Helmcken Inlet. Meyers Passage, Bottleneck Inlet
Continuing South we cruised an easy 30 miles and tucked in Helmcken Inlet late afternoon.
As often in British Columbia and Alaska we had to anchor in relatively deep waters, about 80 feet deep. Soon after anchoring we lowered the tender and set off to explore the large inlet to find and ideal spot to walk Princess.
This is a well oiled routine on Enfin that Princess, Di and I all know by now.
After 20 minutes in the tender we found a nice open spot with an exposed beach and Princess had a lot of fun there. Exploring more on our way back to the boat we decided the next morning we'd limit Princess's walk to the nearby rocky island instead of spending an hour in the tender. That way we'd be able to leave at a reasonable time and have a good day of cruising ahead of us.
Back on the boat we pulled up the charts and guide books to decide where we'd go next. That's when we realized we were due West of Fjordland Recreation Area, a region that our guide book says is not to be missed.
We realize we can't "see it all" but adding Fjordland to our itinerary will only add a few days, and we'll still have ample time to comply with our insurance requirements of being in the lee of Vancouver Island by the 16th September, even counting on a few days' rest at the Hakaii Institute.
It's a "U-Turn" of sorts, but will only add about 4 days to the trip.
I set a course through Meyers Passage and towards Bottleneck Bay. Both were tight passages but nothing difficult: The charts are very accurate and even included a warning about abundant kelp in Meyers Passage, which proved to be true.
Luckily Enfin's main engine does not need sea water for cooling, there is no sea water pump going to the engine risking getting clogged by kelp or debris. Instead the engine uses a closed loop cooled by a keel cooler under the hull. I love this simple and reliable system.
Later that afternoon, we squeezed in Bottleneck Inlet's entrance, carefully watching our sounder for sufficient water depths. At no time did it go under 20 feet, plenty of safety margin for us with our 5 feet draft.
Bottleneck Inlet is one of the few shallow anchorages close to the Fjordland Conservancy, so we expected to find a few boats there. It seems we are a little late in the season and many cruisers have already made their way back South: We've only seen one cruiser in the last 4 days while on passage, and we have had all our anchorages since Port Rupert to ourselves so far. It is very enjoyable.
We took Princess ashore nearby, where a couple of fresh water creeks open the forest up to a grassy meadow.
We could detect obvious signs of bear presence. Apparently bears don't always shit in the woods, but also meadows! And Princess found the rest of a large salmon's head: An obvious victim of a hungry bear fattening up for winter.
That made Di redouble her efforts at being noisy: She has made a noise box, a metal tea container filled with rocks that she jiggles about at a very unpleasant 100 decibels it seems.
I'm sure any bear between Port McNeill and Prince Rupert is aware that we're around. Whether it's a good thing or not I still don't know. What if they decide to investigate the noise rather than flee it?
In the morning we went back to the same spot, with the same obvious signs of bear activity, and an even noisier Di. No bear in sight while we were ashore, but on our way back to the boat, Princess alerted us of a presence in the forest undergrowth and then at the shore.
Sure enough, she'd detected a good sized black bear. I shut the tender's engine down and let us drift downwind slowly parallel to the shore to observe the bear peacefully.
The bear was perfectly aware we were there, but didn't seem bothered at all, continuing to forage for food along the shore.
We enjoyed a good 20 minutes of silent drifting next to the bear and took many photos and a few videos. They'll make great memories, even though they're taken with middle of the range phones.
Princess at some point couldn't take it anymore: We had drifted a little closer to shore, but still very safely out of reach of the bear, and she had to bark a couple of times to tell us about the big beast. We thanked her for being so vigilant, and told her she didn't need to bark anymore. We'd seen it too. She wasn't very convinced, but remained quiet for the most part, sometimes just softly "woofing" her alarm.
The bear for its part, turned to watch the noisy little animal on this strange contraption not far away, but didn't show any concern, soon returning to its feeding and foraging.
We had a great time, and we got to see a bear in the wild as close as anyone can safely get, spending a good amount of time just taking it all in. The bear never showed any signs of being disturbed or concerned, and eventually disappeared in the forest, going upstream one of the fresh water creeks.
A great start before we get to Fjordland. Since the area is know for the tall mountains on each side of the fjords, we'll wait here for a sunny day. If the forecast is correct we'll only have to wait an extra day.