With another southwesterly blow brewing out in Queen Charlotte Strait, we left the rickety docks of Port Hardy early in the morning and headed over to fill the fuel tanks. The marina is tiny, so to get to the fuel dock we had to pull off the moorage dock, turn 180 degrees in place, then squeeze down the fairway in reverse between a catamaran on an end tie and commercial fishing boats rafted three deep on the adjacent dock. It was so narrow that a tiny fishing skiff had to wait for us to clear the lane before he could pass to get to the boat ramp.
While filling up we chatted with the attendant from Alberta who’d never seen a sailboat like Ruby Slippers and asked if it handled differently than the power boats he saw day in and day out. I think he started to understand what we meant about sailboats not being quite as easy to maneuver in small spaces as power boats when it was time to get the boat away from the dock while the tide was pushing us onto the dock. We kept the stern tie tight, put the engine in gear and drove the bow away from the dock, then released the stern tie (praying it would’t get caught) and voila – we’re off!
Once out in Queen Charlotte Strait we started getting hit with the rain, wind, and swell that we were hoping to avoid, but with a fairly short crossing we weren’t too concerned. The strait is a busy area though and as the fog rolled in and the rain got thicker we were glad to have radar and AIS (Automatic Identification System is an automatic tracking system used on ships for identifying and locating vessels). At one point the AIS showed a 980′ vessel coming our way at 16 knots. We aren’t that familiar with AIS so we were a little skeptical at the reading, but poof, out of the fog came a cruise ship bearing down on us so we made a quick 40 degree course change to get out of his way and passed him port to port. A little later the radar showed two separate vessels tracking at the same speed while the AIS showed a single vessel 1/2 mile long. And again, when a huge tug and tow appeared it looked like it could have been a true 1/2 mile in length. If the rule of thumb is to have the tow line 10 times as long as the vessel being towed, then that would make this one easily over 1200 feet. We’ve read of boaters getting in between a tug and tow in the fog and with the long distance of this tow we could understand it, but yikes!!!
We finally crossed the strait and entered Wells Passage as the fog continued to make navigation exciting. With lots of logs to avoid, not to mention all the islands, we slowly inched our way into Grappler Sound and set the anchor in Claydon Bay where we’d been two years earlier. Claydon Bay is almost completely surrounded by land with a few rocky islets at the entrance. We had the place to ourselves, so we put out the crab trap and settled in for a few days. We added to our crab count each day, and spent the few sunshiny moments between rain showers either in the kayaks or fishing from the dinghy.
From Claydon Bay we made our way to Greenway Sound, a deep anchorage next to a tidal rapids, then to Shawl Bay, a tiny floating “marina”. We enjoyed happy hour (a Broughton Islands daily event) with the other boaters on the dock at Shawl Bay, each bringing an appetizer and a beverage and plenty of stories to tell. In the morning it was pancakes and coffee in the rain (eat fast before they get cold!), before heading off to our next stop.
We had planned on fishing a bit, then making a short hop over to an anchorage called Laura Bay. Once we got there we didn’t feel good about the anchorage; too narrow, too exposed, and not too pretty. Sailing is all about changing plans, so we were off again, heading for Kwatsi Bay this time, a place we’d enjoyed on our trip two years prior.
Our memories served us well and Kwatsi Bay was indeed stunning. It rained hard all day and all night and when the skies finally cleared the next day, the waterfalls were fantastic. The cliffs rise high over the anchorage, and the rock faces were covered in waterfalls, some so full that the water was literally flying off the rocks in giant gushes before falling into the trees below. It was a spectacular sight and sound, made all the more amazing by how fast the falls diminished in the next day or two after the rains stopped. We enjoyed four peaceful days at Kwatsi, kayaking, fishing, reading, watching, listening. Perfect.
Well, it was perfect, except for the pesky, taunting salmon that kept jumping all around the boat but never onto my fishing line! We tried casting off the boat, ala Red Bluff style, then we went trolling in the dinghy, then I even rowed around chasing the darn things in the dinghy and tried casting right on top of them. No luck. They just jumped and flashed and laughed. Argh!
From Kwatsi we traveled south down the Tribune Channel across Knight Inlet and through Chatham Channel, a shallow, narrow channel that can be a bit tricky. When entering these blind narrow passages we’ve made it a habit to call out a Securite to let vessels know that we’re coming through. In this case another boater called back to let us know they’d clear the channel in 5 or 10 minutes, so we waited until they appeared. Then it was our turn, but as luck would have it, our timing was a bit off! The slack tide we’d expected was actually a 4 knot current against us. Oops! Thankfully Ruby Slippers has a lovely 75hp Yanmar that powered us through the short section where the current was strongest. Marty kept the range markers lined up on our stern so that we stayed in the center avoiding the kelp beds and shallows and we were soon out the other side.
We’d planned on staying in a place called Matilpi Cove where an old Indian village once stood, but again the anchorage was too tight and exposed, so we moved across the channel to another bay and dropped anchor. More rain and a quiet night, then up late to head 5 miles into Port Harvey Marina where we’re now tied to a dock.
The marinas in the Broughtons are all unique, family run and a bit rustic. This one has a cafe called the Red Shoe Pub (you’ll have to ask Marty about how it was named), so we went “out” to dinner. That involves handing in your order by 3:30pm, to let them know when you’ll be there and which of the four items on the menu that you’d like (they’re out of pizza though). A nice change though, and we had fun chatting with the other boaters. The Broughtons are a people experience in addition to the incredible beauty around every turn.
Today is laundry day since the wind is still blowing out in Johnstone Strait, so we’ll head south a bit further tomorrow and continue our quest to get out of the rain. Timing is everything on our next run so that we approach the two sets of rapids on our route at just the right time. These rapids are not to be taken lightly, as the currents and resulting whirlpools can be a bit dicey! We’re planning them at slack though, and this time I’ve checked the times against the charts a bit more closely. Ahh, lessons learned, eh?
So there you have it friends, the last eleven days of our northern adventures. It’s definitely an understatment to say that this is a different cruising ground than what we’ve grown accustomed to in Mexico, and I have to admit that we’re getting a bit homesick. Happy Dance is our boat sweet boat and we can’t wait to see her again (not to mention some of that blue sky and sunshine!).