Red Sand Beach to Shelter Bay
August 10 / Day 13
Heavy fog to low overcast, Winds calm increasing to W @ 15 knots, Seas calm to swells to 1.5 meter with 2-foot windwaves, Seas moderate at times
It was another foggy day. The task was to set myself up for crossing Queen Charlotte Strait during the weather window on Friday the 11th. The crossing from Shelter Bay is about 5 NM less than crossing from Skull Cove but would make for a longer day today. I was 12 days without rest and feeling it. I wanted to go no farther than Skull Cove though I dislike camping there.
When setting up for crossing the Queen you must address a couple of significant objectives. I believe that the best strategy with winds from the north or west is to round Cape Caution shortly after the turn to flood. This takes the wind against current issues out of the equation and ensures you have time to cross Slingsby Channel well before it starts ebbing. Slingsby is a place that you really do not want wind against current as on a strong ebb it is a firehose that drains the majority of the Seymour / Belize Inlet complex into Queen Charlotte Sound.
I left the beach at a little after 8:00AM with about 2.5 hours to paddle to reach Cape Caution. Visibility was poor but sea conditions were benign so I stayed in close and mostly maintained a visual with the shoreline. I passed very close to Cape Caution and then angled out to the south to avoid the giant eddy that forms past the cape and well into Silvester Bay. Currents conspire to pull you in their counter rotation and it took a conscious effort to avoid it. Fog lifted to form a solid overcast down to about 100 feet which made it difficult to identify shoreline features so I was guessing where I would find Wilkie Point. I was ready for something to eat and I prefer Wilkie over Burnett Bay as a rest stop.
Fog returned and I made my way across Burnett Bay by IFR. Soon enough I approached Slingsby Channel under ideal current conditions. Ideal conditions at Slingsby doesn’t mean flat water. Even with low wind and a flood current the surface gets odd as waves and swell bend and collide creating a texture that can be fun if you can see it but not fun if you can’t. I spent 20 blind minutes of weirdness crossing the mouth of the channel.
Nearing the southernmost end of Braham Island, I reassessed my options of camping at Skull Cove or Shelter Bay.
- · Skull Cove was only 1.7 NM. I would get to Skull close high slack of 4.1 meter but would be leaving in the morning at 2.5 meter. Never having seen the place at low tide I didn’t know if it would allow me the luxury of leaving when I needed to.
- · Shelter Bay was about 7.2 NM away but would require a 2.8NM blind crossing. I didnt really think that I had another 2 hours of paddling left in the tank and I wanted to be done with blind crossings ..at least for the day. If I went to Skull Cove and it wasn’t viable I would have a 2NM blind crossing to make while paddling another 6.5NM to make it to Shelter Bay.
I was beat, hoped for the best and reluctantly chose Skull Cove. It was a bad choice as even at 4.1 meters it is very boney and at 2.5 would be pretty awful. I toured Skull Cove looking for a better, steeper beach. Finding nothing I tried to get my mind right, ignore the pain and started for Shelter Bay.
I chose a course of 120 degrees that I felt would get me safely across and north of Southgate Island. From there I would simply follow the coastline that would lead me to the channel between the Southgate Group and the mainland and continue down the coast to Shelter Bay. Foolproof.
The wind had picked up and the conditions were getting somewhat snotty so when the tall rocky shoreline emerged from the foggy gloom I was looking forward to it leading me to shelter behind the Southgate Group. What I came to realize was that I had almost missed Southgate Island altogether and was on the westernmost and outside end of it. I hadn’t anticipated the effect of the current flowing southward out of Schooner Channel which drains the remainder of Seymour/Belize pushing me so far off course.
The texture of the water was making more sense to me now as it was colliding with the current in Queen Charlotte Strait and both were bucking the 15 kt wind. If I had been able to see anything on my way across it would have been easy to interpret but here I was on the wrong side of my intended cover. The ragged water became more so as the swell reflected off of the steep shoreline and progress slowed significantly. Enjoyable water under other circumstances but I was tired and visibility very limited. A white pleasure cruiser appeared out of the fog headed north and we passed in opposite directions about 40 meters apart. He was pitching, yawing and rolling all over the place and I felt fortunate to be in the craft better suited to the conditions. Rounding the point of the island the passage between Southgate Island and its neighbor, Stevens Island, angled back towards cover. Here there was less clapotis and well organized standing waves were struggling against the stiff current that was flowing between islands. It took a while to surf my way upstream to cover but I wasn’t getting beat up any more.
It took another 1.5 hours for me to slog on to Shelter Bay.
Shelter Bay to Port Hardy
August 11 / Day 14
Heavy fog to low overcast, Winds calm increasing to W @ 15 knots, Seas calm to swells to 1.5 meter with 2-foot windwaves, Seas rippled
It was hard to accept another day of paddling in fog but this was my one weather window to cross Queen Charlotte Strait. If anything, the fog seemed even heavier than the past two days. It is about 5NM from Shelter Bay to the Deserters across a major shipping lane and enormous tidal passage. I would be making the crossing in a complete whiteout and with no radio for alerting shipping traffic of my whereabouts. At 7:30 AM I left for Port Hardy on a heading of 180 degrees.
Things got pretty strange from the very beginning and I struggled to maintain my heading and reconcile it with the constantly changing bearing. I can hold my focus on the deck compass and maintain a heading for hours but when I look down at my GPS for the speed and bearing I get dizzy and it takes a bit for my eyes dial it in. In the meantime, my heading changes, repeat, repeat, repeat. I was pretty sure that my course was not straight.
Several times I heard powered craft making the same crossing. Only once did the fog and their close proximity allow me to actually see a boat as it motored past. The rest of the time I listened carefully and tried to located them by sound.
The leg from Shelter Bay to the Deserters should have taken a little under 2 hours. When my time en route passed the 3-hour mark it was my second clue that my course was far from ideal. I gave up on worrying about my bearing and just paddled a 180-degree course knowing that whatever the current did with me I would eventually bump into a shoreline and I could figure out a course correction at that point.
Suddenly my desired waypoint emerged in the distance. I was on track! The fog was lifting! I didn’t have to stare at my compass any longer! I couldn’t wait to be done and give my mind and body a rest from paddling.
It was another 4 hours from the Deserters to Port Hardy. During that time the fog lifted to form an overcast and then dissipated altogether giving way to a bright sunny day. The westward flowing ebb that had confounded me changed to flood and a west wind began to build in Goletas Channel providing a bit of a nudge on the final push.
It wasn’t until I downloaded my GPS track that I realized how much the current and zero visibility had messed with me.
This was a different trip and certainly not my favorite. All aspects of it were harder than anticipated. I use the word “harder” to describe it rather than the phrases “more difficult” or “more challenging” because, to me, the word “harder” connotes physical discomfort while “more challenging” of “more difficult” suggests the testing of one’s skills. Not that there wasn’t some that. This was about discomfort.
I was crystal clear on my dependence upon perfect weather for parts of the outer Aristazabal section but I figured that if the weather wasn’t perfect I could still get out to Clifford Bay, Weeteeum Bay and Lombard Point. However, I wasn’t expecting to encounter the sort of winds that forced the complete abandonment of that section and my ensuing run for cover in the lee of the Bardswell Group. That put everything into fast forward and removed the hope of relaxation for the first 6 days. I never got out of that mindset and found myself deep into it again at Fury Cove. I haven’t gone that many days without taking or being forced to take a day off before so I was really dragging and my boat, gear and paddle seemed to get heavier and heavier.
The route covered 196.4 NM (226 miles / 364 km) in 14 days
The shortest day was 7.2 NM (8.3 miles / 13.3 km) from Nucleus Reef to Fury Cove
The longest day was 27.4 NM (31.5 miles / 50.7 km) from Red Sand Beach to Shelter Bay
Average time in the cockpit was 6.7 hours.
Longest time in the cockpit was 10.9 hours
Overall the weather was dry. Very little rain and what rain I had was light. The first week was mostly clear while the second week was dominated with low overcast and heavy fog.
Average daily winds 14 kt.
Average combined seas at 5 feet (1.5 m).
The daily temperatures were always pleasant and conducive to paddling without overheating.
Beautiful Humpbacks shared the waters with me on most days. The encounter near Addenbroke Light Station was remarkable and very, very close. I wish that I had taken some photos but as I have mentioned before whenever I try to capture a whale encounter with a camera I miss out on the moment and end up with boring photographs. This “moment” was much longer and more intimate than others. He/she was aware of my presence and chose to stay with me for a while. I could have come away with magnificent photos but those images will, instead, live in my mind.
This solo experience again reinforced my preference for flexibility and self-determination but solidified the fact that solo travel is physically much more taxing. Managing a boat and 130 pounds of gear twice a day for two weeks on the beach is really hard work. Harder than it was 5 years ago. I fear that it is a young man’s game.