Sunday, June 29, 2014

The company we all love to hate


So when we got back to Cow Bay two days ago the truck wouldn’t start.  Eventually I ended up having it towed to the Ford dealer in Duncan.  They informed me that the computer needed to be reflashed but, not to worry, I would get more reliable starts and better fuel mileage.  I didn’t really have much choice in the matter so they reflashed it, got it running and we have it back.  There’s a minor problem that has appeared since the reflash – we can no longer open the back doors.  Its not a huge problem – there’s four doors after all and we still have the use of the front doors.  Crawling into the back seat will be a bit awkward for guests but fortunately we don’t do that too often so it should be manageable.

The only part of that paragraph which is 100% true is the first sentence.  I had put one of those solar battery tenders on it before we left and clearly it did precisely nothing, except perhaps help to drain the batteries.  One call to roadside assistance, a few minutes hooked up for an electron transfusion and all was good again.  However, the story does have a point – we had exactly that experience with our all-in-one nav computer.  So substitute “Microsoft” for “Ford”, “upgrade” for “reflash” and “touchscreen stopped working” for “can’t open the rear doors”. 

Most of us can no longer live without Microsoft but they sure don’t make that relationship easy.  Windows had been whining plaintively about not being able to phone home pretty well ever since we left for Alaska.  So when we got home and hooked up to the dockside wifi I thought “What the hell, what harm can it do?”  It downloaded some bizarre (obscene) size of a file, “upgraded” itself and appeared to be working fine.  Then last night when we had company onboard and Marilyn wanted to show them our trip path we discovered that we no longer had a functioning touchscreen.  I have now wasted the last 3 hours trying to figure out what Messysloth broke with their so-called upgrade and I’m still not sure I’ve solved the problem because it takes a while to appear.

And on a semi-related subject (idiots who mess with our lives) – we went to the yacht club yesterday morning for a work bee.  Adrian always has an excellent lunch laid on after the morning’s work.  Over lunch we were visiting with a couple of the folks we had been doing yard work with. Some wag had registered Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper on the worker sign-in sheet which brought up the subject of Stephen Harper at which point one of our lunch companions voiced her opinion that she “sure hoped he wouldn’t get elected again.”  I just zip my lip at those junctures but our other lunch companion said something to the effect that he didn’t really like Harper but he disliked the alternatives even more.  At that point it became abundantly clear that the complaining woman didn’t even know who the alternatives were.  I got up and left but as she repeated her desire to not see Harper re-elected I couldn’t resist telling her to prepare to be disappointed.

I understand it has been raining a lot in SE Saskatchewan.  Maybe it will get that over with before we get back there.  You’d think that the sky would eventually be empty.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Back in familiar waters

We’re tied up at Newcastle Island, where we’ve been many times before.  Initially we had planned to go further today but one thing led to another and this place was just too handy to sail by.  There’s a work bee at our yacht club on Saturday morning that we want to attend and we had thought we would take the boat and stay on the reciprocal dock.  That’s what we usually do when we go to one of the work parties and it works well.  Today we got a little worried that people might be turning this weekend into a really long weekend and that in turn might fill up the very limited reciprocal space on the dock.  There’s only about 150 feet of reciprocal moorage, maybe 200 at the most if someone uses the Jr. Sailing section.  That means 3 or 4 boats will fill it up.  Rather than take that chance we decided to go straight back to Cow Bay.


Approaching the mighty Seymour Narrows.  With them behind us its hard to get really worked up about Dodd Narrows no matter how much I tell myself that’s a bad attitude.

We should be timing Dodd Narrows for a slack but that will be difficult tomorrow so we’re going to run it on a fairly stiff ebb.  We’ve been through before on an ebb and it runs hard but only for a few hundred yards so we should be OK.  One thing is for sure, if you go through when its running hard you don’t have to worry about boats going the other direction.  Maybe we’re getting too cocky after running Seymour on a fairly hard flood.  If we make the news tomorrow you’ll know why.

I didn’t pay any attention to the currents when we were getting ready to leave Campbell River.  As far as I was concerned we were through Johnstone Strait and into the Strait of Georgia.  WRONG.  We got hammered by the current as we left Fishermen’s Wharf and then pounded along at over 2000 RPM into a 5 or 6 knot current for over an hour, sometimes making as little as a knot and a half, before it finally relented and let us out into Georgia Strait.  We were moored near the south end of the marina and had to go a fair distance north to get around the breakwater before we got out of the marina. It was close to an hour after we had untied the lines when I noticed that we had pretty well clawed our way back south to a point even with where we had been originally berthed.  We burned a lot of fuel going nowhere that morning.

Yesterday we had a great visit with some old friends in Comox.  And I mean “old” in all senses of the word.  Dick is 92 and Olive is 90; we’ve known them for close to 20 years since meeting them in Alamos on our first trip to Mexico.


There was a lot more town at Campbell River than I was expecting.  We stayed at the Fishermen’s Wharf which was very modern and huge.  There’s also another equally large marina that caters to the recreational crowd.  Another time we’ll be a little more careful about the timing of the currents when leaving the marina.  Or maybe go all the way through Campbell River and moor somewhere on Georgia Strait.

We’ve had an unbelievably wonderful trip to Alaska but both of us are impatient to be back on the prairies.  Marilyn’s new house and yard are calling her.  I’ve got a project meeting in Regina on July 14 and I’m anxious to get started fixing the equipment I bought last winter.  There’s a couple of semi-antique Case/Ingersoll garden tractors waiting for me to restore when I get back.  I’m not sure whether we’re going to use one and sell the other or keep a tiller on one and a mower on the other.  We had a 244 Case on our first acreage and it was a great little yard tractor but taking the mower off and putting it back on was a major pain in the ass.  So maybe we’ll just have one tractor for tilling and one tractor for mowing.  I can’t remember what all I got for attachments – I know there’s two mowers and two tillers and a blade but I can’t remember whether I got a snowblower or not.  In the near term we don’t plan to need a snowblower but Dick and Olive have been our inspiration for aging since we met them.  If we even come close to matching their ages then there will inevitably come a time when we need to deal with snow again.

The next few days in Cow Bay will be a flurry of activity.  We hope to be on the road headed east by Wednesday.  In between now and then we’ve got some entertaining to do and we need to put the boat in storage mode.  I like to do an oil change just before we leave and we have several items to remove and take back to the prairies with us.  We’ve also got some wine brewing in Mill Bay that we need to get bottled to take home with us.  Marilyn tried making wine in one of those wine shops in Regina but it was beyond bad.  It may have been decent paint remover but it was shitty wine, so we’re going to smuggle BC-built wine back into Saskatchewan.  I assume that it is still illegal to move alcohol across provincial boundaries.  Now I’ve advertised the fact that we’ll be breaking that (stupid) law so every cop between Duncan and Buchanan can be on the lookout for our lime green Suburban.  (OK, its not lime green and its not a Suburban – I took the Chevy cure years ago when I bought a new 6.2 – but there’s no need to make it too easy for the bastards)

Monday, June 23, 2014

More travel – less typing

Its hard to believe that, less than a week ago, we were still in Meyers Chuck, firmly inside Alaskan waters.  Today we’re passing Alert Bay as I type.  We’ve put in some really long days and succeeded in breaking the back of the return trip.  What took us about a month to travel when we were headed north has taken less than a week heading south.  Along the way we had a couple of bad days but mostly just really long days. 

Dixon Entrance was a bitch, thank you very much Environment Canada.  They assured me it would be OK so we went for it and they were WAY past wrong.  The problem with Dixon from a weather standpoint is that NOAA doesn’t give a good local forecast for the crossing.  NOAA does an excellent job of forecasting US weather but they lump Dixon in with Cape Decision and some of the more western waters of Alaska.  Dixon Entrance really deserves its own forecast and that’s what Environment Canada provides.  In fairness to EC, their forecasts are usually excellent for one day out but this time they just flat out got it wrong.  We had planned to pass Ketchikan, picking up fuel on the way by, and continue to an anchorage on the extreme north side of Dixon Entrance.  That way we could have got an early morning start for the actual crossing, which is usually a good guarantor of relatively calm water. 

What actually happened was that, by the time we got to the north side of Dixon, it was blowing up a storm out of the south, whipping Dixon Entrance into a frenzy and making the anchorages we had planned on using too dangerous to enter.  All I could see as we passed them was breaking foam at the entrances.  That combined with the fact that the fishing fleet was out in force and most of them were headed for the same anchorages made me decide we were better to just tough out the four hour crossing and get it behind us.  So that’s what we did, pounding head on into 5 or 6 foot chop out of the south.  That’s the absolute worst conditions for us.  If we can get the seas even 20 or 30 degrees on the beam then the stabilizers will take a lot of the worst action out but head on the fins do absolutely nothing for us, so much so that we didn’t bother turning them on for the crossing. 

Instead of the nice mellow trip we had been promised by EC we were climbing up the face of square sided waves and then crashing down the backside.  The bow would rise straight up and then fall 8 to 12 feet off each crest.  That combined with the fact that the boat felt like it is stopping each time it hit a wave made for a very unpleasant time of it but the worst was yet to come. 

When we got about halfway across I managed to get a Canadian cell connection and called Customs.  They were really good – unusual for them I know but really good nonetheless.  She took some basic information – boat name and registration number – and then looked up everything else after I told her I couldn’t leave the helm to go find our passports.  You’re not supposed to drop anchor in a country before you complete the entry procedure and for Prince Rupert that means going to the dock and phoning in.  There was no way we were going to make it to Prince Rupert that night so I apologized profusely and said we were going to anchor in Brundige Inlet.  She assured me that was no problem and gave me an entry number which I assumed I would give her the next morning when we finally arrived in Prince Rupert.  When I asked about that though she said, “No, you’re checked in.  You don’t have to do anything else.”  She never asked about booze, or purchases, or fresh produce or any of the other nonsense that they normally quiz me about.  Its good to know that some of them have some common sense. 

After we got done with Customs we soldiered on until we finally entered the shelter of Dundas Island and found our way into Brundige Inlet just before dark.  Then the real rodeo began.  I’ve heard about chain turning in the chain locker but we have never experienced it before.  When we retrieve our anchor chain it just falls into a locker in the forward part of the bow (the extreme pointy end of the boat in other words).  The last chain in ends up on top of the pile and becomes the first chain out, normally.  However, under the kind of conditions we experienced in Dixon, the bow falling so precipitously combined with side to side motion of the boat can cause that pile of chain to roll in the locker.  Ours was so badly tangled I briefly thought I might have to cut it but fortunately we finally got it all out so that we could then retrieve it and then re-deploy the anchor.  That all added about an hour of frustration to what had already been a very tiring day. 


We’ve been seeing a lot of sunrises.  If we have a long day ahead of us we like to pull the anchor before sunrise and be underway when the sun gets up.

The day after all that turned out to be a great travel day and we ended up logging the most miles we have ever accomplished, slightly over 110.  That’s a lot of chugging along at 6.5 knots.  We got some help from the current but when you put on that many hours you go through several tide changes so a lot of the currents end up cancelling each other out. 


I do most of the driving but clearly not all of it.

After the big day out of Prince Rupert we ended up idling along for a couple of days trying to time our arrival for a decent day to get around Cape Caution.  We finally did that yesterday.  It wasn’t a perfect day for the trip but it could have been a lot worse.  We had about 2 meter swells coming in off the Pacific topped by maybe a foot or two of chop coming out of the south.  Most of the time we were taking the big swells on the beam so the stabilizers soaked up that action and the stuff on the nose wasn’t really big enough to notice it most of the time. 

Last night we anchored in Allison Harbour which is a delightful spot, extremely well sheltered and very scenic.  We went into it via Murray Labyrinth which is every bit as challenging as the name suggests.  Its pretty well a rockpile – fortunately a well charted rockpile but a rockpile nonetheless.  Another big change from the trip north though was that we bypassed one cove in the labyrinth because there were too many boats in it and we ended up in a little anchorage at the head of Allison Harbour with 9 other boats.  On the way north we would have had the whole place entirely to ourselves.


The night before we rounded Cape Caution we stayed in Lizzie Cove.  Its hard to describe what Rene and Pete have created there. I’ve seen it and its still hard to believe.  They’ve got over 20,000 square feet of floats with their home, a greenhouse, a workshop, a summer kitchen and of course space for guests to tie up.  Gi ven all the floating space they have, there’s actually remarkably little space for guest moorage – maybe 250 or 300 feet in total.  They charge 75 cents a foot and for that you get an unserviced spot to tie up and non-stop entertainment whenever either of them is nearby.

Today we’re running straight up Johnstone Strait.  Going west to east in Johnstone works really well because the tides start turning at the Pacific and move east.  So you can time the start of a flood at Port Hardy and ride it for roughly 8 hours instead of the usual 6 hours.  Coming from the east that worked against us but going this way its a big help.  We won’t get all the way to Campbell River today.  We’ll break the roughly 120 miles from Allison Harbour into two easy days.  We need to time our arrival in Campbell River to allow us to transit the famous Seymour Narrows at high slack but that, very conveniently, happens to be late in the afternoon on the current tides. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

What a seriously cute spot

We’re in Meyers Chuck.  You’ve never heard of it, I know.  There’s about 3 full time residents and maybe a dozen summer cottages surrounding a tiny bay about 30 miles north of Ketchikan.  We didn’t stop here on the way north because our plan at the time was to meet Currie here while he was headed north and we were headed south.  Currie and I quickly figured out that plan wouldn’t work and we instead met in Petersburg.  Today we stopped in to check out Meyers Chuck for ourselves.


This photo is horribly backlit so you can’t really see Jackshit in it but, even if the lighting was better, there’s no entrance to be seen.  We came at low tide when the whole entrance channel was at most 50 feet wide. Once inside it opens up a bit, not much, but it is very picturesque.






Sunday, June 15, 2014

We’re still alive, still afloat

Despite the dire predictions of friends and guidebooks we made it through Rocky Pass.  The stakes went up considerably when Jon & Jennifer on Captain Kidd decided they were going to follow us through.  Its one thing to be responsible for our own boat but two additional souls plus their (very nice little) Krogen yacht upped the stakes considerably.

We took it very slowly but that turned out to be absolutely unnecessary.  The whole pass is maybe 10 miles at most and it could easily be run in a single day as long as you did it at high tide.  We ran the north end – what is referred to as “The Summit” - on a 14 foot tide and I saw 14 feet on the depth sounder a couple of times.  That means that on a zero tide there would be – you guessed it – zero water – in those spots.  Its actually even worse than that because the Americans have a different way of measuring tide levels.  In Canada the “chart datum” or point where tides are measured from is the average of the LOWEST low tides.  In the US the datum is the average of the low tides.  In practice that means that you never see a minus tide in Canadian waters but you routinely see minus 3 or 4 foot tides in US waters.  So that 14 feet that we saw on a 14 foot tide could easily become 2 to 4 feet of dry mud on a minus tide.  Absolutely not any place you would want to be with a boat that draws 4-1/2 feet.


Captain Kidd at anchor north of “The Summit”.  From Gray Hawk they looked like they were on the bottom but Jon assured us they still had 8 or 10 feet of water underneath their keel.

We ran the northern section - “The Summit” - yesterday and anchored between The Summit and “Devil’s Elbow” last night.  Then we ran Devil’s Elbow starting at 6:00 AM this morning (4:00 AM local – which was a stretch for Jon & Jennifer).  We did that in order to hit both sections as close to absolute high slack as possible, but that level of caution clearly was not necessary.  We absolutely needed to hit both of the tricky bits at high slack but the whole pass is so short that we could run both of the skinny parts in slightly over an hour.  So we could easily have come into The Summit an hour before high slack and been out of Devil’s Elbow before an hour after high slack.  As it turns out the pass floods from both ends which means that by timing our passage immediately before and after high slack we could have been flooded into the north end of the pass and ebbed out of the south end.  On the other hand, the entire length of the pass was ruggedly beautiful so it was no hardship to anchor midway.  We could easily have spent a week moving one or two miles between anchorages inside the pass every night.  On future trips that is likely exactly what we will do because there are many potential anchorages and we only saw one boat through the whole pass.


Pictures don’t really capture just how close those rocks are.  There was one point where there was a green marker followed by a red marker followed by another green marker, all of them within about maybe 300 yards total distance.  The correct route was an S-curve around all three markers but it was really REALLY important to go the right way around them.

When we popped out the south end of the pass this morning it was with a tremendous feeling of achievement.  But it really isn’t that big a deal anymore.  The charts we were using were printed in 2011 so they’re about as current as they can be.  The guidebooks that cautioned about the perilous nature of Rocky Pass were printed 8 to 10 years ago.  Some of them refer to the “new” technology of GPS navigation. 

There’s still no substitute for looking out the window but GPS charting has been a game changer.  Twenty years ago we were using soap and water to mark passes with our high clearance floaters and sprayers.  Our equipment was state of the art – we even heated the water so that it would make better, longer lasting foam.  Today everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – who is serious about custom application uses GPS.  Its been nothing less than a revolution in guidance.  Not only custom applicators but most farmers use GPS guidance for seeding and spraying.  Applicators can drive within 4 inches on 70 foot wide (or wider) equipment so guiding a 14 foot wide boat through 150 foot wide channels really isn’t much of an accomplishment. 

As long as the charts are accurate and the equipment doesn’t crash, the operator just has to keep the little red boat between the lines.  We run two completely independent GPS systems.  They use identical Garmin antennas for redundancy but there is no interconnection between the systems so neither system depends on the other.  One antenna drives the Garmin chartplotter; the other drives OpenCPN on our widescreen all-in-one computer.  As long as all that technology works its really pretty simple.  I didn’t let the computer actually do the driving through the skinny bits but as soon as we popped out the south end I relinquished control to the computer and it drove us all the way back to Coffman Cove.  I’m pretty much just a passenger at that point.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Scary names

Murder Cove, Peril Strait, Deadmans Reach, Poison Cove – these are nasty names and there’s plenty more like them.  Compared to them, Rocky Pass sounds positively benign.  Tonight we’re at the top end of Rocky Pass and – in what some guidebooks describe as a last frontier for S.E. Alaska – we have data coverage.  Who’da thunk?

We had a wonderful time at Baranof.  It was a totally different experience than the first time we were there and we loved it the first time.  Last night SWMBO organized docktails and we ended up with 7 boats comprising about 20 people on the dock.  A good time was had by all and, true to form, the Aussies tried to steal one of our folding chairs at the end of the party.  Descendants of murderers & thieves all of them. 


Unlike the last time when we had the dock entirely to ourselves, this time it was full on both sides.  Which means only one thing – DOCKTAILS!

The two couples off the Aussie boat were good fun, particularly Christian Fletcher.  That’s not his real name but after he started calling his Captain “Bligh”, we all started calling him Christian and by the end of the evening he was well enough lit that he was responding to Christian.  The men were about to embark on a grand adventure – taking their newly acquired Ocean Alexander – I’m guessing it at 55 feet – across the Pacific and home to Australia.  The women were (probably wisely) going to fly home.  Ocean Alexander makes a great boat but they’re not generally regarded as ocean crossers so they will need good weather but they have a weather router that they trust so I’m sure they’ll be OK. 


This is bull kelp.  It grows on shallow rocks but that’s not where we picked up this one.  After it breaks free of the rocks, it floats in big mats on the surface and when we ran through one of those areas today this guy got hung up on the port side stabilizer fin.  It was a big struggle to get it off but we succeeded.  One year we ran through some kelp south of Cortes Island and it slowed us down enough that we had to stop and reverse for a few seconds to clear it.

We’re officially heading south now – Rocky Pass lies directly north and south.  Once we come out the south end of the pass we’ll be about a day north of Ketchikan although I expect we’ll stretch that to two days in order to stop in Meyer’s Chuck.   Tonight we’re anchored in Stedman Bay at the north end of the pass, just south of Kake.  Its a pretty spot but the pretty is a little bit disturbed by the presence of a couple of oyster farms.  Another couple that we met in Baranof just joined us and we plan to stick together through Rocky Pass.  That way when we run aground they can pull us off. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Back to Baranof

We had a fairly long day yesterday at 13 hours but we managed over 85 miles, arriving at Baranof Hot Springs at 7:00.  We’re in training now for the marathon from Ketchikan to Cowichan Bay. I think we can make that run in a week or less if the weather cooperates but it will take some long days.  There’s plenty of daylight up here for 16 hour days or even more than that but maybe we’re not up to that long of a run. 


There was a pretty stiff current setting through Sergious Narrows when we arrived.  It was going our way and I couldn’t see any overfalls so we ran it anyway because the alternative would have meant waiting a couple of hours and arriving that much later in Baranof.  These floating channel markers are a great indicator of current strength.  Apparently on some really hard currents they will get pulled completely underwater.  That would take a lot of current though because this one was handling 4 or 5 knots and its still a long way from underwater.

The dock at Baranof looks considerably different than when we were last here.  I was nervous about going to the back side of the dock because there’s a nasty detached rock off the end of the main float.  The backside however was all that was available when we arrived yesterday.  Fortunately we arrived behind a moderately large fishboat and he headed directly in to the backside of the float so I just followed his trail in.  I’m not sure he knew what he was doing though because when I was talking to him afterwards he seemed pretty green.  On the other hand the skipper’s level of knowledge is pretty well irrelevant if we’re following his track and he doesn’t touch bottom.  We’ll wait until high water today and – assuming there’s room – move around to the front of the dock.  There’s a minus 4 foot tide for tomorrow morning roughly when we want to leave.  I’d just as soon not cross a known obstacle with that little water if its easily avoidable.

As we were approaching the dock a familiar voice hailed us.  I had noticed a dark hulled Defever type prow tied to the end of the outside but had convinced myself it couldn’t be the black hull of Adventures.  Turns out I was wrong.  We met Robin and Jim in Petersburg when they were standing on the finger pier waiting to grab our lines.  As we approached the dock yesterday I had it in my head that we had left them in Juneau so it made no sense whatsoever for them to be here in Baranof.  In fact we had left them in Petersburg and it made perfect sense for them to be here, which they were (and are).  So we had cocktails on their deck last night and this morning when the fishboat in front of us left with a great thrashing of his single prop I looked over on Adventures to see that he had woken Robin as well. 

Its really fascinating how sound travels underwater.  You hear the sound of boat props at some distance through the hull below the waterline.  At home in Cow Bay I can tell which tug is coming home in the dark without getting out of bed, simply by the sound of their prop.

Robin keeps a weblog over here.  Its worth a look just for her pictures.  There’s nothing wrong with her writing either, but she has a very artistic eye, unlike me.  Some of her macro (close up) shots are outstanding.  They’ve been Florida boaters for some time now and are about to spend a winter in Alaska.  S.E. Alaskan coastal weather is nothing like what those of us who grew up on the prairies are used to.  I expect it is better even than what somewhere like the Kenai Peninsula would be and no doubt it is orders of magnitude better than interior Alaskan weather.  Nonetheless it will not be anything at all like Florida. 


There was a fog bank lying in Neva Strait as we approached yesterday but it lifted before we got there.  Good thing too because its a narrow channel – the same place where we got passed by the flying Fairweather on our way into Sitka.  The high speed ferry was nowhere to be seen yesterday but I was expecting him every minute until we got through the tricky bits.

Many years ago I went to Winter Haven in Florida so that Ron Scarpa could teach to me barefoot.  There was a guy there with us from Palm Springs.  It was February if I recall correctly.  The temperatures were dropping “way” down into the 50’s at night and “only” hitting the 80’s during the day.  Ron was convinced I needed some kind of wetsuit coat affair.  I finally asked him if it had anything to do with barefooting and he assured me it was only to keep me warm.  The poor sod from Palm Springs would get into the boat – in 80 degree weather remember – and his teeth would chatter so violently you could hear him all over the boat.

The next step for us is Rocky Pass.  We’ve had all sorts of advice, most of it conflicting, ranging from “You’re nutz, don’t go there, you’ll die or at the very least lose your boat” to “No problem, have fun, its a great place.” I think that a lot of the written advice is based on charts which were, until 2011, seriously out of date.  Combine that with state of the art electronics for the late 1990’s or early 2000’s and you would have a much different experience than what we can have today.  We plan to take our time, perhaps as long as three days to go the roughly 20 miles through the pass.  That way we can transit the tricky bits exclusively on high tides.  We’ve got really good current charts and we have George’s famous 360 degree scanning sonar which probably won’t do us a damn bit of good but may be a somewhat enjoyable way to pass time when we are going slow anyway.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Reunion in Sitka

Four years ago when we bought Gray Hawk, Kim & Steve Oberto kind of adopted us.  I think they felt sorry for the two lonely Canucks on their dock in Elliott Bay.  So they invited us to their Christmas party, Kim taught me how to dock the boat and eventually they escorted us to within sight of Canadian waters.  Every year since then we have managed to connect with them again, however briefly.  This year when we arrived in Seattle they were just checking out of Elliott Bay to take their gorgeous boat  Maximo, over to Platypus in Port Angeles for a complete paint job so we hardly saw them at all.  We just happened to run into them at the brokers’ office or we would have missed them completely.  We thought we might meet up with them in Alaska because they come up here every summer but that was looking very unlikely until a couple of days ago.

When we met Currie in Petersburg he was planning to go to Kake, Red Bluff, Baranof & then Sitka.  We followed him to Kake & Red Bluff but then we cut loose and headed to Sitka a day ahead of him on our own.  We got here slightly after noon yesterday and the Mermaid pulled in late in the afternoon.  In the meantime we had spotted the familiar stack of Maximo in the same marina.  That wasn’t a complete surprise because we knew that Kim had to fly out of here Monday morning (today).  Phone connections are so hit and miss that we couldn’t make contact but we thought there was at least a slim chance we could connect if we got here yesterday.  When we arrived we couldn’t immediately contact the harbormaster so we were tied to the outside float waiting until we could reach him.  Before we could get moved into our assigned slip we spotted Kim and Steve heading down the dock toward us.  As it turned out they had spotted us entering the marina, likely at about the same time I spotted their stack.


Maximo had a green hull the last time we saw her but they repainted in navy blue.  Steve said a broker friend told him he could sell 200 blue hulls to every green one he listed but I don’t think any sales are imminent – they’re having way too much fun.

Marilyn has been craving a seafood dinner, particularly an Alaskan crab dinner, so she asked Kim what was a good local restaurant.  Kim responded “Well …….. our place??”  So we ended up onboard Maximo last night for one of their magnificent seafood extravaganzas and then they sent us home with a shopping bag full of fresh prawns, halibut & crabs plus some of Steve’s smoked salmon.  This guy makes his living with meat so he really knows how to prepare it – I’m not sure which of them is a better chef but it sure is fun being able to compare them.

This morning I wandered over to Mermaid looking for free coffee but  it turns out there’s no such thing as free coffee anywhere in this world.  Instead I met the fearless expedition leader and Peter I setting out for the chandlery to buy Mermaid parts.  They have so many Peters on their cruise that they have to identify them by number.  That makes it much easier for me to remember names – if its not Currie then it is one of the Peters.

After the chandlery trip, we took the Mermaid for a drink of fuel.  From here they are heading outside up the gulf to Elfin Cove and Pelican – they won’t see a fuel dock again until they get to Juneau.  The weather forecast for tomorrow is good but the next few days aren’t so good, so they plan to leave early tomorrow.  We’re going to stay one more day here and then start retracing our wake.  We’ll likely spend a night in Baranof again and then I want to go through Rocky Pass.  It has a bad reputation, in keeping with its name, but it sounds like a very scenic route.  We’ll just take it slow and time our transit in the tricky bits for high slack.

High tide slack is the ideal time for all the tricky spots.  Currents run harder at low tide, because the water is shallower so the same volume of water going through a shallower space has to run faster.  It seems so simple when you think about it but it hadn’t occurred to me until this trip.  Leaving here we’ll time the flood tide so it pushes us toward Sergious Narrows and we’ll aim to arrive at high slack.  This side of Sergious Narrows will then start to ebb back to the Gulf of Alaska but the other side ebbs east to Chatham Strait so we should get at least a little help from the current to carry us over to Baranof.  We’re both getting pretty antsy to get back on the prairies.  All along we’ve said that we would stay in Alaska until the 21st but that may get revised.  Its Marilyn’s dream so its her call.  She’s tried to talk me into leaving earlier twice now and each time I’ve convinced her we should stay but both of us are starting to miss Saskatchewan now so the next time I may not be so convincing.


That’s a grizzly sow with 2 cubs on the beach at Red Bluff.  My wife – the same one who is terrified of bears – said “Well, why don’t we just land on the beach so we can get a better look at them?”  So we did – they were still a long way off but I think she’s getting a little numb to the bear experience.



This is the Alaskan high speed ferry “Fairweather”  He goes flying through the narrow passes at an incredible speed.  The BC ferries travel 22 knots but this guy looks to be going way faster than that.  Two nights ago he popped out in front of us in a narrow, twisty spot but fortunately we didn’t make the news.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Currie’s excellent adventure

Our guide may be blind but he knows his way around these waters.  Since we connected with Currie in Petersburg we have been to Kake and are now in Red Bluff Bay.  We didn’t really do much other than arrive and leave in Kake.  Its the top of Rocky Pass so our intent is to return after we get done with Currie.  That plan may get altered though.  Not because of Rocky Pass – we’ve just decided that we’d like to go to Sitka and we may simply not have enough time to see Sitka and return through Rocky Pass.

We may also have no choice BUT to go through Rocky Pass.  Sitka is “outside”.  We can get there without going out into the Gulf of Alaska but Sitka is exposed to the gulf.  Once we get done in Sitka our choices are south down the open Gulf and around Cape Decision to get back to Ketchikan or retracing our tracks to Kake and down through Rocky Pass.  We could also go all the way back to Petersburg and out through Wrangell Narrows but that isn’t going to happen.  We’ll let the weather in Sitka and more importantly, the weather in the Gulf decide for us.


Currie passed us coming out of Petersburg.  The Mermaid isn’t any speed demon but she’s faster than Gray Hawk.


We almost got a sunset last night in Kake.


Looking back as we were coming into Red Bluff Bay.  If you don’t know exactly where the entrance is, its damn hard to see from the outside.


The entrance here was so convoluted and the inside was so pretty that we were thinking it would be a great spot to come back to.  However, the miserable damn wind blows up it like it did in Lowe Inlet and there’s only room for 2 boats to be sheltered.  We of course were the third to arrive.  I don’t know whether it reminds me of the Regina wind or Winnipeg but either way it mostly pisses me off.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


We arrived in Petersburg late yesterday afternoon.  We were in Petersburg about 2 weeks ago but Marilyn didn’t want to stop that time.  Evidently they were having some kind of annual Norwegian festival.  With all due respect to our many Norwegian friends, partying with Vikings just wasn’t on our bucket list for Alaska.  So that time we cruised right on by and anchored that night in Portage Bay. 


The icebergs in Tracy Arm were pretty.  Scary but pretty.


Fortunately the damn floating hotels were taking a day off on Sunday.  There were none on Sunday and three of the miserable SOBs on Monday.

Yesterday we wanted to be in Petersburg for a couple of reasons.  First off it sounds like kind of an interesting place when they aren’t wearing Viking helmets and drinking grog.  Second it is directly in the path of the Mermaid.  When we left Cow Bay the theory was that we would connect with dockmate Currie onboard Mermaid somewhere around the north end of Vancouver Island.  Clearly that plan was a bust.  We were in Ketchikan the day that Currie untied from the dock at Cow Bay.


Petersburg is very old with lots of history (and really really big tides)


We’re snuggled in with the fish boats again.  You can see us in this picture, sort of, if you know where we are, but we’re far from easy to spot.  The Mermaid is about halfway between the end of the cannery pier and the right hand side of the photo.


More low tide.

Finally we have connected but it wasn’t easy.  I talked to Currie on the phone while he was still in Prince Rupert.  Then I tried repeatedly to contact him but all I could get was some Spanish speaking broad who told me in both English and Spanish that I couldn’t speak to Currie.  Somewhere along our travels it became clear to me that it made sense for us to connect with Currie in Petersburg but I was worried that he might be expecting us in Kake.  I didn’t want to miss him but the damn Spanish woman was interfering with my ability to make plans.  So finally yesterday I spammed Currie’s email contacts with a request for an alternate phone number onboard the Mermaid.  Then I phoned Currie again and this time he answered. 

As it turned out he was in Wrangell fixing a busted anchor.  So we agreed that we would meet today in Petersburg and we headed for the famous Norwegian town, arriving late in the day yesterday.  When we arrived we discovered that we couldn’t connect to their power system.  They have just built a new marina here and it has ground fault plugs on the dock.  We have had serious difficulty with GFI plugs in the past with the bus.  On one memorable occasion Marilyn succeeded in getting ordered to “eff off with your effing big effing bus and don’t effing come back”.  Cooler heads prevailed on that occasion and we didn’t in fact eff off at all but our experience with ground fault plugs has been less than pleasant over the years.  And it wasn’t much better yesterday.

Initially I convinced myself that the problem was on the dock.  Ultimately the problem turned out to be a little blue box under our dash that was connected across the ground and neutral conductors.  It didn’t appear to be serving any useful purpose now, if in fact it ever did, so I disconnected it, our ground fault went away and now we are powered.  Currie arrived about the time I was figuring out our power.  We were less fortunate with his power connection so he is forced to run his generator tonight.  His boat is considerably older than ours (built in 1938) but it has relatively current electrics and I was overall impressed with the quality of the installation.  Some of the maintenance less so but we should have been able to find his ground fault and we clearly failed to do so. 

There’s a couple of pretty good electricians that I know read this nonsense I write fairly regularly.  The rest of you may wish to skip the rest of this post.  For the electrically inclined among you, the situation is as follows:

Power comes onboard through a standard Marinco male 30 amp connector mounted to an external part of the hull.  From there there is a run of 10 gauge shore cable approximately 15 feet long that goes relatively directly to the box containing the generator transfer switch.  My first step was to measure resistance between the ground and neutral conductors on the Marinco connector and that showed a dead short.  We next went to the transfer switch box, disconnected the incoming white conductor  and again measured resistance between ground and neutral.  At this point I was measuring resistance between the incoming white (disconnected from the boat side but still attached to the Marinco outlet) and the green system onboard which was still connected to the Marinco.  That test showed connectivity.

Says I to myself “This is good! The fault must clearly be in the Marinco connector – easy fix!!”  However, when I tested the Marinco connector it has no connectivity between the green and white.  Then we briefly surmised that there must be a junction box somewhere between the transfer switch box and the Marinco but there is no such box.  As near as we can tell, the cable makes a homerun from the transfer box directly to the Marinco connector.  I can’t see anywhere that the cable has been pierced by a screw or nail but that’s really the only explanation I can come up with at this point.  Somehow that white conductor between the transfer box and the Marinco has connectivity to the green system onboard but that connection is NOT through the Marinco itself.  If the cable is pierced then the connectivity could (at least theoretically) be throw the salt water because the green AC system onboard is bonded to the electrolysis bonding system which is directly in contact with seawater through the zincs.  I’m baffled.

All was not lost, we did discover a seriously burnt hot conductor inside the Marinco which we insisted that Currie replace at once.  The mating end on his power cord is in equally bad shape and I intend to shame him into doing something about that as well but I haven’t got to that yet.  I lay awake about 3 hours last night trying to figure out what else might be causing the ground fault problem.  I was unsuccessful in my midnight deliberations but I welcome any and all suggestions.