First off, Happy New Year!!
And no, we haven’t just returned from the Broughtons. That part of our trip started in late July and lasted until approximately the end of August 2015. Heading North from Desolation Sound in the third week of July also meant leaving all cellular connection behind. We did stay in a few marinas in the Broughtons along the way but they were all connected to slow as molasses satellite internet. They even ask guests to limit themselves to emails only, no photos, no videos, no facebook.
When we returned to Vancouver in mid-September, we were overwhelmed with the return to work, new careers, moving back into our land life and we left the final part of our Leela journey story-telling on the back burner. I think we both had to digest and process the incredible journey we had just been on. This is the first of 3 final blog posts to cover the summer 2015 adventure aboard Leela.
The first 60 days of our trip saw only 7 days of grey weather and/or rain. Summer 2015 in the Pacific Northwest was one of the warmest and sunniest on record. We had been enjoying weeks of frolicking in the sun with friends, swimming in 75F water and all around relaxing good times. All that was about to change. After a resupply stop in Campbell River, we headed North through Seymour Narrows which was the location of the 1958 explosion of Ripple Rock. At the time, it was the largest non-nuclear man-made explosion in the world. You can watch the video of the explosion here. Crossing Seymour Narrows we entered a whole new world, immediately. The sun was gone, the drizzle was upon us, the water temperature immediately plunged to 53F (“you fall you die” was our motto sailing these waters), the tourist boats were gone and the wildlife increased exponentially. There is only one way to describe cruising North of Desolation Sound. Incredible amounts of Wild Life, solitude and verrrry cold waters!
This is the point in the trip when we had to decide whether we would push to Haida Gwaii or perhaps circumnavigate Vancouver Island. Looking at our calendar we realized that after too many lazy days in Desolation Sound, the pace of travel required for any of those two options would be too much, too fast. So it came to be that we decided to travel up and down the Inside Passage for this summer adventure.
We spent the following 3 weeks pushing North at a leisurely pace. We discovered we both share a passion for exploring Inlets, finding so much beauty in these stretches of water that literally split the mountains apart and afford the seagoing traveller a unique perspective into the Coastal mountains. From my paragliding background, I love the predictability of the daily anabatic (inflow) and katabatic (outflow) winds. The strong wind pushing us deeper into the Inlet is literally feeding the beautiful thermals that exist above the mountain tops further inland. We explored Loughborough Inlet, Knight Inlet, Bond Sound and Kingcome Inlet.
Grocery stores are far apart and we had no refrigeration so we eventually completely ran out of ice. For a period of 12 days, we had no ice, no cold food, no cold beer and no cell reception. It was highly therapeutic. Fishing in these cold waters is usually very easy so we would catch our evening’s meal in 10-15 minutes of “work”. We would eat fresh fish and rice on an almost daily basis and learned to appreciate the taste of “bilge temperature” beer.
We were unusual cruisers in that part of the world. First off, most cruisers North of Desolation Sound are aboard motorboats, not sailboats. They also mainly seem to be quite a bit older than us. And finally, most cruisers congregate in the few marinas available and seem to really enjoy the social scene. There are few sailors in these waters that seem to enjoy the endless exploration and solitude which we craved. From our Dreamskeeper Cruising Guides, we knew we had to try out the unique Broughton Marina Social Scene. It’s unlike anywhere else on this Coast. Most of these marinas are quite small and there is always at least a happy hour at 5 pm or at best a potluck with all of the cruisers. We ended up visiting Shoal Bay for an afternoon (which we loved!) and staying overnight at Lagoon Cove Marina (famous for their happy hour bucket of prawns) and Kwatsi Bay (our favourite marina of all, the owners and fellow cruisers are the loveliest people). We had a most memorable evening of guitar playing and chance encounters with Keith and his friends aboard their beautiful Grand Banks cruisers in Lagoon Cove.
And then there was the wildlife. The real highlight of our times North of Desolation Sound and into the Broughtons. Un-believable. It’s like being in a National Geographic feature in real time. Here are some highlights.
When we were in Knight Inlet, we anchored in Glendale Cove which is re-known for Grizzly sightseeing. There is even a floating lodge up there that caters to grizzly sightseeing holidays. In the morning, the Grizzlies forage at low tide. We simply paddled over in our dinghy being careful not to use the outboard engine and it was the first time in our lives we were so close to real grizzlies in their natural habitat.
A few weeks later we went and anchored in Bond Sound with our new father/son friends Tim and Jake. We decided to explore by dinghy the Bond River which is a well-known salmon spawning habitat and home to many grizzlies. I am still not too sure what lack of common sense got into us that day but reaching a natural dam in the river caused by fallen trees in a recent flood we continued by foot. And there were grizzly paw prints all over the place. Again, any normal common sense would have told us to hightail it out there but we just kept on exploring up the river! Suddenly, Tim points ahead, “There! A grizzly!”. The grizzly stood up on its hind legs (or maybe just sniffed the air, my over-adrenaline brain doesn’t quite remember) and started deliberately walking towards us. This was a real moment of fear. Not just I’m a little bit afraid to jump this on my skis, but real in-your-gut, oh-my-god, we are in the middle of grizzly habitat and a real live grizzly is walking purposely towards us and all we’ve got is this flimsy can of bear spray. I held the bear spray in my hands and we all started backing up slowly waving our arms in the air trying to appear bigger (and braver) than we really were. When we rounded a bend in the river and were out of sight of the Grizzly we ran for the dinghy as fast as we could. I think it shook all of us up quite a bit and the fear lingered with us for the rest of our trip. We never went to shore without continuously scanning the tree line for these big predators.
Cruising North and into the Broughtons also put us into contact with many whales. We had humpback whale sightings as well as our first Pacific White Sided dolphins. And of course the Orcas. One day we were fishing near Kwatsi Bay in our dinghy and all of a sudden we heard what sounded like a storm or thunder on the horizon. It was actually a pod of hundreds of Pacific White Sided Dolphins charging (and I mean charging) into the Bay. We assumed they corner the fish as a group as part of their hunting tactics. They went around us, below our dinghy, splashing everywhere. It was a most magical experience.
The next day we were staying at Kwatsi Bay Marina when the same pod of dolphins came back for some more hunting. Again it was a surreal moment with all the cruisers reaching for their telephoto lenses to capture the moment. However, this time we all received a humbling lesson in the rawness/beauty of nature. Trailing the dolphins, maybe 10-15 minutes behind, was a pod of transient Orcas. While the dolphins came charging and crashing in their usual style, the Orcas were eerily silent, moving slowly and with purpose. The Orcas then reversed the tables on the dolphins and used the same but perhaps more evolved and strategic hunting tactics on the dolphins. It was like watching a highly evolved chess game played by the Orcas. They would post 1 or 2 guards at the entrance of the bay and they would then move towards the group of unsuspecting and hunting dolphins. A panicked frenzy of dolphins would ensue thus splitting the group. The panicked dolphins would race towards the entrance of the bay, usually hugging the shoreline as they probably felt safer knowing they were protected on at least one flank. As they reached the entrance to the bay, the 1 or 2 Orca guards would pounce and we would then witness the kill. This went on for over one hour and we, along with other cruisers, witnessed the whole thing from our dinghy in the middle of the action. I mean, really middle. At some point our dinghy lurched from the boils created by an Orca that most probably attacked a dolphin underneath our tiny little inflatable boat. This was probably the most humbling experience of our entire trip. Dolphins are very intelligent. It became clear to me that day that Orcas are even more so.
In the end, we made it as far North as Turnbull Cove which is geographically further North than the Northern tip of Vancouver Island. We left in a hurry due to a terrible tooth/gum infection that was growing exceedingly impossible to control with over 12 Ibuprofens a day. A very nice dentist in Port McNeill agreed to squeeze me in between patients and pulled out a tiny piece of crab shell that got lodged between my gum and back-most molar. Karmic revenge I guess!
Stay tuned for the next few blog posts to conclude the story of our summer adventure aboard Leela. These include a visit from Saxony’s dad, our friends Mike and Heather, my dad and Sister, Tall Neil, as well as our thoughts and conclusions as we returned to Vancouver!