I awoke at 5 am, no alarm needed, and by 5:30 had shoved off the dock. Rosy streks lit the eastern sky (red sky in morning, sailor take warning?). I took comfort in NOAA weather’s forecast, which suggested that today and tomorrow would both be good cruising days, just enough time to make Rupert if we made long miles both days. My plan was, with dinghy stowed on deck, to run full throttle the 43 miles down to Hydaburg, top off the gas tanks there, and then ease back a bit, so as to have a comfortable margin for the remaining 140 or so miles to Prince Rupert. I had talked with the Craig harbormaster and he said the only fuel between Craig and Prince Rupert was at Hydaburg. With expectation of a fuel dock ahead of me, I shoved the throttle forward and left a big wake behind, running between 9 and 10 knots across a glassy sea.
I was relaxing, enjoying the ride when, abruptly, the massive, glossy black back of a humpback whale broke the surface, dead ahead and not more than 50 yards away. I jammed into neutral as the startled whale sounded. I called for Sandy to come up, and she climbed the companionway steps just in time to see a second whale, this time a mere 10 yards ahead of our bow, quickly surface, arch and dive, flukes waving at us as we glided up. Way too close for comfort, but certainly spectacular. We idled along for a bit, then gradually throttled up to speed. We never spotted either whale again. I expect they put considerable distance between them and us before surfacing next.
That was the extent of excitement on the run to Hydaburg. As w3e approached this remote, small Indian village, the last community on our route, I followed usual practise and consulted both Douglas and Charlie’s Charts for clues as to the fuel dock’s location. I couldn’t find a note for it in the guides, but that wasn’t surprising. Such details aren’t always noted, and the Craig harbormaster did say fuel was available here. We saw a large commercial ty[e dock on our approach, but could see no indication of fueling facilities. The boat harbor lies a little to the north and we swung in that direction. I tried the radio but got no response, again not surprising, in small places like this. The docks in the harbor were in poor repair, moss covered and fairly water logged. A small handful of boats of various sizes and shapes were scattered about in slips. The place was bereft of movement. We cleated off close to the ramp and I walked up, hoping to find someone who could tell us where we could buy some gas. The harbormaster’s building was locked up tight. A phone number was stenciled on the wall, but with no cell service or pay phone, it was useless. I wandered up the muddy unpaved road and flagged down the first car I saw. I asked the woman behind the wheel where I could buy fuel. She just smiled and shook her head, saying “There’s no gas in Hydaburg. Folks here drive to Craig or Klawock for gas. Always top off there.” I was incredulous. “You mean there’s no place here where I can get some gas?” The kids in the back seat chimed in: “No gas in Hydaburg.” The lady said I might find someone down in the boat harbor with some spare gas for sale. I looked back at the deserted harbor and continued hiking up the hill. I figured on heading for City Hall, in hopes someone there would have a useful suggestion. I hailed a couple more cars, but no one could offer any help. I was halfway to City Hall before the next car came by. I waved, and told my story to the lady driver. She had a sympathetic, friendly face, and she said she thought they had 5 gallons around the house. She said Hydaburg hadn’t had fuel available for a couple of years (apparently the Craig harbormaster hadn’t been to Hydaburg in those couple of years). Pretty soon a teenage girl came around from the backyard, toting a faded plastic 5 gallon gas can filled with the precious liquid. I offered the lady $20 for the gas and she said that sounded about right. She said to leave the can in the yard after i had finished with it. I walked back to the boat with the gas can, feeling like I had just discovered a pocket of gold.
I had used about 13 gallons in the 43 mile run from Craig and I figured we had perhaps 150 miles to go. Without that 5 gallons, we probably had enough gas to make it, but just barely. Adverse winds, counter current or rough seas as well as unplanned retreats would easily consume any cushion. With those extra 5 gallons, I felt more comfortable about the run ahead. I held the throttle back to 2500 rpm and, thanks to more favorable currents and calm seas, we easily made 6 knots. In fact, as the current strengthened, I was able to drop back to 2200 and still average 6 knots.
The sky had been overcast all morning, but in the afternoon things began to brighten. I took the surround down and folded up the bimini. The channels began to widen, and we could see out to the open waters of Dixon Entrance. Swell from outside was barely detectable, and the sea surface was like polished stone, with nary a ripple as far as eye could see. One couldn’t have asked for a better day to travel. We both felt great, and only darkness would interrupt our progess this day.
I began noticing a peculiar musty and somewhat sour odor which I at first attributed to our proximity to the open sea. It reminded me of a mudflat at low tide on a hot day. Then it hit me. I was smelling dinghy, as the algae, barnacles and other assorted marine organizisms plastered on his bottom began curing out. I hate to think what Chinook’s bottom must look like.
As sunshine broke out we transited Thompson Passage, working our way through the mase of small islands and scattered kelp beds. Narrow Minnie cutoff, at the south end of thompson Passage, grew closer. Douglas states that Minnie is not for the fainthearted. Well, we certainly aren’t fainthearted, and this was an ideal day for such a passage. I had it thoroughly waypointed and we snapped pictures as we navigated this narrow, scenic, rockbound channel. Emerging on the other side, we entered the fully exposed waters of Dixon Entrance. Not a breath of wind, swell barely detectable and the sun settting behind us, illuminating the rocky shore with intense low angle light. We passed numerous barren islets. As we approached one large, round shaped rock, Sandy sighted a herd of sea lions, hauled out,sunning themselves. There must have been 70 of them, sprawledout all over the top and sides of the rock. I slowed and swung in closer while Sandy shot video. The sea lions growled and grumbled loudly. Then, one animal in the middle of the herd paniced and started scrambling for the edge. This touched off something of a stampede which, for sea lions, is a pretty amazing sight. They lunged and flopped their way down, sometimes over each other’s backs, before launching into the water. Once in, they congregated in a tight bunch, just their heads showing, and they continued their growling protest. I felt a little badly ab out disturbing their afternoon relaxation. We were no closer than the sea lions we viewed in Glacier Bay, which had ignored us. We hadn’t intended on spooking them, but once they started, there was no stopping them. As we eased off we noticed one particularly large bull, still perched atop the rock, obviously too wise to be goaded into a foolish stampede.
I decided to head for nichols Bay for the night. We could make it by 6:30 or so, and it is a perfect departure point for a run to Prince Rupert in the morning. As we closed in on the entrance, I reread the description of Bert Millar’s Cutoff. Douglas has run it, but with strong words of caution, describing it as a “stunt passage for anything but a high speed inflatable.” Well, Chinook is high speed, but not inflatable. I didn’t intend on taking needless risks. However, conditions were ideal (negligable seas, light tail wind, current in our favor). Also, by taking the cutoff we could save at least 3 miles on our way into Nichols Bay anchorage. I eased toward the approach and glassed the narrows, trying to see how bad the kelp bed (reported to be dense) looked. While looking things over, no hands on the wheel, Chinook swung to port, toward Bert Millar Cutoff. Clearly, she wanted to show she was as capable as any high speed inflatable. We headed in. Sandy extended the boat hook and I got fenders ready. In anticipation of the kelp, I lowered both rudders, but left them uncleated so they could swing up if necessary. I hoped that the rudders would help keep kelp from fouling the prop. I also tilted the motor up to reduce ddraft and lessen the chance of snagging a strand of kelp. The entrance was every bit as narrow as reported, maybe even more so, since we were just coming off the high low tide, with tide level reading 6.5 feet for Nichols Bay on the Garmin. With about 5 feet to spare on each side, we chugged through. The motor sputtered due to its raised angle, and I could feel the boat struggle as we plowed through the kelp, but she kept running as we cleared the narrows. The screen on the laptop showed our track as crossing the portside point, illustrating the degree of GPS accuracy, which is about 30 feet. In this case, it showed us about 15 feet north of actual position. Still pretty remarkable. Sandy remained on the bow, watching for covered rocks until we reached the deeper waters of Nichols Bay. We dropped anchor at a quiet little nook and prepared dinner, pleased with our day’s cruise.
Distance for the day: 79 nm (longest run of the trip); total for the trip: 1992 nm