15 November 2015
another great Fishwrapper from Cap'n Wade:
November 14, 2015
After several days at Bella Bella we were ready to be on our way, but as you saw in the last Wrapper the weather had us pinned down. The upside was a chance for a few meals we didn't have to cook ourselves, a badly needed chance to do some laundry, and a friendly encounter with a local eagle, but the downside was days lost.
Not only is it getting later into the winter weather season, but David and I want to meet some friends at the Seattle Marine Expo a week from today. It's the area's commercial boat show and differs considerably from the pleasure boat shows that I enjoy too. Anyway, it's an excuse to meet friends and talk about boaty stuff and have lunch together in Seattle. If we push on southward we'll probably be able to attend the last day of the show on Saturday.
So we left Bella Bella yesterday in the predawn darkness, feeling our way carefully out of the harbor and into the main channel. Bella Bella is an Indian reservation and isn't very large; I think the town has a population of about 2500. The one marina, Shearwater, is on an island across the bay from town, and I took this opportunity to ride the small passenger ferry the marina operates to have a look around, something I've never done before on the dozen or so times I've made this trip. I found little there besides some homes and a very small grocery store and a newly built cultural center, which unfortunately was not open that day, it being a national holiday, Rememberance Day, analogous to our Veterans Day. I did find a library, accessed down a path next to the wood pile, as the signs make clear.
Friday's run through protected waters was easy and not too long. Our goal for the night was Pruth Bay on Calvert Island, which would position us at the top of Queen Charlotte Sound for Saturday's open water passage, weather permitting. (Later we found out that the wind at the Pruth Bay Research Institute gusted to 88 mph Thursday night just before we left Bella Bella, and reached 117 mph on a hilltop near the institute.) We had another motive for going there too; Pruth Bay is at the end of a five mile long channel leading westward, almost cutting Calvert Island in two. It ends in a small basin only a half mile from the western shore. The one thing there is a marine research center, privately run, but welcoming to visitors.
DAVID ELLIS anchored in front of the institute, after a passing squall.
We've been there in the summer and they're nice enough to let us walk the half mile from their compound through the forest to the beach on the west side. This particular beach is spectacular, a giant semicircle of white sand ringed by hundreds of fallen tree trunks edging the woods. It's open to the whole Pacific Ocean and our hike yesterday gave us a taste of what we would be facing today. It wasn't encouraging. As soon as the anchor was down and the engine went quiet in front of the institute, even before we went ashore, the air was filled with unrelenting thunder, the sound of booming waves penetrating a half-mile of dense rain forest. It sounded like a distant naval battle, a not altogether inaccurate description. The institute is shut down for the winter but the caretaker remembered David and Dorothy from a previous winter - there aren't many visitors this late in the year. Permission obtained - and we were off, dressed in the most fashionable of foul weather gear; in my case it was green rubber pants and jacket with a hood laced up tight over a baseball cap, the bill of which prevented the hood from falling down over my eyes. Did I mention that yesterday was full of squalls containing lots of rain and wind? Cold wind? Well, it was, and our hike to the beach was filled with more of the same, with occasional ice pellets thrown in for good measure. The dogs were enjoying themselves immensely, and we in our rubber cocoons didn't fare too badly either. Along the way I noticed two different beech trees with bark that had been clawed a couple of feet above the ground. Each had a small pile of fresh orange colored shavings lying beneath the claw marks. From the scratches on the trunk I'm guessing it was some kind of cat, but probably not a house kitty, and it was too close to the ground to be a bear. Further along the trail was some wolf scat, much as a dog would leave but colored white from imbedded fur. It wasn't as fresh looking as the scratchings, although the caretaker said a couple of wolves had been hanging around. He also warned us to be cautious on the beach and not to get too close to the water's edge. Every so often the odd larger wave would run far up the sand. I have only one picture worth sharing from the beach for several reasons, the main one being my iPhone's camera wouldn't work properly due to the driving rain and ice that kept the touchscreen wet despite my best efforts. I did mention driving rain and ice pellets earlier, right? Not to forget the wind, which had to be blowing thirty miles an hour straight in from the sea. It was a wild scene on the beach, huge waves breaking like cannon fire and scud blowing everywhere. But it's been my experience that the camera has a way of diminishing the size and power of waves, whether photographed from land or a boat - in a photograph a twenty-foot wave looks like something you'd play in with your grandchildren. Much is definitely lost in translation. So I offer this one photo from our shore excursion taken with a camera with a wet lens: a wave breaking on a rock face. Judge its scale from the full sized trees on the cliff top. Then we hiked back, returned to the boat, and snuggled in warm and dry for the night.
Saturday the 14th
This is the morning we've been waiting for, the day we will cross the last stretch of open water between Alaska and Seattle, Queen Charlotte Sound. The prominent landmark along the shore on our eight-hour exposure is named Cape Caution for good reason. We waited three days in Bella Bella for a favorable trend in the forecast, and when things started looking better we cruised south to the last bit of land dividing the ocean from the inside passage, Calvert Island. The forecast was better, yes, but that's all relative: the best weather we've seen in a week of waiting was four-meter seas and twenty to twenty-five knots of wind. So we left this morning in the dark, back out the channel through the center of our sheltering island and eventually turning south along the shore toward the south end of the island. Three hours later in the early dawn Cape Calvert slipped astern and we were finally exposed to those westerly winds and waves, right on our starboard beam. The stabilizing fish went into the water, giving a satisfying amount of roll reduction, and we were on our way across. Not only were the waves big, but there were two distinct sets of them: one from our starboard side, and another from an entirely different direction. This creates a "confused sea" and the boat behaved accordingly, lurching this way and that at somewhat irregular intervals as the two wave trains collided. But as I said, it wasn't too bad. True, objects fell from shelves and rolled across the floor, and true, I was afraid to open the refrigerator door for lunch because of concern that the contents might fling themselves out in a bid for freedom. And yes, one of the fish became so fouled with seaweed that we were forced to stop in the middle of the ocean and retrieve it, something normally done with some effort using ropes and pulleys and grappling hooks after entering calm water but done now with considerable difficulty on a rolling, pitching deck in the middle of a "confused" sea. But hey, it only lasted eight hours and lunch is highly overrated anyway. I wouldn't have missed this passage for the world. Eventually we slipped behind the protection of the northern tip of Vancouver Island, and just before entering the harbor at Port McNeil the skies, which had continued squally all day, cleared a little and we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset.
For some reason it brought to mind the phrase "Home is the sailor, home from the sea..."
Very satisfying day and a job well done.
I'd intended to write another paragraph or two before leaving Port McNeil and good internet service but as John and I returned to the boat with the morning's grocery run DAVID ELLIS's diesel was already warming up. Tonight will be spent in Port Neville, out of touch, but in a couple of days look for another Wrapper. All cruising today and tomorrow is in protected water but with a twist, so look for the story later.