We finally got away from Prince Rupert and headed down the Inside Passage towards Vancouver. Abi unfortunately, was not with us on this trip as she was spending a few weeks in San Francisco on a school summer camp. If I am totally honest, there were a few nerves on this trip, as I am not one who likes currents and I am also not one that enjoys restrictions as to when one can, and can’t cruise (due to currents). There is little doubt that the Inside Passage is a piece of water where not following the rules can be a costly mistake. After watching all the YouTube videos of boats getting into serious trouble and, after reading countless guides on the area, I was committed to, following the rules. This video HERE will give you some idea.. Note the currents in this video are not running at even maximum speed.
As we departed Prince Rupert we all wondered if the Inside Passage would match the beauty of Prince William Sound and for that matter Alaska in general. Would it deliver on the scenery front we had become accustomed to? Would it be more beautiful than Alaska? I guess time would tell.
There would be three challenging areas on this trip Grenville Channel, Race Passage and Seymour Narrows. All three areas are more than capable of spinning a large boat around a full three hundred and sixty degrees due to strong currents that exist in these areas. Seymour Narrows can, and has, sunk many a boat, and we are not talking runabouts. Seymour Narrows can see currents run at 16kts making it one of the most dangerous places on earth for inexperienced skippers. Getting the timing of all three of these passages would be the difference between making it to Vancouver or not.
Our first challenge would arrive on day two as we approached the narrow portion of Grenville Channel. Currents here swirl around causing whirlpools and upwellings at around four and half knots. Four and half knots in a wide open passage is one thing, but four and half knots in a channel that is only 1000ft / 372 meters wide is another thing altogether. Throw on top of that a cruise ship, tug boat and another four recreational boaters all trying to squeeze through together and one has the recipe for potential disaster.
There is no doubt that Claire and I were apprehensive about the narrows but felt that our experiences to date and the fact that we are very conservative boaters would hold us in good stead for a successful transit. I am happy to report all that we survived the Grenville Channel without incident and timed our arrival where the two tides met perfectly. That is not to say, as we worked our way down the narrow portion of the channel we didn’t experience current pulling the bow strongly off course, because we did. In fact, there was one section that had poor Pendana heading some nine degrees off course which was somewhat unnerving.
We spent a lovely night in the beautiful Ship Anchorage inside Klewnuggit Inlet, was as it happens is just off the point (Morning Point) of maximum currents which made our timing, the second day a straight forward affair. For those travelling Grenville Channel there are two points to watch out for. Morning Point and the area off Lowe Inlet. Following the time and tested rules I am pleased to report that we survived the first challenge totally unscathed.
As we continued south, we experienced our first serious fog bank where visibility was restricted to only around 200ft and, as such, we slowed down, sounded our horn every now and then (approx. 5-10mins – I know should be every two minutes) and didn’t take our eyes off the bow or radar for a period that lasted an incredibly long five hours.
I can tell you it was great to finally break through and to be able to see again. As it happened we only passed one other boat during this period. The sadness is that our track on this run took us via Loredo Channel, between Aristazabal Island and Princess Royal Island which is a track seldom used. I was keen to see the scenery, however, with all the fog about I didn’t see a darn thing!
We decided on our way south to visit a little known anchorage on the east side of Goose Island. I had read that it was a lovely spot so was keen to take a Captain Cook (look). Anyway, the word lovely is not what springs to mind but after a ten hour day we couldn’t face another three hours to the next closest anchorage. So, it was out with the flopper stoppers and we made the most of what was a very ordinary spot in every respect.
Continuing south, we arrived in Port Hardy the following day and were lucky enough to get a spot on the Fisherman’s Wharf, as the marina berths opposite were all taken. Port Hardy was nice break and nice to be back on terra firma, if only for thirty six hours. What awaited Pendana ahead would be both Race Passage and the notorious Seymour Narrows, so being well rested was important.
As we headed off on our twelve hour run towards Race Passage we quadruple checked the slack water times once again in Ports and Passes. To come this way without this publication would be a huge mistake. Ports and Passes is the most comprehensive boating tide book available for Washington and BC that includes tides, currents, and charts. A full year of tide tables and current tables for Vancouver Island, Puget Sound, and other popular boating areas in the Pacific Northwest are included. To rely on anything else would be a mistake as minutes absolutely do matter when timing tides that turn fast.
Our trip through Race Passage was uneventful and just as planned arriving bang on time. Actually we were one minute and seven seconds early which wasn’t bad when considering we had travelled around sixty five miles to get there.
The next challenge the following day was to be the famous, Seymour Narrows. As most would know this passage can run at 16kts so getting the time of slack water right, (which does not correspond with the top of tide) is imperative. With Ports and Passes in hand we planned our transit with military precision. It was funny to see all the boats heading both north and south, all gathering at the narrows around the same time. Both Claire and I prayed we wouldn’t have to deal with any cruise ships or tug boats in tow as we transited. I am glad to report our transit went without a hitch and the only thing we had to worry about was around twenty other recreational vessels. With the narrows, not really being that narrow, we had no problems securing a safe route through the narrows with the other boating traffic. Needless to say, regardless of that, we were quiet relieved when we were through.
With all three narrows behind us we could now relax and enjoy the scenery. I must say that being south of Seymour Narrows is a very different feeling from being north. More boat traffic, signs of civilisation greeting us with Campbell River being the first and the sun, yes the sun finally shining brightly above in big welcoming blue sky which is something we didn’t see a lot of north of the narrows if I am honest. I think we are going to like it here!
There is no doubt that we found Grenville Channel to be the worst of the three passages we transited. I guess it simply comes down to how much room you have either side of you. All three passages, however, were straight forward, and, by following the rules of how to transit them, and, when to transit them, I am pleased to say that we had no difficulty at all.
There is no doubt that we were apprehensive about the passage south and rightly so as the waters can become very dangerous. That being said, however, it would appear that we really had nothing to worry about due to careful planning. For the record…… I still don’t like currents!
Don Stabbert from MV Starr contacted us a few days prior to transiting Seymour Narrows and mentioned he would be in Desolation Sound around the same time as us, so we decided to meet up with them in Manson Bay. Don and Sharry Stabbert, on MV Starr were our dock buddies in Hawaii for around six months so it was a little strange that after some 4,000nms and four months later both boats and folks were reunited again in Canada’s Desolation Sound. Needless to say it was great to catch up with Don and Sharry and we enjoyed a very pleasant evening aboard MV Starr. Just like old times! Previous interview with Don and Sharry can be found HERE.
As we continued south we headed for a fabulous spot called Pender Harbour. It is a little surreal for me now visiting these places I had read so much about when we were in Australia. Pender Harbour, just fifty nautical miles north of downtown Vancouver was simply superb. It should, as far as I am concerned, be renamed, Paradise Harbour! The real sadness is that we had only twenty four hours to spend there. This little harbour is jam packed with marinas, boats, restaurants and even float planes. It simply has everything! It is well protected, safe, has secure anchorages and it is a must see. We will certainly be returning in the not too distant future.
For my Australian friends back home a good comparison to Pender Harbour would be Refuge/America Bay in the Hawkesbury but on steroids. Imagine Refuge/America Bay, maybe being a little bigger with restaurants, docks to tie your tender to, a few houses on the shore line and a few small islands in the middle. A float plane dock, a couple of small marinas and lots of boat traffic moving about and people enjoying themselves with kayaks and pabbleboards. That will give you a pretty good idea of what Pender Harbour is like.
The last leg, which now completes this little jaunt of ours which started back in Hawaii on May 29th now finishes, some seventy-six days later on August 13th is the relatively simply run from Pender Harbour to Vancouver (I thought!) Pendana, has now been underway (since May 29th) for a total of 511 hours (or a little over twenty two days running time) and has covered around 4,300nms.
Entering Vancouver was simple enough, no, hang on a minute, that is an outrageous lie. It was without any doubt the most challenging ninety minutes I have ever faced. Every single lesson that Claire and I had learned on the water was going to be put to the test, from communication with the very, very busy harbour authority, to navigation and seamanship to name but a few. All senses were alert like never before and Claire thankfully was on hand to help as we made our way through an incredibly busy harbour.
We wanted to arrive at slack water through First Narrows but as it would seem, so did everyone else. On top of that, who knew Vancouver Harbour was such a busy container ship port. Container ships are one thing but throw in the cruise ships, tug boats towing all manner of thing, barges the size of small suburbs and when you thought that was bad enough, a few dozen sea planes coming from all directions, seventy or so recreational boaters, thirty-four container ships waiting patiently at anchor for their turn, a dozen or so kayakers and a beautiful Saturday afternoon and one can quickly gather this entry is not for the faint of heart.
The reality is we are conservative boaters and with 3kts in First Narrows (squeeze point to Vancouver’s inner soul) is something we wanted to avoid. When entering a new harbour for the first time, with a narrow entrance, it makes sense to us to eliminate those negative variables in advance as they only make the transit harder.
First Narrows is closed in both directions to all traffic whilst large commercial vessels make the transit. At or near slack water there was a lot of traffic wanting to exit the harbour which meant getting in was going to be no easy task. With Victoria Traffic (the harbour authority) on Channel 12 advising all commercial traffic of the closure times, I thought it best to make Pendana known to them and have them guide us in (I might add, they already knew of us and our exact location). There was no point in trying to manage this busy transit alone when help was at hand. I must say that Victoria Traffic could not have been more helpful in what was a busy period.
The 5:00pm slack water time was out of the question thanks to two cruise ships due to depart. It also appeared that this was going to be a popular time with traffic wanting to depart outbound. I noticed a large container ship being given the green light to enter so I contacted Victoria Traffic and advised my intention was to follow the container ship in, to which they agreed and gave us clearance. The container ship was doing 9.2kts while were doing 9.5kts. The only issue was they were five nautical miles ahead of our position. Knowing this, Victoria Traffic requested we report again at station 19 (reporting points on the chart) to which I agreed as clearly, we were not going to make it in time.
As we got closer another black our period for all boating traffic occurred. This time it was a tug and large barge exiting the narrows. With the container ship we had been following long gone, to the safety of the inner harbour Pendana, still found herself in the outer harbour. It was clear the barge was going to exit before we could enter. At this stage Victoria Traffic came on the radio and advised that we would be given the green light to enter once the tug and barge had cleared. GREAT!
As the tug and barge in tow reached the clearance point I had Pendana doing 9.5kts once again, (having previously slowed to allow enough room for the tug) and Pendana was under the bridge in no time at all, along with another five vessels who were all following our lead. Once under the bridge we were confronted with the next vessel wanting to exit the narrows this time, a rather large container ship.
As we worked our way along Stanley Park towards our marina we thought the worst was over. Oh dear how wrong we were. What was next to come was a cruise ship reversing in our general direction, quickly followed by a sea plane taking off to our starboard and with another landing behind. This is madness! As the channel narrowed once again and Pendana approached the marina we soon found ourselves shoulder-to-shoulder with all manner of boats both big and small returning to their berths after a day out.
Honestly, it was more like being part of a complex approach sequence in a 747 arriving at London Heathrow than managing our Pendana. I thought Sydney Harbour got busy. Shame, shame, shame on me! This was Sydney Harbour times at least one thousand. Even Sydney Harbour on New Year’s Eve isn’t this busy. After tying up and shutting down Pendana’s engines we all had a well-deserved drink and relived our arrival. Wow, what an experience that was!
Pendana has travelled from the tropical sunshine of Hawaii directly north to the cold of Kodiak, Alaska. She has made her way to the magnificent Prince William Sound and further south to Sitka. She has transited part of the Inside Passage and survived the might of Queen Charlotte Sound and finally, after all that, she now sits safely in Vancouver where skyscrapers are within touching distance. What a trip it has been.
Just a quick note, most of the photos taken on harbour approaches have been taken by Bianca who is becoming pretty good with the camera. Honestly without her many of these shots would never get taken as there is too much going on in the pilot house to be taking photos when in close quarters. So credit and thanks to Bianca for the underway photos.
So now, the million dollar question! How does the Inside Passage compare with Prince William Sound? Well, to answer that I need to break the Inside Passage in two halves. One I will call the northern half, i.e. all points between Prince Rupert and Seymour Narrows and the other I will call the southern half, which are all points south of Seymour Narrows to Vancouver.
Let me first say that the following is based on our very limited exposure to British Columbia (“BC”) waters as clearly one could spend a lifetime in these parts and not see it all. So with disclaimer in place, I shall continue.
If I am brutally honest the north portion of the passage, i.e. south of Prince Rupert and north of Seymour Narrows was nice, but certainly not, what I would call amazing, or anything close to being the jewel in earths crown! The south portion of the passage, i.e. south of Seymour Narrows was simply beautiful and certainly more our cup of tea!
Once south of Seymour Narrows, the sun shone, the temperatures increased and the scenery changed dramatically. What’s that? A snow-capped mountain? Now, this is more like it! There were boats all around, activity everywhere, beautiful anchorages and Wi-Fi to boot! The southern portion of our trip was beautiful and one could spend a lifetime exploring these southern waters and anchorages which are in abundance and be satisfied.
So how does the British Columbian waters compare with Alaska? Well that is such a hard question but as I have been asked privately a number of times I will answer it this way. Please understand that this is not meant to cause drama but rather, simply share our experiences with you, the readers.
SCORES USED TO COMPARE
100 – Words cannot describe the beauty of the location, perfection.
75 – Stunningly beautiful, close to perfection.
50 – All very lovely but a long way from perfection.
25 – Nice area but nothing to write home about really.
10 – General cruising grounds.
0 – Don’t even think about it.
1./ Prince William Sound/Alaska SCORE 100 .
2./ Northern Portion SCORE 40
3./ Southern Portion SCORE 80
4./ Whitsundays, Australia (comparison) SCORE 65
5./ Sydney Harbour and surrounds (comparison) SCORE 50
6./ Goose Island Anchorage SCORE 0
We now plan to rest up a bit and enjoy some city time. From here we will be moving around a fair bit bouncing between Vancouver, Victoria, the San Juan Islands and Seattle with side trips to Bellingham (I understand it has the best Pizza in the world!!!), Anacortes and Port Townsend to name but a few. We won’t be leaving for San Francisco until April/May next year so time now to relax, get some work done on Pendana and enjoy all there is on offer!
I will simply close in saying this, all aboard Pendana look forward to Vancouver and exploring more of this beautiful area in what is a very, very impressive looking city.