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April 20–Storm at Cape Fox

As we loaded boats in preparation for leaving the dock at Prince Rupert, we listened once again to the dismal forecast on our handheld VHF. Two powerful lows were reportedly headed up the coastline and the weather wasn’t forecast to break until the end the week (5 days away).   As we debated about our plans, the deckhand from a halibut longliner walked over to chat. The crew had come to dock the previous night to wait out the storm. He asked about our rowboats and where we were headed, then ducked inside the fishing boat to check with his captain, who had 25 years of experience in the area, on his weather outlook for the morning. The longliner had two conspicuous camera eyes mounted on its cabin and a series of counters just below with a four-letter code printed next to each.  We learned that this is a Canadian regulation for monitoring bycatch–each haul is recorded on video, all non-target species counted, and then 10% of the tapes are watched and compared to the logbooks. Seems like quite an effective system and the fishermen were surprisingly good-natured about it, arguing that it’s the only way to ensure stable stocks. After the captain clued us in to good landings and sheltered bays further north, we decided to poke out into Venn Channel for a look.

Around the corner and into southern Dixon Entrance we were pleasantly surprised to find only slightly choppy seas and a steady, but manageable tailwind.  Passing through extensive kelp beds, we saw our first big rafts of scoters since Georgia Strait. We zoomed along with the current and wind, entertained by the constant buzz of activity as gulls, sea ducks, sea lions, and porpoises surfaced and dove around us. Still expecting the storm to arrive at any moment, we rowed hard all day, trying to make miles before we got shut down. But by evening the wind had stopped almost entirely. Though we intended to camp on the south side of Portland Inlet (a 6 mile crossing subject to strong winds and with over 100 miles of fetch), we took advantage of the conditions to scoot across just before dark. We camped at a sandy beach on a tiny chain of islets.

The next morning we woke to breezy and wet conditions and by early afternoon it had started to get rough.  Crossing the Alaskan border, we were greeted by harlequin ducks, turnstones, and driving rain. As we rounded Cape Fox and left the protection of offshore islands, it became apparent that the storm had finally caught up with us.  Cold and wet, we ducked into a small cove sheltered by Fox Island. Though only 15 miles and 5 hours into the day, the white froth building out in Dixon Entrance meant we were going to stay put. Conditions worsened quickly and we’ve now been here for 2 1/2 days.

We made an attempt to continue on yesterday morning after the winds calmed temporarily but decided against it given the gale- to storm-warnings all along the coast and the building swell.  So after breaking down camp, loading boats, and rowing for 20 minutes, we turned around and did the whole process in reverse.  It turned out that the brunt of the second storm didn’t hit until late afternoon so we would have had a few hours of decent conditions.  But by early evening the wind and rain pounded on our tent and the Dixon Entrance buoys reported 50 kt winds and 21′  seas.

Though we’re ready to get back on the water again, our Cape Fox campsite is beautiful and wild.  Two fins of fine-sand beaches (dotted with deer and marten tracks) abut a small rocky intertidal and cedar-hemlock forest that faces out onto the open Pacific. Some of the gnarled, stalky cedars are huge and presumably quite old. We’re just inside the border of Misty Fjords Nat’l Monument at the north end of Chatham Sound.  By the time you’re reading this we will have reached Ketchikan, which is 60 miles away.  We plan to make a quick stop to clear customs and then continue on, hopefully making up a bit of time after this most recent weather delay.

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