Sailing out of Valdez past the narrows we joined a variety of local boats fishing for Coho (silver) Salmon, tales of “the one that got away,” “it was the biggest fish you have ever seen” to cut the story short we had a monster of a fish hooked but it got away!” try again later. We hoisted the sails and left it to more able fishermen. Landlocked bay was our destination within the Chugach National Forest, on the way in we tried the rod again this time for a rock fish…..strike….. A yellow eyed rock fish not a lot of meat but very tasty.
Landlocked Bay showed evidence of mining with spoils dotted on the hillsides, exploring with the kayaks we saw the salmon running and evidence of bear presence but no bears, eagles and sea birds were clearing the fish carcasses. Landlocked Bay was very peaceful and tranquil after being in Valdez.
Heading towards the entrance of Prince William Sound still within the Chugach National Forrest area, we anchored in Two Moon Bay waiting for a front to pass, in the usual Alaskan style it rained hard for the rest of the night, with a little lightning and thunder.
We had decided in the time available that Cordova would have to be “next time” as it would mean a detour of 70 Nm, Alaska is a big place. Next morning the weather was not good enough to leave to cross the Alaskan Gulf so we headed further down towards the entrance of Prince William Sound, at Hinchinbrook Island we anchored in Constantine Harbour. The entrance is marked by Praying hand rocks; this area is steeped in history. A native village visited by Captain Cook in 1778, during the Russia period Russian fur trading companies established a fort here. It changing hands when the United States purchased Alaska in 1867 to an Alaskan company, but by then the sea otters were in decline and only natives could hunt them. By the turn of the century the otter population was almost extinct, the Gold Rush was in progress and the interior was deemed more valuable than an island. Slowly it declined to what is now; currently it’s owned by a native corporation that cares for the area. Wildlife was still present we saw whales, dals porpoise, puffins, kittiwakes, harlequin ducks and a couple of sea otters. We scanned the shore for bears but didn’t see any.
The weather looked right to leave the next morning to cross the gulf possibly stopping at Icy Bay, or Kayak Island. We opted for Kayak Island, an impressive island with 1000ft sheer limestone faces on the south end, we hoped to circumnavigate the island but due to the seismic activity of 1964 the chart info of the north end is now wildly inaccurate, the ocean floor has lifted at least 15ft, which in the charted shallows made it much too risky to complete the circuit with our 7 ft. draught.
We also wanted to stop in Lituya Bay, but again the swell and a weather front pushed us on to SE Alaska. Our crossing of the Gulf of Alaska was a good one with over 70 percent sailing. Elfin Cove our first stop, a fine little community, with a board walk, laundry, showers, grocery and liquor store and free berthing alongside, friendly too what more could you ask for! Here we waited for the front to pass through, with an Australian boat that had crossed from Japan.
Our deadline to leave the USA and to meet Ali’s Father was approaching so we pushed on to Hoonhah, then again stopped by weather at Baranoff Hot Springs, we couldn’t think of a better place to wait out a weather front, natural hot springs and a massive waterfall in spate with all rain we were having. Even the local fishermen came in for shelter, so the company was good too.
One by one they left the following day to return to fishing, us too heading towards Petersburg, we made it as far as Herring bay on Admiralty Island, watching Humpbacks on the way and of course now we were on the cruise ship route, two passed us, we could see the flashes from the passenger’s cameras as they passed us!
The distances to cover and having the tide with you all the way is easy if you travel at 20 knots but as we are lucky to average 6 knots we didn’t have a hope to arrive in Petersburg in slack tide fortunately it worked so we only had two knots against us in the narrows. We tied up in the North Harbour.
Petersburg is a super place, a little off the cruise track as the big ships can’t get there which is nice. Mittkof Island has lots of hikes/tracks on it so the mountain bikes came out and a day’s biking to explore some of the island. It was first settled by Norwegian’s and it still has that feel to it, painted houses, with deer that just wandered around the gardens.
The times for Wrangell Narrows were calculated and we departed after lunch the next day. Timing was perfect we had tide with us all the way and didn’t meet any of the huge tug and tows we were warned of! Sailing on with the current we made it to Salmon Bay the top of Prince of Wales Island where we shared an anchorage with a fishing research vessel, that evening the aurora borealis visited in a style we only thought possible further north, a magical experience.
Sailing with the tide the next day only saw us to Ratz Harbour, half way down Prince of Wales Island. Here we set the crab pot for the night and explored a creek at the head of the bay, watching yet another floating hotel pass us by.
Retrieving the crab pot the next morning our catch was too small to keep but at least it works!
Head winds were forecast but we left early and made it across Clarence Strait back to the mainland, taking shelter in Myer’s Chuck for the rest of the day and night. Really friendly locals here, sharing some freshly caught salmon with us and some advice on our non-fishing technique!
Listening to the weather it sound like we go tomorrow or stay a week……again time wasn’t on our side so should we push for Ketchikan the following day after speaking to a float plane pilot that just dropped his Beaver into Myers Chuck, on what the weather was really like out there! We left.
Also heeding what our locals had said about fishing we slowed down at the point before Ketchikan and landed two fine Cohos. Overall a good day and we were alongside in Ketchikan the cruise ship capital of SE Alaska…….need we say more the town was heaving with tourists not really knowing what to do.
Here we checked out of Alaska and the US feeling sad as we had really enjoyed our time here having met some great people and enjoyed some good times with the locals, we decided Alaska is too big for just one season we will be back next summer….
Across the border into Canada some 40Nm later we stopped at Dundas Island for the
night to catch the tide for the Venn Passage the next day to sail into Prince Rupert, after mooring alongside in Prince Rupert Rowing and Sailing Club we enjoyed hot showers and we had a meal out to celebrate Ali’s Birthday at the Cow Bay Café, one of the finest meals we had for a long time.
After a haircut and stocking up on fresh fruit and veg we moved on, our tide tables on the plotter for the next section didn’t add up and in fact were opposite to what we actually had so we anchored in Lawson Hrb for a few hours waiting for the tide to turn, before entering the Grenville Channel, here the weather decided to lower the ceiling to the 2nd spreader and empty the clouds for the next 48hrs not much fun. Travelling at night was ruled out as there were so many logs or perhaps better described as trees floating in the channels, the currents seemed to collect them up and raft them into large islands moving up and down the channels, additional navigational hazards… the unknown, not visible on radar, like being back in the Arctic, and as hard as Ice too.
Crossing Wright Sound the ceiling lifted, the tide was with us, whales appeared, the ferry (Prince Rupert to Port Hardy) we saw docked in Prince Rupert over took us, and the sun shined, drying everything out. Tugs coming the other way towing two massive barges travelling at only 3 and a half knots what must that be like?
Anchoring for the night we decide the next day we would make use of the good North West wind that was forecast….we felt like we had motored most of the way and we wanted to sail. A good NW was blowing and we headed out in to the sound by passing some interesting ground, but we are coming back this way to explore further. Sailing at seven knots wind just aft of the beam, sun shining and the miles being ticked off.
Taking the outside route met we would visit a couple of less visited anchorages on the way, to our and their surprise a local sail boat was anchored where we planned, but there was plenty of room for two. Edna Islands, super white beaches and a different kind of wilderness. British Columbia is also a place you could cruise for a life time and not anchor in the same bay twice!
Rounding Cape Caution into Queen Charlotte Strait, we anchored in Shelter Bay? Again setting the crab pot and tying our stern to the shore to keep out of the way, this was a good move as the wind that blew in the night was deflected by the trees and we didn’t feel a thing.
Onto Vancouver Island, and Port McNeil this stop the Harbour master is from Trowbridge and still had the accent, which was nice to hear. Cracking little harbour with everything a cruiser needs and a reasonable rates to (the day we arrived it had just change to winter rates, 25p/ft/night!) The wind blew even harder that night but we were tucked up nicely, weathering it out. Home to the World’s largest Burl!
When Greg came out he brought a Welsh flag with him and it’s been flying ever since, causing some questions but in port McNeil a guy pulled alongside in his RIB and declared his ancestors were Welsh and we should come and visit him on Alert Island. We explained we were on a deadline but would be back to take him up on his visit, Alert bay is an interesting place that has been occupied by native people for a long time, mentioned in quite a few social history books of the area.
After studying the charts and current tables, working out the best route, we had a couple of plans as there are lots of islands narrows and tidal gates. We set off with a flexible idea as to which plan we would follow. Not all the currents in all the channels are shown. AIS is a great tool not just for being seen but to see others and in particular in this case they speed, we saw a boat half a mile ahead of us, monitoring their speed as they went one particular channel and a tug travelling in another channel about the same distance away. The first boat slowed down dramatically and the tug has less current against him, so opted for the tugs route. It worked well as when we popped out further down the same previous channel we were well over a mile in front of the first boat.
We opted for the less travelled routes, Chancellor Channel, Cordera Channel, Nodales Channel stopping in Thurston Bay Marine Park for the night, waking to watch a bear stalking the beach. Moving on towards Cortes Island, through the Dent Rapids, Devils hole and Yaculta Rapids all timed so tide was on our side and not too much buffeting through the whirlpools. Into Sutil Passage and through Uganda Passage and into Gorge Harbour to meet up with some old friends from our Patagonian days, Amanda and Barry. Tying alongside there steel Van de Stat, sailing boat “Papa Rumba”
Here we stopped for a few days enjoying their kind hospitality, meeting their friends. Being stopped for a few days reminds us of how much we have been travelling, the simple things in life to be enjoyed showers, laundry, internet! Fresh food, wine and not forgetting the good company. Still in the back of our minds a deadline to meet.
Ali’s Father had now flown in to Calgary and is driving across the Rockies to meet us in Victoria on Vancouver Island, so we had to move on to be on time, but we would return as we are spending the winter in this region where sailing is possible in between the South Easterly Gales and lows pass through.
From Gorge Harbour on route to Victoria we stopped at Hornby Island, Newcastle Island Marine Park outside Nanaimo, passing Gabriola Island and getting the time right for Dodd Narrows, into Stuart Channel, visiting Chemainus, a delightful town with murals on the walls depicting the town’s history and social development. The weather has been with us all the way still wearing shorts and enjoying the sunshine. Departing the following morning good timing for the Sansum Narrows, Salt spring Island. As we head south the marine traffic density has increased tenfold, BC island ferries dashing across straits and narrows to ferry residents, delivery trucks and perhaps a few tourists, Tugs towing huge log booms travelling at a painful 1-2 knots, massive barges full for sawdust, being taken from mills which are easily located by the concrete structures and chimneys constantly belching out a plumes of steam into the atmosphere, the landscape is of rolling hills covered in trees, bigger trees to what we are used to further north, with large mountains in the background with snowy peaks on both on mainland Canada and Vancouver Island. It’s a tremendous cruising ground; a place you could spend a lifetime exploring.
We anchored near Sydney preparing to leave early doors to jump on the tidal sleigh ride round to Victoria, travelling at 10 knots in glassy conditions; the sunrise was superb with incredible views of Mainland Mountains in the distance a vista not capturable on film. Arrival in Victoria we tied up in front of the Empress Hotel in the centre of downtown Victoria, a sailor’s delight surrounded by historic buildings with the bronze of Captain James Cook overlooking our berth.
Here we met Ali’s Father and Wife joining us to finish off their trip from Alberta back to Vancouver.
Exploring the town of Victoria, dining out and meeting up with some friends from Lewisporte Yacht Club Angus and Judy, we had a super time in town with more Union Jacks than London! It helps that the British Colombian flag has a Union Jack on the top half of it! Victoria is one of those ports we have put on must return list!
Departing James Bay the following lunch time this time heading north, plan to visit Butchart Gardens it was shorted by land from Victoria, but what fun would that be and there is a lovely little inlet for us to pick up a courtesy mooring and tie our stern to shore. We arrived just as the sun was setting, mostly motoring but some white sail sailing, winds light enough for our colourful crusader sail but unfortunately in the wrong direction (which seems to occur more often than not!)
In the morning we saw a racoon foraging on the shore as we prepared the dinghy for the row across to the courtesy dock at the Butchart Gardens. We spent most of the day in the gardens. Despite it being a dry summer and now being October the gardens were impressive, the sunken garden was our favourite, the fall of the acers was really colourful and beautiful, manicured lawns, blooming, weed less flower beds so different from the wild rain Forrest landscape we have been seeing for the last six months.
Departing Butchart Cove with a light wind from the stern encouraged us to set full main and hoist our magic furl cruising chute. Unfurling the chute took us into the peaceful sailing world we wanted to share with Ian and Barbara. As we made our way out of Brentwood bay and into Saanich Inlet a fishing boat called us up to ask how we got here! The Skipper had of course guessed by looking at our study Arctic Tern she was a boat capable of the North West Passage, he wanted to share his experiences of his time in the Arctic, a very special place agreed by all,
We opted to retrace our course north through Sansum Narrows as the local forecast were predicting a blow over night followed by a brisk North Wester. Placing ourselves in a good position to cross to Vancouver or drop our guests at the Nanaimo ferry if we were stopped by weather. Timing was perfect the following morning to transit Portier pass for the crossing of Georgia Strait, the forecast was on our side with the brisk North Westerly one reef in the main and reefed Yankee we creamed along at a steady 7.5 knots eating the miles, superb sailing one of the best we have had since leaving Kodiak Island. Approaching Vancouver on the Saturday morning we were met by a racing sailing fleet, we furled the Yankee to slow us down as they passed, then rounded up to dropped the main in English Bay. As we were preparing the boat to enter False Creek when a super looking motor boat cruised by and welcomed us to Vancouver and congratulated us on transiting the North West Passage!
We have been amazed at the reception we have had from people in BC, of course Canada own part of the North West Passage. We wonder if we had transited from West to East and arrived back in the UK how many people would actually know where the North West Passage was let alone the time, money, effort and lives our ancestors spent on searching for it? Let alone congratulate us on our achievement.
We found a berth in perhaps the most expensive marina over 100CD$ per night to be alongside, no electric, no Wi-Fi we tolerated it for the convenience, but we would be moving to the anchorage in false Creek the next night.
Ian and Barbara departed here after taking us for a super meal in Vancouver, the last couple of days had been really enjoyable and Barbara who hasn’t sailed with us before took to it like a natural. Glad we didn’t scare her off.
The next couple of days we explored Vancouver on our bikes it’s a great city to cycle about, visiting Vancouver Maritime Museum it visit the RMCP vessel “St Roch” that transited the North West Passage both ways. Reminding us how fortunate we have been to be able to transit the North West Passage and the hard ships the early explorers had to endure, without the help of modern technology, communication etc.
Our mission in Vancouver was to get our anchor chain galvanised; only one place could do it Silver City Galvanising in Delta. So we don’t have a car and 280kgs of 12mm chain needed to be transported 20 miles inland. That didn’t stop us! We anchored on our second anchor and Ali loaded the 70 metre chain into our dinghy, while Les hired a U-Haul truck and drove it as close to the sea wall as possible, causing some curious looks from the locals he pulled up the chain from the dinghy but it looked like it came from the sea into the back of the pick up! From there to Delta unloading it on to a pallet at Silver City, the manager said it could be done but it would take a week!
Returning to Arctic Tern, we arrange to meet up with a few people one being Brian, who Ali trained whilst working for Clipper Ventures for Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 07/08. Once you have been part of the “Clipper Family” you can meet people all over the world in every walk of life with a passion for sailing, Brian took us to the most important place in Vancouver the best Chandler!
Here we replaced some spares and tried to source some new carbon brushes for our windlass, unfortunately in this throwaway society the makers of our windlass could only offer a new motor!! A large company like Lewmar aren’t interested in service! We would have to do our own research, the next couple of days while waiting for our chain we visited nearly every motor factors, small garage with alternator repair shops all to no avail, emailing continued to various companies this bought a result a company in Ontario, Acme Electric said they could source them, a very efficient service.
A strong South Easterly was forecast and having our primary ground tackle out of action we felt it prudent to tie alongside for the evening. We managed to find space in the less expensive Fisherman’s Wharf this would also make collecting the chain from Silver City a better option and they had a large trolley we could move the chain on to the pontoon. By the end of the week we got an email our chain was ready. We hired a U-Haul truck again to pick up our chain, so we will be on our way again soon.