Wednesday, April 23, 2014

North of 52

We crossed 52 degrees of latitude today.  We’ve spent a lot of time working our way northwesterly since we left Cow Bay but  from now on we’re grinding steadily north. 

We’re seeing some spectacular scenery but not many boats.  We meet the occasional tug and this morning we met a great humming big BC Ferry but other than that, zippo. 

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The scenery has always been pretty good but – if its possible – it is getting even better. 
IMG_7186 This last one is of Ocean Falls, which is where we are tied up tonight.  We wanted to come here just to say we had been here.  There’s not much to see.  It was a company town until the company left town.  The BC government ended up owning the town and eventually sent in the bulldozers.  Before they got the town flattened whoever was left in town did an Arthur Dent and got the bulldozing stopped.  It looks to me as though they should have let the government finish the job.  You can buy property really cheap in town – cheaper even than in Buchanan.  But you probably don’t want to. 

A brief history of Ocean Falls, excerpted from the bulletin board on the wall of “The Shack” at the Ocean Falls dock:

1783 – Captain Vancouver stops in, June 5th.

1906 – Site clearing for Bella Coola Pulp & Paper Co mill at Ocean Falls.

1909 – Union steamship “Camosun” ships the first load of pulp from Ocean Falls.  Lumber is being produced at the local sawmill.

1912 – new owner for the pulp mill – Ocean Falls Company

1913 – O.F. Company in receivership

1915 – Pacific Mills buys O.F.Company

1918 – Concrete dam 677 feet wide by 60 feet high with a 112 foot high spillway built to produce power.

1941 – most of the local labour force was forcibly relocated inland (WAY inland) because of WWII.

1954 – another new mill owner, Crown Zellerbach this time

1971 – Crown Zellerbach walks away, leaving the BC government to pick up the pieces.  In typical government business operating fashion, this plan does not work out well.

1980 – BC Government finally throws in the towel.  The power plant was sold to private interests and continues to provide local power as well as power for Shearwater & Bella Bella.

1986 – Government doozers show up to flatten the town with bulldozers but can’t even get that right. 

Currently whoever wrote the notice on the bulletin board claims 40 fulltime residents - “a mixture of workers and children of workers from the mill days, also of those seeking an alternative lifestyle.” (my italics)  They clearly don’t live here in Ocean Falls proper – the only citizen we saw on our walking tour yesterday was a tramp apparently living in a panel van in the parking lot.  There does appear to be an active Post Orifice – what a relief that must be on Friday (when the welfare cheques arrive).  There is another community about 2 miles east called Martin Valley which appears to have 20 or 30 well maintained houses in it.  All in all we’re glad we came.  We saw.  And we won’t come back.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Last chance to see

Douglas Adams and some Greenpeace dude wrote a book called Last Chance to See that was devoted to animals about to become extinct.  That’s the way I feel about a lot of the places we are visiting on this trip.  They’re about to go extinct.  It feels like it is important to see them before they disappear.

This morning we got an early start out of Port Hardy, leaving at daylight with a couple of fishermen.  When we got out in the Strait I checked my Marine Traffic app and there was a regular old convoy of tugs moving out toward Cape Caution.  I took that as a good sign.  Maybe I shouldn’t have. As it turned out, of the four tugs I spotted on that first check, only one actually went out around Cape Caution with us.  The other three chickened out and waited for better water. 

Immediately after checking Marine Traffic I also checked the Environment Canada coastal weather site.  There’s one particular auto-reporting ocean buoy that people use as a go/no go decision tool out of Port Hardy.  The general recommendation is to stay home if its worse than 1.5 meters.  It was 3.7 meters this morning.  I reasoned that it was significantly improved from the 6 or 7 meters that it had been registering over the weekend.  And we could always turn back – right?  In my defence there was no wind and the seas outside Port Hardy were dead calm.  We’re anchored now and we never put a drop of salt spray on any of the glass the whole day.  That’s considerably better than some days.

We did however ride the biggest waves we have ever seen – I’m gonna say the biggest waves we’ve seen anywhere while in a boat riding on the ocean.  We’ve seen bigger waves at Big Sur but that’s from the safety of the coastal highway, watching them crash in on the beach.  Today we were out there riding the roller coaster.  And it really wasn’t that bad although it did put my crew to sleep – it was either that or she was going to get sick so I was glad to see her go to sleep.

As ocean waves go, these weren’t particularly large either.  Vessel traffic was claiming 3 or 4 meters when we started heading out toward Cape Caution but I think that was BS.  I don’t think they were that big.  Once we got out past the Cape with our lone tugboat escort he got on the radio and was telling the guys who were too chicken to come out that we were in 4 meters of ocean swell with 3 feet chop on top of them.  I could buy the 4 meter swell but the 3 foot chop was a stretch IMHO.  Its hard to tell when you’re in the middle of it.  I did see a Seatow boat go by in the middle of the adventure so I had him for a frame of reference and he was completely disappearing into the swells.  He was probably 40, maybe 50 feet overall and I suppose he might have been 20 feet to the top of his radar.  But that doesn’t mean the waves were 20 feet because I could have been down in a trough at the same time he was down in another trough.

The big issue for me was how we were going to get into our anchorage.

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That’s the kind of crap I had all around me on the reefs and shoreline.  It doesn’t show very well but that explosion of white on the waterline toward the left side of the photo is not another boat.  That’s the surf exploding upwards when it hits the shore. 

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In the end it was completely anti-climactic.  There were enough islands on the way in to shelter our entrance.  This spot – Fury Cove – is described in one of the guidebooks as “bombproof” and I think that is accurate.  Right on the other side of that little round tuft of bushes in the photo above is the wide open and wild Fitzhugh Sound but inside this cove is perfectly calm.  There’s great yellow sand beaches all around the edge of the cove so I think we are anchored in hard sand – it felt solid when it set.  We’ll probably stay here a couple of nights.  There’s no cell coverage here so by the time you read this we will have moved on.  Next stop Namu – Google it – Namu is one of those “last chance to see” spots.

Friday, April 18, 2014

All charted up again

I was pretty worried by my discovery that we didn’t have charts north of Cape Caution.  Two hundred dollars later I’m feeling much better.  Mind you, I damn near stroked out on DFO’s website getting the bloody charts registered.  They assured me I’m secure against the heartbleed virus – you can scarce imagine my relief at that news.

Today we untied from Minstrel Island after our extended stay there.  I expect it may be the last time we tie up there and not because we wouldn’t enjoy going back. 

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There’s dozens, maybe hundreds, of places like Minstrel Island along this northern coast which were once thriving communities or resorts but are now slowly receding back into the forest.  The dock at Minstrel must have been state of the art when it was built but years of neglect are wearing away at it.  A couple of big storms will soon tear some of the floats free and already the bullrail is starting to rot.  If we go back there in five years I expect it will already be too decrepit to trust tying up to it again. 

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We weren’t the only ones enjoying the free moorage.  The Coasties tied up beside us one night, there were a couple of Indian fish boats there last night and a couple showed up for a night in a small trawler.  Its a great spot in a great location but it won’t last forever unless someone takes over the resort and right now it would probably cost more to resurrect what’s there than it would to start over somewhere else.

Today we had our favourite kind of travel day – a boring one.  We were about 8 hours underway, arriving in Port Hardy mid-afternoon.  We’ve never been here before – its always a little nerve wracking coming into a strange location.  Marilyn called ahead and the folks at Quarterdeck Marina said they didn’t care enough to have our business.  What they actually said was that they were closed for the weekend but they clearly aren’t and they have oodles of empty docks so obviously they just don’t give a damn.  We’ll remember that the next time we come by this way.  One of the great advantages of being winter cruisers is that we have a lot of dock space to choose from so our expectation is that we will at the very least get treated courteously. 

The Fisherman’s Wharf guy said they had lots of room which was clearly an exaggeration bordering on an outright lie.  They’re pretty well full to 150% capacity.  We ended up rafted with rafted boats in every direction around us.  They’ve got lots of power and there’s water on the dock so rafting is OK.  Its well sheltered in here too which is a good thing because the Coast Guard was broadcasting hurricane force wind warnings this afternoon.  I doubt we’ll be going anywhere for a couple of days now.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Failure to plan

Your failure to plan ahead does not make your crisis my problem.

I never actually told a customer that but – oh boy was I tempted over the years.  Those words have therefore been ringing in my ears as I searched for charts for the past 24 hours.  Yesterday I discovered that we are about to metaphorically sail off the edge of the world.  My chart package runs out not long after we get past Cape Caution. 

Now its not like we don’t have ANY charts north of Cape Caution.  Some of the extremely large scale charts go from San Diego all the way to the Aleutian Islands.  Its just that we wouldn’t want to be trying to negotiate some narrow waterway with rocks all around us using a chart that shows half the globe on a single screen. 

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I’ve been keeping our day to day agenda fluid, only planning the detailed route a few days in advance.  Thus it was that I didn’t realize how inadequate my charts were for the area between Cape Caution and Prince Rupert until yesterday morning.  Then began the scramble to locate some charts.  I had to remain mindful however that I had caused the problem.  As it turned out it wasn’t that hard to solve, although I did go down a few blind alleys.

The Canadian Hydrographic Service is woefully behind the times.  They are responsible for all chart sales in Canada but apparently are blissfully unaware of the possibilities of e-commerce.  They do however list great numbers of “dealers” on their website so this morning I started out with a phonelist of names in Port McNeill.  I had the exact part number of the CD that we need from the CHS website but that didn’t prove too helpful on my first call.  It took a long time on hold but eventually the dipshit I was talking to came back with the information that they had several chart atlas books.  I guess “electronic charts” was lost on her.  Once we got that out of the way she agreed that she should have Dennis or Don or Daniel or whateverthehellhisnameis phone me back.  So far he hasn’t.  However after a couple more calls I connected with Rick in Port Hardy who not only could speak intelligently about electronic charts but also had several CDs in stock.  One of which now has our name on it.

So we will be going to Port Hardy rather than Port McNeill.  We need to stop somewhere to restock our fresh produce and we’re almost out of eggs.  Milk is running low too – we thawed out two gallons yesterday because we’re out of fresh milk.  Port McNeill and Port Hardy are the two logical “last stops” on Vancouver Island before we strike out for Cape Caution.  We had planned – for no particular reason – to stop at Port McNeill.  Van and Nancy said they prefer Port McNeill so that was enough reason for us to stop there.  The charts however are in Port Hardy and evidently the chart seller is within sight of the marina so that’s good enough reason for me.  We’ll be going to Port Hardy – likely tomorrow.  Weather dependant as always.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Minstrel Island

We’re on the move again & I like to post, at a minimum, every time we move.  Today was a short hop from Port Neville up to Minstrel Island.

Along the way we came through Chatham Channel which involved running the range markers.  Range markers are fixed points which you line up against in order to ensure you are in the appropriate channel.  The picture below shows the markers up close but they’re not lined up.  In order to be properly positioned in the channel your boat needs to be located such that the top marker appears to be directly over the lower marker.

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This next picture is from inside the cabin while we were running the range.  I had George’s famous sonar system running today because it is really useful for skinny channels.  As it turned out, Chatham Channel was dead simple and I wouldn’t have needed the sonar but I didn’t know that going in.  The sonar display is the one with the red/pink semi circle around the blue centre.  The blue is safe water – the red area is hard returns from rock or mud.  The range markers from the previous picture are directly ahead of the bow.

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If you look really close in the “V” under the angled stanchion, you can just see the range markers lined up in this photo.  There was another set of markers behind us which we followed until they got too hard to see and then we switched to the forward marks.  But like I said, Chatham Channel didn’t really warrant any concern.  The problem I’m having on this first trip into these waters is that I don’t know which author to believe.  We have pretty well every guidebook published for the area.  For every potential hazard, if I look hard enough, I can find some author who will assure me that the hazard is in fact hazardous.  To paraphrase Sir Lancelot in The Quest for the Holy Grail, we can handle a little peril – as long as its not too perilous.

Once we came out of Chatham Channel we almost immediately could see the dock at Minstrel Island.  I’m not sure why Minstrel Island figured in my plans for this area other than that it is mentioned frequently in Spilsbury’s Coast and The Accidental Airline.  There’s not much left here of the former grandeur but this must have been some kind of place in its heyday. 

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I think the docks are still solid enough to hold us this trip but give this place 5 more years of neglect and I may be reluctant to tie up here again.  Just one more reason why its important not to put off this trip. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Tied up in Port Neville

We got away from the dock at Shoal Bay at 8:30 this morning in order to get through the last of the rapids on the ebb current.  Up at this end of the Island ebbs flow north and west around the top of Vancouver Island.  We got to Greene Point rapids early enough that I was worried about going through and we actually ran slow for about half an hour in order to delay our arrival.  I don’t think I needed to have worried.  Other than whipping us along at well over 12 knots they were mostly a non-event.  By getting through them early we were able to arrive at Wellbore Channel before they had turned to flood so we got both sets of rapids behind us on one tide cycle.

All that extra speed from the rapids got us to Port Neville by around noon.  There’s a rickety old government float here that we’re tied up to now and we’ll spend the night on it.  We talked to some locals who assured us that its owned by the government so its free and we should just stay as long as we want. 

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After a couple of days of running in tight narrow channels, when we got closer to Port Neville everything opened up and all of a sudden we were back in big wide open water.  We’re now back into Johnstone Strait which is the commercial route from the Pacific into the north end of George Strait.  We didn’t see anything particularly big today but there’s a vessel separation lane shown on the charts so the big guys definitely go here.

We’ve been amazed by the degree of cellular coverage that we are accessing.  We have been briefly out of coverage during the day but this is the second night at a relatively remote location where we have a ripping fast cellular internet connection.  I’m sure that will end pretty soon but we’ve really appreciated it so far.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Who picks these names anyway?

I’ve heard about the Yuculta Rapids ever since we started boating out here.  They’re usually mentioned in the same breathless way that Skookumchuck is talked about.  And then there’s Devil’s Hole.  All of these places are tidal rapids – narrow, shallow spots where the tide rushes through as it alternately fills and empties Georgia Strait twice every day.  The fastest one of them all is a place called Nakwakto Rapids but nobody has ever heard of it.  Nobody except Van & Nancy who told us we absolutely HAD to go there.

Today we pulled the anchor at 8:30 in Von Donop Inlet.  It was well set.  Really REALLY well set.  So it came up absolutely coated in mud.  There was even mud on the swivel that connects the end of the chain to the stock which means that the stock or “handle” of the anchor was actually buried.  We weren’t going anywhere.

At about 10:30 we passed the entrance to Hole in the Wall.  From then on we were in new water.  Shortly after that we entered Yuculta Rapids which were pretty well a non-event.  We got there just past slack so we were pushing against maybe a 2 knot current but they were pretty tame.  At the top of Yuculta we pulled into Big Bay with every intention of staying there for the night.  The current was turning strongly against us so there was no chance we were going to get through first Gillard and then Dent Rapids on that tide. 

After we wandered up the dock at Big Bay and realized that we were all alone we decided that maybe we wouldn’t stay overnight after all.  So we waited 6 hours for the tide to turn and caught the ebb tide through Gillard and Dent.  We had a little current against us in Gillard – maybe a knot but Dent was glassy calm.  The famous Devil’s Hole was nowhere to be seen.  From what I’ve read that’s a good thing.  People talk about looking into that hole and vowing to never transit that stretch of water again.  The big problem with whirlpools is not so much that they might swallow us, although I guess in theory that is possible but the real problem is that they can spit out big logs.  If a log gets sucked underwater and then comes exploding out it can do serious damage – like poke a very large hole in whatever it hits.  So we don’t want to go there.

Tonight we’re tied up in Shoal Bay.

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That’s the view out our front windows for the night.

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Apparently 100+ years ago this place was bigger than Vancouver.  It was a gold mining community.  There’s no land to build on so the town was built on floats that covered the bay.  You sure wouldn’t know it now.  A couple of hippies and a few shacks is all that’s here now.

IMG_7117 The hippies have a good sense of humour.

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According to my chart, that’s the famous Devil’s Hole at Dent Rapids.  Go figure.