The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

Sailing to Prince Rupert in Winter During a Pandemic - Part 3

Ken Christie

Blue Rose
DeKleer Bros. 30 Sloop
November 12th, 2022

This is the last part of this journey, as Ken relays his observations of the voyage from Vancouver to Prince Rupert during winter weather and a pandemic. He’s travelling on Prairie Dust with Josh, and helping this less-experienced sailor to become a more-experienced one. In Part 2 of this story, they made it to Klem Tu. Along the way, Ken is using the opportunity to assist coastal peoples affected by the pandemic and other traumatic experiences.

Dec 8, 2021 KlemTu to Butedale

08:10 We departed KlemTu.  Up Graham Reach, I was standing on the bow among spectacular scenery, with alternating light snow squalls and blue sky. Past Work Island, there was blue sky everywhere.  The empty Butedale Passage tells of what’s to come.

14:15. Ta Da! A great arrival at Butedale, but there was no one home to welcome the cruisers. Abandoned buildings were dusted with snowflakes. The dock was big, new and icy with moss. There were security cameras on the upper new BBQ decks, and a promise of cameras on the hiking trails. A constant flow of clean fresh water came down the hose beside the dock. ‘Skipper in Training’, Josh, tastes the water. “Fill the tanks!” he orders.  Yahoo!

Above the dock and to the south are old houses and the really large, decaying, cannery building. This cove once had hundreds of people living and working here. They came from all over, young boys and woman, then hippies grabbing work in unusual places – far away from the Vietnam War or the violence of antiwar Toronto protests and violent police services.  The cannery, one of dozens, closed in the 1970’s. Now there are only snowflakes falling on brown sunlit driftwood.

The area is full of possibilities. Ken sent a WiFi note to his sailing friend Anthea H. She knows many local real estate people who could continue developing this place into a world class Eco Tourist destination with a Forest Therapy center. She said she would only support “local” investors – Josh declines. But for now, a sign states they are out of funds and asks that visitors don]t vandalize things. It could be a great commune: the giant lake with quality drinking water, and Hydro generators for constant electrical power. There are plateaus for farming, and fast access to the open Pacific food fishing. It would make a great BCA rendezvous site with the all-new dock, ramp, and lounging deck, and pleasant picnic areas.

“Ken, thanks for showing me the ‘no-jump docking’ method,” said Josh. It was another learning moment: we do not jump off a moving vessel onto a green, mossy, ice covered dock. We say “nope” and toss a line down past the low railing. Then it is easy to see the benefits of using the boat hook to whip it around the railing, and yank it back up, tie it off to the cleat. I told Josh: “Don’t hold the Dusty with a fragile boat hook when snagging a line is quicker. Take time to practice that.” So, as a result, we didn’t jump onto the dock, we didn’t get muddy and dinner was spectacular. Josh says that when he wins the lottery, I will be the captain and chef on his 100 ft yacht.

The snow fell as I cooked another three course meal: cashews on the salad, fried chicken and layers of pizza. Josh got the smoky, hesitant Dickinson heater to run for the night. We ignored the diesel fuel that the Dickinson stove pump had spilled into the bilge, for the time being. Josh stepped outside: as a curious navigator, he was again checking the stars. “Hey, Ken, come look up into the clear sky now, the moon and two planets are all lined up.” This alone, in the special voyage, made it worthwhile. We thought of Josh’s loving grandmother guiding the stars from somewhere. Here, a good sleep in a warm, rare Spencer 44 – with free hot water from the engine.

Dec 9, Butedale to Nettle Basin

07:50.  As we departed, there was snow, blue sky, and heavy fog. The windows were useless, the heater was out, but the windlass, chain, anchor and kellets were all good – that windlass repair worked.  There were no other sail boats, just a water taxi, and Tug-Barge.

09:30 Motoring again along Fraser Reach, McKay Reach; we had blue sky and snow squalls.  That morning, we passed some of the camping spots of two kayakers, who paddled from Alaska to Victoria. Lucy Graham and Mathilde Gorden cleaned up beaches along the way and documented plastic waste. They also gave talks to school children. As one of their supporters, I told them to call if needed; fortunately, I never had to sail for a rescue.  They are back in Brisbane now. You can read about their journey here and watch their film: “Changing Tides“.

Golly, more squalls and edges of rain and snow, but Some blue sky was showing over to the south and east.  No winds there for us, and in the snowstorm squall, we couldn’t see out the windshield; we had to leave it partly unzipped.  I went up to the bow and watched for logs and fish boats. Radar in a snowstorm? “Whatever is good, Josh”, I mumbled.

Radar overlay showing squalls.

Along the way, I pointed out many locations I’ve traversed.  We had views of snow-covered mountain tops until the clouds wafted through. Looking way up Douglas Channel to starboard is the village of Kitimat, with the People of the Snow just a few hours’ motor to the east. The village has practical training in technologies and construction. I hired a young woman from there in the past, to assist in renovations in Vancouver, and she was excellent. Kitimat has a Yacht Club and there are great Hot Springs up that way, too.  The First Nations community at the mouth of Douglas Channel, Hartley Bay, can only be reached by water or air and is isolating – so no visitors allowed.  The Trauma Package had to work it’s way around on that one.

12:42 So, then passing Sainty Point – maybe it’s spelled Sanity Point? Were we going beyond Sanity?  The blue sky was framed by snow squalls, and there were beautiful colours of sun on the snow-covered mountains – no clear-cuts up there. Four miles along the Grenville Channel, the snowstorms and fog got serious; unzipping the windshield just barely allowed the view of the mountain sides to shoreline, and the odd logs.

Beyond Sainty Point fog.

We were at Lowe Inlet and the currents under us were as Josh predicted – he’s an excellent navigator. Moon was in the first quarter, very important. The Grenville Channel is a three anchors event in this weather. To the east is a mountain called “Countess of Dufferin Range”. There was snow all over her skirts, and more on our deck.

14:02 In Nettle Basin there were tiny icebergs from Varney Falls and Lowe Lake. A great summer escape place. “Yes, please drop anchor here, facing into that river of icebergs. They will clean off those False Creek barnacles”, I said to Josh. There were beautiful ripples on the water, very poetic and calming. I added: “I will just wander on the bow to take a few pics and nature movies before cooking dinner, OK?” Promises, and sanity are good themes for the day. I encouraged Josh to join me: “Wow, Josh, turn down the Sublime Music, come on outside, see those little icebergs. Yes, that waterfall is from a really big lake on the mainland. Woo, free electricity – just like Butedale. But this is a Provincial Park.”

Then for the evening entertainment, it was baroque jazz and rebuilding the Dickinson fuel supply and making it burn a clean flame. Josh dipped his hand down inside to wipe soot out and get the stove lit. Again, a messy bilge down below, but it had to stay there for now; at least there was no salt water mixing into the bilge on this Spencer 44. I cooked up a rich spaghetti sauce, with veggies, salads and a choice of wine. Then, outside under the now clear night sky, we stood on deck, the moon crest aligned with the planets, and a good energy steered the stars. Blessings from Grandmother again.

Dec 10, Lowe to Kumealon Cove

07:10. It was dark, and there was heavy snow, but the current was favourable, so we departed Lowe. The Channel was empty as usual. Ice was building on the halyards and sheets. “Nice artistic icicle photos though, eh Josh?” I joked. Nav lights were on, and there were no other cruising boats in sight.

Icicles on the lines.

Dusty was heading south, avoiding the shallows of Whittling Bank, James Point.  After a long motor, we turned north past Tom Isle light. With fog, cloud, and snow still falling, the deck was white. By 1100h we’d seen only one tug and big container-loaded barge heading south. Foggy Grenville Channel was almost over, but it was too late for Chatham Sound, and Lucy’s Campsite at Oona River is too small, so we headed for Kumealon Cove.

By 1300h we headed calmly into the tiny, shallow Kumealon Cove. All this was now pretty easy for the new owner, but nature provided an anchoring lesson. There are sharp steep mountain passes around us. We could have whorl winds, katabatic and anabatic winds, too. “Here, now, idle in slowly” I said to Josh.  The navigator chose the north end, at 21 ft, and we let out 100 ft of rode with two kellets. We had a nice view. It seemed the south wind had set the anchor. As we watched, Dusty drifted too much north, into the sandy shallows. We re-anchored in the middle of the Cove (35 ft depth). Then the south wind doubled and tripled; that really set the anchor, pulling Dusty north, but not into the shallows, or eastern shoreline trees. That was close. We swang there for a while and I did the usual watch on the bow. Josh was getting nervous. Bingo, it happens!  The wind just doubled but now from the north, 180 degrees! Dusty blew sideways, then aligned; the anchor flipped and the chain whipped. We pulled hard south, dug in and let out more chain – damn, the separator jammed against the wheel! Josh did not like a loud bang sound, but it was just the normal “anchor in wind” sounds. Quick, time for the quiet presence and regulating statements of trauma recovery. We were holding and maintaining a safe circle of reach. I monitored things at shoreline, and on my Smart Phone, while Josh monitored on the ship’s chart plotter. In an hour, things eased off.

Kumelon morning deck snow and mountain view.

Kumelon morning deck snow and mountain view.

Guests arrived: a white fish boat spotlighted us, but tucked in near the Grenville Channel side. We were good: there was pizza in the oven with triple bacon and peppers, and salad with trimmings. A choice of wine.

Time to take that Dickinson stove apart as usual, I scooped my tuque out of the diesel-filled bilge, and then washed dishes and floors. The winds did not bother us, and that windlass gypsy repair was working. Epictetus noted, “it is not events that disturb people, it is their judgment concerning them”.

Dec 11, Kumealon to Prince Rupert

09:05. We actually had a great night’s sleep.  With a push of the windlass button, the anchor came up. Kellets were stowed under the dinette seats, and so the Dusty blew on northward.

11:55. The north end of Grenville Channel had big freighters at anchor. There was some wavy chop and all around there were separate stormy squalls. “You’ve got quite the spectacular place for Sunday afternoon sailing here, Josh”, I muttered.

12 :22. “Josh you’re late for work!”, I remarked. He replied that his buddies up in the cranes would recognize him on the fore deck when we motored under them.  Meanwhile, I could see Oona River. I remembered that Lucy and Mathilde camped on that public dock, and on Kitson Island, and they gave a school lecture on plastic waste, way up there at Lax-KwALA AMS village. Good thing the winds of Chatham Sound were low, the jib was still floppy, so we rolled it in, and motored on past the speeding water buses. Beautiful sky and hills; the snowy mountain sides made for lovely sunrises. The weather got better. Four squalls and defining blue sky:  quite nice actually – for Chatham Sound. No rain, no snow falling, and icicles were all melted.

Chattham squalls.

As I motored to the shipping container docks, just like one is not supposed to, the crane operators began phoning and Josh stood on the bow waving. A tugboat began a turn towards Dusty. They sure have funny greetings. Motoring on past, along the suburbs and various docks, we arrived in Prince Rupert at 1308h.

“Josh, this is your new home, in the solid, city-operated Cow Bay Marina. No city BS here?” I joked… “Well, there is the Wheel House Brewery and Opa Sushi, Breakers Pub, and Fukasaku sustainable seafood dinner tables” I continued.

Dusty at Cow Bay snowy dock.

Dinner that night was at Josh’s parents. Josh’s dad came strolling down the dock to greet him home, all safe, prayers answered.

We drove to a new house in the suburbs, where we enjoyed a spectacular dinner and some amazing artwork. After, I was on the phone to friends, apologizing for not making it to Terrace to bring the Trauma Recovery Program to the Women’s Center. It would be mailed. I was being called directly home, so I planned to fly from the airport on Dodge Island, where those Gumboot Girls (see the memoirs compiled by Jane Wilde) built Hippie cabins in the 60’s.

Dec 12, Prince Rupert to Burnaby

07:30. The final breakfast coffee in the Prairie Dust galley. My old suitcase, and sailor duffel bag were on the dock. A dog and her owners rowed past – just another Canadian trio commuting in a snowstorm. The snow had blown off now; we hiked to the chain link gate where another sailor was climbing the barbed wire. The magnetic lock was NOT working well and the pass fobs didn’t work! We phoned the City. We were told the computers were frozen. Where? – in someone’s remote-work living room. No time for the live-a-boards to go get their drill or side grinder. I needed to catch the only flight out. I shoveed my baggage over the eight-foot wires and scrambled up over the fence after Josh. No city BS here… Off to catch the ferry to Dodge Isle and then the WestJet flight. “Nice shiny truck you have, Josh, and it is really good in this deep snow – we are obviously still on the voyage!” I said.

Dodge ferry.

At the Ferry terminal bus, the waiting room was full of chatty, waiting people. I stood with the young guy holding three Smart phones.  We talked investment property for fishing camps, and wilderness forest therapy. He fixes and adjusts software programs for all the city computers and cameras. He showed the live view from that tower on Dodge Island, and on his other screen, some views from the other towers and office hallways. At my suggestion, he checked the camera at Cow Bay Marina to see if old Freddy made it over the gate or has just used his side grinder. This was keeping the young man busy. I nodded at the smiling women travelers. We would all be on that same 1000h airplane. But why were we still waiting?

Oh, the boys who plow the runway had a Saturday party… and there are no shovels for the passengers to clear it so the Vancouver flight will be late. “Yes, ma’am, pardon?” I said, “it is the old Rupert clown show – but now we call it Resilience”. It’s 940h; and the bus started to load. I gave way to the lady: “You go first. Oh, you own a condo in Cow Bay, where your Mom wore Gum Boots and built a Hippie Cabin? You are amazing and very resilient, nice to meet you.” I said.

Flying south, leaving behind the runway that was still being cleared by yellow snowblowers.  Looking down, the Grenville Channel looked quite small, as did Denman Island; Porlier was just a splash now. BCA Education Watchkeeper, Kitt, picked me up at YVR and I had to apologize for still not having time to assist with the BCA Education Dept. But that course from Kevin Monahan on using radar was really useful. Kitt was returning to Fiji in April, and I agreed that running a BCA Education Watch in the pandemic was difficult and required a special talent.  Now, I had survived comfortably on the Dusty voyage because of childhood skills, remaining present, and from listening to and learning from the BCA courses.

But for the time being, it was home to Burnaby, where three grandchildren, ages 2-4, were over-running the house while their parents worked through Christmas.  A different kind of passage, still requiring presence, had obviously started, although this one with way more rights – so by 2035h look out!


  1. Ken+Christie. says:

    Ken is happy with the voyage, Josh is ecstatic, the active participation in various BCA courses and meetups with amazing BCA folks at rendezvous, certainly contributed to the success of the passage. Physical and emotional states, as well as early life experiences for both of them, contributed to good decisions overall. Things broke, winds whipped, snow, fog, rain in the face, poor viability, currents to predict, and more. There are more stories and yarns among our extended communities around these places and types of voyage – than anyone could ever find. Lots of good people around. Thanks for reading!

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