A Passage Too Brief in the Pacific Northwest
Spurred on by the calendar and approaching seasonal gales, the crew of Roger Henry still manages to feast on Canada’s bounty of cruising delights.
Our 36-foot cutter, Roger Henry, swung on its anchor in the all too aptly named Foggy Bay, a mere four miles north of the Canada-Alaska border. Even had the dense fog lifted, it would’ve been foolish to try to push south against the predicted gale-force winds.
It’s true that a sailor with time always has a fair wind. Our problem was we didn’t have that time. We’d entered Alaskan waters via the Aleutian Islands exactly a year ago to the day. As a native New Zealander, my wife, Diana, had been given a one-year U.S. visa. In an age of prompt and predictable air travel, I didn’t think that a “vagaries of the sea” defense would hold much water with U.S. immigration.
That worry aside, the delay did give me more time to read up on the next segment of our Pacific Rim adventure: Canada! I find that even the most cursory research into a nation’s history, ethnology, politics, and environment creates context for what we’re about to experience, and this makes our cruising richer and more rewarding.
When average Americans think of Canada, they immediately conjure up sharp images of moose bogs, silent snows, and endless pine barrens, but they’d be hard-pressed to define the collective character of the Canadian people. Fortunately, Diana and I have spent enough time in Canadian waters to have formed firm and favorable impressions of the people of the north. We find most Canadians, although understated by nature, to be keenly aware of their unique heritage and proud of their national accomplishments and aspirations. We’ve found them friendly and helpful on all levels, from the personal to the largest national bureaucracies.
The relevance of this to the cruising sailor is that just north of the U.S. border lies an astonishingly immense and beautiful country full of warm and welcoming people. The Canadian Atlantic coast offers interesting and inexhaustible cruising, but most would agree that the pearl of the provinces is British Columbia, with its jagged peaks, mossy forests, and maze of protected inland waterways.
Eventually, a rising barometer signaled a favorable wind shift. We set out into Revillagigedo Channel and, although a tad bit tardy, physically departed American waters. Making up for lost time, we pushed hard with all sail set through Chatham Sound and into Venn Pass by nightfall. The next dawn, we continued on into the first official port of entry, Prince Rupert. On the quarantine dock, we contacted Canadian customs and immigration via a direct-line telephone. Our purpose was to officially record Diana as out of the United States. Apparently, their purpose was only to say, “Hi. Welcome to Canada,” for they checked us in sight unseen.
Prince Rupert is a historic frontier town that’s clearly seen better days. With a near moratorium on commercial salmon fishing, logging alone must prop up a slumping economy. The municipal marina is a rickety affair, but it’s nonetheless popular with world cruisers who came, saw, and stayed.
Over a few north-wood brews, we swapped charts and cruising notes with Kiwis, Canucks, and Yanks.