29-31 July, Kynoch Inlet, Fiordland Conservation Area
We weighed anchor in Bolin Bay on an ebbing tide and sailed up Sheep Passage, doglegged into Mathieson Narrows, and then into Kynoch Inlet, a true deepwater fjord, where the fog laced steep granite faces and snowfields.
Kynoch Inlet is the historic homeland of the Xai’Xais First Nation, which moved to Klemtu around 1875 to join with the Kitasoo Nation there, after both groups had been devastated by disease. Klemtu was chosen as the site for their joint village because of its proximity to shipping routes.
Since 2006, Kynoch Inlet has been part of the 91,000 hectare Fiordland Conservation Area and recently, nautical charts for the area have been updated.We were glad because we knew we wanted to go there.
As we motored into Fiordland, cascades tumbled down thousand meter granite cliffs. Thousands of birds gathered in the trees and on the water; the water was black in the fog and drizzle, the air chilly. But we didn’t care. We were in thrall of this vast landscape; we kept popping out of the protection of the cockpit to stand in the mist and take photographs.
We motored slowly up into the inlet—there was no wind that day—pushing birds aside with our bow wake. The marbled murrelets scooted away, bobbed underneath the water and popped up again nearby.
When we reached the head of the inlet we saw a narrow marshy area filled with yellow grasses and white birds, a winding river pinched by a steep bank, then a narrow opening into Culpepper Lagoon—we’d been told you could anchor in there. A large trawler and a ragged Alberg 27–aptly christened “Scrapper”–were anchored some distance to either side of the passage into the lagoon. Elsewhere, steep stony margins separated sheer mountains from the sea; every surface was tinged with green in the afternoon drizzle. On one shore, at sea level, was a gigantic mound of snow, large as an iceberg; we could see where it had tumbled from the mountain top. Frost rose from the snow pile; the air felt distinctly cooler here than anywhere else we’d been. We motored around for a bit, searching for the edge of the marshy shelf to one side of the lagoon, and finally dropped the hook in what seemed a satisfactory place.
We saw a young lad rowing around the Alberg, waved, and he came over to talk. He was English, on his gap year, although he said “he didn’t like to call it that.” He told us he’d seen grizzlies–a mother with a cub–and heard wolves along the river. We asked him about the lagoon and he looked over our boat. You might want to move anchor, he said in a musing tone. There will be something like a river that runs through here when the tide ebbs out of the lagoon. Then he shrugged—Oh I guess it will be okay, he said.
Still overwhelmed by our good fortune, and our freezer overstuffed, we gave him some halibut, which pleased him. And then he was off, back to his boat to read. We debated for a bit if we should move, but we didn’t. We’d anchored in front of a falls in Lowe Inlet, and in very deep water in Bolin Bay. It seemed that we were far enough off to the side of the entrance to the lagoon not to worry, and so we didn’t.
The people on the trawler were from Campbell River, on Vancouver Island. They puttered by to greet us, interested in a boat whose port of hail was Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. We chatted for a long while about the differences between the east and west coasts, about landscape and scenery, art and fishing. Finally they asked if we had crab traps; evidently they were catching excellent crabs in this harbour. When we said no, we didn’t, they insisted that we fish one of their traps, which they handed over to us, baited and ready. Then they snuck into Culpepper Lagoon for the night. Like or not we had become crab fishers.
It was chilly outside, so as evening fell we read and dined below decks, coming up now and then to listen for the wolves. Exhausted by the cold, the fog, and the drizzle, as well as the prospect of returning “to land,” we went to sleep early.
Karin, a worrier, woke at 2 am to the sound of water rushing by the hull. The anchor chain began to rattle and bang as the big metal hook on the anchor bridle bounced against the chain. She went above decks to see what she could see, but it was so dark and so foggy that she felt completely disoriented. Where were we? Where was the little boat with the English chap who’d said it would feel like we were anchored in a river? Why hadn’t we listened to that?
She turned on the chart plotter, calculated the distance we were riding from where we had set—267 feet, the outside edge of the same circle, so no, we hadn’t dragged anchor.
She sat in the dark for awhile and watched until she got her bearings, listening to the water rushing by. We were indeed in a river. She decided to go forward and check the anchor: the bridle was pulling hard and a huge ball of seaweed had mounted up on the chain.
Karin’s footsteps on the deck woke Marike. What are you doing alone out there? Marike demanded. Make sure I’m awake and know where you are before you go on deck!
She was right of course. “Do not leave the cockpit unless someone knows where you are” is one of the basic rules of sailing, especially at night. The water was just 8 C in Kynoch Inlet and the current was rushing by. If Karin had tripped and fallen overboard, that would have been it.
Now Marike was up, and the current was picking up. The chain rattled harder, the bridle lines creaked and pulled at the bow cleats. The boat swayed and moved, the propeller began to turn, the hull shuddered.
Karin got out the tide book and began to calculate when the current might begin to diminish: by 4 am, she thought; the tide change is just after that. But it was not so; if anything, by 4, the current had sped up.
We sat up, and watched and listened and waited. We got cold, and wrapped ourselves in blankets. Marike turned on the knot meter, which measured how fast the water seemed to be flowing by: 2.5 knots, 2.8, 3.1, 3.7. Rattling and rattling and whirring of the propeller and then bit by bit an easing of noise, tension, current readings. Maybe we can go to sleep, we thought; the worst is over. And then Marike looked at the chart plotter and said, we’re in 92 feet of water, could that be?
Oh no, definitely not, Karin said, racing up onto the deck. We’ve dragged!
The water was too deep to be sure the anchor would set itself properly again, so we woke Elisabeth (who, being hard of hearing, had slept through all of the commotion), started the engine, turned on the windlass, decided where to re-anchor, got our bearings in the dark (thanks to the huge patch of snow on the nearby shore), and hauled up the chain. Then we crept about confusedly in the dark, found the spot where we thought we wanted to be (glory be to chart plotters and GPS—you can fly by instrument if you must), and dropped the hook again. 0.0 current. 5 am. Light was just beginning to brighten the sky behind the mountains.
We went back to sleep and slept late, then had a big breakfast of blueberry buckwheat pancakes with bacon and eggs. Lesson learned: we won’t do that again, set the anchor in the outflow area of a narrows or lagoon.
The day when we clambered out was quiet, the sky still overcast, the air near the little snow glacier running into the sea freezing cold. It seemed that the marshy flats stretched out almost to the boat. Karin spotted a red throated loon, and the seagulls and seals were feeding with fervour, splashing wildly near the shore.
The trawler came back out, fished their crab trap for us, giving us the eight crabs they hauled up. Like us, they hoped to see this place in the sun. Dan was a marine artist, Wendy told us, and wanted to paint Kynoch beneath clear skies. Not this year.
Time for an excursion. We dressed warmly—it was the only time we needed our long johns all summer–and dinghied over to the enormous mountain of snow. Then on to the estuary by the shallow shelf. At slack tide we dinghied into Culpepper Lagoon, cautiously, lest the tidal rush start again and trap us inside with our dinghy. It was a perfect hurricane hole in there, utterly quiet. Neither radio nor telephone worked in these zones: the crevasse of fjord between mountains was too narrow and too steep even for the single sideband radio. Incommunicado. Tall trees, green water, loons as tame as though this were an arctic Galapagos.
Such solitude was perhaps too much even for us. We used our fire ax to slay the crabs onshore, hacking them in half and dumping out the stomach, offal and lungs, then washing them in the water. We offered some to our young Brit, but he wasn’t fond of crabs. So we steamed them, ate as many as we could, picking the meat from the rest for another day. Then we readied the boat for an early start to Shearwater. Like Dan Telosky, the painter we’d met, we’d be back. We’ll hope for a sunny day.