The bow exploded off the crest exposing half the keel before crashing back onto the steep slope with the valley of this ten foot breaking wave about to bury the anchor pulpit with panicky fury. Water, not spray, flooded over the bridge. The bow lifted violently again, slightly askew, causing an audible gasp from the first Mate and the sound of more galley utensils smashing to the deck down below. Before you could recover, the bow rose again with a few heavy Gs of force. At this point all you can see is water in all directions. This gut-wrenching bungee jump ride ended with a no-gravity feeling that would cause sea sickness except that malady usually leaves a panic-ridden passenger alone until later. You think of all that can go wrong and pray that nothing does. The wheel is spun hard so that we dive into the valley at a slight angle, but green water and fresh kelp still come over the bridge. Two hours of fighting the wheel and throttles was actually an eternity and the estimates of wave violence and height were even stated as being conservative by a commercial fisherman who had to be towed into the marina an hour later. This seasoned fisherman said it was much worse, and that his fuel lines had plugged at the filter from sediment in his fuel tanks being sloshed around too much. The basic problem was due to the understated weather forecast, the nice following tide flow and the opposing strong southeast winds hitting the bows at 40 plus knots. Winds are supposed to be nor’westers in the summer!
The buoys that guide you around Point Lazo and into Comox Harbour are easy to navigate at the best of times, but none are visible in these conditions. I located them on the chartplotter and kept my predictor line aimed outside these aids and turned broadside to the fury once we safely passed the final black can. Once around the cape, the two critical red markers indicating the safe entry into Comox Harbour were nowhere to be seen and the conditions inside this southerly facing cove were worse since there is nowhere for the wind to go and now the seas are furiously on our port side. We tacked like a sailboat for a half hour, gauging waves and horrible swells for safe tacks until we reached the entrance, and then the gale was on our stern, again not a comfortable situation. We had help tying to the guest dock at Comox Bay Marina, and the First Mate prepared a strong survivalist drink to be taken on the dock! Whitecaps filled the marina, the boat fenders taking the brunt of the storm.
Yesterday and last night gave no indication of what we just went through. We had come down Discovery Passage and through Seymour Narrows in wonderful conditions and chose an anchorage in Gowlland Harbour behind April Point. The sun was shining, the seals and otters were playing and the smell of fresh cut timber from the many log booms welcomed us to this place. We found a neat anchorage at 50o 04.773’ N 125o 13.682’ W just between Mouse and Crow Islets. We thoroughly enjoyed the calm and sunny day by taking a dinghy ride through the cut south of Gowlland Island to April Point. The resort has changed quite a bit since we did a diving job there in the early 80’s. Steep Island just to the north is where we shot many underwater photographs to be used in a dive equipment catalog the next year. With visibility as good as any in the Caribbean and colors so varied and vibrant, we wondered why we travel so far to see Thailand, Indonesia and the Maldives.
Just to the north, off Entrance Bank, small fishing boats were trolling for salmon. This whole area is famous for its salmon fishing and when the fish are running there is no better place because of the wonderful views, intense but interesting water traffic and proximity to Campbell River.
Lessons learned on this trip, is, of course, to always listen to the weather reports but take them all with a bit of your own knowledge and understanding of changing conditions. Also, we learned that we will probably never transit these waters again, opting instead for the other side where we are used to the little hiding places if the weather does come up. There is absolutely, in my estimation, no safe haven between Campbell River and Comox.
Enjoy a safe and warm summer cruise, and we look forward to seeing you on the Oceania Cruise Line voyage to Alaska next May.
Don and Carolyn Bloye
M.V. Island Spirit