2004 Oct 9: Port McNeill to Vancouver

After early morning wind and rain, on October 9 we departed Port McNeill, initially hand steering because autopilot was not working. By 10 AM the sun was peeking out, with light rain and a small contrary current. Wind chop was on the nose but not uncomfortable. Many fishing boats were traveling west during the first hour, but now all was clear as we passed Telegraph Cove. We were expecting to see orcas in this vicinity. Spectacular views of scenery were ahead, with high mountains to starboard inclining down to the southern shore of the strait. Flocks of surf scoter ducks were sitting in the water, and a “V” formation flock of geese flew overhead. There was good cellphone coverage out in Johnstone Strait.

The barometer was rising, and we put on our sunglasses. Suddenly there was a pod of orcas coming towards us, out of Blackney Passage. MAPLE LEAF came out of the passage behind the orcas. We radioed an “Ahoy, Maple Leaf”, and Kevin told us about the orcas.

By noon we had more wind, and the seas were a bit rougher. The sunshine had gone, but the sky was clearing to the west and north. It was too rough out in Johnstone strait, and our progress was too slow to make it to Blind Channel that night, so we put in to Port Harvey, and lowered our anchor at 2 PM. We anchored in 11 meters depth, with good holding in mud. Light rain began from a heavy overcast sky. A tug towed a log boom from one side of the channel to the other as we were entering. Another log boom had been tied to the shore, and the tug was taking the second log boom to tie alongside the first. There was a small fish farm and several buildings built on floats along the shore. Several small floating wharfs were moored along the shore for the work boats. The Campbell River Museum explains these float houses as:

“The float-house represents a lifestyle that evolved on the British Columbia coast a hundred years ago. It was an answer to economic necessity and the rugged terrain that defied road construction. Float-houses provided a portable home base that could be moved from one working location to another. On a coast where mountains tend to drop abruptly into the sea, these dwellings did not require a level building site; although the daily rise and fall of the tides presented their own challenges.”

On October 10 we departed Port Harvey in the rain, but less wind, down from 21 knots to 13 knots. We moved over to the right side (south) side of the channel where the fishing boats are traveling to see if we could decrease the contrary current. It worked. Our speed over the ground slowly increased. A mixed flock of white geese and brown geese flew together at the surface of the water. We followed the beautiful rocky shoreline, and the wind continued to decrease in strength, before increasing again. The current went then down and again up, as we crossed numerous tide lines.

Two Kittiwake birds flew alongside ADAGIO, fishing in the rain. They flew upwind and dropped to the water to pick up a fish. Their beautiful white fan tail and black wind tips flashed in the wind. Waterfalls graced the Vancouver Island shore.

Just before 11 AM we entered Race Passage, between Kelsey Bay and Hardwicke Island. By afternoon we had reached the top of Seymour Narrows. I could see ripples ahead. Whirlpools swung the boat from side to side, just to the east of the ripples drawn on the chart. Then the seas flattened and only a few more whirlpools until between Camp point and Ripple Shoal. As we passed over Ripple Rock at 4 PM, a seal watched us go by, head out of the water looking like a floating coconut. The strongest turbulence was off Rock Point, Rock Bay.

Taken from University of Alberta Engineer Magazine:

“The story I want to highlight here, is the incredible story of Ripple Rock, the scene of the greatest non-nuclear explosion in the world and a project directly under the authority of Charles K Hurst.

“Seymour Narrows, just north of Campbell River, on Canada’s west coast, had been a navigational nightmare since ships first sailed up the BC Coast. In the late 1700’s a gentleman by the name of Captain George Vancouver described it as “one of the vilest stretches of water in the world.” Ripple Rock was really twin peaks of rock that jutted up from the floor of Seymour Narrows, just off Maude Island, peaking just below the water surface. The strong tidal currents, coupled with the effect of the rock peaks, were deadly. Ripple Rock claimed its first victim in 1875, when the USS Saranac, bound for Alaska, hit Seymour Narrows at low tide. By 1953 Ripple Rock had claimed 119 ships and 114 lives.

“The removal of this hazard was made the responsibility of Charles Hurst.

“In 1953, the National Research Council conducted a study into the feasibility of tunneling under Seymour Narrows and up into the twin peaks of Ripple Rock. The next five years saw the completion of the largest project ever undertaken by the Department of Public Works. The entry shaft on Maude Island went down 570 feet, and at the base of that shaft, a 2,500-foot tunnel, running horizontally out and under the twin peaks, was excavated. Two 500-foot raises, running vertically, were driven up into the peaks themselves, creating what was described as “the world’s biggest root canal.” When the excavation was completed, there were 1,375 tons of explosive packed into the peaks.

“At 9:31 on the morning of April 5, 1958, Dr. Victor Dolmage, consulting engineer for the Ministry of Public Works, set off the explosion. Pieces flew 1,000 feet into the air, 370,000 tons of rock were shattered, and 320,000 tons of water were displaced. Ripple Rock was no longer nine feet beneath the surface at low tide. The channel was now 47 feet deep at low tide over the south pinnacle, 69 feet deep over the north pinnacle. “

On October 10 at 4:30 PM, we berthed at K dock in Discovery Harbour Marina, and dined at the Riptide Pub. Dorothy had Canadian Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings.

As we waited for favorable weather to continue our travels, we visited the Campbell River Museum, bought some candied smoked salmon at Susie’s Seafood, and walked the waterfront, enjoying the wood carvings and scenery.

On the morning of October 13, our granddaughter’s birthday, under calm conditions, we departed Campbell River for Nanaimo. We found a 6 knot contrary current in the channel, and many whirlpools in Discovery Passage. Small groups of diving birds were diving and feeding in the whirlpools.

Beautiful views of Cortes Island and the mainland mountains to port, were followed by sights of snowy Mt. Baker to the south. We passed through the “WG” Zone, Canadian live ammunition exercise area after their activities ended.

In Nanaimo, we had ADAGIO hauled at the Nanaimo Shipyard, and were back in the water at the Cameron Island Marina on the following day.

We crossed the Strait of Georgia on October 16, and spent a week berthed at Coal Harbour Marina, enjoying the city of Vancouver.

Between rain showers we walked from Coal Harbour to Canada Place then through Gastown to Yale Town and on to False Creek and Granville Bridge. These are the hippest areas of Vancouver, full of design stores, cafes, shops, restaurants, statues and historic buildings. High rise apartments and parks line the waterfront. At noon we were at the base of the Steam Clock and watched it whistle the noon hour. At 9PM Vancouverites enjoy the sound of a cannon being fired from the shore of Stanley Park, and at noon, throughout the city we can hear a calliope of horns sounding the noon hour. The shoreline walking and biking trail goes for miles and miles, dotted with parks, children’s playgrounds, sculptures, trees, waterfalls, cafes and water views. Most extraordinary.

For years I have wanted to see the beluga whales at the Vancouver Aquarium. I have a beautiful soapstone carving of a beluga, showing its lovely shape. The belugas at the Seattle Aquarium were a disappointment as they were difficult to see and seemed to be hiding from the viewers.

The weather forecast was for some sunshine, after many days of rain, and all of the animals that interested me are in outdoor displays. I followed the signs to the belugas, and there to my joy were six! beautiful white giants, gliding around in a large pool, surrounded by heavy glass, allowing viewers to stand practically at the water’s edge.

One large beluga stood out from the others. It was performing its own display of itself, by slowly raising itself out of the water, tail first, half of its body length, oh so gracefully, up and down and up and down, then sliding back into the water and swimming away. How can he possibly lift so much of his bulk out of the water so effortlessly with his two tiny square pectoral flippers? I thought, “Oh, no, not another bored, neurotic caged animal.” I watched for over an hour, as the belugas swam around the large pool and occasionally into a smaller pool adjacent to the large one.

At about noon, the “Beluga Show” began, and five trainers came out, each carrying a long pole with a white float on the end, and holding a whistle in his or her mouth. I had chatted with one of the trainers earlier, and he said that fifteen minutes before show-time the belugas become more and more active, and vocalize a lot, as if they are saying, “Oh boy, the show is about to begin. The trainers will be coming out soon.” He also told me that the large tail-lobbing beluga is a male, and father to the two smaller, light grey colored belugas which were born at the aquarium, one nine years ago and the other two years ago. The youngest is still nursing from his mom and from his aunt.

During the show, the belugas leaped from the water, tail-lobbed in synchrony, splashed water on the audience with their tails, and sprayed water from their mouths at children who had eagerly volunteered to be spat at by a whale. The commentator explained that the powerful spitting of water is used by the belugas to water-blast for food buried in the bottom of the ocean floor. I also learned that the pectoral flippers are small so that they do not radiate large amounts of valuable body heat into the surrounding water. The aquarium cools the salt water in the belugas’ pool.

After the show I visited the baby sea otter and other animals, but came back to the belugas half an hour before the next show. The large male beluga was now swimming around in the large pool, frequently coming towards the glass barrier and lifting his head and ‘shoulders’ out of the water to have a look around. The beluga is the only whale that can bend its neck as an adult. This beluga spent a lot of time head and shoulders out of the water, watching the funny looking two-legged mammals eating hot dogs and sandwiches at the tables nearby, and smiling his Mona Lisa smile. From the underwater viewing window I watched the whales gliding and flowing, around and around, baby nursing, swimming on their backs with their eyes closed, glancing at their audience from time to time, their insulating blubber rippling and streaming along their bodies. They did not look neurotic or bored. “Serene” best describes their manner and behavior.

There is so little pigment in a beluga’s skin that its blood vessels are clearly visible where the skin is stretched tight over the tail flukes. The “melon” that forms the top of the head is soft and filled with oil so that it can be reshaped by the whale to focus the echolocation sounds that it sends out. They have been trained to float quietly on their backs while the trainer gives them a over all physical exam. One of the trainers told us that the belugas are playful, and training them requires great patience. The two year old is exhibiting the behavior of the “terrible twos”, and is a real hand-full and quite unpredictable, sometimes stealing the show from the adults.

I could watch the belugas for hours and hours, and it seems that they enjoy watching us, too. Beautiful as it is, my soapstone carving cannot convey the rich personalities of these blubbery white sea creatures.

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