Familiar waters

Underway, Johnstone Strait
N 50 30 304
W 126 30 709
June 12, 2008

Dear friends and family:

We have been hustling north, through rain, clouds, sun and mist. Each time there's been a turn in the weather, we've tried to take advantage of it. We have some folks who are expecting us in Alaska at specific times and places, so we're making every effort to not only get back on schedule, but also to get a bit ahead. That way, if we have another equipment failure (like the autopilot, fixed over a four day period in Anacortes) we'll have some travel time in the bank. Going northward with a purpose is pleasant.

As you motor or sail past buildings and
landmarks on shore, you can think about what their story might be. A short time ago we went by a small island in Johnstone Strait, with a
prominent blue house facing into the prevailing southeast storm winds.

The house looked somewhat the worse for wear, and the top of the island -- clear cut a few years ago -- was sporting a stubble of new growth, larger trees around the edges. I imagined that the owners didn't have quite enough money, but wanted to live there despite the
isolation and storm danger. So (I imagined) they cut down all the timber to have enough money to build a somewhat inadequate, difficult to maintain, house. Probably not true, but interesting to think about.

Passing by familiar islands brings back many pleasant memories. We cleared customs into Canada at Bedwell Harbour, all by telephone, no personal contact. Craig was grilled at length about our possible firearms (none) and we were told to put our one apple in the quarantine box. It joined dozens of other apples there. We weren't
going to go much farther before anchoring for the night, but the forecast was for rain the next day. We figured, why not make some distance while it wasn't raining, so we continued north to a long-time favorite anchorage at the north end of Thetis Island. When we've been there before, a summer camp was in full swing onshore. This time, the camp looked ready to go (sailing dinghies on the dock, lawns mowed, buildings freshly painted) but there was no sign of life. When you turn off the engine, just at dusk, the birds are twittering themselves
to sleep, a curious seal breaks above the water in the near distance, and otherwise it's very quiet. A real time of pleasure, peace and relaxation.

The next morning, we got up early to be at Dodd Narrows just before slack water. Dodd Narrows is essentially the exit from the Canadian Gulf Islands -- a narrow place where the water can run 5 or 6 knots at full flood or full ebb -- something you definitely don't want to buck, or even go with. There are often swift whirlpools that want to take control of the boat. We were glad not to meet a tug with a log boom there (we have encountered those before -- they like to take advantage of slack water as well), but as we emerged out the north end of the
narrows, there was indeed a tug pulling a log boom toward the entrance. He had a little, toy-like tug pushing around the end of the log raft.

We had planned to go to Nanaimo, but there wasn't much wind, and it wasn't raining (yet), so instead we set out across the Strait of Georgia, ending the day in Westview. We've done that trip before, in smaller boats, with lots of wind and big seas. It took us two days then, and I well remember tacking along Texada Island in strong winds, and particularly the time we ill-advisedly towed the dinghy with that cranky Sears outboard on the transom. One moment the motor was there and the next it wasn't. The depths there are more than 1000 feet...

Westview is looking prosperous, with most commercial spaces rented, and TWO Thai restaurants within a block of the marina. We ate at the new, closer one before we even looked to see if the old one was still there. We asked the waiter whether the two restaurants were related, and were told, somewhat indignantly, that the other one "isn't even owned by Thai people!" We went to the grocery store, acquired a few hardware items, and pushed on north, this time in lovely sunshine. The wind obliged, and we were able to sail for awhile.

We anchored that night in Squirrel Cove, and then headed towards the famous Yuculta Rapids. Our chart book relates how the local Indians discouraged the Spanish explorers from going through these rapids with their square rigged ships, the Sutil and the Mexicana. They proceeded anyway, and amazingly made it through without any loss of life or ship. The Mexicana was caught in a whirlpool and did three complete circles, and yet escaped in the desired direction. We aimed for the time of slack water, and had a much better method of propulsion than those early explorers. We did see big whirlpools, though, even at slack water. Right at the rapids, there is a fancy new fishing resort, not even in our cruising guides yet. It looks like one of those places you'd pay $750 a day for every luxury, plus more for the fishing guides. I'm not even sure it's open yet.
As the day continued, it became sunnier, and then the mountains came out of the mists. Snow covered mountains, to the southwest along the ridge of Vancouver Island, and to the east, in Mainland British Columbia.  (see photo at the top of this page). It was almost shorts-and-sandals weather. We anchored last night in Forward Harbour, along with about 15 other boats -- mostly power boats -- all seemingly headed for Alaska. They cleared out before we woke up this morning, even more determined than we are to make speed northward.

Today is grey and misty, and the mountains have
mostly gone back into hiding. We encountered our first Alaska cruise ship, "Rhapsody of the Seas," headed south. These are (at least to us) quite ugly vessels, built with slab sides (presumably for reasons of economy),
and looking so top-heavy you can't imagine how they would survive any
sort of rough weather. We got an advance warning from our AIS system that the ship was approaching through the mists, and made a course
correction so there'd be no danger of getting too close.

Left, top: our computer software, showing us (in green), and the approaching cruise ship.

Bottom: the Rhapsody of the Seas.

Tonight we'll stay in Port McNeill, get our internet fix, re-stock groceries, and then prepare to head into territory unknown, where we've never been before.

Best wishes to all!

Craig & Barbara Johnston

S/V Sequoia

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