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!