Katahdin’s Final Trip South

It’s been a great summer in Kupreanof and by mid-August, I make the final jump off the dock with Katahdin and point her south after 16 years of enduring rain and freezing winters.

She’s a bit weary from lack of paint and some rot looms in dark corners.  I spent a month going over every air start valve and put her in order for a week with dental classmate Dennis Welch and we get her running for the first time in 4 years.  The oil change was a two day affair and I thank my trusty friend Chris  Staehli who has a background with Foss, to help out with this unpleasant job.  Next stop, the fuel dock

We take on 1500 gallons of #2 diesel and pay the bill of $4815.75.  She carries 3000 gallons on a good day.  The oil change was 35 gallons topping out at mere $600.

Thanks Chris–he didn’t miss a trick on this 119 year old boat and kept the sticky start valve on time when it balked.  This time, I’m towing a 26′ Munson catamaran with twin Yamaha 150s.  We’re on the noon tide for the 70 buoy markers down the Wrangell Narrows.  This time, we do it without charts.

Our first night is at anchor in St. John Bay on Zarembo Island.   The weather is perfect.

Chris dips the fishing rod to the bottom–to no avail but we stocked up at Coastal Cold Storage in Petersburg and eat well on this trip.

We motor down Clarence Strait towards Ketchikan passing the Cleveland Peninsula where they’ve logged nearly to the shoreline.  Terrible practices in a terrible location–this is native land, I might add and the Tlingit’s want land exchanges because they keep running out of logging money.  Prince of Wales Island on the opposite side (to your back here) is equally denuded of old growth.  Most of this goes to paper pulp.

Ketchikan is in full swing–with all 52 jewelry shops fleecing tourists.  In winter, the town is a ghost town as much of the waterfront is now owned by cruise ship lines.  Modern day gold rush, so to speak.

And these ships aren’t getting any smaller.  Up to six of these behemoths will crowd in Skagway–a town with a winter population of about 450 people, down from the normal 1000 summer population.  Each of these ships carry up to 5000 passengers making way for the Heisenberg effect.  The Heisenberg effect refers to those research occasions in which the very act of measurement or observation directly alters the phenomenon under investigation.  These tourists can’t even find Ketchikan.  It’s here in Ketchikan we pick up Chris’s wife, Molly who joins us through all the exciting crossings to come.

We must clear customs so a stop in Prince Rupert is next–on the south side of the Dixon Entrance.  We hang out on Annette Island waiting out a gale wind and the crossing is quite comfortable–the first of three open ocean crossings.

Some of the best paint on the boat……  The Munson waits patiently.

After Prince Rupert, we motor down south through some of the most beautiful parts of the Inside Passage–Grenville and Finlayson Channels.  We anchor half way through this two day transit.  Here a Holland American boat passes.

The topography is spectacular–once all this was covered with glaciers several thousands of feet thick.  This land is still rapidly rebounding from these glaciers that left over 10,000 years ago.

A light house greets us at the southern terminus near Klemtu.  Our next open water is Milbanke Sound which is only an hour and a half. Bella Bella lies beyond.

A Western Towboat passes pulling a barge on the approach to Bella Bella.  There was a drought here this summer and at Shearwater, there was not a drop to be had.  All the restaurants were closed, the cisterns dry.  Petersburg had only 42″ of rain at this time; half of normal.  We’ll get 120″ on an average year.

Our travels take us down Fitz Hugh Sound past Namu and we once again anchor in Safety Cove to wait out another gale force storm passing through Queen Charlotte Sound.  Heavy smoke adds to the coastal fog.  The next morning we leave at 5am only to encounter huge swells so we high-tail it into Rivers Inlet and hide behind a sand spit encountering a half dozen small sports fishing boats.  We hail one down and discover a plush lodge about 6 miles east.  Our second night is spent there.  To the south, the visibility goes to zero due to the BC forest fire smoke–535 fires we hear which brings Justin Trudeau out to Nanaimo for a visit.

Thanks to our radar, we find the place and return to the Katahdin, bouncing on the hook and drive back to the south end of Goose Bay for a perfect anchorage.

Duncanby Lodge is a first rate destination sport fishing lodge and we really appreciated their help in the satellite internet to watch the weather.  With 1.7 meter sea data, we decide to get an early start in the morning after two nights here.  It was a wild ride hugging the coast around Smith Sound and Cape Caution in less than 1/4 mile visibility.  Eventually the swells subside and we turn off the radar and glide into Alert Bay after about 14 hours.  About 1/2 hour before anchoring, the high pressure relief valve blows so I run down and assess the situation–a plugged unloader valve–and I have the spare (and a rebuild kit)!  Chris, of Foss Towboat fame, is impressed.

It’s a crew change as Chris & Molly have to get home–so the next day we anchor in northern Desolation Sound, Big Bay (which is now all private), Savery Island, then make one bee-line down to Pender Harbor where they catch a Dehavilland Beaver home to Lake Union in Seattle.  My new crew arrives the next day–so I clean up the boat and do laundry.  Pender Harbor has grown in the 15 years since I last visited there.

Enter new crew–which is actually the crew that drove up in 2002 to Haines with me.  Ted Wilson and Rick Reese and their spouses Holly Mullen and Mary Lee Reese.  These guys were on the Grand Teton mountain rescue team also so we have great reunion. Our first night at anchor is one of my favorites on the BC Coast, Buccaneer Bay between the two Thormanby Islands.  There is always a nice sunset here……  On the Georgia Straits (Salish Sea?) crossing, it is calm so I bake two strawberry-rhubarb pies and two dozen Tollhouse cookies.  We even have ice cream.

Our second anchorage is a two day stay at Ladysmith–one night on the hook and one at the dock where we water up.  There I host my cousin Marguie and her husband Robin on board (we do a chicken barbecue feast) and catch up all things cousins do after a 10 year hiatus.  I promise to visit them in Vancouver in November and will.  Above we’re finally tied up in front of the Empress Hotel in Victoria where there’s a boat show……

From Ladysmith, we motor south at 315 rpm and negotiate the Samsung Narrows and pull into Victoria about 3pm and get a coveted space at the dock.  The Katahdin’s engine is a direct reverse meaning that there is no transmission, nor clutch, so the engine must be stopped and started in both directions to maneuver.  Here’s a link to download a short video of the engine running:   Movie Katahdin Engine

And here’s a shot of the crew–15 years older and wiser.   Everyone flies home from Victoria except Ted who helps me across the Juan de Fuca Straits into Port Townsend where I haul out……stay tuned for that adventure!

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