Beautiful Baja Cruising

It’s been a very interesting and varied few weeks since leaving the beautiful Isla Espiritu Santo, cruising north along the east coast of the Baja peninsular dodging the strong northerly winds every few days.  There are plenty of lovely anchorages along the way,  with varying protection. San Evaristo was beautiful and well protected with a nice walk along the beach, and one of the dirt roads that leads out of the small fishing village took us to some salt evaporation ponds on the other side of the point.

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The stunning Sierra de la Giganta mountain range

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A shrimping boat takes a rest

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Salt evaporation ponds gleaming in the sunlight

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The tiny rural school in the village

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The small fishing community at San Evaristo

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A chance to sail in the San Jose Channel

Our favourite anchorage was on the southern shore of Isla Coronados which is about 5 miles north-east of the small town of Loreto.  Uninhabited and part of the National Park, the island is actually a volcano with a beautiful sandy spit at its base. The volcano provided us with great protection in its lee during a week-long northerly with gusts up to 35 knots,  we sat comfortably with just a small amount of wind chop watching the large waves rolling on by past the island.  Within kayaking reach of a small beach we had the island all to ourselves, the tourists stayed away for days as the boat trip out from Loreto would have been quite horrible.  It’s not all that easy paddling against strong wind in an inflatable kayak, it was a wet experience but gave us a much-needed work out. We took a couple of hours to hike to the top of the volcano for a picnic, it was pretty tough on the ankles and trainers as most of the trek was across acres of rubble-like rocks which were quite wobbly and sharp.  The last part was very steep and slippery on loose gravel but we made it, our lunch stop at the top was pretty wind-blown as the gusts accelerated over the peak. Great views though.

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The volcano in the distance

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Cairns mark the trail across the rubble

 

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Looking across the sand spit to the mainland

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Nice calm water in the lee of the island

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A great view of Isla Carmen 8 miles to the south

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Going down was tricky, that slippery gravel meant I was on my backside quite a bit.  Sadly my Sketchers were no match for the sharp rocks, now we are both in need of some new trainers.  The beach at the base of the volcano on the western shore is pretty stunning, and there is a network of well maintained paths that lead through the sand-dunes giving a much easier and gentle workout for the old knees. After our second trip ashore on one of the windiest days we kayaked back to Joy with the wind behind us, paddling hard so as not to miss her we arrived at the steps doing around 5 knots. The only way to stop was to grab hold of the fenders pretty quickly and hang on for dear life.  We really didn’t fancy missing the goal, being blown out to sea and having to paddle like hell to get back.  We made it, but I strained my dodgy knee getting out of the kayak and back up the steps, that put me out of action for a few days.

 

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Joy anchored in the lee of Isla Coronados

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A well-marked trail through the scrub

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This poor little fella with a broken wind followed us up the beach, we returned the next day with some bait fish and left over tuna for him!

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This one’s aptly named a ‘rambling’ cactus

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The windward beach, not so nice!

Loreto is such a lovely little town full of character and friendly people.  There is no protected anchorage just an open roadstead, but it’s an easy hop from Isla Coronados and when the weather is settled it’s possible to anchor off the small town harbour for a few hours. There are a couple of good supermarkets and plenty of excellent restaurants to choose from.   Mexican supermarkets generally have an abundance of avocados, limes and fresh coriander. Jez makes a fantastic chunky guacamole with avocado, onion, garlic, coriander and lime juice, a wonderful change from popcorn at beer o’clock.

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Approaching the beautiful town of Loreto

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It’s amazing what you can find next to the bacon in the supermarket chiller!

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I’m not telling porkies……

The waters around Loreto are pretty special too, huge pods of dolphin can often be seen feeding as well as hundreds of pelicans and one day we were lucky enough to be startled by a humpback whale leaping from the water, crashing down with a huge loud splash.  Then again she breached but not achieving such a great height as the first time, then again. We watched in total amazement as this whale breached six times in succession before her companion joined in and managed two more!

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Each time she landed on her back with her mouth open!

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Now her friend’s turn

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Our final leg to reach Bahia Concepcion was actually sailable, with some south in the light winds we even managed to get the asymmetric sail out for a few hours as we watched two humpback whales tail slapping. Bahia Concepcion is a large bay with several anchorages within it giving protection from just about every wind angle.  The downside is it’s close to the Mexican highway with noisy lorries during the day, it’s also a popular place for camping and the beaches are full of RV’s and campers.

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This shrimping boat overtook us doing about 10 knots – complete with a flock of frigate birds in his rigging!

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It’s not often the asymmetric sail comes out

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If you look really closely you can see that they are blue footed boobies

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Playa Coyote

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Spot the osprey on her nest

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Isla Requeson is connected to the mainland by a sand spit, also a popular place for campers

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Looking north from Isla Requeson across Bahia Concepcion

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Millions of oyster shells litter the island

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The pretty point at Playa Santispac

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We found this strange little creature blocking up our water strainer for the fridge cooling system (released unharmed!)

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The authors or our excellent cruising guide for the Sea of Cortez, Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer, have also produced electronic charts of all the anchorages that they cover in the book. We bought these too as our Navionics charts were rather poor in detail, they have proved to be very useful and pretty accurate for GPS positioning and depth soundings. This is our favourite anchorage in Bahia Concepcion, Playa Santa Barbara, on the left is the Navionics chart compared with the authors chart on the right.

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Now we are heading south on our way back to La Paz to get the boat, and ourselves, ready to cross the Pacific next month.  We’re looking forward to visiting some of the anchorages we missed out on our bash north.

 

Posted in Mexico | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Feeling Spiritual on Isla Espiritu Santo

The wind in the Sea of Cortez at this time of year is pretty much all or nothing.  The predominant wind runs north west to south east along the inside length of the Baja peninsular, so basically cruising the coast northwards is a continuous beat against the wind.  Most boats move about during the lulls, in-between the strong ‘northers’ that accelerate their way down the coast every few days creating very short steep waves. Sailing against this sea is second only to beating from Panama to Puerto Rico, not a pleasant experience.

After leaving the wonderful anchorage at Bahia Los Muertos we made our way up to a small  bay called Bahia Falsa just a few miles from the town of La Paz just in time for another norther. It had great protection from the wind and sea with turtles surfacing around the boat and a resident osprey keeping us entertained as she circled above and landed on her favourite cactus.  Looking out at the huge waves rolling past the entrance to the bay towards La Paz, we were pleased to have such good protection. The harbour in La Paz is often closed in these conditions and not surprisingly so.

When the weather settled we kayaked around the small coves in the bay, landed on the beach and caught a taxi into town for some much needed provisions. I am pleased to say the stores in La Paz are plentiful and well stocked so we filled our boots with fresh fruits and veggies.  It’s also great to be able to afford to treat ourselves to lunch when we are out, the food (and beer) here is excellent and such good value.

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Looking across the bay at Bahia Falsa

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The skeleton of a porcupine/puffer fish

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We had been settled in the bay for a few days, two northers had come and gone, when we discovered our friends Ted and Barbara were also in La Paz so we took the opportunity to go in to the harbour and anchor near them for a night so that we could go out to dinner and catch up. Boats at anchor here are known to do the ‘La Paz Waltz’ as current overtakes wind and boats do all sorts of strange things depending on their keel shape and size so boats keep their distance from one another to avoid collisions. It was great to spend time with Ted and Barbara who we first met in Cuba and haven’t seen since Panama, and of course to sample some great Mexican cuisine together in town.

With a brief break in the weather we made the short hop to a beautiful island about 18 miles north of La Paz, Isla Espiritu Santo which translates to The Island of The Holy Spirit.  It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995 and is a designated protected area for flora and fauna. Now uninhabited, this ecologically rich island was once home to the Pericu Tribe who were known to be fisherman, hunters with bow and arrow, and seed and root gatherers. They were a nomadic pre-Hispanic race, living in caves all along the desert Baja peninsular and on the numerous islands. It is believed that they populated this region for around 30,000 years, vanishing more than 200 years ago. Analysis of the Pericu skulls has found them to be linked to the aborigines native to South East Asia and the Pacific.

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Approaching Isla Espiritu Santo

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The island has some great anchorages and a few challenging hikes into the interior.  Ensenada de la Raza provided good shelter from yet another northerly for a few days in the lee of a beautiful pink cliff. We kayaked to the small beach surrounded by mangrove and scrambled the hill to get a view of the bay, admiring the many flowering plants thriving in the rocky terrain.

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We found ourselves totally smitten with a small cove called El Mezteno (meaning The Untamed).  It certainly lived up to its name, with a family of three ospreys visiting every day, a dozen or so pelicans diving for fish, the odd blue footed booby, a sea lion hunting around the boat at night and a small seal during the day.  We have watched rays leaping from the water, one ray did 8 leaps consecutively which is the most we have ever witnessed, and a Mahi Mahi chasing a school of fish by the boat occasionally breaking the surface of the crystal clear water with his wing-like dorsal fin.

On our first afternoon in the cove we had attempted the hiking trail which follows the arroyo, the bed of a dried watercourse which runs through a steep sided canyon, actually it’s more of a rock climbing expedition than a hike as the arroyo is full of huge boulders and rocks. After 2 hours of climbing and searching for the cairn markers, little piles of rocks marking the rough course of the trail,  it was clear that we were nowhere near the end as the arroyo continued to twist and turn around the hills.  So we turned back to make sure we would get back to the beach before dark, intending on trying again the next day and making a day of it.  Actually we ached so much the next day that neither of us fancied another rock climb so soon. So after a chill out day watching the diverse nature in the bay (and I varnished the handrail) we made attempt number two this time making an early start (well, 10.30am is early for us..) armed with a packed lunch and two bottles of water. Our second attempt was much quicker as we had more of an idea of the route to take and what we were in for.

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The trail starts at the beach

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It was a wonderful day of discovery, and a few more cacti injuries. It’s incredible how these things pop up in a small crevice of a big boulder, and for some reason your hand is drawn to it like a magnet.

The island is a fascinating mixture of rock types and formations, cacti and wild flowers, all surviving in this harsh landscape. We have seen a variety of lizards, a round-tailed ground squirrel, hummingbirds, song birds, crickets, a miniature frog which I almost stood on, as well as all sorts of buzzing insects and butterflies making the most of the wild flowers.

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I really wanted to spot the Babisuri, a ring-tailed large eared cat known to live here, but all we saw of this illusive creature were its droppings! We also finally spotted the song bird that we have been listening to for a few days, singing his heart out on a boulder just above us.  From the photo I was able to identify it as a Canyon Wren. I found this lovely description in the Audubon field guide, it fits exactly with our findings!

One of the best songsters in the west, the Canyon Wren is usually heard before it is seen. Surprisingly elusive and skulking even in open terrain, this dark rusty wren disappears and reappears as it creeps about the jumbled rocks of an eroded cliff or steep canyon wall. If the observer waits, the bird will eventually jump to the top of an exposed boulder to pour out another song, a rippling and musical cascade of notes, well suited to beautiful wild canyons.

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The tuneful Canyon Wren

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The round-tailed ground squirrel dart across the rocks and into the undergrowth so quickly, it was a real treat to finally creep up on one and observe him as he picked a seed and ate it!

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The ‘trail’ goes on and on and on….

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Being watched by a hawk on the cliff-top

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This tiny frog was about the size of my thumb nail!

After a hot 2.5 hours over some tough terrain and a scramble up the last few metres we were rewarded with spectacular views over Caleta Partida (our next anchorage) in between Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida to the north (named ‘The Island that Parted’ as it was once joined to Espiritu Santo). A tuna and sweetcorn roll never tasted so good.

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There was a slight hindrance to the proceedings when the soles fell off both of Jez’s trainers! He climbed some of the way up and most of the way back in just socks, as you can imagine that’s a recipe for disaster where our prickly little friends are concerned (not to mention the Babisuri and squirrel droppings!).  We arrived back at our kayak waiting patiently on the beach, with a few scrapes, pricks and bruises (thats us, not the kayak),  just as the sun started to make her daily retreat below the cliffs of the mainland in the far distance. What timing, we had really earned our beer o’clock.

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One of the many watering holes en route

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We were so pleased when Ted and Barbara caught us up for a couple of days, and we had company exploring the fascinating sea caves by dinghy on the east coast of Espiritu Santo.

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The layers of rock in these caves are fascinating

The anchorage at Caleta Partida, which we had looked down over from Espiritu Santo on our previous hike, was very pretty and full of life although a little wind-blown.  It’s incredible to think that this anchorage was once the crater of a volcano, over thousands of years the crater eventually eroded below sea level losing its western and eastern edges. The pretty beach here also had cat foot prints, more firm evidence of the Babisuri. While I hadn’t been so mean to laugh at Jez when it was his turn to be attacked by a cactus, I must admit I did have a little giggle when he trod on a porcupine fish skeleton on the beach.  The spines on these things are evil, it took quite a tough pull to get the thing out as he hopped around in pain and was like pulling the cork out of an upturned bottle of claret. Good job he’s a quick healer. It’s very strange that there appear to be so many dead porcupine fish littering the beaches and we have seen a few pelican skeletons too, but maybe that was the Babisuri.

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An osprey clutches her lunch, a long trumpet fish

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Ensenada Grande was our final choice of anchorage on Isla Partida, it is a beautiful bay with three small coves inside and another adventurous but shorter hike – but not before our muscles and my knees had recovered from the last one.

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At first sight the trail seems impossible!

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Our time on these islands has been truly magical and unforgettable, I hope we get a chance to return before we leave the Sea of Cortez. But now we continue to bash north.

Posted in Mexico | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

A Warm Welcome in Mexico

Our sail from San Francisco to San Diego was quite enjoyable, once we had got through the rather rough and bumpy entrance/exit to the bay (wind against tide, yuk) conditions improved and we had enough wind to sail the 450 mile passage until the last few hours approaching land.  In those last few hours we managed to hook three chunky tuna and a Pacific Bonito which kept us busy prepping and vac packing, 33 meals for two in all. Not a bad days fishing! A Pacific storm was following behind and as we approached the harbour a small craft warning was put into effect with gale force winds and high surf expected overnight.

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Plenty of bird life leaving San Francisco

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A few brief glimpses of whales

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Final catch of the day, a little Pacific Bonito – quite possibly the tastiest fish we have ever eaten!

 

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The storm approaches behind us

I called the San Diego anchorage ‘hot line’ using the Sat phone to get our permit brought forward a day as we had made such good time, but infact discovered that the small craft warning had done us a huge favour, as all three anchorages in San Diego harbour were open without the need for a permit, which meant we could take shelter in the very protected La Playa anchorage normally only open at weekends. This also happens to be close to all the marine stores and services so we managed to get a lot done here.   Apart from a few dilapidated vessels dragging anchor in the strong wind, the storm passed over uneventfully in a couple of days and after the weekend, when the small craft warning was lifted, we were issued a permit to anchor in the ‘A9 Cruisers Anchorage’ after a brief inspection.  This small anchorage is open only to visitors but it is quite a dinghy ride back to the shops.  San Diego is a great place to obtain any marine part, and indeed service of just about any kind.  We got quite a few parts that we needed including the new autopilot controller and rudder feedback which we ran cables for and fitted, and did a few other jobs which we had been planning such as beefing up the helm pod with some stainless steel grab bars.  It has been ‘wobbling’ for some time and as it’s the only thing to grab hold of in the centre of the cockpit it was in desperate need of some stabilisers.  I also managed to get some free offcut sail material from the canvas shop to make up new bolt rope tape for our mizzen sail cover which slides along a track inside the boom, the cover and tape had parted a while ago. Another canvas shop generously gave me an 8 foot length of bolt rope track to replace the fixing where the spray hood meets the coachroof to improve watertightness. A project I will complete in Mexico hopefully. We were taken aback by the generosity and helpfulness of the trades people here.    So San Diego was sadly all work and no play.  The cruisers anchorage is also a little uncomfortable as it’s open to wake from all the boats coming and going and when we returned to La Playa the following weekend hoping for calmer water we had some rather close encounters with some local boats anchoring so close we could have passed them a beer. And not to mention the same boats from the previous weekend dragging yet again. It was bedlam and rather stressful.

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The Christmas boat parade was fun but joggly, hence only one photo!

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Sailing Santa in La Playa

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One of the three aircraft carriers in San Diego Bay, The Midway, is a museum open to the public

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San Diego city is spectacular at night

Once cleared out with US Customs we breathed a sigh of relief as we headed back out to sea with our first port of call being just 70 miles away at Ensenada, Mexico.

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The welcoming party

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An enormous Mexican flag flies proudly over Ensenada

This seemed like the best place to clear in to Mexico as they have a ‘one-stop shop’ set up with Immigration, Customs, Port Authority and boat registry kiosk (to obtain the all important ‘Temporary Import Permit’ for Joy) in one building.  The only down side is that there is no anchoring allowed in the harbour, so it’s a marina berth or nothing.  We chose Cruise Port Marina as it had good reviews and less swell reported.  It was well worth paying for a marina berth here, as quite unexpectedly they dealt with all of our clearance paperwork – infact they actually produced all our clearance papers,  so there was no need to be printing off crew lists and arrival forms in Spanish as we had been advised.  They took our passports and boat papers and within half an hour all our paperwork was ready, this was passed to Enrique who drove us to the CIS office and then took us around the various kiosks telling us what to complete, where to sign and how much to pay.  In all the charges amounted to just under £110 including port fees. We were wanting to leave the following day (one night in this marina is half our monthly food budget!) and as our departure papers wouldn’t be ready until later that afternoon, Enrique would return to collect them and deliver them to our boat!  What a fantastic and efficient service offered by this marina and it’s all included in the marina fee.  That left us the rest of the day and the following morning to explore the pretty town and buy some groceries ready for our next hop down the Baja peninsular. Ensenada is a little bit touristy with cruise ships calling, but it still retains its Mexican charm and it was great to be back into reasonably priced groceries and beer once again!

With an unusually favourable weather forecast, showing wind almost all the way for the next week and Christmas looming, we decided to sail down to the Sea of Cortez in one hop.  At first the winds were light but the swell big, a knock on effect from the hurricane force winds tracking their way far across the Pacific to our north.  On day three and with a forecast of 20-25 knots overnight and 16 foot seas, we reefed the main before dark and Jez started dinner as I sat on watch.  At first a few gusts appeared in the late 20’s, but what was surprising was the speed with which the sea state deteriorated.  Within a few minutes we had large waves behind us building up higher than our davits, occasionally breaking on Joy.  The wind had increased to 30 gusting 35 and we had all of our 16 feet waves and then some.  The white water crashing all around us in the moonlight was mesmerising, I hadn’t seen a sea like it since our passage from Hawaii to Sitka only they were long rolling waves, these were breaking and in quick succession.  It wasn’t easy  ‘sleeping’, which in these conditions consists mainly of shutting eyes and telling yourself it doesn’t matter if you don’t sleep as long as you are resting. By morning things had got  a little more comfortable, wind eased to 25 and the distance between the waves increased so that we could ride with them a little better.  It wasn’t long before light winds had filled in yet again and we were back down to 4-5 knots of boat speed.  By day 8 we had only sailed 770 miles but were now at the southern end of the Baja peninsular, and rounded Cabo San Lucas in the early hours. For the last 24 hours we had two boobies settled on the bow and as the sun came up we discovered we had gained another overnight.  They all stayed with us as we headed in to anchor off the beach at Cabo San Lucas, only flying off when I went forward to get the anchor ready!

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I reeled in a beautiful Mahi Mahi after a small tuna – spot the tuna hanging off the dinghy behind me!

 

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“Joy Riders”

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Jez creeps up on a pair of brown boobies, to release a furling line caught under the anchor

 

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Land Ahoy at Cabo San Lucas

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And then there were three

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We had decided to stop here for a couple of hours just to reprovision with some fresh fruit and veggies.  That turned out to be a big mistake.  Cabo San Lucas is basically a tourist town, it doesn’t cater for the cruising sailor wishing to pop in and reprovision. We walked miles down all the streets looking for supermercado’s using google maps.  Out of the ones that hadn’t closed down or been knocked down, none had any fresh produce whatsoever. Locals directed us to Walmart which was on the outskirts of town and not walkable and by that point we had had enough.  Then we finally found one small cafe/mart that had a fridge with a sad looking iceberg lettuce, an avocado and what was once an orange in a previous life. We bought all three and got the heck out of there.  It had been tiring being harassed by just about every shopkeeper, restaurant and tour guide mistaking us for ‘tourists’ with ‘looky looky’, ‘free gift for the lady’, ‘tacos and beer for $10’, and just about any boat tour under the sun.  By the time we had returned to Joy in the anchorage with our measly provisions, the beach goers were in full swing with jet bikes, pangas, banana boat rides and parasailors. On the plus side however, the shorts had come out the cupboard and the coconut oil had finally melted. We made a quick exit to go find the real Mexico, and it wasn’t long before we found it.

After a couple of nights at the beautiful Los Frailes anchorage catching up on some sleep and tidying the boat up, we decided to carry on further around the southern tip of the peninsular to find an anchorage with a little less swell.  Los Frailes was affected by some southerly swell that had almost rolled us in the kayak as we reached the beach. A little embarrassing, especially as after our late afternoon walk we decided that a little better timing was required for our relaunch from the gravelly beach, despite our best attempts we were caught once again almost ending in a dunking. Let’s hope we weren’t caught on camera by the others in the anchorage! So on we bashed in some strong winds and short steep waves to a little peace of heaven.  Bahia de los Muertos, which thankfully doesn’t live up to its name ‘Bay of the Dead’, is a spectacular bay lined with a beautiful stretch of almost empty sandy beach,  sand dunes and cactus are the only things to contend with here.  There is also a small restaurant on the beach which serves up cold beer and delicious lunches with a view to die for. Beaching the dinghy here was thankfully less eventful in view of the restaurant. I did, however, have a small incident with a rather aggressive cactus. Climbing a steep rocky hill to get a panoramic view, with my cap on and head down watching where I was treading I walked straight into a cactus, stabbing my arm. The surprise sent me backwards losing my footing, slipping back down the rocky hill I grabbed hold of the first and only thing that came to hand to stop me falling – the same cactus. So now I had tiny needle-like thorns in my hand as well as my arm.  I had got most of them out by the time Jez had stopped laughing.   But still it was a perfect place to spend Christmas.

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A picture perfect anchorage

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A network of dirt roads lead to this remote bay

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Watch out for the vicious cacti!

Posted in California, Mexico | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

The Smokey City

The San Francisco Bay area has been shrouded in a haze of smoke and ash since the devastating Camp Fire started in Butte County two weeks ago. The air quality here has been classified as ‘very unhealthy’ and many people around the city have been wearing masks.  On Wednesday this week the long awaited rain finally arrived and very quickly the air began to clear. By Thursday we could see the sky again and the city revealed itself once more.

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Watching the sun set over the Smokey City from Treasure Island

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The Oakland Bay Bridge disappears into the smoke

The kind folks at the Treasure Island Development Authority gave us a long term anchoring permit so that we could stay in Clipper Cove as we waited for a suitable weather window to head south.  The marina in the cove also allowed us the use of their dinghy dock which meant getting ashore was much easier as we had been dragging the dinghy up the beach, not easy with a 50kg engine mounted on the transom.

Treasure Island has an interesting history, it’s a man-made island of about 400 acres created in 1936 to hold the Golden Gate International Exposition, a world fair held from 1939-40 celebrating the city’s newly built bridges (Oakland Bay Bridge opened in 1936 and Golden Gate in 1937).  After the exposition had ended, the island was intended to be used as the municipal airport for the City but in 1941 it was taken over by the US Navy as America prepared for WWII. It remained in the hands of the Navy as a major training centre until the late 1990’s when it was leased to the City and is now undergoing substantial redevelopment to provide 8,000 residences and leisure facilities. 

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One of the original buildings from the Exposition, built in 1938 to house the administrative centre for the world fair. Now home to the Treasure Island Redevelopment Authority it is still a beautifully grand building.

We have certainly been made to feel very welcome here, the dock master Anthony has not only helped us ordering and collecting a part for our autopilot but also invited us to join the local Yacht Club for Thanksgiving dinner.  We had a wonderful afternoon and a fantastic dinner with a great variety of dishes all contributed by members of the club, everything was absolutely delicious. A very big thank you to the Treasure Island Yacht Club for allowing us to join them and for making us feel so welcome.

So after a couple of days of some pretty heavy rain our weather window is almost here, the wind is turning favourable today and with 15-20 knots forecast from the NW for the next few days we should be able to make headway under sail to San Diego for a brief stopover. 

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Thank you to Joe and Allison, our neighbours in the anchorage, for sending us this wonderful photo. The lights on the bridge reveal the smokey haze.

Posted in California | 5 Comments

Vancouver to Sunny San Francisco

It was great to be back ‘on the road’ again although it was sad leaving British Columbia behind, another one of those places we felt we weren’t quite ready to leave.  But as always the weather dictates our movements to a large degree (and it had got so cold we were eating our dinner with woolly hats on) so we headed off with a narrow weather window to get south, in search of some warmth.  After leaving Canada our first task was to check back in to the U.S., with the new ROAM app and an internet connection underway we plugged in our details requesting entry as we crossed the sea border.  Jez was then interviewed by a customs officer via the app on our iPad, weird but very convenient as we were then emailed our clearance confirmation.  After a cruise through the islands and an overnight stop at Roche Harbour, San Juan, we had an early start to get to Neah Bay to refuel by the end of the day.  Another great display of Orca’s racing through the Juan de Fuca Strait which separates Vancouver Island & the US mainland along with the odd Humpback blowing just added to our enjoyment, especially as we had plenty of wind to sail. Bliss.

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The Coastguard hovercraft whizzes past at 40 knots as we leave Vancouver

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Back in US territory heading to San Juan Island

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Despite having read that the fuel dock in Neah Bay was open 24/7, when we arrived and plonked ourselves on the dock no-one was about.  The lights were on but there was nobody home…  At the head of the dock we found out that they had gone for pizza, so we waited and waited.  It was just starting to get dark when a very apologetic attendant arrived with some bad news, her manager wouldn’t allow her to serve fuel after dark. With no other choice we anchored off for the night, knowing this was shaving 12 hours off of our already narrow weather window,  but as we had used quite a bit of fuel since Port McNeil (and it was only US$2.95 per US gallon including tax here) we didn’t really want to head off without it.

So full of fuel (we have a keel tank so this also acts as ballast) and a good nights sleep we headed off around Cape Flattery, where wind accelerated to a lively 30 knots in the blink of an eye.  Once clear of the Cape light winds returned and, gazing out across the beautiful blue Pacific with the sun shining and a flat calm sea,  we commented how difficult it was to imagine that conditions here can get rough.  After a blissful 48 hours we were reminded of the reality, with winds in the early 30’s gusting to 36 knots and an uncomfortable sea running Joy as always did her best and romped southwards.

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Rounding Cape Flattery

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Luckily it only last for 24 hours and as things calmed down I could get back to dolphin watching in between reading (‘Erebus’ by Michael Palin, an absolutely excellent read about the history of the boat ‘Erebus’ and Sir John Franklin’s ill fated expedition of the North West Passage) and knitting (a nice woolly hat for Jez…well, I am half a century old after all and need to keep up the family tradition…thanks Mum for all the gear and refresher lesson!). The daily dolphin visits have been wonderful, the large ones ride the bow wave as the younger ones leap out to the sides, hearing their high pitched whistles gives you a sense of their excitement at having something to play with, and even better with an audience too.

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Another visitor to entertain me on the journey was Stanley, a hundred miles offshore was an odd place to have a starling come to stay.  With an offering of sunflower seeds and a bowl of water he was pretty content to ride it out for 24 hours, we were sad to see him go although it did mean we didn’t have to creep around the cockpit trying not to scare him.

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Stanley the Starling – such beautiful markings on his feathers and wings

Our wind sadly died as we headed in towards San Francisco, the level of that cheap fuel we had just purchased got a little lower as we motored towards the iconic bridge, The Golden Gate, just as the sun rose.  Our timing was perfect as it was just about slack tide, we stayed out of the buoyed channel to keep clear of the commercial traffic and a large cruise ship going in. The Golden Gate Bridge certainly was beautiful in the early morning sun.

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Our first port of call inside the huge and busy bay was the anchorage in Richardson Bay close to the pretty town of Sausalito (under the bridge and turn left) to see North Sails to make some long awaited adjustments to our new sails.

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A marina resident in Sausalito

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One of the rather stinky ferries leaving Sausalito for San Francisco

The anchorage is plagued by wake from the frequent ferries that arrive at Sausalito, making all the boats roll and buck every 20 minutes from very early morning to late at night, so when the sails were back in the loft we headed off to Clipper Cove at Treasure Island for some flat calm water to help retain some sanity. The Cove is nestled between Yerba Buena Island which supports the centre of the San Francisco to Oakland Bay Bridge and Treasure Island which has a lot of development going on. Doesn’t sound very appealing I know,  but ignoring the sound of diggers and the traffic noise from the bridge, the Cove has no ferry route going past it and that is a big plus in the bay. It was bliss not to be thrown from one side of the boat to the other while trying to hold down everything that comes back out whilst at anchor, like tools, computers and the sewing machine, and the sight of the beautiful bridge at night all lit up is wonderful.  A free anchoring permit is required at Clipper Cove for up to 96 hours but its easy to apply just by leaving a telephone message.

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Fog is a common hazard in the SF bay

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It was wonderful to see so many people actually using their boats!

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Alcatraz Island with the city behind

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Entering Clipper Cove with a view of the city in the distance

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The San Francisco to Oakland Bay Bridge is a stunning piece of engineering

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Joy anchored in Clipper Cove

This was also a convenient place to beach the dinghy and catch a bus into the city to explore.  We have returned to this Cove three times now in between sail adjustments, giving us the chance to see San Francisco city and experience the very busy Pier 39 and its resident sea lions. The sea lions started to arrive on ‘K’ dock in the marina at Pier 39 shortly after an earthquake hit San Francisco in October 1989.  Within a few months the number had grown to 300, and hit an all-time record of 1700 in 2009. Nobody knows why they just suddenly turned up, but the marina decided to allow them to stay (I don’t think they had much choice!) and now they have dedicated floating pontoons all to themselves. We watched the them for ages, on some pontoons they were laying two deep.  The sound of them barking (and the smell) filled the air as hoards of tourists watched on.

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Male sea lions can reach 390kg!

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We took a long stroll along The Embarcadero which runs along the waterfront on the eastern side of the city, bustling with people walking, cycling, skateboarding and scootering, all enjoying the sunny Sunday afternoon. There were lots of street entertainers too, among them a female ‘rap artist’ rapping from inside a play pen with a loud sound system and a small boy playing with his collection of toys!

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It’s nearly beer o’clock!

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The western section of the SF to Oakland Bay Bridge (from Yerba Buena Island to the city) is an impressive double-decker with eastbound traffic on the top layer and westbound on the bottom. It carries 260,000 vehicles a day!

Anchored back in Sausalito for some more sail adjustments, we had a nasty east wind blowing 30 knots and strong currents with a new moon, making conditions pretty uncomfortable for a few hours last Thursday, it even sank a boat in the harbour.  This strong east wind and very dry hot weather (we have not had rain since we arrived) caused a devastating wild fire in Butte County, 160 miles to our north east, and by the afternoon we had a cloud of smoke cover the bay which has remained ever since. Today, Sunday, the fire has now destroyed 109,000 acres and is only 25% contained with 23 reported deaths and over 6,500 structures burned.  The bay area remains hidden in a cloud of smoke.

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The smoke arrives at Richardson Bay

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A beautiful sun rise peeks out from the smokey haze

 

Posted in California | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Having a Whale of a Time in B.C.

We rounded Cape Caution, under motor of course, in an almost flat calm sea. The area is notorious for heaping seas and accelerated wind but we saw none of that, perfect for whale spotting infact as several humpbacks were fin slapping and one even tail slapped right by the boat. And we caught and kept our first salmon, thanks to the new fishing net!

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Leaving Fitz Hugh Sound

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A salmon at last!

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Smooth water at Cape Caution

Our first anchorage in the Queen Charlotte Strait was chosen as it sounded like a challenge and would probably therefore be deserted, we were right.  We picked our way through a narrow kelp-strewn channel surrounded by low rocks and entered the Murray Labyrinth anchorage.  Not as outstandingly beautiful as most of the anchorages further north, we have been particularly spoilt, but protected and quiet.  We decided to set our crab pot just outside the channel in deeper water and fought our way through the kelp in the dinghy to find a good spot.  The following morning we had 21 Redrock Crabs stumbling over each other inside the trap.  17 went back as they were undersize, but four good size crabs went into the pot adding three meals for two to the stocks.  We have eaten rather well on this trip, crab has been our main diet since leaving Prince Rupert and of course now we have delicious salmon.

After a couple more anchorages we crossed over to Vancouver Island to visit Port McNeil to reprovision and fill up on diesel.  To give you an idea of how much we have motored since arriving in BC, we are using as much fuel in two weeks as we would normally do in a year.  Ouch!  Port McNeil was an excellent stop, after re-fuelling the attendant offered us space on the dock free of charge to go to the grocery store, he also filled up our cooking gas bottle on the spot.  What excellent service, so we took up the offer before heading off the dock to anchor for the night.

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What do you do when your helicopter breaks down? Get a tow of course!

With a southerly gale forecast in a couple of days time we set off into the 68 mile-long Johnstone Strait to get down to Seymour Narrows while we could, several whale watching tour boats whizzed past us as we headed out of Port McNeil.  Sure enough it wasn’t long before we spotted a group of Orca’s feeding just south of Hanson Island.  This was our first good sighting of Orca’s, having only seen a glimpse of 3 fins in Alaska, now we were treated to several spy hops.

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Fog rolls in over Johnstone Strait

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We chose a great hidey-hole to shelter from the gale, Small Inlet is just north of Seymour Narrows, and it seemed a good place to wait for more favourable conditions. Shortly after setting the crab pot for the night the heavens opened, and it rained continuously for nearly 48 hours.  With 30+ knots blowing outside we hardly felt a breath of wind in the protected anchorage. An excellent spot made even better by the large Dungeness crab in our pot when we finally retrieved it two days later.

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Almost as big as the chopping board

Currents through The Seymour Narrows can run at up to 16 knots on a large tide, so timing a passage at slack water through this stretch is vital, it was reassuring to see a motor boat and tug and tow gathering ahead of us waiting to get through.  Despite being slack water we did experience some turbulent swirling water taking Joy off course at times, but we got through without trouble and then the wind suddenly appeared from the north west and we set sail for the first time in ages. It was glorious to glide down Discovery Passage, past the Campbell River and into the Strait of Georgia under sail.

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Looking back at Seymour Narrows

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Passing a huge log boom being towed by a Tug

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Lots of sea lions basking on the small island of Mitlenatch

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At last, a photo with some blueish sky, oh and some cormorants

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Spot the Black Oystercatchers

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More blue sky as we enter Desolation Sound

We headed to Desolation Sound for a few days hoping for some better weather and weren’t disappointed.  That shiny bright thing finally appeared in the sky, it felt as if we hadn’t seen it for weeks. Desolation Sound is a popular national park about 80 miles north of Vancouver and it’s very beautiful with steep rocky cliffs and snow-capped mountains in the background. Luckily for us it wasn’t very busy as it’s just out of season,  so we visited a couple of the most popular spots.  Teakern Arm with its impressive waterfall has very deep water right up close to the rocky cliffs so we dropped our anchor and backed up to the cliffs.  I took an aft line ashore in the dinghy and attached it to an iron hoop embedded in the rock. It was so nice and peaceful here we stayed a couple of days, and walked the trail to the lake taking a picnic with us.  It wasn’t quite what we were expecting, when we arrived at the top of the waterfall we found that we had to  actually cross it to continue the trail. So we carefully waded through the rushing cold water, then just when we thought we were back on track we came across a second slightly gentler but deeper body of water to wade through then some rock climbing and more wading before reaching a small opening above a steep rocky shelf with a view of the lake. We met another couple who, after a chat about sailing, said they were wanting to take a bath in the lake despite the cold water as they didn’t have a shower on board! So not wanting to invade their privacy we reversed the route and went back and ate our picnic in the comfort of our cockpit.

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The waterfall at Teakern Arm

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Joy tied to the cliff face at low water at Teakern Arm

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Crossing the waterfall at the top

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This little Red Fur Crab made it into our crab pot but luckily for him we put him back

 Then on to Prideaux Haven where we were the only boat in a small pretty inlet called Melanie Cove, this had a great hike over the hill to another small cove further north although it was more like an assault course with so many trees fallen, but it was worth it for the exercise and the view across Laura Cove at the end.

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At anchor in Melanie Cove

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Looking out across Laura Cove soaking up the sun

With a good forecast for a few days we took the opportunity to get down to Vancouver City, our alternator (new in Trinidad) had packed up and we needed to get this seen to, plus my Mum was paying another visit to help celebrate my birthday.  Vancouver City has an excellent waterway called False Creek (named so as it is actually a dead-end) where visiting boaters can anchor in the heart of the city with a free permit obtained online.  It was pretty surreal entering into False Creek underneath two bridges and be surrounded by high-rise buildings and thousands of people, especially after the last few months of remoteness.

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Leaving Desolation Sound

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Approaching Vancouver City

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Joy at anchor in False Creek, Vancouver City

It proved to be such a memorable stop, we are definitely not city people but this place we fell in love with.  Lots of parks and open spaces, and walkways as big as traffic lanes so its easy and enjoyable to walk just about anywhere.  We rushed our alternator in to the repair shop as it was late in the day Friday when we arrived, and it was fixed Saturday morning.  It made a refreshing change to get such an efficient service, and it has been one of the few things we have had repaired that actually works, and works better than it did before (touch wood).

Vancouver City is also a great place to have guests, we were a 2 minute walk from the Skytrain which connects with the airport so we could easily go and meet my Mum off the plane.  We visited the famous Granville Market, a fantastic vibrant and busy indoor market with just about any kind of deli food, cakes, crafts and fresh produce you can imagine.

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A colourful stall at Granville Market

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Even the silos and lorries are colourful

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We then spent a wonderful few days in Howe Sound just a few miles north of the city, with  some great hikes through the forests and a night at Snug Cove on Bowen Island to go out to dinner for my birthday. I chose a wonderful Italian restaurant called Tuscany, fine dining with an Italian twist, all our meals were plate-lickingly superb.

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Peaking out across Howe Sound from the peak on Bowen Island

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Snug Cove on Bowen Island

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Back in the City we took a walk to Stanley Park and followed the Lost Lagoon trail, it’s amazing to have this wonderful park with so much wildlife in such close proximity to the city.  The highlight of our late afternoon walk had to be the appearance of a family of raccoons who timidly came out of the undergrowth to get a closer look at us.  Then a brief sighting of a skunk, a little shyer than the raccoons, but another new experience for us.

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Autumn Colours

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Looking out at the anchored vessels in English Bay

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Mr and Mrs Wood Duck show off their beautiful markings, they look as if they have been painted with an artist’s brush

 

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“What does a raccoon have to do to get some privacy around here?”

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A skunk can spray a target 12 feet away so we didn’t get too close!

 

All in all Vancouver City is a fab place, we have thoroughly enjoyed our time here and I have had a truly memorable birthday week, as always we don’t feel quite ready to leave.  With our weather forecasts showing a steady succession of low pressure systems firing across the Pacific towards this coast in a weeks time, it is sadly time to say goodbye to Canada and head 800 miles south to San Francisco while we can.

 

 

 

Posted in British Columbia | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Feeling a little Crabby!

After clearing in with Customs by telephone at the Prince Rupert Rowing & Yacht Club we explored the town. A neat place with some useful marine & fishing gear shops, a good supermarket and the all important liquor store, the town seemed well cared for and the people were friendly. Sadly once again the persistent rain settled in along with a blanket of fog so thick we couldn’t see past the end of the docks. Not good conditions to be moving on in, so we stayed a couple of days which gave us the opportunity to explore a little and visit the excellent museum.

With fishing license, newly acquired folding crab pot and a sturdy fishing net on board we headed out of Prince Rupert as the fog finally lifted and rain temporarily subsided.

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Prince Rupert is a busy port

Our day-hop anchorages took us through the Grenville Channel, 45 miles long with beautiful scenery and three excellent anchorages to break up the motoring.

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Entering the Grenville Channel

My favourite was Baker Inlet which is vast and beautiful, after transiting the Watts Narrows the deserted inlet stretches 5 miles in to the head of the bay.  The narrows at the entrance form a dog-leg passage with steep-sided rocky banks covered in dense trees, so steep sided in fact that we lost our GPS position half-way through.  Although it is narrow, the channel is deep and with clear water I could see the rocky ledges to avoid from the bow.  Once through, we made our way to the head of the bay, a backdrop of tall mountains with numerous waterfalls leading down to streams which flow into the bay. This place is absolutely stunning and very remote, no other boats or inhabitants for miles, just how we like it. With more adverse weather forecast we stayed here for a couple of days while it passed over this very protected inlet. Our small crab pot caught eleven Dungeness crabs on the first night, we put seven back as they were under-size but the four we kept were delicious. Thank god for ‘The River Cottage’ fish book we have onboard, for instructions on how to kill and cook them, as this is a new experience for us.

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Crab pot retrieved

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Let me out!

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Such beautiful reflections in calm protected waters

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We shared the anchorage with hundreds of Moon Jellyfish

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If you look closely, you can just make out the entrance to the narrows from inside Baker Inlet

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Almost through the Narrows at slack water

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Looking back at the Narrows as we pass through

It was difficult dragging ourselves away from such an idyllic and secluded spot, although the next anchorage at Verney Falls was just as spectacular with plenty of wildlife.  We spotted a solitary seal beneath the falls hunting and catching salmon, when he surfaced we noticed he only had one eye. His left eye was missing with some tissue protruding, either an injury or perhaps a defect.  Either way it didn’t seem to affect his ability to catch fish.  When we left the anchorage the following day there were a dozen or so seals lounging on the rocks at the entrance, I wondered if our little fella was among them or whether he was an outcast because he was different. I have time to ponder these things when we are under motor!

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The beautiful Verney Falls

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Starboard side good

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Port side not so good

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This huge tree floated around the inlet, by morning it was making its way out into Grenville Channel

 

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Back out into the Grenville Channel in some settled weather (followed by the tree)

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Hundreds of Surf Scoters making their way south, can’t blame them

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The last day in Grenville Channel was spent in thick fog, feeling our way through the channel under radar supervision, not much good for sight-seeing. This channel is supposed to be a busy commercial highway, although we only passed two fishing boats and one ferry the entire length of the Grenville.  Once out of the channel the fog started to lift and the sun tried it’s hardest to burn through some lingering cloud, we crossed over Wright Sound and into McKay Reach then Fraser and Graham Reach with some wonderful humpback sightings.  Several groups of 4 or 5 whales were feeding along the rocky shores and we passed one fin-slapping, it was great to see so many after having had a whale-free couple of weeks. This is the first time we noticed ‘the smell’, when up close and personal their halitosis stirs thoughts of being at the zoo in the elephant compound (I would imagine).  It stinks, but is it their breath or the other end?  Something else for me to ponder on as we continue south under motor.  We arrived at our next anchorage in Khutze Inlet rather late in the day so didn’t have time to explore.  Another absolute beauty, reminding me of Cannery Cove in Alaska with a valley behind the drying head of the inlet and a lovely waterfall. The only thing spoiling the view were the other three boats sharing it, we’ve got rather used to our anchorages being exclusive! After setting our crab pot just before dark we heard a chilling sound echoing through the forested mountains.  Coming up on deck and listening again we realised it was a wolf howling his heart out, he carried on for ten minutes as we listened and watched, trying to pinpoint the location.  It changed pitch a couple of times, I couldn’t be sure if it was another wolf replying or the same one trying to make out he wasn’t alone. Another magic moment sealed forever in my memory bank.

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The entrance to Khutze Inlet

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What’s that smell?

Another great moment happened shortly after anchoring at Rescue Bay on Susan Island, we noticed a strange bubbling sound and then splashing.  It took me a little while scanning with binoculars to find the culprits, two humpbacks feeding and lunging themselves out of the water.  Luckily for us they were headed towards the entrance of the anchorage still feeding, it was too good an opportunity to miss so we hopped in the dinghy to get a closer look.  ‘That smell’ again filled the air, and the bubbling water gave us a split seconds notice of the lunging open mouth about to surface.

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As the whale lunges you can see the small fish jump out the water trying to escape his huge mouth (and bad breath)

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Looking at this series of photos, using a little imagination, you can see the huge mouth open and fill then snap shut

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Belly full

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As we watched the whales, the seals watched us

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The view looking out of Rescue Bay

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This family of Sandhill Cranes circled the bay several times on test flights. The parents are getting the youngster behind ‘flight fit’ before they migrate south for the winter.

 

The weather took another downward turn so we pushed on through Perceval Narrows and into the Seaforth Channel where we were overtaken by a huge cruise ship in persistent and cold rain, at last we had wind but it was on the nose and we weren’t in the mood for tacking.  Discovery Cove on Cunningham Island was our next hidey hole in time for a southerly gale coming up.  This large bay has several nooks to tuck into, having the place to ourselves we chose the east side of the bay believing we would get the best protection and have the most swinging room.  The first night was quiet, clouds raced overhead while we had just a slight breeze. We had an odd encounter in the afternoon when an anonymous creature screamed and gurgled from the dense forest. At first I thought it may be a humanoid playing tricks trying to scare us, but it continued on and off for a few hours and sounded like a creature choking on  something and clearly suffering. The thought of something being caught in a trap crossed my mind, especially as I am reading a great book called ‘Animal Stories’ by Alaskan writer Bill Sherwonit with  true tales of Wolverines being trapped, but we concluded it must just be a ‘monster’ and neither of us were prepared to investigate. As the blackness of the second night enveloped us and the BC (Bloody Cold) rain settled in again, a couple of random gusts rocketed down from the mountains blowing the bow off, setting us side on to the wind almost healed over.  We checked our instruments, all still looked ok and our position held.   It was a windy night with torrential rain, by morning the trickling streams flowing into the bay were raging torrents and the random gusts started again.  Fierce katabatic winds sent us over several times, sending things flying indoors.  We should of course be used to that in a sailing boat but have had weeks of motoring and flat calm anchorages so things aren’t stowed away. Instruments on again, only we weren’t where we should be, we were dragging the anchor. Braving the elements we re-anchored and set the anchor again but I noticed the chain came up almost clean with only a small amount of mud stuck on the anchor. Most of our anchorages have been thick sticky mud which takes a fair amount of hosing off.  Still the gusts continued and we immediately started to drag again. After a 100 metres of dragging we knew we would have to seek another spot in the bay, having explored it by dinghy the previous day we thought we would try a smaller nook tucked behind a little islet just around the corner. This proved to be a good move, although it was a tight little spot the gusts diminished and the anchor set well, we didn’t budge an inch and rode the storm out comfortably.  When we left the following day, there was thick sticky mud on the chain and anchor, perfect.

Back to light winds and motoring yet again, we plodded on through Lama Passage after a quick provisioning stop and overnighted at Fancy Cove.  It wasn’t particularly fancy, better described as cozy actually, requiring two anchors after we spotted an uncharted ledge of rock sticking out into the cove, but it did have a lot of wildlife.  Again the presence of salmon seems to dictate the level of wildlife, dozens of bald eagles, ravens, seals, kingfishers, Canadian Geese and another noisy test flight for four Sandhill Cranes.

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A Red-Rock Crab – it was his lucky day as we put him back

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Fancy that, we’re in Fancy Cove

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With the next few days forecast to be settled at last, we entered Fitz Hugh Sound and chose some wonderful anchorages taking advantage of the weather.

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Playing a game of “guess the whale body part”

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A heron takes advantage of a floating log in Fitz Hugh Sound

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Pruth Bay on the east coast of Calvert Island is a great stopover, the privately owned island houses a research foundation called the Hakai Institute and they kindly allow visiting boaters to use their dinghy dock to access trails leading to beaches on the Pacific side. The trails are excellently maintained, we trekked to West Beach and then north to North Beach of course.

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Interesting footprints in the sand

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We found this interesting set of bones, I think they once belonged to a Stella Sea Lion

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Fitz Hugh Sound was glorious, soaked in sunshine and drifting in flat calm waters we made our way down to Green Island Cove for our next anchorage.

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Exploring the cove by dinghy I spotted movement in the seaweed on a small island, we couldn’t believe our eyes when an American Mink emerged from the water and sat looking at us.  As we drifted in a little closer he sniffed the air and stood up on his back legs to get a better view of us.  Several times he ran into the undergrowth then back out to look at us again.  What an amazing find!

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Beautiful markings, a white chin and a diamond on his chest

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Almost dry, an encore for his human audience

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Wonderfully clear water

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Our last anchorage in Fitz Hugh Sound was tucked in to Fury Cove on Penrose Island.  As we arrived into the cove we could still see humpbacks feeding out in the sound, we had seen dozens of whales on the horizon blowing and breaching obviously having a great time rounding up their dinner.  A few other boats gathered in the anchorage after we arrived, this is a popular point to set off from to round Cape Caution and with a settled forecast we were all taking advantage.

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Views out to Fitz Hugh Sound

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The next leg of our journey will take us around Cape Caution and into Queen Charlotte Strait at the north end of Vancouver Island.

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Saying Goodbye to Alaska

Our last few days in SE Alaska were spent tucked up in a delightful little cove in Naha Bay about 18 miles north of Ketchikan.  It was a long, deep and steep-sided cove with rapids at its head and a small dock to access a trail to nearby Roosevelt Lagoon. With depths around 20 metres we set two anchors, fore and aft, to prevent us from swinging into the rocks either side.

So once settled at anchor on a drizzly, damp afternoon we took in the sights and sounds of the cove. A dozen or so harbour seals hunted in the foamy water appearing from the rapids.  Noisy Belted Kingfishers swooped from tree to tree occasionally dipping into the icy water,  Bald Eagles called to one another, easily spotted in the trees with their white heads, and playful salmon leapt out of the water making large splashes. We knew that this was a pretty special place.  The next morning we had a break in the rain and took the opportunity to walk the trail to the lagoon. Armed with bear spray and berry punnet we left the dinghy at the small dock and took a walk in the beautiful rainforest.   It wasn’t long before the punnet had been filled with red and blue huckleberries. We found the rapids which were creating the foam in the cove but not visible from Joy, a few straggling salmon were resting in the clear rushing water and a stalking seal floating, waiting to pounce on it’s weary meal.  The decaying remnants of a wooden track runs along the shore above the rapids, where small boats were once dragged up and towed into the lagoon, no doubt for a spot of salmon fishing.  Today the lagoon stands quiet and still, a few small skiffs upturned and unloved on the fringes, the trail around the lagoon needing some TLC in places, but it was nice to stretch our legs.

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It’s been a while since this bench has seen a picnic

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‘Hunter Gatherer’ enjoying some berry picking

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Red Huckleberries

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Back on Joy we spent time watching a few visitors to the cove taking advantage of the salmon, joining the seals were four huge sea lions and then a peace-shattering small sports fishing boat who caught quite a few fish with what I thought was a rather unsporting technique. They hurled a weighted hook into the schooling salmon and ‘snagged’ themselves a fish.

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Rain stopped play in the afternoon and the bay fell silent again with just the sound of rushing water and the occasional fish splashing. On our final morning in the cove, it was low tide and I was standing on the back deck in the drizzly rain, coffee in one hand and binoculars in the other, I watched a deer gingerly step across the rocky shore to look for food in amongst three bald eagles patiently waiting for their breakfast at the waters edge.  Our dozen seals were still popping their heads up, almost everywhere I looked there was a shiny head at the surface, the kingfisher was still patrolling his patch as noisy as ever and just when I thought it couldn’t get any better a black bear ambled across the rocks now showing at the entrance to the rapids. I knew I would remember this place and this moment for a long time to come.

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But time is moving on, the weather is changing and we must continue our journey south, so we reluctantly stopped in at Ketchikan to clear out with customs, refuel and reprovision ready for our short hop across the border to British Columbia. Customs gave us permission to anchor in Foggy Bay on our way down to Prince Rupert, BC, but as the wind was forecast to come round onto the nose the following day and we were enjoying sailing for a change with not a hint of rain, we decided to continue on overnight. As we passed Foggy Bay under sail we watched two other yachts motoring toward the anchorage, we were happy to continue at 4 knots with a gentle swell rolling in through the Dixon Entrance.  In the last few miles of Alaskan territory we hooked ourselves a huge salmon, the first salmon after weeks of trolling a line without success. I managed to gaff it and just as we were ‘dealing’ with the monster he did a last death throw and got off both the gaff and lure hook and plopped straight back into the sea – “Fish Overboard”. We were absolutely gutted, as Joy sailed on we watched him float away. With a waypoint placed on the chart plotter for the FOB we quickly furled the head sail, sheeted in the main and turned around on a mission to find our getaway salmon. He was nowhere to be seen, a fishing net was added to the shopping list. We only lost the wind in the last couple of hours and dropped the hook in a little cove on the other side of the channel to Prince Rupert in the wee hours.

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It was great to be under sail again with the sun shining!

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We say goodbye to Alaska as the sun sets

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British Columbia in sight under a pink evening sky

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A spectacular moon welcomes us to Canada

 

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Catching more than we bargained

Petersburg lies at the northern entrance to the Wrangell Narrows, a channel that winds its way between the islands of Mitkof and Kupreonof and out into Sumner Strait.  We timed our exit from the harbour berth at slack water and entered the narrows as the current started to run south on the ebb. The 21 miles were covered pretty quickly with a 3-4 knot current pushing us along at 8-10 knots most of the way.

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Currents run strong through the Wrangell Narrows

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After spending a quiet night in a crab-pot filled bay called Deception Point Cove, we headed across Sumner Strait in beautiful conditions and started to bay hop our way further south.

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Passing a floating perch in Sumner Strait

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My Mum had told us about humpbacks fin slapping and so hoped we would see this on our journey. Well today was the day, three humpbacks situated in different positions in the Strait were fin-slapping repeatedly.  What an awesome spectacle, apparently they do this to communicate to other whales in the area.

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Tolstoi Cove is a great little protected cove just south of Thorne Bay and it beckoned us in and made us stay a couple of nights.

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The fishing rod as always comes out at anchor and we caught a couple of small flounders – we thought they were halibut but apparently they weren’t! – with some squid as bait.  Jez called home and as he was chatting the rod went off again, only this time the line was running away. Ending his call quickly we both ran out to see what we had and started to reel it in.  Then something awful happened. A harbour seal popped his head up and looked across at us with a confused expression, much the same as our look back at him.  Our hearts sank, the hook was through his bottom lip.  We have been watching and marvelling at these beautiful creatures for weeks, never thinking that one would mistake our bait as a mid-morning snack.   Our immediate reaction was to get him in close to the boat and assess the lip piercing, it seemed so wrong reeling him in but necessary.  Once alongside he did a few small dives trying to free himself and then popped his head up and looked at us each in turn, it seemed as though he was thinking the same thing as us, how the hell were we going to deal with this one!  We decided the only sensible option would be to try and cut the hook as far down the shank as possible, hoping the rest would fall out. This meant Jez getting up-close-and-personal with our sharp toothed slippery little friend.  I grabbed the extra sharp snips and Jez dropped the dinghy into the water and went around to him as I held the rod.  Holding his head above the water Jez bravely got to the hook and cut it off as close as he could without catching his lip.  With an almighty splash our catch was gone, back into the deep water of the bay leaving us amazed and bewildered at what had just happened.

Thorne Bay was our next stop, our cruising guide suggests strong currents in areas of the narrow entrance but we entered with no problem at all, and anchored just off the small town in the enormous bay.  We were given a friendly welcome from Ron the Harbourmaster and some advice on where to hike and what shops the small town has to offer. Although the bay is busy with float planes landing and taking off several times a day, we found this a great little stop over with an excellent grocery store, hardware store and fishing tackle shop.  The ‘heathy heart’ hill trail (or ‘heart-attack hill’ as the locals call it) allowed us to stretch our legs and get the tickers pumping for two hours and pick some juicy huckleberries on the way, they are like a cranberry but not so tart. No bear sightings but plenty of ‘fresh evidence’. They only have black bear on Prince of Wales Island and there are supposed to plenty of them as they are not competing with the browns.

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Fresh Bear evidence on the trail

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Huckleberries are delicious with homemade granola and yoghurt

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This deer and her baby were grazing right by the roadside, we walked past just a couple of feet away and she just looked up then carried on munching.

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Another deer just hanging around town

Gary who owns the tackle shop kindly gave us lots of tips on how and where to catch a halibut, so we spent an afternoon off Tolstoi Point outside the bay trolling for halibut.  We hadn’t had any luck when a local boat came over and offered us some of their catch, it was a gentleman named Dave we had met in Thorne Bay when we stopped to admire the rather smart fire engine truck outside the volunteer fire service station.  With our donated chunky fillet of halibut we decided to give it five more minutes then pack up and head in. Three minutes later we had a bite and successfully landed our own 10 pounder.  Gary had also kindly offered to show Jez how to fillet a halibut, so he took it in to his dock for a lesson.

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Success at last!

It was difficult to tear ourselves away from Thorne Bay, the people here made it a wonderful and memorable stop for us. The halibut was delicious pan-fried with chips and salad, courtesey of Dave and family!

Kasaan Bay is the next major inlet heading down the east coast of Prince of Wales Island and after a quiet night in Kina Cove we took Joy over to the small Kasaan settlement on the northern shore of the bay and docked on the free public dock.  Here there is a short trail through beautiful forest to a totem park and recently restored Whale House. This house was built around 1880 and housed Chief Son-I-Hat and his family who had relocated here from their original settlement at Old Kasaan further south on Scowl Arm. The original settlement of around 500 Haida people was reduced to around 80 with the small-pox epidemic in 1862. Chief Son-I-Hat moved to the new location to be close to a Christian mission in the area, and built the house (nick-named the ‘Whale House’ because of the pole carvings inside) to house his family.  In 1892 a copper mine camp, post office and sawmill were built here, followed by a salmon cannery which operated from 1902 to  1953.  The house was lived in until 1915, then restored in 1938 and again in 2016. After a great lunch in the Totem Trail Cafe and some beach combing we walked back towards the public dock and were invited in for a beer and a chat with a lovely couple Pam and Bill from Nevada who live here during the summer.  Pam had seen an orca in the bay heading towards Joy shortly after we had stopped to talk to them on our way to the trail a few hours earlier. They very generously shared some coho salmon with us, and suggested we try cooking it on a plank on the BBQ.

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A zillion birds congregate on the water in the entrance to Kasaan Bay

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The recently restored Whale House is the only Haida longhouse standing in the U.S.

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Inside the beautifully restored Whale House

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