Days 7-9, Prince Rupert to Shearwater
10 November 2015 | photo is approaching Bottleneck Inlet
Day 7, Saturday 7 Nov, PR to Lowe
MV DavidEllis departed PRR&YC 0500 under starry skies and crescent moon with Venus shining brightly just above the moon. Operating at night always takes a bit to get used to. We're way more dependent on instruments -- chart and radar -- than our eyes in these circumstances and that's always a bit anxious at the start. It isn't that, in this harbor situation, we can't see. But everything we see has to be interpreted: are those shore lights from the cargo terminal or the channel marker I'm looking for? is that container ship obscuring the channel marker from this angle? Does that large vessel -- seen only by its lights and currently headed right at us -- actually see our lights and when/will she turn? A target on radar seems to be approaching us from down channel, but I can't yet interpret the lights I'm seeing -- red and a white flood-lit area... oh! there's the triple white stack, it's a tug, the barge is flood-lit behind and the red indicates she'll pass us port-to-port. Small crew vessels are buzzing past and around us at two and three times our speed; I just have to trust they see us and choose not to ram us (I did check all our running lights at the dock and we should be visible to them). Eventually, we leave the confusing shore lights and commercial traffic behind and everything outside the wheelhouse is dark except for an occasional channel marker, now clearly standing out from the background -- keeping red on left, green right as we are on the West Coast heading south, away from harbor.
It remained solidly black until 0700 dawn, at which point we were well down the channel from Prince Rupert. There is no other traffic around us, we run in a narrow channel (Grenville), southbound, with steep wooded slopes on both sides, snow dusted peaks in the next layer back. There's a brisk wind coming up channel at us. That, and the current are keeping our speed over ground well below 6 knots, but the tide will turn eventually and we'll make some of this back.
Eventually it is my turn for a nap -- the rest of the crew went down either as soon as the deck was secured for sea and/or we cleared the harbor lights and traffic. I went after sunrise. Upon waking, a bowl of cereal and reassuring Rusty & Rascal that all is well, I did an engine room check -- no leaks, gauges all reading properly, temps all within range, no smoke or troubling sounds or smells, and headed outside to get one more little job done on things that had been taken apart for last winter's long boatyard work... and sprained my knee on the slippery deck! As I lay there writhing, cursing and groaning, I wondered just how many times I'd injured this damn knee starting with college football and setting chokers on a logging operation, surf rescues, fighting with suspects who did not wish to be arrested and rugby, not to mention many surgeries, braces and cumulative years of physical therapy. Oh well, this too shall pass... and there's always beer.
DE and crew arrived at Lowe Inlet, tonight's anchorage, with a couple hours of daylight left. I would have liked to have pushed on farther but, as mentioned previously, reasonable anchorages are few and far between in this area, the next one I'm comfortable with another four hours down the track. And that would involve coming into the anchorage with zero vis, still having to get the dinghy down and the boys to shore in conditions that have an increased potential for problems. So, this will do.
We're looking at an 80 mile marathon tomorrow, which will start out again at 0430. It will first require a dinghy run to the beach for the dogs and getting the skiff up and secured before getting underway as close to 0500 as we can make it. I'm hoping for a repeat of the clear skies we had this morning in Prince Rupert, at least for the initial activities.
Day 8, Sunday 8 Nov, Lowe to Bottleneck
I'm up at 0430 after being awake since 0100. Clear skies with the merest sliver of moon as we ran the boys to the shore for doggy doo-doo time. By the time we got the dinghy up and secure and the anchor raised, it was 0530. Then we crawled, on radar, Wade in the bow spotting, out of Lowe Inlet and back southbound in Grenville Channel in the dark.
0830 crossing Douglas Channel, then McKay Reach, Fraser Reach, Graham Reach...
At 1230 there is no wind and a brilliant blue sky with a few fog pockets low and cirrus streaks high. Atop the wheelhouse roof, toying with a balky antenna, a slow 360 shows nothing but flat water, green hills, snow-dusted mountains and blue sky. The temperature is even mild; winter? What winter; I don't got to show you no stinking winter. Hard to believe there's a whopper of a storm about to fill the entire Gulf of Alaska in a couple of days. Since leaving PR, we've seen only two other vessels, a BC Ferry -- FV Northern Exposure -- this morning and a local fishing boat yesterday afternoon.
1330 passing Khutze Inlet where in Jan 11 we anchored in a snow storm on a 50' deep spit with 500' of water on one side and 300' on the other.
1600 with the sun dropping behind a 3000' ridge on Sarah Is, DE glided into Bottleneck. Our only previous visit was in Jan 2011 and if you take the time to read it on our blog, you will find that our circumstances couldn't be more different than the pleasant cruise we have experienced today. http://www.sailblogs.com/member/sempergumbi/?xjMsgID=159064
Jan 5 - 25, 2011
Entering Bottleneck today, I feel like I'm about to meet Butch Cassidy and the Hole in the Wall Gang. A really great day.
After getting settled in Bottleneck, we dropped the dinghy and explored the back end of the inlet as well as giving the Rs a shore break. DavidEllis is different than other cruising boat in that we don't actually make passages -- we make "poopages" -- traveling from one suitable area for the dogs to the next at about 12 hour intervals.
Day 9: Bottleneck to Shearwater
No 0430 reville this morning; instead we had a leisurely wake up, p&p run, secured the dinghy and a lovely breakfast before departing Bottleneck into a brilliantly sun-light Finlayson Channel headed towards the town of Shearwater / Bella Bella, 8 hours away.
A couple of harbor porpoise faked a run at our bow, then disappeared. Too bad, but exciting anyway. This is DavidEllis' third winter passage between Seattle and Wrangell and each has had some challenging moments not generally experienced during the summer cruising season: operating in absolute no vis driving rain, driving snow, superstructure icing over; electronics just giving up in the cold temps; getting iced in during overnight anchorages; winter gales and polar highs driving hurricane force NE outflows. But here's the secret: each of our winter passages has had days every bit as beautiful as any day in our five summers of Inside Passage cruising.
Today's passage includes the second, and least, of the three openings that must be transited on the Inside Passage, between Puget Sound and SE Alaska. That is, open to the Pacific Ocean. These are (north to south) Dixon Entrance, Milbanke Sound and Queen Charlotte Sound. Milbanke is least, because it requires the shortest time of exposure to transit. But it is also closest to the open sea without mitigating land masses and has the extra added thrill of small passages with high speed ebb currents running against incoming swells off the open water.
Today's passage is just lovely; very similar to Feb 2014's northbound crossing of QCS lying on the trunk cabin in t-shirts the afternoon of a day that starting with blowing snow in gale force winds.
After an idyllic day of cruising, we tied up at Shearwater and (having access to wifi) took a look at the weather ahead, specifically for crossing QSC. Remember the big nasty, system we identified back at Prince Rupert, coming our way? If we left Shearwater tonight, by the time we were crossing QCS (in 8-10 hours), we'd be in 4m seas with 30-35 kts wind. So here we stay.