Bob and Marilyn's Weblog
February 2016
We been everywhere.  And as it turned out we had some variant of internet access pretty well every night but never enough to update this place.

After we left Port McNeill we spent a couple of nights anchored in Waddington Bay and then a couple more in Joe Cove.  I think it was blowing pretty hard outside but we didn't feel too much although we did get woke up by the anchor alarm in Joe Cove.  That was pretty much on me though because I was worried about how close we were to shore so I set the alarm pretty tight.  When you set an anchor alarm there's a whole bunch of approximations that come into play - some would say wild ass guesses.  First off the amount of chain we have out is approximate at best and in reality wildly innaccurate.  I measured and repainted it at Minstrel Island but my markings were constrained by what was already in place on the chain so I made some gross approximations which ended up with my marked length being 400 feet on a total chain length of at least 500 feet.  So the amount of chain overboard is a guess at best but we've always got more out than we think we do.

The exact position where the anchor bites into the bottom of the ocean is a real WAG.  In theory its going to be somewhere close to directly under the bow when we let it loose but I always try to drop it while we're moving slowly backward so the chain doesn't foul the anchor.  Sometimes I forget to push the button on my phone at the exact moment that we let the anchor loose and sometimes my phone doesn't mark it even when i do remember to push the button at the right time.  After all those approximations have been accounted for there's the matter of GPS accuracy to deal with which can easily be plus or minus 30 feet.  So you take +/- 30 feet on the initial set, plus +/- unknown amount for my button pushing skill, plus +/- 30 feet for where we actually are on the surface of the water and then factor in an unknown length of chain at a varying water depth and then you make an educated guess as to what distance to allow before the alarm sounds.  Typically we like to have around 200 feet of chain out and I like to set the alarm for 300 feet.  The other night I had it set at 170 feet so its not really surprising that it woke us up.

After we got tired of anchoring we moved over to Echo Bay and tied up to Pierre's docks.  He wouldn't take any money so we fed him and his dog Echo a couple of times and then worked our way north around Broughton Island. There's the remains of a resort at Greenway Sound that the guidebooks are pretty ambiguous about but which turned out to be another last chance to see item.

Feb 24
Last Chance to See - Part II
It looks like Greenway Sound Resort was thrown together on a shoestring with a focus on making it look pretty rather than making it last. In this harsh environment that attitude simply doesn't work. This place has only been abandoned for 5 years now but most of the floats are rapidly turning into sinks. One bad storm now is all it will take to finish it off. 
The building with the bad lean in the photo above is apparently the generator shack.  Evidently it has already gone walkabout at least once and managed to puncture one of its floats on that misadventure.  We tied up some of the floats with bits of line but really there`s not much left.  If it hadn`t been settled weather I don`t think we`d have felt safe staying tied up here.
At Greenway Sound we met a travelling Kiwi named Steve on a little woodie sailboat called Rhapsody.  We ended up following Steve and Rhapsody a little further north to Sullivan Bay where we initially tied up for one night but got weather delayed.  The contrast between Sullivan and Greenway is dramatic - they're both superficially similar situations - floating docks with no piles in a relatively exposed bay but there ends the similarity.  This place is built like a floating concrete shithouse.  Several of the floathomes are sitting on huge concrete floats and the lumber in the wooden floats is easily twice the dimensions of the corresponding parts at Greenway.  

The mail plane arrived yesterday.  We've seen the mail arrive at Big Bay but this is the most impressive delivery we've seen yet. Evidently this plane is unusual - normally its a little single engine job like a 182 on floats.  This one looked like a serious amount of fun to fly.  Those little pontoons on the wings are retractible - he pulled the port side one up as he approaced the dock - and you can see the retracted wheels that he uses for tarmac landings.  Anything that can burn that much fuel that fast has to be fun to operate.  I don't think he was 15 minutes from the time I first heard him go overhead until I couldn't hear him again.  The pilot never got out of his seat - the winter caretakers met him on the dock with a bag of mail and he handed them the arriving mail.  He did briefly shut the engines off  but that seemed prudent.
Overtaking Rhapsody enroute from Greenway to Sullivan. I was favourably impressed to see the sail up despite the feeble wind.  You can see from our burgee that there was a little breeze blowing but it didn't amount to much and I doubt Steve was making more than 3 knots.  Most sailors protest that they use their sails regularly but actually burn a lot of diesel fuel.  
Its mid morning Thursday Feb 25th as I'm writing this and we had planned to be well underway by now but the morning weather sounded like pure crap out in Queen Charlotte Strait so I told mama to sleep in and we're going to sit it out today.  Tomorrow sounds OK but that could change too.  There's been a regular parade of deep lows coming in off the Gulf of Alaska and slamming the coast with high winds for the past month and they show no sign of letting up.  We need to find a 24 hour break in that cycle to get around Cape Caution - ideally a little longer than 24 hours so the crap from the previous day's wind can die down before we get out there.  We could have banged our way over to Port Hardy today - its only a couple of hours across the strait - but there didn't seem to be any point because the weather forecast for the weekend is crap anyway.  There's a small chance of a window early next week so I'd like to be ready to jump on that if it comes together.  Once we get around Cape Caution and behind the Queen Charlottle Islands we're pretty sheltered all the way to Prince Rupert so we can bugger around in there for the next couple of months and hope the weather settles down before the end of April. Cape Caution north of Port Hardy and Dixon Entrance north of Prince Rupert are the two big challenges on this trip.  Other than those locations we don't have to look at wide open ocean unless we deliberately choose to.  Today is a good example - evidently there's gale force winds 10 miles away in the Strait but here in the bay its glassy calm.
We're tied up HERE in Port McNeill for a couple of nights.  We spent the last three nights on what's left of the dock at Minstrel Island but a couple of those nights were pretty lumpy.  We've been going through a spell of storms coming in off the Gulf of Alaska and hitting the top of Vancouver Island.  That was a good deal when we were down at the bottom of the Island - not so much now that we're up near the top of the Island. It will need to let up because we aren't going to go out around Cape Caution until it does.  When you get out there with Canada to your right and Japan to your left you want some good weather between you and Japan or you're in for a really bad day.

We'll spend a couple of nights here in Port McNeill before heading directly north into what are known as the Broughton Islands.  We've spent time on the southern edge of the Broughtons but never gone right into the heart of what is a favourite cruising area for lots of PNW cruisers.  Mostly we'll be killing time until the weather improves but there's a lot of history through the Broughton area as well so I'm sure we'll have fun exploring.  
Feb 17
Port McNeill
While we were at Minstrel Island Marilyn did some cleaning on the flybridge and I did some toiling in the engine room.  We've got some paint ready to splash around on the flybridge and the outside of the "house" but we need a lot better weather than we've been having.  I'm pretty well to the end of the routine maintenance caused by leaving the boat sit for so long but I still haven't managed to get the outboard running.  I pretty well wore out both shoulders pulling on the damn cord at Squirrel Cove and didn't bother trying again at Minstrel Island.  Until I prove this theory wrong I'm going on the assumption that my gas went stale over the summer.  I'll get some new gas here tomorrow and I expect that theory will soon be proven wrong but it doesn't cost anything extra to hope.  I've always thought there was a fine line between pessimism and realism but I've also always suspected that perpetual optimists are just idiots.But I could be wrong.
We're tied up behind that large shiny blue and white trawler type "High Pockets". We saw it in Prince Rupert 2 years ago - its a pretty impressive boat and in much better condition than ours.
We're going to miss the dock here in Port McNeill - the miserable effing weather not so much.  This town is pretty well deserted in the winter.  For some reason Port McNeill appears to be the recreational centre while Port Hardy is the commercial centre.  That means lots of fish boats in Port Hardy; next to none here.  I'm pretty much underwhelmed by the marine service centres here but I usually fare better in the rougher places.  I think my antique Lehman engines and ancient Mercury outboard didn't pass the smell test at the local marine shop.  Marilyn isn't wild about the grocery selection either but the laundromat is pretty convenient.  The forecast is for the wind to let up for a few hours tomorrow morning so we'll try to use that window to get across Queen Charlotte Sound.  

Other than that brief gap tomorrow morning, the forecast is crap right through the weekend so we need to find a secure hiding place to ride out the storm(s).  The likely spot looks to be Waddington Bay on Bonwick Island.  We've never been there so I'm nervous about committing to riding out a storm we're pretty certain is coming in an unknown spot but I think we're going to do it anyway.  It looks really secure which is important - we've stayed in enough spots now to mostly recognize the good ones.  There's other closer spots but the guidebooks are iffy on the bottom in some of them.  The only bad thing I read about the bottom in Waddington Bay is that the mud is hard to wash off your anchor.  That's the best kind in my opinion.  

We'll miss the excellent wifi here on the dock at Port McNeill and we'll be dark for maybe as long as 2 weeks.  I hope we can find wifi at one of the lodges in the Broughtons but its all new territory for us so we simply don't know.  The cellular coverage maps pretty well all say "beyond here be dragons."  As Bilbo Baggins famously said "If you want to have adventures you've got to go on adventures"
We're tied up to the dock at Big Bay on Stuart Island which is our favourite staging area to run the fearsome rapids that guard access to The Broughtons.  The tides come in and go out around both ends of Vancouver Island but their effect on currents is very different.  At the south end of the island its pretty simple - they come in through Juan de Fuca and go back out there - its relatively wide and straight so you might see 3 or 4 knots of current at maximum.  At the north end of the island its a whole different matter - full of narrow deep passages winding their way between various islands and the mainland. That creates a series of tidal rapids that complicate navigation through th area.

Coming west to east its a relatively simple trip - you wait for the end of an ebb tide and then as you move east the tide more or less keeps turning from ebb to flood ahead of you.  Eventually you can't keep up with the turn but the principle applies - you are moving with the tide so the turn happens later and later as you move further east.  Going west its the exact opposite - nothing works in your favour.  You want to ride an ebb tide so you get a boost toward the ocean but you have to wait at the east end of all the currents until the last rapids finally turn from flood to ebb. Then as you move west you encounter rapids that have been running for increasing lengths of time until eventually you get to something that is running so hard its not safe to enter.  

We have successfully run the whole gauntlet through from Big Bay to Port Neville in the past but it needs to be on small tides.  When there's not much change in the level of the tide then there is a correspondingly smaller volume of water that needs to move through the rapids.  Its great getting kicked along by the current but the risk if there's too much current is that it can create whirlpools that will actually swallow a boat or more likely suck logs down and then shoot them out at inopportune times into your path or through your hull.  It can become impossible to control the boat too if you get caught in an eddy or whirlpool.  So I don't like to enter anything that's running over about 5 knots and some of these rapids can run 12 or 15 knots when they really get going.  At the same time its well worth our effort to take advantage of the current because we normally travel about 6.5 knots so a 4 knot boost is like getting 4 free miles out of every 10.

Right now we've got a relatively small tidal exchange during the day and it turns from flood to ebb at daybreak so the conditions are ideal for us.  We'll probably strike out at first light on Saturday and - with luck - be in Port Neville by the evening.  
Feb 10
Running the Rapidis
We didn't escape the fog yesterday but it wasn't nearly as annoying as the previous day either.  In retrospect I think we've been lucky over the years to see as little fog as we have.  This BC coast is famous for its fog - maybe not to the extent that the east coast is but boaters out here do talk about the fog.  And we really haven't seen all that much of it.  We appear to be making up for that this year.
Big Bay is a pretty sheltered spot but still we got bumped around a bit last night.  This morning its dead calm.  We have a great view to the west looking directly into Gillard and then Dent Rapids, site of the infamous Devil's Hole.  The water gets pretty excited about 2 miles in front of us when its running hard but the back eddies extend all the way to the dock.  You can see a bit of their effect on the surface in this last photo.
It felt nostalgic as we pulled away from the dock in Cowichan Bay.  We probably won't ever go back to that dock and neither of us feels any particular attachment to the community so we may never go back to the village.  We had a good run there - coming up on 6 years now - but neither of us will go out of our way to stay in touch with anyone there so our connection wasn't that strong.  We landed in Buchanan and Cowichan Bay at roughly the same time but there is no comparison between the attachment we feel to each community.  

I replaced the (very expensive) Balmar regulator and then I had a phone visit with Balmar tech.  I know - I should have done it the other way around but as it turned out they didn't tell me anything that would have changed my course of action.  It now appears that what happened was that the Balmar alternator on the starboard engine failed and took out the Balmar regulator at the same time.  So yesterday I sourced a replacement alternator.  I should have had two spares onboard but I took them both back to Buchanan last spring, planning to rebuild them myself.  And then I completely forgot about them.  It was only when I started scouring the boat looking for the spares that I was sure I was carrying that I remembered seeing them sitting on the basement workbench at 515.  Oh well.  
Feb 10
Getting Underway
Balmar is proud of their regulators but they are STUPID proud of their alternators.  I got quoted $868 for what is at its heart a small frame Delco alternator.  Brian was pretty apologetic about the price and he gave me the name of a local alternator rebuilder as an alternative but he also pointed out that the Balmar they have is old stock, priced on a less anemic dollarette.  So if they were to import one today the price would be even higher.  After that conversation I phoned the rebuilder who had his own 130 amp versions available for $212.  He only had one on the shelf but he quickly built up a second one so that we could carry a spare.  I think Balmar also claims 130 amps - maybe its only 110 -  for their version but that number is largely bullshit anyway.  Those small frame alternators are too small to produce big amps for long so they get hot and cut back anyway.  Not to mention that they are being driven by a single A-width belt.  Even if our alternators were actually able to output 130 amps apiece we couldn't make use of the resulting 3000 watts of power.  The real reason for a larger capacity alternator is to allow it to run at less than its rated capacity resulting - in theory anyway - in a longer lifespan
The only other repair that I'm aware of is the air compressor on the flybridge.  We have a little compressor that supplies air for our horns as well as giving us a source of compressed air for blowing up fenders and occasionally wheels on defective dock carts.  I thought our problem was a leaky hose because there was a great honking big bubble in the hose skin but replacing the hose hasn't stopped the compressor from running repeatedly so I'll have to crawl under the forehead on the flybridge to see what else is leaking.  

We tied up to the Sidney North Saanich Yacht club dock for a few nights and I used the time to stock up on non-Balmar alternators and replace the defective Balmar.  The weather has been generally crap with some strong southerly winds.  We got beat up badly at the Cow Bay dock last week and the forecast for the rest of the week was poor.  We needed to move the truck to the SNSYC parking lot before we head north so it seemed to make sense to spend a last few nights there.  Its kind of out of the way for a trip north to start out by going south but it all makes sense in context.  
I must have 2 dozen pictures of this same stupid light station and over 200 pictures of light stations in general.  But still I couldn't resist another handful of pictures of the Chrome Island light station as we went by it a few days ago.  Its just such a cute spot.
We had flat seas and heavy fog as we crossed the Strait of Georgia yesterday.  The weather radar showed absolutely not a cloud anywhere but we could never see further than 1/4 of a mile all day and most of the time it was less than 100 yards visibility.
As the afternoon wore on we got several moments like this.  We'd see the sky and we'd know there was land close by but the fog was still hanging on the water so we couldn't see what was coming at us.  Fortunately there wasn't much traffic and more importantly there wasn't much debris in the water either.
Yesterday was the most unpleasant fog conditions we have ever encountered.  I've seen days single handed where I ran in heavy fog for a couple of hours and then it lifted completely.  We ran in fog one day from Tsehum Harbour to past the Trial Island light and about halfway across Juan de Fuca Strait but then it lifted completely.  And I recall sneaking out of Prince Rupert in pea soup but that time it lifted before we got completely out of the main anchorage.  Yesterday it would start to lighten up, get our hopes up and then sock in solid again.  We got a break coming through Thulin Passage behind the Copeland Islands and when we got to Squirrel Cove the anchorage was clear but we could still see the fog outside.  So it was a great day for crossing the strait from the standpoint of not making us seasick but a lousy day because it feels so claustrophobic inside the fog.  Fortunately we have good electronic charts and radar.  We'd have never got across the Comox Bar without the charts because there was absolutely no chance of seeing the range markers.  As it was we only saw 2 of the 3 channel markers on the way out despite passing within less than 100 feet of the missing buoy.  We saw the Powell River to Comox ferry on radar but never saw or heard him beyond the radar image.  There were three fish boats leaving Comox at the same time as us.  They immediately disappeared into the fog and I think they ended up fishing the shelf coming up onto the bar from the ocean side but we never saw them again.  We did see radar signatures crossing our bow several times as we crossed the bar and entered the deep water.  
We had a great visit with Al and Christi who are wintering on Viking Star in Friday Harbor.  They showed us the town, bought us breakfast and Christi cooked up a great curried chicken.  Saturday morning we got an early start and headed up toward Speiden Island.  Our loose plan was to cruise by Speiden looking for the mini-deers, check out the condition of Haro Strait and then either cross to Sidney or bug out to Prevost Harbor.  As it turned out the strait was pretty well flat so we crossed.  We got bumped a very little bit as we navigated the crab pot minefield that guards the entrance to Tsehum Bay but it was so negligible that SWMBO never bothered with any form of seasick medication.  That means either that it was very flat or that she is starting to get her sea legs back - likely some of both.
Feb 1
Back in Canada
I'm still learning what I can get away with by hand holding (as opposed to using a tripod) with my longest lens.  Evidently this was beyond my ability to hand hold.  They're just some kind of stupid baby deer - fallow deer maybe - that live on this barren Speiden Island, over on the east side of Haro Strait.
Boating Terminology for the non-boater:

YACHTING - paying someone to fix your boat in exotic locations
BOATING - fixing your boat yourself in exotic locations

We're very definitely boaters and the fixing part is ongoing.  I've been poking away at troubleshooting why our solar array isn't making power ever since we got back on the boat.  It isn't really an issue at this time of year because there isn't any significant solar input anyway but we will want to get it working by early April.  Yesterday a more serious electrical gremlin surfaced when I noticed that the starboard tach wasn't working.  

That's a good clue that the alternator isn't working and I'm still not sure why the port tach WAS working because neither alternator was making power.  I think my very expensive Balmar regulator which drives both alternators has shuffled off to the electronic hereafter.  I'll need to phone Balmar tech support on Monday because they very foolishly included their phone number in their documentation but so far my troubleshooting points to a dead regulator.  Its probably been over four years in service so its not a big deal but it is definitely an annoyance.  Better here at the dock in Cow Bay than somewhere up the coast with no access to parts. The challenge will be to find one locally that isn't priced higher than the boat is worth.  I think I bought this one online.  

Despite the fact that this one appears to have failed within four years of installation I'll likely look for the same unit to replace it.  There's not a whole long list of choices and this particular regulator does 3 stage charging which I believe is important for our application.  We depend heavily on our batteries for our lifestyle - we don't want to be running the generator non-stop when we are at anchor.  That means that we need to charge them expeditiously when we are underway and that requres an intelligent charge regulator. The other advantage of an identical unit is that it will bolt right in and hook up exactly where the current regulator sits.  I'm also about 50% certain that I likely caused the unit's early death by overworking it.  I think its only designed to run a single alternator but I use it to drive the fields on both alternators. That will be at least partly the topic when I phone Balmar.

We're tied up in Cow Bay for a few days but probably very few.  We need to make a Costco run to fill the deep freeze and I need to find a replacement regulator.  Other than that we're pretty well ready to head north to Alaska.