“This summer cruising let’s practice living in the moment, ok honey?”
From the start we knew that expectations would be the downfall of our cruising summer. Last year was so magnificent, astounding, awe-inspiring and downright incredible that instinctually we knew we would be in trouble if we went looking for the same this year. No two years are ever the same.
But secretly…we both held out hope that maybe, just maybe, this year would be BETTER.
Technically the summer isn’t over yet but we are getting close to changing our Northerly route and heading South so it feels like the we are already close to the end.
It has been a strange summer compared to the last two. We got a late start (see Lucy’s section below) and ever since we have been trying to cover ground quickly—meaning we are passing by some favorite spots instead electing to keep moving on a northerly route. Mostly we are seeking out deserted faraway anchorages. The frustrating part is that the further north you go the anchorages become fewer and fewer due to the depth of the water or exposure to weather so the good spots become crowded with boats quickly.
Consequently it feels like this year we always have a specific place to get to—this specific anchorage and early in the day to beat the other boats. In comparison, last year we were happy wandering which has some great advantages. When you wander and stumble into a wonderful place it feels exciting, like you just discovered it. But instead when you read about it, plan an itinerary and then go looking for it…well that somehow lessens the discovery “vibe” and puts it in the “been there, done that” column. I thrive on the new and the sense of discovery so I preferred last year’s cruise.
The animals have also been disappointing. So far there have not been many and those we have found have been seen from a distance through rain and fog. “Ever on the look out” is my daily motto.
I guess I am complaining a little bit because we are always hoping for that perfect, deserted, gorgeous spot with bears on shore. Of course, that is what everyone is hoping to find.
Additionally along the way I have noticed that I have less to do. Of course there is always something (learn a new knot for instance), but the combination of having 2 years to fiddle and improve things plus the boat in the work yard all winter I seem to have worked myself out of importance. BOREAS is a smooth running boat. We have most systems figured out and running efficiently. So maybe the real “problem” this year is that I have less to do. Maybe I have become bored. There does seem to be more sitting around this year…maybe it is time to take up fishing. ;-)
When we cast off from Port Townsend we were eagerly looking forward to whatever the summer would bring. The only thing planned was spending 2 weeks cruising with my 22-year old cousin Grace in June. She was spending time with us as part of her celebration of graduating college and we were all looking forward to time together.
It was a good thing we didn’t have anything else on the books because no sooner than we left Port Townsend that we found out that my mother had been unexpectedly hospitalized for pneumonia. She’d been suffering from spring allergies the last we had heard so to find out she was in the hospital was a shock. Of course, it was a bigger shock to her. Quickly we realized out the best place to leave the boat was in Vancouver, Canada so we quickly headed there and hopped on a plane to Missouri. A week later my mom was safely back home and on the road to recovery so we returned to Vancouver to rendezvous with Grace.
We spent two lovely weeks hitting many of our favorite spots on the Sunshine Coast which lived up to its name showering us with day after day of sunshine. Stunning scenery, sandy beaches, humpback encounters, rainbows, swimming, and fun hikes filled our days.
So far so good.
Back in Vancouver we got Grace to the airport and then looked at each other and asked the big question, “where to now?” Thankfully my mom was still improving and had great care givers so we felt we could continue cruising. Together we decided to head North…no specific destination in mind, just further North than we had gone before.
The coast of British Columbia is divided up into several sections. From North to South it goes something like this:
North of the Northern Canada / US Border is Alaska
Northern Coast: Klemtu to the Northern US Border
Central Coast: Norther Tip of Vancouver Island to Klemtu
Broughtons: Alert Bay to the northern tip of Vancouver Island
Johnstone Strait: From Desolation Sound to the Broughton’s
Sunshine Coast: From Vancouver to Desolation Sound
Gulf Islands: From the Southern US Border to around the city of Vancouver
The first year cruising we explored the Gulf Islands and the Sunshine Coast. The second year we focused on the Johstone Strait, the Broughton’s, and the Central Coast. This year we wanted to explore the Northern Coast and maybe dip our toes into Alaska. Everyone we talked to said that the further north you go the better everything gets: better scenery, better wildlife, better anchorages. HOWEVER the weather becomes wetter and colder. Maybe that is be a fair trade off—better experiences for worse weather (insert eye roll here).
So we loaded up the boat with provisions and headed north skipping past a lot of places we liked hoping to find new better places. Of course we did stop at a few of our favorites: Octopus Islands, Ocean Falls, and Calvert Island’s beaches. For a time the weather held. Sure we had some overcast skies, some rainy days but it was a pleasant rain—light and not too cold. Then it would clear off to bright blue skies and hot days. We saw humpbacks swimming along the surface. Even saw some orcas in the distance—easy to spot because of their towering black-as-night dorsal fins. And we saw a lone sea otter happily floating on his back far from from land who watched us go by with calm curiosity. Also along the way we saw a sea lion which was so huge that it looked like a tree floating in the water. But no humpback acrobatics or bears…yet, right? I mean, there is still the Northern Coast and it is supposed to have lots of wildlife.
Finally we cross into the Northern Coast region and are excited to be in new waters. The childlike hope of new adventures and exciting experiences was awakened in both of us. What would we find????
As it turns out the Northern Coast looks lot like the rest of the coast.
The mountains we see along the Canadian coast are more like steep hills completely covered in evergreen trees with no exposed rocks and no snowy peaks. After I while my eyes glass over…everything is either green or blue (if we are lucky and we get blue skies, otherwise the sky and its reflection in the water is all shades of grey). Very little variety to stimulate my visual senses. When rocky outcrops do pop up in the landscape the guide book describes the scenery like this, “This must be one of the more beautiful places on earth. From the water you can see forested floors and sheer rock walls.” And I agree that it is beautiful and dramatic and memorable. And also infrequent. And short-lived.
Meanwhile, maps all show wild and ragged Canadian Rockies just a little further inland. Maybe if the clouds lifted we could see them, but nope, the clouds hug the trees with ferocious commitment. The skies are continuously overcast and grey threatening, or worse, delivering on their promise of rain.
Northern Coast rain isn’t light or warm. It’s almost like being underwater—that’s how hard it comes down. It feels claustrophobic. Like you can’t breathe. And in fact if you inhale quickly you might suck in rain drops. And it’s cold. We can see our breath. If there was an animal right next to the boat we’d never see it. At one point Rob manages to make out a brown bear on shore but to me it is an indistinct brown blob. Our clear vinyl plexiglass cockpit windows are fogged up and spattered with rain. We sail along using our radar to show us where land and other boats are. If the rain lets up for a moment one of us runs out on deck to wipe down the vinyl windscreen to try and improve visibility. Inevitably the rain comes back—harder. And it is LOUD. Soon the cockpit canvas cover is saturated and the water starts to infiltrate the cockpit. First just a few drops and then it was raining—INSIDE.
Definitely not better than last year.
Eventually someone tells us that last year’s sunny and warm weather was a result of drought and this year’s weather is “normal” weather for this area. A little later we met someone else who has spent umpteen summers cruising further north in Alaska and they told us this year was the worse rain, wind and cold they’ve ever seen. What have we gotten into?
At my lowest point I’m wearing 3 layers plus wrapped in a blanket hugging a hot water bottle and still shivering. The rain lifts for a few minutes and I see a drenched and bedraggled bald eagle perched on a limb looking simultaneously resigned and dejected and I completely commensurate with it is misery.
But there is still the glimmer of hope that something amazing could be waiting at the next anchorage so we press on.
The rain does eventually let up. The skies remain overcast and we haven’t seen the sun in over a week but it’s better than downright rain. We make it to some hot springs and finally I get worm all the way to my bones. We visit another hot springs and my spirits start to lift. Both of these hot springs are semi-developed meaning they are concrete block tubs with 3 walls and a roof overhead to protect from the rain. They’ve also been covered in “boat graffiti”—for some people it’s a big deal to write their boat name, their names, and the date on the walls. They also hang up boat paraphernalia. Part of me thinks this is a fun tradition and part of me thinks it distracts from the scenery but whatever, the water is warm.
As we get ready to leave the second hot springs a large group arrives…by foot. We were surprised since we thought the only way to access the springs was by boat. It turns out that there is a First Nations Culture Camp about a 20 minute hike away and 19 kids and 3 counselors had come over to play in the springs. One of the counselors was happy to talk with us and tell us all about the camp, its mission, and some of his band’s traditions and beliefs (band is their name for their “tribe”). It was fascinating—we both really enjoyed talking with him. As we were getting ready to leave he gave us a gift, the bark from a plant which he said had a variety of medicinal benefits as well as keeping evil spirits away. We thanked him profusely and returned to the boat with a greater understanding of this area.
Then the most amazing thing happened…while we were at a idyllic spot—anchored in front of a low waterfall and surrounded by 1’-2’ sliver and black jumping fish and tiny birds who disappear below the surface to fish with a “plunk” sound (I call them “plunkets” because I don’t know their actual name)—the clouds lifted. We luxuriated all day basking in sunshine and I didn’t “do” anything, just laid around on deck soaking up the sun.
The one thing I did do was start and finish a hilarious book “The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float” by Farley Mowat. I highly recommend it. He has a true gift fur turning bad decisions and misadventure into laugh-out-loud stories. I wanted to include a snippet here but I couldn’t pick one story to share, they are all too good, you’ll just have to read the whole thing.
The rains return. We move to new anchorages anytime the weather lifts for a few hours, vainly searching for bears onshore but our timing is off. At this time of year bears typically come down to the waters edge at low tide to turn over rocks and eat grasses. But they are generally not active between 10am-2pm is exactly when we have low tide. So no bear sightings. We read in a book that bears stop coming down to “beaches” by the end of July—instead they turn inland to eat berries and await the salmon run. The current date is….can you guess…July 30th. Only 1 more day in the month and we are at a dock in Prince Rupert. Hope to see any bears fades with our tans and our smiles.
Prince Rupert is the last Canadian town before the border with SE Alaska and all our anchorages along the way are unremarkable. I’m sure the scenery is nice but we can’t see it. Rain and clouds and fog obscure our views. We end up trapped below, the cockpit is too wet and cold and hanging out on deck is not an option. Thankfully down below we are dry but to stay warm we are wearing lots of clothing and drinking copious amounts of tea. Hope fades along with our tans and our smiles. I question, what good it is to live in the moment when the moment is miserable?
Being trapped on a sailboat in the rain with nothing to do may not sound miserable to you…you may be running from the instant you get up until the moment you go to bed, completely distracted by professional and personal obligations, so our situation may sound GREAT to you. All I can say is…try it. Life is about balance and we are out of balance.
Boat moral is at an all time low as we hang out in Prince Rupert resupplying, running errands, and getting online. Where do we go from here? The options include going North into Alaska and undoubtably more rain and cold. West takes us to the Haida Gwaii (prounounced “hide-a ga-why”) archipelago but it is not easy to get to and we found out you need a reservation which we don’t have.That leaves South and truthfully that is where our hearts are leading us. Back to something that resembles summer before the wet and cold winter returns.
In case you were wondering what podcasts we are listening to here are our favorites:
"The Wild" from KUOW in Seattle covering interesting stories and facts about wildlife
"Sience Vs". from Gimlet pitting science facts against a wide range of topics
"Invisibilia" from NPR looking at the invisible forces that effect our lives
"Revisionist History" from Pushkin Industries which dives deep into parts of history typically overlooked
"Grant Lawerence Superfeed" by Grant Lawrence featuring stories about the colorful characters in Desolation Sound including a hermit, a spaghetti bandit, a giant German, and the “Cougar Lady”