In Search of the Lost Spirit Bear Tour – II

Never Leave Port on a Friday

Friday, March 26

Leaving the dock was a relief – We had arrived on the evening of March 9th and here it was the 26th already. It was time to leave and get this tour down the Inside Passage underway. The desire to leave hit hard and sudden and it was fuelled by our weariness of the rain, snow, and cold temperatures – We really wanted to be somewhere warmer.

We got so caught up in the preparations to leave that the old superstition about leaving port on a Friday didn’t even come to mind. At least not until Wendi mentioned it just after we left the dock when, of all things, the GPS stopped working. Luckily it was just a matter of rebooting the Multiplexer and I didn’t have to resort to searching for and connecting the alternative GPS puck. Once that was dealt with, I put her back in gear and got back on course. Then I realized I had forgotten to turn the VHF on and attempted to do so. That’s when we remembered that on the trip from the Outpost to Prince Rupert we had found that our remote mic had ceased to be a functioning helm radio. Wendi fetched the handheld radio and on we pressed.
The thing about leaving Prince Rupert is that it takes so long to get out of the harbour and down Porpoise Channel that if you find you have to return to the dock for any reason it’ll be a full day by the time you’re re-docked. So that, in my mind, is just not an option for any reason other than the most extreme.
The other thing that got overlooked before departing was to do a last-minute check of the weather. The last forecast I’d seen indicated that today would have the last of the northwest winds that would take us across the sound and into Arthur Passage. Once we got into the sound though, the wind was from the southeast. Although, it wasn’t that bad, we were sailing close-hauled, on a port tack, directly on course and the seas weren’t terribly rough.
Aside from one fish boat whose Captain either does not know the Colregs or doesn’t understand that a sailboat is less maneuverable than a fish boat without nets in the water, it was a decent sail across.

By the time we were within a few miles of Arthur passage the wind began to come at us more directly on the nose and get stronger, so we decided on an alternate anchorage and turned west onto a beam reach and then to a broad reach and had a really nice bit of sailing. I say a bit because it didn’t take long for Wendi to pull out the Sailing Directions book and put a damper on my newfound anchorage.
We turned back toward the Inside Passage route, at which point, we were now faced with the wind directly on the bow. From then on we motored into Malacca Passage, down Chismore Passage, and into Lawson Harbour, on the north end of Lewis Island.
This anchorage would shelter us from the increasing southeast winds that were expected to reach 45 to 55 knots by Saturday morning. We anchored in 20 knots of wind streaming over the low-lying land to the south of us and it never died down at all that night. Once anchored, we were surprised and delighted to see that we still had LTE cell service and thus, internet. The most unpleasant part of the anchorage was that, due to not having a damper, our newly installed wood heater (Toklat) was unable to cope with the downdraft caused by the wind and would occasionally fill the cabin with thick smoke.

Saturday, March 27
We awoke Saturday morning to increasing southeast winds, as promised. Thanks to our “protected” anchorage, the highest wind speed that we saw was only 35 knots. This event was concurrent with the anchor alarm sounding. This was not something we had ever experienced with our 33-kilogram Rocna anchor before and it was not just a 35-knot wind but it was also horizontal rain and near-zero temperature – Bloody nasty!
As quickly as we could, we donned our foul weather gear and headed for the bow, firing up the Garth Monster on the way. I fought my way against the wind and rain, to the bow, and stood for a few minutes, hanging on to the inner stay for security as Cosmic Debris pitched violently in the waves that were being whipped up by the wind.
As the bow swung from one side to the other and back again, being blown about by the wind, observation of landmarks on either side of our position proved to be a very difficult way to get a sense of whether or not we were actually dragging. Finally, for a moment she was pinned to starboard and I could see that the bearing on the first landmarks I’d made note of upon anchoring had most definitely changed. We were dragging! Wendi jumped back to the helm and began powering ahead toward the anchor as I ran the chain up and into the locker. Despite Wendi’s efforts at the helm, we were losing ground and dragging the anchor across the harbour and toward Bloxam Passage.
Once we were completely out of the anchorage and into Bloxam Passage the anchor reset itself and brought us to a stop. Though the anchor was set, we could not stay here. Secure for the moment, we took a few minutes to reassess.

Our Drag Tracks!

At our new position, we were so far out of the anchorage that I could look out into Arthur Passage, to the east, and see the Herbert Reefs marker on the other side of Break Island. I continued bringing up the anchor but was having difficulty due to our twisted chain skipping on the windlass gypsy – The chain had become twisted due to our anchor swivel being seized up. Though I was trying, the twisted chain was thwarting my efforts and the anchor appeared to be very well set. I instructed Wendi to power ahead once again while I resumed with the windlass and then she broke free. I directed Wendi to motor back toward the head of the harbour as I raised the anchor the rest of the way.
We re-anchored just a little further into the harbour from where we had dragged with no problem. The anchor bit and set right away and I paid out a bunch more scope than the last time.
We rode out the rest of the storm without incident, save for the occasional cabin-filling belch from Toklat.

Mid-afternoon the wind lessened and moved around to a westerly, as predicted. Overnight, it would move around further to a northwest again and then increase to a gale by late morning. By then it would be time to be protected from the other direction.
In the meantime, I fiddled about with a couple of little jobs I still had on the to-do list. I installed an alternator temperature sensor and fixed the tachometer. It’s really unnerving having to re-anchor in a storm when you don’t know the rpm, especially when you also don’t know the engine temperature. That little problem, however, is still a mystery, as I was unable to find any issues with the wiring. The sending unit is less than five years old and so is the gauge.
Later on, I set about finding our next safe refuge from another impending gale – This time, we would need protection from the northwest and if the forecast timeline was correct we wouldn’t have a lot of daylight travel time between this place and whatever I could find.
The closest suitable anchorage was on the north side of Kumealon Island, at the entrance to Kumealon Inlet, about 15 nm away, in Grenville Channel. There was also Ship Anchorage, another 15 miles further south and it is right beside East Inlet in Klewnuggit Marine Park.
That evening, once the southeast wind had moved on, we started to feel some swell come in from the north and that last night in Lawson Harbour was very rollie – Neither of us slept much at all.

Sunday, March 28
Grenville Channel floods from both ends on the rising tide so we wanted to leave Lawson Harbour at low tide. All things aligned perfectly for our departure that morning. Low water was at about 08:00, just after first light and before the winds would increase. Ship Anchor was our preferred anchorage with a backup plan of Kumealon Island if the gale came sooner than expected, or East Inlet, if Ship Anchor was a bust.
We motored out of Lawson Harbour and turned south in calm conditions. A tug and tow soon appeared astern of us in the mist and ever so slowly crept up behind us. As we passed the entrance to Odgen Channel and entered Grenville Channel, he passed us to starboard in the fog. We emerged from the fog a few miles later as we motored past Kumealon Island firmly committed to Ship Anchor. Shortly after lunch, some wind came up on the stern so we furled out the Yankee to give the Garth Monster some help and Wendi took watch while I managed to get a bit of a nap.

About an hour later we turned into Ship Anchor, only to be disappointed. We have anchored in water as deep as that but only in very calm conditions. With limited scope available at that depth and the uncertainty of the strength of the impending gale, we didn’t feel comfortable there and so we motored into East Inlet and dropped the anchor in about six fathoms. This was a much nicer anchorage but would take about an hour to get back into Grenville Channel when we left.
With the anchor set and supper done, exhausted, we both fell asleep on the settee. At about 21:00 we got up and went to bed.

Monday, March 29
I got up at around 04:30 for a trip forward and while standing at the head I could hear the strangest sound. It sounded kind of like a tarp rustling in a breeze, intermittently but steadily, but we had no tarp on deck and there was no breeze. Side Note: The expected gale may or may not have happened at all. We wouldn’t know. East Inlet is a very well-protected anchorage. It is small and surrounded by big hills.
I got dressed and went to investigate the odd sounds. As I headed out to the bow I left the relative warmth of the cabin and entered a still and chilly world, lit beautifully by the full moon. I could see all the mountain tops surrounding us and even make out the sheer cliffs on the mountain immediately to the east of us. I could also see the source of the strange sound. WE WERE FROZEN INTO THE PACK ICE!
Now I know how Shackleton must have felt when his ship was being crushed by the ice off of South Georgia Island. Well okay, that might be a teensy weensy exaggeration but the ice around us must have been at least a couple of millimetres thick. As the bow of the boat rose and fell gently in the water, the ice would scrape the hull as the chain sawed its way through it. I checked our position and returned to bed.
Although I doubted I would get back to sleep, the bed was warm and before long I was out like a light.
At around 06:30 we were awakened by the anchor alarm. “Low Battery” on the phone! Oh well, it was time to get up anyway. We needed to hunt down some firewood before the tide got too high.

Just after the low tide of the morning, we put Shanté in the water, grabbed a handsaw, and headed for the beach to collect firewood. This is a beautiful anchorage but has very little beach and it is very rocky and of course, the rocks are completely covered in barnacles – very large barnacles. We landed on the best spot we could figure and tied Shanté to a log near the high tide line. We were expecting to be there for a while so pushed Shanté out to keep her off the rocks and then started our search.
Wendi found a few long branches that had already been cut by someone. They were very wet and slimy, and old, so we couldn’t immediately tell for sure what the species was. We dragged them together and I started trying to cut them with my little handsaw. This immediately proved to be futile. I had intended to buy a cordless sawsall in Prince Rupert but the only one I could find was over-priced in my opinion and didn’t even come with a battery.
We left our wood at the log that we tied the dinghy to and entered the bush. We followed what appeared to be a trail for not very long before it came to an end. With the mountains around the inlet plunging so abruptly into the water, there is nowhere to go once inside the treeline that isn’t straight up. I cut a branch off of a fallen cedar, drug it out, and added it to our cache.
I then took a little walk over toward where the creek empties into the inlet, thinking that we’d be able to walk up the creek and maybe find some dead alder. Unfortunately, a large rock outcropping made the creek mouth inaccessible from the beach.So only about a half-hour into our beach visit we loaded up Shanté with about a half dozen twisted and curly branches about 6 feet long and a couple of inches in diameter and headed back to Cosmic Debris.

Once back aboard, we hauled out the circular saw and I bucked up our soggy firewood. Most of it appeared to be alder. We brushed off the sawdust and put the pieces into a gunny sack and took it below. Wendi dug out a piece of netting that we used to have on the old lifelines when we had our dog aboard and made a net sling for drying wood above Toklat. We had stocked up with as many compressed fire logs from Rona and Home Hardware as we could get to ensure we’d have dry firewood and to dry more scavenged firewood but we were already down to the last couple of packages of that. Heat could easily become an issue, but if it does, we still have the generator and three jerry cans of gas, so we won’t go cold.
With the firewood job done, we set about once again to find our next anchorage choices. With myself on the charts and Wendi on the Sailing Direction books, we whiled away the evening and about a dozen beers.

Tuesday, March 30
I finally drug my sorry arse out of bed around 09:30 and Wendi reluctantly followed about a half-hour later. With the tide already on the rise and the rain beginning, I had a feeling that this would be a lazy day – I was not wrong.
I texted, via the Inreach, with our friend Ed just after dinner and received a weather forecast. It sounds like there’s a southwest gale going on out in Hecate Strait at the moment but it is forecast to peter out and turn to a nice 10 to 15-knot northwest breeze late tomorrow and through Thursday. We will leave at first light to ride the last half of the ebb tide south and then peddle against the rising tide for about half the way to the Hartley Bay area where we will anchor for the night. Hopefully, on Friday, we can continue on to Butedale on the early morning flood tide.

Wednesday, March 31
First thing in the morning I had to pull the generator out of the deck box and start charging batteries. The lithium house bank was fine but the old lead-acid Trojan bank was pretty well depleted. Other than that, today was a “prepare-to-sail” day so we spent the morning tidying up and getting a few minor issues fixed up. After lunch, I prepared a sling to lift Shanté while Wendi ran the water maker. Then, just before dinner, we hoisted Shanté and lashed her down for tomorrow’s trek down Grenville Channel.It looks like our first weather forecast from Ed may just be our last as well. It got a little wet while texting with Ed and will no longer turn on. It’s now in a bag of rice while we hope for the best. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

Thursday, April 1
April Fools! I guess even Environment Canada likes to play pranks on April Fool’s Day. They forecast northwest wind at 10 to 15 knots and we fell for it!
The remainder of the trip down Grenville Channel was calm and quiet motoring – well, as quiet as it can be with the Garth Monster providing propulsion. The wind was light but not behind us at all, again it was right on the bow from the southeast. In hindsight, as we approached the entrance to Wright Sound, near Hartley Bay, I should have hoisted the mains’l. I never thought to though, because we planned to anchor at Coghlan Anchorage near Hartley Bay with the hopes of getting some cell service. That anchorage is exposed to the south though, so our backup plan was to anchor on the south side of Wright Sound in Curlew Bay. When we left the confines of Grenville Channel it became very clear, very quickly that neither would be viable options.
The wind was blowing 25, gusting 30 knots on the starboard beam out of Lewis Passage, the wind waves were large and it was just rowdy enough that I did not want to go out to the mast to fight with the mains’l on the back of a bucking bronc. I rolled out the yankee and struck a southeast course to get across Wright Sound and into the lee of Gil Island as quickly as we could.
Plan C was clearly the new plan – Head for Butedale!
The Yankee boosted our speed by a couple of knots and within about 15 to 20 minutes we were in calmer water. Unfortunately at that point, the wind was then coming out of Whale Channel and was right on the bow. I opted to stay close to Gil Island and motor into the wind along the shoreline for about four miles until we had the right angle to again strike out across the sound. I then pointed the bow toward Point Cummings on Gribbell Island and with the wind again on the starboard beam, we took a northeast course toward McKay Reach.

The Gribbells of Gribbell Island

Once in McKay Reach, the wind abated and the waters calmed once again. The rest of the run to Butedale was very calm and there was little to do but marvel at the waterfalls cascading down the steep mountainsides. We pulled up to the dock at Butedale just before dark.
We weren’t sure of the status of Butedale until we arrived. I had done some “Duckling” (Duck Duck Go – I’m an anti-Googler) to try to find out if it was inhabited and if it was if we’d be welcomed or shunned. It was clear from the moment we landed that we were alone.

© 2021 Ron Morrison

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