MV Dirona



Breaking Ice Into Princess Louisa Inlet

After a week spent over Christmas in Desolation Sound, we traveled south on Boxing Day to Princess Louisa Inlet. You can also read about this trip in our article in the October, 2004 issue of PassageMaker. 

For our winter boating tips and techniques see
Winter Boating. And for general boating tips and techniques, along with many wonderful, little-known anchorages, see Waggoner sister publication, Cruising the Secret Coast.

We considered stopping for the night at the Harmony Islands, but were eager to see Chatterbox Falls that day, so we forged ahead. It was very cold, but the mountains were so magnificent that we bundled up and rode in on the flybridge. The further we went, the more impressive the scenery became. Pictured is the leftmost peak of the Marlborough Heights, at the junction of Prince of Whales and Princess Royal Reach. We had become somewhat spoiled by the mountain views in the Desolation Sound area, but those of Jervis Inlet were even more dramatic. We were definitely starting to run short of superlatives.

The snowline dropped lower and lower as we progressed up the inlet and was right at the waterline when we rounded Patrick Point, with the snow lying thickly on the peaks. The picture at left is looking into eastward into the mountains behind Deserted Bay—about 40nm beyond which is the Whistler ski resort. It was approaching dusk at this point, so the light was beginning to fade.

As we neared Princess Louisa Inlet, we were quite surprised to find a thin layer of ice on the water. I was on the helm up top while James was down below briefly--he came back up and did not really believe me when I reported ice. I suggested he take a look and come up with his own explanation, which was "Wow! Ice!"

The ice was quite thin and it did not pose any problem going through, but it was strong enough to support our wake, which can be seen rushing across it. It seemed unthinkable to have ice on saltwater in the southern BC coast, although partly this will be due to the freshwater runoff from the falls. Nonetheless, we didn't expect this.

A snow-covered Malibu Club came into view as we approached the Malibu Rapids. It was not completely deserted however—a winter caretaker was on site and watched us pass through. Huge flocks of Barrow's Goldeneye and Surf Scoters, along with countless seagulls, covered the water on both sides of the rapids, seemingly oblivious to the ice.

We passed through the rapids with little problem in the fading light and a 5-knott ebb, but encountered much thicker ice inside. Concerned about damaging the gelcoat, we prodded at the ice with a boathook. It had a consistency just beyond that of a frozen Margarita, which isn't too bad, but Dirona was not designed to be traveling through Margaritas. I certainly never expected to be breaking ice in our coastal cruiser. We left a very unusual path behind us as we worked our way through, accompanied by a disconcertingly loud crunching sound, which can be heard in this video.

Inside, the snow and hushed solitude emphasized the inlet's cathedral-like aura. It was by now getting fairly dark.

We typically choose the privacy of anchoring over a more public dock, and were planning to anchor in front of the falls, but it was dark and on this Boxing Day evening it would have been difficult to find any place offering more solitude than the pier at Chatterbox Falls.

The dock was covered with several inches of snow—when I (carefully) jumped off with the stern line, I had to dig through it to find a place to tie off. We had a clear view of the falls and the snow-covered mountains behind it, with a light mist lifting and falling through most of our stay. We took a look at the hull and other than some minor scrapes in the bottom paint, we appear to have made it through the ice unscathed. We had covered almost 100nm from Von Donop and were exhausted, but very happy.

The next day we bundled up and walked up to the falls. On the way we signed the guest book—the last entry was dated November 30th, so likely no-one had been here since. You see a lot of pictures of pleased-looking people in front of the falls, but few wearing parkas with snow in the background.

We had packed a lunch, as well as a first-aid and hiking emergency kit, in order to hike up to old the trapper's cabin. The hike is very steep, difficult, and slippery in the summer, but probably ten times worse in the winter when covered with 6-12 inches of snow. We had a difficult time locating many of the markers, some of which we eventually found buried in the snow after searching for several hundred yards in many directions, the small branches that they were attached to bent over under the weight.

We worked our way in and up for about 2 1/2 hours, but eventually lost the trail and had to give up. It was quite disappointing - I very much wanted a picture of the trapper's cabin covered with snow, but we had a great hike and got a good feeling for how it must have been for the trapper. It had started to snow fairly heavily before we turned back, and I didn't realize how soaked we were until I looked at the pictures. We were having fun though - the scenery was grand, the rainforest was at it's peak, and we had hot showers waiting for us back at Dirona.

The surface ice, which had receded this morning came back with a vengeance during our hike and was in the process moving back out when we returned, rather swiftly, as this video taken at the end of the dock shows. The ice layer was quite variable, as was the water temperature at various points on on journey here, dropping in 40 minutes from 47 in Jervis Inlet to 37 just outside the Malibu Rapids, and bouncing down to 35 halfway through the inlet.

The storm over the south end of Vancouver Island must have passed through, as the barometer dropped 13mb overnight. We could get no weather reports however—as in Bute Inlet, we were outside of VHF range. We couldn't get much of anything on the shortwave radio either, and forget about a cell phone. It feels even more isolated not being able to communicate. It was therefore quite a surprise when the VHF suddenly sparked to life that afternoon with a very clear "Malibu, Malibu, Malibu. This is Bad News." We had to go investigate, bundling up and arriving at the rapids to find the capable and well-appointed landing craft Bad News making its way through a rather strong ebb.

The vessel was full of wood and supplies for Michael, who maintains the site year round. It also brought several of Michael's friends and family members, who were coming up to spend the night there. They invited us to land and take a look around. Michael had seen us come through and asked about the ice. He said it was much worse last year, when a cedar boat had done considerable damage to its hull going through. He hadn't seen another vessel for a while, but at New Year's he said all the big boats come up to celebrate at the falls. So we will definitely want to be leaving  before then.

The complex is quite extensive. It was built in as a luxury resort in the WWII-era, but suffered financial and other difficulties and was sold in 1953 to become a Young Life Association Christian Youth Camp, the founder of Young Life negotiating the purchase price down from 1M to 300,000 based on the good it would do for kids. Malibu Rapids are just below the southern tip, where the totem pole is, and we moored the dinghy across from Bad News at the inner dock to the right.

The swimming pool is particularly impressive, hung out as it is over the rapids. It looked especially dramatic heated, but rimmed with snow. In the summer, the camp, and particularly the pool and the rocks surrounding it, are packed with happy teenagers who wave enthusiastically at passing vessels.

The ice was much thicker when we set off to the rapids. We took a dinghy ice-breaking video along the way, but we had to be careful not to damage our inflatable hull. It was more clear near the edges of the inlet, and thicker in the middle. 

We woke up the next morning to an inky black sky packed with stars. As the day dawned, a fog bank slowly rolled in from Jervis, below a crystal clear sky. The ice had all gone, which is surprising as it was much colder today than it has been the last couple of days. Perhaps all the ice we saw was leftover from an earlier freeze. Wolferstan writes that the Inlet often freezes over in cold winters, especially near the falls where there is most fresh water. Not wanting to risk reenacting the fate of Shackleton's Endurance, we decide to take advantage of the ice break and head south.

We took one last look at the beautiful cliffs above the inlet as we left.

It was calm and clear as we made our way down Princess Louisa Inlet, with little ice remaining. There was an interesting water temperature spike about halfway through - near the mooring buoys it was 40F, then it rapidly dropped to 38F just beyond, and was back up to 44F when we had passed through the rapids. The fog was concentrated in this low-temperature area too, with little to none beyond.

The view heading back down Jervis was even more spectacular then when heading up, as the cloud line was much higher. This view is looking back towards 6,480' Mount Churchill, (close-up) which is east of the junction of the Prince of Wales and Princess Royal Reaches, with the Marlborough Heights to the left.

We were planning to stop at the Harmony Islands, near the dramatic Freil Lake Falls, which cascade 1,400' almost straight down into Hotham Sound. Here's a close-up of the top of the falls. We also took a quick video, but unfortunately it's sideways so until we figure out how to change this, you'll have to rotate your screen or your head 90 degrees.

The Harmony Islands were very unappealing with several private docks and buoys to deter boaters strung across the water, and we did not feel like stern tying with a big gale forecast, so we continued to Pender Harbour, where we refueled, anchored at a deserted Garden Bay Marine Park and went into the pub for a delicious meal. The bartender said they had seen 90km winds during the Christmas Eve storm. Yow! The next morning was very cold at 27F, and a thin layer of ice had formed over the bay.

The shifters up top had frozen solid and the canvas was stiff and immovable. After we'd run the engines for a bit and the sun had come out, things started to thaw and we could actually get underway.

It was a clear sunny day, although very cold. We made our way down to Vancouver ahead of the next storm forecast for that evening.  This is the Merry Island light station along the way, looking west towards the mountains of Vancouver Island, thick with snow. We spent three nights at Granville Island, watching the fireworks on New Year's Eve, and then returned across the Strait of Georgia back to the Gulf Islands and then homeward.



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Copyright 2012 Jennifer and James Hamilton