Monday, October 31, 2005

Back to The Spit

Volume IX: Back to The Spit As you remember, way back when we last wrote, we were headed for Surge Narrows, a skinny rapids (197 feet wide at its minimum) that must be navigated only at or near slack water, the duration of which varies from five to eleven minutes. Not very long! We timed our arrival perfectly and transited easily with no other boats to contend with in the confined channel. We can imagine how stressful a transit might become when there are many boats wanting to go through at the same time. The Narrows deserves respect. We were aware of a boat that got hung up on Tusko Rock this summer, so we were very cautious. Mr. Tides, a tide and current software for Macintosh, helped us plan our timing. GPSNavX, our computer charting software, plotted our course on the BSB chart with coordinates from our Garmin 48 in real time. We send our kudos and thanks to Rich, the author of GPSNavX, and to August, the author of Mr. Tides, for their fabulous software! The day was mostly sunny with a faint breeze, not enough to sail until we reached the end of Hoskyn Channel when we rolled out the jib briefly to take advantage of a more defined flow of air of 20 knots from the NW. It's either no wind or a lot of wind around BC! We were considering seeking shelter in Village Bay to escape the wind, but when we turned the corner at The Spit, we could see that there was smooth water inside its arm of scrubby trees. Rebecca Spit was vacant of boats so we chose the "prime view" anchoring spot at the opening in The Spit– looking east across the northern reaches of the Strait of Georgia to the layers of mountains on the mainland. We hanged the bow anchor to our 33-pound Delta and stowed the Northill. The Northill is a great anchor– lightweight, easy to set, and it has never dragged. It wrapped up a loop of the rode a few times, so we started using a ten pound lead ball as an additional weight on the rode to increase the catenary. At Von Donop we lazily tippy-toed around our anchor and, even with the extra weight, the Northill came up so entangled in the rode and chain that it looked like a Chinese string puzzle! We decided to trust it only when we stern-tied ashore. When Rikki-tikki would be swinging in different directions with the changing tide and winds, the Delta could be trusted to hold without fouling and we would sleep better. We had the afternoon open (what else is new?) so we launched Darzee and motored over to Heriot Bay for groceries and wireless internet down in the Inn's laundry room while running a load. Another boat down from the Octopus Islands was at the marina. He latter came to The Spit and anchored real close to us (what else is new!?), but Clark warned him that we had a lot of scope out so he pulled a line to a log ashore and backed away. I managed to get a photo of the view before he arrived and planted himself in the middle of it. We spotted a little fleet of colorfully-painted Harlequin ducks, four drakes with six in their harem. We'd never seen Harlequins before; we strained our eyes admiring them. The drakes are stunning to look at and impossible to photograph– so shy. Another sailboat came in just as evening arrived but he chose wisely and allowed plenty of swinging room for both of us. His boat is the counterpoint to the gorgeous sky we all enjoyed. Rikki-tikki-tavi made big arcs over the water as the tide came and went, rocking a bit with the Whaletown ferry wake, but the wind remained calm. Fall was in the air and the guests at the resort were lounging in the sun overlooking the harbor. Kayakers paddled about and campers walked their dogs along The Spit trail out to the tip. The color of maple leaves turning vibrant hues accented the hillsides. It was a relaxed atmosphere, no crowds of cruising boats from the US bustling in and out of the marina, just the locals coming out to enjoy the peace. In all, we made three trips to send and receive email, download the latest version of GPSNavX, and do banking online. Thank you, Heriot Bay! A big low pressure system was predicted to bring strong SE winds, so we took Rikki-tikki to Heriot Bay for fuel, once again squeezing him in backwards between the ferry landing and the docks. Clark can maneuver him into some very small spaces! The ferry comes in just beyond the little floating store on the right in this photo. Gorge Harbour, on the south side of Cortes Island, beckoned with promised protection from SE gales and we hadn't been there yet, so off we went, motoring along under, yet again, amazing skies. It just doesn't get boring! Each day's atmosphere and appearance is surprisingly different from the one before. Even when it's silvery gray or raining, the infinite variety of reflections, shapes and light give us much pleasure. I was hoping to see Shark Spit. We had to pass by it, through Z-shaped, tricky Uganda Passage, on the way to Gorge Harbour. I wanted to see if it was the place I remembered visiting while cruising with my grandparents as a teenager. The low-lying spit back then was so thick with live sand dollars of every size that there was little room for sand! It was impossible not to crunch them as one walked. We spent a sunny afternoon there, fascinated by the multiple layers of the spiny creatures, marveling in their purple billions. We lined up rows of graduated sizes, from the tiniest, smaller than ones baby finger, all the way to specimens a couple of inches across. Now I feared that they would be no more, but the time wasn't right to find out. The tide was very high and Shark Spit was hidden beneath the waves. I would have to wait for another visit, hopefully when a gale wasn't on its way. If we could buy an island, this would be the one. An islet next to Shark Spit, it has just the right combination of rocky outcroppings and protecting trees, a small bay for Rikki-tikki, and a great location for a house with a dynamite view. There was already a house there of course, with a guest cottage no less. Someone else owns Clark's Island. Fair winds, Clark & Nina

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Cruising British Columbia

Volume VIII: Von Donop Inlet to Octopus Islands The day was sunny and the wind calm as we motored up to Lewis Channel to Teakerne Arm. A breeze began picking up from the south and we rolled out the jib. Almost there, we saw that Jim and Sharon were already on their way out, having had a lovely swim! They told us over VHF they were headed for Von Donop Inlet, the other side of Cortes Island, because a low was coming in. We'd planned to spend the night at Teakerne if the wind remained calm, but it was quickly rising. We snapped photos of the waterfall and made a quick tour of the shoreline as we listened to Environment Canada's weather forecast for strong southeasterlies headed our way. There is no anchorage at Cassel Lake– the shore drops off to 120 feet within mere yards of the rocks. We promised ourselves to visit again next year when there was no wind! Von Donop seemed a good place to hide out from strong winds, so we joined Jim and Sharon there. Rikki-tikki's Northill anchor held us in place close to the southeast shore, hopefully protected from whatever was coming our way. We went to shore and hiked the left-hand trail which had a sign reading, "Squirrel Cove 2.5 km, Everywhere else 12 km." Walking for thirty minutes did not bring us to the point where we'd turned back from the other side. We were left wondering. We invited Jim and Sharon to chicken dinner, which we poached "a la Danny Kaye", a recipe from Jacques Pépin's book, The Apprentice. It is gently boiled for only ten minutes, then rests in the poaching liquid for forty-five. A perfect energy-saving dish for cruisers! We enjoyed a wonderful evening– it was calm and windless, quiet and serene, save for our lively conversation around the table. Next day, feeling the need to stretch our legs again, we set out on trail number three, the right-hand one, determined to actually arrive somewhere. It started out with a bit uphill, got my heart going, but then it leveled out to become a rolling path through alder and ferns. It was a pleasant and lovely trail, obviously well-travelled, but we were alone. Most of the trail is through First Nation People's land. Their name for Von Donop is Hathayim. The trail ended at the road to Whaletown, where we sat and had a snack, then hiked back. That afternoon, we heard the rumble of quadrunners and one appeared at the trailhead. Perhaps they were some of the volunteers who maintain the trails. We finally saw another eagle! After spotting only two eagles at Rebecca Spit since we arrived in Canada August 4th, we've often asked ourselves, "Where are all the eagles?" Are there just too many people, too many boats, too much pressure on the environment? Wildlife seems sparse to us, the forest and skies silent. We did see a small flock of Bonaparte gulls here and two red-breasted sapsuckers while hiking. At nine a.m. before breakfast, we left for Hole-in-the-Wall, a passage with a rapids at the end. We needed to arrive at slack water and had decided at the last minute to leave... we hadn't even eaten breakfast! So we turned up the throttle and zoomed north at seven-plus knots. There was a lot of debris to dodge as the tide had been extremely high and, when that happens, a lot of stuff gets lifted off the shoreline and carried into the channels. Another gorgeous scene, a silvery reminder of the rain overnight, made my photo look like black and white! Our arrival at the rapids was either a couple of minutes too early or a couple too late. We steered through the mild, though unnerving, whirls and upwellings, crossing the channel to enter the Octopus Islands Marine Park at low tide. This can be a good thing because at least you can see where the rocks are! The channel is very narrow and we went dead slow. Two boats were already shore-tied and we did likewise across the cove. Octopus Islands are a cluster, a very small cluster, of rocky islets with lots more rocks and hard things to hit if you're not careful. We've been told that it's very crowded in summer so we were glad to be there in September! Only one other boat, a small houseboat on the last night, came into "our" cove the five nights we were there. We hiked (more about that later), worked on our blog, met the cruisers on the other two boats and explored in Darzee. It rained the first night and dawn came shrouded in fog, otherwise sun bathed Rikki-tikki. Pat and Barry, who'd sailed their boat over from Hilo, Hawaii, told us that we had to go see a little cabin on the neighboring private island. We motored over in Darzee. It was chock-full with cruiser memorabilia! We spend an hour or so looking at mementos created and left by crews of boats. Some were very elaborate and large, others just a pencilled poem or decorated clamshell. It appeared to be a tradition for some to leave a new one or add to an existing artifact with each annual visit. We had to make and leave one from Rikki-tikki-tavi! We selected a piece of driftwood from the shore in front of the cabin, took it back to RTT, and carved our contribution to the fantastic clutter. There is room for us to add the year of each future visit. We tied our creation to a beam above one of the windows. John and Lynda told us we should hike the trail to Newton Lake above Waiat Bay. They'd been for a swim four times since arriving. They told us to take the trail to the left and that it was the easier trail, forty-five minutes. They also said that there were wolves in the area (I knew I'd heard howling the previous night!). We motored over (it took ten minutes to get there at top speed!), tied Darzee up to the shore on a lowering tide, giving him a very long tether and pushing him out so he would float free and not have to be carried back to the water. With the motor, the weight would be unmanageable. A group of kayakers were arriving at the same time, but thought better of attempting the hike (did they know something we didn't?) and returned to their kayaks. So we set off into the dense forest, just the two of us. Everything was nice and fresh from the rain, ferns perky, mosses spongy and green. There was a plethora of fungi and we saw new ones we hadn't see before. We must get a book! We took the left fork. As we went, the trail become more convoluted, detouring around downed trees and wet spots. It was obvious that someone maintains the trail as there were ribbon markers and freshly cut stumps, so it was not difficult to follow. In places, a deeply worn path cut through mosses three feet thick, dense sword ferns, cedar trees of some size but not old-growth. There were huge stumps with notches cut into them– evidence of logging long ago. We hiked for an hour. Clark started to question that we'd taken the right trail, but we'd seen no other and this one was clearly marked. So on we went. When the path turned uphill to become steep switchbacks, Clark was sure we'd done something wrong, but we kept climbing, very slowly. The path got narrower, suitable for mountain goats only– one edge went nearly straight down the mountain, the other side was steep enough to use as a handhold. I was worried about going back down! Finally, we crossed a trickling falls and then heard a larger falls close by. We climbed some more, the path leveled out and we saw a swampy pond through the trees. No way! We hiked all this way for that? Just then, I stepped in some wolf poop. Thank goodness for the thick moss on the path sides– that is sticky stuff! This couldn't be the right lake, we decided, so we continued trudging along. We were rewarded by arriving (an hour and forty-five minutes later!) at Newton Lake– a sign confirmed it. Very large and with crystal clear water, the lake didn't seem to offer any shore with swimming access. Spotting a rock outcropping around to the left, we continued hiking there. At this point, Clark was still sure there was an easier trail than the one we'd suffered, but the path ended at the rocks. Snack time– all we brought was a little baggy of nuts! We considered bathing but there was a chilly breeze and we hadn't brought a towel. We heard voices and I saw a couple on a rock outcrop to the right of where the trail came to the lake. It was Clark's turn to step in wolf poop on the way back. As he tried to remove the glop from his right shoe, he stepped into a whopper with his left shoe! Descending the steep trail, I stepped carefully over the ledges, rocks, tree roots, and banana slugs. I nailed one unfortunate invertebrate and almost slipped over the edge! We were soon overtaken by the two we'd seen at the lake. They bounded down the trail, with their dog in the lead, like mountain goats. John and Lynda arrived after us, got there while we were fumbling around on the wrong side of the lake, took their swim, and made it back to their dinghy way before us. Luckily they waited around on the shore for us to help carry Darzee. He'd gotten hung up in some rocks as the tide went out. All told, that hour and a half hike took us three and a half hours– and we didn't even get a swim! I saw a flotilla of surf scoters on the way back to Rikki. On the 24th, we left Octopus Islands headed for Surge Narrows at slack water, with a final destination of Rebecca Spit. It was another sunny, beautiful day in British Columbia! Fair winds, Clark and Nina

Grace & Squirrel

Volume VII: Grace and Squirrel Sounds like "Moose and Squirrel", from Rocky and Bullwinkel, my favorite cartoon series. My birthday the same day as Bullwinkel's! Anyway, from where we left off... Grace Harbor wasn't too crowded but we did our "head for the head" routine. Our theory is other boats won't anchor in the shallow areas and we'll have more privacy. Sometimes works, sometimes not. The second day, it wasn't working. We rowed into the area where the guide book says the stream flowing into the bay creates warm pools, where you'll be able to splash as you enjoy the rain forest. Hmmm. All we discovered were old rusty tractor parts, a big tire, muck and uninviting ooze. Maybe we had the wrong stream? We saw some folks had gone ashore from their dinghies a short distance away, so we headed there. We found a campsite, a pit toilet and a trail leading to the squishy mud trail that the "stream" piddled across. We're doing something wrong. The next day, we decided we just hadn't walked far enough, so we trekked past the mucky part and down a long trail through the forest. It dwindled as more and more fallen trees blocked the way. Clark found himself interested in capturing the growth of mushrooms and fungi on his video camera. He did find a wide variety to keep him busy! I continued to search for a trail to the "swimming lake", having spotted water through the trees (there is a lake on the chart too). Finally, I was at the edge of a wetland filled with grasses and lily pads. Could this be the right lake? It was pretty though, and Clark amused himself by taking movies of moss and spiders in their perfectly formed webs. We started back and heard people calling to each other. The couple we met were gathering chantrelles! Here we were just taking photos of mushrooms, they were collecting dinner. The man, named Wolf, told us where to look for these delicate edibles and we were off– bushwacking uphill off-trail in search of the elusive 'rooms. Two hours later, I'd found one, which Wolf later pronounced as "old", but we ate it anyway in an omelette next morning. Some new sea animals were revealed on a "really-low-tide" morning foray around the bay in Darzee. We were unsure what they were. They looked like anemones but had highly branched arms and five-segmented bodies. They were purple or orange, pink or wine-colored. Then we spotted some smaller white ones with more feathery arms. None of them were above the lowest tide mark but I managed to touch one just under the surface. It pulled in its arms and then we thought they might be nudibranchs. Research back on the boat proved the colored ones to be red sea cucumbers. The smaller white ones were stiff-footed sea cucumbers. They live in the sub-tidal zone and wedge their bodies between rocks. The shore around Grace Harbor is a good habitat for them; lots of little rocks and boulders. The water is usually very calm in the morning and, if you are lucky to get out before the first motorized dinghy takes a dog to shore for you-know-what, the rocks, seaweeds and mosses make interesting "totems". That's what my grandparents called the reflections along the shoreline. Our family has hundreds of Kodak slides of the totems they saw in their ten years of cruising BC. I thought this one was particularly intriguing. Wolf and Jan on Theresa II hailed us as we rowed by and invited us aboard. They spent a couple of hours telling us all about their "secret" places. They've been "out" for six years (New Zealand, Fiji, etc) and have returned home to Comox, to continue their already-decades of experience boating in BC. Cruisers are so generous! Later, we rowed over a shore-tie and let out more rode to back away from a powerboat who anchored too close. At our afternoon coffee time, we reconsidered our decision to head south, back to the Gulf Islands. We had plenty of time to keep exploring, did we not? What was the rush? We'd only been here a couple of weeks! So Rikki-tikki turned north and made tracks again for Squirrel Cove, Cortes Island. We needed a few provisions if were to stay longer. The tide was running a bit in Malaspina Inlet on our way out and we had a bit of fun negotiating the whirlpools and upwellings. A south wind was rising as we entered Squirrel Cove. We chose a spot far away from the cluster of boats anchored in front of the lagoon. We looked for protected, smooth water behind an islet, thinking, "surely nobody would be anchoring too close to us here!" It wasn't two hours before four, count 'em four, identical SunSail charter sailboats, each with five aboard, assembled in close proximity behind us. The first boat's bow man dropped the anchor and chain straight down, where it hit bottom and stopped paying out. The guy in the cockpit was standing with his hands in his pockets, gazing rather confusedly at the steering pedestal. The ladies disappeared below. The guy up front looked down at the spot where he'd dropped the anchor, straightened up, then threw his hands in the air and walked back to the stern. We were glad we were upwind, but what if the wind switched around... we'd be a sitting mongoose! (Later, at the town store, I asked the man who'd been on the bow where their fleet was headed next. Little did he realize, I just wanted to make sure we didn't go where they were going.) Rikki-tikki and crew found enough to keep things interesting for three nights. We took the trail. The sign read, "2.51 km", but didn't indicate to where. It was a lot of uphill through dense forest, lots of ferns and cedar, no chantrelles (Clark is now on continuous alert). Soon, the sun was on the verge of setting, so back down we went, not having arrived anywhere other than where we started. The tide was very high and that was when we met Jim. He was in his dinghy at the trailhead sign (told you the tide was very high!) asking where and how far? We couldn't give him that info, but did suggest waiting until high slack water to explore the lagoon. He roared back to his boat to pick up his wife, Sharon, and we all went over to the lagoon and shut off our motors. The end of the flood carried us in but it was too dark and the tide was too high, so we couldn't see any of the grand creatures we'd seen a couple weeks before. Just as we reached the other side, the tide turned and carried both dinghies back out into the bay! A short visit, but we met new friends. This is what happens when a boat is not moving very fast! Spiders set up housekeeping. Jim and Sharon took off early for Teakerne Arm the next morning for a swim at famous Cassel Lake. Coincidentally, we'd also planned to go there that day. We took Rikki-tikki to the public dock for another stop at the Squirrel Cove store on the way out. They had the right size fuel filters for RTT's oil change. A few phone calls to family and we were on our way to Teakerne Arm. Calm waters, Clark and Nina


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