Friday, July 29, 2011

Chilling out and Forward Plans

We had a chilled time in Victoria; in fact we always do! There are good walks along the water to Fisherman's Wharf, along with clams and mussels for lunch at Barb's. One evening we found good Indian food at JR's Curry House, it goes down well especially after the Hop Circle IPA which you can find at the Sticky Wicket. Then there are the book shops in Victoria; a seemingly endless supply of secondhand books to browse through; our bookshelves are getting nice and crowded. We very much enjoyed our few days but finally it was time to move on. We had picked a day when the wind was going to be 30 knots; we backed carefully out of our slip since the wind was already up in the harbour.There were only a few boats out that day, the cruisers we saw had no stabilizers and were being steered from the flybridge - no thank you, Last Mango nosed through the hefty seas no problem. We had an appointment to keep; I had been monitoring the main and gen hours carefully and we were coming up to a significant service for both, so I had called Delta Marine in Sidney to get everything checked over. We would have been quite happy to change fluids and filters but I wanted some expertise to do the valve clearances and all the other things on the 1,000 hour list. Johnny did appreciate the attention, after Kane had spent two days with him one-on-one, he was really purring. Thank you Delta Marine for a job very well done.

Goose-neck barnacles, Vancouver Island
  We left Sidney and headed north; I think Last Mango knows her way to Gabriola on her own. Pulling into Degnen Bay there was a certain eagerness to tie up at the friendly dock she was tied to over the winter. On this occasion, we will be here for just two or three weeks while we head off to Europe for a round of family visits.

Now we have a few spare days we have been able to do some planning for the months ahead. Indeed it is a luxury to have the time (and decent internet service!) to get things organized. One of the first things was to get our mail sent to us for the first time for six months. Through the four addresses we get with our Mail Boxes Etc service our mail accumulates in the local office around the corner in Via Argentina, Panama. All it takes is an email and it is FedExed to us wherever we are, and it took only four days to arrive. That was one day to go through it all and get up to date with the filing, reassured that there was very little that hadn't been already dealt with over the internet. And the magazine bank is now full once again. I even had some back copies of "Accountancy" to catch up on (no, don't take this seriously, they hit the recycling straight away! - with apologies to those that are not retired - yet).

I have now also had time to invest in reviewing Last Mango's bank of spares. In the forward hold (aka the "Wine Cellar" on some sister ships!) we carry a number of large storage boxes full of recurring maintenance items (oil and fuel filters) and some replacement parts for key systems. This is one area up for some serious review and we need to widen our spares inventory and extend the regular items - my plan is to give us a suitable measure of independence since John Deere/Northern Lights dealerships will be less frequent on our travels soon. Looking at forward plans, we leave Canadian waters later in August and head south. The first stretch is the notorious Washington and Oregon coast, known for its strong winds and few harbours, all of which can only be accessed after bar crossings timed at particular states of the sea and tide. We take on board an experienced crew member for this leg of the trip to San Francisco since we will probably have to stay well offshore for much of the passage to avoid the heavy seas - and the crab pots. Down in California we have some plans and we will take time to review our communications equipment to see what upgrades it might be useful to make. 
Scarlett fearlessly faces the raccoon........
And we will actually get to our yacht club, Pacific Mariners, in Marina del Rey. That is going to be a party!

Here in Degnen Bay the wildlife show carries on around us. From time to time a raccoon is bold enough to scout around the rocks on the shore underneath Rooks Haven but often he is detected by the fearless mother-and-son team of Scarlett and Winston. Susie and I have also been out exploring in the dinghy, there is a Sunday market over in Silva Bay where the Gabriola artisans sell their wares. We also went to dinner with friends Bill and Lyn from s/v Canik, last seen heading East from Haida Gwaii, who had sailed to Gabriola to meet up with other friends.....who knew our friends.....who knew.......(six degrees of separation theory proved again).

In the advance plan category, Last Mango is now signed up to join the FUBAR rally into Mexico in November. This is a biennial event for motor yachts and there are over 30 boats already signed up - including 8 Nordhavns - so far - so it should be quite a trip. Our good friends Iain and Sandra will join us as crew for the rally; Iain's sailing experience and their knowledge of Mexico and Spanish will be very useful. And FUBAR stands for Fleet Underway to Baja Rally, by the way, so we are not planning to be joined by Snafu, Tarfu or Fubar originals ("Three Brothers" 1944).

For advance visitor planning, after Mexico we are heading home to Panama for Christmas where we will be for a couple of months. Then, in February, we depart across the Pacific. This timing of a Pacific trip allows for about eight months' cruising across and through the islands before one exits the cyclone zone by November, when boats move on to New Zealand. For the first long leg of the Pacific crossing we have another captain with us. For the onward legs from French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Tonga we look forward to adventurous visitors!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tofino and back down "the Ditch"

He needs more room to dock!
From our anchorage in Friendly Cove we had a grandstand view of the sport fishing boats patrolling up and down with their downriggers just outside the bay. I was somewhat curious as to the salmon prospects so out we went in the morning with the hoochies and the flashers. Curiously enough, round the Point come the salmon. Out there the fishing was slow. But just outside the cove, only in 80 feet of water, we found the answer - suddenly our sounder was showing huge quantities of bait fish, and that was where the salmon were biting. Only half an hour later we had our supper (for several nights). We set off for our next destination, Hot Springs Cove, where there was plenty of room at the dock since we were a little late in the day. Just long enough for us to head off along the trail and for me to get my photo taken under the hot waterfall. 
That water is HOT!
The next morning we headed for Tofino. From reading the guides I found that
dock space is pretty limited in Tofino, so I had booked in at the Weigh West resort. Nothing to do with the fact that there is an excellent dockside pub there of course. Anyway, for those of you planning to take your boat to Tofino one day I have just this one word of advice - Don't! The current is just too tricky for comfort. At most states of the tide there is 3 or 4 knots passing along the dock. To get in there I had LM in full reverse gear; it was not a smooth operation, the only strategy was to get those docklines on damned quick! And getting out was not pretty, thank heaven it was 0630 and too early for spectators. There is a very narrow channel and shoal close by, and the current is rushing the wrong way. Still, Tofino is a busy tourist place and we enjoyed a few days strolling around the boutiques ( not me) and even going out for breakfast, now that we are near to civilisation.

After Tofino our next stop was Ucluelet, since we really wanted to walk at least some of the Pacific Trail again following on from our visit three years ago. That was the time there was a memorable dinner at the Wickanninish Inn, but that is another story. This time we docked in the small craft harbour at Ucluelet; a great place to moor up and very well managed by the harbour manager, Steve. Ukee is just the total opposite to Tofino. Very quiet and laid back compared to frenetic and full of tourists.

So it just so happened that the Pacific Rim Summer Festival was on, and Ucluelet was hosting the Rock section! I turned up for the workshop, led by Graeme, Spencer and Derek from Speed Control, a great band from Whitehorse, Yukon.

The workshop is mainly for local young musicians to play in a rock concert so we had two afternoons of rehearsals and then a memorable concert. This is the first time that I have ever actually performed "Smoke on the Water" or "Highway to Hell"! The youngsters that we played with had a great time; they had limited (ie none) live experience but after a few hours practice they were whipped into shape and shoved into the limelight! Speed Control asked me to jam with them and it was brilliant, loved every minute. Thanks guys, and good luck on the tours.

Stardom was short-lived and we headed off to sleepy Bamfield. Once again we had space at the public dock - we don't seem to have had any problems with getting space all the way up to Alaska and back. The boardwalk was good and also the short hike to Brady's Beach. We decided that we would return to civilisation and head to Victoria, so I looked at the route and the tides. Victoria is at the other end of "the ditch" - the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It is a 90 mile run, so it is essential to get some help from mother nature. Once we were in the Strait, the flood tide would start running at 1144 and last until 1746 with a maximum speed of 1.3 knots. It may not seem much, but it means that our speed of 8.5 would get to over 10, much better than being knocked back from 8.5 down to 7. And the trip at that speed would be easily viable in one day - the actual journey took 11 hours. And the sea was wonderfully calm; after all, I had checked the weather. We travelled with new acquaintances on Northern Comfort, folk from Seattle. All along the Strait of J de F there were fishing boats at every headland and river mouth, just trying to catch those elusive salmon, who are all intent on getting home to spawn. Now here we are again at Victoria, on the floats under the Empress Hotel. It seems like home. Just to reward ourselves we headed for the Brasserie Ecole for supper Victoria is a city crammed full of restaurants, but the BE is highly recommended. Located in an unassuming part of town. You can't make reservations. At 630pm it is..........absolutely packed! I do love those places that just "have it", you can keep all the other restaurants in town but here the food, ambience, service, wine ..........(enough!).

We were last in Victoria 2,200 miles ago, on April 22nd. It really has been a great trip over the past few months. And we have now travelled over 5,000 miles on Last Mango. Here is some forward planning, important if you are planning a visit to us. We are heading soon up into the Gulf Islands where we will take a short break from cruising while we visit family in England. In five weeks' time we turn south and head for California; we will be in San Francisco in the first week of September and then Los Angeles thereafter. November we head into Mexico on the FUBAR rally.

A shot from the archives - Last Mango transiting Louise Narrows, Haida Gwaii. The channel dries at low tide. But is is dredged, so with a sensible level of high tide it is easily passable. But note the Admiral on the bow checking that we were in the middle of the channel and that there were no unexpected hazards.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Inland to Zeballos and Nootka

Checking on the weather at Kyuquot things were looking a little windy; time perhaps to head inland and circumnavigate Nootka Island? We headed up Esperanza inlet, a near 40 mile run to Zeballos; a place probably relatively infrequently visited by cruisers. There is a public wharf and thankfully there was enough space in the deep-enough water end. Without our bow thruster we were taking extra care docking, especially with wind or current.
Once we had tied up, there right in front of the dock was young bruin, taking his time chewing on the grass. We went exploring Zeballos, population 200. In the 1930's there were 1,500 people here for the gold rush, but it didn't last long. The remains of the town retain the old wild west character and ancient facades, and the walking trails are nice and wild. Linda at the Other Place Cafe will cook a superb breakfast, lunch or supper for you at virtually any time of day. The museum gives the history of a town which showed great promise for a while. In recent times there have been mysterious fires which have destroyed various buildings in the town; likely to be the indicator of social challenges which are endemic to the area. Although Vancouver Island has a sophisticated old colonial City - Victoria - at its southern tip, in the north and west there are tiny communities which struggle for their existence. Vancouver Island is about one quarter of the size of England - puts things into perspective; and there are some very remote areas. Our next stop, Tahsis, is another example of a community facing huge survival issues. A few years ago there was a lumber mill here and a population of 3,000. Now there are less than 300 people, and a tour of the virtually abandoned town was grim. Reminded me immediately of England.
Last Mango was docked at Tahsis right next to the Smokehouse Restaurant at the superbly run Westview Marina, run by Cathy and John. This is primarily a sport fishing lodge but they make all cruisers most welcome; the lodge is out of the town area and in its own cocoon. Dawn will handle your lines for you and cook a superb supper later. The girls will ensure that there is a steady flow of good ale to your patio table. And the fish coming in from the sport fishers were impressive; good size salmon and halibut.
The stop at Westview gave me an opportunity to investigate the bow thruster problem. An email to the Nordhavn Owners' Group gave me an immediate series of diagnostics to investigate - the experience around is such an excellent resource and it is essential to be plugged into the group which is exceedingly well run and moderated by Milt Baker. It seemed that the motor was running but not connected to the turbine. Taking the motor out I discovered that the three bolts securing the flexible coupling had all worked themselves free and were lying around the housing. Thankfully I was able to reconnect and tighten...........and we have our bow thruster again. Lack of it was good for boat handling experience but not good for the nerves.

It was good timing that there was
a "Rock around the Dock" night so it was great to play with Perry for his booking; then with Gooey-Duck Dave - a great new guitar player who is really into the old style of blues. And then we also played with Whelan, a BC lighthouse-keeper who has more stories than anyone we have yet met on this trip! On the run down the inlet into Nootka Sound we saw three bears nosing the beaches at low tide. Pulling into one small beach for a closer look we saw something else..............yes, a wolf, right there at the edge of the forest. A quick look around and he was gone. But the first wolf we have seen in the wild. We anchored at Friendly Cove, Nootka Island.

Nootka is another one of those locations full of intrigue and history which one comes across in BC. Friendly Cove has been continuously populated for over 4,000 years and when Captain Cook arrived in 1778 there were an estimated 4,000 people living there under Chief Maquinna. The little church has stained glass windows donated by the Government of Spain, to commemorate the signing of the Nootka Convention in 1790. But for that treaty, Vancouver Island could have been called Quadra and the local language Spanish. The treaty set aside Spain's claims to the Pacific North West (voyages dating from the 1490's) in favour of claims by Britain (Sir Francis Drake in 1579 and later, Cook). It has been all very well for the explorers to arrive in the eighteenth century and then the colonists to follow on later. Cook's log records a successful trading session on 29 March 1778; fifteen years later relations were fragile; Maquinna took the ship Boston on 22 March 1803, massacred her crew and seized her armoury. Issues between the descendants of the ingredient peoples continue to this day and no doubt will be around for many years to come.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Vancouver Island West - crossing from Haida Gwaii

At Rose Harbour, Haida Gwaii, we had a bit of a parting of the ways. S/V's Canik and Steel Eagle headed East with favourable wind, and we needed to wait for a day until the wind swung North so that we wouldn't be straight into a South Easter. So we had a day of boat duties and preparation for a long sea passage, so we were checking over all the systems and making sure that everything was put away and secure - dinghies, sewing machines, guitars.........  And we nosed up to the mooring buoy at Rose Harbour and in the space of a couple of hundred yards our bow thruster went from fully operational to not working. What the ?! That wasn't in the plan. S/V Estrellita turned up later in the day and rafted up to her supply ship. The movie was Independence Day and the Deckhand Ale from Victoria was gratefully accepted.

Our route was 169 miles across QS Sound; we left at 0740 after a last weather check. 1000 we were off Cape St James among the tufted puffins. 1130 we started seeing the black albatrosses that were going to accompany us; 1735 we had the humpback breaching show from a pod of 5. 1915 we had a school of Dall's porpoise with us. Susie took the first watch from 2100 to 2400 while I slept. My watch was 0000 to 0300. There was no traffic to speak of but it is amazing how busy one is - continuous (small) adjustments to the course; monitor radio traffic (we scan at least half a dozen channels); check radar number 1 and number 2 (different ranges); review the AIS targets that come and go. Susie did the 0300 to 0600 and had two cruise ships and a ferry to contend with. By the morning we were past Cape Scott and by 0930 we were tying up at the government dock, Winter Harbour, Vancouver Island. Oh and it was my birthday. A quiet day walking the boardwalk and even visiting the first general store we had seen for three weeks - important purchases. Bait. Beer. Bread (who needs bread?).

So let's get to the important matters. On the way into Winter Harbour we had to fight our way through a horde of sport fishers just off the lighthouse. Mmmm - does this mean that there are fish? Those of you who read this stuff carefully will remember that we fitted downriggers to Last Mango back in March. Now we can try them out. Down to the lighthouse and into the sport fishers. Rods ready; weights and tackle down at 60 and 80 feet...........we had a fish on already! It was a great day.......trolling at about 1.5 knots, flashers and hoochies, Susie driving the boat; good use for the comms headsets. And the fishing was productive. Our first salmon from our own boat. Later in the day we anchored up in the Koskimo Islands and cleaned and cached our haul.

And here in Quatsino Sound we have finally seen our first sea otters since leaving Alaska. Even I have to say they are cute, since they lie on their backs in the water and look up curiously at you. And they are usually chewing on a sea-urchin - hence our nickname for them - Crunchy. These poor little critters started off the whole colonisation of the Pacific North West; Captain Cook traded goods for 800 pelts. Unfortunately these unsuspecting creatures have the luxury of 800,000 hairs to the square centimetre and hence provide the best fur in the world. No wonder they were virtually wiped out.

After Quatsino Sound the major navigational hazard is Brooks Peninsula. Along with Cape Scott, the waters off Brooks are the most hostile on the west coast of Vancouver Island so a careful eye on the weather is essential. It was a good day for us so we headed south and into the Brunsby Islands to anchor for the night in
peaceful Scow Bay. The following day we threaded our way through the Barrier Islands and headed for the community of Kyuquot in Walters Cove, Kyuquot Sound. Happy Days - we tied at the government dock and our lines were handled by our friends from Estrellita!

So........we just had to get out there with Carol and Livia and check out the fishing again. 0600 we were heading out and had the lures in the water off Spring Island by 7am. It was a good start to the day, bites and the odd fish, but a bit slow. So we headed off into the fog and searched for more sport fishers on the radar. Ah yes, they were lined up along the Kyuquot Reef. The salmon here are heading south, from the Gulf of Alaska, and congregate where there are bait fish. They also need to rise over the reefs off the sounds and that is a good place to try. Another hour later we were limited out so it was a good piece of team work; the crew had a great day. We did lose a few fish, probably large springs; we will have to try again sometime. Maybe when the freezer fish-gauge gets down to danger level.
Walters Cove is a chilled place to tie up for a couple of days. There are no cars or roads. The government dock is the centre of the community; the store opens 3 times a week (still on winter hours, it only being June!).

Sunday, July 3, 2011

SGang Gwaii

Our last anchorage in Haida Gwaii was at Rose Harbour. We radioed ahead to SGang Gwaii and obtained permission to visit the following day. It is a short trip of a few miles round to the small anchorage off the island from where one can dinghy ashore. Sgaang Gwaii is one of the UNESCO sites of special scientific interest, since it is the site of a Haida village containing the largest number of mortuary and memorial poles still standing.

Nan SDins village site
In the mid-1800's there were some 300 people living in the village under chief Nan SDins. But in 1862 a ship from San Francisco brought smallpox to Victoria. From there the canoes brought smallpox to the Haida and they were already dying on the beaches along the way. Nan SDins was decimated and the surviving Haida in the islands all moved to either Skidegate or Masset, one for the Raven tribe and one for the Eagles. Around the turn of the century the village was used as a summer camp for hunting and fishing, and then finally it was abandoned for many years until is was almost forgotten.

In the early 1970's a young Haida called Captain Gold ordered a canoe from a Sears catalogue and paddled south to find the village that his elders had spoken about. He arrived at the village and found it decaying and overgrown. He conceived of the idea of the Watchman program; now all the ancient Haida sites have a small team of resident caretakers to look after their heritage. Here at SGang Gwaii the lead Watchman is Shirley, Captain Gold's brother, and the guide is her son, Jordan. And an excellent job they do.

Jordan is your guide here

Jordan does all the caring for the
A mystical place
  poles which contain the remains of his ancestors;
carefully removing the trees and bushes which seed into the poles and strengthening the foundations of the poles that lean from the wind. He is in an eternal battle with the force of nature which will eventually consume the village.

In the 1950's some of the poles were removed
and these can be found in museums around the
world. And Jordan will tell you about every single
pole in the village, including the missing ones which
can be seen in old photos of the site. Interesting debate - should the museums have removed any of
the poles? Should more preservation work be done
or should nature take its course? Jordan will even show you where one pole was damaged by a museum curator who sawed a carving off as a souvenir.

Travelling here to these islands has been a highlight of 2011 for Susie and me. Digging into the history and culture of the Haida and seeing their village one can almost imagine the great canoes drawn up on the beach; the fires keeping the massive long houses warm; the ancestors looking out for the village from their resting places.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Haida Gwaii photos

Queen Charlotte Harbour

The party at Queen B's
 I am taking advantage of the present internet coverage to post these images from Haida Gwaii. The harbour at QC City was THE place for networking onshore and aboard. And here on the blog I can post more indulgent photos of guitar playing. But it was a great party, another notorious night out at Queen B's.

The Tree of Lost Souls

Tow Hill and the Beach
Jack and Sharleen have created a wonderful gallery of collected beachcombed items and have grown the legendary Lost Soul Tree. Floating all the way from Japan come old glass fishing floats - in the old days the fish boats had a glass blower on board.

Bill Williams

The guitars are out again!

We so much enjoyed our travels with Bill Williams on Ibis, and friends on Steel Eagle,
Canik and Estrellita. We will
meet up again, in another harbour, another time.

Steel Eagle, Canik and LM in Island Bay

In the Hot Spring, LM at anchor
 At Hot Spring Island we played "find the anchorage" for a while. Last Mango was
happy resting on the hook while we lazed in the three
pools, each one hotter than
the last. And hot showers of
course in the changing rooms.
And good halibut from Michael - thank you!

Catching "sharkey"

Prawn trap harvest
 As I say, we had no luck on the prawn front. Just look at the size of that kelp ball on the right. Took an hour to cut it away. Fishing was not really
productive. A few sharks and
poor old rocky rockfish.

Giant spruce at Windy Bay

Stunning scenery
 At Windy Bay we found the giant spuce that the loggers missed.

If you go to Haida Gwaii, the Douglas book is essential for information on anchoring. And Neil Frazer's book on Boat Camping has brilliantly sharp
observations on the history of the islands and the events of the last couple of hundred years.