Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Inside Passage to Alaska

Saturday 7th May we were on our way up the Inside Passage, starting in Fitz Hugh Sound. It was a calm and fairly leisurely day and we travelled some 50 miles at our comfortable 7 knot cruising speed, consuming only 3.5 gallons an hour; that way our range on full tanks is well over 4,000 miles. At 1300 we saw a large school of Pacific White-Sided dolphins and soon after the Alaska ferry Malaspina sped by at 17 knots. We decided to pull up at the dock at Shearwater, more or less the only location with a pub on the Inside Passage. There is a store and a coffee shop run by Louise from Wigan, whose brother has just been made a Silk at 1 Hare Court (small world syndrome). Terry and Judy on their boat "Never" were excellent companions for the evening session at the hostelry.

Ferry "Malaspina" - bigger than us
Needless to say it wasn't an early start. Must have been the pitchers on special. Sunday we ran for 7 or 8 hours and selected Bottleneck Inlet for our anchorage. Running through the narrow entrance we were pleased to see travelling companions the Three Musketeers from Lagoon Cove; we had caught these folks up. And later on another couple of boats came in and joined us. In the morning everyone was up at first light to head for Hiekish Narrows since there would be assistance from the northbound current. As soon as we were in the channel we saw mother and calf minke whale, and we heard reports on the radio from ahead that there was a kermodei (white-coloured bear "spirit bear") but he had long gone by the time we were passing; he was probably turning rocks on the beach at low tide. Just before the Narrows is Ohio Rock, named after the steamship which hit it on 26 August 1909. Realising he was going to sink, the captain turned her around and saved many lives by driving her up onto the beach in Carter Bay.
Debris, mainly logs and trees

We are always on the watch for
An upright log, a deadhead
 logs and other debris while we are under way. Deadheads are the worst, and can damage your boat - particularly if they sink just under the water and seat themselves in the sea floor.
We ran 88 miles that day, and debated which anchorage to head for. There was a wind brewing and so we ended up at very spacious Klewnuggit Inlet. The other choice was Lowe Inlet, but the holding is only gravel, and on 6 July 1793 Captain Vancouver and crew spent a very uncomfortable night there. In the event, the wind did not develop very much and we felt very secure with a few hundred feet of chain out.

Cape Caution is a major hurdle for cruisers and also it represents the end of readily available mooring. For the passage north to Alaska, one passes only decaying canneries and fish packing stations like Butedale, slowly slipping into the sea. For a hundred years from the late 1800's there were around 1,000 canneries on the North American Pacific Coast, now they are all gone along with all the plentiful fish.

Finally, whale pictures
 We saw yet more whales and

Fluke shot
finally Susie managed to get some photos. We saw four pods over the whole of this portion of the trip, and hopefully there will be many more. Our run to Prince Rupert was 51 miles and we tied up at the PR Rowing and Yacht Club. Very friendly place to be, it is one of the very few options in PR. And no ties are required............or jackets...........there is no clubhouse. PR is a small town at the end of Canada. Literally. Unfortunately the pulp mill shut and economic times are bad. In its heyday, PR was a booming railroad town; the name was chosen by public competition for a prize of $250.

From PR it is a fair distance (84 miles) to Ketchikan, Alaska, and one has to pay attention to the weather to cross Dixon Entrance, known for swells and steep seas. There are a couple of refuges on the way if the seas get up. We left at first light, 0540 and headed through Venn Channel out to sea. The Canadian weather forecast was at its usual conservative level and fortunately the sea was pretty flat. More whales, a passing Cruise ship as big as a small city, and we were in Alaska. All our friendly and professional Customs representative needed to do was inspect the fridge and cut open and inspect (a) a red pepper and (b) a tomato. No stowaways were found, so the Alaskan fruit and vegetable growers are safe from our pantry.

Forget the rules of the road!

Sunset at anchor
 It has been a 15-day trip from Vancouver, covering a distance of 614 miles. Layovers at Campbell River, Echo Bay, and Prince Rupert. Used about 500 gallons of fuel. We have seen a lot, learned a lot, met some great people. Stay tuned.                   

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