2016 Cruise Report
Garden Bay, Pender Harbour, June 24. We got to Pender Harbour in late afternoon the day before yesterday, after one of our easiest crossings of the Strait of Georgia. The wind from the previous day had died away to almost nothing, and the only challenge was steering as a relentless low swell on our starboard quarter tried to twist the boat off course. It wasn’t bad and I’m not complaining. It just meant we couldn’t use the autopilot. The boat had to be steered with the wheel, anticipating the next move and countering the move before it actually took place. There’s a highly technical nautical term for this. I think it’s called “helming.”
The Strait of Georgia is a big body of water with a bad reputation—bad in the sense that if you’re out there and the wind picks up you’ll be in for a rough ride, and once you’re in the middle you have no place to hide. But it’s not bad as, for example, what the crab boats face in the Bering Sea. That’s bad. Still, even though our crossing was easy, we had a long day of it, a total of just under eight hours from Ganges, in the southern Gulf Islands, to Pender Harbour.
Pender Harbour remains an excellent provisioning stop. The IGA in the village of Madeira Park, on the south shore of Pender Harbour, got a significant remodel and upgrade this past year. Meats, dairy, produce and bakery sections all were well stocked. Canned goods, baking supplies, Mexican foods, Asian foods, boxed foods and mixes, all are there, and in quantity. Friendly help—help that actually wants to help. Much of the reason we’re charmed is the store owner, Troy Callewaert. Troy sees us once or at most twice a year, in the summer. Yet each year he remembers our names. He strolls up as if we’d had breakfast together that morning, with an easy, “Hi, Bob, hi, Marilynn.” We’re astonished. Troy spends much of his day on the floor, stocking shelves and chatting with customers. He knows what’s going on in his store.
Over on the north side of Pender Harbour, John Henry’s JH Resort & Marina just got a new owner, as did Fisherman’s resort and marina next door, and it’s the same person, an energetic woman named Allyson Nelson. Allyson is of middle years, short, with dark hair, and she’s on the go all the time. Her husband, Richard Gaudreau, calls her “Bunny,” for the Energizer Bunny that runs and runs and never stops. The store has been updated and painted in bright colors, and the stock enhanced with interesting things you didn’t realize you absolutely had to have. A new deck was almost completed, along with picnic tables and Adirondack chairs, all painted in bright, whimsical colors. The liquor store is now out in open instead of behind a counter, and appeared to have plenty of variety.
We had lunch in the new and cozy John Henry’s Café, with windows overlooking the Harbour Authority docks a short distance away, and the store’s new, almost-finished deck. The fish tacos, ordered by the man at the next table, looked good, so we split a single order of three, and they were really tasty. One of the construction workers ordered a hamburger. It was huge, and he said it was very good.
Allyson and Richard have a food packaging company in Vancouver. A variety of their special sauces, with playful labels, is on display. I should have made better notes of the sauces, but didn’t. Whatever, Allyson has changed John Henry’s from a store that basically served locals into a store that still serves locals but embraces visitors, and makes everyone feel glad they stopped.
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Edith Iglauer, author of the popular book, Fishing with John, lives in Pender Harbour. She’s 99 years old now. Her husband died this past year at age 100 or 101.
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Princess Louisa Inlet. My wife Marilynn made it clear that she wanted to see Princess Louisa Inlet again this year. It’s a long way to go—42 nautical miles up Jervis Inlet from Irvines Landing at the mouth of Pender Harbour. At 8 knots this run into the Coast Range Mountains takes about five hours or a little more, and you’d better not be late. Princess Louisa Inlet, you see, is guarded by treacherous, dogleg Malibu Rapids. On most tides, the rapids should be taken at or near slack water, when the current flowing one way pauses before flowing the opposite way. Slack at Malibu Rapids is predicted to occur approximately 30 minutes after high or low water at Point Atkinson. We look up Point Atkinson tides in the tide and current book, find the high or low water time that appeals, and add 30 minutes. Then we figure backward to come up with a time to set out, with some extra, just in case.
Our slack water time was approximately 4:10 in the afternoon, a little more than five hours at 8 knots. Actually, we usually cruise at about 8¼ knots, but we would be fighting an outflowing ebb all the way up Jervis Inlet, and wanted to adjust for it. The reality turned out to be different. We made between 8½ and 9 knots almost all the way, and arrived at the rapids an hour and a half early. We’d rather be early than late, but drifting around for an hour or so isn’t very productive. Still, we waited, and approximately 15 minutes before low water slack we went through. The current, with its overfalls and whirlpools, had mostly died away, and our transit was entirely without drama.
Drama, though, does await at Princess Louisa Inlet. Once through the rapids it starts quietly enough, with mountainsides sloping smoothly up to crests 3000 feet above, all covered with evergreen forest. It’s beautiful, and first-time visitors will be impressed. They don’t anticipate the scenes just ahead, because after the first mile the sides of the inlet begin to squeeze together and grow more vertical, with harsh, sheer granite cliffs interrupting the forest clinging to them. Melt from snowfields in the peaks above knows only one direction: down. Waterfalls line the sides of the inlet. They stream from high above, hide in a crevice, snake across the face of a cliff, fall pencil-thin a hundred feet, disappear, reappear, merge with other waterfalls, all the way down, no two seemingly the same. Finally, they give up, become a small stream, and flow into the inlet.
It’s all so much, so impressive. Then your boat rounds a bend, and in front—you have to tip your head back to take it all in—high in a vertical mountainside bowl of granite, a huge white waterfall erupts from the rock. Its stream goes quickly down, hides, then bursts out at the head of the inlet as Chatterbox Falls. The Princess Louisa Marine Park dock is just beyond the foot of Chatterbox Falls, almost into the mist from the crashing water. And then you know: Princess Louisa Inlet is magnificent. It’s a reason to have a boat. It’s a reason to cross the sometimes vile Strait of Georgia, a reason to overnight in a strange bay when the wind comes up a 2:00 in the morning, a reason to cook in a cramped galley and sleep in a tiny “stateroom,” as it’s so generously called. Princess Louisa Inlet is a reason to do all these things, because it’s there and waiting, and you don’t dare miss it.
We tied to the park dock—ample room this early in the season—signed the guest register, dropped our $20 per night suggested moorage donation in the welded steel “vault,” and walked a cushiony path through the dark, moss-covered forest to the beautiful fire pit structure, and beyond it to a viewing area for the falls. A substantial bench is there, placed by the Canadian Tollycruisers group in 2013, dedicated to Robert “Tolly” Tollefson, founder of Tollycraft Yachts. Tolly had visited Princess Louisa Inlet more than 50 times, often with customers or suppliers. The fact that he actually used the boats he built is part of the reason Tollycrafts are still in demand as Northwest cruisers.
Life back on the dock is gently social. Surrounded by such beauty, could it be otherwise? In addition, though, there are almost no amenities: no shore power, no Internet, no cell phones, not even VHF radio communication. Generator use is restricted to two hours in the morning and two hours in the early evening. The only amenity is non-potable water, piped the length of the 500-foot-long dock. It’s good for boat washing or hosing off after a saltwater swim. So visitors walk the trails, tour the inlet in dinghies or kayaks, play on paddle boards, and are nice to each other.
Eighty-six-year-old Chris Christenson, from Denver, had one of his families aboard his 37-foot Nordic Tug. He’d flown them in from Colorado to experience cruising the B.C. coast. At 11 a.m. a Kenmore Air DeHavilland Beaver float plane arrived with Chris’s second family, also from Colorado, and I have to say the assembled group looked like quite a crowd for a 37-foot boat. But two hours later, at 1 p.m., another Kenmore Beaver splashed in and took the first family back to Seattle, back to traffic, and television, and Internet, and email, and Facebook, and pressure, and politics. “We have an obligation, a duty, to show our families this coast while we still can,” Chris said to me. Chris Christenson betrayed his age with his slow movements and decided hearing loss, but he was showing his family the coast “while he still can.”
Oh, my gosh, 1600 words already. Before closing, another quick story. We met Simon Lewis, from Vancouver, B.C., who spends his workdays “in a dark room with a big computer screen,” creating special effects—currently for Sony. Simon brought out his new toy, a high-end Phantom 4 drone, and flew it from the aircraft float at the end of the park dock. With a range of about a mile and maximum altitude of 400 feet, the drone flew across the inlet, up into the sky and sharply down to skim the water. Simon stopped the drone and hovered it, then shot it up and away, faster and slower, as it took digital movies of what it saw. The drone performed this show for about 20 minutes, responding to Simon’s joystick commands. Then Simon brought the drone back and set it neatly in the small triangle-shaped target painted on the float. Quite a crowd had gathered by then, and we were amazed.
Leaving, we got up early to catch the morning slack at Malibu Rapids. No wait was needed this time. We arrived exactly at slack water, and the “rapids” were as still as a pond in the woods. We went right through and headed back down Jervis Inlet.