Thursday, August 5, 2010

Past Cape Caution

Jul 23: Today I and my Dad did one of the more important open water passages of the trip – we passed Cape Caution. This consists of leaving from the tip of Vancouver Island (Port Hardy) and sailing across Queen Charlotte strait into open water of the Pacific, around Cape Caution on the mainland and then skirt back into the secluded waters of Fitz Hugh Sound. After careful weather checking we left Port Hardy at 6:15 and into 1-2 m swells that made us feel like blue-water sailors except for the fact that we almost had no wind which caused us to motor-sail. We passed Cape Caution with nothing more exciting than some large open ocean swells and a sighting of a Gray whale. The scenery was beautiful, looking wilder with indications of stormy Pacific weather hitting this coast. Dad enjoyed the sights and trying to cook soup for lunch in the heaving boat. The weather was great and by Egg Island winds started blowing and we decided to do some real sailing and chose to head further than initially planned to make the complete crossing in one go. By late afternoon the winds got to 20+ kt and we hit some speed records of the trip – 6.7 kt - with no current :). We had some great sailing for a few hours with better speeds than on engine, and reached Safety Cove on Calvert Island before 7 pm, with an amazing total distance of the day of 60 nm. We celebrated with a steak dinner with scalloped potatoes and some ice wine for dessert.

Jul 24: With a forecast of 20-30 kt winds in the morning we decided to stay in Safety Cove and take care of some loose ends. With the cove sunny and windless and mp3 tunes provided by Jeffry playing on the boats sounds system I decide to take a shower in the open cockpit of the boat using my fancy propane heated camping shower and then have the first shave of the trip. After lunch we changed the engine oil after doing more motoring than expected on this trip, and despite the forecast still calling for 20-30 kt winds we decide to sail out of the calm and sunny cove. Once in the open of Fitz Hugh Sound we realize the forecast was correct and beat into 22 kt head winds for a bit with water spraying us and then decide to go back to Safety Cove. Before dropping anchor we realize the engine is making funny sounds – Nooooo!!! - one of my worries has materialized itself. We spend the evening fixing the water pump after having realized that the previous owner misassembled a part on the pump, but after getting a bit dirty and customizing some metal parts we fix the problem. Distance: 0 nm – water pump fixed.

Jul 25: Today we woke to the boat softly touching the bottom with every small wake and I quickly got up to shorten the anchor rode to pull the boat to deeper water. Safety Cove has a long shallow beach and I think I tried to park in a bit too close. We were again forced to spend another day here due to 25-35 kt forecast winds. We did some maintenance on the boat, suntanned, and even baked bread for the first time on the boat. In the evening, being the only ones in the cove we were treated to an extravagant display of the natural wonders of this coast. Two Minke whales came into the cove and we watched them feed for a couple of hours as the sun was setting creating amazing colours all around. With the two whales blowing air which echoed loudly across the cove, the occasional breach, and with the addition of four seals and an eagle all going after the same schools of fish, all on the same green forest backdrop, it was an amazing sight. Dad filled his camera with pictures and movies till the memory card was full and batteries run low.

Jul 26: Seeing whales has become an everyday thing these days, but this morning one breached next to the boat at 5:30 in the morning making the boat rock enough to wake both of us up scrambling to the deck trying to see what happened. After breakfast a whale chasing a school of fish jumping out of the water towards the boat came halfway up head first a meter from the boat with me standing outside – this scene made my heart race a few beats faster and made we wonder if he knew where the boat was, now I’m more afraid of whales than bears :). After an exciting morning we headed out of Safety Cove and into Fitz Hugh Sound and an hour in realized the raw water pump was failing again. With me on helm Dad went to fixing the problem as we sailed on with no running engine. He managed to fix it again, but we will have to get things checked out by a mechanic in New Bella Bella or Sheartwater. We sailed with some good winds for the rest of the day seeing the occasional cruise ship and whale. For the first time of the trip we did more sailing than motoring, and finally stayed in the beautiful and secluded Codville Lagoon on King Island. Distance: 36 nm.

Jul 27: We crossed Fitz Hugh Sound today with some good wind for sailing and passed by New Bella Bella and moored the boat at the Shearwater Marina. Here we felt slightly out of place with some serious motor yachts, mostly from the US, dominating the marina. We were only one of two small sailboats here, the other SV Evita owned by John and Karen from Vancouver that we met the previous day in Codville Cove and coincidentally were sailing with across Cape Caution close to each other a few days before. In Shearwater I took advantage of the marine facility here and had a mechanic come on board and checkout my raw water pump issue. He didn’t seem all that confident in his solution, used my tools, and left grease all over the boat, and left me wondering if Dad’s fix up was a better job, than the $95/hour mechanic will provide here. He left with my pump, so I guess with no engine we are stuck here for at least a day. We had some showers, had dinner at the local pub, and then were invited by John and Karen for wine and some good conversation on their boat. The two men were laughing and joking that I was crazy to be inviting Karolina to sail from rainy and foggy Prince Rupert to cold Alaska, and that instead I should take here south to the Broughtons and Desolation Sound to enjoy warmer swimsuit weather. Karen was more supportive of the idea. Karolina has a ticket from Poland to Prince Rupert on the 10th of August, so at least I have to be there, but the next steps are yet undecided - north to Ketchikan and further or south? It feels like I’m very far from Victoria already and pushing a smaller underprivileged boat than most who venture this far north. But here it seems that for most, as it is in the metropolitan yachtie demographic, the driving force is still pure wealth and age rather than a real sense of adventure, with only a minority like John and Karen still feeling it. Distance: 18 nm.

Jul 28: With the engine not running we were stuck for one more day in Shearwater. Kevin the mechanic came back with the pump and it’s new bracket after his lunch break, as greasy as before, and with me buying him bolts at the store, the use of my tools, my Dad helping him out, two hours later, was able to put the pump back on. We gave Kevin a pack of Strongbows for the road and went to degreasing the boat from Kevin’s greasy hand and shoe prints in and out of the boat – I better get a discount on the bill for this. Later it was laundry time and Chinese food for lunch at the local pub. For dinner we had BBQ pork chops with scalloped potatoes (Lipton special) and wine. I also tried to connect to the internet through my satellite phone but with a sporadic 9 kbs connection the process is a little frustrating. I use it with no problems for brief connections to get my wind prediction maps, but checking my e-mail is next to impossible and only succeeded twice so far without being able to reply to anyone. The updates for this blog and any e-mail or facebook replies will have to wait for high speed internet in a Prince Rupert cafe – I hope.

Jul 29: After paying close to $500 for repairs - ouchhh!, I think Kevin didn’t like the Strongbow ciders, we should have gotten him beer, he looked more like a beer drinker – we sailed off, but at least the pump looks more solid and the original miss-alignment of the belt is gone making me feel more at peace venturing on with this boat. With some motoring and some nice sailing in the afternoon we crossed Milbanke Sound which is exposed to the Pacific and then sailed into Finlayson Channel to park in a remote cove just a mile before the Indian village of Klemtu. Distance: 41 nm.

Jul 30: This morning we awoke to thick fog and tried to sail out of the cove, but even with the radar on and GPS chart plotter running, the visibility at below a quarter of a mile and humming boat engines in the channel got me concerned and I turned the boat back, anchored again and waited for the afternoon sun to burn the fog away. Than we moved on to Klemtu where we got more gas, refilled our water tank, and my Dad got some burger buns and hot-dog wieners for over $10 in the local store. They had no bread and there was only one jug of milk in the store. Everything has to be shipped up here by water, and I guess it goes fast even at these high costs. We did a bit of sailing today in Graham Reach, but still more motoring and decided to call it a day after 26 nm and dropped anchor in Swanson Bay. In the early 1900s there used to be a saw mill and pulp mill here with a population of 500 people, today there remain only pilings in the water and ruins on shore that nature has mostly reclaimed. Here we met two American guys, Ozi and Kris that looked like real adventurers slash fisherman. They pulled into the bay after us in their 24 foot trawler that looked more like a toy due to its comic size. They are heading up to Sitka in Alaska partly for adventure and partly to learn how to fish and hopefully make some money on it. It feels like we are definitely further north now, around 550 nm from Victoria to put a number on it. It gets dark here at 10:30 pm and the hills around us are becoming steeper and more barren at their tops. Graham reach is known for these sights and it is why it is also the route of the many Alaskan cruise ships. Distance: 26 nm.

Jul 31: This morning we explored the remains of the saw and pulp mill at Swanson Bay which consisted of corroded bits of machinery on shore with many pilings in the ground and bits of pottery and old beer bottles strew all over the beach. I found an interesting beer bottle that was almost intact with the logo saying The Property of Vancouver Brewing Company, made out of thick moulded glass. Then we moved a bit further north up the inlet to what has to be the most beautiful anchorage of this trip until now in Khutze Inlet. The inlet is long and lined with steep hills with a lot of steep exposed granite rock, with snow capped mountains visible at the head and sides of the inlet. But the spot where we dropped the anchor was right in front of a 1000 ft. cascading waterfall that fell in steps from the very ridge of the mountain to the water on shore over some lush green terrain and boulders. It looked like the waterfall from a fable. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly there were other boats in the bay, but we had front-row seats. Another brief annoyance in this fable was the thousands of deer flies that tried to eat us alive, but that was quickly remedied with some netting on the companion doorway. Later, after the deer flies went to sleep we ventured on shore to see the waterfall up close and where I couldn’t miss the opportunity to have a shower under one of the plumes of water from the waterfall – extra chilly, almost went into hypothermia, but refreshing. Dad picked some salmon berries cautiously as we saw some bear scats and also looked for gold in the stream, still hoping to find that nugget to get a bigger boat so we fit amongst our neighbours here. Distance: 10 nm.

Aug 1: We left the gorgeous Khutze Inlet early in the morning and headed for Butedale. On the way there we were congratulated for trying to sail in the meagre winds over the VHF radio from the sailboat Polyandrea based in Oak Bay as us, the skipper was on his way back from Alaska already after having visited as far as Glacier Bay, making me think again that I might be late in the season for that final target. We than pulled into Butedale where there is a stark reminder of the days gone by and the history of the area. Here stand a half dozen dilapidated buildings, half of which are falling from their pilings into the sea, as leftovers of a cannery that operated here from the 1930s to the 1960s. Here we met a great character and caretaker of the Butedale ruins, Lou Simoneau. Lou, probably in his 60s, showed us around the property, showing us his house, old photos of the cannery, and showing of his water turbine driven power generator that he was able to restore from the old powerhouse to generate electricity for his use. Lou has lived there alone for the past nine years and told us stories of seeing the white spirit bear here on Princess Royal Island, as well as stories of his dog getting fishing hooks stuck up his nose and other tales of funny American tourists and cold lonely winters without women. We than motored on into some 20 kts head winds to reach Bishop Bay where I had the biggest pain in the ass dropping the anchor for a good hold in a bottom that is steep and goes from 100 ft to 5 ft right by the shoreline. After pulling the 60ft of chain and anchor plus 200 ft of line on the manual windlass for the third time I was ready to give up staying here, but I finally got a modest hold and will probably get no sleep tonight thinking about drifting into shore or away.

Aug 2: This morning, after all the locals from Kitimat left the park to end their long weekend, we enjoyed a soak in the hot springs in complete solitude. Afterwards we tried to leave the bay to find that the engine was not flushing its cooling water. I knew what happened right away as the day before while trying to anchor for an hour I had no choice but to drive the boat through a great deal of tidal debris on the water. I donned on the Billabong wetsuit for the first time and went under the boat trying to unclog the raw water intake but with no avail. In the end, my mechanic (my Dad), came to the rescue and we unclogged the blockage by taking the intake hoses apart and using some electrical cable to push the debris out. Now I’m ultra sensitive to running over any debris on the water, which there seems to be a great deal of here. We then had a beautiful passage through Ursula Channel and Verney Passage which had stunning views of steep, 3500 ft high, bare granite cliffs surrounding green, bowl shaped valleys, which I believe were carved by glaciers into a series of these enormous hollows in the mountains called cirques. The scale is gargantuan and hard to comprehend with very little in the views to give proportion, but I felt like I was sailing on a giant lake somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Unfortunately we had very little wind and motored for seven hours till we reached the Indian village of Hartley Bay, where upon our arrival we heard howling wolves and talked with locals who complained that a pack has surrounded their village and is attacking the local cats – might be another sleepless night. Distance: 29 nm.

Aug 3: I’m not sure if I enjoyed today – maybe when a fisherman at the wharf says good luck it’s kinda windy out there, I should listen. I think at this point I’ve become a bit too complacent about the weather forecasts and need to take things more seriously again. The forecast was for gale winds in Hecate Strait but I figured Grenville Channel must be more protected than the infamous Hecate, so we headed out. And I was wrong. For eight hours we tacked into 20 to 30 knot head winds, with sea spray in our faces, and it mostly blew in the upper range of that bracket. The wonderful atomic 4 engine that I have, at normal rpm, would not push us into the wind alone and the boat would stall so we were forced to tack, double reefed main with motor on, up the narrow Granville channel which is also shared by all the Alaska bound cruise ships and the Northern Expedition BC ferry – (the old one sunk in 2007 just before the entrance to this channel). In eight hours we only covered 23 nm due to the zig-zagging and possible currents, which also did some funky things to the boat, like making it move backwards (shown by GPS) while heeled over in 25 kts with an appearance of sailing forwards. I’m pretty sure my Dad didn’t enjoy the experience either, but in the end we made it into Lowe Inlet, in fairly good spirits, and when the winds dropped to 20 kts it seemed like the wind stopped blowing altogether, so at least I hope this event bumped up our threshold for stronger winds. On another better note, my Dad bought some homemade bread from a local Indian lady in Hartley Bay and bread in her language is “Elbin”, but unfortunately her culture and the Indian village here is on a certain vanishing path according to her.

Aug 4: I’m not sure if I learned my lesson just yet, but today I must admit I scared myself a bit. We left again with a less than stellar forecast but figured it’s only 18 nm, so if it’s like yesterday we can handle it for a bit. So again we motored up Granville Channel in 15-20 kts head winds, this time without even trying to motor-sail, just plugged away at 2-3 miles an hour, till we hit the entrance to our next inlet, and there all hell seemed to break loose. I should have known seeing white caps on the horizon, but now it was too late and we were already in it. Here two currents from both ends of the 48 nm channel meet, and I think we hit a tidal rip judging by the only 1-2 m waves, but which were steep. The wind bumped to a steady 30 kts with gusts to 35 kts, which I think qualifies as gale force winds. And this time we got completely soaked, my underwear were wet, not sure if I peed myself :), and water even splashed into the cabin, not just the cockpit, of the boat. With a double reefed main and engine off we got to 7.5 kts with a bit of surfing down the waves. Luckily it only lasted for a short bit till we managed to escape into the protected inlet, but that was enough for me, and I think my Dad got pretty excited as well, he’s not sure about the source of his wet pants either. Within the 4 mile deep inlet the wind was non-existent and we dropped anchor, made dinner and relaxed. What an amazing contrast in weather and sea state this region can have amazes me.

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