A humpback whale hunched over and dove off our starboard beam as we cruised out Kwashua Channel towards Fitz Hugh Sound and our southward course around Cape Caution. Whales continued to splash and spout around us as we left the channel, but soon drifting fog moved in around us as we neared the open waters of Queen Charlotte Strait. Leaving Cape Calvert and the ominously named Sorrow Island to starboard we struck out into open water. Rounding Cape Caution is not the be taken lightly. These forty miles of exposed coastline are riddled with tide rips, shallows, and wicked reefs that have claimed their fair share of vessels since George Vancouver nearly lost his ships here more than two hundred years ago.
A building breeze from the southeast raised a steep chop from the south as we passed Table and Egg Islands and left misty Cape Caution to port. We turned southeastward and quartered the seas for several hours before slipping into the relative calm and austere beauty of the rock-flanked channel between Negei and Balaklava Islands. In due course we passed the wide mouth of historic Port Hardy, which remains the largest town on North Vancouver Island and a hub for logging and fishing, which still dominate the economy here, even as adventure tourism becomes more significant with each passing year. Unfortunately, the harbor facilities at Port Hardy are as historic as the rest of the town, and we press on to find better accomodations in a few miles farther south Port McNeill, where Steve Jackman runs the absolutely excellent North Island Marina.
From the north, the entrance to Port McNeill take you past Malcolm Island, where a hundred yeas ago optimistic Finnish farmers established the town of Sointula around a communal, utopian ideal. The commune dissolved only about five years after its founding, but even today if you visit you can meet friendly old Finns strolling along the distinctly Scandinavian waterfront.
At last, tied securely to the wide docks at North Island Marina, we reveled in our first cell phone and internet access in more than a week. At length, satisfied that the world was still in much the same condition we’d left it in and anxious to let somebody else do the dishes, many of us wandered up to the Northern Lights Restaurant for a fine meal overlooking the harbor.