Leaving Prince Rupert it was raining with a heavy fog, which would become all to familiar to me in the next 8 days. However, there was also a brisk, following breeze which allowed me to sail fast and comfortably, something that I would not experience again for over a week. As the day progressed, open, choppy water with the remnant of an ocean swell gave way to islands, and eventually to the narrow entrance to Grenville Channel, a 45-mile, nearly straight cut less than a quarter of a mile wide for the majority. The wind died behind the islands, but the sun also came out, so I ghosted on the breeze and current as far as I could before tucking into a small cove for the night.
The second day in Grenville channel marked what was to come in the next week of inside sailing, with a brisk south breeze, a channel too narrow to really sail upwind, and a day full of either motoring or motor-sailing, as well as an introduction to finding the counter-currents in the eddies along the shore, which gave me an extra knot of speed towards the next bay, where I anchored in the first, outer basin, only learning as I left early the next morning that there was an incredible waterfall just around the point in the inner basin!
After a pre-dawn start in order to make it to Bishop’s Hot Springs before dark, I found myself motoring down a calm channel all the way to the tiny town of Hartley Bay, stopping a few minutes for fuel to feed the gas-guzzling little beast that rules these calm, constricted waterways. Later however, I actually managed to get a few minutes of sailing in when I turned north (the wrong direction) to get to the hot springs (worth it), and to make it even more special, a pod of Dahl porpoise joined me to play on the bow wave! Seeing these sleek and beautiful creatures playing so close is always an amazing sight, and these were the first I’d seen on this trip!
I was lucky enough to snag the last mooring ball at the hot springs that evening, and after a quick dinner, I was in the packraft and at the springs in no time, where I added Darwind’s name and the date to the thousands of inscriptions covering every inch of the small structure built around the springs. After a luxurious soak in the perfectly hot water of the springs, I paddled over to spend the evening swapping stories over delicious fresh seafood and cold drinks with Don and Jenna on the Alsaska B.
The next day, I left the calm waters of Bishop’s Bay to barely stick my nose into the 30 knot southerly in the main channel before scurrying back to my secure mooring, repeating to myself that at least it’s better to be hot and wet than cold and wet. And so I spent the rest of the day intermittently soaking in the springs, taking short dips in the ocean to cool down, and reading tucked into my sleeping bag in the cold, but dry cabin.
The wind was absolutely calm for almost the entire day of motoring down the 60 miles of Princess Royal Channel to Klemtu, with only a brief squall of southerly wind and downpour near the end. For the majority of the day light scattered showers came and went, and the only really interesting thing was that I sighted an Elephant Seal, which I had no idea even lived in this part of the world, much less so far from the open sea in this labyrinth of passages. It never moved the entire time I saw it, and I almost convinced myself it was a log, but closer inspection through the binoculars revealed without a doubt the short, trunk-like nose of a male Elephant Seal!
I spent the day in Klemtu, moving from the floatplane dock where I had mistakenly moored when I arrived after 9:00 at night, and I spent the majority of the day holed up inside the cabin with a book, listening to the southerly gale whistling through the rigging overhead. That evening however, I helped an aluminum Swedish boat to tie up to the dock and spent the even chatting with Erik, another solo sailor on his way north. In between stories and technical discussions, we participated in the time-honored sailor’s tradition of swapping sailing guides; I passed on my book for Southeast Alaska, and he gave me one for sailing in French Polynesia.
One week out of Prince Rupert and I barely made it as far as it took me two days to cover crossing the gulf, and had to burn a dozen gallons of gasoline to get those few hundred miles too! Today at least I had the chance to feel some motion under the keel as I ducked out into Queen Charlotte’s Sound for a few miles of beating before turning back into the channels for a pleasant beam reach all the way to Bella Bella, another of the few, tiny communities along this almost completely deserted stretch of coast.
After Refueling and sighting a huge humpback right off the dock, I set out as soon as the morning fog started to clear, and by midday, when I was well out into the much more open Fitz Hugh Sound, the sun came out and with it came a beautiful northerly wind that pushed all the way down the sound to Home bay, where I shared the tiny, perfect anchorage with a Canadian sailboat. As well as finally being able to let the Aries take the helm for a while, I was ale to get all of my wet clothes and bedding dry in the wind and sun for the first time in a week!
The next day, I left early expecting another day of sun and northerlies, and was sorely disappointed to be motoring over glassy seas and through a thick fog as I entered Queen Charlotte’s sound for the longer hop down to Sointula near the northern tip of Vancouver Island. The fog didn’t burn off until the afternoon, and the wind didn’t pick up until after 5:00 pm, but I still wanted to make it to Sointula, which I remembered as one of my favorite town in BC, so I pushed on until well after dark, finally dropping the anchor through incredible phosphorescence and under an incredible canopy of stars around midnight, making a run of 78 nautical miles.
With A sunny day at last, I decided to take a break and explored Sointula and Malcom Island, riding the free bikes provided by the marina, and swimming in the crystal-clear water off the northwest tip of the island.
The next day started out foggy and calm (surprise surprise) and I entered the notoriously nasty Johnstone Strait under power, until the fog burnt off and the wind started to pick up from the West. I started out under the full main and genoa, but within a few hours was reduced to a triple reefed main and the number two in gusts over 25 knots. And as I got closer to current and race passage, the seas started to kick up against an opposing current, which can run up to six knots in this part, so I ducked behind the shelter of several rusted, sunken wrecks that make the breakwater of Kelsey bay, a very interesting little town which I had never visited before. On the docks there, I got to talking with Bruce, also headed down the strait, on a converted troller, and as well as some very interesting conversations on history and politics, he gave me some valuable advice about when to leave in the morning and how to catch the counter-current that runs close to shore.
In the morning I attempted to get gasoline at the town, only a few kilometers up the road, only to discover that the nearest gas station wasn’t for another 10 kilometers inland. After weighing the idea of continuing and possibly having to walk all the way back with a heavy gas can I decided to turn around and hitch back to at least make the tide on time, and luckily the first car that passed picked me up and it turned out that I left the dock within minutes of Bruce, who I followed closely along the shore, through fog so thick that at times I lost sight of the rocks and trees just 100 feet away!
As the fog cleared, the sun came out, and the main current in the channel turned from against me to over four knots whipping Darwind along at speeds over nine knots for hours, until I arrived at Brown Bay, a small resort where I stopped and ate lunch while waiting for the current to die down a little in Seymour narrows, which are known to generate massive tide rips and whirlpools at full flood or ebb. Just off the docks of Brown Bay, I was even able to watch a couple of harbor seals playing in the clear waters of the straight, which remain so crystalline due to the massive churning produced by the millions of tons of water racing back and forth through this massive saltwater river every day.
After passing through the narrows at slack water without incident, and with a sense of profound anticlimax, without seeing a single whirlpool more than a foot across, Darwind shot out into discovery channel, the last bit of constricted waterways before the relative open waters of the straits of Georgia. However, having passed through the narrows at slack after a following current, the opposing current soon built up until only halfway to the freedom of open water, we were only able to crab sideways back and forth against a five knot current, and when we started to loose ground around sunset, I was reluctantly forced to tie up at the nearest harbor to wait out the tide.
Luckily, as so often happens in these kind of situations, I ended up tied up next to a very interesting couple who invited me over for a cold beer, which turned to two and eventually to a delicious dinner and a free, much needed, shower.
After being pushed back by the current in Discovery channel, I was more than ready to hit some open water and hopefully get some real sailing and real miles in towards Vancouver, so after setting out at noon to catch the right current this time, I motored out into a completely flat strait. Soon, a brisk south breeze picked up, but rather than despair as I had in the narrower channels, with enough water to make good distance with each tack, the headwind turned from a curse into a blessing, allowing the Aries to do the grunt work while I enjoyed the sensation of finally putting sailing miles under the keel. I also relished the challenge of working every last ounce of speed out of the boat after so many boring hours simply motoring in a straight line down straight channels. That night, the wind died and became extremely shifty and gusty, but rather than motor, with searoom to spare I had the luxury of simply drifting while soaking up 10 minute catnaps under the starts in the warm air of the cockpit.
In the morning, the wind steadied somewhat, allowing for the course to resume more or less towards the destination, rather than looping back on itself and swinging every which way as during the night. By afternoon as I drew closer to Vancouver the traffic steadily increased until just before the skyline broke the horizon, I could count at least a dozen sails scattered around me, ad dozens more motor and commercial vessels, all either coming from or heading towards the same place. Finally after a short bout of motoring through the fields of anchored freighters, the anchor rattled down to catch on the sandy bottom of English Bay, on the outskirts of an anchored fleet of sailboats and overlooked by the skyscrapers and high-rises of downtown Vancouver.