About - North Coast Hazards

Wind and/or swell against the tide:
When wind waves or swell are opposed by a tidal current the period of the waves is shortened and their height increases. This makes for short, steep and sometimes breaking seas that can rise very quickly from a benign chop or swell as the tide changes.
Some particularly bad places for sea against tide are Johnstone Strait, the NW / SE channels between the islands in Queen Charlotte Strait, Scott Passage and Nahwitti Bar at the north end of Vancouver Island, off the mouths of Smith and Rivers Inlet, the mouth of the Skeena River, Dixon Entrance at the mouth of Portland Inlet and close off of Cape Caution. In Alaska, Clarence Strait, Taku Inlet and Snow Pass are hazardous in certain conditions..
The solution to transiting these areas is to be there when conditions are right. For example: The 50 mile  crossing of Queen Charlotte Strait from Port Hardy to Calvert Island, in summer northwesterly conditions, should generally be made in the early morning and while the tide is flooding to avoid running into ebb currents from Smith and Rivers inlet meeting the westerly swell. The common mistake people make on this crossing is to leave Port Hardy on a big ebb tide figuring to take advantage of the following current on the way north. They then arrive at Egg Island in worse case sea against tide conditions with the westerly swell piling up on a huge ebb current out of Smith Inlet and scare the crap out of everybody on board. 
Considerations of what the tide will be doing on the days that you will likely be making a given crossing should play a part in your overall trip plan. Departing one week earlier or later than a best plan date can make for a trip where sea, time and tide combinations are against you for the entire trip.



Afternoon Northwesterly Wind:
During typical summer conditions on the north coast of an established high pressure center offshore and a thermal low or trough over the interior of BC,  winds usually go down near sunset and remain light through the night. As the morning progresses, thermal convection in the interior draws in cool air from offshore causing onshore winds to develop in the late morning, often rising to strong to gale force northwesterly in the afternoon. In these conditions we like to move at first light and arrive at our day's final destination before noon.
Tidal Rapids:
Tidal rapids come in various shapes and sizes.  Some we will run at almost any stage of the tide, others... well lets just say that some of the others you don't want to be there except during one of four 15 minute windows per day. At the Yaculta/Dent, Okisollo, Skookumchuck, Seymour Narrows, Dodd Narrows, and perhaps the granddaddy of them all the Nakwakto Rapids we get there for the turn.  We have bucked through the Yacultas an hour late and the Nakwaktos about 40 minutes after the turn but it was no fun. (Actually it was fun but not enough fun that I'd want do it again tomorrow.)

One might think that if the current is going your way you can 'just shoot right through'. This is often true in some of the lesser rapids, but ....  We where heading out of Slingsby Channel one morning against a smallish/medium size flood, planning to buck out through the Outer Narrows and get around Cape Caution while the tide was still flooding, but as we approached the narrows, there in the entrance was a rotating, boiling hole of spinning, pitchpoling logs, stumps, tree branches and assorted other drift blocking the entire channel.  On that day, anybody heading inbound who 'shot right through'  the Outer Narrows of Slingsby Channel would have been dumped right into the middle of that mess. 

The skipper of the logging tug Vulture tells a story of one night when he decided to 'shoot right though' the same Outer Narrows.  He was traveling at cruising speed outbound on a big ebb tide and as he entered the rapids in the dark his GPS indicated he was doing 16 knots (double Vultures hull speed). Scanning the cliffs of the entrance channel and the water ahead with the spotlight he says the last thing he saw was what appeared to be a black wall ahead. Shortly thereafter all hell broke loose as Vulture climbed and leaped airborne off of the top of a series of four huge standing waves at 16 knots. He says he should have known better having on other occasions seen the westerly swell pile up into steep 30 footers just outside of the narrows.

Debris and Drift:
There is one given:  If you wander around on the North Coast long enough you will run into something big that floats.  What happens, when that happens, depends on what you are driving.  Most single screw, eight knot displacement boats will shrug-off collisions with floating objects other than a massive deadhead whereas a planing, twin screw speedboat can loose its propellers and rudders to a small, floating pecker-pole.
We run into a lot of people who are terrified of traveling in fog. We actually had one yachter fellow come over to the boat one morning as we prepared to leave the dock at Prince Rupert bound for Ketchikan in a real pea-souper and admonish us for being so careless as to set out when we couldn't see where we were going. I explained to him that between the chart, the sounder, the RADAR and the GPS tied to the chart plotter we had a pretty good idea of where we are, where we are going and what is around us.

I kind of like traveling in fog. If there is fog around it generally means that winds are light and that a lot of traffic that would otherwise be out there zooming around is tied to the dock busily admonishing others for heading out into the fog.

We have, on occasion, traveled an entire day in the fog, never sighting any landmark from departure to arrival. Yes, it does require constant vigilance on the RADAR for collision avoidance but with the tools available to any traveler on the north coast, navigating in fog should not be a concern.

Marine Traffic:
General rule: If its significantly bigger than you, then you get the hell out of the way. Worst thing you can do up here: Drive between a tug and it's barge, hit the towline and disable yourself, then get run over by the barge.
Summer Storms:
 Occasionally, during the summer, a small, intense, low pressure system will form close-off of the west coast. Meteorologists refer to them as summer "Bombs" due to their intensity and quick development. These summer gales lack the widespread power of winter storms but they can be dangerous to small craft. A half dozen times now we have ridden out 50 knot blows at anchor in the middle of summer. The good news is that they are usually well forecast, giving one time to select a suitable place to hide-out.
Traveling in an active gillnet fishery area can be a trial. Gillnetters have nets up to 2000 feet long trailing behind them. Avoiding them generally isn't a problem when they are thinly spaced but trying to make your way through a pack of them can be difficult. The outer ends of the nets are marked with a large red buoy but the problem lies in identifying which buoy belongs to which boat.

This is the one exception to my lack of concern about fog.  Traveling in an active gillnet area in the fog is a problem. The tail end floats do not show up well on RADAR and even if they did you would not know which target they belonged to.  The only option out in the middle of a bunch of gillnetters in the fog is to slow right down and post an alert lookout for net corklines in your path.