Bob and Marilyn's Weblog
March 2016
Not going back to Kitimat
Mar 20
We've moved a little since the last post.  It was about Bishop Bay but I posted it from Kitimat.  We went to Kitimat for a couple of reasons - first because we just wanted to see it and second because we had our mail shipped there.  We had the mail sent to M K Bay Marina which turned out to be horrendously overpriced and pretty run down.  They also clearly don't see many cruisers in Kitimat.  The marina is a $25 cab ride from the town.  The fairways in the marina were set up for maybe 30 foot boats and the slips had 25 or 30 foot finger piers.  So we ended up sticking way out into the already crowded fairway.  To top it off the finger piers were falling apart so we had to move just to find something that seemed secure enough to spend the night on.  It wasn't hard to leave & neither of us has any reason to ever go back.
Hartley Bay
That's the reason Kitimat exists - the former Alcan aluminum smelter, now owned by Rio Tinto. Years ago old Tommy Bentham who worked for me at the time had some great stories about the construction of that smelter.  I wrote a couple of those stories here.
This was admittedly the low end of what was tied up at M K Marina but it didn't look out of place either.  I particularly liked the re-purposed snow shovel.
There's been an unusually large amount of drift floating around this spring.  We have to be constantly alert.  Stuff like this with the flying passengers is pretty easy to see but its not all this simple to spot.
Your tax dollars at work or our prepaid night on the dock.
Two years ago we were particularly impressed with Hartley Bay Indian Reserve.  And as reserves go its pretty damn good.  But that's setting the bar really low.  Compared to other communities of roughly 200 population - like Buchanan for example - its a dump.  There's not as much garbage dumped in front yards as at Klemtu and the boardwalks are really cute.  Its way better than Red Earth, Shoal Lake or La Ronge but again, that's setting the bar pretty low. There's clearly some pride of ownership on the part of some band members but not all of them by any stretch.  

What was galling this year is that we realized everyone is getting a new house.  The area that we commented on two years ago where they had building sites set up and plumbed in is now filling up with brand new pre-fab homes.  They're all vacant now but eventually everyone wiil move from their existing houses into the new houses.  And judging by the few we looked into, it appears those new homes will come fully furnished. All of which would be understandable if the residents weren't currently living in homes that are at most 30 years old.  I've never lived in a house that new and I've paid for every damn one of them with tax paid dollars that I earned myself. Actually - on further reflection - that's not 100% true.  The house I grew up in was new but father built and paid for that one with tax paid dollars that he earned. 

Brand spanking new Kubota snow removal equipment? Give me an effing break already! Does the city of Vancouver have this much snow removal equipment? I know the Village of Buchanan doesn't have this much invested AND IT ACTUALLY SNOWS IN BUCHANAN.
Now how about this little beauty? Don't you just wish you had one of those to go get the mail? What do you suppose ASAP (that's the converter) charged you - the Canadian taxpayer - for this little gem?  

And for what purpose? We walked every damn street in the town and it didn't take us half an hour to do it. Every damn inch of every damn street in half an hour.
So we spent a prepaid night on the dock in Hartley Bay - and thank you very much to the rest of my fellow Canadians who have also paid for that moorage - you'll have to come claim your own nights sometime.  While we were there we were visited by Tony who was pleasant enough if you could ignore his entitlement mentality.  I was on the phone with RJ; Marilyn answered a knock on the hull.  By the time she got the door open Tony was already on the aft deck.  When she went outside to meet him he was halfway in the door by the time she turned around.  "I'll just come in for coffee and a visit."  He was complaining that the new houses were taking too long to complete.  The only people I saw working to actually complete those new houses were white men.  You do the math.  As for Tony I think he'd still be sitting in our cabin drinking coffee but his wife started phoning him every 20 minutes to tell him to come home. After the third call he finally left.  I did have a very good visit with RJ which consumed at least half an hour of Tony's visit.

We got a leisurely departure out of Hartley Bay in time to catch the flood tide at the south end of the Grenville Channel. The channel is about 45 miles long and open to the ocean at both ends.  That means that the flood currents come down from the north, up from the south and finally cancel out in the middle.  Similarly it ebbs both directions from the middle. That means that if you want to go right through from the south to north end of the channel you need to time the flood in from the south so that you arrive at midpoint and then catch the ebb out to the north.  We opted to stop roughly a third of the way up the channel in Lowe Inlet.  We hated Lowe Inlet last time we went through but that was largely due to our inept choice of anchorages.  Last time we parked ourselves squarely in front of the waterfall thinking that would give us the best view and that the current would keep us straight.  Instead the combination of wind and current kept us crosswise to the current and then the current dragged our anchor several times.  Between the wind and current we got tossed around so much that we really didn't enjoy ourselves and we kind of half promised that we wouldn't come back.  But the location is so convenient that we couldn't resist and by anchoring out of the current flow we had a much more pleasant stay this time.  

Hot Springs & Mooring Balls
Mar 20
We're back in Bishop Bay.  We were here two years ago on the way north.  At the time it was a little out of our way but this time its right on our track because we are headed to Kitimat.  We've never been to Kitimat so we thought we'd give it a look.  I've heard a lot about the place because - years ago - I had an old guy worked for me who was one of the ramrods on the aluminum smelter project.  We needed some place to pick up our mail so we had the terrorist who runs the UPS Store that we use ship our mail to a marina in Kitimat.  Assuming that all works out we'll hook up with our absentee ballots for the SK spring election as well as any remaining income tax forms that still come by mail.

Bishop Bay is a pretty little spot.  The hot water runs into a little concrete bathtub in a shack that someone has built just above the high tide mark.  Last time we were here there was a rickety float with a ramp to shore.  The float is still more or less here but the ramp is gone.  The ramp was in bad shape two years ago so its not hard to believe that one good storm could have finished it off.  I was afraid to spend the night on it last time because the float relied on the ramp to hold it off the beach.  Except that the ramp was pretty well screwed so the float was sitting too close to shore and I was worried it was close enough to put our props into the rocks.
Bishop Bay Hot Springs
So two years ago we ended up staying on a mooring ball and we're back on one again this year.  There's three of them along the west side of the bay.  The problem with mooring balls is that they all look good from the surface but its anybody's guess what lurks below the water.  In this case the balls have BC Parks stickers on them so that gives me a small measure of comfort.  Not a lot of comfort mind you but more comfort than I'd take if they were "maintained" by some nameless local group of hot springs enthusiasts.  The big worry here is that the bottom drops off so incredibly fast that - despite being in over 100 feet of water - we're still maybe 2 or 300 feet from shore.  That feels pretty close.  So I set an anchor alarm the first night and set it really tight.  Tight enough that it woke us up twice.  But I'd rather be woken up by the whooping of an anchor alarm than the sound of our props grinding into the shoreline rocks.

The first night there were two sport fishermen on the float.  Neither boat looked like the kind of place I'd want to spend the night but there were three guys on one, two on the other and they spent the night.  They also spent an undue amount of time in the hot tub.  We didn't feel like sharing a bathtub with five dirty fishermen we didn't know so we waited until the next morning when they all left.  And we've been back several times so now we're all scrubbed clean again.
To hook up to a mooring ball we use the same bridle that we use when anchoring.  The difference is the length of line we leave out.  On the anchor I like to have around 30 feet out on each side so that the attachment point to the chain is as low in the water as possible.  On the ball there's no point in having excess line out.
Gray Hawk looks a little lonesome all by herself at the head of the bay.  We had company over the weekend but since Monday morning we've been all by ourselves.
The hot springs dump into a little concrete bathtub located just above the waterline.  I guess its more accurately called a rock depression with some added concrete to help hold the hot water.  There's two pools - the hot one that the water initially dumps into and a cooler overflow pool  
Over the years there's been a lot of graffiti added to the walls - primarily names, names of boats and the year they visited.  Some of the more recent additions are nautical trivia.  So we left one of our pet sticks with the boat name written on it.  Its in the upper left corner - I can see it but you probably can't because the painted side is turned away from the camera.
Marilyn found us a copy of Exploring Alaska & British Columbia by Hilson.  Its out of print now and some of the copies are really expensive.   We've been keeping a close eye on it all the way up the coast.  Its full of charts with tiny print overlaid on them telling the history of places along the way.  A lot of the stories date back to Vancouver's visit in the 1700's. 
There's a phenomenal number of cruising and destination guides have been published for this Pacific Northwet coast.  Its like every second fool that travels up the coast thinks they have something of value to impart to future coastal travellers.  We don't own more than a fraction of the possible guides but Marilyn looked long and hard for this Hilson guide.  Its old and the information that was current at the time of publication is virtually useless now.  it lists services like gas and restaurants at locations that are not only uninhabited now, they are largely unrecognizable as former civilization sites. So any of that type of "current" information is useless.  The book is however a treasure trove of history inlcuding origins of placenames and the history of Vancouver's visit. So for example, on the way over to Bishop Bay we passed Carter Bay where Vancouver's crew first encountered Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (Red Tide) with the unfortunate sailor worst afflicted being buried beside the bay which was subsequently named after him.  Every little bay and channel up here has been named by someone at sometime.  A lot of those names date back to Vancouver''s and Cortes' visits but many of them have more recent origins in the logging and fishing history of the region.  I guess there's no guarantee that Hilson's stories are accurate but they make good reading on a rainy day.  We originally thought we'd be able to read the history while we were underway - spot a bay - read its history.  But it turns out the print is so small that its impossible to read much while underway without getting naseous.  So we read ahead or after but not so much while we're actually passing the landscape.

We're seriously on the move north now - its hard to keep up with the weblog.  And truth be known it isn't keeping up because I'm writing it one day and posting it from somewhere further north the next day.  This post is about Shearwater but we're a day's travel (50 miles roughly) north of Shearwater in a gorgeous little bight off the north side of Jackson Passage.  

I have to write a bit about Shearwater because it was such a happening little place.  Even at this time of year it was just bustling with activity.  I think its kind of a company town - all owned by one guy.  There's a moderate sized boat yard complete with travel lift, marine service centre, pretty good chandlery, decent little grocery store, restaurant, hotel, lodge, laundry and a mid sized marina with fuel.  

While we were there they had flying rocks coming and going, float planes hauling kids off (I assume to plant trees), two water taxis coming and going regularly, several fish boats moving around and even the RCMP Higgitt fast catamaran was passing through.

Mar 18
The flying rocks were coming and going steadily like oversized mechcanical bumble bees.  That one in the background is pretty big.
Now this is a plane - the same one that brought the mail while we were in Sullivan Bay.  If I'm a pilot there's no way in hell anybody pays me to fly this one.  I would absolutely pay them to let me fly it.
The last time we saw the Higgitt it was fueling in Nanaimo.  So the cops get around.  In the U.S. the Coast Guard has search & rescue as well as enforcement responsibilities.   The Canadian Coast Guard on the other hand is strictly S & R with all water enforcement left to the RCs.
Mr & Mrs Eagle have set up housekeeping above the fuel dock.
And finally an obligatory beauty shot as we were leaving the dock at sunrise in Shearwater.
We had a great run on Friday - hardly a bump to be seen all day.  Not that we actually ran all day - more like 8:00 to 2:00.  We finished the day at Jackson Narrows, just west of Klemtu Indian Reserve.  As we were turning into the narrows Marilyn spotted a dinghy in the outside bay and then I recognized the sailboat anchored nearby.  It was Nadejda which is the boat that tied up behind us in Port Hardy.  We hailed them on the radio and ended up having coffee and cookies in their cabin later in the afternoon.  Evidently they got out of Hardy two days after us but they still had a nasty trip around the Cape so that made me all the happier that we had left when we did.  They travelled on Wednesday which was more or less a great day for us.  We got bumped a bit coming out of Fury Cove but once we got a little further up Fitz Hugh Strait we had a good travel day. Nadejda's crew has a push on to get back to Ketchikan because they are starting work right away.  They're a fun family - mom, day & (I think) 7 kids - I kind of lost count.  Plus Jack the German Shepherd pup who's not 100% in favour of this sailing thing. We'll definitely look them up again when we get to Ketchikan.
I like things to be done right.  I want my tools put away.  I expect equipment to run and I abhor waste.  So I'm having a lot of trouble in this place.  

We stopped here two years ago on our way north.  At that time Rene & Pete had just dragged their floats here from the old cannery at Namu.  That place is slowly subsiding into the sea and I guess they were worried that their propery would eventually get trapped in the cannery bankruptcy.  In some ways that may have been a blessing but it would be hard to convince them.  And they mean well.  But oh my god what a mess.

Now that they've been here for two years its pretty obvious that the disarray two years ago had nothing to do with the recent move and everything to do with their approach to life.  Now that they've had two years to accumulate more "stuff" the floats are piled a little higher and the free space is a little more hard to spot.  Evidently the DNR made them relocate from where they were two years ago.  I thought something looked different when we entered the bay but my memory isn't anywhere near perfect.  Rene quickly brought us up to speed - some fish cop decided they were impairing some essential spawning ground so they had to move.  
Mar 17
Lizzie Cove
I feel like an ungrateful SOB for not being more positve but the general decay makes it hard to find something good to say.  I guess the price is right - we're the first tourists of 2016 so we are staying the night for free.  That's about what its worth.  

We probably wouldn't have stopped at a dock at all but we had some "issues" pulling the anchor this morning.  In the dark and cold I couldn't see what turned out to be a relatively easy fix.  I built us a pivoting bow roller two years ago and revised it last winter.  One of the two rollers on it is solid nylon - the other was some kind of hard rubber.  That rubber had deteriorated to the point where the chain cut through it this morning.  That left the chain making the turn around a 1/2" SS bolt and it was hanging up on every link.  In the dark this morning I couldn't figure out why the chain was jerking so much and pulling so hard.  I was blaming it on some kind of electrical gremlin.  As it turned out not only was it an easy problem to diagnose but I actually had a spare roller onboard so everything is back in order now.

We need to stay close to cellular service for another night because one of Marilyn's brothers is going into surgery.  Assuming that ends well we won't worry about dropping off the grid again for a while.  But until we know how he is doing we want to stay close to civilization.
It was kind of half-assed snotty conditions when we pulled the anchor this morning - raining a bit, cold, some bumps when we got outside Fury Cove - generally miserable.  But then the sun came out, the seas layed down and it was a glorious travel day.  We were underway for about 6 hours and 5 of them were pretty well like this.  Our goal is boring travel days and this one - aside from the anchor incident - was 100% boring.  

Entering Lizzie Cove was a little bit perilous.  Rene & Pete's relaxed approach to housekeeping extends to marking (or not marking) the channel into the cove.  They had moved the entire approach from where it was two years ago and the intent of their two lonesome floats was less than clear.  We stood off from the entrance studying it through binoculars for a while and then came in dead slow with Marilyn riding the bow pulpit.  As it turned out we never saw less than 18 feet of water so even that wasn't too perilous.
Finally.  We're not in Port Hardy anymore. Although maybe we should be.  We did get beat up a bit yesterday.  We've seen a lot worse but it was unpleasant and it went on for about 4 hours.  

Yesterday morning I checked the Environment Canada forecast that refreshes at 4:00.  It wasn't significantly different than the one they put up at 10:00 the night before but it wasn't worse and in some ways it was slightly improved.  Most importantly the automated buoy at West Sea Otter was reporting 3.2 metre waves at 12 seconds.  Our go/no go cutoff is 3 metres and 10 seconds so it was more or less within our guidelines.  The wind was forecast at 15-25 knots which is plenty but manageable.  Wednesday still looked better but Wednesday forecasts on Monday morning are never something you want to take to the bank so we pulled the plug and crept out of Port Hardy at first light - around 8:15 real time. 
Mar 15
Fury Cove
It was pretty benight until we got into Gordon Channel at the west end of Queen Charlotte Strait.  The wind had been blowing southeasterly all night and the wind waves coming out of Queen Charlotte Strait were getting overlayed onto the westerly swell off the Pacific.  Neither was particularly noxious in and of itself but the combination of a southeasterly wind wave on top of a westerly ocean swell was unpleasant and made worse by our course which was pretty well broadside to both wave trains.  The stabilizers got a good workout but they can only do so much and we got laid down on our beam ends several times.  It wasn't nasty the way pounding into square waves can be but it wasn't pleasant either.  It was all compounded by the incredible amount of crap that was floating around with us.  We've had really high "spring" tides lately which, combined with the big storm winds, must have floated every stray boom stick and dead tree off every beach for 60 miles around.  Trying to dodge that crap while getting tossed by following waves got really exciting at times.  My crew stayed in the game watching for logs until the Pine Island light but after that she was pretty much incapacitated.  

Otto the Autopilot did pretty well most of the way but he couldn't handle the following seas for about 1/3 of the voyage so I had to fill in for him.  Otto is pretty good - I plot a course, turn the helm over to him and most of the time that's the end of it.  Following seas can be a bit much for him though.  A following sea will grab the ass of the boat and try to fling it sideways down the face of the wave in effect having the stern overtake the bow which will end up with the boat slewing violently and landing broadside to in the bottom of the wave.  If you're at the helm you can feel it coming on and you react by first oversteering aggressively and then anticipating the release in the trough and taking the excess helm off before the boat has time to overcompensate.  Its actually pretty instinctive once you get doing it but its way past Otto's pay grade.

We arrived at Fury Cove around 3:00 in the afternoon.  It wasn't nearly as exciting an entry as our arrival two years ago.  That time we didn't know what to look for and the southwesterly waves were crashing so hard at the entry that I had trouble figuring our where it was.  This time we had a southerasterly wind so we got a reprieve from the wind waves at the very last minute as we entered the outer cove.  

Our entry wasn't completely without incident however.  About half an hour out the rear bilge pump came on.  And stayed on.  Gray Hawk is a pretty dry boat - the bilge pumps simply don't run.  But they do cycle in rough passages.  They all have external float switches and there's always a little bit of water that drains back down after they do run.  On a rough passage that water can splash around enough to turn the pump on briefly.  This time the pump came on and stayed on.  When it runs there's an alarmingly loud buzzer that sounds along with a warning light on the dash.  It was too rough to go prying up floor boards to see why it was staying on and I was about 99% certain we weren't sinking but it was nonetheless disconcerting to travel for half an hour listening to the buzzer and looking at the warning light. When we finally got a reprieve from the waves in the outer cove at Penrose Island I lifted the hatch in the aft stateroom, observed that we were not in fact sinking and whacked the switch.  Alls well that ends well.  As I am fond of telling friends, every day that we don't make the evening news is a good day.
You'd never know it here inside this bombproof little anchorage but right outside the door its still pretty nasty.  We're completely sheltered but we can look directly out into Fitz Hugh Sound and occasionally we get a real show of white water breaking on the reefs. The name of the sound reminds me of the joke about the 2 Irish queers - Patrick Fitzgerald and Gerald Fitzpatrick.

Sorry - couldn't help myself.
We've been here long enough that we are getting to know the neighbours.  There's a steel sailboat called Nadejda - really salty looking affair - with a family of 9 onboard that tied up just behind us about a week ago now.  We turned around when we filled up with fuel so now its in front of us but ultimately they are headed the same way we are and they're waiting for the weather too.   The guy across the dock from us on Pieces of Eight is a tree feller who is about to go back to work on the west coast of the Island.  I didn't think there was anyone left carrying saws - I thought it was all mechanized now - but he says some of the area they are logging now is so rugged they can't get to it with the mechanical snippers.  

We probably could have escaped Monday - it wouldn't have been even close to perfect but it likely would have been bearable.  It was pretty calm all day in the harbour and more importantly the West Sea Otter automated buoy got down close to 3 meter waves around mid day.  On the other hand, the guy who runs the water taxi said he was out there on Monday and it was nasty.  We haven't been here long enough to push the window on our departure so we didn't go.  I had procrastinated topping up the fuel tanks so that was the nominal reason for not leaving.  We're full now so the next time the window gets close we just might jump at the chance although I think we'll likely wait until the Nadejda skipper agrees that it is time to leave.  We travel about the same speed and we're both heading for the anchorage at Fury Cove so we might as well run more or less together.
Mar 13
Still in Port Hardy
I never get tired of watching the tide movement and it still regularly takes me by surprise. This is the view out our port side - same view at high and low tides.  I didn't catch it at an extreme low but I must have been pretty close to maximum high judging by the waterline on the rocks on the breakwater. 
The big plus about all the rain is that we get some pretty good rainbows too.  Actually we've had quite a bit of sunshine but generally when the sun is shines it means the wind is blowing.  You can see evidence of wind on the water.  When there's that much ripple inside the breakwater you know the wind has to be howling outside.
The winds have been ranging from 20 knots up to hurricane force.  The chart I found said hurricane force was 117 km so I'm pretty sure that was a translation from an original speed of maybe 65 knots.  Its a big wind.  Most days its either gale or storm force and its getting more than a little monotonous. It does also provide some measure of entertainment watching the floatplanes coming and going.  Their schedules don't seem subject to alteration by the wind.  There's at least 2 flights per day in and out and most days more than that.  Some of them take a serious bumping before they finally get airborne.

And you may be pleased to know that your tax dollars are hard at work providing me with information relative to our travels.  Environment Canada provides the weather and sea state forecasts, including those angry looking maps with all the red ink around Vancouver Island.  They also provide automated buoy reports from buoys tethered in the ocean.  The most useful one for us in Port Hardy was West Sea Otter but there are several others like it.  Right now it looks like we might get out sometime early next week but that will likely change.

We've been tied to the dock in Port Hardy for a week now waiting for a weather window to get around Cape Caution.  There's been no let up in the relentless procession of lows coming across the Gulf and slamming into the top of Vancouver Island.  We've been using the time to catch up on boat projects.  Typically we get a few hours of sunshine and calm followed by a wind hammering or a downpour.  So we take advantage of the opportunity to clean the boat up and continue to wait for a weather window.

Port Hardy
That's a very good shade of red - mother would have approved of it - but believe me - you don't want to be anywhere near when it turns red.  The nice pleasant shade of  blue in the bottom right corner is where you'd like to live but we're not seeing much of that this winter.  
These guys are all over the place up here.  Most days there's a couple of them sitting on the roof of this shack.  Unlike the ones in Alaska - who like sitting on the beach - the locals favour the tops of trees and buildings.
Its been alternating between blowing like a son of a bitch and then pissing cats and dogs ever since we got here.  Occasionally it blows hard and pisses rain at the same time.  I don't remember as long a stretch of time without a break somewhere around the island.  They colour the areas red when its gale force or stronger winds predicted and usually there will be red in some areas and blue in others with only occasional spells where the entire island is surrounded by red.  But ever since we arrived here a week ago now its been solid red around the island.  Last night there was a brief period where the long range forecast was for calm at the extreme range of the forecast but this morning it was back to 25+ winds for as far out as Environment Canada is prepared to make a guess.
If you look close you can see raindrops on the water surface but at least its not real bumpy - at the moment.  

No matter how unpleasant it gets at the dock it could be a lot worse if we were out west of Cape Caution.  This morning they were predicting 6 meter waves.  They predict an "average" wave and warn that the actual waves will be up to 2X the average.  That means roughly 40 foot waves which is really nasty and something I hope to never see.