Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Port McNeill to Prince Rupert

June 11 – Crossing Cape Caution to Northern British Columbia
We made our way efficiently to the north end of Vancouver Island, then left on the 10th from Port McNeil through Goletas Channel where we checked out God's Pocket as a potential anchorage. It is a small scuba resort which looks quite inviting with its colorfully painted wood buildings.
God's Pocket Resort
However it was a bit breezy in the small anchorage so we decided to move on to Port Alexander, anchoring in completely calm water, protected from the NW and surrounded by trees on three sides. There were tons of huge, fresh logs stacked on the beach at the south end. Accordingly, Waggoner's cautions this is not the place to be in a southerly!

Next day, the anchor was up at 0615, ready to catch the ebb north to Cape Caution. We would be crossing the southern part of Queen Charlotte Sound where the Pacific fetch is long and can create steep waves over the shallow shelf we would be sailing. We left the dock with one reef in the main, first motoring west through Gordon Channel so we could then sail north all the way past Cape Caution in the NW wind as forecast: NW 5-15 kts increasing to NW 15-20 by noon, diminishing to 5-15 to evening. SE 15-25 Sunday morning. The wind did not develop as forecast! It fluctuated between 9-15 kts, only it was a southerly which, mixed with the 2' westerly swell, made the sails bang from side to side. Even so, in the light wind we did sail 3 kts SOG all the way past Cape Caution! Low stress, the way we like it, compared with how it could have been with big wind and the resulting waves.
Two miles off the dreaded Cape Caution
Our destination was Fury Cove, tucked off the west side of Fitz Hugh Sound. By its description it would be a perfect anchorage with a white shell beach at one end where views of the Pacific beyond could be seen. Then, weighing prudence against beauty, we decided to first check out the more secure Fry Pan and Big Fry Pan coves further east in River's Inlet, for the southeasterly was by this time expected to reach 30 kts. Both anchorages were securely surrounded by trees with nowhere to get off the boat and boring! So we left for Fury Cove, mindful of an escape plan to Secure Anchorage if needed, and found the beautiful cove as described, plus nine other boats already anchored. A group of cruisers from Gibson's Landing was heading towards shore for a sunset dinner rendezvous. As for the big blow overnight, it never developed!
Fury Cove anchorage
Morning in Fury Cove: drizzle and light wind....shore excursion cancelled! Several other options: Dawson's Landing, an old-time general store with docks and a few fishermen cabins in Darby Channel off River's Inlet, or head out to Fitz Hugh Sound while a good sailing wind prevailed. We decided to do both. With just the jib flying we were sailing effortlessly in Fitz Hugh at 6 kts with 24 kts wind astern.
A rare sight - sailing!
We jibed a few times, once making a spectacle of ourselves when the sail wrapped around the furler while jibing in a sudden gust, before sailing towards Dawson's. There are many place names inside these passages which conjure up vivid images that one must see first-hand in order to compare with reality, and Dawson's Landing was one of them. The old place looked deserted and a bit hardscrabble on approach but we had arrived in a downpour.
True North at Dawson's Landing
We tied up at the dock and went to the general store to see if we could stay. It was Sunday and closed but Nola the owner let us in to visit and look over the well stocked shelves.
Guard dogs on the counter in Dawson's Landing Store
We inquired about River's Inlet Fishing Resort, one of Kenmore Air's former stops. She told us there used to be 11 fishing resorts in River's Inlet when they took over the operation 27 years ago from her parents, who ran the place for the previous 35 years. Now there are just two because it's way too costly in these remote areas for the small lodges to treat water and sewage to acceptable standards, though many have tried and failed. While we thought we might pick up a few items and head over to Beaver Cove for the night, we decided it might be a good idea to just stay put and support their business. A hot shower isn't a bad idea, either!

June 13 – Dawson's Landing to Pruth Bay at Hakai
First thing the following morning, the local staff at Dawson's was busy moving little white wooden float houses from their winter protected area of the bay to their summer locations alongside the dock on which we were tied. What an operation! One guy pulls, then pushes the structure with his boat while two others stand at the front of the float with boat hooks to gently guide it as they reach the dock. We stayed to watch as we were in no huge hurry to leave this morning for the few hours to Hakai.
Re-arranging the float houses, Dawson's Landing
We started the watermaker on the way out of Darby Passage and, now curious, checked the water purity to find it extremely pure at 43 ppm (200 ppm is acceptable for us). From Darby, we crossed Fitz Hugh Sound enroute to the well-protected Pruth Bay at the head of Kwakshua Channel. Fortunately, we left the dark clouds behind! We entered the anchorage with blue sky and sun to find a scenic anchorage and Hakai Beach Research Institute at the head of the bay with a beautifully maintained lodge and grounds.

Photo op, Pruth Bay, Hakai
Boaters are welcome to hike trails to nine nearby beaches through the woods on boardwalks over to West Beach, a wide white sandy beach open to the Pacific. It was a much needed stretch so we continued along to a hilltop look-out with outstanding views of the ocean.
Boardwalk trail up to Lookout Mountain, Pruth Bay, Hakai
There were nine other boats in that splendid bay, lined up in rows along each side of the bay, leaving a wide center stage for seaplane landings.

June 14 – Pruth Cove to Brydon Anchorage
A full-on steady rain greeted us on waking in Pruth Cove. While gazing out from under the dodger, Gregg spotted a humpback whale swimming through the anchorage just off our port side! It surfaced twice before disappearing.
Humpback in the anchorage, Pruth Bay, Hakai
It was still pouring and already past our 0930 planned departure time. Could not decide, shall we stay or shall we leave? By 1100 the hard rain turned to drizzle so we pulled the dinghy up on deck and took off. Almost immediately, it became inexplicably pleasant out on the water! We motored out of Kwakshua Channel into Hakai Passage, passing Hakai Lodge, a destination for Seattle seaplane charters, then into Kildidt Sound past the Kittyhawk Island group, navigating through the charted rocks and now under sail into Brydon Channel to Brydon Anchorage where there are three cove choices.
Hakai Lodge
We checked out each one, anchoring in 30'. This place has solitude with a capital S! Except for the thousands of butterfly jellies which became the entertainment, the views were not interesting.
Thousands of jellies
Then as that activity got old, Gregg cast a fishing line and within minutes caught a small bright rockfish. He was unable to disengage the hook so we kept it for dinner. The disappointing truth is that we fished all through Hakai Passage which is noted for 40 to 50 lb. salmon and we didn't catch a thing!
Giant rockfish catch
June 15, 16 – Brydon Anchorage to Shearwater Marina, Bella Bella
Today's destination: Shearwater and Bella Bella. After leaving Brydon Anchorage we motored into Queen Sound. The wind had not been cooperating for sailing much lately. We were sure we'd have a good run in the upcoming Queen or Cultus Sounds but no such luck. While in Cultus we spotted two otters, one right in front of us in the center of the channel chomping on a fish, unfazed by our passing.
Our first sea otter sighting of the trip
Next came Lama Passage and then Shearwater Marina. There were lots of boats already there including the group of cruisers from Gibson's. We pulled into the last space along the outer end of the T-dock with a good view of the harbor towards Old Bella Bella. It was late in the day but we wanted to see Bella Bella, another place name of intrigue. We took the 10-minute water taxi across the bay to find the four totems the taxi driver had told us about, returning about an hour later...not much else there.

School totem pole, Bella Bella
On the second day it rained all day long, and on into the following day. We were desperate for a walk so began the 1-1/2 miles on the muddy road to the coast guard station at Old Bella Bella but the puddles were too deep for our shoes. We opted for dinner out with pub pizza where boaters from four different tables engaged in lively talk about past and upcoming routes. More cold rain!
Shearwater Marina
June 17 – Shearwater to Quigley Creek Cove
Left the dock 0630 heading north then west into Seaforth Channel. We had a little wind so we put up the jib for an hour of gentle sailing.
Sailing for another hour or so, and another sailboat in sight!
We navigated through the narrow passage ahead, moving along to Cod Bank, then across Milbanke Sound to the west side of Price Island, north through Laredo Sound into Laredo Inlet to Quigley Creek Cove. It had been calm and grey most of the day but as we made our way through Milbanke Sound the sky brightened up a little. Unfortunately we kept moving towards the thick, darker clouds. But as we made our way into Laredo Inlet and Quigley Creek Cove, incredible! Sun, blue sky, and warmth for a gorgeous evening. There were very scenic rocky ledges along the shoreline and trees with rounded mountain views. Many eagles! Went to sleep without a cloud in the sky.
Verrrry calm waters in Quigley Creek Cove.
June 18 – Quigley Creek Cove to Bent Harbor
Leaving Laredo Channel we picked up a good NW wind as we sailed SW towards the southwest tip of Aristazabal Island. We were heading for the outside coast along Hecate Strait where wild but protected anchorages dot the coastline. The wind was superb, providing much sought after sail time in full sun! Enroute to our anchorage in Weeteeam Bay, Bent Harbor, the wildlife sightings picked up dramatically with a couple of humpback whales, dolphins and another sea otter! Bent Harbor's scenic landscape is made up of low lying rocky areas that provide distant views directly into Hecate Strait to the west. It is otherwise protected by trees with another cutaway view to the south so it offers both protection and openness beyond the anchorage. Awesome day!
Sailing with both sails up!
June 19 – Bent Harbor to Tate Cove, Borrowman Bay
Onward north. Imagine our surprise at motoring through the potentially worrisome Hecate Strait with not enough wind to sail! We motored along the west coast of Aristazabal Island to Borrowman Bay at the northwest end and caught sight of a humpy show to our delight. There were several bright green boats in the distance also watching the whale. On closer view we could see they were from North King Lodge which we passed on the way into Tate Cove.
Entrance to Tate Cove, with North King Lodge charter boat
We immediately clicked with this anchorage. It was full of eagles, grebes, and has an interesting shoreline with places to go. After not being able to get off True North for three days we quickly launched the formidable True Dink to check out the surrounding places. We'd be able to put out the crab pot here! We walked the shoreline to see flotsam and jetsam creatively decorating a beach, then made a stop at the North King Lodge to find a friendly staffer who talked fishing with us and showed us around the docks with its heli pad for guest arrivals. They have twenty fish boats out on the water and run the lodge continuously with two groups each week all season long. The well-maintained lodge is on floats and is moved to Prince Rupert during the winter months. Back at the boat, we deployed the crab trap in about 45'. We checked it with high hopes later in the evening but found nothing. Our bait, suggested by a clerk in Port McNeill, was a bit unusual: a sponge soaked in Bait Fuel! There was another payoff, though: the sunset looking directly west over Hecate Strait was spectacular with clear skies overhead.

Surreal sunset in Tate Cove
June 20-21 – Weeteeam Bay to McMicking Inlet
It was hard to leave Tate Cove because it offered so much of interest. Nevertheless, we did leave because the forecast indicated very strong wind and rain on the 21st which, if we stayed, would mean two additional nights and too many for the pace we set to get ourselves further north. It hasn't felt hectic to keep moving on; rather,  purposeful, moving towards our goal of being in a place where we can safely wait for a good weather crossing of Hecate Strait and still arrive in Haida Gwaii in time to keep a few reservations we made. Those are the plans, in sand...

This was our best sailing yet with a crystalline day and wind any sailor could happily embrace. The freedom of traveling by wind power still impresses! We had rounded the north end of Aristazabal Island through Caamano Sound under full sails to enter into Estevan Sound earlier than expected and then navigated the charted rocky McMicking Inlet. Pender Mountain to the east provides a dramatic granite backdrop to the anchorage.
Pender Mountain with Sea Drifter in the distance, McMicking Inlet
We had seen only one other recreational boat all day but here in the inlet we passed an anchored yacht on the way inside. They motored over in their fish boat to say hello, came aboard, and we met Doug and Jan on Sea Drifter from Olympia, Washington. They stopped by again a little later to bring us two huge Dungeness crabs. We had just finished dinner so we gave the crabs an overnight home in our crab trap, hung off the stern. The following day proved the weather forecast to be correct: a strong southerly wind throughout the day with gusts in the mid-30s and constant, cold rain. The wind howled until mid-afternoon. We kept a vigilant watch on the shoreline and ear to the anchor alarm as we swung around. Meanwhile, to pass the time indoors we read and baked dill bread to accompany the evening crab dinner. And that is how we spent Summer Solstice, 2016!
Cleaning the crabs graciously provided by Sea Drifter
June 22-23 – McMicking Inlet to Patterson Inlet, Princess Diana Cove
Back to sun the next afternoon brought a show of two pods of Orcas and humpbacks on the way to Princess Diana Cove at the end of Patterson Inlet.
Orca whales
Happy to be in a cove with landfall opportunities, we dinghied around the cove, walked the rocky shoreline.
Tiny crab on barnacles
On the way back, we stopped to say hello to Commodore II with John and Randy aboard. They told us the neighboring boat, Segue II had been in Haida Gwaii so we later found them and spent a couple of hours visiting with David and Kaye, an interesting couple with many years of boating experiences throughout the South Pacific, Europe and Scandinavian countries in particular, first sailing and now in a Nordhavn 47.
Princess Diana Cove, Patterson Inlet
From Patterson Inlet we motored about 3-1/2 hours to Colby Bay, very pretty and with no other boats present. We dinghied to shore to check out the old growth cedars. They weren't immediately visible but we made our way through the mucky mud, still not seeing the cedars. The woods, mysterious by nature, drew us in about 50' from the beach where we did see several awesomely large cedars.

Next up, an easy day motoring to the Spicer Islands. This is a good protected anchorage to wait for a weather window for crossing Hecate Strait only we arrived a few days earlier than necessary. We anchored just off Spicer inside the second passage with a slim view beyond the anchorage to Hecate Strait. It was again cold and grey and we were feeling quite isolated from the world. We could either wait there in the expected drizzle for three days until suitable weather for crossing Hecate Strait or go someplace else. We chose the latter almost as soon as the thought took shape and bolted 35 nm north to Prince Rupert the following morning. We were ready for civilization and found it!

June 26-27 – Prince Rupert
Sunshine brings optimism and with it smiling people! The beautiful new Cow Bay Marina with helpful and friendly marina staff, wifi, clean showers and laundry confirmed that it was a good decision to make the detour to Prince Rupert.
Prince Rupert marinas
The very first thing we did was to get off the boat and walk. We were both a little wobbly getting our land legs back but walked around town and through residential streets to see colorful, lovely old homes overlooking the bay, visiting with a few locals who were outside in their front yards. There were also several boats we had met at anchorages along the way with which we visited over our day and a half break.
The benefits of civilization
It became a mini vacation from our vacation being in this pretty port town with several good restaurants, IPAs, a couple of good museums, and streets to roam.
One of many fabulous displays, Museum of North British Columbia
1925 REO Speedwagon fire engine and the fellow who restored it, Fire Museum
June 28 – Prince Rupert to Spicer Islands

We were reluctant to leave the mini-paradise of Prince Rupert but we were facing a slim weather window over the next few days for crossing Hecate Strait so back to the Spicer Islands we went with plans to cross on the following day, forecast to be a good weather day. We did and it was! But we'll describe that next time!

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