Fjordland in The Great Bear Rainforest

At 7:30pm on July 9, 2019, the Captain and the First Mate of the True Love anchored in Culpepper Lagoon, the holy grail of Fjordland. We left the dock at the Shearwater Marina near Bella Bella that morning. After getting up pretty early we headed to the restaurant for breakfast. The day started out a bit foggy, but it was clearing, the barometer was rising and the sun came out as we were leaving, heading north. Before we left, we took a walk to the local garden shop in a small house up the hill with beautiful angel begonias that reportedly also had fresh blueberries. One of the drawbacks of leaving in early June on our adventure this year was missing out on the local berries and cherries of summer. Although we snagged some BC cherries in Campbell River, so far we had not found any local blueberries.

We hit the jackpot and bought 3 pounds of delicious sweet blueberries.

After our blueberry hunt we left the dock. Our revised plan had us taking two days to reach Culpepper Lagoon, but the weather forecast called for rain every day after July 9th, so we decided to make the long trek all the way so that we could see the mountains of Fjordland before the clouds and rain arrived. It was a delightful cruise with calm seas and winds all the way up Seaforth and Mathieson Channels. We even took a sweet little side passage, Reid Passage, to avoid the big ocean rollers of Milbanke Sound (where Seaforth Channel and Mathieson Channel meet). Generally the little passages are more interesting and this one didn’t disappoint. Of course we saw lots of eagles.

After entering Mathieson Channel from Reid Passage we actually passed a park ranger boat. Literally, this is first marine park ranger we have ever seen in BC waters after 10 years of boating.

As we approached our turn into Kynoch Inlet, the gateway to Fjordland, dolphins played in the front of the boat. What a great welcome! And in the distance farther up Mathieson Channel, we saw a ridge line along the east side of Mathieson Narrows that Jim said looked a lot like his childhood drawings of Tar, one of his childhood dogs. We have enhanced the photo so you can share in his vision. James and Robert do you see Baba’s drawing of his dog Tar?

After turning into Kynoch Inlet a very large waterfall appears on the port side. The surrounding mountains rise steeply like black monoliths over 3,000 feet high. The glaciers in the distance were not yet visible because of these very steep foothills.

To enter Culpepper Lagoon, we had to first pass through a short and narrow tidal rapid. It was clear in the reference text that we should only enter this rapid during the slack current that occurs when the high tide first begins to recede (“high tide slack”). Yet, there was some confusion about the time when that would occur. So we lowered the tender and split up with the Captain investigating the current and depth through the tidal narrows, while the First Mate stayed with the mother ship.

Although the current was still a healthy 5 knots an hour, the minimum depth was over 15 and the rapid was only about 100 yards long so feet so we were comfortable going through into Culpepper Lagoon without having to wait until the current was perfectly slack. So we switched places and the First Mate led the way through the rapids with the tender while the Captain followed on the True Love.

I explored possible anchorages with the tender, taking depth readings and investigating the surrounding waters, looking for hazards. Although we have charts and GPS for these out of the way places, sometimes they just aren’t that accurate. Especially when there are rivers nearby, the shifting silt from the rivers can change dramatically change the depths found years earlier that are shown on the GPS charts.

We tried one recommended anchorage, but were unhappy with how close we got to the shallow area when the boat was at anchor so I kept looking and found a perfect anchorage with good sound from a little stream nearby. Although the anchorage was much deeper (130 feet) than where we usually anchor, we put out almost all 300 feet of our anchor chain and our anchor held beautifully.

The sun sets really late up here at over 51 degrees north latitude, so it was almost 10pm when it started to get dark. But before the sun set we enjoyed an outstanding view of Culpepper Lagoon, which is about 2 miles long and a mile wide, with glassy calm water surrounded by snow capped mountains. And amazingly, we had the entire area to ourselves: The True Love was the only boat in Culpepper Lagoon.

Getting here despite all of our repair issues felt like a big accomplishment, leaving us feeling both proud and relieved. The area is vast and stunning. Because we made it up here in one day we saw all of the surrounding mountains and enjoyed a pretty sunset. Then the clouds came in as it got dark and as we were getting ready for bed the rain began.

Well, we are in the Great Bear RAINforest after all. Although it rained quite a bit that first night and most of the next day (Wednesday), we had a couple of sun breaks on Wednesday and headed out on the tender to look for bear. We met two other tenders also looking for bear. They came from two sailboats who didn’t brave the entrance to Culpepper Lagoon and were very impressed with our navigational skills, gumption and beautiful anchorage.

There were no bears near our anchorage, so we headed back out to see if there were any bear at the head of Kynoch Inlet. Fortunately, it’s easy to head in and out of the tidal rapids on the tender because of our 40 HP engine. Alas we didn’t see any bear. Clearly bear do frequent this area because the Spirit Bear Lodge leaves a special boat moored here at a private buoy for heading up the river. As we finished our first exploration using the tender, a rain storm entered the area so we had to head quickly back to the True Love.

It took us a bit to dry out and warm up. We had lunch, rested and let the rain fall. Another sun break appeared a few hours later and our new friends on the sailboat Concerto called us over the VHF radio to say that there was a bear on the shore near their anchorage. So we quickly put on our rain coats (and rain pants this time) and zoomed over on the tender. Unfortunately, the juvenile grizzly had moved on by the time we got there. Oh well.

Today we headed out of Culpepper Lagoon easily during high tide slack. The Captain figured out that the reference text had a typo and that high tide slack was at 20 minutes AFTER high tide at Bella Bella, not 20 minutes BEFORE. We will let the editors at the Waggoner Cruising Guide know of the typo when we get cell service.

Because of all the rain, Kynock Inlet was transformed from the day we entered. The towering black sheer rock mountains were now covered with little waterfalls.

And as we headed north to pass through Mathieson Narrows we had another wonderful humpback interaction. We know from last year that humpbacks sleep on the water. So we when found a humpback sleeping on the surface in the narrows, we just slowed down, turned off the engine and waited for him to wake up. When he did, our sleepy humpback friend lazily swam all around the True Love and we got some great photos and video!

Our stop for tonight is in Poison Cove at the end of Mussel Inlet, a bear and mountain goat sanctuary. We are anchored once again very close to an area that looks like prime bear terrain, with a little river, a big grassy area and a large drying shoal. After going for a really nice kayak, we returned to the True Love to watch for bear strolling down to clam but once again the bear stood us up.

As our day comes to an end, we are once again the only boat in a beautiful anchorage, and the promise of this morning’s rising barometer is being fulfilled with clearing skies. Dawn will arrive tomorrow at 5AM, along with a very low tide, which should be another great opportunity to see some bear. If we do, we’ll include some photos with this blog post. If we don’t, this will still have been a wonderful trek to Fjordland and the Great Bear Rainforest.

Our alarm woke us at dawn and we roused ourselves for our bear hunt. For those of you who have read our blog for years, you know we have not often been successful in our bear hunting endeavors. In fact, our only truly successful bear hunt was with Trapper Rick in the Broughtons. Now that was a crazy adventure.

But back to this trip. When we awoke we were immediately treated to eagles clamming while the seagulls dive-bombed them incessantly. Who knows why? The eagles were not threatening them in any way so we assume the seagulls were responding to some previous interaction. The sunrise was quite beautiful and relatively clear. No bear, but a humpback came right by our boat. Although we are not bear lucky, we are very humpback lucky.

After about an hour we took down the tender to explore the other nearby cove and river inlet, no bear there either. Oh well!

Now we are off! Heading back south out of Fjordland. On our way we checked out the largest falls in the area Lizzy Falls.

Finlayson Channel will forever, for us, be renamed Sleeping Humpback Channel. Around noon, as we were heading south, the First Mate spotted another sleeping humpback and then another and then another, along with a juvenile and a baby. Maybe they are all exhausted after their long trek here from Hawaii? Our sailboat friends from Fjordland caught up with us and then we all enjoyed a Humpie Watching party. Our friends had spent the night in the more traditional anchorage (Windy Bay) on Pooley Island and of course they saw another grizzly. Seriously đŸ˜³. So much for looking for bear in the designated park areas on the mainland side of the fjords.

As we continued our cruise south, we were close to the native village of Klemtu. This reminded Jim of the secret password from the old SciFi movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still”. Jim recalls it as something similar to “Klemtu, barrata, nikto”. There was a Seaborn Cruise Ship at Klemtu apparently touring the old native “big house” there. We avoided the stop although we loved reading about the restaurant in town that serves only the culinary essentials: “breakfast, burgers and Chinese food.”

After a very early start and a long cruise we finally entered Jackson Passage. The crew was super tired so we decided to go right to the nearest place to anchor and drop the hook. While the Captain was expertly navigating the shallow, curving Jackson Narrows I spotted a locally rare heron and captured one of my favorite photos of the trip. Now that is a lot of mussels! (In Seattle, there are 20 herons for every eagle; here, there are 20 eagles for every heron).

After dropping the anchor in Rescue Bay we lit the sabbath candles early, made a yummy steak and salad dinner, used the last of our champagne to toast our successful voyage to Fjordland and tried to stay awake until at least 9:30PM.

We understand this area now, and will definitely make it up here again. It is cloudier and rainier than BC’s Sunshine Coast of course. But it is warmer than we expected and the bugs weren’t bad at all. Although the glaciers are less visible up here, the mountains and waterways are vast and the seclusion is unparalleled. In our 5 days in Fjordland we saw only 4 other boats.

This morning we watched the women’s tennis finals at Wimbledon in bed at 6AM and then went back to sleep. There is no hurry to go anywhere. Before leaving Rescue Bay we went to go kayaking around the bay and encountered a huge brown bird that we learned is a Sandhill crane that we’ve never seen before.

And we Id’d the sound we heard last night and this morning coming from a pair of loon. Now we’ll head back to the Shearwater Marina near Bella Bella (the main hub up here) for at least one night and hopefully some fishing.

After that, we plan to head south through the Broughtons Islands and Johnstone Strait on our way back to the Sunshine Coast between Campbell River and Vancouver. However, we want to explore Belize Inlet south of Cape Caution first. The descriptions in our reference texts sound interesting and we have the time before meeting up with our friends Laird and Carol Vanetta in North Desolation.

The Captain and the First Mate of the True Love

“They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

4 thoughts on “Fjordland in The Great Bear Rainforest

  1. My favorite photo is the waterfall and Fawn and Jim smiling. I am always impressed by nature’s ability to form shapes (for example the photo of the whale’s tail as it dives) that humans have lately learned it the best possible shape for the intended purpose. The beauty and symmetry of the life forms you observe is very rewarding – even vicariously.

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