16 November 2015
After 3 days and 4 nights hunkered down in Shearwater, MV DavidEllis and crew are ready to roll on down the road. Weather reports for the Queen Charlotte Sound opening suggest a lull coming up Saturday 14th and possibly Sunday, before ramping up again with storm force winds and big seas. So this morning we are moving down to Pruth Bay, Calvert Island. There we'll be poised to get across the QCS opening. Once south of the south tip of Calvert, we'll be exposed to the Pacific wind/wave from this system that's been beating things up, for about 5-6 hours until we can get shelter south of the north end of Vancouver Island.
The run down to Pruth was uneventful. We left Shearwater early (in the dark again) so that if by chance we got an opening today (Friday) to make the QCS crossing, we could. It became apparent though, from the peeks through various channels at the outside waters, that it was literally roaring out there and we would not be crossing today.
We've stopped at Pruth Bay most of the north/south runs we've done between Seattle and SE AK. It's a beautiful, sheltered, easy in/out bay with a real gem -- the beach on the west side. What was once a fishing lodge is now a research institute -- http://www.hakai.org -- and there's a half-mile or so trail thru to the beach. The folks at Hakai have always been very nice about using their dock for our dinghy and walking thru to the beach and this time was no exception. I had a conversation with the caretaker who said the winds the last couple days (while we were in Shearwater) were 81kts at the dock (inside the bay) and 115kts up at the lookout on the hill (fully exposed to the west coast)... Yikes!
We walked out to the beach; well actually between the just passed high tide and storm surge, there was no beach. Just howling wind and sets of waves running over the top of each other. That would be fore-shadowing for our crossing...
Back to DE; cleaned up on leftovers for dinner and watched a few episodes of the series we've been watching -- West Wing and The Wire -- then early to bed for a 0430 wake-up.
Dinghy Rs to the beach for a quick p&p, then hoist and secure skiff and outboard before lifting anchor and crawling out of the anchorage towards Fitzhugh Passage which opens into the top of Queen Charlotte Sound. We can see the amber loom of a high pressure sodium light from a vessel traveling north in Fitzhugh, meaning that someone crossed QCS in the night... a good sign.
It's still a couple of hours until we run out of Fitzhugh into QCS; time for dawn to slowly reveal what we've been peering at with radar and plotters; time to listen to the computer voice from Environment Canada run through the station and buoy reports and forecast for our passage and time to dig info out of the Sirius satellite weather system feeding into the chart plotter. Digesting all this information, it appears there are still very large -- 7-8 meter -- swells offshore (created by the big low pressure system encompassing all of the Gulf of Alaska, but for the route across QCS we are taking, these appear to be reduced to a "moderate westerly swell" according to reporting stations. Winds have reduced significantly to a tolerable SE 15-25. The easterly component is a disappointment as it will not be hidden from us as we come into the shelter of the north end of Vancouver Island, but is forecast to shift northerly in the early afternoon which is good. Wind waves (entirely separate from the "moderate swell" already mentioned) are reported as 2-3 foot. So, looking good.
So good that I left Wade and John to handle things in the pilot house and went below to catch up on some sleep. I could tell we'd moved into the Sound, out of the protection of Calvert Island when things started rocking, but went back to sleep until the motion became distinctly uncomfortable.
I went up to the wheelhouse and what a sight; such a confused sea! At least two big (3-4 meter) swell sets from different directions; one on our starboard beam. Is this the "moderate west swell" described in the station reports? Overlaying the competing swells were local wind seas, also from multiple directions, currently still SE and the forecast shift to the north never happened. All this motion had DE lurching one way and another, like a punch-drunk fighter being slapped around by a powerful opponent. The starboard paravane fish was in the water to help with the beam swell but instead of surging along beside the boat, the fish was trailing behind in its track due to having picked up a load of kelp and therefore of no real effectiveness (other than to slow our speed). And that was the other thing, in addition to the confused surface water, an obstacle course was laid on, made up of logs, chunks, trees, wads of kelp (some so large they deserved a zip code). Running the boat here wasn't a matter of bracing in til it was over. Instead, at least two pairs of eyes were required to spot obstruction ahead in the churned up sea and somehow avoid one thing without running into another. Too much fun!
At least one thing we could do to get a bit of stability back and that was to throw the port side fish in the water and clear the kelp from the starboard -- easier said than done. But after a bit of exercise on deck while lying ahull in that mess, we had the kelp cleared and were again underway southbound across QCS, with as much dignity as we could muster.
Eventually we made it into Christie Passage, protected by Balaklava Island where we pulled the pvane fish, then continuing down Goletus Channel passing Port Hardy and finally docking at Port McNeil. Along the way we were treated to a long, lovely sunset, first with pink, blue and lavender pastels then all possible shades of gold.
P&p ashore for the boys, then up to a pub for the two-legged crew. No cooking or dishwashing tonight.
Up at a reasonable hour and departing Port McNeil in squally sunshine with rainbows, we continued south into Johnstone Strait past Telegraph Cove and Robson Bight -- storied locations for Orca watching -- toward Port Neville. A largely uneventful passage despite wind opposing current and the, by now, familiar floating obstacle course.
A pleasant overnight tied to the dock at Port Neville although the nighttime visit to shore with the dogs involved a climb up the ramp at 60degrees due to the 15' tidal drop.
The plan was to run the 40 miles or so down to Seymour Narrows to catch the flood slack, before continuing on to Campbell River before stopping. Because I was pre-occupied with getting the thrust-bearing greased, I did not listen to the weather until we were underway and a couple miles out of our anchorage. Uh oh. The strong wind we were currently experiencing, on the nose, is forecast to increase to 45 knots! Well crap; this isn't going to work. The next possible harbor, Kelsey Bay, just a couple of miles down the channel, is unprotected from the SE wind according to the Coast Pilot. So we hung a 180 and headed back to Port Neville where we are now tied up, out of the wind. No hope of making it to the workboat show in Seattle 18-20 November now, but that's all part of the deal. Semper Gumbi.