August 25, 2017: A whale of a time at Whirlpool Rapids

The night’s clouds soon fled before the advancing sun on Friday morning, and by a little after 9 am we were leaving lovely Port Neville so that we would be at the Whirlpool Rapids slightly before their slack at noon, and then, by giving Braesail’s engine some good exercise, would be at the Green Point Rapids by 1:30 pm when the current would be slack there. The morning sea air was fresh and bracing, the sun was smiling happily, and the winds were again busy elsewhere as we motored down Johnstone “Lake” between Vancouver Island and the BC mainland toward Sunderland Channel, Wellbore Channel, Chancellor Channel, and Shoal Bay. The various mountain peaks on the BC mainland, some still displaying streaks and small pockets of snow, gazed down upon our passage as we turned from one waterway into another; one shaped like the head of a bottle-nosed dolphin or a whale’s fin followed our journey closely and now stands serenely across from Shoal Bay where we docked at about 3 pm.

Walt navigated through the Whirlpool Rapids, which proved to be quite benign, but as we progressed, we saw the silvery spout of a whale ahead, first near the left shore and then closer and closer to the center of the channel. As we motored near the whale, it blew out a fountain of spray again and arched through the water; we could see its gray fluke but no more of its body and we couldn’t identify it in the moment, but learned later that it was a humpback. At about that time, a boat well behind us radioed, asking about the strength of the currents, so we told them that they were not strong and told them to be on the lookout for a whale (it surfaced for them and they were able to tell what variety it was). I was glad that it kept its distance as we made our way through the narrow channel! (Victoria Coast Guard Radio later notified all boaters that five humpback whales had been sighted, but not where we were.)

Now it was my turn to take the helm, and I took Braesail through the Green Point Rapids, which presented no challenges apart from a little side-to-side shoving by the current. While “St. Brendan” (the autopilot) steered and I kept watch, Walt was able to finish whipping the ends of the lines by which our inflated two-step “fender ladder” can be attached to the railings at the side of the boat for easy exit and entry from docks. Upon reaching Shoal Bay on East Thurlow Island,

Shoal Bay View
Looking out of Shoal Bay

some fellow boaters helped us dock and tie up, and Walt hiked up the ramp and along the long wharf and meadow path to one of the houses on shore to complete boat registration.

Shoal Bay dockOn his way back, we visited with the couple who followed us through the rapids, now moored across from us, and they told us about the humpback whale and some of their experiences with a propane-powered dinghy outboard motor (we learned about its poor service record at January boat shows).

While Walt napped, I worked on two blog posts (including this one) and looked forward to a delicious chicken dinner, before which we shared corn chips and hot salsa made by Walt’s brother’s wife. After supper we spent some time planning Saturday’s trip through four sets of rapids in a single afternoon, and then I walked up to the little, homey pub/art gallery overlooking the placid bay to use the wi-fi. I was able to complete some tasks before Walt arrived to use my laptop–hooray! I returned to the boat to clean the galley and finish the day with some tea and cookies and reading. We’ll be able to sleep late tomorrow before tackling the rapids in the afternoon!

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