My First and Last Voyage on Eagle I
by Jeff Karlson
Photo: Charles Weimer
master. Our destination was Lake Union, the nautical heart of Seattle, where our beloved Eagle had been purchased new nearly 12 years prior. She was to be entered in the Seattle boat show at the end of the month with intention to sell. All told, she bore a crew of four. My Dad and I would split captain’s duties for the voyage while my Uncle Joe would serve as deckhand and cook. My Grandpa, being the owner of the boat, was along to boost morale, which he does so well with his boisterous laugh and jolly demeanor.
he Captain’s log read, “Departing Bar Harbor, Ketchikan. Thursday, January 7th, 8:45am.” The motor vessel Eagle I was set to make what we all knew was her ultimate voyage, at least under the ownership of her current
Winter weather in Ketchikan is always unpredictable; just a year ago the 31 days of January saw 31 inches of rain, along with the southeast gales that bring our liquid sunshine. However, this year, since Christmas, we had been enjoying the crisp freezing air of a prevailing north wind. The peaks, dusted with snow, were accentuated by the light blue canvas of the clear sky behind them. Hardly a ripple disturbed the Tongass Narrows, save for the wake of the Coast Guard cutter, Anthony Petit, making way on a southeastern bearing parallel to our own. As the first treat of our voyage, I received an eager wave from a dear friend crossing our bow in a Dehavellined Beaver, lifting off The Narrows, bound for the small Tsimshian village of Metlakatla.
I have known the feeling of the onset of adventure before, but none quite so grandiose as the undertaking still ahead of us. Outside of tug skippers and ferry pilots, who navigates the inside passage in the dead of winter? The attitude on board was one of excited preparedness, accompanied by an unspoken hint of regret for the knowledge that this would be our last cruise aboard the Eagle I. In times past, our vessel’s primary destination had always been Port Stuart; a traditional family retreat would bring us there near the celebration of our country’s independence each year. On three occasions, the Eagle I had made the one hundred and thirty mile voyage around Ketchikan’s mother Island of Revillagigedo. This time, many nautical miles of seas previously untraveled by any aboard lay between us and Lake Union.
Photo: Charles Weimer
As I observed the ever-familiar totems of Saxman Village to our port, our pace quickened with the gentle push of the throttles. Though she was fully laden with 800 gallons of fuel and 400 of water, the Eagle was making fourteen and a half knots while passing the southern end of Pennock Island. Her twin screws turned by the power of Volvo Penta diesels, which purred at a perfectly synchronized 1,870 rpms. As we continued South, it wasn’t long before I, the least experienced mariner on board, was unable to name the islands and formations around me without the aid of a chart. Although I had attended maritime classes, and was the only crew member aboard with the credential to professionally operate our vessel, I was quickly humbled by the accrued knowledge of my fellow crew. My father and grandfather idly tossed out the names of bays, inlets, and islands of their joint commercial fishing ventures, which I only recognized from all of the endless stories I’d heard since childhood.
“Out here, just north of Mary Island is where I would make my drag for winter kings, Bud,” my dad said to me, all the while never taking his eye off the water in front of us, yet still gesturing toward the expanse of salmon-rich waters to our starboard.
“Hey Dan, remember when Ed Ellain ran the Sharon A into Black Rock over there? That’s Foggy bay isn’t it? Jesus, that was a beautiful boat.” My Grandpa asked my Dad with a hint of nostalgia in his voice.
“Yeah Dad, that’s Foggy bay. Shoot, Ed always ran with his wife Annie. Any time he was pulling fish, she would be at the helm. But for some reason, this time he didn’t have her along. I guess he was cleaning spoons in the cockpit, had his auto-pilot runnin’ the boat for him. Ran right into Black Rock.”
By now we had entered Canadian waters. Dundas Island lay to our starboard, our compass now leading us to our first planned anchorage in the refuge of Lewis Island, seventeen miles southwest of Prince Rupert.
“Well I’ve got bad news…” Dad said.
“What do you mean?” I asked, having no idea what could possibly have gone wrong on this perfect day for a boat trip.
“I forgot my shaving kit at home.”
“Oh! Well Dad, you can use my razor if you want—that’s no big deal,” I replied with a relieved chuckle.
“Well, I’m not really worried about that. The thing is, I keep my daily meds in there. I’ve never really gone without my meds before…I’m not sure what would happen. But I think I’ve got it taken care of. We’ll just have to spend the night in Prince Rupert instead of anchoring behind Lewis Island. When we get into port, I’ll get ahold of the pharmacy and have them transfer the prescription to Prince Rupert.”
“Well, I guess this is our first hitch of the trip! That’s fine, Pop, I’ll just go over the charts tonight and re-calculate our course for tomorrow. We probably won’t make it all the way to Klemtu, but there is another place we can moor for the night. I think it’s called Butedale.”
As we made our way into Prince Rupert, with the sun rapidly approaching the horizon, we all commented on the tremendous amount of industry going on in such a small port. There were three enormous cargo ships being loaded with grain, coal, and lumber, while four more lay at anchor waiting to receive their goods.
“Well, should we have a horn?” proposed my grandpa as our progress came to a halt on the transient moorage of the Prince Rupert Yacht Club. Dad and I cracked a couple of beers, while Joe and Grandpa shared a bottle of merlot.
“Skål!” We all raised glasses to Grandpa’s Norwegian proposal for a toast.
“To a great start of our run!”
“I suppose we should get a hold of customs, and get checked in, huh?” asked Joe.
I gathered our passports while Dad dialed the customs office. I handed mine over as he answered the questions from the officer over the phone. Joe was standing next to me when I saw it. I felt flush as I gestured to Joe to look at Grandpa’s passport.
“Shit…” whispered Joe in response. Grandpa’s passport had expired in 2014.
“John! Hand me your driver’s license!”
Grandpa fumbled through his wallet for his ID, unknowing of the fault of his own oversight.
“Dan!” Joe gained Dad’s attention while he cordially offered our information to the customs agent. Joe pointed to the expired date on the passport, and then gestured to the current date on John’s drivers’ license. Dad’s eyes got wide as he realized the situation.
“Ummm, yes, expiration date for John is… let’s see here…” His finger moved from the passport to the ID’s expiration… “Seven, twenty-one, twenty-twenty.”
Silence is all I heard on the other line while we held our breath, wondering if somehow the Canadian system would catch the error.
“…Ok, you guys are all set. Enjoy your stay in B.C. eh?”
“Thank you. Thank you very much!” Dan replied as we all let out a sigh of relief.
“Loons bathed themselves in the swift currents of the narrows. Bald eagles soared overhead keeping their precise eyes on the waters below for prey."
The next morning we were under way by 8:30 a.m. The rain drizzled over the windshields while mechanical wipers cleared our field of vision. A slight chop skirted the water as the green beacon off Lewis Island passed by our starboard window. We overtook a small tug hauling a barge loaded to just inches of freeboard with Canadian timber, bound for Washington.
Grenville passage is the longest strait of the entire inside passage. Being 40 nautical miles long and just over a thousand feet wide at its narrowest point, we could simply set the autopilot and watch the beauty of the Pacific Northwest pass us by. Loons bathed themselves in the swift currents of the narrows. Bald eagles soared overhead keeping their precise eyes on the waters below for prey. When we reached the fifteen hundred foot wide bottle neck, we were met by a mother orca escorting her calf northward. Seemingly aware of the maritime rules of safe navigation, she made sure to pass us on our port side, all the while skirting the east side of the passage as if to grant us right of way along the center of the lane, somehow knowing that our two meter draft was deeper than her own.
Two and half hours after entering Grenville passage, we approached Wright Sound at its southern end. It was here that we were first surprised by the power of the northeast wind, which was accelerated by the funnels of numerous glacial valleys. Slamming our port hull was a firm 30 knot wind carrying with it a six foot chop. Our course put the wind and seas on our aft port quarter as we made for Pt. Cummings. For the better part of forty minutes the Eagle gracefully received the challenge, until a large curler picked up her stern, lurching the bow down into the wave directly in front of her. That single wave held us to a 20 degree starboard roll like an unrelenting bully as we surfed down its leeward trough. I turned the wheel to a 15 degree port rudder angle attempting to correct the roll, while the 30 inch television back in the salon flew out of its rightful place, and crashed on the floor.
Joe stood up with intent to replace the T.V.
“Sit down, Joe. All we can do is wait it out!” Grandpa ordered.
Within the refuge of Point Cummings we were near our destination for the evening. It would just take a half an hour to get to the other end of McKay Reach, a distance that took Vancouver two days to overcome on his ship the Discovery, over two hundred years prior.
The glassy water of Fraser Reach gave no hint of the gale we’d weathered earlier in the day. Looking to the east side of the reach, the evidence of constant sun was observable. Falls and creeks ran freely down its cliffs, surrounded by bright green moss, while the trees carried no burden of snow. The west side of the same valley seemed to be an entirely separate climate. Frost held the timber still, while falls were stopped, frozen to their stone ladders having not felt the warmth of the sun since September. The low arc of the winter sun had been blocked for months by the high peaks to the west side of Fraser Reach.
The only knowledge I had of our next port had been found in our chart commentary: An abandoned Cannery lay at the back of Butedale harbor. All services were reported to be suspended by 1975, but moorage is still available.
The once stout timbers that held these structures in place for more than a century had been over exposed to the harsh elements. Every surface was covered in crisp layer of snow. It looked as if the small village had been completely frozen in time since its abandonment in 1975.
s we rounded the corner into Butedale, it became obvious that it had fallen victim to the same lack of warmth as the rest of what we’d seen on that side of the channel. A ghost town sat in front of us in absolute decay.
Then a blond flash caught my eye coming down the ramp.
“There’s a dog!” I said, pointing toward the dock.
The dog was followed by a man who proceeded to kick the snow from the cleats which, we would later be told, have held no vessel since November. I passed the bow line to the man with a surprised “Hello there!”
“Hey there! Welcome to Butedale!”
Immediately the man conveyed the simple friendliness attributed to Canadian residents. He graciously accepted my invitation to come aboard as he eyed the sleek and modern design of our sixty foot vessel.
Before long the four of us inundated him with questions about his residency in Butedale. His name was Cory Lindsay, and Buddy was his K-9 companion. He was quite young for a man who embodied the definition of a hermit. He had seen forty-two years, the last two of which have been spent uninterruptedly on his own in Butedale. He had a medium stature with a thick build. His short beard creeped down his neck and connected seamlessly to his chest. He appeared relatively clean for not having an occasion to impress since the last vessel he entertained had left in November. He was appropriately dressed for the cold which gripped Butedale, with a thick black jacket, winter gloves, long khaki pants and a worn pair of winter hiking boots. His thick glasses made his eyes appear smaller than average.
Cory was obviously very glad for our company, as much as was Buddy. The dog greeted each on board with a gentle leap to support himself upright on our chests. There he could nearly look us directly in the eye being the descendant of a large husky mother and a wild wolf father.
We shared with Cory our goal of navigating the Eagle to Lake Union in Washington. To that, he asked me if I had the Navionics app for my iPhone.
“I’ve heard of it, but no, I don’t have it. We have a pretty sophisticated navigational system on board.” I said.
“Never hurts to have a little back up.”
To our surprise, Cory had satellite internet up at his cabin, and offered for me to come up and use it to download the navigational app.
“Give me a half hour to tidy up my cabin. I haven’t had a guest for a long time!” he chuckled.
After allowing Cory the time to clean up, I grabbed my coat and two Alaskan beers, a white and an APA.
I looked at Joe.“If I’m not back in thirty minutes…”
Joe nodded in understanding
“We’ll come check on ya.”
Buddy greeted me as soon as I left the yacht.
“Show me where your dad lives, Buddy!” I said with an excitement in my voice.
Buddy ran up the ramp, looking back sporadically to make sure I was keeping up. He led me between two of the derelict structures, and up a small trough in the snow to the cabins. Only one of them had smoke billowing from its stack.The pleasant aroma of the burning cedar immediately set my hesitations at ease. Just before I reached the front steps, Buddy became distracted by a toy he had found in the snow.
To the left of the door, a clothes line was secured to a spruce a few feet away. Blankets and towels hung stiff and frozen on the line, perfectly still in the unmoving air.
“The door is open!” I heard from inside the cabin even before I could knock.
I entered to find a warm, inviting living space. On the far wall hung a dozen cast iron pans of varying sizes, all with their own supporting nail. Above the pans, three fly rods complete with line and tackle spanned the width of the wall. The wood stove emitted a gentle roar from inside as it consumed the cedar fuel it had been fed probably moments earlier.
Cory sat at a hand-made desk with a window overlooking the harbor. His laptop seemed like a blast from the future unimagined by the 1913 founders of Butedale. A mug of hot chocolate steamed next to the wireless mouse. Pretending not to notice his current beverage, I offered him one of the beers I had brought up with me. He accepted the White ale, which was fine by me, as I prefer Alaska’s Freeride.
“First things first: let’s check the marine forecast eh?”
“That’d be helpful. We haven’t been able to pick up the forecast over the VHF all day.”
“Yeah, one of the coast guard transmitters has been down for a few weeks. . . Mmm, that’s a pretty good brew,” he interrupted himself while examining the polar bear label of the Alaskan White. “I called ‘em to let ‘em know but they insisted there was nothing wrong with it. I said to ‘em ‘I can see it from my boat! It’s obviously broken!’ - uh oh…looks like you might be stuck in Klemtu for a few days. Look here, gale warning in effect.”
I looked at the computer screen at just what I didn’t want to see. The Canadian weather service was predicting thirty to forty knot winds to come up from a low pressure over Vancouver Island by Sunday afternoon.
“Well it’s still Friday yet. We should be able to cover some water before it really hits.” I said.
“You just make sure to keep a good eye on the weather before you try to cross Milbanke. Trust me: it can get real nasty around there.”
“I surely will. Thanks for the advice.”
Cory proceeded to help me download the chart plotting app as promised. As the tiny download bar creeped slow across the screen of my iPhone, Cory reached over to a half-gallon plastic container to the left of his computer. As he opened the lid, he shook it a bit to demonstrate just how empty it was.
“I don’t suppose anybody aboard your boat is a smoker.” Cory asked, with not much hope in his voice, as he prepared a paper to roll with.
His loose leaf tobacco store had been well rationed, but was now reduced to barely enough flakes to cover the bottom of the container. Cory’s last general supply shipment was supposed to arrive by boat the week before Christmas, but his supplier had a late night at a holiday party which left him unable, or perhaps unwilling, to make the three hour boat trip from Namu.
“Honestly I’m sorry to say so, but no. No cigarette smokers aboard.”
As I spoke those words, it occurred to me that I had only told a half truth. Sure, nobody on board smoked cigarettes, but I had brought my pipe along with a couple of tins of loose leaf.
“Actually… You wouldn’t happen to have a pipe would you?”
As I asked, Cory opened a drawer to his left, and pulled from it a handmade tobacco pipe.
“I carved it out of cedar. I think the bowl is a little too wide…It doesn’t smoke very well.”
Even as he was explaining its flaws, I could here in his voice a hint of pride in what he’d created for himself.
The download bar had just reached its destination when a flashlight beamed through the front window.
“How’s everything going in here?” My dad inquired as he entered the cabin to Buddy’s eager welcome.
“Good! Just finished the download.” I replied.
“So, Cory, how would you like to join us down on the boat tonight for dinner? Steak and potatoes. We’ll be having a few drinks by seven, and we’ll probably eat around eight, eight-thirty.”
“Boy, that sounds great! I’ll just freshen up a bit here, put something a bit nicer on and I’ll see you guys down there about seven then.”
“The door will be open!” My dad replied as we exited the warm cabin.
The rest of the night was spent listening with curiosity to Cory’s explanation of how he had come to be the hermit of the abandoned cannery. Before he left for the night, I traded with him a tin of my tobacco and a pound of Dungeness crab for five pints of a Canadian Rye Saison that had been brewed by some sailors of a vessel which frequented Butedale in the summer months—an act that, in my mind, beckoned to the tradition of English explorers making trades with the natives as they passed through their lands.
We came to the small native villiage of Klemtu after a short two hour run. Being light on fuel we had been only making seventeen knots. A young native boy walked unhurried down the narrow ramp as we finished securing our lines to the fuel dock.
“We’ll be taking a few hundred gallons of Diesel today,” Joe said to the young man.
Without response, the boy made ready the fuel pump, and gave Joe the nozzle.
Klemtu is home to roughly five-hundred Natives of British Columbia. Its homes and structures look like any other western town except for a north facing clan house, which sits alone on a peninsula jutting out like a protective breakwater for the small village. Though separated by more than two hundred nautical miles of ocean as well as a national border, the native structure looked like it was designed by the same architect who had built Saxman’s beaver house back in Ketchikan, some two-hundred miles north. The only difference between the two, was that Klemtu’s clan house was adorned with an eagle and a raven as the guardians of its entrance.
As the meter ticked on, measuring the volume of fuel we’d taken, I realized that it was measuring liters, not gallons. I had no idea what the conversion was. I quickly checked my phone for service, and I was relieved to see one bar.
“We should be able to take about 2000 liters.” I told Joe. “If I got the conversion right.”
To my pride, the meter stopped at 1999. Again without a word, the boy gathered the hose and started walking back up the ramp. My dad and I followed a bit hesitantly, not knowing if he was going to come back or if we should walk up as well. While I had looked up the conversion from liters to gallons, I had also pulled up the currency exchanged from Canadian to American dollars. The young native unlocked the padlock on a tiny shed and gestured for us to enter. He input the number of liters we had taken into his computer and turned the monitor toward us, so that we could see the resultant price: $2,385.00 I pulled out my phone and computed the conversion on my calculator.
“We don’t have any Canadian money... but in American, the price comes out to $1679.50.”
The boy eyed us with almost no expression.
My dad withdrew some cash from an envelope.
“We’ll just call it $1680.00, huh?” my dad said as he placed the cash on the counter.
Without counting it himself the boy opened the register and placed the whole bundle under the tray.
“Enjoy your trip.”
These were the first and last words he spoke to us.
s we pulled away from the frosty villiage of Butedale the following morning, our hospitable harbor master threw a farewell wave while Buddy ran up and down the length of the dock as if he would find a bridge
to our swim step. The water was dead calm, and absorbed the dismal grey of the low clouds above. The chart told that we were surrounded by mountain peaks stretching more than 6,000 feet into the sky; however, we were only able to see the first couple hundred feet of their stature, before the cloud ceiling blanketed them.
By the time we were making our way out of Klemtu a slight mist had begun to fall. A crow landed on the railing of our starboard bow. He stayed just long enough for me to snap a picture, with the fitting backdrop of the peninsula clan house.
To the chagrin of my seafaring mother, I don’t hold the sea in superstition. If my sister brings a banana on board my boat, I don’t feel the urge to throw it overboard. I even tested an age old taboo by giving my boat a new name when I acquired her. However, if I were a superstitious man, I would say that this little black bird was some kind of omen: as soon as he flew away an alarm sounded from inside the wheelhouse. I looked in to find my Dad searching frantically for the source of the alarm. To our surprise, it was generated by the Raymarine chart plotter. The error message read “NO FIX.” Despite my attempts to reboot it, we weren’t able to use the on-board chart plotter for the rest of the trip. I became immediately thankful for having met Cory, and for his insistence that I get the GPS app. It proved to be a purchase worth well more than its price.
Milbanke Sound was our first open water crossing since Dixon Entrance. As we exposed ourselves from the refuge of Lombard Point, it became immediately apparent that Cory knew what he was talking about with regard to his weather warning. The ocean’s ground swells rolled toward us, oblivious to the mild fifteen knot northeasterly which blew against them. Being raised on an island, I developed a respect for the ocean at an early age, but as anybody who has spent some time on the waters around Ketchikan would know, they are quite well protected from the open ocean swells. Upon experiencing these massive rollers, my respect increased tenfold. They were a relatively diminished height of eight to ten feet but boasted a width of a hundred or more. Their real power was revealed as they came crashing against Vancouver rocks, where they would suddenly deflect fifty feet straight up into the air.
After Milbanke suffered us to pass, our course took us south through Fitz Hugh Sound. One of Alaska’s “Blue Canoes,” the Malaspina, with its newly painted yellow stack passed us by on our port side. If our venture had taken place in April or May, her cargo would have been Alaskan Seasonals looking toward the blue horizon with excitement for the unknowable summer which lay ahead of them.
Our anchorage that night was in the refuge of Safety Cove, which had been used as a haul out by Vancouver more than two hundred years prior to our visit. The following is an excerpt from Exploring Alaska & British Columbia, a navigational book that was gifted to me by my father upon receipt of my captain’s license. I had been using this book to plot our course through the labyrinth of islands which form the Inside Passage. The commentary in this navigational companion is full of rich history, which I was eager to absorb while under way.
Friday Aug. 10, 1792. Having narrowly escaped double disaster in Queen Charlotte Sound where both the Discovery & Chatham went on the rocks, Capt. George Vancouver takes his ship northward with the intent of continuing the coastal survey. By four p.m. the captain finds Safety Cove and heads for the anchorage. Vancouver recalls in his journal “We anchored about six in the evening in 17 fathoms on the south side of the cove, as did the Chatham on the opposite shore, steadying the vessels with hawsers to the trees. My first object after the ship was secured, was to examine the cove. It terminated in a small beach, near which was a stream of excellent water and an abundance of wood: of these necessaries we now required a considerable supply; and as the field of employment of our boats would be extensive, there was little doubt of our remaining here a sufficient time to replenish these stores. Being tolerably well sheltered in this cove, I was willing to hope the Chatham might with security, and without much difficulty, be laid on shore to examine if she had sustained any damage whilst striking on the rocks.
The feeling of viewing a piece of nature still untouched as the day these explorers discovered it is indescribable. It brings to mind thoughts of the nature of time and history, and our role within it. As we can only experience our environment in our own time, and from our own perspective, it became easy for me to assume I was among the first of humans to be exploring these inside waters of British Columbia and Alaska. Having this navigational chart companion was constantly humbling, as I read about the endless trials that Vancouver and his men faced while exploring these waters without the aid of charts, GPS, radar, or even rain gear! We so often think of how grandiose it must have been to be among these first pioneers. But how uncomfortable the journey must truly have been. When their clothes got wet, they stayed wet. And when they became hungry, they stayed hungry. And when they came upon large seas, there was no coast guard to rescue them. Their only rescuers were themselves.
The following morning, as we made ready our vessel, I attempted to bring up the weather station over the VHF. The transmission was broken and virtually unreadable. All I was able to gather from it was “Gale warning in effect…increasing winds and seas in the afternoon.” We decided to make way as early as possible to beat the weather. Our goal was to get across the 25 nautical mile stretch of water called Queen Charlotte Sound. It’s the largest open water crossing of the entire Inside Passage, and is notorious for hard weather.
By 8:15 a.m. our nose was peaking around the corner of Cape Calvert, hoping not to see the tell tail black line of the horizon which precludes the storm. We pushed the Eagle up to 2,010 RPMs and 18 knots in order to shorten the duration of our exposure to the storm as much as possible. The ground swells were rolling in hard, but thankfully none were breaking just yet. At this headway, we would meet the protection of Hope Island within an hour and a half.
The swells began to grow taller, but their breadth lessened. This pattern is caused by sea currents fighting against the strength of the wind, which was beginning to howl around our wheelhouse. The swells were coming at us from our starboard quarter while the wind whistled from our port bow. They were in direct opposition of each other. At 18 knots, The Eagle I was beginning to propel nearly all of her twenty-six tons into the air, crashing down violently against the next oncoming white cap.
I had always described the Eagle I as a “Florida Boat.” It was the kind of boat you’d see on the cover of a yachting magazine in the tropics, with women sunbathing on the bow while the owner sits on the upper deck with a cool drink in his hands, basking in the success of his life. The boat is more aerodynamic than hydrodynamic, and is adorned with chrome and lights. Alaska boats are the exact opposite. They are built with function in mind rather than aesthetics. They have more angles than curves, and boast their ability to make money, rather than spend it.
Either way, the Eagle I was finally gaining my full respect. Having backed her down to 8 knots she was now earning her mettle. Gracefully she rolled over the huge waves while maintaining a constant course against a 50 knot wind, which was trying everything it its power to overwhelm her rudders. As the seas began to stack even further, there was more white now than blue on the ocean. The boat now began to moan with the sound of wind and salt passing violently across the hull as her mass fell from each tower of water. It was a sound that I thought was only synthesized in movies in order to make the reality of heavy seas seem even more intimidating. If I never hear that sound again in my life, it wouldn’t bother me in the least. It was as if the Eagle was wincing in pain as her belly slammed against the hard water below, plunging her nose in the wave in front of us. Green water began to run up and over the pilot house.
“None of that matters compared to the fact that we all are safe now, and alive.”
With the pounding of the waves beneath us, I became concerned about the integrity of the thru-hulls. The hull itself was built of one and a half inch thick fiberglass. There isn’t much the sea can do to crack the seams of this boat. But the through-hulls can be the Achilles heel of a vessel if they are not properly fitted. Essentially, they are holes in the bottom of the boat from which pipes or hoses draw salt water and feed it directly to the engines as a way to cool them. If one of the through-hulls was to break loose under the pressure of the water, we’d begin to take on tens, if not hundreds of gallons of water per minute. With my dad at the helm, I decided to check on the bilges below. With each void that I checked, I was more relieved to find no water. That is, until I looked in the master stateroom bilge: approximately 4 inches of water was sloshing through it when I pulled its cap.
As calmly as possible, I made my way to the wheel house. In an attempt to not raise any alarms with my Grandpa or Uncle Joe, I discretely flipped the switch that read “FWD Bilge Pump.” Only my dad had seen the action.
His head snapped toward me. “Why did you do that?” he whispered, while looking at me with wide eyes. He already knew, but he didn’t really want to hear my answer.
“There is water in the forward bilge, Dad. I’m going to go back down and see if the pump is keeping up with it.”
I lifted the hatch once again to see that there was still about four inches of water. It didn’t look like clean salt water though: it kind of looked grey. Like dirty dish water. This time I inspected the hoses clamped to the through-hulls. Everything looked water tight. Thank god, I thought. The only explanation I could come up with was that there was a leak in the grey water hose from the master stateroom sink, which brought ease to my Dad when I told him the reason for the water in the bilge.
What should have been a one and a half hour crossing had taken us four hours while bucking against the fifty knot winds and—what we would come to find out had been—sixteen foot seas. Finally the chop began to relent as we rounded Duval Island on our way into Port Hardy.
By the time we were safely tied to the dock in the small marina, there was no conversation to be had. I think each of us in our own minds were trying to convince our bodies that it was now safe to relax. As we began to look over the boat we found that absolutely nothing had remained in its place. Food and liquid was leaking out of the open door of the refrigerator. The surround sound speakers had broken all of their brackets and stripped their wires as they had come crashing to the floor. It looked like a cyclone had run through the salon. Upon outside inspection, we realized that we had lost our twelve foot rigid hull dinghy from the upper deck. It had been tightly secured to the deck with nylon straps and stainless steel shackles. All told, there had been roughly $20,000.00 damage sustained in those four long hours in Queen Charlotte sound. To this my Grandpa optimistically said, “None of that matters compared to the fact that we all are safe now, and alive.”
For three days we enjoyed the comfort and safety of Port Hardy B.C. For such a small town, it presented itself beautifully. The town was very well kept, and provided us a number of hearty meals. The town itself was situated in the back of a rather large bay, which was shaped exactly like capital letter U. On the North side of the bay were two iconic red rock cliffs that sprang up from the sea a good three hundred feet or so. For the duration of our time there, we watched outside as a small maple leaf flag whipped vigorously, and was ripped to shreds off of its pole.
be in calmer waters, the lack of a breeze brought on a problem of its own as we approached Comox. Dense fog fell on the channel around us in a matter of minutes. I’ve navigated through fog in the past, but always in the well-known territory of Nichols Passage just off the coast from Ketchikan. Here, again, we were forced to bring our pace down to about eight knots. The radar was now the only reference we could use to find navigation aids and distinct land formations to check against what the GPS was telling us.
he next leg of the voyage took us through Johnstone Strait, which compared with the water we’d travelled previously, was like a millpond; there was not a breath of wind on the water. Though we were all very glad to
The approach to Comox from the North requires precision that would cause an airline pilot to sweat on a clear day. If our vessel was out of the lane by as much as a boat length, we would have surely run aground. The Canadian coast guard had been diligent enough in the placement of their Nav-aids to set up a pair of lane marker lights on the shore. Lane markers are made up of two consecutive yellow lights; the one further away is a few feet taller than the closer light so that if you view the lights from within the lane, they will appear to be stacked directly on top of each other. If, however, you find yourself outside of the lane, the two lights will be askew. Of course none of that means anything when you can’t see them through the fog. Accordingly, our method of finding the lane was to check our relative position from two nearby floating coast guard buoys, and just hope that our GPS was accurate to within about twenty feet.
As if to show us that we had made good our dead reckoning, the fog lifted just enough to let the guiding light of the lane markers through to us. It was a great relief to see those beacons perfectly stacked in front of us. As the blanket of fog continued to burn off, it revealed the stunning beauty of the land surrounding Comox. Snow covered peaks lined the bay to form a white canvas for the sun to paint its day’s end colors. The scene was so beautiful that a local photographer had set a tripod up on the transient float where we were about to make berth. It gave me regret that our vessel should have blocked what would have been a capturing of nature's art.
The eighth day of our trip was spent in calm waters, with just enough wind to blow the morning fog away. No mariner could ask for better weather to be at sea. There was only one obstacle to overcome this day, which my Dad and I had both anticipated while studying the chart the night before in Comox. Shortly after passing Nanaimo, we would need to navigate through Dodd Narrows, which at their narrowest point are only two hundred feet wide. With a 20 foot beam, that only leaves ninety feet on either side of the vessel. Coupled with the claustrophobia of these narrows, their bottleneck causes currents to rush through upwards of 11 knots.
As we began to approach the narrow, we could all feel the current begin to pull the Eagle in like a tractor beam. I watched our speedometer as it increased from fourteen to twenty-five knots. The difficult thing about operating in a following current is that the vessel begins to lose all steerage while the water begins push on the rudders rather than flow by them. Though instinctively one would want to go through a passage like that at a slow and steady rate, the only way to gain mobility is to punch the throttle. At close to thirty knots, the Eagle 1 flew faster than she ever had before.
Our planned portage that evening had been Friday Harbor, the first American port coming south from B.C. But, as the currents had been favorable, we passed Friday Harbor with about two hours of light left in the day, so we decided to make our way across the straits of Juan de Fuca in order to reach Port Townsend. Upon reaching Point Hudson Harbor, we made a point to contact the local customs office to check back into the United States. Three times we called only to be forwarded to a recording that said that the office was busy and to please keep trying to make contact. At that, we thought we’d just be sure to check in when we reached Lake Union the next day.
Friday, January 15th was the last day of our voyage. As we approached the Ballard Locks, I grew a bit anxious at the helm, not knowing anything of what to expect. The locks are not well marked and the operators offer little instruction on how to navigate them. In Maritime rules, a captain knows that when entering a harbor you want to keep any red marker to your starboard, while green remains to the port. Well, it turned out that red just means stop when approaching the Locks of Ballard. I didn’t know that. The locks are also marked with signs that read “Large craft keep left. Small craft keep right. Kayak traffic keep right.” When it comes to marine vessels, “small” and “large” are pretty relative terms. Seeing as though we were quite a bit larger than any kayak traffic, I elected to keep left. As we entered the lock itself, we were met with the nose of a vessel probably about two hundred and fifty feet in length. An operator then came running out, seeming pretty annoyed and gestured for us to reverse out of the lock. Well, that’s what we get when there is very little direction. I thought. We found our way to the “Small Craft” section of the lock the door swung in shut behind us. Water began to fill the compartment, elevating us roughly twelve feet to the elevation of Lake Union.
The final leg of our trip was one of nostalgia as we all looked upon the familiar tenders and large seiners which frequent the waters of Ketchikan in the summer. My last operation of the Eagle I was to moor her on an outside finger within Lake Union so that all boat traffic would get a good look at her sleek fiberglass body as they passed by. This required that I spin the boat around one hundred and eighty degrees in order to put her port side to the dock. Operating a vessel like the Eagle I can cause a captain to get a bit spoiled. She has twin screws and the aid of both bow and stern thrusters. These thrusters make parallel parking a sixty foot boat look like child’s play. This time around, however, the thrusters decided to stop working all together. Using the powerful Volvo Diesels in tandem the Eagle still made easy work of bring her gently to the dock, even with a bit of a southerly wind attempting to push her nose away.
We were greeted at the dock by “Easy Money Marvin” (as my Grandpa liked to call him), accompanied by my Grandma and Aunt Betty. Marvin was there to take a look at his investment, as he was the broker for the boat show. The first order of business was to contact customs and finally check back into the United States. This time around, we had no problem reaching them. Though not being nearly as trusting as the Canadian Customs agents had been in Prince Rupert, they insisted that we wait on the vessel until they come to inspect the vessel. An hour and a half later the two officers finally arrived and instructed us that we had made a mistake in choosing to check in at Lake Union.
“This is a commercial port, not a private yacht club. Why didn’t you check into Friday Harbor on your way down from B.C.?”
“We were making good time, so we thought we’d check in when we arrived here. Is there something wrong with that?” I replied as cordially as possible
“Yes. Border crossing regulations require that any private vessel returning to the United States from B.C. MUST check in at Friday Harbor. That is the port of call.”
“I’m very sorry. I didn’t realize that. We passed right by Friday Harbor on our way down here. If we had known that we were required to stop there we surely would have.”
“Well, sit tight. This is going to be a long process. We need to check everyone on board for warrants and arrests. Passports please.”
We all surrendered our passports to the customs agent. Joe and I shared a look, remembering that Grandpa’s passport had expired. The two officers then went outside for what felt like forever. It must have been about an hour in reality.
“Well I have some good news. None of you have any outstanding warrants.” The officer reassured us as he came back aboard.
“Well that’s a relief” Grandpa sarcastically retorted.
“Normally a failure to report bears with it a ten thousand dollar fine, Mr. Karlson.” We were all wide eyed.
“But, since you claim to have had no knowledge of the regulation, we’re going to issue you a warning. Next time report to Friday Harbor. You all have a nice day.”
After nine days of travel through fair weather, stormy seas, fog, GPS failures, and wintery ghost towns, only to be greeted by disgruntled customs agents, I think we all felt a little cheated out of our opportunity to celebrate the ultimate success of our navigation of the Inside Passage. My Dad and Grandpa never were the emotional type to get overly nostalgic. They simply packed their belongingss and were ready to get off of the boat. I, on the other hand, tend to think heavily on the passing of an event. With each item I collected I was reminded of various parts of the voyage. The last thing to pack were my dividers, which I had used to measure the nautical miles between ports and harbors. Six-hundred and fifty-seven miles were traveled during a total running time of fifty-six hours.
It almost felt like cheating, as I watched the expanse of water we’d traveled pass by the window of the Boeing 737 Alaska airlines jet, traveling at four-hundred and fifty knots Northward back to Ketchikan. But with that I was left with a sense of accomplishment and pride in our undertaking. After all, life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it.