Sunday, March 27, 2011

Favorite Anchorages - McMicken Island, Case Inlet

Beautiful McMicken Island looking East
There's a small South Puget Sound gem called McMicken Island.  It's a great anchorage with a good holding bottom and some lee from the prevailing SW winds.  There's plenty to see and do, but mostly it's a great place to anchor, and do nothing.  Well, do nothing as in read a book, relax with a nap, tinker about on your boat, row to shore and take a short beach stroll, you know - nothing.

At low tides you can do some clamming either at the beach at McMicken Island or at the nearby DNR beach.  At very low tides you might even get lucky to dig up a geoduck.  Just make sure you know the regulations, have a license, and know if there's a red tide alert.  If clamming is not for you, you can take an extended dinghy ride to Jarrell's Cove, or Pleasant Harbor, or even Allyn.  We often take the long trip (about 8 nm) to Allyn and enjoy an old fashioned hamburger at "Bob's Big Burgers."  But mostly anchoring at McMicken Island isn't about doing things its about doing nothing.

The past few times we've anchored at McMicken Island we have seen plenty of wildlife.  There seems to be some resident bald eagles that have nested on the island.  You will see deer in the late evening or early morning coming out on to the spit that connects McMicken to Hartstene Island.  We've even seen some otters there.  Of course you have all the other wildlife in the area - seals, gulls, bay ducks, and various tweety birds.

Not to be used for navigation
Most people approach McMicken Island from the south.  Make sure NEVER to cut between McMicken Island and Hartstene Island as it is shoal.  My recommendation is to always approach the anchorage coming around the north end of McMicken Island - giving the island a wide berth.  Anchor just west of McMicken Island and north of the bight that extends from Hartstene Island.  The bottom affords good holding of thick mud in about 20-30' of water.  There are also three state park mooring buoys along the west shore of McMicken Island and a few on the east side of the island.  Although if your vessel has a deep draft you may want to avoid the inner two mooring buoys on the west side of the island on a big minus tide.  I've never stayed at the buoys on the east side of the island as it is open to wind and waves coming up Case Inlet.

The island is not all a state park, the southern most end of the island is private property.  There is no water and pit toilets.  No fires are allowed.  Also, there is some poison ivy in the area.  There's some great swimming to be had here just off the bight on an incoming tide.  The shallow water will warm up quickly over the mud.  The kids will enjoy beach-combing for sand dollars and other shell trinkets.  Needless to say the anchorage is quite popular in the summer, but there's always room for another boat.

Here's a great recipe for clam nectar you might enjoy using fresh McMicken Island clams.
  • 2.5 quarts fresh seawater (strained and boiled for 5 or more minutes) or fresh water with 2 Tbsp of sea salt mixed in.
  • 5 lbs. clams in the shell
  • 1 stick butter (1 cup)
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Check clams by knocking two together.  The sound should not sound hollow but have a "click" to it.  Throw away any "bad" clams.  Strain seawater to remove any seaweed or other things.  Boil seawater thoroughly for 5 minutes or more to sterilize it.  Seawater is important because it contains the right amount of salt.  When salt water is done boiling, remove pot from heat, add clams and remaining ingredients, cover and let sit for about 5-10 minutes until all clams are opened.  Throw away any clams not opened.

Serve by putting clams in a big bowl along with coffee cup mugs full of hot clam nectar on the side.  We also serve crusty, garlicky french bread to dip into the clam nectar.  Save any unused clams and clam nectar for clam chowder, clam dip, and clam linguine. Enjoy.

For more information on clamming at McMicken Island visit this website.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Time for new batteries

Believe it or not, the batteries in the MV Independence have lasted for over eight (8) years.  The MV Independence uses three batteries - one 4D as a starting battery, and two 8D's as house batteries.  The batteries are all lead acid (flooded) batteries and not AGM or Gel batteries.  The MV Independence does have a permanent battery charger and while at anchor uses a small solar panel to help keep the batteries charged.

Using a hydrometer to see how "good"
your batteries are.
I am a "battery miser" and maybe that's why I was able to get over eight years out of these batteries.  However, as I tried to start the boat recently they're definitely dead.  I checked all the battery connections and they are all secure and good.  The battery voltage indicator at the helm showed that the batteries were good, that is over 13.5 volts.  But, as soon as you hit the starter button the sound was not of a healthy battery charge, rather that tell tale sound of a low or dead battery.  To confirm this I did a quick hydrometer check (specific gravity) and it showed that indeed all batteries are definitely low or dead.  A hydrometer is an essential tool that should be in every boater's tool kit.  It will definitely tell you what the status of your batteries are.  I knew last summer that my battery life was coming to an end - the windlass sounded slow, the starter was not crisp, and the voltmeter showed that it took a long time for my batteries to recover.

Eight years is a long time for the batteries to last.  How did I achieve this?  I've replaced almost all of my house lights with LED bulbs; I only run my refrigerator during daylight hours and then at a low setting (1-2); use a cooler for most items; carefully watch my battery voltage levels; use personal lighting devices versus using house lighting (lanterns, LED reading lights, etc.); and use an anchor light which runs from an independent battery.  Being a "battery miser" is not always fun.  The crew is always complaining about my concern on battery usage.  Maybe if I counted up the amount of money I've spent on ice I would be purchasing batteries every 4 or 5 years - I've never given it much thought.

Lately, I've been doing a lot of Internet research on what batteries to buy and where.  The cheapest option is to go to Sears and buy a "Die Hard."  This may not be the best option.  Instead, take an inventory of what your battery needs are and purchase an appropriate battery.  That is, identify the power requirements of your boat when it is at anchor, that is the refrigerator, lights, radio, and more and calculate the Amp Hours (Ah) required and compare that to the battery you are buying.  You never want to discharge a deep cycle battery more than 70% because it will never fully recover from this draining.  So, how does this all work?

Let's assume your Amp Hours (Ah) is 25 Ah counting all lights, refrigerator and more.  You might want to be a conservative "battery miser" like me and don't want to exceed 60% depth of discharge, giving you a 10% cushion.  Look at the chart and you'll see that 60% is about about 2 hours.  That will put you looking at purchasing a bit more expensive 200 Ah battery.  The cheaper battery might be only 125 Ah.  Multiply 200 Ah x 60% = 120 Ah (@ 2 hr. rate).  120 Ah / 2 hours = 60 Amps.  60Amps  / 25 Ah  = 2.4 hours.  So you're safe for another 36 minutes when your battery would be at 60% of depth of discharge capacity.  If you can lower your Ah you can run your batteries longer, for example  60 Amps / 20 Ah = 3 hours; or 60 Amps / 15 Ah = 4 hours!  You just need to decide how much power you want to use, or how much of a "battery miser" you want to be.  Conversely, if you chose the 125 Ah battery, you would only have 1.5 hours at 25 Ah!

What will take you the most time is inventorying your power consumption for a day at anchor.  I list each item (e.g., refrigerator, cabin lights, cell phone charger, radio, heater, etc.), the power draw in Amps for each, and an estimated time on or running for each, then multiply the time by the Amps to get Ah.  Some items may be only use mA or milliAmps which you have to divide by 1,000 to get the Amps. Add them all together to get your daily Ah needs. Don't forget to include your stereo which has a connection to the battery and uses power to display the clock!
Finally, rough estimates for a 4D flooded batteries deep cycle 200 Ah battery (lead acid vs. AGM or Gel) are about $170 versus over $400.  The $230 I would spend extra is not - in my opinion - worth it.  The argument of flooded versus other batteries could go on and on.  Yes, flooded batteries require more attentive maintenance - checking water levels, adding water, etc..  However, for me the flooded battery is my choice.  Flooded batteries have served the MV Independence for over 20 years. 

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on the project of removing and installing the new batteries.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Favorite Eats - Singapore Noodles & Shrimp

View from Althorp Pt. anchorage
In a previous post about catching shrimp I said I'd follow up with some shrimp recipes.  This one is one of the favorites from guests and crew of the MV Independence. Singapore noodles and shrimp always gets rave reviews.  Maybe because of the fresh shrimp, or maybe its because we're at some beautiful anchorage, or because we are surrounded by friends and family, or maybe all of the above.  Finally, it's oh so fast and easy to prepare, especially on your boat where ingredients and space matter.

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 of a small yellow onion, chopped fine
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (or 1 tsp of garlic powder)
  • 1/2 red sweet bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1 small carrot (6"), cut into thin match stick sized pieces
  • 2 tbsp of curry powder (we use Madras curry powder)
  • 2 tbsp of sweet vermouth or mirin
  • 2 tbsp of soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp of sambal oelek (red chili sauce) - more or less to taste
  • 12-20 large shrimp tails, peeled
  • 2 cups cooked al dente spaghetti or vermicelli
  • 2-3 green onions, chopped
Cook pasta and when done, drain and set aside.
Singapore noodles with fresh shrimp
In a large pan over medium high heat, melt butter and stir fry shrimp until just barely done about 2-3 minutes.  Shrimp will just start to turn pink.  Do not overcook.  Remove shrimp and set aside.  In the same pan that you just cooked the shrimp in add the olive oil and let it get hot.  Once the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion just turns clear and soft.  Next, add the carrots, peppers to the onions and garlic and cook for two minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the red chili sauce, the vermouth or mirin, and the curry powder and mix all ingredients well and cook for one minute.  Now, return the shrimp to the pan and finish cooking them, mixing the shrimp with all the ingredients.  Finally add the pasta to the pan and mix it well with all the ingredients.  Pour the soy sauce over the prawn and noodle mixture and mix well again.  We top it off with green onions and serve the dish family style, letting everyone serve themselves.  Keep the sambal oelek (red chili sauce) and soy sauce on the side for those who want more.  Make sure you have a nice bottle of chilled Chardonnay or Riesling to go with dinner.

We often serve Singapore Noodles with a side of "sunomono" - thinly sliced cucumbers in a dish with a bit of rice vinegar, sake or mirin, a dash of soy sauce, and a drop of sesame oil.  Mix the ingredients to taste, then add the cucumbers and let sit, chilled, for about 30 minutes.  For a special treat you might want to add a few lumps of crab meat to the sunomono.

After 25 years of going "upcoast" and catching shrimp we've got a lot more recipes like Shrimp with Gorgonzola Sauce, Thai curry shrimp, Gumbo, and more.  If readers are interested let me know and I can post more recipes.  Enjoy.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Favorite Anchorages - Montague Harbor

Montague Harbor is always a Canadian first or last for the MV Independence.  It's either the first stop in Canada as we go "upcoast" or our last stop in Canada as we head back home; either way it's a favorite of ours.  It offers us so much - a great place to relax and lay on the beach, or stretch our legs and go for a nice walk, or take a swim, or just do nothing, or all of the above.

Approaches to Montague Harbor are easy.  From the S, as you travel up Trincomali Channel you'll come just W of Phillimore Point on Galiano Island and turn to starboard into the channel leading into Montague Harbor.  Or from the N, you will come down Trincomali Passage, staying E of the Balingall Islets and enter the channel between Parker Island and Point Grey and turn to port to enter Montague Harbor. (Stay well W of the peninsula since it is shoal at the NW corner.)  Whether you come from the S or N you will find that Montague Harbor is a popular place.  The NW corner of the harbor is filled with mooring buoys operated by BC Provincial Parks.  There's a small park dock for small boats (<26') and dinghies.  A park ranger will visit you in the early evening so you can pay your mooring fee of $10 per night. Or, you can anchor pretty much anywhere in the large harbor over a thick, sticky gray, mud bottom which offers good holding.  A few folks will anchor in the bight just NW of the Provincial Park on the Trincomali Passage side.  Again, good holding bottom of thick sticky mud.  If you don't want use a park buoy, or anchor, you can also find visitor moorage at the Montague Harbour Marina which is located along the middle - east side of Montague Harbor.  The marina has some groceries, gift shop and a grill/snack bar. On hot August days we'll always stop by to get some ice cream. Although we've never done it, you can rent a moped to tour the island (maybe a future idea?).

View of Montague Hbr. towards Pt. Grey looking W.
If a brisk northwesterly wind is blowing out in the Strait of Georgia you can bet it will be blowing in Montague Harbor.  On occasion we have seen some boats drag anchor if they don't have enough scope out.  There's good protection from any SE winds.  You'll want to arrive early if you want a BC Provincial Parks mooring buoy since they all seem to be taken by 2:00 PM (or earlier) during the summer.  At times, I have counted well over a hundred boats anchored in the harbor during August when Montague Harbor is most popular with visiting boaters.  Bigger boats tend to anchor in the middle of the harbor where the depth is about 60'.  The past few years, late in the summer a big converted tug will anchor in the middle of the harbor and you can buy freshly baked goods.

For the MV Independence, Montague Harbor is about four hours away from Friday Harbor in the San Juan's, and about five hours away from Nanaimo.  It's a good central spot in the Gulf Islands.  After anchoring in Montague, we'll often take an extended dinghy ride over to Ganges to get groceries.  It's a bit of an adventurous dinghy ride (~8 nm), but can be done on calm days without any problem. You'll get to visit crowded, busy, and noisy Ganges but know you can return to peace and quiet.  However, most of the time we enjoy the 1 mile long Point Grey trail that goes from the campground and makes a loop on the western peninsula.  There's plenty of places to stop, read a book in the shade, take a short nap, or poke about on the beach.  Or we'll walk on the road that leads into the park and walk towards the marina.  Both are enjoyable walks that will present you with lots of photo opportunities.  During the summer on certain nights (Thu,, Fri., Sat.) you can catch the free "pub bus" that travels to the Hummingbird Pub on Galiano Island.  That's a fun adventure in itself.
View of Montague Hbr. looking SE from the Point Grey trail.

You can drop your garbage off in the park, but it will cost you about $2 per bag.  The park has no showers and only pit toilets, but the outhouses are very clean.  BC Provincial Parks has on weekends a naturalist available that can tell you about the marine life and ecology of the Gulf Islands. There's a little marine wildlife center on the dock for kids. Cell phone reception in Montague Harbor is very poor.  It could be from the power lines that stretch over the northern half of Montague Harbor, or from the steep sides of Galiano Island.  You'll either find that a blessing to be out of contact, or a curse.  I tend to find the lack of cell phone service a blessing.  If you're into fishing you can fish for salmon in the Active Pass area nearby; just be careful of the frequent BC ferries that travel through.

Gulf Islands Cruising GuideMontague Harbor is a Gulf Island gem.  I hope you will find it as a "first" or "last" on your cruising adventure too.  If you want to learn more about Montague Harbor, has several books about cruising the Gulf Islands. May I suggest Peter Vassilopoulos' Gulf Islands Cruising Guide?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Summer Trip Planning - Catching Shrimp

I remarked in an earlier post that I like "catching" more than "fishing."  Well, when it comes to shrimp I definitely like catching more than fishing.  While enjoying a nice salmon, or ling cod, or halibut dinner is good, having a shrimp cocktail before dinner is the best.  To me this is Pacific Northwest cruising at its finest.

When you are on the water, you will find that you need to live your life with the tides & currents.  There are times when you can maximize your crabbing or shrimping, and other times when you set down a pot but your "take" or catch just won't be as good.  Once again, choosing the right tide is oh so important.  As with catching salmon or halibut, taking advantage of a "neap" tide or tide where there's little water difference (generally less than 5') are your best opportunities for catching shrimp.

Spot shrimp are the best.
There are two species of shrimp that you will catch - "Coon Stripes" and "Spots."  "Coon Stripes" have darker red bands that circle the tail of the shrimp and generally smaller rarely exceeding 4-5" in length.  "Spots" have a distinct white spot on the tail and can get to 9-10" in length.  My personal opinion is that "Spots" taste better than "Coonies."  I believe the meat is firmer and the taste just a bit sweeter, but I'll eat either.

To catch shrimp, you will need to find those places where there isn't much current, just at the base of an underwater cliff or drop-off, between 200 and 400' deep, and hopefully close to where a freshwater stream enters.  Many of the long narrow inlets of BC are perfect for shrimping.  When I fish for shrimp I'll put my pot down late in the afternoon and retrieve it the next morning allowing it to "soak" all night.  Shrimp like to actively feed at night, and tend to "bed down" or hide during the day.  Consequently my overnight soaking strategy.  Shrimp are also "opportunistic bottom feeders" looking to feed on anything that might have died and fallen to the bottom.  They don't like high current areas they have to expend a lot of energy to move around against the current.  Besides that, any food that falls to the bottom tends to move with the current so the shrimp have a tough time finding or feeding on it.  Again you'll want to find a time when there's very little current.  Again, a "neap tide" or when there's little tidal exchange.

When I look at the tides for the inlets in and around Desolation Sound this summer (2011) it doesn't look good for shrimping.  Most of the smaller tidal exchanges occur during the daylight hours with large tidal exchanges (more than 10') happening during the nighttime hours.  In fact, the last "good" nighttime shrimping tides occur in May and then don't return again until late fall.  So I can't expect huge hauls of shrimp, rather maybe smaller hauls of between 5-30 shrimp per pot.  This correlates very nicely with the notes that I have taken in my 21 years of cruising and fishing the BC coast.  Of course there are other factors too that will determine your shrimp "take."  My notes tell me that water temperature is a big factor, also how hard was the area hit by commercial shrimpers recently, and how much bait (herring, anchovies, etc.) are in the area.

Last year wasn't a good shrimp year for the MV Independence to some of the inlets that we visited, but we still enjoyed some shrimp dinners and cocktails.  Tides weren't conducive - over 12' exchanges at night.  The water temperature was 38F which is very cold.  When cruising I saw very few sea birds and noticed few "bait soundings" on my depth sounder.  And locals told me that the area was heavily fished during the winter months.

However, my desire and appetite for fresh shrimp is strong and so I'll still set a few shrimp pots, I just have to temper my expectations.  To go shrimping you will need the following (which are all available at Cabelas):
  • A sturdy shrimp pot, preferable a heavy guage metal pot.  Note, shrimp pots sold in BC may not be legal in Washington, because the mesh size might be smaller.
  • A minimum of 350' of good nylon line.  Too thin it will hurt your hands to pull up, and too thick and it will take a huge spool of line.  I like 3/8" yellow poly line.
  • A heavy duty float, I use a large "cherry buoy."  You'll need to put your name, boat name, and phone number on it.  A couple of times I'm glad I used a large buoy, because the pot "floated" and I could spot the buoy down the inlet.
  • A couple of clip on lead weights to ensure that your line does not float.
  • A plastic container to hold your bait that is secured inside your pot.  I like to use a mix of commercial fish food pellets and pieces of fish carcass.
  • And a fishing license and knowledge about the fishing regulations in your area.
Study your chart and look for the flat areas that are just below a steep drop off at about 250-300' deep and hopefully close to a stream or creek.  Slowly drop your pot down and keep tension on the line as it drops.  Notice that wind or current may stray you from the spot you originally picked.  I also suggest stopping your motor because you don't want to get your shrimp pot line tangled in your prop.  That will ruin your day.  Once you notice the pot is on the bottom, place a clip on lead weight on the line, and spool out about another 30-50' of line to account for the tide and current.  Securely tie your buoy to your line and place the second clip on lead weight just below the buoy, about 1'-2'.  Mark the spot with your GPS.  Then when you return later you can see if your pot moved because of the current, if it did, your shrimp haul will be less than expected.  I also suggest entering notes in your log book about your shrimp pot set such as where, when (time of day), the tide height, the depth, temperature, current, water clarity, and weather conditions (cloudy, sunny).  From your notes, you will start learning about catching shrimp and improve your shrimp catching prowess.

I'll follow up this blog post with some great shrimp recipes.  Good luck.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Summer Trip Planning - Where & When To Fish

One of the best reasons to go cruising is to catch some fish and have fresh fish for dinner - nothing is better.  I like to go "catching" versus "fishing."  So I'll do whatever it takes to catch fish versus spending time and money and fishing.  Over the 20+ years of cruising "up coast" to British Columbia I have come to recognize that you've got to know the tides and currents if you want to catch fish.  Not knowing the tides and currents will have you doing a lot of fishing and not catching.  Also important is to understand which fish to fish for during which tides and currents.  For example, you're not going to be very successful fishing for halibut or springs (King salmon) when the current is really running hard, but you can fish for coho salmon.  Secondly, you need to know the rules and regulations.  No use fishing if the area has a restriction.  Or buying a 5 day license when the best times to fish are all at night.  Thirdly, you need to know where to fish for what you are fishing for.  Your chance for catching halibut will be low if you are slowly trolling along the steep shore of a narrow inlet.  And finally, you need to consider the weather for the location you plan to fish.  No use fishing Taylor Bank in Queen Charlotte Strait if there's a 20+ knot westerly blowing - you'll be miserable and lose lots of gear.

Nice 12 lb. chicken halibut
My favorite fish to catch is halibut.  Halibut can range is size from 15-20 lb. "chickens" to 200 lb plus "barn doors."  I enjoy "chicken" halibut the best because they're easily to handle, easy to clean, easy to catch, and don't always contain parasites like the big, old ones do.  I also think they're better tasting.  One popular place you can try catching a halibut is Taylor Bank in Queen Charlotte Strait. (You didn't think I would give you my secret fishing holes did you?) You'll want to pick a day and time when there's very little current and the wind is not blowing.  Now, we can't predict what the weather will be that far in advance but we can predict the tides.  You'll want to pick a date where the high and low tides are not too extreme.  A few "good" dates are July 24 through July 26.  That means you could start fishing around 8 AM and finish before the usual afternoon winds begin to blow. (Want to read a great book on how to catch halibut?  Go to and enter "How to Catch Trophy Halibut."  It's written by a friend of mine and there's a well worn copy aboard the MV Independence.)
Tides for Blunden Harbor, BC approx. 7 nm away from Taylor Bank for 7/25 & 26

If you're interested in catching springs (King salmon) a good place to fish for them is in and around Cordero Channel (just NW of the Yuculta Rapids and Desolation Sound).  Looking at the below tides, the best time would be in the evenings just before dark from July 24 through July 26.  Again, there's not too much change in the tide between high and low.  You'll want to very slowly troll or even mooch along steep underwater drop offs with a plug or herring, or jig.
Tides for Shoal Bay, Cordero Channel, BC for 7/24 & 7/25

If your interest is still for salmon but you don't want to go out in the evening, you could try catching coho salmon on the same mornings when the tide is running stronger.  I learned from experience to troll in only one direction, that is don't troll against the current because you really won't move anywhere but troll with the current.  When you are trolling, vary your speed and look for small tide rips and troll or mooch along the edge of these currents.  When you get to the "end" of your fishing area, pull up your gear and quickly motor back to where you started fishing,  Try varying depths from 30'-80' and troll a flasher and a hoochie (squid looking thing). You could also mooch with a cut plug herring.  (You can find all sorts of salmon lures - plugs, hoochies, flashers, and more at

Small 15 lb. spring salmon
As to weather, I used to be a fish biologist long ago and I can tell you there is some truth to the saying, "fish bite better during rain."  It's a fish physiology "thing." When the barometric pressure is low there is less pressure on the water and so the transfer of oxygen in the water across the gills in fish is easier and the fish are more active to feed.  If the pressure is high, the transfer of oxygen from the water across the gills is tougher and so the fish are less active to feed.  So, watch the barometer if it's way high your chance of catching fish is less than if the barometer is low. 

Remember you cannot fish in any area that is marked as a "Rockfish Conservation Zone."  When fishing for salmon you must have a salmon stamp on your license and use barbless hooks.  Always carry the current sportfishing pamphlet with you along with your license, and take the time to read the regulations for the area you are fishing.  If you meet up with DFO they will tell you that ignorance is not an excuse.  (You can buy your Canadian fishing license online, goto "")

I hope you do more "catching" than "fishing."