Travelling the Back Route
05 August 2018 | Kwatsi Bay
Sunny, 28C, Light Winds
Humpback Whale in Johnstone Strait
Getting to the Broughtons via the "back route" has two obstacles; the rapids at Stuart Island (two sets to time) plus two in Cordero Channel and the winds and currents in Johnstone Strait.
The Back Route is the most common route for slower boats like sailboats and trawlers. Higher powered boats have the option of just blasting their way up Discovery Passage into Johnstone Strait and into the Broughtons.
We chose the back route. From Desolation Sound to Johnstone Strait is a distance of 50 nautical miles. In that 50 miles you pass through the Yuculta Rapids, the Dent Rapids, The Green Point Rapids and the Whirlpool Rapids, each of which has a slack period twice per day, and all different. The challenge is to time the rapids at slack with a following current after passing through. Then once through the rapids you have to time Johnstone Strait, again with a falling tide but with light winds. Strong winds against the tide will build a vicious chop that can make for a very long and uncomfortable trip.
So I set about studying the tide and current tables watching for just the right combination of current timing and wind forecasts.
And I found a window for a start on July 30th. It had slack after ebbing at the Yucultas, about 20 miles north of our anchorage in Von Donop, at 1300 hrs. That would allow us to take the ebb current up Calm Channel into Big Bay, arriving at slack, where we would spend the night. The next morning slack after flooding was at 0700 hrs. That would allow us to get through Gillard Passage and the Dent rapids, just 2 miles from the dock at Big Bay at slack, and give us a following current to carry us north to Forward Harbour just beyond the Whirlpool Rapids, where we would spend the night before heading out Johnstone Strait. By the time we reached Greene Point Rapids, the current was forecast to be just 4 knots, manageable, and when we reached Whirlpool Rapids, it would be slack.
I was also watching the hourly wind reports at Fanny Island where we would be entering Johnstone Strait. The very distinct pattern was for the winds to lighten usually in the morning between 0700 and 0800 and stay light until about noon when they would build through the afternoon, reaching 25-30 knots for the night, then lighten again next morning.
And it worked! We set out on July 30th from Von Donop, arriving just before slack at the dock at Big Bay. We were about 1/2 hour early and the current swirling in the bay made for an exciting landing, but we made it in with only a bit of damage to my ego. In the store we were a bit dismayed to see the scant supplies. Although we had stocked up in Refuge Cove, it was not all we would need for an extended cruise. Our guide book talked about stores at all marinas, but this was a bit light. We grabbed what we could, wiping out their red wine inventory of four bottles.
In the late afternoon we hiked up to the aptly named Eagle Lake. Arriving at the water's edge, three eagles swept by us. We rowed out in one of the community rowboats to a raft where we counted six other eagles in the surrounding trees. The water was perfect for me... bathtub temperature!
Next morning we were off at 0700 hrs, motoring through Gillard Rapids, across and through Dent Rapids and into Cordero Channel. With the engine idling, we swept down the channel timing both Greene Rapids and Whirlpool Rapids as planned!
Motoring into Forward Harbour, we found, much to our surprise, two boats already anchored. And shortly after, a boat we recognized came in... Verstovia with Paula and Mike on board. We had met them two weeks ago at the Laughing Oyster and talked about the timing for getting to the Broughtons. We dinghied ashore for a hike across to nearby Beesborough Bay, an alternate anchorage in south-east winds. A walk on the beach then an early night. By nightfall, the anchorage had swelled to eight.
Early next morning I checked wind conditions at Fanny Island... calm at 0600 hrs so off we went, down Sunderland Channel and out into the glassy calm waters of Johnstone Strait. Five hours later we were turning into Havannah Channel and immediately into Port Harvey. Arrival in The Broughtons!!