Looking for Signs of Kermode Bears—and a Ferry Wreck

QR at Gribbell

Quoddy’s Run circumnavigates Gribbell Island

24 July 2012 Coughlan Anchorage, near Hartley Bay

We bid the Juneau kayakers farewell and left the hot springs of Bishop Bay. We headed north into Ursula Channel, which leads into Devastation Channel—one of two possible routes to Kitimat.  But we’d found that we were missing some charts—whoops!– so Kitimat was off of the list of stopping places.  Our new plan was to circle up Ursula and down Verney Channel towards Hartley Bay.  This would send us around the top and along both long sides of the triangle-shaped Gribbell Island, where one of every three bears is a Kermode or spirit bear. Marike had taken to singing out “I want to see a Kermode bear!” every half hour or so as we were underway, so this was our last and best chance to see one before we exited Kermode territory.

gulls on log

Gulls hitch a ride on passing driftwood

The landscape was exceedingly mountainous and steep, however—not ideal bear sighting terrain. With the exception of some shoals near the top the island, the waters were deep—no shallow grassy areas where we might drop the hook and watch into the afternoon.  Happily, we were visited by some Dall’s porpoises, who rode our bow wake for awhile and tossed arcs or “rooster tails” of water into the air.

gulls fly away

And they’re off!

The shoals at the north end of the island were full of small fishing boats trolling for salmon. Inspired, Marike rigged a flasher and hootchie to her line and tossed them out behind Quoddy’s Run.  Alas, the flasher spun in a wild spiral and the line snarled up, fetching nothing.

the first, happy moment

Marike tries trolling in Ursula Passage

As we turned the corner into Verney Channel, the wind stiffened.  There was a great deal to see, but no spirit bears standing on the peaks waving. (Really, what had we expected? This wasn’t a Disney cruise!) We gawked at the enormous expanses of rock above us, huge bald grey overhanging mountains and valleys and marked out shapes in the varnishing or mineral run-off on these faces—one looked like a painted thunderbird. Rotten snow tumbled into crevasses; the summer melt continued.


The flasher whirls in the air

By late afternoon, we reached across Douglas Channel—the main route to Kitimat—towards Hartley Bay. We  dropped the hook in Coughlan Anchorage, just off of Otter Shoal, in a spot where we might catch enough wind to avoid the flies.  This would be a staging point to time our trip up Grenville channel.

Hartley Bay is a permanent home to around 150 people of the Gitga’at First Nation, members of the Tsimshian cultural group.  In the middle of the night on 22 March 2006, the entire community responded to a distress call in Wright Sound and sent out its boats to rescue the shipwrecked passengers of the BC Ferry, Queen of the North, which had struck a rock on the north end of Gill Island and soon sank.  They successfully saved 99 of the 101 passengers and crew on that ferry. Then Governor General Michaëlle Jean issued the entire community a commendation for outstanding service to thank them for their  “initiative, selflessness and an extraordinary commitment to the well-being of others” in the rescue; the honour also cites the town’s “tremendous spirit and the remarkable example it has set”— quite unlike the example of those of the vessel’s crew who were not on watch when they should have been.

mountains in Verney Channel

Bare mountains in Verney Channel

Wright Sound is a complex spot, a place where seven flows of water gather, from Douglas Channel, Grenville Channel, Coughlan Channel, Whale Channel, Verney Passage, McKay Reach, and the Lewis and Cridge Passage from Squally Channel.  Where so many channels and reaches meet, one might expect chaotic currents and unusual waves in any kind of weather. It beggars belief that officers of a passenger vessel, while on watch and responsible for the lives of so many, would find Wright Sound or its approaches a reasonable place for a tryst on the bridge in the night.

We also find it astonishing that any government would think it reasonable to propose to send steady streams of ships laden with Alberta bitumen from the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline through these waters.  As so many observers who know the area and these seas have noted, it is not a question of if, but when disaster would strike once tankers began to export bitumen in these waters.  After 24 years, Prince William Sound in Alaska still has not recovered from the Exxon-Valdez disaster.  It is no surprise that a significant majority of British Columbians are opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline project.  They don’t want to risk damaging one of their most important natural resources, the health and beauty of the Inside Passage.  And as reports by the Coastal First Nations have made clear, a tanker spill would have many negative environmental and economic impacts on the waterways and lands of which they are the stewards.  This is why they have joined together to mount numerous legal challenges and an anti-oil tanker campaign.  Having traversed these waters, we stand firmly with them.

CCGS Gordon Reid

CCGS Gordon Reid in Coughlan Anchorage

The next morning we hailed nearby Coast Guard vessel, the Gordon Reid, which had also anchored in Coughlan Anchorage.  We were trying to understand how to time the tides in Grenville Channel.  Apparently, they split in the middle: the flood runs north from the bottom of the channel and south from the top.  The tidal flows apparently meet somewhere around Klewnuggit Inlet, although we were told that that point could vary.  According to our calculations, it looked as if we should wait out the morning until the tide began to flood north, then stop overnight in the middle of the Channel, in order to ride the ebb north the next day. We wanted to know if this made sense.

The officer who answered our radio call told us that the Coast Guard had been very busy that summer with search and rescue missions, including several rescues at sea in Hecate Strait, the infamously shallow waterway between the mainland and Haida Gwaii.  We asked who Gordon Reid was; why had their vessel been named after him?  It turns out he had been the first certified First Nations Master Mariner in these waters; he had helped to map out the north coast and his extensive knowledge informed the instructions to mariners in northern BC. We didn’t exactly get an answer to our question about tides and currents—larger, faster vessels don’t have to worry about a three knot current as much as we do, but the Coast Guard suggested that the flow of the tide split in Grenville Channel somewhere around Lowes Inlet.

And so we soon set off, into Wright Sound and then the Grenville Channel. Northward!

yes, fog...

Into Grenville Channel!


On the Gitga’at First Nation based in Hartley Bay http://www.gitgaat.net/index.html

Governor General’s commendation of the residents of Hartley Bay http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2006/04/28/ggawards-060428.html

BC Ferries report on the grounding http://www.bcferries.com/files/AboutBCF/815-06-01_DI_QON_Grounding.pdf

Coastal First Nations Great Bear Initiative Anti-Oil Tanker Campaign: http://www.coastalfirstnations.ca/programs/anti-oil-tanker-campaign

See also http://www.pipeupagainstenbridge.ca/and, on the impacts of an existing and ongoing spill of Bunker C from a shipwreck in Grenville Channel, http://www.thenorthernview.com/news/150038505.html

Posted in 2012 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sharing the Waters in Bishop Bay Hot Springs

Bishop Bay kayaker

Kayaker from Juneau in Bishop Bay

23 July 2012

Since we began dreaming about sailing in British Columbia nearly two decades ago, among the most seductive lures were the images you find in cruising guides of sailors basking in hot springs surrounded by primeval cedar forests, snow-covered mountains looming overhead. (You know the pictures we mean; you’ve seen them: damp white people on steaming rocks beneath blue peaks.) Bishops Bay was our first experience of this west coast delight.

The breeze failed us as we arrived, so we ghosted slowly into the bay, falling well behind a Monk Trawler.  Kindly, they radioed us to suggest we raft alongside them at the dock, but we choose a mooring instead.  The small dock was crowded with a dozen colourful kayaks and an equal number of paddlers ferreting in their boats, leaping into the sea, basking in the sun, and soaking their muscles in the hot springs.  These young paddlers had come all the way from Juneau!  Our hearts opened with admiration for their adventuresome spirits.  They braved currents, wind, cold, rain, and threat of bears and cougars, in order to realize their dream of paddling from Juneau to Nanaimo. We talked excitedly about where we’d been, which was where they were going, and traded all sorts of advice. Stay in Wrangell when you get to Alaska they said. Go see Butedale Louis, we suggested; good water in Bella Bella, but not potable in Shearwater.

boats in Bishop Bay

Sharing the dock in Bishop Bay

We were soaking together in the hot water–our first hot freshwater bath in months–exchanging tall tales, when a very large luxury motor yacht arrived, anchored, and disgorged a lighter which sped over with a crew to reconnoiter.  They looked about, sped back to the yacht, then returned with four passengers and a few crew members, a Himalaya of towels, and coolers of beer on ice.  The luxury cruisers in their neatly pressed clothing looked down at us in our tattered bathing suits in the baths.  We looked up at them, realized they’d stare until we moved, considered, and relinquished our places.

Karin decided that the top dog was in entertainment management from New York City; something about his accent and his bespoke blue canvas booties.  His carefully coiffed partner decided not to risk immersing herself in the communal waters, but was eager for conversation.

“You’ve been out there for months?  Really? What do you do?  Do you watch movies?”

After divulging that she had no idea where she had sailed, geographically speaking, she did show us a photo of a grizzly bear on her i-phone; it had been taken from the lighter early that morning at, we deduced, Khutze Inlet.  Our praise gave her a sense of achievement.  The crew were very obliging; they offered us cold beer and answered all of our queries about the workings of a 170 foot motor yacht.  One or two of them spoke wistfully to us about our trip. After all we were in no one’s hire.

kayaker Bishop Bay

Junneau kayaker in still water

It is a custom of the sea that the crew of any vessel not deny fellow sailors the necessities of life.  The kayakers, short of drinking water, had been scrounging in the forest for a spring.  Of course we would have given them water from Quoddy’s Run, but as we sat over a glass of wine on the upper deck of the Monk trawler, Marike was overcome by an attack of mischievousness.  As the crew and their charges were departing in their lighter towards a mother ship that was already preparing to weigh anchor and speed off, Marike called down to them:

“Say, you have a water-maker onboard don’t you?  The kayakers are short of drinking water.  Would you mind bringing some over for them, please?”

“But, we don’t have any container to put it in,” the mate replied.

“If you wait till I finish my wine I’ll go over to my boat and fetch one for you.”

Without answering, they sped over to their yacht and soon returned with twelve personal water bottles, full of water, each labelled with the crew members’ names.  They dumped the bottles on the dock before rushing off for good.

That evening, at dusk, while we dined in the cockpit aboard Quoddy’s Run, a pod of orcas lazily circled the bay, approaching our boat as though for a visit.

Waters are to be shared.

Junneau kayakers

Waters are to be shared


See our kayaker friends’ blog here: http://www.atripsouth.com/

Their account of paddling in Northern and Central BC is here http://www.atripsouth.com/2012/08/journey-on-the-bc-coast/

Posted in 2012 | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Sound of Running Water–Butedale Cannery

Butedale dock

Quoddy’s Run and Butedale Louis in his launch

22 July 2012

We had planned to sail by Butedale, and rush onward to the hot springs at Bishop Bay.  But as we rounded the corner into Fraser Reach, BC Ferry’s Northern Expedition headed towards us, forcing us in closer to Princess Royal Island, towards the cove where Butedale is located.  At the same moment, a man crossed our path in a ramshackle launch, dragging a few logs behind him.  We thought he came a bit close to the ferry, but he waved to the bridge, as if he and captain and crew were old friends—which, we later thought, they probably were.

Butedale sign

Butedale, Princess Royal Island

ramshackle Butedale dock

Butedale dock

By then we could read the faded sign: “Butedale Marina–hot showers, ice cream.”  Right, we thought, that will be the day.  We edged into the bay behind a yellow sailboat that tied off at the long rough form of a dock built from rows of logs and boards tied and chained haphazardly together.  We still were not sure we wanted to stop.  We called out to the other boaters, “Is there good water?” They pointed to a wooden trough over which a stream of water gushed, then dropped into an old black hose.  Nearby, a raging falls boomed and sprayed into the sea.  “Looks like lots of fresh water,” we said to ourselves. It’s good not to miss an opportunity to fill your tanks.  So we pulled up to the ramshackle dock and tied up, just as the little launch arrived with its cargo in tow.  And that’s how we met Butedale Louis.


water gushes through a wooden trough

Butedale was once the site of extensive lumber and mining operations, as well as a booming salmon cannery, where hundreds of workers at a time had been employed between 1911 and the 1950s.  Then, as with so many canneries up and down that coast and on our own Atlantic shores, as refrigeration became commonplace, and the larger vessels began to process their own fish, the big canning plants became redundant. They reduced their operations and then closed.

Butedale bunkhouse tumbles

Bunkhouse tumbles down

In Butedale, many of the buildings still stood, although in a state of flagrant disrepair.  A boiler shone out from one building, which was missing an entire wall.  The roof caved in on a huge rooming house, and another wall was shattered.  Large wharves were crumbling into the sea.  Yet a few houses and outbuildings still stood.

Butedale cannery

Remains of a boiler

Louis lived in one, with his cat, but his dream of running a marina, and offering rustic cabins for rent, was fading.  Still, he worked hard to keep things up.  He’d planted a garden with flowers and vegetables, and two cabins were furnished and starkly hospitable.

Butedale Louis at home

Butedale Louis on his porch

cat in Butedale

Butedale Louis’ cat

Butedale flowerpots

Butedale Louis’ flowers

He kept some trails cleared and mowed paths between the various buildings.

P1090336 Butedale

Foxgloves and crumbling wall

P1090391 Butedale

House for rent, Butedale

Louis also collected old movies and videos, and watched for Kermode bears—he’d made a video of one playing with a bucket on the beach.  And he kept the power supply going in the old power house over Butedale Creek, just above the falls.  The old wheel still turned, but the generator was now hooked up to a 12 volt alternator that powered Louis’ house and fridge and two outdoor lights, which he never turned off.

P1090337 Butedale

Power station, Butedale

cupboard, power station Butedale

Empty cupboard in the power station

Once a little railway had connected the factory’s buildings, transporting workers and goods to their designated stations.  Apparently Butedale had been a segregated site; workers had lived in  separated “villages,” according to the racial designations of the day: “Japanese,” “White,” or “Indian.” The forest was already reclaiming “Japanese” and “Indian” housing zones.  Now birds called wildly in the trees, and we watched for bears in the berry bushes along the paths.  The ghosts of bustle rang from so much derelict machinery, but the people were almost all gone.

P1090373 Butedale

Abandoned machinery, Butedale

Once it was possible to catch, clean, and freeze the fish on a boat, and rush it back to the city for sale, no one needed an island outpost in the middle of the fishing grounds, so far from roads and markets and demand. Butedale was a relic, and even water and ice cream and wilderness experience seduced few visitors. It seemed most important these days as a stopping place for kayakers or boaters like us, and as a safe mooring for fishermen in small boats racing back to Bella Bella from the Skeena River. It offered a night off of watch,  a respite from vigilance or bad weather.

at dock in Butedale

Quoddy’s Run at dock, Butedale

Louis, it turns out, was Quebecois, originally from La Beauce.  He wouldn’t say why he had left home, whether love or work or a sense of adventure had taken him west. According to Louis, Butedale’s owner is a grumpy, elderly Californian man who doesn’t want to sell, but also isn’t prepared to try to preserve the place.  He had let Louis come every summer from Kitimat, to try to run a marina in Butedale.  But now that the government was demanding that the cannery wreckage be cleared from the water and shore–no small task or expense–the owner seemed to want to collect some dues from Louis, or at least oblige him to do some remedial work.

Louis in his launch

Louis at work in his launch

We should have recorded Louis; many of his stories were hilarious and full of voices—he imitated all of his interlocutors.  The stories were almost all about how le petit gars de la Beauce (the little guy from La Beauce) outwitted some stupid bigwig.  Or put him in his place.  Or else about fighting with local Haisla people—Butedale is at the southern edge of traditional Haisla territory.  In fact, the Haisla name for Butedale is C’idexs, which means “runny diarrhea,” thought by some to refer to the many berry bushes in the area, or what happens if you gorge on too much fruit.

Butedale Louis art

Some of Louis’ art

Louis was clearly depressed from his solitary life in Butedale; he tried to keep himself busy by burn-etching copies of First Nations artwork on slabs of board, then painting and selling them to passersby.  Such imitations did not stop him from telling stories about how he “cussed up the Indians” every chance he got.   Still, did not want to move back to Kitimat; he seemed to like his status as the keeper of Butedale; he even relished his title, “Butedale Louis.”  And he particularly liked female visitors, so we were treated quite well. We even begged some rhubarb from his garden to make rhubarb crisp, which we shared with him and the sailors in the yellow boat docked in front of us, who were enroute from Alaska to retire in Oregon.  The world is full of such intrepid adventurers.

letter to Butedale Louis

Butedale Louis–an address

After visiting the power house and shooting many photos, we hiked up a path through the rainforest.  The trail wound past huge trees and the remains of a large logging operation to a mountain meadow and then stopped at the lake, where we scrambled over fallen logs and by silver snags to the open water.  The day was hot and we’d hoped to swim, but the lake was so clogged with logs and bark and debris that we gave that project up.

P1090379 Butedale forestry

Remnants of logging operation, Butedale

P1090439 Butedale lake silver snags

Marike walks on logs beneath silver snags

Louis asked for $50 a night for his ramshackle dockage but could be bargained down to $25.  At night, under the moon and a clear sky, the abandoned factory rattled with ghosts and wracking losses. A fascinating, but hard place to stay.

Butedale lake

Butedale Lake choked with logs

Our tanks full of fresh water, early in the morning  we were ready to sail on to Bishop’s Bay for a bath in the hot springs.

power line Butedale

Power supply in Butedale

And yes, the sign was honest advertising.   Louis’ Butedale Marina still does offer ice-cream and hot showers.  At your own risk.

Butedale showers

Butedale showers


Statement about the significance of the Butedale Cannery as a heritage site in the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine  http://www.rdks.bc.ca/content/regional-district-community-heritage-registry?q=node/58

On Kermode bears (Ursus kermodei), also known as “Spirit Bears” http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/08/kermode-bear/barcott-text

and http://www.vws.org/project/spiritbear/about_bear/index.html

For information on the Haisla Nation, see http://haisla.ca/

Posted in 2012 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Mysterious Music (Khutze Inlet)

After Klemtu

Quoddy’s Run heads up Finlayson Channel

21 July 2012 Klemtu to Khutze Inlet

A pattering of rain all night, but come morning, there were glimmers of sun.  The fog lifted, the wind rose; we could see and count the mountaintops. And then they disappeared: fog and rain closed over Klemtu and Tolmie Channel as we passed the village and ran on out and up the far reaches of Finlayson Channel to Heikish Narrows.

Ocean Harvest in Klemtu

Ocean Harvest building, Klemtu

We had intended to stop at Klemtu village to see the town and take on water, but could not sort out where we could dock.  Several sailing vessels were pulled in to a dock near shore, but there didn’t seem to be room for another boat; a little further along we saw a large wharf and buildings that belonged to Ocean Harvest, a Norwegian open pen salmon feedlot operation. It looked like fish were offloaded here from nearby pens and processed for shipping out on the ferry.

Ferry dock, Klemtu

BC Ferry Dock, Klemtu

A grand new BC ferry dock towered over us just outside of town and power transmission lines ran over the mountain from a hydroelectric dam.  Wifi—messages thumped into the telephone’s inbox as we passed by Klemtu.

Swindle Island, Klemtu

Road to the Ferry Dock, Swindle Island, Klemtu

The village is home to around 500 people who are descended from the Kitasoo tribe of Tsimshians, originally from Kitasu Bay, and the Xai’xais of Kynoc Inlet, who are Heiltsuk.   Residents of Klemtu live together as the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation, which is a member of the Oweekeno-Kitasoo-Nuxalk Tribal Council. Apparently, Klemtu gets its name from “klemdoo-oolk,” a word which means “impassable” in the Coast Tsimshian language, though whether this refers to the steepness of the terrain, the narrowness of Klemtu Passage, which runs between Swindle Island, where the village is located, and Cone Island, or the sometimes dense fog we saw there, we couldn’t say.

Tools of the trade

Tools of the trade–chart, guidebooks, binoculars, gloves

Most of the fjords and waterways of the Inside Passage in British Columbia are extremely deep, with few hidden reefs.  But one rock in Finlayson Channel interested us, perhaps because of its name. As Quoddy’s Run pinched around Ohio Rock, Karin, who was born and raised far from the sea in the US state of Ohio, read aloud from our cruising guide.  Here, in 1909, the Alaska Steamship Company Ship, the SS Ohio, struck an uncharted rock. To avoid sinking in the deep water, the captain ran the vessel across the channel to Carter Bay, where he managed to ground her in time to save the lives of all but four of his 214 passengers and crew.  We read that the same captain foundered a second time in Haida Gwaii.  Then on the way back to Vancouver as a passenger on another ship, he committed suicide by jumping overboard.  It was not hard to identify with that man, we thought. Despite the support of GPS, radar, accurate mapping and all sorts of navigational aids, as well as pretty accurate weather forecasts, we still had to be on our toes in these waters.  Anything could happen, and sometimes did.


One of hundreds of cascades

As we motored up Finlayson Channel, overcast skies gradually thinned; although the weather forecast spoke of rain offshore, we were headed inland, into the mountains.  We found that changing currents took a long time to catch up with a change in tide.  We were slowed down by the current pushing against us for a long while, but finally, happily, screamed through Heikish Narrows with a boost of 3 knots.  We got quite a ride; strong eddies swirled all around us. Apparently a few years ago, so our guidebook said, a NOAA research vessel underestimated the power of the currents and was washed up against the rock wall on one side of the narrows.  We saw that vegetation was still scraped away where the boat had struck. Here, too, we saw many logs and deadheads–ours to avoid, while the gulls gleefully rodeoed them through the eddies.


We cross paths with Northern Expedition

As Quoddy’s Run shot out into Graham Channel, the clouds lifted, the sun came out, and we were surrounded by glistening snow-capped mountains and steep cascades. Meltwater. BC Ferry, Northern Expedition, passed us, enroute from Port Hardy, Bella Bella, and Klemtu to Prince Rupert. We hailed them to learn their schedule.  We would see them again and again in these waters, on their speedy trips back and forth.

Meltwater cascades

Meltwater cascades

We were watching for the place where the Canoona River, flowing down from Canoona Lake, turns into the low, broad, terraced Canoona Falls, which are quite distinct from the hundreds of other falls along the way. Debris littered the sides of the river and the falls, the remains of forestry and canning operations, and once much denser human habitation.

Canoona River, Canoona Falls

Canoona Falls

The air was hot and drowse-inducing as we crossed the channel to enter Khutze Inlet.  We’d been instructed by other sailors who had already been here to hunt for a  shallow spot, a spit fingering out into the fjord.  We found it on the chart, and then beneath our hull and anchored, as if in the middle of the inlet.

Khutze Inlet

Entering Khutze Inlet

All around us, snowy peaks glittered in the sun.  We watched for bears, but only spotted seals chasing leaping salmon; we saw and heard eagles, gulls and ravens.  Everywhere, the sound of running water.  Cascades poured down the mountains from snowy patches or lakes at high elevations.  Whirlpools twisted around the boat, but the current held us in place.

Khutze whirlpool

Looking down into a Khutze whirlpool

A few trawlers motored into Khutze, but passed us and went all the way to the base of the inlet. Two or three days later, a passenger on a luxurious yacht would tell us that grizzlies come out to forage there at dawn and dusk.  A small white cruise ship, golden in the evening light, throbbed north up Graham Channel towards Alaska. Loudspeakers aboard blared a message; we were glad to be on our slower, quieter boat.

sunset Khutze

Sunset peak in Khutze

At sunset, light tumbled from the clouds and over the peaks, illuminating first one, then another, then winking out. And then another ray fingered out, tossing a rosy wash over snow and rocks and trees. Water and valleys dropped gradually into darkness; at 9:45 pm, just the heights were aglow.  Tide and current went slack. Soon, we thought, the light would fade and we would turn. Night.

Khutze rosy peak

Rosy peak, Khutze

But we did not turn.  The gulls gathered at dusk and then as the current picked up again, around 10:30 or 11 pm, they began to ride those streams out of the harbour. It gave us the sensation of racing by them, but we were fixed, and they were moving. Light played over the peaks until after 11. None of us wanted to miss a second of all of that glory; we peered out at the light until the last peak flared and darkened and no more photographs were possible.

Khutze sunset

Khutze borrowed glory

Then as we were lying in bed, just drifting into sleep, came a sound, a sort of fluting, ethereal music of one or two notes, in the water.  A little slapping and movement of the hull.  Who’s singing we wondered?  Could that be a whale?

The singing grew fainter, and then stopped as the rocking of the hull ceased.  We heard it again at 2:30—Karin went out onto the deck to take a look.  Nothing there, just stars in a night sky and the mountains towering over us.  Hard to know if we are imagining things, hearing “music of the spheres,” or our own music of the waters.

Posted in 2012 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Klemtu Anchorage

fog near Klemtu

Near Klemtu in the fog

19-20 July 2012, Klemtu Anchorage (Clothes Bay)

Marike Muses

Anchored in Klemtu Anchorage, a mile south of the public wharves.
It rained all afternoon.

Quoddy's Run

Quoddy’s Run heads north

At 13h00 Zulu, we left No Name.  That was morning where we were.
Zulu time so we know when to sign on to the radio. When to communicate.
Zulu time: we count as Greenwich does. Oh England, even here.

Troup Passage.  We take the outside route
and find ourselves in slop.
We need more wind to sail.  That little schooner out there is just treading water.
We won’t go outside through Milbanke Sound. Instead
we’ll cut through Mathieson.  Lots of options in these waters.

Ivory Island Light

Ivory Island Light at junction of Seaforth Channel and Milbanke Sound

Suddenly a blow, a brief reach on, then more slop.
She starts the engine with a pang.  I am cheating. I really am cheating here.

Quoddys Run sailing

Wind in the sails

Up Mathieson Channel.  Where would it lead if we followed it? To Fiordland?  Or some other Inlet?  All of these Inlets and never any Outlets.  No wonder there are serial killers in B.C.

Should we cut across the Jackson Passage?  No too shallow.  This guide we’re using was written by a damn stink-potter, draft 3 feet.  Our keel: 7 feet.   Should not risk it.  We might on the way back though.

Instead, we choose–she keeps wanting to say “Goat,” but it’s “Oscar”–Passage
from Mathieson Channel to Finlayson.  Finlayson is wide.  The swell swells in from the Sound.

We look close when the broad sea surges; the hull rises.  A moment of vertigo, leap in the gut, like when an elevator shoots up too quickly, then suddenly stops.  How many floors did the World Trade Center have?  Who remembers? No way to answer that question now. 

But if you want to know what that black-hooded gull there is,  my mate will tell you:  “It’s a Bonaparte gull: a small, agile gull, likened to a tern.”  She has the guides to prove it.  As we ghost along, she reads about its migration patterns, when it mates, what it eats.

Now we really are socked in. Rain and fog.
Elisabeth, our deaf admiral, who often tunes out, surprises us by noticing.  “What’s that off to starboard?”  A shiny smooth back.  Rolls.  Then tail flukes.  She sounds.  Bye.  A small humpback.  So close we could hear her breathe.

Klemtu Passaage

Inside Klemtu Passage

Time to douse the main.  Wouldn’t you know it.  Now we have a sailing wind.  20 knots.
I stand at the mast on deck.  Trying to train the cardboard thick Dacron of our new main. Obedience school for sails.

“Nose to wind!”  “Nose to wind!”
But the helmswoman cannot nail it and the leech bunches up in the lazy jacks.
Now I’ll have to grow to eight feet tall to flatten the monster so it can be stowed!

I start to swear. I am more and more soaked in the rain.  Suddenly
“Whoooshhh”  and off to starboard, arm’s length from the hull, the humpback rolls to show her eye.  Then there’s her entire body, the knobby top of her head.  What are those knobs about anyway? Finally the goodbye flukes.
That humpback came to mock my bad humour. What after all, is a little water?

Float plane Klemtu Passage

Buzzed by a float plane in Klemtu Passage

Klemtu means “a place to tie up.”
Inside Klemtu Passage we are buzzed by a landing float plane.
Dangerous place in the fog.
The tug called “Western Titan” doesn’t follow us there, but into Tolmie Channel.  As it turns, the tug posts a securité.”  How wonderful these quiet waters where captains believe they must still pay heed.

Klemtu Big House

Klemtu First Nations Cultural Center

At anchor in Klemtu Anchorage, we eat the rest of our Dungeness crab.  A farewell from our shepherds.  We earned our independence today.  Fear.    Insomnia.  Determination.  Relief.

The rain lets up.  The fog remains.

Eagle on a silver snag

Eagle on a silver snag in Klemtu Anchorage

We drop crab shells into the bay, but they sink too fast for Raven or Eagle to snatch, though both are waiting on their silver snags.  They let us know their discontent.
“Squeeeek  squeeek”   complains Eagle, wailing like a rusty clothesline.
“Crawww crawww”  mocks Raven.
“KCracck KKracckk” interrupts Heron.

I try jigging for what chases smolts into the air.  One jig brings up an empty line.
“My hoochie fell off!”   I did not tie it right.
Now Eagle puts her head under her wing: “This could take a long time.”
I give up too.  Stow the rod on the stern.


Raven in Klemtu Anchorage

Mate addresses Raven squawking in the tree:
“I know the bits of crab we tossed had no flesh on them.  You wouldn’t have left more yourself.”
Raven settles.
Then Mate speaks to Eagle:
“I am sorry about the fishing.  We’re bad at it.”

We think we know this Eagle is she because she’s big.  The big ones are the girls.  Or so we’ve been told.

Posted in 2012 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why We Like Outposts

map of Central and North Coast First Nations in BC

BC Central and North Coast waters and First Nations

17-19 July 2012  Codville Lagoon Marine Park, King Island, Fisher Channel/ Shearwater, Denny Island & Bella Bella (Waglisla), Campbell Island/ Unnamed cove on Cunningham Island, off of Troup Passage

We would have liked to stay in Codville Lagoon and hike again to Sagar Lake for a swim, but getting our raw water pump fixed was becoming urgent: saltwater was flowing into the bilge and the bilge pump was coming on more and more frequently, which was a drain on the batteries. (One trouble forever leads to another on a boat; if you don’t fix the first thing, other things will soon require repair.) Our friends George and Susan on Top Brass were headed to Shearwater for supplies and wireless service; they volunteered to shepherd us in.

We hauled anchor then and set off. Wind!


Holland America Lines Volendam passes in front of Quoddy’s Run

We set the sails and reached across Fisher Channel, where we passed off the stern of the Holland America Line’s cruise ship Volendam.  They would not deviate for us, although we were sailing and they motoring, and the rules of the sea dictate that they should change course, if necessary for us.  Here, instead, as in so much of the world today, size and corporate might ruled: the little one must step aside for and accommodate the bigger one, no matter the situation.

When the Volendam passed, we noticed that it was not flying an ensign.  Marike called them on the radio to ask why—wasn’t that, too, a rule of the sea? The mate on watch stumbled about, at a loss for words, and finally said, “well, we were supposed to have high winds,” as if wind and flags might never mix. We imagined this must be another cost cutting measure—“no need to replace any tattered flags this year because we didn’t fly any”—or else a way to avoid confusing North American customers aboard for an Alaska cruise: “if we’re in North America, why are we flying a Dutch flag?” But perhaps it was sheer laziness. Who knows? Definitely not shipshape naval order! Perhaps cruise ships have now completely traded naval customs for hospitality services.

Llama Passage

In Llama Passage

Suddenly we were in the narrower Llama Passage, but still sailing. Northern Expedition, one of the largest of the BC ferries, passed us, its wake and its echoes knocking back and forth from shore to shore and rocking us violently, though not so violently as the man paddling by near shore in a canoe.  He turned himself into the waves and rode them out; if he hadn’t, he would have been swamped.

Northern Expedition

BC Ferry Northern Expedition in Llama Passage

Soon the clouds lifted and we were passing Bella Bella (Waglisla), home to the Heiltsuk First Nation. Suddenly messages started pouring into the inbox of our telephone—wireless service!  Waglisla might be difficult to get to, but its citizens are profoundly connected to the outside world.

near Waglisla

Quoddy’s Run approaching Bella Bella

A turn to starboard and then again; we threaded a narrow passage and motored to a dock at Shearwater.  Shearwater, once a WWII Air Force Base, is now the marine service center for the Central Coast. Fishing boats, ferries and other essential craft are looked after here; so too are leisure craft such as ours, as well dozens of big sports fishing craft and cruisers bound to and from Alaska.  We had been told that a repair in Shearwater would be pricey and require a long wait.


Shearwater Harbour Dock

Indeed, when Marike first went to the order desk, she was told that we might have to wait some days to see a mechanic, and that the fees for work could exceed $100 an hour.  But when she introduced herself as a sailor from Nova Scotia, and said that we really could not afford to stay at a dock for more than one night, the office manager shifted her approach.  Clearly, what we needed wasn’t the “yacht from afar” treatment (although we were, truly, a yacht from afar); we required, instead, access to the local inside track, the sort of service that residents might get when they needed it, on local time and at local rates.  Marike was sent out to see the manager in the yard and explained to him that we had a spare pump, but were unable to get the awkwardly placed old one off with its bracket, which had to be placed on the new pump. “Ah you need a monkey,” the foreman said, walking over to one of his workers.  “Here’s your fellow, Kevin.”

Wasco at Dock in Shearwater

Vessel in Shearwater enroute to Haida Gwaii

Kevin came immediately down the dock to the boat.  He wasn’t sure he could change the pump before the yard closed for the day, but he liked the smell of the soup Karin was cooking.  We promised him some soup and homemade bread if he managed to pull off the repair that day.  And of course he managed.  He even tapped in a new hole for the set screw on the pulley, so that we could be sure that the pulley would not fly off.  He changed the belts; he said that the belt on the pump pulley was too tight, which pulled the pump out of alignment and caused it to fail sooner.  In the end, we paid for two and a half hours of labour at $95 an hour, with a side of minestrone and bread and butter, had a completed repair, learned a few things, and made a new friend.

Be Bear Aware

Be Bear Aware! Slightly altered sign at the grocery store

We realize that we like outposts—after all, we’ve chosen to live in one on the East Coast, although it is admittedly far less remote than Shearwater–because people who live in such a place do recognize fellow outliers, fellow travellers, and they have, at once, respect for and capacity to assist those who, like them, don’t center their lives in the economies and expectations of large urban centers.

Night in Shearwater

Night view in Shearwater

Shearwater was bustling in July; the docks were crammed with vessels.  The wharfinger, it turned out, had a boat of his own in Guaymas, Mexico—we reminisced with him about the way the mountains and desert run to the sea there—and came back to Shearwater in the summers to manage the docks. We met others working in the Service Center office or the chandlery who had arrived, as we had, by chance on a passage and stayed, seduced by the wilderness and camaraderie of living on the periphery. We felt as if we’d stumbled into a community of long lost friends. They were eager to hear about Nova Scotia, and promised to sail or fly or drive by for a visit one of these days.

Laundry table

Laundry Table, Shearwater, BC

We used our hours at the dock to haul away our recycling and trash, to do laundry and reprovision at the impressive and well-supplied grocery store. Figs! Frozen chicken! Fresh vegetables! Ginger! More flour! (We hadn’t known we’d regularly be baking bread when we set out from Nanaimo.) The BC ferry and regular flights to Bella Bella brought in all sorts of luxuries.  We were even treated to a brass concert the evening we were at dock. Our favourite thing, however, was the grand table in the laundromat, a huge, thick, planed and sanded piece of lumber.

Against the Northern Gate Pipeline

Heiltsuk First Nation Opposes Enbridge

Among our aims for this voyage, in addition to investigating the effects of open pen salmon farms on the coast, had been to see for ourselves, first hand, just where the controversial Northern Gateway Pipeline would go, to investigate some of the waters where the tankers would sail, and to listen to what area residents citizens felt about this project to pipe Alberta crude to Kitmat, and then load it on tankers bound for processing in Asia.   We saw a number of signs of Heiltsuk opposition to the pipeline project at Shearwater.  It was clear that many members of the nine North and Central Coast First Nations did not want the pipeline on their lands, nor the risk of a tanker accident fouling their coastal waters.  We would sail some of the waters the tankers would travel if the pipeline were approved once we left the Shearwater/Bella Bella region, and headed further north.

Queen of Chilliwack

Queen of Chilliwack arrives at 10:30 pm

Two ferries serve the major communities between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert: the Northern Expedition, a grand passenger ferry that serves the entire Central and North Coasts, and the Queen of Chilliwack, a smaller, slower vessel that brings cargo and hardier passengers on cheaper fares from Port Hardy to Shearwater and other small communities.  That vessel arrived after 10 pm, when we were out walking at the water’s edge in the long light of a northern summer evening.

Old boats in Shearwater

Abandoned vessels in Shearwater

We hoped the next day to cross to Bella Bella in our boat, fill up with water, and reconnoitre, but when we arrived there were no places to be had at the wharf.   So we moved on, to a charted but unnamed bay on Cunningham Island, where Kalagan and Top Brass expected us for a goodbye dinner before we set off for places further north and they returned south.

mosquito net

Mosquito netting in Horsefly Bay

It was swelteringly hot in that no name bay, if gorgeous.  We listened to a water fall near shore, and watched a grassy area for bears. But, alas, the place was plagued by squadrons of vicious horseflies—in fact, we now call the spot Horsefly Bay.  It was too hot to stay closed up in the boat; besides, it seemed crazy to remain below decks on such a bright day. In desperation, we got out the mosquito net that we’d used in Mexico, a regular queen-sized bednet, and pulled it over the cockpit covers.  That afternoon, when we finally braved the biting onslaught to jump in the water, it was as warm as a bath.  We swam for an hour before dressing for dinner.

crab feast

Elisabeth chooses a crab

That dinner was a feast. Rick and George had spent two days scouting out the best spots and fishing their crab and prawn traps morning noon and night. Dawn and Susan had produced all sorts of other goodies too—salads and brownies—while we baked cornbread and prepared a fruit salad. As the sun dropped, the flies went away. We all sat on Kalagan’s deck, swapping stories, until after dark.  We would head out early the next morning through the Seaforth Channel, then up Finlayson Channel to Klemtu.

prawn feast

Big bowl of prawns


Codville Lagoon Marine Provincial Park http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/codville_lagoon/

Memories of Mexico (Guaymas & San Carlos) http://visiblepoetry.blogspot.ca/2011/03/february-in-mexico.html and http://visiblepoetry.blogspot.ca/2010/02/snapshots.html

On the Heiltsuk of Bella Bella (Waglisla) see http://www.hcec.ca/main.html

For a historical note, see http://www.hcec.ca/heiltsuk.html

Coastal First Nations Great Bear Initiative http://www.coastalfirstnations.ca/

The Coastal First Nations is an alliance of First Nations on British Columbia’s North and Central Coast and Haida Gwaii. The Coastal First Nations include Wuikinuxv Nation, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xaixais, Nuxalk Nation, Gitga’at, Metlakatla, Old Massett, Skidegate, and Council of the Haida Nation.  For their stance on Enbridge Oil’s Northern Gateway Project see http://www.coastalfirstnations.ca/programs/anti-oil-tanker-campaign

See too http://www.firstnations.de/fisheries/heiltsuk.htm for information on stances towards fish farming

BC Ferries Inside Passage  schedules  http://www.bcferries.com/schedules/inside/

Posted in 2012 | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Learning to Read the Weather

Fury Cove beach picnic

Marike and Elisabeth picnic on Fury Cove beach

13-17 July 2012

Little Frypan, Penrose Island/ Codville Lagoon, King Island

When you arrive on a new coast and listen to the weather forecast, the first challenge is to figure out where the weather reporting stations in your general region are.  Then you must sort out which stations you need to listen to and track for your proposed voyage.  And of course, you need to learn to read the signs of approaching weather.

mast & clouds

Look to the heavens: what do you see?

The quickly shifting weather patterns in Nova Scotia have generated all sorts of humorous adages: “If you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes and it will change.”  Or, for those who want to live like cats, “If you don’t like the weather outside your front door try your back door.”  Despite the obvious instabilities of coastal weather on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia, we have become quite good at determining what the weather will be.  If you hear a rumble over the east beach, you can expect a Nor’easter–bad weather for sure. If the rumble is over the west beach, you can expect a Sou’wester. This may or may not bring precipitation or stormy conditions. If the barometer sinks quickly, then you are in for a howling Nor’easter.  It the sky clouds up with fast-moving dark clouds, you’re certainly in for some snotty weather.


Purple crab in a tidepool–does it know the weather?

But as we sailed the coast of BC, our weather reading instincts failed us. We had to take into account, not only the force of systems moving in from the open Pacific to the west, but, as well, the fast-moving tidal currents in many passes, and the effects of winds racing downhill out of mountain passes and through the many narrow inlets that run deep into the interior of the mainland. Just listening to the weather radio wasn’t as simple as it tends to be on the east coast either. Tuning into just one radio station will not do across a large distance in BC; we found you have to change weather stations often because the mountains interfere with reception—and dramatically affect weather patterns.  Why the rather abrupt shift in weather patterns north and south of Nanaimo? We wondered, starting out, why these were even separate forecast areas. But if you look at the topography of Vancouver Island, you’ll see that between the way the land curves, and the narrowing of the Georgia Strait, you might expect to see some shift in weather patterns around Nanaimo. Further north, we knew to expect afternoon blows from the west in Johnstone Strait, and not to try to go against the chop that ensued; or when planning to head to the Central Coast, we needed to listen to the wave and wind readings at Egg Island for a sense of the prevailing weather. Too often, what we thought we read in the clouds in BC was not what the weather delivered.

Little Frypan sunset

Strange clouds over Penrose Island–What do they say?

As we basked in the sun in our newly found tropical paradise of Fury Cove, far north of Nanaimo, Johnstone Strait and even Egg Island, weather reports were ominous, calling for 45 knot winds out of the north for the Central Coast, Queen Charlotte Sound, and the infamous Hecate Straits.  Attentive weather radio listeners, we decided we had better find a less exposed anchorage.

light winds

Sailing to Little Frypan

So we weighed anchor in mild winds and glorious sun, and sailed slowly, just a gentle breeze pushing the sail, around Penrose Island into the “Little Frypan,” a fully surrounded, sheltered hurricane hole where half a dozen other boats were also anchored.  It was a place that seemed “bomb-proof,” to use a term favoured by many of the male sailors we’d met in BC; steep cliffs towered over us, and the spot, when we arrived was windless.

Penrose Island

Little Frypan on the right, Fury Cove on the lower left

There we sat in the sunny, clear heat for a few days, watching horsetail clouds whip over the tops of the cliff edges and listening to the same scary weather report: 40 and 45 knots for the Central Coast, Queen Charlotte Sound, Hecate Strait.  We saw barely a piffle of wind, and the clouds dissipated. We began to feel foolish and restless holed up there: maybe there wouldn’t be strong winds or seas in Fitzhugh Sound, but how could we know?  The weather report continued to say there would be. Was staying put a reasonable precaution or not? How could we know? We pored over guidebooks and charts, looking for clues.

QR in Little Frypan

Quoddy’s Run with other shelter seekers, Little Frypan

We dinghied around the islands, wrote, did a number of repairs, and visited with other boaters who were also sweltering and scratching their heads in the Frying Pan.

Dinghy picnic

Bladderwrack on a rock

We had a steady leak from our raw water pump—the bilge pumps were running every 20 minutes or so—and we wanted to get to Shearwater/Bella Bella before we pulled the raw water pump out to look at it, in case we needed special equipment, a replacement, and a proper mechanic, but this ongoing, extraordinary and anomalous weather forecast—and our own inexperience with Central Coast weather—kept us at anchor.

Near Little Frypan

We find an old wreck filled with drowned batteries

Fine view near Penrose Island

And stupendous views

Finally, however, claustrophobia and our annoyance at the salmon fishing madness infecting nearby powerboats (go get get get all the fish you can!) got to us, and we decided  to chance it.


We depart at dawn

At 6 am we nudged out into the wider world, with two other boats, Kalagan and Top Brass, shepherding us in case our raw water pump failed and we found ourselves in need of a tow. All was calm.

Shpeherd Kalagan

Kalagan keeps us in sight

We put up a triple reefed mainsail and edged back into Fitzhugh Sound.  No wind to speak of. We passed the weather reporting station, Addenbrooke Island, beneath clear skies, on rippled seas.  And there, to the right, humpbacks, blowing, rolling, sounding—hurrah.

Calm seas

Nary a ripple

Rippled seas Fitzhugh Sound

Okay, a few ripples

Finally, as we passed the Kwakshwa Channel and the Hakai and Nalau Passages, which open towards the Pacific, we caught a little breeze coming out of the west; we raced, all too briefly, across the chop.

Top Brass sailing in Fitzhugh Sound

Top Brass sails ahead

Then just as quickly, the ride was over, and we drifted north, dead downwind in a light southerly. This mystified us at first.  If we listened to the weather report, it was supposed to be blowing like crazy out of the north. But a high hovered over Fitzhugh Sound, and with the tide running in around Calvert Island from the south, so, too, ran the wind. Our “stormy weather” was further offshore. Not here.  Our first lesson about the vagaries of the weather on the Central Coast.

QR Fitzhugh Channel

Quoddy’s Run runs dead downwind

Finally we exited the top of Fitzhugh Sound and entered the narrower confines of Fisher Channel. We dropped our sails and motored into Codville Lagoon where, again, it was hot and still.  There, we greeted fellow cruisers, including the three couples we had met at Fury Cove, who had, wisely, not remained holed up.  They were fishing for shrimp.  As soon as we anchored, we hopped overboard for a swim in the 23C (77 F) water.  Ahhh.  Then we dinghied ashore and hiked up a trail to a marvelously large, warm freshwater lake–Sagar Lake–fringed by alders and cedars, and tucked into the mountains. We crossed an amber coloured sandy beach, walked along reddish coarse sand full of deer prints and then into clear silky water.  The water was red or yellow in the shallows, deepening to green and blue; cascading ripples of yellow light rushed across the sand when we stepped into the water.  We had brought shampoo and soap and so we lathered and rinsed up, our first baths in more than a month.  But then vicious horse flies drove us quickly back through the woods; we waved and swatted alder branches to keep them at bay.

Weather patterns may differ from coast to coast to coast in Canada, but biting horse flies can be relied upon in the summer, no matter where you are.

We finished the evening by grilling chicken fajitas and drinking sun-downers in the glorious still warm air.  If we had gone on simply listening to the weather forecast, we might still be holed up in the Little Frypan.  No question about it; we still have much more to learn about how to judge weather patterns along the BC coast.


Freshly baked sourdough bread–the gift that keeps giving

Posted in 2012 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment