2011 Report #4 from Port Hardy to Prideaux Haven

July 27, 2011

Port Hardy

Port Hardy is at the top of Vancouver Island. It’s mainly a fishing town these days, large seine boats, gillnetters. Also sport fishing boats. They catch a lot of fish out of Port Hardy, big ones, too. Downtown, if you can call it that, is a line of one- and two-story storefront buildings, functional but architecturally unexciting.

So it’s easy to overlook the little Port Hardy Museum & Archives tucked in the lower level of the library building. It’s been lovingly assembled by Jane Hutton, the curator and director. Each summer Jane puts together a special display. Last summer the display was about Shushartie Bay, a now-empty notch at the western end of Goletas Channel. In the early 1900s, however, Shushartie Bay was a busy little port. Steamers called there. People lived there. I find this kind of history fascinating.

This year the display is about Vancouver Island fossils, evidence of what lived millions and hundreds of millions of years ago. It turns out that Vancouver Island is rich fossil grounds, and Jane has assembled an impressive display, with explanatory information. I bought a book recommended, West Coast Fossils, A Guide to the Ancient Life of Vancouver Island, by Rolf Ludvigsen & Graham Beard.

Next year’s exhibit will be about float camps of the coast. As recently as the 1950s float camps were tucked around every point. Families lived there, supported by logging. From ancient history this year to modern history next year. This museum is a real find.

Jennis Bay

Queen Charlotte Strait between Port Hardy and the Broughtons was flat calm, and we took advantage of it. We crossed, with intent to see what was going on at Jennis Bay in Drury Inlet. Drury Inlet is guarded by Stuart Narrows, which are to be treated with respect. We went through about 40 minutes before high water slack. A lot of water was going through with us, more than we’re accustomed to this close to the turn. On the downstream side the flow separated into determined cross-currents and whirlpools, the kind that grab the boat and turn it—suddenly and hard. Conditions weren’t dangerous, but they called for complete attention.

The Jennis Bay docks were full. We were the last boat to have space and they didn’t know about us until we called on VHF 66A when we were just outside. Allyson welcomed us with hugs, and filled us in with the latest gossip. Part of which was that she and the kids were going to Wyoming this winter, to be with a man she was desperately and happily in love with. They plan to be back next summer, man in tow.

Jennis Bay get-together

Jennis Bay get-together.

All the boats were invited to bring their suppers to the little float house next to the ramp to shore and dine together, which we did as rain fell on the roof over head. You get people off 10 or 12 boats and you find they’re from places you never dreamed of, with occupations and backgrounds you’d never expect. It makes for interesting table conversation.

Greenway Sound

I’m told that unless some miracle occurs the auction will be in late August. The docks are in place but the buildings are boarded up. Boats were there, some to say goodbye to happy memories, some to get free moorage. The passing of an era. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, things don’t work out.

Shawl Bay

Shawl Bay: quaint and friendly.

Shawl Bay

Shawl Bay Marina was busy and fun. Folks got together on the party float for drinks and lies around 5:30, then retreated aboard for dinner. Next morning, Lorne’s complimentary pancakes came out for breakfast. Carol-the-bead-lady Ellison’s little gallery was full of attractive offerings. Over the winter, Carol’s husband, Jerry, installed new decking in front of some of the float cabins. Shawn is baking her breads, cinnamon buns and pies, as she does each year.

Pierre's at Echo Bay

Pierre's at Echo Bay Resort.

Pierre’s at Echo Bay

Going great guns, as always. The fuel dock was busy, but the store was awaiting a shipment the next day. The Internet and e-mail were a little slow. That happens when everybody gets on. There’s only so much band width. Pierre and his wife, Tove (pronounced “Tova,” were marvelous hosts, as always. Their partners, Jerome and Lucy Rose, were busy. The Rose’s daughter, Meg, is completely poised, and only 14. She’s a young lady with a future.

We took the dinghy down to the Park dock at the head of the bay to see what was left of the Echo Bay Elementary School, now closed for at least five years. The dock tipped a little to one side, and a couple planks were gone. Upland, we were surprised to look through the window and see the school room ready for a new crop of kids. The ABCs were lined up above the blackboards, tables, chairs and bookcases were in place, everything was neat and orderly. Except there aren’t going to be any more kids to fill the room. The families have grown up or moved away and new families haven’t come in.

Windsong Sea Village

Windsong Sea Village

Windsong Sea Village

These are the docks directly across Echo Bay from Pierre’s. For the past couple years or so Pierre’s has managed them as overflow from its own docks. This year the owners decided to manage the docks again. Phil Persaud is the manager. He took down the landmark barge with its house last winter; it had deteriorated to the point of being dangerous. The people at Windsong are the quiet sort, the kind who are there for all summer. Every place in the Broughtons is unique, even those just across a small bay from one another.

Billy Proctor

Billy Proctor

Billy Proctor

“Nothing new this year,” Billy Proctor said when we got to his remarkable museum around the corner from Echo Bay. Then he showed us the shells he was beginning to collect, the antique chain saw that someone brought him, and this, and that, all new. A round from a cedar log was outside, with a pile of shakes split from it. Billy told us a woman had been there earlier to make a documentary of life in the Broughtons 60-100 years ago. Billy was the thread through the story. He showed her how shakes were split, how a tree was felled, how it was got to the water, how life was lived. “Jeez, she wanted a lot of things!” Billy sounded grumpy, but it was clear he was pleased. I want a copy of that documentary when it’s available. Thank heavens someone is capturing Billy Proctor while there’s time.

Grebe Cove

We’d never anchored in Grebe Cove, and we needed to get away from docks for at least a night. We tip-toed in, finding no other boats until we rounded a little bend and saw a boat anchored at the head of the bay. There was room for one other boat to anchor and swing—except for a crab pot float in exactly the place that closed off our swing room. I thought some unkind things about that float and who might have put it there, and we settled on a much narrower part of the cove.

About 6:00 p.m. an aluminum fish boat came in at about 10 knots, throwing a big bow wave. It went directly to the buoy and brought up its trap. So, it was a commercial buoy, not the neighboring boat’s buoy. Unkind thoughts about the other boat were deleted. The two-man fish boat crew popped open the pot and quickly threw the non-keepers back. Not a second was wasted.

A second pot was attached to the first, and it was winched aboard for emptying. And a third, and a fourth, and a fifth, and still others, until they had worked their way along the west side almost to the mouth of the cove. It was a real education. Grebe Cove won’t be any good for crabbing for a while. Just small males and ladies left.

Port Harvey

The Port Harvey Marina is an ideal jumping-off location for the trip south on Johnstone Strait. The store and café upstairs are uninspiring from out in the bay, but the store is apt to have what you need, and café is good. We had the 12-inch pizza for dinner and took half of it back to the boat. George and Gail Cambridge, the owners, act like that friendly and helpful family next door or down the block. George likes to bake, too. We were out of bread when we arrived but not when we left. The cinnamon buns are huge and hearty. A relaxing stop.

Port Harvey café

Port Harvey—dinner in the café.

The rapids

Johnstone Strait was blessedly quiet when we left Port Harvey, and we chugged down at 8.5 knots, a good speed to avoid the logs, lumber and sticks of wood littering the surface. Our thought was to wait in Forward Harbour just outside Whirlpool Rapids until slack water about 1345. As we approached a little before noon, however, we were greeted by a procession of boats that obviously had just come through Whirlpool Rapids. We were at half-moon, the time of neap tides, the tides with the smallest exchange. Whirlpool Rapids was negotiable. Without changing our 8.5-knot throttle setting, at noon we powered through the rapids against a 3-knot ebb without a problem.

This meant we could get to Greene Point Rapids before it turned, too. At 8.5 knots we carried on, and through Greene Point. Our time-speed-distance calculations indicated that we could get to Dent Rapids, Gillard Passage, and the Yuculta Rapids exactly at the predicted turn, and that’s what happened. We went through in flat water, no drama at all. The keys were the neap tides, which allowed us to challenge Whirlpool Rapids early, and our north-south direction. Each set of rapids turned later than the set north of it. If we had been going the other way each set of rapids would have turned earlier, and we couldn’t have made all of them on one tide. Or if we had been a week later on a big spring tide we couldn’t have gone through Whirlpool Rapids early enough to reach the later rapids.

Once through the Yucultas, we continued to Cortes Bay, where we could do laundry and fill the water tanks at the SYC outstation. Love the outstations. We tied up at 1830, a nine-hour run at 8.5 knots. Nine hours is a long run for us, but when the situation is right, it has to be done.

Melanie Cove

Prideaux Haven, kids dive from the rocks in Melanie Cove.

Prideaux Haven

Prideaux Haven, dominated by Mt. Denman in the background.

Prideaux Haven

People often ask, with all the places we’ve seen, which is our favorite. Until now we answered, “They’re like our kids. We love them all, for different reasons.”

Next time we’re asked, the answer will be, “Prideaux Haven in Desolation Sound.” With Prideaux Haven I include Melanie Cove, Laura Cove, Eveleigh Anchorage and Roffey Island, all adjacent. The water is warm, the holding ground is good, and views of the Coast Range mountains are fabulous. Many of the anchorages are tucked behind rocks or between reefs of rock, stern-ties required. It’s a place of almost unspeakable beauty. We stayed two nights and wished we could have stayed a week. Some boats do.

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