Sunday, August 10, 2014

Seymour Narrows, Johnstone Strait to Port Neville

Distance traveled: 58.2 miles

Travel time: 8 hrs, 15 mins

It’s only 8 miles from Campbell River north to Seymour Narrows, and in a 26,000-pound, 7-knot boat, the Narrows have to be traveled very close to slack tide. At its peak, the current runs 15 knots, not an option. So we departed Campbell River after 10am to hit the 11:33 slack. At normal running speed, our engine operates at 1850 rpm, and Sunday morning despite throttling back to 1150 rpm, the current was still carrying us over 10mph.


A convoy of boats came through the Narrows southbound with the last of the ebb tide, but we were the only boat headed north. It’s late in “the season” and most are headed home by now.


Back in May we hired a Training Captain for part of a day, and one of the things she told us is that if you hit the slack properly at any of the Tidal Rapids up here, it’s a real “yawn” to go through. We got it right! Seymour Narrows is not the place to look for excitement, and we didn’t find any.


There are all sorts of unusual boats up here, but as expected, the traffic on the water and VHF radio dropped off significantly today. Those “Gateways” really do keep lots of folks further south.


We spent most of the day traveling north in Discovery Channel, then west-northwest through Johnstone Strait. The forecast called for winds 15-25 knots in the afternoon, so we planned a short day. But the wind didn’t come up until almost 4pm, and by then we’d passed the last place we could have stopped to anchor before Port Neville. Fishing boats were out in throngs at two headlands on this sunny, warm Sunday.


The turbulence and currents in Johnstone Strait are amazing right now, a day after Full Moon!  “Next To Me” felt like a rubber tubby duck bobbing and surfing through currents that ran to 4 knots in this 2-4 mile wide channel. All day long eddies, boils and whirlpools kept us steering hard as the water tried to take over control of the boat. We changed shifts at the helm more often than usual as it was tiring, and sometimes we ran as slow as 3mph against the current.


Despite lots of clear-cutting, the scenery was mostly gorgeous with mountains rising a few thousand feet straight out of the water, and rocky islets sprinkled throughout. We were in 600-800 feet of water much of the day.


Finally at 6:30pm we pulled out of the wind on Johnstone Strait into Port Neville, a “place”, not a town, where only 3 buildings line the shore: the General Store which closed in 1969, the post office that closed in 2009, and a caretaker’s home, currently inhabited by a missionary couple with a 5-year lease. The free Government Dock is still serviceable, with no amenities like water, bathrooms or electricity, and the current was running hard inside the bay, so we tied up. Within the half hour, 2 more boats came in: a sailboat with a couple from Vancouver and a CHB 34’ trawler with Jeanette from Seattle/Grapeview and Victor from Hartley Bay just south of Prince Rupert. With 15-foot tide swings today, the ramp up to the dock was steep.


Chet, below, and his wife live here year-round in their off-grid home powered by a combination of solar power, wind power, gas and diesel generators, fire wood for heating, and propane for cooking. Recently Chet shot and killed a grizzly bear that had “gotten out of hand” by chasing him into his house for the third time. He says usually the black bears, grizzlies, cougars and wolves are no problem, and they peacefully co-exist.


Below, the store that closed 45 years ago.

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Jeanette single-handed this CHB 34’ trawler from Seattle last May to Alaska for the summer, and is now on her way home. She developed transmission trouble 10 days ago, so picked up Victor in Hartley Bay to travel with her to Vancouver so she can have someone at the helm every few hours while she adds transmission fluid to keep things running. They catch fish most days and gave us some snapper for dinner, caught by Victor. Yum! He also caught a 30-pound halibut a couple days ago, so they fed all the people at Shawl Bay that night.


Victor is a member of the Tsimshian Clan (we call them tribes in the U.S.) and is a fisherman and fishing guide back home. He urged us to stop at Hartley Bay where we can tie up in “town” and meet the local folks. He’s also an artist, does pencil drawings, and gave Bob a wonderful self-portrait from his sketchbook. Jeanette is a Therapeutic Massage Practitioner, has 6 clinics around Puget Sound as well as affiliations with a couple of hospitals and Microsoft, and mostly treats cancer patients. Jeanette and Victor, plus Ken and Sandy from the sailboat, came aboard “Next To Me” for wine and story-telling after dinner, and we talked til midnight. Ken works for the Canadian government negotiating First Nations treaties/agreements, which led to some pretty interesting conversations between Victor and Ken. We listened and learned a lot.


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