Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Alaska 2016 | Day 14 | Rescue Bay to Windy Bay

After the drama of the last few days, today was a refreshing change: near perfect weather, magnificent scenery, and the first whale sightings of the trip.
Looking back towards Rescue Bay
Today's route took us through Fiordland Recreation Area. As you'd expect from the name, it's an area dominated by fjords. Waterfalls plunge off mountain peaks, shear rock walls rise dramatically all around. The last couple of years we've skipped Fiordland because the weather didn't cooperate. This year the weather was excellent—mostly sunny, with a few short rain showers.
Life is good!

Looking into Kynoch Inlet
The two principal fjords in Fiordland are Kynoch Inlet to the south, and Mussel Inlet to the north. Some of the boats explored all the way to the head of each inlet. I got a late start and skipped them, but even from the main channel, the views are excellent.

We've seen remarkably few whales this trip. Finally, we found a couple of humpbacks.
The first whale of the trip
The water was super calm all day. Hardly a breath of wind made it into the fjords.
Rough day!
We anchored for the night in Windy Bay, a picturesque (if a little deep) spot near Fiordland. And contrary to its name, it wasn't windy.
Windy Bay from the drone
25.92 nm today
507.17 nm total

Alaska 2016 | Day 13 | Wigham Cove to Rescue Bay

Today was a short day—28 miles out Seaforth Channel, up Reid Passage, and into Rescue Bay. But it was exciting! Soon after we exited Wigham Cove, one of the boats behind us radioed to say they hit something. They couldn't articulate where specifically they'd hit this thing, or what it was. A log? A rock?

I instructed them to check the bilge for water (hint: if you hit something hard enough to radio me, check the bilge first). The bilge was dry. Then I had them run the boat up to speed to check for vibrations. Nothing until higher speeds, and even then they couldn't tell whether the vibration was new or not.

They had spare props aboard, and we were just a few miles from Shearwater. They opted to continue to Rescue Bay rather than return to Shearwater for inspection.
We're leading the way into Reid Passage
Doll Face, owned by the owner of a commercial diving company. Thanks for diving!
One of the participants on this trip owns a commercial diving company that specializes in in-water propeller and ship repairs. We're talking big stuff—cruise ships, oil tankers, etc. He had dive gear aboard and offered to inspect the running gear. After just a few minutes underwater, he surfaced and explained that all four blades on the starboard prop were damaged to varying degrees. Given the distance to Prince Rupert (the next place with haulout facility), the owner returned to Shearwater to have the prop replaced.

Other than that, a pretty boring and very rainy day!

27.8 nm today
481.25 nm total

Friday, May 27, 2016

Alaska 2016 | Day 12 | Ocean Falls Wigham Cove

The group dropped three crab traps yesterday afternoon. First thing this morning, we picked them up...the traps were stuffed! I think the final count was 26 keepers. Kevin spent much of the morning instructing people how to kill, cook, and clean crab.
The great crab catch!
We left about 10 a.m. for the four hour trip to Wigham Cove. The first hour was backtracking, then we turned up Johnson Channel. Even with overcast conditions and occasional rain, the scenery was magnificent.

Stormy departing Ocean Falls
Heading up Johnson Channel
As we headed west in Return Channel, towards the ocean, the fjords gradually gave way to low-lying islands.

Entering Wigham Cove one of our boats found a rock. Well, the cartographers had also found the rock. The is equipped with a Furuno NavNet TZ system —top of the line, by most accounts—but the vector charts are apparently problematic. At the zoom level (almost all the way zoomed in), two of the charted rocks showed, but the third—the one furthest away from shore—didn't show up.
Drone photo of Wigham Cove. The offending rock is circled in red.
Thankfully, the tide was rising and the bilges stayed dry. They floated free in about 15 minutes. Although there was no apparent damage, they opted to head for Shearwater (only nine miles away) for a haulout and inspection. The haulout revealed minimal damage to the keel, and they should catch up with us tomorrow.

Too much excitement?
Evening light in Wigham Cove
29.58 nm today
453.45 nm total

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Alaska 2016 | Day 11 | Shearwater to Ocean Falls

Underway again! We made the short run to Ocean Falls via Gunboat Passage. The weather cooperated nicely: mostly sunny skies and light wind (until docking, of course).
Ocean Falls from the drone
Ocean Falls is a highlight of the trip through B.C. Once the home of a Crown Zellerbach pulp mill and 3900 residents, it's now a ghost town. Crown Zellerbach abandoned the site in 1972. The B.C. government continued operating the site until 1980. Since then, it has been decaying. Today, fewer than 40 people live in Ocean Falls and neighboring Martin Valley.
The inn is the large building in this photo
A few of us explored town, including wandering through the inn, which was shuttered in 1990. We found collapsing floors, rotten carpet, decaying commercial kitchens...it's spooky, smelly, and fascinating. I thumbed through a binder of documents from 1969 Ceramics Club meetings. We found a selection of novels published in the '70s. But most stuff with value—wire, electrical panels, plumbing fixtures—is long gone.
Brian heading into the inn
What was this room?
This place looks like a war zone
36 years of decay
We kept looking around the next corner, and kept finding peeling paint and broken windows. How long until it's all gone?
Dinner was a potluck in "The Shack," a floating building available for visiting boaters. We put on a great spread, including a couple of desserts made with fresh-picked salmon berries.
Dinner in "The Shack"
22.02 nm today
423.87 nm total

Alaska 2016 | Day 10 | Shearwater

Today was a rest day. Actually, “rest” isn’t really the right word. We didn’t go anywhere, but we did a lot of work!

Two boats had problems that needed to be addressed. One had a non-functioning macerator pump and a full holding tank. There’s no working pumpout for several hundred miles, so this was a critical issue. The other boat had a fuel supply hose that was leaking pretty severely.

The macerator pump was easy to deal with. Although the store didn't stock the same pump, I did. I leant my pump to the cause, and a Shearwater mechanic did the wrenching. The owner ordered a new pump that will be waiting for me in Ketchikan.

The fuel hose was a bigger problem. Shearwater doesn't have the equipment to crimp fittings on hydraulic hose. More problematically, the fittings didn't appear to be standard types. The boat owner spent most of the day working with the Shearwater repair people trying to figure out how to get a new hose.

I got involved about 3:30 in the afternoon, after the owner hit a wall. I grabbed the engine serial number, punched it into Cummins QuickServe, and pulled up the relevant parts diagram.

Side note to those with Cummins engines: QuickServe is brilliant. Set up an account, enter your serial number(s), and you get all the parts diagrams for the engine(s), complete with part numbers and compatible replacement parts. And Cummins Northwest is awesome...they're open until midnight and are super helpful.

I called Cummins Northwest in Renton and asked if they had the hose in stock. They didn't. The Cummins parts distribution center in Memphis had one (just one) in stock. I asked if they could ship to Vancouver. They couldn't, but referred me to Cummins Northwest in Surrey.

Around 5:00 in the evening I called Cummins Northwest in Surrey and ordered the part. It'll arrive in Surrey by 11:00 a.m. tomorrow. Then a courier will pick it up, take it to the Vancouver Airport, and put it on the next Pacific Coastal flight to Bella Bella where Shearwater will pick it up. Best case is it arrives in 24 hours, worst case 48. From Memphis. To middle-of-nowhere British Columbia. Across an international border.

Sorry, no pictures, all work!

Tomorrow we're off to Ocean Falls.

Alaska 2016 | Day 9 | Fury Cove to Shearwater

"Taliesin, Taliesin, Taliesin, this is Just Get'n By."

"Just Get'n By, this is Taliesin."

"One of our crew just passed out for 15 seconds. They're awake again, but out of it, pale, and they have a weak pulse."

Thus started our ninth day underway.

This year we're blessed with a variety of medical professionals: four nurses, four veterinarians, one orthopedic surgeon. Today, we put a few of them to use.

The passenger passed out near Addenbroke Island, in Fitz Hugh Sound. The doctor was aboard in about 15 minutes. He didn't have a blood pressure cuff with him, but another boat about 3 miles behind us did. I hopped in the dinghy, retrieved that cuff, and delivered it to the doctor.
Taliesin, Just Get'n By, and the Canadian Coast Guard
Canadian Coast Guard cutter Tanu was also nearby. They dispatched their inflatable and were on scene within about 30 min. Together, the doctor and the Coast Guard decided the passenger should be seen in a clinic ASAP. Bella Bella, a native community with a medical clinic, was about 34 nautical miles away.
CCG Cutter Tanu
Just Get'n By could make about 12 knots. The Coast Guard inflatable could make 30. Taliesin, a 40 foot Coastal Craft with 435 hp Volvo IPS drives, could cruise at 29, and the passenger would be much more comfortable than she'd be in an open inflatable boat. A few minutes later the passenger was transferred to Taliesin and they were out of sight.

Taliesin on the way to Bella Bella
By the time we arrived in Shearwater (just a couple miles from Bella Bella), the passenger had been seen by a doctor and discharged. Nothing wrong, no diagnosis, only a theory that recent changes in blood pressure medication might be involved. Needless to say, we were all relieved by this outcome!

Thank you to everyone on the flotilla for standing by with whatever medical supplies and expertise they had, the doctor aboard Taliesin for seeing the passenger quickly and transporting her rapidly to a clinic, and the Canadian Coast Guard for their quick response and coordination.

Other than this excitement, we had a great day underway!

We're well ahead of schedule and will take a rest day here in Shearwater. Then on to Ocean Falls.

50.55 nm today
401.83 nm total

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Alaska 2016 | Day 8 | Pierre's Echo Bay to Fury Cove

Rounding Cape Caution can be a challenge. Queen Charlotte Sound is one of the few places where the Inside Passage goes outside.

Normally we go to Port McNeill before rounding Cape Caution. This gives everyone a chance to resupply (there's a supermarket!), fill boats with fuel, and catch up on chores. Last year we got stuck in Port McNeill for several days waiting for strong winds to die down.

I became a bit concerned when I looked at the forecast for the coming days. Sunday looked good, but Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday didn't. If we headed to Port McNeill, we'd be stuck at least until Thursday.

So I gave the group a few options: kill time in the Broughtons, wait in Port McNeill for several days, or make a long run around Cape Caution directly from Echo Bay. We chose the last option.

Echo Bay to Fury Cove is a long day—80 nm—so we got a 5:00 a.m. start. Mist hung in the air as the sun rose. The seas were glassy.

Just Getin' By northbound in Queen Charlotte Strait
The forecast was for northwest wind of 5-15 knots. West Sea Otter buoy reported 3 foot waves at 8 seconds. Egg Island and Pine Island lightstations both reported 1 foot chop and low westerly swell.

We rode the ebb out of Queen Charlotte Strait, getting a knot or two boost from the current. Near the Jeanette Islands, the swells collided with the current and stacked up a bit. A few miles later the current died off and the swells spread out.

By the time we got to Cape Caution, it was calm enough to fly the drone from the boat.
A nice day at Cape Caution!
Mana Kai at Cape Caution. Just a lazy ground swell.
We all made it into Fury Cove by late afternoon, got the anchors set, without any trouble, and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon. A few of us even jumped in the water to celebrate the smooth crossing!
Sunset in Fury Cove
79.99 nm today
351.28 nm total

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Alaska 2016 | Day 7 | Port Harvey to Pierre's Echo Bay

One week in, and we're still having fun!

Today we meandered through the Broughton Archipelago. From Port Harvey we headed up Chatham Channel, across Knight Inlet, and through Tribune Channel. The weather was PERFECT...hot even. Six of us jumped in the water at Echo Bay (okay, there is a hot tub nearby).
Howdy and Mana Kai departing Port Harvey

Each turn in Tribune Channel brings new, dramatic views.

The peaks still have snow. More than last year, but less than normal I'm told. Fresh drinking water is scarce up here, and it'll become scarcer as the summer goes on. I've run the watermaker a few times now, and it's pretty darn cool. Preliminary calculations indicate that with 4 hours of engine run time each day (and no genset time), I'll keep the batteries happy and the water tank full.
A decent view, I guess...
Safe Harbour and Mana Kai at Lacy Falls
The big news today is a big change of plans. We'd expected to head to Port McNeill tomorrow for reprovisioning, fueling, and other chores. But the weather isn't cooperating. Tomorrow looks good for rounding Cape Caution, but on Monday, the window of opportunity slams shut. Environment Canada is calling for northwesterlies of 5-15 knots tomorrow, and 20-30 knots on Monday. Tuesday is 15-25, Wednesday 10-20, and no idea what Thursday will bring. Rather than wait, we're pushing forward.

As I write this at 11:19 p.m., West Sea Otter weather buoy (the best metric of what we can expect) is reporting pretty benign conditions: wind WNW 6 knots, gusting to 8 knots, seas 3.6 feet at 8 seconds. Hope it's this calm tomorrow!

No cell service expected tomorrow, and we've got a long day: 81 nm from Echo Bay to Fury Cove. Yep, hope it's calm tomorrow!

40.45 nm today
271.29 nm total

Friday, May 20, 2016

Alaska 2016 | Day 6 | Blind Channel to Port Harvey

Sunrise at Blind Channel Resort
Today was a perfect day on the water. Five hours of bliss—sunshine, drone flying (twice), a nap, totally calm water,  favorable current, no major boat problems...

We left Blind Channel at 8:30. First we had to transit Greene Point Rapids. Even though we were about an hour before slack, it was no big deal. The current gave us a nice boost and we made it through without drama.

Heading into Greene Point Rapids
Then we meandered through Chancellor Channel towards Johnstone Strait. The forecast called for calm winds, and that's what we found. I napped as we entered Johnstone Strait. Besides the hum of the engine and the sound of the water slipping past the hull, I couldn't tell we were underway. Yes, Johnstone Strait was that calm...
Working our way through Chancellor Channel. Tough duty.
After my nap, I flew the drone. Johnstone Strait is one of the more feared bodies of water in the PNW, but it's not really that mysterious. On days like today—days with no wind—Johnstone Strait is calm.
Northbound in Johnstone Strait. See, sometimes it's calm!
Johnstone Strait—like the rapids, the Strait of Georgia, Queen Charlotte Sound, and Dixon Entrance—isn't something to be scared of. Respected, yes, but not scared. These are potentially hazardous areas, but they're not always dangerous. Too many boaters exaggerate the challenges of dealing with these areas. With a reasonable weather eye and the confidence to proceed when the weather is right, none of these areas present a major challenge. Today, Johnstone Strait cooperated.
Heading into the Broughtons
Once we arrived at Port Harvey, the group got busy. Crabbing, fishing, drone flying, yoga...
The fleet (and a few others) moored at Port Harvey
We had an evening happy hour on the dock. In the past, there has been a store and restaurant here. Over the winter, the barge sunk, taking the store and restaurant with it. George and Gail Cambridge, the owners, have pledged to rebuild, but that won't be complete for another year or two. In the interim, we make the best of what we have. Judging by the smiling and laughing, we did pretty well!

Tomorrow we're heading to Pierre's Echo Bay.

37.98 nm today
230.84 nm total

Alaska 2016 | Day 5 | Squirrel Cove to Blind Channel

Today was the most satisfying and frustrating day of the trip. Satisfying because we got all the boats through the rapids safely and without drama. Satisfying because I got some cool aerial images from the drone as we transited the rapids. Satisfying because the weather continues to cooperate. Satisfying because Blind Channel is an excellent stop.

Frustrating because of boat and people problems. Not my boat, and not my people, thankfully.
Safe Harbour leading the way into Gillard Pass. The lack of swirlies and whirlies is notable...the rapids need not be difficult.
Clear of the rapids, on the way to Blind Channel. This is Event Horizon, a really well equipped Eagle 53.
During the flotilla, we communicate on VHF channel 68. This is a working channel—available on a first-come, first-served basis for recreational boats chatting about whatever. Today we shared the channel with a crazy couple...and crazy might not be a strong enough word.

For some reason, this couple decided they need a fleet to go cruising. With just the two of them. So they have a 47' powerboat that he runs. And he tows a 21' Ranger Tug. She has a 31' Ranger Tug. And she tows an 11' Whaler. Remember, there are only two of them.

As we approached the Yuculta Rapids, they were chatting on the radio. From their chatter, it was clear they had no idea what they were doing. Their voices were tense, they sounded disorganized. They followed us through, but couldn't agree which side to pass certain islands or where to spend the night.

After our group moored for the day, people started chatting about the conversation we overheard. The woman we overheard was instantly unpopular. The most polite nickname I heard for her was "sea witch," and that came from one of the most mild-mannered women on the trip. The other nicknames shouldn't be repeated in polite company...

So when we heard them call into Blind Channel looking for dock space, our ears perked up. The wife approached the dock first, without bothering to put the Whaler she was towing on the hip. She made it to the dock okay, but the Whaler swung wide and nearly hit another boat.

Then the husband came in, but not after nearly running aground twice while getting his tender tied to the hip and his fenders rigged. He sped to the dock, nailed the piling and cracked his solid teak cap rail. Four of us wrestled him to the dock. It wasn't elegant.

The other frustrating event hit closer to home. One flotilla boat has several mechanical and electrical problems. The port engine leaks lots of oil. The starboard water pump leaks water. The shore power doesn't work. Several days ago, when they were running their generator, I pointed out the heavy steam coming from the exhaust. In my experience, this means the cooling system isn't working properly—either a clogged sea strainer or a bad impeller. I pointed this out to the owner and suggested he investigate. I offered to investigate. He dismissed my suggestions.

Fast forward a few days. His generator is overheating. I go aboard. The sea strainer is clear. I pull the impeller cover and find NO vanes left on the impeller. I ask the owner for the spare impeller so I can install it. He doesn't have one. Almost everyone else on the trip has a spare, so I check with them...nope, nobody has the same unit, and none of the spares are compatible.
Hmmm...might this cause overheating?

Safe Harbour moored at Blind Channel
On the plus side, Blind Channel is great. The weather for tomorrow is great. The rapids were easy. Every day of this trip gets more beautiful. And I have a few more stories to tell.

36.88 nm today
192.86 nm total

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Alaska 2016 | Day 4 | Pender Harbour to Squirrel Cove

Hello from Desolation Sound! Today we had an easy cruise from Pender Harbour up to Squirrel Cove. Overcast skies, a bit of chop leaving Pender Harbour, but overall a very easy day.
Barely Get'n By, the biggest boat in the fleet, heading for Desolation Sound. Mountains on Vancouver Island in the background.
In years past, we've stopped in Prideaux Haven on the flotilla. Prideaux Haven is beautiful—the quintessential Desolation Sound anchorage, really, but it's a little off our route. Because of the time of slack at the rapids tomorrow (we're heading through Yuculta Rapids, Gillard Pass, and Dent Rapids), I chose Squirrel Cove this time. If we'd been at Prideaux Haven we'd need to leave by 5:30 a.m. Leaving from Squirrel Cove, we can "sleep in" and depart at 6:45 a.m.

Even in overcast conditions, arriving in Desolation Sound is dramatic. I had to fly the drone.
Cruising through Desolation Sound

Tonight is our first night at anchor. For a few of the people on this trip, this is their first time ever anchoring. Everyone's doing a good job so far, and Squirrel Cove has lots of room to practice anchoring. A few people have experience boating elsewhere, and I've had to convince them that in the PNW, we don't anchor on 7:1 scope. After seeing that 3:1 really does work, they're starting to come around.

Once we anchored, Kevin and I visited each boat and laid out the plan for tomorrow. Transiting the rapids between Desolation Sound and the Broughtons requires care and planning. Our goal is to time it so perfectly that participants ask, "what rapids?" We also try to teach people how to calculate the timing for their trip south and future trips north.

After visiting the boats, I picked up some of the flotilla folks and we tried to take the dinghy into the lagoon at the head of Squirrel Cove. We were about an hour after high water, and we couldn't find enough water to get the dinghy in. Maybe a kayak would work...

Instead, we beached the dinghy and walked around. There were a TON of starfish and sea cucumbers. The water in the lagoon was surprisingly warm...comfortable swimming temp, but I was conveniently wearing jeans.

Quite a few boats in Squirrel Cove tonight
Tomorrow we're off to the rapids, then Blind Channel Resort for the night.

48.28 nm today
155.98 nm total

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Alaska 2016 | Day 3 | Silva Bay to Pender Harbour

The Strait of Georgia is one of the significant "gates" on the trip to Alaska. It's a big body of water—20 miles wide and 150 miles long. When it's windy, the Strait of Georgia gets rough. Today it was calm.
Silva Bay sunrise\
I woke early enough to see an impressive sunrise. As I listened to the weather report I got excited:

"South wind 6 knots, gusting to 6 knots. Seas 0.1 meter at 14 seconds."

Yep, basically like a lake. A calm lake. Given the favorable conditions and good forecast, we didn't bother with a crack-of-dawn departure. 8:30 was good enough.
Taliesin II, a Coastal Craft 40 on the trip. Believe it or not, this boat is built from welded aluminum.
Stormy, a Grand Banks 46 Europa on the trip. Last time I was on this boat it was in named Invictus and we were in Tofino.
Torpedo test area Whiskey Golf was active, so we had to skirt around the northeast corner, but that only added a mile or two of distance. And with such calm water, a little extra distance was no big deal.
Droning across the Strait of Georgia!
With Kevin running the boat, I flew the drone from the top deck. I'd never launched and retrieved at cruise speed (a blistering 8 knots!), but I managed to avoid dunking the drone. I flew around for about 15 minutes, then retrieved the drone, still while cruising at 8 knots. Even after 72 flights, I still marvel at the technology in this drone, especially given the price point ($400-$500).
The fleet (and a few others) at John Henry's
Sunset over Pender Harbour
We had happy hour on the dock. This group is getting along well...all power boats, trawlerish, eager to learn, happy to be here. 
Happy hour in Pender Harbour
Tomorrow we're off to Desolation Sound. Not much wind in the forecast, but it looks like rain might move in.

34.1 nm today
107.7 nm total