Monday, June 26, 2006

British Columbia and Home Again

The first leg of our voyage home from Nanaimo was about as short as they come.  We motored out of the marina and across the bay to the anchorage between Newcastle and Protection Island.  This took barely half an hour.


Once the anchor was down and set we hopped in the dinghy and motored to the park dock on Newcastle Island.  It has several “super-highway” trails and we took a route that just stopped short of circling the island.  We took a cross-island trail that goes past the beautiful Mallard Lake with all its snags and lilypads.


For lunch we took the dinghy over to the famous Dinghy Dock Pub on Protection Island.  The restaurant is surrounded by several mooring slips and docks capable of handling much larger vessels than dinghies.  We sat outdoors in sunshine and had the special of the day a Chicken Melt sandwich on garlic bread.  Yum!


After a calm night at anchor it was time to start heading south.  We timed our departure from the anchorage so as to arrive at Dodd Narrows at the end of the morning ebb tide.  Mudge Island comes extremely close to being connected to the much larger Vancouver Island, just leaving a tiny slot, Dodd Narrows, through which gazillions of gallons of water must pass.  Currents can reach 12 knots.  Kavenga’s top-top speed is 8 knots.  Do the math.  Even in currents of 4 knots it can be difficult to maintain steerage of a small vessel due to the eddies and whirlpools caused by the mixing currents.


We could tell we must be approaching at about the right time because we found ourselves in a column of about nine boats proceeding toward the narrows including two of our Dockwise companions, the sailing vessels Chaitanya and Alaya.  Sure enough, when we arrived at the narrows, the ebb current was down to about 1 knot and we passed through without incident.  Fortunately there was only one boat coming in the opposite direction.  Dodd Narrows IS narrow and not a good place for a lot of boats to be passing each other going in opposite directions.


Our destination for the day was Pirate’s Cove on DeCourcy Island.  We arrived there in less than two hours after passing through Dodd Narrows.  It was still near low tide at the time of our entrance through the very constricted pass leading into the sheltered anchorage.  At one point our depthsounder read something like 2.7 feet.  Our depthsounder, because of its position below the waterline will normally read 3.2 feet if we are sitting on the bottom.  We were seeing a lot of seaweed rising up from the bottom and so we surmise that was causing the impossibly shallow readings.  We were however, very close to going aground.


We anchored in the middle of the small cove in about 13 feet of water on short scope (minimal amount of chain let out).  The cove is a very pretty place.  Unfortunately, a private marina was built a few years back that cuts down on the amount of scarce anchoring space.  Still, there is a very pretty marine park that surrounds most of the cove.  One of the other Dockwise boats, Chaitanya, a Tayana 37, followed us in and anchored at the far end of the cove with a stern line taken to shore.  Our friends Vince and Jan on Alaya were in a hurry to get down to Bainbridge Island and so continued on to Roche Harbor in the San Juan Islands on the US side of the border.  We had plenty of time for a leisurely hike around the cove.


We got underway early the next morning so that we had a 5-foot higher tide going out of the shallow channel.  Our destination about three hours distant was Ladysmith Harbor.  Along the way we spotted a sailboat high aground on the aptly named and well-marked Danger Reef.  You would think people would give such a place a wide berth.  Fortunately for them the water was flat calm so little danger of being bounced on the rocks as they waited for the tide to finish going out and come back in.


The government wharf in Ladysmith Harbor was nearly full when we arrived but luckily there was one spot just big enough for us at the outer end of the middle dock.  This would also make it easy for us to get out in the morning as the many fishing boats rafted together made maneuvering further in somewhat difficult.


We were kind of interested in Ladysmith because the man who built Kavenga supposedly lives there.  We asked around about a Chinese man with a boatyard that built the Lord Nelson sailboats and tugs, but no one seemed to be aware of him, even when we asked at the local maritime society boatworks.  Despite advice to the contrary we did in fact find a small movie theater.  They only had one screen so by default we watched the latest X-Men movie.  Not too bad, actually.


We had had contact via Ham radio the day before with our old friends Randy and Sharon on Blue Heron.  They were also cruising in British Columbia but way up north of Vancouver Island.  They had suggested that we should visit the nearby town of Chemainus.  It has a very small marina that is often full to the brim so we opted to catch a Greyhound bus for the 10-mile drive.


Chemainus is a town that re-invented itself after its major employer, a sawmill, closed.  They decided to take a stab at the tourism industry and hit upon the idea of having huge murals painted on the sides of the town’s buildings to depict the region’s history.  It has worked.  There are now all kinds of shops, cafés, restaurants, etc. catering to the many people that come to take the tour of the numbered murals.  You can walk the route, take a tractor-drawn trolley, or ride in a horse carriage.  We did both the walk and the trolley.  We did the trolley because it comes with a guide that explains more about what you are seeing.  It’s a delightful little town, one that we would recommend to anyone visiting Vancouver Island.  Now we can say “Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.”


Enroute to Montague Harbor on Galliano Island the next morning we saw a familiar boat converging with us as we approached Houston Passage.  A call on the VHF radio confirmed that it was our new friends Ian and Heidi on Chaitanya.  They were headed for Ganges Harbor, our planned destination for the next day.


Montague Harbor is the second most popular anchorage in British Columbia behind Prideaux Haven in Desolation Sound.  It is a huge anchorage and could easily accommodate over 100 boats at anchor.  We anchored at the southeast end and went ashore for a brief visit to the local marina store.


Not having any of our northwest cruising guides aboard left us at a bit of a disadvantage at times, like when we first arrived at Ganges Harbor the next day.  We passed by the first marina, rather a long way out of town and clearly a private marina, and entered the first government marina near Grace Point.  Due to the rock breakwater we couldn’t see anything from the outside but once we got inside we could see that it was chock full and there was very little maneuvering room in deep water.  The wind played havoc with our steering for a bit, but we managed to back and fill with the engine and rudder until we got Kavenga headed back out into the harbor.


We rounded Grace Point and headed for a large marina dead ahead that appeared to have lots of empty slips.  As we pulled into one of them we were greeted by Ian of Chaitanya.  He informed us he had been there for a day but was thinking of moving due to the expense--$1.45 per foot per day.  Yikes.  Hadn’t seen prices like that since Cabo San Lucas.  We took Ian’s advice and moved to another government dock just across the way for the half the price.  However, our moving around wasn’t quite over yet.  When we went to the harbormaster’s office we learned that there was to be a Classic Workboat Show the next day and if we wanted to stay more than one night we would have to move to a different dock.  So it was back down to the boat and one last quick move to another dock within the same marina.  Chaitanya had moved over while we were at the office and we pulled into the space right behind them.


Ganges Harbor is another quaint island tourist town, with the obligatory gift shops, cafés and restaurants and this case bookstores—at least four of them.  We checked out all of them.


We had lunch both days at the same place, the Treehouse Café near the head of the dock—a unique setting and good food.  It must get interesting when it rains though because all but two of the tables are outside under a spreading tree.  They had lots of table umbrellas and awnings but there must still be a lot of dripping in between when the inevitable rains come.


Before we left Ganges the next morning we took the time to check out the Saturday Farmer’s Market, which is really more of an arts and crafts market.  We used this opportunity to dispose of the remainder of our Canadian currency, buying some Tiger Lillies and some great, huge cookies.


Irish Bay on Samuel Island was to be our last stop in Canadian waters.  Chaitanya followed us out as we departed the Kanaka government wharf but they were bound for Bedwell Harbor on Pender Island.  As we had had every day thus far, we encountered cool southeasterly winds right in our face.  We could have tacked our way under sail to Irish Bay but the 60-degree air was not enticing to people who had just recently come from 95-degree weather in Mexico.  So we motored to Irish Bay, arriving there a little after noon and found that we had it all to ourselves.  That doesn’t happen very often these days in the more popular cruising locales.


The most memorable thing about Irish Bay, apart from being the only boat at anchor, was the eagles.  It must have been a family, because at one point we saw at least seven Bald Eagles soaring together above the trees on rocky Samuel Island.  They were all screeching back and forth to each other as they slowly wheeled around in the sky, hardly ever flapping their huge wings.


From Irish Bay it is a very short distance to Boundary Pass and the dividing line between US and Canadian waters.  According to our GPS,  Kavenga returned to the US at 9:42AM on Sunday, June 18.  This day we had virtually no wind and a perfectly smooth sea as we motored toward Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.


Once again we were welcomed into port by the crew of Chaitanya.  They had arrived at the US Customs dock about an hour ahead of us.  We had forgotten some of the cruiser rules about going back and forth to Canada and had neglected to consume certain types of food.  Consequently we had to give up some great Canadian beef and eggs.  But other than that, our official clearance back into US waters went smoothly.


We found the movie theater up the hill in Friday Harbor still in operation, now with TWO screens.  We opted to see The Lake House rather than the animated film, Cars.  Sandra Bulloch and Keanu Reeves were good together and the movie was enjoyable as long as you resisted the temptation of thinking about the logic of it.


Our departure the next morning was once again dictated by the currents through a narrow pass, this time it was Middle Passage in San Juan channel off Cattle Point.  We didn’t time this one quite as well and had to fight a 3-4 knot current for about a half an hour.


Once again we were treated to the sight of a large group of Bald Eagles, this time sitting on the beach and structures of Minor Island at the east end of the Straits of Juan de Fuca.  Obviously, the Bald Eagle population has rebounded quite nicely over the last 20 or so years.  They are now a common sight in Puget Sound.  Keep your Chihuahuas on a short leash!


Our last two stops before our home port of Gig Harbor were two of the same ones we had stopped at on our way to California and Mexico in 2004.  We again spent a night at Boathaven Marina in Port Townsend and one night at the park marina on Blake Island.  Steve stocked up on used books about early US Presidents at one of the local used bookstores in Port Townsend.  We enjoyed a snooze on the beach and a short hike around the island at Blake.  And of course we had raccoon tracks on the boat when we got up the next morning.


At 11:40 AM Wednesday June 21, Kavenga entered her home port of Gig Harbor after the 14-mile run from Blake Island through Colvos Passage.  Out on their waterfront lawn to greet us at the entrance were our friends Chris and Nancy Burnard.  As usual this time of year, there were lots of boats coming and going that we had to watch out for as we went through the steps required to raise the bowsprit before entering the marina.


At 11:55 AM Kavenga was moored starboard side to slip C-8, Murphy’s Landing Marina.


Home, safe and sound.


There will be at least one more episode/epilogue about the voyage.  Stay tuned.


Thanks for coming along




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