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!

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

  1. People paint their boats grey because they can’t be seen at a distance…….at least it wasn’t dentifrice white!
    Is Hasse with you now? Big hugs from me an Meyers Chuck to all aboard🤗


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