Thursday July 8th was an occasion to celebrate as we rounded the northwest end of Vancouver Island and felt the rhythm and energy of open ocean swells for the first time since purchasing “Blue Rodeo”. The boat and crew felt back in their element with a rounding of notorious Cape Scott in the early afternoon.
We have had limited`access to the Internet and a lot has happened since our last blog entry so we’ll try to bring everyone up to date. Our Princess Louisa Inlet to Campbell River leg included a pleasant downwind sail that finished with an exciting romp through the confused water off of Cape Mudge. By the time we reached that point the winds were gusting to 35 knots and, when combined with the currents and eddies in the Discovery Passage, they made the water look like the heavy duty cycle in a washing machine. Boat and crew fared well but were happy to safely tie up at the marina dock even though pinned against it a few feet from our designated spot by the powerful l winds that continued to blow well into the night. We got to know Campbell River well from our time there last year and ended up staying this time in their convenient marina while we worked on a few boat projects and did our last major provisioning for our trip around the island. Anne spent hours in the grocery store and Mark joined to help her wheel an overloaded dock cart back to the boat. An equal amount of time was spent aboard trying to stow the month’s supply of food and beverage. The night of July 1st (Canada Day) was special as we were treated to an exceptional fireworks display that we enjoyed from our boat’s cockpit while at the marina dock.
After our stay, we again started north only to turn around after ten minutes when Anne noticed water on the galley floor coming from our engine room. We hurried back to the marina and Mark spent the next two hours adjusting the motor mounts and repositioning the collar on our leaking propeller shaft seal. Once that was fixed, we again set out and enjoyed pleasant sunny conditions and help from the currents as we motor sailed through Seymour Narrows and into Johnstone Strait. We anchored for the night at Boat Bay on West Cracroft Island and were awakened during the night by the sound of rain on the deck. The next morning was cool and foggy with a steady drizzle as we continued north with sharp eyes both ahead and on our radar screen. Passing Port McNeil, Mark expanded our electronic chart to a larger scale and was stunned to see that the plotter’s electronic chip did not have data for the west coast of the island. Even though we had all necessary paper charts on board, a decision was made to return to the small town of Port McNeil in hopes of obtaining the necessary chip. As luck would have it, the town’s modest hardware and marine supply store was able to order it from Victoria and have it to us in just two days. We were thrilled! As it turns out, the entire region experienced cold, gale force winds while we waited so we were happy to be in port and not bouncing somewhere at anchor waiting for the winds to abate. With the chip in hand and better weather in the forecast, we left the dock there on Wednesday the 7th at 6 am. In favorable sea conditions we rounded the northwest end of the island just after noon and threaded our way through Sea Otter Cove’s tricky entrance a few hours later. Sea Otter Cove is a very special spot with good protection from the ocean winds and swells but limited anchor room with numerous rocks and a very shallow bottom. While creeping along at minimum speed we touched the soft mud bottom in the recommended anchorage and found ourselves stuck until the evening higher tide. It was no big deal though as the tide was already beginning to rise so we set our anchor and spent the time reading, relaxing in the cockpit and enjoying the antics of the resident sea otters. By 7pm we were floating free so we raised the anchor and carefully followed our entry track back out of the cove and around a headland to the neighboring bay that offered deeper water. Once safely anchored, we sat and reveled at the majestic scenery around us and finished the evening with delicious grilled turkey burgers. The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we raised our anchor and sails and headed down the coast toward Quatsino Sound and Winter Harbor. Despite a cool breeze over the 48 degree water, the downwind sail was awesome with each of us taking turns surfing the ocean swells while propelled by a 20 knot wind from astern. By early afternoon, we were anchored again in a protected nook near a small island and another family of otters. Shortly after our arrival, a loud hiss from nearby alerted us to the presence of a small humpback whale feeding within 50 yards of our boat. What a thrill! The whale would continue to share our secluded anchorage for another 36 hours until we left to continue our journey. We tried in vain to photograph the mammal during its brief seconds at the surface but eventually gave up and chose instead to firmly plant the memories of the experience in our minds. Three or four pairs of eagles soared overhead as we watched the sunset accompanied by the splashes of otters and seals that came by to check us out. Before dinner, we took our dinghy two miles up the sound to the small village of Winter Harbor. It featured what remained of old cannery buildings, water- logged, rickety docks, and a few cabins and motor homes occupied by fisherman, most of who had come by ferry from the mainland and driven the long windy roads across from the island’s east side. It didn’t take long to see all there was to see and we enjoyed ice cream sandwiches in front of the general store that was the only place to buy supplies. The next morning a dose of reality hit when we realized that we would probably not make it to a location with Internet access in time to pay our Visa bill on time using online banking. We remembered though having seen a tiny Canadian Post Office shed in Winter Harbor that was only open 3 days a week and were lucky enough that that day was one of them. We hurriedly prepared a check and mailing envelope and dinghied back to the village where we entrusted the part time post mistress with our letter. It took considerable faith to believe that it would reach its destination considering the incredibly remote area it was being mailed from. Well, I guess we will see when next month’s Visa statement arrives if it made it on time. Mark spent the rest of the day opening access panels around the fuel tanks and to the bilges when he discovered a small amount of diesel fuel in our bilge. As it turns out, a slightly loose inspection cover on one of the tanks was to blame allowing a small seepage of fuel from the full tank while the boat sailed with the hull at an angle. Once Mark had cleaned up his mess, Anne was free to reclaim her galley and concoct a scrumptious chili recipe for dinner. A few scattered raindrops fell late in the afternoon and tendrils of fog began creeping through the valleys around our anchorage. We couldn’t help but take another dinghy ride after dinner to savor more of the majestic scenery. We concluded the day by watching two episodes of the first season of “24” on DVD and turned in at 11:30 for a sound night’s sleep.
Saturday the 10th began early with preparations to continue down the coast and around the Brooks Peninsula and Cape Cook, another spot on the island’s west coast, famous for strong winds and treacherous seas. We planned a route well off shore to avoid the cape’s reef strewn waters and sailed through areas of dense fog, carefully scanning the radar for other vessels. By mid day the weather gods began to smile on us as the fog gave way to clear skies and sunshine and the winds steadily built from behind us. We had a magical day of sailing; surfing down the ocean swells with boat speeds approaching 10 knots and spectacular scenery all around. Mid afternoon found us anchored amid the Bunsby Islands in a delightful spot that we shared with 4 other boats. While surveying the area by dinghy, we were invited aboard a large motor yacht by our new neighbors Don and Doug and enjoyed getting to know them and sharing stories over cocktails. We excused ourselves near dinner time and returned to “Blue Rodeo” where Anne created a shrimp and pasta masterpiece that we savoured while watching the evening light put on a wonderous show on the forested hills around us.