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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Owen and Amanda visit

All the way from the UK, Amanda and Owen came to spend a some time with us, and we managed to cruise down to the nearby Gulf Islands. We had a great time, did many things, such as: played on the beach, walked in the forest, had ice cream, drank some wine and beer, caught prawns, collected and grilled oysters, camped on an island, got (temporary) tattoos, played games and generally had a lot of fun.

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Max is playing on the beach.

Wow, Mummy, look it's a hermit crab shell but it's not a crab, it's a HERMIT SNAIL!!!!

Nick's birthday, and hanging out in Comox

I turned thirty-something again a couple of weeks ago, succeeding in making it to Canada before I turn forty. Because of a calendar mistake by Gesa, we also celebrated Father's Day on the same Sunday, a week early as it turned out but a nice double celebration none the less. I was woken in the morning for cake and gifts, and we had a lovely morning before we moved the boat across the anchorage to and found that a large many-armed starfish, known locally as a sunfish, was hanging out with us. We returned him to his normal home. Later we went to the local coffee-shop, the Komox Grind, for a coffee and the usual wifi and phone calls.

Another event put on especially for my birthday (well, maybe not) was a big Outrigger Canoe competition. Mid morning the ladies one and two person canoes came racing by in a big fleet. Seems we were anchored right on the line for the first leg and they went around us, paddling hard. Looks a bit like hard work to me.

Over the next couple of days we hung out in Comox harbour and took the chance to get up to Cumberland, our new home. We rented a car and went to look at some houses, and ended up choosing one and signing a rental agreement, so we have a new house! It's a completely new house, in fact, still being built so we have the advantage of that, even if the house is very ordinary. It's also a few hundred yards from the kids' new school, so we went and enrolled them there too, so everything is getting slowly sorted out for our life ashore.

More photos from a couple of weeks ago

Up in Princess Louisa Inlet, we anchored in front of Chatterbox Falls, and quickly met a lot of new friends tied up to the Park Dock. There was a regular cocktail hour, and when we said we were going to hike up to the Trapper's Cabin, there was a rapid divide into the 'we're too old for that' camp and the 'we'll go with you' group. Led by Fernando on his boat, Isabelle, we had a great hike up the hillside.

Down at sea level again, the beach was a favourite and cocktail / appetiser hour became a regular event, on the last day we lit the campfire in the shelter and had a marshmallow toasting time, fun for all.

On the way south again, we stopped at the Harmony Islands, a little group providing shelter in the otherwise open and forbidding Hotham Sound. Friel Lake Falls tumble fourteen hundred feet down the mountainside to empty directly into the sound. We anchored inside a tiny cove just big enough for us, tied back to a tree on the island and watched the raccoons feeding on the shoreline. We dug for and enjoyed clams from the shore and had a very comfortable couple of nights of peace and quiet.

Whilst at Egmont we met a very nice chap called Gus who came and introduced himself. Come over one day, he said, we live in a bay over there and would love to see you. Anchored at the Harmony Islands we zipped across in the dinghy and went through a narrow gap in the rocks to find a beautiful sheltered cove, a true little oasis on the coast. Sadly, Gus wasn't there but a friend was, and he showed us around. After some twenty five years there, they have built up a beautiful homestead and fish farm business. We'll certainly go back one day and say hello again.

Leaving the Sunshine Coast, we headed back towards Vancouver Island again, stopping for a night in the harbour of Vananda, on Texada Island. We took a walk ashore and had a drink up at the local Inn, with a great view down into the bay. The seals swam around us, we explored the beach at low tide and fished a little from the boat. We almost instantly caught a rockfish, but we're unsure about eating it and know that they are very long lived and slow growing, so we put it back carefully and didn't fish again, it's too easy to catch and harm something you don't want. The next day we upped anchor and headed off to Comox.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

I Am Canadian! (Resident....)

Yesterday we were offered a lift to Victoria by a friend who was going there for the day. This was the perfect opportunity for me to pop across to America and back so that I could activate my visa that allows me to be a permanent resident and work here.

For arcane reasons, I have to leave and re-enter the country to do this. So I hopped on the fast ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles, which takes fifty five minutes and costs not a lot. I had half an hour in America, grabbed a sandwich and confirmed that Port Angeles is not a top destination for a day trip. An hour later I was back, at the counter with a very gracious Canadian immigration officer and we took about forty-five minutes to complete all the paperwork. Not only am I now allowed to live and work here, but all our possessions, including the boat, are officially imported and we can get on with bringing things over from storage in the UK and changing the boat to be Canadian registered.

It was all very straightforward and I got the chance to read a lot of my book. Back in Victoria, I searched out a pub where I could sit quietly and enjoy a pint in celebration, before fining the family and going for ice cream. They'd had a fun day in the city and Gesa had finally found a pair of walking boots, after a long search.

Now it's on with other new life stuff, like social security numbers, healthcare, driving licence and so on. So much to do....

Friday, June 19, 2009

Photos, lots of photos

On our way up the mainland shore, we anchored in Pender Harbour, which would certainly bear more exploration. Sadly we only had one night but we did do some school - experiments with water, mixing and dilution, ate our prawns from the night before, watched a biplane perform acrobatics above us but still not match the splendor of the local bald eagles, and we saw the local entry in the annual unco-ordinated dragon boat paddling competition.

In the little village of Egmont, we took a fabulous forest walk to the Skookumchuck Rapids, where the tide rips through at up to sixteen knots. It was certainly fearsome.

The village turned out to be holding it's annual 'Egmont Day', I guess in England this would be a village fete, with tea on the lawn and a cricket match. Here it was a parade, games for the kids, burgers for lunch, a salmon supper and a canoe race. I'd only been in a canoe once before and so it was with interest that I saw two young lads push off from the dock, practice a few strokes then roll over and almost sink. Uhoh. That's cold water, that is. We didn't sink, and fortunately we didn't win, carefully coming second in our heat by about six inches to avoid having to race again in the final. That's wisdom what comes with age, that is.

Issie and Max were delighted to get to play on some other kids bikes and skateboards, even though Max's first skateboarding attempts left him with an array of cuts and bruises his enthusiasm was undaunted. I suspect there will be more band-aids required in years to come....

On the thirty mile trip north to Princess Louisa we saw the astounding mountains, snow capped peaks and tumbling waterfalls all unwind before us as we motored along. Even the kids found it difficult to stay below decks for this trip, proudly wearing the masks they made at Egmont Day, playing dominoes on the foredeck and soaking up the scenery. Through the Mailbu Rapids and anchored at the Chatterbox Falls, we saw local Meganser ducks paddling around and watched a floatplane drop in to collect some hardy, and wealthy, souls who had hiked across the glaciers and down to the inlet.
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Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Best Laid Plans....

We were due to head down to Vancouver today, stopping at a nice island called Jeddidiah overnight. In Vancouver we planned to meet up with Owen and Amanda, great friends from the UK and take them for five or so days sailing.

The sailing gods had other plans. In fact, today it was the turn of the evil god of diesel engines. Up till now he has, thankfully, left us well alone and we've offered tributes of fresh oil and filters at regular intervals. But the gods are capricious, so when the engine was slow to start this morning, I looked at the fuel supply system before we pulled up the anchor.

There was an ominous whiff of diesel and a slow drip drip drip around the injector pump. This is a complicated bit of kit that takes fuel from the final filter, jacks it up to high pressure and squirts it into the cylinders. I pulled out the manuals and poked about a bit but it quickly became apparent that we needed a professional opinion. One of the skills I have been developing over the years, and it's a costly training course, is when to stop meddling and call in someone who really does know what they are doing. With tolerances to a thousanth of an inch, injector pumps clearly fall into that category.

So we now know that the leaky bits can probably be repaired without removing the pump from the engine, but it's a careful job because there's lots of tiny parts to lose. That would get us going again but the pump is probably in need of removal and overhaul, a fairly lengthy and costly job. Given that we have just a few weeks left of active cruising before we have to get stuck into proper life ashore, we'll probably try to do the quicker fix then prepare to overhaul or replace the entire engine during the winter.

For the four years we've had the boat, we knew the day would come when we have to make the 'good money after bad' decision about the engine. It can certainly be rebuilt, but it's likely that the cumulative wear over its twenty year life is high enough to make it a close call between rebuild or replace. Both need this engine to be lifted out of the boat, a complex procedure in itself. We've got some more time to think about it, it would have been nice to have got through the next six weeks before this happened but hey, such is life.

So we'll now limp down to our berth in Nanaimo, where we can stay comfortably and be within easy reach of mechanics and other good boat stuff, as well as plenty for us to do when not aboard. We can run the engine enough to get in and out of harbours and anchorages, and it's only sixty miles south. Unfortunately, the wind doesn't blow much round here in the summer so it will probably be a slow sail but the upside is that we can stop almost anywhere when the weather is this calm. We'll leave early in the morning.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A few photos!

Our very nice friends on Protection Island, Nanaimo offered us some of their tasty wine. Turns out they made it themselves, so we thought we would give it a go, especially as it works out MUCH cheaper. All we have to do is choose the kit, pour in the yeast and the rest is done for us over the next five weeks. From July 4th it will be ready to be bottled, and we do that ourselves too!! We will let you know how it turns out.

After we left Gabriola, we sailed across the strait towards Gibson's and anchored for the night. For Canadian television buffs, this is home to the famous Beachcombers series. The longest running TV programme in Canada. I was a fan in the 70s, and had a real kick sitting outside Molly's Reach having a drink and watching the world go by. It is now a proper cafe, but during its filming years, it remained a set, and curious tourists apparently always knocked on the window for a peak!

And here we are in Smuggler's Cove, another of the many marina parks that are up and down these waters. The photos speak for themselves: beautiful and tranquil, a real treat for us all. The perfect place for Max and Issie's first dip! Still too cold for Nick and I.
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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Photos from Princess Louisa

A few of the views from the fabulous Princess Louisa Inlet, including Ty Dewi anchored in front of Chatterbox Falls. Pictures can't do it justice, it's a constant feast for the eyes and the mind.

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The hike to the Trappers Cabin

Some photos from the scramble up the mountain in Princess Louisa.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Super, Natural BC

So the advertising slogan for this place is just that, Super, Natural British Columbia. Up here in the coastal mountains, it is certainly true. We have just spent a few days at the breathtaking anchorage at the head of Princess Louisa Inlet. We have seen bald eagles, seals, otters, mink and bears. We have hiked half way up a mountain, anchored beneath a waterfall and had a campfire in the forest.

We traveled thirty miles up Jervis Inlet, a wide river of sea water, with only the occasional logging camp to betray a human presence. At each of the three main turns in the inlet, the mountains became steeper, the shoreline more rugged and the snows covered more of the peaks. Near the top of Jervis Inlet we waited to enter Malibu Rapids, where millions of tons of water drain or flood on each tide, these ones run at up to nine knots. We wait for the wavelets to subside then follow a few other boats through into the protected waters of Princess Louisa Inlet.

Four miles long and about half a mile wide, the inlet is bounded by five thousand foot high mountains on all sides. Some of the slopes are sheep precipices of barren rock, and snow melt cascades down the mountain sides in more than thirty spectacular waterfalls along the inlet. At the end of the inlet is Chatterbox Falls, the biggest of them all and in full flow with the springtime melt. These falls have eroded enough rock from the mountain to make a substantial beach and delta which gives just enough space to anchor. There is also now a Park dock, where about twenty boats can tie alongside. We wanted to anchor anyway, which was good because the dock was full by the time we got there.

When they say 'just enough space to anchor' they mean it. We approach the beach in front of the waterfall and watch the depth sounder refuse to stop flashing the last reading it had before things got too deep, back at the rapids. I tell Gesa to shout when she can see the bottom and creep in towards the shore. We must be less than twenty yards away when she reckons we have ten feet depth at the bow. Back at the stern where the depth sounder is fitted, there is eighty feet. We drop, reverse and manage to get a firm hold. The flow of fresh water from the falls keeps us back off the shore and we have the most fabulous anchorage we can remember for a long time.

The area is a provincial park, only accessible by water apart from the few brave souls who hike in over the mountain, along the glacier and down the trails to the water's edge where, after a call on their satellite phone, a float plane comes in to pick them up. That's adventure tourism for you. So it's only the fortunate few who can get here by boat, and we find a diverse group tied to the dock. As the kids play on the beach, they are rapidly spotted by the grandparents of a lonely nine year old whose school in Colorado has an odd that breaks for summer at the end of May. He's missing playmates and suddenly we are swept up into a very enjoyable social round of appetisers and drinks on the dock at five pm each evening and a big group of new friends to make. By one of the strange coincidences that happen all the time in this small world, one boat at the dock is our neighbour from Nanaimo - he didn't know it at that time but our new marina berth is next to his boat

We mention we were going for a hike tomorrow, and suddenly we have a group of nine arranging to meet on the dock early in the morning. One, Fernando, has done this hike before so it's good to have a guide.

The hike is to an old trapper's log cabin, high up in the mountain some five hundred metres above. The guide books give it a fearsome write-up, describing it as a tough scramble more than a hike, but we've heard that it's manageable so decide to go as far as we can with the kids. Well, they, of course, are little mountain goats, scampering up every rock face with just spindly tree roots to grab onto. We climb over four foot wide dead tree trunks, under fallen trees, up rocky slopes and through some of the most fabulous forest I've ever been in. It's wonderful.

After two and a half hours, we are nearing the cabin which is beside a big waterfall. We can hear the waterfall just ahead and Fernando remembers the final rock bluff we walk around. He's a few hundred yards ahead when he comes back, there's a big, big bear down at the falls. It's the shape of a black bear but creamy white and beige. I want to go and see but the kids are with me, so we wait a little, talking more loudly then normal to let the bear know we are there. I go on to look at the waterfalls, I want to see a bear! But he's gone and I return to the group. Gesa has been a few minutes behind everyone at this point, and comes walking up. Hey, I saw a bear go past me, sort of whiteish. She's the only other one of us to see it, which is a shame and a relief to everyone at the same time. We think it must be one of the rare 'spirit' bears, a black bear with a gene that makes their coat this colour. We had lunch at the ruined cabin, enjoyed the view down the inlet from the waterfall and then headed down. The kids were unstoppable, and tromped off ahead. When we got back to the dock it was, once again, appetisers and drinks for the adults, tales of hiking for the stay-at-homes and the kids ran up and down the dock, endlessly. Whilst we rested tired legs, they were bounding around. We all slept well, though.

We had a long lie in and a lazy day. Our friends took the kids off to the other end of the inlet where, out here in the middle of nowhere, is a big camp for high school kids run by a christian foundation. The place was once an upscale resort, with heated swimming pool and beautiful cabins; once that went bankrupt it became this summer camp with a stunning location, right at the rapids feeding into the inlet. On the way down they saw otter, mink and seals. Once there they had a tour of the place and freshly made ice cream. Luxury.

That evening we lit the camp fire in the fire pit ashore, inside a nice open lodge which would shelter us from any rain - though we've only had one brief shower all our time here - and catches the sparks from the fire. It's a lovely evening before an early night - we have to leave at six am to catch the slack water at the rapids on the way out.

Princess Louisa is indeed a very special place and we shall certainly be back. It's a long trek to get there, but well worth it.

Now we're on our way to Comox, over the course of four days, where we shall get ashore and sort out some of the realities of life, like looking for a place to rent in Cumberland. We'll get on the internet there too, so there will be plenty of pictures to come. Words can hardly do justice to the places we've been, pictures struggle even more but we shall try.....

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Quick update

It's been a very busy day and I'll have to write more and add pictures later. A quick 'teaser' of an update. We're on our way to Princess Louisa Inlet, one of the best cruising destinations on this coast, so we keep being told. Five thousand foot cliffs, thundering waterfalls and reversing tidal rapids await us over the next few days.

On the way, we've stopped at the little town of Egmont, pop. 300ish. Just a few miles further up the Sechelt (sea-shelt) Inlet are the fastest tidal rapids in the world. The Skookumchuck Narrows (skookum - strong, chuck - salt water) are where two hundred billion gallons of water squeeze in or out of the Sechelt inlet every six hours. It produces tidal streams up to 16 knots, and a series of rapids and whirlpools that have to be seen to be believed. We hiked through wonderful forest for three miles to be there when the ebb tide was running strongly and it is a wonder to behold. You don't mess with the Skookumchuck, that's for sure.

Back here in Egmont, we've had the luck to arrive in time for 'Egmont Day' (I'm an egmonster, say the t-shirts) . A whole day of activites, a parade, food and fun for the kids and us grown ups. Issie came joint first in the sack race, Max played frisbee and rode a skateboard, I got roped into a canoe race and Gesa took many, many photographs. The salmon, corn and salad dinner was $6 each.

Activity was centered around the Egmont Community Hall which is an interesting old building. You look at it and wonder when it was built. And then we find out that it wasn't built here, it was the recreation hall at an old logging camp a ways up the inlet. Egmont bought it for a dollar and it was cut in half, floated on two huge rafts of logs and dragged down to Egmont, then pulled up the hill and put back together. And it turns out that it was all done by the grandfather of the guy I ended up paddling a canoe with out around the island.

I love places like this, how can you not, the way they take visitors in their arms and wrap you up as if you were family. We'll be back, and next time, we'll practice paddling a canoe.....

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Swimming, anyone?

Now that we have fitted a heater, the weather has taken a sharp and distinct turn for the warmer. We are sweltering in the high twenties (celsius, low eighties 'F) with barely a breeze to cool us down. If this is what the heater did for us, it's worth every cent.

The water temperature, however, is still in the mid teens. That's enough to keep Gesa and I out of it but the little mermaid on our crew is keen to get wet.

Here we are in Smuggler's Cove, a gorgeous anchorage consisting of three or so pools, each a couple of hundred meters wide and joined by narrow channels. You enter through a rock channel barely thirty feet wide, with nervous looks at chart and depth sounder on the way. Once inside, we anchored the bow and took a line back to an eye set in the rocky shore, there's not really enough room for us to swing to our anchor. The setting is magnificent, wooded rocky islands and a network of trails within the park. We have fun exploring.

In the late afternoon, the kids want to go to the 'beach', a rocky slope of pebbly beach covered with barnacles and oysters. Issie is adamant she wants to swim, Max merely wants to take his toy boats. We put Issie into her wetsuit and Max gets his swim shorts just in case he wades in a little further. He has a regular habit of forgetting how long his trousers are relative to the depth of the water.

On the beach, Max plays happily whilst Issie dips a toe in the water. Er Daddy, can you swim with me? No fear kiddo, you're on your own today. She walks out until her knees are covered and stops. Daddy, I don't like all the barnacles and crabs around me. The bottom is crawling with hundreds of tiny crabs, I'm not too surprised she's wary about them. Why don't you go in from the dinghy where it's a bit deeper and you don't have to put your feet down? OK.

I push the dinghy out a bit into deeper water and she hangs her legs over the side. At this point, Max wants something and I help him out, at the same time he takes off his T-shirt, it's hot in the sun. I look back to Issie to find her still hanging off the dinghy, face fixed in concentration and muttering to herself. 'I can do this. I am a mermaid. I can do this' she says quietly under her breath, not realising I am watching. Looking up, she sees me, paddles her legs a little and comes back to shore.

Clearly deciding she needs support, she attempts to enlist Max as an ally. 'Look Max, there's a great place for your boats here, just swim out a little with me'. He's not entirely convinced, but wanders over and into the deeper water. Before I know it, he has nonchalantly flopped down, swum a few strokes then stood up and gone back to playing. No big deal. Issie, still there in her wetsuit and goggles, has run out of options but is still not quite willing to jump in. She plays a bit with Max instead.

Time to go, but she's still telling me she wants to swim. OK, so why don't you swim towards the boat and I'll follow you with the dinghy and pick you up when you want to stop. This seems like a good idea so Max, still unnecessarily nervous about deep water, puts on his life jacket and sets off. I shadow him with the dinghy and motion to Issie to follow. Wait Daddy, wait, I'm not quite ready. We go through a few loops of this before Max and I have to turn around and go back to get closer to where she is. Eventually she jumps in, swims about four strokes and then is lifted into the dinghy. Max could have been at the boat by now but has been hanging around and is cold, so he comes in too, shivering a bit, poor chap.

Back aboard, we have showers and get ready for dinner. Getting changed in her cabin, I hear Issie talking to herself again.

'Phww. Now I know what they mean by cold'.

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Gone are the days of mahi-mahi and tuna, welcome salmon (if we ever catch one) and prawns. Now, these tasty little devils live in the deep deep waters around here, and can be tempted into a trap. We have a nice net trap, with funnels to lead the prawns in and, hopefully, make it hard for them to get out again. Local knowledge tells us to bait it with a tin of cheap cat food, lower it two or three hundred feet and wait a few hours.

Down at Gibson's Landing, we pick our spot, drop it over the side and watch as the line snakes down, down into the deep cold waters. Eventually the line stops sinking and we know the trap is on the bottom. Over goes the marker float and a weight to keep it all straight up and down over the trap. At last we are properly using Max's lobster trap float, all the way from Maine.

The next morning Max and I get up early and head out in anticipation. We haul up the trap, hand over hand, coiling hundreds of feet of line into the big five gallon bucket we have for the purpose. Finally the trap appears through the gloomy water. Excitement mounts, hope swells in our hearts and then reality swiftly intervenes. Nothing. Darn it. Back to the boat, where an expectant crew makes quiet comments about 'all that effort'. We think about it and decide that puncturing our tin of cat food with a screwdriver wasn't good enough, we need to open the tin a fair bit further.

Next day, we are at a beautiful spot called Smuggler's Cove. Just outside the anchorage the water drops away rapidly, so we try again. The following morning we go out and haul, haul away. Bingo. We have prawns. Well, three at least. One of them is pretty big and chunky, the others are small little things but edible none the less. On the water we meet some other sailors who have a lot more experience at this, they suggest a different type of cat food - they kindly give us a few tins - and that an hour is enough if you find the right spot. So we drop the trap again.

A couple of hours later we go out once more and hey presto - four prawns! At least we are improving, this is going in the right direction. We eat them as part of dinner tonight, not exactly a full meal but a good start. Right now it's working out at about $10 a prawn but hopefully that average will drop soon.....

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