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July 15, 2002

Silva Bay, Pacific Northwest

49° 08.99' N 123° 41.80' W

Part One of Three

 

On July 1 we departed our old Port Sidney winter berth at just past dawn under clear skies with light NW winds. For twelve weeks we will pass thru remote Northwest rapids, narrows, coves, passages, bays and sounds as we venture farther north. The course is now set for a trip to Alaska next summer. In some places we'll take on fuel, water and food, but that's all as the boat works perfectly. We can generate power to heat our water, freeze our food, recharge our batteries, run the blender, the microwave, the vacuum cleaner, the hair dryer and most anything else. Our navigation systems are working without fault. We eat so well that restaurant food disappoints us. Our homemade wine is good. The boat is comfortable beyond our expectations. This boat, "Love of Liberty", is worth more than money. I wouldn't sell her at any price.

Just two days before our departure a massive 142-foot long mega yacht moored adjacent to our slip in Sidney- and blocked the morning sun until noon. I continue to be surprised by the size of cruising yachts around here and their lack of utility. Here was another one, the largest of all. The main engines and generators were shut down. Elaborate boarding ladders were swung out to the dock. Electricians worked changing the dock's electrical fixtures and plugs to handle the ship's huge umbilical power cords. When all were connected, those cords - like the IV's, tubes and monitors to a critical hospital patient - pumped "electrical oxygen" into the ship so that its critical life support motors, fluid pumps and air conditioners could continue their whirring and pumping sounds for all hours - just ten feet from us. Still, we slept well that night.

The next day, standing on the dock, I couldn't even see this boat's deck. She was big. The crew had scrubbed the hull sides with long handled mops and were busy stocking and prepping things for the owner who was flying into Victoria International aboard his private jet. Before we left, Ellen somehow met the yacht's owner, and they talked while walking down the dock. After acknowledging that it was "his boat", he said, "I think my boat is too big. Something around 65 feet, like my old boat, would let me do more cruising into small coves and harbors. Now, I feel like a guest on my OWN boat." While I don't have that problem, in my opinion I think he was right about his problem. The day before, his boat had to be backed astern into the harbor since it was too long to turn around inside the breakwater!

Berthing in Port Sidney Marina is a squeeze for ordinary sized boats. The flare of this yacht's high pointed bow worsened things by overhanging our berth's exit. Ever so slowly, we eased "Love of Liberty" out of the slip. Ellen and I cleared the four-deck white hull despite a cross-wind, cross current problem. I kept an eye on our mast's headstay and shrouds and prevented a hook-up with the delicate varnished flagstaff at the tip of his bow. We powered out of the marina, passed the breakwater and turned northerly taking our departure on Sidney Harbor's motionless, red entrance buoy.

Winter's gone, and the barometer is finally on MY side. The pacific high has moved north, and now it blocks the arctic cold fronts rolling down from the Alaska panhandle. British Columbia's calmer but fickle summer weather systems are in place, and they just tease San Francisco sailors like us. I'd like a nice reach across the Straight of Georgia in bright sunshine and westerly winds? Ha! Light wind, periods of sunshine, rain and low clouds ante up for several days. Sometimes we do get some clear, balmy skies and moderate winds, but it's not regular. Sooooo, I am happily reconciled to the customary wispy breezes here that just pester the boat.

I can well remember my gut wrenching on San Francisco Bay with those summer afternoon westerly winds. There they regularly blow 20 to 25 knots, frequently gusting to 30 knots. Sailing within view of the San Francisco hills, I would tack up the city front past the Marina Green to the Golden Gate Bridge. Then I'd reach across "the gate" to Sausalito and raise the spinnaker for a wild run back home. Or, for something more demanding but not really more desirable, I would compete with a bunch of racing sailboats. I'd cross the start line at the St. Francis Yacht Club and have a blustery beat up to the Golden Gate against the flood current. Then all boats would converge and round the first mark, Crissy Field buoy, where the wind - at full tilt - funnels under the bridge an area called "the slot". With winches spinning, sails slating and egotistical sailors shouting at each other, each boat's oversized spinnaker would be set with heavy poles and tangled paraphernalia. On the next course leg, the boat would be aligned WITH the wind and heading across The Bay - with double the sail area. The parachute spinnaker would blossom out and pull the boat from under my feet like a quarter-mile dragster off the line. Grab a good hold on the helm son, for with 28 knot winds rushing over the stern and screwy flood currents and eddies affecting the rudder, you'd roll and broach down the Bay, out of control, to the next race mark at Harding Rock. Sailing days like that would put a hole in your underwear!

The weatherman here tries to sound scientific forecasting about this Northwest light-wind conundrum. I need the weatherman's help. With it I can pick a good sailing day or a safe anchorage. But, then he uses phrases like "today will be partly cloudy to partly sunny." Huh? Are those different situations? Consider "cloudy with periods of sunshine," or "a mix of sun and clouds." What's a chance when there's a "chance of rain"? 1 in 2? 1 in a hundred? Is it like the Lotto with one chance in 24 million? I like Mark Twain's version:

 

"Probable nor'east to sou'west winds, varying to the southard and westard and eastard and points between; high and low barometer, sweeping round from place to place; probable areas of rain, snow, hail, and drought, succeeded or preceded by earthquakes with thunder and lightning.

 

"Love of Liberty's" bow wave barely upsets the glassy flat water as she heads up-channel and northerly past tree-rich Valdes Island, an Indian Reserve. Our second day out, and it is as warm as a low latitude tropical island. There are not any swaying coconut trees, but there is a thick forest of fir trees, cedar trees and cottonwoods. On the horizon are puffy cumulus clouds and steep snow capped mountain peaks. The terrain features mountainous, volcano ruptured earth that has been scraped here and there by ice age glaciers. Trees grow everywhere. For some reason, even in the barren steep rock faces, small crevices gather enough nutrients to support a hundred foot fir tree. Their roots, holding with a rock climber's grip, squeeze into every niche barely grasping the tiny ledges. Miles and miles are like that: abrupt, forest covered, rich in soil interspersed with steep rock faces.

There's not a soul or structure anywhere on the island. Ellen is on the bow looking for dead-head logs and rocks awash in the channel. A dead-head is a water-soaked log, devoid of bark, branches and roots, sometimes forty or fifty feet long. Many, called "floating totems", float vertically with rounded ends. They're worn smooth with barely a half-foot visible above the surface. I've mistaken some for seal's heads. Others lie flat on the surface, dry on the topside, like huge alligators. While I don't think it likely that one of these could sink the boat, I'm unsure that boring into one at 7 or 8 knots would do no harm. Oh yes, there's also the sinking variety of dead head. This type settles to the bottom and waits, ready to permanently snag the boat's anchor. It's an old lumberjack's tale that most of these discarded "lumberman's orphans" have been floating here for years. They drift down the reach a few miles on the ebb tide and back up the reach a few miles on the flood tide, never making it to the sea. They're not worth salvaging. So there they stay, gently bobbing and perilous. These are the West Coast's corollary to the East Coast's lobster trap buoys.

When it comes to serious damage, rocks are a sure thing. Rocks are very intolerant of even the slightest transgression. The rock peaks I see jutting fifty or a hundred feet above ground along the shores have rock siblings that do just the same thing beneath the water's surface. If there are boulder outcroppings and steep rocky cliffs above the water, others are there lurking below the water. Some passages have water over a hundred feet deep with a rocky point mid channel that is just awash at low tide. For some unknown reason, the Hydrographic Office calls this a "drying rock" as if that is its prime feature. Really, its prime feature is that it's deadly when it's not dry, that is when it's wet. As the tide rises a little, the rock silently covers up and hides out there just beneath the water's surface. From even a short distance the rock is now unnoticeable unless, by chance, a cormorant or seagull, feet slightly awash, is standing on it. A very valuable tip-off that is for the helmsman who can now avoid a bottom ripping collision, having seen a bird standing in what appears to be very deep water.

That said; we threaded our way through narrow Gabriola Passage at 10:39 AM, exactly at high tide, slack current. Do I worry about the narrows as I used to? Maybe this business is easier than it seems, eh? Unfortunately, my history shows that several successes breed overconfidence, then contempt for the rules, and finally, caution exits. Experience is a stern teacher. First comes the test, and then the lesson follows. We steered very cautiously around an easing bend to the west leaving Shipyard Rock, "the commander of Silva Bay inlet", and its reef well to port.

Inside the bay it's sunny. A nice dock, a store, a restaurant, few boats. No sweat! In 17 feet of calm water over a mud bottom, we payed out chain and our superb Tunisian made Spade anchor. In this harbor we had 360° degree land protection from any kind of wind short of a williwaw. I backed down hard on the anchor with the engine. It dug in and held! The sunset colors shifted to orange, magenta, gray, blue-black and finally black at 10:00 PM. With a flashlight I worked my way forward and checked things on deck. The anchor chain fell vertically off the bow roller. No wind. Flat calm. I noticed a few sounds of laughter and some lights flickering in the café ashore. I slipped around the shrouds, backed down the companionway and slid the main hatch closed. Ellen and I dropped into our bunk, falling asleep quickly. The next leg would take us to Secret Cove and Egmont.

 

July 6, 2002

Egmont Harbor, British Columbia, Canada

49° 45.4' N 123° 56.3' W

Sunny, clear skies, winds predicted 20k to 28k

 

With 20k winds we sailed (finally!) across the Straight of Georgia arriving at Egmont, the last outpost for those heading to Princess Louisa Inlet. Tiny Egmont town is nothing more than a wedge in the forest with a pier, a café/pub and a tall green day beacon marking a huge rock at the east end. Here, you can rent an 8 by 10-foot rustic cabin-with-a-bunk for $30 CDN. Perfectly described, it's half bunk and half floor with sides, a roof and a door. For slightly less you can pitch a tent or even sleep in your car. Around here, 'skookum' means 'big' in native Indian lore. The Back Eddy Pub, just up the dock, serves the Skookumchuck Hamburger mounted on a 10" bun and fitted with nearly a pound of meat, bacon, three cheeses, mayo, tomato and lettuce. Add the fries and they say with a grin, "That'll put a logjam in your gut".

Last night was payday for the lumberjacks who, back in civilization, spent a good part of their pay in the Back Eddy Pub and then a good part of the night right down the dock. Mosey a little further down the channel and you can see Sechelt Rapids. Here a full current flow makes a boiling cauldron complete with high overfalls and 12 to 16 knot currents. Boats have been rolled over and sunk in the whirlpools. Rapids and high current flows are dangerous and are typical Northwest channel features. We held tight to the Egmont dock that night, and next morning we finished provisioning the boat. I studied the charts, the current tables and timed our next passage through Malibu Rapids, the door to Princess Louisa Inlet.

Princess Louisa Inlet is the most eastern and most beautiful waterway in British Columbia. It's warm sunrise. I'm ready and sitting in the cockpit just after sunrise drinking one of my two favorite Canadian coffees - Kicking Horse brand: Kick Ass Dark Roast and Grizzly Claw Roast. It's such a relief to have found these coffee blends up here. It's coffee that I understand. Both blends are equally good, actually. Set aside the names, and there's no difference between the two. The stuff is plain jet fuel. Even on a cold foggy morning, a sip gets me out of the bunk, up the companionway and on to the deck. Two sips could get me past the spreaders to the masthead. It's anyone's guess as to what it does to my blood pressure or the rest of my body, but who's to care sailing so close to heaven here in the Northwest. We'll leave around noon having computed the six-hour leg up Prince of Wales Reach, Princess Royal Reach and Queen's Reach to arrive at current slack at Malibu Rapids.

 

Princess Louisa Inlet, British Columbia, Canada

50° 12.3' N 123° 46.3' W

 

The Comox VHF weather channel's last transmission was noted, "Sunny morning, possible late afternoon rain, some cloudiness, light variable winds." From Prince of Wales Reach onward we'll enjoy, at least to some degree, no radio contact, no cell phone service, no newspaper and no TV. And, there's no fresh water, no fuel, no power and no services of any sort. It's a taste of what we'll get in the Discovery Islands.

For six hours, we powered through thirty-one miles of deep water, tree lined inland fiord. It is early evening. The remaining sun still lights up the mountain peaks, but the water of the fiord ahead is getting dark. Rocky-sided Malibu Rapids appears two miles off the bow. We arrive, at slack current, and swung the bow toward the tall mossy-green day beacon that marks the entrance. Through here, we temporarily leave the safety of deep water.

I left the green marker to port, and then I favored the tiny island on the starboard. I looked at ripples in the water and at any eddies that might indicate current flow. In just half a minute it was possible to see thru the dogleg passage. At about three knots, just enough to maintain steerage, we are helped by a residue current from behind the little island, and pass thru in about six minutes. We have once again piloted "Love of Liberty" safely thru Malibu Rapids into the blue-black water and rich forest of the inlet. To port and to starboard are areas with smooth rock walls extending vertically a thousand feet up to the cliff edges. Up there are high mountain valleys and glaciers that feed the waterfalls cascading down the sides to the inlet. We are there. Thanks to John MacDonald, this inlet is dedicated to remain primitive and pristine, and has been protected from commercial exploitation by his trust. We are glad to be back and drop the hook near Chatterbox Falls for a week's stay.

Hotham Sound, Harmony Islands

49° 51.9' N 124° 01.0' W

I've been told that 90% of the fish are caught by 10% of the fishermen. Even so I still keep trying. I bought a non-resident Canadian Fisheries License at $120 CDN. We're at anchor in the Harmony Islands with a stern tie to a tree on shore. I oiled my father's old Penn reel and rigged his very old fiberglass boat rod. I think he'd be glad for that. That is 'I'm still trying' - using his equipment. I rowed the dinghy over to an underwater rocky pinnacle and lowered a highly recommended Buzz Bomb ­ "guaranteed to catch fish" - lure to the bottom. Moving the rod and line to make the Buzz Bomb mimic a wounded baitfish, I started to catch rock cod. In British Columbia you can only keep one codfish per day and NO lingcod. I caught a big, BIG lingcod - big enough to have fed us well for three days. I released it! I had to. I kept on trying thinking that my friends would not believe the ling cod story. I hooked several tiny cod, releasing them all. After release, one bright red rock cod floated on the surface, stunned just for a few seconds. It floated there, bright red and side-up only ten feet away. Unbeknownst to the codfish and myself, we were being spied upon the whole time. A sharp-eyed bald eagle perched on a nearby treetop made a head-on, gliding, standard airport approach toward the dinghy. This bird made a perfect pilots' pattern entry: - inbound, 45° leg, downwind leg, base leg and final. On short final, banking left and right to correct his line of flight, he closed on his target and lost altitude quickly.

He was so darn close. I could see each feather on his white head, the deep pupils in his eyes, his furrowed brow and his golden sharply curved beak. I could hear the air beat and swish off his wings. I looked down on flared white tail feathers and an undulating golden brown wingspan of maybe five feet. Talons facing forward, he grabbed the red cod, staggered off and ate somewhere else in the forest. It was inspiring being involved - for even a moment - in the life of this beautiful creature.

 

With warm regards,

Terry and Ellen

 

P/S Congratulations to Tim and Stephanie on their engagement. Love, mom and dad

PP/S For the season, good bye to Paul, Kristi, Fred, Angela, Chris, Jerry, Larry, Leah, Jack, Murphy the dog, Linea, Anthony, Ursula, Len, Marvin, Chuck, Linda, Rick, John, Flick, Peter, Jill, Susan, George, Terry, Bonnie and Stacy. Some of you will return next winter for our regular Tuesday nights at the Boondocks for a sleeve of Rickard's. Served with style by Stacy, of course.



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