2011 Report #3—Cape Caution: A Tale of Two Roundings

July 19, 2011

I do apologize to Charles Dickens for that one, but it seemed appropriate. We thought we had Cape Caution figured out. On the way north we didn’t.

Our plan for rounding Cape Caution in what passes for comfort has four components. First, we go on a flood tide only. The flood lengthens the distance between the incoming ocean swells, in effect smoothing them. Further, on an ebb an enormous amount of water flows out of Rivers Inlet, heaping the seas. If we’re crossing from the mainland side, the ebb out of Slingsby Channel can be brutal, even dangerous. We don’t want an ebb.

Second, the lighthouse reports from Scarlett Point, Pine Island and Egg Island need to be for light winds, maximum 2-foot chop, low swell. Fifteen knots of wind and 3-foot moderate usually isn’t moderate enough for us.

Third, the West Sea Otter buoy report needs to be seas 1.3 meters or less, preferably less.

Last, even if points one through three above are in line, if an afternoon westerly is predicted or apt to develop, we want to wait for another day. The westerly can change everything but the tide.

On our northbound rounding, we departed Port McNeill on Vancouver Island with full fuel and water at 10:45 a.m., July 8, planning to overnight in the protected Port Alexander anchorage on Goletas Channel. As we passed Port Hardy, however, conditions all sounded good for a crossing. The tide would flood until after 6:00 p.m. Scarlett Point, Pine Island and Egg Island each reported 10 knots of wind, 2-foot chop. West Sea Otter was 1.1 meters. When the window is open, GO. We went.

It was only after we had cleared Scarlett Point and were partway out Gordon Channel that the Scarlett Point Lighthouse report changed to 15 knots, 3-foot moderate seas. We were riding through the seas easily, however, and Pine Island, Egg Island and West Sea Otter remained unchanged.

We carried on, hoping things would get better farther out, and for a while they did. But when we turned the corner at Pine Island we put the swells on our port quarter. For the next three hours we endured the twisting motion caused by seas coming aft of the beam. It took aggressive steering to keep the boat on course. After one unusually large swell rolled us, Marilynn began to get seasick. She took the helm, which helps, but she was “on the edge” the rest of the way. Neither of us was very happy.

At Dugout Rocks we turned into Rivers Inlet, put the seas on our stern and surfed to the channel that leads to Duncanby Landing and Goose Bay. We overnighted at the Goose Bay Cannery. We have had tougher crossings, for sure. But we had hoped for better.

Goose Bay machine shop.

Goose Bay machine shop.

Our southbound rounding a week later was entirely different. We brought up the anchor and departed Pruth Bay (Hakai) at 6:00 a.m., fully prepared to wait a day at Fury Cove or Frypan Bay, two popular jumping-off spots for Cape Caution. By the time we got to Cape Calvert, conditions looked so good that we carried on and had our second-smoothest rounding ever.

Summing up, following our guidelines we had one rounding that was uncomfortable but not scary, and one rounding that was easy. The people, places, and experiences north of Cape Caution are so interesting that it’s worth being little uncomfortable to get there (or back). Except in the middle of the uncomfortable part. Then we’re not so sure.

Goose Bay Cannery

The old cannery at the head of Goose Bay now has a wide, stable and strong concrete float, with ramp to the wharf. Moorage is $1.50/ft., honor box. We tied there and went through the cannery the next morning. Fascinating. Recommended.


Although a deluxe fly-in sport fishing resort, the south docks are for visiting yachties, who are welcome. Meals in the dining room should be coordinated with the fly-in customers, so everyone can stay happy.

Relaxing on deck at Duncanby..

Relaxing on deck at Duncanby.

Dawsons Landing

Dawsons Landing is located a few miles up Darby Channel on the north side of Rivers Inlet. Because it is a little off the main north-south highway, many boats pass it by. In our opinion, that’s a mistake. Dawsons goes back to the early 1900s. Everything is on floats, including the general store, which one boater calls “Wal-Mart of the north” because of the breadth of its stock. Nola was in town when we stopped but Rob was there, tending the store, delivering fuel, and building a new float for a customer in the Inlet. We’re astonished at how much they do with how little. When you’ve reached Dawsons you’ve definitely left the city.

Float at Dawson’s Landing.

Float at Dawson’s Landing.

Pruth Bay (Hakai)

The welcome mat is out for visiting yachties, who are encouraged to look around, ask questions, and walk the trail to beautiful West Beach on the exposed west side of Calvert Island. The T-shaped float has been replaced by a new concrete float, and the original outer floats moved back to provide ample dinghy tie-up. A 70-foot-long ramp replaced the previous 50-footer, making access much easier at low tide.

The former sport fishing resort is now a research center, with ties to several universities and research organizations. At first, there was thought of offering meals to visiting yachties on an “as-available” basis, but it didn’t work out. Eat on your boat.


If ever a place had a Don’t-Bother-Stopping-Here look, it would be the abandoned and collapsing fish cannery of Namu. A collection of low structures on floats nestles in front of the wreckage of old cannery buildings whose roofs have fallen in and walls have fallen down. Moorage is not obvious. It is only after you call on VHF channel 10 that you learn that moorage is available. It’s around behind the big old structure with a chimney made of empty oil drums welded together. Several serious floats invite tying up, and other boats are there.

Welcome to what in our opinion is one of the most interesting stops on an already-fascinating coast. There are two reasons. First, you can walk through this great old cannery, where thousands once lived and worked, and see what the cruel north coast weather does to even strong construction. Wharves built of huge timbers have rotted and are sagging. Roofs and buildings have been broken by winter winds and snowfall. We may think we build for permanence but Nature knows better and is very patient.


Namu floating camp with ruins behind.

The second reason is the camp the caretakers have put together. The caretakers are Pete and Rene (pronounced “Renie”) Darwin and Rene’s longtime friend Theresa. Theresa came for a visit a few years ago and never left.

Pete has set up a sawmill powered by an old VW engine in one of the buildings still standing. He has milled salvaged logs into the timbers and planks to build several floats and float houses. Rene has a greenhouse thriving with cherries, peaches, and trays of vegetables.

Rene's greenhouse

Rene's greenhouse in Namu.

BC Packers walked away from everything when they closed Namu. Tools, equipment, parts, fittings—a small city. Pete Darwin seems able to make anything, fix anything, move anything. “Don’t tell me there’s something I can’t move,” he told me. This was after he explained how he loaded a heavy HIAB hydraulic crane onto the shop float. With the excavator (doesn’t everyone have an excavator with crawler treads, a long boom and a big bucket?) he got the HIAB down to the high water line. Then he untied the shop and towed it over to the HIAB. The excavator lifted the HIAB onto the shop float and Pete towed the shop back.

Don’t expect a resort at Namu. Do expect hand rolled cigarettes, hard work, dirty pants and jackets, refreshments during the day, and a can-do, will-do attitude toward just about anything. Pete suffered a mild stroke a couple years ago. The doctors wanted the camp moved south, closer to medical help. They went south as far as Kelsey Bay last winter to check out possible move-to sites. They came back to Namu determined to stay. “Too nervous down there,” they said. “Too much worry about hanging on or going broke.”

Ocean Falls

Ocean Falls, once the second largest pulp and paper mill on the coast, persists with around 25 permanent residents. The mill site is now completely cleaned up and seeks an industry that needs a deepwater port, lots of clean water, and 12.5 megawatts of hydroelectric power that’s presently going to waste. The industry also needs to be happy at the end of a mountainous inlet 400 miles from anywhere, with clouds and rain as the customary weather forecast. And winter winds that can reach hurricane force.


New floats at Ocean Falls

fitness center

Ocean Falls fitness center with abandoned hotel behind.

Herb Carpenter, the Harbour Manager, was in Penticton getting a new knee when we were in Ocean Falls. Last winter, though, Herb saw his two-year effort to get new floats realized. The floats are long, wide, and stable. Neil McLachlan, the wharfinger, has fallen in love with a lady in Bella Coola and will be leaving after this summer. Neil was a licensed physiotherapist for more than 20 years. He’ll be helping Herb with knee rehabilitation this summer. Eva Prine, who for a few years ran Eva’s Holy Grill in the church, cooked at Shearwater last fall and winter but is back in Ocean Falls cooking for a logging crew at the lodge. And hungover Nearly Normal Norman Brown still runs his museum of Ocean Falls history in the upstairs of Herb Carpenter’s marine ways and shop. The new floats installed last winter have partly put Norman out of a job. He used to replace planks in the old floats, $10 a plank. Now all the planks are new.

If these people are unfamiliar to you, it’s because you haven’t been to Ocean Falls. It doesn’t take long to get to know everybody and what they’re doing.


Approaching Shearwater, the first thing you notice is the large and beautiful lodge up on the land. It wasn’t there last year. I’ll tell you about it in a moment. First, though, the news.

A helpful man named Bernie is the dock manager this year. The docks have new and impressive boxes for shore power plug-ins. The docks still don’t have potable water. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and the pub rocks until whenever. The laundry is clean, bright, and in good order. The washers are a little spendy at $4.00, but the dryers are hot and finish their work for less than expected. Marilynn did our laundry for $16.

Last fall the violent storm that tore the roof off the Ocean Falls marine ways also broke loose the docks at Shearwater. Bent them double. Eva Prine told us a tug rushed out and pushed against the loose end or damage would have been worse. She said she saw five waterspouts out in the bay.

Now for the new lodge. Shearwater owner Craig Widsten told us it was part of a failed fly-in floating fishing resort. A bid was made and accepted, and the lodge was towed from Nanaimo to Shearwater last winter. It was built on a concrete slab poured on top of an old steel barge. While they waited for the right 16-foot high tide, the excavator dug a 200-foot-long cavity ashore. At high tide the barge was simply floated in. Holes were cut in the side of the barge, and 74 concrete pads were poured in the bottom. Steel pilings were installed on the pads to support the structure above. Rock broken from Shearwater’s own quarry around the corner was trucked in to cover the barge. Instantly, a beautiful fully-furnished 13-room lodge facility with its own kitchen, laundry and bar was ready for use. These people astonish me.


We’ve been out just over a month now, and I’ve lost all sense of day or date. If it weren’t for the tide & current book I wouldn’t know either one. Several years ago a friend who had been retired for a while said he tells the days of the week by the Sunday-thru-Saturday pills box in the bathroom. I laughed at the time, but he was right. With one difference: Up here the week has only three days—today, yesterday, and tomorrow. For cruising boaters and the facilities that serve them, named days disappear and weekends don’t exist.

Order a Guide today! The Waggoner is the Northwest’s best selling, most popular cruising guide. Cruisers call the Waggoner “the bible” for Northwest cruising.
© 2013 Burrows Bay Associates LLC. All rights reserved.