Captain’s Log – June 29, 2010- Campbell River, B.C to Sitka
After leaving Vancouver on June 24, we cruised to Pender Bay, a popular vacation retreat for Vancouverites. The hills are dotted with lovely vacation homes and cottages, and it has a pleasant casual air about it. After an overnight stay, we continued north up Malaspina Strait, across the Georgia Strait to Campbell River, which lies at the entrance to Johnstone Strait. Johnstone Strait links the Georgia Strait with the Queen Charlotte Strait, then the Sound and ultimately the Pacific Ocean. Our trip to Campbell River was delightful: sunny, a few cumulus clouds and plenty of snow caped mountains to captivate the eye. After a lovely dinner at the White Spot Restaurant (no restaurant should use the word “spot” in its name) and a brief overnight, we departed Campbell River at 0430 in order to make the entrance at slack tide to Johnstone Strait at Seymour Narrows, otherwise the 10+ knots current and savage rapids would make it impossible for us to pass. Fortunately we got there on time and made it through the rapids and into the strait in good order. The narrows is about ¼ mile wide, and the strait is about 3/4 mile wide on average. Large ships, including cruise liners, ply these waters, so it is important to stay alert and accommodate larger ships as they pass. Usually we communicate by radio with them to inform one another of our intentions and assure safe passage. Johnstone Strait is about 110 miles long (about 12 hours on Odyssey) and about 500 feet deep. Current and tides are an important consideration: on the website is a picture of us going 13.4 knots. This is a big deal in that we normally cruise at 8 knots, but in this instance the current pushed us an extra 5+ knots. By noon, we had gone about halfway when the tide began to change against us. We were approaching a well-known anchorage called Port Neville, and we decided to stop and anchor for about 6 hours (until the next favorable tide), have some lunch, and take a nap. The harbor is about 8 miles long, with an entrance neck about two miles or so long. As we pulled into the channel we saw another boat at anchor. It was Thor, another Nordhavn. We didn’t know them, but before long Bill and Kay were in their dingy on their way over to our boat to take us to the Neville Post Office (it’s the only attraction in Port Neville). When we got to the P.O. dock we were greeted by a friendly, old, bearded, sourdough looking gentleman wearing a beat-up, faded-out hat with SECURITY printed on the brim. He lived on a dilapidated old boat that was tied to the dock, and had every manner of improvisation on it – a real Rube Goldberg affair. He told us the lady who ran the P.O had moved to Campbell River due to failing health- her daughter lived there. Her son had asked him to stay on to watch the place, and given that the owners would pay for heat and electricity, it seemed like a good arrangement to him. He said he liked it there because he could be alone and meditate. I don’t know, but he seemed to me pretty chatty for a meditator. Anyway, we climbed the long ramp from the dock and explored the area. There was a sign warning us to “Beware of Bears, They Are Close”. We looked around and Rebecca began whistling and stamping her feet (she always does that when she thinks there is a wild animal around), but we didn’t see any wild things (thanks to Rebecca). On the property there were three acres that had been cleared, and three buildings: two homes built within the last 50 years and in pretty good shape, and a very old log home built, perhaps about 150 years old. Until recently it served as a store and museum. Peering in the windows and looking at the discarded furniture, a child’s doll, a wheelchair, and a few pots and pans, we had the same thoughts you might have had: imagine the generations of people who lived here. Their sorrows, their aspirations, and their joys: Where are they now? What has become of them? What’s the meaning of life? At this point I would like to tell you something profound, but that’s about it for Port Neville!
After a brief visit on Thor, some lunch and a nap, we took off for a 7-hour trip to Port Hardy, our last port on Vancouver Island. After an hour or so of cruising we were surprised to see Thor passing us. Apparently Bill and Kay decided to join us for the trip up what was now Queen Charlotte Strait. As we got closer to Port Hardy, Bill suggested anchoring in Beaver Harbor for the night and getting up early the next morning so that we could get across Queen Charlotte Sound before the wind picked up. We pulled the anchor at 0600 and headed for Queen Charlotte Strait (a very wide and open body of water), turned left, and after an hour or so entered the Sound. This area of water is dotted with rocky islands that are covered with trees above the water tidal surge line. It is a beautiful place. After we entered the Sound, we turned right and aimed for the Broughton Islands, which dot the Northwestern shore of British Columbia. They are the first step in the famed Inside Passage to Alaska. Thor headed for the Broughtons and the port of Bella Bella. After a last check of the weather and a few moments of indecision, we decided to say good-bye and turned north up the Sound toward the Dixon Entrance 250 miles and 32 hours away. This marks the border between Canada and the United States. Our goal was Sitka, about 500 miles and 63 hours to the north. This passage required two overnights at sea and a very long third day. We didn’t take our decision lightly. Now for a brief review of the local geography: Queen Charlotte Sound leads into Hecate Strait, which connects to the Pacific Ocean via the Dixon Entrance. Queen Charlotte Sound and Hecate Strait are bounded on the west by Morseby and Graham Islands, and on the east by mainland British Columbia. These waters are very long and wide and pose a potential for seriously difficult seas, but we had contacted our weather consultant who advised us to move on. We wanted to make a quick trip north so that we could see Sitka, visit Glacier Bay on July 7 (a reservation is required and difficult to obtain), and then cruise slowly south back to California by mid September. The first 35 hours were pretty good with three and four footers and some moderate SE/SW winds. I got a little seasick so I took some Dramamine, and that usually puts me to sleep if I don’t have anything better to do. Rebecca and I decided to take watch or sleep based on how we felt – no exact schedule. She wasn’t sleepy, so I dozed off while she ran the show. I woke up around midnight and took over. We worked on and off as we felt like it over the next two days. The sky was cloudy with periods of brief showers. Meanwhile Odyssey moved along, painfully slowly. Imagine taking 32 hours to go 250 miles. Oh well, we sleep, eat, watch a movie, look at scenery, and tinker with things. It is very pleasant, but 65 straight hours is somewhat of an ordeal. It is funny, though, how, when it is over, it is a fond memory.
As we moved into Dixon Entrance and headed for the Pacific Ocean, we remembered the experience we had going down to Mexico earlier this year…the pleasant roll of the swells. Of course this time we were going north, which is rarely as pleasant as we are heading into the seas. Things went fine, although it got progressively bumpier as we got closer to Sitka. I do not know the exact time, but around the 60th hour, we were ready to tie Odyssey up and head for a beer. Unfortunately, when we got to Sitka they didn’t have a space on the dock, so we anchored out, made a drink and hit the sack. We were tired, but love being on our boat, too.
Sitka is one of America’s largest fishing ports, and is famous for King Salmon and Halibut. It is situated at the center of the western coast of Baranof Island. It is almost due west of Juneau, if you know where that is. It was the capital of Russian Alaska. The harbor is about 10 miles deep and is graced at the entrance by a huge, snow-capped volcano named Edgecumbe. You can’t miss it when you’re in the neighborhood, except when it rains, which is a lot of the time. Sitka has the highest rainfall in the U.S. The town is small in population (8,000), but big in area (4,000 sq. miles), making it one of the largest cities by area in the country. It has two Russian Historical buildings, the onion domed church and the Bishop’s home. It is very much a fishing town, with seiners and trawlers everywhere, canneries, and boat and fishing supply stores in abundance. Many of the people seem to be of native extraction and their tribal service offices can be seen on every corner. Others of European extraction are either tied to or work directly in the fishing industry. It looks like a rough, difficult life. When we first got here it was cold (50 degrees) and rainy. We didn’t see any umbrellas or rain jackets; mostly cotton sweatshirts with hoods. One guy who originally came from Georgia was wearing flip-flops! We were frozen and we are from Michigan! These are tough people. The fashion rage for all ages is ExtraTuf knee-high Neoprene boots, which come only in brown. Rebecca appeared a bit faint when we initially considered them but we are now proud owners and she wears them regularly because their appearance is greatly overshadowed by their warmth and dryness. Apparently they are considered high fashion now and some Sitka brides wear them with their gowns—really!!
Yesterday we chartered a fishing boat. It was Rebecca’s time fishing and it was a good one and she caught several fish. Together we must of caught about 200lbs of fish: 2 king Salmon, 6 Chinooks/Silvers, two Yellow Eyes, 7 Black Rock Bass, 2 Halibut and several others such as Ling Cod that we couldn’t keep because they were out of season. It was a lot of fun and, in addition I learned a few tricks about catching fish from our guide, Mika. (Mika, age 20, grew up here and is a licensed fishing guide and USCG licensed captain. He is going to school in the winter to learn diesel mechanics. Guess where: Florida! He said with a straight face he couldn’t find anyplace closer. I asked about a girlfriend: doesn’t have one now; had one, but she got seasick– so much for that.) Unfortunately, now that I know how to fish and have spent a fortune buying the right equipment, our freezer is stuffed full and we do not need anymore.
It is raining cats and dogs today. We will leave here tomorrow for Glacier Bay National Park via the inside passage on Baranof Island. It is about a 140-mile trip. I hope the weather improves.
Up and at’em early July 4th for our trip to Glacier Bay. The route we took is an inside passage leading to Chatham Strait, which connects to Icy Strait and Glacier National Park. This passage avoids encountering the ocean, which today has twelve footers. We figured on a three-day trip, but as things turned out it was just two. We left Sitka early so that we could make the Sergius Narrows at slack tide, which is another one of those potentially nasty places with big currents and rough water caused by tidal changes. Although the weather was cloudy, cool and rainy, we could see the mountains and beautiful forests along the way. It was really spectacular. After about 6 hours of cruising, we began to look for an anchorage, but decided to make Tenakee Springs. We tied up there about 5 PM. The place is known for its warm springs and public bathhouse. It is a very popular place with boaters, as many boats do not have warm showers or baths, so the ladies in particular like Tenakee Springs. The town is a sort of playground and cottage area for Juneau, but you really couldn’t guess it by looking at the place. There might be 200 residents, with about 50 or so brightly painted rustic homes built along the single road, which is apparently Main Street. There are no cars there, only all-terrain vehicles. In addition to the bathhouse, there is a tiny grocery store, a small bakery, a bar, a marine fuel dock, and a small school. It is interesting to see that in such a small insulated community, people leave their belongings scattered all about, as theft is not much of an issue. There is also a book exchange building in which residents apparently take and leave books at will. Since it was the 4th of July, the community had celebrated with a parade and picnic (in the rain) earlier in the day, but around 2230 that evening festivities resumed with a bonfire, horseshoe toss, and fireworks. Someone brought a guitar and some-mores, and that capped off the evening.
The next day we set off for Hoonah, a Tlingit village across Icy Strait from Glacier National Park (40 miles). On our way up Chatham Strait we heard a Mayday call to the Coast Guard. The call wasn’t far from us so we responded. Apparently a small boat (28 foot Bayliner) with three adults and four children aboard had lost propulsion out in the middle of the strait, and with 4-foot waves and 20-knot winds, they were in a very dangerous situation. We changed our course to rescue them. Other boats were in the area, but the water was too rough for them to affect a rescue or tow. It was a “piece ‘o cake” for us. After about 90 minutes, we were on scene. The little boat, Summer Wind, was being tossed and blown about. We could see four children, all of which appeared to be under the age of seven. During this time we were in constant communication with the boat owner and the USCG. We had purchased 450 feet of high strength floating line, which was stowed on a real attached to our aft deck rail. Rebecca tied one end to a life ring and the other to Odyssey. We floated the ring and pulled it past Summer Wind and they grabbed it with their boat hook. Unfortunately, it became fowled on their running gear, but after a few minutes, they managed to get it tied to the bow of their boat. Although it was very tense for a period of time, we managed to begin towing them. After about an hour, we were out of the direct path of the wind and the waters began to subside. The USCG called and said that they were going to send a cutter, which arrived on scene about an hour later. By then we were just eight miles from Hoonah, a port that had facilities to repair Summer Wind. When the Coast Guard cutter arrived, we were happy to let 261, that is the radio ID of the cutter, take over. We continued to tow Summer Wind for about ten minutes while all parties strategized about how to unravel our towline from Summer Wind’s running gear. USCG divers were standing ready to jump into the icy water. After a few minutes, 261 understood the situation and asked us to begin slowing. A few minutes later we were dead stop. At that point Summer Wind began trying to free our line and was able to do so with a little coaching from 261. After the line was freed, the USCG took over and everyone on the scene thanked us profusely. We felt both relieved and gratified that we were able to rescue a boater in peril, and that we had the equipment and capability to do so successfully.