The last leg of our summer flotilla got underway this morning as we cast off from the busy docks in Ketchikan’s Bar Harbor. We have spent the last few days enjoying Ketchikan and preparing the boats for the long journey south towards Bellingham, loading on food, fuel, and gear to make the trip safe and comfortable. Our orientation meeting the day before our departure gave us all the chance to meet for the first time, and we learned that we have some truly experienced crew members aboard for this leg, including a couple with a world circumnavigation under their belt, a couple of competitive sailing yacht racers from New Zealand, as well as the owners of the DeFever yachts Koa Lanai and Hele Mai.
All that experience on board turned to our advantage when the updated weather forecast caused us to change our plans, making our first day out turn out to be a bit longer than expected! The robotic voice on the VHF weather radio squawked out predictions for tomorrow of up to 40 knots of wind in Dixon Entrance, the broad open ocean strait that divides SE Alaska and British Columbia’s north coast. With that in mind we decided to get while the getting was good and sailed on past Foggy Bay, our intended anchorage, and made for the small port city of Prince Rupert.
Despite the storm predicted for tomorrow, our crossing today was almost glassy smooth, and none of us could ever remember seeing Dixon Entrance quite this calm! The occasional band of fog hung lazily over the water, and the snarling ridges above Tree Point and Cape Fox bade us a wild goodbye as we stepped out into the open strait and left the United States behind.
The sun shone down on us by the time we reached Canadian waters, and as we set our ships clocks back an hour to Pacific coastal time, humpback whale blows erupted in the distance. The whales, like us, know the summer is fleeting in the high north, and they too are starting their long trips south to breeding grounds in the tropical waters off of the coast of Central America and Hawaii. Feeding as they go, their flukes catch the sun and flash as they nose down into steep dives towards unseen schools of herring. Small pelagic seabirds, called Phalaropes sit on the current lines in the open water, picking bits of plankton off the surface as their chubby little bodies bob along in the chop.
Passing the wind and wave swept lighthouse on Green Island, we soon find ourselves at the ewst entrance to Venn Passage, a shallow winding shortcut into Prince Rupert. It takes through flocks of Rhinocerous Auklets, already in their winter plumage, and past the Tsimshian first nations village of Metlakatla, until at last we arrive in the wide harbor, where massive bulk tankers sit at anchor waiting to load grain and coal from Canada’s interior, all bound for China.
A quick stop at the lightering dock to clear customs and soon enough we are tied up to the brand new docks in the Cow Bay Marina, where Harbormaster Marty and Wharfinger Trenton make us right at home. Two nations, whales, an open ocean crossing, and stunning scenery. A long but beautiful first day!