2023 / #9 Squally Channel to Smith Sound

by | Jul 23, 2023 | 2023 Posts

Monday, July 17. The day almost started with a bang. After Karen took us out of Farrant Island Lagoon with no problems, we entered the northern part of Squally Channel and saw a humpback whale breach with its whole body out of the water. Since it was almost straight ahead but what seemed to be a reasonable distance away, we put the boat in neutral to watch the show. A group of three or four were feeding but instead of continuing in the direction they were going when we first saw them they started heading for our boat. We were mildly concerned at this point. Before long they started feeding at the surface and it got frenzied. And they continued moving toward the boat. Now our mild concern had turned into a cross between real concern and downright fear they would come up under the boat so at the point they were 100 feet away or so I put the boat in reverse and hit the gas to back away. Of course, we didn’t back in a straight line but we retreated as best we could for a boat that doesn’t steer well in reverse. We left them feeding, glad that our humpback encounter came out without too much of the wrong kind of excitement.

Shortly after the whale show we hit a different kind of milestone – our trip log passed 1000 miles since we left Seattle. That’s 1000 miles at 7 knots. It’s been great.

As we continued in Squally Channel we saw more whales, both humpback and fin whales, but always at a distance and we altered course to stay away from them. But they were never in groups like the earlier encounter.

The weather forecast for the next day or two called for strong southeast winds which we wanted to avoid as much as possible. So we looked for a place to anchor that would enable us to continue our trip the next day without encountering too much rough water. We passed up several possibilities, in part because we had already been there on this trip and in part because it would have meant rough water the next day and elected to continue to Quigley Creek Cove. On the way we passed the cruise ship Nieuw Amsterdam, on its way to Ketchikan, and the sun came out for brief periods highlighting the most beautiful turquoise water. It felt almost tropical, except for the cedar and fir trees, of course. Most of the trip had been in calm water with little or no wind but for the last hour we were exposed to waves and swells from the ocean and they were distinctly uncomfortable.

Quigley Creek Cove is formed by a group of treed islets clustered around a modest bay with room of a couple of boats. The islets provide both beauty and shelter and you can still see out between them into the larger inlet beyond. The shelter is particularly good in southeast winds, which is just what we had. The only negative is the depth, 78 feet when we dropped the anchor, the deepest we’ve anchored this trip. But there was plenty of room and the calm water and light breeze put us at ease, despite the racket from the red-throated loons. It had been a nine hour day covering 59 miles. That’s pretty long for us.

Tuesday, July 18. Our night in Quigley Creek Cove was delightfully calm, marred only by rain beginning in the wee hours of the morning. The rain continued most of the day and when it wasn’t raining the fog was heavy enough that it looked like light rain. Our windshield wipers got a lot of use.

We had two passages to go through, each with a narrow place that required special care to transit. First was Meyers Passage that we had passed through on our way north in June. The second was Jackson Passage with a narrow area containing islets and reefs that required some precise navigation. Karen took us through without missing a beat and on to our anchorage for the night, Rescue Bay. We were the first boat into the Bay but not the first arrivals; there were people camping on shore that had come by a canoe they had pulled up above the high tide line. We anchored near the head of the bay to be closer to any wildlife action there might be. Usually, there is nothing to see but this time we had a great sighting, two wolves cruising the shoreline. And they were headed right for the campers. Shouting got their attention and we were finally able to make it clear that the wolves were headed toward their camp site. They made some suitable noice with a horn and the wolves headed into the forest followed by some howling. We were very excited by the sighting and very relieved to be on the boat and not on shore.

Rescue Bay is a convenient anchorage for many north coast explorers. It is one day’s travel from Shearwater and on a major route to many popular destinations. So we weren’t surprised when four more boats came in during the afternoon. Except for the night in Absalom Bay when two fish boats came in at sunset and left at dawn we have spent the last 11 days anchored in beautiful remote bays and coves with no other boats. There truly is wilderness here on the North Coast of British Columbia.

Wednesday, July 19. This day began with a whimper, the whimper of the generator sputtering to a halt after a minute of operation. A quick diagnosis showed it wasn’t getting fuel and the reason was we had run the port fuel tank dry. After switching to the starboard tank and manually filling the Racor several times we managed to get it started without having to bleed the fuel system. All was now good.

It was only in retrospect we realized how close we had come to disaster. We had been running the main engine off that same tank and but for a bit of luck, we could have run out while we were negotiating narrow Jackson Passage the day before. We didn’t want to even contemplate what would have happened if the engine had died while we were trying to maneuver around reefs with current pushing us along. At the time we were in the narrowest spot we probably had less than a gallon in the tank, a half hour of normal running.

With the engine now on the starboard tank as well it started right up and took us out of Rescue Bay, relieved that we didn’t need a rescue, and brought us to Shearwater once again. When we were here in June, Shearwater was busy, now it’s crazy busy. We had a reservation for a space at the dock and our space turned out to be only a few feet longer than our boat, tricky getting into, even with helpers on the dock. We hit the main reasons to come here right off the bat: laundry, groceries and garbage. For garbage they charge by the bag but we have large bags so it only took one, all the rest was recycling at no charge. They take spent propane cylinders and even have a container for used oil. Nice. Laundry worked great. We now have clean clothes for the trip home. But the groceries situation was disappointing, to say the least. The store was completely devoid of fresh fruits and vegetables – cleaned out and not to be resupplied before next week, at the earliest. Since this was actually our highest priority we decided to stay another day so we could take the water taxi to Bella Bella and shop in a real grocery store.

Friday, July 21. As it turned out, this was the perfect time be in Bella Bella. They were having a three day celebration, the first Potlatch in a hundred years. Part of the activities are honoring deceased members of the tribe, displaying their newly carved totem memorials, and part were adopting non-natives into the tribe to reward them for special contributions to the community. But after the honoring and rewarding would come the dancing, telling native stories and myths while wearing ceremonial robes of feathers and furs, their faces covered by elaborate carved masks. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the dances; the talking part started at three in the afternoon and the dancing much later, ending after midnight. It all takes place in their new community long house.

We watched the new long house being built in 2018 and 2019 and now we got to see the finished building. We were admiring the painting and totem pole at the front and got to talking with someone who turned out to be a tribal elder and he very kindly welcomed us inside, even allowing us to take pictures and told us some of the stories about it’s construction. The totem pole in the front, a straight cedar log nearly three feet in diameter and 40 feet tall was cut from tribal lands near Bella Bella then transported to Haida Gwaii for carving before being brought back and erected in front of the long house. It is a special place and we felt very lucky to be there, even thought we didn’t see the dancing.

Our two days in Shearwater were blessed with sunshine and warm weather but the dock had its challenges. The water taxi comes in and then leaves at least once an hour and the driver doesn’t understand about going slow so there is a lot of rolling whenever he is on the move. And the cost is also a bit high at $10 per person each way. The water at the dock, while potable, has a distinct tank taste which is a bit unpleasant. On the other hand the harbour master is very helpful and knowledgable; when we were ready to leave, he helped us set up a spring from the bow for Karen to move our stern away from the dock and safely back us away from our tight slip. It was our first time for that maneuver but it worked as slick as can be. It was good to have the guidance of an expert the first time.

After waving goodbye to newly made friends including the crew of another Eagle, our first stop was the fuel dock where I managed to put $1200 of diesel into the port tank. We now have more than enough to get us home. The wind was light and the water calm so we made tracks south down Fitz Hugh Sound, in anticipation of a change for the worse coming tomorrow. We didn’t want to go too far so chose Kwakume Inlet, which has good protection from the weather and easy access. Within two hours of dropping the hook we saw whitecaps developing outside the anchorage and small waves coming in where we were so we moved to another location in the inlet where it was a bit calmer. It’s nice to have options.

Saturday, July 22. When we anchored yesterday we set the anchor in anticipation of southerly winds, even though the wind was blowing from the north at the time. And we backed down hard to set it really well. So when the wind shifted around to the south in the evening and became stronger we continued to sleep really well – we were prepared for this. The morning added showers to the windy conditions and we elected to stay where we were; heading south directly into a strong wind and waves just didn’t appeal to us, for some reason.

Having a free day always means boat chores; we don’t consider Shearwater days as free since there are on-shore chores and socializing to do. Today we did chores, including the most important one, filtering the newly purchased fuel in the port tank to remove any possible impurities before sending it to the engine. To occupy the remainder of the time normally spent navigating, steering, watching for logs, etc., we concentrated on drawing and writing. And food played a part as well, a rare hot lunch of pizza on focaccia bread. And baking, in this case, chocolate chip cookies. Non-travel days can be luxuriant on Mischief.

Sunday, July 23. Just like the forecast said, it became totally calm overnight and we started south in calm water. As we went we saw more and more boats, some headed our way but most going north. One of those northbound boats was the BC Ferry Northern Expedition bound for Prince Rupert. Most were pleasure boats and they were an interesting assortment of craft ranging from a 36 foot cruiser to a 115 foot mega yacht according to their AIS info. They were beginning their northern BC cruise while we were headed towards home.

Soon after starting we saw humpback whales diving so we drove around them even though they were out of sight. Later we came across three or four groups of river otters swimming south in the middle of Fitz Hugh Sound, miles from the nearest land, headed towards Rivers Inlet. We saw lots of small fishing boats there so perhaps the salmon runs have started and the otters are going to get in on the feast. There must have been 40 or 50 all together. We had never before heard of such behavior by river otters.

As we passed Rivers Inlet on the way to Smith Sound, the coast had a number of islands and reefs. They faced the open ocean and there was lots of kelp around them, prime sea otter habitat, and sure enough, we saw some, floating amongst the kelp fronds. Saw them through binoculars, that is, since we didn’t want to get too close to those dangerous waters. Entering Smith Sound, we headed directly to Fly Basin, a well protected cove with easy anchoring and room for many boats. We didn’t expect to be alone and we weren’t, one boat was already there and another came in later. We intend to spend some time exploring the local inlets, there are still some that we haven’t been to, before heading south around Cape Caution, the next big step.

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