This post is best viewed on a computer or large screen: There’s lots of high resolution photos. If you don’t know the history and prep that led up to this trip, check out my past blog posts! With that said… On to the Adventures!
May 15-18: Freil Falls & The Harmony Islands
The Harmony Islands and Freil Falls were the first stop. The Harmony Islands are a small group, with just enough room in between the northern group to slip into a tiny anchorage that can fit maybe 2 or 3 boats at a pinch. The main attraction was Freil Falls, a slender set of falls that cascades down several drops about 1400 feet from the lake above almost directly down into the sound below. Something that is common along the northern BC coast and that was true here is the lack of trails on land. The falls are best experienced from a boat (I ended up rowing my little dinghy 2km from the anchorage to get the best possible view): when I landed and tried to get farther up the mountainside to see more of them I was met by almost impassable vines and thorns! Over the next few days, I almost ran into a bear on the mainland beach just north of the anchorage after I turned around just in time to see him plodding along the stony shore, and made friends with another sailboat that anchored in the little bay. We had a great time watching a third boat try unsuccessfully to anchor in the tiny amount of space left over afterwards, the husband and wife team frantically yelling their miscommunications back and forth.
May 18: Blind Bay
Onward and out of Hothem Sound! I didn’t visit Princess Louisa Inlet this trip, but after hearing about how amazing it is, it’ll definitely be on my list for the next trip I make north. This day’s sail took me westwards out of Jervis Inlet, after a close call with a pesky downdraft near Sykes Island in St. Vincent Bay. There’s a vertical cliff on the southwestern point, and with the day’s wind swirling over and around it, it kept taking Easy Rider back towards the rock wall. Some quick tacking and a little use of the engine got me out of a tight spot, but that was a lesson that would stick with me for the rest of the trip. You *really* have to account for how the land shapes the wind you’re feeling, especially in BC with the many steep mountains, narrow deep valleys, and wind “patterns” that give a pretty decent impression of true randomness.
Some more excellent sailing in a fresh breeze took me through a narrow passage into Blind Bay and a shallow but very nondescript anchorage on the south side. The local homeowners here, almost all of whom have boats as their only access, have marked the rocks hidden at higher tides with rebar and flags, which definitely helps. This was true all the way up the coast, actually, homemade markers from old buoys or bleach jugs marked rocks even in some of the most remote sections of the coast. I was told by a fisherman up north that they’re usually placed by the fishing guides who lead tours in the area, but they certainly help us casual cruisers too.
May 20th: Van Anda
A fairly ordinary sail, hard on the wind up to Van Anda on Texada Island was the next stop. I had been to Van Anda years back on my first ever liveaboard, Seileaster, and the place wasn’t much changed, a small island community with friendly folks and a fun trio of local docks to check out. The bay at Van Anda has an awesome little lagoon at the north end, visitable only by dinghy at high tide, but the best nature to be seen in my opinion was the interesting eroded rocks along the west side of the bay. There’s some neat overhangs! I met up with a friendly fellow sailor from the Sailing Anarchy Forums here, who was extremely kind and gave me a tour of the island: it’s amazing to see all the changes from my vague memories of Texada when I was a growing up across the Strait in Powell River, 15 years ago. Like so many other places in Southern Coastal BC, it’s become increasingly expensive and any available property is being quickly snapped up. It’s a shame to see that people my age will have little to no chance to ever afford their own home in this part of Canada, likely for many years to come, but oh well. I’m glad I live on a boat!
May 22-25: Copeland Islands Group
Northwards! This day’s journey took me past the Pulp and Paper mill of Powell River, my old home from my childhood. Almost no wind, so the engine was used….. but right as I was leaving Van Anda, it started to overheat, so some slow sailing was the order of the day. This overheating problem was to be a pretty major aggravation, but I was once again saved by the same friendly sailor from Van Anda. He rolled into the Copeland Islands the day after I did, with the handy trick of using a handheld bilge pump to put backwards water pressure on the seawater inlet. This did the trick, and out popped a tiny, very dead crab, who hadn’t been dislodged by any other method. What can I say?
We spent the next few days at the Copeland Islands, hung out, smoked a bowl or two and enjoyed ice cold Coca Cola from his fridge. Things were starting to feel a little more like vacation after this, despite my near-despair with the engine before. Before this trip, I had spent months trying to get it sorted out, and this final (in hindsight very small) issue almost tipped the scales towards giving up, but luckily with the help of my sailing friend and lots of support from my friends, I kept going. The gradual curve of knowledge as you take on more and more crazy conditions on this trip was a huge help, and by the end of the four months of sailing I was taking on conditions and problems I would have had no chance of coping with at the beginning.
May 25-28: Gorge Harbour, Cortes Island
The trip continued in company with my sailor friend, this day’s destination was Gorge Harbour on Cortes Island. This was an awesome place to get into, the harbour is aptly named: There’s a sheer wall on one side of the entrance to the harbour that local native tribes used to hurl rocks down from on their enemies who tried to enter. These days, the only rocks are the ones naturally dislodged, and the entrance with its moderate tidal current and amazing views is definitely something to see. Inside, there’s the usual eclectic BC collection of boat dwellers, including one large, completely black painted boat that looks very “piraty”.
The Harbour’s sole marina was a good restocking point for my food and water, and the next few days were quite enjoyable. Probably my favourite little discovery on the island was a little roadside stand devoted to poetry: anyone who passed by was welcome to pin up someone else’s poetry or write their own. There were little potted plants donated by someone for anyone to take with them, and a section for kids to write their own messages. The world needs more places like this!
May 28th: Frances Bay
This is where the trip really started to get remote and wild. After my friend headed towards Quadra, I was left sailing northwards alone once more. The next stop was Frances Bay, a beautiful south facing bay and the last stop before the first set of true tidal rapids on this trip. This place was absolutely gorgeous, a massive though not very protected bay enclosed by steep hills; but surrounded with waterfalls on almost every side, no doubt helped by the recent rain. Ashore, an abandoned logging road ran through an over-full waterfall to produce a good stretch of fun wading along it, to a deep forest path over a truly massive log bridge created apparently by the logging companies in years past. On the shore of the bay below, there was a beautiful outcropping of rock covered in nearly 6 inches of moss that provided the night’s peaceful view to the mountains to the southeast, and through binoculars, even the view of a waterfall farther inland up the inlets. The other boats that pulled into the bay were as welcoming as the surroundings, and I had a few lovely conversations about the next big hurdle of the trip: my first set of rapids.
May 31: Yaculta/Dent/Gillard Rapids to Blind Channel
I woke up early this day to try and catch the right tide at the Set of rapids just to the north. It definitely surprised me how accurate you needed to be to actually catch the slack tide: I got there less than 20 minutes early and could barely make headway upstream against the last of the flood, stopping for a short rest in the early morning at Big Bay, and continuing once the tide had turned to the start of the ebb, to avoid the notorious whirlpools that can form in the passage. This was one of my first real experiences with tides (besides an ill fated trip to Campbell River years ago on my first liveaboard sailboat, Seileaster) and they would come to rule my movements during the rest of the trip, even more so than wind. You can tack upwind along a narrow channel without a problem, but with a knot and a half of current, a very slow flow for many of the passages on this route, you are stuck tacking back and forth at the same spot, sometimes for hours if you don’t have a nearby handy anchorage and don’t want to lose your progress. These situations became some of the only times on the trip when I would be almost forced to use the engine, so I tried my best to avoid it whenever possible. This night’s stopping point was a small bay in Blind Channel, across from the marina resort of the same name, which provided a handy resupply point and some great trails, leading to their “Big Tree”. While taking a day here and restocking, I made a cinch-tight cover for my plastic dinghy, after hearing many warnings that towing a dinghy was foolish in Johnstone strait. Unfortunately, Easy Rider isn’t capable of carrying a hard dinghy on deck, and I certainly wasn’t going to use anything else that might not be able to be rowed in the conditions I expected farther north!
June 2-9: North along Johnstone Strait to Port Hardy
True wilderness! After Blind Channel, this section of the trip seemed very isolated except for the occasional large shipping vessel, sighted through my binoculars across the strait. Some of the first actually exciting sailing on this trip was southern tailwinds on the passage to Port Harvey, which turned out to be a fascinating little harbour. There’s very little there at the moment, a small shipyard with some old large motor vessels and the remains of a midsized BC ferry, but there’s a hidden shell beach that appears to be the remnants of a old aboriginal settlement, along with some pictographs along the rocky ledge halfway up the bay, and at the time I visited, a sunken sailboat with just the tip of the mast sticking out of the water. The next few days saw more travel up past the town of Alert Bay to Port McNeil and Port Hardy, for a by-that-time much needed restock, laundry, and refueling stop. Sometime during this section of the trip, the seawater spray managed to put my autopilot out of action. Unfortunately, the rest of the trip was going to be hand steering, which makes for long days and difficult bathroom breaks.
June 13-14: Cape Caution!
I took a short sail up to a tiny harbour with an interesting group of floating, ramshackle houses whose lone inhabitant at the time peeked out the door at me, and proceeded to disappear for the night that I was there. The next morning I left at the break of dawn (Pretty early at that time of the year!), heading into the sunrise through a passage choked with rocks, till I turned north for the crossing of Cape Caution. This time, it turned out to be uneventful, despite the crossing’s notorious reputation for huge confused seas. The day was mostly easy downwind sailing with just a spinnaker, but I won’t complain about that! Safety Cove on Calvert Island made for an interesting anchorage: I was able to time the tide and stay above the sand flat at it’s head, making for a nervous sleep but easy departure in the morning, with just 2 feet of water under my keel at that point.
June 14-17: North past Bella Bella
The next few days were sailing north up Fitz Hugh sound, through Bella Bella (no stop because of covid), and to Mouat Cove and then Rudolph Bay on the West Side of Price Island. In Fitz Hugh sound, just south of Namu, I was sailing along when all of a sudden I spotted an orange trap buoy, which was travelling at a right angle and coming close to the stern. I thought I had snagged the line on my keel, but as I sailed past it kept travelling at a right angle, out farther into the channel. I was confused until a few seconds later, about 25 feet from the boat, an orca surfaced, the line from whatever crab pot or prawn trap wrapped around it. It kept surfacing for a few seconds, and then started to try and entirely jump out of the water to try and get the line off of it. There was nothing I could have possibly done, the idea of trying to jump in and cut it was a death sentence for me, with the water as cold as it would have been, but it was horrifying to think that maybe it was going to starve as a result of that line. I really hope it managed to get free in time for it to survive.
In the passages leading up to Bella Bella, an American cruise ship (one on the smaller side) started to pass me, so I hugged one of the shores, but just as it was creeping past me it slowed to a crawl, and for about 15 minutes I was sailing more quickly than a cruise ship! At first I wondered if they didn’t have enough room to pass in the narrow channel, but there was no VHF call to berate me, and the passengers seemed to be having fun waving at me (and vise versa). Shortly all became clear when a few of the ship’s hands came out with a stepladder to do something to their radar dome, after which they quickly pulled away, leaving me to pass through Bella Bella alone on the water once again.
Mouat Bay, my last stop before the “Outside Inside” passage was a incredible little bay with outcroppings of rocks and bonsai-esque trees and moss scattered all around, but the most exciting thing for me was rowing the dinghy out of the harbour and sitting in the swell, watching the sun inch down towards an uninterrupted horizon to the southwest. I checked my charts later that night, and I could have taken a bearing that would lead directly to Hawaii…. It’s a heck of a feeling.
The next day’s weather was a little choppy ad the swell from the Pacific was starting the build a tiny bit, but it made for a fantastic day’s sailing around the south tip of McInnes Island Lighthouse, of VHF weather radio fame, as I passed a Coast Guard resupply ship returning from there.
Rudolph Bay, my stop for the day, proved to be a pretty terrifying experience for me. The Pacific Swell was rolling in, not large, but enough to make steering the boat down the backsides of the waves occasionally challenging, and this was to prove to be one of the more nerve wracking entrances along the whole trip. Luckily the tide was mid-height at the time, as the boat almost surfed down a few of the waves as I made the S-turn into the channel leading to the harbour, which was bisected by an island. One of my guidebooks suggested the north, while the other suggested either side. I went north, and missed an uncharted rock by about 8 feet, just barely visible when the swell got to the bottom of a wave as it dusturbed the water there. I ended up double checking all three of my sources, two guidebooks and some charts, and none of them showed this one. If you ever visit Rudolph Bay, take the north channel and favour the North shore as you pass the west end of the island mid channel!
This island was my first experience with the truly windswept and barren nature of these exposed north coast islands, particularly visible on the ones that don’t have at least Haida Gwaii to afford a small amount of west swell protection. Here on the beaches, massive stacks of driftwood were littered along every possible spot they could be thrown by winter storms. Scattered around I found fishing floats with japanese characters and water bottles from the same. Every tree along the edge of the coast of this island was gnarled and twisted , some looking like massive bonsai from the violent “prunings” they had experienced, and some with misshapen roots and sharp, broken tops. It provides, together with the scores of hidden of just visible off-lying rocks, a truly desolate but wild beauty to these western islands, which I loved. And here and there, among the rocks and stunted trees and masses of driftwood, you can find little sheltered nooks and tiny seaside grass clumps, wildflowers growing from them.
June 18-22: Hauge Point Harbour & Kent Inlet
North of Price Island, the wilderness and solitude continued. I made a stop at Hauge Point Harbour (not sure of the official name!) on Princess Royal Island, which involved a tricky, extremely narrow channel that led to a completely isolated small bay on the inside. Sadly, no sightings of the local spirit bears, but it was interesting to find such a sheltered spot. The water was like glass inside, after having left a 20 knot wind outside as I entered!
Kent Inlet was the next stop, farther up Princess Royal Island. This proved to be a fascinating little stop. The Inlet is composed of a Narrows and the entrance, which opens into a large inlet with scattered rocks, and then at it’s head, an impassable reversing tidal waterfall. If you haven’t run across this interesting bit of tidal fun before, a reversing waterfall flows upstream during high tides, and downstream during low tides, making for all kinds of fun variety to your anchorage scenery! I took the dinghy into the falls just before slack, heading upstream, and managed after a lot of oar scraping and boat bouncing to get into the second, inner inlet, which seemed so wild as to have never seen a human before, though sadly I’m sure that’s not true. Just 10 minutes later I rowed back to the falls, now flowing upstream and towards me again, having switched directions, and managed with great effort to get back out to Easy Rider, waiting patiently on her anchor for me. The foam thrown out by these falls would fill the whole bay with white mounds whenever the falls were at their tallest, and indeed one morning I crawled out of the boat, rubbing my bleary eyes, and thought for a second that I was surrounded by ice!
June 24-27th – Campania Island
Campania Island is one of the most visually striking islands that I came across on the entire trip. Large portions of the Island are what seems to be exposed granite, even below the treeline, so the valleys that still manage to have soil enough for trees to creep up provide a striking contrast to the rounded peaks above. I stayed in McmIcking Inlet to visit the “famous” white sand beaches here, and besides a group of people on a fishing boat that were leaving just as I arrived, there was nobody else to be seen at the absolutely incredible spot. There’s several kilometers of white sand beach here, separated into coves that you can often scramble across some rocks to travel between, and it’s all only a moderate dinghy row from a nice protected anchorage. Even at high tide, there’s dozens of feet of pure white sand and crystal clear water, and it only gets better as the tide drops and more is revealed. Alone on the island with nobody around except for the bald eagles wheeling overhead, I spent the day naked in the sun building a beach driftwood shelter, enjoying the sun and the views, at peace with the world.
I would really love to come back someday to this island to stay for a week or more: there’s the mountains to climb and sunny white sand beaches to tan on while you watch the abundant wildlife.
June 28-29:Prince Rupert!
The next few days were the last of the northward leg, as I struggled to finally make Prince Rupert. Heading north along the west side of Pitt Island, I spotted a Buck in the water, his antlers and nose above the water as he swam west towards Banks Island. Definitely was not the kind of aquatic creature I expected to find, but he seemed to be doing just fine as he doggy-paddled (deer-paddled?) his way across my bows, with absolutely no regard for right of way.
The passages leading towards Prince Rupert are heavily affected by the Skeena River, because of the immense quantity of fresh water flowing towards the sea. it affects the colour of the water, turning it a brilliant, almost glacial pale blue, but more importantly for the trip the ebb tides (almost all flowing the wrong direction for me at the time!) were much stronger and the floods weaker. This, combined with a lack of wind, led to me finally using the fuel that I had been keeping in reserve almost the entire trip. Easy Rider carries about 70 litres in a built-in plastic tank, and I had an extra 20 litres in a jerry can strapped to the aft of the cockpit. From the time I left Prince Rupert, due to Covid, there had been no resupply points at all, but I had sailed to the very limits of the boat for the last 20 days, so I had about 55 litres left. I ended up using just about every single drop of fuel in the tank during the last few days, spending long days at the tiller as the little Atomic 4 engine purred along in the calms. On my arrival at Prince Rupert, I figured I had about a litre left in the tank, maybe less, not even enough to safely motor across the harbour from the little bay on the north side that I had anchored in, so I ended up rowing the jerry can across and back to fill up first. But I made it! Prince Rupert was to be the northernmost point on the trip, due to COVID still closing the American Border. No Ketchikan or points farther north this trip, yet I was still thrilled. It had been difficult at many points but oh so rewarding.
I spent the next three weeks at a marina in Prince Rupert, waiting for my COVID vaccine appointment. Geocaching, swimming, exploring the abandoned and fallen cabins along the little bay across the harbour, hiking… it all made for some peaceful days. By the time I had managed to get my Vaccine, I was ready to head south and start on the trip back to the south coast.
July 20-26: Inside Passage to East Inlet, Klewnugit & Lowe Inlet
On the way south, I decided to try and take the Inside Passage instead of the outside route that I had taken for most of the trip north. By this point in the summer, COVID fears were growing less and together with the popularity of the passage, I saw quite a few more people on the trip back south. Sadly, still not much of the easy friendships and camaraderie that I was used to, being on the water. There was, and will be for a while I think, a quiet worry for most people, even in the rare situations you still are okay to be together, that someone has covid or that you do and you’re risking them or their family. I hope this changes for the better in upcoming years.
The first few days heading south from Rupert turned out to be the same as the incoming trip: little wind, lots of adverse current, and I ended up motoring till I was past the Skeena River again, and heading south with it’s flow instead of otherwise. The Inside Passage channels are a world apart from the conditions outside: wind is almost always from north or south, not ever any other direction, and can gust up quite quickly with little warning. However, for the most part it was gentle and the steep mountain slopes on both sides gave rise to almost continuous views, and waterfalls like you wouldn’t believe. For a while in these channels, it seemed like I was never out of sight of a waterfall, either dropping from an unseen river or creek into the edge of the water, or in some more outstanding cases, cascading visibly from the peaks overhead directly down to the channel. In general, the scenery was incredibly beautiful, but if I had to pick my favourite route, my heart is given to the outside passage, with its wild and harshly stunted beauty.
Two days south from Rupert led me into Klewnuggit Marine Park, and into East Inlet, located as you’d expected given the name. This turned out to be a gorgeous spot, steep clifflike mountains rising in the background but tall, deeply verdant trees in the foreground rising up the slopes, with a river flowing into the head of the inlet. I rowed the Dinghy around the head of the bar, exploring the undercuts in the rock banks, and cruised slowly through a jellyfish swarm, the little whirlpools from the tip of my oars occasionally sucking in one of them to swirl helplessly for a few seconds before they continued their slow, pulsating swim with the thousands more that filled one corner of the inlet. That day and the next, with the wind almost nonexistent, I took in the views of the mist and fog covered mountain sides above and all around me.
Nettle Basin, at the head of Lowe Inlet, is apparently a popular stop among cruisers, but I only saw one other boat, who left a few hours after I arrived, and a lone Kayak that paddled in just as I left, 3 days later. At the head of the inlet is another of the fascinating tidal falls, but instead of reversing, this one was high enough to just grow or shrink in size with the tide. I was able to anchor directly in front of it and the constant flow of the falls kept Easy Rider streaming back against her anchor comfortably, while the shimmering layer of fresh water lazily ran past, almost making it seem like I was constantly moving through the water. The first afternoon I was there, sitting on deck under a tarp to protect me from the mist, reading a book, I glanced up to see a massive bear on the south shore of the inlet among the tall grasses, slowly plodding along until he disappeared into the forest. The next day, venturing out exploring, I headed to the north shore instead, although I neglected to bring the bear mace I had purchased two months ago in Port Hardy for just this kind of situation.
The rounded tops of smooth, white-stained rocks peered out of the tall growth along the north beach as I stepped ashore to explore farther inland, appearing like the motionless humps of so many imagined bears; but none of the humps moved. The faintly visible trail and occasional flagging tape still leads along the side of the triple rapids & falls that make up the outflow of the Kumowdah River, and as you bushwack further and further, you discover the head of a branching, isolated, fogbound lake ahead, its far shores shrouded in mist so heavily you can’t see where it ends and the mountains ahead begin. This inside lake must, like many others on the north coast, see very few visitors; I can only imagine what it would be like to paddle it in a canoe with my dad in a place so few have discovered before. That morning’s scattered showers and constant mist highlighted the pristine nature inside: A honeybee, motionless on a purple flower; drops of dew on the outstretched leaves of blueberry bushes along the shore; thick green carpets of moss more comfortable than a mattress. As I scrambled back along the overgrown trail to Easy Rider, still laying easily at anchor, the constant splash of the jumping salmon continued in the pool under the lowest falls and the rain returned, covering everything in first a pale grey curtain, and then a sheet of wind-blown rain.
July 26-31: Hawkesbury Island & Bishop Bay Hot Springs
The next few days saw me deviating from the straight-line route south along the major passages, and heading north along the east side of Hawkesbury Island, towards Bishop Bay Hot Springs. Both of these fantastic places where almost accidental: Bishop Bay Hot Springs was recommended to me by Pepi, the last owner of Easy Rider, and this was a way to get a few new views on the way there. As so often happens, the accidental discoveries are some of the best: the sides of the mountains to either side as I sailed north along Verney Passage were staggeringly beautiful. Nearly sheer bare rock mountainsides climbed to thousands of feet on either side, black and white striations running through them and waterfalls almost constantly flowing down into the sea. These mountains reminded me of the one on Campania Island, but with even steeper sides, with the cliffs leading directly down in unbroken steps of hundreds of feet at a time. I couldn’t round the top of Gribbell Island to head south in one day, so I stopped at a small place called Fishtrap Bay, a very exposed but, as a result, incredibly scenic anchorage. As I was slowly maneuvering into the best spot in the bay, I heard the mournful sound of a wolf howling in the silence of that monumental bay. It was a tan-couloured sea wolf, something unique to the desolate stretches of coast in northern BC, and his cries went on for a quarter hour as I sat and watched him alone on the beach. Around me, the tips of the mountains were bathed in the golden light of the setting sun; above, a rainbow was forming almost above the bearing I would take to the hot springs the next day. In the morning, a dinghy trip to shore revealed young mossy trees, growing from the broken remains of its larger family. A river flowing from the woods was lined with stones that proved to have an abundance of gold flecks covering them. I’m not so optimistic to think that it’s real gold (likely just pyrite instead)…. but you never know.
Bishop Bay hot springs, reached the next day, was apparently a local effort for many years before BC parks took over the maintenance several years ago. I was lucky enough to snag one of the two available, nicely maintained, mooring buoys: this was one of the few places on the coast during this trip where I wasn’t either alone or nearly so! The hot springs themselves are routed from the crack they flow out of, through a pipe, and into a nice wooden structure with half natural, half concrete basins to soak and wash in. Along the roof and painted on the rocks are the names of visitors and vessels, from as far back as 20 years ago. Of course, Easy Rider now has her name there, with the hundreds of others over the past decade.
The first night there, I sat underneath the roof in the covered hot spring pool as the rain ploinked off the tin roof, and as my muscles relaxed and my mind unwound, I felt truly lucky.
A few days of relaxation and meeting a few fun groups of cruisers who inevitably stopped in for a short soak and blasted away again, I left, once more heading back to the main Inside Passage and the route south. Fog enshrouded the entire inlet for a few hours that morning, and I was ghosting along with full main and genoa up until I made the turn south to Princess Royal Channel, when it rapidly picked up until I was flying downwind with just my small jib in 25 knots of wind from the stern, revelling in the excitement. When you’re sailing downwind in these narrow channels, any tailwind seems to bounce back and forth off the mountain sides to each side, so you get a variety of wind behind you. So south I went, jibing every half a mile and having the time of my life.
August 1: Butedale Cannery
Butedale Cannery, on the east side of Princess Royal Island, used to be a major center when it was still active. These days, it’s more of a curiosity stop for the cruisers that pass by. According to the out of date guidebooks that I was using for local information, there was a lone man who took care of the docks and lived there for many years, but by the time I visited the property had been sold to someone else, the old caretaker evicted, and the new owner was starting to upgrade the property. Some of the cabins had been removed, the work of a bulldozer was evident, and you could see the areas where the land was filled in with the old remnants of other buildings and machinery. Some of the old steam engines, originally used to run refrigeration compressors and canning equipment, were still visible with their massive flywheels; now they were surrounded by fresh new boardwalks and coated with fresh green paint.
The old main cannery building remains mostly structurally intact, though one corner has started to slope down into the ocean as the pilings give way. The massive post and beam construction remains, but behind the building you can see the fallen remains of massive tumblers, rusty storage tanks, and geared machinery.
It was at Butedale that I met by far the most interesting person of the trip, a lone kayaker named Kelly. It had been her I saw paddling to the north shore of Lowe Inlet, days before. She was travelling from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy, solo, in a kayak- a really impressive undertaking! We had a fun evening exploring the abandoned ruins of what used to be a bustling little stop on Inside Passage, but by far the most interesting part of the night was when she discovered that one of the two remaining cabins that had previously been occupied by the old caretaker was now home to a massive swarm of bats. We stood in the deepening gloom as first one or two, and then 5 or 6 bats at a time would squeeze out from the rafters, under the chimney flashing, through the gables, and fly past us to the meadow behind and the many insects it contained. We must have been there for half an hour, and they just kept coming, one after another, without end. Easily in the thousands of bats had flown out of the house and past us by the time we headed back down to the docks to drink some wine and talk. The tiny fish around the dock swam in the bioluminescence and a group of otters at the end of the dock splashed into the water before peeking their heads up again to see if we had gone, and finally a fishing trawler with its bright lights and engine nosed into the bay in the blackness of the night, disturbing the serenity.
August 2-3: Stuck in Khutze Inlet
Heading south from Butedale, a strong headwind and adverse currents quickly pushed me into Khutze Inlet, where I took shelter from the increasing winds by anchoring on a sandbar that extended all the way across it. I ended up having to re-anchor twice that day, the first time because of my own misjudgement of the depth, and then 6 hours later when an inconsiderate motorboat anchored too close. I ended up nearly midway in the inlet, yet anchored soundly in about the maximum depth I could safely handle, 50 feet of water with all 350 feet of rode out. I rode there for a day and a half in near-gale winds that blew up the channel, as there was no way to make progress against the combination of that wind and the tidal currents without making too much use of my engine.
August 4-7: Klemtu to Louisa Cove
The next few days were relatively uneventful: the end of the inside passage and a quick stop in Klemtu for fuel and water: the first since Port Hardy. I would have liked to repeat my accomplishment of Port Hardy To Prince Rupert without refueling from the trip north, but headwinds and the approaching end of the season had me less patient with the light breeze so common in summer, especially in the inside passage. The stop in Klemtu is notable, not for the town which I could not explore because of (you guessed it) COVID, but for the island in the bay just south of the town, where I was anchored. I did not leave the boat that evening to explore, as the small island I was about 100 feet from appeared to be the local graveyard. Together with the ghosts of generations of the village’s dead that night, I slept soundly and headed south the next morning. South through Millbank Sound, I crossed paths with a BC Ferry in a rising swell, headed towards Louisa Cove. This proved to be a fantastic anchorage, protected by an outlying reef marked at one end, over which the once again apparent Pacific Swell would rise and fall, streaming trails of bull kelp in its wake and occasionally crashing and doing it’s best to look like a scene from a Hawaiin surfer movie. During the stay there, waiting for conditions outside to moderate a little, I discovered that the sheltered, rocky beach with the sandy patches was not quite what it appeared…. The sand was the crumbled remains of millions of shells. Whether it was another long- abandoned settlement or just in some way a meeting point of many currents, I don’t know, but along the beach there were more intact shells that I’ve seen anywhere else, including hundreds of intact Northern Abalone shells.
These are known for their historical use as both a food source and for jewelry (the inside of their shells are a gorgeous, shimmering rainbow of pinks, yellows, and greens), but starting in the 1990s, were completely banned from being harvested. I personally never saw one before this trip, but apparently you’d occasionally find them on more southern sections of the coast when I was just a kid in the late 90’s. They’ve gone from threatened to now an endangered status, so it was really very interesting to find such a large quantity of their shells, and with so many intact, in such a small area. I can only assume, unless nobody has stopped there before, that this is a rare spot they’re truly thriving still? There were none alive to be seen, but as the outside of their shell is a dull and camouflaged contrast to the bright interior, and they live below the low tide line, it would be tricky to spot in any case. I hope these return in the quantities they used to possess in years past: the sight of a shimmering pink shell fragment is a welcome addition to the usual diversity of shells on the beach, and I’m sure they play an important role in the underwater ecosystem.
This northwestern rocky shore at Louisa Cove, apart from the beautiful Abalone shells, is continually washed by the swell from the open pacific just to the west. Again as in so many places on the outside coast, there’s an abundance of flotsam and jetsam: fishing floats, lines, nets, milk crates, and of course mountains of driftwood logs. In many places the driftwood will be thrown up many tens of feet higher than the highest high tide line, and peering into the underbrush of the forest behind you can see debris even further in and higher up. Once I saw the unnerving sight of a fishing float and line, wedged in the crook of a tree’s branching arm, 4 feet above my head. I can only imagine the ferocity of the annual winter storms that smash their way onto this exposed section of coast, and the truly awesome ones that must pass through even less frequently.
August 8-10: Outer Central Coast to Calvert Island
Heading south from Lousia Cove, I turned west again out into the Pacific, past Cape Mark and south through another section of wild and exposed coastline. Past Cape Mark, Easy Rider was hailed by the cries of a lone sea lion on the outermost rock: I decided that this must of course be Mark. With the Pacific Swell rolling in, exposing and covering the minefield of rocks that outlie the islands here, I slowly picked my way for the next few days through this area, possibly the wildest of the whole trip.
On the second day heading south, the best possible anchorage was Swordfish Bay on Hunter Island. The guidebooks tell you that even entering is dangerous, especially in a southern swell, but luckily that evening and the next morning was protected by a low tide. Skirting around the patches of still-attached kelp that mark the entrance of the bay, I sailed my way into one of the most interesting, hidden spots so far. The sides of the entrance are marked by small, sheer rocks with the same unique black and white striations that I saw in the channel leading to Fishtrap Bay, except that these were the low-slung remnants of what may once have been a mountain, but now hardly rated as a hill.
Inside the inner harbour Easy Rider rode quietly to anchor while I was able to row around to explore the tiny bay even further inland, reachable only through a small, twisting channel that the incoming tide was flowing quickly through. With the crystal clear water rushing past the sandy bottom you could see the fish swimming underneath, kelp twisting in the flow, and a few small but long-clawed crabs, clinging onto the strands of seagrass with their hindlegs and waving their pincers threateningly as I rowed past. In the other direction, a narrow sandy strip connected a small islet to the main island, stretching dozens of yards down to the ocean at the moment but almost covered at high tide, shells scattered around and a few sooty remnants of campfire rings showing the traces of those who had visited before me.
The next stop was Pruth Bay, a bay with three arms at the northern end of Hecate Island. This is another spot I’d like to revisit on a return trip: the Hakai Research Institute on the western arm has a trail network, one of which extends overland to the exposed beach on the west side of the island: perfect beachcombing! But for now, I was in a rush: Cape Caution was calling me once again, and the forecast was deteriorating.
August 11: Magical Sailing at Cape Caution
On the 11th, I was facing a choice: I could wait for a day or possibly 2 and take another easy crossing, against a light headwind from the south and calm seas… or I could leave immediately. The forecast was for a gradually building north wind throughout the day, 30 knots gusting to 35 by the evening.
I left the anchorage that morning and even before leaving the protection of Calvert Island, I was reefed down to my smallest storm jib and no main. The wind, moderate at first, continued to build as expected and as I passed the southern tip of Calvert past Grief Bay and the Sorrow Islands I was in the biggest seas of both the entire trip and my whole experience sailing. I can’t say for sure how high they were, but I was certainly frightened at first. The boat, though dashing along the top of the ocean at a ridiculous speed, would be thrown 30 degrees from vertical on each side of the peaks, coming at an angle to my stern. Easy Rider would perch at the top of each wave that had caught up to us from behind for a moment before correcting herself again for the next. At the helm, I was forced to tie myself in using a spare sheet: the survival suit I was wearing in case I was thrown adrift didn’t have a harness built in, so I looped the line around a cleat and a winch and back to my waist. Twice, as the boat caught the wave at just the wrong angle, my feet dangled free as I was suspended above the lee side of the cockpit, the mast leaning down towards the water, but every time she staggered back to her feet.
Everywhere you looked there were whitecaps scattered to the horizon, but as the day wore on you could see the sustained effect of the wind on the swell and waves, and there started to be truly massive areas, some the size of a hockey rink, where the breaking crests would tumble over themselves and produce a roiling cauldron of white water, foaming and hissing as Easy Rider sped by them. Most of my energy was spent trying my best to anticipate where these breaking waves would appear, and where I could steer to avoid them, but many times I would be surrounded by the foaming crests just as they broke, and with the white water surrounding the keel and rudder, would have no steerage for a few moments, until we passed into unbroken water again.
A few miles off my port bow, Cape Caution passed by and with all the initial terror of this heaving, foaming sea… I was enjoying myself like never before. Easy Rider was absolutely screaming downwind now, my GPS speed ticking upwards every time the boat started to surf on the face of a wave. The theoretical maximum for the boat is around 6 knots: on that crazy, wonderful, insane afternoon I spent much of the afternoon above that, sliding and careening, surfing down wave after wave. I kept the GPS’s running log of that entire day, and just south of Cape Caution Easy Rider hit 12.2 knots. It’s hard to explain just how thrilling this is, solo in a small boat: double the speed your boat should be capable of, broken free of the drag of the water and skimming and sliding down the faces of waves across one of the most infamous stretches of water on the coast.
As the afternoon came to a close, nearing evening, I was closing in on Pine Island, a few miles off my bow, just to port. As I started to near the protection afforded by the northern tip of Vancouver Island and reefs near Hope Island, there was another challenge in store for me. That morning, I was forced to leave early in order to make the long crossing, and so I wasn’t able to time the tides to my advantage. Closing in on Pine Island the newly ebbing tide was starting to flow northwards, against the swell and waves. Together with the confused reflections of the north seas bouncing off Hope Island, the already large waves started to steepen yet more, and suddenly there were two sets of waves crossing each other from different directions. Seconds at a time two sets would cancel out each other and Easy Rider would slide along in relative peace, and then just as quickly two would cross each other under us, floating the boat and I high above the rest before we rocketed downwards along their faces. Often, we’d start to surf on the front of one, and a second would slide in from another direction, the boat surfing for ten, twelve, fifteen seconds at a time. The north end of Pine Island, less than half a mile away, is a tree-topped knoll a hundred feet above a sheer cliff leading down the water that the force of the sea has stripped clear of any trace of vegetation. At the bottom of each swell I couldn’t see anything but the waves on each side; at the top every once in a while I’d catch sight of another crest slamming into the rocks below the cliffside, dousing the trees so high above with their spray.
Easy Rider flew onward, and in the light of the setting sun I was ecstatic as the waves (but not yet the wind) started to lessen in the protection of the islands. I was profoundly exhausted, after so many hours literally tied to my spot in the cockpit, tiller in hand; but with the rush of achievement and fantastic sailing there seemed little reason to stop. Port Hardy wasn’t so far ahead to be impossible, and this wind wasn’t to be left before I had to. The gathering night kept darkening as I sailed through a small passage into Goletas Channel, just as night fell.
I’ve seen dolphins many times this trip: they seem to love the quiet power of a sailboat as it glides through the water. Never has it been more magical than that night, as I sailed south in the gale, each splashing wave of Easy Rider’s bow glowing with the bioluminescence and matching the glow trailing behind their fins as they leapt and splashed in the water. Most of the time on this trip I saw them in calm water, and they’d glide and cut through the water, as graceful as anything you can imagine. That night, with no less grace, they would leap out of the back of one wave in the dark and land with a glowing splash in the one ahead, half a dozen of them sharing my joy for twenty minutes that night, the boat’s bow pointed toward the faintly flashing beacon that marked the entrance to Port Hardy’s Harbour
Eventually they peeled away and I was left alone in the dark, no light or hint of form on the forested hills to either side, my only guide the light miles ahead. The dark deepened, and behind the boat in the blackness of that night shone a steak of bioluminescence longer than the boat itself, a glowing, shimmering line thrown off from the keel and rudder. Above, the stars wheeled; I stared upwards at that unpolluted spectacle and a shooting star flashed across the sky, cutting the midnight sphere in half. All in all, in the space of a few hours, I saw dozens of shooting stars as I flew towards Port Hardy. Finally, the glow from the city started to become apparent and I turned west into the large harbour that makes up the settlement. The many lights shining from the massive Coast Guard supply ship, the same one I had seen months before near the lighthouse many days and miles north, pierced the night and lit my way to a safe anchorage, nestled deep in the harbour. It was 12 hours since I had started sailing that day, and I had covered 66 nautical miles in total.
August 12-30: Port Hardy to Pender Harbour
After the incredible, insane, beautiful, thrilling sailing across Cape Caution, the trip was starting to wind down. the trip southwards towards Pender Harbour was along mostly the same stretches of water, with only a few exceptions. I managed to lose the dinghy heading south in Johnstone strait when the wind suddenly and unexpectedly jumped from an easy 15 knots to gusts of 35 or 40 knots. Not a problem for Easy Rider, but as I’m solo and had no autopilot, I was forced to let her ride broadside to the waves while I dragged down the large genoa and replaced it with the small jib that had worked so well for the trip. In the meantime, though, my little dinghy took a wave to her side easily flipped her over, and another right after that tore off the handmade cover that served me so well for the entire trip (Seriously, I thought for sure I would have lost it during the Cape Caution crossing, but incredibly it held on). South through Campbell River and another vaccine dose I headed, and followed almost the same route to my final stopping point for the trip, the same Marina I had left from more than three and a half months before. The trip was over
Everything I’ve been able to write down in this blog, all the pictures and descriptions in the world couldn’t properly convey the rugged and wild beauty of the BC coast. There are so many places I didn’t explore fully, and many more than that I didn’t even get the chance to see: I really think there’s a lifetime of exploration on this coast. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do it!
Easy Rider, while amazing value for the money I paid, wasn’t a large enough boat for long term living aboard and cruising, so she was sold not long after my return from my trip. I purchased and am currently working on getting a new boat, a Jason 35 named Freja II, ready to explore more of this vast BC wilderness and the rest of the world.
Thank you for reading!