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Sailing to Prince Rupert in Winter During a Pandemic - Part 1

Ken Christie

Blue Rose
DeKleer Bros. 30 Sloop
July 18th, 2022

This story recounts sailing and motoring from Vancouver to Prince Rupert in a very limited amount of time, during a pandemic, snowstorms, and a provincial state of emergency due to unusually heavy rainfalls.  All the while, Ken was training a new wind sailor and using the opportunity to assist coastal peoples affected by the pandemic and other traumatic experiences. The story is divided in three parts, so stay tuned for the next two!


I was asked by a multi-talented boating friend to become a friend to her son’s friend, and help him sail his boat home from Vancouver to Prince Rupert.  His wonderful grandmother was in a hospital at the end of her life.  It seemed a normal request and I said “Probably”, but wondered about sailing in December. Sure, I go out on English Bay under every full moon anyways, but we have a pandemic on, big time now.

Alright, so… the fellow’s boat is tied up at the Fisherman’s Wharf in False Creek . I can see it from my own 30 ft Fraser sailboat so I thought I’d go over for a chat. “Interesting passage to plan out”, I muse as I knock on the stern of a 1981 Spencer Boats Ltd vessel with roller furling main and furling Genoa. Interesting indeed.  After all, it is December in the Pacific Northwest, below freezing temperatures and snowstorms are predicted. Also, the pandemic protocol says we should stay indoors. But a boat is not typically anywhere near people coughing or “speaking moistly”, so all should be fine. “An unknown 41 year old boat?” I ask myself. “But it is a Spencer.” I reassure myself.

Prairie Dust waiting at Fishermans Wharf to escape back north.

“Hi there, Josh, nice to meet you. Nice clean boat you have here. Interesting name: Prairie Dust, a Spencer 1330, ” I said as I introduced myself. Josh indicates it is the last one built, Hull #25, with a fin keel and is 44 feet.  The classy, hand-carved wood interior was built in a workshop in Prince Rupert – it took the builder 20 years.

I let Josh know that I have introduced many folks to sailing on small boats, over at Jericho Association in my famous little Discovery Sailing Club. I personally know sailing folks who have done the passage to Prince Rupert – they usually stop a lot along the way. Josh was not happy about that. You see, he is a very talented Gantry Crane and Shipping Container loading operator and needed to return to work soon.  I was very pleased to hear about Josh’s work, because the recent atmospheric rivers had wiped out roads and railways here in BC, so, our supply chain has been frozen like a Vancouver motorist in 5 cm of snow. Yes, we definitely know that those Prince Rupert terminals and the railroads from there to Chicago, Illinois are the only way to get our country’s goods moving.  “Josh, it is really great that you do that. You folks actually keep us supplied in food, cars, furniture, and clothing – golly, very interesting.” I said.

Since Prairie Dust is his home, Josh didn’t want to consider flying to Prince Rupert where he had to start work right away. At one point, he was thinking of taking the boat up by himself. I was happy to help him, not just because of safety, but also because I have the certificates that the insurance company likes to see at the wheel.

Josh had hoped to be in Prince Rupert within 12 days. Being unsure that was a reasonable time for the trip, I asked him if he could be there in 14 days instead. This meant that Josh had to take a couple of days off work and make alternate plans to get his cat and dog up in Prince Rupert. Reluctantly, Josh agreed to the 14 day-trip and told me that the sooner we would get there, the sooner we would have a delicious dinner at his parent’s place, who lived up there and were looking forward to having us over. Josh’s mom is an art collector and runs a high fashion Hair and Beauty salon in their house, so maybe I would be able to also get a haircut!

My big rule: no yelling at people on boats, no pronouncements or pontificating either. Just clear communication in the time and space needed, with replies affirming the message has been received and understood. That, and to expect the unexpected.

Josh had not sailed in logs with the wind as the only power, but had spent two years as deck crew on a fishing boat around the Charlottes, Vancouver Island and the Passages. I’ve been through the Panama Canal and once had to get around Vancouver Island in 19 days to make a family reunion. I’ve been around the local waters a lot on different sizes of sailboats. I ask Josh about the other systems on the boat and am glad to hear the motor works really well, with fairly new raw water pump and spray elbow. There are two alternators aboard. I was impressed to see that Josh had spent weeks setting up the complex navigation equipment and new radar; that he had Kevin Monahan’s book, and that he had plotted the whole trip precisely, with passages, currents, exact anchorages and docks and options.

OK, snow expected, minus 8 Celsius but likely it would warm up. The predicted Rivers-In-The-Sky were mostly in the Cascades, but we could see fantastic waterfalls with great chunks of ice being crashed around us, like the bergy bits in the Maritimes where I grew up.  Along the way, I could visit many coastal villages, for I am also a marine-based Social Worker and I would deliver talks and materials for Trauma Recovery Therapy.

Well, what else to do when December rolls around in a pandemic with atmospheric rivers? Might as well get out of the house, and stand on the bow of a snowy sailboat nicknamed Dusty, zooming up the BC Inside Passage to make a record run to Prince Rupert!

Nov 30, Vancouver to Van Anda

08:30. Leaving the Harbor Dock was easy – toss the Mediterranean-style lines back aboard, and then fend off while Josh learns how to steer. It’s only False Creek so no drifting logs yet. I direct Josh to go past the False Creek fuel dock and at full speed perform a figure eight and a reverse eight, and then come into the fuel dock.  The Coast Guard relaxes after we tie up.

“Sorry lads, you only get 30 liters.”, the attendant states.  The Provincial order to ration gas supply (to ensure the movement of essential people, goods and services) had just come into effect.  I point out that we are part of the supply chain for food and goods and that we must be in Prince Rupert in 12 days. Josh is the Container Crane operator. The railways and roads in southern BC are washed out so ships are going north. The Gas Jockey pauses, perhaps a bit skeptical. Would she shut the pump off? I added that I’m a registered Social Worker on a Marine Based Mental Health assignment to the villages of KlemTu and Bella Bella, bringing support to help with the fall-out from residential schools. The lady had to shrug and then gave us weirdos the pump. “Gee, who says stuff like this? Give them the diesel and get them out of town”, she probably thought.

Vancouver ships at anchor.

17:30 We were in Welcome Passage, it was getting dark and foggy but we kept motoring. I’ve been here in storms before. My friend Heather cracked her tiller here in a race. Aboard, the conversation went something like this: “Don’t take a left, we’re not going to Buccaneer Bay, there are sandbars… Darn, the navigation lights looking up to Powell River and Grace Point are weak in this dark fog. Only a few logs to avoid. Here lad, look there, toward Van Anda – no, over that way, yes, your navigation system and the visuals are not in conflict.  I’ll watch for logs and fog – navigation aid electronics can crash – we don’t want to.”

Passage plan.

21:00 Say, who installed a bright white flashing light for the tiny channel into Sturt Bay? And why would I take the new owner into such a dark crowded place for a first-ever anchor drill? Well, it would be a learning opportunity, and this Spencer could do it; also, I knew Josh has some tenacious ability to operate machinery from a remote station and to know ‘what is happening way over there’. Over the next 12 days we could have similar or more challenging moments, so this is a “Can Do” fast learning opportunity. Snippets of conversation were like: “Yikes, which side is it on? OK you watch your Plotter and radar overlay, I’ll use Navionics on my iPhone. OK now, look outside, we are in the bay, anchor over here. If  we reverse a bit, the prop walk will move us back from the cliff.”

At the wheel.

Josh wasn’t happy with ‘the elbow room’, so we went to the dock system to the south. We moved slowly and kept left, away from sand banks. We couldn’t see the docks in the dark and fog. We were saved by a man with a flashlight, walking his dog, who waved us in – woo hoo!  And he switched on some battery-run dock lighting! Resourceful people in the Texada Boating Club. Josh could relax now. This was his  second docking after the fuel dock donuts practice in the Creek. I reassured Josh: “You can do this. I will give the nice Grandpa these 20 granola bars and $40 bucks. He is a Live Aboard here. Sure, he will give it to the office in the morning.”

Heating on board and weather.

Texada Boating Club. Located in quiet Sturt Bay on the Malaspina Strait, Texada Island, British Columbia. For Club membership information, for locals only, contact Greg McMahon.

Dec 1, 2021 Van Anda  to Plumper Cove

08:05. Bye-bye Van Anda, hello Savary Island and the shallows. Cold and cloudy. There is the Salish Eagle BC Ferry again – I sailed by it in the Panama Canal, but here it is just a good old Powell River commuter.

The long tides make faster current. Josh’s predictions of current from looking at the land shape, and channels and the tide heights were really good. Today we would learn how and when the back eddies collect the most logs, and that there are some kelp beds toward Quadra that don’t show on the high-tech screen. Well, the big logs  show on radar, but the fence post ones are noisy on the hull. The patterns of up-wells can be studied ahead. I guided Josh: “You see how they roll the wood to the sides, and the way your keel is redirected, like sliding sideways off a hill? So let’s practice the swing dances of upwells, and learn the logs dance, arm in arm. Good thing the prop is over a meter down the keel.”

Cape Mudge can be difficult, but good for learning. I used to live on Quadra Island with other tree planters and car fixers. My Quebec motorcycle was destroyed by the rednecks who left hangman nooses in the trees for hippies. These floating logs were way easier! Cape Mudge is better passed way over by the Van Isle shores, but we needed to know what this Spencer and Josh could do: “Let’s motor on, past Quathiaski Cove, and dodge that ferry. Ignore Campbell River – Quadra people call it “Scramble River” because they always miss the ferries.”

There are several anchorages around here, and Josh had planned to tie up on a log boom in Menzies Bay. But there was minimal current in Seymour Narrows. Never mind the arrow on Navionics – we could see that the whirlpools of logs were tiny but organized, and we noted how they were lined up on the side of the current. We could avoid the logs, the differences in water levels were small, so Josh turned the wheel hard over, sailed out across the foam and we motored up the Narrows. No log boom tie up for us that night. Plumper Bay, here we come! There was heavy smoke in the engine room. Not the usual smelling smoke, so probably just caused by the 30 minutes of full RPM up the narrows.  Most likely not a problem, but I would check that out later.

Seymour narrows: log current patterns.

16:00. Plumper Bay has kind of a deep anchorage that’s open to the winds. There’s lots of rode on Josh’s anchor system, but not enough chain so we’ve got lots of swing for good scope. Wind was predicted light. We were now 3 days ahead of schedule. Yahoo!

Dec 2, Plumper Bay to Port Neville

Well yes, we were learning the interesting things. Josh had calculated all the current flows from knowing the tide heights, and then the distance from the real gauge and then the width of the passages. Josh’s brain works really well with numbers. We did Johnstone Strait with minimal whirlpools, and Seymour Rapids too. The moon was a waxing crescent, so tides were tall. A Coast Guard ship seemed to always be near, so we skiped anchoring at Billy Goat Bay, and headed to Port Neville before dark. On the phone, my friends Linda, Murat, and Lorrie mentioned there were strong currents.

Port Neville to Port McNeil.

Dusty was approaching that mossy cluttered dock by the old General Store, while speeding sideways toward the pilings. Oh oh, we realised a port tie up was not going to work. “Reverse, reverse, Full Power Please – Now – NOW!” We pulled back into the channel and the learning continued: “Tell ya what, I’ll get the lines and fenders over to the starboard and you just hold Dusty into the current, then slowly move one ship length to each side. Do it four times. By then, we can motor into the current and stay parallel to the dock, and I can step off peacefully and tie up the lines.”

15:07. Safely and accurately tied up, Josh relaxed and played more jazz. By now, I had phoned Jacquie Roussin, who used to bring her daughters Angie and Rachel here for the summer – it was better for them than painting the hull of the family fish boat. I took off up the dock. I’d be back to cook dinner, I just needed to leave a message from Jacquie up on those cabin doors, because she and the girls helped the people here, years ago. The bunch of cabins across the way was the Hippie Colony, just like when I was in on Quadra, and this message is about a new baby arriving. Back on the boat, Josh was fixing the diesel stove again. Good thing that there are no fields of logs here, like back in Seymour and Cape Mudge. We should have a quiet sleep.


Will Dusty make it unscathed? Stay tuned for Part 2 of this story, coming up in August!

Comments


  1. Ken Christie says:

    BTW Jacquie’s daughter Angie, has always done ocean art. As a child, she turned the bathroom walls into an aquarium view. She continues to do ocean art as she does all the artwork on all the fabrics in her store: Pina, T-Shirt shop in Ucluelet. https://pinastyles.com/

  2. Devin says:

    Great article – look forwards to parts 2 & 3!!!

  3. Arno Schmidt says:

    Hi Ken,
    Looking forward to the rest of your story.
    Interesting and quirky as many of your musings are!!
    Cheers
    Arno

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