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Part Two of Three
Big Bay, BC, Canada
50° 23.7' N 125° 08.2' W
cloudy, 70° F, visibility 10 miles, no wind.
This splendid boat is our home, our citadel, our safety. Yet, we steer her through tricky passages and rapids. We anchor her in tiny nameless coves, and we explore waters where help is unavailable. We get up early, raise anchor and push on like a tenderfoot stumbling through virgin forest. Our course line to the Discovery Islands holds three of the worst fast current areas. In the next few days, the moon is full. A full moon signifies spring tides which are "large tides" with greater current flows. Twice daily, tidal action floods enormous quantities of ocean water into this myriad of inland coves and bays and then draws it all out on the ebb. In the narrower connecting passages and channels, the water quickly accelerates. It can be fierce at some constrictions where the flow backs up to the point of forcing a short waterfall or "overfall" - that may extend to the width of the channel. Four times daily this forceful event occurs, as it has for thousands of years. Truly, it is incontestable, and any skipper feels a bit helpless interacting with it. I've studied the charts, read the guides, and plotted a course. I've carefully timed our arrival for a safe passage at slack, no-current water in Yuculta Rapids, Dent Rapids and Guillard Passage.
This is clearly posted on the navigational charts and thus warns the Canadian Hydrographic Office:
"Violent eddies and whirlpools form in Devils Hole."
"A dangerous whirlpool forms over the 6.4 (meter) shoal on large tides."
A whirlpool, eh? I mused, "Why do they call the other place "Devil's Hole"?" If you carelessly route your boat through the rapids around here, the devil could pop his head up anywhere. Even a favorable, helping current flow is your enemy. There are times when the reversal from flood to ebb is instantaneous, giving zero time of truly still water. Don't casually think you will be speedily pushed along your way by a following 6 knot current and try to enter one of these "narrows" where the current may quickly increase to 12 knots. Do so, and it is likely that you and your boat will be twisted off course, spun around, heeled over and ruthlessly tumbled, out of control, onto a rock. Enter a rapid at the wrong time and massive blocks of water move with you, then suddenly against you, then the boat is heaved sideways. Even from under the boat a churning uprising occurs that creates a strange steep chop in the water. There is no organized wave pattern and what occurs is random. The white wave tops break creating small tumbling crests. The whole mess is incomprehensible when viewed from the boat, and you can't figure a good course or a bad course. I once entered Johnstone Straight at the end of Baronet Passage and passed through a strange looking, quarter mile stretch of choppy water. Charts showed this as "current-affected". Two and a half foot high steep-sided waves pushed against each other and randomly broke over both sides of the boat as we twisted and turned our way through. From a distance it looked benign. I was a half-mile from shore so I thought I could safely pass.
Cheering us on, the The Canadian Hydrographic Office states,
"Extremely dangerous eddies and turbulence
may be encountered in Dent, Arran and Yuculta Rapids
and in Tugboat Passage, Barber Passage
and Gillard Passage."
Right on our course! That's three rapids out of a possible six: Yuculta Rapids, Guillard Passage and Dent Rapids. And, there's more further north.
Then the hydrographic office's crescendo warning,
"Violent turbulence at times. Duration of slack water, affected
by run-off and weather, is 0 to 5 minutes." (emphasis mine)
Zero to five minutes of slack water! Whew! First it's coming at you then it instantly turns and nips at your heels. I know some fast powerboats time it just right and clear all three in one day. In a slow auxiliary sailboat, like ours, that is "tickling the dragon's tail". We'll do Yuculta Rapids first and then pull into what is euphemistically called "Big Bay": a tiny, picturesque "oasis" harbor located in the short stretch between Yuculta Rapids and Gillard Passage.
It is before sunrise. Anchor up and secured, running lights on, my cup of Grizzly Claw coffee in the steering pedestal cup holder, we departed Squirrel Cove and chugged up Lewis Channel through some surface fog. We're three hours or 20 miles from Kellsey Point, the entry to Yuculta Rapids. Here and there sunshine broke through between the mountain peaks to raze the chilly gray twilight. Winds were light except at channel intersections where it accelerated, annoyingly, to 15 or 18 knots. This is all new for us. To port and starboard, fiords, small bays and channels curve out of my view. Each is a mysterious place demanding exploration where everything is so remote and spectacular. Far down one channel I saw a tug pulling a logboom, but there are few signs of habitation. A dim nightlight shows the door of a rustic fishing lodge, nestled in the forest behind a tiny island and isthmus. Ahhh, must be someone else around here that enjoys this. We could snugly anchor and be well protected behind that island which was unnamed on the chart. Finally the waterway divided again; our course branches to port. This was Harbott Point, the entry into the 1.2 miles of Yaculta Rapids. We pointed the bow of "Love of Liberty" inside.
Having arrived slightly before my computed slack water time, I slowed the boat. Then, changing course from the east shore to the west shore, we avoided a known turbulent area and a counter current. Abeam, I could see mild up-wellings, slow moving whirlpools and drifting eddies that seemed to quickly occur then disappear. The giant was stirring but still safely asleep. In places the boat reeled a bit and was pushed off course by a swirl but really with no more than a few lumps and rolls. Like that it was, up to the end. I could see a bit of the next, Guillard Passage, which dog legs to port. I pulled the power back, turned right and ducked out of the current into Big Bay. We nestled ourselves dockside and spent the night below steep mountain peaks. By the next morning I had already drawn our line through Gullard Passage, Dent Rapids their attending features: Devil's Hole and the 'whirlpool'. Underway, we found those last two little beasts occurring in wide areas of the channel. I altered course, stayed a quarter mile off and side stepped both. The rapids do seem docile during their dormant periods, for all that meets the eye is a dark surface and sinister wavelets. Somewhere you know that beneath it all there subsists something enormous. In Haro Straight just off Port Sidney, a whirlpool formed unexpectedly in what appeared to be a benign part of the straight. A sixty-foot boat was rolled and was sunk. We noted that, but we continued for the allure and the grandeur of this Northwest affects us like some exotic booze.
Much farther north in an unnamed cove in Carter Passage, Greenway Sound, British Columbia
50° 48.9' N 126° 48.5' W
twilight, winds rising, good bottom.
It's 8 PM and shadowy under a waning evening sky of wispy mare's tails. We haven't seen another boat since we entered four mile long Greenway Sound. We have moved farther north and are experiencing what every seasoned cruiser has said, "Farther north, fewer people." I can't figure the boundaries of this place. Deep clear water, green forest, high mountains, it goes on without end. We are nearing our planned northern limit of north 51°. For tonight, we approached Carter Passage, a little branching artery midway down Greenway Sound's west side. From just a few yards away I could barely see the opening . Huge shoreline boulders and thick low leaning cedar limbs projecting over the water disguised it. Slowly moving the boat through the entrance I could reach out from the helm and grab Spanish Moss swaying from the branches. Once inside we anchored in a well-protected cove behind a small island where there was room for just one boat. The cove opened down the passage to the west. I expected an exceptional sunset view.
Almost as usual, the Comox VHF weather report predicted for nearby Johnstone Straight:
"Gale force north westerlies to 25 to gales 35 to 40 this
evening then easing to strong southerly winds."
I've found that inside the sounds and passages the winds rarely develop into the predicted "gale force." On the other hand, there is this evening, every so often, a rumbling strong blast that barrels down Carter Passage and into the boat's cockpit. The current is ebbing and opposes the wind; a combination that holds the boat broad-side to the gusts. Despite the last few streaks of warm sun passing through the trees, the cockpit is not comfortable. The roast on the bar-b-que is done. My favorite buttered string beans, sprinkled on top with toasted almonds, are hot. Ellen and I move below and decide to eat more comfortably inside the cabin.
Then, another chilling 25-knot gust pushed in and around the boat. The weatherman is right. It's gettin' worse. This cove is small, has little room to swing and no room to drag an anchor. Down the passage the breeze rustled and swayed the mossy low cedar limbs. I went on deck, I raised the anchor, and Ellen steered the boat away leaving the tree covered island and its tiny idyllic alcove. Back in Greenway Sound we avoided some wind by staying close to the shadowed west shore and steered south.
I felt cold. I put on my heavy coat and worried about finding another anchorage, possibly in the dark. The boat pushed directly into a wind that had backed and was now out of the south. The next choice for the night was behind Simpson Island, its neighboring islet and, of course, two adjacent submerged rocks. Twenty minutes later we rounded that islet, but all I could see inside there was a shadowed cove open to the south with rough water and gusting wind. Who could rest there? Helm over, we turned and, wind at our back, powered back up the sound looking for a particular tiny cove I had spotted on the way down. There it was, nothing more than a nearly unnoticeable indent. A tiny steep sided, calm water cove well sheltered on three sides. "Love of Liberty" entered and tightly circled the shallow water at the head. Depths were 30 feet. Ellen released the windlass's brake. The anchor and chain swiftly payed out as I backed the boat down. We held perfectly. Here we were truly alone surrounded by what is now so usual: high mountain peaks, dense forest, ferns, hanging moss, clear water and rugged shoreline. During dinner, the wind rustled only the high trees. Nightfall had darkened the forest around us adding to the cold look of the moonlit wavelets just outside. Our cabin was warm so I soon leaned back with two pillows at my back. I switched on the overhead reading lamp and continued reading my book about Admiral Horatio Nelson and The Battle of the Nile.
Turnbull Cove, near Roaring Hole Rapids short of Nepah Lagoon, British Columbia
50° 57.7' N 126° 50.0' W
at anchor, sunny, no wind, unlimited visibility
Another member of the family of devils is Roaring Hole Rapids forming the entrance to Nepah Lagoon. The cruising guide says,
"ROARING and at low water spring-tides rooster tails
extend down a 100 yards from the 60-foot wide waterfall like over-fall.
possible entry at high water slack." (Emphasis mine.)
During this cruise, I took on all rapids along our course - except this one. At its narrowest, the tiny opening is less than 70 feet wide. The lagoon behind is a half mile wide by four miles long. Water depths range up to 150 feet. That great volume of water passes through the narrow constriction four times a day creating a perilous upheaval. With one look at Roaring Hole Rapids I pulled the power back and turned to port.
Edging away a quarter mile to the west, we entered calm Turnbull Bay passing through a tree and boulder obscured opening. Here we were disappointed to find four boats at anchor in a bay that had room for a hundred. That's too crowded! We have become fussy about seclusion. In a shoreline bight we anchored for a few days.
Our insurance policy limits us to latitudes below N 51 degrees. Now, we are just 2.3 miles short of that line. Surely, this isn't something venturous like entering the Arctic Circle, but the problem beyond this point is that I have no insurance. Next summer we'll increase coverage and go north to Alaska. We have by-passed so many perfect, un-named, unoccupied coves, but even so, we'll go farther north next time. We're slightly above Sullivan Bay, a small floating refuge harbor that will be our provisioning outpost and 'jumping off' point for Alaska and the Queen Charlottes. Here time has lost its importance. I do not know the day or the date. The Northwest is working its magic.
Out of Turnbull Bay we hit the "backside" motoring south down Tribune Channel. I noticed the fathometer reading bouncing from 70 fathoms to 100 fathoms to off scale. Right here the chart shows 888 feet of water below the keel in a channel that's a little over a half mile wide. "A half blind captain with a belly full of rum can't run aground here!" I thought. So, I put the boat on autopilot and peered out from under the bimini top to look for eagles perched in the tree tops. The Bald Eagle, my favorite, has excellent eyesight. And me? I am using ten power binoculars. I have found that we, the eagle and myself, see each other at the same time. It is good to spot at least one every day, for I feel they bring good luck. Today I saw two.
Along this passage today there were probably twenty or thirty looking at us. They perch high in the treetops about 60 to 100 feet from the water's edge. With their wings folded they give the appearance of being high shouldered, dignified and stately. They are truly a grand sight. Only their white head moves as they slowly scan an arc of a hundred degrees. They're looking for fish primarily or carrion or disabled seabirds. Eagles begin to fly with a gentle flapping motion of their broad elliptical wing. The last few inches of their wing feathers flex steeply and their white tail feathers flare wide. Once a Bald Eagle appeared to be "swimming" along the surface toward the shore. It looked like an Olympic swimmer's breast stroke. On the down stroke his powerful wings beat against the water surface, flared tail feathers just dragged along. Truly, he was struggling and workin' hard. He lacked the power to become airborne because he had grabbed a big salmon swimming just under the surface. Operating behind the power curve and unable to lift the fish, he succeeded in flapping his way to shore with the salmon for a superb fresh fish meal.
A Bald Eagle approaches the boat in a wide circling inspection glide. He banks, tilts his white head to look at us, banks again and, without effort, soars away. It is a good day.
Port Harvey, British Columbia,
50° 34.0' N 126° 16.39' W
15 knot diminishing winds, clear skies
I cannot say bears are my favorite wild animal to meet face to face. While backpacking, I've met them outside my tent at night. I've confronted them on my camp table, standing on my cooler, and in the back of my truck. Large, strong, four legged omnivores, they will eat anything from potato chips to people. We're at anchor near the shore in Port Harvey this evening, waiting for better weather in Johnstone Straight. I saw a black bear scrounging along the shoreline looking for food, (what else do bears do?). He easily pulled huge rocks over with his claws. Whatever was underneath that was living and edible, his paw scooped up into his mouth. I watched him chewing something out of a fibrous rotted tree limb, and somehow, this bear got my sympathies. He actually looked a little fat a layer probably building for winter hibernation. Yup, just like the bears I've seen at Yosemite or Sequoia, he also had shaggy fur, an arched back, cupped ears, upturned snout, dark black eyes, flat clawed feet and big teeth. He was serious about his scavenging and meticulously worked the rocky shoreline.
Behind this bear there was no forest. The whole mountain side had been "clear-cut", stripped clean of all growth and vegetation from the shoreline to the peak. A mountain full of trees had been logged. Even the stumps were cut level with the surface. There was no brush, ferns, moss or cover of any sort. The forest was gone and so was this bear's living space.
Surely, I am a consumer of wood products. My house was made of wood. I have built and owned wood boats. I use cardboard boxes and all sorts of things made of wood pulp, and I consume natural resources. Yet, somehow, this evening I felt 'this was partly the bear's place' as well. His part of the place had been desecrated. The timber company says they'll replant, nurture and maintain this mountainside. It'll be a forest again in seventy or eighty years. Of course, then it'll be re-harvested. This gnarled old bear is getting the short end of the deal. He looked pathetic grubbing under those rocks.
Ripple Shoal past Race Passage in Johnstone Straight, BC
sunny, light wind, favorable flood current
We were just past Race Passage in Johnstone Straight motorsailing with the yankee, the outermost jib, unfurled. "Orcas! Yeowww!" Shouting to Ellen at the helm, I leaned outward and grabbed the port rail, "Orcas on the port bow." Forget the camera, I'd probably drop it over the side. Heck with the binoculars too. This, THIS is going to be close! She pulled the power back. The jib was barely pulling. The water's surface was rippled. The boat slowed and all went silent. I pointed, "Over there." A pod of Orca whales smoothly lifting and diving approached us head on. I heard their huffing - like a huge, mythical horse after a full gallop. I leaned out farther. Do they see me? "Hey, I'm here!" Suddenly - RIGHT ALONGSIDE - a narrow, four-foot tall, blade-like, black dorsal fin burst upward in front of me. It was swift moving and casting a wake in the water. Just under that tall fin, a glossy black, fusiform whale's back broke the surface. Pfffshewww. The black body's airway opened and an aerosol column of whale breath, moisture and vapor burst upward. The glistening sleek body rolled a bit showing a huge, sharply demarcated, glossy white underbelly. A roll back and I heard a long inward breath, a rushing, sucking intake of air drawing into the lungs. He breathed - like me. A broad, black, wing-like tail lifted up, - and crashed powerfully against the water. The whole of the beast then slipped, so effortlessly, beneath the surface and was gone. It was quiet again. I breathed again. I had my few seconds beside this, distantly-related-to-me mammal so I slipped back into the cockpit.
With regards to all,
Terry and Ellen and "Love of Liberty"
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