August 24, 2014

Haida Gwaii

The Log of Jenny Wren

July 21, 2014    Monday
Fixed departure dates create a life of their own.  Our date was set months previous. Carolyn and I have a lot of work related projects to try to wrap up. As the date gets closer, the pressure begins to build. Complicated, conflicting schedules.  Very long days. Compromises. My intent is not to bore the reader with these details. The culmination of the months of effort is that late in the afternoon of the 21st,
we arrive at the marina with the back of the pickup completely filled with 2 months worth of stuff. Food, gear, clothes. Books, musical instruments, computers, Percy the cat. And two frazzled crew. Our goal is to get it all aboard and leave before dark.

A more rational approach would be to postpone leaving the dock and to spend the following day sorting, organizing, stowing. At 42', Jenny Wren can absorb quite a volume of stuff and that she did as we brought down cart load after cart load. But it wasn't pretty. No matter. We topped off the water tanks and we're underway. Before dark.

Layers of stress drop away as we cover the 10 miles to Stewart Island, our first anchorage.

July 22, 2014    Tuesday
With a full day ahead of us, we have an early start and clear Canadian customs at 0815. Without delay, we're underway, guardedly optimistic that we can reach Dodd Narrows, outside of Nanaimo in time for the late afternoon slack tide transit. With favorable currents and a nice boost from the Southerly wind, the miles click by, and have our blinders on, ignoring the Sirenes  beckoning to us from some of our favorite anchorages in the Gulf Islands. Arriving at the fairly full anchorage at Newcastle Island, we manage to have Jenny Wren end up in a pretty good spot after getting the anchor set with quite a bit of chain in the stiff South wind. We sit there for a bit to make sure that we are not dragging and then we load up the dinghy for our trip across the channel to Nanaimo for groceries - primarily produce which we cannot bring into Canada. As we're headed across, I see a steel sailboat come in and anchor right on top of Jenny Wren, just up wind. Given the amount of chain that we have out, I know that this is going to be a complication, if not in the middle of the night, certainly early in the morning when we raise the anchor.

July 23, 2014    Wednesday
We are underway at first light. Conditions are flat calm, which is good because as the windlass pulls in the anchor chain, Jenny Wren is predictably pulled right up to the steel sailboat and is about to nudge her. The thought of having to knock on the hull to awaken the skipper and to have him move his boat so that we can continue to raise our anchor presents a complication to our morning. However, at the last moment our chain redirects Jenny Wren alongside the steel boat and we are able to finish raising the anchor, letting him continue his sleep, undisturbed. Anchor stowed, we're underway, excited about our second day of large northerly gains. We set a course that will take us the full length of Georgia Strait to Campbell River.

The late afternoon forecast brings a new twist. A high wind warning for tonight will change the complexion of the 15-20 knot Southerly that we have enjoyed all day.
Additionally, the timing of slack current for our transit of Seymour Narrows in Discovery Passage the next day is not great. Plan B is to go on the inside, which will mean having to time 3 sets of rapids which we will encounter on this route, but the timing of everything, coupled with the currents for the day, and the enjoyment factor of the inside versus Discovery make this the better choice. (Sharing Discovery Passage with the busy shipping and its strong current in tomorrow's forecast fog and wind sounded stressful). Using the current tables and charts, Carolyn crunches the numbers and we have a new plan: go up the inside.

The late afternoon sky is reflecting nature's beauty and power at the same time. We press on, hoping to arrive at Rebecca Spit before the high wind and failing light. And we do, but it's a full house. (Welcome to Desolation Sound!) Reasonable anchoring depths are held close to the spit and we head on through the boats, but I see no open spots and we continue on. I'm nervous and I also sense Carolyn's frustration in not anchoring between those 2 boats, or how about those 2? But no, I'm thinking high wind warning and the need for room. We proceed down the line of anchored boats and end up at a point where the spit becomes very low and skinny - not much to protect us from miles of open fetch in the Strait of Georgia. An observation that Carolyn points out.  We get the anchor set and settle in and get ready for what comes next.

July 24, 2014    Thursday
Seconds after Jenny Wren is heeled over by the first blast of wind, the dragging anchor alarm on the GPS goes off. Action stations! I had just fallen asleep for the night, but now I'm up and doing about 6 things at once, like getting dressed, starter battery switch, and throwing on some rain gear because it is coming down in buckets. Horizontally.  Emerging from the cockpit into the inky black night , I'm immediately disoriented by the location of the anchor lights of the other boats. Meanwhile, I'm starting the engine, but I can't even hear it crank because of the wind and driving rain. Only when I see the RPMs jump do I know that it is running. Focusing back on those anchor lights I realize that the wind had shifted from earlier in the evening  and that is why nothing is making any sense now. And that probably explains the anchor alarm, as well. The boat has swung around, but the anchor is not necessarily dragging. But in these gusts, how could it not be? Wind speed gauge is showing well over 30. It is high tide and there is not much of the Spit between us and Georgia Strait. But things do not seem to be going well further out on the spit, either. Even though there are more trees and more protection, boats are dragging and running lights and spotlight beams are now coming on as people try to sort things out. Our situation does not now appear so dire. The wind is blowing us away from the spit, out into deeper water. The anchor seems to be holding, benefiting from the 75' of extra chain that I've let out.  We are still a safe distance from our neighbor. Carolyn comes up to take a watch, engine idling in forward, helping to ease the strain on our tenuous anchor hold, keeping a careful eye on our GPS coordinates, and I go below to dry off, warm up, have a snack, and rest. It's 0230. It takes nearly another hour for the wind to begin to drop enough so that we can shut down the heroics and climb into our warm, dry berth.  And sleep.

But there is not much rest for the weary as a first light departure is necessary if we are to follow Carolyn's calculations to arrive a Surge Narrows in time for the required slack water transit. We get there with 20 minutes to spare, wait for a bit and then head into the last of the flood before slack and through the Narrows. Even this close to slack, the narrows resemble a river with whirlpools and standing waves. Jenny Wren slews around one direction or another, but powers through with no problem. Part way through we meet the first of a line of boats coming the other direction. Close quarter smiles and waves all around as we pass.

We beeline to the Octopus Islands to find a sunny stretch of shoreline to anchor and  nap in the cockpit, trying to catch up from our wild night and early morning. And to await the slack  at the next rapids later in the afternoon.


July 25, 2014     Friday
After relishing a full night of restful sleep in the refreshingly empty and secure anchorage of Granite Bay we are are underway at first light to begin the long haul of 50 some miles up Johnston Strait. However, first light is shrouded in a very damp and thick fog. With no visibility, we are completely dependent on radar and AIS to 'see' other boats and GPS to show us where to go. One of my pre-departure tasks is to layout our planned day's route from our starting point to the most likely anchorage that Carolyn has decided upon based on her research of the several sources that we have available to us as well as studying the chart. Armed with this technology, we set off into the fog with confidence, our only regret is the scenery that we miss seeing.

On these long days of long stretches where we are covering mile after mile, we usually employ one hour watches, giving the person who is off watch an hour to do other things, uninterrupted. What this means is that the person who is on watch is basically single-handing the boat and dealing with everything that comes up including navigation, other vessel traffic, sail handling, etc. At 42', Jenny Wren is a handful, but in most conditions and situations one person can take care of everything..if all of the steps are taken in the proper order. And it does help knowing that a sharp whistle from the helm will bring the other crew instantly scurrying from down below, whether it be to help with the jib, preparing  for a tricky jibe, or to look at the whales.

During my time off-watch, I enjoy reading, catching up on the log, or taking a nap. Or working on the list of boat projects. Similarity so for Carolyn, in addition to working on her music. While at the helm, (which for significant parts of this trip involves actual steering because of autopilot problems) I like to read. The Kindle mounts quite well right above the chartplotter (which is the GPS display, an electronic chart), allowing me to have hands-free reading and keeps my focus close to the compass, the chart, and the view forward.

(If I were to make a list of what gear worked on this trip, and what didn't, I'd have to give the Kindle very high marks. Packed with the equivalent of a large box of books, it uses virtually no energy - far, far less than the iPad. The Paperwhite model is perfectly readable in bright sunlight, requires no additional lighting for nighttime reading, and is very light weight so that it doesn't hurt like the iPad does when my grip goes slack and it comes down onto my face when I fall asleep while reading. More gear reviews at a later time.)

But while I've regressed, the morning fog has cleared and the beauty of Johnston Strait has opened up for us to see. Tall, tree covered slopes coming down to the water on both sides. The Strait itself is consistently 1 mile wide and goes on mile after mile between the mainland of British Columbia and the top of Vancouver Island. We see few other boats. The other thing that we are not seeing today is the typical summer weather pattern which involves a strong Westerly which kicks up in the afternoon, creating a nasty chop when blowing against the ebb tide. We are most fortunate to have a strong Easterly: Jenny Wren surging along behind her big jib, eating up the miles, while we enjoy the sunshine in the cockpit for this day of downwind sailing.

Johnston Strait ends and the waters open up into Queen Charlotte Sound. This is where Alert Bay is located, a place that I've always wanted to see. I can tell as we follow the edge of town along the shore on our way to the anchorage that I will probably not be disappointed. It has an undeveloped, but fully functional small fishing town feeling and many of the residents are Indians. Tourism is on the back burner. From the water we can see the many totem poles in the cemetery.

Showers, dinner out, garbage disposal - but no fuel dock in Alert Bay. And a most pleasant walk up and down the main street. Fell asleep feeling as though we've left the southern Straits behind and have moved North.


July 26, 2014    Saturday
From my writer's perspective today began rich with an unfolding morning of images, faces, stories, and subject. And from there moved right into an area that is so profound, complex, and deep that it defies any chance that I might have to try to properly convey it in the brief overview of this log.

First things first. Our plan for the morning was to go to the Museum before heading out. Instead of the marina that we took the dinghy into last night for showers on our trip into town, today we go into the docks further to the North, just below the museum - docks that are in a much greater state of disrepair, home to the town's couple of dozen boats that make up the fishing fleet. We tie up there and take a few photographs while negotiating the missing planks. A welcoming wave from a man beckons us over to his boat where he is cleaning Silvers ( Coho salmon) from this morning's early trip out. With a laser sharp knife and no wasted moves he cleans a dozen fish while describing the canning process that his family employs to preserve the fish. Nothing is wasted, everything is eaten. To make his point, he describes how the head is eaten with his eyes closed. To illustrate his point, his eyes are not just closed, but closed so tightly that they could not be pried open. His face is frozen into a protective grimace. Nothing is wasted, he repeats.

No, he explains, it was not he who ventured out before the dawn to bring home this catch to his family, but his father. His father, who is also the Chief of these people in Alert Bay. His father, he motions, the man coming down the dock towards us.

And then we meet. This fisherman. This father. This Chief of these people. I don't know when I've last encountered a person with such dignity and stature gracing his persona. His easy smile is complimented by his immense inner strength and focus. He struck me as a man who I would be honored to have for my Chief.

Afterwards, Carolyn and I are heading up the ramp, reflecting  on this chance encounter on the docks. Down on the beach, we see an Indian family drying salmon over a small fire. It is not even 10:00, and the day is off to an amazing start.

Alert Bay and the surrounding area is the the home of the Namgis First Nation. Typical of the people up and down the coast, their culture flourished for thousands of years, only to be nearly erased by a couple of events over the short course of 75 years. The first occurred in the mid 1800s with the onslaught of smallpox, ravaging one village after the next. It spread with contact between the European trading ships and the people who had no developed immunity to the new diseases. Later, the disease was used as a weapon, spread by the trading of blankets that had been intentionally infected. Survivors had to regroup, abandoning their villages and consolidating their remaining numbers. The second event occurred in the early 1900s when authorities banned the potlatches, a key component of the culture that was a governing body and the means through which the religion and the oral history of the people were kept alive. In the attempt to eliminate the 'Indian  problem', as it was referred, all of the ceremonial objects such as masks, robes, and carvings were duly collected, stripped away from the people. Many of these items were taken to museums or ended up in the hands of private collectors.  An even greater travesty occurred as the children were forced into residential 'schools' where speaking their language was forbidden, their beliefs were  banned, and ties to their families and history were severed.

The U'Mista Cultural Center in Alert Bay is ironically located adjoining one of these residential schools, a large 2 story brick building, whispers of the nightmare past of the children spilling out through the broken glass. The cultural center itself is of a stunning design and houses many of the artifacts, finally returned to the people in the 1970s, decades after being taken. And thus the name - U'Mista - 'the return of something important'.  I am incorrect in referring to this building as a museum and it's contents as artifacts. In reality it fuels the spark of the resurgence of the First Nation people as they use these items and this space to once again incorporate the songs, the dance, the language, and the oral traditions into their lives and into the lives of their children.

July 27, 2014    Sunday
From our overnight anchorage in beautiful Beaver Harbor, we greet the new day with anticipation. Fuel and water tanks refilled yesterday in Port McNeil, we are only waiting for good weather to cross Queen Charlotte Strait and then to make our way around the notorious Cape Caution. We listens the the bits and pieces of the 1030 forecast that we can pick out through the static. NW winds to 15 knots with swells of 1 meter. That meets our criteria, so it's a theoretical go. We're just going to go through the Islands and take a first hand peek at the conditions in the Strait.

It's another beautiful morning and riding the current we choose a spectacular channel through the islands. Suddenly, there's a dorsal fin off the bow, not just off the bow, but riding the bow wave. And then Jenny Wren is surrounded by Dall's Porpoises. The water is crystal clear and we can watch them below the surface: a fast, powerful water ballet. With remarkable grace they play with Jenny Wren's sleek shape and take turns in the bow wave.

The interaction goes on for 5 minutes while we are headed through the channel into the Strait. They disperse as we enter the open water after having given their blessing to our crossing. Exhilarated by what we'd just experienced we have no question that today will be a good day.

And it was. Fairly calm conditions - both wind and swell - as we go by Pine Island and later the NW wind becomes more of a westerly and builds as the afternoon goes by. There are a number of other boats out and every one is having a great sail. And several of them appear to be heading in the same direction as we are on the East side of the entry to Fitz Hugh Sound. It looks as though Fury Cove is a popular anchorage.

July 28, 2014 to July 30, 2014    Monday to Wednesday






July 31, 2014    Thursday
Trip planning has been minimal, limited to one basic idea - to cover the nearly 500 miles to Haida Gwaii as directly as possible in order to meet our Gwaii Hannas reservation dates and to have a more relaxed Southbound journey. Aside from that, we've had no pre-planned route. Weather forecasts and currents dictate which of the many possible channels and passes we will take on a given day. Anchorage selection is based on chart information, wind direction, and Douglass's cruising guide information. Looming just beyond these daily decisions that determine our route is the Hecate Strait crossing - the nearly sixty miles of open water that separate these islands from Haida Gwaii. Conditions in the Strait can quickly change and can become quite difficult - again wind and current directions are big factors. Based on our reading of others' crossings, we have been looking at the Estevan Group or Otter Passage as possible jumping off points. Further reading and general weather patterns show that both of these present complications for us that can be minimized by starting from the North end of Banks Island. We lock onto this and it becomes The Plan.
After our morning departure from Corney Cove we set out in keeping to our general goal of heading North as much as possible. After some reading and studying the chart, I, however, am feeling the tug of Dewdney Island, the southern most in the Estevan Group. There is something about its 'on the edge' location that is pulling me. So that becomes the first plan of the day until we realize that even though that would be a great anchorage, it does not give us much for the day's run, and as our reservation dates for Haida Gwaii are fast approaching, we make a hard turn to starboard and continue up Estevan Sound along the stunning topography of Campania Island. My need for an out on the edge anchorage will wait until Larsen Harbor on Banks Island.  After a reasonably long day, we choose Harwood Bay for overnight. Though open to the Southwest, theoretically we should be fine with the forecast Northwest winds. And, indeed, we do find the North basin anchorage to be very protected from the late afternoon NW winds.

8/1/2014    Friday

We departed Harwood Bay at 0630 even though we had heard on the forecast that Friday was going to be windy. Seeing the line of dark water ahead in Principe Channel, we make hurried preparations: hatches dogged, things stowed and a last walk around on deck. We enter the steep chop and the bank of fog at the same time. Our speed  drops dramatically as the bow plows into the waves and spray washes the decks. Tide rips from Otter Passage add to the confused cauldron. I spot an unusual spray of water immediately off of the starboard bow. The area has my attention as I am realizing that what I'd just seen was a whale spouting. And then it does a slow roll through the surface, showing it dorsal fin followed by its stunning tail. Humpback! Just yards off the bow! I call Carolyn and as we watch it comes to the surface again. This huge, beautiful animal is unaffected by the wind and the waves.

But we are taking a beating. Motor sailing with a reefed main Jenny Wren is moving along well but on the wrong course. Everything is doing well on the boat, but we are not making any progress in the direction we need to go. We study the chart and page through Douglass looking for a place to duck in.

Finally reaching the entry, we turn and let out the main for the downwind run into Monckton Inlet. Behind us, emerging from the fog and wind and whitecaps of Principe Channel, is a boat following us in, probably looking for a shelter as well. As we get out of the wind and our speed drops the following boat begins to pass and I do the double take of recognition. A new name and a new shade of grey and the distinctive rub rail is gone, but it Is unmistakably Askov. Having not seen the boat in years, I am immediately struck by how seaworthy and salty she looks and by the stunning lines. In an all too short conversation on the radio, the skipper tells me that this is indeed Askov, originally owned by Anne and Harlan Pedersen, and that they are just returning from a 2 month trip to Alaska. It is wonderful hearing that the boat is still fulfilling the intent inspiring the original design and construction and is still plying the same waters that Anne and Harlan did on their many trips North.

Parting paths with Askov, we turn into the bay leading to our possible anchorage. Described by Douglass as having a tricky entrance with room inside for one deep draft sailboat and it is basically bombproof. We found the description accurate. There are 2 narrow entries: the first inspires caution, especially with the late morning low tide. Our response to the second narrow pass is 'You gotta be kidding me!'. Not much wider that the boat with rocks visible just below the surface on either side, and a sharp turn to starboard half way through just to cap it off. Carolyn is rock solid at the helm and I stand by wringing my hands. And then we are through and we find the pool with enough water and room for us to swing at anchor in 20' of water. And the place is protected. We can hear the wind in the tops of the old growth cedar that surround us on all sides, but we are anchored in a flat calm bay in a remarkably beautiful setting. Perfect.

After a late morning of reading and napping in the sunshine with just a hint of wind reaching us, a bit of guilt inspires us to press on. Up comes the anchor and we negotiate the narrows and out into inlet and the chop that leads to Principe Channel. Through the binoculars we see the white horses in Principe - lots of them, tall and closely spaced. Basically the same as we had run from earlier in the day. It just does not make sense to go out into that again so we turn around and once again find our way into our one-boat cove. This time, however, after setting the anchor for the night we launch the dinghy and set up the outboard to explore and to do some fishing.

Fishing has been an interesting process for us. We have entered this arena as beginners with no salt water fishing experience. We have an array of gear including an assortment of lures that belonged to Merrill and came with Jenny Wren. We have added to that with a few favorites used by Orcas Island anglers. The end result is a respectably full tackle box that is fun to poke through. We also have 2 rods and reels, rod holders that clamp on to the stern rail of the boat as well as the gunnel of the dinghy. A net, a short club, a cleaning table and a sharp fillet knife complete the picture. The Trinka dinghy and a strong rower or the 3 HP outboard is the perfect platform to explore and troll the evening's new anchorage.
No salt water fishing experience, but I should mention the 2 weeks in Ontario that my family spent every summer during my formative years while growing up. Same lake, same lodge, same group of friends. Same little bays casting around the lilly pads for bass and muskie, the same evening trolling runs for pickerel off of Red Rocks. Lots of fishing and these memories, in great detail, came flooding back to me while trolling on this trip. It has opened the door to a part of my life that I have't had the occasion to revisit in years.



8/2/14    Saturday

Quite a few miles to cover and the need to arrive at our anchorage before the NW winds build to their strongest in the late afternoon require a very early departure. For us this means a 0400 wake up, and the anchor raised by 0515. There is just enough light at this time to negotiate the narrows (this will be our fourth time!). In the growing light, Principe Channel (with just a light chop today) is intensely beautiful and we are excited. The final day in the channels of the Outer Passage is typical: we see virtually no other boats and no development of any kind along the shores. This is a sharp contrast to the Inner Passage with its steady flow of boat and shipping traffic between Alaska and points South. We follow the never ending East shore of Banks Island throughout morning and after lunch, at the top of the island, we turn to West, into the building wind and swell. Might be time to re-read (for the fifth time) the description in Douglass of the very trick entry into Larsen Harbor. Lots of low islets, huge areas of kelp (some unavoidable - engine in neutral, fingers crossed) a narrow, shallow, twisting channel and a large swell running through the the whole scene.  With the wind and the swell behind us, we move fast. There is lots of current here and we keep the rpms up to maintain good steerage. Again, Carolyn is rock solid at the helm and  I'm at my post, wringing  my hands while watching 2 GPS displays and keeping an eye on the paper chart. Trying to direct us around the nearly solid kelp beds, but not into the shallows. It's a wild and very exhilarating ride. And then we are in. Wow! That was a rush. We are in, but looking around we realize that there is not really much separating us from Hecate Strait. One small island, quite a few islets and exposed rocks and vast patches of kelp.  But we are largely out of the wind and swell, leaving us with a fantastic view out. Time to launch the dinghy and explore this place. Just amazing.

8/3/14    Sunday

0400 wake up, and time to spend a few minutes to finish up the last items on my pre-crossing to-do list.  I worked on this list in earnest last night. There was a lot of stowing involved and then a careful look at the engine and its systems. Fuel, cooling, and lubricating are the main areas and, before beginning, I always warn myself not to break anything while performing simple maintenance! And sure enough, while fulfilling my ADD need to have a perfectly dry bilge, I slop some water onto the propane sniffer alarm, also located in the bilge. This causes it to go off. And it is Very Loud and Very Piercing, and very affective in eliminating my ability to think. Nothing short of shutting down the entire DC electrical panel silences it. With my head well down into the bilge, I find a couple micro-sized screws that allow the case to disassemble. With surgeon-like focus I undo the screws without dropping them and find a lot of circuitry and a tiny reset button which solves the problem. At any rate, the list is done and we finish up breakfast and are underway at first light.  I always enjoy the moment that the last of the chain is pulled aboard and the anchor stows itself with a very satisfying clunk. There was an even greater relish in the sound today. So we head out into the islets, kelp, swell, and wind. And the background of the dawn breaking over the mountains to the East. Not a bad way to begin my birthday!

The fog rolls in and with the wind on the beam and the main and jib drawing we are making a steady 6+ knots as the hours roll by. One other boat shows up on the radar - it's a lonely stretch of water. In the afternoon the fog turns in to low clouds and the dark forms of the hills and peaks of Haida Gwaii begin to take shape ahead of us. Later the features on the shoreline become more defined and we follow the seemingly never ending stretch of shallows that dictate our route to the marina at Sandspit. The wind had dropped off earlier and is now building from the SE. The marina is small and tight and we can see none of it from outside of the breakwater. Not sure what we are getting into and with fenders and lines out on all sides, we enter the narrow opening, pushed along by this SE wind that continues to build. Even the boat hook is at the ready for desperate flailing, if our landing unravels completely. But the fuel dock is directly ahead and empty, so we slip in and tie up like we've come in here dozens of times. Afterwards we tie up at an overnight moorage slip and settle in. After resting up a bit we find a very nice dinner awaiting us at the Orange Roof Restaurant. A seafood rich menu, our feisty waitress who is also our chef, a large table with a happy group of kayakers just finishing their Haida Gwaii trip - all in a room that is gently rocking in the aftermath of our crossing. We smile and toast our achievement.


8/4/14 to 8/5/14    Monday and Tuesday

Showers, laundry, internet access, grocery shopping. Hitching rides on the stretch of road between the marina and the airport is easy and we meet quite a few of the locals in this very small community. Our plans for a road trip to Masset on the North end of Graham Island are dashed by the lack of rental car availability at this time. So we abandon that idea and make preparations for Gwaii Haanas. This includes taking the ferry over to Graham Island to complete our registration and attend a 2 hour orientation that was interesting as well was informative. While there, we had the profound experience of the museum which gives a sample of the 12,000 years of Haida culture in this area. It's a museum that should best be experienced over the course of days and could easily spawn a lifetime of further reading and research. We have an excellent lunch at the small museum cafe. My focus is partly on the most excellent halibut taco, but mostly on one of the 5 carved masks on the wall of the museum shop. I have been looking at NW masks for quite some time and, for one reason or another, have not found the right one in galleries in Port Townsend and Ganges, nor in the museum in Alert Bay. But here is Eagle and Frog carved with lots of fine detail in alder with copper and argillite. Frog's eyes which are green marbles come out allowing the person wearing the mask to see. The mask was carved by John Yelatzie a Haida from the Masset area. Internet searching during lunch gives some background of his work and life in the Haida community and some other examples of his carving. This particular mask is stunning and captures the essence of ....... Eagle and Frog. It also has a history in that it has been danced in Haida potlatches. It will take a proud place on Jenny Wren's main cabin bulkhead with Mayan and Inca masks.


8/6/14    Wednesday

A cold front is forecast, bringing  with it gale force winds from the SE. We make our move to head South before it arrives, not wanting to be held captive a the dock, waiting for it to pass. The long detour around the shallows of the spit before we can even begin to make progress to the south takes hours. But it's a beautiful day with some wind for sailing and a favorable current and we are excited to be exploring Haida Gwaii. The channels and the shore have a remote feeling and we see no other boats. The day takes us back into time.

8/7/14 - 8/9/14  Thursday - Saturday

The forecast is not good. Gordon Cove, on Moresby Island, seems like it will be a good anchorage to ride out a gale - protected from the Southeast, reasonable anchoring depth and good holding. Surrounded by dramatic, steep peaks, it is stunningly beautiful. A rugged, fast moving creek empties into the upper lagoon at a waterfall. Around the point, a wide, slow moving creek meanders through the flood plain and tidelands, emptying into a shallow bay.

It's good that we like it here because we're not moving. The low pressure system has stalled and locations on the outside are reporting winds of 30+ knots. And 2 meter swells.

This entire area is quite well protected so we make use of the dinghy for exploring, fishing and crabbing. The trusty Buzz Bomb seems to be irresistible to the Rockfish.  And the crab trap has been productive.

Carolyn took us out for a late afternoon, low tide row in the direction of the big creek and its wide beach. A number of large, black stumps are scattered over the flood plain. Her sharp eyes discern that one of these stumps has sprouted legs and is ambling along the creek's edge. Look! It's a bear! We watch it for a long time. The Haida believed the bears to be closely related to humans. They were held in very high regard and were not hunted for food. Potlatches often had a dancer with a bear mask and a black robe. As we watch this bear on the beach, I am struck by how human-like its movements are. With long front legs resembling human arms, it follows the creeks edge, looking nimble and focused. Suddenly he charges into the creek, water spraying in all directions, and emerges on the other side with a salmon.  Very quick. Wow. He settles in to eat and a couple of eagles move in to watch and await their turn.

Our routine is simple. Reading, writing, guitar, tea. Listen to the latest forecast and wind/wave reports. Boat chores, boat projects. Naps. Jenny Wren is a jewel down below and we are enveloped in her comfort and charm. Steady rain has refilled our water tanks, but the solar panels have not been productive. We are careful with our electricity usage. We watch the tides come and go along the shore and the misty clouds spilling down the surrounding peaks. We treasure these days nestled in Gordon Cove.

8/10/14 - 8/19/14    Sunday - Tuesday
The low finally passes, the high moves in and blue skies return. We begin the journey South through Gwaii Haanas, through time, into another world - the Haida's world. Skedans, Tanu, Windy Bay, Hot Springs Island, SGang Gwaay. All sites of Haida villages and all shared with us by the Watchmen - Haida who bring the world of their ancestors alive again as they walk around with us for a couple of hours at each village site, explaining the totem poles, house sites, daily life of the people who had lived there. Their world view, their beliefs, their stories, the plants and animals surrounding them, the structure of their community, and their relationships with others. We ask questions and they describe the Haida Nation today, and what it is for them to be a Haida. We begin to sense the depth of their pride and the full extent of their strength in being a Haida.

A protected anchorage was not a requirement for the Haida. A canoe friendly shore was their need. Shelter from the wind and the strong currents was not. Nor were reasonable anchoring depths. Smooth, rocky bottoms did not matter. Consequently, each site represented a navigation and anchoring challenge. Somewhat stressful - often well over a knot of current rushing by, close quarters among the reefs and rocks. 50' and 60' depths. Kelp. And then leaving the boat, usually out of sight for a couple of hours. Yikes.

Once anchored and after sitting there for a bit to observe our position, allowing heart rates to normalize and confidence in the anchor to build, we call in to the Watchmen on the VHF, asking if this would be a good time to come ashore. If there were others already there, we would be asked to wait. (This never occurred during our visits - there were remarkably few others around.) After trying to upgrade our appearance with some more guest-like clothes, we load up into the dinghy and row to shore, somehow passing through a magic portal on the way, and when we reach the shore and are warmly greeted by the Watchman on the beach, we have entered another world.

Skedans, Tanu, Windy Bay, Hot Springs Island, SGang Gwaay -  the intensity of the experience never lessened. Our amazement, wonder, and  appreciation only grew. We can begin to see a bit of the world through the remarkable eyes of Haida, through the openness, wisdom and sincerity of the Watchmen. Afterwards, we row back to Jenny Wren in silence and in awe of what we've just experienced.

In addition to the stops at the village sites, we passed through a treasure trove of channels, inlets, bays, and coves. Steep, rocky slopes down to the water, amazing forests, healing after several decades of the ban on logging. At times on the 'outside' of islands we are into the strength of Hecate Strait or the vastness of the Pacific. Some of our overnight stops include Gordon Cove, Echo Harbor, Anna Cove, Haswell Bay, Burnaby Narrows, Bag Harbor, Rose Harbor, and Rose Inlet - all unique and amazing, each deserving the time to put together the words to describe in detail. And amazing interactions with nature: sailing with whales, watching the salmon runs in the creeks, identifying more and more birds. During this time we were constantly aware of the remoteness of our surroundings - there are very few other boats - sometimes days go by without seeing another. It was a reminder of the need to be vigilant and cautious as we explored these waters. If we ran into trouble, there were not many options open to us.

8/20/14 and 8/21/14    Wednesday and Thursday
Listening to the forecast for a couple of days, we waited for optimal conditions for our 110 mile crossing of Hecate Strait. The last of the strong NW winds were dissipating but big swells remained as we got underway. Once out into the open water, the press of the wind in the sails helped to steady the boat, reducing some of the roll. Jenny Wren feels very solid and ready for the trip, but as we loose sight of land and night comes on, she feels quite small. We divide the night from 1800 to 0900 the next morning into 3 hour watches. When the new crew comes up on deck, we compare notes, passing along any information about the boat or the conditions that may be pertinent and the off-watch crew heads below to the pre-warmed berth.  We are using the aft cabin, because of its more comfortable motion compared to the forward cabin, and because of its proximity to the helm, for quick response, if need be.

Which it wasn't. The passage went very well. The hours went by quickly. Jenny Wren did great. Sleep came easily and deeply for the off-watch crew. The highlights included numerous humpbacks, and a puffin sighting! The sky transitions at dusk and dawn were worth the price of admission. The star light provided lots of light throughout the night. The autopilot performed flawlessly. We suspect that it just needed a rest. The most sobering moment for me occurred when I saw a huge log go by right next to the boat. We did not see any other boats throughout the night. At 0300, at the changing of the watch, we both saw the moon rise on the horizon, a mysterious amber sliver, that at first we were unable to identify. It was a perfect crossing.

We made our landfall just North of the Goose Group the next morning and found our way into Stryker Nook, where we settled in for a day of resting and relishing the trip to Haida Gwaii and back.

February 10, 2014

Trail Running



January 31, 2014

Hiking in the islands is a wonderful experience. Whether to reach a specific destination or simply exploring the various ecosystems, hiking goes hand in hand with sailing in the Pacific Northwest. Birds and vistas. Plants, trees, and rocks. There is lots to see. I enjoy hiking the abundant trails.

But I love running the trails! Aside from the obvious cardio benefit, trail running is something that I enjoy for the challenge that it presents and the perspective that it offers. Typically, the trails are narrow, irregular, and sometimes steep. Running requires constant attention, especially in winter when the ground is wet and soft. The rocks and the exposed tree roots can be quite slippery. Very brief glances at the surroundings are all that the necessary attention to the hazards will allow. At times, the experience leans more towards skiing than walking. Quick turns and balance are key elements. The entire focus becomes the next several steps.

Trail running is a bit like running with scissors, and someday if I come limping back to the boat scraped up with a hurt wrist, I may conclude that it is a very bad idea. In the mean time, however, I really enjoy it along with the healthy benefits.

January 25, 2014

Images from the Past Emerge from the Fog

January 26, 2014

We've had a generally dry winter, but with more fog than usual. With the excuse of needing to build up confidence in myself and the equipment in preparation for next summer's trip North, I took the boat out this weekend into the fog. God hates a coward!

Keeping a careful lookout and the engine running at a slow bell, guided by technology that is amazingly complex, yet increasingly common, we forge ahead. It's a damp, cold fog and I am bundled up. For the next 2 hours my little dance keeps me moving: Take a long look around (not much to see there!); Carefully watch the radar screen (often open to interpretation - is that a boat or just clutter?);  Take a look at the AIS screen which shows the transponder signal of other vessels (especially shipping); Check Jenny Wren's position on the GPS chart showing our route from Orcas to Stuart; Sound the horn (how remarkably simple and basic compared to transmitting and receiving electronic signals!); Have a sip of hot tea from the thermos, then begin the cycle again.

The trip goes well. There is remarkable beauty in the day: the greys of the water and the fog would make an excellent watercolor exercise. The fog swirls and changes and the shapes of wraiths come and go. Jenny Wren feels like the solid, intrepid adventuress that she is. All of her systems are providing information and keeping us on our route. The engine, sounding muffled, absorbed by the fog, is steady and flawless. It's a perfect day!

Entering Prevost Harbor, there are new variables.  Crab trap floats. Lots of them are suddenly emerging from the fog, generally right in front of the bow.  And then it's time to play 'Where is the Dock?' It's a little unnerving poking around that close to the shoreline, but then it begins to appear - at first as only a dark shape, and then almost immediately thereafter as a dock (with a boat tied alongside) directly ahead. Fenders out, dock lines ready and here we are.

And then it's time to do a double take as I realize the similarities between these 2 boats, or more specifically their hulls above the waterline. The power boat was built in 1959 in Scotland as an anchovy fishing boat. At 40' and a double ender, it shares similar lines with Jenny Wren. Over time it has been modified, adding on to the original cabin, adding the flying bridge and generally transforming into a pleasure craft. I didn't have to look hard to still see the workboat ancestry with its stout carvel planking and seaworthy shape. I could almost see the nets being pulled aboard, brimming with anchovies, while the coast of Scotland slips by in the background. And in my reverie, the entire scene is floating in fog.


December 31, 2013

Friday Harbor

December 31, 2013

With the weekend available for a trip on the boat, but the Espar diesel heater in the shop (again!) we decided to go to Friday Harbor where we could tie up to the dock and stay warm on the boat using the electric heater. It has been a challenge trying to figure out the Espar heater's intermittent problems. (Jenny Wren's original owner accumulated a pile of receipts for attempted repairs as well.) It is basically a simple system, but it does have fuel metering, electrical voltage,  and air flow/ducting sensitivities. And, of course there is the control box: the mysterious silver box, the size and shape of something that you'd find inside of a bomb, that is the brains of the unit. Hope springs eternal, and I'm optimistic that it will be up and running next week.

Wind on the quarter.
Winter in the San Juan Islands is a good time to sail. There is usually some South wind, moderate temperatures in the 40's, and very few boats on the water compared to the summer. With a North wind, clear conditions and cooler temperatures generally occur. We enjoyed some downwind sailing and favorable currents on the trip to Friday Harbor.  With a tidal range reaching 12' and more, there is a lot of water moving through the channels, passes, and straits during the maximum flood and ebb tides. We use the knot meter and the GPS to give us the boat's speed through the water and over the bottom respectively. The difference between the two is due to the effect of the current. Using the current tables (which show what the current is doing at any given time and place) can make a lot of difference in how the day goes - especially when a boat is only going 5 to 7 knots. Currents of 3 or 4 knots are common in many places, and twice that in some narrow passes. Going backwards, when all of the sails are up and drawing, is bad for morale.


Genoa is hard at work.



Whirlpools, tide rips, and overfalls can be dangerous to small craft and can skew a larger boat around unexpectedly. At times when a strong wind opposes an especially strong current, the tide rips can become very difficult to negotiate and should be approached with great caution or avoided altogether if possible. I have been surprised a number of times by the force of currents,  especially so when they are trying to pull the boat onto the rocks.

Our trip to Friday Harbor was free of such drama: just an easy downwind sail with a slight boost from the current. We stayed well clear of the fast moving and very large Washington State Ferries. They can make me nervous.




Percy is stowed.


And speaking of nervous, Percy, the cat, made her maiden voyage with us on this trip. Our thinking was that it was time to get her familiar with the boat.  Percy's thinking was that this was a lot worse than a trip to the vet. After finding a place where she felt safe from the constant motion, things were a little better. The engine, however, was another story. She really did not like the sound of the diesel engine. This is going to take some time.
Friday Harbor, WA






Friday Harbor is a boat friendly town. The main street through town begins at the ferry landing and the Port of Friday Harbor docks. Everything is within walking distance. The Cask and Schooner was doing a brisk lunchtime business, and the reason for its popularity became clear to us while we were enjoying our meal. Feeling a lot like tourists, we strolled around town and walked the docks looking at boats. It was a good weekend getaway, particularly with the quiet winter atmosphere.









December 02, 2013

Stuart Island

Headed up Tip Top.
December 2, 2013

One of our favorite local trips is to Stuart Island to explore the trails to the Turn Point Lighthouse, school, cemetery and the vistas from Tip Top. I go there often in the winter, when the island is free of the flood of visitors. The trip from Orcas Island generally takes 2 hours. Prevost Harbor is my preferred anchorage, offering good protection from winds from the North or the South.

The trails for hiking are extensive and I never tire of the glimpses that the island offers of its history and people back into the 1800's. The lifestyles of the earlier generations are maintained by a hearty group of year round residents, living off the grid without ferry service.

Stuart Island's one room schoolhouse.
Looking West to Vancouver Island
Carolyn and I enjoyed spending Thanksgiving with a group of friends from Orcas Island on Stuart this year. Ovens and stoves worked overtime to produce the spread of food that we enjoyed around the campfire. We took advantage of the reasonable weather and hiked the trails with leftovers in our packs. The 2 young girls added a rich element to the group. With their bows and arrows fashioned from driftwood from the beach, they ran ahead or lagged behind while working on the daunting task of creating and recording their own new language. Their carefully applied face paint completed the picture. It was wonderful to be in their company.
Jenny Wren, Sassafras, and Tomahawk.
Thanksgiving 2013


September 10, 2013

Port Townsend

September 10, 2013

We took Jenny Wren to Port Townsend for the 2013 Wooden Boat Festival. The trip from Orcas Island takes a good part of a day and there is benefit in planning around the currents. We had an early 0630 departure with low overcast conditions, but within 30 minutes, we were into thick fog.  Radar showed a line of 3 other boats spread out over 1 mile, all approaching Cattle Pass with us, all lined up on the screen like a row of ducks. Everyone maintained their speed and course and we went through like a well choreographed dance ensemble. Then we emerged into the Strait, still thoroughly shrouded in fog, the loud note of horns and the low growl of engines all around. Carolyn, at the helm, had to resist the temptation to steer us in the direction that she felt that we should be heading, relying instead on the compass and GPS. Thick fog with viritually no visibility is stressful and our shoulders loosened around Smith Island when conditions began to clear.
Crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca - in and out of  fog.

The Wooden Boat Festival - a visual treat of wonderful boats!

September 03, 2013

Sucia Island

Frozen Wave
September 3, 2013

Sucia a a geological playground. Formed independently from the rest of the San Juan Islands, it is unique to the area with its eroded sandstone formations and sculpted shorelines. Exploring the bluffs and coves while rowing or paddling at the water's edge is an ideal way to experience this treasure. A little more careful observation will unveil fossils - lots of them. The more shallow bays with sand beaches heat up nicely in the summer sun and give kids a rare opportunity to swim in the San Juans. The entire island is a Washington State Park.

Carolyn takes in Echo Bay, Sucia 
Summer brings waves of boaters. People love going to Sucia. However, once there, they can spread out and I don't feel like it becomes overly crowded. And unless the winds become too strong from the wrong direction, there is plenty of room for anchoring.

When my daughter, Melissa, her boyfriend Dan and their friend Hugh arrived for a visit it was quickly agreed that Sucia would be a great place to go. Having grown up sailing in the San Juans, Melissa has been on numerous trips there, but Dan and Hugh had never been. Carolyn is always up for a Sucia visit, so off we go.

Melissa loves the boat!
Melissa enjoying Jenny Wren
This was Melissa's first chance to see Jenny Wren.  ('Way to go, Dad!') Melissa grew up with and lived aboard a succession of boats and she quickly appreciated the Valiant's qualities. We set off from Cayou Quay Marina in Deer Harbor and once past Jones Island, the North wind filled in and we had a fantastic sail. Certainly a more agile sailer than the Westsail 32, Jenny Wren made good time on the run to Sucia, stretching her legs in the perfect wind and sunshine.

Hugh at the helm
Hugh, new to sailing, was smitten. With only a small amount of uncertainty, he took to the helm as a natural, steering with a big grin. With an engineer's mind, he had nonstop questions about the boat and how it worked. It was fun to look at the day through his eyes and marvel at the power of the wind, the sails, and the physics of sailing.