2005 May 21: Cortes Island to Spicer Islands

Strong winds and rough waters forecast for the main channel of Johnstone Strait convinced us to take the “backroad” through the inner channels. We were hoping to pass through the Yuculta and Dent Rapids on May 31, but the rain was persistent. We had made all the tidal and current calculations to approach the Yuculta Rapids from the south one hour before the turn of the tide from flood to ebb. South of the Yucultas is the point where the tidal currents east of Vancouver Island meet. North of Yucultas the flood flows south, and south of the Yucultas the flood flows north. This is the same situation just south of Seymour Narrows near Campbell River where we had been bashed around by very strong tide rips.

We raised our anchor at 8:30 AM and were at Yuculta Rapids by 11:30 AM. We passed through Yaculta Rapids, Devil’s Hole and Dent Rapids precisely at slack tide. This is where tidal streams reach maximum velocities during large tides of 7 to 9 knots, creating violent whirlpools, overfalls and eddies. At slack tide, the whirlpools were flat and the currents were a manageable 2 to 3 knots.

After those adventures we tied up to the peaceful and picturesque dock at Shoal Bay. Phillips Arm formed a spectacular panorama off of our bows. This cove was formerly a landing for gold miners. Mark McDonald, the owner was on the dock visiting with Nancy and Don of the m/v LETA. Eagles were nesting in the cove, and hummingbirds were flying around the docks and Mark’s house. Don recommended Kutze Inlet opposite Prince Royal Island for crabbing at head of the inlet.

On June 1 we departed Shoal Bay and were early arriving at Green Point rapids, so we circled around and watched a commercial fishing boat go through, oh so slooowly. We waited for another half hour, then passed through with no dramas at 10:30 AM. The maximum contrary current was 4 to 5 knots. The low white-capped overfalls which ran across the channel where the navigation light is located, smoothed out before we passed through them. By 12 noon we had entered the southern end of Wellbore Channel, getting out of the 25 knot wind of Chancellor Channel. There was very little current in the channel, and only about 1 knot of flood still running as we passed through Whirlpool Rapids at 12:30 PM.

We were happy to find a safe anchorage, out of the winds, in Douglas Bay in Forward Harbour. We set our anchor in 21 meters depth, deploying about 80 meters of anchor chain and rode. Our friends Rick and Carol were anchored close to shore, and came aboard for coffee. They had set shrimp and crab traps at the head of the bay. Rick is a retired firefighter and commercial SCUBA diver. Carol is a photographer and artist. We had a lively discussion of fisheries management policies in British Columbia. Before dark, 17 boats were anchored around us. This is a very good anchorage in northwesterlies and westerlies.

The next day we entered Johnstone Strait and hoped to make good progress before the forecast winds arrived. A tug towing a huge barge piled very high with logs passed going east.

South of Hannah channel, we decided to proceed west in Johnstone Strait to Port McNeil. The seas were practically calm, with little wind. It was a good time to make tracks to the west and north. We phoned the Harbormaster at Port McNeill. She said that there was plenty of room in the marina because a lot of boats had left when the winds died. The sky was clearing as we approached Port McNeill. Small tide rips and many tide lines with debrfis and logs were in Johnstgone Strait where the waters flowed into it from the north through the passes between the islands.

In Port McNeill Steve arranged to have our VHF radio repaired. The antenna had been disconnected in New Zealand but never re-connected, so we had cruised for a year with our antenna disconnected from our radio . We were once again able to receive weather reports. He also had the refrigeration system checked and gas added to the system. We found a good restaurant and good WiFi there. We like this friendly marina, close to a good grocery store, and a very interesting native arts gallery. There is even a Radio Shack nearby and a chandlery.

On June 4 we took on one tank of diesel fuel and departed Port McNeill for the crossing of Queen Charlotte Sound. Rhinoceros auckets, large loons and murrelets shared our waters. A southerly breeze filled in as we passed Port Hardy on the northeast corner of Vancouver Island. We passed between Nigei Island and Bakalava Island, just northwest of the entrance to Clam Cove where our friends Rick and Carol spend the month of September each year.

We rounded Cape Caution at 4 PM, in a three meter swell and a small amount of wind wave. It was just a little rolly. ADAGIO handles these following seas with grace and comfort. Large logs lurked near Loran and Radar Passages, near Table Island, at the entrance to Smith Sound. As we entered Fitz Hugh Sound, Calvert Island provided protection from the ocean swells. No other boats were to be seen. At 8 PM we set our anchor at Green Island, having traveled 70 nautical miles that day. This was a very beautiful anchorage, with dense trees growing on the tops of flat-topped rock islets. One Islet was entirely covered with a very thick growth of salal shrub in bloom and perhaps huckleberry bushes. Our anchor found very good holding in a mud bottom. Bald eagles circled over the evergreens ashore.

The next morning, June 5, we found flat water and calm winds in Fitz Hugh Sound, making it easy to spot the occasional floating large log. Fitz Hugh Sound is bounded on all sides by tree-covered hills set before layers and layers of rounded low, tree-covered mountains, becoming paler and paler in color as they march off into the distnace, heads in the clouds. To the west on Hunter Island is Mt. Merritt at 2,960 feet.

We turned to the west into Lama Passage and encountered a pair of orcas, feeding quietly, spending most of their time under water. We entered Finlayson Channel and just before 5 PM we were anchored in Bottleneck Inlet. A family of red headed mergansers swam along the shore and dived.

We planned an early departure for Hiekish Narrows, to pass through at slack tide at 8 AM. Our 8:14 AM log entry reads, “Graham Reach, Princess Royal channel, just north of Green Inlet. Some of the mountain tops are glacially polished and treeless. A few waterfalls here and there. We passed through Hiekish Narrows at about 0730, just before slack at 0800. A few foraging dolphins this morning, and a large bald eagle flew across our course ahead. The waterfalls on our port side are wide and beautiful. Two nice ones so far. Wind is 8-9 kts, exactly our boat speed, so we are following the seas up the channel. At log 6105 we were making 9.8 SOG. then down to 9.2 at log 6106, then down to 8.8 at 6107. Large tree in the midedle of the channel. ”

At McCreith Point we entered Otter Channel, from Squally Channel, and rounded the southern end of Pitt Island. We headed towards Nepean Sound then Principe channel on the west side of Pitt. We had been surrounded on all sides by a collection of islands, rugged and forested. In Fraser Reach we were dodging logs which were full sized trees. We watched a helicopter loading trees onto a barge. They were dropping the occasional one into the water and leaving it there to float out in to the channel where we boaties were. There was mostly light or no wind with seas flat or rippled.

At 7 PM we set our anchor in Monckton Inlet in 18 meters depth, deploying 60 meters of chain and rode. We traveled 82 nautical miles that day, gaining more than one degree of latitude per day as we traveled north.

Late at night and the sky was still light to the west. It was very still in this lovely anchorage. The flat waters reflected the shoreline at low tide creating a kaleidescope effect that is very pretty. Two small seals cruised around with their round heads painting ripples and wakes in the mirror water. A bald eagle flew in circles along the shore then perched in a tree as we passed. The weather forecast and model looked good for a possible crossing of Hecate Strait in a couple of days, to take us to the Queen Charlotte Islands.

As we departed Monckton Inlet on the morning of June 7, jelly fish were thick in the waters of the inlet. Moon jellies (Aurelia) about 6-8 inches in diameter and “Sea Blubber” jellies (Cyanea capillata) , 20 to 20” across. Red-brown to white with long tentacles they were pulsating their 8 pairs of lobes to move through the water. This is a stinging jellyfish.

By 10 AM were were in Principe Channel heading north in slight rippled sea with a light following SW breeze. As we were exiting Monckton Inlet, an 8 kt inflow breeze was on the nose. As soon as we entered Principe Channel all was flat, dead calm, until the light breeze came up. A following current was expected to increase during the day with a flood tide to boost our progress. We had enjoyed mostly favorable currents traveling north, and almost always the breeze was from astern. Conditions could not be better. The previous day was drizzly, this day was bright sunshine, and we hoped for the same for the morrow.

We turned to the east into Beaver Passage at Browning Entrance at the north end of Banks Island, in lightly choppy seas and light northwesterly winds under blue skies and a steady barometer. Our course north through Principe Channel had allowed us to avoid traveling through narrow Grenville Channel where we were nearly run down by a cabin cruiser in the fog last year.

We had chosen the anchorage at Spicer Islands over the more popular anchorage in Larsen Harbour at the north end of Banks Island. The entry into the Spicer Island anchorage was wide and open, unencumbered by kelp beds that occur at the entrance to Larsen Harbour. We set our anchor in 13 meters of water on a 45 meter anchor rode. A river otter splashed into the water and swam around. The forecast seas in Hecate Strait looked too rough for a crossing the following day. So we would continue north towards Ketchikan, keeping the winds astern, and making tracks north in these favorable conditions for crossing Dixon Entrance which is open to the North Pacific Ocean.

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