Johnstone Strait and Into the Broughtons
Johnstone Strait has a bad reputation due to prevailing northwest winds that can whip down the Strait against the strong ebb tides and create very choppy, unpleasant conditions. Thus we paid careful attention to the weather forecasts for the days preceding and timed our transit with the phase of the moon that would mean less current. Preparation paid off, but there is no doubt that a lot of luck with the weather was involved. We had a brisk following wind and a favourable current that meant we were zooming along. Admittedly, just after leaving West Blenkinsop Bay things started out slow - so slow that we were lured into putting the spinnaker up. It took a good 20 minutes to get the rigging sorted out to hoist the Great Pumpkin (hey, the last time it flew was when it ripped about 4 miles from Victoria on the way home from Hawai'i!) Within about 10 minutes the winds were picking up and we were fishtailing along the Strait at great speeds. What a rush! Alas, it didn't really feel safe, so we grounded our poor pumpkin after a 20 minute flight.
We reached Hanson Island much earlier than expected so decided that we wouldn't stop to search for possible rich relatives that Bjarne could endear himself to. We carried on into the Broughton Islands in winds that had become very calm, at least some of the time. As we wiggled our way between various islands, both the winds and the currents varied considerably. Shortly after some calm motoring on peaceful mirrored seas that blended in with the gray skies, we were heeled over and tacking into 20 kt gusts.
The forecast had been for gale force winds so we tucked ourselves into Bootleg Cove, a little hidey hole that is not obviously apparent from Retreat Passage.
We hid out in the cozy Bootleg Cove for a day and half, remaining undetected by the authorities. When the coast was clear, we made a mad dash (at about 1.5 knots) for nearby Echo Bay. For the next two days we were plagued by a 1980's pop tune (any guesses?)1 that kept popping into our minds like the rodents in a whack-a-mole game.
This picturesque bay is fairly small, but has a lot in it with some public docks, a marina and fishing lodge, and a marine park.
The marina (which is getting quite a makeover with new owners) is well connected to the outside world with satellite phone, wireless Internet, float plane access (gotta get the fishers there somehow), and weekly postal delivery. (Mail actually gets addressed to Simoom Sound, however, because that was where the post office was originally located until 1973). Fuel, laundry, and showers are available and, a bit later in the season, so are fresh provisions. It is apparently a popular stop for folks cruising to Alaska. There is a whole community nearby that we only read about later in Bill's book about the area (see below) – from the bay it wasn't apparent.
A short but rugged trail, complete with ropes for climbing steep area and a ricketty bridge, took us across to the next bay and Billy's Museum. The forest had been logged off and on over the last hundred or so years, but not clear-cut so there was a lot of interesting growth and large trees growing from nurse trees. Bill Proctor has lived in the Broughtons for most of his 70 some odd years so he has extensive knowledge about the area and its history. We purchased his book, Full Moon, Flood Tide (autographed, naturally) from the little gift shop he runs with the museum. The book is stuffed with interesting stories about the area and the characters who have lived there. The goods sold at the shop are from local artists and writers, and the money from the museum supports fish rehabilitation. What's that? You didn't know fish needed rehabilitating...ever hear the expression 'drinks like a fish'?. OK, OK – it's fish habitat rehabilitation.
This walk was good for spotting birds – we were graced with a good view of an eagle, a pretty bluishy-teal bird (like we know the name) and hummingbirds (oh ya, and chickens).
Because the Internet was free here, we had a hard time leaving. Wait! Just one more email to send...
We dragged ourselves away after lunch and tacked our way upwind a narrow channel (when you are tacking, pretty much every channel seems narrow) to reach Cullen Harbour on the south side of Broughton Island. We were too tired to bother exploring this harbour despite the many interesting possibilities. Sometimes one doesn't need to see yet another combination of rocks, trees and water2. We had a relaxing night and made a (reasonably) early start the next day.
Queen Charlotte Strait (En-Route to Port Hardy)
A calm morning in Queen Charolotte Strait.
The winds eventually allowed us to sail, although we weren't breaking any speed records. Our resistance to turning the engine back on was rewarded when we heard the occasional distant “whooooosh” and realized there were whales around. We think there were about 4 spread out over a large area. You can't really chase whales in a boat sailing at 3 knots, but we altered course anyway, and did manage to come a little closer to a humpback. If we'd had the engine on we would never have heard them spouting off.
Port Hardy – Provisioning Stop
Whaling and slow sailing meant a later arrival in Port Hardy than planned. We were concerned that the stores would be closing before we could get our chores done. No need to worry about that – we arrived during a power outage affecting all of North Vancouver Island. That ruled out: hot showers, grocery shopping, getting rum, fueling up, laundry, and using the Internet. Hmmm, now what? Hey, that pizza place has a propane-fired oven! Well, dining-out was on the agenda, too.
Wildlife spotting was surprisingly good in Port Hardy, despite us being at a marina. A big sea lion had claimed an old fuel dock, eagles perched on a nearby pagoda, and a heron stalked the docks. Additionally, the harbour was teeming with herring (fortunately, no red ones).
Goletas Channel, Nawhitti Bar and Cape Scott
In the Goletas channel, skirting the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, all was calm and the seas were gentle as we headed for the anchorage at Bull Harbour. Suddenly, the winds picked up to 20 kts on the nose and we rushed to reef the sail! Where the heck did that come from? This called for a re-evaluation of plans; there wasn't a lot of point in beating up wind if we could avoid it.
The bay we ducked into, Loquililla Cove, was very quiet except for the sea life that attacked the prop; the prop was well and truly tangled, necessitating that the person who backed over the kelp get in the kayak and untangle it. Patient use of the boat hook prevented a dip in the cold water.
Whilst kayaking about the bay we recovered a lifejacket washed up on the beach – with no person inside fortunately. Anyone knowing the whereabouts of the boat/person Tlatlasikwala, let them know we have their lifejacket...
The Nawhitti Bar is a feared crossing but gave us no problems thanks to care in timing and favourable weather. Once past this bar we were back into the Pacific Ocean swells. Been there, done that, didn't really miss it. Ah well, the weather was fine and we had our first glimpse of Sea Otters (not to be confused with River Otters, which are commonly seen around the Victoria area [in the sea]). Very exciting if you are there but the photo only shows little dark lumps in the water – we have better photos coming later...
For those who likes beaches, the stretch of coast leading up to Cape Scott should be added to your list of travel sites. There are miles of beautiful, golden strands. Some of them are accessed by the Cape Scott hiking trail, a trek Bjarne did with his mom, dad and little sis when he was 12 years old. The trail is quite rugged; it is shorter than the West Coast Trail but less manicured (e.g. fewer boardwalks over bog-crossings), and can be rather wet, but oh, those beaches.
Rounding Cape Scott was unproblematic (not complaining). The winds and currents here can be fierce but on this day we were motoring around it in light winds with plenty of time to snap photos of the lighthouse. We made our way to Sea Otter Cove (named after a ship rather than possible inhabitants) and celebrated our first night on the West Coast.
Today, 15 June 2009, we are in Kyuquot tied up to the public dock. It's a tiny town of about 300 folks mainly engaged in fishing (year-round) and tourism, kayak and fishing charters during the summer months. We took a walk along main street last night, which consists of a well-worn dirt path meandering along the shore and through peoples' front and back yards. There's a good assortment of old-growth trees and salmon-berry bushes along the track that we paused to enjoy. We chatted with a fellow who's restoring the old schoolhouse for use as a hostel, and another local commented that in the winter it rains here for three months, steadily.
1 “Echo Beach” Martha and the Muffins
2 Check Out “Rocks and Trees” on the Arrogant Worms' album Dirt!