Rounding Cape Scott: Winter Harbour to Millbrook Cove. July 26, 2016.
12 August 2016 | posted at Port McNeill
Photo: Cape Scott at the North End of Vancouver Island with the Cox Island in the background.
“West Coast Vancouver Island. Gale Warnings in Effect.“ With a forecast like that, what were we doing in the ocean heading north around Cape Scott?
We were facing the most challenging passage of our trip, from Winter Harbour in Quatsino Sound north up the west coast of Vancouver island, east around Cape Scott and northeast across Queen Charlotte Sound to Smith Sound, 75 miles in one day. We needed good weather and hoped for good winds, but not gales.
When we first read the forecast, which included increasingly strong northwest winds every day for the next four days, we assumed we would have to delay our passage north, perhaps even for several days. But then we looked closer at the next day’s forecast and read “Northwest winds 10-20 except northwest 20-30 south of the Brooks increasing to 25-35 in the afternoon.” We were going north, the Brooks was south of us; we’d already rounded it four days before in 10 knot southerlies. What we had read was a typical west coast of Vancouver Island forecast. The winds always blow stronger south of the Brooks and north of Estevan. I had always assumed that when the forecast called for gales on the north portion of the west coast of Vancouver Island, that whole coast could expect gales, with even higher gales north of the Brooks. But now we realized that wasn’t always true.
We left Winter Harbour at 0800, motoring out the Sound in a flat calm. Far ahead to the south we could see the imposing hump of the Brooks capped with a cloud. With seas so calm we took a shortcut between Kains Island (where Quatsino Light is located) and Cape Parkins to the north. Sports fishing boats zipped by us, weaving among the rocks, their erratic motion more a danger to us than the rocks themselves.
As we emerged from the passage and headed northwest up the coast, long low swells rolled in but only a slight chop disturbed the water surface.
We motored north against a light northerly. Humpback whales spouted in the distance. Steve pointed out the islands off Sea Otter Cove gradually coming into view. Two-thirds of the way up the coast, Sea Otter Cove was our escape hatch. We could always duck in there if gales did come up. But there was no need.
At 1040 I sighted Cox Island off the north tip of Vancouver Island. Seeing it made the distances seem smaller, more manageable. What had seemed like an impossibly long journey was in our grasp. At 1252 Cape Scott light was abeam. We set course for Egg Island Light. At 1400 we set sail on a close reach. Half an hour later, we rolled the jib in; there wasn’t enough wind. But as we neared the coast, the wind increased and the clouds disappeared until soon we were sailing 7 knots on a brisk broad reach. As we approached Egg Island, the light tower at Cape Caution came into view. We looked at it and laughed. When going to and from Alaska, Cape Caution always seemed an intimidating milestone.. From out at sea it was inconsequential, a mere bump. Amazing what a change in perspective does.
We screamed into Smith Sound, spray flying and the boat heeling, as the evening light lit up the islands and hills behind them. Dropping sails at Millbrook Rock we motored into Millbrook Cove. Five other boats were ahead of us, but we squeezed into a corner. We weren’t back in civilization but we were no longer on the wild and isolated west coast of Vancouver Island.
We’d made the right decision to brave the forecast and learned something about the weather patterns on the coast.