Friday, April 18, 2014

All charted up again

I was pretty worried by my discovery that we didn’t have charts north of Cape Caution.  Two hundred dollars later I’m feeling much better.  Mind you, I damn near stroked out on DFO’s website getting the bloody charts registered.  They assured me I’m secure against the heartbleed virus – you can scarce imagine my relief at that news.

Today we untied from Minstrel Island after our extended stay there.  I expect it may be the last time we tie up there and not because we wouldn’t enjoy going back. 


There’s dozens, maybe hundreds, of places like Minstrel Island along this northern coast which were once thriving communities or resorts but are now slowly receding back into the forest.  The dock at Minstrel must have been state of the art when it was built but years of neglect are wearing away at it.  A couple of big storms will soon tear some of the floats free and already the bullrail is starting to rot.  If we go back there in five years I expect it will already be too decrepit to trust tying up to it again. 


We weren’t the only ones enjoying the free moorage.  The Coasties tied up beside us one night, there were a couple of Indian fish boats there last night and a couple showed up for a night in a small trawler.  Its a great spot in a great location but it won’t last forever unless someone takes over the resort and right now it would probably cost more to resurrect what’s there than it would to start over somewhere else.

Today we had our favourite kind of travel day – a boring one.  We were about 8 hours underway, arriving in Port Hardy mid-afternoon.  We’ve never been here before – its always a little nerve wracking coming into a strange location.  Marilyn called ahead and the folks at Quarterdeck Marina said they didn’t care enough to have our business.  What they actually said was that they were closed for the weekend but they clearly aren’t and they have oodles of empty docks so obviously they just don’t give a damn.  We’ll remember that the next time we come by this way.  One of the great advantages of being winter cruisers is that we have a lot of dock space to choose from so our expectation is that we will at the very least get treated courteously. 

The Fisherman’s Wharf guy said they had lots of room which was clearly an exaggeration bordering on an outright lie.  They’re pretty well full to 150% capacity.  We ended up rafted with rafted boats in every direction around us.  They’ve got lots of power and there’s water on the dock so rafting is OK.  Its well sheltered in here too which is a good thing because the Coast Guard was broadcasting hurricane force wind warnings this afternoon.  I doubt we’ll be going anywhere for a couple of days now.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Failure to plan

Your failure to plan ahead does not make your crisis my problem.

I never actually told a customer that but – oh boy was I tempted over the years.  Those words have therefore been ringing in my ears as I searched for charts for the past 24 hours.  Yesterday I discovered that we are about to metaphorically sail off the edge of the world.  My chart package runs out not long after we get past Cape Caution. 

Now its not like we don’t have ANY charts north of Cape Caution.  Some of the extremely large scale charts go from San Diego all the way to the Aleutian Islands.  Its just that we wouldn’t want to be trying to negotiate some narrow waterway with rocks all around us using a chart that shows half the globe on a single screen. 


I’ve been keeping our day to day agenda fluid, only planning the detailed route a few days in advance.  Thus it was that I didn’t realize how inadequate my charts were for the area between Cape Caution and Prince Rupert until yesterday morning.  Then began the scramble to locate some charts.  I had to remain mindful however that I had caused the problem.  As it turned out it wasn’t that hard to solve, although I did go down a few blind alleys.

The Canadian Hydrographic Service is woefully behind the times.  They are responsible for all chart sales in Canada but apparently are blissfully unaware of the possibilities of e-commerce.  They do however list great numbers of “dealers” on their website so this morning I started out with a phonelist of names in Port McNeill.  I had the exact part number of the CD that we need from the CHS website but that didn’t prove too helpful on my first call.  It took a long time on hold but eventually the dipshit I was talking to came back with the information that they had several chart atlas books.  I guess “electronic charts” was lost on her.  Once we got that out of the way she agreed that she should have Dennis or Don or Daniel or whateverthehellhisnameis phone me back.  So far he hasn’t.  However after a couple more calls I connected with Rick in Port Hardy who not only could speak intelligently about electronic charts but also had several CDs in stock.  One of which now has our name on it.

So we will be going to Port Hardy rather than Port McNeill.  We need to stop somewhere to restock our fresh produce and we’re almost out of eggs.  Milk is running low too – we thawed out two gallons yesterday because we’re out of fresh milk.  Port McNeill and Port Hardy are the two logical “last stops” on Vancouver Island before we strike out for Cape Caution.  We had planned – for no particular reason – to stop at Port McNeill.  Van and Nancy said they prefer Port McNeill so that was enough reason for us to stop there.  The charts however are in Port Hardy and evidently the chart seller is within sight of the marina so that’s good enough reason for me.  We’ll be going to Port Hardy – likely tomorrow.  Weather dependant as always.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Minstrel Island

We’re on the move again & I like to post, at a minimum, every time we move.  Today was a short hop from Port Neville up to Minstrel Island.

Along the way we came through Chatham Channel which involved running the range markers.  Range markers are fixed points which you line up against in order to ensure you are in the appropriate channel.  The picture below shows the markers up close but they’re not lined up.  In order to be properly positioned in the channel your boat needs to be located such that the top marker appears to be directly over the lower marker.


This next picture is from inside the cabin while we were running the range.  I had George’s famous sonar system running today because it is really useful for skinny channels.  As it turned out, Chatham Channel was dead simple and I wouldn’t have needed the sonar but I didn’t know that going in.  The sonar display is the one with the red/pink semi circle around the blue centre.  The blue is safe water – the red area is hard returns from rock or mud.  The range markers from the previous picture are directly ahead of the bow.



If you look really close in the “V” under the angled stanchion, you can just see the range markers lined up in this photo.  There was another set of markers behind us which we followed until they got too hard to see and then we switched to the forward marks.  But like I said, Chatham Channel didn’t really warrant any concern.  The problem I’m having on this first trip into these waters is that I don’t know which author to believe.  We have pretty well every guidebook published for the area.  For every potential hazard, if I look hard enough, I can find some author who will assure me that the hazard is in fact hazardous.  To paraphrase Sir Lancelot in The Quest for the Holy Grail, we can handle a little peril – as long as its not too perilous.

Once we came out of Chatham Channel we almost immediately could see the dock at Minstrel Island.  I’m not sure why Minstrel Island figured in my plans for this area other than that it is mentioned frequently in Spilsbury’s Coast and The Accidental Airline.  There’s not much left here of the former grandeur but this must have been some kind of place in its heyday. 



IMG_7144 IMG_7142

I think the docks are still solid enough to hold us this trip but give this place 5 more years of neglect and I may be reluctant to tie up here again.  Just one more reason why its important not to put off this trip. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Tied up in Port Neville

We got away from the dock at Shoal Bay at 8:30 this morning in order to get through the last of the rapids on the ebb current.  Up at this end of the Island ebbs flow north and west around the top of Vancouver Island.  We got to Greene Point rapids early enough that I was worried about going through and we actually ran slow for about half an hour in order to delay our arrival.  I don’t think I needed to have worried.  Other than whipping us along at well over 12 knots they were mostly a non-event.  By getting through them early we were able to arrive at Wellbore Channel before they had turned to flood so we got both sets of rapids behind us on one tide cycle.

All that extra speed from the rapids got us to Port Neville by around noon.  There’s a rickety old government float here that we’re tied up to now and we’ll spend the night on it.  We talked to some locals who assured us that its owned by the government so its free and we should just stay as long as we want. 


After a couple of days of running in tight narrow channels, when we got closer to Port Neville everything opened up and all of a sudden we were back in big wide open water.  We’re now back into Johnstone Strait which is the commercial route from the Pacific into the north end of George Strait.  We didn’t see anything particularly big today but there’s a vessel separation lane shown on the charts so the big guys definitely go here.

We’ve been amazed by the degree of cellular coverage that we are accessing.  We have been briefly out of coverage during the day but this is the second night at a relatively remote location where we have a ripping fast cellular internet connection.  I’m sure that will end pretty soon but we’ve really appreciated it so far.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Who picks these names anyway?

I’ve heard about the Yuculta Rapids ever since we started boating out here.  They’re usually mentioned in the same breathless way that Skookumchuck is talked about.  And then there’s Devil’s Hole.  All of these places are tidal rapids – narrow, shallow spots where the tide rushes through as it alternately fills and empties Georgia Strait twice every day.  The fastest one of them all is a place called Nakwakto Rapids but nobody has ever heard of it.  Nobody except Van & Nancy who told us we absolutely HAD to go there.

Today we pulled the anchor at 8:30 in Von Donop Inlet.  It was well set.  Really REALLY well set.  So it came up absolutely coated in mud.  There was even mud on the swivel that connects the end of the chain to the stock which means that the stock or “handle” of the anchor was actually buried.  We weren’t going anywhere.

At about 10:30 we passed the entrance to Hole in the Wall.  From then on we were in new water.  Shortly after that we entered Yuculta Rapids which were pretty well a non-event.  We got there just past slack so we were pushing against maybe a 2 knot current but they were pretty tame.  At the top of Yuculta we pulled into Big Bay with every intention of staying there for the night.  The current was turning strongly against us so there was no chance we were going to get through first Gillard and then Dent Rapids on that tide. 

After we wandered up the dock at Big Bay and realized that we were all alone we decided that maybe we wouldn’t stay overnight after all.  So we waited 6 hours for the tide to turn and caught the ebb tide through Gillard and Dent.  We had a little current against us in Gillard – maybe a knot but Dent was glassy calm.  The famous Devil’s Hole was nowhere to be seen.  From what I’ve read that’s a good thing.  People talk about looking into that hole and vowing to never transit that stretch of water again.  The big problem with whirlpools is not so much that they might swallow us, although I guess in theory that is possible but the real problem is that they can spit out big logs.  If a log gets sucked underwater and then comes exploding out it can do serious damage – like poke a very large hole in whatever it hits.  So we don’t want to go there.

Tonight we’re tied up in Shoal Bay.


That’s the view out our front windows for the night.


Apparently 100+ years ago this place was bigger than Vancouver.  It was a gold mining community.  There’s no land to build on so the town was built on floats that covered the bay.  You sure wouldn’t know it now.  A couple of hippies and a few shacks is all that’s here now.

IMG_7117 The hippies have a good sense of humour.


According to my chart, that’s the famous Devil’s Hole at Dent Rapids.  Go figure.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

On the move again ……….

……. but we weren’t in any huge rush to get going this morning.  We had about a 4 hour run from the Copeland Islands to Von Donop Inlet and I wanted to arrive on the rising tide this afternoon so we didn’t lift the anchor until close to 10:00 this morning. 

We had a great day for travel – kind of high overcast so not much sun but good visibility and calm waters.  Von Donop Marine Park is a narrow inlet into the west side of Cortes Island.  Between Von Donop on the west side and Squirrel Cove on the east side the island is almost cut in half.  Apparently if you like walking there’s a trail between the head of each inlet.  I doubt we’ll ever prove the truth of that statement.

Its about 3 miles back into the inlet along an increasingly narrow winding entrance.


About halfway in we met the fish cops coming out in a fast dinghy, something like a C-Dory.  I’m not sure what they might have thought they were accomplishing up here.  I saw them go in about half an hour before we arrived at the entrance so they were in here for a long time.  At the speed they were travelling, the trip up the inlet likely took them well under 10 minutes.  There’s no crab floats up here – I thought they might be fish copping the commercial fishermen but that’s evidently not what they were up to.  They didn’t seem interested in us.

We dropped the anchor in about 30 feet of water and it stuck hard on the first try.  We were in here once before, the first year we had the boat but that time it was pretty crowded.  Today we have the little bay all to ourselves.  After we leave this place it will be all new water to us.  Up until now we’ve been crossing our old wakes but that all ends from this point north.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Copeland Island Marine Park

This morning started out a little weird.  We were getting ready to lift the anchor when Marilyn let out a shriek and yelled “you’ve got to look at this!”  “THIS” turned out to be a little deer swimming calmly across Gerrans Bay.

Swimming Deer

We stood on the aft deck and watched the stupid bugger until he disappeared under a dock on the east shore.  We never saw him come out.  Perhaps he’s still under there.  One can hope.

After we recovered from the shock of the deer we pulled the anchor and headed out into Malaspina Strait.  It was more than just a little lumpy out there first thing this morning.  The automated buoy at Sentry Shoal (at the north end of Georgia Strait) was reading 18-22 knots of wind and .9 meter waves when I got up at 5:00 but by the time we left at 10:00 that had dropped to 6 knot winds.  The waves were still pretty serious but we knew they would diminish as the day went on and they did. 

By the time we got to Powell River it was pretty well flat water, the sun was shining and the wind had died to nothing.  In short it was a perfect day for our 6 hour cruise up to Copeland Island Marine Park.  The Copeland Islands are just north of the coastal BC community of Lund.  We stayed here last spring, over on the other side.  When we were last here there were two or three boats in the little bay that we are in now but today there isn’t a soul here.  I’ve seen exactly one boat go by since we anchored around 4:00.  After we got the anchor set I took a stern tie line to shore in the dinghy.  Then I phoned Al Pinkney and told him he was lucky he wasn’t here because I would have kissed him square on the lips if he had been.  Thanks to his advice my dinghy not only started first pull but it idled and stayed running the whole time while I was pulling the stern tie line and returning to the boat.  Just the way good outboards do.



Those two photos are the view off our bow.  We look out over a narrow channel past the east side of the islands – the photos are looking at the mainland.  That section of mainland is also the start of the famous Desolation Sound which depressed Captain Vancouver as much as it now delights hundreds of thousands of summer visitors every year.  We’ll spend a couple of nights here enjoying our last access to 3G internet service before we head into the wilds north of Desolation.  Pretty soon we’ll start leaving our wake in waters that we have never travelled before.