Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens…

We’ve been cruisers for one month now, and to mark the occasion, we each came up with a list (independently) of our favorite things about cruising so far.  To keep it balanced, Aaron suggested we include our least favorite things too…


Favorite Things:  Spending every day with Aaron, wildflowers, the smell of the forest, purple sea stars, the color of our tanbark sails against blue sky, sleeping in, moss, reading more often, being in touch with nature, bald eagles, seal whiskers, shell middens, navigating proficiently, 4:55, baking, phosphorescence trails on a dark night, our diesel heater, the feel of the anchor setting firmly when I back down on it, the foredeck on a sunny day, waterfalls that pour into anchorages, freedom, seeing new places with Aaron, happy hour with interesting folks, mornings in the cockpit, one-boat anchorages

Least Favorite Things: Being apart from family and friends, feeling the anchor drag across a rocky bottom, the need to wear long underwear and pants and foul-weather pants every time we get underway, scary unknown things that lurk in the deep water, packing around our garbage, wind that always seems to blow from the exact direction we’re headed, Canadian booze prices, logs and deadheads floating in the water, just missing the bears or porpoises or orcas that everyone else saw


Favorite things: Lots of quality time with my wife, planning sessions with charts and tidebooks and current directions and cruising guides and notes from friends who've gone before us, seeing a new place every couple days, sleeping until whenever I want (at least on days we don't have to get up early to catch a tide), seeing critters and having staredowns with seals, meeting other cruisers, landing the dinghy on uninhabited little islets, empty anchorages, phosphorescence, radar and AIS, fresh homemade bread, 4:55pm, waterfalls, my Kindle, spending entire days doing nothing but reading and relaxing, USB hard drive loaded up with movies and TV shows, solar power and generally living very comfortably off the grid

Least Favorite Things: Canadian booze prices, the sound of anchor chain dragging over rock, giant logs floating all over the place, our puny 2hp outboard, hissing sounds when we're in the dinghy, uncharted rocks, going on a hike and there's a huge bumblebee that just keeps flying big circles around me the whole time

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Kwatsi Bay

by Aaron

Kwatsi Bay is absolutely beautiful.  Definitely the prettiest spot we’ve been so far.  With waterfalls everywhere and dramatic cliffs all around it was just amazing. 





Max (head of the table) is the proprietor of Kwatsi Bay Marina and a really good guy.  He organizes potlucks with the visiting boats and we were lucky enough to be at the first one of the season.  Good food and great people made for a nice evening. 


IMG_0682A waterfall that terminated right behind Bella Star.  Nice white noise for sleeping.

We took a short hike to a falls but otherwise relaxed here for two days.


There’s lots of bears here but (as usual) we didn’t see any.  Of course everybody else did, along with a huge pod of dolphins that came in the bay while we were gone on a dinghy ride. 

We carry a little air horn and a bear bell whenever we hike in bear turf but haven’t needed to honk at one yet.  Hopefully that will be all we’ll ever need, but to prepare for the worst case I’ve studied a bear combat training video should the occasion for hand-to-paw combat arise.

Making our way to the Broughtons

By Aaron

From the Octopus Islands we transited a few sets of rapids and meandered northward to Blind Channel.

DSC_0201Nicole driving through some whirlpools in Whirlpool Rapids.

There is a resort there that we were intrigued with by the guidebook’s descriptions of a store and restaurant.  We were arriving on a Canadian holiday and fretted about being able to get a slip in the small marina. 

Fortunately, moorage wasn’t a problem.


Unfortunately, we’re still a bit early in the season – the restaurant isn’t open until June 4th and the store didn’t have much, certainly no produce.  At least we got some beer there.  Our available food is beginning to resemble that of a bomb shelter, but Nicole still manages to cook up good stuff.  I especially love when she puts the galley in IHOP mode by installing the griddle thing on the oven.


After Blind Channel we stopped in Forward Harbor for the night. 


And what should I find on the beach but a brand new stern tie spindle mounting pole!


We were underway the following morning and got the custom mount all setup.  Often it’s several hours of travel between anchorages so it’s nice to have little projects to work on.



Tada!  Cut to fit and tied on with some pink Spectra line.  It rolls out much nicer now.


We had a long run and actually did some sailing in Johnstone Strait.  We stopped in Matilpi for the night and anchored off a shell midden.


We’re trying to land on 100 islands before the end of the summer and there were a couple here so we took the dinghy around to each of them and crawled around on rocks.  What else are you going to do?  So far we’ve landed on over 20 islands so I don’t think we’ll have any trouble getting to 100. 


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Waiatt Bay (Octopus Islands)

By Nicole

Spending the afternoon poking around the islets of the Octopus Island group under the warm sunshine was heavenly.  We picnicked on a rock outcropping overlooking the archipelago with the smell of wildflowers in the air (yellow monkey-flowers, allium, wild strawberries, field chickweed, death camas and blue-eyed Mary were all in full bloom).

Picnic spot!

Along the shoreline we spotted crabs scurrying about; purple and orange sea stars, sun stars and leather stars clinging to rocks; anemones waving their pinkish tentacles (or closed up, waiting for the tide to turn); gooseneck barnacles and mussels holding tight and clams squirting water high into the air from underneath the sand.

And the islands here are full of weasels!  We spied the reddish brown guys scampering over rocks and into dark holes (and even swimming across channels).  I thought they were pretty cute until I read in my field guide that it “wraps sinewy body around prey as it kills by biting the base of the skull.”  Hm.  Not quite as cuddly as they look.

The National Geographic scene was interrupted, though, by the sound of boats approaching.  Who did we see pulling into the very cove we were exploring but s/v Estrellita!  The four of us had a great time chatting and catching up over a delicious dinner and drinking wine (they do have wine!).

The weather has been nothing short of spectacular here.  I’m sunburned (yes, yes, shame on me) and fully relaxed after a few days of hiking, reading in the sunshine, drinking ice tea on the foredeck and catching up with friends.  Ahh, this is the life.

Sunrise over our anchorage.  Aaron was still fast asleep…

Lest you think we’re all play and no work, we did manage to install our new triducer (which measures our speed through the water, water temperature and depth) without sinking the boat.  I told Aaron it was easy – just like the scene in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indy has to oh-so-carefully replace the golden idol with a bag of sand.  All Aaron had to do was pull out the plug and quickly insert the triducer into the gaping hole (as it gushed water into the bilge).  No problem.

Also, we got our SSB radio up and running!  With a few turns of the dial and a few button pushes, we were able to have a crystal-clear chat with Estrellita and listen to some Hawaiian music straight from the shores of Hawaii.  Awesome!  With the radio functioning, we’ll (eventually) be able to send emails, receive weather files and communicate with other cruisers far and wide.  That ham radio license class I took way back when is finally paying off. 

KD7SHT, clear (yep, I’m the SHT).

Teakerne Arm and Von Donop Inlet

By Nicole

Teakerne Arm


One of our guidebooks said that if you were lucky, you could claim the spot right next to Cassel Falls in Teakerne Arm.  After doing a drive-by and feeling the mist from the falls, we figured we’d let some other boat claim the prized spot – it was almost low tide and the stern-tie rings in the cliff wall were way out of our reach (and to be honest, tying up to the cliff seemed a little nerve-wracking).  With depths nearby reaching 100’ or more, we decided to continue on in search of a more suitable anchorage.

Von Donop Inlet

Von Donop Inlet is, as Aaron described it, one of Desolations Sound’s many dead-end roads.  The narrow channel winds two miles into Cortes Island, nearly dissecting it, and terminates in a lovely mud-and-shell-bottomed cul-de-sac.

As the crow flies (or the raven, as we’ve seen frequently around here), we’re actually only 2 miles from our last overnight stop.  But as we actually travelled, the distance stretches to 21 nautical miles – including the short detour up Teakerne Arm to check out Cassel Falls.

Climbing up a hill to get a better view of Bella Star


After taking the dinghy to shore, we slogged through the low-tide muck to hike the short trail over to Squirrel Cove (our anchor loves the muddy bottom; our hiking boots, not so much).  The following sign was posted at the trail head:IMG_0535Shoot, we’ll have to return all that wolf chow we bought.

IMG_0536On the trail to Squirrel Cove (I carried a wolf stick most of the way)

Von Donop has been relaxing and quiet (we had the anchorage to ourselves for a night), but we’re moving out tomorrow morning bright and early to catch the ebb tide to the Octopus Islands.  Our friends, Carol and Livia on s/v Estrellita, might be there – what a treat it would be to run into them!  I hear they have wine aboard…

Monday, May 16, 2011

Squirrel Cove

By Nicole

Kalamata olives
Wheat germ
Coffee creamer  (hazelnut)
Bell peppers
Finely chopped walnuts
Sourdough bread
Chai tea
Beer (cheap and canned)

A random grocery list to be sure.  But at the little Squirrel Cove General Store on Cortes Island in Desolation Sound, I was (surprisingly) able to check everything off my list – and it didn’t cost a fortune.  Well, Aaron’s PBR was $8.36 for a 6-pack, but pricey booze is the norm up here.  The power was out when we arrived, so we borrowed a flashlight to peruse the produce in the walk-in cooler.


As we move north, we don’t expect to find many more places like this!  I guess that means we’ll be digging into the Dinty Moore stew and canned chili pretty soon.

We’re off to check out Teakerne Arm and Cassel Falls today.  If we’re lucky, we’ll get the spot right next to the waterfall…

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Desolation Sound

By Nicole

Perhaps on that rainy, dreary June night in 1792 when Captain George Vancouver entered this magnificent place—where lush, forested mountainsides touch the sea and snow-capped peaks rise over a maze of inlets and passages—it seemed inhospitable and forlorn.  In these deep waters, he searched for a suitable anchorage for his ship, Discovery, as it drifted about as if “it were blindfolded in this labyrinth.”

The islands, coves and channels that make up Desolation Sound are much less ominous and gloomy today, and if Captain Vancouver could have known how this area would materialize into one of British Columbia’s most popular cruising destinations, he may very well have settled on a more suitable name.


Grace Harbour, Desolation Sound

IMG_0434After a sleepless night in the rocky Copeland Islands, finding an anchorage with a sticky mud bottom was our top priority, so we made Grace  Harbour our first stop in Desolation Sound.  We spent two days reading, tinkering, listening to the rain and catching up on sleep, only going ashore once (escorted by one very vocal loon).

Prideaux Haven, Desolation Sound

Rounding the corner from our cozy, protected nook in Grace Harbour, we were blasted with 20-knot winds and driving rain as we headed for the ultimate Desolation Sound anchorage: Prideaux Haven.

In season (July and August), the coves that make up Prideaux Haven are filled with upwards of 30 boats.  But on this blustery day in mid May, we pulled into beautiful Laura Cove and found we had the place to ourselves.  What a treat!  We poked around, seeking out the ideal spot to drop the anchor (in sticky mud) and settled on the head of the cove, near a small but boisterous waterfall hidden in the woods. 

Look closely.  Can you spot Bella Star?

With a picnic lunch packed (and the sun coming out), we headed off to explore the lagoons and coves in the dinghy.  Surprisingly, we were the only boat in the whole place!  What a difference a few months makes… 

In the dinghy, heading out to explore.

Not being able to rely on Aaron ’s high school French classes (and lacking access to the internet at the current moment), I have no idea what “Prideaux Haven” means.  But it must be something good – it’s gorgeous here!

Picture majestic, forest-covered mountains dusted with fresh snow that plunge from elevations of over 6,000 feet straight down into the water.  Imagine enormous boulders rising from the crystal-clear water, their tops covered with moss and pink wild flowers and their submerged faces dotted with purple sea stars and oysters.  Smell the crisp scent of pine and fir trees mingling with salt air and the tangy fresh fragrance of spring.  And listen to trickling streams cascading down from the woods, waterfowl quacking, eagles screeching and in between it all, silence.

With digs like this, we just might stay awhile.

Spared from the glaciation that rounded nearby peaks, pointy Mt. Denman stands tall.

Aaron gives a wave – and a sense of scale.

It’s spring, and that means many wildflowers are in bloom – especially the bright pink tufts of allium.

Two Canada geese paddle by in the foreground.  It’s gosling season, and we’ve seen dozens of fuzzy, yellow babies.  So cute.

I popped over a rock and startled a momma or daddy goose sitting on a nest of eggs (and felt horrible). I high-tailed it out of there, but thought to snap a quick picture.  Luckily after a good bit of squawking, the goose resettled back on the nest.



The entire Desolation Sound region has a fascinating history, stretching from First Nations inhabitants to European explorers to rugged homesteaders of the early 1900s.

In Grace Harbour, we anchored near a historic winter village for the Sliammon, Klahoose and Homalco people.  At Laura Cove in Prideaux Haven, we walked on the same small island where Captain Vancouver’s crew came ashore to investigate an abandoned longhouse.  And as we rowed the dinghy to shore at the head of Laura Cove, we saw evidence of a homesteader named Phil Lavigne’s land dating from the early to mid-1900s (where he lived out his life gardening, fishing and keeping goats).

Being able to connect with a destination and learn about the people who’ve helped shape its history makes travelling even more enjoyable.  I think it’s the difference between just visiting and truly experiencing.

Next stop, Squirrel Cove to pick up a few groceries, do laundry and, most importantly, find an internet connection!

Many books have been written on the captivating history of Desolation Sound and the people who called it home.   A few of our favorites:

  • Desolation Sound: A History (Heather Harbord)
  • The Curve of Time (M. Wylie Blanchet)
  • Following the Curve of Time (Cathy Converse)

Nanaimo, BC to Copeland Islands

By Aaron


With few exceptions, it seems to us that sailors are pretty damn cool. Living aboard and now cruising, we’ve had the opportunity to meet lots of awesome people. Lance and Carol for example, met us through our blog as they were in the process of purchasing their Hans Christian. When we stopped in Nanaimo on our way north, they showed us some unbelievable hospitality. Taking us to the Pirate Day Sale at the local chandlery and making us a steak dinner with some Nanaimo bars for dessert! Then the next day taking us out to dinner at the floating Dinghy Dock Pub near where we were anchored. It was pretty fun to take the dinghy from the boat to a restaurant without even stepping on land. IMG_0419
Carol and Lance of s/v Syrah – thanks, guys!

Lance and Carol had mentioned that a rich guy in the area bought the actual SS Minnow from Gilligan's Island fame and restored it to its former glory. While we were having dinner, it happened to cruise by the pub… the passengers on the three-hour tour oblivious to the danger they were in.

Lance and Carol, thanks for making our stop in Nanaimo special.

Strait of Georgia

We left Nanaimo at 6am to cross the Strait of Georgia in conditions that were nastier than forecasted in the morning but settled out later in the day.  Bound for Hardy Island, we were plodding along when there was a thunderous BANG on the hull.  We hit a log.  A big one.  I’ve been known to exaggerate, but it looked to be an 800-year-old tree to me.  We immediately checked for incoming water, but everything looked okay.  The log passed us astern on our starboard side.  From this we surmised that preceding the collision we were approaching the log on its port side.  After a review of the collision rules, clearly the log had the right of way and we should have changed course to avert the collision. 

Considering the amount of log booms and giant log barges we’re seeing, it’s apparent that a few get loose from time to time.

We arrived at Hardy Island after a long run under power straight into the wind.  We tried to set the anchor in a few different spots, but the bottom was bare rock wherever we dropped the hook.  The sound of our 55lb anchor dragging along the rock was unmistakable and a bit disheartening.  (Especially since we have a manual windlass and I have to crank that thing up by hand every time we want to reset it.)  With only a few hundred feet to work with between cliffs all around us, there wasn’t a lot of room to go dragging the anchor around looking for something to grab onto.  So, with both of us ready to be in Desolation Sound, we decided to just carry on up to the Copeland Islands, another 5 hours away. 

We arrived at the Copeland Islands late in the day, making for a 70 nautical miles, 12.5 hour day.  The holding there wasn’t a whole lot better, and the anchor dragged on bare rock a bit before finding who knows what to grab onto.  We backed down on it really hard and it held, so we put a stern line to shore and called it good.  It was a nice evening, so we took the dinghy out for a spin and explored one of the islands.  Nicole later said that it was creepy, and I guess it was for a couple that lived in the city only 2 weeks ago and just listened to the engine run for nearly 13 hours.  The thing was, this place was quiet.  I mean dead silent, hear your own heartbeat quiet.  The water was mirror flat without even the slightest breeze.  No people.  No birds singing or water lapping at the shore.  No boats making their way or planes overhead.  Absolute, utter silence.  We hiked down to a rocky beach where we could finally hear a sound – a faint clicking that turned out to be the crabs mucking about under the rocks. 

The wind came up in the night, and as it moved us a bit we were woken up several times by the sound of the anchor chain dragging across bare rock.  Lying in your berth in the dark you have to wonder, if the chain is dragging across bare rock what’s the anchor holding onto?  With the current wind direction and strength, how much time do we have between the anchor dragging and going up on the rocks?  If we go up on the rocks, is the tide rising or falling?  Now try falling asleep.  At 4am we were awoken by 20 knot gusts coming through the anchorage and it sounded like the anchor was dragging on bare rock but it was probably just the chain.  Our position was relatively unchanged but I got out of bed and went on anchor watch so Nicole could get some more sleep.  I got my foulies on and everything ready to go, hoping we wouldn’t have to bug out in the dark.  The anchor held just fine, but we left soon after the sun came up.  Normally the anchor comes up with a huge pile of whatever it dug into piled onto the fluke, but this time the anchor and chain were totally clean.  I suspect we were hooked onto a lip of rock at best, and the stern line keeping tension on the anchor chain was the only thing keeping the anchor stuck there.  We left there pretty tired, in search of good holding (mud) at our next stop.