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D & D Nagle aboard MV DavidEllis
Days 17-19
11/19/2015, almost there

Day 17: Port Neville, Seymour Narrows, to Campbell River

Before getting into Day 17s run, I'd like to share some thoughts on Inside Passage dock ramps. The first thing to know is that the tidal height differences -- high tide to low -- are significantly larger than those on the outside coast; two times or more larger. 18-20 foot changes in 6 hours are not uncommon in SE Alaska and a real factor in deciding where and how to anchor the boat. For example, a nice 40' anchorage with a rock in it 25' deep at high tide, will be touching the bottom of DE (with 6' draft) at low tide.
But I didn't bring this up, to talk about anchoring; I want to talk about dock ramps -- a simple structure, connecting the land ashore to the floating dock where the boats are tied. On a very high tide, the ramp may be nearly level. Somewhere back in the blog is a photo taken at Seahorse Marine, on the Pearl River in DouMen, China, just after a typhoon, where the storm surge flood brought the river so high that in the boat tied to the finishing dock, we are looking down at the shore. The dock is actually floating higher than the shore and the angle between dock and shore has been reversed. But that situation was an exception. The everyday reality of going to shore, or coming back to the boat is that from one tide to another the angle of the ramp increases and decreases from nearly level to very steep. How steep depends entirely on how long the ramp is.
In order to "see" this you may need to draw it, but for any given height difference (between shore and dock) the shorter the ramp, the steeper the angle between land and float. Make the ramp longer, and the angle between the floating dock and shore will be less steep.
In practical everyday usage, it would be nice to schedule having to haul a couple of stuffed duffle bags of laundry up the ramp at high tide (when there's very little incline) or bring groceries back to the boat, with gallon jugs of water, a case of beer or other cruising supplies when the ramp is not so steep that a dock cart can get out of control going down the ramp. The reality is, you get what you get as life, human life at least, is not scheduled around the height of the tides.
One other factor about ramps before getting into the story -- ramp surface. Most new ramps are constructed of metal -- aluminum or galvanized steel -- and the walking surface may be some kind of patterned rubber or painted-on non-skid. Some ramps have very aggressive metal teeth that unless completely iced are nearly impossible to slip on -- the dogs hate these as you might imagine; they pick their way up or down such a ramp, one paw at a time, a grim, fixed expression on their face, and in my mind, I can hear them planning how they're going to get even with me, should they actually survive going to the shore and back to the boat on this m@&$#r-f*^€£ing ramp! Meyers Chuck has such a ramp, as does Baronoff Warm Springs (I think). In 2009 when we arrived in Dutch Harbor to clear US Customs, coming from Hong Kong, not only was the ramp of this type but the entire 1000 foot float. Little puppy Rusty took two steps, looked up at me with wide-eyed shock, horror and disbelief that I would torture him in this way and refused to take another step. I had to carry him the several hundred yards to shore and back.
Most other ramps are not nearly so aggressive as the expanded steel teeth, in their anti-slip methods; many have ladders/steps built into the ramp floor, off to one side for when the tide makes the ramp especially steep and/or slippery from weather.
But then there are the older wood-decked ramps. Have I mentioned it rains a lot up here? And when wood stays wet much of the time it grows algae and other scummy coatings which are -- you guessed it -- slippery! Add to that, nearly freezing temps and we arrive at the story I wanted to tell you. Is anyone still with me?
Port Neville is an old place, which is not really a place anymore. Years ago there was a general store and a post office here (the post office actually still functioned on a limited basis until closing about 5 years ago. Dorothy had one of the last card/letters franked there, when we stopped at the end of one cruising season.) The old dock, ramp and pier are still functional, but dated, and the ramp is somewhat shorter than a newer one might be, given the height change in tides here. The photo above shows Rusty headed down the ramp at about a 30 degree angle, not unusual for low tide anywhere. And you can see the ladder structure, to the left, on the wood deck of the ramp.
The night of 15 Nov, the day we arrived at Port Neville, the tide tables tell me the low tide was minus 1 meter (yes Bunky, that's a meter, not feet, the rest of the world measures stuff in meters, get used to it) at 2200 hrs on a new moon, making the total high-to-low tidal difference 5.6 meters (okay you pathetic putz, I'll do the math for you, that's an 18.4 foot difference!) and the ramp, when Dot and I took the Rs to shore for p&p, was at least a 60 degree incline! The only way we could get up it was a slow careful climb up the ladder side of the ramp, Rusty behind me on lead, Rascal behind Dorothy. Both the dogs tried climbing the ramp without the ladder and could not, even though they're four-pawed, maintain traction. We came back down, much the same way, facing into the ramp, climbing down the ladder, keeping each dog in front of us on the ladder.
The night of the 16 Nov, our second at Port Neville, the tide table says the low tide was at 2300 hrs and was even lower at -1.1 meter. It wasn't quite that late though when we took the dogs to shore and the ramp was more like 45 degrees than the boggling 60 of the night before. Dot and I still used the ladder, but the dogs, with their greater traction struggled up the slick ramp. On returning to the boat, I didn't want the boys to use the slick side of the ramp and tried to keep them on the ladder, but they were off lead, and Rascal waits for nothing and no one and went off the ladder onto the flat surface. From my point of view on the ladder above him, Rascal slid on his butt the 30 or so feet to the float. Wade, who happened to be on DE's deck, says the boy went down stiff-legged on all fours. Either way, I wish I could've seen his face; but his body language made it clear that his slide-for-life wasn't what the little Rascal expected. We checked his paws for slivers, and I was grateful he hadn't caught a leg in the vertical structure at the side of the ramp. Absent injury, it was pretty funny. The following morning, Day 17, going to shore off lead, Rascal ran up to the ramp, stopped, looked... and moved over to the ladder side before heading up to the beach.

and so, back to Day 17: we had an easy start with relatively flat water and light wind from aft. The wind built though, up to the forecast 35 knots, and that against current made for rough surface waters. We had it pretty easy, just bouncing around a bit. The few vessels we same coming up the channel, with the current mind you, were entirely enveloped in spray every 30 seconds or so. Certainly not the most comfortable boat ride.

That running against the current thing meant for us, doing less than 2 knots at times (at 1900 rpm) in Race Passage. Through the day's passage, we were on, off and on again for making the 1600 slack through Seymour Narrows. We did finally run through without drama, just past sunset and about 45 minutes after slack. For their own amusement, the gods littered the last couple miles of approach to the narrows with logs, trees, stumps, sticks and deadheads.

And then, pretty much anti climatically, we were back in civilization, with structures and lights all along the shoreline. We nosed into one of the harbors at Campbell River, tying up at the transient dock with a bright red pub sign shining down upon us from shore.

Day 18: another 0430 wake-up and pre-dawn departure. What marked this day was the hours long, 180 degrees of brilliant orange, pink and red dawn. Light winds from aft and smooth waters marked the run down to Nanaimo. And to cap off the day, just before entering the harbor proper, we had a pod of humpbacks breaching less than a mile away.

We tied up at G dock, directly in front of the wharfinger's office, downtown Nanaimo, about 1600 hrs. People we saw on the promenade and on the street were all noticeably dressed far more fashionably than the SE Alaska chic of sweatpants and Extra-Tufs (boots) that we've become accustomed to. The marina slips here, as they were in Campbell River, were mainly filled with sailboats and power yachts, rather than the fishboats and workboats which with we feel comfortable. The ever-lovely Ms Nagle made a bee-line for a yarn shop the wharfinger recklessly mentioned to her (I shall have to deal with him later), and the boys did the usual in a greenway along the waterfront.

Day 19: after a very fine breakfast bagel from a shop just off the waterfront, we departed Nanaimo amid a brisk (forecast) breeze from the north, brilliant sunshine and suicidal seaplanes. It was enough to cause me to check my rules of the road and seaplanes do not have precedence over power vessels! Has no one explained the "lug nut rule" to these guys? An hour out of Nanaimo is Dodd Narrows a short but quite narrow passage which requires awareness of tide state and opposing traffic. In our case, the tug Inlet Ranger was just entering the other side of the passage towing a log boom. After an exchange on the radio, DE made circles outside for 20 minutes while the tug and its load came through. A working anachronism, most people have never and will never see. The wait was well worth it. A short while later, we paralleled another tug and log boom. In this case the majority of the tow was white with birds hitching a ride on the tow.
Approximately 1400, MV DavidEllis crossed back into US waters. Lots of boat and ship traffic in these waters: Canadian Coast Guard buoy tender doing some kind of exercise with a 47' Motor Life Boat and a AS Dauphine Helo. But the capper at the boundary was a mob of marine mammal (as opposed to helo) dolphin rushing to ride our bow wave.
We should be clearing Customs at Friday Harbor in the next hour. I'm going to close this out and will finish up after we make it to Seattle.

Days 13-15

Days 13:
After 3 days and 4 nights hunkered down in Shearwater, MV DavidEllis and crew are ready to roll on down the road. Weather reports for the Queen Charlotte Sound opening suggest a lull coming up Saturday 14th and possibly Sunday, before ramping up again with storm force winds and big seas. So this morning we are moving down to Pruth Bay, Calvert Island. There we'll be poised to get across the QCS opening. Once south of the south tip of Calvert, we'll be exposed to the Pacific wind/wave from this system that's been beating things up, for about 5-6 hours until we can get shelter south of the north end of Vancouver Island.

The run down to Pruth was uneventful. We left Shearwater early (in the dark again) so that if by chance we got an opening today (Friday) to make the QCS crossing, we could. It became apparent though, from the peeks through various channels at the outside waters, that it was literally roaring out there and we would not be crossing today.

We've stopped at Pruth Bay most of the north/south runs we've done between Seattle and SE AK. It's a beautiful, sheltered, easy in/out bay with a real gem -- the beach on the west side. What was once a fishing lodge is now a research institute -- -- and there's a half-mile or so trail thru to the beach. The folks at Hakai have always been very nice about using their dock for our dinghy and walking thru to the beach and this time was no exception. I had a conversation with the caretaker who said the winds the last couple days (while we were in Shearwater) were 81kts at the dock (inside the bay) and 115kts up at the lookout on the hill (fully exposed to the west coast)... Yikes!

We walked out to the beach; well actually between the just passed high tide and storm surge, there was no beach. Just howling wind and sets of waves running over the top of each other. That would be fore-shadowing for our crossing...

Back to DE; cleaned up on leftovers for dinner and watched a few episodes of the series we've been watching -- West Wing and The Wire -- then early to bed for a 0430 wake-up.

Day 14:
Dinghy Rs to the beach for a quick p&p, then hoist and secure skiff and outboard before lifting anchor and crawling out of the anchorage towards Fitzhugh Passage which opens into the top of Queen Charlotte Sound. We can see the amber loom of a high pressure sodium light from a vessel traveling north in Fitzhugh, meaning that someone crossed QCS in the night... a good sign.

It's still a couple of hours until we run out of Fitzhugh into QCS; time for dawn to slowly reveal what we've been peering at with radar and plotters; time to listen to the computer voice from Environment Canada run through the station and buoy reports and forecast for our passage and time to dig info out of the Sirius satellite weather system feeding into the chart plotter. Digesting all this information, it appears there are still very large -- 7-8 meter -- swells offshore (created by the big low pressure system encompassing all of the Gulf of Alaska, but for the route across QCS we are taking, these appear to be reduced to a "moderate westerly swell" according to reporting stations. Winds have reduced significantly to a tolerable SE 15-25. The easterly component is a disappointment as it will not be hidden from us as we come into the shelter of the north end of Vancouver Island, but is forecast to shift northerly in the early afternoon which is good. Wind waves (entirely separate from the "moderate swell" already mentioned) are reported as 2-3 foot. So, looking good.

So good that I left Wade and John to handle things in the pilot house and went below to catch up on some sleep. I could tell we'd moved into the Sound, out of the protection of Calvert Island when things started rocking, but went back to sleep until the motion became distinctly uncomfortable.

I went up to the wheelhouse and what a sight; such a confused sea! At least two big (3-4 meter) swell sets from different directions; one on our starboard beam. Is this the "moderate west swell" described in the station reports? Overlaying the competing swells were local wind seas, also from multiple directions, currently still SE and the forecast shift to the north never happened. All this motion had DE lurching one way and another, like a punch-drunk fighter being slapped around by a powerful opponent. The starboard paravane fish was in the water to help with the beam swell but instead of surging along beside the boat, the fish was trailing behind in its track due to having picked up a load of kelp and therefore of no real effectiveness (other than to slow our speed). And that was the other thing, in addition to the confused surface water, an obstacle course was laid on, made up of logs, chunks, trees, wads of kelp (some so large they deserved a zip code). Running the boat here wasn't a matter of bracing in til it was over. Instead, at least two pairs of eyes were required to spot obstruction ahead in the churned up sea and somehow avoid one thing without running into another. Too much fun!

At least one thing we could do to get a bit of stability back and that was to throw the port side fish in the water and clear the kelp from the starboard -- easier said than done. But after a bit of exercise on deck while lying ahull in that mess, we had the kelp cleared and were again underway southbound across QCS, with as much dignity as we could muster.

Eventually we made it into Christie Passage, protected by Balaklava Island where we pulled the pvane fish, then continuing down Goletus Channel passing Port Hardy and finally docking at Port McNeil. Along the way we were treated to a long, lovely sunset, first with pink, blue and lavender pastels then all possible shades of gold.

P&p ashore for the boys, then up to a pub for the two-legged crew. No cooking or dishwashing tonight.

Day 15:
Up at a reasonable hour and departing Port McNeil in squally sunshine with rainbows, we continued south into Johnstone Strait past Telegraph Cove and Robson Bight -- storied locations for Orca watching -- toward Port Neville. A largely uneventful passage despite wind opposing current and the, by now, familiar floating obstacle course.

A pleasant overnight tied to the dock at Port Neville although the nighttime visit to shore with the dogs involved a climb up the ramp at 60degrees due to the 15' tidal drop.

Day 16:
The plan was to run the 40 miles or so down to Seymour Narrows to catch the flood slack, before continuing on to Campbell River before stopping. Because I was pre-occupied with getting the thrust-bearing greased, I did not listen to the weather until we were underway and a couple miles out of our anchorage. Uh oh. The strong wind we were currently experiencing, on the nose, is forecast to increase to 45 knots! Well crap; this isn't going to work. The next possible harbor, Kelsey Bay, just a couple of miles down the channel, is unprotected from the SE wind according to the Coast Pilot. So we hung a 180 and headed back to Port Neville where we are now tied up, out of the wind. No hope of making it to the workboat show in Seattle 18-20 November now, but that's all part of the deal. Semper Gumbi.

Wade sez

another great Fishwrapper from Cap'n Wade:

November 14, 2015

After several days at Bella Bella we were ready to be on our way, but as you saw in the last Wrapper the weather had us pinned down. The upside was a chance for a few meals we didn't have to cook ourselves, a badly needed chance to do some laundry, and a friendly encounter with a local eagle, but the downside was days lost.

Not only is it getting later into the winter weather season, but David and I want to meet some friends at the Seattle Marine Expo a week from today. It's the area's commercial boat show and differs considerably from the pleasure boat shows that I enjoy too. Anyway, it's an excuse to meet friends and talk about boaty stuff and have lunch together in Seattle. If we push on southward we'll probably be able to attend the last day of the show on Saturday.

So we left Bella Bella yesterday in the predawn darkness, feeling our way carefully out of the harbor and into the main channel. Bella Bella is an Indian reservation and isn't very large; I think the town has a population of about 2500. The one marina, Shearwater, is on an island across the bay from town, and I took this opportunity to ride the small passenger ferry the marina operates to have a look around, something I've never done before on the dozen or so times I've made this trip. I found little there besides some homes and a very small grocery store and a newly built cultural center, which unfortunately was not open that day, it being a national holiday, Rememberance Day, analogous to our Veterans Day. I did find a library, accessed down a path next to the wood pile, as the signs make clear.

Friday's run through protected waters was easy and not too long. Our goal for the night was Pruth Bay on Calvert Island, which would position us at the top of Queen Charlotte Sound for Saturday's open water passage, weather permitting. (Later we found out that the wind at the Pruth Bay Research Institute gusted to 88 mph Thursday night just before we left Bella Bella, and reached 117 mph on a hilltop near the institute.) We had another motive for going there too; Pruth Bay is at the end of a five mile long channel leading westward, almost cutting Calvert Island in two. It ends in a small basin only a half mile from the western shore. The one thing there is a marine research center, privately run, but welcoming to visitors.

DAVID ELLIS anchored in front of the institute, after a passing squall.

We've been there in the summer and they're nice enough to let us walk the half mile from their compound through the forest to the beach on the west side. This particular beach is spectacular, a giant semicircle of white sand ringed by hundreds of fallen tree trunks edging the woods. It's open to the whole Pacific Ocean and our hike yesterday gave us a taste of what we would be facing today. It wasn't encouraging. As soon as the anchor was down and the engine went quiet in front of the institute, even before we went ashore, the air was filled with unrelenting thunder, the sound of booming waves penetrating a half-mile of dense rain forest. It sounded like a distant naval battle, a not altogether inaccurate description. The institute is shut down for the winter but the caretaker remembered David and Dorothy from a previous winter - there aren't many visitors this late in the year. Permission obtained - and we were off, dressed in the most fashionable of foul weather gear; in my case it was green rubber pants and jacket with a hood laced up tight over a baseball cap, the bill of which prevented the hood from falling down over my eyes. Did I mention that yesterday was full of squalls containing lots of rain and wind? Cold wind? Well, it was, and our hike to the beach was filled with more of the same, with occasional ice pellets thrown in for good measure. The dogs were enjoying themselves immensely, and we in our rubber cocoons didn't fare too badly either. Along the way I noticed two different beech trees with bark that had been clawed a couple of feet above the ground. Each had a small pile of fresh orange colored shavings lying beneath the claw marks. From the scratches on the trunk I'm guessing it was some kind of cat, but probably not a house kitty, and it was too close to the ground to be a bear. Further along the trail was some wolf scat, much as a dog would leave but colored white from imbedded fur. It wasn't as fresh looking as the scratchings, although the caretaker said a couple of wolves had been hanging around. He also warned us to be cautious on the beach and not to get too close to the water's edge. Every so often the odd larger wave would run far up the sand. I have only one picture worth sharing from the beach for several reasons, the main one being my iPhone's camera wouldn't work properly due to the driving rain and ice that kept the touchscreen wet despite my best efforts. I did mention driving rain and ice pellets earlier, right? Not to forget the wind, which had to be blowing thirty miles an hour straight in from the sea. It was a wild scene on the beach, huge waves breaking like cannon fire and scud blowing everywhere. But it's been my experience that the camera has a way of diminishing the size and power of waves, whether photographed from land or a boat - in a photograph a twenty-foot wave looks like something you'd play in with your grandchildren. Much is definitely lost in translation. So I offer this one photo from our shore excursion taken with a camera with a wet lens: a wave breaking on a rock face. Judge its scale from the full sized trees on the cliff top. Then we hiked back, returned to the boat, and snuggled in warm and dry for the night.

Saturday the 14th
This is the morning we've been waiting for, the day we will cross the last stretch of open water between Alaska and Seattle, Queen Charlotte Sound. The prominent landmark along the shore on our eight-hour exposure is named Cape Caution for good reason. We waited three days in Bella Bella for a favorable trend in the forecast, and when things started looking better we cruised south to the last bit of land dividing the ocean from the inside passage, Calvert Island. The forecast was better, yes, but that's all relative: the best weather we've seen in a week of waiting was four-meter seas and twenty to twenty-five knots of wind. So we left this morning in the dark, back out the channel through the center of our sheltering island and eventually turning south along the shore toward the south end of the island. Three hours later in the early dawn Cape Calvert slipped astern and we were finally exposed to those westerly winds and waves, right on our starboard beam. The stabilizing fish went into the water, giving a satisfying amount of roll reduction, and we were on our way across. Not only were the waves big, but there were two distinct sets of them: one from our starboard side, and another from an entirely different direction. This creates a "confused sea" and the boat behaved accordingly, lurching this way and that at somewhat irregular intervals as the two wave trains collided. But as I said, it wasn't too bad. True, objects fell from shelves and rolled across the floor, and true, I was afraid to open the refrigerator door for lunch because of concern that the contents might fling themselves out in a bid for freedom. And yes, one of the fish became so fouled with seaweed that we were forced to stop in the middle of the ocean and retrieve it, something normally done with some effort using ropes and pulleys and grappling hooks after entering calm water but done now with considerable difficulty on a rolling, pitching deck in the middle of a "confused" sea. But hey, it only lasted eight hours and lunch is highly overrated anyway. I wouldn't have missed this passage for the world. Eventually we slipped behind the protection of the northern tip of Vancouver Island, and just before entering the harbor at Port McNeil the skies, which had continued squally all day, cleared a little and we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset.

For some reason it brought to mind the phrase "Home is the sailor, home from the sea..."
Very satisfying day and a job well done.

I'd intended to write another paragraph or two before leaving Port McNeil and good internet service but as John and I returned to the boat with the morning's grocery run DAVID ELLIS's diesel was already warming up. Tonight will be spent in Port Neville, out of touch, but in a couple of days look for another Wrapper. All cruising today and tomorrow is in protected water but with a twist, so look for the story later.

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Who: Mike (Dave) and Dorothy Nagle
Port: Sebastopol, CA, USA
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