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Maritimo 2019 HEADER

A summer adventure cruising America's wild north-west aboard Sur Reel

by Riviera 5 Nov 2020 09:53 PST
A summer adventure cruising America's wild north-west aboard Sur Reel © Riviera Australia

In 2017, Jess and Jennifer Roper embarked on a summer cruising adventure aboard their Riviera 575 SUV Sur Reel through the wild and spectacular waterways around Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.

The couple live in San Diego, California, but prefer the waterways of America's Pacific north-west and Canada.

They write a fascinating blog about these adventures that combines a rich description of their life and experiences aboard Sur Reel, along with sensational photographs.

A year later, Jess and Jennifer returned to Seattle to continue their explorations.

Here, they take up the story of their 2018 summer.

Exploring more new places

We started a little earlier this year, departing in mid-May with the goal of exploring more new places and encountering even more wildlife. We also wanted to try prawning in the San Juan Islands that starts late spring and ends early summer.

We mapped out a much longer and more scenic automobile drive from San Diego to Vancouver Island in Canada where Sur Reel is based.

We were fortunate to visit Yellowstone National Park mid-May before the onslaught of mass tourism and were extremely lucky seeing three adult grizzly bears, two grizzly cubs, three wolves, six wolf cubs, a wolf den, black bears, antelope, elk, and eagles.

When we arrived at our marina on Vancouver Island, we set off for a quick trip to one of our favourite spots, Roche Harbor in the San Juan Islands about 80 nautical miles north of Seattle.

This was our second season joining the Riviera Experience at Roche Harbor.

A few of us were lucky enough to join a friend on his large fishing tender for some quality prawning during a couple of days during this event. Old Yeller is a beast! The tender is capable of more than 40 knots when sprinting between the islands. We pulled in hundreds of delicious spot prawns.

Prawning sounds like it would be easy, compared to salmon fishing and crabbing, but it's not. It took us some time to properly understand bait, currents, bottom contour, locations and so on. And success came from learning from the locals.

The art of prawning

The first pot set was embarrassing. It soaked for an hour on the bottom and we pulled it up to find just one prawn. The prawn wiggled out of the pot, fell on the topside of the dinghy and then flopped into the water and swam away. After learning from the locals, we prawned a handful of days this season and caught a few hundred very tasty and sought-after spot prawns. They are slightly chewy and have a delicious natural sweet taste.

As we left our marina heading to Saturna Island in the south-east corner of Vancouver Island, we encountered one of seven orca pod sightings this summer. This was maybe the most enjoyable orca viewing because we were alone. We shut down, drifted, and the pod swam within 30 metres of us at one point.

Canada Day is celebrated on the first of July, followed by Independence Day for the United States on the fourth of July. We joined several Canadian boaters for the lamb festival on Saturna Island to celebrate their Canada Day. Saturna Island is about 10km long and 5km wide with a population of just 350.

It felt like our fourth of July at this county fair event, with lots of patriotism; a huge event for this tiny community and we were happy we could participate.

Next, we moved a little further south into US waters and Lopez Island in the San Juan Islands to celebrate the fourth of July and to meet up with some friends coming in from the San Diego area. They have a beautiful vacation home on the beach at Lopez Island and extended an invitation to us. There were about 15 of us enjoying the afternoon followed by an excellent dinner prepared by the owners. The fireworks on Lopez are rated as the fifth best in all of Washington State.

Getting used to 'island time'

When you are among these islands, whether on the Canadian or US side, you are often on 'island time'. Based on the tides, I wanted to do some prawning in the dinghy in the morning on this holiday weekend. A sign on the fuel dock states that it opens at 8am. Around 8.15am, I contacted the marina office on the VHF marine radio to inquire when the fuel dock opens. I already knew. The response was, "Oh, it is eight-ish. So and so should be there any minute." He showed up at 8.45am. That is island time, and why I called.

We joined seven other motor yachts on a five-day fishing trip to the Broken Group Islands in Barkley Sound on the western side of Vancouver Island. It is about a 100-mile trip through the Strait of Juan de Fuca then the open Pacific Ocean. The days there and back are basically travel days with very limited fishing time and is heavily weather and swell dependent. There are thousands of boats that cruise the intercoastal waterways of British Columbia each summer, but you will find very few that venture out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and to the west coast of Vancouver Island. It is rough and rugged, and you can expect thick fog for 20 to 40 miles each way.

After a couple of days waiting for the weather, we fished the 'big bank' 25 miles offshore and everyone did well. Jennifer reeled in three of the four decent-sized keepers on our last day. In total, we caught close to 50 salmon during this trip, most being kings. And we kept our two-day limit of eight king salmon.

A local fish processor filleted, froze and packed our fish. The box contained 49 pounds of fillets.

One of our bigger trips this year was to Desolation Sound and Dent Island. Desolation Sound is on the mainland about 90 nautical miles north of Vancouver and is a favourite destination for north-west boaters because of the scenic mountains, warm waters to swim, the coves and good anchoring.

Spectacular Dent Island

Dent Island...what a spectacular place. It was the furthest destination from our home marina on Vancouver Island this year. The winding route we took north to Dent was 220 nautical miles. It is a very remote, small and high-end (i.e. very expensive!) fishing lodge owned by the Nordstrom family. There are a couple of small docks for boaters who want to experience the lodge. Most guests fly in via float plane.

The Lodge is expensive because of its remoteness. Daily and core supplies arrive by 30-foot aluminium delivery boats from Campbell River some 30 nautical miles away. Everything on the tiny island is powered by a couple of large diesel generators. In the works now is a high-tech tide-powered turbine that will generate and supply electrical needs. Dent Island is essentially a clump of roughly 30 pine trees and measures just 150 metres by 60 metres.

The culinary highlight on Dent was a seven-course meal with eight other guests outside along the Dent rapids. Chef Cody and hostess Jasmine were awesome, and the food was outstanding. Coincidentally, we had briefly met one of the couples sitting next to us at the Riviera Experience at Roche Harbor. It's a small world.

Gorge Harbor on the island of Cortez was (and has been) a stopping off place for us and we really like the protected harbor and the marina. They have bands playing most nights in the summer. One Foot in the Groove is a local band that played Irish jig dancing songs. Think the movie Titanic - Rose and Jack drinking beer and dancing to Irish music.

We returned to Roche Harbor on San Juan Island and moored for eight fun days that went way too quickly.

Lasting memories of Roche Harbor

The flag ceremony at Roche Harbor is a trip back in time. The first time viewed, visitors will remember forever.

The Roche Harbor website explains: "Few memories of a Roche Harbor visit last longer than the first time you see our tradition of the colours ceremony. Just before sunset each night during the summer, we retire the flags of Roche Harbor, Washington State, Great Britain, Canada and the United States. Our dock staff lower the flags while a song plays, and before the American flag comes down a cannon shot booms through the harbour. After the ceremony concludes we announce the weather, welcome new and returning guests, and recognise special occasions being celebrated around the resort."

For about 10 minutes, the nearby boat docks and the restaurant come to a halt to observe the flag ceremony.

One of the highlights of the summer was the Labor Day Roche Harbor event on Sunday, September 2. It begins with a lunch for all the boaters. At around 7.30 in the evening, the Colors ceremony is followed by the much-anticipated ceremonial Jump in the Freezing Water event by all the marina employees - and that means the Harbor Master. While the Colors ceremony occurs every night during the summer season, the 'jump in the water' event is once only, and it is well attended. The marina and restaurant come to a standstill to watch the 30-minute event. It is a little magical and a throwback to earlier generations.

We had a wonderful summer for a second season in a row in Canada. This year, we cruised 1,700 nautical miles - 200 more than last year - exploring this vast area and we have only scratched the surface.

If you are considering any extended coastal or offshore cruising, it is strongly recommend that you first consult your insurance company as there will be restrictions and guidelines that they will impose in the interests of your safety and that of the vessel and your crew. It is also strongly recommended that you consult with an experienced Master 5 Captain or the equivalent international qualifications to seek their advice on vessel preparation, safety equipment, training, safety procedures and suitable crew experience to assist you in your voyage.

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