The cadenced rattle of anchor chain turning across windlasses carried across still water as the fleet got underway not long after sunrise today, leaving slowly through the rocky pass, now shrunken even further due to the low tide. What a difference a day makes! The waters of Dixon Entrance lay glassy before us and we rolled on a gentle one foot swell. Quite the contrast from yesterday’s squalls and whitecaps! The sun shone down through scattered high clouds and compelled us to find our long forgotten dusty sunglasses.
We fell in among a loose group of sailboats and yachts also roaming south. As we passed the lonely Lord Islands the land fell away leaving us upon a shimmering blue white sea all around. So serene was the passage it was only when we drew close to the stunted and gnarled forests clinging to the stone of Canada’s Dundas Island that we were reminded how lucky we were to have crossed on a day such as today. Small fishing boats checked crab pots among the reefs and far away to the east white puffs of vapor betrayed the location of a group of humpback whales.
The complex and rocky bottom here make us glad for redundant depth sounders, GPS, and accurate charts. At low tide the jagged rocks make it easy to see why this region, stretching out to Haida Gwaii and the west coast of Vancouver Island, is known as the graveyard of the pacific. One also has to wonder at the extraordinary skill of early explorers of the region like Vancouver and Cook who safely felt their way through these unknown waters with none of the luxuries we enjoy today.
We take the northern channel into Prince Rupert, snaking past sandbars and the shrinking town of Metlakatla, BC, abandoned by Rev. William Duncan and his Simshian converts who moved north to found Metlakatla, AK. The channel emerges into the wide harbor below the city of Prince Rupert, where a solitary concrete skyscraper stands in stark contrast with its backdrop of endless forested mountains. Anchored offshore sit eight enormous bulk cargo ships, their sterns painted with the names of faraway nations. Prince Rupert is the terminus of Canada’s northern transcontinental railway and from this port vast quantities of grain, coal, and ore flow across the oceans.
We find our berths at the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club, a small marina in downtown Cow Bay, a quaint collection of seaside shops and restaurants tucked among the fishing wharfs and shipyards. We painlessly clear customs, each skipper making an easy phone call from the booth at the head of the pier. The crews spread out to explore, some locally, making quick friends with their cruising neighbors across the pier, while the crew of Aquila rents a car to revisit the route of a long-ago motorcycle trip. The sun is warm and happy fishermen shout to one another over crates of fresh caught salmon and doormat sized halibut. Not a bad day to be in Prince Rupert.