raven.”
No answer. I tried radioing them again. Nothing. Now it’s a given that charter fishing vessel captains usually keep their VHF radios on, so since they weren’t answering and since we were somewhat steamed by their behavior, I put out what’s pronounced as a Pawn-pawn radio warning call but is spelled Pan-pan. “Pan-pan, pan-pan, pan-pan, this is the motor vessel Raven, southbound in Tlevak Strait off Reef Point. The charter fishing vessel Norma J just forced us to take emergency evasive action and behaved recklessly, passing too close to us at around 40 or 50 knots. We advise any vessels north of here to be on the lookout and to avoid this vessel.”
Not long after that, the Coast Guard called us, asked for a description of the boat and details of the incident, and said they’d investigate it. We later got a garbled phone message from them, but we’ve been mostly offline and unable to re-connect. It’s not a good feeling to have some fast boat bearing recklessly down on you while you’re doing everything you can to avoid a collision, but there is something you can do about it; the Coast Guard can help, because anyone who takes out passengers for hire must have a Coast Guard captain’s license, and the agency takes safety very seriously. Even if it’s a private boat presenting a threat to life and safety, if you can get its name or registration numbers to report you have an avenue of redress.
The windswept archipelago called the Barrier Islands are a wild place we’d been looking forward to visiting, because they’re in an official wilderness area west of Cape Chacon, right at the edge of Dixon Entrance and the open sea. They didn’t disappoint, and just outside them we caught the exact type of fish that a fisherman in Craig had recommended for his recipe to make “poor man’s lobster.”
|A twelve-pound red snapper! Also known as a yellow-eyed rockfish, these fish can be legally caught in Alaska but not in Canada.|
Both New Englanders originally, he and I had lamented how
long it had been since a real Maine lobster had graced either of our plates, so
here’s the recipe: Take a red snapper, which has firm flesh in wide flakes, and
boil lobster tail-sized chunks in straight seawater with a lot of sugar mixed
in, enough to give the broth a simultaneous salt-sweet flavor. The taste and
texture will be something like a good old Homaris
americanus, he said, especially if you dip it in melted butter. And it was!
Totally delicious and a fun pretend, but nothing can replace real lobster. Except maybe a nice fat
Dungeness crab. Boiled in salt water, crack the shell, pick out those gleaming
chunks, dip ‘em in butter or Jim’s favorite sauce of horseradish mixed with
ketchup, and oh man, am I making myself hungry or what.
|Poor man's lobster. (in the bowl, not on the chair.)|
With all the kelp in these islands it was hard to get the anchor to hold, even by carefully backing it slowly in, plus most anchorages in the Barriers were exposed to at least one wind direction, requiring you to move if the wind shifts. But we found a spot in an unnamed cove that was shallow enough where we didn’t have to put out miles of anchor rode, and thought, oh good, this is perfect. Jumping into the dinghy, we circumnavigated rocky, bird-rich Middle Island, 7 miles in all, but found on returning to Raven that the wind had shifted. Now there was the possibility of being put on a lee shore with a large fetch in a kelpy holding area, so it was time to move.
As we weighed anchor to find a safer spot for the night, a massive wad of bull kelp wrapped itself around the prop. The engine gave a shudder as the prop tore through it, but kept going. I mean, it’s a big 3-bladed prop and that was just kelp, right? Then we noticed a 15 to 20 percent reduction in speed and power, and a vibration that hadn’t been there before. Uh-oh. What just happened? Was there an old crab pot line down there? Worriedly, we went at reduced speed, 5 miles to another anchorage, found the kelp too thick for anchoring there, too, and finally succeeded at a third one.
The thing about some of these wilder northern anchorages is that the charts might say it’s 50 feet deep, which is reasonable for anchoring a small boat, but then you get there and it’s 85 feet, which is a bit deep because by the time you let out enough rode for that depth you’re at risk of swinging into the rocks that line the cove. When there’s that much kelp covering the bottom it’s hard to get the anchor to bite unless you’re on a much larger boat with a very heavy anchor on all chain. This is why so many fishing boats carry heavy, navy-style anchors; their weight sinks through all that kelp and in calm weather they can sit atop that pile of chain on the bottom. In smaller pleasure boats, the design of an anchor comes much more into play than does weight.
|Check out the optical effects of fog! It's just off the ground so you can see trees, but is reflected in the water, where it meets.|
Normally we drop, slowly back down, let the anchor settle in at low RPMs, and then very slowly increase the RPMs to between 1200 and 1500, depending on how much wind is forecast and how well we want to sleep. It takes a bit more time to anchor like this, but it gives us a good idea of the bottom characteristics and the grip our anchor has. We do have 4 anchors and a thousand feet of anchor rode aboard, one being a big Herreshoff-style monster weighing 60 pounds, but unless there’s a storm threatening, it’s a lot of work to deploy and retrieve. Other options might be sending a 25-lb kellet down the rode to increase the “scope,” or holding power, and we have a nice kellet aboard. Other options would include deploying a second anchor on a separate rode, or attaching a second anchor to the primary rode, but our rule is if we can’t get the primary anchor to bite and there are other anchorage options, we move on, and use these other devices only if we run out of anchorages. Because if you can’t get one anchor to bite, what good are two if it really starts to blow?
|Two hitchhikers. They were so big we thought hummingbirds were landing on the boat.|
So, while a navigational chart up here will have a number like 50 representing an entire depth contour, the 50 foot part is meant to show the shallowest depth in that entire contour, which is usually right up next to the rocks. It’s not a bad practice to add at least 20 feet to charted depths when choosing an anchorage up here, and then another 15 or so for high tide because depths on charts are for mean (average) low water. On Raven’s bower anchor we carry 60 feet of chain attached to 300 feet of rope, which is adequate for most places.
Jim was in the water next morning at 7:15, something that for those of you who know about his absolute love for and insistence on hibernatory late sleeping, would agree that under normal circumstances I should’ve been dialing the doctor, but we had miles to go and Jim had a new wetsuit bought expressly for an eventuality like this. So in he went, carrying a special rescue knife given to us by our friend Alex, (Yay! Thanks Alex!) and he found a few strands of shredded kelp but not as much as you’d have thought might be there to make a vibration. Perhaps the rest of it had fallen off in the night.
|The sharpest knife in the drawer!|
Just as Jim is a night owl content to snooze away a perfectly good morning, I am a lark who usually goes to bed fairly early. One evening Jim said, “You have decanted to bed.”
“Decanted. You have poured yourself in there.”
Relieved to find the engine working normally again, we threaded through the maze of islands to get around Cape Chacon, which has a bad reputation. With a good weather forecast to get past Dixon Entrance, you don’t tarry, or you could get stuck for a couple of weeks. To limit our exposure to sideways swells coming in from the Gulf of Alaska, (remember this is a powerboat without steadying sails) we decided to try the rocky shortcut called Minnie Cutoff, which was highly recommended by our fishermen friends.
|The very narrow Minnie Cutoff, gateway to the sea from the Barrier Islands.|
Now, normally one might look at it on the chart and go, nuh-uh, not there, but several had recommended it, so off we went. Until the very last part, which caused us to consider turning around, it was scenic and easy if you paid attention. But hoo boy, the narrow rocky “gate” at the far end was choked with thick kelp, which we now had good reason to fear given recent experience and the fact that we were in one of the more remote parts of Southeast Alaska. But we held our breaths and went for it, on the far right side where the kelp is thinner, right next to the rocks. Whew!
|Nervously navigating through the kelp at Minnie Cutoff.|
The reward on the other side was a whale surfacing right next to us with its mouth open. Yippee! A couple minutes later it turned on its back and waved its flippers! Holy kippered herring, Batman!
|Cape Chacon; the fog parted for a moment to give us this glimpse.|
Rounding Cape Chacon was easy though a bit foggy, and after passing Stone Rock (REALLY? They couldn’t have thought of a better name?) which guarded, wait for it… Stone Rock Bay, we anchored in Gardner Bay near the south tip of Prince of Wales Island with what seemed like the entire fishing fleet and four buy-boats.
|Gardner bay fishing fleet worked most of the night.|
Watching the seiners, trawlers and gillnetters line up to offload their fish until all hours of the night, we appreciated how hard these men and women work.
Some of the thickest fog we’d seen so far greeted us in the early morning, but fog sometimes makes for flat water, and with light winds in the forecast and the radar spinning we chugged east along the north side of Dixon Entrance to our final Alaskan cove, in Nakat Harbor. At the 3/10 mile wide channel just before our anchorage, four gillnetters had set their nets, blocking its entire width except for a tiny 50-foot channel next to the rocks, through which we slipped, wondering if it’s legal to block a channel like that.
|Gill net across an entire channel except for a small opening.|
|Forecast: Pretty darned foggy.|
Later on we would be sitting on a porch in Canada laughing and drinking homemade wine with a couple of gillnetters who’d explain this type of fishing to us. Bill raised his glass and said, “I wouldn’t’a let you through at all!” Des, a sailor as well as a fisherman, once had an engineless sailboat and described how he’d sail right over the tops of the nets. “They’d go nuts, of course, but there was nothing to tangle on them, and there was no other way through.” We decided that if there’s a fishing opener in Johnstone Strait when we’re trying to traverse it, we’ll just go anchor somewhere and wait for them to finish, because if you’ve ever been in Johnstone Strait during a fishing opener with a hundred gillnetters, you’ll know what we mean.
|Fog sweeps in, Nakat Harbor.|
After anchoring at Nakat Harbor, Jim said, “Well, we have rounded the three Great Capes.”
Decision, Chacon and Fox.”
“I thought they were Cape Horn, the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Leeuwin. Like, capes of continents.”
“Well yeah, there’s those…”
|Getting tired of fog shots yet?|
The fog was even thicker in the morning, you could barely see 30 feet, but with radar, electronic navigation aids, two sets of eyes and a slow speed (along with a clearing in late morning) we arrived at Prince Rupert in the afternoon and made a beeline to the Breakers Pub.
|Willya look at that fireboat-style welcome! Prince Rupert rocks!|
On our last night in Prince Rupert a couple days later we extended the World’s Longest Pub Crawl to include a place up the hill called Cargo, an excellent spot.
|Here's another reason Prince Rupert really rocks.|
Prince Rupert was a good stop as always, but we missed seeing our friends Marty and Mae, because they’d sailed south to buy a new boat down on Vancouver Island. They bought a gorgeous big schooner, and Wild Abandon, their C&C sloop, is for sale. We will catch up with them further south. However, it seems that everyone in Prince Rupert is a friend of theirs, so they managed to take care of us despite not being there, because all we had to say to practically anyone was, “Hi! We’re friends of Marty and Mae,” and next thing we’d know we’d be on somebody’s porch drinking homemade wine. We visited with a whole bunch of friends of theirs at Dodge Cove near Prince Rupert.
|Dodge Cove, a nifty place.|
These included Marna, who lovingly maintains a forested trail, Des and Bill, the humorous gillnetters, Jeremiah, a logger who operates the sawmill and showed us his amazing floating and fixed homes and gardens, Gordon and Linda, who gave us more fishing advice, and a lady who offered us water to wash down the berries we ate on our hike. What a fabulous little community.
|One never knows what one may find on the trails at Dodge Cove.|
Stopping in Newcombe Harbor and then Monckton Inlet, we found a sheltered aquamarine cove and had it to ourselves until another friend of Marty and Mae hove into sight! We’d arranged to meet up with Alfy and Devlin on his C&C sloop named Moonshine, and both there and at Campania Island further south we all enjoyed each others’ company, including at a beach bonfire.
And they confirmed that those Clydesdale-sized horseflies can bite right through blue jeans and fleece—crikey! Plus, there were wolf tracks all over the place, including right on our bonfire beach.
|Wolf tracks right next to our beach bonfire.|
When he’s not working at his regular job, Alfy runs the YouTube Channel LifeIsLikeSailing.com, and if you like the idea of cruising the northern Canadian coast you’ll enjoy its practical tips as well as video travelogues.
|What a pleasant surprise to see the Pacific grace from Victoria at anchor!|
We kept noticing an increasing burning rubber smell, and it worried us, so after we came to anchor at Monckton we opened the engine compartment and checked everything. Nothing was hot. We went over every wire in the boat, all cool and fine. We sat there wondering, why is it that we smell burning rubber and can’t find the source? Then a strong whiff hit me and I followed my nose… to my boots. “Oh god, you won’t believe this. I bought these boots in 2001, they’re all oxidized and they stink like burning rubber when the sun hits them. They didn’t do this last year. You’d think they’d last a little longer than that.”
As we cruised south, Jim said, “How many nights is it since Rupert, six?”
“I don’t even know what day it is.”
“Six nights outta Rupert,” he said, “what a great song title. Hey! We should write a song!”
“What’ll it be about?”
So I (K) began singing:
“I don’t know what this song’s about,
But we’re six nights outta Rupert,
The rain and wind makes us scream and shout,
And we’re six nights outta Rupert.
The searchers all say they’d have made Alston Bay
If they weren’t just five nights outta Rupert…”
Not her best musical composition, but good for a giggle.
|Fog awaits us in the main channel. "Hope you like mashed potatoes!"|
More salmon fishing, this time in Laredo Inlet, surrounded by Princess Royal Island where the white spirit bears live, which are a genetic variant of black bears.
“Keep your eyes peeled,” Jim said. “And meanwhile, I put on a new hootchie, the one with flashing lights on it!”
“I believe we may have reached fishing hootchie-kootchiedom.”
“And,” he said, “I’ve smeared some lunker lotion on it!”
Lunker lotion. Gotta love it. “Maybe we should smear some on you, too, Sweetie?”
“Then you couldn’t resist me.”
“As if I already can. But you wanted me to flop onto a halibut, so maybe some extra lunker lotion might change our luck.”
Two hours of trolling later: No luck. “Okay, I said, “this is serious. I’m going for the nuclear option.”
“I’m getting the hamburger out to defrost.”
We were anchored in Alston Inlet off Laredo Inlet. Jim went out in the dinghy to troll for salmon, which were jumping out of the water as if to say, Neener neener.
Meanwhile, the hamburger’s defrosting. Tick tock…
As Jim was out fishing, the crew of the sailboat White Raven II dinghied over to visit Raven (great name confluence, eh?) when suddenly the radio crackled into life. “I got a 27 inch salmon!” said Jim, and we all cheered. And when he returned, the poor dinghy looked like the Battle of Thermopylae had been fought in it; there was hand-to-fin combat blood and slime everywhere, including all over Jim’s best Carhartts. And seldom have I seen a man so blissed out. “That was amazing,” he said.
|Jim's lunker lotion special, a nice Coho.|
Yep. Lunker lotion. The gift that keeps on giving. We got our Coho mojo on and we’ll never get the blood out of his Carhartts, but he actually likes it that way. I put the hamburger back in the freezer. We hit the salmon motherlode, and had dinner aboard Doug and Bonnie’s White Raven II (salmon, of course) and played music into the evening with them. In fact, the scene was repeated next day at Alston Inlet six miles away, with more music, and on the way out next day, another salmon! We are stylin'!
|Playing music aboard White Raven II with Bonnie and Doug.|
|Coho fillet. Jim puts food on his family.|
|A salmon is a beautiful fish.|
Narrow rock-strewn passages, large channels between islands and swirling fog characterized the next part of the voyage, which we enjoyed, and we arrived in Shearwater, across the harbor from Bella Bella, yesterday (August 7.)
|Underway in Mathieson Channel, early morning.|
|Annnnd, here comes the fog!|
Because the water supply to boats is shut off (probably because it’s been hot and dry here and they need to conserve) we had to dinghy back and forth with jerrycans; the marina will allow 20 gallons at a time, but that almost filled our tanks. We had to dinghy ashore because the very nice modern marina is full of giant fiberglass castles that say they’ll only use the water for drinking, and then they wash their boats with it, which doesn't set well with the harbormaster. Many of the small boats have to tie to a rickety log breakwater with barges on the other side of the dock.
|Believe it or not, we prefer this location to being crammed in the marina--nice breeze and lots to see, also privacy. But do watch your step.|
Besides preferring it out herebecause it’s quieter, we also have a raven visiting Raven!
|Our neighbor, talking atop the barge next door. We thought it said, "Nevermore!"|
From here we’ll continue the wilderness wanderings. Which brings us to:
Unspoken Law of the Sea #12: When you come out of the wilderness and the big news story is about some zoo being accused of painting a donkey and passing it off as a zebra, it’s time to head back in.