Tuesday, August 26, 2014

British Columbia North: Prince Rupert to Cape Caution

August 5-15, 2014

Channels upon channels, upon straits, upon passages, upon more channels…It is easy to imagine the early explorers getting lost in British Columbia’s (BC’s)  labyrinthine waterways. I frequently lose track of where we are and have to run to consult the chart.

We checked into Canadian Customs in Prince Rupert, which as far as I can tell, is the only port of entry into the west coast of Canada from the north. Prince Rupert was the biggest city we’d seen since Honolulu, and it turned out to be rather industrial. I don’t think I’d make a point of a return visit, except for the obvious requirement of checking into BC Customs. (You don’t actually check in at “BC Customs,” as labeled on the chart; you check in at the Lightering dock or at the yacht club.)

Prince Rupert, British Columbia

The port of Prince Rupert
The Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club was one of the best things about Prince Rupert. They had a helpful, friendly staff, one of whom met us at the dock to take our lines:  the beginning of a courtesy that we found throughout British Columbia. While a nicety for us, it is especially helpful for single-handers. 

The friendly Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club
The most interesting story I came away from Prince Rupert with is about a Japanese fishing boat, the Kazu Maru. Its owner had gone out fishing in Japan, a year and a half previous to the discovery of the boat in British Columbia, and was never heard from again. A year and a half later, the boat washed ashore on the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii) near Prince Rupert. The boat turned out to be from Prince Rupert’s sister city in Japan, Owase. The city built a memorial for the boat, and the fisherman’s widow came to the opening ceremony. The event is reported to have brought the two sister cities closer together. The boat, along with various Japanese shrines on the same property, were surrounded by cyclone fencing when I visited. I didn’t take a picture.

After resupplying in Prince Rupert, we headed south through Grenville Channel. Although we had some sunshine during our stay in Prince Rupert, the day we left, we were back to the more typical weather we’ve had this summer.

Prince Rupert's weather gives it the nickname "Rainy Rupert"
Due to the fact that we were running short on time, we didn’t take the more scenic, outside route. Grenville Channel is a straight-cut channel, the shortest distance between two points. We broke up the monotony of this run by anchoring overnight in Baker Inlet, a lovely, if at-the-time rainy, anchorage. The next morning, after the mists and fog cleared, we at least experienced no precipitation. Exiting Grenville Channel, we anchored in an open roadstead, Coghlan Anchorage. 

Misty morning in Grenville Channel

The sun breaks through in Grenville Channel
Leaving Coghlan Anchorage, we were at a crossroads where five or six major channels came together from all directions. While I was curious about the intriguing Verney Passage up one side of Gil island, we had to table that voyage for a future trip. Instead, we headed for Princess Royal Channel, which is composed of three sections:  McKay Reach, Fraser Reach, and Graham Reach. 

Topography en route to Princess Royal Channel
Graham Reach, Princess Royal Channel
Heading south in Princess Royal Channel, Princess Royal Island is on your starboard side. It is here, Patrick tells me, where spirit bears live. Spirit bears, also known as Kermode bears, are a subspecies of black bear that have a white coat due to inheriting two recessive genes, one from each parent. They are not the same as albinos. We kept our eyes peeled, but since there are few good anchorages on that side of Princess Royal Island, the likelihood of us spotting a spirit bear while in transit was miniscule. Instead, we stopped for the night on the other side of the channel in Khutze Inlet. 

Khutze Inlet proved to be my favorite anchorage in northern BC. It reminded me a little of Red Bluff Bay on Baranof Island due to its lavish waterfalls, abundant wildlife, and bear meadow. Even though it had a luscious bear meadow, we did not see any bears:  Either they are wary of hunters at this location or, like the bears at Anan Creek, they were all congregated at another salmon stream at the time we visited. We saw some hefty salmon in the inlet, which indicates that the Khutze River itself is a viable spawning stream.   

Khutze Inlet has a magnificent setting

Boaters exploring the base of the waterfall in Khutze inlet

Silhouette at anchor with the waterfall in the background

Another falls in the inlet
There was a multitude of seals in Khutze Inlet, as well several eagles striking dramatic poses. The seals, as they always do, reminded me of old souls. Unfortunately, my photography did not do justice to the eagles. 

An old salt in Khutze Inlet

Seals hauled out on a drying sand spit
Upon leaving Khutze Inlet on August 10, we poked our nose into a former logging community, Swanson Bay, but the fog prevented us from seeing much of the remaining ruins. 
Misty morning in Swanson Bay

We also took a detour down Butedale Passage to see the collapsing cannery at Butedale, the oldest cannery on this part of the coast. In the days before refrigeration, all of the salmon caught in British Columbia and Alaska were canned. Engine-powered boats towed the fishing boats out to the fishing grounds, where they drifted and the fishermen hand trolled for salmon. The catch was brought back to the cannery. When an area was fished out, the cannery was closed down, and the fishing fleet moved on. There is now a “caretaker” at Butedale, and he has experimented with several variations on making a living, including charging for moorage and selling ice, bait, and ice-cream during the summer.

Ice cream was formerly sold to boaters at Butedale

Butedale Falls are another lovely falls

Part of the old cannery complex at Butedale
The main building of the old cannery
This may have been where the cannery workers lived
Exiting Princess Royal Channel, the sun broke through as we passed Boat Bluff in the early afternoon.   
Lighthouse complex at Boat Bluff:  The yellow drums hold diesel to run the generator
Exiting Princess Royal Channel into Finlayson Channel
We had two more passages, and one more narrows, to go through before we could rest that evening. From Finlayson Channel, we followed Jackson Passage and gave a Securite call before entering the short Jackson Narrows. At the end of Jackson Narrows, we rounded a point into Rescue Cove to anchor up for the evening. Here, we saw our first Canada geese:  a sign that we were getting closer to home.

Aquaculture operation in Jackson Passage:  one of many in BC
Entrance to Rescue Cove (from inside the cove)
The following day, we headed for Shearwater, the main town and supply point for central coastal British Columbia. On the way, we passed the Dryad Point Lighthouse and the town of Bella Bella, consisting of “old” Bella Bella and “new” Bella Bella, on opposite sides of the channel. The dock and anchorage at Shearwater were very crowded, but we managed to find a spot to anchor out in deep water (70’). Here, we bought groceries, used the Internet, and had a welcome meal out at the pub. 

Laundry day at Dryad Point Lighthouse

A bed and breakfast near Shearwater
Multicultural mural at Shearwater highlights those who have contributed to the community

Old Bella Bella

Burial ground on Bella Bella Island
Continuing on our way, we had planned to stop for the night in an anchorage called “Namu.” We ended up anchoring in Codville Lagoon instead, when both unforecast wind on the nose and heavy fog in Fitz Hugh Sound stood between us and our destination. The following morning, we still had heavy fog and zero visibility, but at least there was no wind and the seas were calm. We began a pattern that would last for the next several days:  Patrick manned the helm, while I manned the radar, as we slowly made our way down Fitz Hugh Sound to Quenn Charlotte Sound. The fog cleared around noon that day, and we anchored in Fury Cove, preparing to round Cape Caution the next day.

I didn't take any pictures of Fury Cove, but it was a pretty, land-locked (at low tide) anchorage amid exposed islets and waves crashing against the shore. Fury Cove is a popular place to wait for weather to round Cape Caution, so it was fairly crowded. At low tide, there is a lovely sandy beach, where many cruisers walked  their dogs, and where Patrick has seen bear in less crowded conditions.

We rounded Cape Caution the next day without incident. Conditions were calm in this sometimes-challenging part of the coast. I definitely felt that Cape Caution was more exposed than Dixon Entrance; it is the only time since making landfall at Sitka that I have seriously felt “the motion of the ocean.” After checking out a potential anchorage behind Knight Island (closer to our route), we elected to transit the four miles into Allison Harbour to anchor up for the evening. Allison Harbour was not all that protected, but it beat the exposure, depth, and log boom debris behind Knight Island.  

The next morning, we again left in heavy fog. Fog and Northern British Columbia are now synonymous to me, although perhaps they shouldn’t be. Maybe this is an unusual year. However, on this day, we navigated through dense fog---with from zero up to 1/8 mile visibility---from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. We find it extremely taxing and draining navigating through fog, even with all the help you get from radar and AIS (Automated Identification System). For one thing, in British Columbia, you are not just keeping a lookout for boats, but for logs, of which there are many. Due to the logging industry, and the practice of towing logs in large rafts from which there are escapees, many logs are found floating in BC waters. Add to this the driftwood logs which are carried off the beaches at the highest tides of the month (which we happened to be experiencing at the time), and you have a real navigation hazard. We crossed Queen Charlotte Strait in the heavy fog.  

After the fog cleared at 1600, I noticed that the dominant tree species on the islands around us was now Douglas Fir. As we pulled into Port McNeill on the northern tip of Vancouver Island, the concentration of boats with their home ports in Seattle, Anacortes, Kirkland, and Gig Harbor---as well as a couple of arriving float plane flights on Kenmore Air---supplied further incontrovertible evidence that we were getting closer to home.

At 5:00 p.m. on August 15, we anchored off Port McNeill. We had made it to southern British Columbia.    

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