2004 Oct 23: Vancouver to Bainbridge Island

After a week of enjoying Vancouver, we departed for Friday Harbor, Washington under sail on October 23. There was a fair amount of ship traffic out in the Strait of Georgia — tugs towing barges, container ships, tankers, ferries, small fishing boats, large fishing boats, some setting their nets and the occasional large log.

We would be early arriving at Active Pass, the entrance to through the Gulf Islands. The maximum current at Active pass would be at 11 AM, and predicted to be 4 knots at today’s quarter moon. Slack tide was to be at 5:30 PM.

I phoned Sue Corenman who said we should tie up to the customs dock at Friday Harbor and use the phone on the dock to phone customs, which closes at 5PM. If we arrive after 5PM we will have to stay aboard all night tied up to the customs dock. Customs works on Sunday. Sue has invited us to their house for dinner tonight if we can check in, otherwise, tomorrow night. They just arrived back from California last night.

As a ferry boat approached the entrance to Active Pass, it announced on VHF channel 16 that it was entering Acitve Pass and traveling southbound, and asking any other boats or ships in the channel to hail him on the radio.

At noon a ferry came out of Active Pass, and we went in. There were small whirlpools all around ADAGIO. The current was sometimes with us and sometimes against us.

At 4 PM we arrived in Friday Harbor in time to check in with customs by phone from the customs dock. Then we tied to the end of G dock, which was barely long enough for ADAGIO. Sue and Jim Corenman came out to the boat for a visit, some wine and a brief tour around, then they took us to their home for dinner.

On October 27 we photographed the eclipse of the moon as it rose up behind Mt. Baker. By 7:30 PM the terminator had crossed the face of the moon, and it was turning a golden orange color from the lower left to the upper right. By 8 PM the stars and Milky Way were visible at the total eclipse. Then the moon became darker, oranger, then the color of cheddar cheese. By 10 PM the eclipse had ended.

We waited until the beautiful sunny day of Halloween to sail to Port Sidney on the southeast coast of Vancouver Island. When we took on fuel at Friday Harbor, the dock attendant was feeding herring to a harbor seal.

As we crossed Haro Strait, the Mountains of the Olympic Peninsula were visible to the south. There was turbulent water in Haro Strait, where the current flowed against the wind. We found a contrary current of 1.5 kts out in the middle of Haro Strait. The boat was swinging back and forth 10 degrees in the eddies.

By 11:30 we had entered Canadian waters. The seas were flat. Sailboats were racing in light air under spinnaker outside the harbor. A pair of white swans greeted us as we entered the harbor. We could see Mt. Baker from our berth. The marina was very full, unlike the Friday Harbor Marina which had many empty slips in the visitors area. It was a good thing that we had made a reservation and that we had arrived when we did.

We lunched at the waterfront pub, then walked the length of Beacon street which is lined with shops and cafes, bookstores and bakeries. We met a cruiser named Ralph from the m/v INDEPENDENT. He recommended dinner at the Restaurant 503, and then drove us there in his car. Fireworks lighted the night sky before the cold front arrived bringing winds of 35 knots in the morning.

One morning I heard an animal gallumping on deck, but could not see anything when I looked out the windows and hatches. Soon I saw a river otter sitting on the edge of the cockpit, looking in the window. I took some photos, then he was gone.

We spent most of November visiting relatives, and on December 14 departed Port Sidney for Victoria where we had ADAGIO hauled at the dry dock of the Point Hope Shipyard for some repairs to one of her engines. The Wharf Street Marina where ADAGIO was berthed is in the best part of town. We invited Kevin & Maureen of s/v Maple Leaf to come for dinner.

I bought two large banners decorated with pictures of Santa, to fly from ADAGIO’s sterns. Or perhaps I will hang them out of the rain, on either side of the back door in the cockpit, or even run them up the rigging on the flag halyard.

On December 17, after taking on 1000 liters of diesel at the Ocean Fuel LTD dock we departed Victoria for Port Townsend, Washington. We crossed many tide lines where logs and debris were stranded for as far as the eye could see, as we crossed the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

We tied up at the fuel dock at Port Townsend Boat Haven Marina, to phone the Customs and Immigration officer came to the boat. Several hooded mergansers paddled past the boat. The cook’s night out was at the excellent but expensive Lonnie’s restaurant not far from the marina.

On December 18 we departed Port Townsend for the final leg of our journey to Bainbridge Island. A tug boat was towing a log boom just outside the Port Townsend marina entrance. As we rounded Marrowstone Point, heading south into a contrary current although tide and current tables indicated a favorable flood current, swirling water eddies surrounded the boat. We could see the snow covered mountains of the Olympic range off to starboard.

At 2 PM on December 18 we arrived at the Harbor Pub Marina, Winslow, Bainbridge Island, Washington, after traveling 1690 nautical miles from Sitka, Alaska. We are looking forward to spending Christmas with our daughter and her family.

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.

2004 Sep 25: Prince Rupert to Port McNeill

Saturday morning, September 25, ADAGIO was tied up to the fuel dock when it opened at 7 AM. After taking on 543 liters of diesel fuel we were ready to depart Prince Rupert, but Steve discovered that he had left his wallet at Breakers Pub. The wallet could not be found so we phoned and cancelled our 3 Visa credit cards from the pay phone at the fuel dock and untied our dock lines.

Narrow Grenville Channel was thick with fog and logs. Our radar picked up several targets, mostly fishing boats, staying to the right side of the channel, as were we. At about 11:30 AM a target appeared on the radar, heading rapidly towards us from our starboard side, and slightly behind us. I tried altering course, but still could not determine our situation. I put the engines into full reverse and a large sport fishing boat steamed across our bows, no radar, no lookout. Whew. I am sure he never saw us. Shaken but not damaged, I was happy to hand the watch over to Steve. In this crossing situation, the other boat had the right of way, as both boats were under power, and the other boat was on our starboard side. On the other hand the other boat was overtaking ADAGIO, so ADAGIO had the right of way. It was complicated. It just reinforces the fact that incidents like this can develop quite rapidly in fog. Our Canadian/New Zealand friends later commented tat they were glad ADAGIO had not been “pranged”, Canada-speak for a beam-on collision.

The fog came and went, revealing waterfalls coming out of the numerous creeks after winding their way down the cliffs and through the forest. When the channel narrowed, we passed through weak whirlpools where logs and rafts of large kelp fronds tended to accumulate close to shore, so we maintained a mid-channel course. Less than two nautical miles from our destination we had a 2.3 knot favorable current. There were about a dozen large logs in the location marked on the chart as having whirlpools, south of James Point, at the entrance to Lowe Inlet. We entered from the south and missed them all. The entrance is straight forward at low tide, with all hazards visible. Seals like silver bullets lolled on the rocks to port. We motored over to have a look at Verney Falls. Pretty, low falls with lots of water, as it comes out of the forest, with deep water right up to a 1 fathom ledge. Boats frequently anchor at the foot of the falls. We would not. A river otter was playing in the foam at the base of the falls.

A“t anchor a few hundred meters from Verney Falls, we watched a flock of black turnstones busily turning over stones on the beach, and a female merganser swimming near the rocks on shore, putting her head under water every few seconds. Her head was a much brighter red color than shown in the field guide to birds. A flock of tiny shore birds spun through the air from time to time, landing and taking off from the small beach.

In the morning, a line of logs and kelp fronds blocked our way as they had collected in a tide line across Grenville Channel just south of the entrance to Lowe Inlet at Hepburn Point. We headed for the narrowest area of the debris, and put the engines in neutral as we passed through. Motoring through the fog, we announced a “Securite’” every 10 minutes on VHF radio channel 16 giving our course, and practiced tracking the fishing boats on our radar. The fog lifted as we exited Grenville Channel and entered Wright Sound, and into the bumpy seas whipped up by the wind whistling out of Douglas Channel to port. The seas calmed as we entered McKay Reach which took us into narrow Princess Royal Channel.

This reach was relatively free of logs, although we occasionally passed a large one, and only a few boats. Sunshine through dappled clouds lighted the bare, glacially scoured grey rock mountains and cascading waterfalls. We were astonished to see that the tops of some of the mountains had been clear-felled by the logging companies. We timed our passage through Heikish Narrows for a three knot favorable current. The whirlpools were small but moved ADAGIO around a bit. No dramas, under blue skies and clear water. This area is the location of the first fish farms that we had seen.

On September 26 we were greeted by a strong fragrance of cedar trees, as we entered the channel into Bottleneck Inlet and approached our anchorage. At dusk, a full moon rose at the head of the bay, sending a long reflection across the water to ADAGIO. A beautiful sunset peeked through the narrow entrance to the inlet and created a mirror image on the still water. Wisps of fog leaked through the narrow entrance into the anchorage after dark and wove their tendrils in and out of the tops of the trees.

We made an early start Monday morning for the region of Bella Bella where we hoped to find a berth at the new docks at Shearwater Marine. Conditions were good for crossing the exposed waters of Millbank Sound, except for the fog and light rain. We arrived at Shearwater at about 3 PM on September 27 and tied up to a floating wharf, where two men clad in camouflage clothing took our lines. We asked them which was their boat, and they pointed to the one ahead of us named PACIFIC GRIZZLY. We asked them what kind of fish they were catching, and they answered, “Bears.” They said that the government keeps track of the bear population on the islands, and that they had been hired to cull the old and weak black bears to keep the population healthy. They said that they had several black bears in the freezer of their large boat. When I inquired of the waiter in the restaurant about hiking trails, I asked if there were bears on the island. He answered that there were black bears, and wolves. The wolves stay well fed on the local deer population. We splurged and spent some of our limited funds on halibut and salmon burgers and large salads at the restaurant. Shearwater had minimum facilities and the highest daily rate of any marina we had visited, a whopping $100. Just when we could least afford it. We had become accustomed to paying $20 per night at the state-owned marinas in Alaska.

Tuesday, September 28 we made an early departure and entered Lama Passage where we found weak whirlpools which swung the bow of the boat from port to starboard, then back to port then to starboard, as we passed from one whirlpool to another. Heavily forested hills and islands were on all sides, dotted with a bald eagle or two. We entered Fisher Channel in full sunshine, and following seas and breeze. Time for sunglasses. Cruising does not get any better than this. In the wider Fitz Hugh Sound, ocean swells came through the passes between the islands to the west.

One to two meter swells came in from Queen Charlotte Sound as we entered Smith Sound. Groups of murres or murrelets surrounded us as we approached the entrance to Millbrook Cove. A seal watched us as we anchored. Steve’s log entry at 3:30 PM was, “Anchor down in Millbrook Cove BOTTOM VERY SOFT, HOLDING VERY POOR. Put anchor in 1.5 fathoms with 40M of chain. Still drag slowly both engines at idle, with chain stretched at 166M off rocks and pilings and 140M off rocks to starboard beam.” We had raised the anchor which was covered with fine silt and eel grass strands, then re-set it and let out even more chain and rode.

We rose early Wednesday morning, intending to round Cape Caution before the forecast gale force northerly winds and two to three meter seas came up. Well, at low tide at dawn, ADAGIO was hard aground, in the center of the eel grass bed, our anchor chain payed out ahead of us over the silty bottom. We weren’t going anywhere early that morning. While we waited, I heard a loon calling, and then saw it swimming past. We calculated that the tide at 10 AM would most likely be high enough for us to be afloat, and we could back off, dragging our anchor through the soft silt into the deeper part of the bay. It worked! And we departed Millbrook Cove at 10 AM. The diagram of the anchorage in the cruising guide shows one fathom of depth near the pilings near the shore at zero tide. It actually dries at 3 ft above zero tide. The cruising guides give depths in fathoms. Some of the Canadian charts give depths in meters, others give depths in fathoms. We must be vigilant as to which unit of measure is being used for depths, and it can be confusing.

It was good fun ocean walloping again as we enjoyed the northerly 25 knot winds and two to three meter seas from Queen Charlotte sound and into Queen Charlotte Strait. By noon on September 29 we had rounded Cape Caution, accompanied by dolphins, and flew past Pine Island. From time to time in our voyaging we have motor-sailed, and often we have surfed ADAGIO while sailing, but this day we engaged in “motor-surfing”. In Gordon Channel, with Dorothy at the helm, the engines moving us along at 8 knots, the waves would lift us and hurry us along at 12 knots, then 13 knots, and occasionally at 14 knots of boat speed. Who needs sails in these conditions? Can you imagine taking YOUR home out for a little surfing?

Passing Port Hardy we were joined by several dozen Dalls porpoises who stayed with us for about an hour, frolicking, tail slapping, surfing on our bow waves and leaping for joy. These small porpoises exhale and inhale so quickly when they surface for air that we hear a “zip” sound.

We arrived at Port McNeill on September 29, at a little past 6 PM. The Port McNeill marina was full, and with 20 knots of wind, we were reluctant to try to fit into a small space. The harbormaster did not return our call on VHF radio, but the ketch ISLAND ROAMER did and said that the harbormaster had left for the day. We decided it would be safer to anchor out for the night and hope for calm winds in the morning. We set our anchor down at the west end of bay near 2.4 meter sounding, on a 50 meter rode. On our first attempt, we found a huge kelp bed northwest of the marina, and the anchor would not hold. On our second try we trapped a piece of log in the anchor bight. Our anchor finally held, as the full moon was rising. The strong northwesterlies were expected to continue the following day.

On the beautiful, calm morning of September 30, at anchor with full moon ahead, clearly displaying all of its mare and funny faces, the sunrise performed astern.

We motored over to the Port McNeill marina and found many empty berths. We tied up inside finger F, across from the space on finger E which is reserved for the school bus boat. Dorothy went to the harbor master’s office near the ferry wharf, where there were notes posted saying that she was at the town office. A phone call found her there. We explained our lack of funds, and Hilje the dock-master pulled $500 cash out of her pocket and handed it to Steve. It took a while to receive our new Visa cards, but meanwhile we would not starve.

Port McNeill is the next to the last town on the north end of the road up the east coast of Vancouver Island. Cruisers of these waters consider the waters north of Cape Caution to be the real Canadian and Alaskan “wilderness”. South of Cape Caution, boats travel in channels that are protected from the ocean by 250 mile long Vancouver Island. The difference was immediately evident. For example, people go to the trouble to paint their wooden buildings down here. In Ketchikan, Prince Rupert, Wrangell and Sitka, the rain and snow peels paint so quickly that some buildings stand bare and “rustic”, or with peeling paint that no one has bothered to repair. Port McNeill does not have that “Wild West” appearance that we had grown to expect in each village that we have visited. Even the dogs are smaller and have fewer wolf genes.

I took the ferry to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, and visited the U’mista Cultural Center, the tallest totem pole in the world and the burial grounds where many totem poles have been erected. It was a beautiful sunny day. The history of the First Nations’ struggles with the Canadian government over the custom of potlatches was very well explained. Displayed at the center are a large number of 100 year old wooden masks which had been confiscated by the government in the 1930’s, and returned to the people fairly recently.

The following day found me on the ferry to Malcolm Island to visit the town of Sointula. When I asked a man in the cafe about taking the walking trail up to Big Lake, he said that the trail goes through the forest, and that I should not go alone because there is a black bear on the island. He said that the bear had come into his yard and destroyed his plum tree. Instead I walked half way to the whale rubbing bay west of Bere Pt, hitched a ride the other half way and all the way back. Orcas come to this bay to rub their bodies on the round pebbles and to breed. We saw no orcas, but collected two of the round stones, one back with white flecks and one white with black flecks.

Thick fog had moved in from the west and surrounded the marina, cooling off what had been a warm, sunny day. After a few hours, the fog disappeared as quickly as it had come. Over the next few days, a series of frontal systems threatened to bring gale to storm force southeasterlies and rain.

On October 8 we visited with Kevin and Maureen as they were provisioning their 100 year old 92’ schooner MAPLE LEAF. Kevin used to manage the northern region of Vancouver Island for the Canadian parks and wildlife. Their business is called Maple Leaf Adventures, wildlife and cultural tours in SE Alaska and BC. Kevin is interested in a catamaran of his own, and so we invited them aboard ADAGIO. The ship’s chef brought us a large bag of fresh herbs, and two large beers, sporting beautiful labels showing a photo of MAPLE LEAF under full sail, celebrating her 100th year. Kevin recommended that we phone the harbormaster in Victoria asking for a berth for some time this winter or spring. MAPLE LEAF will be there November thru February. He said that it’s a great place when you are living aboard, but Port Sidney is more secure if you will be away from the boat.

2004:Sep 17: Ketchikan to Prince Rupert

On September 17 a good weather window opened up and we departed Ketchikan for Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada, with a favorable current, light winds, steady barometer and rain ahead.

Soon we were once again exposed to the North Pacific Ocean as we crossed the eastern side of Dixon Entrance and ducked into Brundige Inlet on Dundas Island for the night. This anchorage was very beautiful, completely surrounded by evergreen forest growing down to the rocky shore. An osprey flew over soon after we had anchored, and was calling to another osprey in the forest. Winds in the 20’s out of the northeast boosted our southerly progress the next morning, but died just as I was unfurling the jib.

Arriving September 18 at the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club at 4 PM, we tied up to the outside of the floating dock. Two different cruising couples in boats nearby were generous with their tips on anchorages along our route to the south. We had entered Canadian waters.

A frontal system was forecast to arrive Sunday night and Monday, bringing strong southerlies. By Monday morning the barometer was up 6 points, and all the other cruising boats had departed. Rain arrived with northerly winds. During the night the barometer fell 8 points in 8 hours, a harbinger of the cold front which brought heavy rain and SE winds of 27 knots. The barometer zoomed up again, then plummeted as another cold front passed over us, bringing another night of heavy rain. We took the opportunity to visit the fine Museum of Northern British Columbia in Prince Rupert. The forecast was for light northerly winds on Saturday.

2004 Sep 14: Wrangell to Ketchikan

On September 14, the barometer was steady at 1008, the sky was clear to the east and cloudy to the south. It began to rain as we departed Wrangell for Ketchikan. In Zimovia Strait the fishing boat ahead named SEA FIRE hailed us on the VHF marine radio to say that he was towing a gill net. We altered course to port to give him a wide berth.

Two bald eagles were sitting in the rain on top of green navigation mark “15” at the beginning of the narrows. Soon into the narrows we watched a bald eagle fly down to the water and catch a fish in its talons, white tail flared like a fan.

We entered Ernest Sound in scattered rain and a light wind on our port quarter. It was slack tide. The sun peeked out rarely, but we had good visibility to almost 5 miles. The channel is very deep, and deeper ahead, up to 1488 feet deep. We passed several “snags”, submerged trees with branches and leaves above the water’s surface.

We entered Clarence Strait at 2 PM into an ENE wind as forecast, but the seas were lower than expected. In the rain we dodged logs and numerous pairs of floats marking crab pots 1/4 mile apart just 1/3 nautical mile off shore. During the afternoon we were passed a by the sport fishing boat ALASKAN STORY, also by a tug towing a barge heavily laden with crates and containers, and finally by 2 huge cruise ships which were approaching Ketchikan.

As we were entering Tongass Narrows, a procession of three cruise ships were departing. The third one was so enormous and was moving so very slowly that we thought it was anchored. It was not until with the binoculars we could see a tiny bow wave that we realized that it was actually on a collision course with us. We easily altered course to starboard and passed the cruise ship port side to port side.

On the VHF radio, we spoke to Rick at the harbormasters office. He said we could end tie at finger 5 in Thomas Basin, or go to the City Floats. He said that a creek at the head of the Thomas Basin caused a current alongside the end of the finger. If we did not like that we can go to the inside of the City Floats, but this is not as “secure” as the Thomas Basin. We could go to harbormaster’s office after 8AM tomorrow. Rick will be in office until 10PM today.

When we arrived at the marina in Ketchikan, we found the berth in Thomas Basin was too short for ADAGIO, so we tied up on the outside of the floating wharf at the City Floats, and the next morning took ADAGIO to a better spot inside the float. By the end of the day, all spaces were taken in the marina, with

fishing boats rafted up to each other. Our luck was holding.

The next morning the circus began. At 5 AM, we were awakened by an alarmingly loud machinery noise. I quickly looked out to see if one of the large steel commercial fishing boats might be maneuvering very close to us on his way out of the harbor. The fishing boats were still rafted up on the adjacent wharf, but beyond them I was appalled to see an enormous wall of lights, slowly moving past the marina, only a few hundred feet away. The ugly machinery noise continued until the cruise ship had passed and was berthed at the cruise ship dock just next to the marina. By noon, there were two cruise ships berthed, and two anchored out in the channel. Each ship carried thousands of passengers. The busses lined up in the street to load long queues of tourists.

The float planes buzzed around the harbor like flies. We had not noticed the sea plane floats near our berth when we had arrived. The pilots lined up the little single engine planes in a row on the floats and had their propellers spinning invitingly, as the tourists streamed past. At the end of the day, it was fun to watch the little planes oooch themselves back up onto the floats, where they stayed perched out of the water overnight.

Every year hundreds of large king salmon swim between the boats berthed in Thomas Basin marina, past the shops and artists on Creek Street (the old red-light district), up Ketchikan Creek and through a large pipe into the ponds of The Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery in Ketchikan. The eggs and sperm are taken from the fish and held in trays underwater until hatched. The fingerlings are fed many times a day, and grow quickly. In the spring over 300,000 young king salmon are released back into the creek. Some will have been marked by clipping off the tip of the adipose fin, so they can be identified as hatchery fish which are still considered to be wild fish when caught. The hatchery is not a large operation, considering how many fish they ‘produce’, with fewer than a dozen large tanks and many aeration pumps.

Next door to the hatchery is the Totem Heritage Center. In this small museum have been preserved in glass cases many original, unrestored totem poles from Tlingit and Haida villages in the area. The 1800’s is considered to have been the “golden age” of totem pole carving. By native tradition, these 80 to 160 year old totems were left to fall and return to the soil. But so many of the natives died from diseases brought by Europeans, that the villages were long ago deserted. The most famous totem poles have been duplicated by contemporary native carvers, and stand in various parks. We were able to watch Tlingit artist Israel Shotridge carving a totem pole in a shed behind the Totem Heritage Center. The Saxman Village totem pole park north of Ketchikan displays about a dozen old and new totem poles. “Living cultural treasure”, Nathan Jackson, was carving a totem pole in the park’s Carver’s Shed. Using hand-made carving tools, these contemporary Michaelangelos create complex three-dimensional figures by eye and simple measuring tools. Occasionally an artist will first create a small wooden model of the final sculpture.

Images of the beaver, eagle, raven, bear, whale, salmon, orca, frog, man and wolf are the most common figures carved into totem poles. With practice we can identify the figures, but each pole carries its own story or statement. In the town of Ketchikan, natives have begun carving totem poles to display in front of their houses, like a family crest. Other totem poles are carved to assist in the telling of the native legends, for example, about how the raven stole the sun, moon and stars and flung them into the sky for all to enjoy. Other poles represent the characters in a story about the man who married a bear, and a story about an eagle that tried to pick up a very large clam and ended up getting his foot caught in the clam and dying. Other poles have been carved to ridicule a person, or as a memorial to a revered person who has died.

Two of our favorite native artists in Ketchikan are Norman Jackson and Marvin Oliver. You will enjoy having a look at their web sites. I would buy one of Norman’s carved wooden masks if I could afford it.

2004 Sep 5: Sitka to Petersburg to Wrangell

Our daughter and her family boarded their planes for home, and we prepared ADAGIO for her passage south to her winter berth on Bainbridge Island, Washington. We enjoyed a final meal at our favorite Ludvig’s Bistro.

On September 5 we departed New Thomsen Marina, Sitka, Alaska. Our first destination was to be Tracy Arm to see the Sawyer Glacier. The weather was clearing, and we could see the mountain peaks in their snowy splendor.

We were East of Scraggy Island at 2:30 PM, and slowed our speed to arrive at Sergius Narrows 30 minutes before slack tide. Our cruising guide says, “At ebb tide Sergius Narrows is dangerous, with tide rips and turbulence.” A few showers filled the skies. At 3 PM we passed through Kakul Narrows with a favorable current of 1-1/2 knots. Ahead it looked like more rain showers. We were looking for whales. We entered Sergius Narrows at 3:45 PM, in light rain, at slack high tide. No current was visible at the base of the navigation marks. Several small sport fishing boats passed through going both directions. Our passage through was a piece of cake!

We followed the channel called Peril Strait, formed by an ancient fault, which passes between Chichagof and Baranof Islands. The name comes from an incident in 1799 when a party of 100 Aleut hunters died of paralytic shellfish poisoning after eating quantities of mussels.

Passing Nismeni Cove, we headed for an overnight anchorage at Appleton Cove in the east arm of Peril Strait. Light rain and some fog was all around, but we still had good visibility. We rounded the Duffield Peninsula at the north end of Baranof Island, seeing the shoreline of Chichagof Island across the strait to port. This land is forest-covered mountains of spruce and hemlock, separated by glacier-carved fjords. We were cruising among the “ABC Islands” (Admiralty, Baranof and Chichagof) that constitute the northwest quarter of the beautiful Tongass National Forest.

At 7 PM we set our anchor in 6 fathoms in the west end of Appleton Cove. In the soft bottom, our anchor dragged very slowly while setting at 1000 rpm. We avoided crossing a line of four round floats strung out from shore, across the head of the bay. They might be attached to a fish net. We did not want to find out the hard way. The rain was easing, allowing brief glimpses of some blue sky. When the sun set at 7 PM there was still lots of light in the sky.

On September 6, on a beautiful, quiet morning, totally overcast with low clouds, we raised anchor and entered the east arm of Peril Strait, passing a fishing boat which was pulling in salmon on what looked like a longline.

The wind had already turned to the northeast as we passed between Pt. Craven on Chichagof Island to the north and Fairway Island near Baranof Island to the south, and entered Chatham Strait. Turning south just east of Midway Reef, Chatham Strait was a little bumpy coming out of Peril Strait, but became smoother with seas astern.

After lunch, the seas were calmer, waterfalls lay to starboard, and a clearing sky lay ahead. The barometric pressure was up to 1021, and the wind had decreased. Occasional rain sprinkles. By 2:00 PM we were five nautical miles northwest of Pt. Gardner, the southern tip of Admiralty Island. Clouds had cleared somewhat, revealing the white mountain peaks and hanging glaciers on Baranof Island.

Just south of Point Gardner we spotted two Humpback whales, spouting and sounding, feeding around the kelp. Several more humpbacks were feeding across the channel to the southeast, their white, steamy spouts contrasting sharply against the dark hills behind.

At 4 PM we anchored in Chapin Bay on the SE corner of Admiralty Island, in 6 fathoms, over sand. It was a very pretty, quiet, still bay. The shores were thickly forested from the waters edge to the mountain peaks. Wispy white cloud fragments interwove their strands between the silhouettes of the dark green trees. Large white moon jellies pulsed their way through the water and were joined by large orange jellies with round star-shaped spherical heads with dangling tentacles. A kingfisher chattered in the trees and flew quickly to and from various perches in the shoreline trees. A small sailboat was anchored close to shore.

On the morning of September 7 we raised our anchor on a beautiful day, and changed our destination to Petersburg, the Norwegian fishing town. We had heard from several cruisers that Tracy Arm was full of house-sized icebergs, and we needed to get some better information about the situation. Also the barometer was falling, so we needed some up-to-date weather information. After all, we had to get south before the rain (and snow?) was so heavy we couldn’t see our way. There was still so much we did not understand about this area, even after reading books, guides and talking to locals. We will know more soon. We have seen humpback whales every day, and today sailed close to several pods who were heavily feeding. Mountain clouds were clearing and we could see the soaring peaks.

Our route through Frederick Sound took us between Turnabout island and Pinta Rocks, north of Kupreanof Island. We watched whales just northwest of Pinta Point. More whales ahead. The barometer continued to fall and the wind was increasing slowly. We passed a tug pulling a barge full of shipping containers and an Alaskan state ferry, both heading west as we headed east.

The small town of Petersburg was settled by Norwegians in 1900 when they established salmon canneries, and later canneries for herring, halibut and frozen shrimp. Decorated with paintings of traditional Norwegian floral designs called rosemaling, the historic buildings, sport tidy gardens as they line the orderly streets. All of this with expansive views of mainland glaciers in the Stikine-Le Conte Wilderness.

We spent one night in the town of Petersburg. Steve downloaded from the internet the latest weather forecasts, and we saw that a deepening low would be approaching our area over the next three days. We decided to continue south to the town of Wrangell, which has more facilities than Petersburg. To get there we had to make our way through the notorious Wrangell Narrows, 21 miles long, between Kupreanof and Mitkof Islands. To quote from the Coast Pilot, “The channel is narrow and intricate in places, between dangerous ledges and flats, and the tidal currents are strong.” Our passage through the Wrangell Narrows was as good as it gets. Under a sunny sky, with the glacier-covered mountains sparkling astern, the currents in the narrows never exceeded two knots, because of the neap tides of the quarter moon. Following the instructions in the Pilot, late on the flood tide, we left the dock a few minutes after the large Alaskan Fish and Game research vessel “KESTREL”, a very impressive boat with navy hull and gold bootstripe. We made the passage in two hours 15 minutes. At one point, about half way through the narrows, the boat was being swung slightly back and forth, back and forth, oscillating in the current. The navigation aids are numerous and well-placed, and the shoreline dotted with the occasional tiny peak-roofed cabin, each with a tiny boat launch ramp or small dock.

By noon, the northwest wind was up to 20 knots as forecast. The ride was a little bumpy. Our course took us through the channel between Sokolof and Vank Islands. Seas were on the beam until we were in the lee of Sokolof. On the other side of the islands was Zimovia Strait, and more wind waves on the beam.

As we approached the mainland, the water turned from a sparkling clarity to a milky appearance, due to snow-melt and tiny rock particles from the glaciers.

The Wrangell harbormaster is named Ladonna. Her assistant is named Steve. We tied up to the Reliance Harbor transient dock, next to the historic Shakes Island. This small island in the middle of the small-boat harbor is the site of a Tlingit Indian clan house and collection of totem poles constructed by Native workers, using traditional tools, in the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930’s. Berthing ADAGIO within a stone’s throw of this historic site gave me goose-bumps, as I could imagine the lifestyle of the First Nations peoples two hundred years ago, before the arrival of Europeans.

Small fishing boats tied to the float ahead of us and astern were rafted together two and three abreast. ADAGIO was as wide as the two boats ahead of us, SALTY and MEMORIES, so we hoped no other boat would raft alongside ADAGIO and her fragile hulls. Almost all of the other boats in this harbor are small commercial fishing boats, smaller and quieter than the large fishing boats at Sitka. The owner of the boat, named DONICA LYN, across the narrow channel, one morning was sorting out his green fishing net with white floats. He carefully inspected it as he strung it out, and repaired it when he found a broken strand. Other local boat names were SAVAGE, NESTOR, SCANDIA, CHELSEA L, ISLAND DANCER and SEA SPRAY.

Locals looked at me with longing when I said that a storm was coming bringing rain. Wrangell was suffering from a long drought and was almost out of water. Water had been turned off at the marina. The best internet cafe was the library. The best restaurant was said to be Zack’s.

I had been looking forward to visiting the Wrangell museum which displays an excellent collection of Native artifacts, including a Tlingit spruce wood canoe, thought to be the only one left in existence. One afternoon I walked to the Wrangell Petroglyph Beach State Historical Park where petroglyphs had been chipped into rocks above high tide. They are thought to be very old, pre-dating the Tlingit peoples. Finding each carving in the stone took some careful observation, and getting the angle of the light just right. As I walked among the rocks, suddenly a face would appear, carved into the rock, or a spiral or other shape would reveal itself.

Black bears and brown bears can be viewed from a platform at the Anan Wildlife Observatory, as they catch salmon swimming upstream. When we inquired, we were told that there were no bears to observe this year because of the drought. Not enough rainfall meant not enough water in the streams for the salmon, so there were no salmon for the bears.

The children of Wrangell sell to the tourists beautiful semi-precious garnet stones. The garnet ledge on the Stikine River was deeded in 1962 to Wrangell’s children who are the only ones allowed to sledgehammer and chisel off garnet-studded rocks from the site. Each garnet is about the size of a large marble, dark translucent red in color and multifaceted.

One morning the local radio announcer said, “Nobody out there is upset because it is raining”. The barometer fell to 992 MB overnight, then rose. Showers came in the afternoon. I was not sure what happened to the forecast wind. The following day the sky was heavy with dark grey clouds all around, and the wind picked up. On September 13 a cold front passed through during the night.

2004 Aug 21: Sitka, Alaska Landfall – Family Visit

On the day of our arrival in Sitka, Alaska, August 21, 2004, we berthed ADAGIO safely in New Thomsen Marina. The harbormaster recommended that we rent a car on August 22, and drive up to the hiking trail that goes to the top of the mountain above Sitka. He said that there is always a cloud covering the top of the mountain, except for a few days a year, and this would be one of those days. The skies were crystal clear when we reached the top of the tree line where the Sitka spruce and hemlock trees are gnarled, twisted and stunted. The views of Nakwasina Sound and Olga Strait to the north, the extinct volcano, 3,201 ft high Mt. Edgecumbe, to the west and the islands in the bays to the south of Sitka were extraordinary.

Sitka can be called Alaska’s first city. It was founded by the Russian fur traders in 1799, and later served as a center for gold prospecting and salmon canneries under American rule. This is where James A Michener lived while he wrote his book ALASKA. The Sheldon Jackson College hosted him, and at the Sheldon Jackson Museum, he had access to the world’s best collection of daily “household” items, clothing and tools of the Tlingit Indians.

Today Sitka is a successful blend of tourist attractions and working fishing port and seafood processors. The citizens of Sitka have prevented the construction of mega-docks for cruise ships, which still anchor gracefully in the bay and bring their passengers ashore in small boats.

The cultural history of the area is beautifully displayed at the Sitka National Historical Park. Trails leading through giant spruce trees are lined with totem poles from abandoned Tlingit and Haida villages.

Our daughter, her husband, and our two grandchildren arrived on a rainy afternoon, and experienced Alaska’s “liquid sunshine” for a few days, while they accustomed themselves to life afloat. When the skies cleared on August 29, we released our dock lines and cruised north across the northern tip of Sitka Sound, into Hayward Strait, through the East Channel, and anchored in the cove on the north side of Magoun Island in 6 fathoms. Surrounded by eagles, we watched them in the trees, listened to their calls and their flights overhead. David commented that he had never heard a bald eagle’s call.

The outboard engine was difficult to start at first, but soon ALLEGRO was carrying us around the bay and into the south end of Krestof Sound. The tide was ebbing, exposing the sandy beach to the west of our anchorage. We went ashore to explore and to pick wild blueberries which stained hands and mouths with their sweet juice. At sunset a pair of dolphins and a seal swam along the shore nearby. The nearly full moon rose up from behind the trees, very round and bright.

On August 30 we departed Magoun Island after lunch, motored north across Krestof Sound and into Whitestone Narrows and its small eddies and rips, at the south entrance to Neva Strait. The Strait is long and scenically lined with forested hills. We passed through Kakul Narrows at close to high slack tide. An Alaskan Ferry came through Sergius Narrows and a barge and tow passed us coming from astern and entered Sergius Narrows. About mid-tide we watched as a cabin cruiser from Sitka fought the ebb tide coming out of Sergius Narrows. At times the boat was standing still, motoring at 6 to 8 knots, and was being thrown around by the eddies and whirlpools. Our daughter spotted sea otters cavorting on the shore, and we all watched small diving birds, most of which were murrelets and aucklets.

Arriving at Schulze Cove, north of Fish Bay, on the north end of Baranof Island, we anchored in 4 fathoms, the afternoon of August 30, just before a heavy rainfall. After lunch and naps we took a ride in ALLEGRO, out towards Fish Bay. The outboard was once again difficult to start and ran rough. We landed on the beach of Piper Island near where ADAGIO was anchored. The water was so clear that we could see giant white anemones on the bottom below ADAGIO. As we dinghied ashore we could see giant purple sea stars. We walked along the beach and into the forest where campers had built a fire pit. The rain-moistened forest was fragrant, the ground blanketed in ferns and mosses. In the shallows we found many sea stars. One purple one with 19 legs was moving quickly across the pebbles. Our granddaughter caught a blenny fish with her bare hands, a hermit crab and an unusual dancing, swimming worm, which we kept in a clear plastic container for observation. Large beige and orang jellyfish pulsed by.

The morning of August 31 found us fogged in at anchor in 2.2 fathoms, in Schulze Cove, north of Piper Island, at dead low tide. The guys took ALLEGRO out for fishing in the fog. They soon returned to enter waypoints into the GPS to ensure their safe return to the mother ship, reporting that there were “blue holes” in the otherwise pea soup fog.

Our son-in-law wanted very much to catch a salmon, so we anchored in Sukoi Inlet, between Partofshikof and Kruzof islands, for a few hours to try the fishing at the entrance to a stream. The guys took the dinghy and found salmon leaping and swimming upstream across the bay from our anchorage. The fish would not bite the lure or swim into the net, because they had begun their arduous swim upstream to spawning grounds. Dorothy had turned on the siren and loud hailer to tell them that ADAGIO’s anchor was dragging. They could not hear the loud hailer or the siren over the outboard motor. When they returned, we raised anchor and motored back through Kakul Narrows at low slack tide.

As we lowered the anchor in 5 fathoms in Schulze Cove, the sun was setting. A seal checked us out. Soon a beautiful full moon + 1 day was beaming into our front windows in this pristine, calm anchorage.

September 1 we headed back to Sitka to get gas for the outboard engine. Humpback whales were spouting and showing their tail flukes as we exited Kakul Narrows. Our daughter was thrilled. Steve took us around Vitskari Rocks near Sitka where our son-in-law caught a beautiful rock fish for our dinner. Then we returned to the Sitka New Thomsen Marina due to weather forecasts of bad weather approaching.

One of our favorite entertainments ashore was the Raptor Center where injured owls, eagles, hawks, ospreys and kites are nursed, re-trained and, if possible, released to the wild. Those unable to cope for themselves formed a permanent raptor “zoo” for us to enjoy. At the dock, our grandson caught a large lavender sea star with his crab snare, then serenaded us playing his cello. ADAGIO has finally lived up to her name. He is the first musician to have performed aboard ADAGIO.

Hours exploring the beach at the Sitka National Historical Park, watching salmon swimming up the streams and eagles on the beach and wandering among totem poles in the forest, was a perfect way for our fine family to spend their last day in Sitka.