Bears, beauty and a backwoods character in B.C.

At Lacy Falls, foaming curtains of water thundered down a rock wall and into Tribune Channel.

MORE JOTTINGS from my Alaska-bound voyage aboard the 37-foot Nordic Tug, Osprey.

Tuesday, May 31

Three good things today:

  1. The peaceful patter of rain on Osprey’s roof, and the magical, misty morning as we departed Ford’s Cove, Hornby Island, B.C., at 6:30 a.m. in calm seas. A good breakfast of scrambled eggs with ham and cilantro, thanks to shipmate Bill Watson. Low clouds and low visibility lent a cocoon feel to the boat.
  2. No problems at Cape Mudge, where currents and winds can be nasty, enabling a noon arrival at the small city of Campbell River.
  3. Buying a new billed cap, with an embroidered eagle design by a Kwakiutl artist, at a First Nations gallery and gift shop, and finding bear spray at the big Canadian Tire store in the mall next to our marina. Friends who’ve traveled this coast say bear spray is a must-have if we want to go ashore.

Wednesday, June 1

        We departed Campbell River at 5 a.m. amid a glorious pink dawn to catch the 6:30 slack at Seymour Narrows, where currents have been documented to be some of the strongest and most dangerous on earth. Capt. George Vancouver described it as “one of the vilest stretches of water in the world.” By 8:30 a.m. we were northbound in Johnstone Strait in lightly rippled seas amid dramatic, fjordlike scenery with humpty green hills, snowy ridges and sculpted granite shorelines that resembled elephant skin – gray and wrinkled. Only one other vessel was in sight, identified by our AIS system as a 39-foot pleasure boat named “A Couple of Bucks.” “Two gay guys?” my shipmate Carol speculated.

We’d been worried we’d be in a nonstop parade of northbound boats in this post-COVID year (if indeed we can call it that), but now Bill has wondered repeatedly if everyone else has fallen off the edge of the earth. The seas are empty! And for a waterway notorious for steep waves and fierce winds, Johnstone Strait this day showed us its cultured, gentle side. If it was at a tea party, it would have been sipping with pinkie raised.  Snow-capped peaks laden with lots of snow peeked from the east, and it was chilly out on the transom where I wrote these notes. Our instruments said 48 degrees F. air temperature and water temperature of 49.

Three good things this day:

  1. The totally calm, pink-sunrise morning that enabled an easy exit from our Campbell River marina, with a dead-easy transit of notorious Seymour Narrows, which we caught at slack water between tides.
  2. Dolphins riding our bow wave! In the pancake-flat water, they were easy to see even underwater, and a treat to watch. They have so much fun! Shipmate Barbara Marrett identified them as Pacific white-sided dolphins. A half-dozen or so accompanied us as we headed north on Discovery Passage.
  3. Never thought this would be one of my “good things,” but we encountered our first cruise ship of the voyage as we approached Seymour Narrows. The pilot put out a “Sécurité” call on the VHF radio to alert other boats that he was approaching the narrows and asked for contact from any concerned vessel. The ship was less than a mile behind us and closing fast. I thumbed the button on the radio mike and conversed with the jovial pilot, who expressed sincere appreciation when I told him we’d pull aside into Menzies Bay and let him go through the narrows ahead of us so there would be no conflicts. We had been warned to just stay out of the way of cruise ships and expect no courtesy, so this was a happy surprise. The vessel, Star Breeze, was relatively small, probably carrying fewer than 1,000 passengers, we estimated.

We anchored for the night at Boughey (say “Boogie”) Bay, off Havannah Channel, around the corner from Johnstone Strait. It took two tries to anchor before we settled on a good spot. I barbecued vegetarian burgers on the grill, supplemented with a Greek salad.

After dinner, around 7:45 p.m., Bill was peering out the stern window when he suddenly called out “Bear!” Sure enough, on the narrow shoreline about 50 yards from us a good-sized bear was lumbering along the beach. Woohoo! Our first bear sighting. We grabbed cameras and dashed out on deck. I thought it was a black bear, but my shipmates convinced me it was too brown. And it had a hump. It was a grizzly. What a thrill! Surprisingly, we had phone service in this remote and lonely spot, so I texted friends and family in excitement.

First bear of the voyage: A grizzly saunters along the beach 50 yards from our boat.

Thursday, June 2

Unrelenting rain dimpled the waters of Boughey Bay as we awakened to the early-morning sound of a foghorn on nearby Johnstone Strait. By the time I was up and making coffee, with the diesel heater warming the boat, visibility improved, but snatches of wispy cloud remained strewn across the dramatic landscape like crumpled tissues cast about by a sniffly mountain troll. Beautiful, in a somewhat forbidding way. It was another good day for cocooning on our cozy boat.

No sign this morning of our bear friend. I admit, I slept in the salon with the door to the transom firmly locked after Barbara and Bill laughed about how even their cat can open door handles like Osprey’s. If Spanky can, how about a griz? (And bears are good swimmers.)

Three good things from the day:

  1. Making almond-flour pancakes from daughter Lillian’s recipe, and getting raves from everyone around the breakfast table.
  2. Spotting two orcas just before we cruised in through narrow channels to see the tiny islands of Matilpi, just outside Boughey Bay. A white-shell midden marked the site of a long-deserted native village. Barbara and Carol noted that the whales and an eagle on the beach were likely spiritual descendants of the former villagers. The place felt mystical.
  3. Motoring through Chatham Channel, Call Inlet, Knight Inlet and 550-foot-deep Tribune Channel with waterfalls right and left and snowy mountains framed by forested saddles. We ended the day anchoring in 80 feet of water, using 300 feet of anchor chain, in gorgeous and tranquil Kwatsi Bay, where we were the only boat in a wide bowl of saltwater surrounded by mountains with five ribbon waterfalls plunging thousands of feet. Ahhh.
Osprey, all alone at anchor on remote Kwatsi Bay, B.C., looks like a toy boat amidst the overpowering landscape.

Friday, June 3

Waking up to pouring rain in Kwatsi Bay, I reflected on my recent visit to Hawaii, where I’ve always said that if it starts to rain, just wait five minutes and the sunshine will return. On this trip, my crewmates and I are coming to realize that if it stops raining on the B.C. Coast, just wait 5 minutes. It will start again.

The good news: We’ve been blessed by sun breaks every day around 5, just in time for Happy Hour in the Adirondack chairs on Osprey’s rooftop.

Three good things this day:

Local First Nations bands have donated several ceremonial masks to Billy Proctor’s Museum on Gilford Island.
  1. Lacy Falls! Wooo bloody hoo! I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Fueled by the heavy rain, from high above curtain after curtain of white water cascaded down a 100-foot-wide gray granite wall and into the saltwater of Tribune Channel. Truly spectacular. We all rushed to the transom to snap photos, and applauded as we departed. This was worth the whole trip – like ocean surf, but vertical! All framed by green conifers and wispy low clouds.
  2. It was my turn to prepare lunch. Everybody liked the grilled cheese sandwiches with dill pickles and sliced orange smiles on the side.
  3. From Echo Bay Marina on Gilford Island, escorted by Cocoa, the friendly husky-shepherd mix who is the marina’s mascot, we hiked through the woods (bear spray in hand) to Billy Proctor’s Museum. This 87-year-old fisherman, born on an island eight miles away, has spent a lifetime collecting everything from 150-year-old beer bottles to a jade skinning blade found on the beach when he was 5. An authentic, salty backwoods character, he has also been a political activist, marching on Victoria in opposition of fish farming in his local waters. We chatted about his colorful life and beautiful island home. What a good way to end an adventurous week.
87-year-old Billy Proctor welcomes boaters and other visitors to his homespun museum on Gilford Island, B.C.