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August 23, 2007

Shearwater, BC

Hello from Shearwater, home of the slowest computer on the BC coast!! (Maybe the only computer on the cenetral BC coast!)

Shearwater is also a little more than halfway for Becky and me!

Apologies for the lack of photos, but the computer won't even recognize my camera and likes to crash with more than one window open.

Just so nobody worries: We might have trouble getting internet access over the next two/three weeks, so if we don't post, don't worry. We're expecting to arrive in Sullivan Bay, BC in about two weeks and will phone from there.

So, this last section has been one of our longest yet. about 165 nautical miles over 12 days. We have been blessed with mostly good weather, although did take half a day off due to winds on the 16th. Overall though, winds have been at our backs or light.

Becky and I skipped the normal Inside Passage route through Grenville and Princess Royal Channels in favor of more open water to the west. Instead of paddling through the narrow, sheltered channels fovored by most of the traffic on the north BC coast we wanted to see mountainous Campania Island and its white sand beaches. We also were hoping to avoid most of the ferry, freighter, barge, and cruiser traffic and maybe see some wolves. We succeeded and were treated gently by the Pacific, there wasn't much more than a low westerly swell the whole time.

Gotta make this quick before the ancient IBM Aptiva I'm using crashes again.


Giant grain elevators with tug and frighter traffic outside Prince Rupert.

Amazing stars and sunsets now that we're getting more sunshine than rain.

A rocky campsite on a rugged granite point in Principe Channel with a 270 degree view.

Paddling along the west side of Camapnia Island below giant granite cliffs worthy of Yosemite or Squamish and camping on a 1/2 mile long white sand beach dotted with wolf tracks, setting up our tarp for shade from the sun and swimming in the crystal clear water as if we were on a California beach!

Watching a school of 20 salmon swim right past my fishing lure, catching and eating Spiny Rockfish cooked over a driftwood campfire. One of these days I'll get a salmon!

Paddling along on an open section of coast, minding our own business when a Humpback Whale begins breaching about 200' behind us and coming our way! We turn towards shore and watch it pass breaching and lobtailing the whole way, happy to be out of the path of those powerful fins.

Stopping in at the Ivory Island Lighthouse to chat with keepers Ron and Colin.

Watching a deer swimming across two-mile wide Seaforth Channel in an ebbing current.

Meeting Dana and Chris, previously of Bellingham, hearing stories of refitting a boat for world cruising and having a delicious home cooked breakfast on their 32' Westsail the "Puffin".

And finally, Whistler Pale Ale, Prawns, Steak, Fresh Greens, and Chocolate Cake at the Fisherman's Bar and Grill in Shearwater!! Bring on the calories!

Hope this post finds everyone well and healthy. Thanks for the comments and support. Again, sorry for the lack of photos.

August 9, 2007

Arrival in Prince Rupert, BC

Greetings from CANADA!!

Just returned from the post office with a shopping cart full of goodies! Thank you Mom, Sue, Stefan, and Mary Marie for all the packages.

Yes, Mom, I returned the shopping cart to the supermarket.

Stef, I have no idea what you wrote on the prayer flag, but I'm sure it is all good. We're looking around the hostel for a Swede to translate.

Sue, you shouldn't have. But since you did, we're having dinner on you tonight at the Cow Bay Cafe! Thanks.

Mom, I loved the watercolor card. We scarfed the beef jerky almost immediately and will enjoy the dried fruit from Michigan.

Mary Marie, thanks for lugging that huge box to the Post Office. Everything arrived ship-shape!!
Thanks to everyone for the packages, e-mails, and support!

Be sure to check the archives on the lower right of the page for earlier postings, we only display the most recent few on the front page.

And now, just a few photos:

Fisherman's float at the site of abandoned Port Tongass, just shy of the BC border.
Nav bouy near Port Simpson, BC
Not quite high tide, but we stayed dry at this campsite at Jap Point, a day north of Prince Rupert.

The Man who Fell from Heaven, a prtroglyph in Venn Passage, just outside Prince Rupert.

Dixon Entrance, Anatomy of a Capsize


Day 40

Dixon Entrance, Kah Shakes Cove to Tongass Island

23 miles

Beautiful sandy beach at Kah Shakes Cove

The short story: We had a fabulous day paddling in great sunny weather around an exposed section of coast in fun, challenging conditions. Around Cape Fox, an over-enthusiastic Nick goes for a surf, applies his paddle incorrectly, flips his boat, misses his Eskimo roll twice, exits said boat, swims, and self rescues, climbing back in. Becky is soon alongside and helps stabilize the boat while Nick, laughing and grinning now, pumps the boat dry. We all enjoy a break on a sheltered nearby beach, CACKLE and chatter with excitement, then continue on to Tongass Island where Wild Turkey bourbon is applied to one wounded ego and two courageous companions. Overall, it was one of the best days of the trip! No, REALLY, it was one of the best days yet. We had fun, things went awry, we dealt with it and carried on, still having fun and still safe, happy that we'd trained for such an occasion.

The long story (ad nauseam) is below:

Sunset at Kah Shakes

What a day today!! Some of the best paddling we've done yet, and definitely the wildest stretch of coast we've seen. Headed out of Kah Shakes Cove (the site of an abandoned native village) around 7am to beat the wind and waves. We're in Dixon Entrance now, a section of coast that is exposed to the open pacific. For the first time in the trip we can look to the west and see only water on the horizon. We can also feel the swell and surge of the Pacific. Today there is bright sun, sparkling water, perhaps a two foot swell, and light winds out of the S-SW. We were hoping for the forecast NE tailwind but it was not to be today.

The shoreline here is gnarled. Rocky, craggy, stunted trees, offshore rocks and reefs, and lots of kelp beds. Where the rocks give way to beach we can see the gleam of bright white sand. Great paddling in the surge, scooting in and out of rocks and islets, lifting and falling with the swell.

Becky paddling in the morning's stellar conditions. We traded boats for the morning.

We're low on water so we spend the morning looking for a creek behind the walls of weed covered rocks. One promising spot lures us in, but only reveals a lagoon that fills with the high tide. Low tide now has it draining salt water back into the sea.

We're lucky to have such great weather for this exposed section. After nearly a month of clouds and rain the bright sun is a welcome surprise. We're going on nearly a week of sunshine, unbelievable! Tides lately have been high in the morning and high in the evening blessing us with short gear and boat carries.

We pass Foggy Bay and its long white sand beach. There is a small Bayliner anchored just off the beach and two figures combing the sands. Continuing south the coast just keeps getting rockier, but is consistently indented with deep, narrow inlets backed by sand. Perfect camping and rest spots. Plenty of places to land should the need arise.

After chasing our Japanese friend, Shinya, for a few hours we duck into a bay for a break on a white beach. A small gillnet fishing boat pulls into the adjacent bay while we sip tea and munch on pilot bread, salami and cheese. No lack of company even on this remote section of coast.

Tree Point Light

Heading out after our break we're nearing Cape Fox and a turn to the east and into more protected waters. The seas have become noticeably bumpier and the breeze has picked up a bit, typical conditions for a Cape in the afternoon. We all agree that we're still comfortable in the conditions even though the tops of some of the larger swells have begun to chatter with whitewater. Paddling along Becky I notice the hull of her boat disappearing into the wave troughs as the crests pass between us. We're both having a fabulous time, playing in the waves, shooting gaps between islets, choosing a route through the conditions. Eventually, as we round the cape, the seas turn behind us and we enjoy the push the conditions give to our speed.

We pass behind Fox Island, just off the Cape, hooting with the thrill of paddling such a wild, remote stretch of coast in fun, challenging, but manageable conditions. I'd guess that the following seas and tailwind are boosting our speed to above 4.5 knots at this point, a nice ride. The biggest waves are maybe three feet with gently breaking tops, the sun is shining, green water sparkling, spray flying off the rocks, and 5 knots of tailwind pushing things along.

The last section around the cape offers us a choice. We can paddle around a cluster of rounded rocky mounds or shoot a 100' wide gap between the two largest rocks. Looking at the backs of the waves passing through the gap we don't see the telltale white streaks of breakers, so we decide to go for it.

Nearing the gap the waves steepen and most of the waves begin to break. Becky is in the lead with my boat right behind her, too close actually. Shinya, in his skin-on-wood Baidarka is a couple boat lengths behind and to my left. We're still grinning. I'm relishing the thought of perhaps catching a wave and surfing a bit. Beck is, prudently, paddling conservatively by coasting on the fronts of the waves and paddling on the backs, easing through the gap.

Soon we're between the rocks and the bottom is clearly visible in the wave troughs in front of us. It looks shallow. The first twinge of worry crosses my mind. Although the waves are only about 3 feet, things could get interesting. My boat accelerates down a wave and begins to broach or turn sideways on the face. No big deal, but rather than just bracing and edging I decide to correct the turn with a stern rudder paddle stroke.

Now, the stern rudder is not one of my strong points. Properly executed the paddler twists sideways to align the paddle shaft parallel to the boat. Then you raise your front hand which drops the rear paddle blade into the water near the back of the boat forming a rudder blade. Now the paddler can twist the paddle shaft and apply left or right directional control to the boat. The crux of the stroke, however, is proper alignment of the back paddle blade so it slices straight into the water. "NEUTRAL!" as my coach Leon would say. Well, finding neutral is where I have problems.

The moment my back blade enters the water, apparently not in neutral (tisk, tisk, tisk) it slices under the boat and I'm flipped. Boom! It happened so fast that all I really remember is looking up through the water towards the surface and thinking how beautifully green it was. I was absolutely stunned that I was upside down. "This isn't supposed to happen on this trip!!" And confused.

In retrospect, having flipped in a stern rudder stroke, my paddle was already in the set-up position to roll. But instead of going for a weak-side roll, I waste time dragging my paddle underwater to the other side of the boat to set-up on my strong side. Now, when I hip snap and come up, I'm short on air, my head comes up first, I get a breath, but flip back upside down. I've just committed the cardinal sin of rolling. "HEAD COMES UP LAST!", Matt would say. I can hear my coaches clucking their tongues from here! I set-up again and try a second time, but its a weaker effort and I blow it.

So, I resort to the infamy of pulling my spray skirt off and exiting my boat. Oh, the shame! Ha,Ha,Ha! But now, on the surface, back in the sunshine, I can breathe. "HANG ON TO YOUR BOAT, HANG ON TO YOUR PADDLE!", Shawna's mantra is ringing in my ears. I flip my boat upright, straddle it and flop my butt down into the flooded cockpit. Oh look, there's my bailing sponge floating away, GRAB IT! I was in the water for maybe 45 seconds. Its only then that I see the yellow boat next to me. Somehow, Becky managed to get her boat turned around and paddle back to me while I was in the water. She rafts next to me and takes my paddle while I get situated. We've drifted close to the rocky wall of a rounded islet and decide to paddle out of the gap before pumping my boat dry.

Just beyond the gap, the seas mellow considerably and we round a bend into a placid protected cove. We all grin, they laugh, and shake their heads while I CACKLE and pump out my cockpit. You'd be surprised just how stable a boat full of water can be! Shinya is muttering something in Japanese, probably questioning the sanity of his yammering partners. Just beyond the cove we find a small beach and take a short break. The only casualty of the event was the loss of my skull cap, a bummer to be sure, and a bruised ego.

We're well equipped for this situation, not only was I in a drysuit, but we still have 500mL of Wild Turkey with us. After a nice 3 mile downwind run to Tongass Island we land on a sandy beach and Becky breaks out in the TURKEY DANCE! Gobble, Gobble, Gobble!.

Seriously though, we feel pretty good about the whole thing. We're equipped for the situation, we're trained in how to rescue each other, and now we have some first hand experience doing it for real. The sea was kind to us today, and we've learned another lesson.

What a great day!!

(But, I promise Mom, we'll try to avoid such excitement in the future.)

Bear Video from Anan Creek

I think the video speaks for itself. Enjoy!!

August 2, 2007

Last Stop before Canade, eh?

Nick and I arrived in Ketchikan yesterday afternoon. This is our last port in Alaska before we cross the border into Canada in about a weeks time. This next section, the Dixon Entrance, will include some of the most exposed waters that we have seen. This section of coastline leaves the protection of islands to the west buffering and leaves us to contend with the open Pacific and ocean swells. The truly exposed portions should only take us about two days to cross, and we will of course, choose our timing wisely.

Arriving in K'Kan with TEMSCO Helicopter headquarters in background

Highlights since Wrangell include the Anan Creek Wildlife Observatory and the seaside town of Meyers Chuck. Anan Creek is more like a river that flows down rom the moutains through a turbulent rapid and then into a large open lagoon before finally pouring into the sea. This creek supports a large salmon run which at the time of our visit, were primarily humpbacks. The fish all congregate in the lagoon before attempting the rapids, which they must pass before reaching their spawning grounds further upstream. Through the rapids, the fish pile up as they are working against the fast flow of the river. Then the black bears arrive. From our viewing platform, we spent about two and a half hours watching the bears gorge themselves on the abundant salmon. A few of the bears were so indulgent that they would consume only a quarter of the salmon before discarding it into the stream, only to minutes later pick out another. It seemed wasteful until we realized that the half eaten carcasses were fodder for the lesser bears, bald eagles, ravens and all the other scavengers of the woods. Watching these bears feed was both a spiritual experience and a sobering reminder of the cycles of life.

Nick at Anan Creek, notice how thick the salmon are

From Anan we paddled a few days along the Cleavland Peninsula to arrive at Meyers Chuck. We had read that Meyers Chuck was a bit of an eccentric town and worth a stop. As we paddled into the protected waters of the "chuck", or saltwater lagoon in the trade language Chinook, we were struck by the coziness of the village. Most of the houses were built on stilts and were spread about the numerous islands that created a protected central harbor. In the harbor, we found the state dock and tied up our boats to have a look about. Within about ten steps, we were approached by a gentlemen who asked where we were from and if we were looking to stay in town. There are no formal accommodations in town, but the gentlemen immediately offered to let us stay in one of the spare cabins on his family land, and there was a pizza potluck that night as well. Were else can you arrive and be immediately offered a bed and meal, no questions asked. We found the potluck to be a very enjoyable experience. Almost all of the Chuckers came out for the affair, all arriving in their various skiffs (you pretty much need to boat to get anywhere). The pizza was the best I've ever tasted, cooked in a homemade pizza oven and topped with all sorts of garden grown veggies. Then the desserts came out and the selection was equally as impressive. Beyond the festivities of food, this was a special evening organized to decided whether the community should fight the impending incorporation into the Ketchikan borough (county, in Alaskan). For the most part, this free minded community would rather remain under self rule but the question became, at what cost (in lawyers fees to fight the borough). Nick and I were able to sit through the meeting as flies on the wall and both seriously enjoyed this slice of Alaskan politics. Thanks to the Chuckers for there generous hospitality!

Our cozy accomodations in Meyers Chuck
While in Meyers Chuck, we met up with a Japanese man named Shinya and have been paddling with him the last few days. He is in a wooden frame traditional Inuit style skin kayak, and has at times made Nick and I feel like sissies with all of our Gortex, coffee and booze. Shinya is an origami machine and thus is his greeting to everyone he meets- a crane, a frog, an elephant and if you're really lucky, a red rose.

Our next port is Prince Rupert in about seven days. Talk to you then!