Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Klemtu and Bishop Bay Hotsprings

We just keep moving ever further north. 


That’s Klemtu, a little Indian Reserve about 100 miles south of Prince Rupert.  It was ….. pretty laid back.  We’d been told that we had to stop there because the lodge/big house was worth seeing.  So we found our way to the band office and asked to see the lodge.  It turned out that there’s both a lodge AND a big house and further that the lodge is just a hotel.  So once we got that sorted out we waited a long time and finally Shane showed up to give us a tour of the big house.  It was definitely worth the wait but unfortunately it was so dark inside that we couldn’t get much for inside photos.


The guy Marilyn is standing next to is some kind of “greeter totem”.  Apparently he is positioned so as to be the first thing you see when you come into the bay and the last thing you see as you leave. 


Inside the building there are totems like this at each end, a fire pit in the middle and cedar bench seating around the outside.  The building smells wonderful

From Klemtu we headed pretty well straight north in Princess Royal Reach, up the east side of Princess Royal Island.  The island is famous as the home of the spirit bears but we didn’t see any.  We did meet up with a couple later in the day at Bishop Bay who had been fortunate enough to see a spirit bear.  They said it was no big deal – just kind of a dirty yellow bear.  They saw the bear at the old Butedale cannery which is the ruins in the picture below.


Evidently someone has bought the junkyard that once was a cannery and plans to convert it into a tourist destination.  Time will tell – I’m sure there’s a lot of those dreams that quickly turn into nightmares.  The location of the cannery ruins is spectacular – the waterfall below is about 200 yards south of the cannery ruins.  At one time the cannery generated hydroelectric power from the waterfall.

IMG_7272 After Butedale it took us about another 5 hours to chug our way up into Bishop Bay which is where we are now.  Bishop Bay is another natural hot springs.  This one is a little more developed and, unlike Eucott, we have had company here every day since we arrived.  That’s not all bad either but we did enjoy having Eucott all to ourselves.




Saturday, April 26, 2014

18th Century Graffiti

Today we returned down Dean Channel and on to Shearwater.  Along the way we passed the monument to Sir Alexander MacKenzie.  We didn’t know what the big deal was on the way in so we didn’t pay it much attention but we figured out what it was so we made a point of going by slowly today. 

There’s a cairn on the spot now but evidently the old boy originally just scratched a note on the rocks: “Alex MacKenzie from Canada by land 22d July 1793”.  At least that’s what Wikipedia says he wrote.  More likely he actually scribbled “Dirk is Gay” or maybe “A.M. ♥ L.B.”  We’ll never actually know.  Somewhere along the way someone built a perfectly respectable concrete cairn complete with a bronze plaque.  We didn’t go ashore and the printing was too small to read from the water but I’m sure it was all politically correct and definitely in both official languages.

IMG_7208He got to salt water but he didn’t get clear to the Pacific.  Evidently his guides were Bella Bella Indians and they had some longstanding thing going against the Bella Coolas so the guides were afraid to go any further.  Or maybe it was the other way around – his guides were Bella Coolas and the west coast tribe was the Bella Bellas.  Regardless, like any self respecting British adventurer, of course old Alec couldn’t carry on without his coolie guides, so that was the end of the big overland trip.



Friday, April 25, 2014

Hot tubs and computers

Here we are in pristine wilderness, so far from civilization that I can’t raise a single radio station.  Forget about weather reports, I can’t even raise the shortwave God stations.  That’s how far we are from the rest of the world.  So WTF is wrong that I am fixing bloody computers?

My kids are young enough that they don’t remember when computers used to be mechanically suspect out of the box.  It used to be that if you unpacked them and they started up on their own and ran for a couple of weeks then you could pretty well count on them to keep running.  I did some computer sales and troubleshooting so I’m not completely clueless.  I have however come to the point where I assume that the problem is NOT the hardware.  Because typically it isn’t.  Part of that attitude is driven by the fact that Microsoft routinely pushes “updates” that don’t work.  That flood of software induced problems overwhelms any memory of the occasional hardware glitch that we may have and feeds our perception that the hardware always works.  By comparison to the software, the hardware simply does ALWAYS work – there is no doubt that computers have become extremely reliable.

So hardware wasn’t my first thought when our new touchscreen HP started acting up.  In fact I went so far as to let it go online and do a couple of updates early in its life.  It seemed so lonesome when it was unconnected to the internet.  It kept sending me plaintive little messages about how it missed its friends and wanted to chat with them in order to improve itself.  And I think those early online episodes actually helped it be a better computer.  Early in its life it would routinely forget that it was supposed to be a touchscreen computer and we would have to break out the rat to run it.  After I let it do one particular update it quit doing that and has performed perfectly in the touchscreen department.

Lately though we’ve had some issues with the GPS input to the charting software.  Now realize that this GPS input comes off a Garmin mushroom external antenna, down a very long wire from the flybridge, goes through a COM to USB adapter and enters the HP through a USB port.  So there’s several potential failure points before that information gets to the computer.  Occasionally we’ll be running along, typically after a three or four hour cruise, and the ship position on the charting software will become erratic.  Typically when that happens the charting software reacts by selecting the next waypoint in the route.  That’s not a particularly helpful solution because typically I have strategically located the waypoints to avoid things like rocks, islands, shallow water, large land masses ….. etc.  So when the charting software suddenly leaps ahead to a waypoint that may be several miles in our future it can occasion a sharp turn from the autopilot into an island or a reef.  I guess that’s why its important to have a human brain in the equation somewhere at all times. 

Initially I thought the problem was the GPS antenna and I guess it still could be.  Its difficult to troubleshoot that effectively without disconnecting a lot of little tiny wires in awkward locations.  I also considered that it might be some kind of USB driver conflict and tried running with a minimal complement of USB devices attached.  That didn’t seem to do anything.  Up until yesterday simply rebooting the computer seemed to be an effective cure.  You know – the universal Windows cure - “when it doubt, reboot.”

Yesterday we had a couple of occasions where the entire computer screen went blank and subsequently wouldn’t boot up again.  That made me think that perhaps my problem was actually hardware, unlikely as that might seem.  So yesterday afternoon I tore into disassembling our new HP all in one computer.  Its pretty difficult to get inside them compared to the old square box computers that I was accustomed to tearing apart 20 years ago.  But I got inside without having to resort to the dremel tool.

Once inside I found a particularly lame method of grounding out the USB ports that I believe may have been our problem.  Time will tell I guess but its a piss poor system, even if its not the problem.  There’s two USB ports side by side with metal jackets on them and an RJ45 port next to them, metal jacketed as well.  They’re all just jammed into the plastic housing and they take their case grounds through a flimsy bit of stainless steel spring with tabs that touch each port and another flimsy tab that touches the metal case further on.  The whole works is held in place by plastic tabs.  I rubbed all the metal with a pencil eraser and bent the flimsy tabs so they would push harder against the metal they are supposed to be connecting but I’m sceptical that anything I did would constitute a long term solution.  A soldering iron may be called for but that would likely void any warranty that may remain so I held off on that final step.

The bay that we were heading for while dealing with our computer issues is up near Bella Coola.  Its called Eucott Bay and it sits in an obviously geologically active region.  There’s a mountain to the northeast of us that looks to be topped with lava flows.  We’re here because there are hot springs here.  Last night we sat in a little pool in the rocks with probably 100 degree water.  There’s an old iron pipe coming out of the mountain that dribbles water into the pool and you can adjust the temperature in the pool by stuffing a stick in the end of the pipe.  Too cold?  Take the stick out.  Too hot?  Put the stick back in.  It works well and it is surprising how fast the pool warms up when you take the stick out.  We could tell where the hot springs were as soon as well pulled into the bay because Marilyn spotted the steam rising from the mud where the overflow leaves the hot pool.


The little speck in the bay is Gray Hawk – the foreground is the natural hot tub on the beach at Eucott Bay.


Hot water comes out of the mountain through that old iron pipe – there’s a piece of stick that you shove in the pipe to reduce the water flow when the pool gets too hot.  And it gets REALLY hot on a warm day.  The first night it was kind of cold out so it took a lot of hot water but the next night it was piping hot even with the stick in the pipe.


This gives a little better perspective of the pool and the bay.  Gray Hawk looks pretty tiny in the middle of the bay.

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. 





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.


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. 


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. 


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. 


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.


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. 


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.


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.



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. 



IMG_7144 IMG_7142

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. 


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.


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


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.


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

Thursday, April 10, 2014

On the move again ……….

……. but we weren’t in any huge rush to get going this morning.  We had about a 4 hour run from the Copeland Islands to Von Donop Inlet and I wanted to arrive on the rising tide this afternoon so we didn’t lift the anchor until close to 10:00 this morning. 

We had a great day for travel – kind of high overcast so not much sun but good visibility and calm waters.  Von Donop Marine Park is a narrow inlet into the west side of Cortes Island.  Between Von Donop on the west side and Squirrel Cove on the east side the island is almost cut in half.  Apparently if you like walking there’s a trail between the head of each inlet.  I doubt we’ll ever prove the truth of that statement.

Its about 3 miles back into the inlet along an increasingly narrow winding entrance.


About halfway in we met the fish cops coming out in a fast dinghy, something like a C-Dory.  I’m not sure what they might have thought they were accomplishing up here.  I saw them go in about half an hour before we arrived at the entrance so they were in here for a long time.  At the speed they were travelling, the trip up the inlet likely took them well under 10 minutes.  There’s no crab floats up here – I thought they might be fish copping the commercial fishermen but that’s evidently not what they were up to.  They didn’t seem interested in us.

We dropped the anchor in about 30 feet of water and it stuck hard on the first try.  We were in here once before, the first year we had the boat but that time it was pretty crowded.  Today we have the little bay all to ourselves.  After we leave this place it will be all new water to us.  Up until now we’ve been crossing our old wakes but that all ends from this point north.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Copeland Island Marine Park

This morning started out a little weird.  We were getting ready to lift the anchor when Marilyn let out a shriek and yelled “you’ve got to look at this!”  “THIS” turned out to be a little deer swimming calmly across Gerrans Bay.

Swimming Deer

We stood on the aft deck and watched the stupid bugger until he disappeared under a dock on the east shore.  We never saw him come out.  Perhaps he’s still under there.  One can hope.

After we recovered from the shock of the deer we pulled the anchor and headed out into Malaspina Strait.  It was more than just a little lumpy out there first thing this morning.  The automated buoy at Sentry Shoal (at the north end of Georgia Strait) was reading 18-22 knots of wind and .9 meter waves when I got up at 5:00 but by the time we left at 10:00 that had dropped to 6 knot winds.  The waves were still pretty serious but we knew they would diminish as the day went on and they did. 

By the time we got to Powell River it was pretty well flat water, the sun was shining and the wind had died to nothing.  In short it was a perfect day for our 6 hour cruise up to Copeland Island Marine Park.  The Copeland Islands are just north of the coastal BC community of Lund.  We stayed here last spring, over on the other side.  When we were last here there were two or three boats in the little bay that we are in now but today there isn’t a soul here.  I’ve seen exactly one boat go by since we anchored around 4:00.  After we got the anchor set I took a stern tie line to shore in the dinghy.  Then I phoned Al Pinkney and told him he was lucky he wasn’t here because I would have kissed him square on the lips if he had been.  Thanks to his advice my dinghy not only started first pull but it idled and stayed running the whole time while I was pulling the stern tie line and returning to the boat.  Just the way good outboards do.



Those two photos are the view off our bow.  We look out over a narrow channel past the east side of the islands – the photos are looking at the mainland.  That section of mainland is also the start of the famous Desolation Sound which depressed Captain Vancouver as much as it now delights hundreds of thousands of summer visitors every year.  We’ll spend a couple of nights here enjoying our last access to 3G internet service before we head into the wilds north of Desolation.  Pretty soon we’ll start leaving our wake in waters that we have never travelled before.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Alaska is very big and very far away

Oh my goodness, we sure haven’t covered much distance yet have we?


This morning we left Keats Island as the sun was getting up and headed out over the Gibson Bar into the Strait.  Unlike our crossing 3 years ago, this morning was uneventful.  As we told Jack and Donna, the goal of our boating is boredom.  Exciting days are to be avoided if at all possible.

We arrived in Pender Harbour around noon and considered anchoring in Garden Bay but ended up back in our favourite spot in Gerrans Bay.  The weather is supposed to go to hell for a few days so we wanted a sheltered spot.  Garden Bay has a reputation for poor holding and it was deeper than I remembered it being.  We’ve only ever anchored there once – it was the first time we anchored anywhere and we ended up dragging our shiny new CQR around the bay when the wind came up in the middle of the night.  I don’t think our Sarca would drag tonight but we were seeing roughly 40 feet of water compared to 20+ in Gerrans Bay.  I like to have 5:1 or better scope so 20 feet of water plus 6 feet to the bow pulpit translates into a minimum of 130 feet of chain our here compared to maybe 250 feet minimum in Garden Bay.  The more chain we have out the bigger swinging circle we need. 

If you look very close at the image above, there is a little red line from Cow Bay to Pender Harbour but you’ll probably have to zoom in to see it.  Our goal is to, at a minimum, get to Ketchikan so we can say we were in Alaska.  Ideally I’d like to be in Juneau on the June solstice but we’ll let weather, reluctant generators and whatever other mechanical misfortunes befall us make the final decision as to our ultimate destination.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

On our way

I know – I said we were on our way a while ago but now it feels like its for real.  Yesterday we left Burrard Yacht Club after a leisurely breakfast, left a wake under First Narrows Bridge and moved to Plumper Cove.  This little marine park is one of our favourite spots in lower Georgia Strait.  The forecast was crap – wind and heavy rain - for today so we never planned to go any further.  Getting as far as Pender Harbour yesterday might have been theoretically possible but we’re not in any panic.  I  don’t mind spending another night close to parts sources while we test the generator.  (which seems to be just fine now)


There was a particularly large pile of sulphur on the north shore when we were leaving Burrard Inlet.  There’s always sulphur piled there.  Its a byproduct of oil refining – they scrub out the sulphur dioxide and elemental sulphur is one of the results.  Another byproduct of scrubbing it out is that we no longer have acid rain which in turn means that we need to add sulphur containing fertilizer to our soils. 

I spent today hooking up our new GPS “mushroom”.  We’ve been using a GPS puck for our main nav software but I’m not 100% happy with it because it has a lot of position inaccuracy.  The new Garmin multi-function unit uses a mushroom that was already on the boat.  I tried that source on the nav software and it was much more stable.  The one I just installed however is giving me some grief.  I have to bring the data in through a COM to USB adapter which I believe is causing trouble.  I’ve got two identical adapters on that computer now and I’m not sure that was a good idea.  We’ll run it for a while before I make any drastic changes but I won’t be getting rid of the puck in the short term anyway.  I hate serial communications.


That’s not much of a picture because its absolutely pissing rain right now and the boat was a long ways off but that’s the SAR hovercraft passing the park.  It put on a real show for us a couple of days ago when we were leaving Vancouver with Grace & Al onboard.  There was a jumper on First Narrows bridge (actually UNDER First Narrows bridge by the time these guys showed up).  We had been following the conversations on the radio as the police responded and vessel traffic control asked for other assistance.  All of a sudden these guys came roaring in from the port side (left) and then spun a 180 directly in front of us and buggered off as fast as they had arrived. 

There was a big hullaballoo out here a year or so ago when the feds closed Coast Guard Station Kitsilano.  I think the remaining station is up the Fraser a bit and I assume that’s where these guys came from.  I also assume that whatever emergency they were responding to was over before they got there.  I don’t know for sure it was the jumper but it seems logical.  I commented to my crew that it was hard to imagine how someone could think their day was that bad when we were simultaneously having as much fun as we were having.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

…. and that was just the beginning

When I said generators were the bane of my existence I HAD NO IDEA. 

Shortly after I posted that generators were the bane of my existence we tried to start the mighty Onan and it went “unnhh”.  It was hydrolocked.  That means that one or both cylinders was full of some unknown liquid and when the valves closed the piston stopped moving because, as you may remember from your high school physics class, fluids are not compressible. 

As it turned out I actually got really lucky – it could have been a whole lot worse.  If one cylinder had fired and the other had hydrolocked we could easily have bent a rod and turned our more or less useful Onan into a poorly shaped (and even more poorly located) boat anchor. 

The troubleshooting to figure out what was going on was a bear.  It involved many phone calls and much online forum ( guessing.  Along the way I bought a whole bunch more spare parts from a guy in Washington.  You gotta love anything that turns into an excuse to carry more spares. 

My first step was to pull both glow plugs and spin the engine.  That blew steam and water up my wrist – the wound from that is more or less healed now.  When I put the plugs back in the Onan fired right up but of course the oil was pretty milky.  That cleared up after a good hot run.  The problem was to figure out where the unknown fluid was coming from.  I didn’t think it was coolant but that seemed the only logical possibility which in turn would mean we had a head gasket leak.  Part of my increased parts store now includes a head gasket and rebuild gasket kit. 

The problem with the theory of the head gasket as the culprit was that:

  • I wasn’t losing any coolant
  • I wasn’t pressuring up the expansion tank (corresponds to a radiator)
  • I wasn’t getting any oil in the expansion tank

Many of the gurus on SmokStak were pointing to the exhaust manifold as the culprit.  At first I thought I didn’t actually have a water jacket exhaust manifold but my buddy in Washington straightened me out on that.  All of the wanna be advisors insisted that the water jacket around the exhaust manifold was in fact raw water and therefore if the manifold started to fail I would get raw water leaking into the heads after the engine was shut down.  That started to make more sense after I discovered that by simply shutting the water off between generator runs we never had any more problems with hydrolocking.  Mind you I wasn’t taking any chances – I was barring the engine over every time before I started it just to be sure.  Which has been a major pain in the ass by the way – it means that I can’t start the genset remotely and it involves fitting a socket onto the end of the crankshaft entirely by feel.

Today I finally got my parts shipment which includes the exhaust manifold so I tore into tearing the engine apart.  I very quickly realized that, wise as they are in some matters, my SmokStak gurus are dead wrong about the type of water around my exhaust.  It is in fact coolant.  So I was back to square one.  I finally did what I should have done a while ago and pulled the raw water impeller.  Its a real genuine pain in the ass to pull so I was trying to avoid doing that.  Sure enough it was missing one blade and another blade was on its way out.

I now believe that what has been happening is that the boogey impeller combined with how this generator was installed was allowing water to siphon past the missing blade and into the water lift muffler.  When the water lift muffler fills up it will back up into the exhaust manifold and from there into the cylinders.  That could only happen if the impeller blank happened to line up exactly right and since there was one blade out of six missing that didn’t happen very often.  The Onan book says that there should be a siphon break in the raw water system precisely to prevent this type of situation.  Today “Eric” at Steveston finally got around to supplying the siphon break that I ordered a week ago so tomorrow I will be able to put everything back together and I am certain it will work just fine.  A new impeller alone would solve the immediate problem but the when that impeller inevitably loses a blade the siphon break will prevent a repeat of the rodeo I have had for the last week.

All of this generator drama played out as the backdrop to Grace & Al’s visit.  The night of the initial hydrolock was the night before they arrived.  Fortunately we were able to continue to use the generator so it had minimal impact on their visit other than the inconvenience of not being able to start the genset remotely.  It was good to have Al to bounce ideas off as we jointly worked through the troubleshooting steps. 

Al fixes vintage snowmobiles so I thoroughly picked his brain about my reluctant Merc outboard too.  It generally runs better the more we use it but this spring it has been particularly slow to improve its performance.  I’ve long believed that if any engine is running, no matter how poorly, you should leave the carburetor the hell alone but Al may have convinced me otherwise.  I expect the result of me fiddling with the Merc carburetor will be that I will need to learn how to row better but we’ll see how that plays out.

Grace and Al were ideal guests.  Either they enjoyed themselves or they did a very good job of pretending that they were enjoying themselves.  Whatever the truth, their visit was very enjoyable for us.  We introduced them to both dim sum and sushi, spent two nights at anchor in False Creek, two nights on the dock at Plumper Cove and two nights on the dock at Burrard Yacht Club.  We’re still at Burrard, taking advantage of their 30 amp power while I mess with the generator.  Marilyn had their laundry tied up today and will use it again tomorrow but if all goes well with the generator we should be ready to leave on Friday.