Voyages North

June 5, 2019. Johnstone Strait

07 June 2019 | Posted at Port McNeill
Elsie Hulsizer
Photo. Orcas in a tide rip. Note the treacherous rocks behind them.

A cold breeze blew down Johnstone Strait, right into Osprey's cockpit. Even in my Salmon Sisters long underwear I shivered. It was hard to believe that just yesterday the sun had been hot and we wore T-shirts. It seemed all it had taken to change the temperature was to transit Seymour Narrows.

Our trip to date had been easy, if tedious at times. The engine thrummed steadily as we motored through calms and light winds. We'd crossed the Georgia Strait from Silva Bay to Pender Harbour several days ago, then yesterday crossed it again going from Pender Harbour to Discovery Passage. Arriving at Seymour Narrows an hour before the tide turned, we went on through, hugging the shore to avoid the strongest current and the waters above Ripple Rock. The only rough water we encountered was the wake from a large powerboat.

That night we anchored in Otter Cove at the corner of Discovery Passage and Johnstone Strait. This morning started with calm winds and broken clouds. But now, just past 11:00 am, the promised southeasterly winds were coming up.
Southeasterly was good, we were going west.

We rounded up and raised the main, then rolled out the jib. Winds built to 20-25 knots but the seas were flat so sailing was easy.

Off to starboard a large splash caught my attention. What was it? We were near Robson Bight where the orcas hang out so perhaps it was an orca. But as I watched, a large black tail rose out of the water, then came down again hard in another splash. Over and over it happened. This was no orca. It was a gray whale lobtailing (tail slapping).

Behind us several boats exited the Strait to go up Havannah Channel. For a minute I wished we could follow them. The idea of a quiet anchorage with the heater on below appealed to me. But it was just barely noon and it would be a shame to waste this following wind, which was still building in strength.

We rolled in the jib halfway, then Steve climbed to the cabin top to put two reefs in the main while I steered. It was hard work to keep the boat on course and I was glad to turn the wheel back to Steve. Now I only had to jibe the jib back and forth as the wind shifted (not always easy).

White water was now visible ahead of us as we left Johnstone Strait. Tide were rips forming where the flood tide from Blackney and Weynton Passes merged with the flood of Johnstone Strait in Broughton Strait. We were flying through the water at 8-9 knots but plodding over ground at only 2-4 knots. Short steep seas topped with white foam rose in front of us, sometimes breaking over the bow. Steve struggled to keep the boat straight.

To port a large log rode the currents. Steve steered starboard to keep away from it but despite his efforts, Osprey rushed towards the log. Steve steered port and we passed the log to starboard -all in a flash.

I hung on as the boat bucked and rolled through the waves. When would this end? Not very soon judging from our speed over ground. I looked to port where dangerous rocks lurked. Were we far enough off them? I blinked with surprise as a sleek black fin rose out of the water just off our port, joined by another one, falling and rising in unison. A third and maybe a fourth followed. It was hard to count them when they appeared and disappeared so quickly. The orcas swam alongside us for several minutes, diving and surfacing, sometimes swinging away toward shore only to swim back. They finally turned back as we approached McNeill Harbour.

The rips flattened but the wind still blew. Thinking it would be too windy to go in the marina, we planned to lower the sails and anchor. But as we passed the marina, the wind diminished. We called the harbor master who said they had a slip that would be bow into the wind. We lowered the sails and motored into almost calm water inside the marina. It was 4:30, the end of a long day. Our struggle was over.
Comments
Vessel Name: Osprey
Vessel Make/Model: Annapolis 44 sloop
Hailing Port: Seattle
Crew: Steve and Elsie Hulsizer (author of Glaciers, Bears and Totems and Voyages to Windward)
About:
Elsie and Steve Hulsizer have sailed northwest waters since arriving in Seattle via sailboat from Boston in 1979. [...]
Extra:
2017: local cruising including South Puget Sound and San Juan Islands 2016:north up West Coast VI, across QC Sound to central BC coast 2015: trip to SE Alaska 2014: Seymour and Belize Inlets through Nakwakto Rapids 2013: SE Alaska and back. 2012: from Seattle up the west coast of Vancouver [...]
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