Magic Islands

Salish (pronounced SAY-lish) Sea covers the area north to Desolation Sound to the southern end of Puget Sound and west to the mouth of the Juan de Fuca Strait. The naming of this area in 1988 pays tribute to the Coast Salish people who inhabited the land and fished the waters for thousands of years before the European settlers arrived

The first few weeks ‘away’ from the dock was tied to another dock in Port Townsend (PT)!

We had waited twelve months for the delivery of our 120 metre anchor chain, only to find on our arrival in PT the chain had not been delivered. Nevertheless after numerous ‘phone calls the anchor chain was on board Amelie within a few days. Sadly our high pressure pump on the water maker was leaking (hadn’t been used in over a year, pickled and the skipper who serviced it has been banned from touching it in future unless in an emergency) and it took ages to get spare parts, consequently we spent seventeen days in PT. Fortunately we have some good friends in PT and most days we hung out with them. We were met by Matt who suggested we joined him at the Shipwrights Co-Op yard and what a warm welcome we received. Many familiar, smiling faces greeted us, furthermore we were invited to their work barbecue that evening where we met more lovely people. The look of surprise on Ginger’s face was memorable. Ginger and Peter, who we met in 2016 in False Creek, were the culprits in suggesting we had our major refurb on Amelie done in PT. Sacred advice which has restored Amelie to a condition that is better than new with subtle modifications which has further enhanced living on board. We love our floating home.

During this time, PT was celebrating the Rhododendron season with a “Rhody Fest” involving  various activities and a wonderful, upbeat parade through Uptown, which naturally we watched eating sensational sushi (prepared in Aldrich’s) sitting in a bus stop, great view point sitting on a bench! Holly Henderson introduced us to some of her friends, who kindly fed us an amazing Spaghetti Vongole and took us to a tiny theatre in Fort Worden (famous for “Officer and a Gentleman”) to be entertained by a 15 person band of musicians. The event was held in an old hanger, which had for years been used as a theatre. The band who got together by zoom during covid times provided an eclectic yet fun evening of folk, country and rock.

Once again PT wildlife didn’t disappoint us with the added bonus of witnessing the courtship display of a pair of Kingfishers, very similar to “Kiss Chase”. The female enters the male territory and sets up the chase, with the genders alternating the lead. The power of flight was breathtaking at great speeds, dodging between the boats and swooping so low that their wings almost touched the water or pontoon. After several hours you could sense that they were tiring, constantly catching a breath whilst perching on the spreaders of the many classic yachts in the marina. They were also extremely vocal.

Living in Great Britain for most of our lives, with both of us spending time by the sea, we were used to seeing gulls swoop down, steal fish and chips from hungry patrons, whisk off an ice cream followed by the wailing squeals of a small child and upturn rubbish bins for scavenging. Here in BC, the gulls do what all gulls should do…..fish. They are swift and successful fishers, a delight to watch, plus your food isn’t stolen and we now have a renewed respect for the wild cousins of our lazy, gluttonous Brit gulls.

Time to get moving again and after Adam and Wyatt fixed our water maker pump, we became  marina free animals. Under darkened clouds we set off under engine towards the San Juan Islands, heading firstly to Hunter Bay on Lopez Island. Slowly the weather lightened and by the afternoon we were casting off outer garments, having lunch in the cockpit in full sun. Navigating through idyllic passages, “signposted” by various buoys, we discovered the markers were used as a ledge for a committee of Cormorants. The nearby low lying rocks were covered in basking seals and the calls of Bald Eagles, echoed throughout the trees. We had forgotten how sandy the beaches were here, strewn with bleached driftwood. Above the high water line, the tree growth was abundant, covering the rest of the island face with the odd dwelling scattered amongst the trees.

The kayak was retrieved from the lazarette and inflated, new kayak seats were installed and we kayaked around Hunter and Mud Bays, hearing only the splash of our oars. On one occasion we allowed the slow incoming tide to gently take us into coves whilst celebrating “Happy Hour” in our inflatable.

Hunter Bay is tranquil but the mud in the water clogged up our water filters very quickly and the decision was to move on to clearer bays, although we had this issue throughout the summer. Good job we have a healthy supply of filters and we trail the used ones behind us as we motor, which seems to clean them up, ready for further use.

Previously we had anchored in Blind Bay, very close to Shaw Island and 1nm from Orcas Island, a pretty place strewn with rocks, some awash, not totally protected from the swell or high winds but we trust our anchor and chain and one of us loves the place. We spent some hours watching various water craft potter along, one nearly grounded, the ferries docking in tight harbours and the delight of watching others anchor. This may seem cruel but we all have our ways of doing things and sometimes we learn from others. We anchor silently using hand signals (not always polite), we don’t hurry the operation, we try not to put stress on the windlass by slowly lowering the anchor, not dropping the chain in one dump and delay testing that the anchor has set by the “cup of tea trick”. We have plenty of time, so why hurry? Our entertainment (and we know this is common to the cruising crowd) is the committee meetings regarding where to put the anchor, the clothing garb necessary to perform the operation and “anchor Tourette’s “ at a high volume. The bonus is that this entertainment is free!

Blind Bay didn’t fail to excite us with six Bald Eagles pirouetting on the thermals casting their beady eyes for prey in the water and over woodland as the sun was going down.

Blind Bay was a busy anchorage but plenty of swinging room and close to Orcas Landing on Orcas Island. The store here is probably one of the best in the islands. The provisioning is excellent, plenty of choice with some gourmet items and interesting kitchen supplies. Prices are naturally higher but we are on holiday!

After a few days we moved our home, travelling through picturesque passes amongst the many smaller islands however Spiden Island looked very different from the rest of the lush islands. The side we saw was bare. We later found out that an individual bought this island and purchased exotic animals to graze and hunt on the island. After abandoning the island, some species were left to fend for themselves, maybe there is the odd exotica still roaming the island.

We arrived in Westcott Bay on San Juan Island, this bay is famous for the Westcott Shellfish Company who harvest oysters and clams. In torrential rain we took the dinghy ashore and enjoyed an el fresco lunch of their succulent shellfish, washed down with a local wine. Despite the weather the restaurant was full with only outdoor seating. The views are magnificent, watching employees raise the oyster pads with an attentive seal following their every move.

Sculpture - Roche Harbour

Another trip was to Roche Harbour, on the island, to top up our fresh goods aboard and to stretch our legs. We strolled around the outskirts of the historic settlement, through tree lined paths to the sculpture park. From a distance it looked like a field dotted with some structures but once we entered the park, it was obvious that there was much more to see. The artist had used the various natural habitats to nestle his pieces of art. Rolling hillocks, paths through gnarled old trunks, pastures of vibrant wild flowers and grasses with a lake in the middle and the mud flats on the seashore. Every twist and turn we would come across a sculpture with a price tag together with a short poem by a local poet. Several hours were spent pottering around the land, enjoying the unexpected experience. Returning to town we treated ourselves to the island’s fabulous ice cream, this time eating it in the sun.

English Camp around the corner, in Garrison Bay, was our next venture. This is a beautiful area with some gorgeous hiking trails. In the late 1800s, England had secured Vancouver Island with America having the mainland of today’s NW America. The San Juan Islands are in the middle with two straits running either side of them. Both countries wanted the islands and peacefully the two nations had camps on the islands. The English camp was organised, well run, good, solid buildings, garden, cookhouses and the officers and commander were able to have their families living in the camp. They organised family activities, celebrated religious holidays, invited the locals and the American camp dwellers (further up the island) to parties and generally life was good. In contrast the American camp was austere with the men living in tents, drinking heavily and subjected to the harsh winters without the comforts of the English camp. For twelve years this situation was an enjoyable stalemate, without a shot being fired. However a solution to the ownership of the islands was needed and Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, the arbitrator in the transactions, declared that the islands belonged to the Americans. The English garrison left swiftly after the decision and today re enactments happen in English Camp on Saturdays from early June until the long Labour Day weekend, late August. We spent some time with a small group of ‘soldiers’ and chatted away about some of the history. The formal gardens were tended by a couple of volunteers, one of whom was in the clothing of the era, who talked about the nature of the first gardens which were vegetable gardens to feed the population. The Commander’s wife was a keen gardener and introduced flowers. Today the garden is separated by hexagonal box hedging with wild flowers, roses and lavender. The old cookhouse is now the visitor centre with the aroma and warmth of open wood fires. A short video gave a historical perspective on the whole matter which clarified a few points. A few buildings and foundations of the Commander’s house remain, with the help of the many pictures you can imagine what the settlement looked like. 

Double Rainbow Westcott Bay

 

One of our pleasures of anchoring in a bay is getting to know one’s neighbours. Peggy and Jim on their beautifully restored 45 year old boat, Carisma, were a delight and we had a couple of fun evenings together. Plans are afoot to meet up again.

Wi-Fi has been patchy in the islands but once again good old WhatsApp kept us connected to the outside world, don’t know what we would do without it. 

We deliberated where to check into Canada and a plan to meet with our friends, Doug and Maureen, made our minds up……Sydney.  

After an enjoyable afternoon and rest we set off for Vancouver. The day turned out to be warm and bright which enhanced the idyllic passage through the islands, out through Active Pass and into Georgia Strait. The water quality immediately became a brown soup in the strait with hundreds of logs in our path. Intense log watching and avoidance was in order together with transiting the shipping lanes. The latter part of the journey was very roly and we were relieved once we were in the protection of English Bay. We had booked our permit online to anchor in False Creek close to Granville Public Market and on the other side, Main Street into the city, free for up to two weeks. We arrived to find the place was like a zoo, heaving with boats of all sizes and far too close together. The harbour authority were obviously not policing the area as some of the boats were derelict and looked as if they had been there since our last visit! We had no choice but to anchor in muddy English Bay with the tankers. We both felt despondent the first night but the following day we decided to attack the provisioning and get the hell out of the bay……no such luck. Firstly we were desperate to catch up with our friends, Chris, Jess, Sheila and Dave, which we managed to do over the weekend, then the plan was to leave. The last “chore” was for Stephen to go fishing equipment shopping to allow us to crab and catch salmon over the summer months. On his return to Amelie, “M” capsized, emptying fishing contents into the depths of the harbour. Stephen and Chris had to climb onto the upturned hull in order to pull her upright again, no mean feat as she is a heavy beast. There were boaters around but no one aided the stricken sailors. All the personal electronics on board fried but the new dinghy engine after spluttering, blasted into life. A thorough service the following day eased our minds. Luckily both men were uninjured, Stephen slightly shocked had to  replace the iPad (thanks to Liam’s help and advice), fishing rod and reel making us poorer. It also delayed our much needed departure. 

Man from the Sea

A sushi lunch in the cityrevived our spirits with Chris’ story rocking us with laughter. After the capsizing, Chris directed Stephen to land him on a beach close to his home. Imagine a drenched, fit, young man coming out of the waves, fully clothed, passing a couple of meditating Buddhist monks. Perplexed they asked him where he had come from and his quick reply was “I come from the sea”. Typical fast, comical Chris response.

We left the harbour to enjoy some salmon fishing en route and to find bays where we could put the crab trap down.

Our first anchorage was Enchanta Bay, north of the tiny Finisterre Island attached to Bowen Island by a natural rocky causeway. The weather report suggested we would be vulnerable there in the blow that was predicted to come in that night so we motored over to Gambier Island, NW of Bowen Island in Howe Sound and hid at the head of Port Graves Bay. Port Graves has a long history of log booming operations and the pilot book suggested that there was potential of seabed debris. We had a welcoming committee of Canada Geese who were obviously on the scrounge but soon got fed up with the absence of food so departed.

The head of the bay has a glorious vista of snowy capped coastal mountain range, shimmering in the dappled sunlight and then shining like a beacon in twilight. The colours changed as the day waned into dusk, with pinks and petrol blues flooding the sky.

We were meeting Chris and Jess later that week so we were on a gentle time scale to rendezvous. We motored for 4-6 hours each day finding a bay to overnight. It is foolhardy to travel at night here as the water is littered with huge logs and some reported deadheads.

The first overnighter was in False Bay on Lasqueti Island, in the centre of the Georgia Strait, with larger Texada Island between us and the Sunshine Coast on mainland BC. This passage to our anchorage was particularly beautiful, passing through a narrow yet deep channel with some future prospects for anchoring. We slowed down and trailed the fishing line out, trying to catch a fish. It was like watching a kettle boil with observing every twitch of the rod. A new instruction has been introduced to the running of Amelie….”Strike”, meaning “fish on the line, put engine into neutral or furl the sails, Debbie get your butt on the scoop with the net to haul in the catch”. Alas the word wasn’t used!

The names of the islands, coves and points kept our childish minds amused ie God’s Pocket, Burial Cove, Dead Point, Beware Cove, Insect Island, Bootleg Cove, Squitty, Boho, Jedediah and Bunny Islands.

False Bay was an extremely quiet community with a foot passenger ferry running frequently and allegedly the village has a store, post office and a pub. Here we had the pleasure of a swallow sitting on our boom, singing a beautiful song, robustly. The bird’s body shuddered whilst it was trilling. We have since seen or rather heard this special song along our travels.

The next day we travelled in sun to Grace Harbour on the Gifford Peninsula in Desolation Sound park. Here we chilled for twenty-four hours meeting up with Becky and Tom on another beautiful elderly motor cruiser. Becky in particular is passionate about saving the planet and has written a book which she graciously gifted to us. A great read, well written and thought provoking. Tom, a retired shipwright was a delight to listen to. Too soon we had to say goodbye and potter across to Cortes Island in the twilight where we had been allocated a berth at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club outstation. The water and mountains were bathed in an eerie lavender light. Over the months we’ve been in Canada, one of the many things that astound us is that the light seems different from our other destinations. The vast open spaces with mountain backdrops and hilly, forest clad islands reflecting the constant light changes throughout the day are like nothing else we’ve experienced. Makes you feel good to be alive.

We met Jess, Chris and his parents at the dock and spent a couple of evenings using the facilities at the outstation including their bicycles. This entailed an energetic hilly bike ride to a well provisioned shop. The place was renamed “Mosquito City” by Debbie who got bitten alive despite dousing in deet!

Walsh Cove was our next destination within the marine park. Words cannot convey the serenity and beauty of this area. Stephen and Chris prawned and fished successfully, enjoying a coastal island BBQ, swimming in “refreshing” water and clambering over rocks to see the pictographs (rock paintings which record events and identify territories). Petroglyphs are rock carvings, which can be seen at times in the area. At low tide a few of us walked over exposed rock which joined two islets on soft, spongy undergrowth higher up. The racket of Oyster Catchers kept us amused the whole time we were there. We stayed an extra day as we had fallen in love with the place.

Six years ago we had enjoyed a wonderful meal at “The Laughing Oyster” in Okeover Inlet, so it was only sensible to return. Reservations are imperative so with this organised we anchored off and had the most exquisite evening. The food was memorable, very expensive but worth it as a treat. Satiated we returned to Amelie to continue the party, as it was Chris and Jess’s last night with us. Great friends never change and it was a delight to hang out with them with plans to do more in the future.

Sedately we motored to Heriot Bay, near Rebecca Spit on Quadra Island to dispose of rubbish and stock up on fresh produce, our plan was then to enter the Octopus Islands, one of our favourites in the area. Alas as we were anchoring we lost our propeller and the waiting game started. Firstly, Stephen checked that we had lost the prop, then we called a diver to photograph the shaft and to do a search for the errant prop. The visibility was allegedly poor and the prop was lost to the murky depths. Our Canadian friends and Paul were amazing, giving us a huge emotional lift and on standby to help with delivery of a new one and getting it to us. Firstly Doug gave us assurance that the weather was benign for a few days, so our anchor would be okay. Next details of the prop, unfortunately all the paperwork from Oyster during her build suggested we had a different prop to the one we had put on by Oyster. PTSW Co-Op we’re on alert and extremely helpful. We hadn’t hit anything as we are vigilant when we travel these waters and hadn’t had any indication that there was an issue.

Most disadvantages turn into advantages as Heriot Bay showed. Firstly Chris the local diver lived on a boat close by and knew the local area well. The small settlement ashore boasted a wonderful supermarket with well stocked fresh produce. The Heriot Bay Inn is owned by a number of locals with various skills, running a successful pub, restaurant, hotel, marina and fuel station. A First Nations midden with layers of shells lies beneath the inn. The inn was firstly built in 1895, offering accommodation and fun for loggers, fishermen and miners. Fire destroyed this building a few years later. A second building went up in smoke in 1911 and the present inn was constructed in 1912. The people are friendly and helpful particularly Brian who owns one of the mooring buoys offering it to us for free (if the weather deteriorated) as long as we communicated with him. The sunsets were fiery and the distant contours of the mountain range, changed with the changing light. Heriot Bay has a reputation of welcoming the travelling public and we certainly enjoyed their friendliness.

 Initially the weather was wonderful with blazing sun interspersed with a spot of BC weather, rain. Internet was spotty, initially, with us in a dinghy rushing to the fuel pontoon every time the ferry came in to pick up free Wi-Fi whilst it was in port. Often we only had 20 minutes to get organised. Then after a chat with Lisa, the Harbour Authority official, she gave us free wifi which was okay from Amelie and lightning fast on the land.

Temporary Prop

Matt from PTSW Co op gave us the assurance that they were coming to our rescue and covering everything associated with the prop under warranty. The night of the 4th of July we had torrential rain and typically a SE blew in, not particularly strong but enough for us to whizz around on our unburied anchor plus it got caught around a huge rock, making the snubber strain and the noises from the anchor chain were horrendous. Letting out more chain, cutting the snubber (went off like an explosion) with the bow lurching forward and downwards, eased the noise but the following day we proceeded to unwrap the anchor chain without lifting the anchor. The relief when we achieved this was huge but even more so when we saw the two PTSW partners, Matt and Tim, hurtling towards us on Tim’s fast fishing boat. A whale was breaching at the time of their arrival and even though Debbie is not superstitious, she thought it was a good omen. Immediately, Matt was in his dry suit and using our tanks of air checked the prop shaft, anchor and the layout of the seabed. The rest of the evening was planning how to arrange a grid search for the missing prop. The following morning, Stephen joined Matt and Tim to prep for a cold water dive and grid search. This was done with military precision, followed by a short dive for Stephen, who got too cold and finished off with Matt successfully finding the prop intact with anode and screws, 100 feet from Stephen’s navionic track. The boys took the prop apart, resembling an autopsy on the cockpit table to find that the safety screw wasn’t tight enough. Work didn’t finish for Matt as he wanted to get us mobile. They had brought out two fixed props to try on our metric shaft, one of which was pilfered from Jeff’s boat and modified. Luckily Matt used brute force and seizing wire to attach the fixed prop to the shaft with the original prop nut, with only three turns on and then the anxious journey of 150nm (mainly unaccompanied) under motor commenced. El Mundo shadowed us through the Gulf Islands as far as Bedwell Harbour. We were then close enough to Port Townsend if anything went awry. Every noise, vibration and clunk terrified us. Anchoring was anxiety ridden as we couldn’t go astern to set the anchor and we drew a deep breath when we reached the empty dock space at PT. Matt and his team had arranged our haul out, fully cleaned and prepped the prop and by the end of the first day our prop was in situ, with a launch time for the following day. Matt and Wyatt’s work ethics were amazing, including both of them spraying down our hull and waterline. The launch went well and after sea trials, the boat was deemed safe and a prop party was in full swing. PTSW co op is a phenomenal boatyard. The professionalism is outstanding, they treat your boat as their own, there is no hassle and to top it all we have the best project manager, Matt, in the world. We listen to others trying to cut costs with other boatyards which generally ends up in tears and the work is generally mediocre. Many would say our prop should never have come off if it was put on properly but what we say is we’re not into “blame culture”, it was a human error and we’re all guilty of that plus the guys put it right as soon as possible. You can’t ask for better than that. Yes, it scuppered our early summer plans but we adapted to a different cruising ground, meeting up with people we wouldn’t have had chance to. The negative side to this is we will always compare our exceptional experience with other boatyards in the world and it makes Debbie nervous.

Over a period of 48 hours we checked in and out of Canada and the USA, several times, eventually anchoring in Bedwell Harbour on Pender Island having supper with the El Mundos. The  afternoon departure sail from PT was one of the best in recent history. We had a strong westerly wind on the aft beam and we flew, doing 26nm in under four hours, not bad for a heavy girl! We celebrated en route with a bottle of bubbly and ate Wyatt’s gift of salmon for supper, sheer bliss.

Fishing (with some great local advice from Chris) was on the agenda so a slow, drizzly motor to Tumbo Island with no catch was disappointing and chilly. Luckily Debbie had prepared a tapas feast. Crabbing proved to be a non starter, particularly as the current swept away the crab trap. The new prawn trap was lowered in the depths, hoping for a healthy harvest. Unfortunately both crab and prawn traps were lost, human error!

Amongst all these fun and games, we serviced the toilets, cleaned the filters on all the taps, made water, replaced the oven thermostat, general care of Amelie and did the never ending washing. There is always something to do on a boat.

Amongst all this, Otto turned one and little Lilah joined the Gratton family, hoping for the adoption process to be swift. Oscar now has a baby sister and what is extra special, is that Oscar and Lilah are related. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Bald Eagles

Following a swift trip via Nanaimo, we headed for Rebeca Spit, Quadra Island via a beautiful bay on Lasqueti Island. Here we had the delight of watching a Bald Eagle successfully fish and take its prey up into the treetop and eat contentedly. We were joined by El Mundo and we enjoyed fabulous weather in Rebecca Spit (opposite the errant prop shenanigans area), some swimming and “Amelie style” barbecues on the shore, cooking up rockfish and salmon, watching the sunset.

Our plan was to return to the Octopus Islands and during the passage we saw a few Humpback whales and Debbie witnessed a Fin whale breach alongside Amelie and then dive under her stern. A close encounter that took your breath away.

The Octopus Island anchorage was quite busy but still there was so much swinging room. As the sun set, a silence enveloped the bay, only the sounds from the wildlife on the shore. Active otters were playing and fishing close by, deer swimming from one island to another and the familiar call from the Bald Eagles. The Kwakwaka’wakw (pronounced kwak wak ya wak) people of the Broughtons believe that Bald Eagles are messengers of the Creator. The crabbing was disappointing, plenty of shells around but no crab, no wonder the otters were so fat and healthy. We followed the woodland trail to Small Inlet and then the scramble up to Newton Lake, all the time little Hana’s imagination was going wild with stories of fairies, unicorns and trolls. The forest was so magical that the adults were starting to believe in the fairies. The huge lake was a blessing as after a hot hike most of us jumped into the cool waters, being dive bombed by iridescent dragonflies and brightly coloured butterflies. On the way home we came across Jim and Peggy with their friends. We ended up together enjoying a sundowner later in the evening.

Kayaking around these parts is a silent option of seeing wildlife up close without disturbing them. We feel privileged to enjoy the abundance of life in these parts.

El Mundo and Amelie had different agendas, so we parted for the summer and Amelie used the favourable current to motor along Discovery Passage to our overnight anchorage with the option to get up before dawn the following day to cover a big distance to our next hunting ground north. Watching the sun come up beyond the mainland mountain range as we travelled the Johnstone Strait was a delight. Log watching, navigating the whirlpools and eddies, avoiding the odd cruise liner and making water kept us busy and made us very sleepy. We found a small anchorage to tuck into for an early night and less mileage for the following days trip to Port McNeill for provisioning for fresh produce and then a month exploring the remote, cultural Broughtons, hopefully with some success with crabbing and salmon fishing.

Port McNeil was a port that we missed last time we were here, as we generally went to Port Hardy. Stephen described it as a frontier town, a community of 2,400 people, huge First Nation population. We found a beautiful anchorage just on the edge of town, with free dinghy mooring for two hours. We provisioned for fresh produce and topped up the ship’s alcohol stores, enjoyed coffee and homemade bakery goods at Tia’s coffee shop together with last minute Wi-Fi needs. As we were leaving the marina by dinghy, we watched a huge Bald Eagle perch on one of the piles close by a motor boat, eating his fishy snack. These sights continue to captivate and amaze us, the wildlife here is so close and appears comfortable amongst the human population. What a magnificent send off from our anchorage with the Broughtons calling only a few hours from Port McNeill.

The Broughton Archipelago is north of the Salish Sea area, a vast sailing ground which would take years to explore. The Broughtons lie on the eastern side of Vancouver Island. The area has a rich history of native habitation. It is written that on some of the islands there are depressions in the earth that are evidence of ancient Bighouses and Longhouses; ruins of village sites; pictographs on the rock faces; white midden beaches; stone carvings, clam gardens; carved trees; trade beads on beaches and old hand tools.

The Broughtons became a white settlers area in 1800s to early 1900s, mainly involved in robust logging and fishing. Many of the “dead ends” of inlets have evidence of its logging past with abandoned machinery and boom anchors rusting away in the silence.

We entered the Broughtons via Wells Passage, watching Dall’s Porpoises slowly roll beneath the water surface and then unexpectedly we had two Humpbacks, spy hopping and lunge feeding close to us. We were fishing for salmon at the time but it became apparent that these magnificent creatures were more successful than us.

We passed several Indian Reserves until we arrived in Tracey Harbour, an indent in North Broughton Island off the Wells Passage, for the night. The anchor held in sticky, thick mud, avoiding the submerged oil pipeline. 

The tides and currents are not harmonious in the archipelago and it is best to transit passages at slack water. The tides are semi diurnal here; two high waters and two low waters per day. Currents can run at 6-7 knots in the narrow passages. Literature suggests that many cruisers are put off by this phenomenon but with the tide and current tables and not taking chances, this area is a perfect cruising ground.

With this in mind, we traversed the narrow Kenneth Passage at slack water, the odd whirlpool was evident but pretty uneventful. Shortly before we entered the passage we saw what rapids looked like. The Roaring Hole Rapids (apt name) close by was like a boiling cauldron, with huge standing waves. This was the only opening into the huge Nepah lagoon, with the large body of water  entering and leaving through this narrow, shallow passage. Not for us and our home, but exhilarating to watch.

Morning fog is a feature here in August and September, which burns off by early afternoon. We ventured along the arteries of the archipelago, with towering, cathedral-like tree clad mountains looking into the hazy mists of the offshoot corridors. At times the mist was fine, hovering like a shroud, giving a sense of otherworldliness, wafting in a gentle breeze, exposing snippets of wilderness. The eerie moans of fog horns could be heard from ships and buoys out in the main straits.

Pacific Yachting sums up the beauty of this area,

“The scenery is beyond beautiful and around every bend the vista changes, thick forests running to the shore, waterfalls splashing down rocky slopes, snow capped mountains well into the summer months……clear nights are a stargazer’s delight”.

We spent several nights in an anchorage in East McKenzie Sound, mostly alone, surrounded by midden beaches. We had several close encounters with the wildlife whilst in the bay. A plump Rufous Hummingbird visited us many times, taking a keen interest in our Jersey ensign and Stephen’s red PTSW sweatshirt. We heard his arrival before we saw him, with the muted throb of his wings, beating 52 to 62 times a second. This hummingbird managed to hover for seconds and then suddenly darted off, returning many times. The First Nation people believe that Hummingbirds symbolise beauty, peace, intelligence, love and joy. The Hummingbird sends messages to the people of things to come. Messages can be a spirit message or a message of healing.

Stephen, whilst collecting the crab trap, scared the hell out of a young deer swimming from one side of the inlet to the other. He graciously let the startled deer pass and both the deer and Stephen went about their missions.

At times it is hard to leave a place but we had plenty to explore. We timed our departure to once again tie in with slack low water at Kenneth Passage. We were five minutes early and there was evidence of this “benign” waterway being wicked. The water was turbulent and rough close to the shoreline, a close watch was paid to our forward direction.

Black Bear

The 2nd of August gave us cause for celebration…..our first sighting of Bear activity. A female with her enormous cub were turning rocks over seeking crustaceans to eat and later their attention was on a rotting tree trunk that we assumed had plenty of insect protein. The process of fattening up for their hibernation requirements had begun.

Our next anchorage, only a few miles away, was Turnbull Cove, in Grappler Sound, a popular bay for cruisers. The forest ministry formed a trail from the cove over a small mountain to Huaskin Lake, which is land locked. We joined the fun crew of “Dreamcatcher” and hiked approximately 1 km through another ancient forest, on a muddy trail, quite steep in parts and had the warmest swim in fresh water to date. At the start of the trail, partially hidden in the undergrowth, is the rusting carcass of a steam donkey which was used in the cove’s logging past. The lake had swathes of lily pads in the shallows. The fresh water was a delight for us humans but hopefully acts as a watering hole for the many forest animals. Happy Hour was enjoyed aboard Amelie with Craig producing his succulent smoked salmon.

The following day was wet and cloudy but we decided to venture out to make water and take Craig’s advice and anchor in Clayden Cove as the crabbing is reportedly good. Along the way we were directed to red pictographs on the rock face of a narrow passage. It was hard to make them out from the boat but they were there. Clayden Cove is beautiful with golden, rocky shores, surely this is the ideal habitat for crabs! The peacefulness of the cove was ruined during the day by loud earth moving equipment being operated out of sight of the boats, behind the dense forest. The diesel fumes wafted across the anchorage and the work killed any chance of us staying longer, even if the crabbing proved to be good. We assumed this was logging or forestry management in action with no mention of it in Waggoners (the bible for the area which is updated every fall) or any other pilot books. On the south beach were the remains of past logging, wish it had stayed that way.

As we lifted the anchor, a young family on a fabulous converted fishing boat, (Pacific Song) dinghied over to us, with the young son (about 8/9 years old) holding aloft a large Dungeness Crab, that he had trapped and gifted the crab to us, which we gleefully accepted, leaving him with another huge crab for their pot. Crab salad for supper. Poor Stephen had managed to trap one undersized  Dungeness crab the evening before and gave him back to the sea. We measure the crabs caught and only the legal size and male crabs go in to our cooking pot. Various conversations with other cruisers have the same story, the crabs are not around or have already been trapped this year by (allegedly) First Nations and commercial fishermen. 

We idled along our proposed route, trying to fish for salmon, alas no bites. What do we have to do to catch these salmon? Five and six years ago we had no trouble hauling out salmon and trapping crabs. It’s a different game this time around.

Leaving Grappler Sound and entering Drury Inlet was a definite scenic change. The towering mountains slowly melted into rolling hills which have been heavily logged and the clear cuts have been replanted. The inlet was strewn with many low lying rocky islets, festooned with draped sea lions. They could barely lift their sleepy heads as we trundled by. 

Drury Inlet is reported to be less travelled than other inlets, possibly because of the constant navigational hazards and the notorious Stuart Narrows. We met a couple of boats coming out but we arrived at Stuart Narrows at low water slack and apart from some physical adjusting to the steering, we zoomed through. Kelp marked the hazards and we kept well away from these areas. We passed the float house and work float in Richmond Bay, carried on pass Jennis Bay which has  some floating pontoons for transient boats and were on watch for any activity on the rocky beaches. Our patience paid off, just off O’Keefe Point and a couple of miles further up, we witnessed two giant male Black Bears, rooting around under rocks. The first one had some grey in his fur, maybe an older bear or a rare blue Black bear! We also had an Elk traversing the narrows close behind us.

The head of Drury Inlet are the Muirhead Islands and they were going to be our home for several days. We weaved around rocks, rocky islets with small trees until we found our spot. Words and photographs cannot describe the beauty of this place. We nestled in to a tiny cove, totally alone, with swinging room, hopefully, for only one boat….us! The shore was close by, with Bladderack seaweed marking the high water level, bleached stone above with trees erupting out of nooks and crevices. This was going to be our kayaking paradise and possibly some successful crabbing.

Eureka, on the second day in the islands we caught a male Dungeness to feed both of us. Stephen had to throw back an enormous female and an undersized male but the crabs are here. The ghastly thing is that they are attracted by the entrails of the last crab that we had eaten.

The kayaking was sublime over crystal clear water. The shoreline shelves drastically into the water and evidence of opened clam and cockle shells were everywhere on the sandy, rocky seabed. The coves were teeming with life, millions of tiny fry, new bird songs were heard from shy fowl, a visit from another Rufous Hummingbird, distant knocking of a woodpecker and the barks and groans from the sea lions nearby. Later in the evening explosive eruptions from the bay with huge splashes. A sea lion was either fishing or having fun, maybe both.

The mornings arrive with low lying cloud, gently getting warmer as the day progresses. The sunsets are spectacular with a half moon, lots of vibrant pinks and baby blues, sweeping across the evening sky. If someone told us that fairies, unicorns, mythical creatures existed, they would definitely live here in the Muirheads, a perfect magical, mystical scene.

We headed out of the islands and into Queen Charlotte Strait, north east to Blunden Harbour. The strait was lively with a gusty westerly wind kicking up to 20kts and big waves, which slowed us down. Nevertheless we arrived in this small natural harbour before 6pm. Blunden Harbour has a history and not one to be proud of. The harbour was named after the second master of the HMS Beaver, Edward Blunden in 1863. This area from 1884, was the permanent winter location of a native Indian village of the Kwakwaka’wakw tribe, however the European settlers muscled in and renamed the area Port Progress, a short lived adventure. In 1964 the native community were relocated to Port Hardy by force. The Canadian department of Indian and Northern affairs refused to continue to support the people regarding housing, education and other services if they remained on their land. The village was burnt before the residents departed to ensure that they wouldn’t have anything to return to.

The harbour was the location of a school of Kwakwaka’wakw artists, one of the most famous is Willie Seaweed. The renowned Emily Carr (Canadian artist and writer who was inspired by the indigenous NW people) painted the village from Charles Newcombe’s 1901 photograph. This British fellow was originally a medical doctor who came to Canada with his wife and six children, he turned his attentions to Northern American botany, biology and geographical research, particularly the Haida area. He became very disturbed by the depopulation and assimilation of the NW coastal cultures. He was involved in collecting artefacts from the various villages ie memorial poles etc and sold them to museums in London, Liverpool, Oxford, Kew Gardens, Cambridge, BC and Sydney. This was a seedy time with some individuals disrupting and desecrating sacred burial grounds, it isn’t obvious whether Newcombe was involved in these activities. Newcombe wrote reports based on studies into the effect of sea lions on the salmon population in the NW shortly before his death.

We had a brisk, energetic sail across the strait to Port Hardy in order to top up on fresh provisions. We were enchanted by the sight of a lone sea otter, idly drifting on his back without a care in the world. He was much bigger than his river cousins in Victoria and the Octopus Islands. Approaching Hardy Bay we once again saw a huge otter this time with her pup swimming alongside her, a memorable sight.

Anchoring in a big swell went well but we soon heard notes drifting across the water. As we looked towards the foreshore, we saw a bagpiper playing on the rocks, with us as his only audience. Not many people know this but Stephen hates the noise of the bagpipes. He reckons the bagpipes was invented by the same person who designed the Recorder. He has a “fingernails on the blackboard” reaction but alas, for Stephen, the bagpiper continued for ages, much to Debbie’s mirth.

Port Hardy has an up and down economical history with forestry and commercial fishing being the lasting industries. A boom to the port happened between 1971-1996 with an open copper mine being the major contributor to the local economy. The pit has since been filled with water and become a beautiful lake. Nowadays ecotourism is the major boost to the economy, particularly recreational fishing. The anglers who visit in their thousands each year keep the hoteliers and B&B establishments very happy.

Port Hardy was a welcome break and as far north as we planned to go this year. The next blog will cover our passage southwards for the rest of the summer, enjoying the First Nation cultural centres, hopefully visiting the Grizzly Bears in Glendale Cove and ending up in the San Juan Islands for September.

Mist in the Broughtons