Log #14

On the Boat Again

Wednesday August 11, 1999—Returning to Prince Rupert

Flew in from Miami Beach BOAC.
Couldn't get to bed last night.
All the way the paper bag was on my knee.
Man I had a dreadful flight.
I'm back in the USSR.

No, that's not quite right. It was more like ... my watch alarm beeps off annoyingly at 3:30 a.m. eastern time, and I am out the door by 5:30, waving goodbye to my sister Jan and brother-in-law Dave, who courageously awakened before dawn to see me off. I had a wonderful time with them visiting the Williamsburg area. My stay even included an opportunity to go sailing on an Endeavor 37 on the Chesapeake. But that's all in the past. Now, I'm rocking along in a dark shuttle van on my way to Richmond airport for the flight(s) from Richmond to Chicago to Vancouver to Prince Rupert B.C.

It was 16:00 by the time I arrived in Prince Rupert. What a difference between Virginia (hot and muggy) and Prince Rupert (cool and rainy). I met up with my new crew for the Prince Rupert trip--J. Mark and Karen Barrett from Seattle. The three of us walked several blocks north from the Coast Hotel to the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club where we met up with Roland and Vickie on Andanté.

We walked down the dock at 17:00 to find them sitting in the cockpit enjoying warm temperatures while watching sun breaks start to poke through the low-lying clouds, exposing the surrounding mountains and turning the water from gray to blue. Approaching my boat, I am delighted and surprised to see that Roland and Vickie have cleaned the teak decks from bow to stern. Instead of a dark gray deck, I was greeted by the natural wood colors of the teak. Andanté looked brand new. What a wonderful gift. It's beautiful.

You may recall that Vickie, Roland, and Roland's two daughters Jenny and Molly, flew in from Sweden to take over Andanté mid-July in Juneau. Over the last 3-1/2 weeks they sailed Andanté from Juneau to Glacier Bay, and then south to Prince Rupert. Jenny flew out of Ketchikan several days earlier to Colorado, where she will be attending her senior year of high school as an exchange student.

All six of us dined on the deck of Cow Bay Cafe, overlooking Prince Rupert Harbour, accompanied by the setting sun, which painted the surrounding mountains in a golden glow. Although our dinner was wonderful, I had to concentrate on fighting off jet-lag, feeling like I had just flown in from someplace far away, like Europe.

Thursday August 12th —Preparing and Provisioning

Thursday morning J. Mark, Karen, and I arrived back on Andanté by 8:45, in time to help Roland and Vickie carry their bags up the steep steel stairs (it was low tide, and the bottom of the stairs was 25 feet below the shore). We waved them off as the taxi carried them away to the airport for their return trip back to Sweden.

We faced several errands that morning, including provisioning for a week long journey and purchasing hardware necessary to attach lee cloths to the bunks. Lee cloths are long, canvas pieces of cloth that stretch vertically along the exposed side of your mattress. They prevent you from falling out of the lee side of the boat (the side that you're leaning towards) when sleeping while under sail. We needed the lee clothes because our return trip from the Queen Charlottes to Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island spans 160 miles--about 30 hours open ocean sailing time. Because the lee cloths need to support at least some of your body weight, they must be attached securely so that something doesn't go bump in the night, like me for instance.

It required about six hours to check out of the hotel, transport our gear to the boat, shop at the local Safeway, and locate parts for the lee cloths. By the time we drop our lines at the marina it was 16:45. During the next three hours we were only able to cover about 16 miles, and so we anchored in the south end of Chismore Passage, to the west of Lewis Island.

Friday, August 13, 1999—Hecate Strait to the Queen Charlottes

My watch alarm beeped itself awake again at 03:30, pulling me from a deep cataleptic sleep. We had to rise early to cover 100 miles west to the Queen Charlotte Islands, a 60 mile open water crossing through Hecate Strait. The Queen Charlottes archipelago consists of 150 islands, and is referred to as the "Hawaii of Canada" because of its diverse ecosystem, old-growth rain forests, and some of the highest concentrations of eagles, falcons, and sea birds on the Pacific Coast. It is certainly not called the "Hawaii of Canada" because of the weather.

But the most interesting attraction for us is the Haida native peoples culture, which dates back 6,000 years. Gwaii Haanas, the Haida name for the Queen Charlottes, means beautiful islands.

Our guide book describes Hecate Strait as an "exposed" passage where "weather can change rapidly." Another guide book quotes a local fisherman's less sanitized description: "It's a pond with the soul of a black bitch." OK, you get the idea. Wide and shallow, with winds that can build to 45 knots or more by mid-morning, Hecate Strait is a passage not to be taken lightly.

On deck, we raised anchor in midnight black. Because we swung on anchor all night, a brief discussion ensued about which way led out of the bay. While J. Mark and I vigorously debated the finer points of marine orientation, Karen tapped us on the shoulder and pointed us to the right direction. Radar and the night vision scope confirmed her to be correct. Thank God for electronics.

Our third-generation ITT night vision scope is a wonder of modern technology. Developed for the military, these mono-scopes allow you to see shoreline, trees, rocks, ships, and whatever is out there, even when your naked eye only sees black. These scopes are so advanced that they are restricted for export outside of the US. However, as noted above, this technology pales in comparison with Karen's own intuitive sense of direction. Had I known this earlier, I would NOT have purchased the third-generation ITT night vision scope, opting instead to strap Karen permanently to the mast.

Crawling along at dead slow in the dark, we found our way out into Arthur Passage and turned southwest towards Browning Entrance, our jump-off point to Hecate Strait. By 08:00 we navigated southwest through Schooner Passage, and passed between Dolphin and Spicer Islands directly into the exposed Strait. What we found is difficult to describe.

Instead of 45 knots, the wind puffed gently by at about two and a half knots. The raging waters of Hecate Strait stretched out flatly before us like bath water, only with fewer ripples. Instead of clipping our harnesses on and baring all to the foaming seas, we had lunch in the cockpit, with time to floss afterwards. My friends, that day we had tamed the mighty Hecate Strait.

We arrived in Queen Charlotte City--a misnomer--at 18:00, in time for a scheduled briefing at 19:30. Irene Mills, a member of the Haida Eagle Clan, gave the briefing about the do's and don'ts of visiting the Haida protected site on the southern half of Moresby Island. Her grandfather was chief of the Eagle Clan in Skedans. Irene tans deer hide, moose hide, creates artistic beadwork, and also teaches a Haida language class.

The Haida are a matriarchal society. In other words you become the clan of your mother, not your father. Gwaii Haanas is now jointly managed by the Canadian government and the Haida Tribal Council. Along with European contact in the 1700s came disease in the form of smallpox. Consequently, the Haida population was depleted to 500 survivors, from a peak of about 20,000.

After our briefing we boarded Andanté, and as the sun disappeared somewhere behind the gray clouds, we anchored in Bearskin Bay southwest of Roderick Island.

Saturday August 14 —Strangers in the Night

Saturday was aggressively consumed by sleeping in (recovering from our rough passage the day before and 15 hours behind the helm) and by another trip to the Laundromat. Afterwards, we tried to rent a car for a drive to the village of Masset on the north (Graham) island. But Budget Car Rental was closed. After all, it was Saturday.

Karen expressed interest in stopping into a wood carving gallery just west of town. The wood carver was closed. We thought about topping off our diesel fuel before the trip south, but the one and only marine Esso dealer was also closed for the day. (Gone fishing.) Saturday is an important day in Queen Charlotte City.

With clean laundry in hand, we taxied to Skidegate towards the local Haida museum (it was open), and then walked to the residential area where we viewed an enormous totem at the village center. Bill Reid, a renowned Haida artist who passed on in 1998, had carved this totem, which soared 40-50 feet into the air. Difficult to photograph from any angle. I haven't checked this out personally, but if you're interested try doing an Internet search for Bill Reid. The photographs I have seen of his carvings and jewelry are absolutely stunning.

On way back to the marina our taxi driver informed us of the hottest rumor going around QCC: the Esso station would open from 18:00 to 19:00. By 18:30 we had tied up to the Esso dock, where we waited until 18:45. Then we waited until 19:00. Around 19:10 the Esso guy opened the gate, only to disappeared. At 19:20 he rolled the diesel hose down 30 feet from the top of the dock. This is island time at its best. With the day consumed, we anchored back in nearby Bearskin Bay for the night.

04:00. I am awakened by Andanté rocking gently from beam to beam. Then I heard sock-padded footsteps on the deck. This grabbed my attention. I thought that it must be J. Mark checking on something. But if he was awake, surely the light would be on in the main cabin. I lean over my berth to look for a stream of light underneath the cabin door. Nothing. I laid back in my bunk and looked up through the aft hatch. Suddenly I saw a flashlight beam glancing off of the backstay. Someone was definitely out there.

"They're stealing the radar," I thought. Some poor local fisherman had spotted Andanté in the harbor, and had rowed out in the dead of night to strip whatever he can off of her. And while I was lying there helpless the burglar was running around on deck, preparing to make his getaway. I opened my hatch cover over my berth and poked my head out, looking back toward the cockpit. "What are you doing?" I yelled to no one in particular, in a ... deep manly voice, which cracked assertively before I could finish my sentence.

J. Mark replied from within the cabin, "It's me." "Karen thought we were drifting, so I came up to check." Satisfied that the locals weren't trying to steal my peripherals after all, I shut the hatch and dove back under the covers. It was only 4:00 a.m. So I had ample opportunity for another three hours of sleep.

Sunday August 15, 1999—K'uuna (Skedans)

In 1830 K'uuna had 471 inhabitants comprised of two clans: Raven and Eagle. Ravens descended from "Foam Woman," a mythical ancestress. Similarly, the Eagle clan descended from the ancestress "Dijla qons," meaning "Great Mountain." Each mother gave birth to several daughters, who became the matriarchs of the family clans.


J.Mark and Karen Barrett, K'uuna Village
Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia


The Eagle clan once lived at the western side of K'uuna near the creek, while the Ravens occupied 20 houses on the east, toward the peninsula. Like their counterparts in today's society, status was based on wealth--houses, boxes, blankets, canoes, masks, ornaments, and food, as well as tribal privileges. Each chief inherited these privileges from his previous generation. All these privileges were unique to the clan, and could include the right to sing certain songs, tell family stories, or portray crests. Family crests, carved into the totems near their homes, informed visitors of the background and importance of the occupants.

One hundred years ago, in the late 1800s, Haida villages of Gwaii Haanas still stood. Old silver plate photographs recorded the magnificent totems still lining the villages. Today, however, few totems remain. While some have been taken for museums in British Columbia and other cities around the world, the Haida have preferred to let the remaining totems and longhouses fall back to the earth. Visiting villages like K'uuna, you often have to look very carefully to find the remains of once-magnificent monuments and totems. But some poles still remained.

After visiting K'uuna, we anchored at nearby Thurston Harbor for the night.

Monday August 16, 1999—T'aanuu

We departed Thurston Harbor at 10:53 under low gray clouds and very cool temperatures. At 12:30 we anchored just east of T'aanuu. Every time that we visit one of these Haida sites we need to radio ahead to the watchman and ask permission to visit. The watchmen live in cabins near the historic villages. They provide guided tours of the village, and also watch over and protect them.

Today nothing much remains on the T'aanuu site except foundations of 30 or 40 longhouses. You can still see large timbers that have fallen symmetrically to the ground around large rectangular pits, over which the longhouse once stood. All these pits are tiered--the top level used for storing provisions, the mid-tier for sleeping in rows along the outside of the pit, and the bottom level for the slaves. The rainforest has now covered all remains with a carpet of thick emerald green moss, giving the village a quiet, sacred feeling. But the setting inspires you to imagine what life was like when all the longhouses still stood, and the village bustled with people.

Here we met Breezy Pearson, a cute, inquisitive, and personable six year old daughter of one of the watchmen (or more appropriately, watch women). She dodged around us asking six year old questions. She invited us to see her baby crab that she caught this morning. She subtly hinted that we could take her photograph.

At 15:45, back on board Andanté, we traveled west through Richardson Inlet, and then southwest through Richardson Passage toward an anchorage in Echo Bay. Echo Bay turns out to be a delightful tiny little bay protected form the weather on all sides. Good thing, because wind and rain pelted us all night long.

Tuesday August 17, 1999—Hot Spring Island

We raised anchor at 11:15 and motored southeast through Darwin Sound, and then east through Ramsay passage to Hot Springs Island where three thermal pools awaited us. Because the large pool was closed, and the cliff bath already occupied, we settled into the beach pool in 100 degree water. What a luxury to sit in the hot water while watching ravens, eagles, seabirds, and the infinite patterns of weather blowing up Ramsay Strait.

Within the hour we were joined by Mike Wallace and Michelle Dunn. Originally from Vancouver B.C., they were spending several weeks kayaking through the Queen Charlottes, on break from their work in Indonesia where they have been living for two years.

As it approached 18:00, we decided it was time to dry off and get back to the boat. Particularly since Michelle had a craving for a Pepsi, which we happened to have on board.

On the beach we attempted to untie our dinghy from the pulley-strung mooring line. This line is engineered to pull your dinghy back to shore after the tide comes in. But as we tried to pull the line back to shore, another boat's painter got stuck in the pulley located 60 feet out in the water. Our dinghy was stuck about 40 feet out. Always quick to find a solution, J. Mark, still attired in swim suit underneath, pulled off his clothes, dove into the cold waters of Ramsay Strait, swam out to our dinghy, and pulled it back to shore. Now that's good crew.

While Michelle enjoyed her Pepsi, we towed Mike and Michelle's sea kayak to Ramsay Bay where we found a mooring buoy. Because it was their last night in the wild, we invited them for dinner. As they paddled off to make camp on the nearby shore, we dug out the Force 10 BBQ and grilled pork chops, which were later accompanied by rice pilaf, and tomatoes with Balsamic vinegar. After dinner, J. Mark gave Mike and Michelle a demonstration of virtually every piece of electronic gear on the boat, right down to the ITT night vision scope. I didn't tell them that Karen, strapped to the bow, was often more accurate, not to mention a lot less expensive.

Wednesday August 18, 1999—Sgaang Gwaii

As we prepared to depart from Ramsay Bay Wednesday morning, Mike and Michelle glided close by in their kayak to say goodbye, and then paddled off into the distance toward their rendezvous point. Around 11:30 we left Ramsay Bay and motored toward Rose Harbour, our evening's destination.

Thursday August 19, 1999

At 10:00 we sailed west in Stewart Channel towards Sgaang Gwaii, a Haida village on Kunghit (Anthony) Island. The village's name comes from the sound made by 30-40 foot waves surging through a nearby hollow reef. To the Haida, these waves sounded like a woman wailing. Although the village was originally called "Wailing Island Town," it was renamed "Ninstints" by European traders--a mispronunciation of "Nan Sdins," the village Chief at the time. "Nan Sdins" translates into "The One Who is Two," inferring that the chief was so great that he equaled two men. The village dates back 2,000 years, and in 1981 UNESCO made Nan Sdins a World Heritage Site.


Totems at Sgaang Gwaii, Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia

Today the village totems are the most spectacular of any site we've seen so far. Originally there were about 30 totems, and today 15 to 20 are still standing. Most are in very good condition. Similar to the other villages we've visited, there are several types of poles in Sgaang Gwaii. House frontal poles, the most detailed, are placed at the front of a house. A hole at its base served as the house entrance. Memorial poles were erected in memory of a deceased person, and usually provided information about the person's life and history. Mortuary poles, carved with the crests of the deceased, served as the grave of a high status person. These poles had a cavity at the top where the body was placed, inside a bentwood box.

In addition to the totems, the village once included about 17 longhouses. Although these structures have long since fallen to the ground, the foundation pits and timbers still remain. Like the Ponderosa and South Fork, many of the houses had names. Some names were straight forward, like "Mountain House," or "Raven House." Others were more descriptive, such as the "House That is Always Shaking." And then there's my favorite: "People Think of This House Even When They Sleep Because the Master Feeds Everyone Who Calls."

Friday August 20, 1999—An ill-fated Crossing Attempt

This afternoon we attempted the passage from the Queen Charlottes to Port Hardy. Listening to the morning weather report on the radio, we thought we had a window before another low was scheduled to blow in on Saturday. We sailed three hours out into what became gale force winds of 25-30 knots, solid rain, and short frequency choppy seas ranging from 6-10 feet. What's more, our destination pointed directly into the wind, and so we weren't able to do much over five knots, and sometimes less than two. So, after three hours we decided to turn back and return to the Queen Charlottes, where we are now.

All of us took a beating during the six ours we were out, including Andanté. Doors to the forward and aft staterooms wouldn't stay in the open position and had to be secured with bungee cords. One of the fittings on the starboard life lines came apart and was lost overboard as the cable hung loose in the seas. The roller furling mechanism on the headsail needs to be rewound. Pot lids came skidding out across the floor and had to be put away. Foul weather gear got completely soaked, and now hangs around the cabin drying. I went through two sets of rain gear in a six hour period.

Another (deeper) low is now sweeping in across the Bering Sea, and isn't expected to hit North Vancouver Island until Saturday evening. So we won't know until Sunday what weather system is following that one.

Saturday August 21, 1999

21:00. The second low is now blowing through our anchorage with lots of rain and wind. Glad to be here, and not out there. We think there might be another opportunity to leave early tomorrow morning. We will listen to the updated weather report this evening at 21:30, and then tomorrow morning at 04:00 before making a decision.

Up Next ...

Log #15—Crossing Queen Charlotte Sound


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