2023 / #10 Cape Caution to The Discovery Islands

by | Jul 31, 2023 | 2023 Posts

Monday, July 24. Overnight in Fly Basin there were periods of heavy rain with occasional breaks. We didn’t have far to go so we took our time over breakfast and weighed anchor during one of those breaks; I was very grateful since I’m the outside person when it comes to anchoring. As we left the rain began again.

Smith Sound breaks into two large arms, Smith Inlet and Boswell Inlet. We had never explored Boswell Inlet so despite the rain and low clouds we headed up the inlet, exploring several possible anchoring locations along the way. We ended up in an un-named cove just past the narrow jog in the inlet that is named Boswell Cove in the Douglasses’ book. It has a narrow entrance but is deep enough to pass at any tide and has no dangerous rocks that need to be avoided, all good, and it ends in a one boat nook surrounded by cliffs and high mountains. Even though it was pretty windy outside, it was glassy calm in the cove so we dropped anchor for the night. It wasn’t even noon but we liked where we were. Above us on the north side was an old landslide scar reaching the water, now filled in with alders, and at the end of the cove, some old machinery now covered by fallen trees. The cove, apparently, had an active past but the present is one of total serenity.

Tuesday, July 25. The boat didn’t move all night. The morning was lovely, with mist hugging the tops and sides of the mountains around us and occasional openings of blue sky. It took some effort to retrieve the anchor; the sticky mud on the bottom had a good hold on it and didn’t want to let go. We got underway around 9:00 as we usually do and headed out of Boswell Inlet. The water was calm with only a light breeze blowing amid occasional showers. The forecast for tomorrow was pretty good for going into the ocean and around Cape Caution but today was fair so we decided to head in that direction just to see what the actual conditions were. If they were acceptable to us we would go today, otherwise we would wait in Smith Sound for another day. When we got there is was ok, just not quite what we expected. The forecast was for southeast winds diminishing to light in the early morning but when we got there in mid morning the southeast winds were still blowing, which raised some waves. So instead of the smooth seas with low swell we had expected we had one to two foot waves from more or less dead ahead on top of a low swell from the west, not particularly uncomfortable but enough to make us put on our wrist bands and snack on ginger snaps. The preparation wasn’t really necessary. Other than the occasional spray on the pilothouse windows it was actually fairly comfortable. Sometimes the anticipation is worse than the real thing.

Our destination for the night was Shelter Bay, which doesn’t look particularly sheltered on the chart but the guide books say it’s a fine anchorage. It’s long and narrow and the best place to anchor is near the end. When we got there another boat was sitting in that spot. Unfortunately, the long middle portion, which could also be used, had been taken by a couple of large buoys joined together with heavy floating line so we had to struggle to find a suitable place to drop the hook where we would be far enough from everything, the boat, the buoys, the floating line and the shore. The spot we found wasn’t great but it should work for one night.

With the passing of Cape Caution we have officially left the North Coast and entered the South Coast. We expect to see many more boaters but we also expect much better weather; in our month north of Cape Caution we only had a couple of days where the temperature got above 70 and then, not by much. Most of all, we are looking forward to more sun.

Wednesday, July 26. When I got up at 2:00 in the morning it was totally dark, clouds covered the stars and moon and there was no sky glow. But the water was alive with phosphorescence. The slightest disturbance caused it to sparkle like millions of stars and small fish moving in the water looked like comets. It was the best display this trip. The boat sharing Shelter Bay with us left before us; most people do, it seems. On the way out we checked out another anchorage that could be used in northerly winds. We may try it next time.

As we turned southeast the gentle northwest breeze behind us exactly matched our boat speed so it was perfectly calm on deck. With the increasing sunshine and gentle rolling added in it was hard not to drift off into dreamland while sitting on the foredeck. And navigation was easy, just three waypoints all the way to the Broughtons, a distance of about 30 miles. It is nice to have an easy day once in awhile.

Our destination was a small cove, unnamed on the chart but called Let Her Rip Cove in the Douglasses’ book. It had a nice beach at its head that was so inviting we dropped the dinghy and went to explore. The presence of beach glass showed past use and the forest surrounding the cove was clearly second growth, though it had been a very long time since it was logged. Its best feature, other than the good anchoring conditions, was a series of steep rock walls and bluffs on one side with trees growing from every available nook – very pretty, especially in the late evening light. The presence of driftwood on the beach showed that the cove was exposed to southeast storms so we wouldn’t want to be here in those conditions but it was great for current conditions with winds from the northwest.

Our stove is fueled by propane and we carry two tanks. Today the first tank ran low so we switched to the second. This is pretty consistent with our past experience – two months cruising on a single tank. In general, our provisioning has been pretty accurate. The only exception is my casual reading; I didn’t bring anywhere near enough. Luckily, between the thrift store in Port McNeill and the boater’s exchange library in Shearwater I have managed to have something every night, though some of them wouldn’t have been my first choice. Still, it has to be considered a pretty successful cruise when choice of reading material is the biggest problem.

Thursday, July 27. We woke up to fog, not serious fog mind you, but fog none-the-less. Visibility was pretty good just above the water but anything higher that 100 feet was lost to the blanket of white. So we weighed anchor and started out. Our plan was to head inland, away from Queen Charlotte Strait since fog seems to originate there, in the hopes of sunshine and views of mainland mountains. Eventually we got both.

As we motored up Tribune Channel the sky slowly cleared and the views got more spectacular. We passed a small group of orcas and watched them at a long distance. They would come to the surface for a couple breaths then dive for minutes at a time. It was hard to tell exactly how many there were since they were never all on the surface at the same time. We passed close to Lacey Falls where water flows over steep rock slabs from high above. The pattern of the water on the rock gives the falls its name. We checked out a small cove but there was already a boat there, and besides it was too windy, so we headed to Wahkana Bay which holds a magical place in our memories. The last time we were there, almost 20 years ago in Island Drifter, we listened all night long to the clicks of dolphins or porpoises feeding in the bay around us. This was our first time back.

Wahkana Bay is almost circular, 0.4 miles in diameter with an almost flat bottom of good mud from edge to edge. It would attract many boats but for one drawback, it is about 115 feet deep almost everywhere. We dropped anchor in a small bight in only 92 feet, let out our 200 feet of chain and another 100 feet of nylon rode and set the anchor. We were secure. As we settled in a pair of harbour porpoises started swimming around the boat. Wahkana Bay continues to hold its magic.

Friday, July 28. The morning was totally calm and again, porpoises were feeding in the bay. Four or five seemed to like our little nook and circled around our boat, often only 30 or 40 feet away. They completely ignored us despite our pleading for photo ops.

We had no difficulty raising the anchor, the area where the rope rode is spliced to the chain went over the windlass without skipping a beat and our windlass hardly slowed down while raising the weight of chain plus anchor. Being able to anchor in deep water opens up many opportunities. We motored out of the bay and into Tribune Channel to continue our journey. First we wanted to go to the end of Bond Sound, just because we had never been there. This sound reaches into the mainland and is surrounded by tall mountains, unfortunately their tops were cloud covered today. At the head of the sound is a special first nations youth camp for cultural experience. It has grown over the years and now has many buildings, some with wonderful carvings.

Our objective for the night was Tsakonu Cove which is on Knight Inlet but well protected from the strong up-inlet winds that blow most afternoons. When we got there we found that an active logging operation had pretty much taken over the cove so we turned around and went on to our second choice, Burial Cove.

Burial Cove isn’t remote, there are houses on both sides of the cove with docks and fish boats. Still it was very quiet and we got chatting with a fascinating couple from the other pleasure boat in the cove. As usual we shared our story of cruising up north and they shared their story of an attempt, in 2019, to go around the world without taking any air travel, how they traveled east across Canada by train, by cargo ship to Europe, and by train across Europe, Russia and the “stans” ending in Mongolia only to find out the visa they needed to enter China could only be obtained in Moscow, 4000 miles behind them. Stymied by bureaucracy. They didn’t say if it took more than 80 days. Now that’s adventurous. We feel like rank amateurs.

Saturday, July 29. Johnstone Strait is another one of those places where bad weather can have very negative outcomes. It was calm when we woke up so we decided to stick our noses out into the strait to test the conditions. The forecast said northwest 10-20, increasing in the afternoon but when we got out there it was almost calm so we continued. We stopped by Blenkinsop Bay to check it out as an emergency anchorage in northwest conditions and decided it would have to be a real emergency to choose it. Luckily the tide was flooding, ie going with us, so we had a boost from the current, at times up to 5 knots added to our speed. It wasn’t long before we reached Helmcken Island which has a nice one boat cove in its northeast corner, unnamed on the chart.

We dropped anchor, got a good set and took a close look around. At the head of the cove was a beach and off to the north side a rocky stretch with a long abandoned fish boat partly under water, now almost totally gone. On the other shore was some kind of industrial operation with No Trespassing and Warning Blasting signs. At first it looked unoccupied but we heard the sound of a generator running; we never saw a person. We didn’t go there.

We did row to the beach at the head of the cove and explored the woods beyond. They had clearly been logged and there were remnants of logging roads to walk on. We even walked to another bay with more exposure to the weather and good beach combing. But the skies were looking dark so we rowed back to the boat, just in time for a thunderstorm. The lightning seemed to be striking the hills around us, it was so close, and it rained hard, very hard, for an hour or so before becoming just an ordinary shower. It was most impressive. So we did what anyone would do, shut up in a boat during a thunderstorm, we made brownies. And wrote about it, of course.

Sunday, July 30. Today was dolphin day. First there was a large pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins that passed us in Johnstone Strait. Then, as we neared our destination, three Dall’s porpoises played in our bow wave for 5 or 10 minutes. The water was so clear you could see every detail. And finally, a pair of harbour porpoises were feeding in our bay a short distance from the boat. Sweet.

Our destination was Bickley Bay in the Discovery Islands. As we came in we could see fires burning on the very steep hillside across the channel from us. There were vertical stripes of burned trees and smoke coming from several places. The afternoon shower did little to dampen it. By evening the wind had died and the smoke had started to spread into a fog-like haze, still across the channel from us but getting larger.

A prime reason for coming to Bickley Bay was the opportunity for a hike. There is an old log dump on the shore of the bay and a logging road that heads across the island. The road hasn’t been used for many years and is slowly filling in with vegetation, but isn’t yet impassable, so it makes a decent path. We walked up it a few miles to a point where we had a view through an old clear cut, before turning around. While easier than a typical forest path, the 6.6 miles wiped us out so we collapsed after dinner. It was a good day.


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