Exactly one month after leaving Bellingham, we’re nearly 2/3 of the way up the Inside Passage. We pulled into Prince Rupert last night after a long day of rowing with favorable winds and currents. A few miles outside of town near a huge coal loading dock, the BC ferry en route from Port Hardy passed us. Expecting just the usual ship’s wake, we were greeted by an impressively loud whistle and wave from the captain, who dashed out on deck to signal to us. We had crossed paths with the same boat (heading south) just a few days prior in Grenville Channel and the captain obviously noted our progress. Feeling like minor celebrities for all of 60 seconds was enough to take our minds off our aching bums during the final stretch.
Passing the industrial docks before reaching the ferry terminal offered a glimpse into the major shipping hub that distinguishes Prince Rupert. A handful of staggeringly large ships sat moored outside of the harbor, waiting for their turn at loading. The constant stream of coal from a giant chute seemed to be the hold-up–the volume that these ships can hold is so large that it can take days to load one. We then passed next to a Monrovian-based Cosco ship loaded with several hundred shipping containers, each the size of a railcar.
This hubbub of activity stood in stark contrast to the remoteness of the last 350 miles. Aside from a short stretch of pavement in Bella Bella, this is first place since Vancouver Island where a road meets the water. The past week has felt much more like the Inside Passage that you might imagine–mist-shrouded channels, humpbacks, delightfully calm water, and, yes, rain. We’ve been quite fortunate so far to have relatively short periods of drenching downpours, but they come often enough to remind us what a treat it is to be dry. We discovered early on that Pat’s high-school-era tent has seen better days, at least in terms of water resistance, and scrounged an old tarp that provides a bit more protection. Unfortunately we’re down a vestibule pole as well, sacrificed to one of the brush thickets turned campsite. Let’s hope the sun continues to make a semi-regular appearance!
We rowed through the long and narrow Princess Royal and Grenville channels–fully “inside” waters, but due to their topography, subject to strong, funneled winds. We’ve found that battling headwinds and chop is very inefficient so have taken to traveling long hours (10-12) and miles (35-40) when conditions are good and cutting our days a bit shorter when they are not. Fortunately the weather has been much more cooperative lately and winds have only been moderate, in contrast to the gale-force blows early in the trip.
Another important consideration recently has been timing currents to coincide with travel. This can be a bit tricky, especially given that the direction of flow often changes within a single channel. A flood (rising) tide comes in from both ends, meets in the middle, and then reverses direction. There are often surprisingly long delays before the currents catch up with the water level and many eddies and other variable patterns, all of which make a big difference when traveling in a non-motorized boat. With our cruising speed at less than 4 kts, a 4 kt current can stop progress entirely. This fact makes 4am wake-ups and hitting the water at first light a bit more palatable.
Despite the snow lingering on the hillsides, it feels like spring is on its way. It’s been fun to see many active eagle nests along the shoreline, migrating flocks of swans, brant, and Canada geese, and tiny rufous hummingbirds braving the early spring weather. Though not as numerous as in more southern waters, sea lions still come to investigate us regularly, along with porpoises, seals, sea otters, and river otters. We’ve also started to see more humpbacks the past few days as they refuel on their way north.
Our own refueling has been super-charged by a recently-discovered culinary delight–the peanut butter hot dog. Pat had the clever idea to vacuum seal many pounds of peanut butter so as to make it more manageable along the way. We’ve found that just about anything tastes better with a thick dollop of peanut butter on top. Just clip the corner of the bag, squeeze, and suddenly those dry granola bars, handfuls of trail mix, and even strips of jerky taste a whole lot better!
We picked up our resupply today and are ready to head out tomorrow morning, barring any weather delays (strong southerlies are in the forecast). The public dock has offered plenty of entertainment–saxophone practice on a fishing boat, kids jigging for rockfish, “Haddington John” (aka John the hermit) telling stories of exploring these waters over the past 58 years. The Alaskan border is now only 35 miles away, on the far side of Dixon Entrance. We’ll pass through Ketchikan to clear customs and then make our way up to Petersburg for our last resupply. Hoping for(light) winds in our faces!