Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Final Leg Home

The Final Leg Home

Sep 13: We wake up to a beautiful sunny day with a good forecast for the crossing of the Strait of Georgia on our way back to Vancouver Island. For the first time in a while now, we enjoy our breakfast outside and afterwards have fun videotaping Karolina explaining all of our safety gear including her getting into an immersion suit. With the military torpedo testing area Whisky-Golf closed today for practice I pick a route straight across to Nanaimo with light westerly winds allowing me to motor-sail at a good pace. Karolina enjoys the sun and the very calm Strait of Georgia by giving herself a pedicure in the cockpit which includes soaking half a foot at a time in a bowl of warm water and spilling nail polish-remover on the floor. Luckily the remover is acetone-free but as penalty I send her to the bow to watch for shipping traffic. As she falls asleep wrapped in her sleeping bag, I try again to fish for salmon while the auto pilot keeps us pointed towards Nanaimo. Nine hours, lots of sun, and many pictures later we reach New Castle Island, a beautiful park across the water from downtown Nanaimo. Fall has clearly arrived as we notice on the trees strolling across the island. We also run into a group of deer grazing as the sun set. Not being able to find any loonies for a shower we go to sleep mutually smelly but knowing that home and unlimited hot water is just around the corner. Distance: 38 nm.

Sep. 14: Dodds Narrows hits slack at a convenient time in the morning and we motor through the tamed narrow passage leading into the Gulf Islands with another twenty boats or so in front of us and following behind. I’m having trouble getting used to this amount of boat traffic on the water, and every boater seems to annoy me as I’m feeling possessive about the mile long radius of sea room around me. This left over feeling from up north of endless free space will have to abandon me soon or I might have issues being around crowds. Our options for today are Galiano Island which is close by, or Saltspring Island bit further, or something even closer to home. But the decision is quickly made for me as the engine unexpectedly starts smoking out the exhaust a bit more than usual. The blue smoke comes and goes but checking the oil level I notice it’s low, and after noticing that I have no more spare oil to add, the decision is made to head to Montague Harbour on Galiano Island. The weather on the island is great. Karolina claims it’s the warmest day we’ve had and I decide we spend the night here. We park at the dock within the marine park and explore the island, enjoying the sun tanning on a beautiful white maiden beach, getting ice cream and looking for oil for the engine. After finding out that all restaurants are closed we return to the boat and Karolina prepares a great meal, our classic of ginger and mango with rice, while I setup the hammock that I got in Peru in the boats rigging. We enjoy our dinner outside with the last bottle of wine while taking turns to swing in the hammock. We are a bit sad knowing that this could be our last evening of the trip, that is, unless the engine has more surprises for us. Distance: 30 nm.

Sep 15: Maybe we wished too hard for this trip not to be over, but this morning while I was performing a final check of the engine and all its fluids before departure, I discovered that what should be green was now brown – a very bad thing – we had oil in the coolant. Worried, I called my “land crew mechanic”, my Dad, who verified my concern with his car mechanic that the head-gasket in the engine was blown. After motoring a huge chunk of the 2600 kilometres of this trip, and only a day away from home, the engine had it. But all was not lost, as the mechanic advised that I could slowly motor while keeping an eye on the oil level. So under dark cloudy skies and with my nerves slightly on edge we started our final leg home. The weather wasn’t the greatest, with heavy rain coming down at times and a bit of spotty fog. I picked the open water of Haro Strait hoping to catch a bit of wind to help the engine out, and was able to relieve it from its duty for a couple hours of nice sailing in moderate winds despite a downpour. Karolina kept me company hidden out of the rain in the companionway - maybe that’s how the boat entrance/steps got their name. We listened to an audio book on the ipod about truck drivers and their CB radio culture while watching cargo ships in Haro Strait going in and out of the distant fog indicating the busy metropolises of Vancouver and Victoria close by. By 7 pm we were in Oak Bay, with its shores engulfed in thick fog and a dead calm all around without a single vessel on the water. We slowly motored towards the marina careful of the many rocks around and noticed a single figure on the breakwater, it was my Dad photographing us coming in. My Mom was waiting for us at the familiar slip, and like this the trip was over. With joyful embraces, my parents greeting Karolina for the first time in person and my Dad commenting how I hadn’t reached Alaska but caught a Zlota Rybka – a Golden Fish, that grants all wishes.

Sep 16-26: The following days were spent exploring my hometown of Victoria as well as Vancouver on the mainland. Showing Karolina our inner harbour downtown, our float planes the float homes at Fisherman’s wharf, and then taking her over to Vancouver on our ferry and exploring the waterfronts of the city, I realized how large a part our ocean plays in our daily experience. Karolina replied that had she lived here she would naturally enjoy life through a sailboat as well.

Reflections on the trip:

Total distance covered by Corsair on the water: 1400 nautical miles = 2600 km. Average moving speed 4.4 kts. 69 days. Around 600 L of gasoline (hey, moving over 6500 lbs. through the water). 7 days and 760 nm in Alaska by ferry. Strongest wind: 35 kts (65 km/h). Thickest fog: <1/8 nm visibility. Coldest temperature: Just ask Karolina, we didn’t have a thermometer.

In retrospect, I should have called this blog “motoring to Prince Rupert”, nonetheless, witnessing the entire BC Inside Passage from the perspective of my sailboat was amazing, unforgettable, thought provoking and inspiring. And If I could, the trip would be repeated in a heartbeat in a boat with a solid diesel engine, a dodger and a hot-water shower, and of course, the company of Zlota Rybka.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Getting closer to home

Getting closer to home

Sep 6: Today another miserable day on the water with heavy cold rain in the face and strong head winds. To end my misery I decide to pull into Lagoon Cove Marina which is a highly suggested stop here in the Broughtons. Karolina and me find out soon why that is the case. Bill, a very friendly veteran has been running the place for years, and every day at 5 pm in the season it’s “happy hour”. Every boater brings something small to share and a drink, but Bill provides the prawns from his bay. Karolina and I both agree that these are the best and largest prawns that we have tasted. Bill catches them each morning and cooks them to perfection. The trick he says it’s to kill them in fresh water, and let them soak for a bit before briefly cooking them in sea water. We are by far the youngest boaters in the crowd, as is often the case, and are entertained by good stories of retired CEOs from the States and their adventures up here on the Inside Passage. Distance: 12 nm.

Sep 7: We head out of the Broughtons with good currents pushing us out at up to 9 kts, and into Johnston Strait where we even manage to do some real sailing. I manage to wrap my fishing gear around the rudder, and dance around the boat getting it untied while Karolina sails us in 20 kts winds and beautiful sunshine. Before the winds get any stronger we decide to tuck into Port Neville and moore at the public dock. Alex, a very friendly elderly man with a heavy beard and dressed like a lumber jack from the 20s gave us a tour of the Port Neville Store and the antiques inside. We learn that this was the first post office in BC. In nice weather we go for a hike and explore the beach for the rest of the day. In the morning we buy a sockeye from fisherman docked here from Prince Rupert, they are nice enough to clean it for us, and at $10 per fish it’s a good deal. The fisherman tell us that salmon is back in higher numbers than it has been in the last sixty years and that today is the last opening for sockeye. Distance: 23 nm.

Sep 8-9: We wake up to thick fog. The last place I would like to be in fog is a mayor shipping channel between the island and the mainland on the last fishing opening for sockeye of the season, but that’s what Johnston Strait was that day and I decide to head out into it. Feeling pretty confident in the electronics and with Karolina asleep down below not knowing that we are engulfed in a bright white cloud with less than 1/8 nm visibility, for three hours I scoot around numerous slow fishing vessels while other bigger faster “radar blips” pass me seemingly aware of my presence. By the afternoon the fog evaporates and we enjoy a lunch of raw sockeye sashimi and sockeye ceviche prepared by Karolina in nice sunshine and with clear mountain views of the mainland. Once out of the strait a white-sided dolphin pops up beside the boat and starts playing by in the bow wave. Karolina seeing the jumping dolphin can’t control her excitement and I’m afraid she’ll fall overboard from the jitters, but I think the dolphin noticing this leaves us quickly. We make our next stop at Shoal Bay, the old gold mining town that I visited on the way up, and end our day by gorging on grilled salmon in a cream cheese and olive sauce. Distance: 35 nm.

The next morning, with the tidal currents running at max through Yuculta rapids (our next passage) and a dream that I really needed to show Karolina a meadow with flowering bean bushes here in Shoal Bay, I decide we stay for the sunny day and explore. At the dock we meet Nadine who gets our attention by yelling hello at us in broken Polish. Nadine and her husband Bert live here, spending half of the year here and the other half in Vancouver. Excited to have younger company Nadine guides us on a hike up the mountain in Shoal Bay that contains remnants of the old gold mining operations. At the top we find one mine entrance that is not blocked by fallen trees and a hundred years of debris and excited and equipped with flashlights we decide to cautiously explore it. The mine tunnel carved in a solid block of quartz and granite heads into the mountain side a couple hundred feet, finally opening up, with two shafts in the floor leading to larger chambers below. After dropping some rocks into the giant deep hollows and snapping some pictures of strange looking large half-cricket half-spider insects we decide not to risk it more and head back.
Nadine invites us to her home and is extremely generous filling our arms with vegetables from her garden which is filled with flowering bean bushes like in my dream I had the night before. Later we make dinner at Nadine’s home with Bert and Mark the owner of the Shoal Bay marina joining us. We fill up on fresh garden veggies, a barbequed salmon, and even a home-made apple crisp for dessert, while enjoying Ben’s stories of a black bear getting into his boat in the middle of the night.

Sep 10: We leave Shoal Bay after taking advantage of the rare satellite internet connection that Mark generously offers for free at his small dock, and head to cross Yuculta and Dent Rapids. The tide change is high and I carefully measure my timing and distance to cross both passes at slack and avoid any surprising whirlpools and eddies. We cross with no events at all and putter slowly towards Desolation Sound on autopilot as I try to fish. On the way we see a large group of seals in crescents shapes, all of them arching up into the air trying to keep out of the water as the tide slowly creeps up their rocky platform. We pull into Prideaux Heaven in the Desolation Sound provincial park and realize that we must be getting close to the civilized world of southern BC as we drop anchor next to eighteen other boats in the bay. Being so far north I became accustomed to having the bays and coves to ourselves or sharing it with one other boat. The “gates” of tidal rapids like Yuculta and open passes like Cape Caution as well as the pure distance definitely keep most boaters south of this point, for most making Desolation Sound and exotic destination perfect for a two to three week vacation from Vancouver. Even with the other boats here the place lives up to its reputation of sublime beauty. Many craggy islands covered with tuffs of trees at their tops are framed by a background of steep coastal mountains, which on the way up had patches of snow, but today were covered in mist. In comparison to Alaska and the northern inside passage I and Karolina both agree that this is one of the nicer anchorages we’ve seen. Distance: 40 nm.

Sep 11: Today the weather turned sour again, and I had to motor into 15-20 kts southerly head winds with heavy rain. The forecast for the Strait of Georgia was worsening with each new weather report and I decided to stop early and pull into Lund. Lund with its historic 1920s hotel clearly visible from the water is the end of the road that runs along the Sunshine Coast, to get any further north without flying one has to head into the interior of BC or take a boat. Once at the public docks we seek dry shelter in a café where we enjoy some real espresso and freshly baked sweets for the first time since Prince Rupert. We then re-provision, getting some small groceries, getting rid of our garbage, and fuel up and take on new water. Distance: 17 nm.

Sep 12: We motor-sailed for eight hours again into a southerly wind but at least with little rain. Karolina spent her time having a party down below to David Bowie tunes. The next classic BC spot we anchored in was Jervis Inlet, more specifically in the Muscet Island marine park surrounded by some pretty tall granite cliffs. Tomorrow, weather permitting, we will cross over to Vancouver island across the Strait of Georgia. Distance: 30 nm.