Monday, August 15, 2011

Orca Drive-by

We had a close encounter while traveling yesterday that I can only describe in driving terms. We were proceeding south about three miles off the west coast of Vancouver Island (off Flores Island on our way into Clayquot Sound). The sky was gray, and the sea was almost calm, with just the mildest ocean swell; there was no wind, and we were motoring along at our regular 7 knots. We had seen many whales in the distance during the day, some we could identify as Humback whales, and others, closer into shore, that looked like Orcas, or Killer Whales. But nothing out of the ordinary.
Now here’s the driving analogy. In conditions like this, driving the boat is like driving on a stretch of highway through very large desert, at 7 miles an hour. The mate was at the helm (in the driver’s seat), and the captain sat facing the helm. We were chatting about something inane. All of a sudden, two orca whales surfaced just beyond the captain, at a distance of ten or fifteen feet.  They were traveling the opposite direction, and it was as if they were in the next lane.  The dorsal fin on the larger whale was probably six feet tall, and his back a beautiful black curve. Sort of as if a beautiful black Maserati were to appear next to your car without warning, as you were driving slowly through a very large, deserted desert…..
Always slow, the mate just gaped, speechless, and pointed, and gaped some more.  The  Captain finally turned to see the group – we think there were four – calmly surface, then submerge, then surface again as they continued their northward journey.  There were several different fin forms, and several quite small Orcas, so we imagine this may have been a family group. The photo (not ours, but credited to a Tofino based whale watching boat: does a good job of showing what we saw - only our whales were several lanes closer!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Brooks Peninsula

Indigo is making her way down the west coast of Vancouver Island.  The largest obstacle to smooth sailing along this stretch is the Brooks Peninsula, which projects out about twenty miles from the otherwise rather steady northwest to southeast direction of travel. Solander Island, which sits off the western tip of the Brooks, records some of the highest winds in the Pacific Northwest. (Read what our favorite meteorologist has to say about Solander Island: Rounding the Brooks Peninsula is a big deal, as the winds and waves pile up here, intensify, and generally make passage uncomfortable. We have done this three times before, always encountering fog, rough seas, and howling winds, and reaching safety south of the Peninsula bone tired.

This time we adopted the strategy of ducking into the anchorage that would make the journey as short as possible. We chose the Klaskish Inlet, which is one of the tiny coves at the very top of the chart. This was a magical place, entered through a passage no more than 30 feet wide between tall rocks, but then opening out into a calm bay at the mouth of a coastal river. This is what we saw looking back after we had departed - that little hole in the trees is the only sign that the passage exists!

Luckily, we had a clear, relatively still morning, and the winds, generally 10 to 15 knots higher than the surrounding area, were perfect for a comfortable sail around the Brooks Peninsula. Plus, on this clear day, we got a great look at Solander Island, its rocky sides and weather reporting stations.  We sailed, mostly downwind, riding the mild swells, and reached our Bunsby Island anchorage (the islands show up at the bottom right hand side of the chart above) by noon. That was good luck.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

This is It!

This is what we were aiming for. This is the reason for packing away all the furniture, for moving onto the boat,  for spending weeks sailing up the coast.

The picture shows a very low tide on a perfect sunny day (locals tell us it is just about the first of the summer) up at the north end of Vancouver Island. The tide has just begun to flood back in, and the Captain has found a tidal pool. The brightly lit water at the center of the photo is in a low spot; the rocks around it mean that the incoming tide is held back a little. What you can't see in the photo is the waterfall formed by the rising tide returning to the low pool.

This is an exciting discovery because just around the corner from here is the now abandoned Indian village of Mamalilaculla. This tidal pool would have provided great foraging for the First Nations People, who surely gathered shell fish from these rocks. Maybe they used the pool as a fish trap, spearing the fish who swam in and then were caught when the tide fell.

Maybe it's an exaggeration to say that this is the only reason for what we are doing. But a day of kayaking on sunlit water does give the illusion that the world makes sense.