After voyage’s colorful finale, home are the sailors, home from the sea

Spinnakers propel northbound sailboats as Osprey plows southward through British Columbia’s Gulf Islands.

A LOT CAN HAPPEN in a week at sea, including the final miles of a long and memorable voyage to Alaska aboard a chartered 37-foot Nordic Tug. Here’s a recap.

Saturday, July 30

To paraphrase a classic cruiser’s mantra: Another beautiful (hot) day in paradise. Melanie Cove, in Desolation Sound, to Lund, B.C., via the Bliss Estates dock, where we dropped Catherine Collins to catch a seaplane back to Seattle.

Three good things this day:

(1) First thing, I took a thermos jug of my Midnight Eclipse coffee over to Carol H. and friends next door on Glorybe. It was lovely to get Hasse’s coffee-jones smile of appreciation again! She reciprocated with a generous gift of dark roast for me to take home. Had a tour of Glorybe’s compact cabin. At 36 feet, she’s a foot shorter than Osprey, but 4 fewer feet in beam (nine vs. 13). The narrower width makes a massive difference in interior space. But I loved the clever design that maximizes what’s there. At the pilothouse and navigation table, I (at 6 feet 2 inches tall) could stand without hitting my head. I loved how, when you step down a couple steps toward the bow, the nav table becomes the ceiling for an efficient, pocket-size galley. Across the cabin, the head is like a little phone booth, innovatively equipped with a composting toilet. Forward were single bunks on each side and a v-berth. The roomy stern cockpit has a hardtop cover that makes it a living space fit for rainy days or sunshine. A nifty old boat!

(2) I got to know Catherine a bit more during the 45-minute trip to her seaplane dock. From Osprey’s rooftop we spotted a school of Dall’s porpoises, a delight for her. She works in her organization’s office, working on grant applications and applying policies and such for the Adventuress, and doesn’t get out on the water as much as she’d like. I’m glad we met, and that she got a taste of small-vessel cruising.

(3) At the Lund, B.C., marina, I grilled Beyond Meat burgers for dinner. Always a treat. Also made coleslaw from my own new made-up recipe: 2 cups cabbage (mix of green and purple), sliced and diced; ½ cup of mayonnaise, or to taste; 2 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar; 1 tablespoon lemon juice; 1 tablespoon maple syrup; ½ cup chopped walnuts. Add ½ cup diced apple if you have it. Pretty tasty.

Sunday, July 31

From Lund, B.C. to Skerry Bay, Lasqueti Island

Good things:

(1) Easy, blessedly breezy (for cooling us off) passage after another beastly hot day.

(2) Barbara M. successfully contacted old friends, brothers Bruce and Gordon Jones, and Gordon’s wife, Kat, who live on remote Skerry Bay on Lasqueti Island. Barbara last saw them in 2007 when she and her family enjoyed a retreat at some off-the-grid cabins on nearby Rabbit Island. When Barbara reached the Joneses by phone, Kat immediately invited us to tie up at their dock, adjacent to their aquaculture pens, and come for dinner. Barbara M. offered to bring a pasta salad with smoked scallops, a raspberry-jam crumble, and wine. Good karma strikes again: As in Meyers Chuck, Alaska, long unseen friends were home and generously receptive to guests dropping in on short notice!

Osprey’s celebrity spokesmodels: Carol Joscelyn, aka C.J (left), and Kathryn Jones, aka Kat, on Lasqueti Island.

(3) A delightful dinner on Gordon and Kat’s deck above Sabine Channel and looking across to Texada Island’s thickly forested, 2,900-foot Mount Shepherd. This entire section of Texada is park land, they tell us. We dined on tasty Honey Mussels, nearly as big as razor clams, a hybrid they developed through their longtime business, Innovative Aquaculture, which previously grew shellfish but now focuses on producing a single-celled green algae, Nannochloropsis oculate, which they sell as food for larval finfish and shellfish. It is also used in cosmetics and “nutriceutical” drinks.

Gordon Jones and a bowl of enormous Honey Mussels from his cove on Lasqueti Island, B.C.

By evening’s end, Kat, a saucy complement to her quiet and seemingly staid husband, Gordon, declared us all to be “Jonesworthy,” a title apparently bestowed on visitors who show up at their dock with good food, wine and (this was key to her) “good stories to share.” I liked her, and her friend C.J., visiting from Calgary where she has an auto-repair shop. (When they all toured Osprey, C.J. was the one who climbed down in the engine room to gawk at the big diesel.)

Bruce was a sometimes elaborate storyteller; his family wryly (but lovingly) referred to the circumstance of being “caught in a Bruce wind.” He told us Lasqueti’s name came from Spanish explorers under the command of Captain Quadra, a chum of Captain George Vancouver.

He also told of an occasion when some high-powered celebrities accompanied by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police boat dropped anchor in the Joneses’ outer cove in summer 2000. One of the Jones household spotted a formidable white-haired woman hanging over the prow of a skiff and declared, “Either that was my aunt or it was Barbara Bush!” Yep. The visitors included the late President George H.W. Bush and the former first lady, along with former British prime minister John Major and his wife. Among notable goings-on was when Mrs. Major went for a jet-ski ride with her arms wrapped around the former prez.

We signed the Joneses’ guest book and discovered that, even in their remote location, visitors had been at their dining table every day of the past week: old friends, people they had rescued as Coast Guard Auxiliary members, and so on. Quite the social whirl in a British Columbian backwater!

Monday, August 1

Lasqueti Island to a small not-to-be-named island in the northern Gulf Islands.

Three good things:

(1) The Jones delegation came down to the dock for a morning tour of Osprey and a friendly send-off. Kat and C.J. posed as celebrity spokesmodels on our bow. At Barbara M.’s suggestion, we made gifts to Gordon and Bruce of our Port Hardy Coast Guard Station caps, which seemed appropriate considering the brothers’ service in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, helping to rescue boaters in trouble. In fact, they told us of a rescue late the previous night when they responded to a call from a stranded boat that had broken a cooling-system belt just after a young teen aboard had caught his leg on a sharp metal edge of a boat step and cut it to the bone. The Joneses took the boat in tow to a dock on a nearby island for which they are caretakers, where they planned to meet a Coast Guard vessel that was responding to the mayday call. But the small dock – posted as private – was taken up by two visiting boats and their partying, drunken occupants, who refused to move even when told there was a medical emergency. One of the women in the party assured Gordon that she’d see he was fired (from his volunteer job) for being rude and, well, demanding.

 The Coast Guard vessel managed to get the boy aboard and transport him to a medical facility, but no thanks to some drunken idiot boaters. Sigh.

(2) Successfully navigated, again, Dodd Narrows, a tricky passage we well remembered as our first major challenge on our northward journey. It looked even narrower than I remembered.

(3) On another good-karma whim, we met up with a couple of long-ago acquaintances of Barbara Marrett’s. At her ex-husband’s suggestion, we stopped in the northern Gulf Islands at a small island owned by the retired founder and CEO of an American marine-supply company. I know the firm well and briefly worked for it years ago, but for privacy concerns I won’t name the businessman or his island.

I had never met the man, who is something of a legend in the boating world. Barbara M. hadn’t seen him or his wife for years, but they once ran in the same circles when Barbara and her ex had a business offering sail-training voyages. We thought it might be fun to invite the couple aboard for a drink. We weren’t certain where to find them on their island, but as we circled it Barbara M. spied a dock with a boat that bore the wife’s name. Aha.

After Barbara M. walked up the dock and spoke into a camera mounted next to a “Private Island, No Trespassing” sign, we waited. There was no sign of a house nearby, just a narrow dirt road leading into woods. About 20 minutes later, the couple came down the dock ramp, recognized Barbara M. and immediately invited us to go for a sail with them in their gaff-rigged daysailer.

As we circumnavigated his island in pleasant breezes on a sunny Monday afternoon I told our host about the 18-foot wooden Jollyboat-class sailboat my father had built that we sailed on Guntersville Lake in Alabama when I was a kid. He talked about learning to sail in small boats. To shade himself from the sun, he wore a giant, broad-brimmed straw hat that he said he’d gotten in Texas. In it, he looked a lot like my brother Doug, for whom I bought a similar hat when we visited him in New Mexico a few years ago.

After the sail, we all walked across the island through madronas and firs, including a few old-growth trees scarred by long-ago fires, to their comfortable small home on a southerly point. Walls of windows offered views of both the sunrise and sunset. The gentleman of the house proved that he could serve a good gin and tonic, which endeared him to me. After nibbling more than one platter of their smoked salmon and cheese, with me talking about my favorite places in Ireland, which they are about to visit, and him sharing stories about his youth working a dude ranch in Wyoming, we parted. I told him I liked working for him way back when, that I thought he ran a good company, and that I was even a stockholder once. He modestly said he hoped I hadn’t lost much money. As we parted, he gave a gentle wave and told me he was glad we had connected. I felt the same way.

Back to the U.S.A., and our home county, as Osprey passes Turn Point Light on Stuart Island.

Tuesday, August 2

Northern Gulf Islands to the San Juans

Three good things:

(1) At 11:40 a.m., after several electronic prompts from the VHF radio, Bill switched it from Canadian mode to U.S.A. mode. “And I can see Stuart Island!” he announced. “Yay!” Barbara M. crowed. At 12:08 we crossed the border in the middle of Boundary Pass. Barbara M. went up to the top deck to lower the Canadian courtesy flag. Bill soon got a phone call from U.S. Customs, responding to his online filing notifying them of our return. After he answered a few quick questions we were cleared for entry. No need to go to a customs dock anymore.

(2) With no required in-person customs inspection, we soon realized we didn’t need to go into Roche Harbor, with all its pretentious superyachts and smelly cigar smokers. So we made a quick U-turn and headed for one of my favorite places: Prevost Harbor on Stuart Island. We found half a dozen open mooring buoys at the marine state park there – unheard of in early August. (Our good karma didn’t fail us.) And Osprey carries a season-pass sticker on the stern, so we didn’t even have to pay the park’s mooring fee. Sweet.

(3) We enjoyed a serene and scenic first night “home,” back in the San Juans we love. The biggest crowds have apparently gone to Desolation Sound!

Wednesday, August 3

Stuart Island to Sucia Island

(1) Knowing that crewmate Bill had felt deprived of an anticipated prime-rib fix at the Roche Harbor restaurant, I schemed a consolation prize and convinced my shipmates to make a brief stop at Roche while I went ashore and bought some of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten: three 10-ounce ribeyes, plus a bottle of nice Sauvignon Blanc, which we would savor on our final night out, at lovely Sucia Island.

Osprey, left, rides a mooring on Echo Bay at Sucia Island. Mount Baker looms.

(2) Nabbed a state-park buoy in Sucia’s scenic Echo Bay, from which we enjoyed a full-frontal view of still-snowy Mount Baker.

(3) I hiked out to see, for my first time, the park bench funded by friends and family and erected in memory of my dear wife, Barbara. A state-parks crew and my friend Daniel Farber installed the bench two weeks ago on a knoll of sea grass and salal overlooking Sucia’s western shore. I couldn’t be happier with the bench and its site.

The expansive view from the Barbara Alice Cantwell Memorial Bench on Sucia Island.

I sit there for a half hour communing with Barbara in spirit. The sun cast myriad sparkles on the Salish Sea below me. A soft breeze cooled me after the 30-minute hike from Echo Bay. The bench is a beautiful, highly functional thing, built for the ages. Cedar-hued planks soaked up the August sun. At the base a tremendous slab of concrete will anchor it in the fiercest winter storms. It provided good back support and was long enough that I could nap on it if I chose. Around it were gnarled firs and cliffs of Sucia sandstone pocked and twisted by the forces of the Earth.

Kayakers pass just below the memorial bench.

Kayakers paddled along the shore below me. We exchanged waves. Three small sailboats full of young people motored into adjacent Shallow Bay. Waves sloshed noisily on a big algae-upholstered rock below that reminded me of a humpback whale just lazily breaking the water’s surface. Miles out, white sails caught the wind. Straight across Boundary Pass was Canada’s hilly Saturna Island. To the left, the stretched, python-like profile of the San Juans’ Waldron. To the right, woodsy Patos Island, and to the far left, the backside of Turtleback Mountain on Orcas Island.

A small Zodiac motored around from nearby Fox Cove and into Shallow Bay, and again I exchanged waves. This is a bench to wave from.

I snacked on nuts, gulped some water from my water bottle and used the rest to clean the bench of a few bird droppings. (It’s a place of rest for all.)

Barbara would have loved this bench. We did good by her.

Following sailboats into Bellingham Bay.

Thursday, August 4

A whirlwind day. Sucia Island to Osprey’s home port: Squalicum Harbor, Bellingham

Three final good things:

(1) Found good currents skirting the northeast side of Orcas Island and made good time around the south side of Lummi Island and into Bellingham Bay. No difficult winds, as had been forecast. A few episodes of 18 knots on the nose, but nothing to faze us seasoned seagoers.

(2) Arrived at the Bellingham dock at 2 p.m., with no waiting at the fuel dock. Final refueling: $1,200, for fuel used from Ketchikan to Bellingham. Total fuel bill for the voyage: $3,700. We motored 353 hours, traveling about 2,000 miles in 10 weeks.

(3) Had a nice reunion with my brother Tom, who had come to take me home after staying overnight with us aboard Osprey at her San Juan Sailing and Yachting dock.

After a pub dinner in town, Barbara M., Bill and I embarked on a near complete packing of all our belongings in preparation for relinquishing the boat by noon the following day. It was an exhausting exercise, well into the evening. The voyage was truly over.

Whales, bears, eagles, totems, snowy peaks, gushing waterfalls, leaping salmon, steaming hot springs, new friends, happy reunions — all branded in our memory. Thank you, Osprey, for the epic journey.

The crew packing for home. From left: Bill Watson, Brian Cantwell and Barbara Marrett.

From delight to Desolation as Osprey dashes for home

One of the cozy anchorages at Prideaux Haven in popular Desolation Sound Provincial Park, British Columbia.

OUR VOYAGE WINDS DOWN, but delight still happens. A day of worthwhile errands and shopping in Port McNeill on July 24, then southward as the “g” word — gale — keeps cropping up in daily forecasts from Environment Canada. Spoiler alert, the good kind: The big winds never caught up with us.

Monday, July 25

Port McNeill to Telegraph Cove, B.C.

We chose to motor 90 minutes southward to get a good attack first thing Tuesday morning on Johnstone Strait, where winds were supposed to kick up by afternoon. And Johnstone Strait is one of those places where you can easily get the living cooties kicked out of you if winds and currents oppose each other.

Three good things:

(1) Nabbed a great spot in Northern Vancouver Island’s cozy and scenic Telegraph Cove, right at the entrance to the tiny marina, in the middle of the hustle and bustle at the height of the summer tourist season in this historical little boardwalk resort. At the General Store, bought a bottle of pinot grigio made from grapes grown in British Columbia’s famed Okanagan Valley and bottled by Wayne Gretzky Estates. If nothing else, the legendary Canadian hockey player has enough money to hire a good winemaker, right?

Osprey takes center stage in the tiny marina at historical Telegraph Cove, B.C. Homes and shops lining the boardwalk date back as far as the 1930s.

(2) Went for a hike to a pretty beach on nearby Bauza Cove. A campground manager warned that the area has the highest concentrations of cougars in North America. “But you never see them,” she says. Hmmm, is that because your cold, dead eyes are being chewed on like Jujubes by a 120-pound cat?

(3) With tourists from Abbotsford, New Westminster and Victoria watching from every vantage point, I consumed some of that hockey wine while sitting in an Adirondack chair on Osprey’s roof, reading a good book and munching chips and salsa. Fell asleep in the sun. Felt like vacation time.

Tuesday, July 26

Telegraph Cove to Shoal Bay, B.C.

Three good things this day:

(1) After hours of creeping through fog on Johnstone Strait, we broke through to a glorious blue-sky, sun-dappled day with glistening water and snow-dotted peaks all around. Winds never kicked up. Current was in our favor for a 50-mile day to pretty Shoal Bay on Cordero Channel, a good staging spot for a morning run of two “rapids,” Dent Rapids and Yaculta Rapids, leading to Calm Channel, a back-door gateway to Desolation Sound. The names of these narrow channels denote the hazards of transiting them in high currents during spring tides, when there are whirlpools and “drop-offs,” which sound like something one might not enjoy in a 37-foot watercraft. But we’re having mild neap tides — not very high, not very low — and the rapids are close enough together that we can get through both at slack water tomorrow, keeping on schedule for our planned arrival at Desolation Sound.

A Yosemite-like promontory soars above Cordero Channel, near Shoal Bay, B.C.

(2) From our anchorage at Shoal Bay, we enjoy a happy hour and dinner on our rooftop with a panoramic view up Phillips Arm with scenic mountains in the distance. Salmon inexplicably leap high out of the water all around us, again and again and again, so many that we laugh. There’s no sign of predators pursuing them. Maybe they are catching the horseflies that occasionally buzz the boat? Go, salmon, go! Also on the water a boating neighbor is trying out his electric hydrofoil surfboard. Surprisingly for me, I find I don’t mind this intrusion on the natural order. Maybe because it is silent.

People and their toys: A fellow boater tries out his electric-powered hydrofoil surfboard.

(3) Chatted up a friendly old gentleman from a sailboat on the dock who told us about Shoal Bay and the history of a pub that formerly operated here. Turned out he was Tom Cooper, former owner of Seacraft Yacht Sales in Seattle, who in his previous life bought the molds and continued to build the Dana 24, Pacific Seacraft’s popular little pocket cruiser, after the parent company went bankrupt. One of my favorite little sailboats. You never know who you’ll meet when you’re cruising.

Wednesday, July 27

Shoal Bay to Tenedos Bay, Desolation Sound. Summer’s here!

(1) Awakened to a perfect, cloudless summer morning. With only 10 days left, it’s the first day of this trip on which I put on shorts and a T-shirt to start the day. It’s going to be in the upper 70s here. Friends and family are enduring 90s and 100s to the south of us in Washington.

At 10:55 a.m., I’m once again lounging on Osprey’s bow. We’re transiting Yaculta Rapids, the 14th boat in a parade, all catching the slack waters here while heading for Desolation Sound (gulp, it could be crowded). The channel is broad, the currents not bad. Twenty minutes earlier I piloted us through Dent Rapids, which were narrower, foggy at first, and more exciting, with tide rips, but still no big challenge. Slack water is key; these passages earn their “rapid” names if you hit them at the wrong times. After idling near Horn Point just north of the rapids with half a dozen other boats, waiting for slack, I kept the throttle down to keep steerage in the rips and stayed in line as we all proceeded.

Now, I’m sipping a cup of steaming dark Midnight Eclipse coffee from Nabob Coffee Co. of Toronto, laced with 6-percent cream (because they were out of half ‘n half – they call it Creamo in Canada – at the Port McNeill IGA). I’m looking out at the myriad diamonds of water–glistening riplets ahead and soaking up the warm sun while a light, conifer-scented breeze keeps me comfortable. The sound track is the “krish, krish” of the bow plowing the active currents, and, from behind me, the low feline purr of our diesel engine. Next stop: Desolation Sound at peak season. No more remote bays all to ourselves for this trip. What a trip it’s been. I just wish my Barbara was sitting next to me so I could bring her a cup of that good coffee. She’d have loved this.

In the Yaculta Rapids “parade” bound for Desolation Sound.

(2) The day’s temp got up to 78 degrees Fahrenheit, a scorcher by our “North to Alaska” standards. After enduring the every-new-thing-is-a-lesson experience of anchoring with a stern tie to shore, necessary in these deep, crowded bays, we are on the hook at Tenedos Bay in Desolation Sound, and ready for a swim. Barbara M. and I are enticed by a freshwater lake, Lake Unwin, an easy quarter-mile hike from the head of the bay. The water is not icy like snowmelt, but cool and wonderfully refreshing after the warm day. I dunk my head twice. And again.

(3) I barbecued chicken on the grill. Slathered on a Dijon butter sauce, and the boneless chicken thighs from Osprey’s freezer grilled up nice and crispy. With tri-color quinoa and steamed broccoli and carrots, it was another cruising feast.

One disappointment: The boat carrying Carol Hasse and friends, the rebuilt 1914 motor vessel Glorybe, is waylaid in Powell River with an electrical-system failure. It is in need of new batteries, a new alternator and regulator, so we probably won’t see her here. We may try to rendezvous in Lund, about 20 miles south of here, a couple days from now.

Thursday, July 28

It’s 73 degrees at 8:45 a.m. as we depart Tenedos Bay for nearby Melanie Cove in the Prideaux Haven area of Desolation Sound Provincial Park. Another cloudless morning.

Three good things:

(1) I got up around 1 a.m. to climb up on the roof to see the stars after dousing Osprey’s super-bright anchor light for a few minutes. (It’s the brightest anchor light I’ve ever seen, lighting the shore cliff so vividly you could do shadow puppets.) The Big Dipper hung directly above us, pointing to the North Star right over our bow. The Milky Way smeared the eastern sky. Haven’t seen a wide vista of stars like that since I-don’t-remember-when. By comparison, my Center Island cabin, surrounded by tall firs, has only a peekaboo view of the cosmos. It’s nice to reconnect with another element of the natural world. Wish I had someone to share it with. So I’ll share it with you.

(2) Spent a pleasant, quiet day aboard Osprey while Barbara M. and Bill went for a long hike. Sat atop the boat and painted a watercolor landscape of a little island at the head of our anchorage, Melanie Cove, and the soaring hills above it. After painting watercolors on my travels for decades, this is the first I’ve done in a long time. Strictly amateur stuff, but it helps me connect with a place. It gives me peace.

My amateurish watercolor of Desolation Sound’s Melanie Cove. For decades, I’ve been painting watercolors when I travel. It helps me calm down and tune in to a place.

(3) Took a late-evening kayak paddle as the sun set behind the big rock wall to which we’re tied. Serene. One of my favorite new ways to end the day. Circled the little islet that’s in my painting. Also got happy news: A generous fellow cruiser pitched in to help with the electrical work on Glorybe, so everything is replaced and repaired. Both boats are on their way here tomorrow.

At center right, toothlike Mount Denman, sometimes called “Canada’s Matterhorn,” dominates the Desolation Sound skyline.

Friday, July 29

Stopover day in Melanie Cove, Desolation Sound. 86 degrees F.

Three good things this day:

(1) Took a marvelous hour-long kayak tour of the Prideaux Haven islets and coves. A uniquely beautiful place, wildly popular with the hundreds of boaters anchored here. Towering over it all is spiky Mount Denman, sometimes called “Canada’s Matterhorn.” In my kayak, I discover a narrow, shallow channel where anchoring is prohibited, and for 20 minutes on my way to Laura Cove, I’m on my own among cozy, rocky, oyster-filled bayous. A bit of Louisiana come to British Columbia. No alligators, just sea jellies. Fun history trivia: Capt. George Vancouver and crew named this beautiful place Desolation Sound because he could see no attraction to the steep, rocky, forested shorelines that offered no useful tracts for raising sheep, building cozy cottages with white picket fences, and making the place look like England.

Kayaking an oyster-filled bayou in Desolation Sound’s Prideaux Haven.

(2) The 36-foot motor yacht Glorybe arrived with sea goddess (and former Ospreyite) Carol Hasse, and friends. Also on board were Catherine Collins, the effusive executive director of Sound Experience, which operates the 133-foot Port Townsend-based sail-training schooner, Adventuress; and Glorybe’s heartily-laughing owner, Betsy Davis, former director of Seattle’s Center for Wooden Boats and currently at the helm of Port Hadlock’s Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. Glorybe backed in for a stern tie next to us in Melanie Cove.

Glorybe’s varnished lightboard and bronze rail.

The 1914 vessel, which Betsy and students at Seattle Community College rebuilt after it burned to the waterline in a 2002 fire at Seattle Yacht Club, was a welcome bit of nautical eye candy, far outclassing the nearby ultramodern power yachts resembling floating sport shoes (in Width “Double E”). Originally Vashon Island-built, Glorybe features a mustard-colored hull complemented by burnished bronze fittings and bits of varnished wood here, there and everywhere. Sweet.

Betsy Davis, owner of the vintage motor vessel Glorybe, swims in Desolation Sound’s Melanie Cove after anchoring next to Osprey.

(3) We had a delightful potluck dinner on Osprey’s roof. Draped a bedspread over the topsides boom for shade. Met Hasse’s shipmates, Catherine and Betsy, along with Harmon and SuAnn Rogers, Seattle-based cruisers off of the sailboat Salish Breeze. Harmon, retired professor of veterinary medicine at Washington State University, and SuAnn, a retired CPA, helped rescue Hasse and friends by installing new batteries, alternator and regulator aboard GloryBe at a marina in Powell River, then followed them to Desolation Sound to be sure all was well. Wonderful conversations with new and old boating friends as the sun dipped below a rocky cliff behind us. Cruising at its best.

Back in Bellingham by Thursday. Will wind things up with you soon!

A fabulous day at Alert Bay

The `Namgis Burial Ground at Alert Bay, British Columbia, is an amalgam of old and new ways. Totem poles are erected in a person’s memory, along with “modern” headstones. By tradition, the totem poles are allowed to decay and fall, as seen at right.

Saturday, July 23

A DAY OF CULTURAL ENRICHMENT and fascination for us Ospreyites.

We’re making a stopover at the municipal docks at Port McNeill on northern Vancouver Island to wait out winds that are supposed to blow to 35 knots in the next few days. Left Osprey at the dock and went as walk-ons on the B.C. Ferries boat to Alert Bay, a `Namgis First Nations town of about 1,500 people on nearby Cormorant Island.

A totem at `Namgis Burial Grounds.

Three good things:

(1) Visited Alert Bay’s wonderful U’mista Cultural Centre. It was clearly one of the best museums we’ve seen, with a collection of original/authentic native masks and regalia worn in potlatches in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If you’re not familiar, potlatches (still part of local native culture) are big community celebrations in which gifts are given to attendees, traditionally thrown by a chief to show off his wealth in former days. To this day, they mark occasions such as weddings, naming of a child, deaths or other community events. Traditionally, a potlatch involved a marathon of dancing, with dancers wearing intricately carved and painted masks and other regalia representing many familiar creatures (e.g., whales, eagles, bears and ravens) and legendary characters such as Dzanakwa (the spelling of which varies widely). She is “the wild woman of the woods,” fabled to carry off naughty children and eat them (a handy threat parents could use to keep kids in line). In the late 19th century, when European missionaries came to British Columbia, the government outlawed potlatches as “uncivilized” and eventually confiscated many of the masks and the potlatch regalia. The items went into private collections and national museums across Canada. But around 1980, Canadians recognized the injustice and repatriated the artifacts to First Nations-run museums here and elsewhere on the B.C. coast.

At U’mista Cultural Centre, you may try on replica masks, such as the Dzanakwa mask your correspondent models here. Naughty children, beware. Barbara Marrett photo.

Here, we marveled at scores of well-preserved, original masks, robes and hats, not just replicas. Many were colored with dyes made from nature: blackberry purples, elderberry reds, moss greens. These originals touched me in a way the replicas couldn’t match. Among my favorites: mallard hats, with duck heads on long necks poking from the front; the big-nosed Fool Dancer mask, whose wearer enforced the strict rules of the potlatch, using his club or axe (!) to bean misbehavers, while pretending to smear them with mucus from the big nose “about which he is very self-conscious” (according to the curator’s notes); and the aforementioned Dzanakwa. Curator notes told “how to spot a Dzanakwa in art”: a dark, hairy body, sunken eyes (often sleepy), puckered lips, large hands and pendulous breasts. How to spot her in real life: “Very stinky, you will smell her before you see her.” In all of these creations, not only did the indigenous people exhibit splendid artistry and craftsmanship, their imagination and humor was delightful. (Sorry I can’t share images of the original works; photography was prohibited in that part of the museum.)

A bonfire blazes in the center of the sand floor in the ceremonial Big House at Alert Bay.

(2) Alert Bay was celebrating a community festival. We got to go inside the Big House, where dancers performed and a bonfire blazed in the center of a sandy floor (with the roof opened for smoke to escape). On a field outside, kids played soccer. One native man played guitar and sang a soulful Righteous Brothers tune.

Yeah, I think they mean it. Alert Bay’s once-bustling industries of shipbuilding and fish processing have gone by the wayside, leaving decaying docks.
Contrasting with decaying docks are rows of tidy, colorfully painted homes on Alert Bay’s main street.

(3) Rode on a modern, new all-electric car ferry from Port McNeill to Alert Bay, about a half-hour trip. A trim B.C. Ferries vessel, very quiet, smooth riding and with no exhaust fumes. The future of water travel.

A modern, all-electric ferry serves Alert Bay.

We might be another day in Port McNeill before winds settle a bit. Then southward, ho, for Desolation Sound. Enjoy your summer.

Heading home ahead of the storm, with Darth Vader on our heels

The Heiltsuk Nation community of Bella Bella, B.C., is proud of its new Big House, a tradition-oriented center for community gatherings and ceremonies, at the top of the village’s main street.

WIND AND WEATHER rule your life when you’re exploring a coast where both can get persnickety at the drop of a watch cap. So here I am saying good morning from a WiFi-supplied laundromat in charming little Port McNeill, which styles itself as the “Gateway to the Broughtons.” I get clean underwear and socks and a place to blog, what strange luxuries are this?

We didn’t expect to be in Port McNeill, on North Vancouver Island, for a couple more days, but the charming computerized voice on the weather radio (female, if you’ll forgive the gender profiling) told us of nasty winds coming. So our planned extended stay in Pruth Bay ended up as one night. Yesterday, we made a long day of it and transited Queen Charlotte Sound while the getting was good, and decided to push on here to wait out the 35-knot winds in the forecast.

Here’s what’s new aboard Osprey, our 37-foot Nordic Tug, as our crew of three continues to merrily wend our way homeward in the eighth week of a 10-week voyage.

Thursday, July 21

Three good things this day:

(1) On our way out of waterless Shearwater (where a water main had busted), we stopped to fill our water tank at the fuel dock in nearby Bella Bella, hometown of the Heiltsuk Nation, which owns Shearwater Marina. In the past, the town had gained a reputation as being unfriendly to visitors, but the young Heiltsuk woman who ran the fuel dock was a friendly delight, full of curiosity and wonder about our voyage. When I wandered up into the village, I smiled and said “good morning” to everyone I met, and the smiles were returned. An old man with a walker saw me photographing the community’s new Big House, a true work of art and fine design, built two years ago. He went out of his way to stop and tell me how pleased they are with it. “When we would go to Vancouver, people would always ask, ‘When are you going to get your Big House? Now, we have it!” he said with pride.

(2) Found a fun, scenic, alternate route through narrow Ward Channel to our evening anchorage at Pruth Bay, cutting more than an hour off our expected travel time. Saw an orca pod along the way, and Bill saw a humpback do a tremendous breach! The rest of us looked just in time to see the foamy splash.

The beautiful North Beach, one of our few ocean-beach walks, a pleasant hike from the dinghy dock on Pruth Bay.

(3) Barbara M. and I took a marvelous 2-hour hike to see two gorgeous ocean beaches reachable on lovely trails from Pruth Bay, which is now home to the private Hakai Institute, a research center that brings academics from across Canada to study the coastal ecosystem. We passed a beautiful marshy lake with blossoming pond lilies. One beach was covered with hundreds of small abalone shells, gleaming with mother of pearl. We knew there must be sea otters nearby; abalone are their favorite food.  

An abalone shell on the sand.

Friday, July 22

Three not-necessarily-good (but at least interesting) things:

(1) Got a laugh, and a how-about-that head shake as we plied Fitz Hugh Sound at Cape Calvert, when a heavily laden sea barge towed by a single tug passed us northbound. Besides the standard shipping containers, stacked up to six high, on top of the mountainous stack were two large manufactured homes, three full-size city transit buses (shiny and blue), and, at the tiptop, a large white tourist van. We wondered where it was headed. Juneau or Ketchikan, most likely. We hoped everything was strapped on tightly.

A heavily laden barge, with buses, passed us at Cape Calvert, B.C. Bound for Alaska, we think.

(2) An odd and unaccustomed problem: orca delays in our crossing of Queen Charlotte Sound, where we were plagued by ocean swells that kept wanting to be on our beam, which sets the boat rolling drunkenly. As we motored south from Cape Calvert, whales kept popping up everywhere, often directly in front of us. Being conscientious boaters (and orca lovers), we had to stop, not only to admire them but to respect the laws that protect them. It happened again and again. We were soon running quite late in our effort to get across the hazardous stretch of open ocean before afternoon winds picked up, with 20 knots forecast. In past weeks, we’ve often stuck our heads out of the boat to make whale-like noises when they are near, hoping they’ll stay around. This day was different. Finally, jokingly, but with a note of real frustration, crew member Bill slid wide the pilothouse door, stuck out his head and yelled, “GO AWAY!”

A fellow boater dubbed this the Darth Vader Ship. At Pruth Bay.

(3) It-Takes-All-Kinds-to-Make-a-World Dept.: A cheesy, 285-foot megayacht took up much of one of the coves at Pruth Bay, reminding us all that some people’s taste is all in their mouths. Worse than that ostentatious display was the other oversize monstrosity moored nearby, which looked like it dragged anchor out of a Clive Cussler novel: a 220-foot battleship-gray motor vessel named Hodor, complete with helipad, that might best be described as what Darth Vader would pilot if he was a seafaring chap. Even at sea, it takes all kinds.

Sunrise at pretty Pruth Bay, as we hoist anchor and head south to cross Queen Charlotte Sound ahead of a storm.

So, it’s Saturday now and we’re tied up for a couple nights in Port McNeill’s municipal marina. Today, after laundry is done, we’re leaving the boat here and going on a ferry as walk-on passengers for an afternoon in nearby Alert Bay, a First Nations village known for its excellent cultural center. Let the winds blow, B.C. Ferries will get us there, I trust.

After this, we might not be anyplace with internet for days and days. Wish us well, and I’ll keep you posted on the final days of our North to Alaska tour. Cheers!

Never dull: Spyhops, bliss, and fog you can cut with a knife.

When life gets pretty perfect: Riding on the bow in Princess Royal Channel, British Columbia.

WE’RE ROCKING AND ROLLING — and sometimes just riding along smoothly — on our Nordic Tug, Osprey, as we slide southward, finding new adventures on the homebound reach. Kayaking! Killer whales! Pea-soup fog! Let’s wade right in, like a rambunctious toddler at a kiddie pool in July.

Sunday, July 17

Prince Rupert to Klewnuggit Inlet, another new favorite spot

Three good things:

(1) Another easy day of placid seas and pleasant sun breaks as we plowed southward into the straight and narrow, mountain-lined, 45-mile Grenville Channel, commonly known to Inside Passage boaters as “The Ditch.” Learning via the radio of our plans to put into Baker Inlet, a friend on the Friday Harbor-based sailboat Club Paradise reminded us that currents can be tricky in the tree-lined tunnel that is the inlet’s entrance, especially during spring tides (which we are having now, with a 20-foot difference between high and low tides, causing currents that can “boil” in the narrows, a cruising guide says). We decide to push on to try a new anchorage: Klewnuggit Inlet, a B.C. provincial park, which is highly recommended by another user of Navionics, our navigation software.

(2) It’s an orca day! Just as we pass the entry to Baker Inlet, Barbara M., at the helm, calls out “killer whales!” A big dorsal appeared right in front of the inlet’s entry marker. We get a thrill when a pod surfaces within 100 yards of our boat. We idle for 45 minutes as we shoot photos and delight in the sight of at least half a dozen whales, including a baby, plus a big male with a dorsal taller than any we’ve seen before – maybe 8 feet. At one point, one whale repeatedly splashes the water with its tail. A small one spyhops three times in near succession to take a better look at us. It’s Mother Nature’s generous payoff (or rebuke?) for my wondering where all the wildlife went.

Who goes there? A curious orca spyhops as we pause to watch in Grenville Channel.
A pair of orcas surfaces with a spray of salty breath.

(3) After a dinner of flame-grilled Impossible burgers, plus an after-dinner movie, I looked out at the mirror-calm inlet and couldn’t resist a kayak exploration. Barbara and Bill generously indulged my 9:15 p.m. whim and helped me haul a kayak off Osprey’s rooftop. I spent a lovely half hour paddling along the shore, where barnacle-crusted rocks the size of my writing hut back home edged tannin-darkened water. The water was so still and reflective that I couldn’t tell where sea ended and rock began until my paddle touched a barnacle. A big stream gurgled in at the head of the bay. Above me, spruce and cedar grew alongside a soaring gray cliff of columnar basalt that gave the hillside the look of a forest fortress. A snowy mountaintop peeked through a cleft that the cruising guide warned could channel williwaws, microbursts of wind that can blow a boat out of an anchorage. But not this beautiful evening. For me, a spontaneous paddle was a wonderful bedtime treat.

Kayaking Klewnuggit Inlet. Barbara Marrett photo.

Monday, July 18

Klewnuggit Inlet to Butedale, B.C.

Three good things:

(1) Awakened to peaceful, pelting rain in the inlet. The dimples on the surface drew my eye to the thousands of transparent, fist-sized sea jellies, pulsating and dancing in a slow-motion waltz beneath the surface. Splendid.

(2) Piloted the boat through foggy, narrow Grenville Channel, where spring tides fueled 5+-knot currents that spit us like a grapeseed through the narrows. For the first time, we employed Osprey’s automatic foghorn, which sounds every two minutes, per prescribed nautical safety procedures. The foghorn, broadcast through the boat’s mast-mounted loud hailer, sounded a bit like a bleating calf. We supplemented it with blasts from the double-chrome-trumpet ship’s horn. When that baby toots, other boats know someone’s coming.

(3) We found dock space at Butedale, the abandoned and crumbling cannery site on Princess Royal Island, where we got friendly help docking from John, part of the crew on a boat whose home port was Center Island, Washington. Small world, eh? (As they say in Canada.)

Tuesday, July 19

Southbound from Butedale on Princess Royal Channel, B.C.

Three good things:

Osprey at sunset on Bottleneck Inlet.

(1) Bright, hot sun warms my bones as I recline on Osprey’s foredeck with my feet propped by the anchor windlass. Plying glassy waters amid near-zero wind, I gaze up at puffball gray and white clouds framing generous swatches of pale blue “Dutchman’s pants,” a scene of natural beauty to rival any work by van Gogh. It’s a moment when I’m slapped up the side of the head – gently, but convincingly – with the reminder of how fortunate we are to be given a life on this beautiful planet. Camel-hump hills of unsullied forest are embroidered with every green you can imagine. Every half-mile, we pass another waterfall, because one mustn’t be bored. I’m finding bliss, even on this homeward journey as we retrace passages that were steel gray with rainclouds when we passed a month ago.

(2) Snagged a plum anchorage in pretty Bottleneck Inlet, off Finlayson Channel. Grilled salmon burgers for dinner. I got to barbecue, which I always enjoy.

(3) A kayak paddle on mirrorlike waters before bed. Again.                                                                                                

Wednesday, July 20

Bottleneck Inlet to Shearwater, B.C.

The view, or lack thereof, from Osprey’s helm, southbound on Finlayson Channel.

(1) Safely navigated pea-soup fog in Finlayson Channel for 20 miles from Bottleneck Inlet to Oscar Passage. It’s fog season in these parts. Adventures in boating, keeping a careful watch for floating logs and speeding sportfisher boats. Radar and the chartplotter helped, a lot.

(2) Rejoiced over the sparkling waters glistening in the summer sun when it finally emerged near noon — just in time to show us a mother humpback and her calf diving together.

Hooray! Osprey emerges into the sunshine on Mathieson Channel after a foggy morning.

(3) I got to pilot the boat through a blue-sky, no-fog transit of narrow and scenic Reid Passage, on the way to a night at the dock at Shearwater.

Coming up, we’re off the grid for a few days again. We’ve tweaked our itinerary with the aim of meeting up in a week or so with former Osprey-ite Carol Hasse, who will be in Desolation Sound aboard another friend’s boat. Looking forward to that reunion!

Meanwhile, our next “civilization” on the agenda is Port McNeil, B.C., for reprovisioning five days from now. Hope to see you. Might depend on the fog.

Greeting Canada like an old friend, and drinking a bit of its beer

Back in Canada: Golden evening light sets aglow the handsome British Columbia flag as it flutters over our Prince Rupert dock.

AHOY FROM PRINCE RUPERT. Here’s the most recent late-night-if-I-remember-it scrawlings in my “There and Back Again” journal from M.V. Osprey.

Friday, July 15

Departed Ketchikan in steady rain and low clouds. Got soaked while fueling up: $580 for 100 gallons. (Got soaked by the rain, too.)

Good things:

(1) A safe southbound crossing of Dixon Entrance, one of our two open-to-the-ocean passages along the otherwise “inside” Inside Passage. Got some ocean swells and mixmaster seas with 15 knots+ on our bow, but no biggie after the recent shenanigans of Clarence Strait. Back to Canada!

(2) Found a beautiful, protected cove by a stream outlet in Brundige Inlet on wild Dundas Island, B.C., where a sailing friend has promised us we’ll see (or, at least, hear) wolves. We’ll see; we’ve been told similar stories about a variety of absentee wildlife at several other bays. Delicious dinner of Chicken Adobo, thanks to Barbara M.

Atop Osprey, your author raises the Canadian courtesy flag after we anchor at Brundige Inlet, B.C. The yachting cap was my father’s. Barbara Marrett photo.

(3) I struck the Alaska state flag and raised the red maple leaf courtesy flag on Osprey’s short mast. Canada feels like a happy reunion on our homeward journey. One catch: Listening to the VHF radio weather reports, you never know when the computerized voice will launch into five minutes of rapid French. We dub the digital polyglot “our friend Pierre, le weather homme.”

Saturday, July 16

Three good things:

(1) Awakened to sunshine, our first real rays in a week, on pristine and unsullied Brundige Inlet. The wolves, if they were there, stayed off the beach and kept mum overnight (and this just two days after the full moon). The good thing: We all slept like marathoners after a run. But, as I said to Bill, it’s begun to feel as if aliens have beamed up most of the wildlife on this coast. Except for eagles. The aliens must not like them. We’ve seen enough eagles to populate a planet.

We motored through flat seas past the Canadian light station at Green Island.

 (2) What’s a new way to say “flat” without referring to a pancake? “Flat as a roadkill possum”? “Flat as a North Dakota freeway”? “Flat as the index charting Donald Trump’s rising moral sensibilities”? Whatever. Such non-elevation is what we enjoyed in the way of seas from Brundige Inlet to Prince Rupert. Smooth all the way. Passed Melville Island, whose name raised questions. Had author Herman served on an exploration ship in these parts? Barbara M. asked Siri, as she is wont to do with some alarming frequency, who reminded us that (A) Melville was American (a nationality for whom few British Columbia geographic landmarks were named), and (B) He lived in the mid- to late-19th century, rather than the late 18th century when Captain Vancouver was sailing about seemingly naming every bump, hollow and indentation in this coastal landscape after every cabin boy, able seaman and annoying young lieutenant on his ship. Maybe this island commemorated Melville’s grandfather, Vancouver’s favorite cook, who did a really good soft-boiled egg. We don’t know. Do you?

Lighting distant hills, sunshine burns through afternoon clouds over Prince Rupert Harbour.
The eponymous town’s nickname: “Rainy Rupert.”

(3) Dinner at the Breakers Pub, overlooking our marina. After a long day on the water, I down a quart of good Prince Rupert-brewed pale ale and watch the light get all golden on the harbor as crewmate Bill watches the bar’s giant-screen TV with Canadian football (yes, they have it, though hockey is the sport of choice in most Canadian watering holes, we’ve found).

Onward tomorrow to revisit Baker Inlet, one of our favorite northbound stops. We’ll be back with internet in a few days, perhaps. Who knows. I’ve read virtually no news of the outside world in seven weeks, and I’ve been kind of fine with that. In fact, I recommend it. Fair winds.

Warming up to Alaska, and paying off our weather debt

A bone-toasting soak next to a raging waterfall: the nirvana of Baranof Warm Springs.

GOOD GRIEF, IT’S BEEN NINE DAYS since last I posted. All you loyal readers probably thought my crewmates and I drove our 37-foot Nordic Tug off one of those scenic Alaska waterfalls I keep photographing. Or that I finally got that additional bear encounter I’d hoped for but the experience got a little too intimate, so to speak.

But no, Osprey is still upright. Nor have I taken an insider’s tour of a grizzly’s gizzard. It’s just that we really have been out in the wilderness much of the time on our continuing 10-week voyage of the remote waters of Southeast Alaska, where internet is about as common as pay phones in old Dodge City.

But here I sit drinking deep of free WiFi in yet another beautiful Alaskan public library, perhaps the most elegant one yet, perched on a misty Ketchikan hillside. Beyond the book stacks a gas-fueled fireplace blazes cheerfully (we’ve lost our summery weather, and the fire’s warmth feels good). Above the fire hangs an artful native carving of a salmon laying eggs.

Delightfully peaceful, and extremely different from the chaos that was yesterday on Clarence Strait. Brrr.

Lots to catch up on. Let’s dive right in, like a sea otter after a tasty urchin.

Tuesday, July 5

Three good things this day:

(1) Bonus day in Sitka. Went shopping. Found a good buy on sport socks, and got three used DVD movies from the Friends of the Sitka Pubic Library. Woo-hoo, it doesn’t take much to spoil a cruiser.

(2) Met Steph and Judy, longtime Sitka residents and close friends of former Osprey crewmate Carol Hasse, from her fabled “hippie boat” days. They came for a happy hour on the rooftop bar of Osprey, from their home, which it turned out was within view of our marina slip. Steph said this was the best spell of summer weather here in 10 years! He bemoaned the new(ish) cruise-ship dock north of town that puts lots of smelly, old, noisy buses on Halibut Point Road, past their place. The dock is where megaships can moor.

(3) At Steph’s recommendation, we had dinner at Beak Restaurant, in the ground floor of the old waterfront home housing KCAW public radio, called Raven Radio, which Steph helped found. “Beak” has an octopus as its logo – thus the beak – but stresses the BE – AK (“Be Alaska”) aspect of its name. Good food: rockfish tacos! Service needs work (a very long wait for dinner).

Wednesday, July 6

Sitka to Baranof Warm Springs, 82 nautical miles, a new one-day travel record for us.

Good things:

(1) A whale sighting at the confluence of Salisbury Sound and Peril Strait (one of my favorite Southeast Alaska place names, and, aptly, home to Poison Cove and Deadman’s Reach). A humpback surfaced and then dove about 100 feet off our bow! Then bald eagles circled and fought (or mated? Hot-cha-cha) in midair, while nearby a half dozen big sea lions cavorted, doing what looked like their own version of bubble feeding. The Full Alaskan Monty! After five days of landlubbing and rest, it felt good to be back on the water.

From Osprey’s top deck, toasting our arrival at Warm Springs Bay.

(2) A very long day at sea, but with smooth waters in Peril Strait we chose to push on to Baranof Warm Springs. The final 20 miles or so on Chatham Strait got windy and rough, with 16-17 knots on our nose and two-to-three-foot seas sending spray across our foredeck. We finally made it into beautiful Warm Springs Bay, edged by snowy hills. The public dock was full but after a few looks around and one false start, we settled on a peaceful anchorage by the outflow of a small stream that attracted feeding Arctic Terns. A half-moon reflected in the still waters – so still at first that Barbara M. became convinced we were aground, though we were still in 30 feet of water. Weariness breeds worries.

A gift after a long day: A July moon over Warm Springs Bay

(3) Ate a good dinner of stir-fried pork with black beans and vegetables, then watched a movie I had bought from the “surplus” rack at Sitka Public Library, “Monsoon Wedding,” set in India. It started out slowly but grew on us. Barbara M. made popcorn and we opened the new bottle of Alaska-made gin (supplemented with tonic and lime). Will sleep well tonight.

Thursday, July 7

A stopover day at Baranof Warm Springs. Three good things:

(1) What started badly ended well. I was first up in the morning. Made my customary coffee and peanut-butter toast. Bill and Barbara had a snooze-in. By 9 a.m. the wind had picked up in our anchorage and shifted, putting Osprey’s stern toward the rocky shoreline. I switched on the depth sounder and checked tide readings. By the sounder, we were in 11 feet of water, but at the stern I could spy the sea bottom about 6 feet down. The tide was ebbing, and Osprey needs four feet to stay afloat. I rapped on Barbara and Bill’s stateroom door, told them we needed to move, and started the engine. (The sudden rumble of the big Cummins diesel and an alert that fears of being aground are about to come true is a surefire way to roust sleepy mariners.) Within 10 minutes the anchor was up and we were motoring toward the dock at the head of the bay. This time we found a spot open, and got lots of docking help from friendly new neighbors. Twenty minutes later we sat in our pilot house sipping tea and coffee and enjoying an eye-popping view of the waterfall that tumbles into the bay from nearby Baranof Lake.

A rollicking waterfall adds to the scenery enjoyed by the boardwalk community of Baranof Warm Springs.

(2) By late morning we were hiking up the amazing maze of boardwalks and trestles that connect the little shore-hugging cabin community of Baranof Warm Springs. Towels in hand, we were headed for the outdoor hot springs. Salmonberries, blue huckleberries and dainty blooms of snowy-white bunchberry dogwood lined the trail. “You couldn’t plan a more beautiful garden!” I told Barbara M., who grinned in agreement.

Wild huckleberries along the trail to the hot spring.

This time we all wore swimsuits for a communal soak with another pair of visitors who had arrived just before us. There was plenty of room in the big, steaming, rock-lined pools that sat immediately adjacent to the upper reaches of the raging waterfall. What a dramatic place to take a hot bath! Barbara M. even took a polar-bear plunge from the hot water into a side eddy of the snow-melt waterfall, then dipped back into the steaming cauldron. She said it was invigorating and made her all tingly. Bill and I got dressed behind a huckleberry bush and toddled back to Osprey for naps in our respective staterooms. Very civilized, I thought.

(3) Met a dockmate, Jay, a quiet man about my age, off a 22-foot C Dory called Hunky Dory. From Wyoming, he’s been exploring these Alaskan islands from the Inside Passage to the ocean in his little teacup of a boat for more than 20 years. He shared good tips on where to see bears, and how to respond to aggressive ones. (Mostly, it’s the cranky youngsters who’ve recently been kicked out of the nest and haven’t quite learned how to find enough food on their own, he said. If they get grumpy with you, get even louder and grumpier, yelling and waving your arms, he suggested.) For Jay, this was the first year that his wife, afflicted by arthritis, hasn’t accompanied him on his Alaska expedition. In the evening, he set up a folding chair on the dock and just quietly watched the waterfall. Kicked myself later for not inviting him for dinner or a drink. A man with good stories to tell, and a missed opportunity.

Friday, July 8

Baranof Warm Springs to Red Bluff Bay

(1) Awakened with a spell of vertigo caused by an inner-ear problem I’ve experienced before, a common malady with older folks. I avoided taking the helm today. Didn’t want to test my balance at the wheel. The good thing: After a couple sessions of a physical therapy routine I’ve learned, the problem went away. As my brother often says, getting old ain’t for sissies.

(2) We got into Red Bluff Bay by 11:30 a.m. and found a cozy anchorage tucked into a protected cove. We’d been told bears sightings were a sure thing here. We hadn’t spotted any until late afternoon when Captain Chris, the hired skipper on a neighboring superyacht, radioed to alert us to a big grizzly on the shore not far from our boat. I saw him clearly in my binoculars, though he ambled into the woods before I could grab the camera. But I briefly saw my second wild griz, and we later made friends with the Californians from the superyacht. Even people with way too much money can be OK, I guess.

A runabout at the base of Red Bluff Bay’s waterfall gives scale to the majesty.

(3) Took the motorized dinghy for a spin and got a nice sighting and photo of a pair of gorgeous red-throated loons, a first sighting for me. Also went up close to the bay’s raging waterfall and got some exciting photos. Peaceful on the bay that night, with a low cloud ceiling hiding the snowy peaks. A quiet hideaway, with three other boats in a spacious anchorage in wild Alaska. Nice.

Red-throated Loons on Red Bluff Bay, Baranof Island, Alaska.

Saturday, July 9

Red Bluff Bay, Baranof Island, to Goose Bay on Port Camden, Kuiu Island

Three good things today:

(1) Woke to eerie fog in low bands across the bay. We debated whether we’d leave as planned across wide Chatham Strait. Decided visibility was acceptable – at least a mile. And we had both radar and a good chart plotter to take the challenge out of it. Very moody and prehistoric-looking as we exited the deep bay, threading out past numerous misty, fog-shrouded islets. The good news: Glassy waters as we crossed Chatham Strait, where we had expected seas up to three feet, according to the often erroneous weather forecast. Radar, AIS and Navionics chart plotting made it a cinch, even with fog. We watched a big Carnival cruise ship go by on the screen – four miles away — but never actually glimpsed it through the murk. No problem!

(2) Stopped at the Tlingit village of Kake, on Kupreanof Island. While Bill and Barbara M. went in search of the local supermarket, I stayed on board and had a jovial phone chat with my brother Tom, who is housesitting/cat-sitting for me on Center Island. He was happy and doing well, which was great to hear. That’s the good thing. One upsetting bit of news: My island neighbors Dan and Lisa Lewis lost their beloved catamaran-hulled powerboat when a critical component failed and it sank at its Skyline Marina slip in Anacortes. A total loss. It was the boat on which we transported my Barbara to Anacortes the day I kissed her for the last time and gave her to the man from the mortuary. It is hard news for me, and my heart goes out to my island friends.

(3) Made it to Goose Bay, so named because Canada Geese have summered here in past years. Barbara M. let it be known that she hates Canada Geese because they poop all over everything, so I fear she’ll be cranky about my choice. But we arrive to find it goose-free, and the narrow, snaking entrance seems to ensure protection from wind and waves, a good thing since gales are predicted for tomorrow. All is good. We have the cozy cove to ourselves and will hunker down for tomorrow’s winds while we plot our upcoming passage of tricky, and aptly named, Rocky Pass. A challenge can be fun.

Sunday, July 10

Holed up in Goose Bay, Kuiu Island. Sheets of rain blowing sideways. Winds up to 20 knots in the cove. Anchor holding well.

An enforced day of rest, with small-craft and gale warnings for nearby straits and channels. We three Osprey-ites hang out in our bunks until after 9, reading, sipping tea, etc. Our 140-gallon fresh-water tank is down to the half mark on the gauge, and several days might pass before we can refill it, so we implement conservation mode. In mind of the clever system at the boat’s aft corners where hollow stainless-steel handrails also serve as downspouts to drain the cabin top, I dig out our 4-quart mixing bowl and set it beneath one of the spouts. We fill a 5-gallon bucket in less than an hour. I heat the water on the stove so I can shave and wash up. Something to do! The VHF radio says this weather system will hang around into Monday, so we conclude we’re here for the duration. Time to try some new games! “Watch the last half of ‘Lonesome Dove’!” Barbara suggests, referring to a tedious Western we have on DVD. Bill and I play a few rounds of Boggle. This is our first weather-caused delay. Paying off our karma a bit.

4:30 p.m.: Rain is pouring, and Osprey is spinning at anchor as winds funnel through the entrance to our protected cove. Clouds have lowered. We all agree: We’re glad we’re in here, in isolated little Goose Bay, rather than out on one of the straits where 5- and 6-foot seas are predicted. After we fill our 5-gallon bucket with water off the roof, Barbara M. digs out the crab-cooking kettle from beneath the sink, which will easily hold another 3 gallons. We’ll use rainwater to flush the toilet or wash our hair! We feel like real wilderness adventurers.

Collecting mussels on the beach at Goose Bay.

Monday, July 11

Three good things:

(1) The storm eased. Barbara M. and I took the dinghy to shore, walked the length of the bay, and collected small mussels off the rocks. “It’s not a month with an ‘r,’ but these waters look clean and cool,” she said. Felt good to stretch our legs and breathe the rain-washed, spruce-scented air.

(2) She steamed the mussels in wine and garlic. We all agreed they were the freshest and tenderest we’d ever eaten. A gift from Goose Bay.

(3) After the mussels as an appetizer, I pull a bag of shrimp out of the freezer and make toothsome tacos. We watch more “Lonesome Dove.” After a day of studying cruising guides and charts and making notes and checking tide tables, we decide we’re ready for the morning’s transit of 21-mile Rocky Pass, one of the most challenging waterways in Southeast Alaska. Dividing Kupreanof and Kuiu islands, Rocky Pass is deliciously remote and achingly scenic. It’s also narrow and circuitous, shallow and rock-filled, roiling with currents and plagued by thickets of bull kelp that can hide rocks and wrap props. Local magnetic disturbances play havoc with compasses in a tricky section called Devil’s Elbow. As with most waterways, there are navigation markers to guide the way, unless some are missing in key spots, as online reports tell us is the case with Rocky Pass.

“This will be fun,” says Barbara M., who sometimes displays an odd sense of what constitutes a good time.

A bald eagle perches atop Day Marker 43 in Southeast Alaska’s aptly named Rocky Pass.

Tuesday, July 12

(1) With Bill as our watchman on the bow, me as navigator and Barbara M. at the helm, we safely and uneventfully transited Rocky Pass. We timed the passage for high tide, approaching slack, which seemed key. There were a few missing channel markers, more than mentioned online. Others leaned drunkenly, as if this were a place of wild storms and random rammings, and we dodged enough bull kelp to tie up a herd of Texas beef.  

(2) Once through Rocky Pass, finding placid waters on Sumner Strait we choose to push on beyond our planned anchorage at Red Bay on Prince of Wales Island, hoping to shorten the voyage tomorrow to Ketchikan. The forecast has deteriorated, calling for 20-knot winds and 4-foot seas on Clarence Strait by afternoon. Three-foot seas are about our limit with Osprey, we’ve decided. We plan to start the trip at 5 a.m. and hope to be in Ketchikan before the big seas rise.

Scanning the charts and guidebooks, we pick a cozy-looking refuge called Coffman Cove, off Kashevarof Passage, in North Clarence Strait. Despite the guide’s warning that transient dock space is usually crowded with fishing boats, when we arrive at 8 p.m. on a misty evening we find lots of space open. We’re happy to escape growing swells in the strait and tie up in this glassy, protected cove. Josh, the friendly harbormaster, radios us from the bar onshore and welcomes us to Coffman Cove. After registering, we join him at the cozy watering hole where we’re greeted like old friends by a friendly group of locals who seem sent by Central Casting for a sit-com about rustic Alaskans. There’s young, bright-eyed and bearded Hunter, who came from Maine to be a lumberjack in Alaska; long-haired old Bob, the kindhearted, fist-bumping swiller of red wine matched with tequila shots; and Travis, the born-and-bred manager of a modest fishing lodge who tells how his father and heavily pregnant mother took a 17-foot skiff 52 miles from Coffman Cove to Petersburg in an Alaskan November 46 years ago to get help with his birth. We enjoy a jovial Alaskan Amber or two together, and Barbara M., getting over a cold, sips a rum hot toddy, which the young bartender is happy to make once she tells him how.

Magical morning light before the storm, on Kashevarof Passage, in North Clarence Strait.

Wednesday, July 13

Forget the “three good things.” This was just a crummy, rotten, no-good, terrible day on the water. Got up at 4:15 a.m., after being startled in the night by loud, wet, snuffles outside the porthole of my cabin. A whale? Possibly a big sea lion. I shined a spotlight and saw a strange protuberance break the water. Maybe a stray elephant seal?

We left Coffman Cove at 5 a.m. in hopes of beating the afternoon’s forecast rough seas and 20-knot winds as we work our way down Clarence Strait to Ketchikan. But by 8 a.m. we’re slammed, rocked and drenched like we’re taking Osprey through a drive-through car wash, but with saltwater. We consider taking cover at Meyers Chuck, the last good hidey-hole before a four-hour slog down the strait, but seas and winds moderate awhile. We push on. An hour later we’re regretting the choice as Osprey takes 25-knot gusts on the nose, earlier and stronger than forecast. We bash through growing swells that send cascades of seawater over our bow. Some combers look to be 5 feet, maybe bigger, cresting like at the ocean beach, and we labor to keep the bow into the seas. It continues for hours until Bill, at the helm, wrestles the boat into Tongass Narrows, the entrance to Ketchikan. Throughout the rough seas, we grip handrails and bend knees up and down to bounce with the waves. The worst part is answering the call of nature. Using the ship’s toilet amid all this is like trying to evacuate your bowels on a Tilt-A-Whirl ride (which, come to think of it, I might have done once when I was 5).

By 1:30 p.m., we’d made it safely into a marina in Ketchikan, where rain clouds scudded on the sidewalks and bald eagles hunched coldly atop windblown lampposts. It’s not the same sunny town that greeted us a month ago.

On the downhill slide now, heading home. This weather is making the parting less painful. Ready for our own beds and familiar hearths. Repeating some adventures southward, but always on the lookout for new ones – hopefully not weather-related!

See you next from Prince Rupert. Stay with us.

Small town, Alaska style: An unplanned bonus day in Sitka

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Sitka’s Fourth of July parade followed Lincoln Street, with the Russian Orthodox cathedral as a backdrop.
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WOOPS, HERE WE ARE, still in Sitka. Because Barbara M. was feeling punky yesterday, with a sore throat and mild cold symptoms (do-it-yourself COVID test: negative), we’ve decided to stay a fifth night in Sitka. I’m taking the opportunity to post once more to the blog, shop for more socks (less need for laundromats!) and find a thrift shop with cheap DVDs (we’ve run low on evening entertainment). Back to the wild seas tomorrow, heading south to Baranof Warm Springs, Red Bluff Bay and beyond.

In the marina here we met a friendly Canadian couple off a boat named Tsonokwa, meaning “wild woman of the woods” in West Coast native legends. (Parents with naughty offspring threaten them with Tsonokwa, an ogress who steals children and carries them home in her basket to eat.) The two boaters are both wildlife biologists who live in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. With their two young teen children (who better behave, on that boat), each summer they explore more of Alaska’s waters from their boat, moored in Skagway. They hope to reach Puget Sound someday. This is the second port where we’ve encountered them, one of the serendipitous treats of a cruising summer.

Meanwhile, here’s an update on our holiday.

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A charming old Sitka apartment house, with multiple entry doors and a wooden sidewalk out front.

Monday, July 4

Three good things:

Another sweet example of historical Sitka housing.

(1) Found a good laundromat and toddled back to the boat with a pillowcase full of the freshly washed and tumble dried. On this Independence Day, what celebrates America more than a tidy little business where you can get $10 worth of quarters from a change machine and improve your lot in life with 10 days worth of freshly laundered underwear and socks?

(2) Along with hundreds of others, I watched Sitka’s Fourth of July parade on Lincoln Street, with the Russian cathedral as a backdrop for the marching Coast Guard men and women (and an exciting Coastie rescue-chopper flyover — two at once! — that threatened to take out the three-beam cross atop the church). Also parading were the local offroad-vehicle club, the Forest Service’s Smoky Bear and Woodsy Owl, the local fire brigade and more. While most parade participants tossed candy to the kids, two local supermarkets gave away bananas. Bananas were everywhere!

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“God. Apple Pie. Trucks.” For some in Sitka’s parade, that’s what Alaska is all about.

(3) Climbed a long, curving flight of steps to Castle Hill, the highest point in downtown Sitka. The hill was at one time an island at high tide before tidelands were filled in. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, this was a Tlingit stronghold, seized by the Russians after an 1804 battle. The Russians built a small castle there for Alexander Baranov, head of the Russian American Company and functional governor of Russian Alaska. This was where the Russians formally ceded ownership of Alaska to the United States for $7 million in 1867, and where the 49-star American flag was first raised when Alaska became a state in 1959. Now empty of structures, Castle Hill on this sunny and warm Fourth of July offered me sweeping views and an intriguing history lesson.

High hopes for smooth sailing. See you soon.

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Sitka’s Castle Hill, where the Russians handed over ownership of Alaska to the United States in 1867. Of course, the Tlingit and other native Alaskan tribes question whether their ancestral home was the Russians’ to sell.
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Bonus photos: My Alaska notebook

LAST GASP FROM SITKA: Here’s a bonus posting of a few favorite photos from my ongoing 10-week “North to Alaska” tour aboard Osprey, a 37-foot Nordic Tug. Happy Fourth of July!

Sign at head of the dock at Tenakee Springs. Kind of says it all. Our crew did encounter a grizzly along the walk to town. Luckily, no organ donations transpired.
Beastly breasts, on the Sitka Totem Trail.
Brian and a berg, on Tracy Arm fjord. Dana Halferty photo.
The Russian Bishop’s House chapel in Sitka. The home and chapel were built for Bishop Innocent, the first Russian Orthodox bishop of Russian America, in the early 19th century. His acceptance of native Alaskan rituals and lifestyles, unlike American missionaries’ condemnations, is believed largely responsible for Alaskan natives’ continuing participation in the Russian church to this day.
Bishop Innocent built the original St. Michael’s Cathedral in 1848. It burned in 1966 but this replica was built on the same site, in the center of downtown Sitka. It continues to offer Russian Orthodox services.
A Chilkat robe is displayed at Sitka National Historical Park. The distinctive style originated with the Tsimshian people and was adapted by the Tlingit tribe. Such robes are worn on ceremonial occasions.
Juneau, a beautiful husky, lives on a sailboat and regularly greets us as we walk up the dock in our Sitka marina.
An eagle hat worn as ceremonial regalia, in the collection of the Alaska State Museum in Juneau.
An eagle tops a marine marker near Sergius Narrows, on our route to Sitka.
An octopus sits at the bottom of a totem at Totem Bight State Park, near Ketchikan.
Demonstrating the scale of things in Alaska: Osprey in Tracy Arm fjord.

Departing Sitka in the morning. Might be several days or a week before I have internet again. Will keep you posted as we work our way south. Wish us luck!

Bubble-feeding whales and fireworks for the Fourth

More than half a dozen humpback whales spring to the surface as they employ the technique of bubble-net feeding at the confluence of Tenakee Inlet and Chatham Strait, Alaska. We got a spectacular show.

AHOY FROM DELIGHTFUL SITKA, Alaska, the original capital of Russian America before William Seward negotiated the U.S. purchase of Alaska in 1867.

Lots to tell about. I’ll dive right in.

Thursday, June 30

Three good things this day:

(1) Bubble-feeding whales! At 9:15 a.m., as we were departing Tenakee Inlet and about to head south on Chatham Strait, multiple spouts ahead alerted us. We’d hoped we might see this fascinating phenomenon called bubble-net feeding, in which a handful of humpback whales join in a feeding ritual in which they dive deeply together and then expel bubbles that drive fish and krill to the surface. The whales then open their mouths as they propel themselves upward with baleens raking in all the nutrients they can get. The first tip-off was when I spied big tails, one after another, slapping the surface as they sounded, or dove. We spent almost an hour, idling back and forth in Osprey, enthralled as at least half a dozen humpbacks cast their “net” again and again in waters ranging from 100 to 400 feet deep off South Passage Point. This was crewmate Bill Watson’s birthday, so Barbara M. dubbed this “Bill’s Birthday Bubble Feed.” We saw whale heads thrust out of the water together and giant flukes slapping the surface, and more tail slaps than ever before. Barbara M., Dana and I shot photo after photo and videos galore. “An experience of a lifetime!” crowed Dana, the professional photographer. Commenting on the video she shot: “You can hear me, saying ‘Oh, my god,’ again and again. I was literally crying!”

As the whales concluded their dives, we heard a whale call, like a mooing Jersey cow mated with a bassoon. Chilling. Then, finally, a whale call like a ship’s foghorn echoed off the forested hills. Wow.

(2) We made good time into Hoonah Sound, and researched tomorrow’s passage of challenging Sergius Narrows. Slack water would be at 7:15 a.m., requiring hoisting anchor at 5:15. Found a secure and pleasant anchorage at little Nismeni Cove, where eagles called to us from treetops and a whale came to visit at the mouth of the cove around dinnertime.

Game time aboard Osprey with your scribe, at left, and Bill Watson and Barbara Marrett. Dana Halferty photo

(3) For Bill’s birthday, I grilled burgers, and Barbara and Dana baked an orange-flavored cake with icing they creatively colored with juice from frozen blueberries. We also devoured Klondike ice-cream bars procured from the store at Tenakee Springs. I took a little extra insulin. Fun night after an exciting day!

Friday, July 1

Day 35 of our 70-day voyage – halfway through!

I’ll take this moment to briefly reflect on the voyage so far. It has gone remarkably well (knock on wood, scratch a stay, turn three times and spit!). To my own surprise, I’d be fine if it was done now. The adventures have been memorable and fulfilling. Icebergs! Glaciers! Bubble-feeding whales! Charming towns and villages. Waterfalls like no others, and a grizzly in our first week. I’d like to see more bears (from a safe distance) and I’d love to see breaching whales, but now I’m just getting greedy. I’m a little homesick for my island routines, and I miss Galley Cat (who has been chased by foxes in my absence) and my daughter (who had a great adventure in Europe but came home with COVID).

But. We are in Sitka now, staying at the dock for four nights for some shore leave and recharge time. It will help. I won’t gall all of you back in your cityside routines by feeling too sorry for myself.

Beautiful downtown Sitka.

I do miss my dear wife. I saw this voyage as part of a healing process, but I think that’s flawed thinking. The void in my life is like a wound that will scar over but never fully heal. However, this trip is a lovely distraction, and I’ve made some wonderful new friends, which makes life better.

Three good things this day:

(1) A misty morning gave us calm seas for an easy passage of Sergius Narrows. Arrived Sitka at 11 a.m. and without advanced reservations secured a slip for four nights, keeping us here through the Fourth of July weekend festivities. (A parade on Monday!)

Dock neighbors watch Sitka’s fireworks from the crow’s nest of a moored fishing boat.

(3) After a tasty dinner of panko-crusted cod, we watched an old movie and paused for the town’s big fireworks show, watched from the roof of our boat. In Alaska, where it stays light late even at lower latitudes, the fireworks weren’t until 11:30 p.m. I didn’t hit the sack until 1 a.m. Slept until 9 the next morning. What luxury!

(2) I explored Sitka on foot, and the clouds cleared to reveal the town’s glorious setting among a giant bowl of snowy peaks, including the nearby Mount Edgecumbe volcano, recently declared “no longer dormant” after a few months of tremors. Forested islets dot the harbor. The beautiful St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral is downtown’s historic centerpiece. Found good Wi-Fi at yet another fine-quality Alaska public library. Hooray for librarians, all.

Sunset silhouettes the distinctive spires of St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral in downtown Sitka.

Saturday, July 2

Three good things:

(1) The lovely Totem Trail in Sitka National Historical Park. We saw totem poles of many designs nestled among pristine forest along a wide, graveled path edging the scenic shoreline.

Along the Totem Trail in Sitka National Historical Park.

(2) A fascinating hour at the Sheldon Jackson Museum, Alaska’s oldest museum, poring over the comprehensive collection of tools, regalia, and everyday household objects and clothing of native Alaskan tribes, dating back to the early 19th century. Among interesting factoids: Since they did not transfer taste to food as resinous cedar or fir might, alder or birch were the preferred wood for dishes and utensils.

(3) Late in the day, I enjoyed a one-man guided tour with a ranger of the restored Russian Bishop’s House, part of the national park, including the original bishop’s private chapel from when Sitka was the capital of Russian America in the early 19th century.