Blaine, WA to Bella Bella, BC (Part 3)

This is the third and final leg of my cruise aboard Kittewake; it is by far the best. For one thing we are past the need to get up and be sailing at dawn to catch the tides. Check over here how to do it properly. With less time sailing we have more time to enjoy remote anchorages, do a little exploring and layover when the weather is bad. Our first anchorage out of Port McNeill is Fly Basin. It’s a tiny basin with a narrow entrance. There are two lobes to the basin and the one we anchor in can only hold one boat. The next day we sail from Smith Sound north to Fitz Hugh Sound where we continue north with great sailing conditions. The winds are 15 to 22 kts and we’re sailing on a beam reach. This is amazing given that we expected the wind to blow up the sound but instead it is blowing from the west over Calvert Island. We are truly lucky.

 Fitz Hugh Sound

We anchor in Pruth Bay at the head of the channel between Calvert and Hecate islands. On shore is the Hakai (Research) Institute. We spend two days here and on our layover day between rainy periods we go ashore and hike to the west, ocean, side of the island. The contrast is amazing. In the sheltered passages of the islands even strong winds do not kick up waves. But on the ocean side the waves roll in breaking on the offshore islands and then coming ashore.

West Beach

The weather is good as we set off from Pruth Bay. Instead of taking a direct route back to Fitz Hugh Sound through Kwakshua Channel, we choose to go north toward Hakai Passage. This puts us on the west side of this maze of islands. Fortunately the seas are small; the swells are three feet with a long period.

We continue north, passing Hakai Passage that could be used to return to Fitz Hugh Sound, and enter the narrow passages of Edward Channel.

 Edward Channel

The islands vary in size from very small, maybe 100 feet across, to large, but what they all have in common is the fact that only a short distance off their shore it is deep; in most cases many hundreds of feet deep. Given the number of islands and their steep shore it is interesting to imagine an area dotted with pinnacles if there was no water. What a sight it would be.

From Edward Channel we pass into Nalau Passage and then sail across Fitz Hugh Sound to Namu. Namu is the site of a long shutdown cannery.

There are quite a few buildings at Namu. Though most are locked, peering through the windows is interesting. One building, or part of one, was obviously the local store at one time. Today it looks like all of a sudden someone locked the door and walked away; magazines are still on the rack and the register stands ready to serve the next customer.

Everywhere you find oddities. There is a small tree growing out of a horizontal timber. Another tree is growing inside a build but the branches have found their way to the outside world through a hole in a wall.

In one building we find whole logs and many of them already cut and split into firewood. One of the caretakers finds us here and he is happy to answer our questions.

The wood is all wet so they cut and split it now so that it has months to dry before winter sets in. The wood is soft so it takes a great deal to get through the winter.

Also in the building is a saw for cutting boards out of a tree. It’s an amazing contraption that is powered by a VW engine. I’m amazed that this is not a one-of-a-kind contraption, but was a standard saw that could be bought once upon a time.

To operate the saw the horizontal blade is adjusted to the thickness of the board desired. Next the vertical blade is adjusted to the width of the board desired. The mechanism is put in gear and the blades move down the length of a tree that lies in the bed of the machine; the horizontal blade makes the first cut and it is immediately followed by the vertical blade. A bar flips out when the blades reach the end of the cut and the bar pushes the board back toward the operator as the blades return to their starting position.

The planks made with this machine have been used for everything from building the docks that are in use today to the newest buildings.

Maybe most striking given the dilapidated condition of the cannery is the abundance of flowers. They are everywhere. I see them first around the buildings down by the docks. As I walk around I find them all over the cannery. They seem to be growing out of the concrete but soon I learn otherwise.

I come upon one of the female caretakers working along the length of one of the large buildings. She explains that in most of the planted areas there is only gravel. To create the right conditions for the flowers to grow she lays down a layer of cardboard, then a layer of starfish and finally a layer of sawdust. Yep, a layer of starfish – I had already seen a couple of piles of starfish and wondered what they were for; now I know.

Wondering around more I find several greenhouses, huge, old tanks for both fish oil and fuel, a travel trailer that is beyond being a fixer-upper, and countless piles of debris that was once part of a thriving cannery.

Back at Kittewake the weather starts turning. Soon it is raining hard and it continues on and off for the rest of the day and the next.

My cruise ends with a 30 mile motor from Namu to Shearwater. The following day I spend in Shearwater because my plane is not until the next day. And boy am I pissed. It has rained every day since leaving Blaine, Washington and now at the end of my trip it does not rain. The weather is downright nice.

-Marcus Libkind

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