Saturday, October 15, 2011

Summer Trip Planning - Going Beyond Cape Caution

I know it's fall and the summer cruising season is just over, but this is the time I start planning for next summer's cruising adventures.  There's a whole new experience of wilderness cruising called the "BC Central Coast."  This area stretches from Queen Charlotte Strait in the south to approximately Klemtu in the north.  It is an area that will provide cruising adventures for a lifetime.  There are several spectacular cruising areas within the Central Coast such as Rivers Inlet, Hakai Pass, Ocean Falls, Fjordland and more.  However to get to these dream cruising places you've got to cross Queen Charlotte Sound and go beyond Cape Caution.  This can be a significant cruising challenge for any boater - experienced or not.  You will have to deal with open ocean waves and swell, strong currents, and shoal areas.  Several times I have made this trip without any problem, but a few times the crew was seasick and about ready to mutiny.

Click on chart for larger image
There are two major routes to go beyond Cape Caution, one is to take the more direct route from Port Hardy, and the other is to follow the lee shore and go along the mainland coast.  The route from Port Hardy is shorter, more direct, and has less challenges of current and shoal areas, but is also more open to weather and provides few opportunities for shelter.  Once you leave the Goletas Channel area you are committed to go all the way.   I have done this and have spent several hours in very uncomfortable beam seas as the waves and swell came from the west and I'm traveling north.  I often jokingly say, "The only thing stopping the waves and swell here is Japan." Currently the crew does not like this route at all and will immediately object if I suggest it.  The other route by going along the mainland shore offers you more opportunities for shelter and less beam seas, but you have to deal with currents and shoals.  This is the preferred route that we normally take when going beyond Cape Caution.

Click on above chart for larger image
The planning for the mainland route crossing starts at Blunden Harbor which is a great all weather anchorage with excellent holding.  We've waited out several blows in this harbor.  There's plenty of exploring to do and there's good crabbing too.  To start planning for this crossing, listen to the weather forecast for the Central Coast from MacInnes Island to Pine Island.  You'll want to listen to lightstation weather reports at Pine Island and Egg Island along with the continuous reports from Herbert Island and West Sea Otter.  The lightstation reports and the weather buoy at West Sea Otter will give you an idea of the sea conditions of wave height and swell.  My suggestion is if the wind is anything greater than 15 knots and seas of three foot moderate or more, you're in for a rough and uncomfortable ride.  You will also want to consult the tide and current tables for Nakwakto Rapids.  Do not travel the "mainland route" during any kind of large ebb with winds over 15 knots.  If you do you will experience rough and steep seas particularly by the Jennette Islands, Slingsby Channel, and Egg Island.  I try to time my route during an early morning flood before the typical afternoon westerly and northwesterly winds pick up.  I recognize that I'll have to fight the current for a good long distance, but it will make for better seas and a happier crew.

Alternate route to anchorages
Once you go around the Jennette Islands you will immediately feel the waves and swell from Queen Charlotte Sound if the winds are from the west or northwest.  One year we were happily cruising along fighting a two foot chop and "wham" we went to steep four foot seas or more almost as soon as we passed the light on Jennette Island.  The crew was not happy and we immediately made for one of two good anchoring refuges - Skull Cove or Miles Inlet.  Both of these anchorages offer good protection from weather and offer good holding.  Miles Inlet will provide anchorage for about four boats, whereas Skull Cove will offer anchoring for dozens of boats.  If the seas are particularly rough you can take a alternate route to Skull Cove which will take you out of the rough water sooner.  One year the westerly winds never let up and we never went around Cape Caution instead staying at Skull Cove and exploring the islands of the Murray Labyrinth and going into Seymour and Belize Inlets.  We had good crabbing, good fishing, and lots of exploring.  It turned out to be one of our best trips ever.

Once you get past Cape Caution stay well to port of Egg Island and Dugout Rocks.  At this point in your crossing if there are any kind of westerly winds you will probably be beam to the waves and swell.  Once you pass Dugout Rocks you can put the prevailing westerlies to your port stern quarter and start to ride the waves and swells into Rivers Inlet and stay at Duncanby Landing or farther in to Dawsons Landing, or go on to our favorite anchorage Fury Cove.  If you experience rough beam seas by Egg Island and had enough that, you can always turn into Smith Sound and go exploring there too.  There's plenty of excellent anchorages and things to do there too.

Be prepared.  As far as cruising essentials you will want to make sure you have any spare parts that you might need and make sure your boat is in perfect operating condition. Make sure to top off your fuel and water tanks. The marinas are far and few between beyond Cape Caution.  Make sure you have the paper charts you need; don't just rely on electronic charts. Take the time to study the charts before you go so you'll have a plan if the weather turns sour.  Check with your marine insurance provider - many insurance policies only go as far as Hope Island at the end of Goletas Channel.  You may need to pay for extra insurance or get a waiver. Finally make sure your radar is working - chances are you will need it.  June is typically wet with low clouds. July is typically windy particularly in the afternoons and evenings.  And August is known locally as "Fogust" with strong afternoon winds after the fog lifts.

Cruising beyond Cape Caution provides you some of the world's best cruising opportunities as well as incredible fishing for salmon, halibut, and bottom fish.  The wildlife viewing opportunities are rich too - wolves, bears, whales, dolphins, and more.  And finally if you want that remote scenic anchorage all to yourself there's plenty of them to be found.  Hope this helps.

MV Independence at anchor in Fury Cove
Interested in other "summer trip planning" posts?  You might want to search the MV Independence blog for:

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