Staging for Cape Caution

Our neighbors, Joel and Dave, in Joe Cove.  Fishermen extraordinaire,
I would love to hang out with them till I was fat with fish and crab!
May 21-22, 2015
It was noon by the time we finished sorting out our propeller problem. Overcast, a falling barometer, and cool.  Our late start mitigated in favor of a short jaunt for the day, a chance to catch our breath and relax in the quiet of the Broughton Islands as our attention returned to staging the trip around Cape Caution.

We consulted the guidebooks and decided on Joe Cove, a protected anchorage an hour away that has a float to tie up to (no need to anchor!).  On arrival, we found that the the float had been condemned: more hazard than help.  Seeing it, I recalled having been there with Terry a couple years before, but had forgotten how dilapidated it was. But the anchorage was pleasant, and we had the company of another boat.

Being alone in a beautiful anchorage is serene and exclusive, without threat of being disturbed, but meeting fellow cruisers can be among the greatest pleasures of a trip.  After the challenges of the previous day, company looked very good indeed.

We set the anchor without incident, and I rowed over in Stuart's Little to meet our neighbors.  Joel and Dave turned out to be delightful company, up from their home port in Bellingham, Washington, to enjoy the fishing and crabbing in this beautiful habitat.  They taught me how to catch and clean red rock crab, and even offered me a crab.  I accepted gratefully, and Mathias and I had it for an appetizer.  There is little to compare to eating seafood fresh from the water.  We didn't have a license, so I didn't do any fishing at all on the trip, but from time to time we enjoyed the generosity of fellow travelers such as Joel and Dave, and it was always welcome.

We spent most of the afternoon looking at charts and guidebooks, working through our strategy for the Cape. There are two approaches to the problem.  The traditional approach is to start from Vancouver Island (Port McNeil, Port Hardy, God's Pocket....) and approach the mouth of Queen Charlotte Strait from the south.  There is a lot of open water to cross that way, and in a boat as slow as Ripple, I am nervous about getting caught by rising weather.

The inshore route affords the comfort of closer access to hiding places and the (perhaps false) sense of security of a near shore.  All well and good, as long as one isn't faced with the prospect of being pinned on a lee shore... a strong wind driving you into a rocky shore from which you cannot escape.

Probably the more serious threats to staying close to the mainland are the outflows of Slingsby Channel, Smith Sound, and Rivers Inlet.  These river systems drain large areas, and the outflow pushes out into exposed waters. Opposing wind or tide results in confused seas of short, choppy wavelengths that are uncomfortable at best and can be treacherous and dangerous.

I had long decided to work our way up the inshore route, paying careful attention to the coves and hidey holes where we might seek refuge if need be.  I'm not completely confident that this is the right strategy for us. Ripple is much more comfortable in large swells than in short chop, but my lack of experience (and slow speed) made me want to stay close in. As the day developed, it turned out to be a sound approach.
Flotsam on misty, glassy seas in Richards Channel
The most prominent staging point for inshore routes is Blunden Harbour. Located on the mainland, it is large and well-sheltered, and has points of interest relating to First Nation culture. I expected we might end up there for the night, though it was only six hours away. Leaving Joe Cove, the barometer was on the rise again, skies overcast, with glassy seas. Mist and fog were common all day, but not sufficient to hinder our progress. We reached the vicinity of Blunden Harbour by a little after noon, and pushed on.

The protected back channel (behind the Southgate Islands) into the Allison Harbour area
affords substantial shelter from the Gulf of Alaska, but these wind-swept trees
 testify to harsh conditions that prevail on these coasts
Several options presented themselves at this point.  We chose Skull Cove because... well, the name alone demanded it. The last 5 miles or so of the run into Skull Cove are sheltered, as well, and this is particularly welcome at the end of the day.  It was a good choice.  Ten hours after leaving Joe Cove we dropped the hook and settled in for the night in this lovely, well-protected anchorage,  optimistic about rounding Cape Caution the next day.

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