Fat berries, soft breezes herald a new San Juan season

It’s a rich season for berries and wild fruit in the San Juans. Plump wild currants nod to visitors at the front step of Nuthatch Cabin.

THE MESSAGE CAME IN A WHISPER. A whisper of breeze. “Autumn,” it sighed. “Autumn.”

I was enjoying a cloudless Tuesday morning, lounging in my Adirondack chair on the Nuthatch’s deck, from which I looked through mossy trees to the quiet waters of Lopez Sound. A warm September day. Not a breath of air moving. What was moving were a few midges that I swatted at between sips of my day’s second cuppa and my few daily minutes with a New York Times Sunday crossword.

That’s when the branches suddenly rustled, high in my biggest fir. A soft breath of wind came with the rustle. A cool breath, spiced with the scent of the woods.

“Ahhh,” I sighed back. “It’s here.”

For days, we islanders have known fall was coming. The berries and currants have swollen like pregnant bellies and ripened with a purple from the deepest sea. Flower baskets on decks have splashed color about like an artist who knows an international oil paint shortage is right around the corner. Endless weeks of sunshine have driven me and my splitting ax to the woodpile day after day, inspired perhaps by the same instinct that causes woolly bear caterpillars to grow blacker and fuzzier.

Center Island salal bushes have borne more and bigger berries in the wake of a cool, wet spring and a warm summer. Native tribes in olden days compacted the nutritious fruit into dried cakes to help carry them through Northwest winters.

Officially, the autumn equinox is at 8:03 p.m. PDT this Thursday. The equinox is when the sun shines directly on the equator, and the northern and southern hemispheres get the same amount of rays.

That’s the official time, and the scientific explanation. But I know a new season arrived on Center Island this morning around 10:30 when a cooling breeze gave me goosebumps and a few windblown fir needles pattered quietly down on my deck railing.

Welcome, I whispered back. Welcome.

Black-and-white petunias? My artist brother, Tom, found them at the Lopez Island hardware store. The plant is loaded with blooms in a basket on my deck.
Blackberries, too, have prospered this year.
The sunny end of summer has brought out blossoms in a basket hanging from the Nuthatch’s eaves.
After days of buzzing the chainsaw and swinging the splitting axe, I have a satisfactorily bulging woodshed just in time for the first day of autumn. A bittersweet bonus: many lengths of maple from a beloved tree that came down on my roof in a freak May windstorm. I trade its years of splendid autumn color for one winter of crackling hot blazes in my woodstove.

Boatyard daze: Pondering the future with a salty old friend

Daughter Lillian shines our sailboat’s green stripe as the boat perches on stands in Seattle’s Canal Boatyard. Unintentionally but appropriately, the boat’s color scheme of green, white and red mirrors the Italian flag.

CAN A MAN HAVE TOO MANY BOATS?

Naw. What kind of a question is that?

I’m enjoying a lazy day back on my island after six days away, four of which were spent in hard physical labor at Seattle’s Canal Boatyard during the necessary every-three-years haulout of my beloved old Westsail 32 sailboat, Sogni d’Oro.

Daughter Lillian and I sanded and repainted (two generous coats) the boat’s ample, full-keeled bottom, among other tasks. A modified-epoxy, copper-infused antifouling paint is key to keeping barnacles and long streamers of kelp from taking up residence on the hull of Sogni d’Oro, whose name is the Italian version of “sweet dreams.”

The Cantwells haven’t a drop of Italian blood, as far as I know. But my late wife Barbara and I had enjoyed memorable travels in Italy in 1989, the year we made the boat ours. (“Bought” isn’t the right word.) At the time, we were smitten with all things Italian. These things happen.

If nothing else, the exotic name is a good dockside conversation starter with folks who ask “what’s that mean?” and “how the heck do you say it?” (“SO-nyee DOH-ro”). My daughter and I still say it to each other when we bid each other good night.

The boat means much to me and Lillian. My family lived aboard the sailboat for the better part of 25 years. When Lil was born in 1991, Barbara and I brought our little girl home from the hospital to a marina on the Columbia River in Portland, where we lived at the time. In the mid-’90s, we took a great sailing adventure to Mexico’s Baja Peninsula and the Sea of Cortez. The full-keel boat was meant for ocean cruising, and given the right wind and sail handling, she charged through waves like a sea-going locomotive. On one memorable passage, hundreds of leaping dolphins surrounded us as we plunged through the seas.

Once settled in Seattle, for 20 years we threw off the mooring lines and spent two weeks every summer exploring every cove and cranny of the San Juan Islands. It’s how Barbara and I fell in love with these islands and ended up retiring here.

When her mum and I moved to Center Island in 2018, now-adult Lillian moved back aboard Sogni d’Oro at Seattle’s Shilshole Bay Marina. She and her cat, Tiberius, are the boat’s liveaboard stewards now — with a healthy bit of elbow grease and wallet-loosening from Papa come haulout time.

In recent years, the boat has mostly been “dock sailed,” as sailors snickeringly describe it when a vessel doesn’t leave the marina. It’s a matter of some regret for us. But sometimes rocks poke up in your life’s plotted course.

For me, these four days in the boatyard were like an intimate reunion with a salty old friend. In our head-to-toe Tyvek painting suits (which on a warm day feel a lot like wearing a portable sauna), Lil and I scraped barnacles from the prop and restored the bronze shine. We applied $500 worth of paint. We hand-cleaned and polished the fiberglass topsides and the gleaming green stripe beneath the teak cap-rail. Lillian sanded and refinished 32-feet of rub rail. Everything below the waterline got inspected, cleaned and restored.

In the Travelift’s slings, a spiffed-up Sogni d’Oro sails through the boatyard on the way to relaunch. A somewhat unnerving development since our last haulout: The boatyard’s new Travelift is operated by remote control. Nobody sits in the driver’s seat.

Someone asked if this might be my last haulout. It’s a lot of work. I’ve always insisted on doing it myself, and ain’t nobody getting any younger. I love my good old boat, but, I admit, Lil and I discussed whether it might soon be time to find someone new to love her.

For now, I’m still basking in the glow-slash-exhaustion from all that we did to spiff her up.

I do still have a lovingly restored 1957 runabout, a 10-foot plywood sailing dinghy, an 8-foot inflatable Zodiac with outboard, and a two-person inflatable kayak. I still have boats to “mess about in,” as Kenneth Grahame memorably put it.

Too soon to say. In the end, I might just find someone new to love my island cabin, and move back aboard Sogni d’Oro. Lots of sweet dreams happened there.

It’s gettin’ too goldurn modern on this little speck o’ dirt

Here’s the high-falutin’ street address for my cabin on the cowpath loftily called Chinook Way.

WHAT ARE THINGS COMING TO on this island that nobody’s heard of?

From the time that hopeful real-estate magnates subdivided this 172-acre rock into half-acre lots in about 1960, until just a few years ago, nobody felt the need for street signs.

On the island map, Nuthatch Cabin’s gravel cowpath was called Chinook Way. Another was Makah Street, another Haidah Street, and one was Wishkah Lane, which pretty much sums up the Greater Center Island traffic grid. People knew what road their cabin was on. Nobody needed to mark the roads with signs.

Most folks marked their property with the lot number from the original plat, because when you invited some new fellow you met on the dock to drop by for a beer, he needed some way to find you.

Then, a few years ago, bureaucracy arrived on our remote isle. The county made us post street signs.

OK, fine. Some island do-gooder got out his jigsaw, cut the letters from wood and cobbled together some pretty innocuous signage.

Now, Friday Harbor’s latest thing is a push for each of us to post a county-assigned house number — not the lot number — in front of our cabins. Sheesh.

They say it’s important so that emergency services can find us.

A minor point to make: We live on a little island with no fire department. No fire engine or medic unit is ever coming here, unless maybe the whole island is aflame. And by the time anybody gets a fire truck here on a barge, the place will just be a smoking ember among the Read’s Bay eelgrass.

As for law enforcement? I think a sheriff’s deputy has been on the island twice in the nearly 20 years since Barbara and I bought here. When it does happen, half the people on the island know in advance. They are at the dock to meet the sheriff’s boat, wave their arms and point the way to the trouble.

So far, posting your street number isn’t mandatory. Nonetheless, at the foot of my front path yesterday I planted a shiny new 7-inch by 10-inch reflective metal sign, delivered by Amazon and the U.S. Postal Service to the mail shack at the end of Center Island International Airport (aka our grass airfield).

Call it caving to peer pressure, maybe. Or thinking about the seconds that might be saved if I have a major stroke and use my Airlift Northwest insurance to call for a helicopter evac.

Or just call it being a good citizen. There are still some of us out here.

It doesn’t mean we can’t grumble.

It takes a little magic to accomplish chores with no stores

A pry bar is my friend as I rebuild the Nuthatch’s deck. That, and lots of bug repellent.

IT’S LIKE PAINTING THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE, maintaining my little piece of the rock. I start a project at one end, and by the time I’ve made it to the far side, it’s time to start over again.

After my 10-week voyage to Alaska and back, there’s plenty of deferred maintenance at the Nuthatch, the cabin whose name honors Center Island’s most common bird, with its endearing bandit-masked face and its call like a tin horn that a 19th-century child might have found in a Christmas sock. Of course, you also have to be a bit nuts to live here. No shops, no garbage trucks, no Starbucks.

The helpful meteorologist has given me day after day of pleasant sunshine the past two weeks, during which I’ve gotten back to rebuilding my slowly crumbling 25-year-old wooden deck. Unfortunately, Mother Nature has contributed a bumper crop of mosquitoes and no-see-ums, so I’ve started every day by liberally spraying my T-shirt with bug repellent. Supplementing that: the fun new handheld bug zapper, like a battery-powered handball racquet, sent me by a friend. It emits a satisfying crackle and spark every time a little blood sucker meets its maker.

My new battery-operated bug zapper adds a bit of sport to outdoor chores. Care is required, however. Instructions warn against swatting your own nose with it.

Understand, the deck rebuild isn’t a quick project. It’s in about Year Four, and it happens plank by plank. Being nuts enough to live where I do, acquiring fresh lumber generally involves a boat trip to Skagit County. Once off the boat, I trek over to the long-term parking lot across from the dock and revive my 11-year-old Civic for a trip to Home Depot or Lowe’s.

It might make more sense to have a pickup truck for this purpose, but my noble pickup, Ranger Rick, lives at the public dock on Lopez Island, waiting for my next trip to the dump. The bought-and-paid-for Civic is my mainland car. One is not made of money; one makes do.

So the speed with which the deck is rebuilt depends not only on my leisurely attitude toward home repairs, but on how many eight-foot planks can fit inside a Honda Civic four-door sedan.

Now, there is actually a bit of fun involved here. See, the rear seat of the Civic folds down so that there is clear space down the center of the car from the trunk through to the dashboard. When I wheel out into the parking lot with my cart laden with half a dozen 8-foot-long boards, pop open my car’s small trunk and stuff in the planks, one by one, I can’t help but feel like a conjurer. Penn, minus Teller. Siegfried, if not Roy. I’m sure I’ve mystified many a fellow hardware shopper.

I’ve also brought deck boards back from the lumber yard on Lopez Island on occasion, using my 20-foot runabout, WeLike. The conjuring trick is pretty much the same.

This week I’ve replaced six rotting boards. That might not sound like much but progress is evident. The old wood is generally soft enough that when I pry up the boards, the nails securing them to the frame below stay in place as the board pulls away. I then yank the old three-inch nails from the framework, which is generally in good shape. Yanking out nails that long is often a matter of throwing all my 166 pounds into leveraging the hammer claw. Sometimes it’s been a near thing that I haven’t catapulted off the side of the deck when a nail finally gave way.

There is sawing to make pieces fit. Sealing the old nail holes. Two coats of stain to delay the march of time and onslaught of weather. A spray of copper-infused preservative for the raw wood ends. It all takes time.

But the deck hasn’t fallen down yet. And it looks better after every little trip to the lumber yard.

Back on the rock: Paella with pals, and a bittersweet memorial

A bubbling vat of paella on a neighbor’s deck was the lure last week to a Center Island block party, easing my transition back to landlubberly existence.

BACK TO THE REEF, and the rock also known as Center Island.

I needed a writing hiatus for a few weeks after returning from the Alaska adventure. It’s been a period of readjustment to the landlubberly life, and to daily existence shared primarily with Galley Cat, with whom I’ve enjoyed a joyful reunion with many shared runs up and down our rocky knoll.

It took a week or so until I was waking in the morning without the inclination to jump out of my bunk, get coffee water heating on the Force 10 stove and climb down in the hold to complete the morning engine checks so we could weigh anchor.

My past three weeks of land-based confinement has hardly been solitary, though. After a couple of days reuniting with my brother Tom, who was my cabin watcher/cat sitter for 10 weeks, I was invited to lunch on Lopez Island with old friend and Seattle Times colleague Lynn Thompson and her family.

Shortly afterward, The Mad Birder and his wife, Carol, invited me next door with three other neighbors to share a bounty of Dungeness crab, freshly hauled from Lopez Sound. That led to another party two days later after neighbor Steve, a restaurant chef from Nevada, took the crab shells back to his holiday cabin to create a stock from which he whipped up a splendid vat of paella, colorfully aswim with fresh San Juan Channel shrimp, Read’s Bay crab and Center Island Farm vegetables. I was among the dozen or so neighbors who got to partake of that locavore lovefest on a sunset-view deck thanks to Steve and his wife, Dawn, the organizing force behind their family-owned eatery.

Neighbor Steve, the paella king of Center Island.

As cabin-owners come and go on our rock, you never know who will be your next neighbor. Right now, we’re enjoying an amiable mix of compatible friends along our dead-end spur of Chinook Way, the grandiose name of the gravel cow-path winding through our thickets of salal and Nootka rose. Three of us are sailboat owners (four, when you count the neighboring farm). Among others is a family with three energetic boys, ages 5, 7 and 9, who added an element of fun to the block party. The kids’ mom told me they are fans of a YouTube channel called “Outdoor Boys,” and the youngest had recently learned of the edibility of seaweed. So as we prepared to sit down to paella on Steve and Dawn’s deck, this adventurous 5-year-old, expertly wielding a pair of chopsticks, doggedly ate his way through a bowl of some sort of kelp. I like that spirit.

Over good food and drink, we all pondered our island existence. Because our cabins face west overlooking Lopez Sound, with the frequent reward of a sinking sun setting the saltwater sparkling brighter than a Tiffany’s display case, we decided our neighborhood’s new nickname should be “Sunset Strip.” There was serious talk of carving a sign.

A couple days later longtime friends Ken and Kate from Portland joined me for three nights at the Nuthatch, giving me a chance to barbecue, one of the things that makes life worth living (in case you didn’t know). Hickory-smoked vegan burgers with Lebanese spice one night. The next: thick-cut pork chops with a crust of fresh island rosemary, minced garlic and romano cheese, grilled with apple-wood smoke.

All that camaraderie and good food was lovely. But stress and emotion wasn’t absent from my return to the island. On my calendar, these days led up to last Sunday, August 21, when we committed my dear Barbara’s cremated remains to the Salish Sea. It wasn’t an easy day to plan for.

Sucia Island, a 90-minute boat ride to the north, was the location. For some 20 years, my family and I would spend a couple weeks of every August poking around the San Juans in our cozy old Westsail 32 sailboat, Sogni d’Oro. On those sojourns, Sucia Island State Park, near the Canadian border, became perhaps our favorite place in the world. In our wills, Barbara and I both requested that our remains be cast on waters around Sucia.

For a day trip with a dozen family members and friends, I chartered the Paraclete, the water taxi that I routinely use for passage to and from Anacortes. It was a day of good karma; just before arriving at Sucia, we encountered a pod of orca. For my sister-in-law Jane, who spent much of her childhood around the San Juans, this was the first time she finally saw an orca in the wild.

The picnic crowd near Barbara’s bench on Sucia Island. From here you can see far into Canada.

The Sucia visit included a one-mile hike to a new memorial bench honoring Barbara. The bench installation took more than a year to bring to fruition. The effort’s success can largely be credited to the persistent persuasive powers of my friend Daniel Farber, a retired official with Washington State Parks, along with dozens of friends and family who donated to a GoFundMe campaign. The bench’s bronze plaque reads: “For Barbara, who loved this island, from Brian, who always sat beside her.” I’m sorry it doesn’t acknowledge the many others who played a role in the bench’s creation. Barbara and I chose the wording some time ago, paraphrasing a line from a favorite old movie, to be adapted for whomever went first.

The bronze plaque on Barbara’s bench.

Barbara loved to picnic, so we all brought sack lunches and sat on the bench or on the rocky hillside sloping down to the water. Barbara’s sister Julie made a couple loaves worth of sandwiches; ham-and-pickle and chicken salad, according to family tradition. Her brother Mark brought a toothsome potato salad. For the first time in my life, I made deviled eggs, another family favorite.

After lunch, we reboarded the boat and motored a short ways offshore while snacking on chocolate-coated cream puffs, one of Barbara’s favorite desserts, baked by daughter Lillian. We toasted the memory of a dear wife, mother and sister as we scattered her ashes into the sea along with armloads of summer flowers, many provided by our friend Monique from Center Island Farm.

Daughter Lillian tries out the park bench honoring her mum.

It was a bittersweet but wonderful day. A regrettable follow-up: At least three people who made the trip came down with COVID within days. Sigh. Their symptoms are mild, thanks to vaccinations. I’m feeling fine, so far. One way or another, it seems likely that we’ll all catch this stupid bug eventually.

The Mad Birder summed up the day.

“Regardless of the consequences, Sunday was beautiful, and … the bench is soooooo perfect.”

Lillian and I have resolved to revisit that bench every summer. Barbara will be sitting beside us in spirit, I’m certain.

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 sat 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.