transiting the Inside Passage  aboard "room Seven"

Day 8

17 June 2012: Grenville Channel, British Columbia



The winds we encountered yesterday evening built through the midnight hours. A steady wind of about 25 knots blew from the south all night, and even with the anchor-drag alarm on both Garmin units set for 50 feet, I was up every couple of hours checking our position. At 0430 the wind and chop settled down a bit, and by morning it was clear that our all-chain rode and lots of scope had been more than adequate for the challenge.


We detoured a couple miles and circled slowly outside Hartley Bay, where we found a cell signal to check email and post the last few days worth of trip updates. By 1145 we had Sainty Point abeam, marking the southern entrance to Grenville Channel.

A couple of minutes with a Crescent wrench, and we were back in action. I'll take a much closer look at this mechanism once we stop tonight, and will definitely make it a daily check for the rest of the trip. It was a sobering reminder of how quickly things can go wrong at sea. If this same malfunction had occurred a few days ago, while dodging logs in a narrow channel in Dent Rapids, we would have been in serious trouble long before we could have repaired our steering.


It is now 1915 and we're nearing Digby Island and the approach to Prince Rupert. We've decided to push on for Port Simpson tonight, staging for an early-morning crossing of Dixon Entrance if today's fine sea conditions hold.


We have 145 gallons of fuel remaining on board from the 420 we took in La Conner, not counting the 75 gallons of "deep reserve" riding in drums strapped to the foredeck. I estimate this gives us a 380-mile range without touching the barrels, and since Ketchikan is only 100 miles or so, I'm confident we'll make it with plenty of fuel to spare.


The first thing Kent and I thought of was a catastrophic hydraulic failure, either one of the lines to the steering ram, or a failure of the pump itself. We opened the lazarette, half expecting to find a pool of hydraulic fluid in the bilge, but everything looked clean. It only took a minute for us to find that the lock nut securing the steering ram to the rudder tie-rod had somehow backed itself loose, which meant that both the AP and the wheel were "steering" thin air.

There's still a pound of ground beef in the fridge, and since US Customs rules prevent us from bringing any beef or goat products back into the country (along with fresh citrus, apparently so we don't infect Alaska's lucrative lemon groves with Canadian cooties), tonight we'll fire up the BBQ for cheeseburgers.

After posting today's Grenville Channel adventure via 3G just south of Prince Rupert, we steered NW along the outer shore of Digby Island with the idea of cutting up to Port Simpson if the ocean swell in Chatham Sound wasn't beating us up too badly. I checked both the North Hecate Strait and the Central Dixon Entrance buoy reports, and things looked good.


The current buoy report for Queen Charlotte Strait, which we crossed in calm conditions just three days ago, is now reporting 25 knots with combined waves and swell at a sick-making 2-3 meters! If we hadn't crossed when we did, we might still be waiting at Nigei Island, stalking mottled slugs in the rainforest (see entry for June 13).

As we rounded Tugwell Island at 2010, it became apparent that our incredible luck with the weather, which had carried us through both Queen Charlotte Sound and Milbanke Sound, was still with us. Completely flat, calm, windless sea conditions greeted us again! Tomorrow's forecast is calling for NW 10-20 and seas 2-3 meters, but tonight it's go-time!


I gave Otto (our new pet name for the autopilot) a course for the N end of Dundas Island, and pretty soon the sun peeked through a break in the clouds on our port side. Since it has been raining non-stop for days, Julie put on her iPod headphones and grabbed the Windex and Rainex bottles to clean the windshield underway. Somebody's been cooped up on the boat with too little exercise!


While I still had cell service, I called the Customs Office in Ketchikan to get clearance to anchor in Foggy Bay tonight, just in case we find Dixon Entrance as flat as Chatham Sound is now, and decide to make a late-night run for the border. Left our vessel info and customs sticker number on their answering machine, but haven't gotten a callback and we're nearly to Dundas and out of cell range.


Our new plan is to overnight at Brundige Inlet and make an early crossing, figuring that even if the seas come up tomorrow as forecast we should be able to get ahead of them in time to make the 55-mile trip in time to enjoy nearly a full day in Ketchikan.


Laundry, liquor, citrus and shopping, here we come!

north. For a displacement boat like ours, this technique means the difference between making 6 knots into the current, versus surfing at 10 or 11 knots with the tide behind us.


The strategy worked perfectly, as we averaged about 9-1/2 knots in both the south and north portions of the channel. We had a burst of excitement at 1535, just S of Baker Inlet. As I mentioned, we've been running on autopilot almost continuously. I hit the "jog" button to steer around a small floating log, but instead of the boat diverting 15 degrees, she heeled to port and kept right on going!


I quickly hit the red "standby" button to ensure I had the wheel, and spun it to starboard with no effect. By that time, we'd nearly circled around into our own wake and still didn't have any steering. Major problem. I pulled the throttles back and shifted both engines into neutral, my brain already shifting into crisis mode.


Depth? Plenty of water. Proximity to the shoreline? We were in a wide spot, but had been keeping considerably right of center, so we were about a quarter-mile from the trees. Opposing traffic? A single northbound fishing boat that we'd passed hours before, now about two miles behind us. Time enough to diagnose the problem and see whether fixing it while drifting dead in Grenville Channel was within our capability.

Grenville Channel is a long, straight fjord about 45 miles long that runs between Pitt Island and the mainland British Columbia coast. It is between a quarter-mile and one mile wide for nearly its entire length, with depths that typically run 50-100 fathoms. It's so long that the tides flood and ebb from each end, meeting just south of Klewnuggit Inlet, one of the few anchorage opportunities along the entire channel.


Our plan was to enter Grenville Channel two hours before high slack, riding the last of the flood north to the point where the tidal currents meet. If we timed it right, we could then ride the ebb the rest of the way