Saturday, September 6, 2014

British Columbia South: Port McNeill to Ganges

August 16-26, 2014

You never know what you might see in a small town parade:  You might see a horse of a different color. 

A zebra-striped horse
You might see a Breast Cancer Awareness Float.

This float was sponsored by a local business named "Bras for a Cause"...
....and it reminded people of the date for the annual Race for the Cure
You might see a logging truck or the emergency services out in full force.

Sure hope those brakes work!
Firemen and fire hose
At Port McNeill’s “Orca Fest,” we saw all of these, including some floats that were actually centered around the parade’s loosely interpreted theme:  Where the Wild Things Are.

A float sponsored by loggers
And one by a daycare center
The citizenry started lining the streets early in anticipation of the parade. 

Citizens start to line up for the Orca Fest Parade
Some children were dressed up for the occasion, and many of them had plastic or paper bags in their hands because, as we learned, parade marchers throw treats in small town parades. We were in Canada, but this was like Halloween in the United States. After a float went by, its sponsors throwing handfuls of hard candy, suckers, or gum at the kids lining the street, it was a free-for-all while the children scrambled around in the street to pick up as much candy as they could. Sometimes, treats were tossed for adults, too. I watched as one child caught a brand new dashboard protector for a car, eyed it quizzically, and handed it off on the nearest adult! (I could tell I was in a small town when, instead of keeping it, that adult handed it back to the child and told her to run over and give it to her parents.) T-shirts were launched into the crowd out of blow guns. All told, the town had a great time at its summer party, and we enjoyed watching the festivities.

Port McNeill is in a transition zone between northern/central and southern British Columbia. In Port McNeill, we saw both the fishing and logging industries well represented. After Port McNeill, we saw more logging than fishing in British Columbia. (Could there be a correlation?)

Port McNeill as seen from the anchorage
Log loading operation at Port McNeill
The harbor was extremely crowded and is divided into sides for recreational craft and fishing vessels. The fishing vessels were crammed together, rafted up four and five abreast of each other instead of having individual slips. Port McNeill also has an anchorage large enough to accommodate many vessels. We anchored out. 

The happy confusion of the commercial fishing terminal in Port McNeill
Boats rafted up together in the marina
By now, those of you who follow our blog regularly have figured out that we were on the fast track through British Columbia. We hadn’t stayed more than one night anywhere since leaving Prince Rupert, but we spent the weekend at Port McNeill. We hadn’t done any real boat maintenance since leaving Sitka and some tasks were due. We were also hoping the foggy weather pattern we’d been experiencing over the last several days would break up.  

When we left Port McNeill, it was overcast, and we did enter a fog bank as we re-crossed Queen Charlotte Strait; however, the fog was short lived. 

Mother and chick:  I'm not sure what species these were
First Nation Longhouse
We anchored in Shoal Harbour our first night in the Broughtons, a former logging area with some cabins still scattered around it. The next day, we saw another sign of home as we passed a piece of the old 520 floating bridge that had been brought up from Washington to build the breakwater at Echo Bay. The breakwater also houses the store and fuel dock. 

A piece of home in Echo Bay
Bypassing Echo Bay, we stopped for the night in Kwatsi Bay, a family run operation with dock space, showers, and local crafts for sale. The hosts, Max and Anca (who hails from Holland), cultivate a family feeling by hosting potlucks at the dock several nights a week. Boaters seem to return year after year and many of them know each other. Patrick has been there several times before, and it is a place I would happily revisit.  

Colorful rock wall at the entrance to Kwatsi Bay
A heron stalks the dock looking for prey in Kwatsi Bay
Leaving Kwatsi Bay the next morning, we were joined by a school of Pacific white-sided dolphins. They stayed with us for a good 45 minutes, bow riding, leaping out of the water, and even swimming upside down before the boat! I was standing on the bow taking pictures, and after a while, some of the dolphin seemed to become curious about what I was doing, as they rolled over on their side and looked at me looking at them.

A Pacific white-sided dolphin coming to join the boat
Blowhole!
These two dolphin appear to be a mother and calf
A mother and calf ride the bow together, as seen through the water
I don't know who is more curious
We traveled the narrow Chatham Channel to Knight Inlet. You never know what you might see in channels along the Inside Passage either. You might see floathouses collapsing:

You might find a used car.

Cars for sale
Or a new house:
"Vacancy"
You might see a pretty view.

We followed Knight Inlet back out into Johnstone Strait where, sadly, we did not come across any orca. (We were already below the part of the strait most frequented by the orca.) Although the usual high wind warning was forecast for Johnstone Strait, we passed Port Neville in good conditions and turned off the strait to anchor for the night in Forward Harbour. Somewhere between Kwatsi Bay and Forward Harbour, the sun came out again, pretty much to stay. Ahh! Summer at last!

Vista on the way to Forward Harbour
From Forward Harbour, we had to go through a series of rapids while traveling through the rest of the Broughton Islands. This involved the careful timing of our departure for the next two days in order to enter the rapids at a favorable stage of the tide.We left late the next morning in order to catch the last of the ebb through Whirpool Rapids. We were hoping to get a little help from the current in our direction.   

The rapids look so benign near slack water...
....but when does Silhouette ever do nine knots in glassy conditions?
Lovely scenery along Whirlpool Rapids
This was followed by going through Greene Point Rapids at slack water. After completing both sets of rapids without experiencing more than a bit of current, we had a leisurely trip into Shoal Bay.

We saw some picturesque fishing lodges along the way. 

Sweet spot along the channel
 We also began to see more clear cuts throughout this part of the waterway. While the individual clear cuts in British Columbia seem to cover less area than in the past, and the logging industry seems to be leaving a buffer zone of timber along the shoreline---which probably catches some of the silt running off the clear cuts---they are still the major method of harvesting trees. 

A clear cut adjoining new growth from a previous clear cut and mature second growth
We saw this interesting clear cut
Patchwork left by clear cuts
One of the larger clear cuts
Just before arriving at Shoal Bay, we began to see tantalizing tall peaks in the distance. 

Peak outside Shoal Bay
Rock wall approaching Shoal Bay
The wharfinger at the public marina at Shoal Bay also owns property at the head of the bay, where he and his partner run a pub and an organic garden. It is a popular stop for boats waiting to transit the rapids on either side of the bay.  

Anchorage and public dock at Shoal Bay as seen from the pub
In Shoal Bay, I began to see familiar forest understory, sword ferns and salal, reminding me that our march towards home was bringing us ever-closer.   

The next morning brought a series of three rapids in quick succession:  Dent, Gillard, and Yuculta Rapids. Of these, Dent Rapids seemed to have the most current, but that’s probably because it’s the first one we came to as we approached slack water.  

The Broughtons empty into Desolation Sound, a high use and very crowded area in mid-August. We only stayed in one anchorage there, Squirrel Cove, before moving on. 

Peaks in morning haze, Desolation Sound
From this point out, we began entering more and more crowded areas with more and more boating traffic. It began to prepare us psychologically for returning to the huge metropolitan area that is Seattle and for crossing the shipping lanes in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. .

From Squirrel Cove, we visited Pender Harbour. The entrance into Pender Harbour requires you to be very alert due to heavy vessel traffic and the many crab pots lining the channel. The houses in the area blend nicely into the sparsely wooded rocky cliffs and islets. Once through the channel, you see that Pender Harbour is actually a series of harbors, with many interesting nooks and crannies. It made this large harbor feel smaller and less crowded than the next two anchorages we visited. 

I knew I was close to home when I saw my first madrone tree
Houses on the approach to Pender Harbour
Entering Pender Harbour
 From Pender Harbour, it is possible to make the miles to Ganges in just one day, but we left later in the morning and just went as far as Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. We had to cross the Strait of Georgia, and this was one of the few times during our trip through British Columbia when we had enough wind to sail. The entry channel into Nanaimo Harbour is narrow, shallow, and clogged with vessels, and the anchorage was equally challenging. Along with sailboats and motor craft, there were many smaller vessels such as kayaks, canoes, and even windsurfers threading their way through the mooring field. We arrived late in the day, and there was a steady stream of traffic between the entrance channel and the edge of the anchorage that we had to get across before we could anchor.

Downtown Nanaimo
Part of the anchorage and mooring field in Nanaimo Harbour
Both Pender Harbour and Nanaimo are considered part of “the Sunshine Coast,” and it was living up to its name. While many marinas have the equivalent of a “Dinghy Dock Pub,” Nanaimo’s is the only one we’ve been to that is actually located on a floating dock. We enjoyed a couple of beers there before returning to the boat for a Mexican dinner. That night, we enjoyed a free blues concert in the cockpit, which resounded across the water to the anchorage from a venue in downtown Nanaimo.

The next day, we (and several dozen other boats) had the hook up early to catch slack water at Dodd Narrows. As we approached Dodd Narrows and I looked behind us, the steady stream of boats exiting Nanaimo reminded me of commuter traffic at rush hour. We passed through an industrial part of Nanaimo en route to the narrows, and I realized it is a big lumber port. 

Wood chip barge being filled
Watering down logs to keep them from heating up too much
Although short, Dodd Narrows is the narrowest narrows we’ve been through yet. We were lucky that morning all the boats went through in single file and we weren’t slammed by any wakes. As we exited the narrows, we saw two tugs with log tows waiting to enter Dodd Narrows from the south! One of them would clearly fill the entire narrows, and a short time later, we heard its Securite call. 

Boats heading single-file southbound through Dodd Narrows
We anchored that night in Ganges on Saltspring Island in the Gulf Islands. I had heard about Ganges from many boaters, but somehow, I pictured it to be smaller and quieter than it was. Ganges was so full of summer boaters, that we could barely find room to anchor. It had several marinas, all of which appeared to be packed full of boats. There were also a lot of occupied mooring buoys in the bay. I searched in vain for Patrick’s old trimaran, Bacchanal, which had been left on a mooring in Ganges the last time we’d heard from his new owner three years ago.

The Waggoner Cruising Guide cites Ganges as a “foodie haven,” so naturally we had to sample the fare. There are two restaurants in Ganges with their own organic gardens that grow produce for their menu, the Hastings House and the Harbour House. We didn’t visit either of these this time, but wandering around town came across the bustling Tree House Café. I have to write a plug for this restaurant because the food was some of the most creative and delicious of our entire voyage, and it was reasonably priced. The Tree House also had excellent live music for the cost of a donation. It is an open-air restaurant, and all of the seating is basically outdoors; however, no alcohol is served at the tables in front of the café. We really enjoyed our evening out.

Ironically, sitting next to us at the Tree House, was Mark Bunzel (the publisher of Waggoner Cruising Guide) and his daughter. Patrick recognized him but I didn’t. We got to talking to each other over dinner (the seating is very close), and Mark started asking us about our boat. When he heard it was a Cabo Rico, he asked if we had gotten it in San Francisco. (Most Cabo Ricos are from the east coast.) It turned out that Mark had actually sailed on Silhouette with two of its former owners. He had even flown parts and supplies to Silhouette in Mazatlan on his small plane!

When we returned to the boat that evening, a glorious sunset was coloring the sky. It was a perfect way to end the day in our last Canadian anchorage. 

Sunset over the anchorage in Ganges

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