The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 19

A basket Starfish


In the previous storey we left you while we were floating under the stars in the hot tub.

There is a small community in Squirrel Cove. The general store is well stocked and has a decent marine hardware section. This is our introduction to “the oyster man”; he is located on Cortes Island and supplies a few of the local stores with his product. Locally grown and smoked oysters, amazing. The cans of oysters are way too small no matter size they are.

We decide that we need to stretch our sea legs and walk north along the paved road that leaves the General Store for other points on Cortes Island. In the ditches we discover the end of the summer’s crop of blackberries or brambles. I have picked these berries before. I refuse to climb down into the ditches telling the Captain that I preferred to stay as far out the brush as I could. The things are infested with snakes…he laughs at me.

I can see this funny look come over his face as he steps further into the brambles, the thorny brush rips your skin, but that look on his face tells me that he isn’t parting with his skin, I bet he has discovered the “snakes!” Sure enough, he says hmm…there are snakes aren’t there. I take a stick and pull the thorny branches back; the earth is writhing with garter snakes slithering just out of the reach of my stick.

Between us we pick lots of berries for jam and a few extra pints get dedicated to a beautiful blackberry tincture. (Ask me about this stuff)

There is a trail that connects Squirrel Cove to Von Don Up Inlet on the opposite side of the Island. We plan to anchor in Von Don Up so passed on walking the trail. We roared back to Audrey in the zodiac, pulled anchor and left to seek out another adventure. The water in this area has been reported to get as warm as Mexican waters; the oysters grow huge here because of it. This time of the year I preferred to laze in the hot tub.

Von Don Up is a long narrow inlet that allows you deep access into the mid section of Cortes Island. Again, we are not alone in what is considered a late time for travel for this area. There is an eye-catching yacht, custom built in Holland that is anchored in the centre of the bay. The lady from aboard this vessel is a larger sized woman. The custom-rowing skiff has obviously been built for her. She skims across the water with total ease and grace, it’s wonderful to watch. She looks free and light, as she appears to escape the weight of the world.

Whale town is our next stop. The ferry connects Cortes Island to Quadra Island at this point and from Quadra Island the ferry connects to Vancouver Island and Campbell River.

We have difficulty setting the anchor; the bottom of this bay is all sand. The anchor sets us within talking distance of a 65’ sailboat. Two teen-age boys are swabbing the decks. They come with additional family members that total twelve. They have been living on the sailboat for two years, wintering on Vancouver Island. It is an amazing feat; they are all home schooled by their parents. There would be no escape space anywhere onboard this sailboat with twelve people, you would be praying for good weather.

The set of the anchor concerns us so our trip ashore is short. We are on to the next stop, Gorge Harbour. The entrance to this harbour is impressive. Narrow natural rock face cliffs complete with ancient rock drawings guard the passageway. The channel opens into a large bay the centre of which is a large shell fish farm. The sky is streaked with pinks and purples; it’s time to settle in for the night.

We decide to splurge and go ashore for dinner. There is a commercial dock to portside and with a little house beside it has been converted into a restaurant, it looks magical. The anchor is dropped and we roar ashore for dinner. The water that drips off of the oars is glowing with phosphorous, we are leaving a trail of twinkling lights in the black water behind us, Fairy lights in the Ocean are unbelievable.

Dinner is wonderful, sitting on the little deck with lights twinkling on the shore and reflecting off of the still water. The smoked black cod was the best that I’ve had and that means beating out the Empress Hotel in Victoria for first place. The night is so calm that the candle on our table barely flickers as it casts shadows on the wine glasses.

The next morning we reluctantly haul anchor to cruise to Read Island, we are going fishing after all. Evans Bay by Read Island is a new anchorage for us. There is a house for sale at the head of the bay; this is a sparsely inhabited area. Once the anchor is set however, a small boat heads our way. They are an older couple and they own the house at the head of the bay, their house is for sale. The Captain asks about crabbing in the area, the response is that they have been here for twenty-five years and there are no crabs. Damn is there nothing left anywhere in this south country!

The couple is heading to their winter home in Campbell River, health has dictated that they spend time closer to health facilities; this is why their island home is for sale.
The fishing gear needs to be sorted and with our heads down we don’t see the tidy little Grand Banks named “HERS” approaching. There is a persistent knocking on the hull, up come our heads as the visiting Captain hands over a large slab of cod…”hope you like fish he says, just caught it this morning.” He also is heading for Campbell River to pick up his wife, after all the boat is “HERS”. They live in Los Angles, but keep their boat moored in Seattle. Business brings them to Seattle often so they keep moorage and use HERS as their floating apartment while they are there. Holidays simply mean cruising away from the dock. I’d never thought of AUDREY as waterfront property on the Sunshine coast, it was a different perspective.

Following his directions we set out to become the fish slayers. On the first cast the Captain lands a two-pound sea perch, good that’s supper, but not so. He says its bait for the “big” one, yeah right; it would have to be a giant to chase that bait. It is a giant; the cod that almost immediately swallows this perch looks too big to pull into the zodiac.

Have you seen the size of the heads on those things! He’s going to eat us. The cod is four feet long with an overgrown head; the cod head will be crab bait, what the heck you never know till you try right. That is, if we can fit the head into the crab trap minus his cheeks. As the giant cod is gaffed and held to the side of the boat he lets go of the perch. The perch executes a mighty twist, wrenches the hook from his mouth and swims away, perfect!

The sky is red this evening and a strange light is reflecting up from the depths of the ocean. We decide that we will watch for the evening star from the front deck. The dimming switch on the stars is being turned up brighter and brighter. Thick billowing rain clouds are building and rolling towards us. As the evening skies darken eerie lights start to appear in the black water. My favourite, there is phosphorous here.

Jellyfish show up first, outlined in electric blue and pulsating. Now we see tiny flickers of darting light as tiny and usually translucent bugs begin to appear. There are out lines of fish darting after the bugs. They show up as submersed comets in the water. The ocean is pulsating with millions of flickers and streaks of light lined creatures. The sensation that the ocean is breathing intimidates me; the whole sea is boiling with life, it is a living entity. Millions of creatures are now visible to the naked eye; the thought of swimming in this soup of life makes even the well-seasoned diving Captain think twice.

The rain hits in huge drops.

Now we are Disneyland. The giant raindrops hit the water and explode in a million reverberating droplets that burst into showers of light. The hills and bay are glowing in green light. Creatures below the surface appear to be swimming in thickening lime Jell-O. Torrents of rain bounce against the surface of the ocean and we are driven inside. The pounding raindrops flash back green light and illuminate the saloon …this really is magic!

P.S. We did catch three edible sized crabs in our trap; they had a tight squeeze getting in beside that cod head. Attached to the bottom of the trap was a basket starfish; we had come across these outside of Haines. I am glad that we had seen this before after last night we might have thought that we’d captured a sea going alien.

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 18



It’s time for a little magic. The end of what we thought wasn’t a bad summer is drawing to a close. The locals in Pender Harbour and Madeira Park complain about climate change and in their minds, lack of a summer at all. I admit that it wasn’t as hot as I would have liked it, but the days were mostly clear and sunny. Diving directly off of the dock into the ocean had happened once or twice. To the Captains delight, some of the bar maids came down at night to skinny dip.

I finally got a chance to experiment with my new dry suit. It is a strange sight to see, trying to keep upright and walk half sub-merged around the docks causes people to do a double take when you walk/ flop past their boat way out past the shore line. We have a floating hot tub that we keep tied dockside so if the water feels too cool for a dip we just heat her up a little. I have to say that there is nothing that compares to hot salt water for relaxing or making your skin feel like velvet. After sanding the gunnels on the boat all day it feels wonderful.

Labour day weekend has come and gone and so have the crowds. After the solitude of living and travelling in the north, the crowds are really unsettling. Desolation Sound is well known and well travelled with southern boaters. It’s a skip and a jump for boaters travelling from Vancouver. Depending on the speed of their boats they can get to Squirrel Cove on Cortes Island in a day. Pender Harbour is a natural stop over; known as the Venice of the North, it has beautiful, secure little coves, several waterfront restaurants and bars and the “Royal” Yacht clubs for both Vancouver and Seattle. While the club members hadn’t been the most friendly of folks, over the summer they provided all of us summer locals with great entertainment.

The Royal Yacht Club ships are magnificent to watch coming into harbour, you can almost walk across this bay on anchored yachts. Dodging them with the zodiac to get to the Garden Bay Pub takes skill. We have airplane wheels on our zodiac, this makes us run a little lower in the water and we create a bigger wake then we’d like. It’s slow going but allows for a bit of conversation with the little guys. The Yacht clubs are a “member’s only” situation for moorage or participation. Well when the big boys with the big flags arrive, it’s like watching elephants trying to step through a field of mice and not squash them or worse get their feet dirty.

Consideration for fellow boaters seems to depend on size and anything below the extensive gunnels of the ‘ Royal’ yachters is almost none existent as they motor toward the Seattle yacht club. In their wake the little sailboats truly look like pendulums in clocks as their owners attempt to maintain themselves topside with their barking miniature dogs and sloshing martinis.

Sound carries very well on water, verbal challenges charge across the harbour flying back and forth accompanied by the scrapping sound of metal on fibreglass. With the distraction by these colourful words one Skipper has forgotten that there were only two feet separating him from the boat on his portside, he now has managed to secure that neighbours anchor line as well. The angry voices now arrive in stereo. Ah-h-h life in the densely populated south!

The Captain is not a sports fisherman, he subsistence fishes. Isn’t it amazing how really basic forms of words have changed as the lack of understanding them grows? He fishes to feed us. The price of a small Dungeness crab at Madeira Park is $25. The price per pound for fish of any type is out of this world; this is all incentive to go fishing. I love rockfish and have even before they became a trendy type of food. Rockfish has become trendy because of the lack of salmon, cod or halibut. I once had to process 60 lbs of Hake fillets that I was lucky enough to come across; it’s a beautiful delicate fish.

We spend a lovely day drifting around the small islets in the mouth of Pender Harbour looking for rockfish. A time warp happens, six hours of floating on the ocean drifted by and we have nothing but a suntan to show for our time, it is perfect. But we really did want to catch some fish. We would obviously have to get out of town if we wanted to catch anything of a size for eating.

The timing is right, most people should be gone, we could head for Cortes Island, circumnavigate it and do some exploring in our old haunts around Read Island…it is time to go fishing. In peak summer months your anchorage has to be established by noon in order to find the room to set your hook. Shore tying then becomes necessary so that you do not to swing into your neighbour. It is very crowded, for the free spirit, the guidebooks have listed numerous small-protected coves as anchorages. They state that these beautiful little coves will provide privacy. This is so that you need not listen to your neighbours music or dog barking at EVERY seagull. (No, this is not so cute)

The guide books must have been published prior to fish and shellfish farming, just about ever bay listed has now been partitioned off with nets, floats, logs and very strong “don’t even think about getting close to us “ signs…all fish farms. It’s a segregated area, yachties to their space and the working fishers to theirs. Boat wakes wreck havoc on shellfish farms where mussels and oysters dangle in the salt brine on tenuous lines.

Stories of sport fishers spending a week to get a single salmon are pretty common. They have way more patience then we do. Why oh why do we allow commercial fishing in the mouths of spawning creeks and rivers people? If they can’t go home to make babies there will be NO fish. And where is the crab? The Captain truly is the crab slayer and all summer had only produced a few small rock crabs that still needed to grow up. They were sent home to the deep to develop some bulk. We want to head into less populated areas where there still might be some fish and crab left.

Audrey leaves the dock at Pender Harbour and we head up Malaspina Straight towards Powell River, Texada Island is on our Portside. It’s slightly breezy, but still hot enough to get sunburnt on the flying bridge. Just past Powell River and before Savoury Island I notice something strange in the water. The Captain slows us down for a better look.

Curioser and curioser, there is a seal in the water with a 15 lb salmon in it’s mouth. On each side of him are two seagulls both determined to steal his dinner. This seal is not concerned in the least; he is more interested in watching us motor past. The gulls are playing tug of war with the salmon and he just keeps on watching us. Slowly, and seemingly without breaking the water he sinks out of sight, with his fish. It’s a sign. We continue up past Lund and drop anchor in the Copeland Islands. Tomorrow we head for Squirrel Cove on Cortes Island.

The distances here are deceptive; everything is way closer than in the north. The next morning it only takes us an hour to arrive at Squirrel Cove. The floating bakery is closed for the season and there are two other boats already anchored here. With most anchorages in the south you need to have holding tanks for sewage, a very good idea as I can only imagine what kind of sludge there would be in these low flushing inlets with the populations that visit here.

There is an oyster farm in here as well, regardless of the holding tank rule we decide not to buy their oysters. The two little sailboats don’t look big enough to hold their crew, never mind a holding tank. Regardless, the water is crystal clear with starfish waving their arms at the oysters.

The moon is full and the stars are low enough to touch. Small lights twinkle off in the distance onboard the sailboats. We slip into our floating hot tub. The hot salt water closes over the aches of the day. A long line gets attached to the tub and we shove off into the soft darkness. Laying back watching the satellites and falling stars in the quiet black night drifting softly with the tide, if you reach up with your hand I’m sure you can tip the big dipper and get a drink, wouldn’t it be nice if it was tequila…. we are afloat under the stars. (The water in the tub is really, really warm!)

This is magic 1; the next storey is magic 2.

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 17



Spring is late coming to call in Pender Harbour this year.  Does that make you in the north feel better?  Now you should know that by late I mean the cherry blossoms are out, but the froths of pink flowers haven’t formed archways along the streets yet.  This is the beginning of April. Looking up Gunboat Bay a few days ago, fresh snow was visibly clinging to the mountains as far down as I could see. The snow had almost made it to sea level but a gentle southern breeze fluttered in and melted the “fairy dust” as I have recently heard it referred to.  I am appreciating that it has left quietly and without a trace.

Spring translates into rebirth and renewal for me.  The miserable snow is gone and the sun is producing life-giving heat.  Maybe not enough to warm your bones but possibly just enough to crisp your face, especially if it’s reflecting back from those sheets of ice that still cling to the lake surfaces for those of you in the Yukon!  Here in the Harbour the rays are bouncing back from a sparkling ocean.

Renewal aboard Audrey means removal of old paint and varnish and strange green things that have grown up over the winter.  When we first bought our boat a fern grew in the windowsill on the dash beside the gauges at the helm.  I have tried to nurture and maintain a healthy looking fern through out a Yukon winter with difficulty and the fact that this wonderful piece of greenery simply and routinely chose our boat for its home was to me a wondrous gift.

The Captain ripped it out by its tender little roots and proudly displayed it to me trophy like…he could not comprehend the look of horror on my face, as my only ever volunteer houseplant lay mutilated in his hands.  The fern has returned every spring since and I now pluck the beautiful parasite from the sill.  Plant growth causes wood to deteriorate.

The captain is in the “troll hole” changing filters and maintaining his perfect Perkins engines, his engine room gleams white with cleanliness.  Payback for the time he spends in the engine room is that we can turn the keys on Audrey at any time and the engines roar to life. The lines are cast off and there could be a new adventure in the making.  Crossing Dixon Entrance or battling giant waves, the Perkins engines have never failed us due to his time and care.

I am the sander/painter.  One of our inside jokes is that Rick is a welder and yet he possesses a wooden boat and is allergic to sawdust. Yes, I know that an allergy specialist should certify this.  I love doing the work it is gratifying to bring back the shine on the bright work and Audrey starts to pose in the sunshine as the grime of winter is washed away.

Lying on the teak decks with the heat of the afternoon sunshine on your shoulders is almost perfect.  Having a brush full of Tung oil and being able to smooth it out over the mahogany planks and expose the beautiful colour and grain of the wood: well with that and the G U elevens (Newfie for gull) serenading me, this is just plain heaven. I will take this over having to work inside any day.

The forecast for this Easter weekend is that temperatures should rise to 17c with sunshine all day long.  It is already 6c at 7 a.m. so I’m thinking that we will beat that forecast today.

The hot tub is already in the water and will be floating in the sea beside the dock again today.  We had a visitor the first night that we had the hot tub back in the sea.  There was woofing and barking and much carrying on in water.  The sound combined with the slapping of waves against the dock was causing us to wonder what was in the water with us.  We could not determine whether it was a curious sea lion or a sea otter checking us out in the dark.

‘Damned tourists keeping him awake at night,’ is what I suppose he is thinking.  I just didn’t want whatever was thrashing around in the ocean to join us in the much warmer hot tub.  The gulls fly over the tub and seem to do a double take and come back for another look.  I’m thinking we look like soup.

Spring is signalled in Pender Harbour by the white sails of the sailing clubs rounding Skardon Islands. These Islands mark the inside entrance to Pender Harbour.  The Islands   create the perfect course for sea trials for the sailboats.  These boats gracefully do figure eights around each other, Ocean going ballerinas.  The white sails are billowing like sheets on a line against a backdrop of a deep Blue Ocean and the soft green of the cedars.

This winter we were fortunate enough to participate in a Match cup sailboat race in Auckland, New Zealand.  I had never sailed before and wanted to experience the “other” boating style.   A sailboat race was the perfect birthday gift promised for a significant birthday; although I had never expected it to happen in New Zealand.  We were racing with the ’95 New Zealand Americas Cup contender.

The saying goes something like ‘a bad boating day is a great sailing day’.  Well after all of the extreme boating weather that we’d been through I figured that if you can’t beat the weather you might as well learn how to use it.  IT WAS WONDERFUL!  It’s like flying over the water, the 25knot winds filling the huge sails to the limits, creaking ropes, the hiss of the water racing by, I loved it…so now what to do?  So many choices.  The Captain took the helm during the race and I thought he suited it very well.

I have to trek up to the Grasshopper Pub in the Pender Harbour Hotel to hit a hot spot to email this storey off.  Zipping over by zodiac to the Copper Sky café in Madeira Park is another great place to have a coffee and a chat with Scottie and the boys while the email heats up.  But it’s a tough place to get out of and the afternoon will be biting at my heels by the time we are inspired to leave.  The Grasshopper Pub wins out as the communication point of choice.  The view is remarkable and I have been watching the hillside for the resident doe and this year’s fawn.  The climb to the pub is extreme, but the chances of seeing the fawn are very good.

Daffodils show sunny faces on the hillside as I climb skyward to the Grasshopper.  They are flashing yellow smiles throughout Madeira Park and Garden Bay.  Primroses offer brilliant colours in unexpected places.  The Easter Bunny will have to look for these special spots to hide her Easter Eggs.  The Easter Bunny hops into Pender Harbour as well as Marsh Lake, Yukon Jianna Mia.

From my crow’s nest on the deck above the marina, I can see the tide churning out of Gunboat Bay at a hard-boil.  When she winds up the tide runs at about 5 knots, and with the wind whipping against her it creates a small rapid.   The deceptive Woman of the Sea, at slack tide the waters are placid and create the illusion of perfect moorage. There have been a few unwary sea goers who have dropped anchor here; everyone makes an effort to warn them that they will probably be swept away at tide change. Few ever spend the night; there are nice people here. The benefits of fast water are that it flushes the bay and keeps everything sparkling clean.  It also helps to prevent growth from forming on your boat’s bottom and no one wants growth on his or her bottom.

Across the harbour is Garden Bay the serious transients are already arriving.  Three sailboats have dropped anchor and set up house keeping there.  By mid summer you could possibly walk across on the decks of boats anchored in the harbour.

A warm breeze is wafting the perfume from budding willows leaves and cedar and fir trees growing in loamy rich soil across the deck.  The air is always salty; the clouds drift by in a deep blue sky.  I can see the doe directly below me and what could be last year’s fawn, or maybe its a doe friend and they are out for a walk together, no new baby as of yet, its late in arriving as well.  The tinkle of ice cubes in a tall glass while sitting out on a deck overlooking the Ocean is THE most definite sign of spring.  Happy Easter everyone.

P.S.  Bob and Kait I hope you have a wonderful Easter, you should be here…love from your mommy.

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 16

One of many “Garden of Edens” we encountered on our adventures. The picture below is of Petersburg, Alaska. Fishing and logging village that has purposely refused cruise ships to commercialize their lives. They maintain their Identity and have a healthy and sustainable economy. Their children will be able to fish unpolluted waters and breathe clean air.


Hurricane force winds mean it’s just another day on the west coast. We had weathered two such storms in Potts Lagoon, located towards the north end of Vancouver Island. These are the winds that flattened Stanley Park in Vancouver B.C., Canada. Four days of sitting in the rain is wearing on us. The crab traps are providing fresh “meat”, but new sights and people that we had yet to meet are just around the corner…. time is dragging.

We were anchored beside a summer floating camp in Potts Lagoon; three houses set on floats, which looked to be a great place to hide out during the summer. It appears that someone has this idea as well, they are hiding out for the winter. The first night that we were slammed by the hurricane winds, we could smell wood smoke. We distinctly smelled wood smoke as the storm raged around us. This is not a good thing on a wooden boat and it becomes terrifying in the black of the night with the wild winds of the furies screaming at you.

We set out in the zodiac to see if we could raise anyone in the float houses. We circle the houses, call hello several times, there is no response. Who ever is inside does not want to socialize, we understand. Every night we smell the wood smoke, our anonymous neighbours don’t use any lights and we never see them. After four days of knowing that you have someone living beside you that doesn’t want to be seen, well, it just wears you out. I want to go, these anonymous neighbours are giving me the creeps.

Today’s the day! We are attempting to make it to Port Neville. Audrey heads up Knight Inlet and cruises around Minstrel Island, its bumpy but we moving. As we get closer to Johnston Straight the seas start to build again. The Coast Guard out of Comox are following us in a helicopter (they have done this before, it is getting personal). It’s rough going, but compared to some of the rides we’ve had, it’s bearable. Maybe it’s the hovering help above us that makes the rough seas easier to take. Nope, the waves build and we are forced to duck into Burial Cove.

The anchor is dropped and we wait for the tide to turn. Anchored beside us in the cove is a one hundred and twenty-foot ship that has been re-constructed and is now used as a floating bunkhouse, possibly for a logging crew. The crews must be on leave in Campbell River, it’s pretty quiet on board from what we can see and can’t hear.

It’s high slack tide and again, we are running for Port Neville before the tide begins to turn. We will duck into the Government wharf, which has a reputation of being a rough place to dock with swirling currents and tides. The Coast Guard is back above us as we near Seymour Narrows. There is a barge in front of us, we debate about getting up close and letting it break the waves for us. Time is against us, we will have to fight our own battle with the wind and waves, we are only a few kilometres from the dock and the barge is on the other side of the straight. We wonder who the Coast Guard is looking for. We have not talked to family and friends in days; we hope it isn’t us they search for.

The dock is to our portside. It has huge big beams and it looks very well made. The current is swirling around the piles; this is going to be an exciting landing. I am on the bow trying to either lasso the piles or jump for it, sometimes being five foot tall is limiting. The current is determined to take us back out into the channel, I can hear a voice…. no it’s not the Coast Guard or god either. There is a petite lady standing on the dock yelling at me to throw her the rope. Thank you goddess, the rope is thrown and she secures the bow. The Captain brings in her stern and we are home free.

Lorna introduces herself as the second-generation homesteader, mail lady, entrepreneur, and keeper of the government docks. She is appreciated.

She invites us to come ashore to see her families homestead and also throws in an invitation for dinner. The sun is starting to set as we head up the gangway. An old two-storey building sits at the head of the dock walkway, we stroll towards it. The sun is just setting as we reach land…. maybe we did drown out there, this has to be heaven, or at the very least, this is the Garden of Eden.

The Captain and I both stand with mouths wide open in awe. We are at the gateway to her property. There are green rolling hills with lush emerald grass that’s been recently cut (this is November). Off to the right at the top of a green knoll is the most perfect little log cabin; lights twinkle in the lace-lined windows. Several apple trees are scattered through out the acreage that still have red apples clinging to branches.

Underneath the apple trees are deer, small ones and big ones, no shy ones. As they notice us they come to visit. Lorna states, ‘they are looking for apples’. She hands us a few apples that she has hidden in her pockets. The deer walk right up to us and nuzzle our sides looking for their supper. Apparently they will follow a person around all day begging for apples. This year’s fawn looks up with big, soft brown eyes; you know that you have to find just one more apple, somewhere.

The two-storey building is the old homestead that Lorna grew up in. Rough, hand-hewn timbers are silver with age; it is now an art shop for tourists in the summer. Her new home, which is the post office as well, sits just beyond the homestead. We amble towards her house with our deer entourage bumping at our hands and hips. They have become a nuisance and a pain, funny how quickly that can happen!

Lorna lives here by herself. The log cabin is uninhabited; I wasn’t sure why the lights were on, maybe it makes her feel like she has neighbours. She has a generator for power and keeps her marine radio on to listen to passing ships. Bears are curious about the noise that the generator creates or maybe it was simply the shortest route to the apples, she has bumped noses with the bears often.

We tell Lorna that our radio has been giving us grief forever, she proceeds to give us a brief but though lesson in marine radios. Se’curite, Se’curite, Se’curite…doesn’t that mean GOOD MORNING?? We have spent most of our cruising time in Alaska. Alaska doesn’t have lighthouses or live broadcasts, they are all computerized.

In Canada we still have lighthouses with real people in them. They can see a black line thundering across the water and call it in. I love those people. Se’curite translated by me means pay attention, Se’curite twice is smarten up and three times is get off the big water and head for cover, NOW.

Lorna confirmed this. Pay special attention when you get up at 6 a.m. and they are already calling Se’curite, se’curite, se’curite, the wind hasn’t even gotten out of bed yet, just wait. You are experiencing the remnants of last nights “blow” and the best is yet to come. On this trip EVERY morning we woke up to S.S.S, Lorna said she’d never seen a winter like it. I feel less like a wimp.

This strong woman is one of the many independent people that we have met on our travels. She talks of selling off sections of her homestead. Her daughter has left to get married in Powell River. I could tell that she missed her daughter terribly, I can relate to her. It was a feeling that I knew well, my son and daughter are miles away and there had been times that I was sure I would never see them again. It would be a lonely existence; loneliness being the worm in this breathe taking Garden of Eden. This winter of storms is taking its toll on all of us.

The next day we opt to take a detour, why would we want to simply take on Seymour Narrows when we can manoeuvre through four rapids instead? I am starting to figure out my Captain…when he says that “God hates a Coward thing”, it really means Se’curite, Se’curite, Se’curite

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 15

The Audrey Eleanor, in the calm after the storm.


The Captain is asleep with his good hearing ear in the pillow…I can feel the weight of it as it as it gets closer, roaring like an old WhitePass steam engine determined to run us down.  The Audrey Eleanor is pulsating with the sound…

It has been a handful of years since the magnificent, giant, old growth cedars of Stanley Park in Vancouver, Canada are flattened to the earth. Hurricane winds ripped and tore their roots from the very land that sustained them.  As they thunder to the earth causing humankind to tremble, we are at anchor on an old wooden boat.

Fifty four feet and thirty tonnes of old wooden yacht must be held off of jagged rocks by a chain and a cast iron Danforth anchor in hurricane force winds.  Our anchor had been set earlier in the afternoon and should be stuck in the mud.  We hope so.

The Audrey Eleanor, a 1948 custom wooden yacht is anchored in Potts Lagoon located at the northern end of Vancouver Island.  We had slipped away from our berth at the Government dock on Malcolm Island, disappearing into the fog like a shadowy ghost ship. After days of pouring rain and windstorms we are making our weather break from Sointula on Malcolm Island our quest is to find a safe and semi-permanent Harbour on a more southern portion of Vancouver Island.  It is early morning, we are soon enveloped in a grizzly gray drizzle.

Steel coloured Ocean leaves no definition, no distinction against steely skies.  Flat silver water appears oily, we motor off into nothingness, I wonder if we will drop off the end of the world? There is no indication that a storm is brewing as we search for the slicing dorsal fins of killer whales.  A family pod has been sighted recently here and we are on high alert.  This is an area of rubbing beaches for the giant “Wolves of the Sea”.

A change in tide swings us slightly to one side.  H-m-m-m is it tidal currents or are the waves coming up?  A Sea Span tug is starboard to us; he is making a run to catch the slack tide at Seymour narrows.  Spray from the sea is beginning to break over his bow.  “She’s coming up,” states the Captain.  “We are going to look for shelter before it gets dark.”

We have no radio contact.  In Ketchikan, Alaska we replaced the antennae, in Port Hardy, B.C. we replaced the radio, our reward for this costly process is a static squawk.  Whomp, whomp, whomp, the Canadian Coast Guard is hovering overhead in a very large helicopter.  It’s nice to know that they are there, but we don’t want to give them a reason to stick around. Audrey’s bow points us toward our destination, Potts Lagoon on Cracroft Island. The Search and Rescue Helicopter swings off to Starboard side and disappears from sight. The anchor is to be set in the mud.

Our new neighbourhood is made up of several float houses, this may be a summer camp, we are not sure. The lagoon is not very large with signs of an old wharf at one end and has a beach type that indicates it is good crabbing territory.  There is still enough light to drop a few crab pots.  Gray skies darken slowly into black.  I feel that someone is watching us from the float houses.  My hair stands up on the back of my neck, I don’t like this sense of being ogled while sitting out in the blackening middle of nowhere.  We circle the float house intending to be neighborly, no one responds to our hellos.

Hurricane-force winds begin as a distant rumble, sounding very much like the old Whitepass train roaring down the tracks into the City of Whitehorse, Yukon.  I can feel the weight of it in my sleep.  Closer and closer it comes, I sit upright with a start wanting to stop this bad dream.  It continues, the weight is a heavy pressure in my inner ear; it pulses like a migraine in my temples.  This is no dream; it’s a goddamned nightmare! An entity has arrived and is attempting to bulldoze us over! The Furies are coming, The Furies are coming!

Audrey Eleanor is pulsating with the sound. My Captain is asleep in the saloon with his good hearing ear in the pillow.  I sleep with the hard of hearing Captain, drop the anchor when need be and I do the dishes damn it! I am the crew.  Captain Rick must be dreaming that his perfect Perkins diesels are vibrating us toward the Mexican border; regardless it is time to share this experience with him.

I waken him to the all-engulfing screams of the furies.  A hundred shrieking banshees are blasting us in their rage.  A wall of wind hits the Audrey Eleanor with mighty force.  Icy Fingers of wind become steel, they rip and tear at the canvas. Swung hard to starboard, the chain attached to the anchor stretches taut and jerks us hard about. We stumble and fall with the motion.

Monsoon rains pummel the saloon roof. Blasting rain resonates on the roof.  I feel that I am inside a tin can that is being pelleted with small rocks, the noise is deafening.  The Captain yells for the spotlight as he flashes into action, setting radar and depth sounders on high alert.  Wrestling the saloon door open he shines the spot light into the harbor, the light stops dead, a solid black wall of water greets him, we see nothing.

No visibility coupled with the deafening rain means we have no way of knowing whether we are dragging our anchor over the floor of the ocean. There is no sight; there is no sound except for the pelting rain. The alarm on the radar is set to go off if we get within 50 feet of a solid obstacle, but that would be too late.  If we are blown up on the rocks in this blackest of nights it could cost us our lives.

Our radar is particular as to what it will reveal.  I jump up to check the depth sounder repeatedly. We are maintaining a water level of 45 feet beneath our hull and it is low tide.  As the tide rises so will we.  So far so good, but there will be no sleep this night.

I get a whiff of wood smoke.  My god!  Now what, we are on a wooden boat, are we on a wooden boat that is on fire?  Huge tanks of diesel contained in our hull would set up a blaze for all the world to see.  A frantic survey reveals that we are not about to be cremated. For sure someone is living on the float houses and doesn’t want to be seen.  The fury of the night compels them to light a fire or freeze. Our silent neighbour has started a wood fire in one of the float houses.  I knew I could feel eyes on us, this is creepy, I want to go home.

In true Yukon tradition we settle into a long night of cribbage.  Yelling at each other at the top of our lungs we attempt to out last the storm, 15/4, 15/6…and listening for things that go” bump” in the night under the Audrey Eleanor.

P.S.  Later we found the force of the jerk on the chain to the anchor caused the cast iron stanchion to bend.  You can see it still should you decide to visit. And so the journey resumes, join us soon for another; ADVENTURE OF THE AUDREY ELEANOR.

Depth-of-Field, Your Creative Tool

Depth-of-Field – Your Creative Tool

The creative use of Depth-of-Field (DOF) has been a journey of discovery, wonder and artistic joy for me my entire photographic career.

Even now, after many years of working with film, then digital cameras, it never ceases to amaze me what a huge difference the choice of how to use this technique makes to a photograph.

Learning to use DOF creatively to generate artistic impressions of the scenes and subjects you deal with is one of the most exciting discoveries you will have in photography.

Extreme Depth-of-Field example
Extreme Depth-of-Field example

Depth-of-Field is described as the distance within which everything is in focus. Think of having everything from 2 metres away to 10 metres away in focus, and nothing else; those 8 metres are the depth-of-field.

DOF is dependent on the aperture, focal length of your lens, distance the camera is from the subject and distance between the subject and the background.

Aperture, the opening in the lens, is measured in f/stops; the smaller the aperture, the larger the f/stop is numbered. For example, f/22 is a very small opening while f/2.8 has the lens almost completely opened.

Lenses with shorter focal lengths allow for a greater DOF than do longer focal lengths; the reason landscape photographers use wide angle lenses and hyperfocal distance in their work. This way they get the detail in the foreground in focus as well as the trees and hills in the background.

Hyperfocal distance is the closest distance you can be focus and still keep objects at infinity in acceptable sharpness. It changes with different f/stops.

Set your digital camera on aperture priority or use it in manual mode to gain control of the f/stop.

Using small apertures cuts the amount of light travelling through the lens and creates a need for longer shutter speeds.

Use your tripod.

Shallow Depth-of-Field example
Shallow Depth-of-Field example

Let’s take a look at the opposite end of the DOF spectrum; having a very short distance in focus. Portraiture is one photographic style where this comes into play often.

The closer your subject is to you and the further away the background is from your subject, the easier it is to have your subject in sharp focus while allowing the background to go out of focus.

Shallow DOF can create an image where the beautiful face of your child is in sharp focus while the background is blurry. This effect makes the portrait stand out from everything else.

Wide angle lenses are not usually used for portraiture as you have to get in very close to your subject causing facial distortion, and even wide open they still have quite a wide DOF.

Focal lengths of 50 to 85 are the norm for portraiture, allowing some distance between you and your subject and providing the capacity for a minimal DOF so you can create that wonderful bokeh – the blurry out of focus area of your photo.

The quality of the bokeh differs with each lens, lighting situation and any sharp highlights that may be in the background.

The more blades a lens has to control aperture, the better the bokeh. Their shape and the opening they create also impact on how it is displayed.

Lenses with large apertures allow for the shortest DOF so can be very versatile in doing close-up work. The wider the f/stop, the easier to separate the background from the item you want enhanced.

Longer lenses offer an opportunity to create a portrait while you are still some distance away from your subject. They may, however, cause some distortion.

However, long lenses are useful in photographing sports.

We’ve all seen the images of a football player making the great catch and it seems he is the only thing in the photo as the crowd and all the other players have been lost in the blurry background.

This is created with a very long lens and large aperture.

Take this information to use your digital camera to its utmost by experimenting with the creative use of depth-of-field. You won’t be disappointed.

If you have comments or questions post them in the comment section below.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Happy shooting and remember to leave the environment as you found it.

Norm Hamilton

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 14

Rain and fog, rain and fog, a soggy Captain heads out to check crab traps early in the morning before the winds come up to rage and blow the channel clear.

Follow The North Star

…she attempted to tie herself to a wall in the rolling galley.

The thought of leaving Shearwater by sea is too traumatic.  If I am jumping ship this is my last chance to do so.

Shearwater is located on Denny Island across the water from Bella Bella, a native seaside community located on the coast of B.C., Canada.   My escape vehicle could be B.C. Ferries, which makes a scheduled stop at Bella Bella.   Or I could jump into a small floatplane and fly into Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. I would be safe and have to live with the fact that I deserted my ship and my Captain.   I am still considering it.

An eighty-foot tug registered out of Juneau, Alaska has been our phantom companion since we left Prince Rupert more than a week ago.  As they vaporize in the fog, so do our communications with them on our none too stable radio.  They are a ghost ship that offers the small condolence of “someone else is out here.”

With the surge of storms we have seen little life moving on the raging seas.  Tucking into Oliver’s Cove we wait for our chance to make a break into Sea forth Channel and run for Shearwater and civilization. B.C. Ferries have quit running and the tugs are hiding out with their bows stuck in bights, the storms of November are early. Days later we made the break for Shearwater.

The big Juneau tug follows us into Shearwater.  Waiting at the payphone for a chance to call my kids before we take on our next big crossing, Queen Charlotte Strait, I notice the Tugboat Captains wife is ahead of me; there is little privacy in the area surrounding the payphone.

It is wrenches my heart listening to her talking to children and grandchildren in the southern U.S.  Trying to keep tears under control she bids them a final farewell. She is certain that once back onboard the Tug she is motoring to her death.  Crying softly she hangs up the phone and attempts to quiet her sobs, she passes me with head hung low.  Such bravery in such a diminutive woman, would you climb on board a vessel that you were positive was carrying you to your grave?  My mind is reeling, how often does that float plane leave for the outside world?

During their previous crossing of Queen Charlotte Sound, the Juneau Tug struggled with gigantic waves cresting on top of 20’ swells.  The Captains wife attempted to tie herself to the wall in the galley to prevent battery of herself within that confined and dangerous area.  A rogue wave presents itself on already colossal rollers and nails them directly on the beam.  The impact causes the commercial-sized fridge/freezer to slam to the floor and wedge up against the door.  Her access to the outside world is cut off until a crewmember can think to look for her.

She is beaten around in the galley for four hours before any of the crew can leave their posts to recue her.  No windows and no escape; she is in her coffin on a roller coaster ride in the black.  When the tug arrives at Campbell River she is treated for minor injuries and major physiological trauma.  She is about to face her demons again, in this winter of storms.

What I had not realized was that this crossing of Queen Charlotte Strait was Captain Ricks nemeses as well.  We had survived Dixon Entrance and were alive if badly shaken after the threat of being ground into the rocky bottom of a shallow sea in Milbanke Sound, and how about grabbing a wave that lifted us over ragged rocks by Ivory Island.  Wasn’t that enough, haven’t the dues been paid?  There is no mercy in the sea, no such thing as having paid enough dues.

I had lost feeling in my arms after the terrifying encounter with Milbanke Sound; this leaves me with another concern.  This is the point that I refuse to get back on the boat.

I am the only crew; it’s the two of us against this literal craziness.  My arms are working again, but I am afraid that I could possibly have a stroke or a heart attack if we get pummeled again.  The Captain is an amazing guy.  If I did have any of the above he would have to deal with three temperamental ladies: me, Mother Nature and Audrey Eleanor.  I know that if I am having a heart attack or stroke it isn’t because it is a calm sunny day.  Even he is not that good.  My concern is that I could end up being more trouble than is worth the risk.

Coming up Seaforth Channel my hands had been shaking so uncontrollably that I cannot hold on to anything to stabilize myself.  I suggest that he call one of the boys and have them come to replace me as the crew

There is wisdom in drinking too much beer.  Shearwater was having its Halloween party this night.  The Captain insists that we go ashore, this would be a great opportunity to relax, engage in conversation with people other than ourselves and swill beer.

Such a great time!  People here are glad to have someone new to talk to as well.  The night carries on into the dawn.  Everyone is swept up in an alcoholic haze; we will be best friends forever and all of that wonderful stuff.

The next morning I am praying for a swift death.  That man has his moments, he knows I get sick as a dog and hope for death after a night of great social activity…I am back on board the Audrey Eleanor, listing in my bunk with a major hang over and en-route to Queen Charlotte Sound.

This is the time to take on the Sound and the Strait.  I watch the moons, the barometer, hold my mouth just right and sniff the salty breeze.  I will walk on water to avoid crossing a Strait or a Sound at tide change, not at slack but at the change.  I believe if there is an opportunity for a rough crossing this is when it will happen.  Our famous crossing of Dixon Entrance sickens me to this day.  At this moment if I think about that crossing and close my eyes, I am falling out of the saloon door and into the trough of the wild seas.  There are times when you have no choice in the matter, but the tides are in our favour for the next two days.

In order to time our crossing perfectly we are anchoring at Hecate Island tonight and then running for the safety of Vancouver Island early tomorrow morning.  Goldstream Harbour on Hecate Island is our destination.  It is a difficult passage to distinguish and tricky to navigate.   With a narrow and rock strewn entrance to the inside, we swing up and in on the crest of a building sea.

An eighty-pound hook is dropped and we settle in for the night.  A full moon strikes a mirrored path on the calm waters of the Harbour, the stars; I can tickle their bellies.  Standing on the flying bridge I hear the thunder of monster waves crashing against the small natural breakwater, which creates this bay.  White froth and foam of cresting waves shimmer and are accentuated in the full moon; tons of water smash against the little wall yet again.  I am feeling very unsure that this damned big ocean is going to stay on its own side of the Island.

Huge rocks, crowned with old growth trees, stunted and malformed assure me that they have managed to hang on by twisted and gnarled roots for decades.  I look back at the surreal calm in the anchorage and there in all of its solitary glory sparkles the reflection of the Big Dipper with the gleam of the North Star.  None of the other stars are apparent to me, but in crystal clear view is the Big Dipper.  I am thinking, this is a sign, we need to turn around and run as fast as we can to the Yukon, we should not do this crossing.

First pale and pink light creeps across Goldstream Harbour as we prepare to weigh anchor.  I hand crank the 80 pound anchor and 200 feet of rope and chain that make up our rode.  I cannot haul the anchor up past the 40-foot mark, this is our water depth, the anchor is sitting on the bottom refusing to leave.   I finally yell at the Captain that if he thinks that he can do better, he should.

When the Captain manages to pull the anchor free of the seabed, we see that a huge boulder has lodged itself on the anchor flutes. My active mind is whirling, another sign, my god we need to turn back, I don’t want to do this crossing.  Yeah well, “god hates a coward,” and we leave our little haven and turn to starboard.

Securite’, securite’ breaks up on the radio weather channel…we know this chant by heart.  Swells are beginning to build as we nose our bow out into Queen Charlotte Strait and beyond Cape Caution.  We now have to run as far and as fast as our eight knots per hour will carry us toward Gods Pocket, there is no turning back.

Swells are building and carrying us towards Vancouver Island.  Audrey climbs the walls of water and we coast 12 feet down into the trough and up we go again.  Very pleasant, if only I could relax and enjoy it.  A black line on the horizon signifies that a storm is moving in; god let us be off of the wide-open ocean by then. Up we go and down we glide, we are on a gigantic powered surfboard.  I can see Vancouver Island!   This is the warm and gentle south; this is where we want to spend the winter aboard the Audrey Eleanor.  This is safety.  It doesn’t matter that nirvana is still miles away, having the visual no matter how deceptive the concept of safety is, is wonderful.

Up and down, up and down, closer and closer we get.  We are at God’s Pocket (fantastic diving) and the seas are such that we are going to continue on to Port Hardy.  There is nothing physically wrong with my heart when Mother Nature is not terrorizing me. We are almost there!

P.S. we never saw the tug from Juneau Alaska again.  Knowing their cruising speed and with the size of the waves that we watched from the security of Goldstream Harbour I can only assume that they had another extreme crossing of Queen Charlotte Strait.  Once the Captains wife gets to her home in the southern part of the U.S., I truly wish that she never had to make that crossing again.  This storey is for Willie Olson.  Join us again for another ADVENTURE OF THE AUDREY ELEANOR.

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 13

The saloon onboard the Audrey Eleanor, looking through into the galley. Captain Rick Cousins and First mate Dawn Kostelnik fall to the floor in exhaustion.

Ivory Island

In the previous adventure; the Audrey Eleanor and crew take a beating while trying to creep undetected past the furies and Mother Nature into Milbanke Sound and through Reid Channel.  They manage to escape after 20-foot seas threaten to roll them side over side and dredge them into the ocean floor:

It is surreal cruising down Reid Channel in calm waters after being battered minutes earlier by huge waves.  I have to pinch myself to make sure that I am still alive.  It is one of those moments where you wonder if you haven’t actually crossed over into another world or dimension and someone should show up soon to give you directions on how to proceed.

The directions come… from the helm. The Captain decides that we should cruise into Oliver Cove to check out possible anchorage and make the big decision, do we go or do we stay?  It is nine o’clock in the morning and Shearwater is only a few hours away.  We have been living off of dry goods, mostly what the mice have left of the lentils (the un-damaged bags, I know what you are thinking!!) and whatever the Captain manages to bring up in the crab traps or catch on a hook…you can actually get sick of crab you know.

What are the odds of experiencing another extreme adventure the same morning after our experience at Milbanke Sound?  We have studied the charts. The direction of the waves we have just come through could make it rough going at the tip of Ivory Island, it should only be for a short distance, the tide has turned and could help ease the ride.  God hates a coward; we’re going for it.

Between Cecilia Island, Ivory Island and Don Peninsula there is a minefield of rocks.  Coming out of Reid Channel you have a very narrow passage with Ivory Island to your starboard side, the lighthouse on Ivory Island then works as your navigational aid that directs you safely up Sea Forth Channel.  Most of the rocks in this area are “just” submerged, waves smashing over and on them, verify what the charts say, this is an extremely dangerous area…stay on the road.

The Captain edges Audrey out into the channel, so far so good.  Swells begin to rise, the wind picks up as we head out.  Makings of waves on top of the swells are making me nervous.  The swell/wave action is increasing, a combination of the seas building and the waves are beginning to break over the bow again.  My hands begin to shake and I’m having difficulty hanging on to my little ledge on the windowsill.  Ivory Island is close, just off to starboard… the waves are beginning to resemble the monsters that we have just escaped.

Why on earth would we do this again on purpose, here we go again.  I have lost the feeling in both of my arms and they are jumping around like some invisible puppet master has control of them and just wants me to look foolish. Thank the Goddess, the Captain decides that this is enough for one day, makes the turn and is taking us back toward Reid Channel.

A white curtain drops in front of us.  An inversion of cold air hitting warmer water or vice versa, we are in a fog bank.  The inversion has also instantly steamed up all of our windows, they are running with condensation and it’s impossible to see out. Amazingly, as soon as we are out of the huge waves my arms become my own again, physiological you think; you bet, I am terrified!

I have a squeegee; I am running from window to window clearing off the moisture so that the Captain has some visibility in this rock minefield.  The mouth of Reid Channel is very narrow and hard to distinguish in fair weather; the fog and rain are making it impossible. Cecilia Island looms out of the fog in front of us, we nose toward the shore trying to get our position.  Something doesn’t feel right, I run to the stern of the boat and look outside, we are churning up mud!!

I run yelling toward the saloon, the Captain has already figured that we have a problem and has thrown Audrey into reverse. The wake of the boat lifts us up and back out, he switches to neutral.  The fog has cleared enough; we can see our bow is not in Reid Channel.  Our nose is stuck into a little bight (indent) on Cecilia Island, but where on Cecilia Island!  Are we either too far to the east or to the west of the channel?  The fog swirling around us is thick, too thick for us to see anything in the distance.

A sudden rush of fresh wind tosses us and drives the fog further out, this we don’t want to see.  All around us the waves are smashing on barely submerged rocks, it looks like those pictures you see of the Oregon coast during a storm, I’d always thought that the waves crashing on the rocks with spray flying high into the air looked wild and beautiful.  Up close it’s wild and bloody dangerous.  There is no way out I tell you!

The Captain is struggling to maintain our position; waves are making it difficult to hold a steady course.  Our bow is in the bight and our stern is positioned between two huge submerged rocks, they look to be about three feet below the surface with the one on our portside breaking free of the ocean now and again. Our draft is 4’6” those rocks will gouge and crack the hull apart.

A decision is made; we are in reverse and heading to starboard to find the channel.  The Captain has us turned slightly to the right and he is waiting, waiting again for that bigger wave.  The wave comes, lifts us up and carries us over the rock; I can hear ripping and tearing and run back to the stern.  Our tender is strapped to the transom and below it is what’s left of the swim grid.  The rock that was only partly submerged has ripped off two feet of the swim grid and a section of chrome from the side, we are that close. We have only our eyes and the Captain’s instincts to guide us through this mess, there is no channel.

The waves toss saltwater 10 feet into the air; these are the easy ones to see and to avoid.  The deadly ones are the deep dark swirls, are they real or illusion. After trying to look into and through water, your mind starts to play tricks on you, was that another rock or simply a shadow of the depths??  To portside, the mouth of Reid Channel comes into view; we have done it, again.  God protects drunks, fools and little children; we fit all these categories, depending on the hour.

To this day, I don’t know how the Captain brought us through those rocks, if you ever get a chance check out Canadian chart 3710 and you will understand. Losing part of the swim grid and that little piece of chrome are so minimal in comparison to what could have happened.  It is an unbelievable feat and an incredible ability to read water that the Captain once again, in the same day and almost in the same hour saved our lives!

Again, we are safely in Reid Channel and heading for Oliver Cove.  Audrey cruises into the cove and the anchor is dropped.  It is 11 o’clock in the morning; we both fall on the saloon floor exhausted.  The last thing that I remember is looking through the window and watching the trees swinging quickly by, we are truly swinging on the hook.  We sleep on the floor, like the dead we could have been, for hours.  Finally the cold creeps up and in from the hold, sneaking into our bodies.

The Captain lights our Dickinson stove in the galley, the temperature is dropping.  From our snug anchorage we can see out into Reid Channel.  The wind is managing to drop down over the tree tops causing us to swing like a huge pendulum, you could get quite dizzy from the motion if you don’t concentrate on something other than the inside movement.

For three days we wait out the weather in the Cove.  There is no traffic in Reid Channel until the afternoon of the third day.  Waves in the channel have built to four feet so when we see a troller heading south in the channel it is hard to read the size of her; the back deck is blocked from sight by the waves.  The Captain hails the troller on the radio,” little white fishing boat, little white fishing boat come in please.” Our radio per usual is not working properly; the Captain tries the call again and again. A more persistent call goes out, ”little white fishing boat in Reid Channel, across from Oliver Cove come in PLEASE!”  The reply finally comes back in heavily accented Portuguese English “Me-e-ester, she’s thirty-two feet long!”

Profuse apologies from the Captain are followed by a request for weather and sea conditions once the Portuguese boat reaches the lighthouse at Ivory Island.  Sure enough 30 minutes later, there is static on our radio, nothing that we can decipher, but a well-intentioned reply none the less.  More traffic appears, it’s a tug this time, heading north.  They have just come from where we want to go, perfect.  Request for sea conditions from the Captain, Tug Captain comes back with questions,” how big is your boat, what is your power; well considering your size and power you had better run for it, it won’t get any better in this area until spring.”

I lose the feeling in my arms again navigating the bumpy and nerve-wracking Sea forth Channel, but we make it to safe Harbour at Shearwater.

P.S.  This was a major storm with no boats running for three days, not even the tugs and those guys move in almost anything.  The B.C. ferry spent three days hiding behind or beside Princess Royal Island, I bet everyone onboard became great friends.  Follow the North Star concludes this string of three stories, with more great adventures on the other side, come join us aboard the Audrey Eleanor.

A Fleeting Star

A Fleeting Star in Pelly Crossing, Yukon | Photo: Melanie Hackett

Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch.  My feet rhythmically crush the crystals of ice on the forest floor as crimson sunlight reflects from their intricate architecture.  I lift my face towards the mist that is swirling from the depths of the granite canyon, and notice a rainbow emanating within it.  The thunderous rush of a stunning waterfall below vibrates inside my chest, and I can see through the emerald water to the very bottom.  I take a deep breath of the crisp, tangy forest air.  The phenomenal wonders of this place seep into my thoughts.  How precisely atoms are added to a growing ice crystal lattice.  How rays of golden sunshine are dispersed into the spectrum of wavelengths by the prism of mist to paint the splash of colour our eyes can pick up.  How gravity produces such a spectacular waterfall.  How geologic processes carved this bottomless canyon.  And even how all elements combined in such a fashion to cause a river of life to develop.  Yet surrounded by endless beauty, my heart is drowning with an immense sorrow.

I once knew a beautiful person.  Sheena was part of my competitive Irish Dancing team, and we travelled to many competitions throughout North America.  Tall, lanky, brunette, she was often partnered with me.  After finally medalling at the North American Championships in Ottawa, she moved to Australia to begin a new life that would lead her to graduating with honours and becoming a nurse.  She taught in Cambodia for a year, and was nominated as an executive of a non-profit organization that reduces health inequalities in rural and indigenous Australia and around the globe.  She then pursued her Master’s degree in speech pathology.  On the side, she was scouted to become a model and actress.  More importantly than her many accomplishments, I remember her as a wonderful friend and genuinely nice person.

Sheena and I in the dance team group photo
Sheena and I in the dance team group photo

Recently, she suddenly entered my mind.  I’m considering a trip to Australia in the spring, and was hoping to reconnect with her.  Though we hadn’t been in touch for a long while, I had this strange feeling that I should contact her, and couldn’t get her out of my mind.  Later, I received the news that around the same time, she was leaving her final exam for her Master’s degree, and was hit by a car mere steps away from her vehicle.  She passed away at the scene.

Whether my feeling was coincidence, or whether there was something more to it, I will never know for certain.  I like to think that her big heart and spirit filled every corner of our Earth as she passed, and that her short but wondrous presence on Earth will continue to paint rainbows in the hearts of many.


Several years ago, I myself was hit while bicycling.  The aftermath involved serious injuries that tore from me all of my passions, career paths, and even social networks, including Irish Dancing.  Years of physical and emotional recovery ensued.  In the midst of the darkest times in my recovery, I felt completely hopeless although intellectually I knew that it could easily have been much worse. I was the lucky one.  Eventually I reached a point where I could be grateful enough for everything I did still have to realize the beauty that exists in our world.  And occasionally, during the fleeting times that I had a glimpse into my pre-accident life, the beauty of life was vividly sharpened.

This unexpected tragedy is a harsh reminder that life is too short to be taken for granted and to spend it in sorrow.  Though one life is over, it continues for everyone left behind, including the driver of the car.  A life forever wracked with guilt, this life will likely also face seemingly unbearable challenges in the coming years.  It may never be in the hearts of those who loved Sheena to forgive such a devastating mistake, but the truth is it can happen to any one of us.  More than ever before, I am determined to make the most of my time and enjoy life fully in the wonders and the sorrows, and also to make an effort to bring happiness to others.  Life is but a fleeting falling star.  As the kids these days say, YOLO!  Does that mean I won’t feel sad? Of course not.  There exists an eternal and infinite sadness in my heart.  But it is through this very sadness that the beauty and preciousness of life shines through even more clearly.

It is my hope that through these words, anyone who is navigating through loss may find solace in the idea that the very loss has the potential to highlight the wonders of life both in the cherished memories, and in the time yet to come.

As I’m standing here, feeling the waterfall of tears plunging through the granite canyon, the mist off the water rises once more.  Catching the fluid rays of shimmering light it dances in the breeze before being carried away.  Is it just my imagination, or did I catch a brief glimpse of the sparkling rainbow of an Irish Dancing angel?

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 12

Captain Rick Cousins cleans a grey cod on the swimming grid (most of this grid gets ripped off in the rocks in the next story “Ivory Island) of the Audrey Eleanor. The calm before the storm, dinner will soon be served up fresh from the sea.

Milbank Sound

We spend an uneasy night tucked slightly behind Aurther Island in Mathieson Channel. The hook is dropped, our only barricade from a Sou’ easter is a small log boom. There has been no defining wind direction for the past few weeks; just a continual blow with ratings from storm to small vessel warnings on the weather channel. Other than my fears of a blow up, the night has been uneventful. The anchor is pulled and we look forward to an easy cruise into Shearwater, which is beside Bella Bella, on the inside passage of B.C., Canada. A small chop on the sea is riffles from the local breeze and nothing more. If there were swells it would indicate that there are big seas brewing further out.

Audrey is coming into view of Lady Douglas Island when we notice flashing lights in the sky in front of us. Very unusual…the Captain, who once flew his own plane, is excited that this Beaver is coming in so close to say good morning. I am the cautious one, this Beaver is just slightly above our masthead light and he is flashing his landing lights and anything else that he can light up to catch our attention.

A slight dip of the wings means hello to me. This pilot is going out of his way to get his message across. His engines roar over the saloon, he continues to wag his wings and flash his landing gear; he quickly gains altitude and disappears towards the north. I say to the Captain that I believe we have just received a warning. The Captain reminds me that we are very protected in Mathieson Channel our only exposure to the open ocean will be when we round Lady Douglas Island. There is only a very few miles until we can tuck into Reid Channel, it will be a piece of cake. I feel better, how bad can it be?

It’s a relatively narrow channel between Lady Douglas and Lake Islands; lots of small hazardous rocks and islands narrow the passage down even further. There is no quick turn around space. Audrey is 54’ in length with a 13’ beam (width) at her widest point, she is cigar shaped. With her displacement hull she cuts through the waves rather than rides them, having a narrow beam means that she doesn’t respond well to being hit broadside by rough seas, in other words if we have to take it on the beam she could broach or fall on her side into the trough of the sea. I really don’t like when this happens, it truly makes your heart stop.

We’ve come between Lady Douglas and Lake Islands; Cecilia Island is not far off our portside. Squeezing between Lake Island and a large rock to our starboard side we now know why the plane was trying to warn us. This is a very shallow area which causes the waves to basically bounce back off of the ocean floor creating standing waves, we are in them, they are 14’ high…WE CAN NOT TURN AROUND!

These monsters are threatening to roll us up on the rocks. The Captains only alternative is to take us out to sea. We have to take these waves head on so as to avoid any sideways contact that will roll us side over side until we smash on the reef. We head out into the open ocean, the waves are building, they are huge, chairs that we use at the chart table are rolling on the floor and smashing against the walls. Books are falling from the shelves, cupboard doors are slamming back and forth and cans and pots are colliding creating a terrible noise, my plants and window herb garden has fallen and smashed on the floor.

I am hanging onto a small piece of wood trim that runs along the dash with my fingertips and trying to wedge myself against the chart table so that I don’t end up on the floor rolling around with the chairs.

My head is hanging down below the dash and I am praying quietly, this is terror beyond anything that I ever want to do again. The huge waves are smashing against the hull and Audrey shudders with the impact. Her ribs are being battered as she fights the seas and we can hear her moan with the effort of staying afloat. I raise my head just as I hear the Captain yell “Holy…,” I have known this man for 32 years and this is the first time that I’ve ever seen him afraid; I know for sure we won’t make it.

A giant wave smashes directly against the almost sixty-year-old front window; it cannot withstand that kind of impact again. Once the window smashes out it will only take a few minutes for us to start to take on water. The cold black sea will rush in and swamp us.

The Captain looks at me for a moment, “I have to try something that I’ve never done before,” he yells, ‘hang on!” A huge wave slams into the bow; the water is thrown way up and over the flying bridge. Fifty four feet of boat is racing skyward, she’s dancing on her stern and then we plummet down into the trough, upward again, with water crashing out the view from the window, speeding downward toward the sea bed, we are a submarine.

I hear the Captain counting “one, two, three…I understand. Generally the seventh wave is the biggest, he is looking for the biggest wave! When we top the wave he will try to turn us on the crest before we slide into the trough again. If he doesn’t make it we will be hit broadside and we will be lost forever. The Audrey Eleanor and crew will be rolled over and over ground and pummelled into the bottom of this merciless ocean.

We crest a huge wave, and manage a quick look between us; you hope you’ve been able to convey the things that you should have said to each other plus good-bye in that split second. There may never be a chance to say the unsaid, this could be our final moments on earth, the time has come and gone to say what needs saying, the Captain yells “hang on!”

He throws one engine in forward and one in reverse, pours the diesel to the engines and we begin to pivot on the top of a giant wave. In slow motion she begins her turn, the bow is heading downward and we charge back down into the trough, sound has been sucked out of the air, it feels like we are in a vacuum.

We are heading back toward land on a following sea. Remember what I said about these waters being really shallow, Audrey is now fighting to climb a mountain of water in front of her and the surge bearing down from behind is threatening to break onto our stern deck, and crush us. We are worried that we will bottom out in the trough.

I stand on the back deck watching as this Grande lady fights to climb this wall of ocean. The mountain of water is 20’ high. Her engines are pounding like double heartbeats; the props churn in the wave. Twin props scream as the wall of water lifts and exposes them. She fights, she screams and struggles to lift us up to the crest of the next wave, she does it, she does it! She carries us forward, we truly have made it. The Captain surfs us toward land, safety and Reid Channel.

It is only 9 a.m., what a morning! This adventure happened before our morning coffee. Reid Channel is narrow, protected and the waters are calm. It is impossible to believe that minutes ago we were fighting for our lives, now we are slowly cruising into this beautiful marine park. There are books mixed in with the dirt and broken plants that validate we actually just smashed our way through mountains of water.

We had thought to check out Oliver Cove on our way by, the diving is supposed to be great, but it is still early in the day. The thought of a little socializing and fresh food in Shearwater is drawing us out into the open sea again. We will have to stick our noses out past Ivory Island and into Sea Forth Channel, but what the heck; a person can only have one really horrific experience on the ocean in one-day right?? Besides as the Captain likes to say “God Hates a Coward”, this storey will be continued in the next Adventure of The Audrey Eleanor, ‘Ivory Island’.


The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 11

Whales serenade us as we lounge in the natural hot springs of Bishop Bay near Kitimat, B.C.

Loose Lines Sink Ships

…we streak (literally) towards the dock. Waves crash over us and the dock as we scramble and fall trying to reach the Audrey Eleanor.

Grenville Channel, south of Prince Rupert, is deep, dark, long and narrow. Without a north wind, it is well protected. With the north wind a-blowing you are in a wind funnel from hell.

Fortunately there are no winds as we cruise down its narrow depths at the end of October. The fog has rolled in, covering the mountains and spilling over to fill the channels. Audrey’s twin Perkin diesel engines rumble in deep rhythm, the muffled sound echoes back off of the steep mountain walls. The fog parts just when we need it to. I am the bow rider, holding onto the short rail with my ears cocked for sounds of other muffled engines. If we come to an abrupt stop I will flip over the rail and plop into the black water.

We are running with our radar on, but the radar does not see all. Wooden boats often place metal plates on masts or bows as a salute to the scanners that prefer to identify objects made of metal. Radar sometimes misses wooden boats.

Grenville Channel opens up onto Gil Island. We shut the engines down in respect and silently cruise over the face of the ocean where the Queen of the North is laying still and quiet on the bottom of this very cold and black sea. The Audrey Eleanor and crew are so very much smaller than the Queen of the North, a B.C. ferry, that struck Gil Island in March 2006 killing a man and a woman.

The Queen of the North lies on the dark bottom of the Ocean floor about 427 meters below us, we feel very insignificant. We have roughly 650 kilometers to travel in this unpredictable month of storms.

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a song by Gordon Lightfoot commemorating the ships tragic 1975 sinking in Lake Superior, is playing over and over in my mind. I am praying that the storms of November don’t try to out do the storms of October that have battered us since we left Ketchikan Alaska.

Our radio is giving us grief again, this never happens while we are in a port. We changed our antennae in Ketchikan, but our reception is still sketchy at best.

We swing to portside and motor past Hartley Bay, a native village that helped to save most of the people off of the Queen of the North. Hartley Bay responded to the distress call on March 21 just before midnight. The Queen of the North took about an hour to sink and the actual time is debated as 12:25 a.m. or 12:43 on March 22, 2006. Fisherman with small fishing boats and people with recreational boats braved the black night and howling winds of up to seventy five Kilometers per hours to save the people off of the ferry.

Hartley Bay is a picturesque village with a wild mountain backdrop that reminds me of the villages on the McKenzie River N.W.T. that I grew up in. (See the White Girl Series)

A twin Otter glides in behind us for water landing in front of the village. The Captain now swings us to starboard and we head up Douglas Channel toward Bishop Bay Hot springs.

It’s a sign. Streaks of sunshine suddenly break through the cloud cover and the shattered rays feel like Sunday morning in a mountainous cathedral. God rays I call them, we have not seen the sun in weeks.

Thank you Goddess, we are involved in divine intervention on the top deck, steering Audrey from the flying bridge. Warmth from the sun penetrates wet clothes; we steam a bit as we pass beneath unbelievable double rainbows. Spirits are carried upward with the steam wrapped in smiles of thankfulness

Bishop Bay comes into view. The tide is high so it takes a few minutes for the little house at the springs to come into sight. Whales are spouting and singing all around us, the sea is flat calm. This is magic, this is heaven on earth and we cannot believe what we are experiencing, all of this just a few miles from Kitimat, B.C.

A fifteen-foot fishing boat is tied to the small dock. The radio onboard the fishing boat is barking but there is no sign of the Captain or crew. Bishop Bay Hot Springs is a five-minute jaunt from the dock were we have secured our ship. We have walked down to the raised camping area and made lots of noise hoping to rouse the crew of the empty fish boat. No one responds, no one is in sight.

While we look forward to new conversation, the plan is to spend the afternoon bare naked in the hot springs with a bottle of cold white wine being serenaded by the sirens of the deep, the grey whales. Where is that crew is!

Thoughts of a hot bath over come modesty; we strip down and creep into the hot water inside the hut. We have a full sized shower onboard the Audrey Eleanor, while the 25-gallon hot water tank makes sure you leave clean, there is nothing left over for luxury. And lets face it; there is nothing that can replace being fully submerged in clean hot water. Moist heat penetrates damp, cold bodies and feels so very good.

A concrete hut houses the main body of the hot springs. It is built over the pool and encompasses a natural rock. A rope is suspended from the ceiling, which enables you to swing through the pool. Past crews have left their mark by registering the names of MVs (motor vessels) and sailboats on the concrete walls.

My wine glass sits in one of the windows slits. Narrow cuts in the hut allow for limited peeps into the outside world. Through the steam from the hot springs we see that a steady rain has begun. Suddenly torrential rain begins to pound on the tin roof; this is rather romantic as we settle deeper into the beautiful hot water, sipping the very good white wine, in real glass no less.

Something has changed, this is not so romantic anymore, the wind has come up. A peek through the small windows reveals a sideways rain en-route and presenting itself as a solid wall of back. The empty fishing boat has vanished. With winds coming up fiercely the waves are being thrown over the top of the dock and slamming hard on the beam of the Audrey Eleanor.

We streak (literally) toward the dock trying to pull on soggy clothes while we slip and slide naked in cold muck. A ramp that accesses the dock is twisting sideways and threatening to dislocate itself from the main body of the dock. Waves are crashing over the dock, and drenching us as we try to physically reach out and grab the Audrey Eleanor.

Remember the rays of sunshine and calm waters that we arrived on? Well we had tied our ship accordingly. All of our lines had been tied too loosely they are now stretched taut in the wind and have put Audrey totally out of our reach and allow no access.

Trying to pull a 30 tone wooden yacht broadside to the wind is mostly impossible. We hang on to the lines waiting for a lull in the storm to get close enough so one of us can jump aboard. Someone has to be aboard our precious ship if this dock decides to leave with her still attached.

Waves are staccato shot gunning burst of grey seawater through the cracks in the dock. This is serious; the dock is separating from the ramp. Enough, the Captain decides to walk the line like a tightrope walker and jumps the last few feet to land on the bow. How does he do shit like that? I am glad that he is the one aboard; he deals with the engines way better than I do.

Of course the wind dies down once he has secured the ship. Someone flips the switch, the light comes back on, god rays split the clouds and fog once again in their brilliance. Whales assume their songs with a deep resonation that vibrates mountains, boat hulls and bones. Echo’s off the deep green peaks give us whale celebration in stereo.

Soaking wet, mud splattered and mostly naked, we look at each other and laugh. Lots of a bottle of wine still sits back in the hut at the hot springs, we can jump back into the hot water to wash our clothes and ourselves.

We settle back in the open area in front of the hut, we now know that we have the Bay to ourselves. Dusk paints a pale pink sky that slowly climbs over the silver grey of the clouds. A spout of water blown high into the air by a whale breaks the solitude. They grow quiet with the approach of night in this wondrous place that man has not managed to decimate.

P.S. For a week the Canadian Coast Guard has been calling Securite’ on the radio searching for a missing person. We did not talk to the crew on the fish boat, which was registered out of Vancouver. People in isolated places tend to be very friendly; your life can depend on it. The village of Hartley Bay has demonstrated this when they rescued the passengers off of the Queen of the North. The Captain of the fishing boat was not feeling very social; we wondered if this was the boat that the Coast Guard was looking for. Join us soon for another ADVENTURE OF THE AUDREY ELEANOR.

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 10

Mice in The Hice

Mice in The Hice

We are docked in Prince Rupert, B.C. It feels great to be back in Canadian waters.  Audrey has been de-registered in record time thanks to Sheila (she is amazing) and we are once again Canadian registered with our home Port being Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.  We were never boarded by the U.S. homeland security, but the threat was always there like a heavy, very oppressive weight hovering over our bow. There is something about 18 year old boys with 50 calibre machine guns at their disposal that makes us really nervous. (The homeland security team in Alaska)

“Audrey Eleanor” had called Prince Rupert home for ten years prior to us taking her north to Haines, Alaska. Her former owners Blake and Amy along with old admirers showed up for a general inspection. The beer and yarns flow thick and fast. (We had to shovel her out the next day, the B.S. levels were high)  It was a great homecoming for the grand old lady after a two-year absence. We reluctantly leave our moorage at the Cow Bay docks in Prince Rupert and disappear with muffled engines into drizzle and fog.

As we motored away little did we know that we had acquired a stowaway who would drive us to the depths of despair.  He is darkly handsome, short and round with glossy black fur and an exceptionally long tail.  The little bugger is everywhere.  Our rule is that we have enough dry and canned goods aboard to last a month.  I have sprout seeds to provide live green stuff, we also experiment with sea asparagus and seaweeds and supplement some of these strange “greens” as the Captain refers to them with fish and crab.  Of course you sometimes come across a little corner store at the end of a falling down dock, which has vegetables lingering in bins that no one else wants, this is why they are still here of course.  These tiny supply stores can be miles in between nowhere.

His trail of red lentils gives him away.  It’s the strangest thing… to see trails of red lentils appearing and disappearing through out the boat. Then beautiful white toilet paper flowers began to show up in the dresser drawers and in closets. These kind of white flowers you sometimes see along the banks of the Yukon River (the toilet paper kind).  These ones are the nest type though.

One of the few things we do not have on board is mice or rattraps.  We are three hours out of Prince Rupert and not about to let a little mouse drive us back to port.  The Captain reverts back to his days of trapping and life is exciting.  There are water buckets set up with little ramps and string lines strung across the mouths of buckets to rotating bait…none of this is working.

Three days of mouse may not seem like a long time, but we are up close and very personal here…he scratches around at night, we can hear him under our berth, I start to think that I can hear him breathing. He has destroyed a month’s worth of beans, rice and a whole extra large bag of lime-flavoured nacho chips has simply vanished.  He leaves the empty bag as if to say in your face people.

When your time comes, your time comes.  The Captain gets up early and makes his way to the head (toilet) to find an extremely exhausted mouse swimming laps in the toilet bowl.  There is no sympathy; the intruder is immediately pinched by his long tail and lopped through the air, off the stern of the boat and he hits the water with a plop.  The crew and Captain feel a great sense of relief and a fish receives an early breakfast.  We are mouse free!!

The weather has been terrible so we are now sleeping up in the saloon on the floor.  We have better visibility up here.  I roll over on the mattress and look down through the focscle to the forward head. You can imagine my horror when I catch a glimpse of a very, very fat furry butt diving into a crevice in the wall.  This for sure is Mrs. Mouse and she looks like she will deliver a horde of lentil munchers at any moment.

If we don’t catch her before all of those babies are born, we will have to bring Audrey up on the hard and de-mouse her with some nasty chemical type stuff.  My theory about killer chemicals for rodents and bug sprays is, if it kills them it will kill us.  We may be bigger, but it will only take a little longer. To take a 30 tonne yacht up on the hard (land) is extremely expensive.  Regardless, there are no facilities in this remote area to handle us.  We would have had to live with the mouse infestation for two weeks or more, depending on the weather.

If Mr. Mouse was difficult to catch, Mrs. Mouse makes him look like an amateur.  She becomes bold enough to run over us as we try to sleep in the saloon.  I have to sleep with my head under the blankets, I am afraid that she will get caught in my hair.  The stress of her invasion is driving us crazy.  We are doing the sea going version of caddy shack.  I am beginning to appreciate that we don’t have a gun.  While I would not miss the mouse I would be concerned about a hole being blasted in the hull.  The Captain has had enough.

She calmly enjoys our peanut butter bait every evening and continues to build toilet paper nests in the hold, in the galley (closer to the peanut butter bait) the stash of toilet paper is almost depleted…things are getting serious.  She does not forget however, to leave her lovely little black offerings everywhere that she has been.  We are at our wits end.

Necessity IS the mother of invention.  Simultaneously we yell “the heads!”  The Captain smears a 2”x 2” piece of blue Styrofoam with the last of the peanut butter.  The bait gets set afloat in the head.   Well, my goodness gracious if Mrs. Mouse doesn’t fall into the same trap as her husband, we find her swimming exhausted in the head the next morning.  Without hesitation she is lopped off the stern of the boat as well and another fish is fed.  If anyone for one second feels any sympathy for this terrorizing critter, you should live with mice in your hice!

P.S. a young Inuit girl that I went to school with in Kugluktuk insisted that if mice was plural for mouse, then hice had to be plural for house, you couldn’t have one without the other.  People in the house were also a cause for it to be plural.  It has stuck in my head.  Her English was much better than my Inuktituk.

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 9

Nosing into the rocky shoreline, I am to fill our water jugs with this wildly fresh water

Tracey Arm channel of icebergs

Word has gotten out that Tracey Arm rivals Glacier Bay for magnificent glaciers and stunning scenery. The ice walls calve and collapse into the ocean with a force that creates huge resounding waves. Waves tinkle the neon blue icebergs like giant ice cubes mingling with new friends in a crystal glass. This solid granite canyon must have been created when the earth experienced an extreme upheaval and the rock cracked like a hard-boiled egg to expose wide white bands of contrasting colour that offset the milky green water. This is the ultimate in exterior design.

Tracey Arm is south of Juneau, Alaska by approximately 50 K. Icebergs ranging from barely noticeable (bergies) to spectacular glistening jewels guard the entrance to Tracy Arm. Navigation is difficult because the ice can obscure the range markers at the entrance, or solid blue crystals block the pathway, “Bergs or bergies” do not move readily.

At low tide the whole procedure becomes quite interesting as swirls and tidal rips develop in the sea and mountains of ice sway in the current, intent on blocking your route…while we have had to do some tricky navigating to get inside, it is worth it.

Traffic has increased since we first explored this channel; the cruise ships now navigate the rock canyons. Depending on the year, the icebergs can limit your access up the 30 K channel and tides of course affect everything.

We are making our way south this time and cannot resist trying once again to get a look at Sawyer Glacier. A past attempt to reach the end of the arm and see the glacier had been thwarted by a flotilla of icebergs at the 10 K range, the tides aren’t running in our favour this time either, but what the heck, and as I’m sure you know by now “God hates a coward”.

The anchor gets dropped in the little bay in the mouth of the arm. There are several boats here this time. A 45’ sailboat has tied to the trees along the shore and looks to be about 4’ away from the sheer rock edge. It is difficult to anchor with a combination of baby icebergs and boats all crowding for the limited space. This is quite a difference from the last time we visited, when we were the sole occupants in the cove. From my galley window I can see a little iceberg that’s attempting to rub shoulders with Audrey, it’s fairly small and is floating, so no worries. The little iceberg needs to worry; the Captain has decided that he wants to fill the ice coolers with berg ice. This ice is compressed, ancient and lasts way longer than any ice we can buy or make, it makes such a beautiful blue contrast against red crab.

We are a few days from Petersburg and will stock up on King crab when we get there. By stock up I mean we will eat all that we can and get a whole live one for the road. Any seafood if better when it’s fresh, so our philosophy is to catch it as we need it or flag down the commercial boats to see if they are able to sell or trade their catch. The prawn fishers seem to prefer swapping prawns for beer rather than cash. This barter system is often preferred, fresh bread goes almost as far as beer, but not quite.

Seafood is so delicate it takes no time before it acquires a freezer flavour that reduces it to mystery fish. Hmm are you sure that this is halibut, tastes like salt cod! How much do two people really need? I would like to come back tomorrow and still be able to get King crab. Leave the big guys for reproduction and throw the little guys back so they can grow up.

The little “berg” is roped to the side of the boat and the Captain hacks away at crystals of brilliant blue. He passes me one of the bigger chunks to feel, it is heavier than regular ice.

In the morning a huge cruise ship is leaving the Arm, we wait for the ice to quit moving from their wake before we head up the channel. The tide is returning so we are following the bergs into the Arm, we hope that we have enough time before the tide changes and we have to fight our way against the ice.

On a little rock ledge there is a momma bear with this years cubs hiding between her legs. It’s a straight drop into the ocean below if they slip. We are not sure of what she is trying to accomplish and she’s looking a little uncertain herself. Audrey slows down and we stay far enough away from her so we don’t add to the confusion.

With a roar a thirty-foot tour boat comes out of nowhere. The idiot pilot stops his boat right under the bears and cameras click like typewriters gone berserk…the poor bears scatter up the cliff, the babies are bawling in fear with the whites in their eyes showing in terror. They are slipping and falling, we fully expect to see one of them drop the 20 feet into the ocean. The Captain is furious, if we would have found anything on board to throw at this stupid tour operator it would have happened

The tour boat hits full throttle again and roars off around the corner, leaving the rest of us to deal with the ice banging against our hulls from the wake they’ve created. The bears shoot dirty looks over their shoulders as they top the 60-foot cliff; obviously they are glad to be done with all of us. I can see momma bear muttering, ”some people’s children, no manners at all!

Our necks are cramping from looking skyward up the straight flat rock that heads straight up to the sun and drops directly below the surface of the ocean. With the shear drop into the ocean the depth of the water allows for some unusual boating.   Waterfalls cascade down the rock all around us, spilling beautiful crystal clear glacier water into the sea.

The Captain brings Audrey’s bow toward the shoreline between two waterfalls. I am on the bow, not sure what he is doing. He slowly inches us forward until our bow is touching the sheer rock face between the two falls. This is so out of the realm of usual that my instincts are on full alert, “we’re too close to the rock, we’re too close to the rock.” What comes out my mouth is; “what in the hell are you doing?” He laughs, puts Audrey in neutral and throws me the water jug. “You’ve always wanted to take a shower under a waterfall” he says, “I expect by the time that the jug is only partially full, you will be soaking wet.”

I cannot back down because this is true, I do mange to fill the jug AND stay fairly dry. It’s an incredible feeling being underneath tons of falling water with mist blowing around you, I would love to do it again, in warmer water! This liquid ice will be great for drinking and it makes exceptional coffee.

Around the corner under full throttle cruises the “Empress of the North”. She’s a replica of an old riverboat complete with fake waterwheel. If you glitzed up the SS Klondike in Whitehorse, Yukon and she would be a smaller twin. Her hull is smashing through the ice and we wonder if she’s been re-enforced as an icebreaker. We have seen her several times before, her passengers always seem the happiest of the cruisers. They hang over the sides and wave and shout as they go by, lots of the other cruise ship passengers don’t respond to a friendly wave. Everyone is heading for the glacier.

A small thump resonates a vibration through the hull, then a bigger one and a bigger vibration. We are two kilometres from the glacier, but the tide has turned and now the icebergs are bumping against our hull, it is amazing how little “give” there is in a floating block of ice. I’d assumed that our bow wake would simply push the ice to the side, that isn’t what happens. The little ones will move, by little I mean no bigger than three feet in diameter, after that it’s like hitting a rock wall. Sitting still we can feel the ice hitting the hull, causing vibrations through Audrey’s bones, it’s time to back out of here. The ice is packing quickly so we do have to back up to get out of the icepack. Again, so close and yet so far, next time we’ll make it.

P.S. The Empress of the North has a record of running aground at least once a year. She ran aground again shortly after we saw her and was out of commission for the rest to the season. Whatever they are doing they seem to have the most fun while they are afloat.

The Empress of the North in Tracy Arm, Alaska

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 8

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 8


A Sleeping Giant

A Grey whale snoozes beside the Audrey Eleanor, the clank of the anchor wakes him and with a single graceful sway of his tail he moves on.

Audrey pulled away her moorage in Haines, Alaska on July 26, 2006.   Haines was difficult to leave; we’d established wonderful friendships on the docks and in the community as well. Richard from the Eleanor S would no longer commission us to spy on his daughter, she sometimes spent the night onboard the Eleanor S. He wanted to know whom she was holding hands with. She prepared her own reports for us to pass along to Richard her vigilant father.

Carl off of Driftwood Charters had married Jenny and was no longer perusing Canadian girls. We had enjoyed many Dungeness crab fests at his little house tucked into the Alaskan wilderness with an outlook over Mud Bay. While we ate he quizzed us on available Whitehorse women. His honesty was refreshing; Carl was looking for a wife. Not a maid or a nurse, but a wife who would be his partner during his life. He had criteria to follow and was direct in his approach. Jenny ended up being his lady.

This does not remind me of Carl, but it jumps into my mind as part of the usual gyrations of northern romance. I am reminded of a time when my brother Joel and I were in Haines years ago. He was chatting up the barmaid and asked what had brought her to Alaska, her reply, ‘the men’. His eyes lit up at the response. When he asked if she had been successful in her search she replied, “The odds are good and the goods are odd.” I laughed for days over this.

Judy from the homebuilt ship the Arcturus, gave us her personal copy of a book that she wrote on edible plants in Alaska. The University of Alaska was in the process of having it published, it supplied us with invaluable information on edible plants and seaweed in Alaska. I developed a fondness for sea asparagus.

B.J McLean from Whitehorse donated a copy of her CD ‘January Thaw’ I’m not sure if it helped with the homesickness or made it worse…it sings of our Yukon home and is still one of our favourites. B.J.’s songs bring the northern night skies and friendships crawling up onto your lap anywhere that you go. She suggested that the Captain pay particular attention to the “Plump and Friendly Northern Girl” song. He loved flirting with her.

My brother Kurtis had decided that we needed an escort from Haines to at least Hoonah, Alaska. Kurtis uses ANY reason to escape to the sea. Our escort grew to include my parents, Ricks’ youngest daughter Alanah, Kurt’s wife Janine and my little niece Jianna Mia, who was five months old at the time. Jianna is a very special little girl; we waited for her for 10 years. She finally arrived after her parents spent a most wonderful long weekend boating in Alaska.   Mia her middle name, stands for Made in Alaska.

We end up dropping the hook behind Sullivan Island the first day out; our 8 knots couldn’t out run the weather we ran into alongside Eldred Rock. The next afternoon we motored into Hoonah, Yukon. That is not a typo; there were more Yukoners on the transient dock than Alaskans. The flying bridge on Audrey is a most social place. The Captain deep fried fresh halibut on the back deck and the fishing stories on the bridge grew as the pinks and purples of the summer night sky reflected back at us in the glass calm water.

Fishing in Hoonah! For some of us in the north, this is what summer is! Icy Straight is thick with marine life; salmon jump out of the water saying pick me, look at me, pick me. I know, I know I’ve heard the sea lice theory, I prefer mine. People say that Icy Straight is a living aquarium and I agree. Kurtis heads out to scout out the fishing ground. We are the mother ship, most meals are done aboard Audrey and the jolly jumper is easy entertainment for Jianna and us as well. A little wake action winds up the jolly jumper and gets that baby swinging in all directions.

At 8knots (approx. 10mph) we get to see a lot of things that I suspect a person misses at 20+ mph. Porpoises love our bow wake, they ride it and roll and race each other. If you lie on the bow and hang your head over the edge they roll over and make eye contact. They will continue to stay in the wake with eye contact as long as you can carry on an ANIMATED conversation with them. It’s harder then it sounds, a one-way conversation with a marine mammal runs out of steam quickly, what to say to a porpoise? A friend of mine who knows these things says very loud female opera keeps them fascinated for half an hour at a time…I have yet to try.

We catch up with Kurtis at the fishing ground, anchors are set, fishing lines are baited with squid and dropped, the games have begun. Once the engines are cut, the quiet drops down off of the mountains and the sea sings its song. We are surrounded and serenaded by choruses of whale song. Their calls pulse deep through the black water and resonate in our bones. In their world, even in a large boat we are comparatively very, very small. Thank goodness they tolerate us and allow our intrusion into their life. The sonar and depth sounders are silenced, these waves can kill sea life, yes especially whales. Turn off you sonar around sea life and especially Whales.

The whale songs remind me of when I was a child. I would swing apiece of garden hose through the air for sound effect; it’s a close second to the sound of these humpback whales. I touch Audrey’s hull and the vibration of their songs carries through the wood and in to my hands and vibrates to the tips of my fingers. I have contact.

The majority of the halibut we are catching are chickens, (roughly 40lbs and less) and in my opinion the best eating. I tell our boys at moose hunting season, you don’t eat the antlers; try to shoot a nice young bull. The smaller the horns, the younger the animal and the better the meat. With some of the big old bulls I believe that the horns would be better eating than the tough old critter it came from. I believe that the same applies to halibut. Mercury levels in fish rise as the age of them increases the longer the time frame of growth, the more the toxins accumulate in the flesh of the fish.

With all of our concentration focused on hauling in halibut we don’t notice that a sleeping giant has slipped quietly into the neighbourhood.

One by one we notice our visitor, we need to pay attention and pull in our fishing lines. Everyone tip toes and whispers as we edge closer to the port side of the boat. There, a few feet from the gunnels is an incredible sight, a sleeping whale. This giant male is suspended beside us in the sea and is very close to the same size as the Audrey Eleanor. We are in awe, we whisper to each other in amazement. Then we begin to worry, he hasn’t moved for a long time, is he hurt or possibly dead?

We’ve never seen a sleeping whale before. The whale is drifting with the tide. It is getting closer and closer to the Audrey Eleanor. The Captain decides that we need to pull anchor, if the whale wakes and is startled we don’t know how he will react. One quick flick of his gigantic tail could be the end of us all. We have been told that the few disastrous whale encounters have usually been while they are asleep or they are startled out of sleep. The clank of the chain and anchor wake him and with no effort he moves his colossal tail and leaves us to wonder.

The captain now begins to wonder about his crew. I have put Audrey in reverse and begin to slowly back away…holy shit! Our day’s catch of halibut is tied under the swim grid off the aft deck. I cut the engines quickly and we all rush to see what kind of damage has been done. The screws (propellers) have perfectly cut off the tail of one fish and slightly chewed the tail of another. Tonight’s supper is intact and I am singing with whales, hallelujah!

Elfin Cove is located on the northwestern corner of Chichagof Island, west of Juneau, Alaska. This is just on the outside edge of the inside passage, still in fairly protected waters, the outer edge leads straight to Japan. We have been repeatedly told that our boat will not be able to navigate the narrow and shallow dredged channel that leads into the protected inner harbour of Elfin Cove. ‘God hates a coward’ are what the Captain responds with, his war cry. Audrey is soon safely secured to the dock, in Elfin Cove, in the inner harbour.

What is this place? We have entered another world. Crooked little houses in bright colours hang off of the rocky cliffs. Flowers are being grown in anything that will hold dirt: an old boot, hollowed out log, rusty teapots sprout beautiful blooms. There are no cars or trucks, there are no roads! Boardwalk webs connect house-to-house and house to dock. Fly here or boat here, lack of access keeps the crowds down in this place of magic. Halibut are caught off of the dock, still. Who could have discovered this tiny harbour tucked into this remote Island? What a jewel was uncovered with the discovery of this tiny harbour, they first explorers must have been elated to discover this magical space.

Monsoons in Alaska. Ask anyone who has boated here and they will verify the truth of this. Tonight it is pouring, a deluge. Our 32-volt chest freezer onboard is loaded with the last few days catch of halibut. Dinner is in the saloon of the Audrey Eleanor; packed wall to wall with steaming people our house lights slowly fade and are becoming dim. The heat from the oil fired Dickinson stove in the galley is competing with the chill and wet of this down pour, setting off its own clouds of condensation. Lights are fading into black and it is getting harder and harder to see, we think it’s from the steam of soggy people, but begin to realize that the lights are dimming from some other sinister reason.

Power is being lost. Oh no, the freezer is full of everyone’s halibut, how long will they stay frozen? Salmon and crab cakes are forgotten as everyone throws their solution in the melting pot of ideas. On board one of the fish boats the electrical repair guy, he knows nothing about a 32-volt system. He recalls that his grandfather had one on his fishing boat, but that’s extent of that. By process of elimination the Captain has narrowed the solution down to; we need to go to Juneau for parts, quickly, before the fish thaw.

Kurtis heads over to Pelican Cove the next afternoon, we have to wait for flood tide to leave the inner harbour. Audrey and the crew make waves for Juneau, possibly Hoonah. Old systems can be fixed; this is why we have maintained our 32-volt system. Over all it mostly works and if it doesn’t replacement parts can either be found or made. Basic mechanics puts things right again. 32-volt light bulbs are expensive; on the other hand I have not had to replace a bulb in years.

We experience our first real Ocean swell as we leave Elfin Cove. Open to Russia and Japan the sea rolls into the mouth of Icy Straights. Swells are telling you that there is a storm out on the open ocean somewhere distant. Pay attention, it could be coming your way. Swells warn you to take cover on the inside. As fast as our 8 knots can go we are heading to Hoonah. The rise and the fall of the great swells underneath us are exhilarating, this is fun. It makes it difficult to see the whales.

Great greys are slapping giant tails on the Ocean; they breach and fall back into the mighty sea with huge waves that ripple mini tsunamis. These giant whales are in their home element. Dahl porpoises zip in rings around each other, looking like baby killer whales; they remind me of puppies chasing each other’s tails. I love their grace and ease as they slice through the water with smiles on their porpoise faces. I now realize the reasons that salmon begin to spring in the air for no apparent reason; someone underneath them wants them for dinner. They are trying to escape.

Manoeuvring parts of this and bits of that the Captain has managed to coax the compressor on the fridge and freezer to produce cold again. With the freezer crammed to capacity the halibut maintained its temperature, so no spoiled fish.

P.S. The morning that we finally left Hoonah, I woke to find an incredible gift sitting on the back deck. Richard Boyce’s daughter that we were supposed to be spying on in Haines was in Icy Straight commercial halibut fishing with her father…she left me a giant barnacle as a going away present. The size of it is hardly believable. Almost two years later we ran into her in La Paz, Mexico. She was working as 3rd mate onboard the “Sea Lion” a National Geographic ship that was doing exploration work in the Sea of Cortez. You just never know, where are you now Lucy?

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 7

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 7

Behind Sullivan Island

Our friends from Texas, Lubor and Tena lounge on the flying bridge of the Audrey Eleanor, the Captain Rick Cousins is in the background.  We are leaving Sullivan Island.

For a quick escape into the wilder, wilderness of Alaska aboard the ‘speed demon’ Audrey Eleanor it takes approximately 2 hours and is roughly 30 K.  We love to cruise behind Sullivan Island, south of Haines, Alaska and swing on the hook for few days of solitude.

The warmth of friends who came along for the ride enhances memories of these excursions; they were all shanghaied as willing crews.  David brought his guitar and sang ballads about the Yukon and Northern B.C. that he had written himself.  My favourite is still the one about being “up behind the mine in Faro,” where’s the C.D. David?

On this particular trip we have a large stash of fireworks aboard.  Shooting off fireworks in the Northern summer has always been a bit of a conundrum to me.  I think the fireworks that we shoot off on July 01 could be saved for the winter so that we can actually see them.  Fireworks are visual; it is supposed to visual is it not?  The venue changes if you are sitting in a harbour that is encased in huge snow capped mountains.  These create a perfect backdrop and reflector of sound, these mammoth stonewalls create the perfect platform for an echo, an echo, an echo, echo.


David and Don go ashore to light the entertainment.  Diane, Jean and myself sit on the flying bridge waiting to see what the results will be, it is June in the land of the Midnight Sun after all, a summer solstice month.  The Captain is on the bow with the binoculars watching the whole procedure.  “It’s lit”, he calls, and even with our naked eyes we can see the little puff of smoke on the beach.  A thin trail of smoke follows the tiny, tiny light that straggles into the sky and dies out with a disappointingly small bang.  A collective breath escapes the audience, oh well; we have all had this experience before.

But what is this?  An echo begins to build in the mountains.  It sounds like a gunshot in the distance as it rolls around the mountain rim and grows in volume.  The little bang has grown in strength and begins to echo back and forth between the rock walls.  This is very interesting, now the fireworks do have some entertainment value.  The guys are excited as they set off a combination of rockets.

Sounds start small and grow with a crescendo of deep booms.  Bursts of staccato gunfire shots engulf us.  We are yelling in excitement but can’t hear each other.  The vibrations are felt through the deck and climb the legs of our chairs.  This is the three dimensional effect that Disney has been trying to duplicate.  Round after round of fireworks rattles the chairs. We are sure that they must hear it in Haines and are preparing for the much-anticipated invasion of Terrorists we keep hearing about from our Southern neighbours.  The homeland security gang wasn’t here this weekend thank goodness.

The pyro crew climbs back into the zodiac on the beach we can barely see them for the gunpowder smoke.   A distant echo reaches further and further, and finally climbs back over the last mountain.  We are silent; shadows of the thunder from the rockets are still reverberating in our empty cranial chambers.  Sound, loud sound empties the mind. With a great sigh, the top level of silence is broken; David will have to sing his heart out to top that…he does.

Tides in Alaska are stronger and much larger than in Texas.  The Texans would never agree to that, but it is reality.  Friends of ours from Texas will have to attest to that.  Lubor and Tena wanted to go ashore to explore the Alaskan wilderness.  The zodiac and kicker are heavy; you can sort of drag them along the beach if there are no barnacles or such to tear and rip out the bottom of this rubber boat.  On a wet tidal beach the boat sucks down deep into the muck and it is impossible to get it to move without removing the kicker.  When we told them about the tide, I believe that they thought that nothing could be bigger then anything in Texas.  This simply wasn’t possible or the concept didn’t register.  They teach them that in Texas you know.

The Captain and myself stayed aboard to clean up and re-organize and to let the couple have a bit of a run away.  They often visit the Yukon and Alaska to re-charge and escape the crazy pressures of life in Houston, Texas. Sometimes in day-to-day conversation with our friends I wonder how they survived their lifestyle in that wasp’s nest.  They in turn could not understand our priorities.  I only know that if I wanted to relax and regroup I wouldn’t be going to Texas to do it.

This couple would show up in Whitehorse stretched to the limit and looking like they could not spend another day in their world.  When it was time for them to leave, the light was back in their eyes and they souls were re-charged.  I often wondered what would happen if they just stayed.  Simply stepped out of their other life in the big city. What type of people would they become with all of the material fluff removed from their lives?  I wanted them to know that most of us already knew about that “other” life and we had chosen to leave it behind.  We chose to be Northerners.

The tide rises 26 feet some days and it drops 26 feet some days.  Today was one of those days.  They caught it about half way out and pulled the zodiac on the beach so it wouldn’t leave.  This was very thoughtful for sure. With the tide going out though, getting the zodiac back to water was going to be HARD!  After a leisurely walk on the beach they returned to find themselves with the zodiac high and dry.  Tena is not a very strong lady and the weight for Lubor to pull alone was simply too much.  They tugged and pulled and made no headway.

We can see a momma grizzly and three babies off in the distance.  Now we are feeling a little excited.  We don’t want to scare these southern people just yet. Lubor removes the kicker and heads towards the ocean.  He doesn’t set it close enough to the water, I’m sure he is considering that the tide should now return…it would be in Texas.   He returns to the zodiac and without the weight of the kicker he and Tena can now drag the zodiac to the water.  The water is now further past where the kicker is set.  The zodiac is left at the water’s edge and the whole procedure is repeated, a few times over.  They start their return to Audrey exhausted.

In the meantime, momma grizzly and the three cubs have gotten to the spot where the initial parking of the zodiac took place.  Momma is agitated because from the opposite end of the beach a big Black boar bear is approaching her and her family on a collision course. Plus she can smell humans on her beach. We watched from on board, the Captain with his hand on his rifle.  Our two Texans are rowing toward the boat unaware of this whole other drama going on, we never did tell them.

Tena must have had an extra sense about the whole thing though.  She stayed on board the next day and was sitting on the flying bridge in 27c sunshine with her jacket on.  She kept trying to call out on her cell phone, finally in frustration she yelled, “the damned thing won’t work, what am I going to do?”  I told her that it was unlikely that the cell would work behind this Island and that was one of the great things about this area, NO CELL service, life slows down when you get rid of the cell phone.  She gave me a variety of reasons why she had to stay connected.  The reasons were all rationalized away. When the truth finally showed it’s naked face there really was not much I could say, she blurted,  “ Well when the bears swim out to attack us how can I call 911?”

The Captain had his first hummingbird experience behind Sullivan Island.  No, this is not code for something else.  Hummingbirds move so quickly that it’s hard to see them the first time, especially against the water.  I am trying to explain to my hard of hearing Captain what they sound like, not a chance.  In the state of Michoacán, Mexico there is an ancient archaeological site with a village called Zinzunzan.  These ancient peoples named the village after the sound that a hummingbird makes.

My Captain is lying on the front deck, shirtless in the sunshine; I am climbing up from inside the saloon and call to him.  He sits up just as a hummingbird decides to check out this strange flower.  There they are.  The hummingbird suspended in mid-flight with his needle like beak, maybe an inch away from the Captains beak.  They both try to focus on their opposing obstacles to no avail.  I can’t tell if the hummingbird is cross-eyed, but the Captain sure is. The hummingbird gives up trying to figure out this cross-eyed flower and whirls (zinzunzan) off into the sunshine.  Now the Captain knows what Hummingbirds sound like…and look like.

P.S. Lubor now you know, the” Rest of The Storey.”

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 6

I am glad to have my clothes on, the author Dawn kostelnik at the helm of the Audrey Eleanor motoring from Juneau Alaska to Haines Alaska

Nude Whale Observation

I am glad to have my clothes on, the author Dawn kostelnik at the helm of the Audrey Eleanor motoring from Juneau Alaska to Haines Alaska


It is a beautiful HOT spring day as we leave Juneau, Alaska (the capital city of Alaska) heading for Haines on the last leg of our trip to home moorage in Haines, Alaska.  We are crewing our 1948 wooden Yacht, the Audrey Eleanor from Prince Rupert, B.C. Canada

The sky is a brilliant blue that is matched by the swells on the ocean.  Without the snow tipped mountains as a break it would have been hard to tell where sky ended and sea begins.  The gentle rolling of the swells is rocking us to sleep as the heat builds; the sun is finally radiating some warmth. The golden rays are penetrating our bodies, wave upon wave of warmth.  Equally, layer-by-layer our clothing is coming off, it is finally summer.  The flying bridge on Audrey is portioned off from most views by a two and a half-foot barrier of blue canvas.  If you are lying on the deck on a lounge mat as I am, you cannot be seen by anything less than a cruise ship at close range.  There is no chance of that.

The warmth of the sun feels wonderful; my inner core may actually be defrosting after another long winter.  Both the Captain and I have little left on in the way of clothing. We are cruising through isolated Alaskan waters, who would want to sneak up on middle-aged nudists. The Captain is at the helm clad only in his boxers, I think he could remove the hat. I must have dozed off in the comfort of the sun; I wake startled from a deep sleep to “starboard, starboard!” I roll over to the rail and pull myself up to take a peek overboard.

A Grey Humpbacked whale mom breaks the surface of the sea with a gentle sway of her giant tail; her baby energetically celebrating its new life by jumping for the sun.  It circles its mother and leaps skyward ‘grabbing air’ and landing with gigantic baby belly flops.  The residual waves are large enough to sink a kayak.  This is a good-natured mother.  She slows down to allow for the special playtime.  You can feel the joy of the baby as he tries again and again to reach the sun.

I am totally focused on the baby whale. My concentration is broken by an evil little chuckle vibrating in the Captain’s chest.  This is the sound of a deviate, I know this sound, this sound means that somehow I am about to be embarrassed; someway, somehow.  Being so absorbed in the whales I hadn’t noticed the cruise ship approaching us directly from the bow, it appears to be on top of us.  This is one of the smaller ships that offer a more intimate cruising experience.  Their experience with the Audrey Eleanor and its crew is way too intimate for my liking.

Whales are now swimming off towards the Icy Strait ‘aquarium.’  The happy family is hedging out of view of the binoculars wielding crowd that hangs over the rail of this ship.  This little ship sits higher in the water then Audrey Eleanor does.  They will soon have a direct line of sight into our flying bridge.  With the whales gone they are looking for new material to query with their privacy invading extended eyeballs that hang by black idiot strings from their necks.

My clothes are hanging over the back part of the rail on the opposite side of the deck.  I am trying desperately to meld with the blue canvas wall that is my only source of cover from a hundred prying eyes.  The passengers are waving enthusiastically at this classic lady (Audrey).  As her bow slices through these brilliant blue waters, she creates a magnificent picture.  They are probably trying to figure out what that disembodied head is doing crabbing along the rail behind the blue canvas.

The ‘head’ is cursing the laughing Captain who simply has stepped down into the cockpit; he quite frankly doesn’t care who sees him in his underwear.  He would not care if he weren’t wearing underwear either.  They haven’t realized that there is a naked, panicked first mate crawling along the deck behind the canvas trying to maintain just a little dignity.

Just as I am deciding that moments of misery by being exposed while I grab my clothes is possibly minor, compared to being pinned down nude behind the canvas indefinitely, their ship swings to Port side; something else has caught their attention thank goodness.  The Captain is howling in glee, I don’t like him sometimes.

We are now north of Auke Bay; we had spent three days moored at Douglas Island.  At full moon the tide can rip a bit in front of Juneau.  We are in the land of the Midnight Sun so visually being able to tell if the moon if full or not can be problematic. We appreciate the tide charts.

Approaching Juneau from the south we had timed our arrival to coincide with the flood tide to make mooring as easy as possible.  The wind had been howling and clawing at our backs for days prior to our landing.  We tried to raise the Harbour Master as we searched for transit moorage.  Call after call goes out, as we get closer to Juneau.  No one is coming back on the radio. We pass the U.S. Coast Guard; the crew on board jumps to attention to give us a full salute us as we pass.  This is an unexpected compliment; the hours of sanding and varnishing are paying off.

Audrey is now in the middle of the boat maze that is the downtown harbour.  Still no response on the radio, we will have to back out of this mess.  Bow spites on sailboats turn up as bow piercing spears where they shouldn’t.  The Captain is best at backing up. We are back out in the channel that is now a racing tidal river. The tide is ripping and the wind is whipping up water as it pushes and shoves against the running tide.  We head for safe moorage at Douglas Island.

The response we have been waiting for on the radio now comes through.  “Hey, are you guys in that classic old boat?”  “Would love to see her close up, sorry no moorage, we are moving boats out right now, try Douglas Island!”

Douglas Island is on our Starboard side, it’s difficult to see the entrance to the Marina.  There is a long rock wall that appears to run in a continuous line, we can’t see the opening into the harbour.  The Captain does not have the luxury of taking his time; the tide is running hard so we have to go in under full power.  He swings us blindly and hard to Starboard; common sense dictates that there has to be an opening at the southern point of the rock wall, we can see sailboat masts behind the wall, but where?

YES!  Right in front of us is the rather small opening.  It may only seem very tiny as we arrive under full power backed up by 30 tonnes.  I am standing on the bow with the ropes ready; I hate this part of mooring.  There is a 4-foot drop from Audrey’s bow to any surface.  Sometimes there are rails on the docks, sometimes-giant cleats and in Petersburg, Alaska; there is a solid length of pipe to secure your lines to.  I landed on that pipe once; it really hurt.  There is no one else, I AM THE CREW!  I ready myself for the jump to the dock and prepare to secure our lines.

Looming up suddenly and directly in front of me is a solid steel pillar. We are on a collision course with direct and immediate impact.  30 tonnes of ship will not slow down in this limited amount of space and time.  I drop and flatten to the deck; I can visualize my toes clawing through my shoes trying to anchor me to the strips of teak on the deck of the Audrey Eleanor.  I see me splatted against the steel pillar and sliding down into the water in classic Road Runner style. I wait for the impact…and wait, time has changed into slow motion and impact doesn’t happen.

Looking up I can see a man and woman standing on the dock watching this performance, I jump to my feet and throw them the rope in a flash, they quickly tie us up.   After taking a deep breath I look around trying to figure out what has happened. The Alaskan fisherman on the dock yells,” Man that was some bad assed boat driving!”

Audrey has her nose stuck into a 25-foot slip leaving 30 feet of her aft end blocking the entrance to the rest of the marina; the Captain looks a little pale.  My eyes query him, ‘how did you do that?’ He simply shakes his head.  The Harbour Master shows up, he has an amused look on his face.  “I’m sure you know that you’ll have to move your boat,” he says, “you are kinda blocking the harbour.”

I can see that he’s having difficulty keeping his laughter under control.  The Captain says “I think I should sit up on the top deck and have a beer before I do anything.”  The Harbour Master is a great guy, he throws us the keys to his car and says,” you might want to go into Juneau and buy a whole case.” We had use of his car for the three days that we were there.


The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 5

In recognition of his amazing abilities as Captain, I bought “ZIMMIE” as a mascot for the Captain. She has seen us through life and death situations and kept our heads and hearts out of Davey Jones’s locker. Zimmie is short for Zimovia.

Zimovia Straights

The Audrey Eleanor leaves Meyers Chuck, Alaska early in the afternoon.  We have made plans to meet up with the “Jenny” and her crew, the floating dentist and his wife for cocktails, but the Inn was full.  Anchoring looked to be a bit precarious at Meyers Chuck; we felt it was best to head for the next horizon.

Santa Ana Bay looks to be a great place to spend the night; we head north to find out.  I can hear a strange sound, zz-zzzz-zzing sound like razors slicing through material at a high speed…no I have not experienced that, but it’s the best way that I can describe it.  A very excited Captain yells “quick, look portside!”  The ocean is alive, alive with Dahl porpoises.  They look like miniature killer whales and they move like lightening.   They cut the water so fast that it sounds like electric knives or razors.

This pod or pods of porpoises have discovered a school of salmon.  There are hundreds of shiny black and white bodies surrounding the boat. The ocean is roiling with porpoises and escaping salmon.  It only takes seconds for the eagles and gulls to come screaming in for their share. It’s a cacophony of screaming, fighting birds and rolling mammals.  On the bow we have a front row seat and narrowly miss getting whacked in the head by eagles.  They are concentrating on stealing what fish they can and nothing else matters.

The gulls come in shrieking a bluff at the eagles and dart back out of claw and slashing beak range in the last second. Porpoises streak through the water and grab air with their catch of salmon flopping desperately in attempts to escape.  It’s a boiling, roiling soggy wet dining room.

As quickly as it starts, it ends.  The porpoises now have leisure time to digest dinner.  They appear to think that we are a large black floating obstacle in their dining room, moving way slower than they are.  But what the heck maybe they can force us to slow down while they digest that lovely salmon and catch a ride in the bow wake of this slow old tub.

This is my first encounter with curious porpoises.  I lean over the bow to watch them play in the wake; it’s about five feet to the water. They are more curious than I am.  A quick flip on their backs and we have eye-to-eye contact.  Are they smiling at me?  It sure looks like it with their standardized grin.

What to do?  Say hello of course, ask how they are doing, would they consider today’s catch a good grade of salmon, where are they going to be tomorrow? How’s the weather down there…one way conversations run out of steam quickly.  As long as I talk to them they stay on their backs watching me.  Any lengthy pause in the conversation and they are gone as quickly as bored teenagers.  I have mentioned in a previous storey of a friend who knows about such things, she said they like female opera singers; I would like to try to play some opera for them to see if this is so.

The porpoises follow us just into the mouth of Santa Ana Bay and they leave.  We head further into the cove and pass under double rainbows. This must be a place of magic, to have such an escort and be able to enter through a gateway of rainbows, were are we?

Santa Ana is a beautiful bay with a fresh water river trickling in at the mouth, at low tide it is a river that roars.  The anchor is dropped and we decide to roar ashore to explore, we do not row, we roar.  The last water that we filled the tanks with had been heavily chlorinated so we are happy to find fresh drinking water.  There are fresh bear signs everywhere; this is heavy bush so we don’t venture too far from the shore.

As the tide falls the big round river boulders are exposed.  Beautiful indigo mussel shells cover the rocks and sparkle like jewels in the sunshine.  There are millions of them blanketing the rocks, ranging in size from barely visible to 6 inches in length.  This is heaven; I have to say that I have a weakness for mussels in white wine.  Damn reality, or the realty known as the Captain, he tends to be really real sometimes.  He points out that we don’t know if this area is affected by red tide.

I do know that as a rule May is not a usual time for red tide and these are icy cold waters; do we want to take a chance?  Well I suppose not, he volunteers to rub some on his lips to see if there is a reaction (something that he used to do with mushrooms when he was trapping).  No, I do not want mussels that bad. Now I wonder why the bears aren’t eating the shiny blue mussels.  In this land of plenty, only salmon bellies may tempt them with their oily goodness.

Several days later in Wrangell, Alaska I call the Fish and Wildlife Department to ask about red tide reports.  We were going to be travelling in this area for some time so why not find out from the source?  The lady on the phone had a very strong south of the border accent.  When I asked her about the mussels and the red tide she firstly stated that only the low of the low would eat mussels and as far as the red tide thing went, “when we read ‘bout it in the ‘bituary” (obituary) we know we got us a problem”.  Good enough, we know that we are defiantly on our own.

By now you may have noticed that we like to try things that out of the ordinary or off of the beaten path.  Well Zimovia Straight is hardly a path.  ‘God Hates a Coward,’ my Captains war cry and here we go.  The entry isn’t too bad and there are range markers dead ahead as I can see with my trusty binoculars.  As we get closer to the starboard marker I say to the Captain that they must have had a storm in this area and the marker has been washed up on shore.

The range marker (these are aids to navigation) appears to be in the water along side the bank, the tide is running hard enough that the marker is laying flat with water rooster tailing up over it.  Its decision time, what to do? I am adamant that the marker must have been blown ashore, how on earth could they expect a boat to get that close to the shore and not run aground.

The Captain cranks us hard to portside and behind us over our shoulders is the next marker that we have to have to our starboard side.  We head towards this navigation aid and all of a sudden the depth sounder begins to yell that we have no water underneath our hull. Get out, get out!

Slamming her hard back into reverse the Captain pours the power to our dual engines.  The sudden action and full throttle creates a great wake that lifts us off of the shoal.  We sheepishly (me mostly) head back toward the shore bound marker that we needed to stay by in the first place.  The Captain has to stop and start to pivot us around the navigation aids in these narrows.  At one marker we had to stop and back up so that we could round the marker.  No more narrow escapes, no more second-guessing the markers, no more doubts about the aids of navigation.

Wrangell Narrows was spoken about in our Power Squadron course as being a nerve-wracking challenge.  I believe that I counted 64 navigation lights in Wrangell Narrows, it is also known as Christmas Tree Lane.  Starboard lights are red and portside lights are green, so the colors alternating all along the narrows do make it feel kind of Christmassy.  After Zimovia, Wrangell Narrows feels like a freeway.  After we had finished talking to Fish and Wildlife in Wrangell we decided to go down to the pub for a beer.  Some of the local fishermen were taking a break as well.  They asked us if we were off of the old wooden boat and then the usual questions, which way did you come and how was the weather?

When the Captain replied that we had come through Zimovia Straights and that the weather had been wonderful, there was a brief lull in the conversation.  One of the older fishermen asked the Captain again, did you say Zimovia son? (The Captain really liked being referred to as son).

We had established that this was our first trip on our new old boat and that we were green as grass.  The Captain said “yes, Zimovia”.   The fisherman replied “well my boy, you missed a lot of rocks out there, especially in a boat that size, I don’t think you can call yourself green no more.”

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 4

A combination of Cruise ships and live-aboards creates an interesting environment in Thomas Basin a marina in Ketchikan Alaska


I love tying up at the docks. Anchoring out is wonderful, but being able to meet new and unusual people is always welcome after weeks of challenge and solitude. One of my favourite marinas is Thomas Basin in Ketchikan, Alaska. It has an entry that is easy to miss, as it is tucked in behind a great sea wall and the cruise ship dock. This solid wall of cruise ships makes Skagway look like a sleepy fishing port in comparison…the crowds and noise are exciting for a few days, but only just a few. Soon you begin to listen for the bell that herds the cattle back on board the cruise ship and THEN you head for town. At night-time a forty-foot high wall of ship lights flickers shadowy daylight to the docks.

On our first moorage in Ketchikan we are fortunate to borrow a temporary berth from a fisherman who is out trying his luck with his fishing nets. The Harbour Master shows up minutes after we’ve docked, gives his nod of approval and welcomes us to Ketchikan. This is our first port of entry into the U.S. after heading north from Prince Rupert, B.C. Canada.

The Captain calls customs and asks how they would like us to proceed…the customs lady is very nice, she also welcomes us and states that she is glad that we have made port, they had been expecting us two days earlier and were concerned. We had reported to customs in Prince Rupert and given them a rough ETA for Ketchikan. The infamous Dixon Entrance gave us a run for our money and our lives, so we were a little late.

It is suggested that we walk up to the pink building that houses customs and sign in, we can see it from the stern. The Potlatch Bar is at the top of the ramp; it has a laundry attached to the side of it and definitely is the centre of all social activity on the docks. If you want to check the weather, the fishing conditions, find someone who knows how to deal with a 32 consta-volt system off of an antique boat, this is the place.

The top of the ramp features an assortment of bicycles, all coloured rust in different degrees. These bikes are a definite sign of “live-a-boards” on the docks, a dirty word in some places of imagined importance. Live-aboards are people who live aboard their boats, seafaring gypsies they are. Although sadly some of them end up as harbour Queens (boats that for one reason or another never leave the docks). I would like to say in defence of that, I believe anyway of living on the ocean is better than no way of living on the ocean.

Live-a-boards are some of the most interesting people that you’ll ever meet. There are plenty of questions about boats and living aboard that are never ending to a greenhorn. These are the people that may answer your questions. They need to be approached cautiously, never presume that they want talk to you, never mind answering your obviously childish questions. After direct attempts at establishing contact I’ve learned that reverse physiology seems to be the best non-approach. Swabbing the decks is always open to comment and the makings of new friends.

Audrey’s good looks and age attract the boating community and soon repair stories and preventative ideas spring upward and the conversation begins to grow skyward. There always needs to be an inspection of each other’s boats and this should now be discussed over coffee on board of course. It’s so much fun!!

A 32 volt system always opens dialogue…things like “Oh, yeah, I remember that, my grandpa had that on his fishing boat,” this from a fifty-year old. When you are looking for parts for this antiquated system that we use aboard the AUDREY ELEANOR, they are difficult to find, but the quest may lead you to people like Only.

His name is Only; he is a draft dodger that lives on an Island close to Ketchikan, that is populated with other draft dodgers from the 60’s. They have since received amnesty, but their ideals and lifestyle have developed into a self-sufficient, ‘there is nothing wrong with things as they are’, challenge any form of authority kind of idealism that we used to see in the Yukon, it kind of felt like the good old days in Dawson City. They believe in barter and bow before the god of ‘hordism’. (Throw nothing away, ever)

Thank goodness they throw nothing away, they have 32-volt system parts for all kinds of things. Only is our man, he replaces our consta-volt and we have to repay him with rum in the Potlatch Bar.

Only also shows up to work bringing us dinner. Fresh Red Snapper filets that one of the fisherman is giving away on the dock to locals. The fisherman setting deep nets for halibut are also pulling up Red Snappers, by regulation they are required to “process” them. It isn’t unusual to see huge red snappers floating around the dock with teaspoon-sized fillets scooped out of their sides. This minimum of work in ‘processing’ deems that the silly regulation requirement has been met.

The floating dentist and his wife Jennifer pulled into the berth across from us on our last night at Thomas Basin. Their boat is home made, called the “Jenny” is about 45’ in length; she is a big bottomed girl, with a great wide beam of 15’. Wide beams are lovely things in rough seas and I have a definite soft spot for the ride and security of them. The Jenny and her crew have been cruising the coast of Alaska for 25 years. They now winter in the Southern U.S., but spent numerous years living aboard in Alaska. They raised their two daughters aboard but moved south when the girls needed higher education.

Appointments are set up in the early spring for all small coastal communities the ‘Jenny’ then spends the summer stopping at all the ports and fixing teeth. You enter their boat from a walk through on the aft deck; plants and two small trees are growing in pots that frame the doorway. The first room you enter is the dental office, complete with all of the dental equipment that you never want to see.

There is a full sized dental chair that can be curtained off from the reception area; it is exactly what you would see in a dentist office located ashore, with a little wave motion thrown in. Those of you who come into marinas under power, thinking that the “no wake” signs are meant for somebody else remember this. There could be some poor bugger in that dentist chair about to get drilled.

Jennifer invites us into their very cosy galley and saloon for tea. Their saloon is heated with the smallest wood stove that I have ever seen. The firewood must have been cut with an electric knife. It is early spring so the nights on the water are cool; the wood fire looks and smells wonderful. (Can you imagine, they burn cedar wood down there!)? The Dentist proceeds to tell us stories of rogue waves and funnel winds that would rip the house off of your boat, currents that suck you into the depths of Davey Jones’s locker etc, etc. Why in the hell would he still be on the sea?

After he works himself into a frenzy of terror he leaves us and the boat to walk the dock in an attempt to calm down. His wife Jennifer is sitting in the saloon looking like a poster wife of the 1950’s, her hair coiffed, her nail polish matches her shoes and she has on one of those frilly little aprons that my grandma used to wear on special occasions. She exclaims “Oh my, isn’t he just such a snoopy dog!” “Would you like more tea?” We are sitting with our mouths hanging open, not sure about what happened or what she means by the ‘snoopy dog’ thing.

It turns out that they had extremely bad experiences with the seas in Southeast Alaska and this is a ritual for the Dentist. Before they left the docks at Ketchikan, he exorcised his demons by visualizing and verbalizing all of the worst possibilities before they set out for the summer. I hope this drama worked for him, it left me with nightmares.

P.S. September 01, is the cut off day in the U.S. for most of the insurers of recreational boats. This is one of the reasons for the mass exodus of boats to the south, they have to be below Queen Charlotte Sound for their insurance to be valid after Sept 01, besides the weather just gets miserable. Like the Captain says “Any fool can cruise the inside passage in the summer time, it takes a serious fool to do it in the winter.” We resemble that remark.