Wrapping up and home from the Broughtons

Cruise Report No. 3 focused on Canada Day celebrations in the Broughtons and skipped a few things from late June. Here they are, together with notes from the balance of the cruise.

We planned to go north of Vancouver Island this year, to Ocean Falls and Shearwater on what is called B.C.’s central coast. From the beginning of the trip, however, a series of small but annoying catastrophes (“catastrophes” is much too strong a word) took the edge off. They made me think our luck had changed and not for the better. I’ll summarize. First, we lost our lower helm station compass. We had replaced the galley microwave oven a few days before departure and failed to note that the new oven affected the compass differently than the old oven. Depending on direction of travel, the compass was off between 20 and 40 degrees. Next, I’d left my prescription sunglasses in the car. Then there was the new iPhone4, which I couldn’t figure out. These were combined with our upgrade from a vintage copy of the Nobeltec electronic navigation program we’d used for years, to the latest version of Coastal Explorer. Coastal Explorer “thinks” differently from the old Nobeltec, and we had to unlearn much of what we thought we knew. Coastal Explorer was loaded on a brand-new Dell laptop fitted with Windows 7, which threw more new things at me. Oh, and then my wrist watch battery died, with nowhere convenient to replace it.

Reading the above, I’m embarrassed that I let such trifles affect me, but they did. It was the feeling of being unprepared that wore me down. We had too many new things to absorb, combined with too many oversights prior to departure. I was perpetually upset that I could barely answer a call on the iPhone, and my sunglasses were home. I should have spent more time with Coastal Explorer before we set out, and should have paid more attention to iPhone instruction. I hadn’t realized that Windows 7 was so different from XP. I knew my wrist watch battery was old, and should have replaced it before it failed. The microwave oven’s effect on the helm compass blindsided me. But as long as we had GPS and Coastal Explorer we could work around it.

The final event was diesel fuel in the bilge in Port McNeill. Never mind how the diesel fuel got there. It was a one-time occurrence, okay? It took a couple hours of blotting with oil sorb mats, and a day of open hatches and windows with a fan blowing to get the smell out. That did it. We’d had too much bad luck, too little good luck. We didn’t have to go north of Cape Caution to the Central Coast, and I didn’t want to chance it.

Besides, the wind was blowing and forecast to keep blowing. We were tied snug at Port McNeill’s town marina, and we had shopping to do. The wind didn’t let up for several days, and my wife, Marilynn, always finds something to shop for. Well, me, too. I tried to buy a cheap wrist watch. Up at the bargain store at the far end of the strip mall beyond the IGA I found a nice digital model that would be just the thing. Problem was, despite studying the English language version of the instruction sheet, I couldn’t get the watch to set the time, day and date. Neither could the helpful clerk. Neither could her boss, “who can do all this stuff.” Thus no wrist watch.

On the positive side, I did perform three good deeds in Port McNeill. The first was for a local sailboat at the next dock that had left its running lights burning. I reported it to the marina office, who called the sailboat owner, who came down and turned the running lights off.

The second good deed was the next day, when the wind was really howling. We actually had whitecaps in the marina. The docks are protected by a high rock breakwater and the waves were just little things, but the wind blew their tops off. The strong wind also was blowing the mainsail cover off a boat moored on the next dock, and the sail was beginning unfurl. I would have corrected the problem myself but my lower back was giving me trouble, and I didn’t want to risk it on a small sailboat being tugged this way and that by the wind. So I let the marina office know.

The office thanked me for the report and said the dock attendant was coming down to help a boat land in this weather. He would deal with the flapping sail cover afterward.

The boat coming in definitely would need help. It was a sailboat named Takuli III, 45 feet on deck plus bow sprit, and the only suitable slip required a downwind landing. Even under bare poles, the wind was blowing hard enough to heel the boat noticeably and drive it sideways. This was going to be tricky.


The dock attendant was Kyle Lindsay: early 20s, tall, broad-shouldered, athletic build. Camera around my neck, I followed him to the arriving sailboat’s attempted landing. Takuli III hugged the breakwater to leave as much fairway room as possible. It slid past the slip, turned almost 180 degrees in an effort to scuff off speed, and angled back toward the slip opening. Too much wind. Still too fast. Slow her down, skipper. But there was no slowing down. Even in reverse, full power, the small prop was no match for the wind. And here she came.

Strong, athletic Kyle Lindsay stood on the finger float, half way out. Takuli III had a spring line attached amidships, which Kyle took and immediately wrapped around a dock cleat. The line went bar-tight and the boat came to a halt, its bow almost touching the dock. A grateful skipper and crew made the boat fast.

When all was settled, Kyle went back to the flapping sail cover, which he stretched tight and retied. The next day Kyle showed me his hands. Rope burns marked several fingers. Even wrapped on to a dock cleat, the heavy 45-foot sailboat’s momentum pulled the spring line through his hands. But he had hung on.


Marilynn’s observant eyes led to the third good deed. She saw a mass of rope with floats attached, drifting near the next dock. Judging from the growth, it had been in the water for some time. I fished the mess out with a boat hook and dragged it up to the garbage dumpster. The props we saved could have been our own.


The day before we left Port McNeill our luck turned. Marilynn and I had taken the bus up to Port Hardy ($7 for the two of us, senior rate) to see the Holberg exhibit at the small but lovely museum at 7110 Market Street, the main road along the waterfront in Port Hardy. The bus arrived at the Thunderbird Mall, up the hill. On a whim, I walked into the drug store next to the bus stop to see if they, or someone, could replace my wrist watch battery. The helpful clerk suggested an electronics store called The Source, just across the road. A miracle—they could do it. A friendly, competent clerk named Jim opened the back of the watch, found the correct battery and installed it. I could tell time again! I was so happy.

Fog. We woke the next morning to calm. The wind had stopped, replaced by dense fog. Boats were leaving. We left, too, radar running, our boat advancing across the Coastal Explorer screen. The fog thinned, but didn’t leave us, all the way across Queen Charlotte Strait to the mouth of Wells Passage, the northern entry to the Broughtons. I steer in circles in fog. The autopilot kept us on course. Light rainfall began, but no wind. We can handle those conditions just fine.

We’d been with other boats enough in recent weeks. Bypassing Sullivan Bay Marina, we continued to tranquil Claydon Bay, where we put the hook down in 30 feet in what had become heavy rain. Love that furnace.

Southbound. After Canada Day celebrations (Cruise Report No. 3) we spent a night at Pierre’s Echo Bay and hiked over to see Billy Proctor. Billy said he didn’t have anything new, then spent two hours telling us all kinds of new things. Billy, you might already know, is a legend on the coast. Although nearing 80, he was waiting for the rain to stop so he could replace some wood on his fish boat. Maybe one more trip. He likes it best off Cape Scott, with the wind blowing 30 or 40 knots and the seas washing across the deck. “That’s when you get the fish!” he exclaimed, eyes shining.

July 4, U.S. Independence Day, was celebrated at Kwatsi Bay Marina. Max and Anca hung a big American Flag in honor.

A large area of high pressure was establishing itself offshore, pouring its pressure into a stationary low pressure zone over interior B.C. and Washington State. This meant wind in Johnstone Strait. We proceeded to Port Harvey Marina, where we’d be close to Johnstone Strait but not in it. The morning after we got there the weather reports showed light winds all around, with stronger winds due later in the day. Two boats already had left. We made an easy run to Forward Harbour, where we waited for the approach of the afternoon slack at Whirlpool Rapids. By the time we upped anchor to make for the rapids the northwest wind out on the strait was blowing 20 knots. Lesson for crossing troublesome bodies of water: When the window is open, GO.

Desolation Sound. We spent a few days in Desolation Sound, most notably in Von Donop Inlet and Prideaux Haven. Several years had passed since our last visit to Von Donop Inlet, and we won’t let that happen again. Von Donop is beautiful. While there, we were reminded of two additional lessons for Northwest cruising. The first is that low tides become high tides. The second is to find protected anchorages. Fortunately, we didn’t have to learn these lessons the hard way.

The tides. A couple, a middle age man and woman, anchored a little close to us at the head of Von Donop, launched their dinghy, and made for the nearby trailhead to Squirrel Cove. Carefully, they pulled their dinghy onto the shore and looped the painter around a rock. The hours went by. On a rising tide the dinghy floated free of the shore, though still connected to its rock, which was now under water. By the time the couple returned from their Squirrel Cove hike the dinghy was bobbing sweetly offshore.

Anticipating a friendly rescue mission, I took our dinghy in to meet the couple. The woman, however, was having none of it. She marched directly into the water and headed for their dinghy. With each step the water grew deeper. The dinghy, it turned out, was shoulder-deep. With a lunge, the woman boosted herself aboard (strong woman), fussed with the painter until it came free from the rock below, and motored to shore to pick up her partner.

I intercepted them as they were headed to their boat and said we had intended to take them to their dinghy. “We don’t need help,” the woman replied. “We have a chart plotter!” I’m still pondering that explanation.

Protected anchorages. We were lucky in Von Donop Inlet. As noted above, we anchored at the very head, with a sweep of open water stretching northwest. It was after we departed that a load of northwest wind came through. It would have enough fetch to create uncomfortable waves. Beautiful as that spot is, we don’t plan to anchor there again.

By contrast, everything in Prideaux Haven is protected. We anchored where we had a view in the distance of Mt. Denman, a pinnacle whose sides had been scraped away by miles-thick ice thousands of years ago. In the afternoon we took the dinghy through the various anchorages: Melanie Cove and Laura Cove, and the little notches between Prideaux Haven and Laura Cove. We weren’t alone. It seemed that everyone was out in their dinghies doing the same thing. I thought of paintings of more formal days around the 1890s or so, where people dressed up and went strolling, nodding to acquaintances, the gentlemen in their coats, ties and hats, the ladies in their hats, with parasols. We weren’t dressed like that, of course, but when dinghies passed it was only natural to nod and say hello, and comment on what a lovely afternoon we were having.


The San Juans and granddaughter Ashley. For some time, we’ve tried to introduce our grandchildren—at least those interested—to boats and boating. We took grandson Zachary to the Canadian Tollycraft rendezvous in Telegraph Harbour several years. It was on one of those trips that we sounded and named Zachary Rock in Ganges Harbour.

This year 11-year-old granddaughter Ashley was the guest. She flew in to Roche Harbor on Kenmore and was with us for the final week of the cruise. Originally, I hoped to show her as much of the San Juans as possible. Then I realized that kids don’t want to see things, they want to have fun. SYC has a marvelous outstation on Henry Island, across the bay from the Roche Harbor docks. It’s equipped with stable, easy-paddling kayaks, a fire pit for marshmallow roasting, a tennis court and a pickleball court, walking trails, and more. We spent almost two days there. We couldn’t get Ashley out of the kayaks, or away from a couple of new friends from other boats.

The first evening, we took her back across the bay to see the sunset Retirement of the Colors ceremony at Roche Harbor Resort. It’s a dramatic spectacle. As the Canadian flag was lowered to the strains of O Canada, I watched a woman stand proudly with her hand over her heart and tears on her face, softly singing the words.

Finally, over granddaughterly objections, we left the outstation and motored through Mosquito Pass to Garrison Bay to show Ashley the San Juan Island National Historical Park of English Camp, where the British garrison was stationed during the Pig War, 1859-72.

As we entered Garrison Bay we encountered an unexpected sight. Orderly rows of white tents dotted the park grounds. The tents brought to mind lines from Battle Hymn of the Republic: “Mine eyes have seen the glories of the coming of the Lord.” What was going on?

We found out when we went ashore. It was Friday afternoon, and they were setting up for the 15th annual weekend Encampment, a reenactment of life at English Camp during the Pig War. Men were in 1860s British and U.S. military uniforms. Pipers were in kilts. Tradespeople were at their tasks. Ladies were in bonnets, ruffles and hoop skirts. We had struck gold.

We met Stewart Goodin, from British Columbia, whose tent contained a wooden chest filled with tools, implements and artifacts from the Pig War period. Stewart is a compact, middle-age man with dark hair and a dark mustache, and a personality that can fill a parade field. He told us he is a historian, and he astonished us with his knowledge of the Hudsons Bay Company, British and American explorations and boundary disputes, and life on the frontier. He produced his prized ceremonial sword—the real thing, not a copy—with a blade made of Wilkinson steel. He said the blade could be bent double without breaking.


Stewart brought out a length of period-specific 3-strand hemp rope, and taught Ashley how to tie a bowline knot. Back on the boat that evening, Ashley practiced and practiced with a length of our own rope, until she could tie a bowline in five seconds. She showed her new skill to suitably impressed Stewart Goodin the next day.

We met Heather Kibbey, from Gig Harbor, Washington, who was spinning wool yarn on an 1880s spinning wheel. She showed Ashley how wool was carded, and explained the difference between woolen (coarser but warmer) and worsted (finer finish but not as warm). We met a school teacher from California, who showed Ashley how cedar shakes were split in the 1860s. Ashley got to split a few. We met a family from Olympia—I think it was Olympia—who demonstrated children’s toys from the period, including the Game of Graces, a wooden hoop launched in the air and caught with sticks.


A laundress showed Ashley about washtubs and washboards, lye soap that burned the hands, paddles for stirring the clothes, and a line for drying. I won’t say life was simpler 150 years ago, but I can say it was a lot more work.

For my part, I had a long conversation with “Leftenant” Col. Silas Casey, 9th Infantry, who told me about the replica 1860s field artillery howitzer sitting next to his tent. Col. Casey was Ken Morgan, an actual retired Lt. Colonel, U.S. Army. The howitzer was built on San Juan Island and is owned by “Battery D,” a group of volunteers on the island.

Everyone was in period dress; authenticity was paramount. The ladies were elegant in their hoop skirts, which made them seem to glide across the uneven ground.


The day ended with the Ball, held in the barracks building. Period dancing was to period music played on period instruments. American square dancing clearly has its roots in this dance. Groups of four sashayed around and back and forth with a hand-clap at the appropriate time, before separating to make new groups of four. It was a fine way for young men and young women to meet one another. I can imagine young eyes locking as their owners twirled and clapped, and the romances that ensued.

Ashley and I took part in the dancing, although I sort of stumbled around and finally got out of the way. Besides, the sun was low on the horizon and it was time to get back to the boat.

The bad luck that infected the first part of the cruise really did change with the new watch battery in Port Hardy. We’d had a terrific time.

Bob Hale

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