It’s the 21st of May and the first day of sunshine since we left Port Angeles 2 ½ weeks ago. Six-thirty a.m. and Carsten fires up our engine. Once again, it sounds like Carsten is busy ripping the tail off a cat. I was of the firm belief that my husband was once again a Superhero after he managed to change the bearings in the idler wheel yesterday. The engine purred like a little kitten after he finished. Now he is looking despairingly at the engine and muttering words that are not polite in mixed company. Once again, he tightens up the new serpentine belt he has mounted and while the cat is still screaming – perhaps it isn’t screaming quite as loudly.
Since things have quieted down, we decide to sail onwards, particularly since the next two days have the perfect weather window for the most critical distance through the Inside Passage, here on the northeastern side of Vancouver Island. The next weather window will be in a week’s time and we don’t want to wait here until then.
The Pilot book and the local sailors we have spoken with, all warn us about the passage through Seymour Narrows. The current can run up to 16 knots and the maelstroms can be so powerful that they can suck a boat like Capri right in and keep her. Capri simply doesn’t have the horsepower to bull her way out if she is caught. Everyone says that the passage can only be made at slack water – in Seymour Narrows, slack water only lasts 15 minutes or so.
The Pilot book over tides and tidal currents says slack water will start at 09:45 a.m. The Pilot book notes that we should be waiting at the entrance at least one hour before slack, since there will be a crowd waiting to pass. Everyone waits for the waters to calm then the mad rush to get through starts.
It is only eight nm up to the lighthouse at the southern end of the Narrows, a distance that we normally would cover in 1 ½ hours with ease. But we will have the current against us so we will not be able to make our normal speed of five to six knots. We’re starting early, allowing ourselves three hours to get there.
As we approach the Narrows, we can see other boats beginning to line up, already two nm out. Some have dropped anchor while they wait, the rest make slow circles (like us). By the time slack water arrives, we will be fifteen boats lying on the south end of the Narrows.
At the entrance to Seymour Narrows lies Ripple Rock, known for the many and strong maelstroms generated there. Ripple Rock was a huge rock that lay just under the surface and caused many shipwrecks and many sailors to drown. In 1958, Canada decided to remove the rock by blowing it up. The explosion was supposedly the largest non-nuclear explosion ever on the planet (man-made). I’m not sure if that is true, but the remains of the rock are still here and now cause a multitude of maelstroms. Even at slack water, there will be significant turbulence, so we will need to keep our eyes open and stay as far away from Ripple Rock as possible.
The passage becomes a non-event. We have timed the passage perfectly. Fifteen minutes before slack water, we make our way to the entrance and can see we have two knots of current running against us. At exactly 09:45 as we cross into the Narrows, the current drops to -0- knots and we sail right through. Seymour Narrows are nowhere near as narrow as Dodd Narrows was, but we still see a lot of turbulence and whirlpools as we pass.
After the Narrows, we continue up Discovery Passage and make the turn into Johnstone Strait, another part of the Inside Passage that is infamous for making life hard on poor sailors like us. Here the Strait runs between high mountains, is narrow, and points directly northwest into the wind, creating a tunnel wind. Since we, like all sailors, want to have the current running with us, we end up in the classic situation, a six-knot current running against a 15-knot wind.
Otherwise known as VERY uncomfortable sailing due to the chop raised by the wind against current.
For once though, Vinni and Carsten have caught a good weather window. We have a light breeze coming from the southwest so the wind and current are aligned – no chop – and we have a wonderful sail the entire day. We even have sun, although it is cold.
By late afternoon, we have reached our anchorage for the night, Port Neville. Don’t let the name, PORT fool you. Calling something up here PORT usually means that once upon a time, there was a house or similar here and it is possible to anchor safely. There is a house at the entrance to Port Neville and even an old and decrepit dock. The Pilot book notes that there once was store here, but the settlement has been abandoned. As we sail past on our way into the bay, we can see that someone now lives here. There is a small motorboat at the dock and the main house seems to have been fixed up.
No matter for us – we can’t tie up at the dock (seven-foot keel), and have no need to go on land. Further in, we find a magnificent anchorage, ungodly beautiful. It has been over 1 ½ years since we dropped anchor and we need to familiarize ourselves with the procedure (meaning relearn it), but after some thought, down goes the hook and sets without issue. Look at this video and see just how idyllic an anchorage can be.
A few nm before we got to Port Neville (an anchorage we will visit on our return back down the Inside Passage), we passed Helmcken Island which lies in the middle of Johnstone Strait. The Pilot book once again warns us that here we can expect major turbulence and not so few whirlpools. The Pilot book wasn’t exaggerating. Capri dances like mad and we hand steer our way through the many whirlpools and cross currents. Fortunately, the Strait is wide here and there is plenty of room.
As I noted before, we have a two-day weather window, so despite the beauty of Port Neville and our desire to stay, we are up at sunrise (damned early this far north) and after the first cup of coffee/tea, we hoist the anchor and make our way back out into Johnstone Strait.
Forty nm later, we reach Port NcNeill. The gods of weather have promised a couple of days of truly nasty stuff so we have booked two nights. The two nights are not only due to the weather but also due to the now tailless cats that are screaming down in the engine room. We’re uncertain of what to do. We need to be in Port Hardy tomorrow if we are to catch the weather window for the crossing of Queen Charlotte Sound. Queen Charlotte Sound is ocean sailing and not to be trifled with this far north. You DO NOT want to be on Queen Charlotte Sound in nasty weather. If we don’t go now, we will have to wait at least a week for another window.
Carsten has been racking his brain and decides some V-belt dressing will help. V-belt dressing is an old-school remedy for slipping fan belts. We don’t have a fan belt – we have a serpentine belt and they never slip (says the theory). The stores are closed but early the next morning, Carsten is waiting at the auto parts store. The dressing helps for a while, but the cats start screaming again after only a few minutes. The belt dressing has made a pigsty of the flywheel and generator wheel, so Carsten sprays some degreaser on the belt to try to clean thing up.
TA-DAA! As my dear husband is wont to say. The degreaser immediately silences the cats.
We make sail for Port Hardy, the last stop on Vancouver Island. Here, just at the entrance, our old friend the humpback whale spouts, slaps the water with its huge fin and raises it tail as it dives. All just to say “Welcome”. We get a Deja-vu of our out-of-this-world experiences at Maui and the whales we saw there two years ago.
May 26 and it is still dark out (meaning it is VERY early in the morning) as we make ready for sea. As soon as it is light enough, we take in our lines and make our way out in the morning mist. It isn’t possible to sail at night up here. There is drifting timber everywhere in the water, including whole logs that have been lost overboard from the barges transporting them. The person at the helm has to keep a keen eye out for logs, trees and big branches the entire time you are sailing. Seeing them is a challenge, even in daylight – impossible at night.
Hitting a log might not knock a hole in Capri’s hull, but it certainly could cause major damage. If one got under the boat, it would damage our rudder or our propeller. No one, not even the aluminum boats, sail at night. The lumber industry is big here in Canada, outside every harbor there is a sawmill throwing up yellow wood dust that settles on Capri and makes her look dirty as all get out.
Ok, no more complaining.
At 4:45, the dawn has begun to break and the sky has lightened enough that we can sail. As we make our way across the bay at Port Hardy, the sea otters surround us, eating while lying on their backs. One otter has a baby on its stomach and is feeding it. They are shy and as we near, they dive so we haven’t been able to get a good picture of them.
We checked and rechecked the weather forecasts before sailing out to the “Queen”. There are two lighthouses, Egg Island and Pine Island that send weather reports every six hours, showing wind and swells. We’ve studied them until our eyes blurred and everything tends to say that we will have an easy crossing. Light winds and swells running about 3 feet. If that holds true, we will have a perfect crossing.
In Port Angeles, I spoke with one of the Alaskan tourist boat skippers who said that he had crossed Queen Charlotte in placid waters, but had also been forced to turn back because of dangerous conditions. Even his sixty-foot motorboat was not capable of crossing.
Only a fool does not respect the sea.
The winds and swells come directly in over the continental shelf out in the Alaskan Gulf, rise up and pound across Queen Charlotte Sound. When nasty, they are not to be fooled with.
The weather gods (for some strange reason), have decided to be merciful and smile on little Capri. The crossing is like pushing a rubber duck around in the bathtub. At Cape Caution and Egg Island, the swells rise to about 4 feet but the period (time between the swells) is over eight seconds so they are just gentle rollers. They come at us from the side, so we rock and roll a bit, but we’ve experienced much worse. As the afternoon ends, we enter Fritz Hugh Sound and pass Rivers Inlet. We are now safely across Queen Charlotte Sound and need to find an anchorage.
We’ve sailed sixty-three nm this day and we drop our hook behind Green Island, an idyllic anchorage right out of a calendar picture. We’ve just managed to set the hook when it begins to rain.
We’re now in the northern Inside Passage and there are no towns here – but Carsten will tell that story.