23 Jul [KensBlog 2017-03] Sullivan Bay
Roberta and I have cruised 40,000 miles, but amazingly we have never really cruised our own home waters; the Pacific Northwest.
I’m the culprit, not Roberta. I am not into fishing, and I don’t like cruising in cold water.
I guess I can’t say that we’ve never cruised the area, because we did pass through here on our way to Alaska in 2009, but we were moving quickly in a hurry on our way to Japan. And, we cruised the region twenty years ago, in a much smaller boat, never making it this far north.
To us, even though the language is English, this feels like the most unusual cruising we’ve done. And, I mean that in a good way.
There are some challenges with currents, tides and weather. But this area is very well documented. The challenges are accurately described on the charts and there are plenty of places to hide from the wind. There are enormous anchorages and no lack of places to go. And, the anchorages are exceptionally well protected.
I’ve been wanting to try out my new “at rest stabilization” (an expensive feature that allows the boat to remain relatively calm when in a rough anchorage). But, I haven’t been able to find an anchorage rough enough! I’m sure that will change before our trip is over, but for now… I’ve been unable to try it.
I now understand why there are so many boaters who cruise back and forth between Seattle and Alaska for a lifetime and never become bored. There is a lot here!
As I type this, Sans Souci is in the Broughton islands, about midway between Seattle and Alaska. This is an area we’ve never been to at all, so we didn’t know what to expect.
Before entering the Broughtons we wanted to stock up on provisions (groceries). We’re in Canada, and when you bring the boat across the border there are rules about what can and can’t come in. We’ve crossed the border a few times over the years and never been searched, but we are cautious types and don’t ever want to risk being accused of trying to smuggle a head of lettuce or a tomato across the border. Thus, we wanted to do the bulk of our provisioning here in Canada, and had heard Port McNeill had a nice supermarket.
I sent emails to the North Island Marina in Port McNeill asking if they could take us, and the harbormaster said he thought he could find room. But, then when we arrived, we discovered that the place that he had set aside for us was occupied by a boat who had been unable to leave the dock due to mechanical problems.
This was not a problem. We dropped anchor in a lovely bay across from the marina and liked it so much we stayed several days. I think the marina staff felt bad that they hadn’t found room for us. Or, perhaps they treat everyone like kings, but they offered us the use of their dinghy dock and trash facility throughout our stay. Amazingly nice people.
Provisioning in Port McNeill was made easier by the supermarket being an easy walk from the docks. We filled up a shopping cart and as we were checking out we mentioned that we were on a boat. The clerk said to just take the shopping cart to the marina and leave it. Very easy! We weren’t sure when we’d be in a city again, so we took the opportunity to try out the local restaurants and found some good ones. Port McNeill turned out to be a great place to stop.
Our first destination in the Broughtons would be Sullivan Bay. I had seen pictures of it in other boater’s blogs and always wanted to see it personally. I had assumed we’d be able to anchor, but when I looked at the chart there didn’t appear to be good anchorage in the bay. I phoned the office at Sullivan Bay and asked about nearby anchorage and they said I should come to their marina. I asked if she was sure they could take our boat and she said, “Absolutely!”
Sullivan Bay was a short ride from Port McNeill; around 40 miles. I spoke with a boater on another boat who encouraged me to take a short cut but the second he said, “It’s easy. Come over to my boat and I’ll show you the route through the shallow water” – that was it. I decided the long way around sounded just fine with me. Plus… we were in the mood for a nice easy passage.
Our big decision prior to any passage is, “Do we have to put the tender on deck?” Raising or lowering our tender really only takes about 20 minutes. We have a fantastic davit (crane) on the bow that makes the process relatively simple. But, as easy as it is, we don’t like to do it any more often than is needed. The process starts with attaching an aluminum ladder to the side of the boat. Try as we might, this part of the process occasionally results in dinging the boat’s fiberglass. There’s also bit of a challenge to climbing the ten feet or so up/down the ladder onto the tender. Generally we leave the tender in the water and tow it behind the boat whenever possible. This is fine when the water is calm, but if the seas are rough you don’t want to be towing the tender. I’m not sure what would happen if the tender were to flip in rough seas while being towed behind the boat, but I doubt it would be much fun.
All of our planning paid off. We wanted a calm run across Johnstone Strait and that’s what we had. We towed the tender and made great time. We left about six in the morning and by 11am were tied up at Sullivan Bay.
We have been traversing a lot of narrow passages. One fast way to verify that the chart is accurate to the surroundings is to turn on the radar overlay. In the picture above you see the bright orange radar reflections showing that the land around us matches to the land shown on the chart. In passages this narrow, if the chart were off by even twenty-five feet, we could find ourselves aground.
I’m not sure what the history of Sullivan Bay is. It is a community comprised of floating homes, located on North Broughton Island (50 53.124N, 126 49.684W). There is no power, no roads, and no way to get there except by boat or seaplane. We’re tied to a dock very close to shore, and the depth is 168 feet! It is a very steep shoreline.
On the right side of the picture above you see some white plastic chairs and the corner of an awning. This is where each evening the boaters gather for a pot luck dinner. Everyone brings a dish and shares. It’s a great way to meet your fellow boaters, and a key part of what makes Sullivan Bay such a special place.
Someone mentioned that they had counted the boats at the docks. There were 43 boats here! Our Sans Souci was probably one of the largest, with most boats around 40 to 50’ long.
Sullivan Bay has a small (very small, but not bad!) store and a fuel dock, as well as a restaurant that I’ll talk about in detail in a few minutes. I offered my credit card when “checking in” and they said, “No – just pay us when you check out. And, until then you can run a tab under your boat name.” She added, “Store hours are nine to six every day. We make fresh cinnamon rolls each morning. To be sure of getting one make sure you reserve in advance. And, if you want something from the store outside store hours, just let us know and we’ll open for you.” Wow!
I must speak about the dinners….
Dinner is served on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights. It’s quite an experience, and unlike any restaurant you’ve ever visited. Everyone eats the same thing. Seating is assigned and you can expect to be paired at the table with other people.
Everyone lines up to get their food, a table at a time, and the chef was very proud that he could serve all the diners (I’d guess there were 75 to 100 of us) in under twelve minutes. The evening’s food is described on a chalk board outside the restaurant and dinners during the season usually sell out. Reservations for dinner are required.
We were seated with a charming Seattle-based couple who had arrived on their sailboat.
As we finished eating, suddenly the Sullivan Bay staff came into the room singing to loud music and dancing. A conga line was formed. Fortunately no pictures exist as far as I know, although I did get some video of the staff singing and dancing (which I will post when I can). And… when I say “staff” I am not talking a big staff. Sullivan Bay is not a fancy resort. I don’t know who owns it or runs it, but it would be fair to say that it is a very unusual place. It doesn’t feel like a business as much as it does a preserved and evolving part of history. The floating homes are beautiful, but … they also seem completely impractical, being accessible only three or four months a year.
The most amazing part of the evening happened after the meal and the “show”.
The staff asked everyone in the restaurant to introduce themselves and talk about their boat and their visit to Sullivan Bay.
There were some surprises, at least for me…
– All of the boaters, except two, were American even though we are in Canada.
– The median age was “older:” 60s to 80s, but there also a few younger boaters.
– Roberta and I, and one other couple, were the only ones making our first visit to Sullivan Bay. As they went around the room several people talked about having come every year for over 25 years. Others had been coming for 30 years, and there was even a couple who had been coming for over 50 years!
– The couple who had been coming for 50 years mentioned that at one time this was a busy seaplane airport. He said he once stood on the docks and counted over 60 planes in one day.
– Many of the people knew each other and the staff. Sullivan is a slice of “the old frontier” such as I haven’t seen in a very long time. I can see that this would be a must-stop on every cruisers agenda.
– Three of the people owned floating homes in the community. One lady said she “had just floated her home and attached it to the community.” She was there because she “didn’t feel like cooking tonight.”
– One gentleman mentioned that in all the time he had been coming here he had never had less than two people standing on the dock to catch his lines.
– The most interesting comment for me was from someone who said he had been coming for thirty years and was sad to note that he wasn’t seeing kids here anymore. He wondered if the next generation might not be into boating or at least not into stopping at Sullivan Bay. He said he remembered hordes of youngsters wandering the docks and was sad that the kids seemed to be disappearing.
I edited a video showing Sullivan Bay and wanted to post it, but all I have for Internet is my vsat and even that has a poor connection. Hopefully someday I’ll have “real internet” again and will post the video then.
Several people have asked about the drone videos I promised. The good news is that I do have the drone with me, and the bad news is that I’ve been too much of a coward to run it. Everyone has been very nice to us here on the docks and drones have a bad reputation. I worry that if I fire up my drone I’ll create some controversy on the docks. We’re about to move to an anchorage, so if there aren’t a lot of other boats nearby I will fire up the drone. And, of course, my other issue is that with severely limited internet, drone videos aren’t going to be able to be uploaded anyhow…
As to boat tech issues….
Overall I don’t have much to report. The boat is doing great!
My Atlas shorepower converter stopped working for some reason. I tend to run most the time on the generator, so it isn’t a huge issue. I think it is something simple but have deferred trying to figure it out until the end of the season.
My shorepower cable is being a headache. 100 amp shorepower cables are heavy and awkward. When Roberta and I went to deploy it the mechanism that puts out the cable came unbolted from the wall of the lazarette. Reattaching it would be easy if only I were three feet shorter, 100 pounds skinnier, and able to crawl into a very tight place.
On the positive side, Roberta and I did our first oil change of the season (I put her to work!). It took roughly 90 minutes. Usually I can get through them in under 20 minutes, but I’m out of practice. We run the generator 24×7 so oil changes happen every eight days.
That’s it for this edition of the blog! Tomorrow we depart for an anchorage.
-Ken, Roberta, Toundra and Keely Williams
Nordhavn 68, Sans Souci