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Robin & Jim
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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.

spyhopping

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. 

broughtons

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!

burl

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.

dancers

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.

totems

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.

sointula

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.

pictograph

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.