2017 Cruise to Prince William Sound - Part Five
I am writing this blog, covering the return journey from Prince William Sound to Vancouver Island, from my home in Southern California. Including our false start, we have covered 3,750 nautical miles by boat and an additional 2,823 statute miles by road since leaving here on May 23rd. It has been a great trip but I have to admit that it is also great to be back home and I am looking forward to converting more than five hours of raw video and countless still photos into something watchable and worth sharing.
We are underway from Cordova at 0955. Once through Hinchinbrook Entrance into the open waters of the Gulf of Alaska we encounter sizeable swells. For ocean passages we run watches - 2 hours on followed by 6 hours off. The end of my watch at 2200 coincides with sunset and we interrupt our southbound passage to launch the drone and shoot photos of Venture at dramatic Cape St. Elias which marks the tip of Kayak Island. As mentioned in earlier blogs, Kayak Island was the landfall on what is now Alaska for Bering in 1741 and also, by sheer coincidence, 37 years later, by Captain Cook. We are able to move into lee of island to escape the rough water and the drone mission is very successful although the drone crashes into flybridge on landing.
I stay up until 2330 to film the cape against the sunset. My next watch is at 0400 to 0600. The seas remain uncomfortably bumpy overnight so Chris takes us off the direct route to Sitka and alters course to bring us closer to the coast. The weather calms down during the day and, by evening, the wind drops to zero and the seas become even glassy. With the advantage of hindsight we could have hustled a bit and spent the night in Lituya Bay but the rougher conditions earlier in the day made this option seem out of the question . However we decide not to continue in the open ocean to Sitka but to turn in at Cape Spencer and go to Hoonah which we have never visited. We are now sufficiently close to the coast to see the magnificent coastal mountains which mist had hidden from our view on the passage north. They glow under the light of another magnificent sunset which has moved forward from 2210 yesterday to 2134 today - a change of 36 minutes in just one day. We can see the profile of Mt St Elias on the horizon 137 miles away!
My watch starts at 0400 but I arise at 0310 in the hope of seeing Cape Spencer. We can see the flashes from the lighthouse against the darkly visible outline of mountains. As dawn advances, fiery colours flare across the sky and reflect on the snow capped peaks. In Icy Strait we meet a small cruise ship Regatta coming out en route to Hubbard Glacier. A few miles on, we encounter Holland America Eurodam entering Glacier Bay. We approach the First Nation town of Hoona where a large cruise ship, Celebrity Millennium, is docked well out of the small town. As we enter, what we call the "welcoming eagle" waits for us at the entrance marker. We have to spend some time at transient dock before being allocated a small slip in the main marina surrounded by fishing boats. We are followed by a 120 ft boat Escape out of Seattle. Her captain tells me he has watched a number of my videos on line. I provide him with a couple of DVD's - Prince William Sound and Aleutians. We go out to dinner to Mary's restaurant run by Korean lady.
We go first to the fuel dock and take on 1050 gals of diesel. Our guests, David and Rachel, leave us here and take the ferry to Juneau. We continue south down Chatham Strait along the eastern shore of Baranoff Island. The waters are absolutely calm and the scenery stunning. We see numerous whales in the distance - one indulging in vigorous tail slapping. At 1710 we turn into Ell Cove, a snug anchorage surrounded by dense forest rising steeply from the water. We pass swarms of small jelly fish and have some concern about one being sucked into the generator raw water intake. With the hook down, we spot a brown bear picking its way along the rocky shore. Dinner this evening is roast pork with roast spuds and broccoli followed by ice-cream and raspberries. Yum!
We are underway at 0853. Just outside the bay we spot a mother brown bear and two cubs fishing at the mouth of a river. They are accompanied by bald eagles feasting on leftovers. We enter nearby Waterfall Bay to feast our eyes on a stupendous waterfall before continuing south into Baranof and Warm Springs Bay. Several super yachts are already anchored but the floating dock is free except for a fishing boat that just beat us to it. Still room for us though. We tie up at 1052. The suggested fee is $40 for a boat our size for one day or part of one day. We go ashore and take a board walk to the waterfall. In a small hut there are three baths which are free but users are encouraged to leave a donation in a locked box to assist with maintenance. Louisa, Christine and myself take advantage of these facilities. It is most pleasant wallowing in silky warm water looking out at the mountains and watching the birds flying past.
We are underway at 0737. It is another stunning morning with hardly a cloud in the sky. Chatham Strait down the eastern side of Baranof Island is really beautiful with soaring mountains and many lake-fed waterfalls. Many mountain peaks are bare rock, reminiscent of the spires of Patagonia. We are surprised to have phone coverage all down Chatham Strait - although this disappears once inside the small bays. This seems to be a fertile cruising area for mega yachts and small charter boats and we see many super-yachts and interesting vessels. We enter Red Bluff - so named for the distinctive red bluff at the hidden entrance. This is really an exquisite inlet with steep cliffs and tree clad slopes. We find one boat at anchor at the head of the bay. We have anchored here in the past so do not stop this time but continue south past the end of Baranof Island with the intention of anchoring in Egg Harbor on Coronation Island. As we leave the lee of Baranof, the waves and swells increase on the starboard beam making for an uncomfortable ride. We enter our chosen anchorage passing two whales on the way in. We drop the hook at 1622 but the swells make the motion uncomfortable so we decide to move on to Warren Bay on Warren Island where we anchored the last time we had been in this vicinity.
A strong wind of 21 kts sprang up just before 0600 and we are underway at 0754 under a cloudless blue sky. The first 8 miles are choppy with some swell but, coming from aft, the motion is quite comfortable. We spend all day wending our way through an endless archipelago of low islands and islets each wearing a tousled mop of evergreens. We anchor in Dunbar Inlet on Sukkwan Island at 1500. It is quite hot and cloudless except for some cirrus which gradually develops into a sky mostly covered in cloud. Cirrus clouds are often a precursor to a change in the weather. After anchoring, we spot three black bears along the shore and launch the big tender to get a bit closer. Two bears are browsing along one part of the shore and another farther away. We follow both groups and neither appears to be much bothered by our presence. In the evening, we spot another mother bear accompanied by two young cubs. Through binoculars we can see a total of six bears from the boat.
We are underway at 0816 under overcast skies which turn sunny once we left the anchorage. Weather forecast is for strong winds for several days so we are not sure how far we will go today - maybe as far as Prince Rupert. We see two black bears on the beach before leaving. As is so often the case, the forecast turns out to be unduly pessimistic. We spend a lovely day underway passing through myriad islands with blue skies and comfortable seas with no strong winds. We decided to keep going, cross the Canadian border and anchor in Brundige Inlet on Dundas Island at 1730.
We are underway at 0746 in thick fog. We make our way through Metlakatla Strait and past the village of the same name. As usual, not one single person is visible in the village. We pull into the Immigration dock in Prince Rupert at 1128. Chris calls the CanPass phone number from the phone on the dock and, after some discussion over Louisa's status, we are given a pass over the phone. We leave the dock at 1128 and head to Baker Inlet, 30 miles away. With its narrow entrance we need to be there at high water slack at 1430. We cannot make it at our usual cruising speed so we run at 15 kts - and briefly up to 17 kts - to arrive at the entrance, off Grenville Channel, at 1440. The entrance is very narrow, overhung with trees and with a dogleg in the middle so you cannot see through it. The narrow portion is quite short and opens up into a wide fjord some 3.6 miles long. We anchor at the very tip in 70 ft of water. We see one black bear working his way along the shore. He is far away and does not come at all close. The time changes here to one hour ahead - same as the US west coast.
Underway at 0822. We exit the narrow entrance at low water slack at 0900. We continue down narrow Grenville Channel. At its southern end we turn into Whale Passage rather than following the normal Inside Passage route down Princess Royal Channel which leads into Finlayson Channel. We take an outside route down to Camano Sound and then into Laredo Channel between Princess Royal Island and Aristozabal Island. We turn up Laredo Inlet and try unsuccessfully to anchor in Quigly Creek before moving further north to anchor in Alston Cove at 1857. We cover 103.8 miles today and, as usual with a long day, I use the crock pot to prepare the evening meal in advance so we can have it on the table within 15 minutes of dropping the hook.
Another still and beautiful morning with mist that comes and goes. I cook bacon and eggs for breakfast and we are underway at 0957. We move just a short distance up Laredo Inlet to the Bay of Plenty where there is reported to be a good chance of seeing Spirit Bears. These are a sub-species of Black Bears having a genetic aberration which makes about 10% of them white. The upper end of the bay is very shallow and we have to anchor well out from the shore. Louisa and I go out in the tender and we see a couple in a kayak coming around the corner from Laredo Inlet. After we return to Venture, they come over and tell us they had started on Klemtu and would be out for 24 days. This was their 4th day. They undertake this type of trip every year and carry all their food and other necessities with them. After lunch, at high tide, we take the tender up the river at the head of the bay. The kayak couple are also there and can go farther upstream than we can. We do not dally as do want to risk being stranded by the outgoing tide. We do not see any bears or eagles. It is becoming very obvious to us that British Columbia has a fraction of the numbers of salmon we have seen in Alaskan waters which translates into fewer bears and eagles. We return to Venture and set off back down Laredo Inlet at 1448. It is depressing how many of the trees are dead. In places it seems as though 50% are bleached white and stand like stakes driven through the heart of the living forest. We pass through narrow Meyers Passage and into an unnamed anchorage midway through it. We anchor at 1702. It is a nice spot with a marvelously natural sculpture of a fallen log.
Underway at 0630 in thick fog. We pass by the town of Bella Bella and continue down Fitz Hugh Sound to an anchorage named Schooner Retreat. We are now back in popular cruising territory and we share the anchorage with thirteen other boats - including a Fleming 65.
We now have another 30 mile open sea crossing to negotiate. This is Queen Charlotte Strait. We are underway at 0716. There are some swells early in the passage but generally the seas are glassy and slightly undulating. Canadian lighthouses, with their red roofs and white painted buildings, are always distinctive. Wreathed in mist, the one on Pine Island, appears especially dramatic. We tie up at North Island Marina in Port McNeill at 1420.
We take on 4,416 liters (1,166.5 usg) of diesel and are underway at 1008. We head into the Broughton Islands and negotiate our way through fog which is quite dense at times, to tie up at Pierre's at 1300. Pierre's at Echo Bay is an all-floating, delightful facility run for many years by Pierre and Tove. At weekends, during the summer months, they organize a pig roast every weekend with similar events during the week. There is a theme for each event and this time it was Pirates. Pierre's provide the pig and visiting boaters provide the side dishes. As usual, this is an enjoyable and entertaining event with opportunities to interact with fellow boaters. I am pleased to see that among the thirty odd boats present there are a Fleming 55 and a Fleming 53 in addition to ourselves.
Underway at 1024 - after Chris and Christine spend some time aboard the Fleming 55 going over places to visit. Near Blackfish Sound we see whales in the distance with one of them bringing the aft part of his body well out of the water as he indulges in tail slapping. We have an uneventful cruise down Johnstone Strait with a powerful current against us. We do not encounter many logs in the water but the shoreline is stacked with them waiting to move on when released by the next spring tide. Mountainsides along Johnstone Strait are ugly with extensive clear cuts. We enter Port Harvey and tie up at the small marina at 1445. The name is misleading as, until quite recently, this was a scenic bay with only a small marina run by a couple, George and Gail, who provide a welcoming and pleasant stop for cruising boats in an area with few facilities. In recent years, a commercial operation has moved in across the bay turning that shoreline into an ugly industrial site and dumping ground for derelict equipment. It is hard to understand why the authorities permit this to take place in this remote and hitherto pristine area. When we arrive, there is a Fleming 55 already moored. A second Fleming arrives shortly thereafter. The barge-based Red Shoes restaurant offers limited service after a mysterious and suspicious sinking during the past winter.
At 0800, George delivers sweet cinammon buns. We chat with him for a while before getting underway at 0850. It is a lovely bright morning but still chilly. We proceed down Johnstone keeping close to the shore to mitigate the effects of the strong adverse current. We round Chatham Point into Discovery Channel and hear radio chatter that there are 60 orca in nearby Nodales Channel. We reverse course to investigate and encounter a number of orca. We stop as they are coming in our direction and some pass quite close to the boat. I try to take video without much success as it's hard to anticipate where they will surface.. The best tools under these conditions are simply binoculars! After about one hour, the orca move into Johnstone Strait heading north and we resumed our journey south. We pass through Seymour Narrows which are still quite turbulent one hour before slack. This passage is notorious for its fierce currents which can reach 15 knots during spring tides. I recommend turning to Google to learn more about this interesting place which even the cruise ships treat with respect. Chris keeps Venture close to the eastern shore where the current is appreciably less - and occasionally even in our favour. We anchor in Gowlland Harbour on Quadra Island at 1658. I cook the last of our donated salmon for dinner.
We are underway at 0658 on another lovely calm morning. Initially, the southbound current in the strait is strongly in our favour and we get a boost of 5 knots - to reach 14.9 knots. This does not last long as the north/south tides meet just south of Campbell River where the current reverts to being against us. We continue down the Strait of Georgia through Porlier Pass to Montague Harbour on Galiano Island where we anchor at 1740. It is the height of the cruising season and there must be fifty boats here - among them a Fleming 75.
This is our last anchorage of this year's trip. We are underway at 0950 and arrive at Delta on Vancouver Island at 1150. We have covered 3676 nautical miles since we set out from here on June 6th. It has been another memorable trip.