Our passage to Alaska officially started today. Our route up the Inside Passage started in Olympia and will extend to Ketchikan, Alaska. While the trip started today the preparations and dreams started over a year ago. For this passage 5 boats are traveling together. Not just any boats, but these wooden boats have all spent some time under the loving care of wooden boat designer/builder Sam Devlin of Devlin Boats in Olympia, Washington. The boats range from converted fishing boats to works of art designed and built in Sam's shop.
For the 12 people on this trip, today is the culmination of months of preparation, and years of dreaming about it. The dream for many boaters is to head north and explore Alaska, the last great boating frontier left in North America. This passage is one which will be etched into the memories all for the rest of their lives. The preparations involved many aspects. Personal lives need to be sorted out. Work commitment arrangements and re-arrangements needed to be made. Most of the boats underwent major maintenance in preparation for the trip. And supplies and fuel needed to be purchased and loaded aboard each boat in preparation for weeks, and in some cases several months underway, as some of the boats will be continuing on from Ketchikan to tour Alaska before returning to the Seattle area. For one boat, LEAN-TO, a 34' converted fishing boat, this passage will be to its new home, 1500 miles away in Seward, Alaska.
Four boats all gathered at the One Tree Marina, located in the shadow of the Capital building of the State of Washington in Olympia. The day prior to departure was rainy and misty in Olympia as final shopping was completed and the boats were loaded. Passersby stopped, noticed the activity with boats being loaded, and asked the destination. Many were amazed to hear that this group, and their small wooden boats would be going all the way to Alaska. All hoped for good weather for the departure the next morning. The sky's appeared promising as the day's rain in Olympia turned to blue skies for a long beautiful evening just one day after the summer solstice.
For departure, an early start was planned for 5:30 am. Not just to take advantage of the 4:40 am sunrise and a long cruising day, but the tide would be at its peak and the ebbing current would provide an extra 5 knots or more of speed at times, which in a displacement boat that normally cruises at 7-9 knots, are fast, free miles. Leaving the dock at a more leisurely mid-morning time would mean fighting a changing tide and current where eventually it would be 5 knots against your forward speed, significantly lengthening the time for the trip.
On this passage, I am a guest on LEAN-TO, a fishing boat formerly converted into a pleasure boat and cruised by Sam Devlin, and now owned by Chad and JuLee Morse and their son Joel. For the Morse's, Anchorage is home and Seward, Alaska will be the home port of LEAN-TO at the end of this passage, is it proudly says on her stern. Chad has carefully worked his duties, teaching at the University of Alaska, around the schedule for this trip. JuLee could not take off enough time for trip from her job teaching summer school in the Anchorage School system and would not be making the trip, although she did fly down with Chad to help prepare the boat the week before. Joel is working this year in Sam Devlin's boat building business and this trip is his reward for an outstanding job of restoration work on LEAN-TO to bring her up to bristol standards for the trip. Joel worked on the boat for the last year refitting some of her key systems and the interior. Last month Chad flew down and father and son had LEAN-TO hauled out of the water for repairs. They stripped the hull down to the bare wood, replaced some areas in the stern where the wood was deteriorating, re-painted the hull, and got all systems up and running. LEAN-TO probably looks better today than it did for most of it days since its keel was laid in 1962.
Our departure morning preparations on July 23rd started on LEAN-TO at 4:45 am as Joel needed to leave his truck at Sam Devlin's yard until he returned in August. Sam and his crew all arrived at 5:25am and loaded a truckload of last minute supplies, tools and one of Sam's handcrafted dinghys onto his boat, JOSEPHINE, also a converted fishing boat. MOONGLOW, a 29 foot Black Crown model boat, designed by Sam and built in his shop in 1995, was loaded and ready to go. MOONGLOW was chartered by Paul and Robin Dye, who would be using this trip to make their first passage to Alaska. And at the end of the dock was the beautiful DAWSON, a 42-foot boat that is truly a work of art. In the view of many, the culmination of Sam Devlin’s design and boat building skills.
The engines were started to allow for warm up and by 5:50am all were aboard and the 4 Sam Devlin boats left the marina. The day looked promising with a slight haze and high clouds as the sun rose. We began our passage up Budd Inlet, all pretty excited to finally be underway. Cruising through to the top of Nisqually Reach and then Drayton Passage, we worked our way past the prison on McNeil Island, where the charts warn boaters not to pick up swimmers in the waters. As we approached “The Narrows” and under the Tacoma Narrows bridge, the current from the ebbing tide pulled the boats to speeds of up to almost 14 knots for a short while. We passed Commencement Bay as the city of Tacoma started to wake up. And, under a hazy blue sky, the Space Needle came into view with the rest of the skyline of the city of Seattle and Elliot Bay.
For those not familiar, LEAN-TO and JOSEPHINE are displacement boats. They push through the water and do not go up on plane, like a speed boat. They are very fuel efficient and cruise at 7-9 knots (about 10 mph). The ride is very comfortable with a gentle rocking rather the slapping a speed boat makes underway. MOONGLOW had the advantage of being able to cruise at speeds of up to 18 knots due to it Volvo-Penta engine and efficient, semi-displacement hull design under the pen of Sam Devlin.
LEAN-TO was built to fish the waters of Canada. Sturdy and stout, and built the old fashioned way with strong timbers and a hull of Yellow and Red Cedar. Sam Devlin took the boat in trade years ago and converted it into a salty pleasure boat, but still retained its workboat look and functionality. Its pilot house is small as a fisherman only needed to carry himself and a crewmate. Two steps below the pilot house is the primary living space with a V-berth, sink, cooking area and a fold down table for preparing food or eating. The former fishing hold area was converted into a second cabin with a table and two comfortable settees along both sides facing each other and a fold down table in the stern. The back cabin is surrounded by windows and has several skylights, making it a comfortable space for this writer to live and work during this passage.
As we continued North, Sam, as the flotilla leader made the wise choice to head up behind Whidbey Island passing the cities of Edmonds, Mukilteo and Everett. Whidbey Island is the longest island in the US, over 60 miles. Houses line the shoreline along the way and our flotilla of wooden boats became a part of their waterfront view for a short period of time.
We took this route to avoid the tidal currents in the Admiralty Inlet, which would have slowed us down by 3-4 knots, or half. Our goal was to make it through Deception Pass on the north end of Whidbey Island by 7pm when the tide changed and the current was close to slack, or if later an ebb current would pull us through the Pass with an additional two knots. Later, Deception Pass would be very turbulent with eddy and whirlpools trying to swing your boat around, making passage difficult.
The irony for this writer is, my home is just two miles up the coast from Deception Pass, where I left just yesterday. As we pass Burrows Bay, where I live, it feels odd to be passing your own home as a waypoint on this passage.
Crossing Rosario Strait MOONGLOW was intercepted by two U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats. With machine guns on their bows, three Coastie’s boarded MOONGLOW and proceeded to inspect for safety equipment, and of course, anything that might look suspicious. The Paul and Robin took it all in stride and after about 20 minutes proceeded to catch up with the rest of the group.
Our destination for the night was Spencer Spit on Lopez Island, in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. This is a spit of sand about a quarter mile long with an anchorage on either the north or south side. We dropped the hook about 8:30pm after a long day’s run of about 105 miles. By driving standards, this may not very far. By displacement trawler, 100 miles is a good day.
Joel rigged the grill for dinner, and within minutes we were dining under the sunset, on deck. The menu on LEAN-TO for the evening consisted of grilled hot dogs and fresh cole slaw. After clean up, we rowed over to Sam’s boat, the JOSEPHINE for cocktail hour and a recap of the day.
This was our last stop in the U.S. and was a good time to make cell phone calls to family before turning in for the night as the final glow from sunset went to dark at 10:30pm.
Our day was planned to start at 5am. Again the schedule for the tides and currents was dictating our plans. Dodd Narrows, on Vancouver Island of British Columbia is a choke point for the tidal flow, subject to strong currents of up to 7 knots on the ebb or the flood. We had 58 miles to go to get to Dodd Narrows which went slack at around 12:15pm. We could challenge the narrows after slack but not by more than an hour to maybe an hour and a half. At 1:45pm, the prediction was for the current to be just under 5 knots. But the current was running in our direction, basically north. This current also would increase our speed after the tide change. Still it was a race against time. Knowing this, LEAN-TO attempted to take every advantage it could. We had all started late but could take a few short cuts like Pole Pass, between Crane and Orcas Island to make up for the late start.
We left Spencer Spit before the sun had risen behind Mt. Baker to the east. MOONGLOW soon joined and JOSEPHINE was in trail. The DAWSON got a later start as they were not aware of the planned 5am departure. Once they got underway there was a little bit of confusion over the routing for the day.
Looking back over our stern we could see MOONGLOW, but the boat behind her did not look like one of our flotilla. Through the binoculars we could see that MOONGLOW was being trailed by the Coast Guard. Sure enough, a few minutes later she was boarded, again, for the second time in less than 12 hours. I have never been boarded in 20 years of cruising in the islands. This time it was an abbreviated inspection with a delay of about 15 minutes. The Dyes were getting used to this, but as this stage every minute counted.
LEAN-TO started its passage across Haro Strait and towards the U.S. and Canadian border. The seas were dead calm and quite beautiful in the early morning light. JOSEPHINE and MOONGLOW with DAWSON in trail elected to take the routing through the Wasp Islands and to the south of Crane Island. This unfortunately would add a few precious minutes to their routing. A few minutes later, Dan the owner and captain of DAWSON came on the VHF. “We have decided to break-off here. You guys are maintaining a tough schedule and we will continue on our own.” There was silence on the VHF until Sam on JOSEPHINE came back on the line and wished DAWSON well with the alternate plan to join up with the other boat, MOONDANCE that would be leaving Seattle on Saturday and possibly catching up with the rest of the group. We all felt that it was unfortunate that DAWSON would not be along on the trip.
The rest of Friday morning we all forged on not knowing whether we would be in Naniamo by afternoon for a relaxing day in town, or in the later evening after having to wait for the next slack current at Dodd Narrows, 6 hours later. LEAN-TO took the Plumper Sound route and JOSEPHINE and MOONGLOW took Swanson Channel, to the south of Pender Island. Both groups worked their way up Trincomali Channel about 4-5 miles apart. JOSEPHINE was making up time and gaining on LEAN-TO. Meanwhile, LEAN-TO picked up ground speed after Porlier Pass as the current dropped. It was back to 8 knots and sometimes more, but an updated calculation put passage at Dodd Narrows at 1:20 at best, over an hour after the time of slack current. Dodd Narrows can be dangerous and the current rapidly builds after slack. Over the VHF the discussion covered the options. The crew of LEAN-TO felt comfortable challenging the rapids with a 4 knot current in the same direction we were headed. It was decided that MOONGLOW should use its speed of up to 17 knots to catch up to LEAN-TO and pass through Dodd Narrows in trail. Sam announced he would take a peek at the rapids and determine if it was safe. This would be difficult as once one heads into the Narrows, you and your vessel and crew are committed.
The current was not helping and LEAN-TO’s speed was dropping below 8 knots putting us into the potential for a stonger current due to the late passage at the Narrows. Approaching Dodd Narrows is like approaching the bottom of a funnel. The rock sides start to close in to the point where Chad, at the helm of LEAN-TO, was wondering just how wide the opening would be. There is no current or turbulence as you enter the Narrows. But as you pass through you can see how the water is constricted and the how fast the water is running along the sides. On the GPS the boat speed rose from the normal cruising speed of 8 knots to 12.2 knots. We made it through the Narrows but then the fun began. You could see ahead the eddys of water swirling and the turbulence from the whirlpools. In one quick moment the relief of the passage was replaced by amazement and a tinge of concern as the current grabbed the boat and began to swirl it to one side. Chad threw the wheel over, but the current swung the boat almost 90 degrees. And then as the boat worked its way to the other side of the eddy, the whirlpool swung the boat hard the other way. Chad struggled with the wheel as this cycle repeated itself through another eddy. And then, pop and we were through it and on our way to Nanaimo.
Behind us, it was MOONGLOW’s turn. They watched with a bit of amazement at the gyrations of LEAN-TO. As they went through they added power and maintained a bit more control. From there it was a 1 hour cruise to the docks at Nanaimo, where we cleared customs and waited for Sam and the crew of JOSEPHINE.
About a half hour later, JOSEPHINE appeared and rafted up next to the rest of us at the Customs dock. Knowing what both LEAN-TO and MOONGLOW went through we wondered how JOSEPHINE did in current that probably was running about 1 knot faster for a total of 5 knots. In Sam’s words “I would like to say it was a piece of cake, but I would be lieing.” JOSEPHINE took a couple of strong rolls to where the deck scuppers were in the water. Sam’s crew was impressed to say the least and happy to be at the dock.
Everyone took the rest of the afternoon off to clean boats, shower, restock as few food stocks and other goodies and explore Nanaimo. The day turned to blue skies and sunny at the docks in Nanaimo.
Not bad for just two days into this passage to Alaska.
The alarm clocks were once again set for 5am for our three boats in Nanaimo Harbour, although this time we were not facing a tidal current deadline. Today, we wanted to make time to get up to the Desolation Sound area, with a passage across Georgia Strait, from Vancouver Island east to the mainland coast of British Columbia. The weather forecast called for winds of 15 – 20 knots in the morning, dieing down in the afternoon. Winds like this for a crossing usually mean the seas will be choppy, but without white caps. Our group was slow in getting started and left the dock around 7am. We proceeded up the channel behind Newcastle Island. Once out of the protection of the island, the effect of the wind on the water was the predicted 3-5 foot choppy seas. The sun was shining under a blue sky. Psychologically it seems to make a difference to have the sun shining when the seas are a little rough. It does not seem as bad. At first we proceeded at boat speed and then found that a speed of about 5.5 knots allowed for a more comfortable ride. The stout little LEAN-TO rode the chop well taking spray and occasional water over its bow covering the windshield and dousing the entire boat in salt water. JOSEPHINE was rolling a bit while it bounded over the waves. Sam Devlin, made the decision to deploy his paravanes to smooth out the ride. Paravanes, also called “fish”, are triangular spades at the end of a chain extending out on down riggers extending out both sides of the boat. The effect of the paravanes cutting through the water, about 12-18 feet down, keeps the boat from rocking from side to side as it goes up and down the waves. Some may have a chilling memory of paravanes from the movie “The Perfect Storm” when one of the vanes left the rough water with such force that it swung into the pilot house breaking the window and severely injuring the helmsman—great Hollywood drama that rarely happens in use.
We took the three hour crossing to scenic Lasqueti Island and turned up the Sabine Channel along the west side of Texada Island. Lasqueti and the Jedediah Island Marine Park have a number of secluded anchorages amongst rocky coves—definitely a place to note for my next passage in these waters in August.
Texada Island is over 25 miles long, but the waters went to flat calm. It was a long 3 hours to pass Texada with only the occasional crab fishing boat passing by.
Past Texada, the scenery gets interesting as you pass the town of Lund and enter the Copeland Islands Marine Park. From there it is just a short passage around Sarah Point to the Desolation Sound Area, one of the most beautiful cruising grounds in the world.
Then why is it misnamed Desolation Sound? The naming of many of these nautical features in British Columbia goes back to the famous explorer, Captain George Vancouver. Over a 3 year period he searched ALL of the coves and inlets from the Columbia River north looking in vain for the infamous Northern Passage for the Queen of England. Sovereign ownership of a passage from the resource rich west coast of North America to Europe was considered a very high priority. As a result, he and his crew mapped the entire coast sometimes following waterways many miles inland until it was clear that it was not a navigable passage.
After some time, Captain Vancouver came to Desolation Sound on a gloomy day. His mood was reflected in his logbook and his naming of this area. “…Bleak, treeless and shunned by humans?” Today, that is hardly the case as Desolation Sound is one of the most popular boating destinations in the Pacific NW. It is not unusual to enter a secluded, hideaway cove and find another 20, 30 or 40 boats anchored there to share the solitude with!
Our destination was Teakerne Arm, on West Redonda Island, where we could hike to Cassel Lake and swim in its warm waters. When you enter Teakerne Arm, you can see a white ribbon along the shoreline 2 miles away at the head. As one gets closer, you realize that this ribbon is a 3 story high waterfall roaring to the waters below. On the way in Sam rigged 2 shrimp traps and dropped them in 300 feet of water to try his luck. We brought the boats to about 200 yards from the waterfall and set a deep anchor on LEAN-TO, almost to the full length of its anchor chain and rope rode. We were sitting in 130 feet of water, but just 20 yards from the high rock walls of the shore line. Sam ran a shore tie to a hook on the rock wall and rafted JOSEPHINE to LEAN-TO. MOONGLOW then pulled up and we had a 3 boat raft up in front of the waterfalls. Boating in the Pacific Northwest does not get much better than this.
Steaks went on the barbeque and the decision was made for an easier day on Sunday. All would sleep in and MOONGLOW, being the fast boat of the group, would head to Refuge Cove in the morning, a run of about 20 minutes to pick up fuel and for those who wanted any last minute provisions. After a long day’s run from Nanaimo, all were tired and fell asleep to the sounds of the waterfall.
Sunday morning activities were split, part of the group went to Refuge Cove and the other part of the group took the short hike up to Cassel Lake. The lake is one of the few places were the water warms up enough for a good swim after the hike up. Once all returned, we did a quick calculation and figured we could transit the Yuculta Rapids and Dent Rapids if we left right away. Engines were started and MOONGLOW proceeded out first. But there was a problem on LEAN-TO. Chad could not start the engine. Worse, when the start key was turned there was no sound at all. If the battery was dead, you would hear a clicking sound for the solenoid. The first thought was the key switch had gone bad as apparently it had happened before. Chad dug down into one of the lockers in LEAN-TO and came up with a brand new key switch. It was installed, but nothing! The panels around the engine came off and Mark started with a voltmeter checking the battery and all of the circuits. The battery was good and for good measure we cleaned all of the contacts on the battery and on the starter solenoid under the engine. Still not a click! We had now missed our window of time for passage through the rapids, but worse, we could not bring LEAN-TO’s engine to life. After 3 _ hours of work troubleshooting the engine and tracing circuits, we decided to attempt to go back to Refuge Cove where we could use the phone and call for a mechanic. It was 4pm on a Sunday afternoon and our hopes were not high. Several listed emergency numbers. Chad made a number of calls but all recommended we tow the boat to Lund on Monday morning and seek repairs there. We returned to Teakerne Arm just in time for a feast of freshly caught white spot shrimp and Jambalya.
As we returned to the anchorage, we were surprised to see another of Sam Devlin’s built boats, a Black Crown, just like MOONGLOW rafted up to JOSEPHINE and LEAN-TO. Randy and Becky from Durango, CO. followed Sam’s original itinerary and rendezvoused with the group. The irony was, if we had left as planned, before LEAN-TOs problems, they would have missed the group.
Chad was fairly depressed. The one mechanic he talked to described all of the worst things that could be wrong with LEAN-TO’s engine, usually followed by, “I could help you, but it will be really expensive.”
Four Sam Devlin wooden boats were rafted up in front of the waterfalls with beer, wine and freshly caught, Shrimp Jambalaya.
Monday was another 5am wake up call. We left MOONGLOW behind, with Randy and Becky’s NIGHT HERON, while JOSEPHINE towed LEAN-TO side tied, back 15 miles to Lund. We arrived about 8am, just in time for opening at the Lund Auto and Marine repair. Lee Edmondson, the owner, was not optimistic. He thought the soonest he could possibly look at LEAN-TO’s engine would be Wednesday. This week was a holiday week in Canada. The best they could offer is to have a mechanic look at the engine later in the morning to diagnose the problem, but probably not fix it. In case the starter was bad, the local rebuilder said he had the parts and could have one built by Tuesday. Lee called several other mechanics, but everyone was either busy or out of town. This did not look good.
Chad was getting gloomier. LEAN-TO was his boat to take across the Gulf of Alaska, a 40 hour or more crossing in the wide open Pacific Ocean on the way to Seward, Alaska. One does not want problems along the way. Also, what would this cost?
When we returned to the boat, Sam’s son Kenzie made a comment to Sam about checking fuses that triggered an idea. Sam recalled once before having this problem when he owned LEAN-TO where a fuse blew on another panel we had not checked. Sam jumped down into LEAN-TO and came up with a blown fuse. Chad found a 20 amp replacement fuse, put that in and that blew, but the engine clicked before it blew. We knew we were on to the root of the problem and the starter was not the broken. A 30 amp fuse from the spare parts kit was installed and the engine started right up.
Sam and Mark did a quick navigation check on the timing for the upcoming rapids and our distance. It would be very close, but with a little bit of extra speed we had a slight chance of challenging Yuculta Rapids, Guillard Pass and Dent Rapids after slack but just on the edge before it became dangerous. If we left at noon, we just might make it. Quickly both boats were set to go and we left the dock.
We proceeded the 30 miles and 3 hours to Yuculta Rapids. Every 15 minutes we crossed checked our position and time to go along with calculations for passage of all three rapids. If we missed we were stuck in a cove called Big Bay for the night.
As we passed Squirrel Cove we called out to MOONGLOW on the VHF. Paul and Robin were having a civilized lunch on the deck at The Cove restaurant with Randy and Becky enjoying the view with the sun shining and a blue sky. They elected to finish lunch and catch up to JOSEPHINE and LEAN-TO, as MOONGLOW could go twice as fast as the other boats. They caught up just as we entered Yuculta Rapids.
Tidal rapids are not like river rapids, although the principals are the same. They are a constriction point in the waterways of islands, where the billions of gallons of water flows in and out of Johnstone Strait to the north and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the south, to the Pacific Ocean. The tidal action is caused by the pull of the moon and changes direction every 6 hours. The benefit is the water is almost always moving around the islands like natural rivers, except they proceed one way for 6 hours and then the other. At some points in the islands the waters take a turn around an island. This rushing water can create a current of up to 14 knots in some areas. For a boat that does 7-10 knots, one would not be able to proceed forward.
The tidal flows at a constriction point can be agitated by the rock faces along the sides or an irregular bottom. The result is a number of large eddys and whirlpools in the water. Some like Devils Hole at Dent Rapids or Seymour Narrows, have been know to suck a boat in and pop it back out quite a ways away when at their maximum flow. In fact, if you are 30 minutes late, it recommended that one not consider passing through Dent Rapids. Most prefer to go through at slack current, between when the current changes direction. We were late and going to attempt to pass by what looked like 20 minutes late according to the Tide and Current reference tables.
The turbulence was noticeable as we entered the Yuculta Rapids with the current pushing us at an additional 3 knots, twisting the boat from left to right as we proceeded through the eddys in the water. As we approached Guillard Pass, the current dropped as we hit it on slack time even though by the current prediction tables we were supposted to be late. But this meant that Dent Rapids had already turned to slack 25 minutes before and was now starting to build with a current that would be opposing us. We headed for Devils Hole with minutes to spare. Two large yachts, just ahead, took the center of the channel right through Devils Hole. As they went through the waters around them seemed to change as small white capped wavelets formed. Both 50 foot boats twisted and turned in the rapids as their captains worked to maintain control. With JOSEPHINE leading we skirted the Devils Hole to the south and close to Sonora Island, and had a pleasant ride with some turbulence in the whirlpools, but very manageable. We watched in amazement as Devils Hole began to build knowing we were the last boats through for at least the next 6 hours.
We proceeded through 2 more rapids, Green Point and Whirlpool, where both sets had a 5 knot current running against us. By now Chad was used to steerage through the rapids, reading the current and turning in anticipation of the direction of the eddy. We worked maintained a course only 20 yards off the rocky shore to work the back eddys against the opposing current, a strategy Mark had used on previous passages through this area and maintained a respectable speed through the opposing current.
Just after Whirlpool Rapids we turned up into Forward Harbour, a long narrow inlet, with snow capped mountains in the distance. We cruised past a lone sailboat anchored in a small quiet bight just before Robson Point, making note of its potential as an anchorage for the evening. Past Robson Point, Douglass Bay, our intended stop for the night, had 9 boats already anchored there. While there was still room for more, why bother. We circled back and anchored in the quiet nook feeling apologetic to the crew of the lone sailboat that had staked that spot as their own.
With the three wooden boats again rafted together for the evening, in 30 feet over a mud bottom, the grill was brought out for salmon and fresh shrimp sautéed in garlic and white wine, which were pulled from the traps when we left Teakerne Arm that morning. Paul Dye cooked up fresh vegetables he brought from the Bainbridge Island Co-op and Mark contributed Asiago and Sunshine (sun dried tomato and cheese) breads, fresh from Nancy’s Bakery in Lund at noon. After the evening conversation, all turned in by 10pm while twilight continued until 11pm. We wanted to again start at 5am for the passage to Alert Bay and a possible crossing of Queen Charlotte Sound, if the weather is in agreement.
The 5am departure started a little later. It is just tough to get a group going. Also, our problem starting LEAN-TO persists. We blew 3 fuses but shorted the circuit and got the engine going. Once a diesel engine is going you don’t need the starting circuit going. We planned to proceed to Alert Bay for repairs.
We headed out to Johnstone Strait. Often when the winds pick up out of the NW, they howl down Johnstone Strait creating 5-6 foot seas or higher. For this day, while the sky is overcast, Johnstone Strait is flat with nary a ripple. During some parts of this passage the water was like glass. The gods were shining on us as the sun broke through the overcast in settled seas.
The Dyes with their faster boat decided to speed ahead and explore. We all then stopped in Alert Bay for fuel and fuses for LEAN-TO’s starter problems. Alert Bay is a tribal village with a small main street commercial area with a few gift shops and a combination grocery, hardware store and deli, and a few restaurants. Like many places in BC, the Information Centre offers internet connections, but today it was closed for lunch until 2:30pm, well past our departure time.
Due to our need for fuses for LEAN-TOs starter problems, we elected to stop next at Port Hardy where we would also inquire about a mechanic to look at the problem.
As we left Alert Bay and headed north, we saw some rather large traffic ahead. Two very large cruise ships were headed down the narrow channel to enter Johnstone Strait, where they would continue to Vancouver or Seattle and be there for morning departures after a 10 day cruise to Alaska
Along the way, Sam called out over the VHF that he saw whales breaching “10,000 yards” ahead. As we approached there were about 4 Humpback whales working over the fishing grounds, rolling over and slapping their tales. It was fun to watch for about 20 minutes.
As we entered Hardy Bay, the harbor for Port Hardy, a new whale surfaced not more than 50 yards from the right of the boat. Joel pulled the throttle back and LEAN-TO’s engine stopped! Chad jumped down and placed another fuse in but when starting that blew out also. We were not too far from the dock so we rafted up with JOSEPHINE and she towed LEAN-TO into the dock. It was not after 6pm and everything was closed. Chad and Mark walked up to the auto parts store, but they had closed at 6pm and would not open until 8am the next morning. Sam went the other way to find the showers and found the dock marine store was still open and yes, they had 30 amp fuses. He bought 3 boxes.
Everyone met at IV’s restaurant and pub and had a well earned meal before turning in for the night back at the docks. We had made it through the might Johnstone Strait that day, although we were extremely fortunate, as it was mightly glassy on the day of our passage.
During the morning we organized ourselves and the tasks at hand. Chad set to work to locate a mechanic and a thermostat for the GM “Jimmy” Diesel. Canada Day, July 1st, (the Canadian equivalent of the US 4th of July) was coming on Friday and as we experienced in Lund, many of the mechanics were trying to clear their backlog before the holiday weekend. The NAPA auto parts store did not have a thermostat for a Jimmy diesel engine. Chad found a mechanic who could be down to the boat in about an hour. He would first diagnose the two separate problems and then work out the parts situation.
Meanwhile, the rest of the group took off to explore the town of Port Hardy.
The town is about _ mile from the marina area and has a lot to offer. Gift shops, gallerys, coffee shops, a computer and camera store, and choice of restaurants ranging from Chinese to BBQ and Japanese Sushi. The Glen-Way grocery store looked very nice and they deliver free to your boat at the dock. Internet connections are available at Guido’s coffee shop, the Electronic Shoppe computer store, the Info Centre and at the public library. If you wanted to see more of the area you can rent cars, bicycles or kayaks.
By mid-afternoon progress was made on LEAN-TO’s engine. A new thermostat was found and installed. It turns out the Jimmy engine shares the same thermostat with the common Chevy 350 cu. inch engine. Next, the mechanic determined that the solenoid for the starter was going bad. It would draw on the circuit down when the key was turned and blow the fuse. It was only a matter of time before it burned out all together. The last thing Chad wanted was not being able to start the engine on the trip, or during their crossing of the Gulf of Alaska.
Bit by bit, everything was fixed and at 4pm we were ready to go. We decided to go to a small cove called God’s Pocket on Hurst Island, at the entrance to Queen Charlotte Sound. There is a fishing/kayak, rustic sport resort there. We left the dock and soon were underway with our flotilla of 3 boats for the 1 hour or so passage. Shortly after leaving the dock we came upon several sport fishing boats, one of which had a salmon on the hook. The temptation was too much. We joined the fray and soon Soitza, Sam’s girlfriend, pulled in one Rockfish then another. Mark caught a Ling Cod too small to keep, and then Joel hooked a nice Rockfish. We were not rigged for salmon fishing, but were happy with what we caught.
As we moved on, the humpback whales were again working for their evening meal. We stopped and continued to marvel at their size, scale and antics in the water as 2 whales thrashed and rolled around us.
After an hour’s cruise, we rounded Hurst Island and found God’s Pocket cove and resort on the west side. There were a few boats already anchored and we decided to move on to an interesting anchorage in the Walker Island group, named “Walkers Cove”. You enter the narrow cut between Kent Island and Staples Island, about 15 yards across. The crew of all three boats were a little apprehensive about this one as the entrance is very narrow with trees lining both sides above the rock sides. To add to the excitement there was a current running in the entrance pushing the boat to one side and then the other.
Once you pass the entrance, there is a small cove shared by the islands. In the cove, already anchored to the large yellow provincial buoy, was the Nordhavn 40, ONWARD, owned by Tom Hall and Liz McLoughlin of San Francisico. Two anchors were set by LEAN-TO and JOSEPHINE and then both boats were rafted together. MOONGLOW anchored about 50 yards away. Dinner was cooked on board. Meanwhile Tom and Liz stopped by in the kayaks for a chat. They are big fans of the Fine Edge “Exploring” series by Don and Reanne Douglass. We exchanged information and had a great chat. It was unfortunate to hear that this will be the last cruising season for Tom and Liz after many years of exploring Southeast Alaska and Northern BC. At the end of the season they will be selling their beautifully equipped Nordhavn 40. They also have a wonderful web site detailing all of their cruises as well as their well traveled trawler (www.bikenfly.org).
Before settling in for the night, Sam, as the defacto flotilla leader, decided to share the leadership duties by asking Chad to lead the next days crossing of the infamous Queen Charlotte Sound, a distance of about 40 miles of waters open to the Pacific Ocean.
The stories of ships foundering while crossing Queen Charlotte Sound and passing Cape Caution are legendary. Just past Cape Caution is the Egg Island manned lighthouse. While situated up on a rock, with the swell and waves crashing below, it has seen some of the fiercest weather on the western North American seacoast. Years ago, the lighthouse keepers watched in horror as the waves rose to the height of the base lighthouse compound, 100 feet above the waters edge, washing away the buildings and damaging their home. The resident light housekeepers at the time, retired after that incident.
But the weather gods were once again shining in our favor. We used a course from the Fine Edge “Proven Cruising Routes” which would keep us clear of Allan Rocks and two miles off Cape Caution. Most importantly was the weather report. We had been following the weather for the last couple of days as a high pressure ridge worked its way into the area. This provided the glassy conditions during the passage up Johnstone Strait. Our day in Port Hardy for repairs kept us on edge, watching the weather and hoping the high pressure would remain over the area. The weather report looked promising with predictions of a southwest wind of 10-15 knots or less. We decided to plan for a 4:30am departure
The morning’s weather report still looked very good, with calm seas reported. The West Otter ocean buoy, sitting about 5 miles offshore, reported waves of less than 1.8 meters. While waves of 5 feet might seem intimidating, this is good weather for crossing Queen Charlotte Sound. The choice could be to wait for better, but the conditions looked good and we proceed to leave. Once outside the protection of the islands, the effect of the 4 foot swells started. For some, this passage lead to a little queasy-ness. The crew of JOSEPHINE put their passive stabilizers out to smooth out the ride. While there was swell, there was no wind and the passage was straight forward. After 2 hours, we passed Cape Caution. Then, Egg Island and the Egg Island lighthouse. We were tempted to call and wish them a good morning, but it was still early.
We expected to see other boats crossing but saw none, possibly because our early start from “Walker Group Cove” at 4:30am gave us an early start over faster boats leaving from Port Hardy or Port McNeil.
MOONGLOW found their best speed over the swells for a stable ride at 11 knots, almost twice as fast as JOSEPHINE and LEAN-TO. They elected to proceed ahead and wait for the rest of us in the appropriately named, Safety Cove on Calvert Island. Soon after we passed the lee of Calvert Island several hours later, the southwest swell was blocked and with no wind, the water flattened out for a pleasant ride. We had crossed Queen Charlotte Sound with no problems. We decided to go to an interesting anchorage up ahead. Codville Lagoon, which is also a BC Marine Park. While enroute, LEAN-TO’s engine began to make a slight surging sound for about 45 minutes. Then at one point it just stopped and the engine temperature climbed quickly. JOSEPHINE was called on the VHF and set up for towing LEAN-TO. The decision was made to transfer Mark to MOONGLOW and speed on ahead to Shearwater about 1.5 hours away. It was 2:30pm and if we had any chance of talking to a mechanic, it would have to be before 5pm. To complicate matters, the next day was July 1, Canada Day, a national holiday and all businesses would be closed for the 3 day holiday weekend. MOONGLOW, now with Mark on board proceeded to Shearwater arriving at 4pm.
Docking at Shearwater was a little more exciting than expected. As Mark and Robin prepared the lines and fenders for docking, Robin slipped and went right into the 55 degree water. Hypothermia is more than just being cold in the water and the body stopping its functions. More people die shortly after they hit the water due to involuntarily inhaling water due to the shock of hitting the cold water. Mark heard the splash and yelled Man Overboard and Neutral to Paul. At the same time he tossed the fender he had in his hand to Robin and then the stern line. Robin was startled but treading water, luckily with her glasses still on. While holding the fender, she grabbed the stern line that landed just over her head and Paul and Mark pulled her to the boat, where Paul lifted her out. Tragedy averted, Robin was now very embarrassed as MOONGLOW’s entrance to Shearwater caught the attention of everyone at the dock. After a warm shower on board and a quick wash of her clothes everything was back to normal.
Mark now began the process of locating a mechanic. Lorne, one of the local mechanics just happened to be down on the dock finishing working on another boat. Mark explained the situation and asked Lorne to stay past 5pm. Lorne reluctantly agreed and at the same time racked his brain to figure out from the symptoms what the problem might be. Meanwhile we were getting reports over the radio of LEAN-TO and JOSEPHINE’s progress while under tow. They were making good progress but would not make it to the dock until probably 5:45pm. LEAN-TO had started her engine again and was now underway on her own.
About 5:30pm, Mark went up to the shop to update Lorne and hopefully convince him to hang in there. He saw Lorne just leaving, ready to head out for the holiday weekend. Lorne said he really could not wait any longer, but after more discussion, he agreed to come back the next morning around 9am, despite it being a Canadian holiday. He seemed to be a man that enjoyed taking on a challenge, as well as one who takes pride in his ability to troubleshoot problem boats. As we inquired around the dock, many attested to Lorne and Rex, the other mechanic, and their ability to save boaters who run into mechanical trouble in this area. Shearwater is the only repair facility between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert, almost centered in a span of some 250 miles.
Around 5:45pm JOSEPHINE and LEAN-TO made it to the Shearwater dock. Shearwater has excellent facilities, with a well stocked store, new laundry facilities conveniently located with the showers, which allow you to run a quick load of laundry while showering and freshening up. The restaurant served up a good dinner for all and it was back to the boats by 10pm.
We celebrated Canada Day by sleeping in with breakfast in the restaurant in Shearwater. This also gave us a vantage point to watch for Lorne. It was his holiday and not clear that he would decide to come down to the dock that morning. But, true to his word, he was there about 9:20am ready to track down the elusive engine overheating and shut down on LEAN-TO. This problem is especially troubling as this is the shake down cruise for LEAN-TO. After Ketchikan, she would be alone without the benefit of the other boats in the flotilla for the trip up to Juneau and then across the Gulf of Alaska. There would be no convenient tow. In short, the engine had to work reliably. The next few days running would be the test with the one major symptom we knew being a surging and shut down after about 8-9 hours of running. For the 40+ hour crossing of the Gulf of Alaska, a shut down mid-way could be disastrous to both the vessel and her crew.
Lorne, went through all of the symptoms with Chad. In Lorne’s view we had done everything right, but the problem did not fit anything within his experience. We could wait for his master mechanic Rex, but that would mean most likely waiting until Tuesday as Rex was taking off and extending his first break of the season over the long holiday weekend.
With no solution and an engine that was running again, the decision was made to press on, leaving the dock at 11:30am. The destination was planned for Kynock Inlet, a remote anchorage with a waterfall and a place where you can hear the wolves howling all night long. As we threaded our way up the channels, a low hanging rain fell covering the pine tree covered mountains and hillsides with a mist. The seas were dead calm and we proceeded at 8 knots.
One would think that rainy days are dreary while underway. In British Columbia, and along the Inside Passage, the view is more of an undulating emerald green carpet lining the sides of the passages rising to wispy clouds that hang overhead. White ribbons of water begin to form, waterfalls dropping down out of the forests above. Some are just a small rushing stream and some drop down stone walls from hundreds of feet above—hardly boring, just a different view than the blue skies from a few days before.
Kynoch Inlet is part of the Fiordland Recreation Area, a name that aptly describes the visual look and feel of the area. The deep passages are surrounded by high green mountains rising steeply to 2,000 or 3,000 feet. Cruising as a flotilla offers a perspective as other boats ahead and behind you give a sense of scale to the enormity of the area. So often you have to pinch yourself to realize that the vistas going by can only be viewed from a boat. This channel is not visited by cruise ships and it is doubtful cruise ship passengers even have the same perspective from their lofty perch 7 stories above the water.
The entrance to the Kynoch Inlet is wide and just after you turn the corner you can see a large waterfall off in the distance. It is impressive rising to over 4 stories high with a broad rush of water. We attempted to take pictures with JOSEPHINE directly in front of the falls, but the pictures did not look as good as some of the others. The waterfall just dominated the images with the boat so small in front of the crashing water.
We continued down Kynoch Inlet for about 7 miles, or an hour underway. The view was awe inspiring. The towering mountain sides were granite sheers, with misty clouds above. The forested sides were dark green with areas of new growth in light green. Deep valleys with light green sides presented a view that looked surreal, more vivid than any painter could capture, and if he or she did others would think it was too much artistic license. To add to the view, not that it needed more, were the waterfalls. Not one, not two, but at least 50 or 60. Each one was unique. Some were a ribbon of water that started 3000 feet up on the sheer granite face. Some were a tumble of water that just emerged from the forest. Some were set by nature to shoot out from a cliff to the water 50 feet below. Others were a series of tiers of flat, dark granite with white water tumbling across emerging from the forest and dropping into the deep inlet just a few feet from the boat. For a landscape designer specializing in waterfalls, this was Mother Nature’s museum for inspiration, with all on display.
At the head of Kynoch Inlet is the opening to Culpepper Lagoon, navigable at high water slack, but a small rapid later in the tidal cycle. We elected not to explore Culpepper Lagoon as we wanted to leave early the next morning and continue our way north. From the guide books, it looks like an interesting area. The head of Kynock Inlet has a drying ledge and we anchored as close to the ledge as we dared in 65 feet of water
The late evening below this beautiful panorama was spent grilling our dinners, the three rafted wooden boats sharing our excitement over rum tonics or red wine. For entertainment, the fishing gear went down and soon small flounders, or sand dabs, were caught. We were tempted to bread and fry them but released them for another day. After dishes were cleaned and put away, we all turned in at 10:30 pm as the twilight sky still glowed inside the inlet.
This day’s passage started extra early at 5am. We had to pass through Heikish Narrows and if we reached there by, between 7:30am and 9:00am, the current would be with us and push us through with an extra 4-5 knots. The clouds hung down lower than our arrival in Kynoch Inlet the night before, covering some of the high granite faces and their waterfalls. We were fortunate to have the views we did when we entered the inlet the evening before.
Our initial plans were for a shorter cruising day with fantasies of a passage to Bishop Hot Springs. A rustic spa is set up where the hot water bubbling up to the surface is led by pipes into several tubs allowing warm baths and a natural hot soak. There are a number of hot springs off the Ursala Channel and Verney Passage in BC. It was a little out of the way but is a pleasant experience when you have been underway for a while.
The hot springs used to be part of the local knowledge amongst boats traveling to this area. Word would be handed down from one boater to the other, or amongst the fisherman. “Take the channel up to the second bay to the right, turn in and continue about two miles until you see the log float. Follow the trail to the concrete tub in the woods.” Today, cruising guides like the Don and Reanne Douglass’ book “Exploring the North Coast of British Columbia” or Bob Hale’s “Waggoner Guide” give detailed directions. Over the years many of the hot springs have been re-built and maintained thanks to the volunteer work of yacht clubs or boating groups. They are free to use, with the request that the facilities be used with care and with nothing left behind.
We prepared to leave and start engines but LEAN-TO’s engine would not turn over. Not even a click from the new starter solenoid. Could the problem now be a bad starter? It would be impossible to start the 180 hp, diesel engine without the starter. Chad noted that the lights did not come up on the house battery charger system indicating it was probably inoperative.
Chad connected a car battery charger to the system and started his Honda generator on deck. After 15 minutes, he tried to start LEAN-TO’s engine again. The starter turned and the engine caught on the first turn. We were running, but now what. The electrical problems were persisting on the one boat that was going the furthest, over some of the most volatile seas on the Pacific Coast, the Gulf of Alaska. LEANT-TOs engine was now running well and we decided to proceed.
Our passage for the day took us up 50 miles of passages. We hardly ever saw another boat along the way. The passes were high steeped mountains with deep water in between and waterfalls occasionally appearing along the green-forested sides. About 1:30pm after being underway for 8.5 hours, we decided to stop at the former fishing cannery town of Butedale. What was once a thriving factory town of several hundred people is now crumbling into the water. Refrigeration on boats made remote canneries like this obsolete, as large fish processing plants in Prince Rupert or Vancouver could now be reached by refrigerated delivery boats called fish packers. The town people left when the cannery shut down but Butedale continued to live on with its lone caretaker and every light in the town left on causing quite a sight when approached at night in this dark corner of a waterway called Fraser Reach. Electricity for the cannery came from a Pelton Wheel generator being fed with cascading down fresh water from the lake above. The lights were left on to keep a load on the generator until it finally failed in the 1980’s. It became a welcome, albeit eerie, night-time landmark on the lonely passage north or south. Today you can dock at the main float and walk among the ruins to visualize a bygone area. You can walk up to the old generator house and see the turbines and generators rusting away. The caretaker has rigged a small automotive generator with belts and pulleys to one of the old slowly spinning turbines to generate electricity for his house. The small generator is almost comical next to the large old generators. Butedale is stop worth making and a good place to stretch your legs.
When it was time to leave, again, LEAN-TOs starter system would not budge the engine. We rigged up the charging system and gave it a start. A starting sequence was in place and we determined that the large starting battery for the boat probably had a bad cell and would have to be replaced in Prince Rupert.
We continued on, now deciding not to stop at the Bishop Hot Springs but to get as much of the passage to the major town of Prince Rupert, BC as we could.
Soon we started up the mighty 45-mile long, Grenville Channel, a 6-hour passage for our flotilla. This is one of the main waterways of the Inside Passage. A water highway with tug boats, cruise ships, and large ferries all traveling between Alaska and areas in BC or the US. We had decided to make it a long cruising day to allow us to reach Prince Rupert after a short passage in the morning. MOONGLOW decided to use her speed to push on ahead and we agreed to meet at Baker Inlet near the top of Grenville Channel.
Along the way, we watched with great interest while a helicopter transferred giant logs from the backside of a ridge down to a waiting barge and log loading ship, all anchored in front of a scenic roaring waterfall. Just a mile up the channel, a motorized barge was parked, tied to the side of the channel holding the housing quarters for the logging crew. Life is different up here. We also were thankful that the logging was being done on the backside of the ridge. A thoughtful logging tract owner, or government official, had rightfully decided that it would be best to log out of view from this well traveled channel. The cost was more expensive for log removal by helicopter rather than the old days where trees were felled with handsaws and jack screws and allowed to fall to the channel below by gravity, where they could then be towed to the mills by tugs with log floats. It was hard work and the men that logged these areas were a unique breed. Helicopter logging also reflected the high value of lumber these days. We wondered whether the logs would end up here or be shipped to lumber hungry Asia.
Our course was set up the straight channel until a new wrinkle emerged in our plans. At one point, the electrical power faded in the pilot house for LEAN-TO cutting out the radar, GPS navigation, depth sounder system and most importantly the VHF radio. We had back ups for everything but the radar, and found that cutting everything back would allow the boats batteries to slowly recharge.
This new dilemma required a rethinking of our plans. It was now after 9:30pm, and while still light out, we would not be to Baker Cove until 10pm. But should we shut down LEAN-TO’s engine for the night and risk not being able to start it. Or, should we continue through the night and reach Prince Rupert by 2am? It had already been a very long day and now we talked of going further.
A discussion took place on the VHF evaluating the options. We were beginning to feel like Apollo 13 as we cobbled together solutions with our backups. But we did have a big difference. We were a flotilla of 3 boats where one could come to the aid of each other. Sam came on the VHF and sounded tired. It had been a long day. He said “I can’t leave a wounded bird alone to try to keep flying…” There was a momentary silence on the VHF. The crew of LEAN-TO decided to listen to the weather and evaluate the options.
The continuous recording on the VHF weather channel for Environment Canada was not promising. Gale Warnings were posted for the crossing to Prince Rupert. The idea of a crossing, in the dark, as a “wounded bird” had less appeal. We now understood some of the problems and understood a solution to re-start the engine. Besides, we were all tired and hungry. The idea of an entrance into Baker Inlet sounded like the better option. It was well protected. If the weather kicked up during the night, we would be tucked away in a well-protected anchorage. You could tell we were further north. The mountain sides above us still had patches of white snow this late into the summer.
The entrance to Baker Inlet was another narrow passage, about 50 feet wide. Chad maneuvered LEAN-TO through the pass with the current keeping a careful eye on the trees that extended out on either side and to keep them from snagging in the old fishing boat’s rigging. We made it through the pass and proceeded down the 3-mile inlet. Like Kynoch Inlet, from the night before, the scenery was beautiful. By the time we got our anchors down, it as about 10:30pm. A quick dinner was prepared on all of the boats and by dusk at midnight everyone was turning in. The weather report for the next morning contained the gale warnings. Gale Warnings mean winds of 34-47 knots which can set up wind waves that can be dangerous to small vessels, not to mention very uncomfortable.
Through the night you could hear the wind and rain. Williwaws blasted down across the water from time to time shaking the boats and we wondered what the conditions would be like on the water the next day.
The morning weather forecast did not appear promising. Gale Warnings were still in effect and we felt we were well protected in the beautiful Baker Inlet.
Mid-morning Chad started up LEAN-TO’s engine using our charge and start procedure. It worked and he left the engine idling for several hours as all three boats took advantage of the weather time to read or hike on shore.
To check weather conditions, a survey team took the faster MOONGLOW out to the Channel to see the weather conditions in Grenville Channel for themselves.
We elected to start out at 1 pm, raising anchors and heading up the inlet. As we proceeded, LEAN-TO’s engine began to surge, a sign of problems and what we later determined to be overheating. It surged until it shut down. JOSEPHINE pulled up and we rigged for a sidetow. We side towed a short distance to the mouth of the cove and decided to retry LEAN-TO’s engine. It fired up and we were on our way. Now if the weather held we would be on to Prince Rupert. Chad kept a wary eye on the engine gauges for LEAN-TO.
Our flotilla of 3 boats continued up the rest of Grenville Channel. The wind conditions were not as forecast and were lighter. As we continued out Arthur Passage to the more open seas the chop started to build. It was not uncomfortable, but with the prospect of an open passage in Chatham Sound to Prince Rupert, it had our attention.
Slowly the surging started on LEAN-TO’s engine. It became progressively worse over a half hour period and the crew of LEAN-TO was concerned that the engine would quit. We were rigged for towing but JOSEPHINE was now about a mile behind LEAN-TO. If the engine quit, LEAN-TO would bob like a float, but could turn and begin taking waves over the side in the 3-5 foot seas. While the sturdy former fishing boat has probably handled much worse, it would not be pleasant. MOONGLOW had meanwhile darted ahead and was waiting in a cove they had found on the north of Edith Island. We rounded the reef at the top of the island and headed into the cove. We needed to give LEAN-TO’s engine a slight rest. LEAN-TO motored into the cove and Chad brought the engine back to idle. JOSEPHINE soon caught up and we once again evaluated options as we were headed across open sea in an area known to be rough. The weather report was not promising but so far conditions had been better than forecast.
LEAN-TO’s engine seemed ok and we proceed out the cove and into Chatham Sound. Wave conditions and the swell set up to about 4-6 feet. It was from the south and our stern, which for some is easier than plowing into the waves. A boat plowing into the waves is easier to handle and safer. A following sea basically means the boat will be surfing down the waves. While the extra speed is good, the helmsman, Chad in this case, must be constantly steering, and compensating to keep the boat tracking forward. Inattention will lead to a boat broaching, where it will turn sideways to a wave with the potential for dangerous results.
We continued to cross the sound over the next 4 hours, working our way closer to Prince Rupert and navigating around some of the rocky reefs in the area. Soon Prince Rupert came into view and we proceeded into the harbor and Cow Bay. As we proceeded into the harbor, the conditions became calm and it was a pleasant ride as evening settled over the harbor town. The preferred Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club dock did not have enough room for our group and we proceeded to the public floats at the Rushbrooke Marina, a bit further from town. This large marina was also full but we spotted a few openings in the commercial moorage area. We took them as it was almost 8pm and we did not think any of the commercial fisherman would be coming back later that day. We also felt that with JOSEPHINE and LEAN-TO’s wooden boat fishing heritage, some of the old salts would give us a little slack for the night.
We tied up the boats and headed up to The Breakers pub for a fun dinner and phone calls back to family to let them know we had arrived safe and sound. We had been out of communication for several days and others were wondering how our little flotilla was faring!
Prince Rupert is the last Canadian port on the Inside Passage route north. The Canadian National Railroad terminates at the port of Prince Rupert making it a shipping center for grain from the plains of Canada and other goods to be shipped to Asia. It is also a major port for the Canadian Fishing Fleet and has a vibrant marine supply and repair business. We had another major crossing ahead and wanted to work to solve LEAN-TO’s mechanical problems.
The morning plan was to locate and purchase a new starter battery for LEAN-TO and also to have a diesel mechanic look at LEAN-TO’s engine to see if the source of the surging could be determined.
When we passed the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club the night before, Mark noticed that another flotilla group from Bellingham, WA was there, now on their way back south after being in Alaska for several weeks.
Brian Pemberton, of Northwest Explorations, (http://www.nwexplorations.com/mgc.html) was on his way back to Bellingham, WA with 5 Grand Banks motor yachts. His charter company had sold the trip in legs, where someone could charter the boat for the route up the Inside Passage, cruising in Alaska, or the leg home back down the Inside Passage. The trip proved to be very popular. People from all walks of life participated in the NW Explorations trip. Brian mentioned that the average age was 73, but there were a few young people on the trip also. For the trip, they hired their own naturalist, a specialist on Alaska history and fauna who provided information on the different destinations as they traveled through the many anchorages and passes in Alaska and the Inside Passage. The Grand Banks boats were well equipped. Those who might be prone to seasickness could ride on Brian’s 49’ Grand Banks, DECEPTION, which was equipped with active stabilizers that smooth out a rough ride. DECEPTION also has her own washer/dryer and is very well equipped for extended cruising. On their more relaxed agenda, they planned to arrive back in Bellingham by July 19th.
There is a lot one can do in Prince Rupert. The museum is very good showing the history of the local Tsimshian people. There are a number of good restaurants and shops to peruse. After a while you may notice that tanks and street trash cans all are painted to look like a black and white cow. One of the local coffee shops is “Cowpuccino’s”. Then you begin to see how pervasive the cow theme is. This area of Prince Rupert, where the yacht club is located, is called Cow Bay and a number of businesses have taken off with this theme. A truck was spotted where the owner has declared himself the “Mayor of Cow Bay”.
Another Prince upert distinction is its Bald Eagle population. One Bald Eagle always catches your attention with their graceful flight and distinctive white head and tail feathers. Two Bald Eagles are even more special. But as soon as you get off a boat in Prince Rupert you hear the distinctive call of a Bald Eagle, and then another, and another. You look up into the trees or the corner of buildings, or the pilings around you and you can begin to count. It is not unusual to have 12-15 Bald Eagles staring down at you. You wonder what might happen if you trip and fall while walking down one of the quiet roads; will the eagles gang up and make a feast of your injured body. In actuality they are quite well fed. There are numerous charter sport fishing boats in Prince Rupert. When they come in after a day of fishing the salmon and halibut are gutted and cleaned right there at the dock and the eagles have all the fish guts they can consume. The fishing is still very good around Prince Rupert as we cold see many 30-40 lb. salmon being brought in to be cleaned.
The day before we were there the gill-netting fishing fleet was in and the docks were 4 boats deep, rafted together according to Kevin, the Harbour Manager. If we had arrived the day before, we would not have been able to find any space at the dock.
By mid morning, LEAN-TO’s battery had been replaced. A good diesel mechanic had been found, but he would not be able to get to LEAN-TO until Thursday! Note to parents – based on this trip, have your kids skip med school and become a diesel mechanic. They are hard to come by and are paid quite well!
Sam put out the call that our flotilla of three boats would be leaving at 2pm. Everyone need to be refuel, ice placed on board, provisions from the local Safeway and anything else one needed. The weather report did not sound good for that day for the crossing of Dixon Entrance to Alaska. Seas were forecast to be 1-2 meters with winds of up to 25 kts. There was some debate on whether we would be better leaving in the early morning when the seas are usually flatter.
As we worked our way out the circuitous Venn Passage to Chatham Sound, the winds and seas were picking up. The fishing fleet was already on its way back in and they did not look happy. Apparently the catch was not good and the fishing was shut down by the government. There were a lot of grumbling fisherman on the VHF radio.
Our goal that day was to spend the afternoon and early evening working our way north. The plan was to get to Dundas Island and Brundige Inlet for the night. This would put us just 6 miles south of the Canadian and Alaskan border, nothing more than a dotted line across the water on your charts. As soon as we cleared Venn Passage, the seas kicked in. It was not as rough as other points on the trip, but it was up there. As we headed out to the open sea, we wondered what more lay in store.
The winds were out of the south-southeast, or against the stern of our flotilla. This meant a following sea. While this may appear to be better than bashing into waves hitting you head-on, it does mean that your boat will rise on the waves from the stern first, and then surf down the face of the wave. We actually gained about 2 knots of speed while keeping Chad busy at the wheel to keep the boat facing down the waves.
After a couple of hours we turned into Brundige Inlet. There were one of two other sport fishing boats near the entrance but none down the 3 mile inlet. Dundas Island is not a beautiful anchorage when compared to the anchorages of the last several days. The island is relatively flat and the trees are not in protected valleys. They are subject to the strong winds and fierce winters and show the stress they carry on this island. There was a stream feeding into the inlet nearby the anchorage and we could hear birds all over. We were miles from the closest civilization.
Tucked safely inside the inlet, we listened to the weather forecast for our crossing of Dixon Entrance to Alaska the next day. It sounded ok, but tentative. It rained off and on through the night with occasional wind gusts as we lay at anchor in the quiet inlet. We all had dinner on our individual boats and turned in for the night. There were no fireworks or 4th of July festivities for our little flotilla, just thoughts of the crossing to Alaska in the morning.
The morning weather reports still sounded OK with seas of up to 1 meter. Not great, but OK. It is tough to get excited about the weather when there is a solid overcast and regular rain. We started north about 7am and an hour later were officially across the border in Alaska, at least as far as we could tell on your GPS chart plotters. But we still had 5 hours to go to get to Ketchikan.
Soon we started to pass amongst the islands of southern Alaska. We passed Cape Fox and for that moment the appropriately named, Foggy Bay. The visibility sometimes dropped to a mile or two and some islands were passed without our ever seeing them, other than the green featureless blobs on the radar.
After noon, things began to look more interesting as we proceeded up Rivillagigedo Channel. The boat traffic started to pick up and soon we could see houses up ahead on the shoreline. We began to get cell phone coverage and made our calls to customs for clearance for the 3 wooden boats. Not only did the boat traffic pick up, but we started to regularly see float planes either making deliveries to the islands or taking cruise ship tourists up to the Misty Fjords area for an aerial tour. As we got closer to Ketchikan we could also see several large cruise ships at the harbor front, towering over the small village, and docked right at the entrance to marina. We called ahead to the Harbor Master, but he was doubtful there was room for our three boats. He suggested we stop in at the Ketchikan Yacht Club, which has its docks right there in the marina.
We worked our way into the marina and docks in the shadow of an 8 story Princess line cruise ship. The harbor was full but we found a couple of spaces. The customs agent promptly arrived and was extremely courteous and friendly, a wonderful welcome back to the US and a contrast to some of the agents encountered in other places.
Ketchikan is a seaport town caught with two missions. The local towns people maintain a fishing village, but with 5-7 cruise ships sitting at their docks every morning, arriving to allow their guests to roam the streets, there are two sides to Ketchikan. The side the cruise ship passengers see that include jewelry stores like Romero’s and Caribbean Gems (Caribbean Gems????), the lumberjack show, many gift and trinket stores. Creek Street, just up from the docks, is a charming set of restored buildings, on a boardwalk along the roaring Ketchikan Creek. Most of the buildings now house small shops. One of the more unusual “historical sites” is Dolly’s House Museum, home to one of the town’s more infamous bordellos many years ago, as were many of the houses on Creek street.
Along the harbor front float planes run a continuous circuit of take offs and landings, just in front of the cruise ships taking tourist up to the magnificent Misty Fjords area. The sounds of float planes, chainsaws and cheering people at the lumberjack show, tour buses, sidewalks crowded with tourists all take away from the charm of Ketchikan.
While we were there, it rain and rained hard. Most of us donned our “Alaska sneakers”, high boots of various colors, great for working on the deck of a boat in the pouring rain. As afternoon turned to evening, the tourists all re-boarded their cruise ships and the boats left one by one, on to their next destination. Soon, Ketchikan was quiet again. The gaudy shops that tend to the tourist closed as soon as the last passenger boarded and Ketchikan became a local fishing town once again.
This evening was our final evening together. As a group who did not know each two weeks before. During this time we had become close, experiencing some remarkable things together. LEAN-TO’s problems seemed to be better, but Chad still wanted to have a good local mechanic look the engine over before proceeding to Petersburg, Juneau, and before the big crossing to Seward. This shakedown cruise for LEAN-TO had served its purpose. Problems were being worked out, but it was a good solid boat. Our little run up the Inside Passage was nothing compared to what this sturdy boat had seen in its lifetime of fishing Charlotte Sound. LEAN-TO’s adversity had pulled the group together and provided a bit of extra excitement to the trip. We had all learned a lot from the experience.
We decided to meet at one of the local restaurants, Chicos, for Mexican food. Yes, that’s right, Mexican food in Ketchikan, and good Mexican food at that. Over margaritas, cervesas, and chips we joked about the trip and relived the special moments as a group of friends that would be friends for life from sharing this experience together.
This part of the Inside Passage trip had come to a close. Chad and Joel had the best diesel mechanic in Ketchikan coming down to the boat that afternoon. They planned to leave Thursday for points north. Paul and Robin Dye were flying out in two days, but wanted to tour Ketchikan. The owner of MOONGLOW would be coming up to take the boat back down the Inside Passage to Olympia. Sam Devlin and Soitsa would be flying out on Thursday and spent the morning cleaning JOSEPHINE and getting her ready for the return voyage. Sam’s 18-year-old son, Kinzie, would be taking the boat back with a friend as a flotilla of two with MOONGLOW. Mark was flying out that day around noon as this is the prime selling season for his publishing business and there were a lot of magazine articles to be written about this trip and others.
Meanwhile it poured rain in Ketchikan as good byes were expressed and plans made to meet at the Pt. Townsend Wooden Boat Show in September.
The Ketchikan airport is across from the harbor on Gravina Island. You take a taxi to a ferry and the ferry landing has a covered walkway that leads right into the terminal building. The single runway parallels the harbor and on takeoff, one could see the three boats in Thomsen Basin ready for their journeys north and south.
LEAN-TO was fortunate to have a very good diesel mechanic work on its engine. According to Chad, he went through the entire fuel system and LEAN-TO’s engine is now operating properly. While this is excellent news, it is unfortunate that the two mechanics who first checked the engine before the trip and later tried to diagnose the problems in Port Hardy were not able to fix the engine. The important thing is it is running well and Chad and Joel were looking forward to starting their crossing of the Gulf of Alaska starting on Monday or Tuesday of the next week.
A follow up report on their trip and the progress of MOONGLOW and JOSEPHINE on their return trip will follow.