Inside Passage The North Coast

Going Aground and Tales of Whales

Saturday, February 06, 2016S.V. CAMBRIA

They say there are two types of sailors: Those who’ve run aground, and those who will (although some refer to the second simply as “liars”). And I suppose being high and dry twice in 15 years isn’t bad percentage-wise, but it’s still incredibly embarrassing to admit (and yet I am). Embarrassing because it should have never happened. And increasingly embarrassing because I ignored every sign that clearly pointed me in that direction.

It was Wednesday afternoon and the tide was low. I went on deck to launch my kayak while David was below cleaning the spare raw water pump. We were anchored in the southeast corner of Nettle Basin in Lowe Inlet and I could see the shoals off our bow. At the time, I felt we were a little close given the current range of the tide. Normally I would’ve run down below and had David, who has much better depth perception than I do, come up for a look and a second opinion. But I didn’t. I thought about turning on the depth meter, but I quickly reminded myself that we were anchored in more than eight metres (over 26 feet) and went about my business. The tide came back in and all was forgotten.


 That evening, the wind picked up out of the northwest quadrant (as it had the night before). But this time it built to 20 or 25 knots and there were whitecaps in the bay. I know this because I got up to use the head and looked outside when I did. Why the simple fact that we were lee-shored and floating over the shoals didn’t seem to concern either one of us is beyond me. And why the fact that the door to the head was a little snug didn’t set off alarm bells off in my mind, I can’t be entirely sure. What I do know is that by the time I sauntered back to our cabin, it was too late – we were aground.

Complacency. It’ll get you every time. I can’t speak for David but I feel confident that with Alaska behind us, I had let my guard down and was too relaxed now that we’re back in familiar territory. And because of that, I earned the distinct honour of having to drag my ass out into the wind and cold to help him try to kedge the boat off the shoal in the dark of night. 

There was no getting free so David got into one of the kayaks and paddled to the eastern shore where he secured a line from the trees back to Cambria to help keep her from healing over any more (we were already sitting at a good 30° and the wind was still blowing). In the meantime, one of the other boats in the anchorage heard the commotion and shone a light on us . . . and then promptly went inside, shut off all their lights and went to bed. We didn’t need their help but were pretty surprised and disappointed by their reaction nonetheless. Finally around two in the morning, the tide had come in enough that we were floating again. We moved into deeper water (with less scope), used the line to shore as a stern-tie and went to bed, shaking our heads at our stupidity as we did.

The next morning got off to a somewhat inauspicious start: I overslept by an hour, putting us at odds with the current. And we had to cut ourselves free from a rope someone left behind when we were upping anchor, which delayed us even further. From then on, though, things improved quickly and all the ills from the previous night were soon forgotten.


Coming down Greenville Channel into Wright Sound we saw (at the very least) 30 humpback whales – some alone, some together and several mothers and calves. They weren’t bubble or lunge feeding, but it was still amazing to see so many whales in one place. And if the whales weren’t enough, we were a few miles south of Tomkinson Point (the entrance to Bishop Bay, our destination) when I saw two white conical shapes about 5 miles off to the north of us. I thought they were markers when I first put the binoculars on them. But as we got closer, I decided they might be sailboats, so I took another look. They were. And one was a ketch. I looked at David and, with a tone of disbelief, asked him to hail Impossible Dream on the VHF: My suspicions were confirmed. It was Tom, Gale and John (on Gypsy Woman). That makes ninth time we’ve ended up in the same anchorage this season and the second time we’ve arrived at the same place within minutes of each other after departing from different locations at different times.

Anchoring in Bishop Bay can be tricky thanks to poor holding, but Parks Canada had added a third mooring over the summer season and two were available when we arrived. We took one and Impossible Dream and Gypsy Woman took the other – no need to worry about going aground tonight!

There was still plenty of day left to enjoy, so we did just that. After securing the boats, we all got ready quickly and went to shore for a soak in the hot springs and a to catch-up. But the pièce de résistance came later when we met at the campsite where Tom had built a nice fire and cooked our dinner over hot coals while sharing beers and swapping stories – not a bad way to end the day!

Note: This blog was written on Thursday, 20 August 2015).

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