08 September 2018 | Port McNeill, BC
Still sunny, light NW winds, hot
Tug setting up a log boom for towing south.
Billy Proctor told me about sockeye fever. And in Port McNeill, we experienced it. I have learned a lot about salmon fishing on the west coast. Some from Billy directly, some from fellow cruisers, some from fishermen and some from Billy's book. I doubt I have it all correct, but, from what I have learned, this is how it goes.
The sockeye fishery is the biggest salmon fishery on the west coast. And the biggest river is the Fraser River, emptying into the Strait of Georgia through two main branches in Vancouver. The main body of the run comes in south of Vancouver Island through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. About 30% of the run come in north of the island down through Queen Charlotte Strait and into the narrows of Johnstone Strait.. just where we were headed.
The sockeye fishery is a 36 hour fishery, beginning at 1800 hrs. But what day is a well guarded secret by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. They monitor the run and determine when it is at its maximum, and the season is on. Because of the narrow waters, forcing all the fish into a few narrow channels, fishermen from as far away as Bella Coola come south, burning over $1,000 in fuel to participate. Each fisherman has a quota, and there is an overall quota. The sockeye run goes in cycles. Every fourth year is the biggest, and this was year four.
We motored across Queen Charlotte Strait in flat calm waters, with about 1/2 mile visibility in fog. As we were on our first leg heading south, we were disappointed to not be sailing. All the way north we motored into headwinds, so we are looking forward to some nice sailing as we head south, but today, our first southern day, no luck.
Port McNeill has two marinas, one municipal and the other private. We had arranged a slip at North Island Marina, the private one. It has the only fuel dock in town and we wanted to fill up. We got into our slip with no trouble and asked about fuel... “well, maybe tomorrow.” After registering, we watched as boat after boat pulled into the fuel dock, all fishing boats taking on 1,000 gallons each. Later we finally figured out that they were filling up in preparation for the opening, only days away.
We had booked our slip for two nights... even all the slips for recreational boaters are fully booked... a busy spot. Next morning, we took a ferry to nearby Malcomb Island, and its main community of Sointula. A very interesting history.
Early in the 20th century, a group of Finnish settlers who were employed in coal mining on Vancouver Island decided to establish an egalitarian community where all were equal . They settled on Malcomb Island and named there community Sointula, meaning “harmony” in Finnish. After a few years, to no ones surprise, it petered out. But a few settlers remained and today it is a combination of the original settlers, fishermen, summer residents and aging hippies. We had an excellent lunch at Coho Joe's. Then we borrowed bikes from the tourist bureau and biked a few miles down the shore.
Back in Port McNeill (a 20 minute ferry ride, free for BC seniors) we headed for Port McNeill's finest restaurant, Northern Light. It took a few minutes to convince our waitress that we wanted to see the wine list (You have to order the whole bottle!), but the expense was worth it, with the Halibut Neptune, a Bearnaise sauce with shrimp and crab... delicious!!