A Sourdough on the Sunshine Coast: All Sails for South on the Starduster
We have traversed the shallow seawater slew from Minnette Bay in Kitimat, B.C., onboard our 33’ C&C Sailboat, the Starduster.
We now find ourselves in the deep green waters of Douglas Channel unable to go any faster than 1800 RPM’s (equates into 4 knots, oh yahoo!) or our boat vibrates so terribly we fear we will rattle into pieces and scatter parts into the cold dark sea.
Our final destination is Saltery Bay on the Sunshine Coast, 30k south of Powell River, B.C.
It is 1050 kilometers from Kitimat to Powell River by sea. Fortunately, we have no schedule. We are following a route originally travelled with our grand old lady, the Audrey Eleanor in 2006 during a winter of storms. We are looking forward to seeing the seascape with ‘summer’ eyes and onboard a totally different ship. The Audrey Eleanor averaged 8 knots, the Starduster tops out at 4 knots, this will be sedentary travel.
Comparing the Starduster to the Audrey Eleanor really is impossible.
The Audrey Eleanor is a 1948 54’ wooden vessel with a beam of 13’ at its widest. She is propelled by twin screws, powered by twin perkins diesels. Her draft is 5 feet with a semi-displacement hull. She was built as a summer inland cruiser for gentle waters. This crew was fortunate enough to have her carry us south from Haines, Alaska in July of 2006 and finish the tour to Vancouver Island in November with hurricane force winds. Securite’ with wind warnings of more than 15 knots still makes my stomach clutch in fear, but now we have a sailboat!
Starduster is a 1976 Canadian built racing boat. She had custom living accommodations added for cruising. She is 33’ with an 11’ beam, I love big-beamed boats! They sit in the water with less risk of broaching (laying on their sides) than narrow beamed boats. The Audrey Eleanor was like a cigar in the sea, getting hit with a beamy sea could flop us over. I hate flopping. Good sailing weather is crappy motorboat weather. I keep repeating this in my head.
Sunshine glints off dancing wavelets, indicators of local breezes, nothing to worry about. Perfect time to unfurl sails. We need to we figure out how this thing works. It was breezy in Minnette Bay so no opportunity at the docks to hoist the sails and pull the jib, haul the jib? Did I get that backwards? We are per usual learning in motion, but for today at least, not in desperation. Putt, putt, putt… traversing the great Douglas Channel at 4 knots puts the world into a whole new perspective. We pass Monkey People beach (aka Monkey Beach), old legends tell of Monkey people who materialize from the mists of the ancient rain forest. They come here to trap salmon. I do not wonder how they stay invisible behind the snarl of Devil’s Club and wild verdant foliage that allows giant rain bears to disappear from sight in seconds. These stories bring back recollections of the Bush Man of the Arctic, stories told around a campfire late at night under the glow of the Northern Lights. The hair stands up on my arms as I write this, I lived there as a child.
Our first night of anchoring is curious.
This pretty girl has an automatic windlass. A Bruce anchor simply drops from its catch and disappears into the depth of the sea. The Captain backs up the Starduster to set the hook and that’s all she wrote. Too easy, now I am nervous, that was pretty simple. Something has to go wrong. We spend a quiet night shifting and rocking in the tides.
“Ahoy!” “Pull in your tender,” the command comes from the bow of a cruiser with the strange name Chapter 45. Who in the heck are these people? “Sorry, what can we do for you?” we ask. “We bring breakfast,” they declare. In an immediate about face, we haul the tender close and reach for the five-pound bag of just caught prawns. “Thanks so much!” “No problem, we either had to throw them back or bring them to you!” “We decided today was your lucky day,” Joe says. What a great start to the day. “See you somewhere,” Chapter 45 heads for the horizon.
Our destination today is Bishop Bay Hot springs. A favourite soaking hole for boaters, ourselves included.
Previously, we were caught in a squall and almost lost the Audrey Eleanor here. We were negligent and tied our lines too loose to the ship. Must have been one hell of a sight! Two naked mud splattered middle-aged people clawing through the muck, streaking down the beach and then trying to maintain balance on the dock, which was threatening to break away with the 30 tonne Audrey attached! Rick literally walked the line to the boat and jumped onboard to save her. We had been drinking wine in the hot springs and had no thoughts of impending danger.
Floating buoys have been added for boats to tie up in the bay. The docks at Bishop Bay are extremely busy during the summer. Locals have built and they maintain the area for all to use. The cruisers heading for Alaska stop often. You need a tender to go ashore. Tying up the Starduster is as simple as attaching a line to the buoy, she is a lightweight so no worries about her dragging everything away.
A few things have changed for the better. A concrete wall has been removed from the concrete enclosure surrounding the springs. This allows better visibility to the glorious scenery surrounding the area. Humpback Whales frequent the bay, as do Seals and Dahl porpoises. Beautiful clear, hot water fills the pool encased in natural rock. Previous boaters have left curios, names of their boats and themselves on the rock. A rope swing (known in Powell River as a Zunga) hangs from the rafters of the roof. Ice-cold white wine is a must. We soak alone in the deep quiet.
Morning light begins with whale song in the mist.
Plumes of water explode against the dark green backdrop of cedars and steel blue water. Whoosh, a great exhaling of water sounds loud in the stillness of morning. Birds begin their wakeup song. We decide to take one more plunge in the pool before we haul anchor. Baths will be non-existent for weeks. Lazing in the hot water we both get a sense that it is time to return to our floating home, eat cold prawns for breakfast and get this show on the road.
Fishing is on our minds.
Neither of us are any good at it, Salmon fishing anyway. In Haines, Alaska the Captain was the crab slayer. We always had plenty and plenty were returned to the sea as excess. I surprised myself in the Mexican Baja by being the catcher of Bonita’s, little tuna. My previous fishing experience with a ‘rod’ was to tie fishing line to a stick, make balls of flour and water as bait and catch little chubs to feed our dog team. That’s what you did if you had nothing to do (there was no talk of being bored back then, this is a new word). Of course, there was always cleaning up dog poop piles, chub fishing was better.
Everyone is catching Salmon. We see them in the distance, a whoop of excitement carries across the water. It really doesn’t look all that hard. Sorting through gear, down riggers baffle us, rusty hooks catch at fingers, snarls of fishing line spring up with a life of their own. God, what is that? It looks like a giant white maggot sporting a lead cap, what in the hell eats that? I don’t think I want to catch whatever it is. It looks like alien spawn. I don’t know, this is way more complicated than tying something shiny on the end of a line and hauling in grayling.
Just as we have decided we need to do away with the ancient fishing gear that came with the boat a commotion is carried on the wind, something is coming. Whales have vanished beneath the surface; there is a strange vibration on the water.
It is time to leave. Hauling anchor takes minutes and we are underway! The sun is shining on our backs as we head west towards Hartley Bay. Around the corner we come upon an unusual formation on the sea surface and it is en-route at full speed.
I tell the Captain that I am afraid, this is ominous and threatening. Into focus charges the lead boat, a Grand Banks, dull grey in colour. Behind in V formation are 7 identical boats. All 8 boats are on full charge in a narrow channel! Huge wakes surging behind them, engines on full throttle. Who comes into a quiet bay full of whales, rainbows and hot springs like a military invasion? We turn the Starduster in the opposite direction to avoid their rushing wakes and noisy intrusion as they bear down on us. Huge foreign flags with stripes and stars flourish at their helms. I wonder at this invasion and hope that their focus is directed elsewhere. I think we are still in Canada, eh?
Join us next month for another Adventure with the Sourdoughs on the Sunshine Coast.