Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Blasting Through to Sitka


The next part of our trip was a mostly business transit through to Sitka.

First from Port McNeill around Cape Caution to Fury Cove. Fury Cove is a really pretty spot, so we stayed a second day and just hung out.

Next we did a somewhat marathon run past Bella Bella and Shearwater, all the way to Bottleneck Cove.

Then from Bottleneck into the Grenville Channel to Lowe Inlet and Verney Falls. Verney Falls was really running, and all you need to do is drop an anchor in front of it and the outflow current holds your boat facing the falls. Not a bad view for the evening.

Verney Falls, Lowe Inlet, BC

Then the next day we went straight to Cow Bay Marina in Prince Rupert. Prince Rupert tends to be windy and exposed, but the new marina really makes it a much more hospitable stop than it ever was before. And the food at the Cow Bay Café right by the Marina office is just outstanding.

Fog on the Grenville Channel

After two days in Prince Rupert, we crossed the Dixon Entrance to Ketchikan where we checked back into the US. We are members in the Small Vessel Reporting Service, or SVRS, and it is working much better now. The first time we used it three years ago, the local customs office wasn’t sure what to do with us. And to this day the special SVRS reporting phone number is a disconnected line. But this time the process went very smoothly, and as always the Customs officers in Ketchikan are courteous and helpful.

We left Ketchikan first thing the next morning and went straight to Exchange Cove on Baranof Island. Then from Exchange cove to Kell Bay which is a little ways up the Affleck Channel on Kuiu Island.

Kell Bay, Kuiu Island

Then from Kell Bay to Red Bluff, then Red Bluff to Appleton Cove in Peril Strait. The stop at Appleton Cove allowed us to align our timing with yet another narrows with fast current, this time Sergius Narrows. It runs between 5 and 7 kts and is not safe other than around slack water.

An early departure from Appleton placed us at Sergius at slack water, but with a 300’ Alaska State Ferry coming up from behind us with plans to pass through at about the same time. A quick discussion with them on the radio showed that we would make the narrows about 5 minutes ahead of them, so we agreed that I would speed up and they would slow down to give a little more separation. We both made it through as planned, and the ferry overtook us shortly after exiting the narrows. A few hours later, we arrived at Eliason Harbor in Sitka and got tied up for a few days while we re-provisioned and waited the arrival of some friends who would join us for a week of cruising.

While in Sitka, Ludvig’s Bistro was recommended by a number of people, so we checked it out. Wow, really excellent. I highly recommend it if you are ever in town.

Ludvig's Bistro in Sitka - great food.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Yaculta and Dent Rapids

4/17/2017 Yaculta and Dent Rapids

Our past trips north through southern BC have always been pretty direct runs north our south, and we have always gone via Seymour Narrows, Discovery Channel, and Johnstone Strait. This time we decided to take the more inland route and pass through Yaculta and Dent Rapids. These are some of the more treacherous rapids in the PWN with high currents, whirlpools, and other such things unsavory for boaters.

It’s essential that you transit within a narrow window around slack current. There is about a 30 minute transit time between the two rapids, so you need to decide whether to split the difference and hit one rapid 15 minutes early and the other 15 minutes late, or time one for slack and hit the other 30 minutes late or early. Since Dent is the more treacherous of the two, we opted to time Dent for slack current, and reach Yaculta 30 minutes early.

As is often the case, anticipation was the worst part of the trip. After lots of studying of current tables and charts, and consulting with friends who had been through before, we decided to anchor the night before our transit in Squirrel Cove on Cortes Island. An early departure the next morning would put us at Yaculta 30 minutes ahead of slack, and at Dent in time for the 9:00 or so slack current.

Planning the approach can be tricky too. Leading up to slack water there is of course current on the approach route – sometimes a lot of current. Our boat can only do about 9kts, so planning needs to account for any current against us. If we expect an average 2 kt current against us, then I need to plan the transit assuming 6-7 kts of actual headway. If there is less current it’s no problem – I can just slow down. But if there is more current than expected, there is nothing I can do about it, and the result might be a late arrival and inability to transit the rapids.  So you need to err on the side of assuming slower rather than faster progress.

If the current is with us, then I typically plan around 8-9 kts of total speed including the current. That way, if there is less current, I can still make 8-9 kts, and if there is more I can just slow down, or even circle back if required.

With all this in mind, we planned our departure and got underway. But not long into the trip, I started to worry that I had messed something up because instead of a favorable current sweeping us towards Yaculta, we had an opposing current and were not making the required speed to get there in time for slack. I had been warned that although the Canadian Hydro Service (CHS) chart tables were accurate, many other tide calculators were off by significant amounts – enough to miscalculate a safe transit. Another common mistake with tide tables is mixing up daylight and standard times. Some charts do the conversion for you, and others don’t. All these questions were running through my mind as we chugged along at flank speed trying to make progress against an opposing current when I was expecting a favorable current.  It was looking like our arrival time was going to be way off.

Fortunately, the problem wasn't as bad as I feared. The initial channel that we were in had current flowing against us, but as soon as we turned into the channel leading to Dent, the current shifted around as expected and we were back on track for a slack arrival.  Phew.  Dodged that one.

Passing through at slack water you might wonder what all the fuss is about. But just go look for Youtube videos of Dent Rapids and you’ll see that the fuss is well justified.

We passed through Yaculta with favorable but safe current, and 30 minutes later through Dent with nearly slack current.  From there, we had building current behind us pushing us along.  And it was early in the day (maybe 10:00) so we pushed on.

Next up were the Greene Point Rapids.  We hit them at near peak current, but it's a much larger area and safe to transit with higher current.  Once through Greene Point, we were in Chancellor Channel and would soon face a decision point.  We could remain out of Johnstone Strait and head for Wellbore Channel and stay the night somewhere in that area, or go into Johnstone Strait and head for Port McNeill.

We decided we would proceed based on the conditions in Johnstone.  If conditions were good, we would jump into Johnstone and make a run all the way to Port McNeill.  As we approached, I saw a boat maybe 10 miles ahead of us called Drumbeat, and they were now out in the part of Johnstone that is usually the worst, so I hailed them on the radio to see what conditions were like.  Where we were in Chancellor was dead calm.  Drumbeat confirmed that Johnstone was calm too, so we went for it.

The run down Johnstone was excellent, but as we started to reach the mouth and approach Alert Bay and Port McNeill beyond that, the wind started to kick up.  It's common for the winds to pick up in the afternoon, and this seems particularly acute around Port McNeill.  Once before we arrived in 20-30 kts winds and had a hard time getting docked.  This time was only slightly better.

The further in the docks you can get in Port McNeill, the better the protection there is.  At the outer most docks, it can be pretty exposed.  This time there were a couple of slips in pretty far that were available, and I thought the wind would be on our nose once I got turned into the slip.  But as we got in, the wind must have been channeling in some way because I found it holding us off the dock, and no matter how much I ran the thrusters I just couldn't get close enough to the dock to get a line one.  So we gave up on that and pulled around the other side of the docks to a side tie where there was a lot more room, and more importantly where we were not totally side to the wind.  This time, with a little effort and some help from the captain of Drumbeat, we were able to get tied up securely.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Underway for Summer Cruising

4/15/2017, Vancouver

Our summer boating got underway early this year. There is one, and only one thing on the agenda: Prince William Sound in Alaska.

We will visit lots of other places along the way, but the one imperative is PWS. Our hopes of getting there the past two summers didn’t work out for one reason or another, but we decided we didn’t want to leave the area without going, so it’s the priority this summer because…. We are finally heading south this fall.

When we first came to the Pacific Northwest, the plan was to stay for one year, then head south. Now, three years later, we are still here. It’s an amazing cruising ground, and one well suited to our tastes. Once our world cruising is done, we think this is where we will settle down with the boat.

Back in January we relocated the boat from Seattle to Vancouver. Washington State has a complex set of use tax exemption provisions for visiting boat, but the more time I spent with it, and the more I talked with different officials, the more it became evident that the rules were unclear, and different people interpreted them differently and were giving contradictory advice on how to comply and what constituted compliance.

With a nearly 10% tax at stake, it was a gamble we just aren’t willing to make, especially when the state holds all the cards, gets to make up the rules, and can’t tell you what the rules are. Our frustration, unfortunately, is very common among visitors, so everyone flees to Canada where the rules are much clearer. It’s a shame, and creates a situation where nobody winds except Canada. We don’t get to spend more time in Washington, which we would like to. Washington businesses lose the money we spend locally on the boat and other activities. Washington State loses the tax revenue on all that we would spend. And they don’t get the use tax on the boat either.

I don’t begrudge Washington their tax structure – every state has one of some sort or another. But until they can clearly articulate the rules, a lot of people, including us, won’t go back. Oh well, enough of that.

After a nice stay in Vancouver including visits with a number of friends, we pulled out April 15th heading north. The consensus is that June is the best month to be in PWS, so the plan was to spend 6 weeks working our way north, exploring some new places along the way, ending up in Sitka where some friends would join us for a week of cruising that area. Then on the PWS.

And so began our summer cruising….