June 11, 2010

Day 27 at Sea: Rites of Passage

They say a man ain't no kind of man till he parks his skiff high and dry on the North Coast.

These photos probably look worse than it was or perhaps it was worse than it looks, but the important thing here is that the boat and crew suffered zero collateral damage from this event. Once the high tide rushed back in to Lowe Inlet, the boat returned to her happy buoyant self. She righted and shook the mud and barnacles off her hull. We started up the diesel and powered her back into Grenville Channel - never to return to that anchorage again.
The story begins the previous afternoon as Dan and I were making horrible headway up the long sinuous Grenville Channel - a 45 mile stretch of narrow fjord about three days shy of Alaska. A persistent ridge of high pressure had been sending us nothing but strong north winds for the past week. We have been taking this headwind like a bitter pill - right on the bow. Despite favorable currents, our speed over ground was reduced to a humbling 2.5 knots/hour. For reference, this is walking speed. But not a healthy vigorous walk, 2-3 knots/hour is a walker walk. It's about the speed of an old man hobbling down the sidewalk with a walker. This is good if you want to check out each mossy rock and waterfall as you sail past but not so good if you're trying to get from A to B.
So, we decided instead of walker-ing our way to Alaska - we would peel into the next anchorage that afforded us protection from strong northern gusts. Lowe Inlet was an easy decision. Charlie's Charts, the Douglas Guide and Pat Freeny's meticulous notes all agreed that Lowe was well sheltered. It also contains a historic fishing weir, a dramatic waterfall and offers the chance to watch bears scavenge the shoreline at low tide. Plus, Jonathon Raban stopped here and wrote a funny bit about it in, 'Passage to Juneau'. That sealed the deal for me - since Raban's book has served as a bit of a talisman throughout this journey. Damn you Raban.
We spent quite a bit of time deciding on the best spot to drop the anchor. We had a low tide when we dropped the hook, the depth sounder read 8 feet from the bottom. Through the night, the tide would rise to 18 feet above low water then down again to a five foot low at 7 am. My boat draws 5 feet. Anyway we knew we would be close to the bottom in the morning, so the plan was to wake up at 5 am, two hours before the low, check the depth, take in line or else move somewhere else.
Late at night, a williwaw sent strong gusts of North winds over the mountain saddle. I feared the winds would drag the anchor so I let out 30 more feet of line. This extra bit of line, when stretched horizontally with strong North gusts hovered us over a shallow shelf right around 4:30 am.
That was when Dan woke up to the awful sound of the keel settling into the muddy floor of Lowe Inlet. I woke up to Dan saying 'Curran, we gotta get out of here.'
In the dim dusk light I walked out to the bow and first noticed that the boat wasn't shifting down into the water while I moved about the deck. Then, neither the propeller nor winching the anchor line would budge the boat. That was it, we were grounded, and the tide had quite a bit more to fall.
This was the, 'oh shit' moment.
Minutes later, we began listing to port.
We moved everything from the starboard side to the port side, secured the plumbing, secured the electricity, battened down the hatches, got some food, water and clothes out of the boat and paddled to shore.
Aside from that, there is not much to tell. It was a very graceful dip. She laid down nice and easy in the soft sand, the tide reversed, by 9:30 she was back to bobbing on anchor. She didn't take on a single drop of water.
Onward and upward; what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. We motor sailed into Prince Rupert today and are currently waiting out a storm before we cross Dixon Entrance and enter into Alaska.

Lowe Inlet is a popular anchorage on the Inside Passage, so there was a smattering of other boats on anchor that morning. As people woke up, we were curious who would come over and chat with us. I mentioned it would be cool if someone brought us some coffee while we waited for high tide. Mike showed up first (blue denim on the right) nice guy, Canadian - he had some advice on what to do if she didn't right herself as the water came in - but he didn't bring coffee. Then came Petunia and 'Uncle' Roy - they were missionaries from the Prince of Wales Island. Petunia brought a thermos of warm coffee. Very awesome. I will never bad mouth missionaries again, seriously. They sail the stout motor vessel, Coastal Messenger, into isolated communities up here and spread the good news regarding the Word. Either way, great people, they took our minds off the matter at hand.

And there she is, back to buoyant. Like it never happened.
I love this boat.


Lisa Stringfield said...

I hate to say this, but your boat looked pretty darn sexy all laid up on the beach like that! It looked as if she was sunning herself or something. Seriously, though I am glad to hear that both you and Dan are alright and the big "A" is seaworthy. Can't wait to hear your next adventure.

Lisa (the Librarian)

rocking R rustics said...

Wow Id have been really worried about the rudder as the tide came back in. Glad to see it back on top of the water. Id love to be up there this time of year, bet your having a blast.

Kimberly said...

i love that the missionaries brought you coffee -- kind folks, indeed. very cool photos of the whole adventure. :) i'm curious - what would you do differently next time? not let out more rope on the anchor? seems like that could get you into trouble, too.