Man, I love the Broughtons.
I am playing catch-up here since I haven’t had time or energy to write much. This might read more like an itinerary than a blog entry but c’est la vie. When last I put finger to keyboard we were in Big Bay on Stuart Island. And so I start again from there.
Big Bay Redux
We woke up and cast off. Just outside of the Bay is the doubleheader of Gillard & Dent Rapids. We were off early, so we milled a bit and watched the braver, more powerful powerboats go through. Then we were off. As per usual, transiting the rapids at slack was a non-event and we were soon motoring away.
We had decided not to push it, so we went as far as the Greene Point Rapids, just outside of Blind Channel, and decided to anchor out in “Cordero Cove.” This area marks the crossover point from the Dreamspeaker’s “Desolation Sound” book and their “Broughtons” book, so we were officially on our way.
We dropped anchor amidst the bull kelp in the SE bay behind the Cordero Island. This was our first real wilderness anchorage and it was lovely. Later in the evening two more boats joined us there. I believe the sun even came out a bit and we enjoyed a serene evening.
The next morning, in the mist and coolness, we transited the Blind Channel Rapids, which are nothing to speak of, and stopped at the Blind Channel Resort to fuel up. A quick splash-and-dash and we waited off in the channel for R Shack Island to do the same. Then it was back through the Blind Channel Rapids and north through the Greene Point Rapids at right about slack.
This was the first time we had spotted Comme Je Trouve, an American-flagged, 50- or 60-foot Ocean Alexander (BIG, luxurious powerboat). But it wasn’t the last. They were tied up at the docks with a lot of other big yachts and I noticed them mostly because French is an odd language for a U.S. boat.
A bit later that day, after we had made our way halfway down Chancellor Channel, we decided to turn north and transit the Whirlpool Rapids even though it was quite a few hours before slack. It was an ebb tide so the current was going with us and we hit 10 knots of SOG (speed over ground) at one point. Given we were doing around 5.5 through the water, that’s quite a boost. We were followed through by another sailboat, a Catalina 40 or 41 called Oceanus III, who passed us a bit later and beat us to Port Harvey.
We had gone north through Whirlpool to minimize our Johnstone Strait time and to see some new territory. But in the end, Johnstone was foggy but benign. We even raised our sails and did some wing on wing in the fairly calm SE winds.
I couldn’t, however, get my radar to work, which was a bit of a pain in the fog. But I stuck close to R Shack and there was no issue. Eventually we dropped our sails and motored up Port Harvey on East Cracroft toward the Port Harvey Marina
We had been hoping to top up water and batteries here, but the generator was out, water was low, and they were no longer taking garbage. This, except for the power, became a theme. Tied up on our finger was the Comme Je Trouve and Sue and John from Oceanus III. Sue and John are great and friendly people, and we talked boating for a while. They said not to worry about Whirlpool (they had heard our discussion on the radio) because as long as you have the current on your side it’s rarely an issue.
The docks were full, but Dave had made reservations so we were good, although R Shack Island did get stuck out on the end with the big powerboats. We decided to indulge in pizza at the Red Shoe restaurant. We had missed it last year, so wanted to give it a try. The menu rotates so we were lucky to hit pizza night. You have to pre-order so they know what to make. The pizza was yummy!
The next morning we were up and off. Our destination was only a kilometer or so away as the crow flies, but 12 nm by boat. Still, a short day. To get to Lagoon Cove you need to transit Chatham Channel and the Blowhole. Chatham Channel is a long, narrow channel with a deep centre and shallow banks. To successfully navigate it you use the range markers at either end. Range markers consist of two offset markers. As long as the two markers line up, you are on course. As you deviate from your course, the markers no longer line up and you know you need to correct. It’s pretty simple but fairly nerve-wracking nonetheless.
The Blowhole, despite its ominous name, is simply a narrow channel. Not too many rocks and lots of depth.
Once again, tied up at Lagoon Cove was Comme Je Trouve. I had an opportunity to ask about their boat name and it turns out it is the family motto. I’ve forgotten their last name but it was distinctly English. I might just look it up when I get reliable internet.
Lagoon Cove usually hosts a prawn happy hour, but someone had donated some salmon so they were planning on a full-fledged potluck. We weren’t up to it so bowed out and enjoyed a quiet evening. Dave and Margaret, on the other hand, were “auditioned” for the role of buddy-boat by another couple but they had to demure because they were stuck with us (just kidding).
When we set off the next morning, Dave suggested a spot just down Clio Channel called Potts Lagoon. It has two bays and lots of anchoring room. As we headed away from Lagoon I glanced over my shoulder and saw the spout of a whale in the entrance to Blowhole. Maybe that’s why it carried that particular moniker. I saw it two or three times more, but we were too far away to see anything else. But it was definitely a whale. Then it was a short day of motoring and soon enough we were swinging in the larger of the two coves.
While we were anchored there, Dave unfortunately found out that his main water tank was empty, or so he thought. After searching for the the problem he could find no obvious cause and then discovered his other tank was dry too. This was a bit too much coincidence. Further investigation revealed that the tanks were still, in fact, full, but his water pump had given out, leading to a lack of water flow. A few emails and phone messages later and he found one in Port McNeill. He also found that Pierre of Pierre’s at Echo Bay was actually in Port McNeill and was more than willing to pick it up and transport it to Echo Bay. Problem solved, and our next destination determined.
Leslie went out for a long row and immediately went out of sight. Forty-five minutes later I still couldn’t see her and was thinking of calling in the marines. But soon enough I spotted her rowing down the small channel to the south of us and she arrived safe and sound back at the boat.
The second day, we unshipped the outboards and went for a bit of a tour of the coves and islets. Turns out Comme Je Trouve had joined us but had decided to anchor in the smaller of the two coves. We jokingly decided we should ask them where we were all going next. We stopped off on a small barnacle and shell beach and picked shells and watched the waves lap up before we headed back to the boats. The water was super calm in Clio Channel so Leslie and I opened up the throttle on the 8HP on Laughing Baby‘s transom and zoomed around for a few minutes. It was the first time we had been able to really open her up. Fun.
THe quickest way to Pierre’s is through Beware Passage. It features tons of rocks and shoals and the prescribed route is a zigzag through some small islets and narrow channels. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, the narrow bits were a breeze compared to the fairly wide channel out in the middle of the passage that took you between two hidden rocks. You have to put a lot of faith into your chart plotter and chart-reading skills. But we all survived the transit accident free.
A little later we stopped in the small bay on Village Island. This is the site of one of the last big potlaches in the 1920s after they were banned by the government. Most of the regalia and ceremonial accoutrements were confiscated and only recently (in the 80s) returned to the natives. They are now housed in a museum — the U’Mista Cultural Center — in Alert Bay where we hope to visit them later in the trip. Margaret also had a relative who taught in the village so she — and so do we — wants to come back. But the water pump calls…
As we left Village Island we crossed Knight Inlet heading for Spring Passage and just off to starboard I spotted an orca sticking his massive head straight up out of the water. We turned towards him and idled the engine. There were two, a large one and a small one. After we got a bit closer I turned off the motor and we sat on the bow and watched them spyhop and swim for 10 or 15 minutes before they moved off down the Inlet.
It was amazing and our first orca sighting in the wild. All because Dave’s waterpump gave out. What an awesome opportunity.
Pierre’s at Echo Bay
We pulled into Pierre’s and tied up. Moorage is pretty cheap up here but power and things like showers and laundry are outrageous. Justifiably so since it all needs to be generated. So we decided to forgo power to save some cash since we had motored quite a bit and had hot water and full batteries. The water here is iffy; it is actually brown from the cedar tannins in the lake, so we didn’t top off the tanks. Garbage was limited to pop cans and wine bottles, so we couldn’t get rid of any trash either.
Dave picked up his pump and got it installed. We decided to stay just the one night and come back next week for Pierre’s famous pig roast. It was on the tick list as a ‘must do’ so we had to pick a Saturday. This way we could head out for a week and then swing back as we slowly headed to McNeill. Turns out that weekend is also Dave and Margaret’s 45th anniversary.
Lady Boot Cove
Lady Boot Cove (so named because it is shaped like a lady’s boot) was also on a few people’s wish list so, since we were looking for a few days’ anchorage in the Broughton Archipelago proper, we decided to make it our first choice. There was also Joe Cove and Waddington Bay as backups if it proved to be full.
Heading down Fife Sound in the mist, Dave decided the wind was good enough to sail and Leslie followed suit. But unfortunately when we went to pull out the mainsail, we tugged on the out furling line instead of the outhaul and jammed the sail. We then proceeded to make it worse. So for the next 20 minutes while Dave tacked back and forth we wrestled with the jam in the main, slowly moving it up the mast until it was almost unjammed except for the last 12 inches. Unfortunately that meant we couldn’t bring the sail back in at all. For a brief moment, I thought we were going to have to sail to McNeill, because we wouldn’t be able to anchor with the full main still up.
Eventually I decided to just drop the sail. This is something you don’t do with a furling main unless you intend to take the sail right off. And I’d never done it, or even seen it done, but what the hell, a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do. It came down ok, although my flaking job was not up to anyone’s minimum standard. Once the jam was within reach, a pair of pliers fixed that problem. Then all we had to do was haul it back up again, which also proved to be a learning lesson. All in all we got it done successfully, but I would rather not have learned in the middle of a foggy channel. Next time we will plan our screw-ups better.
We got it all fixed just as R Shack dropped her sails and few miles of motoring further on we reached the cove. There was only one boat there and we figured we could squeeze two in more pretty easily. The big issue was the commercial crab traps that limited our swinging room.
We dropped first and after some fussing were comfortable with our spot. *R Shack didn’t like their first location so up-anchored and moved further out before trying again. A little later that evening another boat actually squeezed in between us, so I guess there was room for four.
For reasons that I will likely talk about later, this was a very sad day for us. That little anchorage at Eden Island will be one of those touchstones we all collect But I am so glad we decided to stay an extra day.
The next day we once again broke out the outboards and decided to explore. One thought was to head to Joe Cove and see what it was like. It was under a mile as the crow flies, but turned out to be a bit too far for comfort by dinghy. About a quarter of the way there, we spotted two white midden beaches on the far shore of Insect Island and altered course.
As we approached we spotted a few kayaks and a sign welcoming us and asking us to respect the First Nations land we were about to enter. Midden beaches are, in case you don’t know, a site where the natives over hundreds of years gathered to harvest and eat clams and oysters and whatnot. The white beaches are made up of millions of pieces of broken shell and bone. It’s really quite incredible.
We tied up the dinghies alongside the kayaks and canoe and scrambled up a small trail in the dense shoreline growth that opened up to reveal a gorgeous cedar and fir forest. It had been logged some time in the past, but it still retained a few giants and all of the mysterious beauty of the west coast. We strolled along hugging trees and marveling at the lush growth and generally soaked in one of the world’s greatest marvels: a healthy and lush ecosystem thriving. It was tremendously peaceful and calming.
We chatted with a pair of canoe-ers (women) whom I had seen a couple of days earlier at Pierre’s They had a great canvas cover for the canoe that kept everything dry and reduced windage while they were traveling. Almost like the bibs that kayakers used. We also chatted to the kayakers who were camped there. They had come all the way from Telegraph Cove and had seen all sort sorts of wildlife like whales and bears.
We stayed until we had drunk our fill and then clambered back down to our tenders and pushed them off the beach. These are the places that make a visit to the Broughtons so special.
We followed the shore of Eden Island for a bit more, marveling at the trees and huge pieces or weather-worn granite, before we headed back to the cove and our boats.
Water was becoming an issue so we decided to head for Sullivan Bay. Last year when we had stopped they had super clear water and since the sun had been gone, we wanted some power for the water heater.
It was another foggy day as we headed down the last part of Clio Channel out into the Queen Charlotte Sound. We had opted to go that route despite the fog for the off chance we would get some wind.
We were disappointed. At one point I saw some ripples and the wind gauge was registering 6 knots and climbing, but it proved futile and we had to furl everything in again. Still our patience paid off as we decided to stay outside the Polkinghorne Islands and eventually we were treated to 10-12 knots, even if it was on the nose. Out came the sails, off went the motors, and we had a really nice sail for a little under an hour.
While sailing, I thought I spotted a big splash way ahead in the distance. A little while later I was positive I saw a spout of water. I even had Leslie staring ahead, but we saw no other signs.
But a couple of tacks later, right after we started the engines and furled the jib, I spotted out of the corner of my eye the black mass of a humpback breaching dead ahead. At the same time the radio went off with Dave yelling “Whales!” There were indeed two humpbacks feeding off the rocky islets at the entrance to Wells Passage. A huge flock of seabirds indicated where they, and presumably their dinner, were and it was easy to track them. We shut down our motors and tried to use the main sail to keep us on station.
We were treated to the sight of two huge creatures bobbing and spouting, oblivious to anything but their dinner. Leslie was beside herself as she knelt on the bow. It was another one of those gifts. We watched for over a half an hour as they followed whatever they were eating until they slowly moved away. We fired up the engines and prepared to motor up Wells, but as we looked back, the show continued with bigger breaches and lots of incredible displays of their massive and distinctive tails. Leslie was absolutely flabbergasted that we would be heading the other way rather than spending the day just watching.
An hour and a bit later and we rounded the small island that protects the Sullivan Bay Marina. Cody was there to grab our lines and welcome us there. We also found our old friends Comme Je Trouve and Oceanus III tied up there. Unfortunately when we had been in Sullivan Bay in June last year the water came from the spring. This year the spring dried up in early June and they were on lake water. But we had to fill, so now we are drinking bottled water until at least Port McNeill. (But at least we can wash dishes and shower.)
We missed the prime rib at the restaurant on Friday, but they were promising ribs on Sunday, so we took a vote and decided to hang for three days. It would be a nice break, and Sullivan Bay is a great place with really friendly people. Chris and Deb, the managers, are ex-pat Albertans (Debbie is from Radway, AB, and has some distant connection with the magnificent C.) and run a great place with lots of fun and friendly thrown in. Deb even offered me a job next year: free power and moorage and $1800 a month. It’s really tempting. The whole place runs on just five staff and they keep hopping from May to September.
We didn’t do much for the next few days. I went to a couple of happy hours and chatted. They have a nightly golf tournament where each boat gets two balls and you tee off a platform to a floating hole. Get it in the hole and you win free moorage. Closest shot of the night gets a free turnover. I won a turnover two nights out of three. It pays to be a bad golfer: the weirdness of the situation doesn’t throw you.
We met a lot of friendly people, Americans mostly. The Broughtons are full of both Americans and powerboats. Canadians and sailors are a distinct pair of minorities. And there are some truly magnificent yachts with 50 to 70 feet being pretty common and a few into the 80s and 90s.
We chatted a lot with Sue and John from Oceanus III, and Sue promised us some salmon since we weren’t fisherman; it seems they had a freezer full. But lucky us, John caught a big spring salmon on Sunday morning and we got some fresh that we will save for Monday. Very generous.
Fishing is huge here. The kids spend the day on the docks catching small halibut, hake and something else. It’s all catch and release, but the one kid we watched must have caught 15 or 20 fish the day we chatted with him. As for the adults, well, the tenders on these motor yachts are generally full-fledged fishing boats and they go out everyday.
Sunday night was Rib Night and we joined Dave and Margaret for a nice sit-down meal. It was delicious. There was a bit of excitement that evening as an older woman fell and ripped open her lip. Margaret, a retired nurse, cleaned it up, but Chris decided to take her into Port McNeill just to be safe. It’s pretty close with the souped-up powerboat they use. Turns out it was the best decision as the woman’s injury would likely have scarred pretty badly if left to heal on its own.
The next morning (the 17th) we fueled up and cast off. Time for a few days swinging on the hook. We will either head to Turnbull Cove or go a bit further and brave Kenneth Passage into Mackenzie Inlet. Then it will be time to head back towards Pierre’s, probably stopping at Shawl Bay.
And that is that. All I need now is some internet.