I was sitting in the cockpit with my coffee this morning enjoying the peaceful scene, listening to the forest birds and watching a Steller’s jay pecking at rock weed at the end of a log when I realized that Ron was patiently waiting for me to finish my quiet moment so he could get Snug underway. My cup was empty, so off we went, passing the watchful eagle and the otters splashing and snorting and jumping up the bank when we got too close for their comfort. We left Kitkatla Inlet through Kitkatla Channel and passed by Kitkatla village on Dolphin Island.
Kitkatla is an active community of about 400 people according to our sources, and one of the few village sites that have been continually occupied since before Europeans arrived on this coast. The dock is small and close up against a rock breakwater with little room to manuever and we had no reason to stop, so we carried on to our day’s destination in the Spicer Islands to the south.
No wind and no rain made a paddle around South Spicer Island a good goal—a distance of 4 nautical miles. A group of harlequin ducks was outside our anchorage and there were two pairs of eagles looking down on us at different points, one pair at least minding their nest. Hecate Strait was dead calm as we paddled the outside shore of the island. We looked across at Banks Island and wondered if we would ever make the jump from there to Haida Gwaii. Not this year. Back inside the channel that separates the bigger Spicer Island from South Spicer, four Pacific loons were swimming together. A mink swam across the bow of my kayak and disappeared into the forest. A sailboat came into the anchorage as we were paddling back to Snug and continued around the point, finding its own little nook. This is the first pleasure boat we’ve seen for about a week.
June 29, 2014: Gas Boat Cove, Kitkatla Inlet, Porcher Island
We woke this morning to light wind and misty rain; the clouds were hanging over the land and we couldn’t see far. The tide was low so we got suited up and rowed over to where Ron had seen the sandhill cranes yesterday morning. They were down on the lagoon but moving toward their nest when, using our best stealth strategies, we approached and peered through our binoculars. They are very well camouflaged, and that, combined with the moisture in the air, made them difficult to see.
We decided to move across Kitkatla Inlet for a change of scene and to run the engine to charge the batteries. It doesn’t look like we’re going to get much from the solar panels today! Ron dropped the hook in Billy Bay and launched the kayaks for a paddle up the Billy Creek estuary. We put on our waterproof jackets and big brimmed hats in anticipation of the rain we knew was coming. The tide was still low but rising, and the creek was running out of the estuary. We kept grounding the kayaks, waiting a few minutes and then getting lifted over the rocks. I heard a peeping noise during one of those breaks in our progress and looked around—there was a group of sandpipers not much more than a paddle’s length away. They were busy pecking at the waterline and talking to one another and not paying me any attention at all. A pair of mule deer came down the estuary towards us, finally noticed our presence, stopped for a good look, then bounded away across the mud flats and into the forest. There was evidence of long abandoned human activity along both shorelines. Rick says he knew someone who lived there and had some method rigged up of heating the water for his waterbed.
There was another cove just to the east of Billy Bay that the author of one the guide books we’re consulting said he preferred because it was “more intimate.” We decided to go around and check it out and dropped anchor again for the night. It was peaceful and wind free—a lovely change from the last few days. A common loon was catching fish just ahead of Snug and a gang of river otters swam across her bow and scrambled up the shore. When we entered this cove, I couldn’t see the eagle—there’s always an eagle—and was missing the family we had been watching off Phoenix Creek. No sooner had I mentioned the lack of eagle company, than one called and announced that he was over here. I just hadn’t been looking close enough.
June 28, 2014: Phoenix Creek, Kitlakla Inlet, Porcher Island
Ron went ashore early this morning when the tide was low to photograph the fish weir, and then went around the point into the lagoon to check for the sandhill crane. He could hardly believe his eyes when he spotted not only two adult cranes, but two young ones foraging out on the dry lagoon.
We rowed back later so I could try to get a glimpse of the cranes, but they were nowhere in sight. The tide was covering most of their foraging territory so we figure we have to be there at lowest low tide to see them. We rowed across and found some shelter from the wind on one of the Phoenix Islands and poked around on shore with cameras in hand. The eagles kept us busy checking up on their whereabouts and the reasons for their conversations. We’ve spotted another pair flying together in close formation over the Phoenix Islands several times, but they’re mostly keeping out of our family’s nesting range.
We had some blue sky today and it blew all day—too much wind for a travelling day. I made good progress on the knitting project I’m working on and we spent some time trying to identify wild flower photos taken recently and last year.
June 27, 2014: Phoenix Creek, Kitkatla Inlet, Porcher Island
The tide was low this morning and we were preparing to row over and walk into the lagoon to try to spot the crane, when it came flying back across the bay, announcing itself with its unmistakable call. It landed on the shore where we had been walking yesterday and Ron rowed in to try to sneak up for a photo, but it flew again before he could get anywhere near close enough for a good shot.
We pulled up the anchor after breakfast and headed off to do a perimeter tour of Kitkatla Inlet, circumnavigating Gurd Island. Kitkatla is a large, horseshoe shaped inlet, wrapping around Gurd Island, with numerous reefs and islands along the shore. Part way up the north shore I spied two deer and three sandhill cranes grazing together on a grassy foreshore. Right at the head of the inlet in Serpentine Inlet, was a big raft of surf scoters and white-winged scoters. The rain started again as we were coming down the south coast and continued off and on for the rest of the afternoon and evening as we sat at anchor back in our snug anchorage behind the Phoenix Islands. Luckily we have books to read, knitting projects to work on, napping to do and card games to play, so it was all good.
We’ve been keeping tabs on the eagle family, watching them come and go, and twice heard the female on the nest (I’m making a gender assumption here) chittering and making alarm calls to her mate when she spotted another eagle in the vicinity. The male swooped in and chased the interloper away and all was calm again. At low tide, a stone fish weir is clearly visible at the mouth of Phoenix Creek and the eagles sit in the trees above, making us speculate about whether or not the weir traps food for them until we realized there is a breach in the weir.
Wildlife seen or heard in Kitkatla Inlet: sandhill cranes, Pacific wren, great blue heron, surf scoters, white-winged scoters, loons, marbled murrelets, Steller’s jay, crows, bald eagles, cormorants, seals, gulls, deer.
June 26, 2014: Phoenix Creek, Kitkatla Inlet, Porcher Island
The sun was rising over Porcher Island when we got underway at six this morning, with some fog in Edye Passage. Our intention was to skirt the west shore of the island and go back into Kitkatla Inlet via Freeman Passage 18 km to the south. A southeast wind was forecast to come up at noon and we wanted to get off Hecate Strait before then. All went according to plan and we had a great motor-sail in gentle swells all the way down Porcher Island. Freeman Passage is a bit of a rock pile, but we navigated through on a flood tide with no problems, crossed Kitkatla Inlet and dropped our anchor in behind the Phoenix Islands opposite Phoenix Creek. Much to our delight, there was an eagle nest across the harbour with two parents attending to at least one chick. We spent a lazy afternoon in the sunny cockpit and exploring the shorelines by dinghy. In the evening a sandhill crane came flying across the bay, squawking loudly, and disappeared into a lagoon beside our anchorage.
Sunshine! We had a perfectly lovely day today, beginning with a calm night and blue sky upon an early rising. Then a wonderful paddle out of Welcome Harbour, into Secret Cove and along the islets and islands to the north on the edge of Hecate Strait. This is the kind of paddling we love—through narrow guts between rocks, in and out of hidden bays, feeling the swell of the ocean under the kayaks. We nosed into a little beach on an outer island and clambered over the rocky shoreline thinking the beach combing might be more productive in this more isolated location. More plastic fishing floats. But a wonderful view over to Oval Bay and lots of bird activity in the forest. I spotted a hummingbird and a pair of cedar waxwings for sure, but couldn’t get a clear view of any others. I’d love to be able to ID birds by their songs—a goal I began to aspire to last year, but haven’t made much progress toward since.
After a lunch break aboard Snug, we walked the trail to Secret Cove, which although no longer being maintained is still passable, but decided against sliding down the cliff to the beach in the cove. The forest was worth the walk though—some huge trees and a great variety of plant life. We found some abalone and moon snail shells under a tree well into the forest and wondered what critter had brought them all that way for dinner. It was such a beautiful, calm evening that we got back into the kayaks after dinner and paddled out into Welcome Harbour to poke around the islets and reefs close to our anchorage.
Having had little sleep last night due to noises caused by strong, gusting winds, we slept in (well, I did, anyway) and got a late start today. Eventually we launched the kayaks and paddled through a gut to where there is a trail to Oval Bay on the outside of Porcher Island. Someone is constructing board walks along the trail and it was easy going. Oval Bay is a long crescent beach (3 miles), mostly gravel, open to Hecate Strait. Rick says that when he worked out of Rupert (early 80s?), he and Kerry walked that beach and found so many glass fishing floats they couldn’t carry them all. That was then; when we got over there, the high tide mark was littered with nothing but plastic—fishing floats, water bottles, flip flops and sundry other paraphernalia. We did see some evidence of Japanese origin, but not the quantity of stuff that is being reported in some places due to the 2011 tsunami.
After dinner we rowed to a nearby beach to investigate a trail to Secret Cove on the outside of Porcher. The guide books say there is a forestry campsite there and two mooring buoys in the bay. Old news—the mooring buoys are gone and the signage at the campsite has been removed. We decided to leave the trail walk till tomorrow. Back on the beach, we tried not to scare off a Greater Yellowlegs stepping along the waterline, and to beat the rain that started up again as we were climbing back into the dinghy. Ron decided to move Snug over to the beach for a change of scene and to put us closer to the trail walk.
Chatham Sound was completely different when we left Rupert this morning—no wind, no waves. We fuelled up and ran down to have a look at the moorage facility at Rushbrooke (another dock a few minutes walk from town) for future reference, then out of Prince Rupert Harbour and over to Porcher Island. Conditions were great to have a tour of the north coast of Porcher, so we circled in and out of Humpback Bay, the site of an old fish cannery, and Hunt Bay where there were a number of homes, but only one with smoke coming out of the chimney, then down Edye Passage and into Welcome Harbour. Welcome Harbour is large, with numerous reefs, islets and islands (over 100 says one of our guide books)—lots of kayak exploring potential! By the time we got the hook down at 5:30 it was raining again and the wind was building. We spent the evening inside the boat looking out at less than conducive-for-exploring conditions—way too much wind and rain for paddling or rowing. Thank goodness for Snug’s pilot house! At 10:30 it was still light and the rain had stopped so we bundled up and sat in the cockpit watching the day fade. Wildlife seen today: seals, harbour porpoise, harlequin ducks, heron and eagles (of course).
We had another town day today, grocery shopping—to stock up on fresh fruit and veg, mostly—and more walking and exploring. The rain wasn’t quite as persistent as yesterday so we took a camera with us this time. There is a beautiful little sunken garden behind City Hall, very nicely maintained and in full bloom. When we passed through yesterday, a wedding party was there—the garden provides a lovely backdrop for photos of a special day but those girls must have been chilly!
I found a little yarn shop yesterday in the lobby of a backpackers hostel, with a small selection of good quality yarn. I was being sensible at the time but later decided I really should pick up some yarn to knit a souvenir of Prince Rupert, despite the quantity of stash aboard. I was thinking a skein of something luxurious for a little scarf or cowl in shades of grey to remind me of our time here. Unfortunately the shop was closed when we got there today.
We spent the day dodging rain showers, exploring and doing chores (Ron replaced the sounder that had quit working much to his satisfaction). We visited the excellent Museum of Northern BC—an impressive big house overlooking the harbour with lots of First Nations artifacts and cultural information.
There is also a curious little boat—the Kaza Maru—with an interesting story on display in the waterfront park . A Japanese fisherman went out fishing for the day in September 1985 and never returned. In March 1987 an overturned boat was found adrift off the coast of Haida Gwaii. It was towed into Prince Rupert to be identified, and the connection was made to the missing Japanese fisherman. People in Prince Rupert restored the boat and put it on display as a memorial to all those who have lost their lives at sea.
The wind is still strong in this area and the yacht club visitors remain tied up until it settles down. We expect to leave here tomorrow and find shelter in an anchorage across the harbour before heading out to explore Porcher Island on Tuesday.