Monday, June 20, 2011

Port Hardy

By Nicole


We stopped in Port Hardy for a mandatory provisioning trip, knowing that the grocery store here would be our last for awhile.  We’re only a few days away from rounding Cape Scott and turning south to explore the rugged Pacific coast of Vancouver Island. 

There’s really not much else to say.  The town was a little depressing, the wi-fi at the marina was down (indefinitely) and the shabby machines at the laundromat ate my loonies*.  But the people were friendly, we managed to find a wi-fi hotspot in a scrapbooking shop (of course) and, above all else, Aaron’s hankering for fast food was quelled with lunch at the A&W. 

*Canadians call their dollar coins “loonies" (because there’s a loon on one side of the coin) and their two dollar coins “twonies” (because it’s cute).

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Seven Days in Blunden Harbour

By Nicole

One of our guidebooks erroneously refers to Blunden Harbour as “Blunder” Harbour.  Sure it’s an obvious typo, but for us, our week here was anything but a mistake.


Blunden Harbour is a maze of twisting passages where around every corner waits another small island.  We found ourselves getting turned around as we wound through the labyrinth in our dinghy.


Our destination was a saltwater lagoon that’s only accessible for a short window of time at high-water slack (the moment when the tide is at its highest point and it pauses ever so briefly to reverse directions).  At any other time, it’s a turbulent tidal rapids with whirlpools and strong currents.

We made it into the lagoon just fine, riding the last of the flood current, but getting out was another story. Apparently high-water slack here occurs two hours after high tide in the main harbor.  Which meant we had a fun ride into the lagoon… and had to wait more than an hour until we could get back out.  With our piddley  2-hp outboard, we can travel about 4 mph, but the current was far stronger than that.  Even at max throttle, we were getting pushed backwards by the force of the current. 

Whirlpools and strong current piping into the lagoon proved too much for our outboard

So we pulled up to some large rocks along the shore and waited an hour or so until the current subsided (until it really was high-water slack).  We watched leather stars go about their starfish business and hermit crabs fight each other for rights to an underwater domain.


Shell Midden

IMG_1102The shell midden beach on the north side of the anchorage marks the site of a former Kwakiutl village.  Many native villages in British Columbia were settled near rich shellfish beds, especially clam beds. Villagers harvested and ate the clams, then dumped the shells in refuse piles called middens.  Over hundreds or thousands of years of occupation, these clamshell landfills grew into massive mounds that eventually eroded into striking white shell beaches.  That’s a lot of clams!

Remnants of an abandoned longhouse, consumed by nature and time, above the white shell midden beach.

IMG_1103Giant longhouse timbers, nearly 3-feet in diameter, jut from the woods.

Queen Charlotte Strait

IMG_1043Taking advantage of a high tide and calm seas, we snuck through a shallow passage leading into Queen Charlotte Strait (only bumping the bottom of the dinghy a few times).  With its stunning rock formations, crystal-clear water, piles of weather-beaten logs and expansive views, this stretch of shoreline was by far our favorite.  We spent a few hours here just taking it all in.


IMG_1068Aaron s-l-o-w-l-y turned for a picture, trying not to lose his balance!


Down Time

IMG_1017Exploring shell middens and navigating tidal rapids is hard work.  So for a little down time, Aaron and I grabbed a blanket and our Kindles and perched ourselves on a rock in the late afternoon sunshine to do a little reading.  IMG_1018As you can see, though, one of us got a little more reading done and the other a little more snoozing.  But I won’t name any names… 

Moving On

Well, I guess it’s time to move on.  A guy rowed over this morning to make sure that Bella Star wasn’t abandoned, since we’ve been here for so long!  Point taken.  Onward to Port Hardy.

Sullivan Bay

By Aaron


Poor, sloppy form with little idea what I’m doing – and that’s just the way I sail.  My golf skills are worse.  As I’ve already got one expensive hobby, I’ve never been able to dedicate any time to golf, as clearly pictured above.  Nonetheless, both Nicole and I took a swing at the Sullivan Bay Marina one hole golf course.  They give you a few balls when you check in, and you get free moorage if you can land a hole-in-one, way the hell out there.  (It’s a floating inverted satellite dish about 1/2 mile out.)

Needless to say, we had to pay for moorage.  Which is unfortunate since $ullivan Bay charges the most we’ve had to pay for moorage along with everything else that’s there.  There were no signs on the washers and dryers indicating how much they cost and we learned the important lesson to always check the price of something before you buy it.  (The way it works at many of these places is you just start a tab when you check in and pay up when you leave.)

IMG_0935Nicole getting the blood, sweat, and tears out of my clothes

It was certainly a great view for a laundromat, but we probably wouldn’t have used it if we’d known it was going to cost $35.  We picked up some groceries at the little store too.  But probably wouldn’t have included that bunch of asparagus if we’d known it was 11 bucks. 

The marina wasn’t exactly busy, so I guess they have to make money where they can.

IMG_0933Bella Star had her choice of docks.


Home is apparently 309.5 miles away, which feels about right.  The topmost sign indicates the sun is 150000000 kilometers away, but considering the temperatures during our stay I’m pretty sure it’s much further. 

Prices aside, Sullivan Bay was a neat little place – the entire community is floating and uses docks for streets, which all have names.  We were moored on Hoochie Lane.  There’s even a restaurant (which we had all to ourselves) where we had a couple excellent cheeseburgers. 


You can’t drive here, so if you live here you need to arrive by aircraft or boat, which you just tie up in your backyard.  This resident has his bases covered, and probably doesn’t mind the prices at the store.


The folks that run the marina were nice and have an assistant manager named Buddy.

IMG_0931The mini Ewok assistant manager

By his barks and growls Buddy indicated he’d like to bite me in the throat and give a good shake, but he nonetheless maintained a safe distance whenever we came across him on the docks. 

So with our water tanks full and clothes clean, we settled up the following morning and headed over to Blunden Harbor - to anchor for free!

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Black Bear in Turnbull Cove

By Nicole

Well, it happened.  We’d convinced ourselves that it just wasn’t in the cards for us, though apparently it’s commonplace up here.  Day after day went by, and we waited and looked and waited some more.  But today was the day!  Today we saw our first black bear.  I named him Franklin.

I was in the cockpit when I heard the sound of rocks clunking on shore.  We were alone in the anchorage, and I couldn’t figure out what was making all the racket.  I grabbed the binoculars and there it was!  A furry black rump pointed in my direction.  I watched as he turned over rocks looking for a low-tide snack of crabs or other such delicacies.  Aaron was reading or napping  (he goes back and forth between the two quite easily), but he popped up the steps to check out our new friend.  The picture isn’t great (it reminds me of one of those super-zoomed-in Sasquatch shots), but you get the gist.


Turnbull Cove is surrounded by steep hillsides where two major landslides have occurred in the last few years.  It would’ve probably been fine to anchor near the shore (where we could get close-up pictures of bears), but we read a dramatic account of a boat who witnessed one of the landslides first hand and thought better of it.

One of two major landslides in Turnbull Cove.

After Franklin had his fill of whatever he was searching for under the rocks, he ambled off into the woods, most likely for a snooze.  It was at about that time when we laced up our hiking boots and set off to find the trail to Lake Huaskin.

Handy trail marker, with a lone boot on top.  Hmm.

Along the trail, we came across bear prints in the soft mud and saw bits of black fur on a tree and a pile of bear poo.  Always thinking “safety first,” I made sure to wear my bear bell.  We sounded like a Christmas parade stomping up the trail, but at least we wouldn’t be sneaking up on Franklin or his kin.

The back side of the hill had a steep staircase with tiny little steps leading down to the lake.

Before we left Kwatsi Bay Marina, the owner asked us if we knew how to tell grizzly bear scat from that of a black bear. “Grizzly bear scat,” he said, “has bear bells in it.”  Funny guy.


Of course no anchorage would be complete without a spin in the dinghy to add a few more islands to Aaron’s list (he told you he’s trying to hit 100, right?).

IMG_0928 We sat in this spot for a long time, just soaking in the sunshine and the incredible view.

Although the view wasn’t too shabby from this side of the island either.

Or from this side. :)

We’ve spent a few lovely days here in Turnbull Cove, waiting out the gale-force winds blowing on Queen Charlotte Strait.  But with the winds predicted to ease tomorrow, we’ll be moving on.

IMG_0900 Sometimes I feel like we’re in a Bob Ross painting.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Waddington Bay

By Aaron

From Port McNeill we crossed back over Queen Charlotte Strait and dropped the hook in Waddington Bay, all alone again.  It’s a just-the-right-size spot with plenty of islets to explore.


Places like this make our goal of landing on 100 islands or islets within our first 100 days very achievable.  Exploring islets is pretty much our job now, so we got to work.  We spent the day hopping from one to another…






If you’ve ever wondered why some starfish stay behind when the tide goes out, it’s obviously because they want someone to come along and pet them.


My policy is to stay away – they sure look a lot like the things that leap onto your face in the Aliens movies, and better safe than sorry.

We added about five islands to the list.  We could have done more, but it’s exhausting work and happy hour arrives early on Bella Star, so we had to make our way back to the boat. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Echo Bay bay bay bay

By Aaron

We reluctantly left Kwatsi Bay bound for Echo Bay on a crisp and clear morning.  We passed some more pretty waterfalls.


We pulled in to Echo Bay, thinking we might need fuel.  Good thing we did.  We’ve never had a fuel gauge, and never really needed one before while doing local cruising since we carry 80 gallons in the keel.  We did buy a fuel level sender and a gauge before we left, and I installed the gauge, but the sending unit is still sitting on the nav station as I write this.  (In a pile of other uncompleted things I should have installed by now.)  Anyway, we took on 72 gallons so that was a close call!  We’ve been running the hell out of the diesel heater but our burn rate is certain to go down as the weather gets warmer, but I should probably stop procrastinating on putting the sender in. 

We anchor out most nights but decided to stay at the dock here.  It’s June now and these little marinas are starting to get crowded!


One of the reasons we wanted to stay was because we were told by Max at Kwatsi Bay that we had to stop and see a guy named Bill Proctor and his museum.  We asked around where we could find Bill and were pointed to a trail out past a bridge.  A bridge, I might add, that looked pretty rickety and dangerous.  So I had Nicole go first while I claimed to want a picture of  her crossing for the blog.


The hike had a few steep parts.


We arrived at Billy’s house on a small bay and were greeted by him and his dog, Goldie.  He said, “I suppose you want to see the museum.” 

IMG_0728The sticker on the door makes the point that wild salmon don’t do drugs.

His museum is full of interesting things.  From antiques and First Nations artifacts to laxative bubble gum and a fish lure with boobs.  Billy humbly says it’s just a bunch of junk.  But he collected most of it himself and every item has a story. 


We spent several hours here and really enjoyed talking with Billy, seeing the museum and the hand logger’s cabin that he built himself from a single cedar log, his workshop with a working forge, and his frog pond.  At last count there were 51 frogs.  Billy has lived around here his whole life, and if the history and stories of the area hold any interest to you a visit here is absolutely not to be missed.

We asked him for a recommendation for our next stop and he said we should check out Ladyboot Cove on Eden Island. 

So we did.

And Then There Were None…

Apples or bell peppers or lettuce or tomatoes or anything fresh for that matter.  The guidebooks all said that the small mom & pop marinas up here had “well-stocked” or at least “adequately stocked” produce supplies.  But since we’re ahead of the tourist season, the best we’ve found since Squirrel Cove are two tired, limp cucumbers and an onion skin in a basket.  We polished off the last of the produce – an apple and an orange bell pepper – about a week ago.  And I’ve been craving fresh food ever since.

But oh joy of joys!  Port McNeill on the northeastern tip of Vancouver Island has a real grocery store.  With a real produce department!

The store is nice enough to let cruisers drive their carts, loaded down with fresh fruits and veggies, bakery goods and other necessities, back to the marina.  They even send someone to retrieve the carts each night.  So after checking out, I wheeled my bag-stuffed cart out of the store and down the sidewalk, where I met Aaron toting a bag full of wine, rum and beer from the liquor agency.  We piled in his loot and trucked off across the street, through a gravelly patch, over an uneven and bumpy sidewalk and down the hill to the marina.  We totally should have brought the camera.