Thursday, September 6, 2012

True North Final Trip Summary, August 23 to August 31

Here's the final posting to our blog, at least for our 2012 trip around Vancouver Island. Anne has updated the Google Map of our route. You can see that at:

Thursday, 8/23: We planned on a leisurely departure from Ucluelet around noon to go just a few miles to an island in the Broken Group. We had slightly mixed feelings about leaving today as the wind was picking up with gale force southerlies predicted for the night, and small boats were filing in to the marina one after another with reports of how rough it had been outside. Besides, we really enjoyed Ucluelet. Then we got new neighbors around 1000, a sailboat from Gig Harbor, and we did some serious visiting with them about Haida Gwai, Cape Scott, the west side, and fishing. Tomorrow would be a better day to leave! We spent a leisurely day walking to one of the outer docks of Ucluelet, looking at the fascinating fish boats along the way, and catching up on some reading.

Ucluelet "52 Steps" government dock

Friday, 8/24: We left mid-morning and put up both sails just outside Ucluelet in Newcombe Channel under a completely clear sky and bright sun; a much better plan than leaving yesterday with gale force southerlies. We trolled for salmon along the way and thinking we had one brought it in, but had only some tangled seaweed on the hook. Such novices! The new fishing rod holder that Gregg rigged works just great. When we need to store the rod and tend to the business of sailing, snugly into the holder it goes. Sailing was effortless, all across Louden Channel where at the other side we took down our sails and anchored off Clarke Island. This anchorage on this day is absolutely stunning! It has all the right components that make it a favorite: sandy beach nearby, rocky islets between us and the outside, a view to the west with the Pacific sending a soft swell our way, a ring of high, majestic mountains that surround Barkley Sound in view, a couple of trails, places to explore by dinghy not too far away – plus wildlife! Whales spouted and dove just beyond the islets; eagles screeched and soared while the fish jumped out of the water to meet them. We, however, could not fish here. Fishing is off limits within the Broken Group which is within the boundaries of the Pacific Rim National Park. In the evening we took the dinghy to shore to walk the beaches and rocks and talk to two groups of kayakers, a couple of girls from Victoria and a group of four others. The beach has a grassy camping area set back with trees and even a loo. Late in the afternoon, another sailboat anchored in this cove. The Broken Group is similar to the San Juan Islands with its many islands and islets but different because they're wilder. There are sea caves, rocky sculptures, ocean swells, driftwood and no small towns or marinas. It's a kayaker's paradise with many sandy beaches great for camping.

Clarke Island

Saturday, 8/25: We got up to another perfect summer day and decided to stay at this anchorage a second night so we could use the whole day to explore the area further. We took the dinghy across Coaster Channel to get to Wouwer Island, about a mile away, with the Pacific just on the other side. We found the salal tunnel trail leading to a sandy beach facing the Pacific, strewn with drift logs. From there we tried to get to the rookery where the sea lions were barking loudly just out of view. We took the trail back to the dinghy and motored over to another rocky area and climbed a short way to get a view of these noisy animals lounging on the rocks.

Time to swim!

In the distance we saw a whale spout and dive several times. It looked like a gray whale or maybe a minke but not a humpback. We rowed over to some other rock cliffs to get a better look at the whale from above. Eventually it left and we did too, taking a shortcut back through the narrow passage off Wouwer Island. Suddenly, that whale spouted and surfaced quite close to our dinghy once, twice, three times!

Whale too near our dinghy

We got out of the way quickly, taking the long way around another island across Coaster Channel to get to Benson Island, next to Clarke where we were anchored. There was one sailboat anchored in the cove at Benson off the sandy beach with a family of four, sailing for a couple of weeks from from Port Townsend. We took one of the trails across to another beach to find a young family of three with their MacGregor sailboat anchored close to the beach in about 2 feet of water! There was also a monument to First Nations habitation on the island.

First Nations monument, Benson Island

We got back to True North in the late afternoon, made some popcorn, and watched numerous kayakers paddle past.

Sunday, 8/26: Today we picked up Gregg's cousin and girlfriend, Jamie and Wendi, in Bamfield. They live in Salt Lake City so they flew to Seattle, took the clipper to Victoria, then a 6-hour bus ride on a lumpy logging road to Bamfield. It takes determination and good planning to get to the west side!The wind was picking up with another forecast for gale force winds for the evening so the question was whether to stay at the dock in Bamfield or get out into one of the protected coves in the Broken Group where we could enjoy the more pristine scenery. We opted for Joe's Bay, surrounded by Turtle, Dodd and Walsh Islands. We had some brisk winds getting there which remained strong during the night but we were secure in our anchorage.

Monday, 8/27, 28: We took the dinghy out in the morning to find Salal Joe's garden among the old growth Sitka Spruce trees but couldn't find any signs of it. Before leaving, we visited with the sailboat Anakena that we had met in Ucluelet with a crew of brothers Tom, John and a friend which had just anchored nearby. We left mid-day for a sail through Imperial Eagle Channel with Gregg, Jamie and Wendi taking turns at the helm while I hung on securely to our fishing pole trolling for salmon.

Cap'n Jamie at the helm

Approaching the open Pacific, we had 2 to 3 meter seas for a surfer's sail into Effingham Bay, our next anchorage. Once past Meare's Bluff and inside the park boundaries, fishing was no longer allowed. No fresh salmon tonight and too bad for all of us. Jamie and Wendi had planned to make a savory salmon curry dinner. It would have to wait. Gregg entered the bay skillfully between two islands, waves crashing along the rocky islets on each side to the immediate calm of the protected bay.

In the morning, rain! We waited for the rain to stop before taking the dinghy over to a trailhead at the SE corner of the bay for a 15 minute hike to a beach near Meares Bluff. It's a pretty good trail through a mossy forrest with at least one standing old growth tree that we could see. On the beach side are the remains of an old midden and longhouse but it was difficult to identify them with certainty under decades of overgrowth.

Effingham Island hike

We got back to True North just as it began to rain again and spent the rest of the day just hanging out visiting and reading, with a second night in Effingham Bay.

8/29-9/1: The next couple of days brought a mix of rain, fog and sunshine. The evenings definitely became suddenly cooler.

Weather change

We spent some down time reading but also fishing, taking the dinghy out to explore, and then another run past the rookery to see the lounging sea lions. We looked for the whales but didn't see them again.

Our last night in Barkley Sound was in Dodger Channel, between Edward King Island and Diana Island, a popular anchorage and ideal for boats heading south and on to Juan de Fuca Strait.

"Fascinating grassy reef", Dodger Channel

We got an early start the next morning for our last sail in a peaceful Pacific, bound for Sooke Harbour.  The wind was very light and came from directly ahead most of the time.  We did fish a bit, and caught our limit of kelp!

Catching our limit of kelp

When the wind finally moved astern, we raised the spinnaker for smooth sailing.

Flying the spinnaker

Our pals from Anakena radioed to say they could see us up ahead and we tag sailed the rest of the way to Sooke. It was a long day! We made bets on our arrival time. Wendi was the closest and won the last cold beer. Once anchored in the outer harbour at Sooke, we took the dinghy to the docks to check out the area – not much in the immediate area!

Sooke Harbor

In the morning, we departed Sooke at 0600 for Friday Harbor with a mix of motoring and then sailing whenever the winds were favorable while staying on track. We spotted a couple of whale boats in Juan de Fuca Strait directly on our course and in time caught up with them to see a spectacular show by orcas spy-hopping and diving before moving on towards Cattle Pass between San Juan Island and Lopez Island.

Orcas in Juan de Fuca Straight

We noted the date, August 31, underlining the end of a very fine summer adventure and one we hated to finish. It had become a way of life that seemed more natural than the one we left three months ago! We sailed through some of the rough tide rips beyond Cattle Pass. While Jamie tried out his new skills as helmsman shortly before arriving in Friday Harbor, a Coast Guard vessel pulled alongside to say they would be coming aboard for an inspection. First time for us and we passed. They checked our certification, flares, horns, PFDs, throwable floatation device and also, the head – to make sure we had the through-hull valve locked closed with a plastic zip tie. We arrived at the Customs Dock in Friday Harbor on Friday, August 31st at 1700, with the sound of a band playing at the outdoor gazebo to mark the beginning of the festive Labor Day Weekend. We celebrated both our arrival and final evening with Jamie and Wendi at dinner in town. Finally, that elusive salmon on each plate!

Coast Guard boarding party welcomes us home!

Reflecting on the highlights brought up many images of each, unique section of the passage: Desolation Sound with its stunning, familiar anchorages, the Discovery Islands with timed passages through narrow channels; the isolated, spectacular Broughtons where self reliance is key, except at the ever-popular marinas offering safe havens in the “Village of Islands” and where potlucks foster friendships among boaters; the wild Pacific west side with swells, chop, challenges and glorious sails, sunsets, sunrises and starry skies; rich history, blissful solitude, friendly fishermen, dinghy and hiking explorations and wildlife galore: elegant eagles, whooshing whales, playful otters, gulls, birds, birds, more birds. Will we forget them? No way! To our family and friends who have followed along with us this summer, thanks for checking in.

- Anne & Gregg

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