HARD TO BELIEVE it’s been a week since I’ve updated you, faithful readers, but Osprey’s crew has been busily wending our way northward, encountering only a few lonely First Nations villages among the rain-drenched fjords and mossy inlets of the northern British Columbia coast.
Internet access has been as rare as, well, cell towers in the wilderness.
But all is well. Today, I bid you greetings from Northern B.C.’s “big” city: sunny Prince Rupert. Back to that soon.
In the meantime, it’s been a wet, wet, wet, wet week on this coast. The silver lining: Pouring rain makes for gloriously gushing waterfalls, anywhere there’s a ravine, or a 2,000-foot cliff, or a not-yet-melted snowcapped peak.
Here are my latest journal scribblings, focusing on three good things per day on this 10-week round-trip from Bellingham to Juneau aboard Osprey, our chartered Nordic Tug 37.
Wednesday, June 8
Three good things this day:
(1) The lovely dawn-time reflections of mountains and rocky shoreline on Codville Lagoon as we departed. Something a painter would struggle to copy.
(2) Lucking into an open dock space at Shearwater Marina, which had never responded to our emails or phone messages requesting a reservation. The local Heiltsuk First Nations band purchased the resort a year ago, and their business management style tends toward what you might call relaxed. But we found the gentleman in the harbormaster’s office to be soft-spoken, genial and welcoming.
(3) Shipmate Carol Hasse’s kind hosting of us all to dinner at the marina’s restaurant. It was the perfect end to a day that included welcome showers, espresso drinks at the coffee shop and catching up with messages from home. Bill feasted on a big rib-eye steak, something he’d been lusting after for days.
Thursday, June 9
Departed Shearwater at 7 a.m., bound for Rescue Bay, just off Mathieson Channel. A very rainy day.
Three good things:
(1) After listening to the weather radio, we knew this would be the worst weather day of the week, and we wanted to make some northward progress before expected gale-force winds arrived in the afternoon. With some good advice from a retired Coast Guard friend in Victoria with whom Hasse had been in touch, we made our way to narrow, protected Reid Passage. That let us skirt wide-open Milbanke Sound, swept by wild ocean swells this day. As we motored west from Shearwater on wide Seaforth Channel, rollers were breaking like Waikiki surf on lonely islets and hidden rocks until we turned northward into Reid Passage, about 100 feet wide between rocky and mossy shores. There, danger was past. A nerve-wracking bit of piloting for me, and a relief when it was over.
(2) Rescue Bay didn’t rescue us. Winds were blowing from the northeast, directly opposite what was forecast, bringing waves right into the northward-facing bay. So we pressed on northwestward into a very narrow and rock-strewn channel of Jackson Passage, sheltered by high hills on both sides. We were joking to one another that “wouldn’t it be nice if we could just drop the hook in here?” when we suddenly spied an anchor symbol on our Navionics chart plotter, marking a tiny cove just to starboard. We pulled in and anchored for the night, perfectly protected, as we listened to weather reports of 50-knot gusts at Egg Island in Queen Charlotte Sound, which we had transited two days ago. We dubbed the unnamed cove “Jackson Hole.”
(3) A very pleasant evening of cozy camaraderie on board as the rain poured unrelentingly. A fishing boat joined us in our cove, but not too close for comfort. We played a game of Murder of Crows (Barbara M. won, for the second time in a row) and watched a movie I brought, “Mrs. Henderson Presents,” with Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins. A fun evening. Up at dawn to weigh anchor by 6 for a long day on the water tomorrow…
Friday, June 10
Three good things this day:
(1) Seeing the beautifully decorated Big House, the First Nations ceremonial meeting house at the Kitasoo/Xaixais village of Klemtu on Swindle Island, and marveling at the layering of landscapes, softened by fog and rain as we motored peacefully up deserted Tolmie Channel, seemingly the only people left on earth.
(2) Exploring the dramatic 5-mile fjord of Khutze Inlet, a wonderland of high hills, thousand-foot waterfalls and deep saltwater.
(3) After our plan to visit the First Nations village of Hartley Bay is quashed by a COVID closure, deciding on the spur of the moment to turn in and stay the night at the dock at Butedale, a long-abandoned cannery site off Princess Royal Channel. We met sailors on two other boats, including the pretty schooner-rigged Wild Gypsy, crewed by a couple of retired school teachers. Arriving shortly after us: two intrepid kayakers who are paddling from Lund, B.C., to Skagway, Alaska. Carol, Barbara M. and I explored the ruins, stepping around a generous pile of bear scat on a boardwalk, and took a dinghy ride to get a close look at the mammoth, rain-fueled waterfall that drains from a lake above the site. Every manmade thing at Butedale is crumbling, as nature takes back its own.
Saturday, June 11
Three good things this day:
(1) I awoke at 6:30 to the singing of loons echoing across the bay at Butedale. Their haunting yodel lent a wondrous delight to the tired old shorefront.
(2) My “baked underwear” scheme was a resounding success! After inadvisedly skipping a laundry opportunity at Shearwater Marina, I paid the price by running out of clean undies and socks yesterday. While rinsing out underpants in soapy water in the head sink worked fine, I knew that they would never dry in this damp, cool weather if hung in the boat cabin or outside on a railing. But I knew from experience that the engine room during a long day of motoring gets positively oven-like. So I wrung out a pair of briefs, spread them atop a battery box and secured them under a strap so no flying underpants would get tangled in moving parts. At day’s end, they were Death Valley dry. So this morning I washed two more pairs and a couple pairs of socks, which went below to bake during our voyage to Lowe Inlet. That’s cruising.
(3) Arriving at Lowe Inlet at 2:30 p.m., we dropped our anchor right in front of beautiful Verney Falls, which empties out of an adjacent lake. The guidebooks tipped us off that the current from the falls would hold us in line without swinging far on our anchor, and it pretty much worked like a charm. We had a lovely view of the falls and the hills all around, including the pretentiously named Duchess of Dufferin Range to the south, and the less-interesting Bare Top Range to the north. But what if the duchess went bare topped, maybe that wouldn’t be so ho-hum, Hasse suggested…
Sunday, June 12
We’ve been at this for over two weeks now and Carol H. is about to leave us. It will be a big change to our dynamic as a crew. She has added so much heart and so many smiles to the voyage. I told her today that I would miss making coffee for her every morning, and we shared a hug.
Three good things:
(1) A pleasant morning with sun breaks! The rain has been a burden this past week. We’ve not been out in our kayaks yet, nor taken any real hikes on shore. Our ongoing quip, “Oh, what a surprise, it’s raining!” has worn as thin as a thrice-darned sock. We were glad for the sunlight on the hillsides and kept watching for rainbows as rain clouds lingered.
(2) I made my almond-flour pancakes again (daughter Lillian’s recipe), on this Sunday morning when we didn’t plan to go far and a 10 a.m. departure (late for us) worked fine. Cooked up some crisp turkey bacon with the flapjacks. Could anything be better in this world than the rapturous aroma of bacon frying on a boat anchored amid the outflow of a rampaging waterfall in the Canadian wilderness?
(3) Spontaneity struck again, in a delightful way. After re-reading the guidebook details of this day’s planned anchorage, Kumealon Inlet, we were feeling lukewarm about it. Previous visitors wrote online about logging onshore, and poor holding ground for anchors. A few miles short of arriving, we saw a navigation marker onshore and checked the chart. It was the entrance to Baker Inlet, which looked intriguing. We quickly read good things about it in Waggoner’s and another favorite guide, with mention of howling wolves by night and wandering bears and deer by day. And the narrow, narrow entry we now saw was barely an opening in the trees! Hard for the adventurous spirit to resist. After a quick poll of crewmates, Hasse and I convinced Bill, at the helm, to turn in. The entry was barely wide enough for two boats. Tree branches hung low and blind-alley curves concealed what lay ahead. I asked Bill if he recalled the scene of Humphrey Bogart hauling his boat through the jungle in the film “The African Queen.” This looked like that, though charts promised safe passage. After a few minutes we emerged to a wide, wonderful lake-like setting surrounded by snowy peaks and ribbon waterfalls. Nary a ripple disturbed the inlet’s nearly landlocked surface. A magical spot to spend the night. We’d listen for howling wolves!
Monday, June 13
Three good things:
(1) No howls overnight, but we were compensated by waking up to a mirrorlike pond surrounding Osprey. The tide was quite low; Hasse’s tide-guide research tipped us off to a 20-foot range overnight. We departed at 6:30 a.m., aiming for a noon arrival at Prince Rupert so Carol would have plenty of time to pack and prepare for her early Tuesday departure as a foot passenger on the B.C. Ferries sailing for Port Hardy, where a friend will meet her with a car. I piloted Osprey out the ultra-narrow passage at the entrance to Baker Inlet. Added to my morning cuppa strong coffee, it was an adrenaline rush. While charts indicated good depths, the low tide narrowed the breadth between rocky shores. I proceeded at dead slow, sticking carefully to mid-channel. Expelled a big sigh when we popped out into Grenville Channel at last. Fun, fun, fun. And memorable.
(2) After a week in the wilds, it was a treat to spend a day back in town. Prince Rupert, with its towering cranes for loading container ships, and long lines of train cars parked along the industrial waterfront, is a big city in this corner of the world. After checking in to Cow Bay Marina, we walked up a hill to reprovision at a big Safeway supermarket, then enjoyed a pub dinner with lots of cold local beer, Wheelhouse Gillnetter pale ale.
(3) Skyped with daughter Lillian. Sitting with my laptop out on the boat’s foredeck in the British Columbian sunshine – finally! – it was a pleasure to see her smiling face for the first time in two weeks, and to catch up on family news. In three days, she and a girlfriend fly to Paris for a European adventure. You just can’t nail us Cantwells down.
Us Osprey-ites, now reduced to three, have a stopover day in Prince Rupert to play tourist. Then, north toward Ketchikan! Alaska. Finally. Can’t wait.