June 5, 2005 – Sunset Marina, North Vancouver, BC

As with childbirth, all significant cruising expeditions I’ve undertaken involved a substantial amount of pain at the outset. Our Alaska cruise has followed that pattern true to course. The extended nature of this cruise, planned to include the exploration of approximately 2000 nautical miles of the Inside Passage, required extensive preparations and planning. While these efforts began many months ago, and the pace of effort accelerated as departure date loomed, the day before departure still left many tasks incomplete. In addition to completing preparations for sustaining all aspects of life for nearly 3 months aboard a very compact 26 foot sailboat, the house had to be mothballed, and numerous related details handled, most at the last minute.

Probably the most painful last minute project involved rebuilding the boat trailer brakes. New calipers and master cylinder needed to be installed. Delays in the delivery of parts (I had ordered them in plenty of time, honest) resulted in this project being tackled, under the direction of my brother, a mere 2 days before departure. After numerous frustrations, we finally completed the job. We were a little worried about one of the disks, which seemed a little out of true, but thought they would be ok. Time shifts to the night before leaving, when it’s time to drive down to Safeway to fill the boat’s gas tanks and fuel the truck. All goes well, until I attempt to back up my steep lower driveway. The brakes lock up in reverse. The mechanism designed to prevent this has somehow failed. In addition, while driving around a bit, it seems that they’re rubbing more than they should, and they’re heating up. It’s too late to fix the problem without delaying departure by several days. Unacceptable option. I resolve to remove them next morning and run up to Vancouver without brakes. I’m not too worried about this, since I drove most of the way around the country last year with the boat and trailer, with brakes in the same shape. My heavy duty diesel truck handles the boat fine.

Early next morning my son and I go out to remove the brakes. It’s raining. Great start to our Alaska cruise, laying under the boat trailer, in the street in front of the house, removing brake calipers in the rain. Task completed, we head out around 9:30 am. So much for my hoped for early departure.

The drive into Canada went fine. Son Ken rode along with us, to perform the valued service of driving the truck and empty boat trailer back to Leavenworth, there to await another drive by dear friends Peter and Mary Ann Ringsrud, this time to Prince Rupert at the end of August, to rendezvous with us there. At the border crossing, the Canadian official questioning us asked the usual questions, and was rather surprised to learn we were going to be out for 80 days. He mistakenly thought son Ken was accompanying us for that duration, and rather surprisingly asked him what he did for a living. He figured Ken must be independently wealthy if he were out that long. We left him with that impression.

It rained most of the way up, and rained at the marina while we set the boat up. It finally eased off while we slipped her into the water. Ken began his drive back to Leavenworth around 5 pm, and we continued sorting out our mountain of gear, trying to get it all stowed on board.

It is in the nature of cruising that problems arise which must be solved. It is also in the nature of cruising that in the first few hours after getting into the water, you discover key items of equipment and gear that, somehow, inadvertently got left behind. In the case of our Alaska cruise, due in large part to the hectic departure, our list quickly grew. Problem number 1: Can’t locate the Waggoner’s Cruising Guide. Solution: plan to do without, since we have a couple of other similar books. Possibly purchase a replacement along the way, before cruising out of the area covered. Problem number 2 (and much more serious): can’t locate the AC power cord for the lap top computer. Serious because electronic log can’t be written for very long, also, electronic charts in cd form quickly become unusable. Lastly and most importantly, the collection of dvd movies we brought along will have to go unwatched unless a solution can be found. Solution: call son Ken, our saviour. He quickly fashions a fix. He calls a friend in Wenatchee who goes over to the house, enters with the key handily hidden under the door mat, and goes straight to the location of the power cord. Unexpected bonus, he also locates the Waggoners Guide, and will Fed Ex both items to the Port McNeil Harbor, which is 5 days ahead of us. With any luck, we’ll be back in business with both items. Problem number 3: I can’t find the charging cord for my electric razor (I seem to have a problem with electric cords. Solution, I’ll let the beard grow. After all, we are on the way to Alaska. Problem number 4: we left the extra blanket to go over the sleeping bag behind. Solution: snuggle all the closer with my co captain.

June 6, 2005 – Pender Harbor, 10 pm and still light out.

A beautiful sunny day does wonders for one’s spirits. The problems of yesterday quickly fade as solutions are arrived at, and the cruise actually begins. Beautiful day on the Strait of Georgia. We motored at 6 to 7 knots much of the way, motor sailed for a couple of hours when wind permitted. Got in to Pender Harbor around 4 pm, and anchored in Gardiner Bay. Lovely spot, fair amount of development in the area, but not too imposing. Nice Marine Park shoreline next to anchorage. We dinghied ashore for a walk through the park and up the road. Enjoyed dinner in the cockpit, with sun beaming in, water like glass. Cruised 42.2 miles for the day. Longer cruise planned tomorrow. Will need to start early.

June 7, 2005

Raised anchor about 7 am and left the anchorage. Conditions calm. Skies overcast. Ran up Strait of Georgia at 6 knots. Emptied 12 gal tank at Powell River (67 nm on 12 gal – 5.6 mpg). Passed through Copeland Islands near entrance to Desolation Sound. Many more homes on mainland than when here 19 years ago. Headed for Talbot Cove at mouth of Teakerne Arm, where we had anchored with Ringsruds in 1986. Large oyster farm has moved in at the mouth of Talbot Cove. I tried 4 times to get the anchor to hook. Rather deep and rocky, couldn’t get it to set. We moved to a little nook to the west and I got out the hose reel with 500 feet of 3/8” poly stern tie line. While Sandy kept the boat clear of rocks, I rowed in with the line and looped around a tree, then brought the line back to the boat and tied off. I then rowed to the opposite side of the little cove and tied another line to a tree. By drawing the slack out of the two lines, we were secured in the center of the cove. Went for a short walk up the new logging road at the head of the cove. Watched 3 otters playing in the cove. Lovely sunset, but we were a little too far around the corner to fully appreciate it. Double checked the cruise guides and charts regarding timing and strategy for passing the Yuculta rapids, coming up the next day.

Day’s run: 52.3 nm; total for trip: 94.5 nm

June 8. 2005

Arose early to prepare for run up to the rapids. Transferred 5 gallons to each main tank from jerry cans, which left the main tank in use nearly full. Don’t want to have to switch tanks in the middle of the rapids. Also filled the oil reservoir. Overcast again, light rain to start the day. Had to be underway by 7:30 so as to arrive at Yucultas near slack around ll am. We hit the change to ebb, which worked out perfectly. We ran Yuculta in the last hour of ebb, then pulled into Big Bay to wait for Gilliard and Dent to be closer to slack. Big resort under construction at Yuculta, and much development in the area. Watched a couple of float planes bringing guests in. Finally headed on through Gilliard with the current still running, and got a boost all the way to Dent Rapids. This place has a nasty reputation, but we timed things just right. It’s supposed to be much more difficult on a change to flood. We observed strong currents, but none of the famous whirlpools and overfalls. Nice run to Blind Channel Resort. Encountered strong and swirling currents in Mayne Channel, near the resort. This time the current was against us. Pulled into the resort fuel dock. Very helpful young guy took our lines and assisted with fueling. Used 21.6 gallons for 129 miles, 6 mpg average. Very good. Got a slip at the marina and went for a hike on one of their trails into the woods. Beautiful hike, accompanied by their very friendly dog. After our hike, we showered and fired up the barbque for a dock side dinner. Visited with other boat captains at marina,also heading north. Maybe we’ll see them again, further along. All are leaving early (5 am), to time the Greene Point and Whirlpool rapids, and arrive reasonably early on Johnstone Strait. Johnstone is notorious for rough water in a northwesterly blow, which is typical. June 9 is forecast to have favorable conditions on Johnstone, so we will join them for a 5 am departure. We met High Time,BC, Simpatico (going to Alaska), Meu Barco (also going to Alaska), Angelena (going part way up), and Amazon – a lovely Catalina sailboat.

June 9, 2005

Long run today – 66 nm. We followed the other boats out from Blind Channel Resort, and took advantage of the ebb current through the rapids. No difficulties. Really enjoyed the push at Whirlpool. The boat increased speed from 7 knots to 11 kts for a while. Entered Johnstone, which was very tame. Decided to modify our route and continue on Johnstone, instead of ducking back into more protected waters. Longer way around, and it would probably have taken an extra day, with uncertain conditions on Johnstone. Best to pass the difficult water when the seas are calm. We cruised up the Vancouver Island side of the Strait. Very pleasant cruise. Slowed at Robson Bight, famous for its beach which attracts Orcas. Seems the place has small stones that the Orcas like to rub against. Unfortunately, none were there while we were in the area. Had to add engine oil 6 miles shy of Alert Bay. Continued on to Port McNeil, where we hoped to find a Fed Ex package from Leavenworth, containing the cruising guide and laptop power cord accidently forgotten at trip’s start. Pulled into the fuel dock around 2 pm and filled tanks. Fuel consumption much lower (3.7 mpg) because of high running speeds. Ran 3500-3800 on first 12 gal, 3000 on second tank. Must keep rpm below 2500 for long distance runs.
Called the harbor master by radio and got a marina slip. Went up to pay and was delighted to see that the package had arrived. Way to go, Nathan and Ken. Now we’re back in business. Went for a walk around town that evening, and barbqued at the dock. Had strawberry/ruhbarb pie at a nice little restaurant overlooking the marina.

Total distance covered: 195 nm

June 10, 2005

Layover day in Port McNeil. Tried to do a laundry at a motel at the top of the hill (one across the street from the marina is closed). Both machines in use, and we must catch the ferry across to Alert Bay, so will do laundry later. Took the ferry over to Alert Bay, an Indian community. We visited the burial grounds near the waterfront. Beautiful park with many old totem poles marking the graves. Not allowed to walk within the grounds, so we observed from the street. We next walked the other direction, to the U’Mitsa museum. The museum is built in the form of a traditional long house, and it contains a remarkable collection of potlatch masks and other cultural artifacts. The story is a sad one with a happy ending, of sorts. In the early 1900’s, the government and missionaries tried to abolish traditional lifestyle and ceremonies, including the potlatch. A law banning potlatch was passed. One tribal member ignored the law and held a big potlatch over Christmas, in 1921. Authorities got word, and ended up confiscating all the tribe’s ceremonial masks, coppers, and other items. They were taken to the national museum in Ottawa. Some of the potlatch organizers were jailed. Nearly 60 years later, most of the items were returned, and the Indians built a museum to house them. They are very proud of this museum, and it is a focal point for rebuilding their cultural heritage.

There was a huge yacht anchored in the harbor while we visited. It had a helicopter and a 32 foot sailboat stowed on deck, and also contained a 30 foot power cruiser. About 15 European millionaires were its passengers. We visited with a totem pole carver near the museum, who does wonderful work. He has customers all over the world.

We had dinner at the restaurant in Alert Bay, while waiting for our ferry. After getting back to the boat, Sandy did the laundry, while I took the porta-bote dinghy apart at the dock, and stowed it on board for tomorrow’s planned crossing of Queen Charolette Strait and Queen Charolette Sound. Hit the sack early, with an early start planned for next day.

June 11, 2005

Left the marina at 4:20 am. Forecast: moderate wind with seas 1 to 2 meters. Gale warnings for the next day. I decided to cross Queen Charolette Strait, and duck in to one of several available anchorages if things started looking bad. The crossing (about 18 nm) went fine, and I ran at 7 knots (3000 rpm). Raining off and on. Upon entering Queen Charolette Sound proper, the seas were substantial, so we filled the water ballast tank and proceeded. Almost no wind, so just the seas to contend with. They made for a very rough ride. Sandy felt poorly, even with Dramamine, and found that laying down in the cockpit worked best. Roughest seas were encountered off the mouth of Slingby Channel, with swells of 6 feet, occasionally higher. At the start of the rough water we got a scare when an engine alarm signal started to squeal. Too soon to need engine oil, wrong tone anyway. I dropped down into neutral and noticed the heat indicator light was on. There was still some cooling water pumping out the back of the motor. I think I was running too fast for the swells, and the lower unit was coming out of the water, sucking air instead of cooling water. I slowed down to 4 knots and things were fine. Only problem, our progress was painfully slow. It was kind of like being saddled to one of those mechanical bucking horses they have in some western taverns. Only this ride lasted almost 10 hours. We did get some relief passing Cape Caution, with seas moderating to about 3 feet, but it got rough again as we passed the entrance to Rivers Inlet. I really wish I had taken the jib sail cover off, so I could have flown a stabilizing sail. But I hadn’t, so we just had to ride it out. Even though it was a rough passage, I was glad we went the whole way, since a big storm was forecast for next day. We were greatly relieved to pull into Fury Cove, a beautiful anchorage. There were 2 sailboats already at anchor, along with a big power cruiser. I had seen both during the crossing. Also saw the Alaska State Ferry Columbia steaming northward. She kicked up a big wake which really rocked us.

June 12, 2005

Layover day to rest up and recover from the challenging crossing. Overcast but calm in the morning. I assembled and launched the dinghy from the foredeck, using the new pulley system I had designed at home before the trip. It worked just great. We went for an explore ashore, cleaned up the boat, and generally kicked back and relaxed. Very pleasant day. Will decide tomorrow whether or not to move north, up to Namu. It will depend on the timing and strength of the forecast gale.

June 13, 2005

Underway by 8 am. Anchorage calm, but rough outside on Fitz Hugh Sound. Short period swells, 3 feet and capping. Jib cover off before starting this time, and we motor sailed across the sound, definitely more stable than pounding straight ahead under power. More settled on the west side of the sound. We were passed by the BC Ferry Queen of the North, and later met the southbound Alaska State Ferry Malaspina. Overcast all day, with periods of rain. Since the wind was on our nose, we motored after crossing the sound. Sandy took the helm all morning, which gave me time to look around and snap a few pictures. We landed at Namu around 2:30 pm. Fascinating old cannery, now non operational and deteriorating. Met a niced couple who are caretakers, very friendly, resourceful and hard working. They had a couple of huge dogs, part malamute and part wolf. Fortunately also friendly, although we were advised by a boating couple tied up at the dock that the dogs could be very territorial. After wandering through the ghost town cannery a while, we returned to the boat and continued another 3 miles to Fougner Bay, a secluded anchorage at the mouth of Burke Inlet. Found the red sailboat we had seen while crossing Queen Charolette Sound anchored there. She also shared the Fury Cove anchorage with us 2 days ago, but left yesterday, while we laid over. I think she travels under sail more than we do. Haven’t met the folks on board yet. Maybe this evening or tomorrow. They fly the Canadian flag.

Distance on the day: 36 nm

Total for trip: 296 nm

June 14, 2005

Very welcome sunshine beamed in on our little anchorage this morning. Took our time with breakfast. Got underway around 10 am. Nice breeze coming down Burke Channel, so I raised the main for the first time. Sailed a couple of miles before the wind died down, so back to motoring. Clouds started moving in, and it turned cooler. Cruised up Fisher Channel to the entrance to Lama Passage, entered and headed west, toward Bella Bella and Shearwater. Encountered stiff headwinds and a rain squall in Lama Passage. By the time we neared Shearwater, the sun was beginning to come out again. Stopped to gas up at the fuel dock, and filled all the gas cans, since the next stretch will be one of our longest between fuel docks. Bought 24 gallons of gas. Mileage works out to 6.7 mpg since Port McNeil, which is excellent. At that rate, we would have a 260 mile cruising range. Got a slip at the marina. Wharfinger is a very nice lady who was most accomodating. We’re definitely the smallest boat in the marina. We could serve as dinghy for some of the boats, but we’re here and enjoying it. They have an old tree snag set up in some concrete rings which attracts a stately eagle, who poses for photos all day (the cook feeds him to attract him in.) I bought a 5 day fishing license, and we grabbed showers, did laundry and picked up some groceries. Had a wonderful dinner at the waterfront restaurant. Prices reasonable and food outstanding. Beautiful sunset. We’ll try to get an early start tomorrow. The next several days should bring us through some outstanding scenery, in the area known as Fiordland.

Distance for day: 26 nm Total for trip: 322 nm