Border Closed! Transiting through Canada to Alaska.
Because of the border closures, we were not able to complete our original plan of circumnavigating Vancouver Island. We could, however, transit through Canada to Alaska, if we wanted to go to Alaska. Since we have spent 20 or more years cruising around Puget Sound, we were ready to find some different cruising grounds. Our plans for Vancouver Island would have to wait until the Covid-19 situation allowed for cruising vessels to recreate in Canada. So, we changed our plans and headed to Alaska.
Our planned cruise through Canada started at 9am on July 1st, Canada Day. We called the Nexus reporting line to clear through, and after about 30 minutes on the phone with various personnel, the customs officer denied our request to transit. This was not at all what we expected, so we continued, with much duress, to ‘work the problem’. We called a contact we had learned about who assisted American boaters with transiting, and he affirmed that what we wanted to do was well within the guidelines. He recommended that we show up at an open customs station and try to get processed there. We cruised several hours from our initial anchorage and presented at the Van Isle Marina customs dock at 5pm. We had a good experience on the phone, and a short while later, customs officials were at the dock. After some additional questioning, we were cleared through Canadian Customs to ‘transit’ to Alaska. Transiting means that we can travel Canadian waters and anchor as needed, but we were not allowed to get off the boat unless we had a non-discretionary reason. We would be allowed to refuel, seek emergency medical assistance, or get groceries if deemed essential. Otherwise, we could not go to shore for any reason. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were in charge of enforcing the restrictions, and if violated, the penalty was up to $1 million dollars in fines and 3 years in prison. Needless to say, we were going to limit our stay to transiting through.
We were much relieved to get our 5pm approval, so we cruised an additional 3 hours to our first anchorage, in James Bay. July 1st was a very challenging day. Between worries about whether, or not we could make the transit, and cruising for several hours against the wind and current in less than desirable conditions, we were pretty exhausted by the time we got to the anchorage. We celebrated a beautiful sunset view and rested comfortably knowing we would be able to pursue our transiting plans
Day 2, and ‘weather’ day
The next morning, we got a little later start, so that we could time the rapids at Dodd Narrows. After passing through we passed by Nanaimo and headed north to Northwest Bay. The weather had gotten lumpy by then, so we put the fish in the water for the last 15 miles just to get a more comfortable ride. When we entered the calm water of the bay, we were all, kitties and Jim and I, ready for a break.
The next day, the winds were forecasted to stay high, and the currents would be adverse when we got to the north end of the strait, so we decided to take a ‘weather’ day and stay in the anchorage. We got a surprise at the end of our ‘weather’ day. We had not been monitoring them, but around 10pm, our friends Kurt and Marcia of Alpenglow, arrived in the anchorage and dropped the hook next to us! We talked briefly on the VHF and created a plan for the next day.
A short note about Alpenglow—Kurt and Marica bought the steel hulled ocean-going power boat several years ago, and this year is their 10th consecutive summer of cruising to Alaska! Their boat is 52’ and cruises at almost the identical speed to Sea Venture. Alpenglow has completed this passage several times.
We departed later in the morning, cruised up the coastline to the Campbell River area. We arrived around the time of the tidal change and anchored in nearby bay to await Seymour Narrows in the morning. With no wind, the cruise went off smoothly. The only caveat was that we left about an hour too early. We got into some tough adverse currents just south of Campbell River that made for slow cruising for the last few miles. We anchored in Gowland Harbor, close to the Narrows.
We got settled into our anchorage for the night and discussed plans for the rapids in the morning and the crossing of Cape Caution that would be a day or two out. Kurt and Marcia expressed a desire to cross Cape Caution overnight because of the full moon and calm wind forecast. We shared with them our interest is going offshore at Cape Caution and traveling the ‘outside’ route to Alaska through Hecate Strait. With those ideas swirling around, we mutually came up with a plan.
The next morning we set the alarm for 3:30am to leave our anchorage at 4:15. By 4:20 both vessels were on their way to the Narrows. We arrived on time, at slack, and but for crossing in front of a tug and barge, at their request, it was uneventful. We had some good current push taking us northbound. At some points, we cruised at over 10 knots, but 8 knots seemed the norm for most of the morning compared to our typical 6.5 knots. It made the day pass by uneventfully until we got to Current Passage by Kelsey Bay where the whirlpools and tidal currents took us for a ride, turning the boat left and right depending on what part of a whirlpool we got into. With some captaining on Jim’s part, we cruised on through that area. (We understood what Marcia was talking about when she said she did not want to go through that area at night)! You want to see what you are up against.
Around 4:30 in the afternoon, we approached Port McNeill. This was our original anticipated anchorage before the overnight passage idea took hold. We cruised on by and entered the north end of Queen Charlotte Strait. Here the water turned lumpy. We had about 20 knots of wind funneling through the area southbound, with northbound currents. This wind opposing current situation we avoided at Campbell River by waiting a day had found us this time. We had to slog through it, with the bow of Sea Venture pitching up and down, for about 3 hours before it settled out a bit. We did not enjoy it and neither did the kittens. We finally put the fish in the water around Pine Island at the north end of the channel, but it did not help a lot. The pitching continued for a couple of more hours as the sun started setting and we worked our way farther and farther offshore.
This was our first overnight in open waters, (both prior times were in the Strait of Georgia—a 20 mile wide waterway). As the sun was setting and the pitching reduced, we started to experience the low swell with no significant wind. The sunset was spectacular, in part because it fell below the horizon. Alpenglow was about 2 miles ahead of us, and we could only make out her stern navigation light. There were no other vessels around.
The sky got darker and darker and we started using our nighttime navigation tools. We used the small radar to watch for other objects on the water, we changed our navigation to our FLIR imaging system, (a heat sensing system that detects variations in heat, they share the same screen), we navigated with a laptop in the galley and the navnet. We turned all the house lights to red lights only.
When it was dusk, and you could still see outside, we were watching for logs there and on the AIS. At first we were wondering how one person could safely handle it all. Once it turned dark, the AIS was our only tool for looking outside. That almost made it easier. We had one course setting for 20 miles, we could only watch the radar and the FLIR. After that, we could only hope for good luck regarding debris in the water. We had about 5 hours of full darkness. Initially, we took turns, 30 minutes at a time, then 60, then 2 hours and we were already cruising in daylight waters. We had seen no logs the entire night. It was remarkable since we are constantly avoiding them during the day in the many inside passages.
Around 7:30 am, we realized that our speed would get us to the evening anchorage at 10 pm. We decided, with Alpenglow, to pull our fish back out of the water to gain a little speed, with hopes that we would get to the anchorage a bit earlier. We cruised for about 6 hours then we turned inland by Price Island and got out of the ocean swells. We made our way north about 40 miles to McMicking Inlet and weaved our way into what looked like an amazing anchorage with sandy beaches that we decided we needed to come back to explore when Canada allowed it. Our strategy worked. We arrived at 7:40 pm.
The next morning we headed north behind Banks Island and took Petrel Channel to an anchorage just south of Prince Rupert. The passage was misty and rainy, and we had to cruise around lots of logs and debris in the water. It was remarkably uneventful. We anchored in Kelp Passage Cove.
On the final day of our passage, we were blessed with calm seas and light wind and swells. We cruised past the town of Prince Rupert, cleared US Customs in Dixon Entrance by phone and settled into Foggy Bay in Alaska. Since we were still quarantining, Alpenglow continued on to a different anchorage and we went our separate ways. Our entire transit through Canada, from our anchorage in Sucia, WA to Foggy Bay, AK, took 85.2 hours. We traveled 554 nautical miles with an average speed of 6.502 knots.