Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Skipper Sails the Princess South

Heading South

Aug 19: We leave Prince Rupert after a fuel stop in a mix of rain and sunshine. Karolina is a volcano of excitement for the first hour and ten has trouble getting her sea-legs in the first open-ocean swells straight out of port and is knocked out by Gravol for a three hour nap while I steer us to Lewis Island. Only ones in the cove we enjoy the views with a brightening sky and a dinner of local prawns in a coconut curry. Distance: 19 nm.

Aug 20: Still hoping for dryer warmer weather we plug south with no wind to Baker Inlet, a scenic spot with a tiny corridor like entrance with only 30 feet of room to manoeuvre. Distance: 22 nm.

Aug 21: To exit Baker Inlet I’m forced to get up in the dark at 5 am to pass the tight entrance narrows at slack tide. This, however, forces me to move in some thick fog with less than one-eighth of a mile of visibility. For the first time of the trip I’m forced to completely rely on my fancy broadband radar and I’m glad I spend the money. I get through the narrows with no worries but my excitement grows as I enter Granville Channel, a main route for the Northern BC ferry and many cruise ships and tug boats and their cargo. I travel glued to the GPS and radar for a few hours with anonymous ships passing me with the only indication of their presence being a spot on the radar screen and a large wake. Only the large BC ferry sounds its horn as it passes us, with the fog slowly clearing making for an exciting scene in this tight channel as the colossal block of steel quickly appears and disappears back in the fog.
By noon the fog clears and we pull into Lowe Inlet where we take the dinghy ashore and visit Verney Falls filled with jumping salmon going upstream from the inlet. Karolina and me can’t believe the number of salmon trying to swarm the falls, feverishly trying to hurdle themselves in what seems like great pain upstream. Later from the safety of our boat, parked right at the mouth of the falls we see a black bear prancing on the rocks where we were an hour ago. Karolina squeaks so loud with excitement that the bear decides to gingerly get back into the bush before she can snap his picture. Distance: 27 nm.

Aug 22-23: Today we witnessed a large concentration of Humpback whales in Wright Sound. It was quiet and the water was still and they were all over the place in this large expanse of water as the sun was setting. We switched the engine off and coasted quietly watching them blowing air loudly echoing all around and hitting the water hard with their fins making it sound like thunder. I think so far I have been calling Humpback whales erroneously Minke whales, but was informed of my mistake. Humpback whales come here to feed on the abundant fish in the area before they migrate to Hawaii where they mate.
Our next stop was the Indian village of Hartley Bay. Here we encountered very heavy rains making life on the boat pretty miserable since there are a few leaks. We make the most of it in the rain by exploring the small village which interestingly has no sidewalks or roads but only boardwalks that continue off the dock all around town, I think it’s because it rains here so much. We then visit an Indian ladies house that bakes bread and buy two loafs. Gale force winds force us to spend an extra night here. Distance: 23 nm.

Aug 24-25: In heavy rain we make our way through Verney Passage to Bishop Bay. This time around instead of beautiful mountain vistas in sunshine we are however treated to a show of waterfalls. In the rainy, misty and gloomy weather waterfalls spring out of every corner of the hills that we pass. Even without the sun the mountains with peaks shrouded in fog and trickles of water cascading over their entire faces made for an impressive site.
In the very deep Bishop Bay where I had troubles anchoring last time, due to no dock space I’m forced to again anchor not so securely in the steeply sloping bottom. At 4 am in the morning Karolina and me are awakened by a violent jolt and sounds of the hull scraping. I dart out of bed ready to pull on the anchor thinking we hit rocks on shore but realize a giant log or rather full size delimbed tree complete with roots has hang up on the anchor rode and is being pushed hard against the length of the boat by a strong current in the bay. Excited from being so rudely awakened in the pitch dark and cold rain Karolina helps me push the tree of the boat as I slacken up the anchor line. The heavy rains washed lots of logs into the bay and a couple more bumped the boat later making for a sleepless night. The next day I realize my anchor is fouled either from the tree pulling on it or from me creating too much slack. I spend 20 minutes trying to free the anchor really hoping not to have to cut it as my spare is only half as good, but the anchor finally gives and I pull the rode up with frayed parts and rust stains on the line.
To relax we enjoy the hot springs in the bay where the water is nice and hot without the sulphur smell. We later meet Marty and Mae a sailing couple from Prince Rupert. They invite us over for wine and we spend talking about spots to visit while Mae teaches me some fine skills for salmon fishing and is nice enough to give me some of her fishing lures to assure success. Marty and Mae are big opponents of the discussed tanker traffic that will ship crude oil extracted in the Alberta oil sands from Kittimat and through parts of this beautiful Inside Passage. Marty with his “No Tankers” sign pasted all over his sailboat believes that with one tanker a week coming in and out, year round even in stormy weather in these narrow passages is too high of a risk for an oil spill. Considering how serious the weather can get here in the winters, including the highest wind speeds recorded in all of Canada, at a 120 knots (over 200 km/h), at the tip of the Queen Charlottes, I think the chance for a spill is definitely there. Distance: 29 nm.

Aug 26: In rain and sun we move south and stop in Butedale to give Lou the caretaker of the old cannery a quick visit. We have a quick chat with Lou who gives us some smoked salmon, visit his power generating plant and after a few stories leave as Karolina is definitely too scared to spend the night docked next to the old buildings of the cannery. Instead we spend the night in Khutze Inlet with a tall cascading waterfall as our background. Distance: 36 nm.

Aug 27-28: Pulling out of Khutze Inlet I spot a large black bear on shore and stop the engine and we quietly drift inshore to watch him wonder on the beach for a good ten minutes. I hear black bears are very near sighted and it seemed like he couldn’t see us only sniffing the air when we made some slight noise and than going back to looking for goodies in the tide exposed beach.
We spent the night in Clothes Bay by the Indian village of Klemtu, where the next day I fuelled for gas being able to get the “band” price for fuel paid in cash. Then we sailed onto Shearwater where we were able to reprovision, wash our clothes and surprisingly even enjoy some Chinese food at the local pub. Karolina even noticed that the pub’s menu had Polish stamps with salmon pictures on them on its cover.
In the morning everyone at the marina was treated to an amazing display of a feeding Humpback whale. They bay was filled with fish and this large whale not minding the marinas docks, boats or boat traffic kept on chasing the schools of fish around the bay and marina leaping out of the water numerous times as he scooped the feed into his mouth. People were lined at the dock like paparazzi snapping pictures of its every move. I thought Karolina in her excited state might fall of the dock into the water as she chased the whale around shrieking “oh my god” every second in Polish. Distance: 36 nm and 43 nm.

Aug 29-30: Today we sailed to Namu, another abandoned cannery that is being cared for by a couple of caretakers. Here we met the most interesting sailors of the trip: Kevin the skipper of Alize and his friend Steve. Kevin a recent PhD graduate in biology has just completed my dreamed route, making it from Seattle to Glaciar Bay Alaska and being on his way back. Making this trip in a boat only two feet larger than mine but maybe with a better engine and starting in May, he had stories of Alaska like making martinis out of glacial ice that made me pretty jealous of his accomplishment. With his friend Steve, also a biology PhD graduate about to defend and sailor we had lots in common and many stories to share.
The next day in a group we explored the ruins of Namu. The place had a high creepy factor with stores filled with goods, wearhouses full of machinery and houses with food left on the table as if the occupants mysteriously vanished. We than went out on the lake in a canoe after an interesting walk through the forest on a very old boardwalk that promised to collapse underneath our every step. We later sailed both boats to Pruth Bay with some heavy winds and exciting eight foot swells on an outside section of the coast that looked very wild and rugged but unfortunately in a heavy downpour that was filling my cockpit with water up to the ankles making the sail pretty dramatic. In Pruth Bay we get kicked off the docks as a fully fledged academic informs us that the docks are no longer for visitors and are meant for the now UVic operated biology research facility. Kevin unaware of this insults the professor for catering only to rich yachties and off we go to a next door cove, Keith’s Anchorage. The boys invite us over for dinner prepared by Steve the gourmet chef and we have the best meal since the beginning of the trip. We have good conversations including Kevin’s continuation of the trip all the way down to San Francisco. He is looking for crew so if not for work in October I would gladly join him. We end the night with an exciting shuttle using Kevin’s kayaks back to our boat in strong winds, rain, phosphorescence in the water and Karolina’s first time paddling a kayak alone :) Distance: 28 nm and 19 nm.

Aug 31-Sep 2: After very slow progress into strong headwinds and waves I decide to stop chasing Kevin and Steve and me and Karolina head for the fancy fishing resort of Duncan’s Landing and its warm showers, while the boys decide to make a run for the treacherous Cape Caution. At Duncan’s Landing we enjoy a nice dinner at the restaurant complete with desert and I plan the next day’s crossing to Vancouver Island.
The crossing past Cape Caution to Port Hardy sixty nautical miles goes ok. The winds are southerly again, so I’m forced to motor-sail the whole time to keep up speed, and the swells are large, recorded at 2 m, which is a bit larger than I liked but we needed to get across before the next low system blew even stronger southerly winds for the next couple of days. The swells make the crossing a little intimidating at times but I feel excited like I’m offshore sailing while Karolina full of anti-seasickness medication is hoping the rolling sea would stop.
Safe and sound in Port Hardy we enjoy a day off to re-provision, fuel, change oil and spark plugs, go for dinner and relax. Distance: 26 and 60 nm.

Sep 3-4: Our next stop is the Indian village of Alert Bay. Here we stay for two nights as Johnston Strait decides to blow strong winds as always. We visit the U’mista Cultural Museum which has a large collection of Indian masks and other artefacts that were confiscated in the early 1900s after Indian Potlaches were banned by the government. We also see a Native dance performance at the traditional long house. Later we find a couple of fisherman that are willing to sell us a beautiful sockeye salmon, illegally I think. The fish is the best we have ever tasted. Out of it we make sashimi and eat it raw Japanese style and it tastes like melting butter, then Karolina makes ceviche which we enjoy for two days and I still make some on the grill baked with olives, capers and cream cheese. Distance: 27 nm.

Sep 5: Today we visit Village Island in the Broughton Islands and the old remnants of the Indian Village with the cool name of Mamalilaculla. With no one on the island but us and some bears we end up visiting the old village after 8 pm, which really increases the spooky factor. Amongst a very heavy overgrowth of raspberry bushes we find old remnants of an original Indian long house composed of two large arches made out of solid cedar timber still intact with hand tool marks still clearly visible. I get pretty excited about such finds. And to top it all off we then find a fallen over totem pole with a carving of a lizard or salamander and a bear below it. We get back to our zodiac as it is almost dark and find it slightly deflated but still manage to row back to the boat. In the night Karolina gets spooked by dreams of Indians getting on our boat and makes me triple check everything outside as I laughingly reassure her that all is fine. And then a spooky thing really happens that even makes me wonder: I run the radar since it’s a very dark night to check the position of the boat to the shore to make sure anchor hasn’t dragged and notice a blip on the screen as if from a boat size object 50 m away from us, but can’t find anything by flashing a light on it, the spot is weak and appears and disappears but seems very steady, not wanting to freak Karolina more I tell her about it in the morning after running the radar again and noticing that all landmasses were as before but the blip was gone. Lesson: don’t mess with old Indian villages. Distance: 19 nm.