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.

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in ‘First Caribou Hunt Camp’

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in ‘First Caribou Hunt Camp’ | Photo: Hil Elizabeth

In mid-October, Arthur and I were invited to attend the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in ‘First Caribou Hunt Camp’ at kilometre 131 on the Dempster Highway.   The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in (TH) First Nation (from the Dawson area) were eager to share their very established hunt camp with other communities, like Pelly, that are working towards creating our own traditional camps.  We were humbled, or greeted with a slap in the face depending on how you look at it, when we arrived.  Km 131 on the Dempster is indeed many hours north of Pelly (5 hours) and upon our entrance at dusk, we realized our hiking boots and light fall jackets wouldn’t do the weekend of -15 degrees and 1.5 feet of snow justice!  Not only were we able to borrow snow pants and jackets, we were warmly welcomed by every Dawson City student, community volunteer, RCMP,  Ranger, Elder and TH leader on site.  Their hunt camp truly was put on by this whole community of people.  Over the 3 days, students’ had the opportunity to learn about gun and rifle safety, practice target shooting, trek out to hunt for Caribou and Dall Sheep, snare rabbits and benefit from Han language lessons with their TH instructors and Elders. Albeit all these culturally diverse experiences are unique –  the weekend really felt like camp! Boys cabin, girls cabin, dining hall, everything heated from wood stoves, everything powered with a generator.  One of my highlights was experiencing a winter hunt day-trip searching for Caribou in the mountains.  The amount of carbon-gas-guzzling trucks down the highway for one hour, and quads/argos/ ski-dos roaring through the pristine wilderness of the Hart River valley, was contrary to my idea of ‘connecting to the land,’ however, when in Rome 🙂.  We were out hunting for the Hart River Caribou, a non-migratory species.  It is worth mentioning a couple words about another important caribou species as well.

The Porcupine Caribou have been a cornerstone for people in the region for upwards of 20,000 years and are hunted today and were hunted by ancestors of today’s Gwich’in, Northern Tutchone, Han, Inuvialuit and Inupiat peoples.  They are known as one of the largest migratory caribou herds in North America. The herd of currently over 160,000 animals migrates through about 250,000 km2 of northern Alaska, Yukon and Northwest Territories, between their calving grounds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the coastal plains of Alaska, and their winter range in northern Yukon (the Peel Watershed.  —>  http://protectpeel.ca/porcupine_caribou_herd.html).   A point that always excites kiddos – this is one of the longest migration routes of any land mammal on the planet!  A point that really excited me, is that kids that study caribou, understand and appreciate lichen!!  Their vital water and food sources (lichen:) are in imminent danger if the exploration and development of the more than 8000 mining claims and proposed oil and gas developments for the Peel Watershed ensues. Check out that Protect the Peel website above… if not only for the caribou, for the pristine waters, cultural homeland, beautiful intact natural ecosystem, and unreal canoe trips (Wind River!) !

Since 1992 this First Hunt Camp has been happening every fall, and many of the TH community come to this base on other fall weekends. So, that equals a lot of successful Caribou hunts and antlers! | Photo: Hil Elizabeth
Since 1992 this First Hunt Camp has been happening every fall, and many of the TH community come to this base on other fall weekends. So, that equals a lot of successful Caribou hunts and antlers! | Photo: Hil Elizabeth
Peter was the Head of Hunting – and I was fortunate enough to be quad’ing with him all of Sunday’s hunt. For the last couple hours he put me in charge of driving the 6 wheeler, yipes watch out! | Photo: Hil Elizabeth
Peter was the Head of Hunting – and I was fortunate enough to be quad’ing with him all of Sunday’s hunt. For the last couple hours he put me in charge of driving the 6 wheeler, yipes watch out! | Photo: Hil Elizabeth

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.

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.