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Voyages North
Pender Harbour to Seymour Narrows, July 16-July 18.
07/20/2014, posted at Port McNeill

Photo: SV Motu motoring against wind and current in north Discovery Passage.

"I pressed on, taking fresh troubles for granted."
-- Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, captain of the Spanish schooner Sonora

I read this quote in The Spanish on the Northwest Coast by Mary Neering while sailing north up Malaspina Strait against a strong northwesterly. With my feet braced against the cabin doorframe and my right hand clinging to the dodger while I clutched the book with my left, I thought it a fitting quote. So much can go wrong in a boat but knowing that, we still sail on.

Two days later, I'm not so sure. If we really knew what "troubles" faced us, would we press on? The experience Steve and I had transiting Seymour Narrows the next day is a good example.

Gusts skittered across the water when we left Gorge Harbour the next morning. Once in Georgia Strait, we barreled across to Cape Mudge under full main and jib, arriving at the south entrance to Discovery Passage just as the current turned to ebb (the ebb flows north through both Discovery Passage and Seymour Narrows). With northwest gales blowing in Johnstone Strait, our plans were to transit the narrows near the end of the ebb and anchor for the night in Otter Cove at the top of Discovery Passage, then go through Johnstone Strait the next day when the weather forecast predicted light winds.

We rode the current north to Gowlland Harbour, a bay half way to the Narrows and on the opposite side of the Passage from the city of Campbell River. There we anchored until two hours before the tide changed to flood. That put us at the Narrows an hour before slack and gave us an hour of ebb beyond the Narrows to get a good start on reaching Otter Cove. We'd transited an hour before or after slack several times before without any trouble so didn't expect any this time.

A blast of wind hit us as we pulled out of Gowlland Harbour for the Narrows. I thought about wind against current. "Should we go back and wait for tomorrow?" I asked Steve.

"No, we're fine."

I reminded myself that we would be in protected waters and we'd be motoring, not sailing. How bad could it be?

In fact, the Narrows, when we reached them, didn't look bad at all. Seas were smooth, broken only by a few small whirlpools. At 9 knots (6 of boat speed, 3 of current) we were through in no time. I breathed a sigh of relief; only twelve miles to go to Otter Cove. Then I looked ahead and saw white foam. A few minutes later the boat pitched wildly as short steep combers crashed across the dodger into the cockpit and slammed against the side of the hull.

We weren't the only ones struggling. Not too far from us the sailboat Motu, a lighter boat than Osprey, pitched even more, dropping behind us as the waves slowed it down.

The farther we got from the Narrows, the worse the waves became. Steve struggled to keep us on course as current pushed us inexorably toward the western shore. "I can't get us off that beach," he said as he headed Osprey east to go north. Our speed dropped from 7 knots, to 5, to 3. Otter Cove seemed farther away each minute.

"I'm going to head for Small Inlet instead," said Steve, naming an inlet on the east side of Discovery Passage. "It's closer."

Our speed dropped to 2 knots, then to 1.9. Could we even reach Small Inlet? I imagined wind and current pushing us back to the Narrows and getting caught in even worse waves.

"Let's go back to Gowlland Harbour," said Steve, turning the boat. I looked at my watch and saw that the current was just turning to slack at the Narrows. What had seemed like forever had been only an hour. It wasn't too late to turn back.

In a few minutes we were back at the Narrows, speeding south at 9 knots where an hour earlier we had sped the same speed going north. If we'd known what was ahead of us when we left Gowlland Harbour, we surely wouldn't have left.

An hour later we anchored again in Gowlland Harbour. It's rocky cliffs and eclectic mix of classic homes, modern lodges and log booms made it a pleasant place to wait out the weather.

Gowlannd Harbour
Photo: Gowlland Harbour

Photo: Working a log boom in Gowlland Harbour.

It wasn't until I checked the chart for the correct spelling of Gowlland; that I noticed the island it's on: Quadra, named after Bodega y Quadra, quoted at the beginning of this post. When he wrote that statement, he'd chosen to head north despite orders from his superior and a boat with rotten timbers. What was the chance of promotion, adventure and glory in turning tail? He asked. From the number of places his name appears on the chart, he made the right decision. But then, so did we. The next day we transited Seymour Narrows and Discovery Passage in flat calm.

07/25/2014 | Judy Meaney
Rocky shorelines, swift currents, logs - you're more adventurous than we are! We'll try for open ocean (and probably scare the wits out of us too!) Really enjoying your blog!
Destination: Seymour and Belize Inlets
Elsie Hulsizer
07/15/2014, posted at Pender Harbour

Chart showing location of Seymour and Belize Inlets, just south of Cape Caution

"Where are you going this summer? North again?" People asked me as summer approached.

"Yes," I'd say. "But not to Alaska. We're just going to Belize and Seymour Inlets."

"Where's that?"

"Just south of Cape Caution."

"Where's that?

"On the mainland, across from the northern tip of Vancouver Island."

These exchanges were good reminders of how remote a location we'd chosen for our summer trip. Many of the northwest's most seasoned sailors have never been there -- although many have been by on their way to SE Alaska.

Descriptions of these inlets explain why we picked them as our destination. We've read or heard tell of pictographs on the rocks, cliffs with gardens that overhang the water, rock walls where voices echoes back eerily, and beautiful anchorages that we can expect to have all to ourselves.

The two inlets cut deep into the mainland mountains: 42 miles for Seymour Inlet and 25 miles for Belize Inlet, with sounds and bays branching off both. Logging is the only industry within them and not so much of that.

So why do so few people go there? Not just because the inlets are a long way from civilization, but also because to get there you have to navigate the Nakwakto Rapids, where currents move so fast Turrett Rock, in the middle, has earned the local name of Tremble Island. At 14.5 knots, Nakwakto Rapids aren't the fastest in the northwest (that's Seymour Narrows at 16 knots) but with their well known turbulence, they're certainly one of the scariest.

We decided to go there after approaching the entrance last summer on our way south from Alaska. At slack water the passage looked like any other harbor entrance; so calm we almost wondered what the big deal was. What had seemed so scary earlier, now seemed achievable. We just had to aim for slack water: all seven minutes of it.

Photo: Nakwakto Rapids at slack water.

Of course to get there we pass through many of the northwest's more famous cruising grounds: the San Juan and Gulf Islands, the Sunshine Coast, Desolation Sound and the Broughtons. Stay tuned.

Alaskan Cruising for California Boaters
Elsie Hulsizer

Photo: SV Sonamara of San Francisco sailing in Sumner Strait, Alaska

"Alaska? Why would I want to go there?" a former California boater who recently moved to Seattle told me when I asked him if he had any plans to Cruise to Alaska.. "Cruising is about sun and fun, and swimming from your boat," he said

Alaska cruising is a different kind of cruising than California cruising -- what SAIL Magazine calls Adventure Cruising -- where the unexpected can happen and the goal is to see new things and experience new cultures. For Californians Southeast Alaska can offer a whole new world: scenic anchorages, protected waters and lots of new things to see and experience.

No Name Cove
Photo: No Name Cove, Tracy Arm, SE Alaska

Highlights of cruising in Alaska include calving glaciers; whales, sea lions, brown bears, black bears and sea otters; the fantastic carvings and elaborate costumed dances of Alaska Natives; and eating salmon, halibut and crabs. And although you may not want to swim from your boat in Alaska, nothing beats soaking in an Alaskan hot spring while a waterfall roars a few feet away.

Baranof Warm Springs
Photo: Boaters relaxing in Baranof Warm Springs

A week after the conversation with that former California boater, Steve and I gave a talk and slide show called "Why We Sailed to Alaska Five Times" at the Puget Sound Cruising Club (see the post below). The California boater was there. Afterwards he came up to me and said, "I'm embarrassed. If I had seen your slide show before we talked, I never would have said what I did. Of course we're going to Alaska. We have to!"

Not all California boaters need as much persuading. Although I never expected to see many California boats in Alaska, last summer there seemed to be one in almost every major anchorage. But none of them had heard of my book, Glaciers, Bears and Totems: Sailing In Search of the Real Southeast Alaska, which means They lacked easy access to the science, history and unique Alaskan stories that can enrich a trip to SE Alaska. Obviously I needed to remedy that. What better way to spread the word among California boaters than to attend the Strictly Sail Pacific boat show in Oakland? An email and accompanying resume sent to Sail America, Strictly Sail's organizers, garnered me an invitation to speak about cruising in SE Alaska and sell my books at the show's author corner.

For more information about Glaciers, Bears and Totems, go to

I'm still putting together my slide show for the seminar. It will be based on the popular seminar that I give at the Seattle Boat Show with some added information for California boaters including a brief discussion of how to get there from California and more importantly, where to get more information on the nuts and bolts of cruising there.

Cover of Glaciers, Bears and Totems
Photo: Cover of Glaciers, Bears and Totems

Strictly Sail Pacific is the West Coast's largest all-sail boat show, set for April 10-13 in Jack London Square, Oakland.

Hours for Strictly Sail Pacific are as follows:
• Thursday, April 10th: 10am-6pm
• Friday, April 11th: 10am-6pm
• Saturday, April 12th: 10am-7pm
• Sunday, April 13th: 10am-5pm

The times and locations of my Cruising Southeast Alaska seminars are:
• April 12 1:00 pm D Exhibit Hall
• April 13 3:30 pm D Exhibit Hall

My seminars are free for all ticket holders at the show.

To learn more about Strictly Sail Pacific or to purchase tickets online, visit Find Strictly Sail Pacific on Facebook at and on Twitter @StrictlySailPac.

07/25/2014 | Judy Meaney
Great idea to share your wonderful Alaska experiences with California sailors! Who better to share SE Alaska adventures than Elsie!

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Voyages North on SV Osprey
Who: Steve and Elsie Hulsizer (author of Glaciers, Bears and Totems and Voyages to Windard)
Port: Seattle
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