We’ve spent the last two days hanging out in Freshwater Bay, just paddling in the afternoon in the waters close by. Yesterday we went into the channel between Swanson Island and the next island to the south.There are some little islets in the channel and the water is shallow between them, so good viewing of fish schooling in the kelp forests and urchins on the sea floor. Today we went up the outside of Swanson, hoping orca would come down from Bold Head (we’d heard reports that they were up there) but no luck on that front. There are lots of orca around, but none have ventured close to where we’re anchored. Yesterday a humpback was whacking his tale on the water repeatedly—like about twenty times—on the other side of Blackfish Sound and we’ve heard breaches in the distance. The humpback came back into Freshwater Bay again last night after dark, circled around and out again. We’re really enjoying being here, listening to the whale watch boats and the fishermen on the radio, and watching all the traffic on Blackfish Sound. The air feels fresh and clean and the temperature is lovely—not cold, but not too hot.
Yesterday two women came into Freshwater Bay in a little boat, landed on the beach and offloaded a bunch of gear, including a weed whacker—yikes, our favourite anchorage is being invaded! Ron went in to find out what’s up and found out that one of them has leased the property and is hoping to develop on a small scale, renting out the existing tent platforms on the property to kayakers and developing a garden at the old homestead site. We both went in again this morning and had a yarn with them (I’m reading Upcoast Summers which is a collection of journal entries written by Francis Barrow during cruises he and his wife made from 1933 to 1941. He’s always having a yarn with people who live up the coast, and I like that term!). Anyway, her plans seem quite vague at this point, so we’ll see how things progress. There’s no house here at the moment, so I’m not sure where she’s planning to live. Now that we’ve had a visit with her we’ll probably feel OK about anchoring here even if she is here.
We jumped out of bed early this morning to scoop the bicycles with the carrier baskets so we could get our groceries from the Co-op Store in town to the boat basin—our list was too long to carry everything, we were pretty sure. There are about five coaster bikes at the harbour office, but only two with baskets, and they’re well used by boaters. Because we were so eager to get to the bicycles first, we were at the Co-op long before it opened at 9:30. Luckily the bakery across the street is open at 7:00, and serves coffee and cinnamon buns. Even after that little breakfast, we still had time to kill so we set off down Kaleva Road which carries on where 1st Street ends and runs right along the waterfront for quite a distance. It’s a lovely ride—the road is flat and passes by some old farms and through some forested land and you can see Cormorant Channel most of the way.
Back at the Co-op, we really loaded up the bike baskets with groceries and managed to get back to the harbour without tipping over and spilling everything. Then we cast off and motored down the length of Malcolm Island. A nice wind came up and we shut down the engine and sailed across Blackfish Sound to Freshwater Bay at the bottom of Swanson Island. Ron trailed a fishing line, and low and behold, we caught a fish! The whale watch boats were talking on the radio about orca in Johnstone Strait and humpbacks here and there, but we just saw a blow in the distance and weren’t feeling like changing course to go searching.
After anchoring, we were being lazy in the cockpit, watching the cruise ships stream by (is three a stream?) and the eagles wheeling overhead when I noticed a deer browsing along the side of the bay. Then Ron noticed two fawns had stepped onto the beach at the head of the bay. Mama was working her way around the shoreline toward the beach, sometimes disappearing into the trees and reappearing a little further along. One of the fawns lay down on the beach and the other was up in the grassy area above when suddenly a raven swooped down, right at the resting fawn. She screamed and jumped up and both the babies went bounding across the beach to where Mama came rushing out in alarm. Drama! I didn’t know deer made noises like that!
Just as we were sitting in the dark, working on posting this, we heard a loud sound and went outside to see a humpback blow close behind Snug’s stern. It had come right into Freshwater Bay and was circling out again. More excitement!
Having been tourists yesterday, it was work today. I packed up the laundry and my computer and headed up to the laundromat at the head of the dock to do double duty—I had some correspondence to catch up on and work to do on the magazine while minding the washers and dryers. Meanwhile, Ron changed the oil in the boat, vacuumed, and put water in our tanks. By the time all this was done and we’d had lunch it was mid afternoon. We put on our walking shoes again and walked up 2nd Street from this end, which climbs a hill and has a wonderful view over the water to McNeill. Then it was back to the boat for a beer and another burger from the Burger Barn, a take out place on the harbour parking lot. Then more walking to burn off all the calories from two days of indulgence.
There is lots of evidence in Sointula of a once thriving but much diminished fishing industry. Idle herring skiffs are pulled up onto the grass all along Rough Bay and old net sheds and boat houses, no longer maintained, are slowly falling down.
Today was another “change our minds in mid-stream” days—we had intended to carry on down the mainland coast to Eden Island where we really enjoyed paddling last year but it was foggy on that side of Queen Charlotte Strait and Malcolm Island looked clear. Our provisions were running low again, and sunshine and a trip to town sounded good, so the tiller was pushed hard over and we crossed the strait, rounded Pulteney Point and pulled into Sointula. The berth we occupied twice last year was waiting for us again—we felt quite at home as we tied Snug’s lines to the dock. Not feeling like diving into chores, we headed off for the mile walk down 1st Street to town to see what had changed. Not too much, as far as we could see, other than the Credit Union building had “This Location is Closed” signs posted and one of the restaurants that was operating last year was vacant. We stopped for ice cream at Deb’s Deli and carried on to the end of 1st Street where the cemetery is located and there’s a bench looking out to Haddington Island and Vancouver Island beyond. There’s also a well organized and productive community garden nearby which we had a little walk around, wondering if there would be any food waiting for us in our garden when we get home. We walked back to town via 2nd Street and sat on the pub’s waterfront deck for a beer before going back to Deb’s Deli for a salmon burger. Before settling down for the night we did another walk in the other direction along 1st Street which circles around Rough Bay. Lots of walking today!
We scooted down the mainland coast with a headsail pulled out to take advantage of a westerly wind and were turning into Blunden Harbour by mid day. After lunch we paddled the eastern side of the big harbour and a peaceful inner cove that dries at low water. By the time we made our turn, the wind had picked up considerably and we had to work hard to get back to Snug.
It was so foggy at 7:00 this morning that we couldn’t see the other side of Smith Sound. Definitely a day for radar. The fog lifted slightly and then dropped back down all morning and we could just barely see the top of Cape Caution as we rounded into Queen Charlotte Strait. The Coast Guard Radio would have described the sea conditions as “wave height 0.0 metres with a low westerly swell”—quite pleasant, other than not being able to see anything. We did spot some sea otters in the mist before we were out of Smith Sound and lots of birds out on the open water. The sky overhead cleared as we ran down the mainland coast below Caution but the fog was hanging over the land in the distance. The swells increased in size and big rollers were lifting Snug’s stern and sending her swooshing down the waves. We were heading for the lovely little sandy beach at Shelter Bay but changed our minds as we passed the group of islands just above Shelter Bay—the paddling possibilities looked more interesting so we pulled in behind Arm Island and dropped the anchor in a protected inlet there. We were soon in the kayaks, exploring the channels among the many small islands and reefs and then going outside to ride the big swells on the edge of Queen Charlotte Strait as we completed a circular route to return to Snug.
We ran down to the mouth of Rivers Inlet and out onto open water to get around into Smith Sound under clear skies. Conditions were moderate, with swells rolling in and some breeze keeping the main full. We spotted a blow on the north end of False Egg Island, close to where we saw a grey whale feeding last year. It disappeared around the west side of the island and I kept watch to see if I could pick it up again as we passed the south end. When we were opposite the bottom of the island, I was watching with the binoculars and could see three high blows and then a tail. I couldn’t tell if they were greys or humpbacks at that distance and there was too much lumpy sea action to go out and investigate.
We anchored in Dsulish Bay in Smith Sound between a small island and a sandy beach, not sure if this was a lunch stop or our overnight anchorage. With light winds and a prediction to go even lighter, this quite open anchorage seemed fine—a bit of a swell was rolling in but not enough to be a problem. And we had a beautiful view across Smith Sound. We rowed ashore to walk the beach, looking for treasures and evidence of animals. There were some old prints but they were so faded we couldn’t be sure what critter had made them. The sand was reddish brown and we wondered if it was dyed by the brown water coming off the land. Huge, bleached logs lined the high tide line. The sun was shining and the deep, soft sand at the top of the beach burnt our feet, making us retreat to the waterline to cool them off. We sat on the sand for awhile, too lazy to launch the kayaks to explore the adjacent beaches.
Today we ran up to the head of Rivers Inlet where we’ve never been before, hugging the shore and scanning for the non-existent bears. We did see a humpback though, which we weren’t expecting. We also saw evidence of some of the eighteen fish canneries that operated here from the 1800s into the first half of the twentieth century. What a different place it must have been then—bustling with cannery and logging activity. There was a seasonal hospital in the summer months too, and with everyone moving around by boat it would have been busy with traffic. Now, old pilings and abandoned equipment rusting on the beaches are all that’s left of the commercial fish industry at most of the sites. There is a village at the head of Rivers Inlet, just out of sight up the Wannock River, inhabited by descendants of people who have lived here for 10,000 years. A few other people still live scattered along the shoreline and in the summer, several fishing resorts come alive with sports fishermen.
We dropped anchor in Kilbella Bay to paddle the river estuary. It is a wide estuary, formed by the Kilbella and Chuckwalla Rivers which converge before emptying into the inlet. It’s quite an amazing place—narrow channels winding through islands of grasses and wild flowers like a maze. Lots of bird activity—swallows swooping around, well fed no doubt, geese honking their annoyance with our presence, placid herons, chattering kingfishers and unidentified song birds. We paddled up a main channel lined with old pilings and kept going and going inland until the waterway narrowed and we were finally stopped by a windfall across the channel. When we entered we were wondering about the possibility of seeing bears, but by the time we got to our turning point, in murky water closely lined with ancient mossed covered trees and huge devils club leaves, my thoughts had turned to crocodiles and alligators!
Underway again and heading back down the inlet to our more protected evening destination in Sandell Bay, we were startled by the humpback surfacing quite close to Snug, rising out of the water with its mouth gaping, obviously feeding. We slowed to watch as he came up again and again, working close to the shoreline, turning and going back up the shore again—quite a spectacle!
It is very beautiful here—the inlet isn’t as narrow as those we travelled further north in Fiordland last year, but the mountains are high and snow capped, and waterfalls run down sheer rock faces to the sea.
Ron spotted two blows ahead when we were heading down Kwakshua Channel out of Pruth Bay this morning. He slowed down and kept watch, but when we saw them again the whales were far behind us. They must have been doing long dives and we went right past without seeing them. It was flat calm when we got out onto Fitz Hugh Channel but it was so grey and misty that even if there were whales around we probably wouldn’t have noticed the blows. I stood in the cockpit in the rain in my wet gear when we ran up Darby Channel and watched the shores slide by on either side. There is much less grey in the forest here—not as many standing dead trees. When we got into Dawsons Landing, White Raven was there getting fuel, and about six boats were tied up. We had a quick chat with Bonnie and Doug before they headed off to Fury Cove to be set up to round Cape Caution when the winds go light. We bought some groceries and used the showers and spent a quiet evening at the dock.
We eased out of the narrow entrance to Fish Trap Cove this morning when the tide was high enough to give our keel some clearance. Our intention was to get across Hakai Pass travelling west of all the islands below Hunter Island, and into Pruth Bay. Once out on open water, however, the swells were so big we opted to turn into Nalau Passage between Hunter and Sterling Islands and take the more protected route to the north and east of Sterling Island to minimize the time spent in the rollers. The change in sea conditions was amazing—as soon as we were in Nalau the sea flattened out and we were in completely calm water again until we spilled out into Hakai where we were back in huge ocean swells. The wind was light and the distance short, and we were across Hakai in no time.
Once settled in Pruth, we put on our rain gear and hiking boots and headed off to walk to North Beach, since we hadn’t done that hike on our way up the coast. It was misty and grey on West Beach, beautiful and green on the forest trail, and misty and grey again on North Beach. We found several patches of the beautiful blue King Gentian alongside the pond that’s at the midpoint of the trail to North Beach. It was raining again by the time we got back to Snug.