Shearwater to Port McNeill (September 1-2)

More whale sightings in Fisher Channel

Words by Les Rohlf Photos by Kel Rohlf

Les’ Notes

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Shearwater to Millbrook Cove

Miles: 72

Hours: 6.6

Today’s leg made me a little nervous, as it assumes very good and settled weather through at least mid-day. Millbrook Cove, our planned anchorage is located very close to Cape Caution. The advantage is that it shortens the crossing of Queen Charlotte Strait as much as possible; the disadvantage is that the arrival route is nearly as exposed as Cape Caution itself. I had marked Fury Cove, a little farther north off of Fitz Hugh Sound, as an alternate destination in the event we couldn’t comfortably get to Millbrook Cove.

Almost There fired up her thrusters and pushed away from the dock as we were preparing to leave this morning. We backed away shortly thereafter and were headed toward Lama passage by 7:00 am. Kel finished posting updates and photos as we passed Bella Bella and still had cell coverage.

Leaving Shearwater at first light; other neighbors

We ran on plane most of the day, with the sea state in Fisher Channel and Fitz Hugh Sound varying from smooth to choppy, but never enough to make the ride uncomfortable. I saw a whale breach from a couple miles away as we neared Fog Rock. By the time we got close, they were done with the theatrics, but we got some good photos before they dove and continued north.

It was so calm today that we even discussed whether it made sense to keep going and cross Queen Charlotte Strait this afternoon. As we neared Cape Calvert, where you’re more exposed to the open ocean, we got our answer with the rising swells. We were able to stay on plane all the way to Smith Sound and the entrance to Millbrook Cove, but the big (and in some cases beamy) swells made it clear I didn’t want to push through another 30 miles in these conditions.

We meandered our way among the rocks and around the island that protect Millbrook Cove and anchored in 30 feet on an 8-foot tide.  The inner section of Millbrook Cove is protected on all sides from any wave action in Smith Sound. This is part of the low, rocky coastline, so there aren’t high hills to protect from extreme winds, but it seems about as secure a spot as possible this close to Cape Caution.

 

Sunset at Millbrook Cove

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Millbrook Cove to Port McNeill

Miles: 65

Hours 4.8

Millbrook Cove was amazingly quiet, and we were the only ones there last night. There was just a slight breeze in the anchorage when we awoke to check the weather. It sounds as if winds in Queen Charlotte Strait will shift around to the southeast and build over the next day, but this morning should remain light. Reports from Egg Island and Pine Island indicated waves of half-meter or less, so today looks like our best opportunity to cross for the next 2-3 days.

Leaving Smith Sound to cross Queen Charlotte Strait

Smith Sound was fairly calm as we exited the cove and pointed southwest toward Cape Caution. The waves and chop built as we continued around Cape Caution and pointed southeast into the strait. We were able to stay on plane and make good time, but the chop on top of the low swells made for busy driving. We had no more than two miles of visibility for most of the trip around the cape. At several points we could barely see the land a mile off our port side.

Alaska State Ferry Matanuska

My route for the southbound crossing was different from our crossing in June. We stayed close to the mainland coastline after passing Cape Caution, as opposed to heading directly south toward the God’s Pocket area off the north end of Vancouver Island. Less confident about the weather this time, I wanted to stay within a shorter distance of protected harbors and wait until we were deeper into Queen Charlotte Strait before crossing. We met the northbound Alaska State Ferry Matanuska in the narrow Millar Passage. We hugged the Millar Islands side of the passage as she passed.

Whale tail off the bow of our boat

We saw a whale ahead at the east end of the Millar Islands. We watched him sound, then I switched my attention to avoiding rocks/preparing for the ferry’s wake/cross-checking radar and AIS when Kel exclaimed, “There’s a whale right next to you!” I looked to my right as a second whale that we hadn’t noticed sounded within about 25 yards of us. Sorry, no photos of that one.

The sea state calmed considerably as we tuned a few degrees to starboard and pointed toward Port McNeill. The chop increased a little in the middle of the strait, but not enough to slow us down from our 15-mph pace. Arriving in Port McNeill shortly before noon, we filled up with gas and walked to the grocery to stock up for the next several days. After our gloomy morning, Port McNeill was sunny and clear this afternoon.

Not sure exactly what route we’ll take for the next several days. There’s another blow coming tomorrow and Saturday that will bring strong winds to Queen Charlotte Strait and the Broughtons. We’ll head east part way up Johnstone Strait before angling north and exploring between here and Desolation Sound.

“Let everything that breathes offer praise to the Lord. Alleluia.” Psalm 150:6 NCB

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