August 15, 2008

N 50 degrees, 26.663 minutes, W 125 degrees, 17.274 minutes

Fishing, off Hall Point, Sonora Island   

Dear friends and family:

We're back in the land of our many years' summer vacations: Desolation Sound.  It feels sort of like we're on vacation from all that rain and wind in Alaska.  Nearly every day is sunny, maybe a little bit of fog in the morning.   Yesterday it was more than 80 degrees, and today promises the same. There are lots of boats here.  Every anchorage is full, and we have to pick our way among the boats, finding a spot that isn't too deep or too shallow, allows enough room to swing on the anchor without hitting other boats, and has good holding.  The ideal holding ground is mud.  After a night anchored in mud, the anchor comes up caked with sticky stuff, maybe with embedded clamshells.  More often (including last night, in Thurston Harbour) we find loose rocks on the bottom.  The anchor rumbles its way through the rocks, maybe finally holding, maybe not.  All night, even in the calmest anchorages, the chain is rumbling around across the rocks, conveying the clanking right into our slumbering (or not) ears.

Above: In good holding ground, the anchor comes up covered with sticky mud.

Here in Desolation Sound, we had hopes of catching up with three different families.  One is already back in Seattle.  Another is heading north, but still  in the San Juans.  We caught up, yesterday, though, with Mike and Nancy, and son, Brandon, who were staying at the Dent Island resort.  Although they've been anchoring out for a couple of weeks, they made reservations at Dent to take advantage the fish guide service.  In normal summers, Dent is full up, so we really had no hope of getting onto the dock there.  But this is an unusual summer.  We've been told by many people that there are only about half the boats this year.  Perhaps it's the high fuel price, or the recession, but in any case, the Dent docks were only half full.  So we pulled in and spent a nice evening with Mike & Nancy, took advantage of the washer & dryer, continental breakfast, superb shower facilities, and Craig went out for 4 hours of charter fishing. Brandon caught two lovely King salmon, but he was the only one in the charter boat that did.  Craig's appetite was whetted (and he'd learned a few of the local fishing secrets), so we came back to the same spot this morning.  No luck, though!
Mike, Nancy, Barbara, Craig at Dent Island Brandon and his two king salmon
Craig and Mike with some of the cooked crab [Later]  We found Mike & Nancy again and joined together to get lots of crab and oysters, together with "adventures in anchoring."  Tomorrow we'll head south.  Predictions are for strong adverse winds by Monday, and we hope to get a good way south before then.


But let me backtrack a little:  I think I last wrote just when we hit a whale, just north of Cape Caution.  The boat behind us, El Bucanero, got the whale on film, after the event, so we think the poor creature is fine.   We stayed that night in a windswept harbor in a clear-cut area.  The trees that were left were so bedraggled and windswept that it's hard to imagine the loggers got much good timber out of the project.  The fog closed in shortly after we put our anchor down, and was still there in the morning.  So we really didn't have to look at the scarred landscape.  And we started around Cape Caution in the fog, picking objects out of the radar.
The fog cleared, there was no wind and not much in the way of waves.  We headed for Blunden Harbour, where we stayed for a couple of days.  There were perhaps 8 or 10 boats there -- Blunden Harbour is the farthest north that many people venture.  (There seems to be a real or psychological barrier about rounding Cape Caution -- I'm sure the name doesn't help.)  The shore of Blunden Harbour is the site of a former First Nations village.  The bank above the beach is a shell midden, and where the earth is crumbled away you can see the kitchen refuse (shells) from thousands of years of habitation.  The beach itself is, in many places, just small pieces of shells -- no sand at all.  Mixed into the shells, you can find bits of plates and glassware, hunks of iron -- pieces of stove, old tools, and engine parts.  Of course it is a historic site, so nothing is allowed to be removed.  People have nevertheless collected some of the interesting bits and arrayed them on top of logs and pieces of driftwood.  From Blunden Harbour, we took the dinghy up a long inlet, through a tidal rapids, and into a huge lagoon.  Reportedly, at high tide, large boats can get into the lagoon, but it would take more daring and risk inclination than we've got.
Our next stop was Sullivan Bay, one of the many small boaters gathering places in the Broughton Islands.  There is a small general store, laundry, restaurant and fuel.  This one is a bit different from the others because it has extensive docks populated by substantial new, and in some cases elegant, houseboats.  One had a float plane alongside, and many had fancy motor yachts. 

El Bucanero also called at Sullivan Bay, and we had dinner with them.  They gave us copies of their pictures of the whale encounter.  I did laundry in the brownish water (full of tannin, leached out of cedar bark in the hillsides which are their water source).  Fortunately the clothes didn't seem to absorb the brown color.

Next was Lagoon Cove, where they have a famous "Happy Hour" supplied by buckets of local prawns and boater contributions.  You bring your own drinks, your food contribution, and your plate.  Although it's supposedly appetizers, there's not much need for dinner afterwards.  Bill (one of the owners) tells stories, and boaters get to know each other. We were finally driven away by the mosquitos, which were abundant, despite the valiant efforts of the barn swallows (also abundant).  When we emerged from the boat, in the morning, about 50 of the barn swallows were perched on our lifelines, having left their tiny (but collectively abundant) deposits on our deck.  As Craig pointed out, those deposits used to be mosquitoes, so on the whole it's not a bad thing
When we listen to the weather reports, it's still raining and blowing up in Alaska.  We're glad to be here, not there.

That's about it, up to this point, not mentioning the vigorous boat-washing that's been taking place, thanks to the barn swallows and mosquitoes.

Best wishes to all!

Craig & Barbara Johnston

S/V Sequoia

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