Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Smith Inlet, Part 2

The scenery changed as we moved farther up the inlet. Smith transitioned into a beautiful fjordlike channel with deep forested side valleys that drew the eye to ever higher peaks looming in the distance. The sunnier the day became, the more impressive r the scenery appeared - I can be such a fickle, weather-influenced tourist.

It was a surprise to round a bend near the head of the inlet and come upon the floating Great Bear Lodge. (Do explore their photo gallery for some terrific wildlife shots). 

We anchored in a small niche around the point from the lodge, feeling quite alone in this beautiful wilderness. Positioning the anchor in 110 feet of water, equidistant between shore and a series of shoaling mudbanks, was an interesting activity, and avoiding the several crab pots sharing the niche only added to the challenge. No problem, we rode comfortably through a series of tide changes without coming close to shore, shoals or crab pots. Masses of seals spent hours loafing and vocalizing on those nearby mudbanks when the shoals were exposed at low tide. At times the neighborhood grew quite noisy. 

The salmon run was just beginning to run up the Nekite River and we hoped the presence of fish would draw the grizzlies. I cautioned myself not to expect too much as we set out upriver in the skiff on a rising tide. Initially we saw little wildlife, primarily birds. Kingfishers made a few dive-bombing runs at us, crowds of Canadian geese fed in the marshy flats, and families of merganzers paddled furiously into side channels when we passed. 

After motoring along slowly for 90 minutes, we finally saw some grizzlies, the first and only of the summer for us. A large grizzly sow with two cubs appeared at a gravel bar along the bank. Mom fished for salmon while the cubs splashed in the water alongside, observing her technique or maybe just playing. The sow was very wary, so we kept our distance and wished for longer camera lenses. As the water rose with the tide, it covered the gravel bar and the bear wandered off into the brush. Our bear watching was over all too soon, but our timing was good and we were lucky. 

We returned to the big boat in time to watch a commercial crabber pull his pots, and reset them again in a ring around our anchor niche. Those fishermen worked hard for very little return.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Smith Inlet, Part 1

The Lower Inlet

Weather was not our friend as we headed down FitzHugh Sound. Oh! how I missed those weeks of warm, sunny weather in July and early August. Heavy rain, ugly chop on top of 6-foot swells and strong gusty winds accompanied us all the way to Smith Sound. We spotted 4 whales on the run south, but didn't linger. Whale watching isn't as much fun in chunky water with rain and low clouds limiting visibility. 

Several harbors at the mouth of the inlet are popular, protected anchorages where southbound cruisers wait for good weather before setting out to round Cape Caution. Weather and sea conditions do matter. With only a smattering of small offshore islands to break up the ocean swells, vessels are exposed to the open Pacific Ocean for most of the 50+ nautical mile run across Queen Charlotte Sound. That exposure is a big deal to pleasure boats that travel in the 7 to 10 knot range, maybe less of a concern to larger commercial traffic.
Photo: tug with an unusual tow heads for Cape Caution
Photo: this tow might benefit from minimal swell and wave height
We have previously used Millbrook Cove on the north side of Smith, but on this trip peppy SW winds swirled around in that bay and strong swells rolled far inside. We moved across the inlet to anchor on the southerly shore. Fly Basin was new to us and offered complete shelter from both wind and choppy water. The basin entrance is quite shallow, shallow enough to restrict  passage at very low tides. That may be the reason we had so little company inside the basin. Half a dozen other boats chose to anchor outside in larger Takush Harbor.  

We didn't see or hear any other cruising boats the next day as we traveled up the inlet, but one small helicopter and a few crew boats did attract attention as they noisily buzzed about.

Photo: this helicopter flew up and down canyons, buzzed along the shoreline and disappeared over the ridge line - photo op or timber cruising? 

Photo: what WAS that chopper doing there, perched on the rocks?
Photo: a modern day logging operation in Smith Inlet
A pair of humpback whales cruised slowly along the surface near the Burnt Island logging camp. They lazily traveled back and forth, following a rip line as they fed. We never saw them dive or jump or even wave a fin, but it was fun to see whales nearby. 

All of this was interesting, but we were ready to move on, eager to explore the large river that emptied into the head of Smith Inlet.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Loggers, Logging, and Log Rafts

Forest products are big business in B.C., and Dean Channel is clearly an important resource center. Logging equipment and camps were active here and there along the shore...

...and logging roads, old and new, wound along the slopes heading up into nearby valleys. I wonder how long it takes for new growth to mature and be ready to harvest.

The chart for Jenny Bay indicated a tempting spot to anchor, tucked away in a small niche behind a point. It must have been a great spot -  two logging camp barges were already situated there. We could have shared the bay, but the other mooring sites would not be as protected from afternoon winds and chop as that little niche. We moved on.

This old hulk was interesting to view and puzzle over. I wonder what its function was, and how and when did it end up on shore and upside down? 

Here's a puzzle: there are bushes on shore behind this log skid indicating it is no longer used, but there is a raft with fresh logs at the foot of the skid. Does the rusty metal skid indicate disuse or daily contact with salt water? I wonder. 

The logger manning the tiny yard tug had to work hard to tighten up the boom chains, doing the job the same way it has been done for decades... by hand. Obviously, logging is not for wimps. I wonder how much technology has changed the process over time, especially in remote areas? I wonder about a lot of things.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Along Dean Channel

We cruise happily on salt water each year, spending considerably less time on the many freshwater lakes, rivers and streams along the way. This year we planned to do more freshwater day trips in the skiffs and kayaks as we traveled the B.C.coast. The Capt. was eager to run up both Dean Channel  Smith Inlet to their heads and explore the great rivers that empty there. These were two very different excursions. 

Dean Channel is a long, winding fjordlike channel with 65 miles of dramatic scenery, punctuated with tall, snow-covered peaks, steep-sided valleys and deep underwater canyons. 

Photo: The bottom of the channel is 700 feet below the hull; that's plenty deep!

Photo: Wow! it's 1518 feet deep in the channel, so close to shore. The contour lines indicate steep slopes up to the surface, which usually continue up into steep cliffs above the water. 

It's hard to imagine the difficulty of overland travel through this rugged portion of B.C.'s coastal mountain range, but Scottish explorer Alexander MacKenzie did just that. He arrived here in 1793, completing the first east to west crossing of North America reaching to the Pacific. His party was 10 years ahead of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and MacKenzie missed meeting explorer George Vancouver in nearby Bella Coola by 48 days. MacKenzie recorded his arrival by writing this inscription on a rock above the tideline, historic graffiti of a sort: 
"Alex MacKenzie / from Canada / by land / 22d July 1793"

Photo: Sir Alexander MacKenzie marker in Dean Channel
Elcho Bay welcomed us as a base location, a scenic spot sheltered from afternoon winds and channel chop outside in Dean Channel. The winding Elcho River offered lovely scenery on a dinghy excursion, but birds were the only visible wildlife. However an unseen but very noisy something crashed through the bushes alongside us. The water was shallow, the river was narrow, and I could imagine all sorts of scary possibilities. We shouted, we sang, we made a lot of noise as we reversed and headed back downstream toward the bay. The crashing continued along with us, keeping pace with the skiff until we exited the river. We never saw the mystery critter, and maybe that's a good thing. 

Photo: A channel at the mouth of the Elcho River.

Photo: Elcho River where the water becomes too shallow to transit further by dinghy.

Photo: The tiny dot on the water is Rhapsody at anchor in Elcho Bay.
Several other bays along Dean Channel are noted for their hot springs. We poked the bow into two, but didn't stay to explore. Tiny Eucott Bay had other boats at anchor and Nascall had unfriendly Keep Out!! warnings posted everywhere. I'd love to return when the salmon are running and bear are more likely to appear in the estuary.  

The Dean River is legendary for its steelhead run, but we didn't know that when we cruised by, pausing only for photos. Later I found this testimonial on a fishing lodge webpage:
"A mile and a half from the mouth of the river lies the Dean River canyon- a narrow, steep section with strong current and many small falls. For an anadromous fish to successfully navigate this section on its way to spawn, it must be not only strong but resilient. Evolution has dictated that there are simply no weak Dean fish- any steelhead in the Dean with less than world-class athletic ability will quickly fall out of the gene pool, losing its battle with the canyon.
Dean River steelhead crush flies. They jump repeatedly. They torch drags. They sprint downriver. They sometimes sprint upriver. They don’t quit, and they often leave shaken anglers wondering what the heck just happened on the end of their line."
Photo: Anglers begin a run up the Dean River.
Photo: Dean River's mouth barely hints at the steep canyon and rugged country beyond.
Dean Channel continues on past the Dean River delta and actually ends at the Kimsquit River estuary. The Kimsquit empties with several wide, winding and shallow channels filled with debris. The scattering of trees that litter the river delta here hint at the power of this river when it floods. The area displays weathed evidence of 20th century logging, new growth deciduous trees outline old logging roads and log dumps remain along the shore. 

It was late in the afternoon, the wind was up and weather was changing. With no sheltered anchorages close by, we wisely turned and ran back to Elcho Bay for a worry-free night.  

Photo: The entrance to Elcho Bay was a welcome sight.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Ocean Falls

It’s an easy run from Shearwater to Ocean Falls, but we don’t often visit here (link). We tend to rush north to Alaska, vowing to slow down and spend more time in B.C. on the way south… and then we don’t. This year we did slow down, stayed below 53 degrees N latitude, and ignored Alaska completely. 

From Shearwater we traveled east through Gunboat Pass, turned left into Fisher Channel and continued on up Cousins Inlet to Ocean Falls. A big bonus was sighting 4 humpback whales on our way up the inlet. The small group, including at least one baby, zig-zagged across the channel as they surface cruised, feeding along a rip line. There were no big leaps or fin displays to impress us, but whales do make an impact with their presence alone.

Very impressive was the sight of a B.C. ferry appearing close, w-a-a-y too close, off our port side as it cruised toward the Ocean Falls ferry dock. Hello there!

Ocean Falls has quite a history, dating back to the early 1900s, as a pulp and paper center, but today it resembles a ghost town. The settlement still boasts a ferry landing, post office, hotel of sorts, cafĂ© at a sport fishing lodge and gift shop, but few residents. Most of the small, local population live in nearby Martin Valley, where year-round residents number close to 30. A sign near the ferry landing claims Ocean Falls is the home of the Rain People, a believable label for a location that receives close to 173 inches of rain each year. 

Photo: Ocean Falls Post Office and City Hall in the foreground, deserted ruins of a dormitory or residence hall in the background.
Crabbing was good, as always, and kept many of the visiting boat crews busy catching and cooking. My big hurrah came when I found fast, free wi-fi access available at the dock. Wi-fi, abundant fresh water and 30-amp power while moored in a lovely location with good crabbing, now that’s a good thing! What’s not so good? no bear sightings yet. No black bear, no grizzly bear. Sigh! We moved on to explore Dean Channel, returning again the following week. Then the wind came up… and the local wi-fi went down… and the rain began. This is the raincoast, once again. 

Photo: Ocean Falls Mermaid waves goodbye
Photo: local seals laze about quietly during the day, but vocalize loudly throughout the night

Friday, August 9, 2013


We treated ourselves to a few days at the dock in Shearwater, and yes, it was a treat even though we did a little rocking and rolling moored on the outside of the T-dock along a busy channel. RL did the happy dance when Jean at the hardware store loaned him a ladder tall enough to access the anchor light that needed repair. Can't you just picture the ride he had... on top of the ladder... up on the top deck... when a thoughtless boater or two roared past?! 

I especially loved the small, well-stocked grocery store, the pub that offered great burgers and halibut tacos on a sunny deck overlooking the harbor, and Mika the hair stylist who rescued me from a bad summer haircut. I was not too impressed with the s-l-o-w, reminds-me-of-the-old-dialup-days internet access and 2-bar cellphone reception available intermittently at the dock. Oops, I sound like such a city girl, it must be time to get moving again.

Shearwater was crowded with scores of gill netters, fifty or more, running about, coming and going or stopping to raft up at the commercial dock. They hang out between openings, fish Monday dawn to Tuesday noon, then hang out again until the next week's 30-hour opening. This was the only area open to gillnetting at the time, so boats from all along the coast flocked to fish here. The coho fishing is HOT and more and more big kings/springs are caught each day, so sport fishermen are also flocking to this area. Oh yes, we have a lot of company lately, here at the dock and out on anchor.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Discovery Cove, Troup Passage

We moved back through Troup Narrows traveling a few miles south down Troup Passage to a niche in Discovery Cove. This anchorage was another quiet spot behind an island, protected on one side by a low, rocky reef. I was at the helm and slowly ran the big boat in to the cove while RL tended the line towing the skiff (keeping it clear of the propellers). There was an exciting minute or two when I could not spot a charted island that Nobeltec, the navigation program, lists as visible, dry land. Surprise! in real life it covers at a 5' tide, not a comforting thought when Rhapsody draws 5 feet. Just one more reason to stay alert, and keep comparing real-world views with the computer screen.

We couldn't wait to hop in the skiff and go exploring. Our dinghy excursion turned up two other boats in neighboring niches, nothing like the crowds on the other side of the narrows. We viewed wide expanses of shoreline grass with beaten down paths, maybe game trails, but no animals ever appeared. Several dry creek beds could carry snowmelt runoff in spring or even be seasonal creeks, but during this unusually dry summer not even the ubiquitous pink salmon have been drawn to spawn here. Not yet anyway. No rain = no runoff to attract returning salmon runs = no bears fishing/feeding at the shoreline. Drat.

RL worked on several boat maintenance projects, installed the new battery in the RIB and designed some rigging and an improved method for towing the Whaler. I baked bread, began a new knitting project and worked on some blog posts... hoping to find an internet connection... soon... somewhere. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Troup Narrows Cove's a Crabby Place

We stopped at the dock in Bella Bella to buy a new battery for the RIB and fill the water tanks. The burned-out building at the head of the wharf stands as a stark reminder of the fire that destroyed the Band store, a bank and a liquor store. While the various insurance companies deal with the coverage details, groceries are now available a short block away at a local church. Boats were circling and standing off the town dock, waiting to tie up or fuel, so I didn't stop to shop. Maybe next time.

Troup Passage was a busy place, full of prawn traps, crab traps and a surprising number of boats.. These were reminders that we were close to town again. RL chose a quiet spot to anchor, away from the populous south cove, and we enjoyed hanging out and crabbing. (Note: I hung out and he did the crabbing.) Troup was Crab Central! The daily catch limit for Dungeness is 6 males, with a total possession limit of 12 per license. We could have legally kept 24 of those tasty critters, but settled for 10 big boys in 24 hours. Big? how big? I'm talking Big with a capital B, as in in several over 8 inches Big. That's a lot of crab meat. RL made quick work of cracking and cooking the catch. I took forever picking the meat out of the cooked and cooled crab, but it wasn't much of a chore working outside on a warm, sunny evening afloat. 

You're welcome to come on by for some crabby appetizers.