Last night’s rain continued this morning in fits and starts, coming and going in fits and starts. The drifting grey clouds hung draped on the mountainsides, and squalls moved slowly across the channel on the lightest of breezes, the heavy drops prickling the surface with an effervescent patter. Solitary harbor seals watched us curiously as we wove around driftwood. The recent full moon has brought us strong flood tides the bathe the lower branches of the trees and lift and float away the fallen wood normally caught on the rocks. Great whirling currents collect the debris, and lines of flotsam stretch in all directions. Fist sized chunks of bark and arm length twigs slide noiselessly along our hull, but the 150 cedar trees with roots and needles still attached are cause for abrupt changes in course.
We pass through thicker bands of debris as we approach the intersection of Otter Channel and Principe Channel. The tides moving past the reefs and shoaling water in these areas cause large gyres and upwelling currents, which collect the logs. These same currents also attract whales, who feed on the smaller creatures which come to feed in these oxygen rich waters. The area of Napean Rock provides us with our first encounter- a group of four or five humpbacks making shallow feeding dives , their white and black flukes waving in greeting as they submerge. For the next hour we see all around us blows, arching backs, and shining flukes.
A more somber mood settles over us a while later as we pass the northern tip of Gil Island, where on a stormy winter night in 2006 the ferry Queen of the North missed a crucial turn as it exited Grenville Channel and went onto the rocks, sinking with the loss of two passengers. The other 99 on board were rescued by brave residents of nearby Hartley Bay, a small First Nations community nearby who responded in their small fishing boats to the stricken ship. On Juan Point where the Queen went aground stand two white crosses, visible through the rain against the dark green forest behind.
Both the rain and the mood lifted further along as we cruised past towering stone walls and tall billowing waterfalls, turning eventually into the confines of Bishop Bay, home to a lovely natural hot spring. The springs have made this a popular place for mariners for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and the stones around the spring are painted and etched with the names of hundreds of vessels and sailors who have made the trip. The ramp to dock washed away last winter in a storm and has yet to be replaced, so we rafted the boats in the south end of the bay and made the trip in the dinghy. The water temperature is perfect, and the rustic boardwalk and incredible view make for a rewarding soak. To compound our relaxing experience the clouds began to break apart, revealing lofty tree shrouded mountaintops. By late afternoon the sun streamed into our cabin windows and warm breezes snaked through the open hatches. It’s hard to beat a hot spring and hot sun at anchor on the Inside Passage!