17 Jul [KensBlog] 2017-02 Dent Island to Port McNeil
Roberta and I have started our 2017 cruising season!
After a week of spoiling ourselves at Dent Island Lodge (sleeping on the boat but enjoying the resort’s great service and amenities) we started plotting our route to reach the Broughton Islands, near the tip of Vancouver Island, approximately 300 miles south of Ketchikan Alaska.
Plotting Our Course
I mentioned in my last blog entry that Dent Island is surrounded by rapids.
Water flow through these islands happens as the tides rise and fall four times a day. The farther you go north, the wider the tidal swings. Where we are now, the tides can rise or fall 16 feet (5 meters) in a few hours. This means an enormous volume of water flows into the anchorages only to flow back out a few hours later. Water moving in the passages (currents) can be slack (sitting still) or it can be running as much as 11 knots. Seeing 3 to 5 knots is very common, and given that Sans Souci typically runs at only 8 to 10 knots, the direction the water moves can have a dramatic effect on our speed. Enhancing the “fun”, the rapidly moving water can create whirlpools which can spin a boat around. In a tight channel this can be disastrous. Understanding tides and currents plays a major role in trip planning unless you have a very fast boat (or, are very brave!.)
Our primary cruising destination for the next few weeks will be the Broughton Islands…
We knew there would be no place to buy groceries in the Broughtons so we built a plan around stopping at the nearest city, with a decent grocery store, to the Broughtons. This would be Port McNeill only 70 miles north and just 40 miles from the Broughtons.
Preparing For The Cruise
I had a series of projects to do the day before departure, one of which was to move fuel into the tank from which we’d be running.
WARNING! – Those of you not interested in the technical aspects of cruising will want to skip the next couple of sections.
A bit of explanation…
Sans Souci carries 3,000 gallons of fuel. Subject to how fast we are going this will carry the boat somewhere between 1,700 and 2,800 miles. Running slower gives greater range.
This fuel is scattered to four tanks; PORT, STARBOARD, FORWARD and SUPPLY (aka ENGINE ROOM). The engine room tank is tiny and the other tanks each hold roughly 1,000 gallons.
I have been told that the vast majority of time when a powerboat engine quits at sea, it will have happened because the boat ran out of fuel. And, in all of the cases I’ve heard about, the boats had plenty of fuel; it just wasn’t finding its way to the engine(s.)
I’m not 100% sure what Nordhavn had in mind when they designed and built my boat, but believe that the system was set up such that fuel from all three tanks would flow to the engine room tank, and from there to the engines. The goal was to make the system idiot proof and eliminate the need for moving fuel from tank to tank.
That said, I don’t like that philosophy and do not run the boat as it was designed. I like to control where the fuel is on the boat and have the latitude to move the fuel where I want it.
I like to keep the boat flat and this is harder than it sounds. There are two significant things that can make a huge difference in how the boat sits in the water:
1. Whether or not the tender is onboard
2. Water level in the two (port and starboard) water tanks
Diesel fuel weighs around eight pounds a gallon. By controlling the level in each fuel tank I can shift weight around the boat. If the boat is tilting to starboard I add fuel on the port side. Simple.
On Sans Souci, the fuel tank valves are always closed on my port and forward tanks, and open on my starboard tank. This means the boat is always running on the starboard tank.
Sans Souci has a fuel transfer system which is independent of the plumbing that feeds the engines. In other words, I can transfer fuel from tank to tank even though the valves that feed the engine room supply tank are closed.
To make a long dull story short…
During the off season, the mechanics fiddled with the fuel valves on Sans Souci.
To prepare for our trip, I transferred fuel into my starboard tank, like always. But then noticed an hour later that the fuel had flowed back to where I took it from.
I wasted an entire afternoon looking at fuel flow diagrams, and looking for fuel valves under floors trying to figure out how to stop fuel flowing without my wanting it to, to places where I didn’t want it.
After hours of scratching my head, and laying on my belly to look beneath floorboards, I finally found a hidden valve under the floor of a bathroom sink.
Once I found the hidden valve, fuel stopped flowing unless I wanted it to. Life is good again on Sans Souci. Of course, it turned out to be one that I discovered early in the process but ruled out as not possibly being the right one.
I recently upgraded Sans Souci’s autopilot from the Simrad AP50 to the Simrad AP70. The old autopilot was fine, but becoming obsolete. As I thought about the next decade of cruising I wanted to make sure that the boat’s electronics were up to date, so that if repairs should be needed they’d be easily available. And, besides – I liked the color display better than the black/white display of the AP50…
The AP70 has a feature that I’ve been enjoying. Most auto-pilots have three modes:
Standby (basically no autopilot – steering is via the wheel – very rare!)
Auto – I dial in a heading (such as 100 degrees and the boat steers to that heading)
Nav – I plot a course on the chartplotter and the boat steers to the course
The AP70 adds a fourth mode called “No Drift” which is very similar to Auto mode, but different in a very important way.
To understand the distinction you need to understand that for a variety of reasons the simple concept of “Steer the boat to 100 degrees” can be an ambiguous statement.
The simplest example I can think of is crossing a river. Let’s say that the river is moving left to right at high speed. If you were to steer a straight zero degree angle in Auto mode, you wouldn’t wind up straight across from where you started, you’d be somewhere downstream.
In No Drift mode the autopilot is smart enough to plot an imaginary point many miles out in front of the boat and steer towards that point. In other words, the boat goes the heading you ask it to regardless of what the water or wind might be doing to the boat. If your goal is to cross the river at zero degrees you will be going straight across.
Very cool!!!! And, very handy!
And, while I am talking about new toys on Sans Souci…
One of the handiest gadgets in a boater’s engine room is the IR gun. Normally, they don’t look like the one above. The “normal” IR gun, and the one I’ve always had is a much simpler device. It sends out a small laser beam and then displays the temperature on a simple LED readout on the back. Excessive heat is often an indication of problems. Thus, during engine room checks it is wise to point the IR gun at things like the shafts, transmissions, even the ceiling, to check for heat that is inconsistent with your expectations. I’ve even done things like pointed my IR gun at cooling hoses to see if more cool water is flowing through one pipe than another. It’s a way of spotting clogged plumbing.
My new IR gun has a video screen and shows graphically where there is heat. I thought the addition of a color screen might just be a gimmick and add no real value, but I’ve found it makes a big difference.
Aside from the serious uses of the IR gun I found something fun to do with it.
As many of you know, I had total knee replacement a couple months ago. I’m doing well, but my right knee (the new one) does seem to feel hot from time to time. It seems like it is getting better, but after a day going up and down the stairs on this boat dozens of time it can become swollen. For fun I used the IR gun to check out my knees. The left seems to run a steady 88 degrees and the right one 92 degrees. Interesting! I’m sure the right knee will cool down over time…
So .. enough boat-geek talk – let’s cruise!
To reach our next destination, Port McNeill, there are three rapids to traverse; the Dent Island Rapids, the Green Point Rapids, and Whirlpool Rapids. All three are within a twenty mile stretch.
To make life easy we decided that for our first day we’d just make a short ten mile run to an anchorage called Shoal Bay. This would allow us to time the Dent Island rapids at slack and have a nice smooth ride. Which is what happened! The rapids which looks so frightening when we passed over them on a jet boat a few days before were dead calm. We slid over them easily.
We had a spectacular couple days at anchor. We filled the hot tub, dropped the tender, opened the wine cooler. All the best parts of life on a boat.
We were missing only one critical item for a perfect experience: We had run low on diet coke. The nearest store of any sort was eight miles away at Blind Channel. We had spoken about taking the boat to the Blind Channel resort but it was surrounded by rapids, and with no obvious calm place to anchor.
Partially to replenish our supply of my diet cokes, partially to see the place, but mostly as an adventure, I phoned the Blind Channel Resort to ask about coming over for dinner. I thought we could take our tender regardless of the rapids.
This was a bit of an experiment. I’ve loosened a bit over the years, but I am generally very nervous about being away from the boat while it is anchor. For most of our boating career I’ve refused to be out of sight of the boat while it was at anchor. If a surprise storm were to occur I’d like to be onboard and ready to take any needed action.
We decided to leave the dogs on the boat while we would take the tender eight miles away through the rapids. I was worried, but realistically the trip wouldn’t be a problem. It stays light in Pacific NW summers until 10pm, and I could easily cover eight miles in the tender in twenty minutes. And, as an added bonus I’d be able to top off the gasoline in the tender.
Thus, Roberta and I bundled up for a fast ride to Blind Channel. And, fast it was!! We ran at thirty knots watching intently for whirlpools or logs. We did see whirlpools and we did dodge them. We slid a bit on the moving current, but overall it was a simple ride and far more time was spent thinking about the trip than taking the trip.
The Blind Channel Resort has a German aura to it and I ordered Schnitzel with Spätzle for dinner. Great! Our trip back to Sans Souci was just as fast as the trip going.
One fun tidbit…I have cameras on Sans Souci and have a way of tapping into them from my cell phone. While having dinner I was able to reassure myself that Sans Souci was still floating by bringing up the cameras.
I was convinced that if we timed it right it was possible to take the next two rapids on the same day. We would need to arrive at the first set early. Slack time would be at 2pm, but I felt that we could traverse the Green Point rapids a half hour early with the current still running at 1 knot and be safe. Once through the rapids we would have a one hour run to the second set of rapids (Whirlpool) which if we hustled we could traverse at 3 knots. I didn’t like the idea of taking the second set at three knots, but was comfortable that it would be safe.
Our run got off to a bad start when an hour before we were to depart we noticed all the boats around us pulling anchor and departing. I checked the books to see if my timing was wrong and found that one book showed slack an hour earlier than it was being reported by my chart plotting software (TimeZero). Argh!
Roberta and I rushed to pull anchor and within 15 minutes were on the water moving towards the rapids. As we were moving I double-checked the times and decided I was right the first time, and that my original calculations were correct. I radioed to another boat to ask them what they showed as slack time at the Green Point Rapids. They also confirmed that the correct time was 2pm. We had left the anchorage an hour early for no reason. Crap.
This meant making a giant circle to kill an hour. We didn’t want to arrive too early, otherwise the rapids would still be boiling and dangerous. Where had all those other boats gone? I guess, “Other places.”
At the anointed time we positioned for the rapids and passed through easily. When you time things right the passages are anti-climactic and boring. On a boat, boring is good. Later in this blog entry there is a video which shows us going through.
Once through we needed to run fast to catch the next set at a manageable speed. We pushed the throttles to the limit and raced through the next eight miles and arrived at the Whirlpool rapids with them running at 3 knots as predicted. At that speed they were not a challenge and other than slowing us down, there was no issue at all.
This brought us to a beautiful anchorage called “Forward Harbor” where we could relax for a couple days.
As pretty as the anchorage was, I was not completely happy with it. We were in what was effectively (and, perhaps was) a Fjord. It was a large bay with a narrow entrance surrounded by steep cliffs.
It was beautiful, but the steep cliffs blocked the satellite signals for television and internet. The television is optional for both of us, but … I really like having internet. We did find that when the boat rotated a particular direction the internet would work, briefly.
It was good enough and we enjoyed the serenity of being disconnected from the world. There’s nothing like sitting in the hot tub drinking your coffee and looking out at an amazing view.
Our favorite place for dinner is the aft deck behind the pilot house of Sans Souci. No restaurant in the world has better ambiance. However … we have now realized that it gets cold here! And, that dinners on the back deck may need to wait until the boat is somewhere warmer. Darn!
We were now only forty miles from our next “city” destination (Port McNeill) and a chance to provision the boat. Canada is picky on what you can bring into the country and we were light on fresh produce. In the Broughtons we are assuming there won’t be anywhere to shop. So, this will be last call.
Unfortunately, the night before departure I checked the weather for our passage and saw a big red bar across the top of the forecast and a warning “Strong Wind Alert.”
We would be traversing the Johnstone Strait which is known for strong winds and rough water.
Sans Souci is meant for crossing oceans and sea conditions that are impossible for other boats are merely uncomfortable on Sans Souci.
And, the weather report actually wasn’t that bad. 5 to 15 knots of wind in the morning becoming 10 to 25 in the early afternoon. Ordinarily that would be considered a great forecast. Certainly, the 5 to 15 in the morning was no big deal.
The thing to think about though was that even in fairly light winds, when the current is going one way and the wind is going the other way, even mild winds can result in rough seas. One of our worse rides occurred off of Nicaragua a few years back. We were being slammed by sea spray in the pilot house while hanging on as the boat was pitching violently. I remember looking at the wind gauge and thinking, “It’s only 15 to 20 knots of wind, how can this be happening?” We had a wind against current situation and it stirred up the seas. Not fun. I wished that the Canadian Weather Service hadn’t been so ambiguous with their saying that the winds would rise in the “Early Afternoon.” What time constitutes early afternoon?
So … Roberta and I went into “batten down the hatches mode.” We prepared for a rough-ish ride, which included putting the tender onto the bow (rather than pulling behind the boat it as we normally do.)
The currents run strong through the Johnstone Strait and rather than getting a push from the fast (2-3 knots) current we decided to run against the current. We would be slowed down, but the wind and the water would be moving the same direction. If the wind were to rise we’d still have a smooth ride. In order to lock this in, we had to depart at 5:30am.
As it turned out, there was no wind. We had one of the calmest and prettiest rides ever. Oh well. Better safe than sorry. I still have no idea if the wind did ever come up.
That’s it for this edition of the blog. Here’s a video showing some of the highlights from our trip… (and, some fun footage of our pups Toundra and Keely out for a ride on the tender.)
Ken and Roberta Williams (with Toundra and Keely)
Nordhavn 68, Sans Souci
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