Cruising British Columbia

After the whirlwind of preparations to head north to BC, the trip was actually pretty low key. We traveled down the river in one day, much faster than we came up, thanks to a following current of about 1-2 knots. Duet ran perfectly.

Since we were planning to exit the river, we anchored just north of Astoria, behind Tongue Point. This is a very nice anchorage, with a level mud bottom, completely sheltered. We had it almost to ourselves, except for a couple of sail boats which came and went, and a local fishing boat. The fishing boat was on a mooring, but at night it fished the anchorage. We stayed several days waiting for a weather window, and one night around 2AM Nancy got up to look around. The fishing boat was about 50 feet off our beam, fortunately with the fisherman aboard, with all the lights on and nets in the water. Looked a bit surreal, nevertheless.

The key to exiting or entering rivers is to go when the current is as close to slack as possible. After much calculation, we determined that a departure time from the anchorage of around 10AM would get us to the Bar at just about slack on our chosen day. The weather for the offshore journey was as good as it gets, calm, with seas of 4-5 feet on a long period. We rose early, as offshore departures, no matter how many we have done, are still stressful for us. Our exit from Tongue Point went fine, but was a little delayed by the incredible amount of mud on the Rocna. The refitted salt water washdown pump did it’s job and we pulled out with a clean, well secured hook.

Fortunately, we had been warned that the Bar was busy, by our local source, Sean, who had come into the river several weeks earlier, after 6 weeks of cruising in BC. He said that you could almost walk across the entrance on the fishing boats out there. He was right. There were everywhere! Almost all were recreational, although some were head boats, namely commercial vessels that take out a group of anglers for a day. There was also all the usual container ship and commercial fishing vessel traffic. Pandemonium reigned.

Duet’s crew has some experience with crowded waterways, gained in the crucible of Florida cruising, which has to be seen to be believed, especially on a weekend. The key, like driving in Boston, is to never give way in any situation where you have the right of way. Duet was exiting the channel, and is much larger than most of the vessels fishing. So she has the right of way, except over larger commercial vessels, commercial fishing vessels engaged in fishing, and sail boats under sail. There were no sail boats under sail, and only one commercial fishing vessel fishing. There was also, just to add to the excitement, a dredge working the southern edge of the outermost section of the bar. Dredges, no matter what they are doing, always have right of way in Duet’s book.

So Duet, with Captain Ron at the wheel and Nancy on lookout, chugged along the edge of outbound side of the channel. Small fishing boats skittered every which way, but Captain Ron never blinked. One boat, braver than the others, came close enough to shout at Nancy, who was standing at the port pilothouse door. His point, in effect, was that we were too close. Nancy’s polite reply was that he was fishing in the channel. While that didn’t seem to satisfy him, he was at least wise enough to recognize that Duet had him beat in terms of tonnage, and he retired from the field.

By about noon we had passed most of the hazards, and were being entertained by a large military looking catamaran which was conducting some sort of speed test. It was traveling rapidly back and forth along the inbound side of the channel, while chatting with the dredge as it went around it. We’ve no idea what it was, but it was quite cool looking.

As part of this journey, we were experimenting with a new form of seasickness medication, namely scopolamine in a gel form, rather than as a patch. As our regular readers know, Nancy is prone to seasickness. We run the boat as a team and having one of us out of action makes it harder on the other, so we try to stay as healthy as possible. On our journey south the previous fall, Nancy had used a scope patch, which worked well for seasickness but took a long time, over 48 hours, to wear off, even after the patch was removed. Scope has some side effects, such as gastrointestinal upset and headaches, and the long hangover was not pleasant.

Fortunately, we had read about scope in a gel form somewhere and our local compounding pharmacy was able to make it for us. They make it all the time for pilots and, during the Reno Air Races, for passengers. In a gel form, scope is administered to the skin every 8 hours or so, and it rapidly taken up by the system. This means it doesn’t have to be put on the night before we leave, like the patch, and it wears off fast. Also, you can titrate how much you put on, depending on sea and personal sickness conditions.

We were eager to see how this would work out. Ron started Nancy off with a very small dose, too small as it turn out. The plus was she had no side effects, but the minus was she was sea sick. So, over our 20 hour journey Ron gradually upped her dosage until it worked. Essentially, she ended up using a standard 8 hour dosage about every 8 hours, and felt pretty good by the time we arrived at our destination. This was a pretty good test of this new method. Next time, probably when we leave the shelter of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island on our journey north next spring, we will put a full dose on her just before we depart the anchorage and see how that goes.

Seasickness can be a serious problem. Many folks suffer from it, and it can easily ruin a passage, not to mention increase the risk for small crews, like Duet’s. As we have discussed previously, Nancy has many remedies, but scope is the big gun, used for offshore work. We have also found that the more time she spends on the boat, the more acclimatized she becomes, so we try to have a few nights on the hook, at least, before we depart offshore.

Other than this series of medical experiments, our journey north was uneventful. Duet ran as she always does, with no problems. On this trip we decided to travel rapidly, so we ran about 1850RPM, which generated a speed over ground of about 8.5-9 knots over 200 miles. This is fast, but it costs in terms of fuel used. Fortunately, we don’t have an accurate way of measuring how much fuel Duet is actually burning yet, so we weren’t too worried. We also know, based on the RPM and fuel burn curve for Duet’s engine, that we have plenty of range at this RPM level, far more than we needed. Why did we travel so fast, you wonder?

Our reasoning was pretty simple, with speed we can make the trip in just over a day, rather than 36 hours, which is what we would be looking at if we traveled at our normal cruising speed of about 7 knots. 36 hours is a tough time frame for a cruise. We like to arrive in the early morning, so we wanted to be at the mouth of the Juan de Fuca at dawn, give or take. At that point, we would have the choice of continuing onward for the rest of day, which would put us in Sidney, BC, or running a partial day to Victoria. If we traveled more slowly, and still wanted to arrive at dawn, that meant we needed to depart at late in the evening two nights previously, and spend two nights at sea. We don’t mind nights at sea, but we knew Nancy was going to have a tough trip since we hadn’t been on the boat for a long time, so we wanted to make it as short as possible.

This flexibility demonstrates a nice feature of the Nordhavn 50, namely she can really get up and go. Our 46 at full blast couldn’t do much better than 7 knots, so we rarely ran her fast, as it didn’t make that much of a difference. The new Duet, on the other hand, can hammer along at nearly 9 knots without strain, provided you don’t mind the fuel burn.

Anyway, off we went, fast. Our strategy worked just fine, we arrived at the mouth of the Juan de Fuca even earlier than predicted, around 5AM. Unfortunately, mother nature had other plans for us, and the whole area was solidly fogged in, we could hardly see Duet’s bow. Our radars can, of course, see through fog, but there were a lot of targets out there, many of which were small fishing boats going every which way. Given that there was little upside to taking the risk of navigating in heavy fog, and plenty of downside, Captain Ron decided to wait until sunrise, in the hope that visibility would improve, at least a little bit.

Nancy took over the helm and did big circles well away from any other traffic, while we whiled away the time until sunrise. Ron decided to do an engine check. We conduct engine checks every 3 hours or so. Nancy is still learning to do them, and we also don’t like having someone in the engine room when the other is asleep and unable to render aid in case of a problem. We do checks at the late night change of watch, and then again as soon as Captain Ron comes back on duty in the early AM, as well as during the day. We are also adding more monitoring gear to give us even more information on what is going on in the engine room.

This check turned out to be a good idea, as the main engine had shredded its 24V alternator belt. While this, in itself, doesn’t affect Duet’s ability to proceed, Captain Ron felt that we should stop and repair the belt, as we had an easy option to do so. In our experience, one problem often begets others, so we always, if possible, immediately repair the first problem to get Duet back in perfect running order.

So, once the sun rose, which had some, but not much impact on visibility, we proceeded cautiously into the Straight of Juan de Fuca and towards Neah Bay. Neah Bay is a convenient anchorage close to the mouth of the Straight and we have been there before. Ron felt confident he could change the belt on the anchor, and then we could continue on early the next morning. Our only issue approaching Neah Bay involved a small rather intrepid fishing boat, which we actually never saw with the naked eye, but our big Furuno radar could see as clear as day. Said fishing boat obviously did not see us, until we blew our horn. Duet has a large Kahlenberg horn which sounds like the Queen Mary is about 10 feet away. The fishing boat immediately made a speedy turn out of our way. Other than this encounter, our entrance and anchoring in Neah Bay was easy.

We spent the day and that night on the hook, Ron replaced the 24V alternator belt easily and we got a good night’s sleep. For those of you who are electrically inclined, Duet has two alternators, a 12V which handles most of the house loads, and a 24V which charges the batteries for the main engine start, the windlass, the crane and the salt water wash down pump. Ron is slowly adding load to the 24V side of the system, as the 12V side works very hard. It was the 24V belt that went, the 12V is brand new, having been changed when the new 12V alternator was installed.

The next morning we departed Neah Bay at dawn, bound for Canada. It was a beautiful day, calm and sunny. Our destination was Bedwell Harbor, on Pender Island, some 100 miles distant. During this journey Ron made a brief video of Duet’s pilothouse underway, which can be viewed on YouTube. Video a first for Duet’s crew, so please bear with us as we learn how to use this new technology

This was to be a long day. We departed Neah around 6AM and finally dropped the hook in Bedwell at 8PM, after clearing customs. Canada makes the second foreign destination for Duet’s crew, but the first for us on this boat, so it was definitely a milestone. Customs was uneventful, both Ron and Nancy have Canpasses, and we checked in by phone. We received a 12 month clearance and the all important customs number, which we immediately posted on both pilothouse doors.

Shown below is the Canadian Customs Station at Bedwell Harbor. When we arrived there were a number of boats already tied up, awaiting their customs time. Essentially, when you call in you give the officer a time you will arrive. You then wait at the reporting station until that time has passed. If no customs officers appears, you are officially cleared in. You may then remove your yellow Quarantine flag and replace it with the Canadian flag.

Now that our arrival in Canada had been accomplished, we had things to do. But first, we decided to take a few days off. It had been a hectic couple of months, what with Ron’s retirement, Nancy’s family reunion, and our busy departure from Portland. So we moved about 10 miles from Bedwell Harbor, to Montague Harbor, and spent a few days hanging out on the hook, trying out the new kayak, doing a little hiking and sleeping late.

The new kayak was a triumph, even Nancy could get in an out of it without problems. It is a Hobie Mirage with the pedal system, so you can exercise your legs and your arms at the same time. To do this you have to be pretty coordinated. So far we haven’t quite figured it out, but we are sure that Ron, at least, will, with enough practice. We took the kayak out quite a bit during our 8 weeks or so in BC, and it proved an excellent platform for exploring.

Everything went fine, until, as is classic with cruising life, it didn’t. The culprit this time was the dinghy engine, which overheated, and went into what we later learned was a protective mode, while we were about as far from Duet as one can get and still be in the confines of Montague Harbor. We limped slowly back, with the engine refusing to rev up past idle and running roughly. During this long journey we definitely decided that we had written off the dink engine and mentally spent the cost of a new one.

The dinghy engine is a bit of a new animal for Chief Engineer Ron, as it is a four stroke. Our 46 dink had a two stroke engine, which was simple enough that even Nancy could fix it. To make matters worse, this engine is the only bit of gear for which we do not have the service manual, so it is a black box to us. After some fiddling about, Ron announced that we actually needed a mechanic to figure out what was wrong.

This gave us the impetus to get off the hook and head into Sidney, first to get the engine fixed and, second, to pick up a Telus data hotspot unit. Verizon charges a fortune for data access when traveling outside the US, so Nancy had arranged for us to have a local Canadian connection. Going to Sidney also gave us an opportunity to check out Van Isle Marina, where Duet was to spend the winter.

The trip to Sidney was all of about 15 miles and we arrived just after lunch. We were assigned a temporary slip, as our winter slot was occupied. Unfortunately, the temporary slip did not have a an electric hook up we could connect to, so we were forced to run the generator twice a day during our three day stay. Van Isle is a busy marina, they had few open slips, so we took what we could get. Our slip neighbors were quite tolerant , as this a pretty common occurrence. Van Isle seems to be BC Nordhavn HQ, there were at least a dozen Nordhavns there, both on our first visit and when we came back several months later and got settled for the winter.

As an aside, seeing this many Nordhavns while cruising is a new experience for us. When we cruised our 46 we were the only Nordhavn around. Seeing another one was cause for celebration, and we often spent several days with whoever we stumbled upon during our travels. Now, after a few months in the PNW, seeing another one is not unusual, although seeing 12 in one place did get our attention.

Onto the dinghy engine. We checked with the marina who recommended the local South Island Marine shop. Ron and the dink limped to the haulout well, and the dink was pulled onto a trailer and taken away for diagnosis. Fortunately for us, it turned out to be nothing more than a failed thermostat, which was replaced and the engine is now running like a champ. Needless to say, a technical service manual is hight on the procurement list this winter.

Nancy also picked up the Telus wifi hotspot. It is identical to our Verizon unit, so it was easy to figure out. It does, however, turn out to be less tolerant of our 24/7 need to be connected, and it kept overheating. Ron finally removed the back to open up access to the battery, and strapped it to a fan, which allowed it to run indefinitely without overheating.

Ron wisely decided to buy a back up to our slowly failing DVD player, which, despite his attempt to sort it out, was still misbehaving. Looking back at this now, we believe that the DVDs we got with Season 2 of The Sopranos were damaged, and it really wasn’t the DVD player’s fault. Regardless, it got dismantled, just to make sure.

After 3 days in Sidney, where we ate out, walked around and enjoyed the bright lights and the big city, we decided it was time to go cruising. We were headed north, although by this time it was early September, so we weren’t going very far north. We moved back to Bedwell Harbor and departed early the next morning north up the Straight of Georgia, headed for Pender Harbor. This trip, while long, was uneventful, and we arrived at Pender Harbor around dusk. During this trip everyone got a little rest, especially Captain Ron.

During this journey we saw what was to be the first of many major tows, which are common in this part of the world. First we passed a log tow, which is just what it sounds like, an enormous line of logs, secured together by wire and guide logs, pulled by a tiny tug. In this case, the tug was making about 3 knots against the current, so it was going to take it a long time to get wherever it was going.

The second tow we saw was a very large triple barge affair, with a very substantial tug pulling for all it was worth. It was headed north, so possibly it was bound for Alaska.

Pender Harbor is a beautiful anchorage, with plenty of spots to put the hook down. We chose a nice central area and settled in for a peaceful night. The following day happened to be our 30th wedding anniversary, so we decided to spend it at Pender and move on a few days later. We had beautiful weather, took a hike, had a nice steak on the grill, and, finally, munched on Magnum double chocolate ice cream bars for dessert.

After recovering from this bacchanal, we moved north to Prideaux Haven, in Desolation Sound. This was a truly magical anchorage, with incredible views, complete shelter from the elements and an ever changing cast of boats, most of whom only stayed for one or two days. Duet, on the other hand, remained there over a week, kayaking, exploring, maintaining the boat and living the cruising life. The following pictures are a few of the many we took during our time at Prideaux, and, while they can’t do it justice, they are the best we could do.

It was at Prideaux Haven that we had one of those quintessential cruising encounters that happen occasionally. It was mid afternoon, we had returned from a kayak trip, had lunch and Ron was working in the engine room. Nancy was puttering around in the salon. A dinghy approached and hailed Duet. Nancy wandered out on the aft deck. This kind of experience isn’t uncommon, folks often come by to say Hello or ask about the boat. This case, however, was to turn out quite differently.

There was a couple in the dinghy, folks of about our own age. They politely asked if we knew the trawler Duet from the East Coast. Nancy replied that we had been the trawler Duet from the East Coast, but possibly not the only one. Ron, attracted by the sound of voices, came up on the deck as well. After about five minutes of conversation, it turned out that the couple in the dinghy were Randy and Sheri, with whom we had cruised with for about a month in the Bahamas more than a decade ago.

At the time they had a black lab named Pepper, who spent many happy hours with our labs, Tristan and Maggie. Randy and Sheri cruised aboard the beautiful Gozzard sailboat Procyon. They had continued from the Bahamas all the way to Australia, shipped Procyon back to the US, cruised a bit more and then sold her to build a house in Oregon. They happened to be chartering a trawler out of Seattle for a couple of weeks.

The picture of Procyon shown below was taken at an anchorage in the Exumas, Bahamas.


We spent a happy hour or so reminiscing and then they returned to their boat to rejoin their friends and we went on with our day. If you spend enough time out there cruising, this kind of thing will happen to you. The biggest issue for Ron and Nancy is remembering who people are, we are good with pets and boats, but not so good with names and faces.

After a few more days at Prideaux,we decided it was time for a little civilization. So we moved on, to Gorge Harbor, where we had heard there was a good restaurant. This was a journey of about 20 miles, which Duet accomplished easily. The entrance to the harbor, which is completely enclosed, is a narrow channel. The current can get up to about 4 knots, but on the day we arrived it didn’t seem to be running all that fast, or at least we didn’t notice that it was. Current, while still worth treating with considerable respect, is less of an issue with the 50 than it was with the 46. The 50 has a lot of reserve power, which can be quite handy.

Once we got into the harbor we needed to choose a place to anchor. All the anchored boats were clustered near the marina, where the water is shallower and it is easier to get to land. We don’t like clusters of boats. We like to put down plenty of anchor chain, which means a big swinging circle. This is hard to accomplish in tight quarters. So, after inspecting the popular section of the harbor, Duet set off to the other end, which, while a considerable distance from the marina, had the advantage of being completely deserted.

The other issue was aquaculture. This was our first exposure to this practice of raising shellfish, in this case, in enclosures suspended in the harbor. Frankly, while we know it is a source of jobs, we don’t like it. We don’t want to run our water maker in any harbor with millions of shellfish living in cages, just on principle. We also don’t like anchoring near underwater structures. So, after an extended tour of Gorge Harbor, we decided to anchor as far away from the marina and the aquaculture as we could get.

This strategy put us on the southwestern side of the harbor, in a residential area, with deep water. After some debate, we dropped the hook in 80 feet of water at high tide and put out 300 feet of scope. Anchoring in such deep water is new for us, so we did some dithering while deciding where to settle. We also pulled pretty hard to make sure hook had indeed set. We had anchored in about 50 feet in Prideaux Haven, to get enough swinging room, but 80 feet was a new high, or low, for us. Fortunately, Gorge Harbor is completely enclosed, with no fetch, so the chances of a significant challenge to our set were minimal.

The advantage of anchoring so deep was it provided an excellent test of the ability of the anchor chain to return neatly to the anchor locker. We had been having issues with this since we got the boat, but this trip was the first time we had anchored out more than a couple of nights, so we were getting a good sense of what was going on. During our journey in BC, Ron changed the orientation of the anchor hawse pipe, which brings the chain into the locker from the windlass, at least four times, to see if it helped. This required repeatedly climbing in and out of the anchor locker, as shown below. 

At then end of all this experimenting, we decided that the changes didn’t help much. After some discussion with other 50 owners, we have concluded that the 50’s chain locker is a bit shallow for 400 feet of 3/8 inch chain. Therefore we now expect to have to rearrange the chain during recovery whenever we put out more than 200 to 250 feet. Since we don’t put that much out often, it’s not that big a deal.

We spent a pleasant week in Gorge Harbor. We went out to dinner at the marina twice, it was very nice, and took daily hikes around the island. We did a little shopping at the marina store for perishables. We also piggybacked on their wifi when ashore, as our Telus unit was unable to acquire a signal inside the harbor. It had done OK at Prideaux, most of the time, but Gorge is more enclosed. Upon our arrival at Prideaux, we had installed a Wilson cell phone booster, which was recommended by our friend Clayton, on the Nordhavn 50 Tivoli. While it can’t pull a signal out of thin air, it can take a marginal one bar signal and turn it into three to four bars, so we are happy with it’s performance.

Soon enough, it was time to stop eating out and go somewhere. So we decided to go back to Prideaux. At this point you are wondering if we ever actually go anywhere while cruising. The reality is that it was late in the season, and while we had hoped to go as far north as the Broughtons, by this time it was mid September and we planned to be back at Van Isle by mid October.

It was also a full moon. To reach the Broughtons and other places north of Desolation Sound, we need to transit some rather substantial rapids. To do so safely, we need the current to be slack.. A full moon not only increases the speed of the current, it shortens the slack periods. Seymour Narrows, for example, was running at up to 16 knots with a transit window of about 20 minutes. We decided that, rather than push to go north after the moon passed, we wouldn’t go any further this season. Desolation Sound is a beautiful area, and this late in the season, uncrowded, which meant that we could sit in a gorgeous anchorage like Prideaux almost completely alone.

On the morning of our departure from The Gorge, we were visited by a pod of Orcas, or killer whales. They came right in the channel and within about a hundred yards of Duet. We could clearly hear them breathing when they spouted. There were four of them, one large and the others smaller. Not being conversant with the family dynamics of Orcas, we don’t know whether it was a mother and children, or a group of teenagers, accompanied by an adult. We gather that the males have up to six foot tall dorsal fins, and we don’t believe that the largest of these had a fin anywhere that big, but perhaps we just didn’t see it. Anyway, they frolicked about for an hour or so, while Photographer Ron shot endless photos. Nancy just drank it all in.

After all this excitement we figured the rest of the day would be pretty pedestrian. On our exit from the harbor, however, we noticed a furry animal swimming across the channel. It turned out to be a large black wolf, presumably a member of the pack known to live on Cortes Island. Nancy managed to take a great picture of a seagull with the wolf in the background, as our resident photographer was engaged in conning Duet out of the channel.

After exiting the channel we saw the pod of Orcas again, so this day went down in the log as a wild kingdom day. We returned to Prideaux, anchored in essentially the same spot and settled down for a few more days of kayaking, boat work and observing nature.

Our boat work during this period of cruising consisted mainly of repairs, although we did install the cell phone amplifier. Our master head gave up the ghost, so Ron spent a long day disassembling it, changing all the gaskets and the duck bill valve, putting it back together and also wiring an off switch into it’s circuitry. The head rebuild itself was pretty simple and it was good experience for Ron, as keeping the heads working on a boat is a very important requirement for happy cruising. In the photo below, the toilet section has been completely removed, and Ron is now figuring out how to deal with the lower gasket. 

This Duet has sophisticated Vacuflush heads, much like an airplane. When they work, they are great. They are, however, a bit temperamental. When the boat sits for long period and they not used, the gaskets harden and they lose vacuum. This means being woken up in the night by the endless running of the vacuum pump. It also uses a lot of power.

The forward head already had an off switch, adding one to the master meant we could turn it off at night unless it was in use. That solved the run on problem with the pump temporarily. The real fix was new gaskets and more use, but the switch is a great stop gap. We always switch these heads off when we leave the boat for more than a few minutes, just to prevent any problems. We also switch off the fresh water pump. The key is to remember to switch things back on before using the head.

Fortunately, there is always a reward in the offing after one of these projects, as shown below.

As part of this journey to BC, Ron had wanted to see a fjord and we figured he’d earned a break after working on the head, so we evaluated the nearby options.

The largest, Bute Inlet, was a long run up and back in one day. There were few, if any, reasonable anchorages, so we settled on a day trip up Toba Inlet, which is shorter but has some interesting features. This inlet is well known for it’s turquoise water color, caused by runoff from the river at it’s mouth. Said river is fed by mountain snow melt from further inland. The water is opaque, which wreaks havoc on depth sounders, so anchoring wasn’t recommended, but we set off early with the plan of a roundtrip, departing from and returning to Prideaux.

It was a perfect day. The weather was warm and sunny, with little breeze. The inlet was deserted, we saw only one or two small fishing boats during our 5 hour journey up and back. The water, as promised, was a bright turquoise color. We saw snowfields high up above us and incredible granite formations, carved by the glacier millennia ago. All in all, a worthwhile journey. We arrived back at Prideaux late in the afternoon, glad we had made the effort.

In the pictures below you can see the turquoise waters of the inlet. 

By this time it was the end of September and the weather was gradually changing to fall. After a day or two of rain, we decided it was time to begin our journey south again, to put Duet away for the winter at in Sidney. But first we wanted to fulfill a long time dream, to visit Chatterbox Falls at Princess Louisa Inlet. This is one of the most popular spots in BC, and we consulted with our advisors, Sean and Stan, who had been there before. The general word was that we should be able to find somewhere to anchor, or possibly, tie up to the park dock, depending on how many other boats were there when we arrived.

So we repositioned Duet to Pender Harbor, which is about 40 miles from Malibu Rapids, the entrance to Chatterbox Falls. The Rapids can reach speeds of up to 8 knots, which is not something we want to deal with when transiting. The key is to arrive when the current is slack, thereby turning a hair raising experience into a simple one. Since we had arrived in BC, we had found the Nobeltec Time Zero current and tide tables to be spot on, so we put our faith in those and set off at first light, planning to arrive at the Rapids around 12:30 for a slack time of just about 1PM.

The night before, as we sat on our fly bridge, with an adult beverage watching the sun set, a parade of Grand Banks trawlers arrived. Grand Banks are nice solidly built boats, which, while they don’t have the range of a Nordhavn, are a great choice for extended coastal cruising. There were 4 or 5 of them, and, as tail end Charlie, one large new looking DeFever. DeFevers are also nice boats, we know several folks who have cruised them far and wide.

Duet pulled her hook at dawn and exited the Pender Harbor anchorage at about 7AM. Soon after, we noticed the Grand Banks/DeFever flotilla behind us, on AIS. They were traveling slightly faster, so they overtook us just as we entered Jervis Inlet from the Agamemnon Channel. Nancy, who studied ancient history back in the day, wondered how this Channel got it’s name, as BC is a long way from ancient Greece. That interesting point aside, this is a useful shortcut from Pender Harbor to Chatterbox Falls.

The passing flotilla politely hailed us on Channel 16 to set up the pass. We chatted a bit and found that they too were headed for Chatterbox. We had already guessed this, as there really isn’t anywhere else to go up Jervis, no are there any really decent anchorages. So we watched them proceed slowly past us. We also asked when they thought the slack would be at Malibu Rapids. Their answer was about an hour sooner than our calculations, so we stepped on the gas a bit and caught them up.

Once we reached Malibu, they went through ahead of us and reported an easy transit. All of these trawlers, however, except possibly the DeFever and maybe one of the GBs, have large twin engines, which give them more maneuverability than Duet. They are all also, other than the DeFever, semi displacement hulls, which means there is a lot less of them underwater to get pushed around by the current.

Duet, using a method that has served us well in many situations, did a close pass by the entrance to the rapids to see how things were shaping up. Our current tables told us that the current was still running at 3 knots or so, and would be up our stern, which is not the best place for it if we want to steer a straight line. These rapids are narrow, and have a sharp dog leg half way through, which would require close piloting. There are also several large underwater rocks, which we didn’t wish to find. Our current tables also told us that, over the next hour or so, the current should decline to almost zero for a period of about 45 minutes. That would give us plenty of time for a relatively stress free transit.

Our close pass showed us exactly what we expected to see, namely turbulence on the surface at the dog leg where the water enters a narrower channel and gets up some speed. So we decided to wait a bit, and chugged around in a big circle for about 30 minutes. Then we did another close pass. At that point, all turbulence had disappeared and we lined up for the approach.

In this kind of situation, we use the radar to line the boat up with whatever geographical formation we are entering. It is very easy to lose track of the center without the radar. A classic case of this is going under a bridge, you can find yourself approaching off center without realizing it. PC navigation, driven by GPS, isn’t accurate enough in very close quarters to provide much useful info, so we tend to disregard it during the actual event. It is useful, however, to study the chart in detail prior to committing, so you have a good feel for where things are and what you should expect to see. Once we are committed, then piloting is done by eye, backed up by radar. In some situations we use the autopilot to steer, so that the helm person can look for hazards, but Malibu Rapids is much too narrow for that.

In the picture below you can just see the buildings of the Christian School, which is built literally along the rapids. You can also see the chart plotter in front of Ron and the main radar to his right. 

The transit, after all this planning, was uneventful. On the other side, once past the Christian youth school, which sits prominently next to the dog leg, we entered Princess Louisa Inlet. As an aside, we noted that the school has a set of chairs neatly positioned next to the rapids, which we are sure provides great entertainment during the busy cruising season. No one was there when we went through and the school appeared to be undergoing maintenance.

Chatterbox Falls is at the head of Princess Louisa Inlet. It is not the only falls in the Inlet, by a long shot. During the spring there are numerous large falls. In early October, when we traversed the inlet, there were several small ones, as well as Chatterbox, which was running at about half rate, based on pictures of it in full flood. The Inlet is relatively narrow, probably one quarter mile across, and extremely deep. It is surrounded by tall walls of granite and steep slopes with large trees. Our guess was these walls were several thousand feet in height. The Inlet is about 3.5 miles long, and we traveled quite slowly to the head, taking in the scenery.

We were passed by multiple sea lions, and seals, all of whom gave us barely a glance. This area is reachable only by boat, and was completely deserted, except for the little company of trawlers, now tying up at the dock.

This group called us on the radio, and noted that they had saved us a prime spot on the dock, closest to the falls. The picture below was taken from Duet’s stern, she was the last in line in front of the falls. 

So we brought Duet up alongside, and they helped tie off our lines. They turned out to be a Mother Goose trip, run by Northwest Explorations, and had started out a couple of days previously. The boats and the expedition leader and one crew had spent the summer in Prince William Sound, which is on our list for the summer of 2015, so we made sure we had a chance to chat about that area with them. We were invited to their evening campfires, which were good fun. The group was just getting to know one another, and there were some quite experienced boaters, from both coasts, included.

This picture was taken from shore, the flotilla fills both sides of the dock, Duet is at the right rear.

We did some kayaking and visited the falls several times. The surrounding forest is very damp, as it is soaked by the falls all year around.

The Mother Goose flotilla stayed two nights and then left Duet in sole possession of the dock.

We spent another day, enjoying the solitude, and then retraced our steps to Pender Harbor. The rapids were negotiated without incident. By this time it was around October 10, and the weather was slowly worsening. The number of rainy days had increased dramatically and the temperatures were steadily dropping. Time to call it a season.

So Duet moved south, first to Montague Harbor for a few days and then into Van Isle Marina in Sidney, BC, where she is to spend the winter. While in Montague Harbor, Ron installed our boat deck dock box, which will store all the kayak gear. This installation was the usual, overdrill and fill the holes, redrill the holes, and then install the box.

He also sorted out the generator’s continuing temperature increase, which, as usual, turned out to be electrical, specifically a problem with the ground, rather than anything actually wrong with the generator itself. This repair involved using one of Ron’s favorite tools, his multimeter, so it was all good.

As part of the ongoing dewatering, aka the how keep Duet from sinking, project, Ron installed a Water Witch detector in the bulbous bow. This will be connected to the bilge counter and monitor in the pilothouse, so, should the bow fill with water, we will know before the front end of the boat sinks. Later this year Ron will add a similar water detector to lazarette. Then we will have detectors in all three key bilge compartments. With dewatering, early warning is crucial.

In the case of the bulbous bow, Ron went with the Water Witch, which senses the presence of water electrically, rather than mechanically like a float switch. He was worried that the bouncing of the bow could cause false alarms with a standard float switch. In the main bilge and the laz we use Ultra Senior float switches, made by Ultra Safety Systems.

Finally, Ron spent a little time getting to know the new Victron inverter/charger, which is the key component to this year’s biggest project, namely sorting things out so that the dishwasher will not need the generator to function.

By the middle of October fog was rolling into Montague on a regular basis, and it was time to put Duet away for winter.

Our next blog will cover beginning the projects to be completed prior to our departure for Alaska in late April, 2015.









4 thoughts on “Cruising British Columbia”

  1. Fantastic to see the eloquently written and comprehensive Blog of MV Duet back! I feared that you guys had been lost at sea!!

    Take care, more by email,

    Best wishes,

    Colin. N47 Albatross.

  2. Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but after reading through some of the post I realized it’s new to me. Nonetheless, I’m definitely glad I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and checking back often!

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