Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Curtain Falls


From London England to Victoria, British Columbia Canada
March 30, 2013 to October 30, 2013
At St Katharines Marina, London

Traversay III in front of the Empress Hotel ... photo by Rae Audette

Monday, 28 October 2013

Seymour Narrows, Discovery Passage

This morning's start was at 5 am - even earlier than usual. We wanted to get to Seymour Narrows just north of Campbell River at slack water. This is the brief moment four times a day when the tidal current stops and reverses. On two of those occasions, the current reverses to become a favorable current for our direction of travel.

This may all seem a bit uninteresting but in a stretch of water where the tidal currents regularly exceed 10 knots and reach 16 knots on occasion, contrary currents - or even the eddies and whirlpools associated with strong fair currents are not to be trifled with. Seymour Narrows has possibly the strongest tidal currents anywhere in a passage regularly used by large commercial freighters, ferries and cruise ships.

An interesting bit of trivia regarding Seymour Narrows relates to Ripple Rock, a mid channel shoal with 13.7 meters of water over it. Before the 1950s, this rock had considerably less water over it and, with the fierce tidal eddies capable of setting large ships onto it, was a serious danger to ships transiting the rapids. The Canadian government engaged hard rock miners to tunnel down from the shore, out to mid channel and up into the rock. It was then filled with enough explosives to make the largest planned non-nuclear explosion to that time. The big event in which the 1/2 mile wide channel was filled with an eruption of ocean and rock was all shown in glorious black-and-white on live television.

Seymour Narrows, along with other tidal rapids at Yuculta, mark the northern limit of the cruising grounds typically travelled by recreational boats from Washington State and southern British Columbia. They also seem to mark the beginning of "civilization" with all its busyness, towns and cities.

Thus as we break out into the Strait of Georgia, we are seeing lots of boats - more than we've seen at any time since Scotland.

But our last eagle was yesterday.

At 28/10/2013 14:56 (utc) our position was 50°08.38'N 125°21.27'W

Sunday, 27 October 2013

A Sea Lion City

Male Stellar sea lion

Humpback whales breathing in Sync

We passed a sea lion rookery yesterday - there were masses of animals lying on the rocks like big over-stuffed yellow sausages - communicating in a conversational sort of way. The murmur of barking with occasional yaps by the females was underscored by the hefty WOOFS of the males. Sea lions are designed by Nature to appreciate the chorus they're hearing and contributing to by having exposed external ears. This is an advantage (along with that of 'speech') denied to seals who are additionally condemned to slithering along on their bellies. Sea lions can use their flippers to propel themselves over the ground albeit in an ungainly sort of way - especially when compared to their fluency and ease in the water. Even with ears and easier mobility aboveground, I still wouldn't want to be a female sea lion. The males are disproportionately huge - they stare down at the lowlier members of the group in a near-sighted, imperious sort of way and are quite capable of squishing the female during mating.

Speaking of mating, we saw a number of whales yesterday. Two different duos of Humpback Whales seemed to be synchronized in their breathing and diving. This led us to wondering whether we were watching a courting ritual, or whether this was just a female with her large adolescent child. We just don't know enough …

The Hand of Man inevitably displays itself in an unseemly and ugly way when set alongside the formidable natural beauties of the area. We know we've now moved south out of the Wilderness and into Civilization. In our anchoring spot Friday, someone had planted their claim in an ugly duet of orange and yellowed mooring balls. We're not immune to the same desire to extend the colour radius beyond forest green, blue and grey (especially if it's been raining for a while). I guess we're fortunate to be able to exorcize it by scuba diving and finding the other colours of the rainbow underwater - there are oranges, purples, yellows and fluorescent pinks to be seen in the collection of sea stars, encrusting algae, tunicates and cup corals.

Tonight we're surrounded by a Shantytown - complete with a garbage dump (no residents at this time of year). This is in an anchorage which we remembered as pristine twenty years ago. Luckily it was dark shortly after we moved in, and it will be dark when we leave.

Rose star
At 27/10/2013 14:18 (utc) our position was 50°34.22'N 126°41.94'W

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Inside Passage

No part of the of the 9000 nautical miles or so from London to Victoria is quite like any other. And so the last 500 miles, from Prince Rupert to southern British Columbia, are different again.

There are few weather worries; and if weather were to threaten there are a myriad of places to hide. With a few exceptions, the passage between high mountainous islands is deep from shore to shore such that the mariner must be inattentive indeed to collide with rock. Even the exceptions to this general rule are well marked and charted. In fact our principal worry has been the large [and therefore heavy and solid] floating logs washed down the steep slopes by mountain streams. A collision with one of these can [and does] cause serious damage to small vessels. It is this hazard, along with the greater complexity of coastal navigation compared with offshore, which discourages us from travelling at night and thus halves our average speed.

The feeling of sailing a passage on this coast reminds me of treks I made long ago in Nepal. Every day we rise before dawn and move until dusk; in Nepal it was a walking pace; here it is a medium jogging pace. There is a seemingly endless supply of miles such that, mid-trip, the start seems far into the past and the perception is that the voyage, made up of an endless succession of days, need never end. Aboard our boat life is simple - there is no money and no shopping - our only daily concern, among the trees and mountains, is to add more miles to our tally.

We have seen eagles and whales each day; towns only on some days. Even those were very small towns and we stopped at none of them. We prefer the ease and simplicity of anchoring in small tree-cocooned wilderness coves to rushing around rigging lines and fenders for docking. Having lots of fuel, water and food aboard, we need nothing.

In a way we move too fast but we have other things to do in Victoria. We are reminded daily that in our nine years of voyaging we have seen few cruising grounds as rich in beauty and possibilities as this one. ... we will be back this way soon to spend more time and to travel more slowly.

In a few days we have to move on to another part of our lives but there will be a twinge of disappointment when the lines are tied to the Victoria dock and Traversay III comes to rest.

At 25/10/2013 20:31 (utc) our position was 51°12.86'N 127°50.42'W

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Grenville Channel

After a spate of welcome meals out, provisioning, banking and fuelling the boat we left Prince Rupert considerably poorer on Monday at noon - heading south in the sheltered waters of the Canadian portion of The Inside Passage. This fabled cruising ground originates in Olympia Washington and continues north to such destinations as Glacier Bay and Skagway Alaska. Although this was Traversay's third visit to Alaska, we have always travelled at the height of the tourist season and opted to miss the more heavily-travelled Glacier Bay and Juneau area in favour of Prince William Sound and points west.

Back in BC we're now on familiar ground having made our way back from Alaska in 2002 along this route. That was a fairly fast passage with little time for enjoying hot springs and animal sightings. This time we're again feeling that our trip will be very hasty. We rise at 0700 and were on our way in the pitch dark at 0730. Today is our only 'early' day (we stopped at 1500) but we've scheduled 12-hr days from now on - leaving and arriving in the dark.

It's beautiful country. Suddenly after an almost tree-less summer we're surrounded by beautiful tree-covered mountains. We know that this vista is particularly appealing to cruise ship passengers, and that the off-side of many of these beautiful mountains would be clear-cut. The loggers in this country also have to make a living.

We are resolved to come back and spend more time - scuba diving and enjoying the trouble-free and safe anchorages.

I've planned a meal of Prosciutto-wrapped halibut suggested by Frida Audette. Of course, we don't have BC Liquor Store's recommended wine to go with it, but the halibut (a gift from our friend Larry Babcock in Alaska) looks perfect. So off I go to the galley.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Prince Rupert

Langara Island sits of the northwest corner of Haida Gwaii guarding the southern edge of Dixon Entrance.  As the Langara light flashed its greeting around midnight, the winds died away and our motor, having been freed of various threats, plant or human, took over from the wind to move us toward port.

The smooth inshore waters eased the tasks of tidying up ourselves and boat as we coasted the last few miles toward Prince Rupert.  Tree covered islands, lighthouses, grey wave-lashed rocks and mountain shores began to surround us and reminded us that the land we had left nine years ago was as pretty as any we had seen since.

Finally, seventeen hours after we passed that first bit of Canada, we tied up at the Prince Rupert Yacht Club docks.  Shortly after, officials of the Canadian Border Service Agency quickly and efficiently completed customs and immigration formalities and set us free to wander into the town.

The first warm place we have been in ages!

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Fooled by a Plant

Bull kelp & Larry
1. Outside Forward Locker: we remove the 2 large orange and 5 small fenders (used to protect us when tied to other boats or a dock) and stow them safely on deck so Larry can remove a SCUBA tank from the bottom of the locker; Inside forward Cabin: Larry removes his "wooly bear" underwear (used under the dry suit) from underneath the bed; Inside aft Equipment room: we remove his dive gear and suit
2. On deck we lie a-hull to stop the motion: Haul up lazy jacks; furl genoa sail; drop mainsail; disengage auto pilot so boat gradually turns broadside to the waves; steer rudder perpendicular to waves;
3. In the cockpit: cast off attached floating line [for safety]; assemble dive gear; Larry dons drysuit; we do an equipment check
4. Larry jumps into the water
5. AND:
ALL OF A SUDDEN: a huge Bull Kelp floats out from under the hull. It was attached in a few places by the stipe (B) which was caught on a zinc and also in the propeller. Our marine I.D. book Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest says that the "pneumatocyst (A) contains carbon monoxide and was used by coastal First Peoples as a storage container for water and fish oil." This float acted like a drum and was banging against the hull. We thought it sounded like a man-made lobster buoy! The kelp was only held in place by the motion of the boat, so once we stopped the motion it disentangled itself and floated out.

APOLOGIES: to Gulf fishermen for accusing them of leaving their gear lying around to entangle innocent sailboats!

Our book (produced by friends Andy Lamb and Bernhard P Hanby) goes on to state that the Bull Kelp is an "annual" and is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. It reaches its full size in June. It can grow to 20m (65 ft). This one did its job (giving a protective habitat for young fish and other animals).

It then decided to retire and go off-shore (just like us). And that's how we met. So we can hardly blame it!

At 19/10/2013 15:35 (utc) our position was 54°21.89'N 133°57.41'W

Thursday, 17 October 2013

One more day at sea

It is always gratifying when a passage works out roughly as you had planned it. As gales continue to pummel the Alaska peninsula every couple of days, far to the east we sit on the edge of a receding high in a perfect sailing breeze.

The winds behind us are more than we need and ahead are light and variable. We sit between in the gentlest winds able to move our boat at a good speed - 160 miles a day. As we sail east at 6 to 7 knots, the high pressure area recedes at the same speed leaving us in the same position relative to the weather system. It is true that for a couple of days, the circulation around the west of the high was inconveniently from a southeast direction. It can be seen from our track that we were unable to maintain our course and were forced up toward Sitka. But we knew from the forecasts that the wind would shift to south-southwest and again allow a course towards Dixon Entrance.

Sailing directly toward Victoria might have been convenient but I didn't feel we could count on that long a storm-free period in the autumn and, at any rate, the winds have had too much of a southerly component in them to easily allow such a course.

Absent any calms [they seem unlikely] our current plan is to sail to an anchorage on the lee [east] size of Langara Island, the south headland of Dixon Entrance. There, once again, we will sort out another fishing gear entanglement. A short SCUBA dive should serve to remove whatever is causing the odd tapping on the hull before it can mess up our propeller. We will then resume our course toward Prince Rupert, customs clearance and the onward voyage to Victoria.

So why not wait until Prince Rupert to render the motor useable again? Sailing into a wilderness anchorage presents far less opportunity for error and damage than trying to sail into a harbor and dock.

You definitely want a working motor if at all possible when arriving in the big city!

At 18/10/2013 01:50 (utc) our position was 54°40.13'N 137°44.44'W

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Getting There ...

We're on our last major passage for this season. Traversay seems to know this and is bounding along at a good pace under shortened sail. I'm quite excited about arriving at the coast and the 4-hr watches seem very long. Instead of doing anything worth-while I'm obsessively working on Sudoku puzzles. I often re-check the row of x's marching towards Langara Island. I then realize that I'm not imagining it - this endless NWP trip is nearly over (or at least, the scary bits!)

We left the Alaska Peninsula in a great hurry ... I put on a scopalomine patch but it really didn't work too well. So for the first 2 days I made myself chicken broth and rice ... these fill your stomach and yet are bland enough to keep seasickness at bay. Actually, we're on "Shower Tack" (you have to look back a few months to find OUR definition). Although we undoubtedly need it, we're loath to try having a shower as we'd be a mass of bruises in this rocky sea. Being on S.T. means that it's nearly impossible to work in the galley. Everything stored away plus the food itself while you're preparing it wants to jump a few feet to port every time a big wave hits. So we're keeping food prep as simple as possible. I couldn't face fish the last few days, so we've had chicken pesto pasta every night. Today Larry's going to attempt a fish dish (and I'll attempt to eat it).

As far as our food supplies go, my calculations were fairly good. We've really made huge inroads into the tinned food lockers. Only the things we don't want to eat are left (lots of tomatoes with olives in them - somehow the olives are getting on my nerves because they overpower the taste of every dish rendering all the same!) There's lots of tinned fruit - that's because we've been able to find tinned mandarins in every grocery we've visited. Our unwanted leftovers will go to the Food Bank in Victoria.

We have altogether too much frozen spinach and beans. We discovered that in all of the North fresh vegetables are available so we've eaten them in preference.

I'm still missing some items that didn't make it to King Cave ... fresh garlic, capers and green Thai curry paste. But these form part of OUR individual "likes" and are probably less likely to form a part of the diet of the King Cove population.

Our joy at making way towards the East was blemished when we noticed an odd, erratic bumping noise under the hull. We've decided that we probably ran into some more free-floating fishing gear away out on the Gulf. So IF the wind dies, Larry will have to go under in dive gear and try to remove it ... or if the fine winds continue, we'll anchor in a deserted spot at Langara I. and he'll operate there. We really can't start the engine and risk more damage to our newly installed engine parts. I suppose even isolated Alaska is now as prone to these menaces as the more crowded South coast of England. We've come to dislike crab-pots and Larry has sworn off shellfish as a result.

In good news, we seem to have crossed our track (from earlier trips to Alaska in 2002 and 2003) so we have navigated around the world.

At 16/10/2013 15:31 (utc) our position was 54°15.72'N 143°32.81'W

Sunday, 13 October 2013

The last offshore?

On leaving King Cove, the pleasant sheltered-water sail to the northeast was slightly marred by the need to find shelter from a coming storm. We wanted to be out-of-town so we chose uninhabited Coal Harbor. This small offshoot of Zachary Bay seemed, from our reading of the Coast Pilot book, to have the right combination of shelter and sticky mud bottom to keep us safe from Friday's weather.

Unlike many mountain-rimmed bays, Coal Harbor did not seem to promote gustiness and variability in wind direction [williwaws], but neither did it block out the wind. Friday afternoon, we decided to keep an anchor watch. That is as the night grew blacker we took turns watching chart plotter and radar to allow a rapid response if the anchor dragged and the boat started to move. Of course re-anchoring in a gale is not much fun - particularly with our damaged anchor windlass. It is better if the anchor does not move.

The wind peaked at 60 knots around ten o'clock Friday evening and then dropped to 30 knots or so by one AM. For the non-nautical reader, the wind reached 70 miles per hour or 115 km/hour! ... but the bottom WAS sticky and the anchor did not budge. The last time we saw winds close to this strength in an anchorage was at Caleta Martial near Cape Horn as we awaited favorable weather to cross to Antarctica. By two o'clock in the morning the wind had died away enough for us to feel secure. We canceled the anchor watch and used the rest of the night for sleeping.

Saturday morning, there were still gale warnings [as opposed to the more serious storm warnings] all along the coast. These were however from a favorable direction and, importantly, there seemed to be no storms or contrary winds predicted for the week or so it might take to get across the Gulf.

So we are now on our way toward the other side. As the week unfolds, time along with revised forecasts will reveal exactly where we are going: Sitka, Alaska, Prince Rupert, Canada or perhaps even north to Kodiak Island.

At 13/10/2013 23:48 (utc) our position was 55°10.00'N 155°24.91'W

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Out of the water

Boat parts in hand, we had been waiting for a suitably gale-free day to move Traversay III over to the boat lift and extract her from the water.

Tuesday the 8th was not promising having the same gale warnings as every other day save the evening of the 10th. Nonetheless the day dawned calm. We rushed over to the harbor office and inquired of Charles the harbormaster if this might be the day. In the time it took him and his crew to prepare the travel-lift, we had untied our lines and were hovering in front of it.

Of course there WAS another gale in the forecast and no sooner had the straps of the 150 ton lift tightened on our paltry 18 ton weight when the gusty wind and rain returned. These were to be with us until launch time.

All jobs take longer than expected so it was with pleasure that we accepted a RAINBOW GYPSY dinner and drink invitation. RAINBOW GYPSY was similarly on dry land though for a somewhat longer course of maintenance and was parked not far from where we stood high and dry in the embrace of the lift.

Our work went along methodically with easily resolved problems until we came to the removal of the cutless bearing [yes, that IS the correct spelling]. This water-lubricated bearing is a cleverly contrived assembly of bronze and rubber that provides near friction-free support to the propeller shaft just forward of the propeller. It is pressed into the tube from which the shaft emerges with no part of it protruding to allow a grip for extraction.

Bob Stauffer, a machinist at the cannery, offered help. This is the same friendly, generous Bob who took us out many evenings on bear-watching expeditions. Bob made a tool, part of which was pushed through the center of the bearing to grip the far end. The bearing was then extracted smoothly and efficiently with no trauma to the surrounding metal. My subsequent insertion of the new bearing involved no such finesse - a large hammer pressed the bearing home with an intervening block of aluminum to soften the blows and protect the new bearing.

Further assembly went smoothly with the last task, aligning the engine to the propeller shaft just being completed as the wind died away.

Certainly we could use a new bottom painting and our propeller is a bit worn and needs attention but these are not tasks for autumn Alaska and must wait for springtime British Columbia.

A fine day here is not to be wasted so no sooner was the work completed and a few final farewells made when the harbor staff started the motor on the lift and gently moved us back toward the water. A few quickened heartbeats accompanied the lowering into the water as we checked that the parts WE had installed below the waterline did not leak! Then some quick tests were made and off we went toward the east.

Of course with a forecast like this:

400 PM AKDT THU OCT 10 2013


.. we may just be hiding somewhere until Saturday.

At 11/10/2013 01:03 (utc) our position was 55°16.35'N 161°34.24'W

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Photos of King Cove

This is a beautiful place ... Happy Thanksgiving to our Canadian friends and relatives - October 13-14 ...
On the road to Cold Bay

Harlequin Ducks in the lagoon

Bud - still chartering at 80+
Bud's boat - the Sea Wolf

Fishing gear

Jeremy Mack - our generous neighbor

more Harlequins

Saturday, 5 October 2013

A Reunion

Jurgen, Claudia, Janine, Jean, Mary Anne & Larry
We had a great dinner aboard last night after LA BELLE EPOQUE and ISATIS sailed into King Cove this week. The weather outside has been gloomy, rainy and windy but everyone's spirits were sunny after having a good rest, unhampered by thoughts of anchor and ice watches. We looked at Claude's dramatic videos of our passage through Bellot Strait, we sang the Northwest Passage Song and we ate some GREAT food. Our fishing neighbour Jeremy Mack had earlier given us some gorgeous salmon, so we started off with a smoked salmon appetizer. The main course was gingered pork and rice - our cruising friends Alec and Cherry (RAINBOW GYPSY) brought a pea/lentil salad, Claudia made a great banana cake with Isatis bringing some great wine. ACALEPHE was in our thoughts because we added the superb Dolce de Leche given me by Maud Francoeur. Thanks, Maud - we all agreed it was a fabulous touch and fitting end to a great meal.

la Belle Epoque
Today the other NWP boats will be travelling onwards to the East ... TRAVERSAY III and GYPSY are left behind - waiting for parts.

Claudia and Jurgen

Janine & Jean

Cherry and Alec Yarrow

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Diverse Divers

Can YOU spot the bear?
 We will be here somewhat longer and it’s hard to keep from being irritated at the delay. Even very calm people would find themselves having to tap funds of as-yet-unexplored patience in this wait for boat parts. Had they arrived in time, the last three days would have been perfect for both the haul-out and repair of Traversay and the trip towards Kodiak Island.

We’ve been fortunate to have been invited along by our friend Bob to share his nightly routine. Nearly every night he goes out on the road towards Cold Bay and checks for bears. We’ve accompanied him twice and have been rewarded with two bear sightings. Time passes quickly when you’re out watching animals going about their lives and you develop a lot of patience watching for bears in this country.

Sea otter
I’ve also been watching the sea otters who live in the nearby lagoon. I don't know if you know this little creature - Larry loves bears, but I think my favourite is the sea otter. At one time I was a volunteer at the Vancouver Aquarium and I could watch them forever. They lie on their backs cracking open sea urchins (their favourite food) with a rock, catch food by diving and spend a lot of time cleaning themselves. They are amiable and VERY social. They chatter away and scold each other. Sea otters like to connect themselves to each other with long chains of kelp ... sometimes a number of them are all lined up.

Of course, our sea otters at the Aquarium had been endangered by the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Sea otters (unlike seals or whales which have large quantities of blubber or fat under their hides) have an extremely luxurious and multi-layered fur coat with a layer of hair next to the skin. The coat was attractive to humans because of its warmth so they were over-hunted for a time. They froze to death once they were covered in oil and could not clean it off. The Aquarium managed to rescue and rehabilitate some of them.

Chain of sea otters
It was really fun to watch them teaching their babies how to dive. Just watching was a patience-creating exercise. I was learning to dive at that time myself and it was a new skill for me in my mid-40s. I turned out to be a slow learner. Perhaps you already know this, but when you dive in a drysuit you have to expel all the air from your suit in order to go down ... for me my attempts sometimes failed and I would make a foot-first ascent up ... surrounded by air bubbles as if I were a cork popping out of a champagne bottle. The sea otter babies had similar problems and many of their first attempts were rewarded by failure and lots of bubbles!
Antarctic divers
Among divers we have met, the divers we met in Antarctica were the most patient. They wore fluffy down underwear to fight the 0.5C water temperature. Once down,  a 1-hour ascent was necessitated in order to get rid of all the air they'd added to pay for only 10 minutes of timeat the bottom. They were gathering a rare little marine ascidian used to fight carcinoma.