Anchorages British Columbia

Sum It Up Sunday | Bute Inlet to Queen Charlotte Strait

Monday, June 27, 2016S.V. CAMBRIA


There's a running joke in the Pacific Northwest: Summer starts on the fifth of July and ends on the sixth. I hate to admit it, but there might be some truth to that. Every time it looks like settled weather is finally here, the proverbial football is pulled away. We can be wearing shorts and t-shirts one day, sweating in the heat of the afternoon, and find ourselves back in layers and rain gear the next. It's frustrating, but par for the course this time of year.


Cambria at anchor in the Octopus Islands.

I was optimistic when the week started: It was the official start of summer, the clouds had moved out, the sun was shining and I spent the day in one of my favourite ways -- hiking. Still anchored in Octopus Islands Marine Park, I launched my kayak, paddled to the head of Waiatt Bay and walked up to Newton Lake. I'd been itching to get out on a trail, any trail, and was happy to finally have the opportunity. It's only 1.5 miles long, but that was enough to reduce my world to 2-feet wide for a while and get excited about the prospect of going swimming in the cold lake water.

There was already a couple camped out on the main bathing rocks, so I hiked up to the second set along the eastern shore where I was alone and in full view of the afternoon sun. It was lovely! The water was cold and invigorating, washing the sweat and dirt from the day away, and the rocks emanated warmth. I was in absolute heaven. And things were only going to get better – we were going up Bute Inlet for the first time.

The Inside Passage is a diverse cruising ground where you can find everything from white sand beaches that look like they're straight out of the South Pacific to tidewater glaciers at the head of mountainous fjords. And while both David and I enjoy the variety and try to take advantage of it, fjords are our favourite and we devote our cruising season to exploring as many as we can – old and new. But because of timing and weather, Bute has eluded us in the past. That finally changed this week and Tuesday morning, we upped anchor and made a run up Bute Inlet.

One of the nice things about Octopus Islands Marine Park is that it's surrounded by tidal rapids and there are only three or four times a day (depending on when slack tide occurs) that boats can come and go which makes it a quiet spot. But it meant that we weren't able get started until 11 o'clock and would need to spend the night at the head of the inlet in Waddington Harbour which, as it turns out, feels pretty exposed and more of a roadstead anchorage than anything else. There are several anchoring options to choose from when looking at the chart, but they're all open to the inflow winds.



Bute Inlet was another one of those ideas that looks much better on paper than it does in reality. It's a beautiful fjord, but it's been heavily logged over the years and clear-cutting scars the mountains along the entire length. The few anchoring opportunities along the 35-mile fjord have been taken over by large-scale logging operations or fishing resorts – things we try to avoid. And, contrary to what we read in cruising guides, the inflow winds don't die out when you reach the head. We did manage to find a spot along the eastern shore where we got out of the bulk of it but weren't able to avoid the chop, which stuck around most of the night. Unfortunately, there was no turning around. It was already too late in the day and there was no way we were going to bash against the 25+ knot winds we'd seen coming up-inlet.

Ready to get out of there as soon as we could, we left at 6:00 am when the tide changed and rode the current down-inlet and moved on through Yuculta and Dent Rapids to Shoal Bay to visit owners, Mark and Cynthia MacDonald. One day turned into two and then into three, which is often the case in Shoal Bay.

Cambria at anchor in Shoal Bay with a beautiful view up Phillips Arm.

The forecast for nearby Johnstone Strait for the coming days was for strong northwesterlies, so it was time to make a move or risk being stuck for days. We upped anchor at 7:00 Saturday morning and made our way through the Discovery Islands, into Johnstone Strait, tucking into Port Harvey, up Chatham Channel and anchoring in Cutter Cove for the night. We were off again the next morning, weighing our options while we were underway: Anchor in Farewell Harbour for the night? No, it's too close to Johnstone Strait. Move on to Cullen Harbour? It's in Queen Charlotte Strait where the winds are forecasted to be lighter but still in the Broughton Archipelago and prone to foggy conditions. Or put another 50 miles under our keel and bash our way to Blunden Harbour where we'll be out of the worst of the wind and marine layer. We chose the latter.

It wasn't an easy decision. The forecast was for the wind to build to 20 knots from the northwest, right on our nose. We knew it would be lumpy and a long day, but the benefits outweighed the disadvantages and won out in the end. It was a tough run and we saw everything from dense fog to 25+ knot winds on the nose with a two to three foot chop to bash against. Cambria's a solid and comfortable boat and had no problem making her way through the mess of white caps but it was difficult making out the logs and debris in the water and we were pretty tired by the time all was said and done. The upside is now we get to wait out the winds in a well-protected anchorage before the next leg of our journey which will take us around Cape Caution and into open-ocean.

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8 comments

  1. What a shame to have made your way to Bute Inlet only to find it not as good as you had hoped :-( Clear-cutting is so ugly - you can see the scars of it all over the PNW.

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    1. Yeah, it really was a shame but we're glad we finally made it up Bute Inlet -- at least we had a good day of sailing!

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  2. I hear you about what looks good on paper being filled with either high priced homes or clear cutting, or commercial interests. We found the last two to be true up in Clayoquot sound last year. The Fijords are beautiful but what is 'great wind' as you sail up becomes 'oh shit' when you reach the head, and then the anchorable water is taken by a fishing resort. Ugh. Mostly it's worth it, but those logging tracts are such a pity. It seems like Canada things they have unlimited logging potential. Kind of like we used to. The drive from our Lakewood house to the west coast is through all kinds of logged country. It's a very ugly drive.

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    1. You're so right, Melissa. Not only are the heavily logged areas ugly, the logging companies leave their old equipment behind and we've fouled our anchor on too many cables in the past. That's one of the reasons we try to stick to the marine parks.

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  3. What a beautiful photo of Cambria in the Octopus Islands. Cruising means highs and lows, in a most unexpected way sometimes. The weather brings bliss one day and discomfort the next. I'm glad you got that hard sailing part done to be able to yet enjoy better times. :-)

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    1. We're still waiting for some decent weather but it looks like a change may finally be on it's way . . . fingers crossed! Funny thing is, before we took on this lifestyle, patience wasn't something I was know for. If nothing else, cruising has certainly changed that!

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  4. The photos look lovely though! Glad to hear we are not the only ones cursed with bashing into the wind most of the time :-)

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    1. Lol. No, you're definitely not alone! I swear, Cambria's bow must be a wind magnet.

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