Friday, July 31, 2009
View Aboard Io in a larger map
Leaving Queen charlotte islands July 31 3 am. N52 17.7 W131 09.4
Southeast to waypoint N52 13.2 W130 55.01
Bearing 125 Deg true to waypoint N50 46.89 W129 32.57
Bearing 129 Deg True to waypoint N48 46 .996 W125 42.51
Bearing 83 Deg true to trevor channel entrance then onto Bamfield.
Expected duration, 3-4 days.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
N52 22.56 W131 22.97
View Aboard Io in a larger map
Upon our arrival in Haida Gwaii we headed directly for Hot Springs Island and had a good long soak in the ocean side hot pools taking in the view and washing off the salt from our Hecate strait crossing. We spent 2 nights in the Matheson inlet where we were alone with the seals and pigmy dear that roam the islands. Day two, we hiked up and un-named creek towards an un-named lake. It was a good old standard issue Orr bushwhack. We did not make the lake as the bush finally became too dense but we did find some beautiful pools to bath in and fill some water jugs. We have not filled our tanks since port hardy, but seems that we have been frugal enough because our starboard tank is still full. We left in the morning bound for Island Bay and the famous Burnaby narrows which boasts the highest biomass in the islands. We anchored in a comfortable 30 feet and put together our little sailing dinghy "Ion" and sailed the last 3 km over to the narrows. It was interesting, but being a much-publicized local, there were 3 charter-boats and heaps of kayaks roaming about. One of the charter captains was so impressed that we had sailed our little dinghy over that he offered to give us a ride back. Why not? We don't often get to cruise in a 1 million-dollar 71-foot ketch. Back aboard Io, we took showers in cockpit in the warm wind. At first it seemed a bit odd to shower with my sunglasses on, but at least I got to wash the salt and sunscreen off of them. We are planning on heading down island to Rose harbor and Anthony Island, which is a world heritage site filled with totem poles that were left by a fierce and war-like tribe. If you ask me the names are bit misguiding. I have my doubts that "Anthony" or "Rose" were traditional Haida warrior names! We are also planning our next long passage. We are going to reprovision at our old stomping grounds Barkley Sound at Bamfield before heading south. Heading south, that sounds great. We have been beating to weather for so long that we barely know how to make our boat run down wind! From here to Bamfield is 340 nautical miles (630 km). If the winds are fair, a boat our size should be able to tick off 100-120 knots/day (noon to noon). That makes this a 3-day passage if all goes well. Unfortunately we are now entering Faugust, the month of light winds and lots of fog. For now the weather forecast is good so we will find out soon enough.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Oh fraptious day, cahloo cahlahy. We have chased our jabberwocky out of the sea, over and through each wave and beyond the horizon. We have made it to the Queen Charlotte Islands, Haida Gwaii. I admit my apprehension; Hecate Strait is Canada's Cape horn. Many a sailor have come to grief or worse here in these waters. And having heard these tales of woe, I have my respect. 146km due west, 80 nautical miles from this side to the other. And in that there is no horizon save where blue meets blue. Once land has dropped below view, sunk back to the depths, you are left with nothing but the countless stars. Wind in our sails and a star to steer by are no longer the stories of others. The countless vast of the Milky Way, scarring our southern sky, make way for Polaris our northern guide. I tip my touque to you, never have you been so high. After twenty hours and two, beating our way to windward, decks awash with salty spray, a herald met us with open fins, welcoming us to his bay. I have now fulfilled another quest, I have seen the great Mola Mola. The most derived fish in the sea, a sunfish you see. And what a beast, thick as a tree with a great black spot on its side and a fin span wider than me. I kid you not, I have a witness, Hyo standing here with me. Finally at last I have laid eyes on this great fish here in this great and wicked Canadian sea.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Fog has washed us clean
This morning we pulled anchor in the fog and drizzle. During low tide, we motored out past dozens of rocks and small islets. There is life all around, salmon jumping, pigmy deer on the banks and the thousands of invertebrates and algae that cover the intertidal zone. On a distant shore, near a small beach I see a figure standing. Most likely another traveler like us, his boat tucked away, hidden in some small nook behind one of these enumerable coves. He raises his arm in a friendly wave, a signal, a gesture that among all this life, this diversity of fauna, we still seek the camaraderie of another human soul who understands this grandeur, and seeks to share a still moment here in the fog with a perfect stranger.
With GPS and radar to guide our way through the rock and crag strewn archipelago, we motored with caution. There is no wind. The ocean is mirror calm. We begin to feel a slight swell from the open ocean to the south as we enter clear water. Sitting at the bow has a memorizing affect in these conditions. The fog is thick, visibility is only a few hundred meters and the water so featureless that ones perceptions is of movement is completely lost. Your eyes constantly search and peer and cling to any feature that gives information about distance, movement or relative speed. A stick in the water tells you speed and direction. A jellyfish the size of my fingernail gives a fleeting chance of depth perception. Or is that jelly Cyanea, which can grow up to a meter across, and my perception of depth remains uncalibrated. Here, the only way to tell if you are moving is to look down under the bow to see the wake.
In a few hours we make a decision, do we find a cove to rest for the night, or hang a left and head out to sea? The great Hecate Strait awaits, wide, rough, nasty. Our test of mettle truly begins in those waters.
Away from Bella Bella we go, northward ever northward. When visiting new ports, they say you should stay long enough to make new friends and enjoy what it has to offer, but leave before it looses its charm. We came, we worked, we packed our cooler full of fish, we caught up on our sleep and a little "so you think you can dance".
Now, today, we are landlocked in a paradisiacal prison! After a beautiful sail in 15 kts of wind and blue skies we have come to a hard to reach cove nestled between two treacherous passages. Higgens passage bears a scar, a little blue paint on one of the rocks that encumber that narrow channel.
The tide rises (floods) and lowers (ebbs). In some places the range the tide ebbs and floods is smaller or larger. The tide is controlled by the gravity of the moon and the moons stage controls how high the tide will flow. Where we are, and because of the new moon last night, we are going to experience what is called a spring tide, which means the tidal range is going to be very large. The passage we have come through is only passable at the highest of tides. We timed our entrance for low slack (the change between ebb and flood) water because in these channels the currents are so strong entering the channel that we could not even motor against it when the tide is running. You'd think by now I would know that when the depth sounder reads 0.0, that's not going to be good! When that is the reading, you just clench your teeth and wait for the sound of grinding as your keel comes to rest on something its not supposed to. We had to wait an hour for the tide to rise enough to get us off and the current to push us into deep water. The crux still lays ahead, even shallower water. The tide was so low this morning that I walked the path we have to get our boat through this afternoon. But the moon and the tide are with us today. There is going to be a 17 foot tidal flux today, meaning that where I walked on dry ground today should be under about 14-16 feet of water in a few hours, then we will attempt to get our boat out of this land locked lagoon.
This trip of ours has not been all fun and sunshine. Like I have said before, living on a sailboat is not convenient. Its small and cramped, there is no place to store what you want and everything is a compromise. I cant stretch out in bed and its even worse in the intermittent shower! Everything you own must be packed in so that it can take earthquake force shaking for hours or days at a time. You live with diesel engine in your living room and have a storage tank for your feces that is under your couch! Which today is the cause of my wrinkled brow. What is that smell and where is it coming from? Instead of enjoying this beautiful lagoon we have pulled everything out from under the sink in the head (bathroom) and have been scrubbing the bilge looking for what I fear may be a leak in the worst place on earth! I would rather have a hole in the bottom of the boat than have to deal with raw sewage again. My one consolation is that at least is my shit and not the last owners crap that I have to deal with this time!
And finally, we are supposed to be out to sea, why are there so many dam horse flies?
The test is done, the passage made. The depth sounder barely fell below 8 feet, it may as well have been a mile. We are now nestled in a cozy corner with 40 feet of water with a mud bottom, good holding ground for our hook. While I was walking the dry passage this morning, my face down, boots up to the max in mud and fingers wrestling a wriggling beastie, I was surprised to hear a voice say "there is a man over there". I looked up to find another dingy filled with two people and a dog. The usual pleasantries exchanged and conversation on how to cross this bar ensued. I asked if they liked halibut and told them of our abundance of fish and rapidly decreasing supply of ice. Her eyes perked up and she merrily replied: do you like pork chops? Four whopping marinated spicy Thai chops, a bag of ice and a dinner invitation seems like a fair exchange to me! While halibut is a pleasant fish, 3 days in a row and the threat of 4 more looming over me before that fish is consumed can takes its toll on ones appetite. While Hyo has a good supply of spices, I think a more general diversity will be appreciated. As they say: "diversity is the spice of life".
Friday, July 17, 2009
Thursday, July 9, 2009
June 1, 2009
While we officially began this voyage a couple of weeks ago, after endless delays, today was the day that it seems this dream of sailing off into the sunset has finally come true. We passed into the Johnstone strait this morning under blue skies and calm seas. This crystal green rift, at times over 700 feet deep, separates Vancouver Island from the mainland and is rimmed with glacier-capped mountains and filled with uncountable jellyfish and ctenophores. As the day passed and the tempurature climbed, a fresh breeze picked up dead astern and Dalls porpoise became commonplace. A Humpback whale surfaced abeam, chasing the schools of Herring that abound. After nearly a year of hard work and sacrifice, today is the day it seems we have finally began this journey as we had imagined. As we neared our anchorage, I dropped a line in 120’ of water and thought I had snagged the bottom, but after the due struggle, a 78 cm Ling Cod was aboard and ready for the BBQ. Hyo had never seen one so large, and as it turns out, we managed to consume a full half of it for supper. Fish for breakfast and lunch tomorrow!
N 50 34.03 W126 16.182
June 23, 2009
Leaving Gods Pocket is where we can be found, onwards and northwards chasing after Queen Charolette far into her Sound. Today the box is warning a gale, 3 meter swell and wind wave to boot, big rollers from Japan just over there, a little past the horizon. But today nothing but a pleasant tail wind at 15 knots and 0.9 meters of wave to push us along. Bahh that Weatherman, he spins his lies here too. Cautiously we round Cape Caution to starboard, 5 miles or so is a wide enough berth to leave room for the shallows.
Two weeks ago I left my beloved and ran a race around the familiar waters of Vancouver Island. In the end, after 10 legs and 1000 km of ocean wake, 3rd was my place along with my mates. Now back in IO we pass humpback whales breeching and salmon slapping, if only the latter would take my lure. Today is our first day of rain, at least the weatherman was right about that. We have come 60 nautical miles and tonight have found a little hidey-hole to rest, Goldstream Harbour be good to us and hold our hook tight.
Gods Pocket: N50 49.8 W127 37.5
Cape Caution: N51 09 48.3 W127 47 12.9
Goldstream Harbour: N51 43 38.9 W128 00 16.4
June 24, 2009 : N52 03 30.7 W128 03 10.9
Rain storms come and go. Sailing is a bit like going nowhere fast or going somewhere really slow. There is also a lot of standing out in the rain for hours at a time, not doing anything except that west coast slouch. However, tucked snuggly away alone in a secluded anchorage is pretty nice. The fresh rock sole and greenling we ate were nice as well.
We are in a small bay with a large stream running into it at the head so the water around the boat is all fresh. That means plenty of fresh water for showers and dishes tonight!
June 29, 2009
I hope you are well. Hyo and I are in Bella Bella (N52 9.48 W128 8.66), which is a little island on the central coast of B.C. We will be here for several weeks as Hyo is working at the hospital and I am putting together a course for Bamfield this fall. So far our trip has been amazing with lots of wildlife (whales etc.) and lots of tasty fish. Currently there are 5-8 bald eagles sitting in the tree outside. They are don't seem to have any reservation about swooping past you to land on a tree 20 meters away. I have often seen the yellows of there eyes and the classic picture of one carrying a fish in its claws.
We have had fair winds and decent weather most of the way. When there have been storms we have been safely tucked away in sheltered anchorages, which of course is the general game plan (2 days ago there was 4 meter waves and 45 knot winds hitting a place we crossed). However, we have been playing a bit of a game with the weather and, for the most part, we have been winning. In the summer, the winds typically come from the northwest along with the fair weather. This is because a high pressure system sits more or less stationary about 500 miles off shore and sets up regular northwesterlies. This is great for sunshine and stable weather, but unfortunately when you are trying to travel in a general northwesterly direction the wind is in your face. Any sailing progress to windward becomes a lot of work, basically meaning you zig-zag your way toward the place you are heading, sailing many miles to go a short distance. While beating to windward, as it's called, picture the boat heeled over 20 degrees pounding into each wave causing spray to fly up covering you and the boat, for hours and hours. Also the dishes and everything else in the boat gets rattled, bashed, and threatens to fly across the boat with each tack (change of direction). Somehow it does not seem very warm and sunny with 35 kph apparent wind in your face filled with 12 degree saltwater. So the game is to wait for the occasional low-pressure system to roll in. With the low pressure comes unstable weather (rain) and southeasterly winds, which is great because they push us directly to where we are heading. The only catch is that, the center of the low pressure is usually gale or storm-force winds which kicks up a real fuss on the ocean causing big waves and general adverse conditions. So the trick is to try to head out before the storm hits, get as far as you can before the big winds and waves hit and hope the path of the low does not change direction before you can get tucked into shelter for the worst of it. Necessarily, we spend a lot of time listening to the weatherman on the radio. Environment Canada puts out marine weather forecasts 4 times a day, we listen to each one and then usually cuss at their lies. So for now we will play this game until the end of summer when we get to turn around and head South. Then we get to change the rules of the game and get to actually wait for nice fair weather and the norwesterlies to carry us downwind in the sunshine.
A few weeks ago, I also crewed on a very cool race boat for a 2-week long international yacht race around Vancouver Island. We sailed well over 1,000 km against some very good sailors in some expensive boats. A few of the boats even had professionally-paid sailing crews. The boat I was on came in third over all. It was a great experience. You can view a video online. The footage is of our offshore legs, which happened to have very little wind and therefore was not very dramatic. However, this meant that we had up the large light wind sails. When flying these sails it takes at least 5 people to keep them in control. We did loose control over them 3 times in the race. Basically the 38-foot boat tips over and starts dragging through the water sideways until you can get the flogging sail down and regain steerage. Very exciting. Unfortunately, we did not get that on video because, as you might imagine, we were too busy. The sail that we take down in the video had a dimension of 1750 square feet. Our condo in Calgary was 1250! It was fun! We did see some cool wildlife including several brown albatross, many whales, and a fairly large shark looking up at us over the transom.
All the best
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
July 8, 2009
Last week I was recruited to work as a deckhand on a 40-foot commercial Halibut long liner. I spent 5 days out in Hecate Strait catching fish that were bigger than I am using fishing lines that are 3 km long. We fished in water 60-100 fathoms deep (400-600 ft) not including the 2-3 meter high waves. I learned a lot about deep-sea fish. I also puked. We landed 2,300 lbs of halibut (~50 fish of which 8 weighed more than me), 500 lbs of snapper, a few other species, and my prize... one black cod. I can honestly say that I have never done anything where I have been so utterly filthy in my life. Perhaps the only thing dirtier was the colorful skipper's stories about all his ex-girlfriends!
Picture this: two men, covered from head to toe in full rubber rain gear on an unstable deck that is often awash with 12-degree sea water and covered in fish slime, blood, machinery, and thousands of fishhooks. There was a few times that I thought to myself, 'This is insane'. The first day the fishhooks were pre-baited with rotting fish heads and octopus bits. What smell! Like I said, I blew chunks, but only once the first day - enough times to empty the bran flakes. It was the combination of that rotting fish juice, the diesel engine stink, and the big choppy sea.
Long lining basically works like this: I am at the back of the boat at the baiting tray loading hooks and controlling the drum where all the line is stored. We put out 4-600 feet of float line with two huge floats attached to it. Then the long line is attached to the float line and an anchor is attached and dropped. As soon as the anchor is on the line and descending, I start clipping massive (as big as my hand) fishhooks to the line. Now this is the really dangerous part because the line is going out really fast as you attach each hook. If the hook were to snag you, which could easily happen, you would get sucked out from the back of the boat and dragged down with the anchor! Apparently this happens once and a while. Sound insane yet? We do this for 3 km of line placing a hook about every three meters. That’s certainly numerous hooks! Then another float line is attached. It takes about 2 hours to set a line and we set two lines. The lines soak for about 4 hours then we go bring them up. The line is retrieved with a hydraulic winch and all the hooks are taken off and replaced in a rack. When a sea monster is attached, the line starts to shake and you can feel it pull the boat this way and that. The skipper yells “fish on” and I grab a gaff (meat hook), bend over the rail, and wait for fish to surface and open its mouth. Then WHAM! I ram to hook into its jaw and the skipper and I struggle to pull the fish aboard. I then cut one of the gills and let it bleed out on the deck. Pretty brutal really, but admittedly, it was a bit of a rush. That is until I almost fell over once. The idea of falling into the cold water near a huge angry fish with steel hooks sticking out of it has a steadying effect on my balance.
The fish are kept in the hold covered in ice. After the fish are gutted on deck (which is more akin to gutting a deer than say, cleaning a trout), each one is handed down to the rookie (obviously, there are only two of us aboard!) who gets to crawl around in knee-deep crushed ice and pack handfuls of ice into the core of each fish. The hold is only 4 feet high and the opening is 2x3ft. So the when the big fish come in, they basically cover the entire opening and have to slide past me. When I say filthy, I mean I have had a 200-pound fish pin me to a wall and slide all 5 feet of its slimy length across my face! My hat was turned on its side and my hair was all matted to my ear! Gross! Apparently that reminded the skipper of an ex-girlfriend who used to cover her self in oil and … well another colorful story. Try to imagine what slime covered rubber feels like to live in for 5 days! There is a shower if you want, it pumps high pressure sea water through a hose on deck. Take as long as you want! I managed to warm some water each night and at least wash my hands and face before I slept. It was not all big seas and hard work. I did see some beautiful places even though I was told “in this place the sun does not shine”. It did not shine... which is great because on this boat there is no toilet, “ya get to hang it over”. I’ll remind you that we did not go ashore for 5 days. When you finally got to drop a deuce, you get to hang your boys out over the side in the 20 kph wind. With a cross-swell rolling in to the anchorage, one has to brace on something, and that cold steel bar across the back of the thighs sure can send a mighty chill up the spine.
In the end, I learned a lot about the biology of these deep-sea fish and some anatomy as well. We also have a freezer full of our own fish, almost more than we can handle. Tonight we ate halibut cheeks (the best part of the fish) that I cut off one of the big ones. They were bigger than 12 oz steaks. I kept two of the small halibut (30 lbs each), a couple of snappers, a lingcod, and my black cod (which is the best fish I have ever tasted and is the most expensive fish in North America). Overall, it was a pretty amazing experience and I may do another run next week. The pay is good, too, 15% of the catch at market.
As for the tree huggers reading this, I am not condoning our current fishing policies and was not stoked about contributing to the current the state of our fisheries. However, I did learn a lot about such issues from the fisherman's point of view. I also just wanted to see it for myself. Further, ground long-lining is a very selective fishery which maximizes target species and minimizes bycatch (not to be confused with the very destructive pelagic long-lining that kills everything including mammals). We did snag three sharks and a dozen or so rays, most of which were returned relatively unharmed. Compare this to any drag fishery and the numbers speak for themselves.
As for our sailing trip, we have a couple more weeks here in Bella Bella. Then we hope to spend some time cruising around here before we head south in September. We cannot leave earlier because of all of the hurricanes crossing our intended path. Those should clear up by the end of September.
P.S. sorry about all the metric switching. Sailors are caught in an odd world of different measures.
A couple of shots from the commercial fish boat. This sounds like a fish story, but the Halibut in the picture was one of the medium sized ones, a mere 100lbs. we got into the "barn doors" (fish over 200 lbs) the next day but it was raining to hard and the sea were to rough for pics. A you can see the decks were covered in fish. The salmon is used for crab bait.