Skidegate Channel: entrance to West Coast of Queen Charlottes
17 August 2009 | 53 09.9N, 132 08.6W
Photo: beacons in Skidegate Channel.
To get to the West Coast of the Queen Charlottes, we had to pass through Skidegate Channel, famous for its shallow waters, fast currents and twisting channels.
At the Coast Guard station in Sandspit, Steve had updated our chart and learned the best time to go through the channel was on a rising tide of at least 9ft.
Skidegate Channel consists of three parts: East Channel, West Channel and the deep Trounce Inlet in between. The East Channel is the tricky one: two and a half miles of narrow winding water marked with 9 beacons and two ranges. At places it is only 60 ft wide with recorded depths of less than 1 m at low tide. Extensive drying banks and rocks line both sides.
Because the Skidegate Channel connects Hecate Strait and the Pacific Ocean, the maximum tidal ranges are different on the two ends: 7.8 m on the east side and 4.5 m on the west. That leads to tidal currents as fast as 7 knots.
We left the marina at Queen Charlotte City at 11:00 in the morning, after some last minute shopping. It was a gray day with no wind and we motored through the islands of Skidegate Inlet to reach the channel. As we neared the channel, the wind came up strong from the west and the sky turned dark. Ahead we could see a field of green and red navigational beacons appearing to be randomly scattered around the channel. We had to pick our way through them in a seagoing slalom course, putting the red beacons to starboard and the greens to port. Sounds simple until you realize that sometimes the next green is to the right of the last red and then the next red is to the left of that green. With 4 knots of current with us and 5 knots of boat speed we were going at 9 knots -- a speed that didn't leave us much time for making sure we had the right beacon!
In what seemed like only a few minutes we were through and in the quiet waters of Trounce Inlet. Then we were entering West Narrows. Here the current was against us (both narrows flood into Trounce Inlet from opposite directions). With only 4 beacons and a wider channel, West Narrows was easy, we just had to stem 3 knots of current.
We exited West Narrows just a s the rain started and made a dash for Armentiere Channel where we anchored for the night. One danger was behind us, a whole lot more waited ahead.