Sointula, Malcolm Island. I’ve decided Sointula is where the friendly dogs are kept. This morning I stepped off the boat and spied a medium-size pooch a short distance down the dock. He cocked his ears forward and looked at me expectantly. “Hello, Doggie,” I said, and tried to look welcoming. The dog padded over and leaned against my legs, happily accepting two-handed scratchings behind his ears and down his back. Finally, I’d scratched enough. “Go home, now,” I said to the dog, and pointed to where he had come from. He turned and trotted back.
About an hour ago I carried bags of dirty clothes up to the laundry, where Marilynn already was loading machines. Two medium-size dogs were across the parking lot, just outside the Burger Barn. One of the dogs decided I was an easy mark, and set out not directly toward me, but on an exactly calculated line that would intersect my course. His timing and direction were perfect. When we met he looked at me with warm, soulful eyes that couldn’t be denied. More scratches. Then he went back to his buddy.
Marilynn and I had lunch at the Burger Barn while the dryers were running. A slightly muddy pickup truck pulled up, yellow dog in the bed. All tails wagging rapidly, the three dogs yelped and jumped, bumped noses and were happy. The truck dog’s owner waved the yellow dog to the ground, and the dogs had a grand time sniffing backsides and chasing each other about.
No one seems to be in a hurry here. People are friendly, but not in a “Hi, my name is Sid, what’s yours?” way. Sointula is comfortable.
We’ve had a good run from Anacortes, and now we’re close to the top of Vancouver Island. As in other years, our distances and objectives have been dictated by weather and sea conditions. From Anacortes we trooped through the San Juan Islands and across Boundary Pass to Bedwell Harbour, where a quick phone call with our NEXUS passes entered us into Canada. Since it was only early afternoon we could make it to Ganges, the major village on Saltspring Island. There, we could stock up on the foods and beverages we couldn’t bring into the country.
Next morning we left Ganges at 1100, destination Silva Bay via Gabriola Pass. Gabriola Pass predicted slack water was 1516. Although we ran at our usual 8.5 knots we got to the pass an hour early. Could we get through? Answer: yes. Once through, we looked out at the mighty Strait of Georgia, to see if the WX lighthouse weather reports of maximum 2-foot chop were holding up. Yes, they were. Our thoughts of overnighting in Silva Bay were set aside and we made for Pender Harbour, 35 miles of open and sometimes boisterous water away.
We don’t like boisterous water, especially when we’re out in the middle with no place to hide. The kindly Tolly 37 hull can take the seas, but what if we come off a wave and are face-to-face with a log that’s been hiding in the troughs, and the log takes out our running gear? Big seas and foul weather narrow any boat’s margin of safety. This is why, when the Strait of Georgia is quiet, we change earlier plans and cross. Seize the opportunity when it’s there.
Even so, the hour was growing late and the WX forecast was, shall we say, open to interpretation. Conditions were good, but we couldn’t predict how long they would remain good. Marilynn said, “Let’s use our speed.” I agreed, and pushed the handles forward. Brave little Surprise lifted onto a plane into the chop. For two hours we ran this way, burning at least twice the fuel per mile but dammit, we were getting there. We throttled back to 8.5 knots at the Thormanby Islands, with only a few miles of now-quiet water ahead. One of the many reasons we love our Tolly 37 is its two-speed capability—8.5 knots burning fuel at trawler rates; 15-16 knots when needed. Marilynn and I agree, however, that unless higher speed is important, the strain isn’t worth the time savings. At speed, boats don’t ease into waves, they hit them. If we’re going into the wind, as we were that day, spray covers the front windows. Floating debris comes up quickly. We prefer slow.
We were two nights in Pender Harbour, appreciating the comfort of the Seattle Yacht Club outstation in Garden Bay. I did little boat projects. Marilynn did laundry. We bought groceries at the IGA in Madeira Park, a dinghy ride away. We toured the dinghy through the complex bays that make up Pender Harbour, marveling at the many rocks (all of them either visible or marked) that forced us into twisting courses. Pender Harbour is made of granite. If granite decides to stick up out of the water it can do so, and we just have to go around. Waterfront homes (many of them elegant) are set on plots knocked out of granite. Large evergreen trees cling, through a thin layer of soil, to granite. This is the western edge of the North American continent: solid granite, unyielding.
Warm weather and light winds took us up Malaspina Strait, past Savary Island, and to Cortes Bay, in Desolation Sound. Next day, we stopped to say hello to Colin Robertson at the Refuge Cove store, then crossed to the back bay in Squirrel Cove. It was our first night of the trip at anchor. There’s something about the independence of being free of a dock, of watching the scenery change as the boat swings first one way, then back, that I find liberating. Marilynn says she doesn’t feel liberated, she feels peaceful. Whatever the feelings, it’s fun to be there together, making supper together, doing dishes together, surrounded by a cocoon 37 feet from front to back, part of the world but separated from it.
No time to tarry. Next day we moved on, up the coast. We had to negotiate the Yuculta Rapids, Gillard Passage and Dent Rapids. The challenge is that headed north, Dent Rapids turns anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes before the Yucultas, and you don’t want to be at Dent Rapids too long after it turns. This means challenging the Yucultas early, but not too early or you’ll wish you hadn’t. After careful calculations we decided to hit the Yucultas an hour before their turn to ebb. Given the distance to be covered and our probable slow speed through the last of flood in the Yucultas and Gillard Passage, we expected to arrive at Dent Rapids right around their turn.
And that’s how it worked out. The Yucultas were settling down, although Gillard Passage twisted us a little, and floating logs and assorted pieces of wood had to be avoided. But Dent Rapids were quiet when we reached them and we motored right through. We carried on past Shoal Bay (docks full), past Cordero Lodge (docks not full), to Blind Channel Resort for the night. Surprisingly, Blind Channel’s docks had empty slips. This early in the season relatively few boats are out, so one facility’s good fortune can easily be the next facility’s disappointment. That’s June for you.
We had—as usual—excellent suppers at Blind Channel’s Cedar Post restaurant. We have supper at Blind Channel every year and it’s always outstanding. For all coastal dining stops the big challenge is finding a new chef each season. Some chefs work ski resorts in the winter and the coast in the summer, and the trick is to get a good one. In recent years the challenge has been made worse by the lure of Alberta’s oil patch. The oil patch sites might be remote and the hours long, but the crews must be fed and fed well, and the pay is great.
Our weather luck tried to change at Blind Channel. Strong northwesterlies were blowing in Johnstone Strait. A low surge from the strait worked its way up and we rocked around some. It’s one of those things that happen.
The wind was blowing the next day, and forecast to keep blowing for another day or two. All along, it was our plan to move out that morning, go through Greene Point Rapids before the turn and reach Whirlpool Rapids at about its turn. If Johnstone Strait was open we would continue to Lagoon Cove Marina at the south end of the Broughtons cruising grounds. If Johnstone Strait wasn’t open we would anchor in protected Forward Harbour, just beyond Whirlpool Rapids.
It was blowing hard in Johnstone Strait. We would anchor in Forward Harbour. As we went through the narrow pass into the harbor the prospects in favored Douglas Bay, just inside, looked excellent. At first we saw no other boats anchored. But as the anchorage opened up, we saw one boat—no problem. Then another boat. Then two sailboats. Then more boats, 10 in all, anchored in 50-60 feet, 3:1 scope, swinging on 150-175 feet of rode. We saw an attractive “hole” in the center of the fleet, then discovered the reason. A crab pot float bobbed sweetly on the surface. A boat anchored there could foul a prop.
We found what looked like a good spot in 60 feet. I run the bow when we anchor, Marilynn handles the controls. The chain ran out then went slightly slack when the anchor touched bottom. I gave Marilynn our hand signal to back up as we laid out more rode. The 100-foot and 150-foot marks went by. I made an estimate of what another 30 feet of chain should look like and locked the windlass. In a moment the chain began to straighten from the bow, then it went really straight and we stopped. I motioned for Marilynn to hold the boat in reverse to be sure we had a good set, then signaled to shut down. We were solid.
Solid, but wrong. A dark-hulled Tolly 48 was just a bit too close off our starboard beam. Although we’d probably be okay, we couldn’t be sure. Start the engines, bring up the anchor, move away, do it over. The second time, we dragged when we added power. We never knew why. The third time we not only held but we were well clear. Big sighs of relief. Was it five o’clock yet? No, we would have to wait. At least we were anchored. That was the important thing.
Wind was predicted for Johnstone Strait the next day. As is often the case, the prediction was wrong and the air was calm. Anchors went up throughout Douglas Bay and boats headed out. We were a little lazy. Only one boat was still at anchor when we departed for Lagoon Cove Marina. The strait couldn’t have been nicer, and we made good time.
Then came Chatham Channel. The lower portion of Chatham Channel is shallow, and the navigable part is so narrow that ranges have been installed at each end. Line the boat up on the range and don’t stray far from it. We’ve done that before. What we hadn’t done before was run through Chatham Channel against a 4-knot flood current. We did it this time, grinding out just 4.5 knots over the bottom, and we have new respect for the current strength on a spring tide. The moon was full. It was a spring tide, a large one.
Lagoon Cove Marina will never be the same, now that Bill Barber is gone. Pat and Bob are still there, doing a wonderful job. Pat runs the moorage, the office, the happy hour get-togethers. Bob works on landings and handles maintenance. Jerry and Tanya Sward (I hope I spelled the names correctly) were tied up for a few days to get prawns in the morning and help wherever they were needed.
Bill Barber always found a tie-up space that was almost too small for us. Last year as we approached I asked on the radio if he had a big jar of Vaseline. No, came the answer, but he did have a chain saw. Our anchor roller overlapped the stern of the boat ahead, but Bill had fit us in.
This year, Pat had a spot for us next to the fuel dock. It was tight, but nothing like the places Bill found. Pat asked if I wanted to come alongside the fuel dock, for them to hand the boat in. Absolutely not, my male ego wouldn’t allow it, I replied. I nosed the boat up to the dock a short distance behind the boat ahead and pulled the port engine into reverse to swing the stern in. I tapped the starboard engine into forward to nudge the bow close to the boat ahead as the stern continued its arc. Sweet as could be, we laid alongside the dock, with two feet to spare front and back. Marilynn stepped ashore. We did it with an audience, too. I was so proud.
We hung out that afternoon and the next morning. The gift shop was well stocked with quality apparel, Waggoner Cruising Guides, and Ports & Passes tide & current books. The office had an ample supply of charts, CHS tide & current books, and fishing gear. Marilynn and I walked out one of the hiking trails past the swing, banging a cow bell in case any bear were around. After the happy hour and a light supper that evening we found a campfire up on the hill, with marshmallows for roasting.
Jean Barber was at the marina, and I think it was good for her. Suddenly, she was more than Bill’s wife and helper, she was responsible for the place. Jean was busy from morning till night, and it seemed to suit her. Everything carried on, except Bill wasn’t there. Bill’s easy manner, his amazing memory for names, and his droll bear stories at the end of the happy hour get-togethers died with him. Jean knows the marina and property must be sold. She’s 77. Serious inquiries invited.
Cruising these waters calls for close attention, not only to the weather, which can change from stormy to sunny in a couple of hours, but also for tides and currents. An example. The weather looked good for a run from Lagoon Cove to Sointula, especially if we didn’t go through the Broughtons. Instead of the Broughtons we would go out Baronet Passage, across the south end of Blackney Passage, along the west side of Hanson Island, and up to Sointula.
If you haven’t been here and the names mean nothing to you, it’s all right. The key was to hit the south end of Blackney Passage right around slack water, to avoid the terrible tide-rips that form on flood tides, especially the large spring flood tides we were experiencing. The calculation should be easy. In the tide & current book find the time of slack water in Seymour Narrows and subtract an hour and 5 minutes. Then measure the distance from Lagoon Cove down Clio Channel and Baronet Passage. Divide the distance by your speed and you should know how long it should take.
Except . . . except. Except the flood current in Baronet Passage runs toward Blackney Passage, and on a big tide the current runs strongly. It would be easy to arrive at Blackney Passage and its tide-rips much too soon. So I wet an index finger, stuck it in the air, and made a guess about when to get under way. As things turned out we were a little early. We twisted in some of the current activity but it wasn’t violent. We did have to dodge floating logs, tree limbs and chunks of wood. Sometimes current eddies gathered large collections of floating obstructions, with no obvious ways around them. It was interesting.
So here we are in Sointula. Tomorrow we’ll cross to Port McNeill for shopping. Windy weather is forecast. We might be there a few days.