We cast off for this approximately 150 mile (one way) joy ride from our slip in La Conner a little before noon on a sunny Saturday. Our first stop was just a mile up Swinomish Channel where we visited the fuel dock to top off our 70 gallon diesel tank. Heading off with the tanks full, the fridge and cabinets crammed with ten to twelve days of very good eating, we headed north towards ominous looking storm clouds and the forecast of gale force winds. Yes, we were very apprehensive. Many thoughts occupied our thinking, the first was, are we making a mistake heading into bad weather. The second was, would we get stuck somewhere and not be able to get back in time for our breakfast date with Linda's mother a week from Tuesday.
Our first overnight stop is Patos Island. Patos is as far north, not counting Point Roberts as a boater can go before entering Canada. We anchored with plenty of daylight left to walk out to the lighthouse and hike around. The next morning we got going early before 7 am. With 40 miles to cover at 5-8 mph, False Creek in Vancouver may be an 8 hour run. With no good options to duck and cover along the way, I was a still a little apprehensive to say the least. The wind never really was a factor that day but about halfway to Vancouver we were about 5 miles off shore from the Tsawwassen ferry terminal when a following swell began to overtake us and toss Kraken around like the little 26 footer she is. Steering the wallowing boat became full time work and I found myself driving a zigzag course. I was zigging to make our selves more comfy and then zagging back onto a course that would eventually get us to False Creek where we would check into Canada and spend the night. Linda got out the Dramamine, and I took one also, something I almost never do. About every fourth zigzag an extra big quartering swell would turn us sideways causing severe rolling and much crashing sounds coming from all of Krakens many stores and equipment. At this point we are seriously discussing changing course for Bedwell Harbor on South Pender Island. Bedwell was about the same distance, the waves would be more on our nose, and we could continue northward on the inside of the Gulf Islands affording ourselves much better protection, but then we would be on the wrong side of the Strait of Georgia, and north of Nanaimo was where the real gale winds were churning up the strait. This is not how my Princess Louisa Trip was supposed to go.
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I never really felt sea sick that day, but I could feel something queasily uneasy and was a little worried, especially after Linda quit talking and took to laying down. I reasoned that if things deteriorated more in the next hour we could turn and head for Point Roberts, an hour or so after that, head for the Fraser River (except it is known for problems with opposing tides) and an hour or so more, English Bay would be in range. I also vividly remember thinking of the posts I have written telling people to not push their luck, take their time, and wait it out for a weather window they preferred. Hardening my resolve, standing and bracing myself with feet spread wide, I pushed Kraken's throttle forward a little and the tachometer rose to 1850 rpm, we picked up speed and with the added speed came much better rudder control. We were still pulled off course with every other wave and wallowed with every swell. The horizon tilted like a nauseating thrill ride, but I was able to counter steer keeping us under control. It wasn't too long before I bumped the throttle up to 1900 and then 2000 rpm. With the currents help, Kraken was knocking off 10-11 knts speed over ground, and I calculated later that she was gulping over 5 gallons an hour, or about 2 miles to the gallon. I remember thinking, with 70 gallons we can do this for 30 more hours, and it was money well spent. I also remember thinking how Kraken was 32 years old and brand new tugs like her top out at 11 knots wide open throttle. We still had 650 rpm left and 4-5 more knts to go. Positive proof that reserve power is a good thing when you need it, and we certainly used it that day. (Kraken was re-powered 25 years ago and can surprisingly creak out 15 knts on a good day)
In spite of recommendations to stay way offshore, I was driving a straight line (shortest distance) to English Bay, this brought us very close to the mouth of the Fraser River, for a while we were inside the warning buoy line and found ourselves in under 25 feet of water several times. The shoals of Roberts Bank and then Sturgeon Bank were turning swells into breaking waves demanding my attention. A few times I quickly spun the wheel hard over to avoid sneakers on our beam. As we got within the last few miles to English Bay the water got steadily worse, but finally we turned the corner and immediately found peace. I throttled back to a more efficient 1300 rpm ( 7.5 kts) and we found False Creek on our chart-plotter. This was the last we would be able to use the chart-plotter because our chart chip did not include Canada, from now on, moving north we would be on paper charts, using the longitude and latitude coordinates the plotter supplied.
Canada Customs was our first stop at False Creek (simple phone call) and then we made our way to the Transient boater Welcome Boat at the dock under the Burrard Bridge. The young man that greeted us was extremely nice and very helpful. He told us where to anchor, answered all our questions, gave us a tourist map/brochure and made us feel truly at ease and very comfortable. It was a good thing that we got an early start out of Patos because even though we covered 40 miserable miles, it was still mid afternoon. We docked at the Granville Island public dock which is free and only 500 feet from the welcome dock, took a quick look around and decided to go for a bike ride. The sun was out, but rain was threatening so we tied our coats on our racks and took off for Stanley Park. All in all we pedaled about 15 miles circling Stanley Park and False Creek on a level beautifully built and maintained shore-side trail. When we got back to the boat we stowed the bikes and checked out the public market which is a lot like a upscale Saturday Market under one roof. We settled on pizza and coke while the place closed down around us. It was only 7 pm, but it was Sunday night. Kraken was tied up out front or I guess it was out back if you weren't a boater. We had been there for 5 hours, the sign said 3 hour maximum and no overnight tie ups. We pushed off and motored about a 1,000 feet to where we dropped anchor among 40 or so other boats. We are right in the middle of town. The water is flat, there is a no wake speed in all of False Creek. Aquabuses are scurrying everywhere. Lights of the modern high-rises light up the sky. Compared to how our day had been out on the strait it was magical. Sleep came easy, we slept soundly.
|This is a rare view of Vancouver without anchored boats stealing the show.|
Check out the curved building, and the clouds. (of course we are anchored)
|As near as I can tell, this device tilts with the tide!|
|This is the aquabus bus stop at the Granville Island Market, the slips are free for up to three hours, we stayed about six, shhh!|
We spend some of the day acting like tourists ashore, we overhear other boaters talk about how they were forced back in yesterday due to big waves. The laid back day turns out to be very enjoyable, I was not the least bit disappointed being forced to wait in port. In the afternoon Linda reads and knits while I sail the dinghy around the bay. The little Aquabuses are everywhere, one time I counted six of the 12 person boats underway, and then turned and saw three more the other direction.
|See the log? Logs are a constant hazard requiring turning several times.|
Tuesday morning found us leaving at the crack of dawn, just like at Patos. We have 50 open unprotected miles to cover, and the weather is supposed to be better early rather than later. When we got fuel at False Creek I found out what pushing Kraken hard had cost us in Canadian dollars plus how much more fuel costs by the liter. I miss the chart plotter already, without a Canadian chart chip the plotter is totally useless for finding our way except it does spew out latitude and longitude numbers. We look out the windows at the drippy cloud covered coastline and try to match up what we see with navigation charts. What I have on the screen is a rough drawing of the coast, no depths, no topo lines, no landmarks, islands are missing. We have two charts I picked up for $1 each, one is dated from the forty's the other the eighty's. The longitude and latitudes and the land masses are accurate, the depths and nav aids not so much. Our Lorance depth sounder has quit working at depths over about 100 feet only we don't know it. I read off coordinates and Linda finds our location on the charts, things are going fine the water is calm, I'm not pushing Kraken as hard as before but we are making 9 knts, so some current is helping us. We pace a tug boat a mile off our starboard side for several hours and I assume he is going where we are going so by following him we miss our turn up Agamemnon Passage, at the same time I find out Linda and I aren't communicating the lats and longs correctly. Lost but not really really lost, I hail a fishing boat going past and ask him where Pender Harbour is. He says turn around and follow me, your 5 miles past it.
|In the fiords we are treated to calm waters and snow-capped views, but soon the clouds lower.|
Back on track and in protected waters we take on fuel at Backeddy Marina Resort at Egmont, plus for $24 Canadian we can stay at the dock for the night. $188 is the cost of the fuel to run 60 miles from Vancouver to Egmont, I vow to slow way down and the rest of the way to Princess Louisa Inlet and back to La Conner we run at 6.5 to 7.5 knts. As soon as we get situated at Backeddy, off come the bikes and we ride the road and then trail to Skookumchuck Narrows. I feel sorry for the people that have to walk, its a long ways and the rapids are just so so when we arrive. I recommend to anyone planning a visit to Skookumchuck to only go during maximum flow. We enjoyed the outing but the rapids weren't worth it. (take a toboggan ride in Deception Pass if you want fast water and big rapids) Back at the boat I use two Loonies to take a hot shower, Linda only uses one, I don't get it.. I am finding that I look forward to hitting the sack each night. We are both tired, and I sleep very well on the boat. Linda says she doesn't. I prefer my bed at home because I don't hit my head when I get up in the middle of the night but other than that I like sleeping on board.
|Skookumchuck Narrows during unimpressive flood|
9 am and we are on our way, low clouds ooze a mist limiting our view to a few miles. The mountains lining the fiord are snow capped and we get quick glimpses most of the time. Its about 35 miles up to Malibu Rapids, the entrance to Princess Louisa Inlet. Backeddy is the last gas stop available so topping off the tank before you head out is a must. The tides are significant but the current is hardly noticeable in the deep fiord, our depth sounder is reading 952 feet and blinking, sometimes 1,082. The decades old chart shows our depth at 250 feet. I spend an hour or more playing with the Lowrance settings to no avail. I carefully study the chart looking for rocky surprises, there are none, but I still keep in the middle unless something on shore attracts us for an up close look see. The run to Malibu rapids is monotonous, the shoreline and mountains repeat endlessly. We are early in the season and see very few other boats.
|Not cold, not hot, not sunny!|
3 pm, we have the Church Camp and Malibu rapids in sight, I expect to see some sailboats hanging around waiting for slack water but there are none. Slack water low tide is forecast for around 6 pm so we are early. Little islets and rocks are everywhere, I'm idling dead slow as we creep closer. The depth sounder has begun working again. We watch a commercial runabout run the notorious dogleg. I pay close attention to where he drives and creep closer yet. I am remembering all the warnings I have read about waiting for slack water, but I just don't see what all the fuss is about. Our plan was to anchor and wait but I creep closer, I am expecting Linda to say something, but maybe she is thinking like me. The currents begin to pull on Krakens keel so I bump the throttle a few rpm. The swirlies are easily managed and we slowly move against the increasing flow. We stall out at a fast idle beside the main islet obstruction and I know our water speed is about 6.5-7 knts. This is as far as our last sailboat would get, I think. I bump up a few more rpm and we pull ahead some more. We are right in the middle of Malibu Rapids, adjacent the viewing decks at the church camp. People are watching, I have read reports about how onlookers cheer boats coming through. I muse that the people watching may think we are in trouble since we are barely moving, I add some more rpm and look ahead and all around us. Nothing to worry about, the depth sounder reads 25 feet and has quit blinking, so I push the throttle all the way forward. The tach jumps to 2650 and we leave our wake in Malibu Rapids. No one cheers, most of the people are kids and they are around the corner swimming and canoeing. Once inside, I immediately back down to a fast idle, no one wants our curling wake.
|At first it is difficult to spot the passage|
|Once we are through narrow twisting Malibu Rapids, we are in Princess Louisa Inlet|
|The park dock is adjacent to the falls.|
Princess Louisa Inlet is only a few miles long with a dock and Chatterbox Falls at the end. Midway up the fiord is a small island and anchoring area, anchor buoys and a small dock. If you arrive in a busy time you will probably drive straight to the falls and then come back to anchor. We motor dead slow, it's still early and no rush. The fiord is narrow and tall. The snow capped peaks spawn small waterfalls everywhere, I can see how in a day, week or month most will dry up along with the persistent overcast. Clouds hover almost at eye level and veil our view treating us to sneak peeks, and hiding as many. The long dock has room for us on both sides. I maneuver at idle between shore and the dock. The depth reads 27 feet and we are only 50 feet from shore. I can see how we can easily anchor in front of the falls if forced to, but would not like the spray. Two yachtsmen on the dock are ready to lend a hand with the lines. I park near the gangplank lessening the walk to shore. Chatterbox Falls fills the air with noise and mist but none drifts our way. When I kill the motor, we are treated to the falls full roar. We are halfway through our cruise. I'm going to sleep well tonight, but first we need to explore.
|I left Linda on the dock to take this picture, she's pretty trusting. Kraken is in 12 feet of water, pointed into the current. This is where you anchor if your inclined.|
The trail to the falls takes under five minutes to walk. Along the way we walk a nice wooden walkway, cross a small babbling brook and find the outhouses. Near the falls in a clearing is a shelter with a fire-pit and cooking grate. A few picnic tables complete the park. Other than a arduous not recommended trail to the high country, that's it for Chatterbox Falls. At the dock are five sailboats and three power boats, Kraken is by far the smallest and oldest. I estimate three more boats could squeeze in. Our plan had been to spend two nights at Princess Louisa Inlet, but within thirty minutes we know we are leaving tomorrow. The day we lost at Vancouver was well worth it, the day we give up at Chatterbox Falls wont be missed.
|Approaching Malibu Rapids on our way out, we find slack water, but I announce our departure on the radio anyway.|
High tide was around noon so we left the dock at 11 am. I wanted to make Malibu rapids at slack or just before. We can't be late, I know better than to run with the current, we need current against us or none at all to properly control the boat. We had none at all. Each boat would announce or warn on the radio they were entering Malibu Rapids outgoing, except one boat that said he was transiting Malibu Rapids northbound confusing me. Without any whirlies we were able turn around in the dogleg and take some pictures, most turned out poorly. Something about flat water and overcast weather just doesn't add up to great photos. It's about 50 miles to the Strait of Georgia, and then another 10 down to Secret Cove, my planned overnight stop. We never make it. Th first 50 are fine much like the day before, but when we leave the fiords and enter the Strait of Georgia big waves slam us. It only takes seconds to make the decision and turn around. I gun the motor for the first time since first entering Malibu Rapids and duck back behind a little protective island, then head for Pender Harbour. We have never seen Pender Harbour but the helpful fishing skipper a few days earlier had shown us the way so we arrived without any fuss. I knew our old chart would be of no use so I had stored a satellite snapshot of the area on the laptop. What a waste that was, oh sure I could make out all the bays, docks, floats and buildings, I could even count boats, but none of them said fuel on the roofs. We ended up pulling adjacent a 50 foot gaffer and asking an old salt where we were, and where the fuel dock was. Ten minutes later we tied up at the only fuel dock in town. Much like our experience at Egmont, the staff was very helpful directing us across the way to the public dock, and pointed to the general store at the top of the ramp.
|Twice on the trip we washed the windows to remove salt build up, we really had very little rain.|
We left at sun up, eager to beat the waves that seem to plague afternoons on Georgia Strait. Disappointingly we didn't wait for the store lady to feed the eagles at 8:30. We were told she feeds them in two spots because they get in fights. That would have been something to see. In short order we were back to where we turned around 12 hours earlier, nothing had changed except now we had lots of daylight and no objectionable waves. An hour and a half later we motored by where I think Secret Cove is located, I couldn't know for sure because all I have are antique charts and another high resolution satellite image to guide us. Our goal today is Point Roberts to check in with US Homeland Security. We have 60 miles to cover. The plan is to stay way off shore and drive in a straight line saving the extra miles hugging the coast requires. We can always duck back into Vancouver at about the halfway point if we get into trouble, it would add miles and a day or two but I for one would not mind. I mean wouldn't mind Vancouver, the waves I can do without.
|Leaving Welcome Passage and flat water behind|
|More salt on the windows|
|Pretty day - sorta|
|Sorta - pretty day|
The sun is out and we are doing well but off Vancouver the seas begin building on our nose and soon we are experiencing water splashing over the bow onto the cabin and running down the windows. The Rain-X we applied last year seemed to still be doing its job, the windows sheeted mostly clear. The boats motion was not at all objectionable, no wallowing or fighting to stay on course. We busted through one wave after another and made good time. We arrive at Point Roberts at 3 pm and as luck would have it the customs guy was finishing another boater and took care of us immediately. We were on our way again in under 30 minutes. Our next course was for Patos Island, about a dozen miles to go and we would be back where we started 6 days earlier. We arrived at Patos in time to walk the loop trail and meet the lighthouse hosts. I set two anchors with Kraken in the middle. We were back, it was good to be home.
|Skimpy channel between Patos and Little Patos Islands is not for the faint of heart|
or large deep draft boats
|Kraken back in her own waters at Patos Island|
If I were planning another trip to Princess Louisa Inlet, I would still not buy an expensive Canadian chart chip unless I was planning some time in the Gulf Islands or Desolation Sound also. I would definitely plan a stop at False Creek even if I wasn't going anywhere else. I would plan to visit Skookumchuck Narrows during the recommended flood or ebb because after going to this much trouble, it's a shame to miss out like we did. I would allow more time for the entire trip, for unplanned changes. We were lucky the weather mostly cooperated. Being stuck in Vancouver is not a bad thing. I think making shorter daily runs would be less tiring and allow you to make more stops and see more locations. All in all we had a successful cruise and I recommend others try it.