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Voyages North
An Ocean Passage: Rose Harbour (Queen Charlotte Islands) to Winter Harbour (Quatsino Sound, West Coast Vancouver Island). August 4-5.
08/27/2009, Winter Harbour: 50 30.6 N, 128 01.4 W

Photo: Steve and Jigger, approaching Winter Harbour

"Queen Charlotte Sound, NW 15-25 knots." Those words on the weather radio were just what we wanted to hear the night before the 160 mile crossing from the Queen Charlotte Islands to the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Queen Charlotte Sound is called a "sound", but it is open to the west so from a practical standpoint we'd be doing an ocean crossing of a day and a half. We planned to sail south to Triangle Island off the northwest tip of Vancouver Island, then to Winter Harbour, the first major sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. By sailing out around Triangle Island we would avoid Scott Channel with its strong tidal currents.

By morning the forecast had changed to NW 20-30 knots, more than we liked but better than the 30-40 knots we'd been sailing in on the West Coast of the Charlottes. We headed east out the Houston Stewart Channel to Hecate Strait and turned south. At first the winds were light and the seas the usual short, steep and uncomfortable waves the Strait is known for. But as we left the Charlottes behind us, the seas turned to longer, more comfortable (comfortable is a relative term here, we were still doing plenty of rolling) swells and the wind speed picked up. The sky was overcast and hazy; Cape St. James at the southern tip of the Charlottes was only a distant smudge.

The northwest wind was directly behind us, which meant we had to go wing and wing. Because of the wind speed, we flew our self-tending jib, a small sail with a boom that's great upwind but when we pole it out downwind, the boom slams and bangs, threatening anyone working on the foredeck. In the Charlottes, we'd taken off the boom and sheeted it from the clew like a regular jib for better downwind sailing but we'd put the boom back on for this passage in case the wind turned to the south. A better sheeting system to allow us to use this sail upwind and downwind without the boom is definitely on our to-do list for the winter!

Just before dinner, I went below to wash the breakfast and lunch dishes that had piled up in the sink. I turned on the saltwater pump and was horrified to see it run pink and smell like antifreeze! The heat exchanger had failed. Steve immediately went into a planning mode and got out his computer to order a new one. He was worried about getting it fixed. I was just worried about getting to port! I imagined us drifting without wind off the Triangle Islands.

Fortunately, the wind kept us sailing through the night and when we had to turn on the engine to charge the batteries, it didn't overheat. The issue, according to Steve, was getting seawater in the engine so we just had to limit the engine use.

I had the early morning watch and as the wind slowly decreased, the fog moved in. I turned on the chart plotter and the radar every 10 minutes or so to check for traffic. But we were alone in this remote corner of the ocean. Sailing at night in the fog is something I have always feared, but I discovered it wasn't as terrifying as I thought it would be. Yes, you can't see but you can't see that you can't see. At 5 a.m. I watched the sails slowly emerge as white shapes out of the mist as the sky lightened.

As the fog lifted, the wind shifted to the south and although at first we were thankful we had left the boom on the jib, the wind moderated and soon we had to change to the larger jib anyway. We tacked down the coast in amazingly quiet seas. Our cat, Jigger, who had been hiding down below since we left Rose Harbour, finally emerged from his bunk to sit in his accustomed spot next to the chart plotter.

In the afternoon the email light came on and we turned on the computer to learn that friends Bob and Sherry Custer in their sailboat Ponderosa would be in Winter Harbour that night too. Outside Quatsino Sound the wind died and we motored in to tie up to Ponderosa. "Don't worry about dinner," Sherry said. "I'll make it. You deserve a rest." I can't think of a better ending to a crossing then dinner with friends.

In Search of Repairs: Winter Harbour to Coal Harbour, Quatsino Sound. August 6-7
08/27/2009, Coal Harbour: 49 17.6 N, 123 07.0W

Photo: Sea plane base at Coal Harbour

"Westerbeke has no heat exchangers anywhere in the U.S. announced Steve the next morning, after returning from the pay phone. "We've got to go to Coal Harbour." Coal Harbour, a small town in the upper reaches of Quatsino Sound is only ten miles from Port Hardy on the east coast of Vancouver Island. We would be able to take the bus to Port Hardy and find somebody to fix it.

Steve drained the cooling system and put in fresh water. Then we headed out the harbor, hoping for wind. No luck. It was a beautiful cloudless, windless day. We would have to motor and hope for the best.

We'd never been to Coal Harbour before, preferring to head south down the coast instead of inland through the maze of inlets in Quatsino Sound so we were seeing the Sound for the first time. The hills above the sound are a patchwork of clear cuts of varying ages and greenness but the shorelines and islands in the sound are still heavily forested and attractive. We had timed our departure from Winter Harbour to take us through Quatsino Narrows, the passage into the upper Sound, with the last of the flood so we arrived in late afternoon.

We tied up at the dock alongside a sailboat named Morgana, also there for repairs. Steve disappeared up the dock to the pay phone and returned a few minutes later, discouraged. No one in Port Hardy or nearby Port McNeill could repair heat exchangers; they all would have to send it further south to Campbell River with no guarantee it could even be repaired. I looked around at the small town -- and my heart sank. Coal Harbour had once been an industrial whaling center and an Air Force base. Now it was just a small town with a few scattered houses, a seaplane service center, a logging company and one small store. And the whale jawbone which once graced the town, was missing -- sent out for repairs according to the storekeeper. Waiting here for days for a part didn't sound like much fun. The only saving grace was the bus service to Port Hardy.

Help came in the form of a mechanic named Steve Carlisle whom Steve found through the logging company. Carlisle couldn't fix the heat exchanger either but he had contacts in Port Hardy who might have heat exchangers for sale and knew Canadian parts suppliers. The next morning, while I took the bus to Port Hardy for grocery shopping, Steve drove off with Steve Carlisle in his truck. An hour later, he tracked me down in town to tell me that Westerbeke also had no heat exchangers in all of Canada. But they had found a used heat exchanger that wasn't exactly the right size but was close enough and a bag of parts to make it work.

When I arrived back at the boat with my two heavy bags of groceries that afternoon, I could see that things weren't going well. Steve was cursing and glowering at the used heat exchanger that was clogged with oil and grit. "If I'd taken off the ends and looked at it, I'd never have bought it," he said. I slunk off to do the laundry while Steve struggled to clean the used heat exchanger. Good thing he didn't take off the ends before he bought it, I thought two hours later when I returned to find the used exchanger cleaned, installed and working.

Marble Canyons. Varney Bay and the Marble River. August 8.

Photo: A canyon in the Marble River.

The morning after Steve fixed the heat exchanger, we motored a few miles away to Varney Bay where we anchored off a large marsh at the mouth of the Marble River and waited for the tide to rise to half-tide. Then we got in our dinghy and motored up the river. We wound our way through narrow canyons, passing rock walls festooned with ferns and motoring under dark overhangs. We finally came to a boulder strewn rapids and turned back. We had just time to weigh anchor and catch the next ebb through Quatsino Narrows. Just before nightfall we anchored in East Cove in Quatsino Sound. Tomorrow was another big passage: around the fearsome Brooks Peninsula.

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