Cruising Southeast Alaska - 2009

By Linda Lewis



1. Anacortes to Campbell River


June 22 and it is our first night at anchor – in the San Juan Islands. Feels peaceful and strange at the same time. The world has rotated on its axis. The next morning I awake to waves rhythmically lapping on the shore. Sounds like the earth is breathing. OK, it’s the wake from the passing Ferry, but still... the magic is here. It’s so good to be on the water again.

We decided to clear Canadian Customs at Van Isle Marina in Sidney, British Columbia; it was an easy phone call from the phone at the dock. We don’t do expedited customs clearances so we keep our ear to the ground for the most hassle-free location. Someone said Bedwell Harbour on South Pender Islands was a zoo this year; someone else said it was a piece of cake. Who can say, but we decided to avoid it.

There are lots of hazards in the water to watch for along the Inside Passage; some of them are related to crabbing and shrimping. This particular buoy was easier to spot because of the vertical spar right next to it. I wish they were all this way.

On June 24 we slipped through Dodd Narrows and made a quick turn towards Nanaimo. There were strong winds in the Strait of Georgia – with one gust of 39 Knots. So we happily bailed out.

Going through Dodd Narrows turned out to be bit of an adventure. We decided to go through the narrows 25 minutes earlier than the predicted slack because the ebb (against us) didn't seem too bad on our approach. We speculated that the strong south winds may have forced the turn-to-flood earlier. At least that's what our SOG (speed over the ground) seemed to indicate as we were approaching the narrows. When we got right into the funnel we expected less than the 2.5 knot ebb the electronic charting was indicating; we had even speculated less than that based on our SOG to that point on the approach. Oops - not quite. We in fact found ourselves pushing against a 4 K ebb! Once you are in the narrows that far there is no turning back. We are a 7-8 K boat so this was a slow struggle for us to go through. It was my turn (Linda) at the helm and I was working plenty hard to maintain steerage. I remember saying: we shouldn’t be here. You can bet I was shaking my finger at myself on this one. Sorry no photos; I was really busy.

However, here is a photo that you might find interesting. It gives a great example of all four variations of Canada's “Cardinal Buoys”. Seeing all variations in one location is a treat. They were marking a very small island (Beacon Rock) inside the Nanaimo Port Authority harbor. I worked at getting a good photo to use in the navigation classes I teach and the boating-group talks I give.

See the sets of black triangles on the yellow poles? Two black triangles pointing down = go south of this marker; two pointing up = go north of this marker; two that narrow in the middle = go west of this marker; two that are wide at the middle = go east of this marker. Seeing four of them at once surrounding a little island really brings the message home.

We were glad to see that the buoyage at Nanaimo’s Newcastle Island Passage clearly marks the correct passage to avoid Ogden Rock. I can remember being puzzled by this spot year after year. They added the two red markers (to the right), so it's a much safer passage now.

Today we decided to grab a very early-morning weather window and slip up to Tribune Bay to get anchored before the afternoon winds came up. David is the Captain this year and he called the moves on this one just right.

We're hearing Canada's new terminology for wind reporting. Old: "small craft warning" (20-33 Knots); new: "strong winds" (20-33 K). More new terms: "light winds" (0-11 K); "moderate winds" (12-19 K). You can find the new terminology in the opening pages of the tides & currents book, Ports and Passes. We heard from a respected Canadian boating professional that the Canadian forecasts will become much more conservative this year. That's a disappointment because in years past many cruisers have favored the more realistic Canadian weather forecasting over the U.S. ultra-conservative forecasting. In my opinion, those of us out on the water need to know the most realistic forecasted conditions so we can factor that information into our go, no-go decisions.

Our first encounter with the forecasting when it really counted was very positive; the forecast was right on. We had anchored in Tribune Bay nice and early because of the forecast, resisting the urge to continue up theStrait of Georgia because things seemed so nice. Tribune Bay is very open to the south and we were putting up with the end of the southerlies that made the boat "hunt" (bow swinging back and forth in response to the winds). With the piano music in the background I was rocking and floating - almost free of any earthly tether – except for that anchor chain. But then, that chain is safety. Life is good.

We continued to track the actual wind and sea state conditions throughout the day on the VHF radio, watching for a pattern. We also watched the sky. Did you know that watching the sky is like watching a life. Ever changing. All the moods, the shifts of light, the effect on... You know what I mean. Part of the drama that day was having a "Waterspout Watch in effect.”

And then the late afternoon shift from south to northwest happened. We saw it coming by watching the sky. In the space of less than a minute our boat shifted 90 degrees; within three minutes we had swung around about 150 degrees. Our Bruce anchor just rolled over and reset itself without the slightest hiccup. We were very glad to be holding at anchor rather than fighting some nasty seas in the Strait of Georgia.

The next day we trusted the forecast again and waited until 1030 rather than making our usual very early start. And – as forecast – the winds uncharacteristically dropped in the afternoon and we glided past CapeMudge at dead calm. The rule of thumb to travel early early and expect the winds to rise in the afternoon doesn’t always work. Sometimes you have to work the exceptions.

By the way, here is David merrily typing away on our new little netbook. He grumps about technology a lot, but he loves this little dude.

It even has enough oomph to connect wirelessly if we are close enough to wifi equipment. Most of the time, however, we’re really glad to have an external antenna to make connections via our laptop. BBXpress has been the connector of choice so far. It was great both at Nanaimo and here at Discovery Harbour Marina in Campbell River.

This year I have chosen to keep our Float Plan updated via cell phone texting to a very small group of people. Cell equipment along the Inside Passage is much more ubiquitous than wifi locations so it is proving to make this the best (low cost) way to stay in touch and keep our location information very current. As in the past, I always look for “Micro Towers” on the raster (paper) charts because I think cell equipment is being added to those. Once we leave Campbell River, I’ll pick up cell signal again at Port Neville – because of one of those towers.

Diesel fuel in Canada is between $3.50 to $4.00 (U.S.) per gallon (choke) since we paid $1.89 per gallon in Anacortes, WA. Cheapest so far is at Campbell River - $3.40/gallon.

We’ll transit Seymour Narrows this morning – going for the 1030 slack. It will be David’s turn at the helm so maybe I’ll get some pictures. However, if we do it right we’ll both be yawning. Let’s see what happens.



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