July 1: We left Port McNeil in tandem, but not for long, with one of the R2AK racers which had stopped for the night and to examine some of the rig. Very soon they were out of sight and we had a nice sailing wind while in the protected waters between Malcomb Island and Vancouver Island. When we made the turn, past a pretty lighthouse into Queen Charlotte Strait, the wind continued from the southeast and we progressed northward. Halfway across, about 5 NM from either side, the wind weakened and on came the ‘iron jenny’ – actually our 27 hp diesel engine. Along the way we proceeded under cloudy skies as we dodged tugs with tows and lines of rhinoceros auklets.
Soon we were in Blunden Harbor where we holed up from the rain for the night and most of the next day.
Late in the day our new sailing friends, Gregg and Jean, sailed in on Grasal and a perfect rainbow encircled their boat. Leslie had a bit of cabin fever, so we rowed around the bay looking at lots of golden fucus (rockweed – Fucus distichus) covered rocks resting below tall evergreen trees. Suddenly we heard “puhh – — puhh puhh” and were treated and teased by 6-7 Dall’s porpoises. They were likely foraging as they moved in a group and circled in and out, back and forth near us for a half-hour or more. We did an inefficient job of capturing the speedy energy of these active creatures; the result was that we had lots of out-of-focus deleted photos.
We learned from Gregg and Jean, who are quite experienced in sailing in this area, that there are two other boats with very nice crews that are planning to cross the Hecate Strait to Haida Gwaii. They are going to meet on July 16th on a northern island. Perhaps we will join them.
July 3rd: We were both a little nervous about Cape Caution. We’d seen the waves pounding Cape Horn 3 years ago in Patagonia and know that capes are always interesting as currents and tides often meet in curious ways. Many say that Cape Caution is the most significant such spot on the BC coast. Reading Douglass’s Exploring the North Coast of British Columbia (thanks for lending us your book, Dave and Sheila), we found this:
“During strong southwest winds and/or conditions of high westerly swell, swells reflect off Cape Caution causing confused sea conditions for at least one mile to seaward. This condition is accentuated by shallow water directly off the cape.”
So, at 6:30 am off we went, with winds forecast to be light (10-15 kts) from the south to southwest and the swell estimated to be 1 to 2 meters. We motor-sailed a mile or so off the coast into a variety of weather conditions. This must be the raincoast, because the coastal mountains to the east and the backbone of Vancouver Island to the west were draped in grey, bulging clouds which at times dropped sheets of distant rain with blue sky above us as we watched this progression. Approaching Cape Caution, we dodged a bunch of reefs and little islands while paying close attention to our GPS updating digital charts. Once in open waters, the ocean swell appeared and grew until we were plunging up and down over 2 meter waves every 10 seconds or so. This seems to slow our boat down quite a bit. And, we had to keep a very sharp eye out for floating logs and stray masses of bull kelp which become ever more challenging as the waves grow larger. “Log to starboard, one o’clock”, was a common call. Coming around Cape Caution, it seemed that the swell increased to possibly 3 meters and the waves were competing to make us bounce, bang, and bash.
Eight hours later, we anchored in charming Millbrook Cove on Blackney Passage. After a simple dinner, we downloaded our photos and laughed at the disappearing/reappearing sail boat we had photographed. Perhaps the image to the right captures the size and turbulence of the seas off Cape Caution today…..
July 4-5 Fury Cove on Penrose Island
These past two days, Cat’s Cradle’s engine/battery charging system has been acting up. At first, just once in a while, the tone of the motor would change. Val noticed that the battery voltage meter was going up too high – to about 16 volts. Then, in a few seconds, the voltage would go to its normal 13 volts and all was well — until it happened again hours later. After two days, this problem was becoming more serious. Luckily, the wind cooperated and we just sailed and sailed (and worried and thought and worried some more). The alternator is a ‘new’ one after electrical problems last summer. To make a long story short, after a lot of puttering and looking at circuit diagrams and tracing wires and having a pretty darn good nightmare, Val found what seems to be the problem – corrosion on a connector! The boat problems we have had seem to usually have one of two causes: corrosion or vibration.
Corrosion (with abject apologies to Fiddler on the Roof)
If I were a sailor, da da da da da da da
When the wind blows everything is good
But when the engine stops and the coast is looming
We must solve the problem now
The Problem .. Corrosion – The Problem .. Vibration –
Repeat indefinitely……. .. until we reach Bella Bella and get a new alternator!
Some days earlier, a friendly kayaker had come into the cove where we were anchored and Val was repairing something and noted that, “Boating is all about fixing things in beautiful places”.
Fortunately, we had a nice beam-reach wind on our 15 mile trip to Fury Cove on Penrose Island. We were entering the long Fitz Hugh Sound next to Calvert Island on the west. The motor was not cooperating but the wind was – and, hey, this is a sailboat. So, we sailed by many reefs and islands, making sure we always had room to safely go where the wind would let us go. (Avoid shores that are downwind. Lee shores can be hard to stay away from as the wind and waves push toward them.) We eventually sailed right into the dogleg entrance of Fury Cove and put down the anchor. The next morning, Val found what we hope is the electrical problem and fixed it!
The sun came out and Leslie rowed us ¼ mile across the anchorage to a beautiful shell beach which opens across an isthmus to other rocky and sandy beaches that face Fitz Hugh Sound. We found an unusual nurse log and we climbed up it and soon found a little cabin hidden in the salal and evergreens. This would be a great place to hang out if you really, really, really wanted to get away from the rest of the world. A few boaters had found it and inscribed the wall with names and dates and there was a bottle of wine on the table and another bottle with a candle stuck in it. Really, almost ready to accept visitors!
We held hands – very tightly – very romantic – very important, and walked, slid, stumbled over fucus and barnacle-covered rocks and logs, We crunched lots of Dall’s acorn barnacles and non-edible blue mussels as we walked along apologetically. As we were playing hide and seek with the rising tide, it became more like Colorado mountain climbing as the tide kept telling us to move higher and higher on the steeper and trickier rocks and boulders.
All this hand-holding was worth every minute in lots of ways. And, this is certainly a beautiful landscape of broken shell beaches, knarly rocky shorelines and overhanging trees.
At the lovely beach at the end of the hike, Val tried to exorcize the furies that have been troubling us in our electrical system. Here he is kelping them into better shape:
On North to the Hakai Beach Institute on Calvert Island
Wed., July 6th: Boat repair continues apace. Leslie winched Val up to the first spreaders on the mast so that he could replace the frayed flag-halyard that holds our Canadian courtesy flag and our radar reflector. Leslie says that Val was very brave to trust her to help raise him using a line around a winch and some pulleys and then to slowly lower him safely down. Pretty good for a pair of 73 year olds!
Leaving Fury Cove, the engine ran perfectly and the voltage remained just where it is supposed to be. Hurray! Yes – for 2 hours! Then, back to its old habit of producing way too much voltage. So, we disconnected the alternator from the rest of the system. In this situation, the motor starts and runs just fine. The only eensy-weensy problem is that the engine battery is going to slowly lose voltage as time goes on! The current answer: use the solar panels that charge the house battery to also charge the engine battery. Great plan and it worked well – all this sunny (note that word) afternoon here going north along the raincoast.
After watching some humpback whales in pacific waters, we arrived at the Institute. The Hakai Beach Institute is a beautiful marine research station in this remote location. We will likely hang around here tomorrow and will report later. (If the carving at the right is any example, there may be some fearsome insects here from time to time……..)