Friday, July 7, 2017

The "Outer Passage"

Written by: Kerry
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;        
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,        
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.       
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

- Robert Frost (The Road Not Taken) 1920

Brigadoon at the dock in Shearwater, BC, with bald eagle.

We left Shearwater on Saturday, June 24th, having done lots of research about our next leg of the trip that would bring us up to Prince Rupert, the typical jumping off point for Alaskan waters.  We had expected to plan and take the more inside route, also known as the "Inside Passage", which follows more protected waters and is used by the BC ferries, many cruise ships, tugs, and most cruisers.  We looked it over closely and weren't majorly impressed with the choice of anchorages - both for distance between them and for depths.  I have no doubt the passages are beautiful and protected, but then we started to look at other options...

From Seaforth Channel into Milbanke Sound, we looked at how to get around Price Island and continue north without going up to Klemtu and the inside waters.  We decided to go to Louisa Cove for our first night out to see what Milbanke was like and make our final decisions on which direction to go, with the primary thought to continue on to Aristazabal Island the following day assuming we weren't too freaked out by the more open water.  Well if you look at the lowest black dot on the map above, that is Louisa Cove - and you'll notice we didn't stop there at all.  Here's what happened...

We were cruising out of Seaforth Channel and I casually brought up the idea of not stopping at Louisa at all, but going straight on to our first anchorage at Aristazabal, Wheeteeam Bay.  Donn pondered that and told me he'd think about it.  It seemed like a beautiful day and the conditions seemed mellow enough to try, so we continued to talk about it and as we broke out into Milbanke, we adjusted the route on the chart and steamed through to Wheeteeam.  The most remarkable moment of that day's journey was going through Catala Passage at the bottom of Price Island.  It's usually more protected waters and gives one a slight shortcut through to Laredo Sound.

  As you can see above, it also requires careful navigation around many islets and rocks.  We were both on point watching our way as we motored through.  It was stunning scenery, almost ghostly with mists and rock formations all around us.  Unfortunately no photos were taken, as we were so focused on staying safe...

Instead of a 4-5 hour day, we had about a 10 hour day when all was said and done, but we had left early and arrived with plenty of daylight remaining, finding a beautiful place to anchor.  We ended up staying there for 2 nights to give ourselves time to recover and also explore the beautiful bay with its endless coves and inlets.  It was truly stunning.

Low tidal flat in Wheeteeam Bay

When we left Wheeteeam Bay we continued our way north with the next target anchorage at the top of Aristazabal Island - Tate Cove in Borrowman Bay.  This stop ended up being one of our most rewarding and fun of the entire trip.  We arrived on a Monday afternoon and stayed until Thursday morning to wait out strong forecast winds.

Monday evening, as another boat pulled in and anchored near us, we realized we were looking at another Baba - little sister to our boat - a Baba 30.  The best part though?  Their boat's name was "Camelot".  Two Babas in the same cove is good enough, but two Babas with names like "Brigadoon" and "Camelot"?  How awesome is that???   Two boats named after mythical places, both told as musicals. I didn't stop giggling about it all week.

Camelot - Doug and John on their way to Haida Gwaii to meet up with their wives
On Tuesday, we went nosing about in the dinghy...  The cove next to us had a huge floating fishing lodge set up on a barge with multiple ties to shore and dock space for a small sport fishing fleet.  As we came close, they (nicely) warned us away from their dock, as they were expecting a helicopter landing any minute.  We dutifully left and did not return to bother them.  However, as we were leaving, another skiff with a driver and a black dog in the bow came up to us and invited us over to stretch out legs later if we wanted.  It was then we realized there was ANOTHER floating structure behind the lodge.  This turned out to be the home of Rick and Jeanne Beaver and their dog, Skipper.

Home of Rick and Jeanne Beaver
They are a retired couple who started creating this little floating homestead about 14 years ago.  They live here year round and use everything around them - most of their docks and structures were all built from found wood drifted up on the beach.  They create art and tend gardens in boxes and a little green house in back.  The little wood hut at the far left is a wood fired hot tub.  They welcomed us with open arms and a bit later Doug and John from "Camelot" showed up in their kayaks and we all hung out for awhile.  Jeanne and I had a great time sharing stories and getting to know each other while the guys all checked out Rick's various projects outside.  When it came time to head back to the boat, Jeanne piped up and said "Hey! Let's all get together tomorrow evening for a potluck!"  We all loved the idea, decided what we would each bring and bid adieu with promises of more fun the next day.

I spent the next day reading and relaxing on the boat.  Donn went for a hike on his own and then later got picked up by Rick in his skiff with the other two guys (and Skipper) and taken on a tour of the nearby islets and beaches (I stayed behind because I was enjoying my book too much).  We all convened around 6pm and had a lovely evening in the Beavers' home.  I convinced Donn to bring his guitar to entertain after dinner and it was a huge hit.  They loved his music and even suggested he check with a local hotel lounge in Prince Rupert about playing there when we arrived.  It was hard to say goodbye - but we decided we could easily stop there again on the way home - so we hope to see them again soon.

One of Jeanne's gardens, with Skipper in the background
Doug, John, Me, Donn, Jeanne, and Rick

We had plotted out our next stops between Aristazabal Island and Prince Rupert and each one went as planned.  We stayed a night in Weinberg Inlet on Campania Island, which was stunning.

Mount Pender on Campania Island
Then we stayed two nights in Patterson Inlet on Pitt Island due to heavy rain.  We woke up the first morning, knowing we had planned to leave around 10 or 11am.  We listened from our bunk as the rain poured down onto the deck and looked at each other and decided we could afford another day in this beautiful place and not brave the rain just yet.

We left Patterson and headed for Newcombe Harbour inside of Petrel channel, out last stop before a long day to Prince Rupert.  We enjoyed a little sailing that day, although the winds were light.  As we rounded into the channel for Newcombe Harbour, the winds picked up, with rain threatening to douse us.  Donn got two photos as we headed in...

Bald Eagle flying off a perch inside Newcombe Harbour
Newcombe Harbour was tricky, as our ideal anchorage depth was located in a trough in the middle of shallow mud flats.  Water covered it all, so except for our charting software, we had no idea of where those shallows started.  I inched our way in and watched the depth sounder.  As I got a little too close for comfort, I started to turn up into the wind to find a good spot and saw depths as low as 13 feet cross beneath us.  We safely anchored in about 34 feet a little ways out as a huge gust of wind blew us sideways hard, setting our anchor perfectly with the rain letting loose on us all at the same time.  As the rain died down that evening, Donn noted that he could hear multiple rivers and waterfalls around us as we sat there in the middle of the little bay.  This is another spot we hope to visit on our way back, hopefully with nicer weather.

Our final leg to Prince Rupert was about 10 hours - we left at 4:30am to catch Petrel Narrows at low water slack and everything was smooth as we glided through.  I sat in the bow to watch for logs in the early morning light and marveled at the beautiful scenery around us.  Simply gorgeous and so humbling.  We both remarked how happy we were to have taken the outer passage.  We barely saw any other boat traffic under way and never shared an anchorage with more than 1-2 boats.  The conditions were benign, we barely had enough wind to sail, and only did so about 1/4 of the way.  As we plan our return, we'll take this option again - no doubt in our minds.

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