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.