"So Dorothy, what's our next adventure going to be?"
10 July 2019 | Elfin Cove, Alaska (or in Aussie:
Ten years ago, June-July 2009, we brought MV DavidEllis across the North Pacific, from Hong Kong to Juneau, Alaska. Dorothy and I had been in SE Asia for three years following our retirement from SCSO, living in China, Hong Kong and the Phillipine Islands, with many visits to Macau and one to Malaysia. There's plenty of detail from that voyage and our Asian adventures on the blog in previous posts. With a crew of the ever-lovely Ms Dorothy; former workmate Kirk and his son, Justin; fellow Banzai Bozo, Jim; my former doc, Craig, and rescued Tong Gau ("village dog") Rusty who was about 12 weeks old, we departed HKG 31 May, after months of preparation, and headed east across the South China Sea intending to pass between the north end of Luzon Island, PI and south of Taiwan into the Pacific proper. Days later, as we were heading into Luzon Strait, a Navtex weather warning convinced us to backtrack and go north through the Taiwan Strait and over the top of Taiwan, where the weather predicted 36 hours earlier for Luzon Strait, hit us and turned us into a cartoon-bathtub-boat; dropping completely into troughs with mountainous waves towering above us, then rising up on a peak and being blown/spun anywhere from 60-150 degrees off the rough course we were attempting to maintain, hand-steering in pitch-black skies, punctuated by strobe-flashes of lighting going off all around us second-by-second, with all electronics disconnected in the hope of saving them from being fried by the lightning. Then a puppy, Rusty has never forgiven me for that night, at one point squeezing between my legs for security, then pissing on my feet. Truth be told I wasn't sure which of us had pissed ourselves, as I was as frightened as he.
Apparently we survived that night, to arrive in Ishigaki, Japan the next day. Five days of adventures there and we continued on up the chain of Japanese Islands on the Pacific side, experiencing another lightning-strobe squall off the entrance to Tokyo Bay, and a few days later, creeping through thick fog, into the port of Kushiro, on the island of Hokkaido. Five days of rest, refueling, repair and resupply, making new friends from th S/V Wooshie, and the departure of Dorothy and Justin, saw Kirk, Craig, Jim, Rusty and me heading northwest along the Kuril Islands, Kamchatka Peninsula and into the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea. We stopped for twelve hours or so at Cable Bay, Tanaga Island to wait out some weather, and on departure that night, were knocked down and held down by a williwaw - Katabatic wind of 100 knots or better. DE stayed watertight; the John Deere stayed on its motor mounts and we spun on the surface until our bow was pointing into the wind (and back towards the island) allowing the boat to pop back up. We motored against the wind back into our former anchorage, the wind disappearing as soon as we were under the cliffs. Something else Rusty's never forgiven me for... explains why he's a grumpy old dog today.
After cleaning the broken crockery and a check of the engine room, we continued up the Aleutian chain to Dutch Harbor where we cleared US Customs, paid duty, did repairs, refueled, discovered Alaskan Amber, made a friend who we see semi-regularly here in SE AK today, and continued eastbound for mainland North America. We stopped briefly at Kodiak Island to check weather and talk with the harbormaster who did NOT mention that all the local boats went UP along the coast of the Gulf of Alaska, rather than straight across latitude 58North to Cross Sound, the northernmost entrance to the Inside Passage (our planned track).
Contrary to the forecast of moderate wind and seas, we got our butts kicked for three days, with a big beam swell and bigger head seas, sometimes one climbing ontop the other and going right over us without bothering to break on the bow. In the middle of the second night, the fore-stay on the starboard paravane stabilizer pole let go, causing the pole to crumple like a paper soda straw with the chain and 75 pound Kohlstrand 'fish' hanging off the center stern, swinging under the rudder and prop as DE hobby-horsed into the big head seas. We couldn't stop the prop, we'd have broached and rolled, and couldn't leave the situation as it was, risking the chain fouling either the rudder or propellor. So, with as few rpms on the prop as possible, Craig on the helm, keeping the bow into the waves, I went down onto the swimstep and hauled up the stabilizer ('fish') hand over hand by the slippery chain, against the resistance of the stabilizer shape and the forward momentum, like a mother pulling a car off her baby, knowing that if I didn't succeed we were in very big trouble. I did it; we pulled the other 'fish' in too and wedged ourselves into corners for the next 24 hours as one couldn't stand or move around on anything but one's butt as the boat rocked and heaved, but continued onward towards Cape Spencer and inside waters. Oh, and I passed out on the floor of the aft cabin for 6-8 hours, from adrenalin exhaustion and over-exertion. And later, I remembered I'd purchased a set of bolt-cutters for exactly this situation. As for Rusty, well, I'm sure you already know what Rusty thought.
When we entered into Cross Sound, one would think the drama was done, but it turns out that entering the sound on an ebb tide with a big SW swell means surfing steep, very steep waves for what seemed hours. All those years surfing kayaks, boogie boards, IRBs and so on, paid off. But after all this, I needed a beer! We keep a "dry" boat, no booze, on blue water passages. Everybody, no matter on watch or off, needs to have their wits about them, as one can see from this narrative. So I saw on our chart that there was a little village, just inside Cross Sound, with Juneau still a full day east and we motored into Elfin Cove.
A tiny fishing village, with a single float/dock and we managed to squeeze into a space amongst the salmon trollers. Someone said there was a cafe of sorts up the hill from the float and the crew wandered up ahead of me. I don't remember now what I was doing; maybe trying unsuccessfully to call Dorothy and let her know we were safe; or maybe just taking a moment, alone, to appreciate that we'd done it, brought the good ship DavidEllis across the North Pacific to the USA. Anyway, eventually I followed the boys up to the Coho Cafe and when I walked in the proprietress asked me where I was from? In Asia, I'd always answered, "San Francisco", as that provided a universally recognized landmark, rather than saying a small town in Sonoma County, California, but I realized I was 'home' so said, "Oh, some little town in northern California; you've probably never heard of it". She replied "try me, I know lots of towns in northern California" and I answered, "Sebastopol". The woman became excited and asked a string of questions without taking a breath or waiting for an answer "how long have you lived there? who do you know there? did you go to school there?" As she went on, I tried to imagine how to answer all her questions at once and when she took a breath I said "Analy High School; Class of 67". And she started screaming and jumping up in the air, yelling "me too! me too! I'm Shirley Mello!" And she was / is Shirley Mello, from Dorothy's and my high school class, and Dorothy's grammar school, who we had not seen since the day we graduated. Somewhere I have a black and white picture of Dorothy and Shirley together in their Campfire Girl or Bluebirds uniforms.
And that's (kinda) how we ended up here, now -- working in Elfin Cove. Clearly it's Shirley's fault, or MaryJo's or any of the folks we've met here during our summer SE AK cruising visits. Who that guy was last winter who agreed to go back to work, I don't know, but would like to have a serious conversation with him. Actually, Dorothy and I agreed, for up to 18 months (15 now, but who's counting?), for me to run the community-owned fuel dock during the summer and the community generator during the winter, while Dorothy is now the postmistress for 99825 and outstation agent for Alaska Seaplanes out of Juneau.
Today is the first full day off I've had since April; most are 12 hours of (often quite physical) work. I'm aching all over like I recall from double days training weeks before a college football season or the next day after a full day kayak-surfing in the rocks or the end of a 3-day rugby tournament. But I'm much older now than then and don't bounce back quite so quickly. Looking forward to September when things slow down. I frequently hear Tennessee Ernie Ford in my head singing, "sixteen tons". But for all of that, it is very interesting to be in this one place, watching it go from winter hibernation to summer full-on activity. We've spent extended times before in another, larger, SE Alaska town -- portions, or all of three winters, working on the boat, "on-the-hard" (out of the water). This is a bit different, as then we were mostly secluded away from the community, single-mindedly working on the boat. Now we work all day in the key 'choke-points' of the community, chatting every day with the larger portion of people here at any given time.
Living here has echoes of other times and places in our lives -- living on the boat in Bodega Bay; working as the resident deputy sheriff on the north coast in the '70s; my high school and college years living in Camp Meeker. Like small communities everywhere, there are characters and factions; conflicts and kindnesses.
After the decades of deep involvement in Sonoma County community life and government, due to our careers in law enforcement and 9-1-1, the ever-lovely Ms Dorothy and I were very fond of that element of our cruising life which allowed us to stay awhile in various places, but sail away before becoming part of the soap-opera. Now, apparently, we are main characters. "Stay tuned for previews from next week's exciting episode of: " ". I haven't decided what to call it yet, but I do think I hear the professor calling me, something about Mrs Howell being chased by a crocodile.
PS: some have asked about Rascal, our other Hong Kong street dog; where was he? Rascal is younger than Rusty. On a (airplane) trip back to HKG for the 2011 World Rugby Sevens Series, we met Rascal, courtesy of our HKG veterinary friend, Tony. You can read about Rascal's adoption from HKG to Wrangell AK in blog posts back in late April and early May 2011. The key piece of information is that Rascal got to fly from HKG to AK, avoiding all the drama described above. In the eight years Rascal's been with us, Rusty's never accepted him as an equal, full member of the crew; no doubt, because he hasn't 'earned it' the way Rusty had to, suffering his way across the North Pacific.
Log of the Salish Sea
18 March 2019
We've made an early start northbound this year. Here, once again, is our number one crew, Capt-Capt Wade Biggs (aka the notorious Mr Figgs) with another of his Fishwrappers to tell the tale:
Log from the Salish Sea aboard DAVID ELLIS, March 2019
Seattle, WA to Elfin Cove, AK
With apologies to Steinbeck for my title; I’m currently reading The Log from the Sea of Cortez. And my title isn’t accurate. We will be heading far north of the Salish sea before this particular adventure is concluded, nearly a thousand miles on the inside passage. Due to the difficulties in transmitting or receiving large files in BC and kkkAlaska I’m asking that any replies you may wish to send, and please do - I’m always excited to get them, be sent as originating messages and NOT as “replies”. Please start a new email to WadeBiggs@gmail.com (capitalization doesn’t matter) rather than use “reply”, or worse yet, “reply all”. If you use “reply”, my original message and any accompanying photos will unnecessarily be retransmitted back to me, and I will be annoyed. If you use “reply all” everyone else on this large mailing list will be annoyed at you too!
Departure day. David and Dorothy, whom I’m sure all of you know from previous FishWrappers, are heading to Alaska again this year. But unlike previous seasons in Southeast Alaska this one is starting much earlier than normal. D and D have agreed to work for the town of Elfin Cove for the next 18 months. The town is providing free moorage for DE and enough salary to make it worthwhile, they say, but they’ve not yet endured an Elfin Cove winter - I’ll be interested in their thoughts this time next year. Dorothy will be postmistress for the duration, an official employee of the USPS, and an agent for a local floatplane service in the off season during the winter. Alaska Seaplanes operates two trips a week from Elfin Cove to Juneau in winter, and several round trips a day in the summer, which necessitates their own full-time agent for a few months. David will run the fuel dock. But his largest responsibility will be to keep the diesel generators operating that supply the town’s electricity. Elfin Cove wants them there by April 1st. I think they understand that’s an unrealistic date considering DE had been undergoing maintenance and upgrades this winter and was in a considerable state of disassembly, but R2D2 (Rusty and Rascal, the dogs, and Dorothy and Dave) have told them we will be there as soon as possible. “We,” in this case, includes me, a somewhat reluctant crew who had every intention of staying home this summer for a change, and getting several projects done around the house. Those include finishing trim work remaining from the remodel done over the winter, building a camper in the interior of my panel van, doing some maintenance and modifications to my own 21-foot boat, cleaning the tools and leftover materials out of the house, and generally putting my life in some kind of order. Little projects.
Chaos appears to reign supreme, however. I was asked two months ago to help move the boat north in March. Having good intentions of getting some of my own projects done, I declined. I’ve been up and down the inside passage dozens of times, and every year the same thing happens: in the fall, I return, happy and replete with new Northwest memories, but glad to be back home and no longer feeling the pull of Alaska. The thought of a breaching whale or a bear scavenging under rocks on a beach brings a smile but no particular desire to do it again. Been there, done that. Later in the fall the fast-approaching holiday season keeps me occupied and time seems to fly. After the new year, life’s pace slows and I’ll get a few projects done, or at least started, but then Spring approaches. People begin talking about their boats, or working on their boats, or actually using their boats, and I begin to be drawn in. That breaching whale in the life insurance TV commercial evokes a stronger emotion now than it did late last year. My resolve weakened and I agreed to go, after some negotiations. The original plan was to leave mid-week but the boat was nowhere near being ready. A revised plan was to depart on Saturday the ninth of March. It was then that I agreed to go with them provided that we could leave on Sunday instead. I badly wanted to attend a ham radio event in Tacoma on Saturday, a kind of electronic flea market called a “hamfest” held once a year. David and Dorothy agreed to depart the tenth and I was defeated in my argument for staying home.
In the manner of these things our departure from home port didn’t resemble the plan at all. Somehow another task had to be done first, another item located and stored aboard. I had driven my van to the Tacoma hamfest early Saturday morning. In the afternoon on the way back I looped by David and Dorothy’s condo in Ballard, north of Seattle, and we filled the truck with duffel bags, boxes, sacks and sacks of dog food, an exercise machine - two, actually, dog beds and all manner of items needed for eighteen months in Elfin Cove. Riding the Seattle ferry and feeling a bit like the Beverly Hillbillies I delivered three people, two dogs and a household of goods back to the marina in Poulsbo where the David Ellis had spent the winter. While this pile of stuff was being stowed I called around to several marinas inquiring as to the current price of diesel fuel. The recording at Poulsbo was good news: theirs was the cheapest price of any nearby marina, twenty cents a gallon less expensive, and it was close by. Eventually we cast off, hours later than we had hoped, and motored over to the Poulsbo fuel dock where we discovered that they were out of diesel fuel, something the phone recording neglected to say.
Plan B - we’d stop at Port Townsend on the way north and pay the extra hundred dollars that that twenty cents a gallon cost us and get our fuel there. But we arrived after the fuel dock had closed for the day and had to spend the night. Already we were a day behind schedule, short a hundred dollars in additional fuel cost plus fifty more for moorage, and had only gained about thirty miles out of the thousand to go. If there was an upside to this, it’s that we got to have breakfast the next morning with two friends of ours who live in the marina on a seventy year old wooden tugboat they’re restoring. Ben and Hillary are both thirty-something and have put years into this old classic. The last time I saw Hillary was a year ago. She was hobbling around with a cast and crutches. She had slipped off the last two rungs of a companionway ladder and landed hard on one foot, tearing her Achilles’ tendon, and apparently this is a serious injury. She’s just finished her course of physical therapy a year later and is walking gingerly without crutches for the first time. She said that as she was checking out of therapy for the last time the nurse was laughing. Asking why, she was told that, according to the therapist’s records, Hillary was their most accident prone patient - this was not her first visit. Failing to see much humor in the situation, she asked the nurse why she was laughing. The nurse said, “According to your chart your middle name is Grace!”
Breakfast consumed too much valuable time, in my opinion, compounded by the requisite stop at the tugboat to examine the progress made toward restoration. Ben is an excellent marine carpenter and it shows in the quality of his work - but there’s so very much of it to do in a 60-foot-long 70-year-old wooden tugboat with no operable engine. The two of them swung by our slip in their elderly Subaru and drove us to the restaurant. My breakfast was superb - Seafood Omelet with big flavorful shrimp and generous clumps of crabmeat, and I’ll have that again sometime, but the morning’s ceremonies of food, fuel, and fraternity delayed our departure from Port Townsend until noon. Once under way we crossed a flat calm Strait of Juan de Fuca, threaded our way through the Gulf Islands, and by 7pm we were side tied to the Canadian customs pier in Sidney, north of Victoria. The whole marina was deserted and hardly a light showed in any of the hundred boats moored there. There was a cold drizzle under low clouds and nobody was around to check us in to the marina. But the direct phone line on the pier to Canadian Customs was working and Dorothy, as usual, handled the formalities for us. We’re used to this process and to what is required of us. Our three passports were open in front of her, ready for her to read passport numbers and other info when asked. When she reached the agent in Ottawa on the phone he asked for the vessel’s documentation number. Hearing it, he asked, “Is this Dorothy?” (We’re all listening on speakerphone.) “Yes.” “Is David with you?” “Yes.” “Is Wade with you?” “Yes.” “Anyone else?” “No, but we have our two dogs.” “Are their papers current?” “Yes.” “Do you have any weapons aboard?” “Yes, two shotguns.” (We carry one whenever we land the dogs ashore in the wilderness, usually twice a day.) “Are these the same two shotguns that you declared last year?” “Yes.”
“Okay, welcome to Canada. You folks are good to go.”
We are stunned. Entry to Canada is simple and invariably pleasant but the brevity of the process this time caught us by surprise. No reading of passport numbers - he didn’t even ask our last names - no forms or $50 annual registration for the weapons, and what concerned us the most, no authorization number was issued, to be printed out and ScotchTaped to the pilot house window attesting to the fact we entered legally. Tempting fate, we asked about that. Not having a clearance number made us uneasy. No worries, we were told. “If you’re stopped just tell them to call Ottawa and we’ll vouch for you.” What about the inspection and the $50 fee for the shotguns? “Listen- it’s late and it’s raining and Sidney is a long way to drive. Nobody wants to go there tonight. Have a nice cruise.” And that was the end of that.
So now we are in Nanaimo, British Columbia, on the way to the northwest end of the inside passage, to Elfin Cove at the west end of Icy Strait. It’s supposed to be a quick passage this time. No time for lingering in scenic anchorages or interesting towns, and Nanaimo is one of the most alluring, but we shouldn’t be here at all. We had, in fact, passed it by an hour before in the middle afternoon but increasing winds and building seas prompted us to turn around for a short downwind run back to shelter. By the time we made the decision the wind had increased to 25 knots on the nose and the tide had turned to oppose the wind, producing steep faced short period waves that threw spray completely over the pilot house as we butted into them. I went to the forward cabin to retrieve something and was almost lifted off my feet by the plunging bow. Back in the wheelhouse David asked “What do you think?” I said that if it was just him and me we could press on and make some additional distance that afternoon, but we had Dorothy and Rusty to consider. Dorothy had already retreated to the aft cabin, cocooning herself under the blankets on her bed, and Rusty, no sailor at all, tunneled so far under the pile of foul weather gear on the floor of the pilot house that only his tail was visible. “Misery is optional”, I said, and David repeated “Misery is optional” as he put the wheel over and reversed course. The change in the ride was immediate. No spray flew over our heads. The bow stopped plunging and the boat ceased shuddering from burying itself in a wave. Waves, coming from behind now, lifted the stern smoothly, slid forward down the sides, raising and lowering the bow gently. With the wind behind us the noise decreased noticeably, and our speed increased from five knots to seven and a half. Thirty minutes later we were in the shelter of Nanaimo Harbor, calling the harbormaster (wharfinger, in Canada) on the radio for a slip assignment. Happy as I am to be in Nanaimo, a charming place and undoubtedly my favorite town on the entire BC coast, my mood is tempered by the knowledge that this will be the briefest of visits, just a port in a storm. There will be no time to visit the ramshackle second-hand book store where I’ve found so many treasures in the past, nor time to search out Nanaimo Bars in the bakeries - look them up on the internet. Nanaimo has a floating restaurant done up in a tropical island theme complete with plastic palm trees, and reachable by one’s own boat or a water taxi. The town has miles of improved waterfront walks and trails, and a real antique cannon that acknowledges noon with a bagpiper and a bang and an expanding cloud of dense white smoke. I will enjoy none of these since tomorrow’s forecast is favorable and we will depart at 6:30. Time and tide, you know...
We left Nanaimo on time and with little fanfare, picked our way through the remaining small islands in the area and set out north on the open waters of the Strait of Georgia. This day was as beautiful as the previous day had been awful. The remnant of wind from the day before was light and had reversed direction overnight, coming now from astern and easing us along our way. The sun was out and as the day progressed the wind died out completely. We cruised through mirror-flat water, surrounded on all sides by distant snow covered mountains. For the first time since leaving Washington the dogs were outside curled up on the foredeck basking in the sun. There was a lot of marine traffic to keep us interested on this busy water route. It’s herring season and the Canadian purse seiners we’re out in large numbers, pursuing small fish. Large ocean-going ships passed occasionally, some going north, others, south. The largest we saw that day hailed us on the radio to ask politely if we could squeeze a little further to the left so he could pass us from astern. The data stream on our computer indicated that he was just under a thousand feet long, 984 feet to be exact, with a 164-foot beam. We were happy to get out of his way. Fish processing vessels heading to Alaska for the season passed us too, we being the slowest vessel out there. Of the variety of vessels we saw on that day, actually on the whole trip so far, one type had been conspicuously absent - pleasure vessels. We were alone in that regard.
We made Campbell River at seven o’clock, just before sunset, and found an empty spot on the marina pier to tie up to. There’s a restaurant/pub at the head of the pier that we like so we treated ourselves to a rare meal out. Nobody was feeling like cooking dinner and washing dishes. Afterwards, we rearranged a few chairs in the cabin for “movie night”, something we frequently do before going to bed. This trip we’ve been enjoying episodes of Boston Legal in the evenings. Also aboard is the complete collection of MASH and of Northern Exposure as well as a couple hundred DVDs of movies. We wouldn’t want to be bored, after all. There’s nothing as satisfying after a hard day’s cruise than sitting in front of the diesel stove in the cabin, watching a movie and enjoying a Nanaimo Bar - yes, we found some before we left.
Tomorrow we transit Seymour Narrows (Look it up - it’s very interesting) about an hour north of Campbell River. Our timing for the transit must be carefully calculated for slack water, when the tide is neither rising or falling. Otherwise the immense volume of water that must pass through the Narrows each tide could be dangerous because of its speed and the eddies it generates. The wrecks of two hundred vessels lie at the bottom of Seymour Narrows. Personally, I’m not overly concerned; David and I have made dozens of transits here over the years. We’re cautious, and besides, the Narrows is not quite so dangerous as it was when the majority of those wrecks occurred, before the underwater top of Ripple Rock was blown off with the largest non-nuclear explosion in the history of the world. Still, the transit could be “interesting” this time, not for the actual passage through the narrowest part, but for the approach. We must leave Campbell River early enough to arrive at the Narrows at slack water. That means we will be fighting the considerable current still flowing southward right outside the marina breakwater. With the wind forecast to be blowing 30 knots from the south in the morning that means we will have that wind-against-tide situation for about an hour and a half as we approach. It will be a rough ride until we make the transit, then the tide will be turning and we’ll have wind and tide behind us for the rest of the way to Port Neville.
Time to go. The wind is howling out of the south as forecast, and frosty whitecaps are visible beyond the breakwater. After we leave Campbell River it may be a few days before I have connectivity again.
Passage through Seymour Narrows was anticlimactic. Our tidal current calculations were correct, just the way we like things to work - but it doesn’t always for reasons we’ve never figured out. The hour’s ride from the marina at Campbell River to the Narrows wasn’t bad at all in spite of the whitecaps all around. The wind was from behind but the waining tidal stream still flowing from the north lacked the energy to pile the waves up very high. It did knock a couple of knots off our speed but we had allowed for that and arrived at the Narrows right on schedule at slack water. Twenty minutes after transit our speed began to pick up as the current reversed direction and soon we were cruising at seven knots with the throttle reduced a bit, saving fuel. The fuel flow gauge indicated just one gallon per hour and speed over the ground varied between seven and eight knots the rest of the afternoon, topping out at ten once in Race Passage shortly before we arrived at Port Neville. Incidentally, I got the timing wrong once, northbound in HONU, and encountered a fast southerly current in Race Passage. HONU went slower and slower, and I kept pushing the throttle higher and higher, and soon the engine was running wide open. I knew from sea trials that at wide open throttle HONU could make a little over eight knots, nevertheless, I watched the speed over ground drop to near zero at times. It took an hour and a half that day to pass through Race Passage, a distance of about three miles. This afternoon, by getting it right, we did it in twenty minutes in a vessel with nearly identical performance.
Port Neville was little changed from the last time we were there last fall, except the pier is a bit more decrepit. The pier was installed decades ago by the government when Port Neville was a thriving logging camp, long before I first stopped there. In my early trips through Johnston Strait, long after logging had been abandoned, there was a population of two living in Port Neville, in the log cabin near the top of the pier: Lorna and her teenage daughter Erica. Both came aboard SILVER GIRL, bearing homemade chocolate chip cookies. Over decades Lorna has become legend, welcoming cruisers overnighting at a pier conveniently located a day’s cruise from anywhere on either end. In the height of the summer season there’s usually six or eight boats stopping nightly, sometimes having to raft up to each other - it’s not a large pier. In a conversation among Northwest boaters it’s not unusual for Lorna’s name to come up. She’s been known to walk down the pier in the evening organizing a spontaneous dessert pot luck and I was fortunate enough to be there for one. Stories of the people I met that night would fill volumes.
Lorna Hanson isn’t there any more. Several years ago she moved to Campbell River and remarried. Her daughter too is married now, and long gone. When we pulled in last night there was no light in the cabin window, no cruising boats already tied to the pier and waiting to see who else might be arriving during the evening.
Lorna’s cabin has seen occupancy since. For two years a couple representing the Coastal Mission Church lived there, running a boat up and down the Strait in the summer spreading the Word. Several years ago I wrote a FishWrapper describing the incident of the preacher and the bear, how he had to shoot a big grizzly to protect his house and wife, and how the government took a dim view of that.
I understand a couple from the Hanson family are occupying the cabin during the summer now. The Hansons have owned the property for generations and Lorna used to be the postmistress there in logging’s heyday. But this night no other cruisers joined us, no lights showed anywhere except one seen dimly through the opening to our cove: a faint flashing white light on a buoy far out in wind-tossed Johnstone Strait. It was a gloomy night and we retired to the cabin to watch some Boston Legal in front of the fire before going to bed.
We have company. I’ve been up since 6:30, keeping schedules on the ham radio in the pilot house while R2D2 still slept in their stateroom. After finishing a brief conversation with friends down south I noticed some new arrivals on the pier.
A family of five or six river otters were playing on the dock right outside the pilot house windows. After running below (quietly!) to wake up Dorothy and David I managed to get some pictures. They aren’t the best quality but I was afraid to open a window for fear of scaring them away, so the photos were taken through salt-encrusted glass. They stayed with us for fifteen minutes or so and during that time they slid across the slippery pier planks, head butted each other, knocked each other down with flying tackles, rolled on their backs and wiggled their toes in the air and generally had a good time. It was quite a show and at times we were only five or six feet away. It ended when an outboard skiff came around the point and landed at our dock. Its sole occupant was a salty character that we got to know a little after he eased himself onto the dock and opened the conversation with “I came by hoping to get a cup of coffee”. We invited him in but he chose to find a seat on the pier instead, pointing to his knee-high rubber boots and the pier-crud adhering to the soles.
At first I didn’t know what to make of him. Returning from the galley with a hot cup of tea - none of the three of us are coffee drinkers, and we have none aboard - I listened to him talk a while. He lived alone, across the estuary that formed the sheltered Harbor at Port Neville. In spite of his sourdough appearance his speech revealed an educated man. He said he’s lived here since Erica was a baby, and she must be in her thirties now. David asked him how he made his living, and he said he had been with the university in Vancouver. In his words, he was “kind of middle management”, and that was all we could get out of him about himself. He talked at length on other subjects, however. He recounted stories of the Hansons, of Lorna and Erica in particular, and of other people who had, at one time or the other, lived here. I mentioned Chet (the preacher) and the bear, and he reacted to that. “Did he mention me when he told you the bear story?” I said no, no mention of him at all. He said “I killed the bear. And I got fined for it.”
Now, this is a totally different story than the one Chet told us a few years ago, and that I related in a FishWrapper at the time. According to Chet, the bear charged him from the woods across the lawn as Chet stood on his front porch. He even pointed out to me the spot on the lawn where he killed it, about 15 feet from the house. He elaborated by explaining that when the rangers came they couldn’t find the blood any more because “the rain had washed it all away.” Our new friend Ron gave us a different story. According to Ron, there was some excited chatter on the radio about a bear over at the Hanson place; he also heard two gunshots. Ron grabbed his rifle and took his skiff over. Chet met him at the beach and said he had shot the bear twice but only wounded him. The bear had run off into the woods. Ron followed the blood trail into the woods and eventually found the bear, very much alive and full of fight. The bear stood and turned and put his ears back, preparing to charge, according to Ron. Regardless of the bear’s intentions it was already wounded and had to be put down, which Ron did. Ron walked back to the house, reported to Chet that the bear was dead, got in his skiff and went home, expecting Chet to do the right thing and report to Fish and Game. But he didn’t. Instead, he took his lawn tractor into the woods, put a chain around the bear, and dragged it to the beach. He transferred the end of the chain to his own boat and dragged the carcass far out into Johnstone Strait and let the chain carry the evidence to the bottom. Nonetheless, F and G got wind of the incident, investigated, and fined both of them for, essentially, not reporting having shot a bear. As reported in that FishWrapper several years ago, Chet was penalized further for “taking possession of a bear” when he put the chain on it and for disposing of the bear in the manner that he did. This new version of the story makes more sense and explains why the Fish and Game people came down so hard on Chet, which seemed unreasonable to me at the time.
Currents in Johnstone Strait can run several knots at their peak, but even a couple of knots can make a big difference in travel time in a boat that only cruises around seven. I’d rather have one or two added to the seven, not subtracted from it, so as usual, using current and tide tables as well as observations I’ve made over the years, I worked out an optimal departure time for this morning’s journey from Port Neville. Unlike the many times mathematics has forced us from our beds before the sun is up, this time the sums were more civilized - 9am would be ideal. The tide at Neville should start ebbing then, and the current should start flowing northward. The duration of tidal currents is only a little over six hours on average. Then the tides change, the currents switch directions, and the advantage is lost. There is imperative in the old saying “Time and tide wait for no man.”
But Ron is sitting on our dock, a half-drunk cup of our finest Earl Grey in his hand, regaling us with stories of life, the universe, and everything else for the past hour. David is on the pier with his own cup too, swapping stories with this laid-back denizen of Port Neville. I’ve been pacing the deck for the last fifteen minutes, my eye on a big log lying on the sandy beach. Not so long ago the water was lapping at the log but it’s several inches lower already; our six hours of favorable cruising conditions are shrinking. How to remind the captain of the vessel of fleeting time without being rude? I pushed the starter button and the diesel rumbled to life. He got the hint, mission accomplished.
The run up the remainder of Johnstone Strait was uneventful. Johnstone widened out to encompass the Broughton Islands, themselves a beautiful and popular cruising destination, and changed its name to Queen Charlotte Strait. True to its reputation Queen Charlotte was windy; in fact the farther north we went the windier it got. We were grateful that it remained southerly, coming from behind us, because by the time we reached Port McNeil later in the afternoon it had reached gale force, blowing at 35 knots and tearing the tops off the whitecaps. We slipped behind the breakwater at McNeil, tied up at an open space on the pier, and later went to dinner at a pub on the beach where we’ve found good food before.
There were four of us now. Mark, a friend from Ketchikan, had flown to the regional airport at Port Hardy to join us for part of the cruise. After a half hour bus ride to McNeil he was waiting for us at the pier when we arrived. It’s a good thing he was - the high winds that evening made docking tricky and an extra pair of hands on the pier was appreciated. He and his wife Leah keep a sailboat at Bainbridge Island, and Mark joined David and me and another sailor friend John three years ago in Hawaii to take a sister ship of DAVID ELLIS from Honolulu to Seattle. It’s good to have him aboard again.
Woke up this morning about 7am to the sound of the halyards rhythmically slapping the aluminum mast and before I was out of bed I was pretty sure we weren’t going anywhere today. That sound and the little jerks of the hull felt through the mattress as DE snubbed at the end of the dock lines were good indicators the wind was still blowing hard. So I wasn’t surprised later when the forecast predicted gale force winds for the next 24 hours. Our day in port was quiet but productive and we got several small boat projects crossed off our list.
More to come later. I’m resending the entire Log again as some intended recipients didn’t get the first part, and I’ll try to append some photos too.
Beautiful cruising day, Inside Passage, BC
19 September 2017 | northbound Verney Passage, west side Gribbell Island
"Whoosh!" And then it was over. Another cruising summer in Southeast Alaska finished, done, gone. "That's all folks!" We've still got three weeks of running south on the Inside Passage through BC ahead of us, good company aboard with which to share it -- Ben, Hilary & Capt-Capt Wade -- and, no doubt, some adventures still to come; but Summer's over.
It's cold enough for hats and gloves when we take the dogs to the beach morning and evening and often dark as well. This morning, anchored in Lowe Inlet off Grenville Channel, south of Prince Rupert BC, we rowed the skiff to the beach in the dark, for pee & poo patrol, finding our way back to DavidEllis by the anchor light at the top of DE's mast. The long, days of Alaskan summer have passed.
It's been a great summer! We ran one thousand miles, from Seattle to Wrangell with returning crew Clancy & Sue, during May. Dorothy and Sue had a knit-a-thon, while Clancy kindly helped me get DE shipshape after a long winter sitting at the dock. First half June, with Karen, Roger and Linda aboard (and our 5 year old grandson DJ!) we cruised Wrangell Island anchorages and ran up through Wrangell Narrows to Frederick Sound, to see humpback whales, in spite of wet and windy weather. Our Aussie boat neighbors Warren & Heather from Aberdeen Typhoon Shelter (Hong Kong) joined us for an exploration of the west side of Prince of Wales Island, last half of June. My 16 year-old niece Jaselle took her first-ever airplane trip to join us from Ketchikan to Wrangell for July 4th to Tracy Arm for glaciers. Not to mention whales and bears and otters -- oh my!
Mid-July we left DE in Wrangell, Rusty and Rascal with Andi (Knitty Gritty's roller-derby pal) and flew down to Sonoma County for our 50th high school reunion. I was originally reluctant about the reunion -- after all, there would be no one there but old people -- instead is was just a bunch of kids we went to school with. Then back to AK and DE in time for Capt-Capt Wade and Hong Kong Aussie friend Kevin to join the crew. Wrangell to Sitka, via whales, orcas, hot springs and a reunion with SV Carina who we last saw when crossing the Pacific aboard MV Shearwater, 2013
Jim and Kathleen joined us in Sitka, from where we ran back to Baranof Warm Springs and saw bears, bears and more bears along the way. A special treat for our guests, was spotting a colony of the rare and elusive Sitka flamingo. Jake, who we first met at Hebe Haven in Hong Kong (and later buddy-cruised with us in SE AK aboard his SV In Your Dreams, along with Shearwater, and Honu) joined us for a run from Sitka to Juneau, via Elfin Cove and Hoonah, which included a glorious hour with a pod of 20-25 humpbacks bubble-feeding at the intersection of Chatham and Peril Strait. And should you happen to stop by Shirley & Merce's Coho Bar & Grill in Elfin Cove for a beer or a burger, and have the urge to use the restroom, you're welcome; Jake and I installed the new, insulated-tank toilet.
Very end of August / beginning September, Dorothy, Rusty, Rascal and I dawdled back to Wrangell from Juneau, checking out areas we'd never been into before. Wrangell Harbor lifted DE out for a quick power wash and inspection by Don at Superior Marine. Don's the guy responsible for our beautiful paint job topsides and our perfect bottom (7 years after blasting and re-coating).
After the lift-out, Dorothy, the boys and I spent a couple days just catching our breath and visiting with Wrangell friends, before starting the southbound passage, back to our winter world.
Are we tired of it? Working on the boat during the winter; cruising SE AK in the summers? Not a bit. Are there other places we'd like to cruise? Of course! Our friends Ginger & Peter aboard SV Irene are now in Greenland having mostly completed a west to east Northwest Passage transit, and we'd like to do that also with the goal of a couple years in Northern Europe. For a variety of reasons that's not in the cards right now, and may not happen at all. In the meantime, we're loving what we're doing.
Winter's coming and we have a wish list of projects and improvements for the good ship DE. How far we get will always depend on time, money, energy and other unknown variables. For certain though, is that we've got an appointment at Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-operative 10 October, for a rebuild of the house charging system -- bigger alternation, bigger charging cables etc, etc.
The weekend before our boatwork appointment is the Port Townsend Kinetic Sculpture Race. We're hoping to finish our southbound passage in time for this eclectic event.
As I write this, tomorrow is International Talk Like A Pirate Day, so until we spy yer sail on the horizon, mate, I be wishing ye fair winds and bountiful booty... Arrr.