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Getting to Grays Harbor

October 23, 2012

October 9

From Friday Harbor to Aleck Bay to Port Townsend each day opened and filled with the coppery warmth of a fall sun; a light wind, indolent and indecisive, got up from the north if it bothered to get up at all; the sea lolled in an oily richness. My wife visited on the weekend. We hiked dry, fragrant Cougar Mountain in t-shirts and rode the ferry into Seattle. “Can you believe this weather?” grumbled the ferry’s car attendant. “This just ain’t right.” Blue sky rose above the city scape as if it belonged there. There wasn’t a cloud.

For days, even weeks, the forecast discussion had been as redundant and ignorable as if its subject were San Diego. Then on Monday things changed. Now gone was the “ridge over Vancouver Island” that had commanded the sun to shine and instead I read of “a rapid return to typical, wet, fall weather.” Sprinkled throughout the text were unfamiliar terms like “low” and “front” and “trough” and, most disconcerting, “gale.” It was time, if not well past time, for southing.

Murre and I departed next day for Port Angeles, a quick run of thirty miles. This was a Tuesday and the first storm system was to make landfall on Friday. At three the next morning I took in dock lines and we departed again. In the bay we passed ships at anchor; high and cliffy and gleaming in their own light, they seemed rock-solid, safe as houses. Into the strait Murre ran dark and small under the stars and was greeted by a chill wind flowing west down Juan de Fuca. She pounded at the chop until dawn when the wind died.

Several tankers had passed quickly when the sky was clear and I could still make out Orion, The Dipper, the North Star. They made their approaches for Puget Sound or ports to the north or were headed from these back out to sea. But as the day dawned gray suddenly they were gone, the strait empty save for Murre and the tug, Jack Brusco, miles behind, whose heavy load made his speed more a match for our own.

By noon Murre neared Neah Bay, our last safe haven before an entry into the openness of ocean. We let it go by, and two hours later we had rounded Cape Flattery’s Tatoosh Island and toothy Duncan Rock where we collided with a flotilla of kelp. The Perkins lugged; the shaft rattled in its socket as if it were chewing a bag of gravel. Kelp had wrapped the propeller. I stopped the boat, backed down hard and the kelp cleared.

As I made the turn south the Jack Brusco approached enough to show that its tow, a dinosaur craning its neck as seen through binoculars in the half light of morning was, indeed, a massive crane on a barge. My computer showed it bound for San Francisco, due five days hence, ahead of us, I thought, but maybe not by much. The ceiling lifted enough to reveal the endless mountain tops of the Olympic Range. In a flat calm Destruction Island came and went as did the day and still we motored.

Just before night was full, I noticed the silhouette of a bird across the bow, like an albatross but heavier and with a heavy head, and slowly I realized that this was our first Brown Pelican since Mexico. I gave the engine a cup of oil and heated a can of soup for myself. I poured a glass of wine and watched.

By midnight the Jack Brusco’s course had taken him farther out to sea than our coastwise run. Without stars the night was wooly black. Pale phosphorescence trailed the propeller in a stream as if shot from a hose. Diving birds, murres themselves escaping Murre, traced dim, florescent arcs near the hull. After a time I saw at the horizon the amber glow of a distant city, which gave me pause; the glow appeared out to sea where no city could be. I checked the chart and our course, just in case. An hour later there were five such glows in a line to starboard, the loom of ships below the horizon on approach to the cape.

Before dawn we hovered outside the bar to Grays Harbor awaiting day enough to cross, and by eight we are tied at the Westport town fuel dock, having made 170 miles in 30 hours under engine.

“Here because of weather?” asked the fuel dock attendant.

The green and red buoys of the harbor entrance form a funnel, a cattle run of several miles leading to a coral that is a marina packed with fishing boats and a large percentage of the world’s population of sea gulls, all at full song this morning. The place smells of fish parts and guano. Boats are moving between the docks and the fish plant. Sea lions bark. The sky is lead, low, and streaky and signs of the restaurants and cafes in town flash OPEN in garish blues and reds against the gray.

“I am. And am hoping I’m not stuck here the winter,” I say, laughing. I am joking.

“You just might,” says the man. He is laughing, but somehow it is clear he is not joking.

Fishing boats of all sizes arrive during the day and none leave, and that night the wind comes south and the rain begins. I wake frequently. In my bunk and from the warmth of my bag I feel the storm that is upon us. Murre tugs at her lines, lays over in the gusts; rain lashes the fore deck inches above my head. But the boat is safe; we are safe. Each waking is followed by the realization of safety followed by a sense of pleasure, then relaxation and sleep.

By morning the flags of the harbor and the rain fly straight out. The harbor is full; the transient dock is full. At the Blue Buoy Restaurant I order a breakfast of eggs, potatoes, bacon and a full stack of pancakes by way of defense against the soaking cold. “Welcome to Westport winter,” says the waitress as she takes my menu. The storm drains are beginning to choke and the street gushes. The owner approaches. He sets a nearby table and then pauses to watch the day. “Welcome to Westport winter,” he sighs. I order more coffee.


Racing through Canada, III

October 8, 2012

Sept 19 – 30

Port McNiell is “tree farming country”, if a sign at the head of the dock can be believed. The sign is small, easy to overlook as the eye scans a town of neat houses, neat yards, and a well laid-out shopping mall around an asphalt parking lot with space enough for the cars of three such communities. In the mall are two groceries, a liquor store, a barber, a realtor, and the public library, whose door announces “Sadly, Miss Silverstone will not be in today.”

To the north along an undeveloped flatness of bay I see hill-sized stacks of logs and hear the whir of heavy equipment, ready proof of the town’s declared occupation. Above these the low mountains of the Vancouver Island coast offer another in their patchwork of greens, smoky blues for the old forest next to the bright Kelly of the new.

It is Sunday afternoon. The marine store at the head of the docks is dark; its winter hours posted in the window do not include Sunday. I pull on the door anyway and it opens. Inside, a gray haired couple look up from the register.

It’s our first winter Sunday,” says the man, “but we’re open for a while yet.”

I am searching for a specific cruising guide, I explain. The one I have has abruptly ended 30 miles north.

“Not much call for that this time of year,” says the woman.

“Can order one though,” says the man.

“Is there a bookstore in town?” I ask.

“No, not for that kind of book.” says the man. “The A Frame is all we have. Not from here, are you?”

Lacking anything more pressing, I hike over to the A Frame bookstore, an annex to one side of the A Frame Baptist Church. As I enter the room smells of potluck casseroles and the close-packed bodies of the parishioners in Sunday attire who fill it. All are standing, the casseroles having been eaten, and the sea of conversation is running high; small children dash around the room crashing into adults like white caps on rocks.

“This is a social for the church treasurer. She retired last week,” says a smiling man who quickly approaches. I am dressed in pants and a t-shirt that are the worse for their continual wear, am heavily bearded and carry a sweat-soiled back pack. That I am the odd man out is suggested by the speed with which I am greeted. “Usually the room is full of books,” says the man, still smiling. “Their sale supports the church.”

I explain my quest. He shakes his head.

“Not from here, are you?”

That evening I discover a pub near the marina. Smooth cement floors, a sleek bar of black stone, flat screen televisions on all walls, one of which is in the second inning of a Giant’s game. Along this coast it is not unusual to find baseball, in season, playing in such establishments, but the broadcast selection is typically limited to the Toronto or Seattle teams with an occasional east coast match-up thrown in to balance the scales. Being able to watch the San Francisco home-team is a privilege vanishingly rare, and I quickly settle-in.

“You from around here?” asks a man to my left. He is middle height, middle age, sports a salt and pepper mustache. He’s a charterman now, he explains, but has done some logging. “They’re nuking this island,” he says. “Won’t be any trees left in a few years. It’s really too bad. Glad I’ve moved to fishing. I live in Campbell River. Just up here for a gig. You a fisherman? Yes, fog is usually bad this time of year. Chuck.” he says though I have not asked. “Chuck Stanley.”

Bars are a ready source of conversation, which is why I seek them out, but tonight I want to watch the game.

“Loser. Loser. Loser!” says the man to my right tapping in turn the lottery tickets he’s lined up next to his beer. Already he’s visited the vending machine several times.

Chuck rolls his eyes and withdraws.

“Willard.” says the bartender, “You don’t have to play Lotto. No one’s forcing you.”

“But I ain’t got no friends,” says Willard. He is thin, his face drawn; his beard and head are gray. He wears tight fitting jeans and a jean jacket but, in the appropriate attire, would look the part of a prospector.

“Sure you do,” says the bartender.

“OK.” he says, “but they’re just the ‘Hello Willard. Nice day, Willard’ type.” Willard feigns a spit that would have landed at my feet. “Not real friends at all.”

The bar tender smiles and moves off. Willard turns to me and continues.

“It’s not like I’m unfriendly, you know. Little kids love me…”

He leans over. I lean away.

“…my cousin’s son used to sit on my lap all evening. He would pet my knee like this…” Willard pets his knee–his fingers are long and pale, “…and give me a peck on the lips…” Willard touches his index finger to his lips and makes a pucker. “…Like this…” he says and kisses his index finger again.

I fix my gaze upon the television.

“Of course, when he turned fourteen I suggested kissing me on the lips was not such a good idea. Might give people the wrong impression. I advised him against it, you see.”

“Another beer?” the bartender asks.

“Not tonight,” I say.


Next morning, fog. A sea plane motors into the fairway and returns, defeated. Out in the offing, the car ferry blasts its horn at regular intervals. Murre and I depart at eleven, tired of waiting, though the fog is just as thick and the tide contrary. Two blips on the radar dead ahead: hard right wheel: a tug and barge fade into focus, pass, fade away. Mid afternoon the sky clears and a small wind comes up out of the northwest. I marvel at seeing Pacific Storm Petrels playing at the water top. By late afternoon wind is brisk. I pull into the single dock at Port Neville and require help landing Murre alongside. The dock is exposed to the wind and the tide is again contrary. I make two passes at the heaving platform before colliding with enough slowness to allow my assistant to grab Murre’s bow line.

That help is there at all is a surprise. In its heyday, Port Neville was never more than a store in a large, two-story log cabin, but the store has long since closed, and the land was, I thought, abandoned.

The man who greets me is stocky, short, well past retiring age, soft-spoken but garrulous. He is Joe, a custodian from Duncan when he worked but now a volunteer for the local mission that is leasing Port Neville with plans to turn it into a training camp for young proselytizers at some future date. He’s the caretaker, the lone resident on this wind-swept point. Three daughters, one in the Yukon, one in Duncan, and one in northern Maine. Two are married with children. Each year he drives from Maine to the Vancouver Ferry Terminal in two and a half days and without stopping; he uses alfalfa pills sold by Amway to stay awake. He has installed hydrogen injection cells into his truck, which have doubled his gas mileage. “It’s how I can afford the trip,” he says. He’s long since divorced. “I couldn’t please my wife. Being married to a janitor embarrassed her–she would rather have had the Prince of Wales.” And he’s long since caring, “I’ve had a couple of … opportunities … over the years, but hell, I’ve already done that!”

All this I learn while Murre’s engine idles itself cool.

Next morning, fog. Joe is already on the dock measuring the depth of water at low tide with an iron stake tied to a long length of rope. Last evening I had asked how much water would be under me at low tide. He didn’t know. “26 feet,” he says. Murre’s depth sounder shows 20. Again we talk. Or rather Joe talks. I depart early so as to catch a stand tide at Race Passage and am immediately bucking two knots against.

It is here that the navigation of Johnstone Strait becomes interesting, its walls increasing in height, growing shear and constricting as it drops from a course of east to south before pinching into a dog leg called Seymour Narrows–where spring tides can run 16 knots and even the cruise ships wait for slack water–before terminating into the Strait of Georgia. To the north and east of Johnstone is a network of waterways with names befitting a fast-moving river: Whirlpool Point, Surge Narrows, Devil’s Hole, Dent Rapids. The chart warnings are numerous: “Overfalls and eddies in Okisollo Channel upper rapids regions are extremely dangerous.” “Violent eddies and whirlpools exist on the east of Gillard Islands.” The choices for a passage south are numerous, all bad.

We buck a flood through Race Passage as the fog clears and are still bucking it until early afternoon. The sun is now full producing on the water far ahead a mirage that appears to be the silvery wave of an approaching tsunami out of which materializes the occasional tug and barge. The tide begins to ebb and our speed increases. At three Murre is tracking at seven knots over the ground; by four her speed is up to nine. Slowly we are overtaken from behind by a small fishing boat, a gillnetter, and as we approach Brown Bay, it passes. Brown Bay is at the head of Seymour Narrows and is where I intend to wait for the slack water of early morning. But the gillnetter is not waiting, and as our two boats are of similar size, I decide to continue.

Now the gillnetter seems to zoom ahead. And soon Murre is accelerating too, making ten knots in the narrows, then twelve, then fourteen in the gut before Seymour’s dog-leg. In the distance I see the gillnetter lean way over and whip around, and now I am steering heavily through glassy boils and depressions, seeking only to keep Murre to one side or the other of Ripple Rock, a mid-channel protrusion that hung just below the surface until it was purposefully blown up in the 1960s. Now depths over the much-reduced rock are to 65 feet, but the turbulence is considerable.

And suddenly we are through the turn and around Race Point. The sun is just on the horizon. The gillnetter is continuing on, but I pull Murre into a Campbell River marina for the night.


Passing through Seymour Narrows from Johnstone into the Strait of Georgia, one crosses a natural though invisible boundary. For one thing the next morning brought no fog; nor have we seen fog since. For another, grass in the parks of Campbell River is brown this time of year; the red and yellow leaves of trees turn in the wind; the air carries the spicy scent of chaparral. Another still, the shopping complex near the marina sports a Starbucks, our first since Hawaii, where, sitting outside in the sun I speak to a man who says it has not rained all summer.

Murre and I stay two days and another in the next town down, Comox. From here south the coast is a continuous line of generously spaced homes and denser centers, and any sense of wilderness is gone. Even at our next stop, Lasqueti Island, where Murre rests in pint-sized and bouldery Squitty Bay while I get to know new friends Joe and Linda (introduced by Bruce Allen), the wild resident is not bear but feral sheep. The people on Lasqueti are homesteaders, their houses largely built form the coast’s plentiful driftwood or its ample forests of Doug Fir; electricity is solar and this powers the freezers, the lights, and the pump that pulls drinking water from the well. Fresh vegetables are grown or acquired by barter. Entertainment is provided by neighbors rather than television. That first night Linda’s dinner is fresh baked bread and a soup of ingredients that were in the garden hours earlier; the next day I get to help Joe finish siding the new mud room. Life on Lasqueti is quiet, deliciously slow, but from the ridge at night I can see the amber lights of bustling Nanaimo across the channel.

This is where we head next day, and the day after to truly urban Victoria. Here the waterfront architecture suggest the age for which it is named and give to the city the feel of Londonesque sophistication. The near bay is crowded with boats, ferries, float planes, and streets are acrawl with tourists enjoying a late burst of summer. Booths line the promenade selling artwork and jewelry. Jazz bands, men on banjos or xylophones, women in pantomime busk late into the night. All this below the heavy, elaborate exterior of the Empress Hotel and the equally ornate House of Parliament.

Victoria ends our Canadian cruise. By noon on September 30th Murre has crossed the line. The maple leaf is lowered from the starboard spreader and no flag takes its place. At three we enter Friday Harbor and tie alongside the United States customs dock.


Racing through Canada, more PHOTOS

October 5, 2012

More photos of our passage through British Columbia, Port Neville to Victoria.

Racing through Canada, II

October 3, 2012

September 10 – 18

Some may contest that given my mode of transport I cannot possibly be racing through anything; that whether it be 140 miles noon to noon in boisterous trades or eight under similar suns in the doldrums, Murre is a slow goer by any meaningful measure. Doubly so, it could be argued, since averages are currently down to forty miles a day and every night is spent at anchor. But within the context of this cruise, where a month on the hook in a charming bay is the norm, our forced march through this network of intricate channels and narrows bordered by landlocked bays, deep fjords, snowy mountains feels a blur of speed.

The cause is winter’s approach and the only cure is southing. In summer the North Pacific High standing between this coast and the low pressure systems that spiral down from the Bering Sea shoulders north the worst of the wet and chill wind. But sometime after the solstice, after the sun begins its recession to the line, the High follows. The year matures; the High falls away, and without obstruction the lows lay in upon the land. As we moved along glassy Chatham Strait in mid August, a gale boomed up in Cross Sound; in early September we rounded Dixon Entrance as Chatham blew; when we rested in Prince Rupert, strong winds overtook Dixon. Each week that we make southing the southerlies are but one week behind. We are pushing to outpace winter and cannot afford to dawdle.

Mornings of this migration follow a ritual progression. Rise before sun-up into a cold cabin and argue with self which should come first: lighting the heater or dressing warmly. Sometimes it’s one, sometimes the other, but both occur before the cooking of water for coffee. Next, listen to the weather radio while topping off engine fluids, oil and coolant. Start engine. As it warms, prepare coffee and oatmeal and consume both while entering the day’s course in the chart plotter. Then switch on running lights, hook-up Wanderer, don boots, more sweaters, gloves, weigh anchor and put Murre out into the channel.

*Wanderer* is the electronic autopilot, a portable, low-power technology designed for small boats with tiller steering and adapted to Murre because of its price: cheap. I clamp the body of the Raymarine Tillerpilot to the aft rail and the head of its ram to the Monitor’s vane mount, and voila, we steer without wind. But badly. Murre’s forty year old wheel has some play in its worn bronze connections as do the gears in the twenty year old windvane. These combined with a necessary flaw in my Tillerpilot installation–it’s mounted backwards–means that our closest approach to a fair course is a lazy “S”. Thus the name.

In this way we pass down high-walled Grenville Channel, straight and uniform as a canal, to Kxngeal Inlet for the night; then next day we cross Wright Sound, passing close to port a floating Fir tree so large I learn of it first from a “hazards to navigation” bulletin on the radio. It includes green boughs and a root ball and appears freshly plucked from a nearby hillside. A seal rests on its trunk. The weather is deteriorating now, the sky lowering with wind from the south, some rain, and I fret over our night’s anchorage, Angler’s Cove. A mere scrape in the coast, Angler’s Cove was called Fisherman’s Cove until recently, renamed so as to disabuse first-timers like myself who might think that professional trollers would call it safe. They wouldn’t because it’s not. All night Murre swings close to the rocks as winds whip the water.

Wind eases to calm as we push next day down Fraser Reach past the collapsing cannery at Butedale then down Graham Reach by the Indian village of Klemtu and down Jackson Narrows, more rocks than water, to anchor in landlocked Rescue Bay whose complete protection is a wonder of nature. Next day dawns thick and foggy and we motor blind, except for radar, down Mathieson Channel and through the rocky turns of Perceval Narrows without seeing a thing. An hour into Seaforth Channel the sun has burned through, and the various blips on the radar screen become a tiny fleet of cruisers. Each passes Murre in turn, making our way feel all the slower as we round Dryad Point for the Indian village of New Bella Bella, so crowded with boats we opt for Shearwater, the next town on.

At the fuel dock I meet the harbormaster.

“I just saw a tug pulling a Swiss Chalet across the water on a barge,” I say in amazement as Murre kisses the dock and the man takes my lines. In fact, behind the tug was not only a Swiss Chalet, a brightly painted building of several stories topped by a steep roof and dormer windows, but also a barge carrying a large farm house and a barge carrying containers and a barge carrying heavy equipment, all behind the same tug.

“Just a fish camp,” he replies. “They move them around.”

Shearwater may be the only town in BC that has developed around a marine haul-out and repair facility. Even fifty years on the haul yard dwarfs the town, which includes a fine chandlery, a small grocery, a coffee shop that seconds as a book store, yoga studio and massage salon, and a store called Hodge Podge, where the inventory includes such things as lipstick, computer parts, Halloween costumes, extension chords, light bulbs, board games, greeting cards, and one pink and lavender tutu.

And of course there’s a pub.

Here I have a beer with the harbormaster that evening, a handsomely featured young man wearing a red flannel shirt and wool pants. He is a sailor too and has spent the last ten winters on his boat in Baja because “it’s cheaper to live in Mexico for six months of the year than to work in Canada for all twelve.”

I think to suggest that his salary for mastering a remote marina of twenty slips may be the cause of Canada’s expense, but he is obviously enamored.

“I got free room here.” he says. His diminutive two story, three room house is on floats at the head of the marina ramp.

“My commute is three minutes.” He rows the 50 yards to the fuel dock each day in an aluminum skiff.

“And when you yachties all leave, I shut’er down and go to Mexico.”

“But what do you find to do there each year?” I ask, suddenly forgetting my own occupation of late.

“Do?” He pauses. He seems not to comprehend the question. “Well, we snorkel some. Not much, I guess.”

“We” includes his girlfriend, who has just arrived. She is blond, dressed entirely in black, and her lips, tongue, nose and ears are pieced with silver metal. In my city she would be a commonplace, but on a small island whose town has 25 year-round residents and is 400 miles from Victoria, the nearest city, her appearance is strikingly unusual.

“I’ve lived here all my life,” she says. “I was the last white born on New Bella Bella. Now they like to fly pregnant whites down to Campbell River for the delivery.”

“Why?” I ask. She shrugs. “Better doctors I guess.”

“And the Indians are flown out too?”

“No. They have their own people.”

Fog is thick again next morning when I put Murre into Lama Passage and it clears by the time we reach Fitzhugh Sound. A group of four Sand Hill Cranes pass overhead. I spot a large log, but only after it is astern, and then two whales are ahead. A defect in the blowhole of one makes the heavy exhalations sound like a scream. Currents flow in our favor today, and at 4:30 we leave behind Addenbroke Island, our planned stop-over, and steam on until sundown, dropping anchor into landlocked Millbrook Cove off Smith Sound.

What do I mean by “landlocked”?

Millbrook Cove, for example, deeply set into a perfect circle of sheer rock, requires that Murre work in slowly and dog-leg fashion around two small islands whose channel is no wider than she is long. As she rounds the last of these it is like she enters an amphitheater. From the perspective of within, the two entrance islands overlap each other and the two exterior points of the cove and, like closing doors, shut off any view of sea beyond. Except that we had just entered, I would have said there was no way out.

The view from within is not what’s important, however. What’s important is that these islands that overlap the entrance lock outside any dangerous seas. Murre could ride out a hurricane in such a harbor and likely feel no effect but the wind.

There is not a single anchorage like this in San Francisco Bay, nor along any of the coastline between Cape Flattery and Cabo San Lucas. The Baja side of the Sea of Cortez has but one, large Puerto Escondido. Yet up here, with diligence, a cruiser can dig from his chart a cove or bay with these characteristics each day of his passage between Sitka and Victoria. It is enough to make a man weep at the injustice of such an uneven distribution wealth.

Next morning, the now usual fog, spun thick like cotton candy. The gillnetter Murre and I joined at anchor the previous night appears in no hurry, and the engines of our two boats tick over as we wait for the day’s intent to manifest. I am the less patient and weigh at ten when visibility in the cove is just better than nill. Today we will pass out into the open of Queen Charlotte Sound, and I want it done before the wind picks up to its predicted 20 knots from the northwest.

Out in the sound visibility is better than two miles. Seas are sloppy as we round Cape Caution. Rolling gunwale to gunwale as we are, I admire the stabilizers deployed on the gillnetter that has now departed Millbrook and is fast closing the gap between us without rolling at all. Ten hours later Murre and I are anchor down in Blunden Harbor, tucked behind Robinson and Edgell Islands, another landlocked anchorage.

Next day fog is thicker still as we cross Queen Charlotte Strait, dodging three tugs enroute to the town of Port McNiel where the sky doesn’t clear until late afternoon and just moments before the harbor entrance.

Racing through Canada, PHOTOS

September 26, 2012

Below are photographs to accompany recent posts.


Racing through Canada, I

September 22, 2012

September 7 through 10

Departing isn’t so sweet or sorrowful as it is frightening. Even with two years of departures, arrivals and more departures under our belts, a cold water runs over my heart when I lean to release Murre’s lines. Then, and always, as she moves into the offing, heaving in rhythm with the swell, heeling, stiffening, then settling as the sails take their bite, I realize it is only out here that the boat is sure of herself. At dock she is a horse tethered in a stall; departing is what she longs for–the fear is all mine.

In Ketchikan a day of sunny summer weather has given way to a low sky and a sharp north wind forecast to increase in the afternoon as a gale slowly develops west of Graham Island. It looks like rain. I hesitate. Our passage across Dixon Entrance is open to the ocean. Should I wait a day?

Joanna laughs at me. “You spent a month at sea to get to Sitka, and now you are scared of a few hours?”

I try to laugh too, but without success.

Wind flows strongly down the last of Tongass Narrows as does the tide, and as we pour out into Dixon Entrance it dies. The sky clears. I switch on the auto pilot and peel off jacket and fleeces.

That evening and forty miles south we hide in Port Tongass, nothing but a scrape in the lee of an island seemingly too small to have been, at one time, both a Tlingit village and then a western fort. Early next day we are underway in dead calm and a low southwest swell and pass into Canadian waters almost immediately. I replace the dour Alaskan ensign at the spreaders with the jaunty maple leaf. We are passing Green Island Lighthouse, and while still tying off the new flag, I notice dark spots on the water ahead. I check the chart and find that, in my haste, I’ve laid a course right over Connis Rocks, now three elephant backs head-high on the ebb. I reset course, tutting my stupidity.

We squeeze through tight and twisting Venn Passage on the first of the flood and are docked at the Prince Rupert Yacht Club by early afternoon.


“Hello. Sailing Vessel Murre, US registered, arriving from Ketchikan bound Seattle calling to check in,” I say into a pay phone at the head of the dock. A young woman with the customs office has answered the line.

“That’s strange,” she says, “I don’t show you in our system.”

“I arrived Alaska via Hawaii,” I say.

“Ok,” she hesitates, “but shouldn’t you have checked into Canada on your way north?”

“No, Sitka was my first port of call after Kauai.”

“Usually US yachts headed to Alaska pass through Canada and so must register with customs in one of the southern ports.”

I try to explain I was 2000 miles off shore when I came abeam of Victoria.

“Is that done?” she asks.


“Well, I’ve never heard of it. Can you state for the record that you couldn’t phone in from your location for remote clearance?”

“Quite easily,” I say.

“Sir, you’ll need to say it.”

“I swear.”

We move on to the usual list of questions.

“Guns aboard?”




“Fireworks, mace or pepper spray?”






“Illicit drugs.”

“I have some aspirin.”

Never ever joke with customs officials. I hear her spell in a whisper as she types “A-S-P-I-R…”

“OK. How much alcohol?” she continues. “Any wine?”

“Four boxes,” I say. I have stocked up in Ketchikan thinking (wrongly) that such essentials will be more expensive in Canada.

“How many bottles is that?”

“About 16.”

“And Beer?”

“About a case.”

“Case of 12 or 24?”


“Well,” she says, pausing to tally the results. “You are allowed four bottles of wine tariff-free–on others we need to charge a tax penalty.” She pauses. “But as it’s Friday, I’m not worried about your alcohol quantities. Let’s move on. Fruits and vegetables?”

Again, I’ve stocked up in Ketchikan. Assembling the list mentally I begin, “Some bananas and some Fuji apples…”

“Ok. It’s really only the apples we worry out. It’s the cores, you see. We don’t want the seeds in Canadian soil or interfering with our agriculture, so you can freeze the uneaten portions or promise not to throw away the cores until you pass back into the US.”

“I promise.”

“And as it’s Friday, there won’t be any boat inspection today. Welcome to Canada.”


The book says of Prince Rupert, “a vibrant port city.” Surely it is the closest thing to a city we have visited in months, but compared to Alaskan towns, I find it positively plain. Gone is any hint of the frontier swagger and braggadocio that is the norm up north. Houses are small, neatly kept, and most appear freshly painted. Lawns are cut and trimmed. Sidewalks are clean as if after a rain. Even on a Friday evening there is a sense of orderly quiet outside the subtly lit restaurants on the wharf. All of which suggests that the citizens of Prince Rupert are intent on nothing but work and the raising of families, neither of which are advanced by declaring a flashy, pioneer past.

What a relief, I think.

Next day this hunch proves true when I encounter in a central park the town patron rendered in bronze, a Charles Melville Hayes, dressed in a wool suit, topped with a bowler, a worldly man. Below his expensively-shod feet is a plaque describing Hayes with provincial awe as “our city’s benevolent founder” and “visionary promoter with a remarkable talent for raising vast sums of money.” Hayes built Prince Rupert as a port city at the western terminus of the transcontinental railroad (for which company he was president) and for the express purpose of competing with Vancouver for trade with Asia. But Hayes went down with the Titanic before his dream could be realized. Trade Prince Rupert had, and still has, but compete it could not. Without Hayes’ visionary leadership, it has settled into a prim mediocrity.

I spend a day walking this pleasant, quiet town and find that one day is enough.


Back at the dock, I ask my neighbor about some of the anchorages in the Grenville Channel, the next long leg south. He is a stoutly built old man in jeans supported by rainbow colored suspenders laying over a crisp, white t-shirt; his silvery hair is trim and his face smooth. Likewise, his converted troller, “built here in 1937,” he says, appears equally well cared for–her paint and bright work fresh, cabin neat.

“My book suggests there can be some good stretches between protection in Grenville,” I begin.

“Your book? Damned cruising books!” he says, “My wife got me one of those things for Christmas a couple years back. I’ve been on the water here most of my life. Now that I’m retired she thinks I need a book about where to anchor. Then for a while it was ‘the book says you’re suppose to be behind that rock,’ and I’d say, ‘No, I’m behind *this* rock because the wind’s going to turn west in the afternoon and the book don’t know that now does it?’ First weekend she was at her sisters I threw the damned thing overboard. But you were saying?”

I restate the question, omitting any reference to a cruising book, and get a fistful of anchorages to take Murre and me across Douglass Sound.


A few provisions before departure. The large grocery in Prince Rupert is a Safeway, remarkably similar in size and layout to the Safeway in Ketchikan. And in the produce section, a stack of Fuji apples remarkably similar to the stack of Fuji apples in the Ketchikan store. The only noticeable differences are the respective stickers: the Ketchikan apples attained their majority in nearby Washington State, whereas those in Prince Rupert have traveled all the way from New Zealand. Pleased as I was that the Friday-minded customs official forgave my alien apples, now I look askance at my growing bag of browning cores.


Petersburg to Ketchikan, PHOTOS

September 13, 2012

Pictures to accompany recent posts.

Click to enlarge.

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