...and sometimes other things


This is going to be an unusual post for a couple of reasons. First, the photos are in reverse chronological order. Second, what I want to talk about has nothing to do with the photos.

Let me begin by showing you where we are: Roscoe Bay. This is a fun little cove slightly north of Prideaux Haven, commonly and incorrectly called Desolation Sound by many boaters. Roscoe is fun because its entrance is too shallow to navigate at low tide. Get it wrong and you’ll pay a price. Its also fun because there’s a short trail leading to Black Lake, which is warm enough for swimming.

So what’s with the title “Gates?”

If a boater is at the dock in, say, Friday Harbor aspiring to go to Alaska, it’s said that she will have to pass through several gates to get there. The gates are metaphors for a set of practical and psychological challenges.

We saw the first gate a few days ago, crossing the Strait of Georgia. Takes it from me, this is a big deal for a new boater. At tug speed, it’s about a three hour crossing in very deep, very cold water. If an unexpected storm blows up, things can get nasty.

Hold that thought while we take a look at Refuge Cove. This place is a godsend to boaters: grocery store, restaurant, laundry, fuel, garbage drop, and souvenirs. It was not at all busy today, but can be insane in-season. We stayed long enough to buy fuel, stock up on groceries, drink lattes, and do laundry. I bought a shirt!

Look, I don’t want to overwork the Gates thing. Some of you are very experienced sailors – one of my readers has sailed around the world. Peter, speak up if I’m wrong about this. Were you solo?

But I’m not talking about someone experienced, I’m talking about someone who hasn’t done these things before and wants to expand their skills.

The second gate is negotiating rapids. Dealing with them is your ticket to enjoying the Discovery Islands, which lie north of the Desolation Sound area. Many boaters, either for lack of interest, time or nerve, never cross this gate.

As you know from previous posts, dealing with rapids is mostly a question of timing. When is slack and when to I have to depart to be there at the right time? Sometimes it’s harder because there are two rapids in a row. You’ll have to take the first a little early and the second a little late.

Mess it up and you can find yourself being pushed backwards, turned sideways to the current, thrown into rocks, or worse. There’s a whirlpool that forms in the Dent rapids called the Devil’s Hole. I’ve sat at its edge in a jet boat peering down into the abyss. You don’t want to be there.

Once you’ve successfully negotiated about a half dozen rapids, give or take, the next gate is the Johnstone Strait. This is not a crossing, its a trip up a wide channel leading from the Discovery Islands to the Broughton Island group.

OK, why is a nice four or five hour cruise up a channel a gate? Because the Johnstone can be very not-nice. Huge winds can race around the northern tip of Vancouver Island and head south as your tiny boat is heading north. The wind has miles and miles of travel to whip the water up into impressive waves. Smart boaters will tuck into a sheltered spot in a side channel and wait for calm weather. Then you can cruise to the Broughtons on a mirror-like surface and watch the Orcas hunt, like we did a few years ago.

Speaking of Orcas, these two escorted us out of Okeover this morning.

There’s one final gate before you can enter the Inside Passage: Cape Caution. Great name, eh? Right up there with Deadman’s Curve.

I can’t speak from personal experience on this one, but a look at a map will show you that heading further north involves leaving the shelter of Vancouver Island behind. Most of us are not familiar with boating in the rolling waves of the open ocean. The challenges are the same but more so. Longer crossing, bigger waves, more changeable weather. Plan very carefully.

If you’d like to know what lies beyond Cape Caution, take a look at my friend Greg’s blog. Greg and Marlene headed north from Anacortes in early May and, as of this writing, are dodging icebergs in Glacier Bay.

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