We left Prince Rupert about 6 AM headed for the Grenville Channel, a 50 mile long fjord that is a main route on the inside passage. It is a spectacular wilderness area: the channel is relatively narrow and very deep, bounded by high mountains and forests. It was a beautiful day, and we planned a 5-hour cruise. By noon we had made it half way down the channel and reached our anchorage, a large inlet that forms part of an isolated marine park known as Klewnuggit Inlet. Nestled deep in a mountain valley, the inlet opened up into three bays. We carefully made our way to the end of the most promising one, dropped our anchor and enjoyed the solitude. Rebecca made a lovely lunch, and then we lowered the tender and went for an exploratory lookabout and crab pot deployment. Later that evening two other boats found our cove, and they anchored and spent the night with us under the stars. The next day we planned an early start to Butedale, about 50 miles away. (50 miles on land is about an hours drive, but on Odyssey it is about 6 hours). The passage wound through some of the most beautiful country we had seen. Late in the day we found Butedale. We were anxious to drop anchor and get some rest.
Butedale was once a thriving lumber mill. At the turn of the century (1900) it had over 500 residents, a schoolhouse, ice cream store, powerhouse, and fire hydrant system. It was a major town in these parts. But when the fish canning industry gave way to frozen food in the early ‘60’s, it had been all but abandoned. Today a caretaker (Lou) stands guard over the place. The harbor was over 600 feet deep, so anchoring was out of the question. I was a little disappointed, because it would take another hour or two to locate a sheltered haven for the night. Looking about, we could see that the buildings were literally falling into the sea, but we noticed that the two boats that anchored near us last night along with one other boat were tied up to some logs at the edge of town. Everyone seemed to be out on the log dock with drinks, motioning for us to come in. As we got closer, one of the men called us on the VHF and said there was enough room for us, so he suggested that we come on in and they would help tie us up. When we got close to the dock we saw it wasn’t a dock at all, but several very large trees that had been floated and tied together. One of the big ones even had most of its root ball in tact. I was very leery of tying up there. I heard the voice of my Nordhavn mentors telling me that this was no place for our beautiful yacht…it was just too dangerous. But, I realized that “nothing ventured nothing gained”, so we proceeded. After securing Odyssey we carefully negotiated the log dock and made it over to the social gathering near the other boats. We were invited aboard Swell Dancer for a few beers. Doug, Melinda, Garvin and Bev were the most delightful people. They were from Alberta and B.C respectively, and had been traveling down the coast on their shared three-week vacation. After several beers, we made our way back across the logs to our boat, and settled in for a good night’s sleep. The next morning we awakened to a beautiful blue sky and sunny day. We took the tender on a harbor tour to view the spectacular waterfall on the edge of town, then we took a hike around the dilapidated village. By then all the boats had left. We found Lou, a displaced French Canadian originally from Quebec, who had spent most of his adult life in the oil industry in Alberta. Lou lives with his dog, Burt, and unnamed cat, and told us stories of visitors that he enjoys seeing each season. Lou has a son who might live in B.C., but he might have moved to find a job. Lou wasn’t sure as he hadn’t spoken to him in the last six months. He likes living in Butedale, but he is thinking about moving. It has been eight years. The winters are long and lonely, but he passes the time as an artist, making small woodcarvings painted with Indian images and wildlife scenes. He has to watch his dog carefully, because dogs are a favorite food of wolves, which gather in the yard between the houses and circle about menacingly during the winter. Lou says they are very persistent and are not afraid of lights or other human efforts to disburse them. Burt whines and gets very nervous. Bears also frequent the village. Lou invited us to his home to see his pictures. We bought one for the boat and it will remind us of the fun we had here. Later that morning we departed for Klemtu, and Indian village further down the coast.
The trip to Kemtu was replete with the same boring scenery: beautiful mountains, forests, fjords, tidal waters and streams that we have gotten so used to. As we changed course to enter the harbor late in the afternoon, we had to cross a terrifically powerful rapids of tidal currents that flowed out of the channel to the ocean. Odyssey twisted and turned in the current, but finally straightened out and made it to port. As we got to the inner harbor, we saw our newfound friends standing on the dock to help us tie up. Over the radio, Doug suggested that we back into a small area that would have to due for our berth. Despite the wind blowing against us, we changed our rigging that was originally set up for a starboard tie, and slowly moved astern, hoping to avoid a collision with long abandoned pilings and floating docks that obstructed the area. Once tied up we renewed our acquaintances and met others on the dock. As it was late, we prepared dinner and went to bed. Next morning, we toured the town, went to the store, and talked with other boaters. The town was very small, populated with less than 1,000 people. As usual, there were no buildings of architectural merit, just the simplest of structures meant to meet basic human needs. They were however, neat and nicely painted, with a pickup truck in every driveway. All the inhabitants that I saw were of native ancestry. The only entertainment was a small coffee shop attached to the very limited grocery store with a large selection of baloney and chips.
I struck up a conversation with the captain of the exploratory vessel moored next to us. We talked about the wolf cries during the previous night: at least ten or twelve wolves were about the town, walking along main street and howling during the night. One elderly resident told me that the wolves had apparently eaten all the deer that once lived the nearby, and so they now frequent the town looking for food. Their cries had a hauntingly beautiful yet terrifying, primeval quality that struck absolute fear in my heart. The captain told me that he instructs his passengers to venture no further than the end of the dock at night, and to be sure to lock his two Golden Labradors in the boat’s cabin if they go out. He awoke to the whimpering of one of his dogs on the back deck. Apparently one of his guests had forgotten to bring the dog in and the dog’s whining had awoken him. Wolves like to eat dogs (and the dogs know it)!
Another couple on the dock had left Australia four years ago and were sailing around the Pacific rim. They spent two years in Japan and told us a few stories of their travels and how they dealt with the exceeding high prices there. It is so inspiring to meet people who are so adventurous and engaged in the world. It is invigorating. What a great time we are having!
We left Klemtu for Shearwater, a harbor that is located across the channel from the village of Bella Bella. This is one of the last ports before committing to a crossing of the Queen Charlotte Sound and the Queen Charlotte Strait. These are potentially nasty pieces of water that can blow up into big, short period waves when a north wind blows. Such was the case at this time, so we needed to spend a day or two waiting for improved weather conditions out at sea. We tied up at Shearwater, a very nice spot with a restaurant, a few small shops and a marine store. Something for everyone! While we were checking in with the harbormaster, our friends called on the VHF requesting a slip. I asked the harbormaster if I could respond and play a practical joke on my friends, so he let me answer them on the radio. Doug said there were two boats in his party and he needed two slips, describing each boat by its length in meters. I responded first by telling him I couldn’t understand him causing him to repeat the whole thing again; then I told him that two boats was just too much trouble; then I repeated the boat length as though it were in feet rather than meters and told him they were too short and should just go to the dingy dock. He thought I was serious, and Rebecca and I were laughing so hard I couldn’t keep it up. Meanwhile, Doug and Melinda weren’t sure it was a joke! We had another good laugh together when they got into port a few minutes later, although I am not sure Doug thought it was as funny as we did! After a few drinks together in the luxury of a real restaurant, we planned to go fishing the next day. I asked the marine store operator for directions to the best fishing hole, and he coyly obliged. That afternoon we placed our crab traps in one of the most beautiful places we had been, and then proceeded out in the channel for a run at the salmon. We caught three crabs and three Coho! Luckily, the nearby seals stayed away from our catch, as they often snag the caught fish right off the line before a fisherman has a chance to land it!
While were fishing, a number of modern, beautiful B.C. ferries passed by. These are fast, new vessels that look like ocean liners. Garvin and Doug told me the story of a hapless ferry that ran aground last year. As the story goes, two male officers were on the bridge with their girlfriends that they snuck aboard. They had apparently decided to light the embers of love and completely forgot to adjust the autopilot to make the next turn. The ship struck some rocks, ripping the side open. It was winter and the water was about 40 degrees. Of the tree hundred or so passengers, all but two made it to safety. That’s because the staff was unaware that there were two extra people aboard, and two passengers were inadvertently left aboard to drown. Hours later, the ship slid off the rocks and sank in 1,800 feet of water, full of fuel, cars, and trucks. In terms of the lovemaking couples, one can only imagine how the “earth moved” for them! (Apparently the union is defending them on the basis that the navigation equipment was too complicated for the training that they had received. The BC Ferry Company offered the children of the drowned couple $20,000 to drop their suit.)
The next day we headed out, and anchored overnight near Duncanby Bay, then early the following morning we pushed off for Port Hardy across Queen Charlotte Sound and Strait. Port Hardy is the northern most port on Vancouver Island and gateway to the south. Port Hardy was a necessary stopover so that we could rest for the upcoming 13-hour trip to Campbell River at the bottom of Johnstone Strait. The strait must be negotiated at the proper time in order to pass through Seymour Narrows, one of the fiercest rapids in the northwest, at slack tide. Port Hardy was a nice little town and gave us a chance to get out and stretch our legs. Unfortunately the port facilities were located near a rendering plant and the odor was very unpleasant. The most interesting thing that happened to us was in meeting John and Teddy. They arrived shortly after we did on their houseboat Teddy Bear. This boat reminded me of the old saying, “he who dies with the most toys wins!” Teddy Bear is about the size of Odyssey, but it carries a helicopter, a speedboat, kayaks, and other paraphernalia. John had been a 747 pilot and Teddy a fight attendant. They live on Teddy Bear in Sitka most of the year, and cruise the northern islands during the summer. They told us stories of how John dreamed about a boat, found a good design, then arranged to have it built in New Zealand. The boat builder went broke, and they had to live in NZ for two years to complete the boat. They also told us of their trip to Washington D.C, and their visit to the Smithsonian Museum. To their surprise and amusement, the 747 in the museum was one they had flown during their careers! Next summer they are adding a hot tub in place of the ramp for the Volkswagen!
The next morning we left Port Hardy bound for Campbell River. We made Seymour Narrows on time, and the current was so swift we wound up going 16 knots through the rapids and I have a picture to prove it. That must be a record for a Nordhavn 55! In Campbell River we met our friends Clayton and Ann Wilhite. They were joining us for a trip to Vancouver. About 5:30 PM Ann appeared at the boat looking happy and fresh after her long trip from Ann Arbor. I looked about for Clayton, and there he was coming down the dock looking like a tall Sherpa pushing a dock cart mounded with baggage. In due course we got everything aboard and enjoyed a lovely salmon dinner prepared by Rebecca. She prepares the most elegant and beautiful dinners from her small but well equipped galley. The next morning we moved out for Pender Harbor, which I have previously described, and then to Grace Harbor on Gambier Island. Here we were surprised to find a mothballed Canadian frigate named Annapolis. The next day we sailed for the City of Vancouver and moored at False Creek’s Fisherman’s Warf. We were scheduled to depart for our trip down the west coast of the United States, so the use of Bob Jones our weather consultant was necessary. Bob told us to get going, as a very strong ridge would soon be in place that would create strong winds and big waves near Northern California. So we bade goodbye to Ann and Clayton and left Vancouver at 0515 on August 20.
We sailed through the fabled and beautiful San Juan Islands on our way to Port Angeles. Here we checked in with the U.S. authorities. By this time the wind was blowing around 25 knots. We left Port Angeles about 1930 and started our six-hour run out the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Cape Flattery and the Pacific Ocean. Rebecca wanted to take the first watch, so I headed for the rack. The wind continued to blow at 25 knots and the waves were building to about 6 feet with a 8 second moment: not the worst conditions, but bumpy. After about two hours, Rebecca called me to join her on the bridge: traffic was thick and confusing in the darkness. We picked our way among the fast moving goliaths and the slow fishing boats with their nets in the water. We ran over a net, but it didn’t pose a problem thank God. Finally we spotted a tug and barge. They called us to clarify our route, and we decided to drop in behind them and we finished our transit out of the strait and around the cape behind Skipjack. It was fortuitous too, because a few hours later a dense fog descended on the area and Rebecca couldn’t see a thing. Following Skipjack was a big help. By the time I got up, it was as clear as a bell outside, but Rebecca was still a little shaken from the pressure of her experience.
The next two days we sailed south on calm seas and fair winds. Life at sea is pleasant, but somewhat stressful in that we are always on guard for unknown difficulties and dangers. We take 6 hour watches and nap on and off as we need while not on watch. After turning south at Cape Flaherty, we cruised about 50 miles off shore during the first 24 hours, and then gradually moved closer to shore until we entered Coos Bay. South of Oregon we will probably stay about 10 to 15 miles offshore while staying in the California current. We check the engine room each hour or two, and constantly monitor our position and other factors on a continuous basis. We listen to weather radio frequently. Nighttime is beautiful and requires heightened alertness. During our passage we have seen a lot of sea life, including a large pod of Humpback Whales who seemed very curious about us. Our weather consultant Bob told us that a very strong front would be coming, and he recommended ducking in at Coos Bay, Oregon. So far we have traveled about 500 miles from Vancouver. We will stay here two days, rent a car and go to the wine country in the Umpqua Valley. We plan to leave for Eureka, California, on Wednesday or Thursday.