CRUISING THE NORTHWEST COAST ON BOARD THE "KITTIWAKE"
by Charlotte Blytmann
Chapter 1. Alaska Bound
Sunday, July 6th - Well, finally the day is fast approaching for the big adventure. I have been hurrying around for the last several days in a tizzy, under the gun to get everything done and not forget anything. I worry about leaving my garden for so long, but Tiami has kindly volunteered to keep everything watered and try to maintain it all as best she can. This, at least, lets me go with a lot less regrets. After packing all items I will need and loading up the car, I managed to make the final trip to the grocery store at 9:30P.M. and dropped into bed at 11:00. I set the alarm for 3:45A.M. to enable me to catch the 8:30 ferry to Victoria, B.C. Or so I thought......well what do you know, the alarm failed to go off and I slept blissfully on until I bolted awake at 5:37 A.M.
Monday, July 7th - My God, what to do now, as I was told that I needed to be in line by 6:00A.M., in order to guarantee that I would have space on the ferry. That meant that I had to arrive in Port Angeles in twenty minutes, a trip that normally takes over an hour. Panic sets in......I threw on my clothes, grabbed whatever last minute items I could think of, fed Koki (our dog) and let him out, then raced for the car. With my heart pounding and the adrenaline definitely up, I raced out of the driveway at 5:55 and made as fast a trip to Port Angeles as possible. I arrived at 7:10 and was vastly relieved to find out that this particular morning there was light traffic and I would indeed get aboard.
Now I had plenty of time to sit and think of all the last minute things that I had been in too much of a hurry to take. The "Coho" sailed at 8:25 right on schedule, and arrived in Victoria at 9:55 and by 10:25, after clearing customs and immigration, I was on my way north to Port Hardy, looking forward to joining Tage and the Kittiwake. Tage had left Poulsbo on June 26th and had single-handed the boat to Port Hardy, so that I could shave off a couple of weeks of the journey north. It was Tage's suggestion and it had sounded like a good idea to me, so I took him up on it.
After Victoria, I drove awhile and stopped in Duncan in order to buy the few items that I remembered were left behind and also had some lunch. The drive was long and boring as the visibility was nil due to the driving rain and wind. I was at the end of my limits to keep the car on the road, due to being tired, when I finally arrived at the marina in Port Hardy at 6:30P.M. I don't think I could have gone a mile farther. For the last three hours of the trip the weather had developed into a storm with gale force winds and driving rain that was coming down in buckets sideways. My next problem was to locate the "Kittiwake" and figure out how to get in the locked marina gate. After a wait by the gate that seemed like ages, in weather fit only for crazy ducks, someone came out and I slipped through the open gate to arrive at the boat.
Luckily for me, Tage had his Danish pennant flying and I was able to locate the "Kittiwake" fairly quickly, before I washed out to sea. I found Tage all warm, cozy and dry in the cabin, listening to music and reading his book. He was glad to see Koki and I after ten days, and surprised we made it thirty minutes before he had expected us. He had planned on being up at the gate at about 7:00 o'clock to let us in.
Tuesday, July 8th - The storm that I had arrived in yesterday had abated and it was now only raining lightly, and then later on changed to just cloudy. This morning I observed, sitting on the pilings in the marina and all around the mouth of the river nearby, were numerous Bald Eagles. I counted at least fifteen individuals in the vicinity during my walks with Koki on the rock breakwater surrounding the marina. The eagles actually out-numbered the gulls, one usually sees on the waterfront. This day was spent getting ready to leave the following day. It was essential to get some groceries and a place had to be found to leave the car for six weeks. We found a private campground and the owners, who lived onsite, agreed to watch our car for that period of time for sixty-five dollars in Canadian, so with that problem out of the way, we ended the day by having some not very good Chinese food at a local Chinese restaurant.
Wednesday, July 9th - We got underway at 10:10A.M. under cloudy skies, after getting diesel at the fuel dock. Our destination that day was Scull Cove and we arrived there at 1:45P.M. The sailing time this day was purposely kept short so that Koki and I would get our "sea legs" gently. I took my Bonine in anticipation, and had no troubles. Koki though was quite tense, as this was his first time on the boat with the engine going and the boat moving in all directions. I had some tranquilizers on hand for him from the vet, but decided to hold off awhile to see how he adjusted. Other than having a pair of huge eyes and a trembling body, he at least did not get seasick. Therefore, I never had to use the tranquilizers on Koki for the entire trip. Although, I must say there were a few times during the journey later on, when I sure could have and probably should have used them.
It was at this point that our first problem developed. The difficulty was with Koki. We had hoped he would perform all his bodily functions on the foredeck and we encouraged him accordingly. The encouragement's included a small bush tied to the anchor winch, some grass scattered about, and even a sample or two of past performances laid carefully out. But no matter what, "No go" says Koki, pun intended. Tage felt at this point it would be a battle of wills, whose would prevail, his or ours. He did not want to have to take the dinghy ashore everyday, for the next six weeks, if he could help it.
Charlotte at the wheel, Alaska bound
Thursday, July 10th - It was necessary to leave Scull Cove very early at 5:10A.M in order to avoid some of the rougher seas expected when the predicted northwesterly came up later in the day. We had to round Cape Caution that is exposed to the open ocean, and the seas around this area can be quite rough. Koki and I stayed in my bunk for the duration of the move - Koki hiding under my covers and me, not too happy, with my eyes closed to keep from being sick, due to all the pitching and rolling of the cabin. We sailed into Millbrook Cove at 9:10A.M.
After breakfast we continued to encourage Koki to use the foredeck, but he still stood firm in his refusal. So....... after twenty-eight hours with nary a drop of anything, we relented due to worrying about his health, and took him ashore in the dinghy. Koki was very relieved, so to speak, with this turn of events and from then on throughout the trip we had to accommodate his wish on this subject. Other than that one bit of opinion on his habits, he was no trouble at all and adapted to ship life quite nicely. You could almost say he became a real sailor dog, although his favorite times were when we went ashore. After Koki's dinghy excursion, we spent the rest of the cloudy rainy day relaxing, reading and playing cards, as we found the area not too attractive, exciting, or interesting.
Friday, July 11th - We were forced to depart the cove early again, at 6:00A.M. this time, in order to take advantage of the "relatively flat" seas of the early morning, as this passage is also exposed to the outside ocean influence. Again Koki and I stayed in my bunk under the covers, me with my eyes closed to prevent seasickness. It was short, but sure not sweet, as we dropped the anchor at 8:45A.M. in the cove on Fury Island. Koki and I emerged from hibernation and had our breakfast.
The day that greeted us was nice and sunny and warm, in the 70's, a welcome change. We spent the rest of a beautiful day, relaxing and going ashore, in what later, turned out to be one of our most favorite anchorages of the whole trip. One side of the cove is circled by what appears, from a distance, to be a lovely white sandy beach, like in the tropics. We were surprised, and instantly noticed we were sadly mistaken on this observation, as my bare feet waded ashore to bring the dinghy in. The white "sand" consisted of many tiny and not so tiny pieces of white clamshells.....ouchy, ouchy, a shock to my tender tooties.
A quick retreat to the dinghy and a therefore very short shore excursion for Koki. This cove has been discovered before, we found, and is quite popular with others. We shared it with seven other boats, but it is quite large and there was room for all. We took Koki ashore in the evening for another stretch of the legs, but this time I got smart and wore my rubber boots for landing, as I remembered to do for the rest of the trip.
A very funny event occurred during our walk. While we were walking around a very shallow tide pool, Koki spied a small flock of Western Sandpipers and raced off in hot pursuit. His speed and intense concentration hurtled him about twelve feet out in his nemesis..."the water"!!! He was plainly shocked and dismayed. He instantly headed to the nearest large rock, about two feet in diameter, and climbed aboard it as quickly as possible. There he was, a very forlorn sight, wet, stranded, plainly upset and looking very sheepish. The birds were very much out of his mind at this point. We were quite amused at his expense I must say. Since the water was only a bit over a foot deep, we wanted him to wade ashore on his own, but he absolutely refused, even when we turned and left him stubbornly perched on his rock, as we went down to the dinghy and called for him to come along. He just stood there all alone and looking very miserable. Who knows how long he would have stayed there, refusing to budge, so we finally had to take pity on this pathetic creature. We had to rock hop out to him and push him off his perch to force him to wade ashore. This was his first brush with the water on this trip. He was not a very happy camper, but seemed glad to get back on board the boat. Because we found this cove to be so very beautiful, we decided to celebrate being able to be there and opened the bottle of Chardonnay that Joan and Paul had given us at our going away get together. We enjoyed the good wine very much as we sat in the cockpit taking in the beauty of the surroundings and its peaceful serenity.
Saturday July 12th - We were only allowed this one beautiful day, as the sun had disappeared in the gray mist again as we left at 9:45A.M. and set off north to Pruth Bay. We arrived at 1:00P.M. and found the Hakai Beach Resort at the head of the bay. After a confusing start, thrashing about in the brush, we finally located the trail to the West Beach, on the ocean side of the peninsula, on Calvert Is. We spent the afternoon walking on the nice wide sandy beach. This was to be the only real sandy beach that we were to find on the whole trip.
As usual, I managed to attract every biting insect on the beach and they feasted on me. The only part of me uncovered was my face, neck and ears. They found behind my ears, much to their liking. The bites, about seven this time, swelled up to small grape-sized lumps that, though somewhat smaller a week later, were still there to be joined by another half a dozen or so. What a sight I was when the bite next to my eye filled the upper lid with fluid, so that it practically was closed. They were itchy, oozy and quite painful to touch.
Tage and Koki on West Beach
After our beach hike, we left to go north in the rain to Turnbull Inlet, arriving at about 6:00P.M. The inlet is extremely narrow, long and dark. It sort of brought to mind the jungle river journey in the "African Queen". Probing our way forward, in these tight quarters, seemed kind of scary, not knowing if there were any uncharted submerged rocks below us. The whole place looked like we were out of place and shouldn't have been there. Needless to say, we had the entire inlet to ourselves, in the rain.
Sunday July 13th - We managed to drag ourselves up and leave by 11:45 for the next stop, which was the small bay called Kliksoalti Harbor. We traveled in the rain all day and arrived in the late afternoon and anchored out in the harbor.
Monday July 14th - In the morning, we took up the anchor and went over to the dock at the small settlement of Shearwater. This was a good opportunity to walk Koki and to use the telephone. Everything at home and at the office seemed to be okay. Then we proceeded over to Bella Bella, a short distance across the bay, to get some fresh provisions. Forget it!!! The dock is very dilapidated, extremely limited in size, and when you get to the one grocery store, there isn't anything you would buy. The selection was very limited and definitely not fresh, especially in the vegetable/fruit department. The town was a disappointment visually as well, as it was very dirty, rundown and littered. Sort of reminded me of some of the places in the Caribbean that we visited. I managed to buy a small package of chewy stew beef and a head of limp lettuce. So much for the civilization Tage promised along the way.
On we went north, in the rain, through the Seaforth Channel, Boat Inlet, and Lambard Inlet, to finally pick our way to an anchorage that was uncharted, arriving at 5:35P.M. The new depth finder Tage installed, just before he left, sure has been essential on this trip. It has performed beautifully. Tage tells me that we will be sailing in only partially charted waters for the next week or so. The anchorage was calm and we were all alone again. At this stop we saw a few bald eagles perched here and there, as we have practically every day since we started.
Tuesday July 15th - We got a 10:30A.M. start and passed through the Perceval Narrows, up Mathieson Channel, for a delightful passage through Jackson Narrows. The sun managed to come out briefly, and it was quite beautiful, with the steep rock walls of the high mountains on either side. Then it was up Findlayson Channel to Meyers Narrows, finally arriving in a small bight off to the side of the narrows, at 4:30P.M. The sun made another appearance and managed to light up the surroundings with a special sparkle. Probably because we were not used to seeing it.
We sat and enjoyed the silence for awhile, broken only by the low mysterious booming of a nearby Blue Grouse calling from the deep dark woods. We took the dinghy to shore to clamber about on the rocky islets and we found some bear tracks in one place and a strange burned area with 60 cents in Canadian coins on another very small rocky island. Only one boat passed by us that entire evening.
Wednesday July 16th - There was an early awakening to a strange sound that turned out to be two Sandhill Cranes standing on a kelp covered rock, about 75 feet from our boat. They kept up their strange loud calling for about a half an hour and then abruptly disappeared. With the entertainment gone, we then left at 10:10A.M. after taking Koki ashore. Kittiwake proceeded up the Laredo Channel to Helmcken Inlet and slipped in through the narrow entrance. Peering down into the water here we could see there were many Lion's Mane jellyfish floating out to sea.
We were greeted by the one or two obligatory bald eagles that we have found in practically all our anchorages and along the way. Next, came the rattle of the resident Kingfisher across our bow. Then, just inside the inlet, I saw something break the surface of the water. Zipping up to the bow of our boat, like an eager puppy, came a single Pacific White-sided Dolphin. He must have been bored and lonely for some company, as he adopted the "Kittiwake" and played with her for an hour and a half, as we made our way around the inlet looking for a suitable anchorage. He waited for us each time we went into shallow water and resumed his antics each time we came out into the deeper water.
I was in the bow looking down at him and he actually rolled on his side and looked back up at me. I felt it was most unusual to have eye contact with a wild dolphin. It seemed to make a difference to the dolphin as well, for afterward he got even more playful and leaped out of the water and before he went under each time, he would twist his tail sideways, like a large scoop, and send a smack of water showering up at me. He did this repeatedly and it was very obvious that he was deliberately playing with me and trying to get me wet. Tage recorded all of these antics on video.
In the inlet, also, was a large waterfall that fell directly into deep water, so that the boat could come right up to it. We were sorry to have to leave this interesting place, but there were no really satisfactory places to anchor that were shallow enough, so we went out and around the corner, so to speak, to find a spot in Smither's Island cove at 4:30. Another sailboat, first one we had seen all day, heading south joined us in the cove, where we all spent a rather rolly night. There had been a strong wind from the northwest and things were still pretty swelly and the opening of the anchorage was exposed somewhat to the westnorthwest. At this anchorage there were only a few rocks sticking out from under the trees for Koki to perch on . He didn't complain though. He does his business the best he can, on command, quickly and efficiently, and manages to never keep us waiting for him, due to his being choosy about just the right spot. And believe me, we took him to some pretty tiny marginal spots, as the trip progressed.
Thursday July 17th - A much too early start this day, 5:10A.M., due to the very strong northwesterly winds. For us, this meant headwinds and very rough seas and I was advised to stay in my bunk with Koki to avoid seasickness. The boat made such slow forward progress that Tage decided to give up for the day, and tuck into an anchorage in Dunn Passage Cove, at 10:45A.M. We maybe were not going forward very well, but from where I was, we sure were going in every other direction.
Koki had big eyes and was a bit shivery from the tenseness and I was also glad for the decision to stop. Besides, it was well past my breakfast time. After we finished breakfast, even though it was a gray cloudy day, with rain coming down more frequently than not, we went exploring the cove in the dinghy with Koki. The cove proved to be not very interesting, but we made the observation of how very confident Koki is getting in the dinghy. We remembered his first encounter, when we gave him a shakedown cruise back home in Liberty Bay. He practically shook his bones apart, as he cowered under the seats, never ever daring to even look at the surrounding water. He now was actually standing in the bow, looking ahead, and showing some interest.
Friday July 18th - It is this day that Koki decided to have his next adventure of the trip. After breakfast we were preparing the dinghy for his morning trip to shore. Tage was draining the always present rain water from the dinghy, so he had the drain plug out and the dinghy was lowered, stern down, in the davits. Tage was occupied watching the water going out and I was getting Koki's sling ready, in order to hand him over the side. No one was paying close attention to the dog. All his accumulated confidence came together at this point and he decided he knew just what was next and what he should do. He simply jumped right off the stern of the "Kittiwake" into the suspended dinghy, which instantly tipped, sending a very surprised pooch into the drink.
He disappeared from sight under the boat and panic galvanized us both into action. We did not even know if Koki could swim, but had heard that every dog can. Fortunately, Koki circled back to the stern of the dinghy and followed our instructions. As I held the line taut to keep the plugless dinghy from sinking, Tage then jumped into it and grabbing the dog by the scruff of his neck, hauled him over the transom. He was told to sit and stay, and a soaked scared dog, with big eyes, did just as he was told. Tage climbed back on board and we carefully raised the dinghy, with its wet shivering cargo staring up at us.
When we got him back on board, we relaunched the dinghy, put Koki in his sling and put him right back in the dinghy to go ashore. He performed right away, so we could get back on board and give him a good towel drying. He has now shown us that he can, indeed, swim and he has acquired some new wisdom about what not to do on board. Fortunately, Koki chose a time when the boat was anchored, in a quiet cove, for his adventure. For the rest of the trip, Koki stayed well back from the rail of the boat and only walked around in the cockpit and on the coach roof.
With the excitement over, we got underway at 10:00A.M. and this time with a strong southerly wind and the tide with us, we really "buzzed" along at 7.6 knots. We even put up the sail and dropped it at the entrance to Newcombe Harbor at 4:20, where a heavy rain overtook us and continued all that night and into the next day. Newcombe Harbor is a very pleasant place, like being in a wide mountain valley, complete with a waterfall. However, we were kept boatbound by the steady downpour and not able to explore much besides Koki's spot.
Saturday July 19th - It was still raining as we got a 10:15 start and headed north to Prince Rupert. The rain ceased, as we proceeded, and it was only cloudy as we neared Prince Rupert at 12:00 noon. The whole northcoast fishing fleet was in the harbor and we noticed the Alaskan ferry "Malaspina" at the dock.
The fishermen were all blowing their horns and they had their flags flying. We also noticed that they had the ferry surrounded and effectively blockaded. This, we later found out, was a protest demonstration by them having to do with their belief that the fishermen in Alaska and Washington were overfishing. Supposedly the U.S. fishermen caught three times over their quota, leaving nothing for the Canadians. Finding a space at the docks to tie up was next to impossible, due to all the fishing boats in port. As it turned out, we were lucky to happen upon the float set aside for the North Coast Sailing Association and they graciously invited us to raft up. We tied to the Khalua-Lin, which is owned by John and Sarah O'brien. They were very nice to us and we sure appreciated their accommodating us.
The marina we docked in was called the Rushbrooke and it was about two miles from town. So we decided we really needed the exercise and took Koki for a walk into town to find out what was there. It is quite a nice town, with a small college, three supermarkets, a very small shopping mall, a few drug stores, a Sears store and even a Dairy Queen along with many small shops of all sorts. We must have really wanted the exercise because we went in the rain that had started again. The reward was a sundae at the Dairy Queen. We also took a tour of the Safeway to see what we would come back for the next day and then made our way back to the "Kittiwake". Koki was a bit tired from the unaccustomed exercise and crashed when we got back to our home away from home.
Sunday July 20th - A most unusual day, at least for Prince Rupert. It was warm, sunny and beautiful. This welcome condition inspired us to take yet another walk into town, this time to take some pictures. At 3:00P.M. our neighbors the O'briens needed to take their boat from the dock, so we had to slip them out and then we tied up to the dock. Upon their return that evening they tied on the outside of our boat. Incidentally, as you might have guessed, the nice day disappeared by the late afternoon and turned into a drenching downpour. The natives were comfortable again, now that all was back to normal.
Monday July 21st - We awoke to the steady drum of the ever present rain, so it was decided that we needed to take a taxi to the Safeway for more provisions. A cab ride back and we were ready to leave at 1:25P.M. With our water tanks filled again and a quick stop for diesel, we were on our way in the heavy rain. The fishermen were still blockading the ferry for the third day, as we departed the harbor. The end result of these actions was the complete cessation of service from the Alaskan ferry for the rest of the summer. This meant a large economic loss for the local economy and since most of the fishing boats involved were from southern B.C, they all went home after the demonstration and left the locals holding the empty bag, so to speak. There was some local resentment over this by the residents.
Our next challenge was to go through the Venn Passage. The navigation through here can be tricky, due to a very narrow twisting passage, with plenty of buoys to watch out for. Around one blind corner we were almost run down by a commercial seaplane. The visibility was really poor and on top of all the other difficulties, there were lots of driftwood logs to look out for. It was our bad luck to hit one of these rather large logs quite hard. This has been one of my big fears, long before I started on this journey. Fortunately, there was no evident damage to the hull, but for awhile afterward, we were not sure of that. We continued on, straining to see the next buoy in the rain and mist, while checking the bilge, from time to time, for a leak, until we figured that it was all right.
Today's passage was across Chatham Sound, which that day was really kicking up. Strong winds, lots of waves and white caps, gray dark and rainy. It was surely one of the days I wish I were home instead. I found it very difficult and quite a strain to try and spot all of the large logs in our path, of which there was an uncomfortably large number. Visibility through the rain-spotted and streaked canopy was very trying, and it was a great relief to me to finally drop the sails and the anchor at 7:15P.M. in Brundige Inlet.
It was quite cold and very windy with heavy rain slicing by. Tage donned his wetsuit for an underwater inspection of the hull. This turned out to be good news, confirmation that no visible damage had occurred from the log we struck. Then there was a wet miserable trip to shore in the dinghy for Koki's time. No one was very dry or happy on this day. Although I guess I should have been thankful for the weather we got here, for without it, I understand the flies are so bad at this particular spot, that there aren't even any deer left, due to the fact that the flies have sucked them all dry of blood. At least the flies had sense enough not to be out in this weather.
Tuesday July 22nd - This day we had to pass across the East Dixon Entrance, which is quite open to the ocean and subjects boaters to some nasty stuff. An 8:00A.M. start was supposed to help us catch the S.W. winds, before the swells came up. But, the trip was rough and uncomfortable regardless, especially passing Tree Point. Lots of nasty chop and breaking waves, with the ceaseless rain, in addition to the constant surveillance for ramming logs. Also, now there was the navigation problem of many fishing boats with their 3/4 mile long nets out, fishing. It sure is hard to figure out whose net is whose, and the whole extent of some of them, as they are bobbing away in the water, hardly visible. I was not a happy sailor this day either.
During the days journey we passed from Canadian waters into U.S. waters. As we progressed farther north into the Revillagigedo Channel, the rough waters did actually subside somewhat. We finally arrived at our anchorage in a bight behind Ham Island at 3:15. What a relief. This our first Alaskan anchorage was very peaceful and scenic. And low and behold, the sun actually came out!
TO CONTINUE SELECT "CHAPTER 2"
TAGE & CHARLOTTE BLYTMANN, CONTACT US Telefax: (1) (360) 697-6253. copyright ©, 1998 - 2003