Our last morning in Alaskan waters dawned clear and bright. We got underway at 7 am, motoring slowly out of Nichols Bay. We paused to photograph Bert Millar Cutoff as we passed by. It looked impossibly skinny from this angle. The tide was low and, with 7 feet less water in it, Bert Millar can’t be more than 10 feet wide. Out on open water, a light breeze rippled the surface. I weighed options for our route. We could take the traditional, more sheltered but circuitous course around Cape Chacon, up Clarence Strait, across to Duke Island, and then south inside of Dundas Island and on to Prince Rupert. Or we could strike out across the main body of Dixon Entrance on a nearly direct heading for Prince Rupert. By so doing, we could save at least 35 miles and perhaps 6 hours of cruising time, but it would mean crossing more than 40 miles of open water without any options for shelter if it were to get rough. I considered the weather forecast, our fuel status, and the length of time it would take to reach port under both scenarios, and headed straight out. At the start, wind was light and out of the west, with a light westerly swell, with clear, sun filled sky. As we got further from Prince of Wales Island, the wind picked up a little and swung into the northwest, with a two foot swell. I set the jib, which helped stabilize us in the beam sea. Gradually the wind died back and we furled the sail. We ran at 3000 rpm, with a speed of nearly 8 knots while the sail was out, but later dropping to under 7. When we got about 20 miles offshore we picked up a north wind, from our old nemisis, Clarence Strait. This brought with it a tightly spaced 3 foot swell which conflicted with the incoming westerly swell. This made for bouncy coditions and difficult steering, but fortunately it didn’t last. Sandy steered for much of this passage, since steering helped her avoid feeling sick.
As we neared Celestial Reef, located midway in our passage to the south end of Dundas Island, we heard the buzz of a plane. We looked behind us and saw a dark blue twin engine plane, with “Canada” and some other markings which made it look official, stenciled on the fuselage. He flew toward us at low altitude, then banked a turn around us, obviously looking us over, before flying on. Our radio was on Channel 16 but we heard no radio call. It seemed very curious at the time. Later, we picked up a US Coast Guard “Securite” transmission warning of some gunnery practise scheduled for that afternoon in an area 10 nautical miles west of Duke Island. I think that plane was inspecting the general area to make sure no boats were inadvertently heading in that direction. If we had opted to take the more sheltered route we would have passed right through the practise area.
We altered course slightly after passing Celestial Reef and headed for a radio beacon south of Dundas Island. Sea conditions occasionally got choppy, and then would settle down. We could see a fog bank to our east, out over Dundas Island. By the time we neared the fog it had thinned and lifted, making for a lightly over cast sky. We were frequently entertained by a type of sea bird called the northern fulmar, which would glide in low over the water and circle the boat, apparently looking for a handout. We saw the occasional humpback whale, always at a comfortable distance. As we got closer to land we started seeing murres and gulls. We started seeing small boats, apparently sport fishing for halibut or salmon. After clearing Melville Island and some nearby rocks we were able to head due east, toward the outside approach to Venn Passage, which would lead us to Prince Rupert. We made this run with the jib filled by a following wind, which seemed to gain strength as we neared the entrance to Venn Passage. We kept the sail out as we followed the bouy path to the north end of Digby Island. After rounding a small island the wind failed, so we furled the jib for the final run, through shallow, twisty Venn Passage. We had finally crossed our outbound track, effectively completing our looping tour of the Inside Passage. Sandy steered us through the passage while I busied myself with preparations for arrival at the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club marina. I radioed ahead and confirmed availability of a slip. We tied up and I walked over to the pay phone to check in with Canadian Customs. I had no problems getting checked in (clearance number 20052290776). We finished securing the boat, called the Ringsruds to advise them of our safe, early arrival at Prince Rupert, and then walked up to Smiles Restaurant for a nice dinner, to celebrate the completion of our cruise to Southeast Alaska.
Distance for the day: 73 nm; grand total for the trip: 2065 nm