Gunboat Passage to Shearwater

Shearwater on a sunny day in late May.
Ripple is out at the far end on the right hand side of the T.

May 26, 2015
You two guys are the ones on that little sailboat? We saw you out on the Sound, and all I could think was 'I'm glad I'm not them!'
This from one of a pair of brothers on m/v Bedlam, a pretty Selene Ocean Trawler of about 55 feet. The word bedlam, I have recently learned, comes from Bethlehem Royal Hospital for the insane in London. We met our fellow inmates of the Inside Passage on the docks at Shearwater, a fishing resort and cruising nexus on the Discovery Coast. We would see her distinctive yellow hull again and again on the trip, as far north as Glacier Bay and Sitka.

Shearwater is unique on the Discovery coast. It has a capable boat yard, a good chandlery, quite a decent restaurant, clean shower and laundry facilities, a couple of gift shops, and a nice store for provisions. At this point, we were no longer shocked by $8 boxes of snacks, but the neatly-trimmed gentility of this resort and its facilities was a bit disconcerting after the primitive remoteness we'd been accustomed to since Powell River. The store has a pretty extensive selection of spirits and beer, as well, and as with Dawson's Landing, the prices were in line with over-taxed Seattle.  

The guidebooks tell you that reservations are recommended, and it's true. We had no trouble on the way up in late May, but got turned away on the return trip (under far less pleasant conditions). Even in May, there were lots of boats, mostly large ones like Bedlam.

All the services are pretty expensive... I thought about getting a spare bilge pump, for example, but balked when I saw the price. But the chandlery people were helpful and friendly, and I added to my list of spares with an extra belt for my squeaky alternator. Shearwater is quite a nice resort for upscale boaters and fisherfolk, and manageable for the few of us there of more modest means.  There is good floatplane service from Vancouver to support crew changes.

We watched an interesting drama unfold with one such floatplane whose starboard float strut collapsed on landing (fortunately without serious consequence).  After refueling, the pilot could be seen gingerly trying to reach take off velocity to take her back to her nest, but in the end stayed for field repairs rather than risk a take off.

A bad day for air service to Shearwater
The trip in from Codville Lagoon was just under 5 hours, via Gunboat Passage, an intimate channel with several anchorage opportunities that connects Fitzhugh Sound with the Shearwater harbour basin. We got fuel and the dockmaster found us a place out at the end of the T dock.  I told him my moorage length (30 feet with the sprit): he glanced at Ripple and said... naw... you're not that long, and charged me for my length on deck of 26 feet.  Only time that has ever happened!

Several boats we had seen at various places on the way up were at the dock or arrived while we were there, including Glen and Becky of Wavelet, a 50 foot Ocean Alexander with whom we had shared the dock at Dawson's Landing. They hail from Houston, but their boat lives in Lake Washington, a few hundred yards from my own.  We would encounter them several more times on the way north, all the way up to Wrangel.

Ripple at Dawson's landing, taken by Glenn and Becky of Wavelet
Shearwater was a choice point for us.  We had considered taking the outside-inside route from here up to the Prince Rupert area.  More isolated by far than the standard route up through Grenville Channel, the Laredo Channel and the passage between Banks Island and Pitt Island promises solitude, but also several areas of exposure to Hecate Strait.  Fuel availability was also uncertain. Mathias tipped the scale at that point: "I'm done with BC... let's get to Alaska!"

We had a good ways to go yet before Alaska, and his sentiment was not born of disappointment in the wild coast of BC, but rather of the mystical call to adventure that the name of our 50th state evokes in most of us.  Besides, the standard route would be new and novel to us both, so early the next day we headed west towards Seaforth Channel and then north up Finlayson Channel.


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