Cruising Southeast Alaska - 2009

By Linda Lewis


2. Campbell River to Port McNeill - a windy Johnstone Strait

On June 28th, we left Campbell River headed for the 1030 slack at Seymour Narrows. I couldn’t resist this picture of a gorgeous ketch we saw as we were coming out of Discovery Harbour Marina this morning. What a beauty. And what a lot of work to maintain.

David was at the helm as we went through the fabled Seymour Narrows. The picture says it all: yawning about a non-event. That's the way you want it. At full run, Seymour can be running 15 K. At slack, it's a non-event worthy of a yawn. That means you did it right.

Here is what Seymour Narrows looks like at slack.

We would have liked to stick with our normal routine of starting the day very early because the rule of thumb is to expect winds to rise in the afternoon. Today, the late afternoon winds being forecast were for Gale Warning with 25-35 K winds. Since we had to start out late, we at least wanted to be up the road and anchored before too long so we had several contingency anchorages scoped out.

I was at the helm when at 1245 the winds markedly and steadily increased. Dave was reading a book. So I just started bleating, like a Billy Goat. As in... my vote is to stop and anchor up in Billygoat Bay on Helmcken Island. He heard my pathetic sounds and looked up with a laugh. He agreed and we actually anchored up in the cove just beyond Billygoat Bay, called North Cove. It's a bit bigger and gives pretty good NW-winds protection (not great for SE winds). We're glad we stopped. An hour later someone joined us in the bay who had tried to proceed north. He encountered nasty seas so he turned around and came in to anchor.

As I actually am writing this note (June 30th – 1640), the “estimated wind in Johnstone Strait” is 38 K with gusts. Chatham Point is seeing 28 K and 5 foot seas. I look out the window and see a very ugly Current Passage on the north side of Helmcken Island just beyond our little bay. But we are very snug here.

Wait. Enjoy the birds, the animals, the boat rocking, the time to breathe and smile. I once wrote a song with the title: “Don’t Push the River”. (Yes, I stole that title from a book.) But the message is still relevant for someone who used to live in a river town in the midwest and is now going with the flow along the Inside Passage. I’m singin’!

This is the moon at “Neap Tide” at Helmcken Island, B.C. I have a great “Spring Tide” photo (full moon) I took at Tribune Bay from a previous cruise. But this is my best half-moon photo. I’ll use this shot in my navigation classes to demonstrate the time in the moon’s cycle when (relatively speaking) the tide range is smaller and the currents don’t run quite as fast (compared to Spring Tides).

About the weather reports: VHF Radio vs a Smart Phone...
The every-four-hours forecasts are the same. However they are much easier to hear on a phone using a published phone number by geographical area.

One of my experiments has been to compare (Canada's) weather conditions’ reports (wind and sea state) via VHF radio versus Environment Canada marine weather online – which I can access using my smart phone ( then dig into the menu). So far the phone wins. I can connect by cell phone a lot more often than I can do a wifi connect. Of course an “air card” (cell phone connection direct to laptop) would be nice, but that was beyond our budget this year. So this is a low-budget experiment.

Interestingly, the "hourly" weather conditions (wind and sea state) turn out to reveal a bit of a twist. The VHF hourly weather conditions are reported on the half hour; the online reportsare on-the-hour. Anyway that has been true for the Fanny Island reporting station that is so critical for cruisers transiting Johnstone Strait. I have been able to test this out for two days now since we are holding at anchor. I'm not sure this will be true at all stations, but it sure has been consistent here. Although the cell phone has non-signal locations in B.C. (while underway), when it's up, it's really up.

Even Dave, my resident technophobe, has become a fan. Yesterday he said: "Get on your magic phone and see what the wind is doing at Fanny Island." My next step will be to get him to take the phone to the master stateroom at night so we can dial up the 0400 weather from our cozy bed. Just dial and listen - then roll over if we don't like what we hear.

Dave likes to grouse about me looking at the computer, so he insisted upon this picture.

However, I am also a nut about the need to be looking outside the window, checking the depth sounder, checking the markers, checking the landmarks, checking the traffic and hazards, and in general operating the boat in the real world rather than driving a video game. These days boaters need to remember to boat outside the window - as well as use their technology wisely. I'm a big fan of doing both.

I was delighted to see Dave screaming along in this skiff he built. He calls it - aptly - the Green Devil. He said he needed to run it hard to give the battery a boost. I think he also got a boost; he looks so happy.

After two nights at Helmcken Island we poked our nose out into Johnstone Strait and got our heads handed to us. The Green Devil (our 18’ skiff that we tow) was trying to turn itself into an airplane, so we turned back and decided to go up through Whirlpool Rapids to Forward Harbour, then make another try the next day via Sunderland Channel. Of course, we arrived at the rapids at full run (5.9 K) so we put the anchor down and waited a few hours for slack. We are a 7-8 K boat so we don’t try to go when a current is running much more than about 3 K.

We had lots of company in Forward Harbour: 17 boats! Everyone was waiting for better conditions in Johnstone Strait.

Poseiden was with us the next day so we started out at dawn. Here is Fanny Island as we passed it under better conditions.

And here is a tug pulling a fishing camp lodge. He was struggling a bit to keep it on track.

We had a great run all the way up Johnstone Strait to Pt McNeill, our favorite spot for making the jump across Queen Charlotte Sound.

It was my turn (Linda) to dock and I snuggled the Royal Sounder in between the two boats right in the middle of the photo.

There is a new Harbor Master’s office at the top of the dock.

And Hilge, the Harbour Manager (the foxiest dock master in the northwest - according to Dave), is still hard at work. I caught her at a rare moment in the office as she is always down on the dock where the action is. If she says you can fit into a space, trust that you can.

We’re going to make the jump across Queen Charlotte Sound tomorrow. The forecast and the pattern of the wind and sea state conditions over the last 48 hours make it likely we’ll get at least part of the way across – if not all the way. If necessary, we’ll anchor in the Walker Group or Shelter Bay or… we’ll see.

Dave is happy as a clam in his matching Ray Troll t-shirt and cap. That’s my guy.



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