May 6: Into Canadian Waters
Having passed muster with Canadian Border Services, Jupiter departs Customs at Port Sidney, smugly displaying her orange Canadian transit permit in the salon window, as if someone might get close enough to the boat to see it.
She shapes her course northwestward along the Inside Passage – The Marine Expressway.
Under clear skies on favorable seas we travel through the Gulf Islands bypassing our favorite harbors where aging tie-dyed hippies and 1960’s draft-dodgers keep life groovy.
Making slack water in time at Gabriola Pass we anchor up, tucked up within a small uninhabited archipelago, providing overnight shelter from the Georgia Strait.
May 7: Straits + Narrows
A long, eventless passage in settled weather leads Jupiter to the western end of the Strait where Vancouver Island imposes a geographic assault on the mainland.
Here wits and tidal waters are compressed and accelerated. Mariners quickly become hydrologists and horologists, referencing moon cycles, and timing tides and currents in order to continue the journey.
Seymour Narrows, where flood and ebb currents run to 16 knots, demands attention. Mariners are required to exploit a brief window for passage on a quardiurnal schedule.
Extra throttle pushes Jupiter through the late afternoon slack water. We anchor up at nearby Plumper Bay in time to test our ground tackle during a sudden and remarkably violent squall of rain and wind to 35 knots. Later, from cabin port holes in our protected bay we watch the narrows’ imminent currents race past.
May 8: The Force is With Us
An early departure enables Jupiter to find a durable ebb tide, and we slalom the narrow Discovery Passage and Johnstone Strait across tide rips, upwellings, whirlpools and all manner of concentrated turbulence, gaining three knots of tidal advantage until noon.
Sooner than predicted Jupiter is tied up on the floats of hospitable North Island Boatyard at Port McNeill. Although we have quarantine promises to keep, we are permitted here to refuel and receive provisions delivered dockside.
A fleet of six Bellingham based Grand Banks in convoy to Alaska arrives late in the day and ties up nearby. We all have a jolly time remaining aboard our own vessels nodding, smiling and waving to one another.
May 9: Cape Caution
Forecast seas and winds invite an early passage of the exposed sea crossing at Cape Caution, and fog, mist and mizzle greet our sunrise departure from the port.
The red-casting light station at Pulteney Point, brushed in Canadian red and white livery, marks Jupiter’s release from the loom of Vancouver Island as we pass into the wide open waters of Queen Charlotte Strait.
Soon large groundswells ending their transpacific journey, crash onto nearby coastal rocks, and test Jupiter’s stabilization tackle, but coffee remains in cups and crew onboard. In a few hours we find the lee of the land and a serene anchorage at Green Island.
May 10: Channels + Challenges
The navigable northern reaches of British Columbia are an interlacing of extensive narrow channels, with depths exceeding the range of Jupiter’s sonar, flanked by steep ranges reaching heights holding winter snows above dark forested capes.
Anchorages and settlements are rare, but foresters have left their mark, and tree farming continues everywhere unabated.
Logs, stumps and sometimes trees as long as buses are a threat to navigation. Running over any floating object has the potential to damage or cripple a boat.
Tides here reach 15 feet or more, and channelized flows slow or speed long passages depending on direction of travel. Whales are seen spouting and diving when we least expect them.
In late afternoon Jupiters pours in through the narrow entrance to Bottleneck Cove, an anchorage impossibly silent and still. Spring light lingers late and returns early offering only translucent sleep.
May 11: Moving Targets
Shortly after Jupiter establishes her morning course making way, we espy large porpoise to port. Within minutes two sleek Dall’s Porpoise, muscled like boxers but swift as swallows, find our bow wave and begin an athletic romp alongside and beneath the bow. There seems to be no apparent reason for this behavior other than wanton playfulness.
The photographic department leaps into action, long lens precariously over the rails. This joyful interaction lasts longer than the crew can continue outside in the cold morning wind.
Jupiter’s selected anchorage this evening is Nettle Basin in Lowe Inlet, known for an exceptional situation where a boat might cast her anchor onto a gravelly ledge in a strong outflow close below forceful Verney Falls.
Alone with this opportunity we position ourselves as close as we dare in the freshwater torrent, then play out two hundred feet of chain. The melting snows feeding the falls from the peaks above hold us as firmly in place as if we were set down on the land itself. We lower the anchor chain angle by weighting the ground tackle using a kellet – a long loop of heavy chain falling from our anchor snubber.
Around and alongside us runs a frothy float of lignin foam marking direction and flow of the upland waters. The experience is fixating, if a bit unsettling, as the boat appears to be constantly moving towards the falls.
A black bear, unimpressed, grazes languidly in the salt meadow along the shore.
May 12: Phones + Fascinations
After untangling Jupiter from her frothy freshwater birth we rejoin the seemingly endless Grenville Channel, again northbound.
For several consecutive days our personal electronic devices, without benefit of data, have no more relevance than the ship’s clock. They remain useless as eaten apples and after a time we nearly dread their return to functionality after a pared down existence.
Much later in the day Jupiter is spilled into choppy Chatham Sound, the final reach of Canadian waters before the Alaskan border.
We overnight in a lonely crooked-heart inlet at Dundas Island.
May 13: Time Travel
The Canadian / US border follows an arbitrary and disputed line across the Dixon Entrance.
This exposed expanse is noted for the trouble it can throw up for mariners crossing to or from Southeast Alaska. We have only a score of miles of venturous conditions, and experience nothing worse than expectation expects.
A beautiful morning sun summits the Alaskan mountains, and we are rewarded by GPS time unwinding one hour already spent, automatically recognizing the forth continental time zone, and this demands Second Breakfast.
During the long approach to Ketchikan we view the immensity of the Great Land we have gained. By noon we are refueled and secured at a favorite float south of Alaska’s First City.
North Upon North North upon north our mandate dictates Through Haro, Georgia and Johnstone Straits Through Broughton, Queen Charlotte, there blew a stiff breeze But mostly this transit we handled with ease. Of Passages and Passes we passed through fifteen Marine highways and byways all swathed in dark green Some named for bold men who came west to explore Moresby, Holliday, Arthur, Marcus, the Commodore Some for the thrill of this rock watery staircase Race, Ripple, Loran, Radar, Fairmile and Race Some named for direction or geographic detail Like Discovery, South, and the curious Butedale Just one is inspired by a prospectors wife Marilia Ross, just imagine her life! And one for a brigantine sturdy and strong The Lama sailed here for ever and long The norther we went the norther we got The steeper the slopes and the deeper the drop From wide shallow dales to high hanging valleys Water gushed down from steep cliffs in great sallies Hundreds and hundreds of feet it would plummet Crashing down on all sides to the sea from the summit The Cape was Cape Caution, the narrows were Heikish The fog in the mornings made land look ghost-like-ish Long Reaches were Graham and Fraser, McKay We churned many miles by the end of each day The channels we channeled were many as well There was Swanson and Seaforth which had quite a swell Trincomali and Pylades, Grenville, Balenas These valleys were painted in shades of green-greyness Through Darby, Fisher and Finlayson veering We often relied on our autopilot steering But we never lost focus or lost our own way Maintaining our northing through rain and salt-spray We went up Revillagigedo on approach to Ketchikan And if you can pronounce it you're a born Alaskan And speaking of Sounds we crossed four maybe more The ones I remember are Fitzhugh and Milbanke Sometimes quite nasty, turn boats like a crank Also Chatham and Wright which were both quite alright But in weather far worse they can blow up a fright And so we arrived at Alaska's great door Without setting foot from the boat to the shore In bonnie B.C. we were awed by the scenery Her snow-mantled peaks and unbending greenery And when we return we'd love to go slower circle round and around and thus get to know 'er We'd veer and zigzag, inspect our surrounds Through her Passages, Channels, Reaches and Sounds