Red sky at night – sailor’s delight
Red sky at morning – sailor’s warning…
…or so they say! We had a glorious sunset the night before our planned departure from Port McNeill, so maybe the saying holds true. Rounding Cape Caution and heading across Queen Charlotte Sound is a trip that requires plenty of planning and not a little guessing. We had been listening to the weather reports and forecasts for the past week, taking notes and monitoring what the winds did to the waves and ocean swell because we had heard so many stories of rough and sometimes even dangerous crossings. As with anything to do with cruising, planning is everything.
We had hoped to spend another day in Port McNeill so that after we were done provisioning we could take the ferry over to Alert Bay where there is an awesome collection of First Nation artifacts. However, with reports of a deep low-pressure system headed our way, we decided to leave before the storm approached instead of visiting Alert Bay and then having to stay in Port McNeill for another 3-5 days. So how did the planning work out? Read on!
We left Port McNeill at 6:00am in thick fog, catching the last of the ebb tide. We had already plotted our course, so by using our chart plotter, radar, depth sounder, and our cool automatic fog horn on the hailer, we felt relatively secure as we traveled blind for the first three and a half hours of our trip. Around 9:30am the sky overhead started showing some blue, then the mist ahead of us started dispersing and little rainbows appeared where the sun was breaking through the fog. Then, poof! The curtain went up, and it was a sunny day. By this time we had nearly passed all the islands on the north end of Vancouver Island and when we looked around, the first thing we saw was a pod of Orcas! For about the next 45 minutes we kept seeing small groups of what was most likely one large pod of transient Orcas stretched out in a long line heading south. At the same time we also saw a small school of porpoises that were skimming the surface in one spot as if
feeding on some surface fish.
The contrast between rock islands, treed islands, submerged reefs, blue water, blue sky, and towering snow capped mountains in the distance made for many clicks of the camera and lots of silly grins in the cockpit. Large container ships passed in the distance and a couple of pleasure craft passed us on the same route we were traveling, but for all intents and purposes, we felt as if we were alone.
As we neared Cape Caution, Marty was at the helm and I was sitting looking out over the Pacific where the storm clouds were building, and thinking that I was glad we were on our way before they arrived! So there I was, relaxing in my own little world of all is good, when in a flash I was on my feet shouting; “Holy Shit”!! Out of the water about 30 feet from our beam, erupted a humpback whale in a full body breach aimed right at us! I was so stunned that I don’t even remember the sound of the splash, but I do remember distinct images as I watched this huge black behemoth emerge from the waves; my first thought was that we were about to be hit by a whale and I flashed on a recent photograph of a sailboat in New Zealand that had been dismasted when a whale landed on their boat. Then for some reason I flashed on how much the angle of the whale rising reminded me of the submarine doing an emergency blow in the movie, “Hunt for Red October”.
These images went through my mind in a mille-second as the whale, seemingly in slow motion, was rising, rising, rising out of the water so close that I had to look up to see it. I noticed in detail, the barnacles on its chin and its white undersides, and then as it fell back to the water; the huge splash that rocked the boat from side to side. As soon as it hit the water, it was moving again, close to the surface heading toward us and at the last second dove deep under the keel. We looked at each other with wide eyes and wild grins…and not a little bit of shock! Marty sat down hard with a look of total disbelief on his face, and I finally thought to grab my camera, all the while saying incredibly intelligent things like; “holy crap, did you see that?” When “it” surfaced again behind the boat, we realized that it was actually a mom and her calf swimming close together. They took one breath and then dove deep and that was the last we saw of them.
We’re still amazed at the experience and wonder if maybe we were only dreaming! We’ve surmised that the mama had seen our black hull and possibly thought we were another whale getting too close to her and her baby for comfort. That’s about the only idea we can come up with, but who really knows. We’re just glad that her distance perception was good enough that she didn’t land on us! Being so close to the shear size and power of our unexpected visitors also reminded us of our time in Maui last year when we spent many days in a rubber raft with whales all around. And to add to that memory, as we approached Calvert Island it looked very much like the island of Maui in the distance; maybe we took a wrong turn somewhere!
The rest of the day’s voyage was just “more trees” and wow-inspiring scenery. We passed the lighthouses on Pine Island, Cape Caution, and Egg Island, and then turned into Smith Sound which is full of little rocky islets with names like “surprise patch”. There are plenty of rocks and hidden reefs scattered off the coast in this area and it’s a little shocking when a clear patch of water suddenly erupts into frothing foam as an ocean swell washes across the top of a rock hiding just below the surface.
We entered Millbrook Cove through a narrow channel with a 90-degree turn behind a small island. As we made our way in we noticed a flock of gulls and eight or nine eagles circling and diving in one spot near shore. When we moved closer we could see that it was a bait ball of fish on the surface and the birds were in a serious feeding frenzy. The eagles flew in a coordinated circling pattern and as they came around to the bait ball, one would swoop down and pick up a fish in their talons then pull over to a nearby tree to devour it. The gulls stayed near the water and dove down to grab their lunch. It was quite a sight!
After anchoring we enjoyed a quiet warm evening, watching the eagles and another beautiful sunset (at 10:00pm). In the morning we woke to a negative tide, gray skies and rain. At one point it was pouring so hard that the visibility to the edge of the cove was minimal and the sound intense. We listened to the weather for Queen Charlotte Sound, and we were incredibly glad to have foregone our visit to Alert Bay in exchange for a smooth crossing the day before. So while we were disappointed not to have had the sails full in the forecasted 15-knot southerly, we much prefer to be snuggled up with a good book in a safe harbor while we avoid serious weather.
We spent two nights in Millbrook Cove, and it was an eagle watching paradise! It rained quite heavily for much of the day, and there were a couple of immature eagles looking very wet and forlorn in the trees next to us. They were holding their wings out slightly in hopes that they would dry I guess, but they just looked like “bad hair day” to me. When the sun finally came out, they started shaking their heads and flapping their wings to put some sort of semblance back to their plumage, and then off they flew in search of lunch.
In the morning the tide was way out with lots of clams squirting and baby crabs running around in the seaweed, so the eagles were quite enjoying the breakfast buffet! It was a real treat to sit and have coffee with the eagles (where’s Glenn Frye when you need him?). There was one mature eagle with two youngsters right on our beach, putting on a great show all morning. Love it!
We left Millbrook Cove and headed for another little cove along the route up Queen Charlotte Sound, called Fury Cove. The winds were actually right for a bit of sailing on the way too, so it was wonderful to unroll the genoa for a bit and turn off the iron genny! Fury Cove is a nearly landlocked cove that has one side of white shell beaches that you can walk across to Fitzhugh Sound. It’s really a beautiful spot and we enjoyed a quick walk on the beach, but the wind and rain caught up to us so we headed back to Happy Dance to ride out the afternoon squalls. It blew around 10-15 in the cove for a while, as it blew 20-30 outside. At one point we (that would be “We”, aka-Marty the deck crew) went out in the rain to let out more chain on the anchor since the winds were really gusting.
Since it wasn’t as protected in Fury Cove as we’d hoped, we decided to head up Fitzhugh Sound the next morning. The storm seems to be moving north with us, so we’d outrun it in the day then it would catch us while we were anchored. As we sat in Pruth Bay the same thing happened. We arrived in semi-sun and then sat out a downpour for a couple hours while happily swinging at anchor. When the rain finally stopped, we hopped in the dinghy and rowed ashore to hike over to the beach on the Pacific side of the island.
The beach was incredible, with sand and logs and rock formations…just like most any ocean beach! There just seems to be something special about being on a beach that is this remote and untouched. We sat in the sun for a bit, walked the beach for a longer bit, then headed back to Happy Dance via the muddy trail through the birches and firs. We’ll head to another beach tomorrow for a day of beachcombing and possibly a cook out! As with everything we do, it all depends on the weather. Things change very fast up here, and a beautiful sunset can turn into a howling downpour in minutes. We just go with the flow and keep our rain gear handy!
We hope you’re all still enjoying our blog and hearing about our crazy adventures! It’s fun to be able to share our days and we love your comments. It’s nice for us to feel somewhat connected even though we’re miles and a time warp away!