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Robin & Jim


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Posted By Robin & Jim

We last left you when we were in Sidney Spit getting ready to cross from Canada back into the US - a whopping 6 miles!  Fortunately we now have NEXUS cards - a Trusted Traveler system that makes going between the US and Canada much easier.  We might still be stopped for a Customs inspection, but it's much less likely and most of the time we can clear in with a phone call.  Luckily, the phone call is all we needed and we could proceed directly to our chosen anchorage instead of heading to the Customs dock. 

We decided to check out Reid Harbor on Stuart Island in the northern San Juan Islands for a little hiking.  It's a pretty, long anchorage with some mooring balls and a dock provided by the Washington State Park system. 

stuart harbor

We took a few hikes around the island, and on our long hike out to see the lighthouse we came across this clothes line in the woods...

shopping island style

It was a "shopping" display of jackets, t-shirts, hats, and post cards - with the goods in a big wooden chest and an honor system to pay later online.  Pretty cool!  A local family puts it out, and the selection was nice.  We didn't expect to go shopping in the middle of the woods on a trail, but what the heck.

We continued on to the see the light house at Turn Point - the northernmost point on the island, and the place along the US-Canada border where big ships make a fairly hard turn to head up the Strait of Georgia or down and out the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Pacific Ocean.  It's a pretty spot and the old lighthouse and buildings are very well cared for.  We looked for orcas - they are often spotted here in the strong current, but we didn't see any this time.

 turn point

On the hike back to the dinghy dock we came upon this beautiful pileated woodpecker in the woods.  He didn't seem to mind us at all, and we were able to follow him as he flitted from tree to tree and jumped around on the ground looking for food.  The woods were pretty dark, but I was able to get a few photos.  What a treat!


We were running low on some fresh things like milk and veggies so we decided to explore the town of Friday Harbor next.  It's a pretty big town on San Juan Island, and we anchored nearby so we could watch all the comings and goings of this busy place. 

friday harbor

We would get an occasional roll from the ferries that come and go all the time, but it was no big deal.  We really liked the town, and it felt good to walk around.  The Whale Museum was terrific, we got haircuts, a few groceries, and I found a wonderful yarn shop - what's not to like!

Posted By Robin & Jim

I apologize for letting the blog get so far behind reality. Right now we're actually in US waters, in Port Townsend taking a little cruising pause. I'll try to catch things up in the next few entries.

We were sad to leave the Broughtons - it was our favorite cruising area this summer since it was the most wild and quiet and full of wildlife. There are two major paths to head south - through the several rapids along the "back way" (the path we took northbound), or through the wider Johnstone Strait and Seymour Narrows, where the big ships go. We decided to try the Johnstone route, though we still had to time our passage through Seymour Narrows very carefully. We watched a 110' commercial fishing boat transit the narrows 2 hours before slack current and we could see him fishtailing in the strong turbulence. We slowed down and made an uneventful passage 75 minutes later, and tucked into the town of Campbell River for a few days. Jim needed to see a dentist to patch his cracked tooth, and we wanted to check out the town. Despite a lot of rain, we had a great time exploring, particularly the museum and maritime center.

fisherman's wharf

We continued down Discovery Passage to the town of Comox, and we were glad to finally escape the strong winds that made the trip somewhat uncomfortable. Comox was another lovely town and we met a great couple on a 1972 wood Alaskan - a very close cousin to our type of boat. You have to love a town that makes condo balconies out of boats!

comox boat balcony

We continued southwards, spotting another male orca just north of Nanaimo, and stopping in Montague Harbor in the Gulf Islands. We were hiking through the woods and found this wonderful driftwood sculpture - someone is very talented!

montague deer

We were able to link up with our good friends Linda and Ed, and we had a very happy reunion with them. They headed off to fish and crab for a few days, but we were able to rendezvous again for one last hurrah at Sidney Spit in the Gulf Islands.

Sidney Spit is a neat little island just a few miles from the town of Sidney, with great birding and some nice hiking trails in the woods.

sidney spit

We had a lot of fog for two days, and it was spooky hearing the big ferries blowing their foghorns as they passed our anchorage. We heard them, but couldn't see them.

sidney spit jim

Summer was over and it was time to bid farewell to our dear friends. They were heading to their RV and Mexico for the winter, and we were crossing into the US for the fall.


Posted By Robin & Jim

I have a few more photos of things we saw in the Broughtons, so I'll just share them as "post cards".  These are dedicated to our several friends who are struggling with health problems - nature's best pales in comparison to the beauty of friendship.

sointula forest

forest mushrooms


steller's jay
Steller's Jay



Posted By Robin & Jim

We continued our quest to see bears, so we headed into Viner Sound where people reported seeing lots of bears every day. The little bay is about 2 miles long, narrowing to a dead end with a tidal flat and a meadow with a creek running through it. There are two tiny coves before the flats, and we tucked into the northern one up against a huge cliff face pictured below. If you look in the lower left corner, you will see ADVENTURES looking very small. What a gorgeous spot!

viner sound

I found bear tracks in the mud at low tide, and people told us we'd definitely see bears right from the anchorage at low tide when the beach is exposed... but after two days, no joy. On the other hand, it was a marvelous place to explore by kayak, and we paddled as far as we could go on the little creek, through the meadow and into the woods. Sandpipers were flocking in the meadow, and we saw baby halibut in the shallows.


We also wanted to visit a few of the tiny floathouse marinas in the Broughtons so we could learn more about the area and meet some other cruising boaters. There are just a handful of these places, with floating docks as well as buildings all constructed on top of log floats.

floathouse logs

These places are very basic, often with no power on the docks, but they are warm and welcoming and they are a great place to meet other boaters at nightly appy hours or pot luck dinners. We met a lot of nice people and collected more recommendations for places to visit. The biggest of these marinas, Pierre's, had a nice fish cleaning station where there was always a lot of activity.

salmon fillets

Salmon had to be over 24.5" long to be legal, and most were much bigger than that.  Crabbing and prawning are also popular pastimes, and small fishing boats and dinghies were always buzzing in and out, checking traps or bringing in fish. 
The last of the little marinas we visited was Lagoon Cove, with some nice hiking trails and a funky sense of humor. They had a totem pole made from old outboards and other junk (artfully done), as well as an "exercise circuit" with a station for pushing a manual lawn mower and one for splitting wood.

jim at lagoon cove

On one of our hikes we came across some blackberry bushes that were just full of big fat ripe berries, so we came back later with a container to fill. We kept an eye out for bears since there was fresh bear scat nearby, but nothing bothered us and I really enjoyed those berries with breakfast!
We really loved our time in the Broughtons, but it's time to start working our way south.

broughton kayaker sunset

Posted By Robin & Jim

We found many quiet anchorages to explore, mostly by kayak.  Paddling has been the best way to see a lot of wildlife and get into rocky nooks and crannies.  Seals peek at us from a safe distance, and one day I saw one watching me.  Next to the seal was a little nose sticking out of the water.  I slowly meandered closer and closer, and finally came up next to the little nose - it was a baby seal, fast asleep.

seal and baby

I floated there very quietly and he started to move a little... finally opening his eyes and giving me a sleeply look.  Then he woke up all the way, looked at me with surprised wide eyes, and swam off.  The same day I watched a bald eagle attack something right on the surface of the water.  He actually landed in the water and struggled with it, using his wings to "swim" with it to the nearest island where I lost sight of him.  Paddling around another little island I came upon these two young white winged scoters...

young white winged scoters

...and around the next island I woke a pair of seals napping on a rock (they're very well camouflaged).

seals on land

We did some exploring by dinghy one day since we wanted to see some ruins of an old sawmill.  There wasn't much left except some wood beams, but it was interesting to see.  In another cove we found two flocks of mergansers, and then we went to see the "waterfall" from a lagoon that sits higher than the main waterway, so it floods at high tide and drains partially at low tide, creating a little waterfall.  We took a picnic lunch in the dinghy with us, planning to check out some other anchorages nearby but light rain showers turned into a real downpour... and of course we were miles from the boat.  An adventure!

jim at sawmill

We had the anchorage in the back of Joe Cove all to ourselves, and we watched a young bald eagle hunting every day.  He doesn't develop the white head and tail until he's about 3 years old.

young bald eagle

The kayaking was great despite some gloomy weather, and at low tide we found basket stars, sea squirts, moon jellyfish, and even a sea angel - a strange, gelatinous creature about 5 inches long with little wings and cilia around its mouth.

sea angel
Dalls porpoises and harbor porpoise cruise the anchorages and passages, and we saw pods of white-sided dolphin hunting salmon, charging into the dead-end bays en masse to corral the fish.  In one place people reported seeing about 300 dolphin churning the bay hunting, and a bear was swimming after the fish, among the dolphins - wow.

Posted By Robin & Jim

The Broughtons is the name of a group of islands and channels off the BC mainland, across from Port McNeill.  It's a bit cooler and subject to more changeable weather since it's exposed to the Pacific Ocean from the northwest.  But it is more remote and very interesting and beautiful!  We cruised across through some patchy fog, and were heading across a bay towards our first anchorage when we spotted our first orcas - what a thrill! 

orca and mountains

It looked like a small family, with the male and his very tall dorsal fin, and a few smaller orcas grouped closer together nearby.  As we were turning towards the orcas, a 30' minke whale cruised right by our boat - wildlife overload!  We were able to drift and watch the orcas for about 45 minutes.


The photo below gives you a little idea of what the Broughtons look like, with layers of mountains and islands, covered in tall evergreen trees. 


Some areas are more vertical and fjord-like, but most of the terrain is a little less steep, with obvious patches of logging activity and the occasional landslide.  The population of the Broughtons numbered several thousand people around the turn of the 20th century, but is now much smaller.  Logging and fishing are still the primary activities, with tiny little "settlements" - groups of floathouses in a sheltered bay, or tiny little marinas all on log floats.  The little marinas are very social, with nightly appy hours or pot luck dinners and a chance to meet other cruisers.

jennis bay marina

Sometimes there are logging roads or trails to hike, but we're always watchful for bears. We carry bear bells, bear spray, and an air horn when we hike... just in case. Mostly the bears don't like people, so if they hear people noises they will avoid you.  We've seen bear scat - pretty fresh, and tracks in the mud at low tide (where they come to dig for clams and turn over rocks looking for crabs)... but we haven't seen any yet.  It's sort of a good news/bad news thing.
The anchorages are very quiet and pretty, with maybe one or two other boats in the busy summer season.  We've seen bald eagles, kingfishers, ravens, mergansers, red-throated loons, murres, murrelets, and one of my new favorite birds - the rhinocerous auklet.  They are a very small, chubby seabird, with this wonderful "horn" at the base of their beak.

rhinocerous auklet
The views are just stunning, the wildlife is abundant, the big salmon are jumping... it's a very special area that we're just beginning to explore.  I've put a lot of miles on my kayak, enjoying the huge difference between low tide and high tide - about 14' around here.  The landscape is very different at either end of the tide cycle.  Stay tuned for more...

Posted By Robin & Jim

We are headed to the Broughton Islands, across from the northern end of Vancouver Island, but first we needed to stop for fuel and to pick up some provisions. Port McNeill on Vancouver Island is a good stop for everything we needed, so we left the back channels and entered Johnstone Strait - the main north-south passage between Vancouver Island and the mainland. We had our first bit of fog, but it wasn't too bad, and we're used to it from our cruises in Maine and Nova Scotia. We saw some minke whales playing in the turbulence where side channels meet Johnstone.

johnstone strait

The fog lifted as we entered the harbor, and we re-fueled and tied up at the municipal marina. Restaurants and hardware and grocery stores were a short walk, so the cook got a nice night off and we were able to stretch our legs. We were able to visit with DeFever friends who happened to be in port, and we spent a few days exploring the area. The first stop was to see the world largest burl - you just can't make this stuff up!


We took the ferry over to nearby Cormorant Island to visit the First Nations community at Alert Bay. They have a wonderful cultural center, and a show where some of the young people from the town perform traditional dances and explain some of customs and history of various First Nation tribes in the area.


It was a terrific performance, and we ended up talking with a well-known wood carver we met at the cultural center. Jim is getting back into carving, so it was a nice bit of inspriation for him. The carvers make a lot of different things, but the tall totem poles are the most impressive. A number of them were on display around town.


Another day we took the ferry to a different nearby island, Sointula, where an old Finnish community settled around the turn of the 20th century. Unfortunately it was a holiday - BC Day - so a lot of things were closed. We visited the little museum, and took a nice long hike through forest, an abandoned farm, a recovering forest fire area, and to see several lakes and a bog. It was really pretty, with a flock of mergansers on the biggest lake.


We had a great day, but arrived back to Port McNeill on the ferry to see the aftermath of a boat explosion near the fuel dock. The boat was an old wood classic, and a propane vapor explosion blew the top and sides right off the cabin. The owner suffered some burns, but his son was thrown in the water to safety. The boat sank within minutes. Pretty scary. Parts of the boat were blown quite a distance, but the local emergency response was very quick and well-organized to contain the spilled gasoline and debris. At low tide they were able to pull the wreckage up on the boat ramp, and as the tide came in through the evening they pulled her higher up the ramp. It's amazing that more people weren't hurt, and we pray the injured owner will be okay.

Posted By Robin & Jim

Weather and the timing of the tide meant we couldn't run the length of Johnstone Strait to travel north to the Broughton Islands, so we had to take the "back way". This involves taking one's boat ON PURPOSE through 5 sets of rapids - yes, RAPIDS. Looking at the chart is no help - it shows overfalls, whirlpools, and rips, along with names like "Devil's Hole" and current arrows that twist and turn and curve into all manner of evil.  We did 3 of them one day and the remaining 2 the next day.

gillard passage

Apparently lots of people in all manner of boats travel through these areas, but those of us with pokey boats have to be pretty careful. The cruising guides explain how to do it safely, and the tide and current book is now our best friend. We delayed the trip north to wait for neap (smaller) tides, since a look at the current tables showed quite a difference between the velocity of the current around the full or new moon versus the quarter moon. The duration of slack can be pretty short in some of these spots, so we definitely wanted the slowest water.

There are three rapids that really need to be done in one day - they're close together. Of course slack current arrived at each of these rapids in the wrong order, so we had to take the first two with some current and turbulence against us in order to transit the third (and worst - Dent Rapids) right at slack. Dent has the Devil's Hole and a prominent warning on the chart about a huge whirlpool that forms around a submerged rock just past the narrow part of the rapids. As everyone told us, if you plan it right it's no big deal... and they were right, though I did see some little baby whirlpools start to form as we passed Devil's Hole. Sort of like hearing those first two notes of the JAWS theme...

yuculta tame

The "back way" was beautiful - curving channels between vertical tree-covered mountains with little/no signs of humans except for logging. Logging is big business up here, and it's not hard to notice the evidence.

logging evidence

Instead of widespread clear-cutting, the loggers only cut smaller areas and replant afterwards. This is a logging camp - the large blue dormitory is on a huge barge.

logging camp

There is little or no flat ground near shore to construct buildings, so many of the camps and even the little marina where we stopped for the night are floating - buildings as well as the docks, all on floats chained to the land.

cordero lodge

Besides pleasure boats, tugs pulling very long log booms come through the rapids too. We saw two with impossibly long booms from our dock at the Cordero Lodge.
The next day was a fabulous non-event going through the last two rapids, ending with "Whirlpool Rapids" on an ebbing current to pull us through.
The boating out here is very interesting (and fun!). Next stop - Port McNeill.

Posted By Robin & Jim

We continued our exploration of Cortes Island, moving to Gorge Harbour to see some First Nation pictographs on the granite wall at the entrance.

gorge harbour entrance

It took a little time, but we finally saw them - a man with a comet trail or rainbow coming from his head, and a man with a big fish - probably a whale.


After that we decided to head back to Prideaux Haven to do a little hiking. The scenery in between various islands continues to amaze and impress us!

desolation sound cruising

The anchorage we wanted was a little crowded in the middle, but there was plenty of space around the perimeter. We decided to try our first stern tie since the conditions were good. To stern tie you first drop the anchor, and then back towards the shore. Close to shore! We dropped a kayak in the water and I took the line ashore while Jim managed the slack. I had to climb up the rocks on the shore, remembering to tie off the kayak and hang onto the stern tie line. I found a sturdy tree and passed the line around, then scrambled back down to the kayak and paddled the bitter end of the stern line back to Jim on the big boat. Good to work through the process, though it's wet and messy.

Neighbors told us about a "concert" that evening on the back of an 80' yacht in the outer harbor. Everyone was invited. We took the kayaks and a beverage and were amazed at the crowd - dinghies, small fishing boats, kayaks, and even swim floats. What a treat!

prideaux haven concert

We liked exploring around Prideaux Haven some more, and we took a hike to one of the nearby lakes. Well, we tried. The woods were very beautiful, but the hike was more steep than we expected. (It's good for us!)

ph hiking

We got to the top of the ridge and hiked down the other side, but we ran into a mosquito infested bog and couldn't easily find the trail beyond. It was good exercise and fun; we liked this "face" in one of the big stumps along the way. This stump is evidence of logging, and the grooves are where the logger puts his spring board to stand on to fell the tree. Someone stuck some light colored rocks in the slots to make "eyes".

log face

We have been enjoying Desolation Sound, but we want to head north to the more remote Broughton Islands. The trip north requires us to transit 5 different rapids (yes, RAPIDS) over 2 days, and we can only pass safely during slack current. The safe interval for passage can vary depending on the phase of the moon, so we decided to remain in Desolation a little longer and wait for the quarter moon when the tides would be smaller. These rapids are not to be trifled with in a pokey boat! More about the rapids in the next post.

Posted By Robin & Jim

Our next stop was Prideaux Haven, which has several coves and rock crannies where boats can anchor. We chose Melanie Cove for this visit, but we'll try other spots on future visits because each has a different view. Our cove had a little babbling brook where I found a nice black oystercatcher hunting in the shallows.

black oystercatcher

It was a terrific place to kayak with so many little corners to explore and beautiful views.

kayak view

Boats were able to anchor in some improbable spots by using a stern tie - a line from the stern of the boat tied to something sturdy on shore. We bought a big reel of line in case we need to stern tie, but we haven't tried it yet. It's another Pacific NW custom we're learning about.

anchored among rocks

The evening light just before sunset was pretty so we took an after-dinner dinghy cruise to enjoy the view. The sun can seem to set quickly because of the tall mountains. 

prideaux haven sunset

Jim chose Squirrel Cove on Cortes Island as our next destination. It has a big protected anchorage with a salt water lake that floods through a narrow rapids at high tide. We had a ball playing in the rapids with our kayaks.
The outer harbor has a public dock, general store, craft store, and a little restaurant. I always like to read the bulletin boards in different places, and we saw a poster for the annual Cortes Island Music Festival the next day, which looked interesting. We checked the web site and it looked even better, though it was located on the other side of the very hilly island.
We decided to go to the music festival since we have bikes. We knew the island was very hilly, but the exercise is good for us!
It turned out that the hills were much steeper than we expected, and we walked our bikes up the worst ones. But the ride on the road through the deep forest was very beautiful. We arrived a little after the music festival was due to start and found a bunch of hippies making signs and cutting the grass... the stage was set up but it didn't look like music was going to happen anytime soon. The whole thing was a little creepy so we took a short break to rest, and got back on the hilly road for the 8 km ride/walk. An adventure!