Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sittin’ on the dock of Big Bay

….. with apologies to Otis Redding.

We’ve been docked at Big Bay for close to a week now.  Its been too wonderful to leave. 

DocksAtBigBay

That’s our view portside

GillardFromBigBay

And that’s the view in front of us

With scenery like that, what’s not to like?

Clearly there’s not much happens here this time of year.  The mail plane comes occasionally.  The store, such as it is, and Post Office are open 3 days a week and they seem happy to have company when they’re open.  We had some glorious sunshine early in the week but it turned back normal yesterday and its been pissing all day today.  The seals come on the low tides and lie up on the rocks to dry off.  They seem unaware that they aren’t really drying much in the rain.

We’ll probably move on over the weekend.  Gorge Harbour is our next destination and Pender Harbour after that.  But right now its just hard to leave such a pretty spot.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Riding that restless tide

On Saturday we dawdled around Port Neville until noon.  I had a client phone call that didn’t happen until well after noon and by the time I was done that we thought we had missed the tide turn.  The current was already running in pretty hard past the dock at Port Neville as the bay started to refill so we scurried around getting untied and away from the dock.  As it turned out, once we got out in Johnstone Strait, the tide tables were correct.  The actual turn didn’t happen until sometime around 2:00 – I’m still not sure why (or how) Port Neville starts to fill 2 hours before the turn but clearly it does. 

That’s just one of the many mysteries around the tides.  There’s whole books published annually to help decypher when the tides are going to happen.  I didn’t bother buying one of them this year because they’re all based on computer generated harmonics and those files are freely available online.  There’s a pretty good set built right into our charting software so that’s what I rely on most of the time.  As I’ve written before, my big concern now is getting the maximum advantage from the currents and dealing with the perilous bits by observation once we get to them.

We had a brief generator incident early Saturday morning but it turned out to be relatively benign.  The mighty Onan has a self protection circuit that runs through two high temperature sensors – one on the engine cooling loop and the other on the exhaust water injection mixer.  The latter sensor gave me some trouble last year and I “fixed” it by soldering an electrical tab back onto the sensor post.  That fix let go on Saturday but fortunately in the interim I had picked up several of those temperature sensors so I just chucked the defective one and replaced it with a new one. 

We ran slow for a while waiting for the tide to turn and when it did we spent most of the day dodging floating lumber.  The high tides have floated an incredible amount of crap loose off the shoreline.  Sometimes it looks like a solid wall of floating junk in the water.  Somewhere in the middle of all that we also had an Orca encounter.  We spent about half an hour drifting while we watched a pod of Orcas feeding around us.  Then we powered up again and blasted by Blind Channel Resort somewhere north of 11 knots. 

By that time it was getting pretty late so we had to decide whether to overnight at Shoal Bay or push on to Big Bay.  If we went to Big Bay we were still going to be about 2 hours ahead of slack at Dent but we elected to do that anyway.  The current timing combined with relatively short days makes trip planning particularly tricky right now.  If we had waited we probably would have had to run against Dent in the morning or run it in the dark yesterday so we picked the least worst alternative and ran it while we still had a bit of light.  And it wasn’t that big a deal.

IMG_7796

We’re all alone on the dock with that view out our front window.  Meanwhile back home its multi-degrees below bloody zero.

I’m increasingly convinced that Bruce is right about timid left coast boaters and wimpy-ass tidal rapids.  What we went through at Dent would have been a little more perilous if we’d had company but they’re pretty wide passes so there certainly was room for more than one boat.  As it was we had the whole waterway to ourselves so when we got bossed around it didn’t much matter.  I did power up at one point just to keep control of things.  Its counterintuitive when you’re getting tossed around and already running 5 knots faster than “normal” to push the throttles ahead but that’s exactly what you need to do.  Without the prop thrust pushing against the rudders they aren’t going to do anything useful so you just have to put some power on and run a little faster.  At that point the extra power doesn’t make any significant difference in your speed anyway.  And it wasn’t like I pushed them to the pin – we maybe ran at 1600 RPM instead of our normal 12 or 1300 – redline is 2300 so we weren’t anywhere near that. 

IMG_7799

There’s a pretty high end resort to the south of us.  Somebody has been woodpeckering away at the rock face with a jackhammer on an excavator but other than that its pretty quiet.

When we got to the dock at Big Bay there was still a pretty contrary current running.  We wanted to port tie because we normally starboard tie which means that the starboard side gets cleaned occasionally and the port side mostly looks like hell.  We were port tied at Port Neville and I used that time to get most of the grunge cleaned up but I’d like to finish the job.  The current wanted to jam us up against the pier to starboard but we prevailed and eventually my deckhand got ashore and tied the port side springline.  Once that happens its just a matter of time – somedays it takes a few minutes to move the boat to the exact spot we want it but with it tethered it eventually has to respond.

IMG_7793

This kid has about the best job in the world.  He showed up this afternoon with the mail, had a little nap on the dock and then was off to pick up some lumberjacks at a nearby camp.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The restless tides

We like buying our movie experiences in the bargain bin at WallyWorld.  I then rip the DVDs and we keep them on an external hard drive.  One of our recent purchases was Prince of Tides, which I don’t think I had ever seen until last night.  The timing was certainly appropriate.  Nolte has a line in the movie that talks about how all life on or near the ocean is governed by the endless motion of the tide. 

Its absolutely true and I am endlessly fascinated by the constant motion and the immense, unimaginably immense, power of the moving water.

IMG_7776
IMG_7779

In this pair the angle of the ramp is the giveaway.  Its a rule of provisioning that, when you return to the boat with a truck full of provisions, its always low tide.

IMG_7772
IMG_7777

In this pair its the pilings that tell the level.  As we approach a new dock often the height of the pilings is the easiest visual clue as to tide levels although the waterline along the shore is usually pretty obvious as well.

IMG_7773
IMG_7781

The old hotel has water almost up to the veranda at high tide and a huge expanse of beach at low.

The sheer volume of water that has to move every day is hard to imagine.  Before we started spending time out here I thought there was just a high and a low every day but now I know that there’s more or less two highs and two lows in every 25 hours.  Sometimes the higher low and the lower high blend together and it kind of looks like only one high and low per day but if you look close there’s still 2 complete cycles.  Right now we’ve got two very distinct highs and two equally obvious lows.  That also means that we have relatively strong currents which change direction 4 times in 24 hours. 

Today we’ll stay tied to the dock at Port Neville until 2:00 PM in order to catch a favourable current eastward in Johnstone Strait.  The current timing for an eastbound passage is about as bad as it can get right now.  In another week it will be possible to leave early in the morning and ride a flood tide east but right now that flood runs out just before daylight.  If we left early this morning we’d be buying a lot of fuel to fight the outgoing current. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Hanging out at Minstrel Island

We spent a week or 10 days here last spring because we were both sick and it made a good place to layover while we recovered.  This year its a good spot to have internet access and solitude.  There’s a caretaker couple in the cabin to the north of us but, other than them, we haven’t seen anybody for 4 days now.  Occasionally there’s a fishing boat goes by in the distance and a couple of little tugs have dragged log booms through the channel in front of us but its a pretty quiet spot this time of year.

IMG_7766

I wrote last year that this place likely has 5 years left before the ocean reclaims it and I don’t think I’m far wrong.  The docks are a little more rotten, the pilings a little more worn, the bullrails a little scarier.  The whole place is one bad storm on a high tide away from being too scary to tie up at.  As it is we walk carefully because some of the boards on the ramp are pretty spongy.  We made sure to put the lines completely around a bolt that goes through the deck beams because we’re not sure the old bullrails would stand a solid pull midway along their length anymore. 

IMG_7769

Marilyn needs internet access for the next week and I’ve got lots of puttering type jobs to do onboard.  I’ve been putzing my way through a complete oil change and touching up the white and red trim paint in the engine room at the same time.  Right now I’m held up on finishing the oil change because my paint won’t dry.  Its just too chilly and damp down there for the oil based Tremclad to dry quickly.  I ran the engines for a while this afternoon to warm up the blocks thinking that maybe that little bit of heat down there will help speed the paint along. 

IMG_7770

We’ll probably stay here at least until the weekend, maybe into early next week.  We don’t have any agenda at all.  The first night after we leave here we’ll likely be away from internet access and right now that would be bad for Marilyn so we just won’t leave right away. 

I noticed last night that someone has done a property development just to the south of the old resort property here.  They claim that some of the lots are sold already which could be complete bullshit.  If its true though and if the rest of the lots sell then maybe there’s still hope for this place. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Running the rapids

I think I have a bad attitude.  Its probably born of the fact that some of my earliest boating experience was spent running real white water in canoes.  Our old bluenoser friend says that left coasters are pussies because of their fear of west coast tidal rapids.  He claims that all the rapids out here, including the fearsome Skookumchuk with which he is most familiar, are mild compared with the reversing falls on the east coast.  Whatever the reason, we are paying less attention to avoiding the tidal rapids and more attention to ensuring that we get the maximum current advantage from transiting them. 

Yesterday we got started lifting the anchor before daylight in Squirrel Cove so that we could catch Yaculta at the end of the flood.  That put us in Gillard almost exactly at slack and by the time we got to Dent it was starting to flow in our direction again.  For the rest of the day we ran with the flow and finally got squirted out into Johnstone Strait late in the afternoon having run all the supposedly fearsome dragons in one day.  We made really good time too.

IMG_7748

That wasn’t the fastest moment but it was close.  We briefly saw over 11 knots around Green Point.  That’s not bad for a 6.5 knot boat.  We were likely buying fuel for an honest 6.8 knots so anything beyond that was a free ride.  Last night we tied up to the public dock at Port Neville where we were met by a local who proceeded to talk our ear off for over an hour.  I think they get pretty lonesome up here – not that we minded – we could have broke it off if we really hadn’t wanted to visit.

We ran pretty well the whole day in rain.  Until about mid afternoon that was accompanied by low overcast that tended into fog most of the time.  We probably never had much less than a mile visibility but at times it was pretty claustrophobic.  There was hardly another boat on the water though so it didn’t much matter.  The radar shot above is pretty clear but at times it was obscured by heavy rain.  It takes a lot of rain to affect that radar but at times yesterday it was having a tough time of it.

IMG_7745

IMG_7744

IMG_7750

This morning I made an observation error on my new watch.  It has a lot of buttons and – if I push the right button – it will digitally light up the time.  It will also light up the time the alarm is set for if I push that button.  I’m never 100% sure which button is which and I’m even more vague about that when I’m 3/4 asleep in the dark in the middle of the night.  So somewhere around 4:30 SK time I convinced myself that it was in fact 7:30 and accordingly got up.  Once I was up anyway and having that wonderful first cup of coffee I looked out at the sky where I can now see stars overhead.  So the crap weather we have been having may have finally moved on.  It will be several hours before the sun pokes its head out to confirm that.

Yesterday while we were running the rapids I again told Marilyn my Deliverance story.  I haven’t told it to a lot of people but its probably time to put it out there.  It helps explain why these little bits of fast water don’t hold the terror that they probably should. 

It was probably the summer I graduated from Grade 10, Grade 11 at the most.  So I was at the oldest 14 at the time.  I was a young kid all the way through school because they accelerated me in Grade 1 and I more or less skipped Grade 2 entirely thanks to our year in Fort Collins. 

The Western Canada Summer Games were in Regina that year and somehow I ended up on a committee to organize the games.  The guy who was chairing the committee was a Regina city cop named Keith Barr.  That’s how my best friend and I ended up on a canoe trip with Keith, his young son and 4 RCMP recruits.  The plan was that we would put the canoes in around Condie Nature Reserve north of Regina and travel down Boggy Creek to where it dumps into the Qu’Appelle River near Lumsden.  We did it in the spring of the year when the creeks were in full flood.  Most of the year that trip would be a boring, wet portage but that spring day it was anything but boring.

As I recall, Keith and his son were pretty competent canoeists.  I don’t recall that my buddy John did much canoeing and it was obvious that the RC recruits were more or less rookies.  Rookies in pretty good physical condition but rookies nonetheless.  We had travelled for a couple of hours when the first disaster hit.  One of the RC boats got swept crosswise on an outcropping in the middle of the creek – likely just a sandbar but that morning with the creek in full flood and the water rushing around both sides of a midstream obstruction it was deadly.  They got swept onto the sandbar and pinned there with the canoe sticking out into the current on either side of the obstruction.  If they had simply tipped the canoe downstream onto the sandbar all would have likely ended well but they weren’t that coordinated and ended up dumping upstream into the rushing current which promptly filled the canoe and equally promptly tore it in half and carried it away leaving them soaked and astonished on the midstream island.

I can’t remember who picked them up but I remember that we put to shore and milled around for a while before deciding to carry on.  It would have been a long hike out from that particular spot so perhaps it made sense to continue.  We now had 8 guys and 3 boats.  John & I continued alone while the 2 almost-cops sat in the middle of the other two canoes.  Things went well for a couple of hours but as we got closer to Lumsden we started encountering trees on the bank of the little river that were growing together over the river.  The water was so high that we were having to push branches aside as we went along and the water was flowing fast.  John & I were the middle boat.  We were strung out with probably a hundred yards between each boat.

We came around a curve in the creek batting branches out of the way, ducking and weaving to make progress and all the while being carried rapidly forward by the strong current.  Ahead of us I could see Keith’s boat doing the same thing.  All of a sudden the three of them happened to lean the same direction to avoid a particularly low tree branch and just like that they were all in the water drifting rapidly beside Keith’s dark green cedar and canvas canoe.  We hadn’t much more than realized what had happened when we rounded another bend and could see a logjam across the creek immediately ahead of the swimmers.  The trees and flotsam were piled up well above the water level and the water was draining down and under the jam.  The canoe drifted up to the dam and just as quickly as I can type it, disappeared under the logs.  The three guys in the water slapped their arms on top of the logs and hung on for their lives as the current tried to pull them under. 

John and I arrived almost immediately and I put the canoe broadside to the logjam so that we could individually help the swimmers make their way to the shore.  At some point the 2nd RC boat must have arrived on the scene but I don’t remember that detail.  We were so incredibly lucky that we didn’t lose one or three people that day.  It could have happened in literally a heartbeat.  Keith was so distressed at the loss of his prize canoe that he wanted to dive under the logs looking for it. He thought we could tie a line to his foot and pull him back out if he got in trouble.  Fortunately we were able to talk him out of what would have almost certainly been a suicide mission.

We actually managed to recover Keith’s canoe the following day.  We showed up at the logjam with chainsaws and axes.  Almost immediately Keith started hacking away at a tree somewhere in the middle of the logjam.  We all thought he was wasting his time but when he got the tree loose and pulled out of the way his canoe popped up in the hole without a mark on it.  Their backpack was even still in it but it fell out when we pulled the canoe out of the water.

I never told mother the whole story because it would almost certainly have meant the end of my canoe adventures. Father knew how bad it was and he may have told her but he didn’t know all the details because his involvement was limited to participating in the recovery trip.  With that for an introduction, viewing this fast water from the comfort and safety of a 50 foot vessel its just hard to get really worked up about waiting for slack currents.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Damn its wet here

Its not just wet – its like living under a bloody firehose.  The damn pineapple express keeps funneling water in from the south Pacific and we’re right where it wants to fall out of the sky.

IMG_7741

The picture doesn’t really capture how hard its been raining unless you notice the little splashes on the water surface.

IMG_7743

Despite the rain its still a really pretty spot and we’ll be sorry to leave it behind.  Our plan right now is to pull the anchor tomorrow morning and head up through Dent Rapids and maybe as far as Port Neville.  Our progress tomorrow will depend entirely on what the currents do to us.  We’re into the famous dragons that guard the north end of Vancouver Island.  Dent Rapids is the home of Devil’s Hole, which we have so far been fortunate not to experience.  We’re on relatively small tides right now so I don’t think we’ll see it tomorrow either.  I would however like to get a current kick to speed our NW travel toward the ocean.  We’re not going right out to Cape Caution this time.  Once we get past Port Neville we’ll turn back NE into the Broughton Islands where our immediate next destination is Minstrel Island. 

I talked to the mayor of Buchanan a few days ago and he told me that it has been in the minus 30’s with a windchill in the 40’s so a little rain doesn’t seem bad in comparison.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Moving on north

Cortes Bay was a nice spot but we picked a bad place to anchor.  And we either anchored a little too close to the RVYC dock or else we dragged a bit overnight.  Either way, we were just too close to the dock for comfort and the SE wind was still blowing a bit of chop across the north side of the bay, right into where we were anchored.  So our options were to move to a different spot in the bay or move to a different bay altogether and we opted for the latter. 

Yesterday afternoon the wind settled down and we took the opportunity to move further north to Squirrel Cove, still on Cortes Island.  This time we’re deep in a well sheltered bay with a dogleg turn and a couple of islands sheltering us from whatever may be happening outside.  Our big concern on this trip is maintaining internet access because we both have some ongoing work.  I found an app that purports to tell me where the cell phone towers are.  I’m not 100% convinced that it is working but we do have coverage here.  The coverage just isn’t as good as I think it should be based on how close the app thinks the tower is.  We do however have coverage, such as it is. 

The combination of cell coverage and shelter likely means that we will be here all week. 

BadGrib

As the GRIB shows, the current nastiness is minor compared the great big low which is starting to churn its way up the gulf.  Right now its a really slow moving system with some wicked winds.  The worst wind is always in the SE quadrant of a northern hemisphere low and that looks to be the portion of the low that will hit us.  Its still too far out for accurate predictions but we’re comfortable here so we’ll just sit it out and see what happens.

After a few anchoring sessions I have to report that I’m not 100% happy with my bow roller bracket.  It works but its still not a completely hands free retrieve.  I put the pivot point exactly in the middle of the pivoting bracket and it now appears that I should have  put it closer to the inboard end.  That would have given the anchor more “leverage” when it is coming up which (I now believe) would allow the bracket to tilt closer to vertical at the critical moments when the anchor needs to make its 90 degree turn.  The current configuration works but I think I can make it better so I will definitely be taking it east with us when we return to the prairies in the spring.

IMG_7739

This is a pretty nice spot – Squirrel Cove on Cortes Island.