Solitude And Wildlife In The Broughtons

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!

We just passed through Seymour Narrows. Now the water comes from Queen Charlotte Strait. Bye bye sun.

We just passed through Seymour Narrows. Now the water comes from Queen Charlotte Strait. Bye bye sun.

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.

The beautiful turquoise water is due to the glacial silt from the melting glaciers.

The beautiful turquoise water is due to the glacial silt from the melting glaciers.

Knight Inlet Sailing

Sailing out of Knight Inlet. This time against the anabatic wind.

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.

Our biggest Ling Cod of the trip. 17lbs. Still breaks my heart to end a life.

Our biggest Ling Cod of the trip. 17lbs. Still breaks our heart to end a life.

Four different marinades from that single Ling Cod. Due to our lack of refrigeration we had to eat fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner when we caught a big one!

Four different marinades from that single Ling Cod. Due to our lack of refrigeration, we had to eat fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner when we caught a big one! (yes, that’s a Gin Martini on the right, our new guilty pleasure)

It's not only the fishing that was easy. Dungeness crab feast, again!

It’s not only the fishing that was easy. Dungeness crab feast, again!

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.

Happy Hour at Shoal Bay Marina!

Happy Hour at Lagoon Cove Marina!

Happy Hour at Kwatsi Bay. This is when we met Tim and his son Jake whom we explored Bond Sound with.

Pot Luck at Kwatsi Bay. This is when we met Tim and his son Jake (on right) whom we explored Bond Sound with and had a major grizzly scare

Magical Shoal Bay Gardens. It's a pick and leave a donation model. Magical place

Magical Shoal Bay Gardens. It’s a pick and leave donation model

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.

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This is a close-up of the previous picture and Saxony's favourite by far. She loves it because you can see the underside of the cute little feet of the grizzly as he/she rests on his/her stomach. How adorable is that?!

This is a close-up of the previous picture and Saxony’s favourite by far. She loves it because you can see the underside of the cute little feet of the grizzly as he/she rests on his/her stomach. How adorable is that?!

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.

Oh look! A cute, fresh, massively-humongous grizzly paw print. Let's keep exploring! (Duh..)

Oh look! A cute, fresh, massively-humongous grizzly paw print. Let’s keep exploring! (Duh..)

More grizzle prints! Must be a safe place to be! We saw the grizzle a few short minutes after this

More grizzly prints! Must be a safe place to be! We saw the grizzly a few short minutes later

Celebrating not being mauled by a grizzly with Tim and Jake. Rafted up at Bond Sound

Celebrating not being mauled by a grizzly with Tim and Jake. Rafted up at Bond Sound

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.

This is what the dolphins look like when they travel as a large pod. Viewed from our anchor in Bond Sound

This is what the dolphins look like when they travel as a large pod. Viewed from our anchor in Bond Sound

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.

The dolphins charging into Kwatsi Bay. Little do they know the Orcas are chasing them silently a few minutes behind

The dolphins charging into Kwatsi Bay. Little do they know the Orcas are chasing them silently a few minutes behind

Panic! These dolphins are swimming for their lives and into the trap set by the Orcas

Panic! These dolphins are swimming for their lives and into the trap set by the Orcas

We felt really tiny in our dinghy with these big Orcas swimming and hunting all around us

We felt really tiny in our dinghy with these big Orcas swimming and hunting all around us

This Orca is spy-glassing. They stick their heads out of the water to get a visual out-of-water representation of the surroundings to better plan their attacks. (!!)

This Orca is spy-hopping. They stick their heads out of the water to get a visual out-of-water representation of the surroundings to better plan their attacks. (!!)

The aftermath. For some reason the Orcas left the head of this poor Dolphin behind

The aftermath. For some reason, the Orcas left the head of this poor Dolphin behind

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!

A campfire we made at the Northern most part of our trip. We even skinny dipped in the lake to celebrate the moment! (all the while watching over our shoulders for bears)

A campfire we made at the Northern most part of our trip. We even skinny dipped in the lake to celebrate the moment! (all the while watching over our shoulders for bears)

How cool is my girlfriend? Fishing bibs, boss sunglasses, wine bottle and glasses in one hand while driving the dinghy with the other. West Coast Woman!

How cool is my girlfriend? Fishing bibs, boss sunglasses, wine bottle and glasses in one hand while driving the dinghy with the other. West Coast Woman!

This is how bad-ass Ling Cods are. This one jumped on our lure even though it had a piece of it's previous lunch sticking out of it's mouth!

This is how bad-ass Ling Cods are. This one jumped on our lure even though it had a piece of its previous lunch sticking out of its mouth!

One of the few sunny days with warm-ish water in Loughborough Inlet

One of the few sunny days with warm-ish water in Loughborough Inlet

We reached the end of Loughborough Inlet and celebrated the first sun in a long time. :-)

We reached the end of Loughborough Inlet and celebrated the first sun in a long time. 🙂

Biggest Dungeness Crab we ever caught, over 3 lbs!

Biggest Dungeness Crab we ever caught, over 3 lbs!

Heli-logging in Kingcome Inlet. There is lots of resource extraction going on in the Northern Part of the Inside Passage

Heli-logging in Kingcome Inlet. There is lots of resource extraction going on in the Northern Part of the Inside Passage

Alone somewhere

Alone somewhere

Saxony making her famous cinnamon rolls!

Saxony making her famous cinnamon rolls!

Kwatsi Bay waterfall after biggest rain event of the trip

Kwatsi Bay waterfall after biggest rain event of the trip

BIGGEST spot prawn ever. This was an anomaly. Tasted terrible as well...

BIGGEST spot prawn ever. This was an anomaly. Tasted terrible as well…

Can you spot the family of grizzlies?

Can you spot the family of grizzlies?

Knight Inlet

Knight Inlet

Real sailing up fearsome Johnstone Strait

Real sailing up fearsome Johnstone Strait

And then once in a while the clouds would part and we remembered we were still in summer

And then once in a while, the clouds would part and we remembered we were still in summer

12 Comments

  1. What a beautiful description of sailing up Johnson Strait and exploring the inlets. Now I can curl up with my coffee and dream over winter. I even ‘felt’ your fear when confronted by the bear and yes, a can of bear-spray seems puny when confronting a 400lb. preditor!

  2. Great post! Wonderful story!

  3. Great pictures!
    You mentioned you love the predictability of the daily anabatic (inflow) and katabatic (outflow) winds in inlets – any more detail? Was the start + stop time of the winds pretty predictable? (ex, noon to 8pm?)

    And correct me if I’m wrong, but the inlets only get inflow wind right? So it’s a fun ride in but a tough upwind slog out? (unless you motor out early in the morning)

    One note: Orcas spy hop, not spy glass.

    • Thanks for the feedback and correction on spy hopping vs spy glassing. I’ve corrected my text. As for the anabatic vs katabatic.. in the name of keeping things simple, short and sweet I oversimplified my explanation in the post. You are correct that the typical anabatic flow period is from about noon to 8pm with a peak around 3 to 4 pm. This also matches the thermic activity inland. The anabatic and katabic are mainly in play during sunny weather and the strength of the flows is also greatly influenced by the instability in the air mass. The more unstable, the more thermic activity and thus the stronger the anabatic (inflow). In mountain valley systems the night outflow (katabatic) is very clearly present and can be quite strong. I did find this summer that the katabatic was almost impossible to detect at sea level, and we even enjoyed a full night of inflow sailing into Princess Louisa Inlet, thus blowing all standard theories out of the water. I believe the influence of local high and low pressures also has a strong influence on inflow vs outflow winds. All this said, we finally peeled out of Knight Inlet into Glendale Cove around 5pm on our sailing day and it was not a minute too soon. The inflow winds were howling at over 30 knots, we were running almost out of control and the relative calm of the cove was a welcome reprieve. The winds did finally completely die down at approx. 10pm. Hope this helps?

  4. WOW!!!!! LOVE it!!! THANKS!!!!!!!

  5. Amazing! thanks for posting. Those shots of the bears by the water edge are mind blowing

  6. Wowie, amazing photos and stories – seriously, you should both do this for a living. Always feel like I’ve stepped into a beautiful dream 🙂

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