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.

Good night, sweet Prince (Rupert)

A golden, sunny evening in Prince Rupert brought diners to the deck of the venerable Breakers Pub on the Cow Bay waterfront.

WHO WAS HE, this prince for whom a remote British Columbian city was named? Prince Rupert of the Rhine was a German-English army officer, admiral, scientist and colonial governor who first came to prominence as a cavalry commander during the English Civil War of 1642–1651.

I’m sure you were on the edge of your seat, wondering.

One thing Rupert’s eponymous city has no shortage of is bald eagles. They’re like Seattle’s crows: everywhere you look. During our brief stay here, the beautiful big raptors have been our constant companions in Cow Bay Marina, especially this sun-drenched evening when the sport fishermen returned from a day of angling and cut up their catches on the sterns of their boats. Eagles swooped over Osprey’s roof again and again in hope of harvesting a fish head or two that might get tossed their way.

The Wild Man of the Woods mask, at the Museum of Northern B.C.

And they’re constantly hanging out nearby. Elsewhere in the world, we’re accustomed to eagles roosting in the tippy top of old gray snag firs, but this town’s urban birds prefer to while away the hours atop a stubby communications tower on the roof of the port building. They are the pigeons of Prince Rupert.

Tuesday, June 14

Three good things from this day, before we set out tomorrow for our next perilous ocean crossing, at Dixon Entrance:

(1) Enjoying a strong WiFi signal so I can catch up with my blogging!

(2) Visiting the nearby Museum of Northern British Columbia, with its excellent collection of First Nations artifacts, crafts and regalia, including a pair of 19th-century painted-bark leggings trimmed with a generous fringe of puffin beaks, of all things — dozens of them, enough to rattle and shake as the wearer walked.

Just down the street from the museum, behind the Prince Rupert courthouse, we also enjoyed the colorful sunken garden, a public treasure created in days past by a venerated groundskeeper.

Prince Rupert’s Sunken Garden, on the courthouse grounds.

(3) Getting my laundry done at a downtown laundromat, and buying another week’s worth of underpants at Walmart. Cruising life will now be easier.

Relentless rains make for riotous waterfalls on northward trek

The gushing waterfall at Butedale, British Columbia.

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.

Sunrise reflects on Codville Lagoon, B.C., before the rains began.

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.

The Big House at Klemtu, British Columbia.

(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.

Osprey sits at dock adjacent to the crumbling, abandoned cannery at Butedale, B.C.

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…

The current from raging Verney Falls kept our anchored boat from drifting on Lowe Inlet.

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?

The narrow entry to Baker Inlet hid a delightful, almost landlocked anchorage.

(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!

A wall of waterfalls serenaded us with the constant sound of cascading water at Baker Inlet, British Columbia.

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.

A whole different world for Osprey and its crew: Prince Rupert’s industrial waterfront.

(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.

A peaceful night on Baker Inlet, British Columbia.

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.

Good things multiply on the way to the Last Frontier

Our chartered Nordic Tug named Osprey shares a dock with a burley Canadian tug named La Fille at Ford’s Cove on Hornby Island, British Columbia.

ONE OF MY NEW FRIENDS told me about a good way to work through difficult times: Every day, write down three good things that happened that day.

I tried it, and it has turned into my journal for our voyage to Alaska. Here are my entries for the first few days, featuring me and my three crewmates: Barbara Marrett and Bill Watson, from Friday Harbor, and Carol Hasse, from Port Townsend.

Saturday, May 28

  1. We departed on our great adventure to Alaska.
  2. We saw orcas! Just off Flattop Island as we motored from Bellingham to Sidney. Spouting and surfacing again and again. We throttled down, veered away, and oohed and ahhed.
  3. At the Sidney, B.C. customs dock, we met an extremely friendly and helpful crew of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police patrol boat. (On the side of the big, modern vessel was the silhouette logo of a Mountie on a horse.) They were the nicest federal agents you ever could meet. They gave us tips on where to find hot springs and great crabbing as we head up the British Columbia coast. O, Canada!

Early in the day, oil-pressure doubts delayed our Bellingham departure. The gauge was reading well below what the owner’s cheat sheet recommended (55 rather than 70-90), but after we took our worries to the charter office, Matt the mechanic came and gave his OK. We were misinterpreting the gauge reading as kilograms instead of PSI – pounds per square inch. Oh, well. Better cautious than stranded dead in the water.

We motored through nice, pancake-flat seas most of the way to Sidney. Caught a counter-current along the shore of Speiden Island, which sported a gorgeous, seasonally transitional mix of green and brown hillsides, sculpted like a shapely gelatin mold. Stately oaks punctuated hillsides grazed by Japanese deer, which previous owners of the island had imported long ago as part of a misguided exotic-game hunting scheme, briefly renaming the isle “Safari Island.”

Osprey skirts the shore of Speiden Island.

Carol donned her knitted maple-leaf tuque hat (complete with dorky chin straps and a beany on top) to raise the Canadian courtesy flag as we crossed the international border on Haro Strait. We sang the two bars of Canada’s anthem that we knew. I vow to learn the words before the voyage’s end.

Crew member Carol Hasse, aka Sea Goddess, raises the Canadian courtesy flag as Osprey crosses Haro Strait.

Sunday, May 29

Three good things today:

  1. How helpful and kind my three friends were when I, taking a turn at the helm, totally botched the dock departure from Port Sidney marina. (I looked at the side-thruster toggles and couldn’t for the life of me figure out which one to use as I backed out. For those familiar with the holiday film “A Christmas Story,” I pulled a Total Ralphie. “Football? What’s a football?”)
  2. On the way to Nanaimo, we navigated and transited our first major marine challenge, Dodd Narrows. We perfectly timed it, got there an hour before slack water and didn’t get stuck behind the waiting tug with a long raft of logs. We smiled and waved at a small crowd of spectators sitting on the rocky shore watching boats maneuver the often-swirling waters. Apparently it’s entertainment when you live in Nanaimo.
  3. We snagged a buoy tucked into pretty Mark Bay at Newcastle Island Provincial Park, with a smashing view across the harbor of downtown (with its three high-rise – 25-story? – buildings, which I don’t remember from when I was last there about 20 years ago). After a happy hour on Osprey’s sun-drenched rooftop, we went for a walk in Hasse’s “favorite park in the world” to see the big old-fashioned dance hall and lovely views of anchored freighters. Then all four of us scrunched into the dink to buzz across to neighboring Protection Island, a few hundred yards away, for dinner at the Dinghy Dock Restaurant, accessible only by boat. (A giant bowl of clam chowder for me.)
Nanaimo at sunset, as seen from our delightful moorage at Newcastle Island.

Monday, May 30

Three good things today:

  1. After lots of angst, angst, angst about the day’s planned destination of Comox, for which we didn’t have proper charts, the anchorage sounded dodgy, and the departure involved transiting a very iffy bar, we bailed on that idea. As we passed the gorgeous lighthouse on Chrome Island, we spied little Ford’s Cove Marina on neighboring Hornby Island. Hasse and I asked ourselves, “Why not here instead?” It would add just 12 miles to our planned 30-mile day tomorrow, I discovered with a quick flick of dividers on the nautical chart. So we headed in and tied up in one of the homiest, funkiest little non-tourist marinas this side of Mexico. We were the only visiting boat among an earthy, friendly community of locals and liveaboards who were out sanding rails and leaning against pilings. They reminded me of the Scottish townspeople in the movie “Local Hero.” A great little store, well-stocked, stood a few feet from a building housing terrible, stinky pit toilets. “Sorry, we’ve no running water,” explained the charmingly accented young harbormaster as we paid our $50 Canadian for a night.
  2. While Barbara and Carol went for a walk to a waterfall and other scenic wonders, I hung with Bill and prepared dinner: salmon steaks marinated in soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sesame oil and turmeric, with grilled fresh asparagus and quinoa with olive-oil toasted almonds. On our rooftop, we dined in the sun and listened to eagle calls and the echoing kettle-drum thumping of a woodpecker on a dead tree high on a wooded hillside above us. In the distance: snow-frosted mountains on Vancouver Island. Sublime!
  3. We ended the day with a lively round of Barbara and Bill’s favorite board game, “Ticket to Ride.” I almost won, laying down a rail route from Seattle to Montreal, but Barbara edged me out. Bill and I agreed to get up early the next day and shove off while the women slept in, so we could catch the tides right for our passage of dreaded Cape Mudge (you have to say it with a droning voice of fear, which Barbara has mastered) on the way to Campbell River, our stop for the night. I sat on the rooftop and wrote in my journal as the sun sank behind the mountains and a refreshing chill settled over the cove. The morning would bring rain, dramatic mists, and more adventures.
One of the full-of-character project boats at Ford’s Cove.