Photo: A ship anchored in the fog at Prince Rupert
Our plan was to head south through British Columbia's outer channels -- the alternative to the better known Inside Passage that most boaters take to get to and from Alaska. But first we had to get out of Prince Rupert and across the Browning Entrance with its rocks and big ship traffic.
As we left the Yacht Club, we could see south to Prince Rupert's new container terminal, empty at the time. But when we got outside the harbor, the fog was so thick we wouldn't have known coal and grain terminals were right next to us on Ridley Island if we hadn't seen them before.
We were crossing Brown Passage, where ships come into the harbor, when we heard a deep blast from out at sea. I listened to the blasts get louder as the ship approached, then softer as it passed astern. Our chart plotter and AIS (Automatic Identification System for Ships), had showed us that the giant container ship Cosco Korea would pass safely behind us. But no matter what the AIS showed, hearing that deep blast was unnerving. We continued on in a gray world, occasionally interrupted by the sight of small sports fishing boats coming too close. We passed the Lawyer Islands and entered clear air in Ogden Channel.
In Ogden Channel an RCMP boat stopped us to check our papers. We didn't mind because unlike the U.S. Coast Guard they don't come brandishing guns and the officers are friendly. Besides, we knew we had our customs clearance.
"How's the writing going?" the boarding officer asked me. "Are you going to write a book about northern B.C. next?" He had just boarded the trawler Hey You and our friends aboard had told them about us. After checking our papers, the boarding officer took time to chat, asking about our summer. We told him about the good weather in Alaska and asked what it had been like in B.C.
"We've had a good summer here too," he told us. "But now we're paying for it with sea fog."
A blast of wind met us as we turned the corner into Kitkatla Channel. Streams of fog sailed by overhead. It was getting late and we wanted a good anchorage. Billy Bay on the north shore of Kitkatla Channel looked promising on the chart. But when we entered it, the wind howled across low islands to the west and there was nothing to show where the deep water for anchoring stopped and the shoals started. We turned around and went back to an unnamed cove to the east. There, the wind died to almost nothing and the "deep" water for anchoring went almost to the shore. I took a row around the cove, admiring the picturesque hills on shore and islets in the cove. But overhead, puffs of fog raced by casting shadows on the land and reminding me fog and wind awaited us outside.
Photo: Osprey anchored in an unnamed cove in Kitkatla Channel.
The next morning the wind had died and the fog lifted enough to see across the channel to our destination -- the Native village of Kitkatla. We motored through the islands and rocks and tied up in Kitkatla's small marina among a small fleet of fishing boats. Then we followed the road into town past the cemetery, the church and along a row of houses. Something was wrong -- there weren't any people. Unlike our first visit here, in 2006, no children played in the yards and no adults walked or drove in the streets. Finally we met a man walking out of a house under construction.
"Where is everybody?" I asked him.
"It's Saturday, people here take the ferry into Prince Rupert to shop on Saturday and come back after the weekend."
We left Kitkatla and motored out Schooner Passage back into Browning Passage where wind and fog awaited us. As we raised sail, we saw the dim outline of a tug and tow coming out of Principe Channel. We raised sail and headed west towards the channel with our horn blasting every two minutes and our radar on. We turned into the channel and a few minutes later, we sailed out of the fog. Green islands were on either side of us without a sign of civilization. Not a house, a boat or even a clear cut. It was beautiful. Three hours later, we sailed into Markle Passage and passed Sine, Tangent and Logarithm points before anchoring in a little cove indented into Tangent Island.
In the night the fog crept through the islands and we awoke to a gray world. But by breakfast the fog had lifted enough for Steve to go fishing and catch three nice rockfish. We motored out narrow Ala Passage, winding our way through rocks and islands. As we approached Principe Channel fog came in to meet us.
We expected the same northwest winds of the day before but instead we found the winds blasting from the south. We set out under reefed main and full jib, tacking across the channel. The fog lifted to show us the cruise ship Zuiderdam heading north. Just when we thought we had the place all to ourselves, 3,000 people go by.
The wind soon diminished, then just as we were talking about taking out the reef, came up again. Then diminished again. We weren't getting very far. Our plan for sailing 20 miles to Monckton Inlet was looking less appealing. "Look," said Steve, pointing down the channel towards Monckton Inlet on the Pitt island side of the channel. Where the inlet was sat a huge bank of fog. But ahead of us, on the Banks Island side of the channel, was a small indentation called Kooryet Bay. We'd never heard of it, never noticed it before. But it was where we were heading. So instead of tacking to head towards Monckton, we kept sailing into Kooryet Bay as the wind died to almost nothing. Kooryet Bay was a pretty little cove, protected from the south winds -- not great but adequate. We dropped anchor and looked out towards the channel. A fog bank was now working its way north. I was glad not to be out in it.
Photo: Fog going by outside Kooryet Bay.
The next morning we woke to calm seas under cloudy skies and no fog. We motored to Campania Island and anchored deep in Weinberg Inlet. The weather forecast was for SE winds and rain. I almost welcomed it.