Northern Canada

We crossed Queen Charlotte Sound in what passes for magnificent weather in these parts (read – there was no storm).  We had decided to anchor up in a small well-protected cove that is, funnily enough, named “Safe Cove”.  As you might guess, “Safe Coves” are not found everywhere up here and it probably isn’t named as such without a good reason.

There are many considerations to be looked at when you anchor up here.  A cove may give great protection when the winds are in the west or the east, but de downright a nasty place to be if the winds come from the north or south – or vice versa.  Safe Cove lies at the end of a very narrow channel and is well-protected from all winds except those that come from the east.

Because of our great seamanship (just kidding), we managed to cross Queen Charlotte Sound faster than expected. This meant that we could continue onto an anchorage that was recommended to us bay another cruiser – Green Island.

Green Island is supposedly more than extremely beautiful and chances are good that we can have it all to ourselves.

Obviously, we’re not going to pass an opportunity like that up, so we continued onwards the seven extra nautical miles and started in through the pass to get behind Green Island.  The pass is narrow (as expected) and had more twists and turns that a bag full of pretzels.  Rocks and reefs to all sides and in front.

Oh what joy!

As we slalom our way through the reefs, I catch a glimpse of a motorboat nestled behind the trees in the basin behind the island.  We hoped to have it all to ourselves, but nice neighbors aren’t a problem – as long as there aren’t too many of them.

Everything involved with sailing is easier said (or written) than done, and the channel in requires our full attention.  One to steer and one to keep a sharp eye on the depth gauge.  The basin, and the channel, look much bigger on the chart than they are in reality.  We manage to sail in without mishap and can see that the motorboat has dropped anchor in a little arm stretching off the basin.  They will not bother us at all.  We find a good spot off to one side of the basin and let the hook drop.  Once we turn off our engine, the peace and quiet is deafening.  Not a sound, only the caw of a Bald Eagle high up in the heavens breaks the silence.  A half hour after we let the chain out, it begins to rain, so we retire down to the salon.

An hour later, I look out the window and see that another motorboat is busy setting his anchor on the other side of the basin.  Another hour later, a sailboat arrives and finds a spot he can drop his anchor.

Hmmm.  So much for undisturbed peace and quiet in the middle of the Canadian wilderness.  Well, it doesn’t really matter.  It is raining so we can’t sit in the cockpit.  That night we sleep like the dead.  There is no wind in this little anchorage and the tides rises and falls very slowly – nothing to disturb here.

The next morning, in a slight drizzle, we depart for Bella Bella.  There are two Bella Bella’s.  The new Bella Bella and the old Bella Bella.  The new one is a First Nation settlement and the old one is a Coast Guard Station.  We are not allowed to anchor up in front of the new one, that is reserved for the locals and no one is allowed to anchor up in front of the Coast Guard Station.  We are forced to sail the couple of miles further to Shearwater, a small marina out here in the middle of nowhere.

Shearwater is almost full.  A Waggoner Regatta is here.  Waggoner is the company that publishes cruising guides for Canada and other places, apparently they also arrange Regattas that sail from Seattle to Ketchikan.  All the participants are big trawlers, except one sailboat.  Shearwater is owned and operated by the local First Nation tribe and there isn’t that much here.  A small grocery store, a laundry, showers and a restaurant.  The showers were big, clean and had lots of hot water – otherwise we didn’t use much – but we could get rid of our garbage (always a problem).

The next morning, the Regatta took off and we followed a half hour later.  We were making for Rescue Bay, a supposedly safe and protected bay, but later in the day we could see on our AIS that the Regatta were all in there anchored. 

That’s their right, of course, but Vinni and I did not sail all the way up here just to lie amongst 10 other boats.  We want to enjoy solitude with no one around us, except the wildlife, bears, dear, wolves etc.

Ergo, it is time for us to go gunkholing.  Gunkholing means looking for little out of the way anchorages, that no one else has found – so you are entirely on your own.  Studying the charts we can see that there are two small bays tucked in behind Arthur Island.  The water looks deep enough – but we’ll know more when we sail in.  The inlet is narrow and there are several rock reefs marked (meaning that there surely several that are not marked).  It will be wonderful to anchor there if it holds what it promises.

We turn to port by the island and suddenly here splashes on both sides of the boat.  A couple of dophins have come to say “welcome”.  They splash around the boat, showing off their acrobatics, diving and swimming directly at the boat only to dive at the last possible second and go under our keel.  They surface on the other side and wait for our applause and appreciation.  They continue their antics for several minutes and we slow to a stop so they can play.  Once we begin our entrance into the inlet, we won’t have time or attention to spare.

They tire of us and swim away and we point our bows in behind the island.  The first little bay is too small – there simply isn’t swinging room for us there.  The charts show there should be, but our seven-foot keel is a limitation that we don’t want to disregard.-

The next bay is made for Capri and after circling around for a few minutes, I let the chain roll out over the bows in six meters of water.  It is high tide right now and the Pilot book says that we will have up to 3-meters of tidal range – so at low tide we should still have 80-90 centimeters under the keel.

We are here completely alone.  There is no noise except the sound of rushing water from a waterfall hidden in the trees.  It isn’t raining and that means we can enjoy a cold G&T in the cockpit.  There are bears and wolves, amongst others, in these woods and they do come down to the water’s edge at dusk and in the early morning hours.  We hope to see them – but it doesn’t happen.  There are Bald Eagles everywhere.  Our dolphin friends have deserted us.

It doesn’t get any better than this.

View from our gunkhole

Next morning we sigh deeply.  We could easily spend a few days here enjoying this, but we need to keep moving if we are to get to Alaska.  We haul up the hook and thread our way out through the reefs.

We have a lot of nautical miles to cover as we are sailing all the way to Khutze Inlet.  Khutze Inlet is 5 nm long and all the way at the head of the inlet is a waterfall that is said to be both impressive and best of all, you can anchor right in front of it.

I haven’t described the landscape we are sailing through yet.

What can I say?

Impressive, indescribable, Beautiful, Unique.  As usual, I’ve run out of adjectives – words are poverty-stricken.  It is inimitable.  The mountain crowns tower above us, snow encapsulating the tops.  The sides vary from closely wooded to barren rock.  Waterfalls cascade hundreds of feet down to finally foam out in the channels.

Misty morning
Waterfalls are everywhere
Even the rainbows are brighter up here

The straits are so narrow that we regularly lose connection to our GPS satellites and AIS.  They return after a few seconds.  WE see Sea otters, seals and even a sea lion in the water as we sail past.  Whales and their spouts are everywhere.  Sometimes it is clearly a mother and her calf.  First, there is a big spout (momma) and then a few seconds later, a little spout right alongside (calf). 

We see a couple of fishing boats and one cruise ship – otherwise we sail alone.

Late that afternoon we turn to starboard and enter Khutze Inlet, making our way the 5nm to head of the inlet.  The waterfall is there and while it is nice, it does not live up to the advance billing we have had.  The anchorage is terrible.  We can’t anchor up in front of the falls as a small island has been created by the rocks and sediment the falls have brought down from the mountainside.  The bay is too small and too deep.  We try to drop the hook in a tiny shelf, but we can’t get it to set correctly in the slimy mud.

Nothing for it – we have to sail back out to the end of the inlet.  There was a sandbar there we can anchor on.  We sailed back the 5nm and dropped the hook at six p.m.  During the next hour, two other boats acme and anchored alongside us.  It is a far piece to the next proper anchorage.

We are up very early the next morning to catch the tide running north.

The tidal currents are important when sailing up here.  If you have the tide running with you, you coast along on the transportation belt and gain a couple of knots speed.  If it is running against you, you lose a couple of knots and burn a heck of a lot of diesel.

The tide changes direction, as you all know, every six hours, so we have a “window” of six hours to get anywhere.  Getting up at three in the morning to catch the tide at first light is not unusual up here.  That is one of the reasons Vinni and hit our bunk at eight o’clock in the evening (that and the fact we are getting older).

We were up early, but the other two boats were also weighing anchor at the same time.  Our goal today was Klewnuggit Inlet, our last stop before reaching Prince Rupert, the last anchorage in Canada.  Alaska lies just across Dixon Entrance.

A little history.  When I went to school in the US as a kid, I learned that Lewis and Clark, along with their Indian guides were the first Europeans that crossed the North American continent and saw the Pacific.  One of their guides was a woman named Sacagawea.  Sacagawea was Shoshone, but had been kidnapped by the Hidatsa tribe when she was twelve and adopted into the tribe.  When Lewis and Clark made camp nearby, she ended up as a guide for their expedition.  Sacagawea was of invaluable assistance to Lewis and Clark.  She spoke several of the languages that they would meet as they met up with other tribes, in addition, she knew the hand language used the Indians when they did not share a common language.  Lewis and Clark gave much of the credit for the success of their expedition when they wrote their journals.  Thney reached the mouth of the Columbia River on November 15, 1806

So much for what I learned in school in the 1960’s.  They weren’t the first.  That honor belongs to a Canadian explorer, Alex Mackenzie who crossed Canada and arrived at the Pacific on July 22, 1793.  He etched his name, the date and that he arrived overland on a stone that still stands.

So much for history.

Late in the afternoon, we neared Klewnuggit Inlet.  Unfortunately, our following current had run its course and we now had several knots of current running against us.  It took us over an hour tin sail the last couple of nm.  Thereafter we had almost six miles of inlet to cover.  We can’t complain – the sail in was magnificent and when we turned in behind the last little island, a larger bay opened in front of us.  Far down at the other end, there were two other boats, but we anchored far away from them and we didn’t even notice they were there.

It was almost too heart-breakingly beautiful to leave and it was with a heavy heart that we weighed anchor the next morning.  All things must have an end and we have now crossed this part of Canada from south to north.  Tonight we will be in Price Rupert.  Thereafter we will cross the feared Dixon Entrance and then we will be in the United States again, this time Alaska.

We called Prince Rupert on the VHF and we neared and they assigned us a slip (you can’t take for granted that you will get a slip – the marina isn’t that big).  Nice clean restrooms and showers and after a heavy scrub, Vinni and I felt like we were new again.

We went out to eat and then hit the bunk.  We have problems with our engine – the serpentine belt continues to squeal and I simply can’t figure out what is wrong (this will become a long and complicated story).  The squealing began after we drove the engine at extremely high rpms when we were on our way to Comox.  I’ve worked on it each day since then.  I changed the idler wheel to no avail.  I’ve changed the serpentine belt (we carry a spare).  I’ve hesitated to change the generator and the waterpump (we have spares).  That will be the last thing I do.  The only thing that seems to help is to spray a little degreaser on the belt – the squealing stops immediately.  But we can’t continue to spray degreaser on it – we have to find the cause of the squealing.  As a last resort, I try mounting the old serpentine belt again and the squealing ceased.  We reved up the engine – no squealing.  I canceled the diesel mechanic we had on order for the next morning.

The morning dawned with fog so thick you could cut it with a knife.  We decided to stay a couple of days.  That is, just until I spoke with the harbormaster on my way to the bakery.  He said we should hurry up and leave, since this was the best weather window we would get for the next week or so.  I turned around, went back to Capri and told Vinni that we should sail right away.  The harbormaster had also said that we could use Venn Passage, a shortcut that Vinni has been nervous about taking because the Pilot book says ti can be dangerous – especially in the fog.

We fired up the engine and the three cats started screeching again – just as if I were ripping their tails off.


Ketchikan is a bigger town and there must be a competent diesel mechanic there.  We decide to sail and continue to spray degreaser.  I’ve also decided to change the generator when we get to Ketchikan – that way we know it isn’t the cause.

We sailed out into the thick fog with our radar going full blast, foghorn in one hand and made our way towards the infamous Venn Passage.

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