Sunday, September 4, 2016

Return from Haida Gwaii

August 1: Crossing Hecate Strait Eastward
It was an invigorating day and a safe crossing of Hecate Strait, sailing NE with NW breeze for a heavenly beam reach in full sun, still bitingly cold, however. We had left Haida Gwaii from Sandspit and once getting to the deeper water on the east side of the strait, we were under full sail for several hours. 
Sailing in smooth seas, Hecate Strait
Back in the shallows of Dogfish Banks just off the Haida Gwaii coast, it had been too choppy to sail comfortably. Already the days were noticeably shorter, necessitating the shorter northern route. We pulled into a calm, pretty Spicer Island anchorage at 1845, well ahead of dark.

Spacious, protected, no-stress Spicer Island anchorage
The next day's goal: Spicer Islands to Monkton Inlet. The day began by going around the NE end of McCauley Island through the tide rips. We were tossed around a little with a steady 22 kt wind coming almost abeam, though made it through easily enough before turning south into Principe Channel on the east side of Banks Island for a smoother ride.
Sailing in Principe Channel
It was a chilly 59F in full sunshine but on the water, felt cold enough to pile on the ski bibs, hat, and a down jacket. We sailed smoothly downwind for hours with a brisk wind of 25 to 37 kts, passing one spouting humpy in a sea of wind waves, and with picturesque layers of mountains in background shades of blue and grey. A Canadian Coast Guard ship was the only vessel that passed us all day. Good to know they're around! We rounded the entry into Monkton Inlet and were immediately becalmed. Perfect for the night! It was spacious with several good options for dropping the anchor and with many scenic low rocky outcroppings. We weren't the only boat seeking refuge from the wind in Monkton that night. The trawler Western entered a short while later.

Monkton Inlet to Hartley Bay: The following day broke records for whale sightings. Leaving Monkton Inlet in a mist, we continued south through Principe Channel. Several whales gave their best show in the distance: spouting, fluking, and flipper-slapping! As we moved along, we encountered several other groups of active whales, about 18 altogether in several different groups, the closest just 50' to port. So close! We motored the entire day in light wind, trolling for salmon. While crossing the fishing grounds at the confluence of several major waterways full of small fish boats, we slowed to 3 kts hoping to catch our dinner. No luck. When we arrived at our planned stop in Couglin Anchorage, an open roadstead on one side, we couldn't set the anchor. It faced south with a forecast for a gusty southerly that night and the wind was already building. But just around the bend was Hartley Bay, a tiny, scenic First Nations community nestled against big hills with a modest boat marina filled with local boats. With no space available in the marina so late in the day, the dockmaster let us tie up at a dock just outside the breakwater.
True North at the old float in Hartley Bay
We walked the boardwalks throughout the small community of 170, stopping to talk with a resident who gave us the town scoop: no cars, cafes, or grocery stores but there is a school, community, cultural and medical centers. Everyone has jobs!
Boardwalk at Hartley Bay
Hartley Bay to Europa Hot Springs: Oddly, we motored across Whale Channel without seeing a single whale, and into a verdant Verney Passage, incredibly scenic with sheer rock wall mountains and forested hills on both sides. Some unattractive clear cuts, too. Our goal was to explore a little of the long and narrow Gardner Canal and possibly anchor for the night at one of the bays. As we passed by Europa Hot Springs and saw an available buoy, we stopped to check it out. 
The hot springs bath house at Europa Hot Springs
There was a kayaker over at the hot springs who paddled by to say hello. He was traveling solo with a bicycle strapped to his small, 6 pound plastic inflatable kayak! We launched True Dink and headed over for a brief soak.
Soaking in Europa Hot Springs
On the return as we neared our boat, we saw a whale spout very close to the stern. We hustled to board before it came between us and the boat while we were still in the more vulnerable dinghy, and it quickly disappeared. Mercy! Too close.Over the next few days we poked around in the untamed beauty of the B.C. fjords to see around every next bend. Beautiful Verney Passage led to the most stunning Gardner Canal with steep-to walls of smooth granite and trees, glaciers, green hanging valleys and wide waterfalls.
Brim River, Gardner Canal
We tied to a buoy in the deep water at Bishop Bay where several other boats were tied at the nearby dock, grilling fish and taking turns soaking in the hot springs at the shoreline. A good boardwalk parallels the shore through the woods and to the hot springs.
Visitor mementos, Bishop Hot Springs
Seems like a regular stop for some of the commercial fish boats. One was heading south for the season, having had a 24,000 pound salmon catch! He gave us a couple of fishing tips and a dose of encouragement on his way out. A few pleasure boats arrived for the night and anchored on the shelf.

When we left, we took the Inside Passage through Princess Royal Channel. The water was smooth as a lake. There are not many places to stop for a night along the deep channel. We briefly passed through Butedale, a former cannery with a single good dock, but it was too early in the day to stop for the night.

Butedale.  The buildings are not in as good a shape as they look!
Shortly after leaving Butedale, we came upon another whale spout in the distance. The strange thing about it, the whale stayed just under the surface, slightly visible at the water line, but doing nothing else in between spouts. We grabbed binoculars to take a closer look as it appeared it might be caught in a fishing net. Should we notify someone? We had heard the Canadian Coast Guard radio a securité several days earlier for just such an incident, warning boaters not to try to disengage the whale from the net. On second look with the binos, it looked like the whale was swimming alongside a log. Strange. Oh....oooh. There was no fish net or log but a pair of whales entwined together. We left quietly, quickly, and, fortunately, did not call the Coast Guard to report the location.
Two whales hanging out together
One might think that so many whale sightings would get old but they don't. One more whale story here and then unless something really unusual happens, we'll not report every future sighting. But! Just north of Heckish Narrows a dramatic whale show abeam of us went on endlessly as we passed by. A single whale lob-tailing, breaching, flipper-slapping, and fluking over and over again. We kept moving along slowly, leaving the entertaining performance behind.
As we entered Finlayson Channel, a 30 kt breeze suddenly picked up from the south – not the one forecast from the NW for later that evening. The weather throughout these narrow winding channels displays many different local patterns which change with the terrain, the curves and wrap-arounds, and each can't be individually forecast. We made it safely to Bottleneck Bay where SV Nimue and the charter boat Explorer IV were already peacefully anchored. The night sky surprised us around 0200 when lightning blindingly lit up the sky and thunder indicated it wasn't far away. We put the electronics into the oven for safekeeping and, luckily, we were surrounded by high hills.

August 7: Coming into Shearwater Marina the following afternoon we found the docks were full. We tied up at the overflow area to the rickety breakwater dock along with three other sailboats. Obviously, our dock lines were holding that dock together! A social event materialized with dinner out, followed by an exchange of recent activities into the night, aboard Nimue. Winging It and Crossroads had just arrived from Haida Gwaii, having encountered the horrendous thunderstorm the night before en route; Nimue from Alaska, and we discovered that we had met Nimue four years ago at Sullivan Bay. Spending time with people at the docks mixed with scenic wilderness anchorages makes a very good balance while out on the water for weeks at at time! 
Gathering at the pub in Shearwater
During the engine check just before leaving Shearwater, Gregg discovered a few drops of oil splattered on the engine, something he had been carefully monitoring for about a week when it began with the tiniest amount. We invited Nimue over for advice. Having rebuilt his boat from the bottom up, we respected this skipper's counsel. Consensus was that moving on would be okay and Nimue offered to buddy boat with us as a backup. We went together to Codville Marine Park a few hours away, and the next engine check showed only the same few drops. We parted ways the following day with plans to meet again in a few days at Fury Cove. 

We took the outside route along the coast to the McNaughton Anchorage. This was a place where we could launch the dinghy and explore the convoluted rocky shoreline and nearby anchorages. We had a whole day of sunshine, almost warm! From there we planned to stop at the Spider Islands, and since it would be only a few hours away we made an earnest effort to slow down and fish. We headed into Cultus Sound where there were already numerous sport fishing boats, dropped the boat speed to 2 kts, and circled closer towards shore following the other boats. The boat just ahead caught a fish! We were jealous... Within a minute Gregg caught a silvery 10-pound beautiful coho!
Finally the holy grail - a 10 lb salmon!
After fish prep, we saved the two largest fillets for Fury Cove and Nimue, and altogether we had four very fresh salmon meals. Our last night on the outside was in the Spider Islands, a stunning setting with a shoreline of low lying rocks. When we got to Fury Cove the following afternoon, it was “shorts and T-shirt” warm with full sun and the whitest sand beach. There were about a dozen boats in the anchorage but no Nimue in sight. We found out days later that they had gone south ahead of us in search of warmth. We understand!
Beach at Fury Cove

Fury Cove anchorage
We crossed Cape Caution the next day in thick, cold fog, sometimes down to about a quarter mile visibility, 0830 to 1830, a long day ending in Blunden Harbor.
Typical weather on our Cape Caution day
From there we left the next morning in another thick fog which gradually dissipated.  By 1030 the sky was clear and blue again. Spirits rose! Hundreds of birds were settled on the water all around us. We were heading for Jennis Bay, a small marina in the Broughtons we had never seen. There were just two other boats at the dock. Dan, friend of Allison the dockmaster, gave us a hearty welcome and helped with our lines.
Dan at Jennis Bay Marina
After scoping out the showers, we found a road leading from the marina for a welcome walk through the woods. Allison invited everyone from the dock to a potluck dinner with freshly caught grilled salmon, compliments of the marina! This small marina carries on with a generous spirit.
Jennis Bay Marina
August 15: We waited until noon to leave Jennis Bay so we could catch slack water through Stuart Narrows at 1300. While still in the area, we stopped at nearby Sullivan Bay Marina for a leisurely afternoon and evening on the docks. Immediately, we ran into Winging It and spent time catching up. This is a very popular spot for cruisers to gather and the docks were full of boats for the height of summer cruising. We scored with an end space looking out over the wide bay.
Sullivan Bay Marina
The marina is set up like a small village with owner-residents in eight or nine picturesque float houses along the docks, a grocery store, laundry, small cafe, seaplane dock, and 1-1/4 miles of boat docks, the only place for exercise. Socializing is the key: happy hour at 1700, followed by golf on the dock – if you can make a hole in one from the end of the dock into the net on the water, your moorage is free for the night! We paid.

The next afternoon we anchored in the scenic “toe” of Lady Boot Cove. Gregg made a delicate curry sauce for the last night's feast of the salmon he caught. The folksy music of a Portland band we had heard live in Bend called “True North” wafted out over the water from our CD, accompanied by a couple of screeching herons on shore. The majestic 60' schooner Maple Leaf pulled into the heel of the cove adjacent to our toe for a perfect scene of tranquility.

Not so far away, Echo Bay is another popular stop on the Broughtons' marina route. We hadn't planned to stay there but were interested in visiting with Billy Proctor, the 82 year old lifetimer of Simoon Sound whose two books we had read, filled with stories of his life in the area as a logger, fisherman, then activist against rampant abuse of each. We took the trail from the marina through the woods to talk with Billy and see his museum. He grumbled about over-fishing and waste by sport fishers.

Billy Proctor outside his museum
Back at the marina, dinner at Pierre's was halibut fish and chips! There were four other sailboats on the docks and later in the evening, we exchanged boat tours with one another.
A late morning departure directly into good wind enabled several hours under sail with the rare sight of four other sailboats doing the same, tacking back and forth across the channel for a lovely sight. We had been “racing” to catch up with the boat in front of us and as we got closer saw that it was Winging It. We gave them a radio call and found they were working on an engine problem while under sail so we sailed in the area with them until we knew the outcome. Problem fixed! We resumed our course further south. By 1730 we made our way into a cozy anchorage with rocky islets between Madrona and Leone Islands. A huge orange full moon rose over calm water for wow scenery!

Full moon in our Madrona Island anchorage
It was so perfectly gorgeous that we stayed another day to look around the neighboring islands and deploy the crab pot.
Another view of this gorgeous anchorage
We dinghied along the east side of Berry Island to look for the “Chief's Bathtub”, a natural low rock wall at the low tide waterline, and the pictograph on the wall next to it, both of which we had hunted for from a trail on land three summers earlier with friends. We found it!
Pictorgraph at Cheif's Bathtub
The first sight in the morning was of fog in the distance. We retrieved the crab trap with two large dungeness crabs and one super scary looking sculpin fish. We kept the crabs; Neptune got the fish!
Anne brings in the goods - two nice dungeness crabs!
We were not irrevocably committed to leaving in a dense fog; however, it was always about a quarter mile out from us so we proceeded to enter Blackney Pass. We were moving quite slowly against the tidal currents that sprouted in very confused seas, and to hear the fog horns from three tug and tows in front and behind us was altogether kind of spooky! We saw them on AIS and radar, and as we were pushed 180 degrees every which way, the closest points of contact for those tugs changed dramatically. Fortunately, the tugs were moving along even more slowly than we were.
Tug and tow in Blackney Pass
The fog finally lifted as we got closer to Johnstone Strait where the wind picked up for a steady 35 kt downwind sail. It is surprising how stable downwind sailing can be in wind like that.
Johnstone Straight before the wind picked up
There were seven other sailboats in the area, many of which took refuge from the wind right along with us in Forward Harbour for the night.
Crab feast in Forward Harbor
August 21: The morning brought drizzle and clouds but we were in no hurry to leave as the day's focus would be getting through slack in Whirlpool Rapids about noon. The water was calm as expected until we turned into Johnston Strait for a thrilling sail with regular gusts in the 40s. Still, we sailed along steadily, and going with the current our speed over ground surprised us with a max of 9.5 kts! That's 2 kts faster than the speed we're normally happy to reach.
Johnstone Straight with mature afternoon wind
Eventually we made our way into Small Inlet where the wind again picked up with gusts to 40 kts in the anchorage. The catspaws hit the water so hard they actually made a splash, like it was raining upwards, as another boater described it.  It was one of the few times that we set the anchor rode “seven to one” with an adrenaline fed compulsion. There would be no dragging that night.

Campbell River gave us two days of sun and warmth. The day we left Small Inlet, we seemed to have turned a weather corner just as we entered Discovery Passage at the north end of Seymour Narrows. The sky behind us to the north was dark and foreboding, full of thick clouds. Looking ahead it was clear.

Approaching Seymour Narrows
We had arrived in Campbell River wearing three layers of clothing to find everyone on land with just t-shirts and shorts! Walking down the dock we met a friend boat from Mexico, Aurora. What are the chances? We visited in between boat chores and while Gregg and I took off for the maritime museum, the ever self-sufficient skipper dove his boat to fix the prop!

The last week on the water became bittersweet when the end-of-summer reality hit us, yet getting closer to home was not an unattractive thought either. We were entering the more populated cruising grounds. In Gorge Harbour we met up with Crossroads. They were experiencing the same end-of-summer nostalgia.

Sunny weather at Gorge Harbor Marina
From there we moved on to Sturt Bay on Texada Island, launching the dinghy so we could walk the docks and a few blocks of a very tiny, quiet town.
Don't expect a posh night out...
In Pender Harbour we had planned ahead to meet up with another Mexico friend boat, L'Ange. We anchored next to them in Garden Bay, then got together to exchange stories over snacks and dinner.
L'Ange and True North at Garden Bay, Pender Harbor
We had hoped to spend the next day together at another anchorage but as the weather turned, so did we.....SE across Georgia Strait to Silva Bay while we had the chance before a 3-day southerly moved in! So we did sail part of the way across Georgia Straight before the wind died. After Silva Bay, we saw at one time 16 boats sailing north while we were gently bashing south in Trincomali Channel. Crossing Georgia Strait became quite interesting, not because of the weather but because it was a sunny Saturday and with so many boats out on the water the distress calls on VHF between the Coast Guard and boats in trouble were never-ending: a couple of Maydays, boats aground, boats that ran out of

We arrived at Ganges for an afternoon in town before the cold rain began. Leaving the next morning we sailed through Trincomali Channel for the short distance to Montague Harbour, always a favorite stop because of the hiking trail in the Marine Park, and its spacious, protected anchorage which on that day held about 75 boats. One of those boats was Arabesque from Vancouver. We agreed to meet later for a ride to the Hummingbird Pub which we had heard should not be missed, though we had never been there. What a trip! The Pub Bus is an old school bus operated by a free spirited driver. The music plays, everyone sings, and the tambourines and other musical noisemakers given to passengers on boarding, accompany the singing with silly glee!

True North and Arabesque sitting on milk crates in the back of the Hummingbird Pub bus
We couldn't quite reconcile ending the summer without a visit to vibrant Victoria. We got a slip in Sidney Marina for a day trip south in a double-decker bus and some “vacation” time to goof off while tromping around old familiar grounds. Victoria thrives! Murchies, The Empress, Il Terrazzo...and the new seaplane terminal on the waterfront is impressive!
Gregg in one of his favorite places - Roger's Chocolates in Victoria
September 1: With just one more night out on the water before returning to Anacortes, we anchored at Jones Island, an idyllic setting for reflections of the summer. So many golden opportunities become available while afloat!

Home grounds - Jones Island
Sailing time in favorable wind had materialized well and often enough, too. Another cruise with True North, home away from home since May 1, had been cozy, reliable and simply awesome!
Our chart on the bulkhead with our stops marked

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