Tuesday, August 7, 2012

True North Summary July 31 - August 6 - Updated

Here's the latest news from True North, about to depart Port Hardy for Bull Harbor.  Anne has updated the Google Map of our route. You can see that at:

True North Summary July 31 - August 6  

Tuesday, July 31: We fueled the boat yesterday, tied the dinghy down snugly on the bow and departed Port Hardy for the 23 mile Goletas Channel to Bull Harbour on Hope Island at 1245. This is one of the key anchorages for boats to gather and wait for good weather before rounding Cape Scott. Goletas Channel is deep with no obstructions, other than the occasional log or kelp patch. With slack at 1330, we rode the ebb often at 6 knots SOG, even with 16-19 knots wind from the west directly over the bow. The scenery changes from the Inside from mile-high mountains and waterfalls to low forested hills with caves along the water's edge. The passage went smoothly, arriving at the entrance to Bull Harbour at 1755.

Bull Harbor

We had expected to see many other boats in the harbour but there were only two, a sailboat and a powerboat, both tied to a dock. We anchored further inside the harbour and with no one else around, swung freely on our anchor. Since we had a late arrival, and needed to plan for the next day, we did not take advantage of the walk to Roller Bay or other activities in Bull Harbor. So we got out our notes, tables, books and charts to review our plans for the big day, the rounding of Cape Scott. The weather prediction hadn't been ideal but it was doable, and it was the best for the next several days. Winds 15 to 25 S-SE in the early morning, when we would still have the protection of Vancouver Island to the south, would be changing to NW 15 near noon, just as we would be rounding Cape Scott and heading south again. We planned to go with the 1222 low water slack at Cape Scott to avoid the night travel that would have been required for high water slack.

Wednesday, August 1: Working the time backwards to Bull Harbour, we left at 0630, catching the last 1-1/2 hours of flood to make our way across the west end of Goletas Channel to the south side, weaving our way through the thick kelp beds and the inner route south of Tatnall Reefs, the route that fishermen recommend, avoiding Nahwitti Bar. This would not be a good time to get kelp tangled in the prop, since the beach is awfully close! We had passed the two boats in Bull Harbour on the way out and figured they were waiting for another day.

The sky was gray and cloudy but the weather forecast remained the same: NW 15 knot winds on the north coast before noon – perfect for the brief sail from Cape Scott to Otter Bay! In the distance behind us, we noticed the sailboat following and it was comforting to have a companion boat alongside for the gray, rainy day ahead. It poured at times but we were happily motoring towards our goal, the rounding of Cape Scott, and were experiencing our first mild Pacific swells with some excitement.

Weather near Cape Scott

The S-SE winds were picking up with 20 knot gusts, then 25, progressing to 30-35 – slow going and rougher than we had hoped. At 1135 we could see Cape Scott in the distance through a thin fog. By that time, our speed was greatly reduced to 1.5 to 1.9 knots and we hardly moved at all. With the long day ahead, turbulent water, variable winds and gusts, we decided to turn around and try again another day. So disappointing! While the other sailboat continued on, we began to doubt our decision and reconsidered: with the 1223 slack approaching, it would definitely be calmer running with the current. We turned around again towards Cape Scott. In fact, the current change was negligible for another hour, then subtle as we increased our speed to a mere 3.5 knots with winds freshening to gusts up to 44 kts! We didn't doubt the boat's ability to handle the conditions but the experience was something like a rodeo ride – and way too long. Watching the other sailboat behind us roll and pitch would have been more entertaining if we hadn't been doing the same thing ourselves! When we finally spotted the Cape Scott lighthouse it was through rain and a fog along the shore. The next time we saw it, we were finally south of the Cape at 1345.

Finally past Cape Scott

The NW 15 wind never developed. Instead, we were pounded with S-SE winds at 20-30 kts all the way to Sea Otter Cove, and 3-4 foot southerly wind waves meeting the “moderate” westerly swell and becoming thoroughly confused. As we got closer our speed increased to 5 knots. We considered going on to Winter Harbour but had had enough of the pounding. This is not the way we visualized rounding Cape Scott! We had expected a faster, smoother passage, a little sun as predicted from Port Hardy for the rest of the week, and a hearty sail south from Cape Scott to Sea Otter Cove. Next time. Entering the safe haven of Sea Otter Cove at 1655 through the maze of shallows brought instant relief from the wind.
Entry to Sea Otter Cove

Narrow entrance demands full attention!

It was surprising to see just a single fish boat tied to one of the four hurricane-proof buoys. Where were all the other boaters? Shortly after tying up, our buddy sailboat, Gavia, entered the harbour and tied up to another buoy. We spoke briefly to the skipper, saying “let's do that again” then laughing at our foolishness, and then everyone ducked inside for the night.

Thursday, August 2: The fish boat and sailboat left early. We stayed in Sea Otter Cove to relax in what became a warm, sunny day.

Gregg enjoying the nice weather in Sea Otter Cove

Yesterday had been long and tiring. We also wanted to enjoy this cozy cove with rock islets just inside the coast and take the short 1.3 mile hike to the white sandy beach at Lowrie Bay. We needed to wait for high water to row across the mud flats to the head of the cove but by that time, the winds had picked up too much to get the dinghy off the bow of the boat. Once down, even if there were a calm between gusts, would we be able to get it back up before leaving? We had to pass on that excursion. Another sailboat, Sea Bird, tied up for a couple of hours at lunchtime and late in the evening the fish boat Ivory Gull tied up to one of the buoys. A stunning sunset and full moon was only enhanced by the sea otter swimming past our boat on its back, chowing down on a crab on its chest.

Sea Otter with crab in Sea Otter Cove

NOTE: 2012 Canadian chart 3624 has the 4 buoys marked in the wrong location on the inset for Sea Otter Cove. They are shown where the previous 4 buoys were which have since been removed.
Friday, August 3: 0600, lines removed from the buoy, two hours before low tide. We quickly moved away from the buoy with the current. The narrow and shallow entrance must be followed carefully to avoid the shoals and rocks but a check with our depth gauge showed us it was stuck in standby mode at 160' instead of showing 10-15'. Kept calm! GPS did not let us down and correctly showed us the way out. A flip of the depth gauge switch brought it back to life and we were out in the Pacific once again. It was an incredibly beautiful day all around! We raised both sails just outside the entrance at 0630 with a mild wind N 10-19, then used only the jib and didn't take it down until the end of the morning when entering Quatsino Sound at 1130. What a day!

We pulled out the fishing pole for fun and caught our first salmon, early in the day which Gregg cleaned on the back deck.

Anne fishing...

...and Gregg landing her catch

Then we spotted a whale nearby and in the distance several others were spouting. Curious to us were the small white birds that flew in a line close to the water, rising and falling with the swell and catching the light. At 1132 we were abeam of the Quatsino lighthouse and anchoring in Browning Inlet at 1200.

Quatsino Light

It's shallow and narrow with lots of eel grass, seaweed, current and wind – recommended by Dreamspeaker – but we chose to leave and go a short distance around the bay to the more peaceful North Harbour, protected from the NW winds. We took the dinghy twice to get to a trailhead that leads to Grant Bay, another sandy beach, but both times turned back because first it was too windy and then too shallow to get across the mud flats. We hadn't been off the boat since Tuesday in Port Hardy and were anxious to walk. PS: Gregg prepared our salmon for dinner.

Anchorage at North Harbor

Saturday, August 4: Summer was in full swing today, so hot, finally! We moved a couple of miles farther into Quatsino Sound to Winter Harbour where there's a fuel dock and small community. It's much smaller than I expected. A boardwalk of about a ¾ mile borders the waterfront.

Winter Harbor

Some Northwest vegetation in Winter Harbor

The docks are full of small fishing boats and just one other sailboat pulled in late in the afternoon with two guys from Victoria. They had rounded Cape Scott this morning in beautiful weather though had crossed Nahwitti Bar at not quite the right time for a very rough crossing. This evening, another sea otter swam past while eating a crab. As several of us photographed this cute scene, a guy with a fishing pole kept trying to snag the otter. We were appalled but some people hate the otters because they eat all the crabs and abalone. Tomorrow's forecast is for high winds. We originally decided to wait another day in Quatsino over at the Koskimo Islands. Tuesday should bring a calmer day.
Sunday, August 5: Considering how the weather can change quickly, we got up early to get an update and check the current and historical conditions for the past 24 hours. Time to go! We would skip the Koskimo Islands because tomorrow and the next few days would bring strong SE winds in the afternoon and we wanted to round Cape Cook and the Brooks Peninsula with the favorable winds now forecast for today: morning NW 10-20, afternoon NW 20-30. Cape Cook is on the western point of the Brooks Peninsula, the largest headland on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It would be another big day and milestone with 25 miles east to Cape Cook and another 20 south to our destination in the Bunsby Islands off Gay Passage, inside Checleset Bay. We put up our sails as we passed the lighthouse at the entrance to Quatsino Sound with a gentle wind and mild swells which soon increased to a steady 25-35 knots. We found it most effective to sail with the reefed jib only.

Anne demonstrates safety harness

We couldn't handle wing and wing here while rolling with the swells since we don't have a whisker pole to keep the jib extended. We were flying and passed Solander Island earlier than expected. We didn't encounter a single sailboat all day, yet the sun and blue sky made for an awesome sailing day! We picked up more wind rounding Cape Cook and heading south, thankfully all from the NW but with some gusts noted at 46 knots. Swells of 6' on the port quarter gave us an easy push and a good sleigh ride.

Passing Solander Island and Cape Cook

The coast was rugged and wild with a rocky and driftwood filled shoreline and forrested hillsides. Once we turned eastward into Checleset Bay and were in the shadow of the Brooks Peninsula, the wind calmed. We were the only boat there. On the way in, we saw a couple of whales in the distance at the entrance to Ououkinsh Inlet. We navigated through the rocky entrance carefully and into Scow Bay in the Bunsby Islands for a completely calm evening.

Scow Bay, The Bunsby Islands

The islands are a kayaker's paradise with many islets and passages. A playful otter swimming on his back stayed alongside our boat while we took pictures.

Sea otter in Scow Bay

 The VHF radio broadcasting for this area has been experiencing technical difficulties so there's no weather forecast again tonight. We'll wing it tomorrow but we're not going far.

Kayakers in Scow Bay

Monday, August 6: Much as we would have liked staying another night in the Bunsby's, one look at the coastline shows that we're less than a quarter of the way south so we moved on to our next goal, Walter's Cove in Kyuquot (Kye-you'-kit) Sound. This is our second of the six sounds that indent the west coast of Vancouver Island. Add to that inlets and island groups and we realize there is so much to see on the west side that we could easily spend two months exploring it. A group of four kayakers entered the cove and stopped to talk as we were leaving. We took the inside route in the lee of the Barrier Islands for a rapid 1.5 hour run to Walter's Cove. The entrance is a maze of buoys and rocks, calling for our full attention.

Walter's Cove

We marvel at how much easier this is with GPS but still are glad to have reviewed Chart 3677 closely before leaving! Walter's Cove is a recommended stop in every guide book and we find it inviting immediately. We tied up at the only visitors' dock, the public dock, which is free, then took the boardwalk which lines the shoreline past a few small fishing guest houses. A village of houses borders the water on the opposite shore. A small restaurant at the head of the dock was taking dinner reservations so we added our names for a galley break and one of the best meals since leaving home. A group of 7 hearty kayakers from Portland was at the next table with 'stories'. Everyone has stories! There's a small "Java Hutt" at the other end of the cove so we scoped it out for morning. The owner is Eric – from 178th St. in Lake Forest Park! He and his wife bought the property 12 years ago and spend more time here than in the Seattle area. We'll be back when they open tomorrow at noon for pie a la mode before leaving. As we settled down inside our boat, we heard another boat pull up behind us (so rare – almost no boaters except fish boats on the west side) to find Themistocles, the sailboat with the two guys from Victoria we met in Winter Cove, being assisted by a coast guard vessel. They had had a long day in fog and chop but nothing serious until entering the maze outside Walter's Cove when their engine quit. Nice to know the Coast Guard got their radio call!

Canadian Coast Guard brings in Themistocles

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