I've made it to Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island and am on the final leg of my big trip. I finally have a half decent wifi connection and can make this long overdue update to the blog. The last month has been incredible in so many ways. From spending so much time singlehanding and having time to reflect on life, to spending 18 incredible days with my dad, to spending one on one time with two great friends, it'd be impossible to do justice to the experience with words, but I will try...
After my last update, I departed Sitka late darken the dark. I motored through narrow channels to a cove near the entrance to Sergius Narrows where I dropped the hook and managed a few hours of sleep before waking around 4am to get through the narrows at slack water. I found another cove not too far from the exit from the narrows and sacked out for a few more hours. I motored and motor sailed through the Peril Strait and made it into Warm Springs Harbor. A short trail from the docks led to the hot springs and to Barnoff Lake. The hot springs were beautiful and set right next to a raging cascade of water, but they were too hot to go in beyond my knees. The little village pipes the water from the hot springs to a free public bath house at the docks where there are three little private rooms, each with its own tub and open to the water on one side. You can mix cold water into the bath so this made for a much more pleasant temp. I left by around noon I think and made the run down to Kake over completely dead calm water. I wanted to keep going but I needed fuel and the fuel dock was already closed so I ended up anchoring off a small island near Kake which turned out to be an amazing spot! It was totally exposed to the Chatham Strait and would have been a terrible place to anchor in any sort of blow, but the weather was dead calm. After I dropped and set the hook and shut down the engine, I could head humpbacks surfacing off in the distance, but I couldn't see them. All night I listened to them surfacing and at one point one of them must have been breaching like mad because I heard big splash after big splash. I poked my head above deck before going to sleep and the stars were out like you wouldn't believe! It was a totally cloudless night and was finally dark enough to see the night sky. It was a spectacular night.
Kake is, by all accounts, a pretty dumpy place so I was happy to get my fuel and get out of there. Rocky Pass awaited me to the south. All the guide books indicate how difficult navigation is through the shallow waters of Rocky Pass, but I found the channels very east to navigate thanks to very good channel markings. Beyond Rocky Pass was Monte Carlo Island, El Capitan Pass, and Tonowek Narrows along my way down to Craig. Craig proved to be an excellent stop where I picked up by buddy Devon! After tying up at the wharf, we feasted on delicious burgers 'n beers and plotted out our adventure overlooking the water and the purse seine fleet coming in. We awoke the next morning surrounded by purse seiners and trollers that had come in overnight and had rafted up five boats deep. Devon and I sailed around the southern end of Prince of Wales Island and northward into the Clarence Strait on our way to Ketchikan. We had gorgeous weather and excellent anchorages, especially in the Barrier Islands of the Eureka Channel. We were, once again, warmly welcomed by Ketchikan Yacht Club as we sailed into Thomas Basin. My father's flight was arriving just a few hours after our arrival and there's only lone way to pick someone up from Ketchikan Airport... by boat! Devon, my dad, and I had a great time sipping scotch and we were all bummed when Devo had to fly out. My dad and I took a zero day in Ketchikan while I had another tear in my genoa repaired by a local sailmaker. The morning of our departure day the skies were clear and I surprised my dad with a late father's day present and booked us on a float plane flight into Misty Fjords National Monument on a beautifully restored DeHavilland Beaver. We had a stellar flight and landed in a high alpine lake to stretch out legs. It was a fantastic way to start out trip together.
We sailed down to the Percy Islands that afternoon and dropped anchor just as the sun was dipping over the horizon. It's been interesting to experience the changes in the sky this far north as the summer has progressed. Laura and I had departed Seattle near the summer solstice and as we pushed further and further north, we were experiencing less and less of the night sky to the point where we'd go to sleep while it was still light out and wake up well after the 3am sunrise. The sun is setting much earlier now and the night skies have been magnificent. An early morning start from the Percy Islands set us off on a 65nm shot across the Dixon Entrance to Masset where we'd clear customs and begin out adventure through Haida Gwaii. We sailed against a stiff westerly and made great time on a close reach. The swells coming off the Pacific built to about 8 feet and my dad and I started to get really wet, but the sun was shining and we were screaming along at over 8 knots so all we could do with each deluge of seawater spray was smile and laugh.
Much to the chagrin of the customs officer on the other end of the phone in Ottawa, S/V Antoinette and her crew were cleared back into Canada. Our plan was to sail around the west side of Haida Gwaii's Graham Island and then through the Skidegate Channel to our next port, Queen Charlotte City. Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into. Our first day out of Masset was very calm and we motor sailed to an anchorage near Langara Island protected by Marchnd Reef. The wind was beginning to build as we were setting the anchor, but the Rocna once gain proved its worth and we didn't budge an inch. We set sail the next morning in a 15kt southwesterly and were soon out in the Pacific with nothing between us and Japan. The wind and the seas build through the day and we ultimately found ourselves sailing against 25 knot winds in 10 meter seas. The wave height forecasts issued by Environment Canada indicate that combined wave and swell heights may be twice that forecasted and we found ourselves in seas every bit of 40 feet at an interval of about 10 seconds. At that point we were estimating the swell heights in terms of boat length. But we hung on and 12 hours after setting out, having covered over 80 miles with our tacks, we found safe harbor in Port Louis. Exhausted, but with giant smiles on out faces, we each ate a handful of peanuts for dinner and sacked out hard. My dad would later refer to the day as akin to having ridden a mechanical bull for 12 hours straight. Wind eased, but kept blowing from the southwest as we spent the next two days sailing the rest of the way down the west coast of Graham Island. At every point along the way were presented with magnificent beauty. Humpbacks breached in the swell, giant sunfish flopped around righty next to the boat, giant 100 foot white geysers exploded as incoming swells crashed on the rocky shorelines and reefs, and rainbows over misty mountains and fjords welcomed us into safe harbors. Upon entering the calm waters of Skidegate Channel, we realized just how well Antoinette was built and how she really can handle more than we can. We longed for the burgers and beers that awaited us in Queen Charlotte City.
And those burgers and beers were everything we had hoped for. After our our 90 minute orientation to Gwaii Haanas and obtaining our permits the next morning in Skidegate Landing, we were off to Sandspit to top off the diesel and reprovision our supplies of wine and cheese. The only way to go on a grocery run (or beer run for that matter) is by dinghy and landing it on the beach. Beautiful, calm weather on the Hecate Strait awaited us and we were soon cruising south again and into Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. The scenery was every bit as beautiful as you see in pictures, but what those pictures can't illustrate is the incredible sense of isolation you feel cruising these islands. It's wilderness cruising at an extreme. The islands of Haida Gwaii are 100 miles off the coast of mainland BC. There's barely a spec of development and VHF reception is poor at best. There is no fuel south of Sandspit and you're on your own. Tiny black tailed deer spotted the grassy beaches, black bears dug for clams in the mud flats, anemones covered the rocks below the crystal clear surface, and the chuckle of a nearby bald eagle was never far off. The Haida Watchman greeted us at Tenu, the site of an ancient Haida village now in ruins after we passed through Louise Narows. Matheson Inlet sheltered us for two nights as we waited out gales. After they relented, we continued south to Burnsby Narrows and met a lovely family of five from Vancouver sailing aboard the Argo III, a Reliant 37, who would be our cruising partners for the next few days. The Burnsby Narrows proved to be easily navigated at high water slack, despite what Parks Canada wants to tell you. Just watch the range boards both in front and behind you and hold a crab against any currents. An easy run down to Rose Harbor in calm seas and light winds awaited us. We picked up the only mooring buoy and Argo III rafted up along side of us upon their arrival an hour later. The gales and brutal rain were in full force again the next day which kept us in Rose Harbor reading books and sipping coffee (and scotch) below deck. The sun returned the next day and we said goodbye to Argo III and set out for S'Gang Gwaay, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Haida Watchman who greeted us on shore provided us with an amazing tour of the ancient mortuary poles that still stand along the shoreline of the island. There was a visible energy to the place as the sun shone through the hanging mosses of the island's thick rain forest and burned off the rains off the poles. It was an experience I will not soon forget. Louscoone Inlet provided us safe harbor as we waited out yet another round of gales before setting out across the Queen Charlotte Sound.
We couldn't have asked for nicer weather as we began our big run down to Vancouver Island the morning of September 2nd. We were already three of four days behind schedule and it was clear my dad wasn't going to make it to the Bahamas for his trip with my mom, so we were going to enjoy the hell out of this passage. Winds were light, but out of the northwest so we began our massage under both sail and engine power. Our fuel reserves were getting low and by early evening, the ol' Yanmar sputtered and shut down. A quick check of the fuel level showed five or so gallons left, so why the shut down? I swapped out the engine fuel filter and the fuel-water separation filter, bled the fuel lines, poured the contents of one of the five gallon jerry cans on deck into the tank, and we were back in business. At least for a few hours. While on my dad's watch, around 2am, the engine shut down again. I only had 5 gallons left on deck and wanted to keep at least some of it at the ready for getting into Port Hardy, so that meant we sailed, in whatever south or east the wind would let us. "Bob" is pretty much useless in light winds we were hand steering and with no land in sight, our primary means of maintaining course became the stars the winds finally begin to build and by 6am we were doing 7kts again. The night watch had been cold and I had my sleeping bag in the cockpit with me. I watched the sun creep up over the horizon while my dad slept down below and basked in the near instant warmth of short wave radiation as I clicked the masthead tricolor switch to the "Off" position. The overnight winds had required us to veer our course to the south and we now had to make up progress to the east. After another full day of sailing, we made it to Port Hardy and finally dropped our sails around 11pm. My first big passage was now complete, 185 miles in about 40 hours. The feeling of solitude you experience in the open ocean with no land in sight is truly humbling. If you every get the chance to experience that environment, take it!
Beers and burgers were once again a top priority in Port Hardy. Will had flown in on Kenmore Air and awaited our arrival at the docks. It was great to see his grizzly face. My dad's rescheduled flight meant another zero day in Port Hardy that was spent troubleshooting the fuel system ( a 2 micron fuel-water separation filter instead of a 10 micron filter seems to have done the trick) and making a couple adjustments to the rigging up the mast. Sipping of scotch, this time a 12 year sherry casked Glenmorangie, ensued. After the biggest hug I've had in a long time, I got choked up while watching my dad taxi out across the water in the turbine converted Beaver that had come to pick him up and bring him back to Seattle. The time I spent with my dad over those 18 days was an experience I will hold dear to me for the rest of my life. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend so much time in such beautiful places with such an amazing person who I have the honor of calling Dad. I've spend my whole life watching him in everything he does, and I know that I wouldn't be here today writing this blog post in this cafe in this little town on the West Coast of Vancouver Island if it hadn't been for everything he taught me and all the encouragement from my mom to set my mind to something and just go out there and do it! Thank you both, a million times over, for everything you have been for me over my 28 years. I am truly lucky.
Since our arrival in Port Hardy, my trip has remained on an incredible track. Will and I stocked up on all the essentials in Port Hardy (rum, beer, peanut butter, beer, jam, bread, butter, pasta, beer, etc) and departed for the short run to Walker Group Cove where Laura and I had spend a night back in June. Our motor sail across the Nahwitti Bar proved to be easy and we sailed in nice weather around Cape Scott to Sea Otter cove, ghr first safe harbor southbound along the west coast of Vancouver Island. We picked up one of the four bombproof mourning buoys that was good for peace of mind as we waited out a gale the next day. A full day of wailing to weather brought us to Klaskino Inlet and just as we were sailing into the cove, the double zigzag switching along one of the seams in the genoa decided separate in catastrophic fashion. This was the sail I had just had repaired in Ketchikan and there's no way I'll be able to repair this by hand, so it will have to wait until I return to Seattle. I fear my heavy #1 Dacron genoa is nearing the end of it's life. Anyone want a fancy sailcloth tote bag?
So it was back up with the #4 jib which, as it turns out, has been the appropriate sail these last few days. Will began our day around the Brook Peninsula riding in a washing machine and set a course to get us off shore. About 15 miles from shore, or about half the distance to the horizon, the continental plate droops off and your find depths dropping off from about 500 feet to over 7000 feet. As a result, the sea state becomes much more tolerable as the energy of the waves has a much larger column of water to pass through. We rounded the Brooks Peninsula and set a course for Walters Cove. The sun set and navigation into the cove proved tricky between the darkness, the fog, and the rolling swell. We came through some patches of foam and the navigation lights lit it up in a very eery way. After a hard right turn, a hard left turn, and not her hard left turn, we found ourselves in the safe waters of Walters Cove only to nearly crash into the completely unlit wharf. We tied up and sacked out hard after a long day of sailing. We awoke the next morning to completely gorgeous weather and decided to explore the tiny island before setting out for the day. There are no cars or roads in the small community of Walters Cove, just paths and most people find it easier to just motor their skiffs to wherever they need to go. As we walked long the shoreline path, Will and I came across a sign reading "Java the Hut Coffee House" with an arrow pointing down the path so we decided to investigate. After being greeted by the lazy chocolate lab, we wondered into the place looking for our caffeine fix. The owner Eric was sitting around with his friend Gordon and indicated they were closed for the season but that we should still come in have some coffee. The coffee was self serve and all the effort of actually charging us was more than Eric wanted to deal with. We sat round for what ended up being hours chatting with Eric and Gordon. They gave us the scoop on the small community and we quickly saw the prospects of our sailing day vanishing. Eric invited us to dinner that night and when we found out that he also runs a catering business in Seattle, we couldn't say no. Will and I spent the rest of the day exploring the paths, rocks, trees, tide pools, and rope swings around the island zipped all around in the dinghy. The Uchuck III docked up that afternoon bringing with it a small host of tourists and a weeks worth of supplies for the community. Everyone turned up to get their barrels of gasoline and crates of God knows what. Someone was even getting a new refrigerator. One person had a stroke of genius and decided it would be easiest to take delivery of his item lifted by the boat's divots directly from the cargo hold to his front porch by motoring his float house over to the boat! Dinner that night was amazing and we spend hours chatting with Eric and his friends. Connecting with them was an experience I had been looking and hoping for for the whole trip so far.
We found our next fuel stop at the little outpost of Esparanza as we motored around the calm inside waters of Nooka Island. An afternoon stop in Friendly Cove to check out Nooka Light Station proved worthwhile. Will and I met a trio who had just finished a backpacking trip along the island and invited them back to the boat for the glasses of wine they desperately longed for. Will and I set out back into the Pacific and screamed down to our next stop, Hot Springs Cove! We made the 32 mile run in under 4 hours and maintained over 8 knots on a broad reach! We surfed numerous waves and smashed Antoinette's previous speed record of 9.5 knots with n astonishing 12.7 knots! Will and I were having the time of our lives and we sailed straight into out anchorage. Yesterday morning we went ashore and hiked out along the 2km boardwalk to the hot springs which were lovely to say the least. Holding true true to the tradition of the place, Will and I spent time on the walk out to immortalize S/V Antoinette one of the boardwalk's planks. Just as we were about to depart from the cove, a middle aged couple we had chatted with in the hot spring asked if they could hitch a ride back to Tofino since their seaplane flight had been canceled due to high winds. We had an excellent run yesterday afternoon through inside waters to Tofino sailing the whole way.
Text is about as good as I can do for this blog update with the wifi here in Tofino but I will update with pictures as soon as I can. Onward to the Broken Group today and then it will be down into the Strait of Juan de Fuca for the home stretch. Thanks everyone for all the support and if you've gotten this far, thanks for reading! More to come.