Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Portland Canal

We departed Metlakatla on July 20th in the afternoon, facing southerly winds of 10 knots with 3-5 feet seas and made our way between the fishing boats and nets typically seen during the month of July.  We soon turned eastward rounding the south end of Annette Island to anchor for the night in Ryus Bay on the north end of Duke Island.  The following morning we headed across “Dixon Entrance,” the large open body of water that separates U.S. Alaska from B.C. Canada, managing the 5-6 foot ocean swells as we rounded Cape Fox and entered Nakat Bay in Alaskan waters.  Boaters must clear customs before anchoring or making landfall and Prince Rupert is the designated port-of-call when entering Canada from the north by boat.  But what if you want to see the towns of Hyder and Stewart located north of Dixon Entrance up the 100-mile long Portland Canal – Hyder Alaska and Stewart B.C. are separated by only two miles within bicycle distance of each other.  It’s certainly not practical for boaters to journey 65 miles south to Prince Rupert and then back north to Dixon Entrance in order to make the 100 mile journey up Portland Canal to visit Stewart on the Canadian side of the Canal.  According to the marine guidebooks, boaters may be able to clear customs by phone for this remote side trip into Stewart.  After calling the customs officer at Prince Rupert, I was directed to call “Canpass” located on the East Coast to obtain a customs clearance number.  The East Coast office had no idea where Stewart was located not to mention the challenge of reaching this port by boat.  
Passing a Fishing Boat in narrow Tongass Passage 
To make a long story short, the customs officer in Prince Rupert told me to call Canpass again and that if they needed additional information they could call him directly, this is exactly what transpired and we finally received a customs clearance number.  Since Hyder/Stewart has no cell phone reception, clearance into Stewart had to be done ahead of time.  Ok, back to Nakat Bay, from here we entered Tongass Passage to reach Pearse Canal which becomes Portland Canal; the international boundary more or less follows through the center of this waterway.  

Fishing Boat Bringing in Net, Tongass Passage
Although Stewart/Hyder is accessible by car through B.C. it is a challenging destination to reach by boat.  Portland Canal is subject to strong winds that blow up and down the waterway with considerable force and the limited anchorages are somewhat marginal.  The weather forecast predicted strong westerly winds so we planned to anchor in Halibut Bay, reported to be one of the better anchorages along Portland Canal.  We arrived at Halibut Bay around 5pm and the wind was howling at 20 knots blowing right into the bay; apparently westerly winds become southerly in Portland Canal, sweeping through the mountain valleys and up the Canal.  We made several attempts to set the anchor but couldn’t get a solid bite.  The spot in the bay with the least amount of wind had a rocky bottom so the anchor pulled loose and skipped along the sea floor.  
Whiskey Bay Anchorage
So w
e went to Plan B and motored for two hours back south to Whiskey Bay at the north end of Pearse Island in the middle of Portland Canal with better protection from southerly winds.  If Plan B proved fruitless, we would go to Plan C – motor slowly overnight north to Stewart arriving the following morning at daylight.  Indeed, Whiskey Bay proved to be a better shelter for southerly winds and we found the waters to be much calmer.  We set the hook around 9pm and went to bed having had dinner while underway.  
Portland Canal
Calmer seas greeted us the following day with sun peaking through the clouds illuminating the mountains rising steeply above the Canal.  This fjord-like canal is a display of mountain peaks rising to over 7,000 feet with snow fields and glaciers.  
Beautiful Turquoise Water
The beautiful turquoise water is colored by the glacier runoff but turns a milky white at Hyder/Stewart from the Salmon River and Bear River outflows.  The head of Portland Canal was called “skam-a-kounst” by the Native Nisga’a tribe, meaning “safe place,” presumed to be in reference as a retreat from the neighboring coastal Haidas.  
One of Many Falls along Portland Canal
As we neared Hyder/Stewart, the winds began to pick up again as we made our way into port.  
Portland Canal
We could see that the public docks were filled with mostly sport fishing boats with limited space for larger boats. 
Fortunately we found ample side-tie along a float located next to a shed; pointing Got d’ Fever into 20 knot winds, we maneuvered her into position despite strong current from the opposite direction, and quickly secured her to the float.  We noted that the float was attached to the main docks with a very rusty chain held in place with some rusty old nails driven into the logs, not the most reassuring of circumstances. 
Leonard commented that this was the first time he had to set an "anchor watch" while tied to a dock - we
 wouldn’t want to drift away with a float still attached to the boat!

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