We otter see plenty more marine life on this voyage of discovery

A sea otter floats in circles around our anchored boat in Bull Harbor, Hope Island, just off the northern tip of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

THERE ARE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES to being unwired for days at a time on the rainy and remote British Columbia coast. The good part of having no internet, and often no phone service: Who really wants to know what’s going on in the outside world? The down side: Friends and family wonder if my friends and I are still afloat.

We are, happily wending our way northward.

But it might be days between hooking up to the World Wide Web (which isn’t, quite yet, worldwide). So be patient. There’s nothing to worry about. Until you hear otherwise. I’ll post more when I can.

Here are my latest journal scribblings, as Osprey voyages toward Juneau:

Saturday, June 4

Three good things this day:

1. Woke to a beautiful sunny morning in Echo Bay, on Gilford Island, B.C. What a lift to our soggy spirits! Chatted with Jackson, the affable jeans-and-hoodie-wearing marina manager who quite naturally often ended sentences with “eh?” I also photographed Cocoa, the shepherd-husky mix, who had a healthy self-awareness of her photogenic qualities.

Cocoa, the lovable dock mascot at Echo Bay Marina on Gilford Island, B.C.

Jackson, a former tugboat skipper, offered us a good tip on how to get Osprey’s stern pointed off the dock for departure (looping a bow line on a cleat and motoring forward). He also knew how to scratch Cocoa on the rump just in that special place she could never reach herself. A friendship that will last, I think.

2. Wound our way through pretty, low rocky islands until we made a rough crossing of Johnstone Strait, then happily nosed into an easy spot at Telegraph Cove Marina with the help of the friendly son of the marina manager.

3. Spent a quite pleasant hour with my fellow crewmates drinking a pitcher of Nanaimo-brewed Longwood IPA and nibbling on calamari at the dockside pub at Telegraph Cove, where scenic shore-clinging homes connected by wooden boardwalks date to the 1930s. Ahhh. Chatted up the exotically-accented server, one of several young people from France who have come here to work for the summer. Canada’s bilingual nature makes it a good place to come learn English, she explained.

Sunday, June 5

We departed Telegraph Cove at 8:15 a.m. when our binoculars showed a lack of whitecaps on Johnstone Strait, and water in the marina was glassy calm. The forecast for coming days sounded bad for crossing Queen Charlotte Sound, one of our two expanses of open ocean on this journey. Taking advantage of what was expected to be a brief calm, we made tracks northward, regretfully skipping a planned stop at the renowned native cultural center at Alert Bay (vowing to put it on our homeward agenda). Instead we headed 25 miles north to tie up for the night at Port Hardy, the northernmost city on Vancouver Island.

Three good things this day:

  1. While our Telegraph Cove slip, wedged into a far corner of the marina, was easy to get into, it was decidedly not easy to back out of. But I piloted Osprey from its shoehorned space as smoothly as could be, backing and filling with the side thrusters, no longer a mystery to me. I’m also getting the touch of the touchy electronic throttle. We were all happy for an easy departure, starting to look like pros at this.
  2. Our first humpback whale of the voyage! As I piloted the boat past Alert Bay, I spotted a whale spout ahead and alerted the others. Three, four times more. Then, unexpectedly, a massive, gray-colored whale back broke the lightly rippled surface just 100 yards off our port beam. A small dorsal showed, then a massive forked tail rose clear of the water before it dove again. “Humpback!” my friends called out. Beautiful.
  3. As we scoped out a tie-up on a public port-authority dock in Port Hardy, a loon paddled directly in front of our boat, twice raising up from the bay’s surface to do its characteristic dance on the water. We opened a door to hear the iconic, high-pitched yodel call. Not two minutes later, as we edged toward a bank of mossy rocks revealed by low tide, a phalanx of white heads caught our eyes. Bald eagles had discovered a fish carcass or some other disgustingly tasty, decaying edible on the rocks. It was a collective feathery feast, full of shrill bickering. I counted 15 eagles competing for their lunch. This definitely isn’t Kansas, or Puget Sound, anymore.
  4. A fourth good thing this day: Osprey’s big Cummins diesel engine ran cool and happy today after shipmate Bill and I successfully cleaned out the big raw-water strainer that feeds the cooling system. Careful as we had been this past week to avoid floating puddles of eel grass and kelp, after long days of sucking up every kind of plankton and what we technically describe as “sea gunk,” the strainer had become heavily clouded. A challenge we soon discovered: We couldn’t locate what was obviously a specialized tool needed to remove the cap from the bronze strainer. Nothing in Osprey’s tool kit would fit the square keyhole in the cap’s center or the two “winglets” jutting up from each side. Bill was able to text our contact at San Juan Sailing in Bellingham. She contacted the boat’s maintenance team. The reply: They didn’t have the specialized tool either, but typically used a long screwdriver laid across the winglets to get leverage to loosen the cap. We improvised with a box wrench. It did the trick. We got the strainer open, degunked it with the high-pressure deck-wash hose, and today Osprey ran like a top.
At the public dock in Port Hardy, a Norwegian-owned ship that specializes in cleaning nets for aquaculture operations dwarfs Osprey.

Monday, June 6

Three good things this day:

  1. Barbara, Carol and I had a helpful and enjoyable visit with the commanding officer, Gary Deis, at the Port Hardy Coast Guard station, a 5-minute walk from our dock. We picked his brain for advice on our Queen Charlotte Sound crossing, where to spend the night before we leave, the best route, etc. He commands a 21-meter patrol vessel/lifeboat with a crew of five. At 59, he’s been in the service since age 17, and “came up through the hawsepipe,” as he puts it. He is happy that COVID travel limitations are no longer in force and tells tales of U.S. visitors who didn’t think the rules applied to them. “But it’s really starting to look like normal again now – the gill netters are moving around, cruise ships are going by, sailboats are coming in,” he said. We each bought a Canadian Coast Guard cap for $5 apiece. Great souvenirs. He proudly showed off a garden space his crew has decorated with old propellers and anchors.
  2. In a fir tree just above the Coasties’ station we spied an eagle nest and two eagle parents with an eaglet in the nest. We commented to Deis about the abundance of eagles around the bay, and he chimed in, “I’ve seen a hundred eagles right here (on the tidelands in front of the station). There’s a guy who throws some fish out and they’ll just come from everywhere!” I got some great photos of Mama on the nest with her goofy-looking, still-awkward offspring.
  3. A sea-otter extravaganza! We spied a sea otter near our dock last night — a real sea otter, not the river otters we see in the San Juans. This day on the way out of the bay we passed otter after otter, most floating on their backs and curiously watching us motor by. One group had half a dozen of these rare sea mammals, once hunted almost to extinction for their dense and warm furs. We continued to see them all day as we cruised 22 miles north to Bull Harbor on Hope Island. We had our own personal sea otter slowly floating around our anchored boat once we dropped the hook in the beautifully protected inner harbor. The island is property of a First Nations band, and going ashore was prohibited. Not a soul to be seen, though there were fish-raising pens at the bay’s mouth. Seeing all the otters is heartwarming evidence that endangered species can come back – and these guys are particularly charming.
A mother eagle perches in a nest in Port Hardy as her fuzzy-topped chick peeks out from beneath the top sticks.

Tuesday, June 7

          Three good things this day:

  1. We awakened to a blue-sky day, our first to last through till evening! Saw the crescent moon and Big Dipper in the night, a first in this cloudy corner of the continent. Bull Harbor, with a mid-entry island protecting the inner bay from winds, was as cozy as a baby’s crib, and the mud-and-shell bottom provided excellent holding for our big Rocna anchor. I was up first to watch the initial golden rays of the sun light the shoreside treetops and slowly come down like a theater curtain. I piloted us out on glassy waters. Never saw a human. We decided the otter was the native band’s caretaker.
  2. This day we crossed Queen Charlotte Sound, open to ocean swells and weather. Forecasters called for increasing storm winds as the week progressed, but we found a good weather window and went for it, raising anchor at 6:15 a.m. and motoring for 12 hours. Our fears proved groundless on the clear-sky, light-wind morning, and we rounded fearsome Cape Caution at 9:15 a.m. Mild ocean rollers rocked us gently. A cakewalk! Snowy peaks decorated the eastern horizon, a stunning panorama from our saltwater viewpoint. In the other direction: Japan. (OK, you have to squint.)
  3. An anchorage I had chosen, Kisameet Bay, turned out to be a dud, despite glowing recommendations in the guidebooks. (New since the last write-up: an unattractive floating dock with an “AREA CLOSED” sign. And our anchor kept dragging as we tried to set it.) So we quickly found another nearby option on the chart, Codville Lagoon. As we approached the lagoon, I chose to start dinner prep, as it was my night on the chore list. I told my friends I was available to help with anchoring if needed, but it was going on 6 p.m. and I knew all would be hungry, so I got rice cooking, asparagus cleaned and shrimp ready for the propane grill mounted on Osprey’s aft railing. My shipmates handled all the anchoring duties, found a great spot for the night, and soon we were celebrating our crossing with delightful gin-and-tonics on ice. The gin, a special bottle gifted to Barbara Marrett, was made in Haines, Alaska, where they apparently know how to make good gin. Who knew? And the shrimp dinner was savored by all. Onward!
Peaks of the Coast Range as seen from our crossing of Queen Charlotte Sound.

3 thoughts on “We otter see plenty more marine life on this voyage of discovery

  1. What a swell adventure! Reading your missives is akin to reading a Jack London novel! You are motivating me to consider a similar outing in a year or so? I can almost smell the sea and here the eagles and otters! Fair winds my friend.


  2. Whales and eagles and otters, oh my! And inlets and islands – and snowy peaks when the weather goddess smiles. So glad to be traveling with you!

    Sent from my iPhone



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