ALASKA TRIP BEGINS - LEG ONE

May 2007

Inside Passage - San Juan Islands through British Columbia

There is so much to see and so much to tell about our trip up the Inside Passage, we have discovered that our updates (although few and far between) are becoming really lengthy and more a series of very short little stories or episodes of our adventures than simply “updates.” So we’ll share with you a quick one paragraph “General Overview” of this leg of the trip for a quick snapshot with the hope that you will find some enjoyment in reading the longer version when you have time. Also, if you don’t want to receive the updates any longer, they overload your email, or you just want to check them out on our Web site, please let us know and we’ll take you off “the list.”

The Short Story

May took us from the San Juan Islands thru British Columbia and ended in Ketchikan. Everything has gone very well with our home built boat and we have been treated to some incredible scenery and fun times. It is quite wet, beautifully green and much of the waters are surrounded by majestic mountains and waterfalls. The northern section of BC is more remote than anticipated and the little towns we visit along the way have their own individual personalities and charm. Logging is alive and well in BC and the proof is in stray logs that we often have to dodge along the way! There is more history and folklore than we expected with remnants of many old abandoned villages, canneries, and pulp mills along the way. We love discovering new places and never stay in one place for very long without getting ancy to move on and see what adventure is around the next corner. And, by the way, the answer is “yes.” Yes we are having fun, yes we miss our family and friends, and yes after traveling on the boat for two years now we’re still in love!


The Whole Story

WOW – what a difference a month makes! It has been about that long since we left Seattle and began working our way north and up the Inside Passage. We are well into springtime now and with every degree of latitude we travel, the days are getting longer and longer. There is some daylight until 11 pm now, so dinner is getting later and later each night. Daybreak comes earlier with each passing day (about 4:30am now.) The scenery is everything we’ve read about and becomes more spectacular the further north we get.

We gunk holed our way around the San Juan Islands for the first week after leaving Seattle with sister Jo & brother-in-law Adie. J&A’s new boat is a Selene, so we spent four days at Roche Harbor where there was a Rendezvous with about 25 other Selene’s that gathered for a long week-end. We attended several seminars and met others who were traveling to Alaska this spring that we’ll meet up with somewhere along the way. Friends, George and Uli joined us for a few days while we were in Roche Harbor. We enjoyed all the little towns and quiet anchorages in the San Juan’s and especially watching the sea planes come and go, often times crossing within 50 feet of our bow. On one of our walks we found a park that consisted of about 50 very unusual eclectic group sculptures scattered around 10 acres of land; many of them with a price tag of several thousands of dollars. I will include photos of a few of the more unusual pieces that we just had to pose with. After Roche Harbor we were off to Orcas and Stuart Islands. In order to learn how to operate each others boats Ken & Adie drove together on Wandering Star while Jo & Dottie drove Dreamweaver for a day. The girls first voyage without the boys on board! While underway we encountered strong currents flowing thru a very narrow channel. Being on our own, it did get the adrenalin flowing a little more than had the boys been with us, but “girl power” prevailed!! We even stuck the anchor the first try when we anchored for the night. We can now envision an all girl trip to Catalina with our girlfriends once we return to California!

Traveling back and forth between the US and Canada means that each time we cross between borders we have to clear our boats thru Customs. The routine is that you pull up to a designated official Customs Dock and wait to be greeted by a heavily armed “guard” for an inspection and clearance number. Although crossing into Canada seems to be much less of a hassle than crossing back into the US, Canada has regulations on how much alcohol you are allowed to bring into the country (= to about 2 bottles of wine per person) plus you dare not bring any raw fruits or vegetables in. All liquor is run by state and is extremely expensive in Canada. We probably shouldn’t admit it but we did bury some of our favorite wines (ones that we didn’t think we could find in Canada) away in the bilge. While we were crossing from the San Juans into Canada I promptly peeled and cooked the many apples we still had on board and Ken & I ate every bit of the other fruit we had on board so we could stay legal. Along the way we passed a large container ship that threw off a wake we were not expecting. As we hit the wake it was enough to send things flying, including a bottle of rum that torpedoed out of the cupboard, hit the floor and sprayed rum throughout the saloon. We knew the whole boat smelled like a brewery and were sure we would be subjected to a search. Fortunately it was our lucky day – no one came out to inspect us and we were able to check in over the telephone – yes!? Guess having to drink wine every night the week before we went into Canada - just to assure we were not over the limit - was all in vain!

We visited Victoria and Vancouver for a day and then the push was on to get moving north. On the way back South our plans are to get to Vancouver and stay for a few days so we can visit with our Canadian relatives. It is common courtesy to fly a flag of the country you are visiting when traveling thru. For Joanne and I, it felt specially nice - because we were born in Canada - both the American and Canadian flags are flying proudly from our boats as we pass thru British Columbia. I am actually classified as a dual citizen and carry both an American and Canadian passports which seems to allow me easier travel in some instances.

Cruising in the Northwest is quite different than cruising in Mexico. It’s almost like being on inland lakes; most of the time we have been, and will continue to be, in inland waters which means we’re protected from the swells of the open ocean. What we do have to contend with is dodging logs which are everywhere. Planning and timing our routes are important - the tides and strong currents/rapids are something we contend with regularly as we pass between the many islands and narrow channels. Rapids can run much faster than the 6.5 knot average our boat runs, so the time to safely pass thru them is at slack tide. Ideally, one times their route so the flood or ebb tides are helping the boat along rather than fighting your forward progress. Going up Johnstone Strait in B.C. our average 6 knot boat reached an all time record … 14 knots!!! Man, we were flyin’!! Sure helps the gas mileage too!

At the god-awful hour of 5:45am on May 10th we pulled up anchor and left the protected anchorage of Ganges (in the Canadian Gulf Islands) in order to get across the large open area called the Georgia Straits before the afternoon winds picked up. It was a lumpy 4 hour crossing and we were dodging several large container ships and barges that transit this area. We were happy to re-enter the calm water again as we entered “Welcome Passage.” What a cool name, especially because so many of the names of places out here are a little scary… like Cape Caution, Terror Point, Destruction Island, Point of No Return, etc! We worked our way thru a beautiful marine park called Smugglers Cove that meandered thru giant boulders where you would swear that our 40+ foot boat couldn’t safely get thru. Just beyond it was Secret cove where we saw our first group of eagles. Two seemed to be chasing each other and soaring amongst the sailboat masts and the thick trees just 50 feet away. It’s a wonder how their wings clear the branches and masts by only inches.

Garbage disposal and laundry are two things cruisers usually find challenging when traveling from place to place. It seems that my timing is often “just off” so that when we have time to do it, no facilities are available, or when the facilities are available we are underway. One particular Thursday after our laundry had been piling up for what seemed to be weeks, we anchored in Pender Harbor, took a short walk to town and then I was off to do laundry – or so I thought. I had just under 2 hours to get our laundry done before “Survivor” started – which we embarrassingly admit are addicted to. Jo & Adie had it dialed in on their satellite dish earlier so we were set for the 8:00 episode. I called a nearby “marina” who said we could use their facilities. I gathered my laundry and picked up a bit of Jo & Adie’s as well. Ken dropped me off at the dock with my laundry, which is now piling higher by the day. I hauled it up the steep gangway, located the landlord in the quite run down little trailer park, who then had to track down the owner to convert my US $’s into Canadian Loonies that could be used in the machines “OK, I’m all set now” I thought… “If I hurry and the machines are fast models, I can get it all done in time to get back in the 1 hour and 20 minutes I had left before Survivor started.” I was then escorted to the laundry facilities, which consisted of two washers and two dryers. I sorted the clothes and although I had enough for four+ loads, I figured if I only did what I had to do, they would fit in the two machines. I put the soap in, loaded the first washer, then opened the second washer only to find out that it was half full of dirty water. I located the friendly man who said he would have to fix the machine which would take about a half hour. “But the show starts in an hour and 10 minutes” I thought, “I have more important things to do with my time” (ie watch Survivor on TV???) I decided it was a better idea to come back in the early morning, before we left for our next port, when both washers were working. I hauled the 4+ loads of laundry back down the steep gangway, went back to the boat, ate a quick dinner, and we jumped in the dinghy and sped over to Wandering Star to watch Survivor with two minutes to spare. After all that, Jo met us at the back of their boat, only to let us know that as the tides were dropping all afternoon, the boat had dropped low enough so that the mountains obliterated the satellite signal they were able to tune into earlier in the day. We would have to miss survivor for yet another week! We sauntered dejectedly back to Dreamweaver and thought to ourselves “we don’t need no stinkin’ Survivor… we’ll just create our own!” We then began looking thru our charts to plan the next days adventure.

There are so many places, inlets, and alcoves to see it is sometimes difficult to decide which one we should explore next. People tell us that they could cruise these waters for 20 years without ever staying in the same place twice! We decided to take a side trip up Jervis Inlet to Princess Louisa to see the famed Chatterbox Falls. Keeping in mind that we travel between 6 and 7 knots per hour, we calculated it to be about an 8 hour drive to get there. That meant that we had to leave at 6 am. Three miles below the falls one has to pass thru Malibu Rapids which can run up to 9 knots. Our window of opportunity to get thru the rapids at slack tide meant that we had to be there about 1 pm. That in turn meant that if we sped up a bit we could get there on time if we left at 6 am. I’m all for clean clothes but more for cool adventures, so we decided to leave the next morning (before the laundry was open) – after all, the sun was supposed to be out the next day and I could always hand wash our underwear and hang it out to dry while we are underway.

Up at daybreak and underway at 6 am as scheduled. The 44 mile Jervis inlet that leads to the Princess Louisa Inlet and Chatterbox Falls was everything we could have imagined. Every turn seemed to become more majestic as we wound our way up the narrow, deep fjord. It was over 2,000 feet deep and was thick with trees, steep cliffs and snow capped mountains, with peeks that looked like the Tetons. It has been called a ‘Yosemite at sea level’ by many and can only be accessed by boat or seaplane. As we approached the end of the inlet waterfalls became more and more prevalent. Before we arrived at our destination I decided I needed a shower. Here I was, “ah natural” looking out our little shower porthole seeing four (count em’) waterfalls at one point – just awesome! We passed thru the rapids at just the right time and settled in at the long courtesy dock at the end of the inlet and base of Chatterbox Falls. We were greeted by about 7 other boats, some of whom we had already crossed paths. We were told by others of bear sightings that day and the day before. It was about 2:30 pm when we headed out for our “walk.” There was talk of a “trail” that led to an old trapper’s cabin that took a few hours to get to and was supposedly very difficult at best. None of the other boaters at the dock had gone on the hike or had gone far enough to locate the cabin. Of course, loaded with that information we knew we had to go. Within the first 5 minutes we knew we were in bear country, dense trees, ferns, boulders, very lush almost Jurrasic Park like, and poop! We found the answer to “does a bear shit in the woods?” For sure! We were with J&A for the first part of the hike and Jo & I found our selves singing old camp and church songs from when we were kids very loudly in order to “scare away” any bears in the area. I don’t think of myself as a chicken, but as we got deeper into the woods and passed what appeared to be several “bears dens” I really, really wanted to turn back. Ken (Captain Chaos) said he would take me back but that he would then return by himself (J&A were the smart ones and ventured back to the boat once they felt they had gone as far as they wanted to.) Well, I of course decided that if he did that he would get eaten by a bear and I would feel guilty the rest of my life…. So, as the dutiful wife I continued on singing my songs and making loud noises as we ventured deeper into the forest. Now you have to know that this “trail” consisted of small pink or orange plastic ties that long ago were scattered about haphazardly and were often non-existent and difficult to follow. We were climbing up rocks and mossy areas where we had to use tree branches to climb our way up or walk across fallen trees everywhere. An hour and a half into our hike we came across a fellow from a sailboat heading back down who said he had tried to locate “the cabin” twice but had given up because the trail was so confusing. At this point we were both getting tired but more determined than ever to find “the cabin.” It was 4:40pm when we located the cabin, which was right next to a big waterfall hidden in the “jungle.” We quickly took a few photos (bragging rights you know) and began making our way back. “Follow me” Ken says, “I never get lost.” Within about 5 minutes we were lost and found ourselves bushwhacking our way down until we relocated the makeshift trail further down the road. When the sun ducked behind the steep mountains we knew full well that Jo would have a search party out for us if we didn’t get back soon! We were feeling the need to get down quickly as dusk seems to be the time that bears come out and the trail was just as hard to follow going down as it was coming up. After we came across some bear poop on the trail, that was still somewhat warm (tested by Kenny) and that we didn’t see on the way up, I decided it was time to sing again. I start singing the little bits of all the songs I can remember. Ken even chimed in this time! We were horrendously off key – which we figured is what probably kept the bears away. Four hours later we emerged from the hike quite sore and tired to a dock full of fretful boaters, a relieved sister, and another cool adventure under our belts.

On Mothers Day we officially entered “Desolation Sound,” which is the final destination point for most of the boats traveling in the Pacific Northwest. Although the name doesn’t sound like it, this area is known for having more beautiful anchorages and scenery in 10-20 square miles than most anywhere up and down the coast. In the summer time it is the place that hundreds of boaters come to spend their vacations or their entire summer. The boys made short order of heading out to set their crab traps in hopes for a crab dinner. Because it was only mid-May and we were the only two boats around, Ken & Adie ran around doing donuts in the anchorage in their dinghy’s and causing general havoc. Adie’s dinghy is much faster than ours so he could run circles around Ken doing his best to swamp him. Jo & I hope they never grow up? Although we did not have crab, the guys cooked us a great dinner, “over-served” us with wine, which all made for a memorable Mothers Day in Desolation Sound!

Now it was time for us to cross the Queen Charlotte Sound, an open ocean crossing, between the north end of Vancouver Island and the northern British Columbia coast, which seems to receive the most amount of “respect” from boaters going up the Inside Passage. The seas tend to be high and steep in this particular area due to the different depths of water between the continental shelf and the QC Sound that bump up against each other. That, combined with the water that outflows from four inlets that run into the incoming ocean swells can make for very rough water! We were warned about this crossing from several cruisers who told us of some scary times and forewarned us about checking the weather before crossing. It began to get a little rough and the tide had turned as we were cruising up Johnstone Strait, just below Queen Charlotte Sound, so we decided to pull into Port Harvey and wait out the flood tide. In the meantime the winds picked up and we were hearing questionable reports of a storm coming. We were not able to get a clear weather report on the VHF radio, so Adie was laying on his flybridge in the now gusting wind trying to get a satellite signal on his phone to call for a weather report. The report sounded iffy so altered our route for the afternoon, up Chattum Channel, across some rapids, down Knight Inlet, and dropped the hook at Native Anchorage, right next to Mamalilaculla, an old Indian village full of ancient history. It was reportedly the site of the 1921 “Christmas Potlatch.” Because potlatches were outlawed in 1884 the Indians there had charges brought against them and most of their ceremonial objects were confiscated and are now in museums. The whole area was quite remote, similar to 1000 Island area back east. We were navigating in, out, and around islands everywhere in this stretch of the trip. The history of this area and all the Indians/settlers is pretty fascinating - we felt like Christopher Columbus discovering a new land!

Both Dreamweaver and Wandering Star breezed across the Queen Charlotte Sound the following day with no problem and pulled into Fury Cove, a beautiful little anchorage, about 6 pm. We celebrated our “crossing” with J&A and then took the dinghy to the white shell beach that surrounded the bay where we had seen a canoe earlier. Two people came out to greet us, along with their giant Alaskan Malamute dog. We invited them back to our boat for dinner and showers like we used to do with hikers on the PCT trail back home. The six of us, plus a 125 pound dog, had a great dinner and evening aboard DW. Geoff & Pam were in their early 30’s and were 3 months into a 3 year canoe trip that will take them from Victoria (Vancouver island) across Canada to Newfoundland. The canoe is 18’ long and fully loaded weighs 700 pounds, which includes the two of them, all their gear plus their enormous dog, Tac! They carry two 25 gallon waterproof drums – one with the food, the other for their clothes and sleeping gear. A sail is also on board that they use to help them along when the conditions are right so they can get a break from paddling. What a really fascinating couple on a great adventure! If anyone ever hears me say that we do not have much room on our 40 foot boat after seeing what they are traveling in – they better slap me! Their web site is canoeacrosscanada.ca if you are interested in checking out their progress.

One of the exciting things about being in a small boat is that you can go off the beaten path and explore areas you couldn’t otherwise get to. We often call Ken “Hawkeye,” the way he can pick out things from a distance. At one point he spotted a large chimney and the corner of an old building in a small bay that the guide books didn’t mention. We turned 90 degrees, anchored, launched our “car” and went exploring. Ken & I bushwhacked our way thru the forest/jungle/rainforest and found a 3 story concrete building that was the remains of an old pulp mill. It was obvious that this again was one of those “used to be thriving” developments that had been abandoned for many, many years. Ken was in his glory as one of the most fun things to do is explore places not talked about in the cruising guides.

Butedale, a famous old fish packing camp and cannery is probably the largest old abandoned development that we’ve seen yet and by far the most interesting. It could have had something to do with the brilliant sunshine we had that day?? … but non-the-less it was wonderful place to explore. We tied up at the very primitive dock, primarily made of large logs tied together with some rudimentary planks across them. To our amazement it fit both Wandering Star and Dreamweaver. In its day the town was a bustling place that had a fish processing and canning factory. Now, most of the area is in ruins and it continues to deteriorate with several large buildings that have literally fallen into the sea. It is like a city lost in time. The area is still a prime location for fishing so a company from Calif. purchased it and hired a caretaker to watch over what is left of the place. Butedate Lou, the caretaker who is an equally interesting and resourceful character, stays there year round and although some fishermen and cruisers stop by during the summer months, he generally doesn’t see another sole for months on end in the off season. Lou took the four of us on a tour of the camp and the old power house next to a big waterfall. Years ago it generated 150,000 watts of hydroelectric power a day for the whole settlement in its heyday. Lou is quite elderly and has ingeniously jury-rigged the ancient rusted out, broken down power system by building a flume (from pieces of wood he pulled from the dilapidated buildings) then using a series of old belts, pulley’s, alternators, inverters, etc., he now generates 150 watts an hour, which is what he gets by on. Not only is he very resourceful and very personable, you can tell this old codger has a sensitive side by the care he took with preparing his flower garden. One corner of the building he called home had several containers with seedlings sprouting indoors until they were strong enough to be placed in his garden. Next to that he had what looked to be hundreds of dahlia bulbs that had been dug up and protected from the winter frost and were about ready to be planted. He had small wood carvings of totem poles and eagles he was working on, and some “postcards” he’d hand painted on pieces of wood, which we purchased. He even keeps a few gallons of ice cream on hand to sell to the fishermen and occasional boaters that stop by. We were told stories of days gone by and of one of the rather dilapidated cabins still being haunted to this day. Butedale is on Princess Royal Island and has the largest population of spirit (white) bears. There is a movement in BC to stop the logging on this island to protect these rare bears. Although we didn’t get to see a spirit bear during our visit, it was a great place to explore and we will fondly remember Butedate Lou.

There are many hot springs throughout B.C. and Southeast Alaska and it is a ritual that many partake in. We arrived at Bishop Hot Springs and rafted up next to J&A, who got the last spot on the very small public dock and promptly visited the hot springs for a soak. There was a fishing boat named Brenda Lyn that had been anchored nearby was having trouble trying to get in close enough to shore to pick up his crew that had gone up for a soak earlier. Observing the trouble the captain was having, Ken launched our dink, picked up the crew and delivered them to their boat – as a “reward” the captain gave us a whole bag of shrimp (100+ at least!) Horst (a German guy that Adie really got along with well) and his wife Susan, were on a sailboat named Meta and were tied up along the dock next to us. Turned out that the captain of the fishing boat built the sailboat (Meta) many years ago and recognized it when he was trying to pick up his crew from the shore – another small world kinda thing! Next, Captain Bob, his son Brody pulled up and rafted to us. He built his 45 foot sailboat (Cetacia) over 17 years. It was quite unusual for three of the four boats on the dock to be “homebuilt” which we thought was pretty amazing. By the way, all three boat builders said that building their own boat was one of the most rewarding, yet crazy, things they’ve ever done, and all wholeheartedly agreed, they would never do again! J&A invited all four boats over to WS for Happy Hour which went on for four hours as we all swapped lies. It was after 11 pm when J&A came over to DW where we had a shrimp boil til midnight.

At the end of May we crossed over from Prince Rupert in British Columbia to Ketchikan, Alaska and the end of leg one. The next leg of our journey will take us from Ketchikan, thru Juneau, up to Glacier Bay, down to Sitka, up to Skagway, then back to Juneau where we will fly home at the end of July. We hope you’re all happy, healthy and enjoying what life has to offer. Until then, happy trails to you...

Love and Dreams...
Ken & Dottie

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