Reflections by Kirk 9-20-13
20 September 2013 | Garden Bay, Pender Harbor
Reflections by Kirk 09-20-2013
Princess Louisa Inlet has been described to us as a must-see destination. The guidebooks have lots of quotes from distinguished people about the unspoiled beauty. Boaters we know have told us that we really should go there, as it is quite special. The only ways to get to the inlet are by boat or floatplane. We had about three weeks until we would be able to take up our winter residence in Victoria and decided to meander our way up the Inlet. A nice 20-mile sail from Nanaimo across the Strait of Georgia was not to be as we only had about a 7-knot wind right on the nose.
The trip up Jervis Inlet was a really nice surprise. The Inlet runs about 40 miles or so into the mainland BC interior in a zigzag kind of pathway. As we traveled up the inlet, the hills changed to mountains and we were in a true fiord. It made me wish that I had paid more attention to geology in high school. Timing the trip is critical as the entrance from Jervis Inlet into Princess Louisa Inlet, called Malibu Rapids, is a short, narrow, S-shaped area where currents can reach nine knots. So the idea is to transit the rapids at slack, when there is little or no current running. Being a bit conservative, we arrived before the predicted time of slack current and circled the area for about half an hour. We saw three enormous log “homes” complete with John Deere tractors, satellite dishes, arrays of golf cart type vehicles, and a floatplane on a hydraulically raised “dock.” Lots of money involved here.
Once we made it through the Rapids and saw what lay before us, we were mostly silent with the occasional “WOW.” We thought the beautiful fiord that was Jervis Inlet was particularly beautiful. Princess Louisa Inlet is a world apart. It is about five miles long and probably averages one-half mile wide. Peaks that totally surround the Inlet rise five to six thousand feet high and then drop almost vertically to water’s edge. Even though it is mid-September, snowfields still sit atop some of the higher elevations. As we motored towards the head of the inlet, we saw major sections of mountainside with shear, treeless walls of rock hundreds and sometimes thousands of feet high. Even though it had been dry for a while, several waterfalls dropped thousands of feet. They were not freefalling thousands of feet, but dropped a few hundred feet and then ran down the shear rock faces for some distance sometimes disappearing behind a forested area only to reappear again near water’s edge. With the jagged peaks, snowfields, and waterfalls, one could get a neck injury from constantly looking up and down and from one side of the Inlet to the other. Our destination at the head of the Inlet was the BC parks dock adjacent to the famous Chatterbox Falls. As we rounded the last bend of the Inlet and the dock came into view, we were stunned. An expanse of shear rock walls thousands of feet high and probably a few miles long covered the view ahead and to the left of us. There were three white ribbons starting so high up that we needed the binoculars to identify them as waterfalls. These waterfalls eventually combined together to fall into the Inlet at the spectacular Chatterbox Falls. To make the whole situation even more appealing, only one other boat was at the docks. We have heard that in the height of the cruising season as many as thirty boats, sometimes rafted three deep, could be tied to the dock with many other boats anchored in all of the few available spots in the Inlet. We shared all of Princess Louisa Inlet with only one other boat. Our boat was positioned with the stern facing the Falls near the ramp leading to the shore. This was perfect as every time we sat in the cockpit we were looking at the Falls and as the population changed at the dock during our four-day stay, everyone going to shore had to pass by us, a very social situation.
There were two times of slack water at Malibu Rapids during daylight hours each day. Twice each day the mix of boats at the dock would change. After our first night, there were normally six to eight boats at the dock; and, due to our position near the ramp to shore, we met all of them. As we are reasonably social people, the normal hellos, where did you come from, how long are you staying, where are you going next conversations often grew into long conversations, sometimes extending to beverages in the cockpit. Along with dingy explorations of the Inlet and walks through the trails, we spent a wonderful five days and four nights basically doing very little other than having fun. The mix of people who came and went was interesting, from a two-boat convoy of folks from the deep south, to a group of six women who went to South Eugene High School together decades ago, even a couple whom we had met a year ago on our dock at Shishole. Some came in one afternoon and left the next morning and others stayed longer, but we met them all.
The area near the dock and Falls had two campsites with picnic tables and fire pits plus a large massively built gazebo type structure with a large fire pit in the center. During one of our dingy explorations, Kris and I discovered a large supply of downed, dry wood and an idea came to mind. The next day, armed with my trusty folding saw, we cut up a dingy load of wood, went back to the dock and announced a fire after dinner at one of the picnic sites. This was also the night of a full moon. I have always enjoyed sitting around a fire and it turns out that I’m not alone in that regard. Six of the eight boats had full representation at the fire and beverages were flowing. The six ladies from Eugene did not make it. At last report they were still on their boat loudly recreating high school pep cheers with many empty wine bottles lying about the cockpit. There is something about a campfire that allows people to relax and brings out a heightened ability to connect with others. In this case, we created a sense of camaraderie in that we all shared something special together. The hellos and conversations the next day seemed more heartfelt. Kris and I had cut up enough wood so that it was not all burned. So the next day many people went coaming the forest for more wood to supplement that which was left over for an even bigger fire under the gazebo. And it was good.
Even though we had seen many waterfalls in the inlet, we were told that after a big rain we would see maybe hundreds of white ribbons of water cascading from the heights. Kris was quite anxious to see this and started a rain dance around the fire. She was high stepping, arms flailing, and hair flying while many kept a cadence with voices or beating sticks on rocks. We all had a good laugh and one-half hour later the rains came. Didn’t matter to us as we were under the gazebo roof, the fire was blazing with plenty of wood left. Eventually, we all drifted back through the rain to our boats. All planned to leave early the next morning to catch the 0800 slack at Malibu Rapids. By 0630 there was enough light to see and nearly everyone was out on the docks gazing up to bear witness to innumerable waterfalls falling from up on high and listening to the roar of the now huge Chatterbox Falls. Sometimes a plan just really comes together.
So there was a convoy of five powerboats and two sailboats through Malibu Rapids at 0800. The powerboats soon separated from the sailboats with their ability for greater speed. We were all on a mission to find good shelter as 40-knot winds were predicted for the next day. Some of the powerboats had the ability to make the eighty-mile trip to Nanaimo including crossing the Strait of Georgia. Kris and I did the time, speed, distance calculations and figured that we would have arrived well after dark so went to plan B which was to stop in Pender Harbour. That turned out to be a very interesting stop.
Pender Harbour is a relatively small natural harbor with several separate small bays. The entire area is developed, as there is a road, which connects to Vancouver. As we traveled past the various bays, we heard amplified music coming from each and noticed a variety of fair type tents. Turns out that we happened to be there during the Pender Jazz Festival, a really big deal. We managed to find an area with room to anchor in one of the innermost bays with a pub at its head. A trip to shore led to dinner and a night of very fine music with the couple from the other sailboat that we knew from Shilshole. We had planned to do the same thing the next day while waiting out the gale force winds in the Strait of Georgia, but things turned out differently. At about 0430, pounding rain and the sound of wind in the rigging awakened me. Several more boats had entered the anchorage after us, and unfortunately, we were downwind of them all. We had recognized several of the obviously inebriated dancers in the pub as being fellow boaters sharing our anchorage. I was nervous enough to get dressed and pace our boat, keeping an eye on our position in relationship to the rest of the boats to see if anyone may be dragging their anchor. The sun finally rose, all was secure, the rain had stopped, and it appeared that the winds were easing. I was in the cockpit on the cell phone with my brother when the rain restarted and furious gusts of wind began tossing boats around within the anchorage. Told him I had to go and went below to don rain gear. When I came back up about two minutes later, I saw a sixty-foot steel sailboat about to make contact with a boat about sixty yards in front of us. Things were getting tense. Fortunately, there was crew on the deck of the steel boat. They had the engine running desperately trying to maneuver themselves out of danger. It took about twenty minutes for them to extricate the boat from the anchorage as the gale force gusts continually forced their bow into directions contrary to where they wanted to go. The next four hours turned out to be the most serious test of our anchoring gear ever. We swung wildly but held position, as three other boats broke loose all without striking any other boats. Eventually, the wind settled down to maybe fifteen to twenty knot gusts, but with the lack of sleep and the adrenaline filled tension of the afternoon, we were both too exhausted to go back to the pub and listen to another evening of excellent music. Bummer, but we renewed our faith in the Rocna anchor and the rest of our anchoring system.
We now have about a week before taking up residence in Victoria and plan a leisurely trip back in that direction. Understand that the Seahawks obliterated their last opponent and it looks like a promising season for them. Looking forward to watching the games at a nice little neighborhood pub a few blocks from our marina location in front of the Empress Hotel in Victoria.
Hold that line, hold that line, push ‘em back, shove ‘em back, waaay back!