Saturday, May 16, 2009

#17 - Prince Rupert to Ketchikan

My alarm went off early at 4:30AM and it was already light. Using the PRRYC's wifi connection I was able to download the 4AM Canadian marine weather report and updated buoy observations. Our barometer had started to fall ever so slowly, which meant the storm hadn't yet arrived. The reports called for gale force winds throughout the region. Forecast for Dixon Entrance East, which we needed to traverse, was 2 meter seas (6.5 feet) with 15-25 SE winds by mid-morning, it was already blowing about 8 knots from the SE in Prince Rupert.

The bad news was the gale force winds and seas to 2+ meters until Monday. We fly out of Ketchikan on Tuesday, so that's cutting it close.

The good news was:
1. 4:30AM buoy report had only 1/2 meter seas in Dixon Entrance with east winds of 17 knots.
2. The wind forecast was for Southeast 15-25 knots and we would be cruising a northerly course, so the wind would be coming from behind.
3. If we left at 6AM, the current would be ebbing by the time we reached Dixon Entrance, so the wind and current would be moving in the same direction and both would be pushing us.
4. There's a bombproof anchorage called Brundige Inlet on Dundas Island, just before we cross the Entrance, so if it gets too nasty, we can hide from Mother Nature.

Our route to Ketchikan

During last year's Alaska Cruise we had similar go-no go weather decisions and chose to go each time. The boats performed fine, but on at least one occasion, the occupants were under duress for the voyage (for the full story see Based on our experience, it seemed that the weather forecasters were typically a bit early in their timing, and the conditions didn't quite live up to the forecasts. It paid to note the actual buoy conditions where we were headed, as opposed to a general forecast for the area. So based on this experience, I decided to give it a go, and bail out at Dundas Island if things got messy. At least we would be 25 miles closer to Ketchikan.

We left the Yacht Club at 6:00AM, the only pleasure craft going north. I warned the guys about what to expect and told them too chew their breakfast real good, just in case it wants to come back up! When exiting Prince Rupert to the north, we always use Venn Passage, the twisty, shallow and narrow passage that saves about an hour. It gets shallow at low tide, but we had 10+ feet above low tide and easily exited into Chatham Sound without incident.

Venn Passage exit from Prince Rupert

Chatham Sound initially was tame, but as we cruised up it towards Dundas Island the wind and seas built. We were seeing 3-5 foot seas on our starboard beam with 20+ knots of wind as spray would occasionally blot out visibility from the pilot house. A few times the spray would blow up across and over the fly bridge. The ride was not too bad as the active stabilizers counteracted the beam seas desire to roll us.

As we approached the top of Dundas Island on its east side nearing Dixon Entrance, I noticed the tug Pacific Pride on the AIS Transponder just west of the Island. We exchanged weather reports. His weather was quite similar to ours, and he said Dixon Entrance shouldn't be worse. We kept going, knowing we could turn back to Brundige Inlet in a pinch.

Surprisingly, as we progressed further across the Entrance, the seas diminished, and the wind moved further aft. The current pushed us up over 10.5 knots with a few 11 knot bursts. There was little or no boat roll, and no ocean spray. It was a fine ride! Entering Revilla Channel, the seas stretched out and got larger but were easily managed by the boat. After Revilla Channel, the ride was smooth as always, the seas and winds having abated.

Arriving in Ketchikan at City Float is like coming home. The Dockmaster greeted us by name saying "Hello Mr. Benson. Welcome back to Ketchikan." Wow! I like Alaska. Who knows, maybe we'll run into Sarah soon too. We're just one boat away from those DanCin Dream(er)s Dan and Cindy Selene 47 of Seward. It's a great town and we'll have dinner tonight at the top Ketchikan, the Cape Fox Lodge.
Arriving in Ketchikan. Hey where are the cruise ships?

DanCin Dream(er)s, Sophia Princess and Wild Blue settled in Ketchikan at City Float

Oh. This is Pat's favorite way to cruise! I keep telling her that the Honda Pilot can do this!

Cruising with my college roommates this week has been a bunch of fun and brought back the memories of college times. One memory came to me as we awoke our first morning, and I heard a familiar dry, scratchy cough. That sound took me back to 1970 living with Mike and Joe on Pismo Street in SLO. 969 Pismo is still there and it looks a whole bunch better than when we students were the occupants. Joe's scratchy cough hasn't changed in 40 years! Amazing! I thought it was me, but Willie and Mike confirmed it.

Some things have changed a bit. We all drank enormous sums of alcohol in college, mostly beer, but Joe was by far the drinking king. He has changed and stopped drinking 20 some years ago. He mentioned something about wife Becky giving him a choice: the bottle or her. He made a good one but it was difficult drinking and not having Joe clinking his bottle. Finally, after all that time, Joe had a beer. We won't tell Becky.

Joe is drinking again. Don't tell Becky!

Wow the alcohol content is a bit different these days.

It's been a fun and weather informative cruise from Port Hardy. We'll be cruising again starting mid-June. The Seagaters, Los Osos surfers and those SLO Cowboys from last year join us next. It's Craig, Kake and Sitka. Check back starting about June 16th. Have a great spring.

Alex and Pat on Wild Blue.

Friday, May 15, 2009

#16 - Hartley Bay to Prince Rupert

Today's route to Prince Rupert

We are trying cover as many miles as we can while we have decent weather. So today we left Hartley Bay at first light or 4:50AM for Prince Rupert. Last year we were pinned down by storms for 3 days in Prince Rupert. So today it's 80 miles and almost 10 hours of motoring.

As we motored just outside Hartley Bay pulling our prawns and crab traps, we noticed a shiny new Coast guard boat watching us. We all have fishing licenses so no worries. So far, we have seen as many coast guard vessels as any other craft this far north on the Inside Passage.

Shiny Canadian Coast Guard Ship just outside Hartley Bay

To get to Prince Rupert from the south, you need to go up the Grenville Channel. This waterway is almost straight for 45 miles and seems man-made. At 8 knots of cruising speed, it takes so long to traverse the Channel, the current can go through a complete cycle. This means you are going to get 3 knots of current on the nose at some point and will need to stop somewhere to await better current. The best places to stop are the protected inlets. There are three good ones: Lowe Inlet 15 miles up; Klewnuggit Inlet 26 miles up or Kumealon Inlet 38 miles up the Channel. We entered the bottom of the Channel about 6:30AM and by 8AM had 2 knots against us. We pulled into Lowe Inlet, anchored and had a 3-hour nap. At 11AM we reentered to Channel with just a small contrary current which turned to a push current by noon.

Lowe Inlet had ice looking things in the water, which turned out to be sea foam.

We finally reached to top of Grenville Channel only to see BC Ferry Northern Adventure coming at us. Northern Adventure has taken the old route of ferry Queen of the North after her sinking. We wanted to save a few miles by cutting inside the Pitt Point buoy, but that would mean a starboard to starboard crossing with the big ferry. That's like passing a car on the wrong side of the road! It's always best to communicate your intentions in these situations so we called the ferry on VHF 16. The captain was just fine with our proposal for a "green-to-green" pass.

Northern Adventure took over the "Queen's" route after she sank.

About 9AM this morning, a voice on VHF Channel 16 started squawking about gale warnings. It was Coast Guard radio altering us so we tuned into Environment Canada's continuous broadcast to find gale warnings up for most of northern BC coast. 25-35 knots southeast gales headed our way is a concern, but the most important question is when! Our barometer was steady at 1024 millibars and the stations with gale force conditions were reporting 1012 millibars or less. We're OK for now but the weather this year is beginning to look like last year's in Prince Rupert.

At about 5PM we were one-hour out of Prince Rupert. We called the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club for moorage. The dock person said their was just a couple side-ties remaining as the predicted storm had filled up the Club's marina. She reserved us a spot and we tied up at 6PM with the bow pointed easterly, toward the oncoming gale.
The gale kept most of Prince Rupert's fishing fleet at the dock. Or was it just that the commercial fishery was not yet open?

I told the crew that we might be stuck here for a day or two, but that I would check the 4AM weather and if "not too bad" we would go early. Willie cooked a fabulous spaghetti dinner, living up to his northern Italian heritage.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

#15 - Bottleneck Bay to Hartley Bay

We left at 6:30AM for Hartley Bay, 60 miles up the Passage, after pulling our traps. It was a crisp morning and we had little wind and flat seas. About half way there, we pulled into Butedale an old dilapidated fish cannery town. In it's heyday from 1920-1950, 500 workers toiled here from May to September each year processing the salmon catch into cans. Then with ice plants and ship-based fish processing plants, fish cannery towns were obsoleted. Today Butedale continues to decline.

Our route from Bottleneck Bay to Hartley Bay

Butedale May, 2009

One shipwreck that has always interested Alex is the March 22-23, 2006 sinking of the BC Ferry "Queen of the North". This 400-foot ship ran aground on the shoal off Gil Island just before midnight on the 22nd. The crew failed to make the normal 15 degree left turn when exiting the bottom of Grenville Channel, the ship continued straight and ran aground near Gil Rock. It sank in about 800 feet of water. On the advice of union attorneys, the on-watch crew has not cooperated with the investigation. Rumored cause of the catastrophe: romance in the pilot house!

The route of the Queen caused the ferry to hit Gil Island

Since we were transiting the area, Alex thought it would be a good exercise to locate the wreck on sonar, which charts the bottom up to 1400 feet deep. We thought the wreck on a gentle sloping 800-foot bottom would show up on the sonar as a 100+ foot steep depth change. Try as we might, we couldn't find the wreck and we'll try again next year. We heard rumors in Port Hardy that there may be an attempt to raise the Queen. We did take a photo of the location of Gil Rock and grave of the Queen of the North.

Gil Island coastline and grave of the Queen of the North

99 of 101 passengers and crew survived the sinking BC Ferry mainly because help from the community of Hartley Bay. This native peoples town of 200 heard about the sinking, and at 1AM the town was awakened and all the available boats sped to the scene. The rescued persons were ferried to shelter at Hartley Bay which has a small medical clinic and helo pad.

Today the people of the Bay are just as friendly. We asked a young man playing with his child where to pay our moorage fees. He told us there are no fees and don't pay if anybody asks! Mike and Joe visited the museum and local school whose staff was willing to give them a tour, except that school was in session.

Hartley Bay harbor and town.

Willie is chefing again. Tonight's epicurean extravaganza included fresh crab cakes, fresh prawn gumbo, butter and whole garlic bread, and chocolate "Hartley Bay" candy bars. We'll take two Lipitors tonight and burn a bunch of energy tomorrow on our way to Prince Rupert.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

#14 - Shearwater to Bottleneck Bay

The route today takes us 40 miles to Bottleneck Bay, a cozy secure anchorage on the Inside Passage. There is slight open sea exposure at Milbanke Sound, but usually no worry if the typical west winds are in effect. It was an uneventful cruise and we arrived at 3PM.

Our route to Bottleneck Bay on BC's cetral coast.

Just as we tuend the corner to leave Shearwater a large Canadian Coast Guard buoy tender dropped it's anchor near us.
Canadian Coast Guard Buoy Tender near Shearwater.

The entrance to the Bay is skinny but deep. We dropped our prawn trap after adding a second can of Friskies, just outside Bottleneck in 190 feet. We'll pick it up in the morning on the way out.

Skinny Bottleneck Bay entrance and location of prawn trap placement.

Sunset from inside quiet Bottleneck Bay.

Wiggly fish basking in underwater light rays and waiting for biologist to assess. Bottleneck Bay is full of these critters.

After a restful night in this peaceful, picturesque bay, we left early for Hartley Bay, with stops in Butedale and the grave of the Queen of the North. On the way we pulled the prawn trap set last night and collected about 30 good-sized spot prawns.

Prawns in trap at 5:30AM pulling.

Fresh prawns ready for deheading and the pot!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

#13 - Pruth Bay to Shearwater-Bella Bella

Fishing sucked except for a loan crab that got stuck on bottom weight of fishing leader. This turned out to be a good indicator for crabs. Before leaving for Shearwater, we pulled our traps and had great success.

Crab tangled in lead weight, Joe's new crab fishing technique.

As some of you may remember from last years cruise (see, turkey man Willie travels with a large cooler of poultry products. Sunday, Willie arrived in Port Hardy with packages of smoked turkey, turkey bacon, duck breast, chicken thighs and Best Foods mayonnaise. So when we forgot crab bait, those chicken thighs, originally intended for seafood gumbo base, made excellent bait. Our traps yielded eight large male crabs
Eight legal male crabs filled our bucket.

Joe competes with crabs in beauty contest. Joe (Mr. California) made a politically incorrect comment which disqualified him: crabs win!

As in the past, we use Friskies salmon dinner catfood for prawn bait. It always seems to work. Yesterday on the way into Pruth, we set our prawn trap at 200 feet in the Bay's main fairway. Using the boat's dinghy with 40-hp Honda and an "E-Z Puller", we pulled the prawn trap this morning. Unfortunately during the rapid ascent, the trap top opened and dumped our bounty. No worries this is just chapter one in our prawning saga.

Our route to Shearwater-Bella Bella

We departed Pruth Bay using the our northern shortcut, across Hakai Passage, through Ward Channel, then following Nalau Passage to Fitz Hugh Sound. Ward Channel is tight and always gets the sleep out of our eyes as we watch the forward looking sonar for underwater excitement.

Ward Channel is skinny!

The motor up to Shearwater-Bella Bella was uneventful. Mike noticed a black bear cub on Denny Island, just before we arrived at Shearwater, dampening his trail walking desires. Shearwater-Bella Bella was quiet compared to last year with lots of dock space. The lodge desk girl said reservations we off 20% from last year.

Alex noticed the yacht Copasetic on the AIS transponder as it rounded Cape Caution a few days back. It was settled on the end-tie in Shearwater. This 141 foot expedition yacht plans to stay here awhile waiting for her owner from Florida. It's a beauty. Learn more at
Wild Blue at the dock in Shearwater with MV Copasetic, the large 141 foot yacht in background.

One thing Willie does better than anyone I know is "chef". Once docked, the job was crab cleaning and cooking. We removed the legs and discard the shells, leaving more room for crab in the pot. Thanks to Dick on Seagate for loaning us his cooker, we seasoned fresh seawater with Pappy's, brought it to a boil, inserted the cooker full of crab, brought it to a boil for 15 minutes, then immediately doused the crabs with iced water.

Crab legs removed from body and ready for Pappy's seasoning in boiling seawater for 15 minutes.

The feast included BBQ duck breast, crab legs, butter-garlic bread and salad. We topped it off with a fresh baked strawberry-rhubarb pie. Life on the Inside Passage is rough.

Tomorrow we sleep in and leave late for Bottleneck Bay about a 4-hour cruise.

Monday, May 11, 2009

#12 - Port Hardy to Pruth Bay

This morning. Monday, May 11, we leave for Pruth Bay, Calvert Island at 5AM. We are up early to get the 4AM weather report and check the wave heights at West Sea Otter Buoy in the Queen Charlotte Sound. Around 1-meter wave height and wind speed less than 20 knots is a GO!.

Pruth Bay is the place Willie landed that big flattie (halibut) last year. We hope he is lucky again this year.

If you are up early reading this post, you may be able to watch our progress as we round Cape Caution about 10AM. Look for Wild Blue at near northwest end of Vancouver Island.

Our Route around Cape Caution to Pruth Bay, Calvert Island

Just before we left, I checked and couldn't see Wild Blue on the chart in Port Hardy. The AIS receiver for this area, or its uplink, must have not been functioning. Sorry if you got up early to watch and didn't see us (except fro John Pratt and Loren White who are up even earlier anyway). I found out the AIS receiver for the area is operated by the Head Lightkeeper, Ivan, who is based at the Scarlett Point Light Station, just outside Port Hardy. Anyway it's a courtesy service that's apparently not always operating.

The West Sea Otter Buoy at 4AM had seas less than 1/2 meter, and winds less than 10 knots. Best I've heard of out of two previous crossings. So it was a flat, easy crossing around Cape Caution and into Pruth Bay, on Calvert Island. We anchored and set prawn and crab traps. Of course we immediately dropped 3 lines and started fishing.

Wild Blue Crew for the week: Joe, Willie and Mike.

Our crew to Ketchikan is Alex's Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, college roommates from 1966 through 1971. Pat has left the boat so the boys can relive their college experiences! Joe Cebe graduated with a degree in Poultry and now owns Cebe Farms out of Ramona, CA, a large, five ranch, chicken production operation. Willie Benedetti, a Poultry graduate and turkey farmer, operates WillieBird Farms of Sonoma, CA, which produces turkeys and turkey products, operates a turkey restaurant (recently featured on FOOD TV Guy Ferri's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives) and distributes gourmet turkeys through Williams-Sonoma. Mike Celentano received his degree in Business and operates a successful CPA practice out of Ukiah, CA.

The guys met at Cal Poly and have kept in touch over the last 42 years. In college, we all wanted to be Willie's roommates because his family had a turkey ranch and we knew we would eat well. And we did, especially if you liked thanksgiving dinner every day! During Thanks giving and Christmas, we all would travel to Petaluma, CA and help Willie butcher fresh turkeys which folks would drive miles to buy. Recently Joe invited the boys to his daughters wedding as "a good luck charm". Since we also attended Joe and wife Becky's wedding in 1971, and they being together 37 years, he decided we would be good luck for his daughter's wedding! And so we organized our college reunion cruise while at the wedding.

The fishing here in Pruth Bay was not so good, so maybe the water is too cold. We'll pull the crab and prawn traps in the morning before we move on to Shearwater-Bella Bella.
Pruth Bay Fishing Lodge: 10 suites, 10 fisherman, 5 fishing guides, 1 great chef, open July and August only, awesome fishing, BIG bucks per week.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

#11 - Port Hardy

We've spent a relaxing four days here in Port Hardy at the Quarterdeck Marina. The boat has been a "dock queen" and its owners "cocktail boaters". We've cooked a bit and enjoyed the local dining flavor. This small fishing village near the northwestern end of Vancouver Island is quite pleasant. It has a good-sized grocery store, ACE and PHIC hardware stores, Napa auto parts, about five good sized hotels, several pubs and the all important state liquor store.

This dock queen is not used to sitting idle on the BC Coast.

The view of Quarterdeck Marina looking east.

One of the reasons we decided to return to civilization a bit early was to locate a replacement part. We needed a 12V macerator pump. Port Hardy doesn't really have a marine store as such. We were able to order the part for delivery at the Marina, but it didn't arrive the next day as scheduled. Then while perusing the local ACE hardware store, we saw the part on the shelf. Turns out every store in a fishing town has marine parts. The installation went well and we can macerate again!

Old leaky macerator pump. Jerry Watkins knows this pump well!

When the sun shines, the air and sea surface warms up plenty, attracting millions of bait fish to the Marina's shallow, warm waters. Suddenly it feels like we're moored in a fish hatchery. Of course the abundance of small fish attracts larger sea life like seals, sea lions, and otters. Then the eagles and crows go fishing as well. Pat spends most of the day with the binoculars nearby. In a single day she watched a Canadian goose family hatch four chicks, then later, as the male goose watched helplessly, several eagles lunched on the newly hatched chicks. Shortly thereafter a marmot came by and enjoyed leftovers. It's a wild, wild world up here!

All the waters in the Marina are full of bait fish

This river otter has a reserved slip.

Pat thinks these two are mating. Alex thinks this is just good natured fun.

This guy has snagged one of the larger-sized bait fish.

Pat leaves Sunday to return to SLO town. Alex will be joined by three crew all who lived with him as Cal Poly college roommates back in the late sixties. Should be a fun week as we continue north towards Ketchikan. Our ETA in Ketchikan is May 18th.

We cross the Queen Charlotte Strait and round Cape Caution Monday morning. The weather calls for 20 knots or less but six foot seas in Queen Charlotte Sound. We're leaving at 5AM and hope to be in Pruth Bay on Calvert Island by 1PM. If you are up, you can watch our progress live on beginning at 5AM.

We may have internet access in Shearwater. If not the Blog won't get updated until about May 16 from Prince Rupert. Have a great week.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

#10 - Sullivan Bay to Port Hardy

Today we quietly left for Port Hardy, BC at 6AM. There was little wind and calm seas although bigger winds were forecast for later in the morning. We arrived around 9AM, an uneventful cruise.

The interesting thing about today's cruise was that our boat position was monitored live and displayed on a Google Map at On this website you can view any ship or boat in the world that carries a Automatic ID System (AIS) transponder, like we do, and is in range of an AIS receiver connected to the website.

Here's today's exact route displayed in lavender on

Since our course was displayed live as we progressed across Queen Charlotte Strait, anybody viewing the website could watch our progress. It may not be as exciting as watching paint dry, but the AIS transponder helps other ships (and you) know our location, course, and speed which is updated from Wild Blue's AIS transponder every 3 minutes or so. I'll leave the transponder on over the next few evenings, and if you maneuver the Google Map over Port Hardy, BC, Canada you can see our current position, within 10 feet or so. Try it! (Hint: Port Hardy is on the Northeast edge of Vancouver Island near the top. Oh and Vancouver Island is in British Columbia, Canada. Click on a lavender diamond until you find us. You'll need to zoom in quit a bit).

By clicking on the lavender diamond, you can see more info about Wild Blue.

The last piece of land in Wells Passage before entering Queen Charlotte Strait

Port Hardy looks about the same as last year, although the Seagate Hotel now looks to be boarded up. Sorry Dick and Harriet.

This eagle has captured a fish and has a tough time protecting it from other eagles.

We may spend a few days here in Port Hardy. Alex needs to replace a pump..... a macerator pump. If you don't know what a macerator pump is, be thankful. It's a good thing. Neat pump pictures tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

#9 - Shawl Bay to Sullivan Bay

We found that Shawl Bay has great protection from Southeast winds. The winds puff up occasionally, swirl around the Bay, rattle the boats canvas covers, but it's nothing too fierce. It was still blowing this morning, and the barometer was low, but level. The forecast calls for the winds to diminish early this afternoon. We'll wait it out, and if we get a weather break, head for Sullivan Bay, just around the corner.

The route for today.

At last, the barometer began shooting steeply upward just before noon. From 984 to 1000 millibars in what seemed like an hour. The wind dropped to a reasonable speed, and DanCin Dreams and Wild Blue left for Sullivan Bay at 2PM.

Just as we departed, we joined two Nordhavn 62's going our way. We motored side-by-side for about an hour. These Nordys are linking up with another Nordhavn 68 for the Great Siberian Sushi Run: Alaska, Aleutians, Siberia then Japan. Sounds wild and crazy and you can follow their Blog at Anyway the four boats DanCin Dream, Gray Pearl, Seabird and Wild Blue, all arrived at Sullivan Bay together, making the dock people scramble to get all the boats tied up. The Sullivan Bay crew did a fine job.

One of the Great Siberian Sushi Cruisers

DanCin Dreams and Wild Blue on Main Street Sullivan Bay

This resort is a full-service community on floats. It includes dock space for maybe 80 good-sized boats, a restaurant, bar, store, fuel station, warehouse, and about 20 good sized float homes. There's a main street and about four "suburban" streets all on floats. Most of the float homes are owned by Americans and used in the summer. There's a BIG 4th of July celebration here each year at Sullivan Bay, BC, Canada.

Uptown Sullivan Bay

A suburban residential "floating street" in Sullivan Bay with Nordhavns parked at the end.

The local Sullivan Bay bear came out to greet us just behind main street.

Tomorrow given decent weather, we want to cross Queen Charlotte Strait into Port Hardy, BC. We need supplies, a macerator pump and new crew, although the crew doesn't show up until Sunday. See you tomorrow.