Good-Bye Port McNeill –
Here on the North Island, they call it “Faugust”. The morning of Friday, the fourth of “Faugust” was socked in with a very heavy fog. A red sun tried its best to burn the fog away but was impotent through the blanket of forest fire smoke above. Instead, it just hung there in the sky barely making a reflection on the still waters and giving the morning an eerie presence.
We weighed anchor just after noon, shortly after the fog had lifted. The water was flat, the skies were grey and the winds were calm. The forecast for the afternoon, though, was for a twenty knot, north-west wind. I’d had a hard time deciding which route to take that day. The choices were either heading almost straight north across Queen Charlotte Strait, to Blunden Harbour or heading to a cozy little anchorage – according to the CHS Sailing Directions – at Bell Island.
By 13:30 we were at the west end of Broughton Strait and approaching more fog. The Admiral (Wendi) fired up the JRC2000 Radar and tuned it up. Soon we were identifying traffic on the radar as well as on AIS that is built into our VHF radio. It was pretty busy out there. The visibility was maybe a couple of hundred feet. It didn’t last long though, and by 14:00 we were looking at the mountain range on the mainland about fifteen miles to the north and making the final decision on which anchorage to head to.
Blunden Harbour was fifteen miles north, and we could sail there, or Bell Island was about fifteen miles north-west and we’d have to motor directly into the wind. An easy choice, right? Well actually no, at Blunden Harbour we would still be three hours from open ocean – and very likely motoring into the wind to get to it anyway – while Bell Island would give us quicker access to open water and sailing off the expected north-west wind, so we chose to head for Bell Island.
By 15:20, we were back in the fog and the wind had come up, visibility was about one mile. We had the outgoing tide nursing us along as we were now motoring through two to three-foot waves with twenty-five knots of wind on the bow and gusting to thirty. The fog cleared again before too long and once we got past Hardy Bay and near the Gordon Islands, the seas calmed down. Thanks to the ebbing tide, we had been able to make way at around three knots through the worst of it, but some of the bigger waves would bring us to a complete standstill, so it was nice to see the calmer waters and be back up to cruising at five knots.
At 17:20 we eased into the narrow channel between Hearst Island and a couple of small islets, past a fish farm and into the even narrower channel that separates those islets from Bell island. It was so narrow, that I sent Wendi to the bow to direct me to deeper water, if necessary. We made our way to the widest area of the channel – the supposed “good anchorage for small vessels” and just kept right on truckin’ out the other end. There was enough room for us to anchor in there, but only if we set a stern anchor to keep us from swinging.
Hello Port Alexander
Once we got back out into open water, I scouted ahead and found Port Alexander only four miles ahead. We dropped the hook at 19:00 hours near (but not too near) two other sailboats that were already there.
Total Mileage (Richmond to Port Alexander): 210.3 Nautical Miles
Total Hours: 52.9
Average Speed: 3.97 Knots
As we were slogging our way through the chop, past Port Hardy and the last bit of cellular service, I had gone online and downloaded a weather GRIB for the next sixteen days and covering the entire coast from Port McNeill to one hundred and ninety nautical miles west and north to the top of Haida Gwaii – a big area. Once we got there, I cracked a beer and had a look at the GRIB file. I was happy to see that the wind forecast had changed. The new forecast was showing some nice southerly flows starting on Saturday the twelfth, so we decided to hold tight for a little while.
After breakfast, the first order of business on day one at Port Alexander was to sink the crab pot and go for a hike. Port Alexander is on Nigei Island and it is a pretty cool place. There’s a well beaten and flagged trail that leads north through a mature forest of yew trees.
We followed the trail for quite a ways but then realized that it was time for some nourishment, so turned around and headed back, saving the exploration for another day.
Not surprisingly, we saw quite a bit of marine trash inside the tree line, mostly styrofoam and rope – evidence of our very own fishing industry, very sad. Before going back to the boat, we walked along the short beach and although it isn’t bad enough to be obvious from the water, there is a fair amount of trash here. Almost all of it is attributable to the fishing fleet and/or other commercial boats. Wendi started picking garbage and I felt bad for saying it but reminded her that there was nothing we could do with it and that we’re not even on Haida Gwaii yet, so she stopped.
It was a warm, humid, cloudy day. After lunch, the sun kind of broke through and it was quite nice for a little while. I put a new buzz bomb on the rod and tried jigging for a while but the only things I caught were a couple of sole. The first one was only about three or four inches long and the second one wasn’t much bigger, so I gave up on that idea.
By the end of the afternoon, the wind came up so we cancelled our planned weenie roast on the beach and had a few beer.
Day Two @ PA
The best idea I’ve had in a long time was to dig out my old one-piece long johns! It was downright chilly! The only things we did that day were a crab pot check and we made water. We filled the tanks but had nothing in the crab trap.
Day Three @ PA
We rigged a spar to the boom and lowered the outboard onto the dinghy and went fishin’ and moved the crab pot out to deeper water. Right off the point between Port Alexander and Browning Passage, we hauled in a decent sized Rock Cod. That was all we got but it sure made for a really tasty supper. After cleaning the fish, we went ashore for a walk and found a fishing float to add to our Man Overboard Pole. It still looks like a thirty-year old piece of crap, but at least now it floats and stays upright.
Day Four @ PA
We’ve awoken every morning since Port McNeill to heavy fog. The sound of fog horns emanating from big ships somewhere around us is quite eerie, knowing that soon we’ll be out there among them as a tiny little blip on their radar screens. As of yesterday, I had three different courses charted, all based on wind speed and direction and leaving at first light on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Today, I charted another, still based on winds but changing the departure to 16:00 on Friday, (high tide), when there should be little or no fog. I would rather leave at first light but in heavy fog, there is no advantage and traversing Browning Passage is best with some visibility, as there will be current and it’s only about a quarter of a mile wide.
Day Six @ PA
We went fishing again today and added two more cod and a salmon to the list. Still no crab.
Our choices from Port Alexander were to either head for Bull Harbour, which is right before the infamous Nahwitti Bar (nobody wants to get into a brawl at the Nahwitti Bar). Crossing that bar is best at slack tide and it happened that the early high-slack would occur at 03:45 (Happy Hour) on Friday, but we didn’t really want to do it at that time of day, so we just headed out through Browning Pass at high tide on Thursday afternoon. “We’ll be a day early for the southerly winds but it’ll give us something to look forward to as we’re beating to weather”, he said.
We were anticipating about a seventy-five hour, non-stop sail to Skidegate Channel – pronounced ‘Skid-a-git’ – on the west side, arriving on my birthday.
What actually happened was…
Stay tuned, for the story from Port Alexander to Security Cove…
© Sailing Infidels 2017