Port Hardy is a bit of a milestone for us, since it will be our last major stop before we head to the rugged West Coast of Vancouver Island and make The Big Left turn to shift south – from now until Christmas in Cabo! And this left turn means there will be no other islands dampening the swell of the open Pacific Ocean. I have been a bit apprehensive about it so we planned to spend a few days in Port Hardy to get the boat (and ourselves, or rather, me) ready. Steve and I both had quite a few projects to do!
I deliciously slept in until 9 am on the day we left Alert Bay for Port Hardy. It was an uneventful four hour sail – we were thankful there was very little chop, as we were riding an ebb northwards, against prevailing northwesterlies. When we arrived in Hardy Bay, we chose to dock at Seagate Pier, given it was much closer to town and we had kids with little legs with us. After weeks in the relatively unpopulated Broughtons, we were thrilled to be in “civilization” again. A real grocery store! Liquor store! Hardware store! Marine store!
There is a fabulous visitor centre steps away from Seagate Pier, and as soon as I walked in there a very friendly staff member pounced on me – I walked out the door moments later a little dizzy and holding a large stack of pamphlets and maps, excited to make the most out of our planned three days here! The kids loved the playground that was also steps away from the Pier. After we were settled in we gave them a two-way radio and sent them off to the playground in their life jackets – we could see them from the boat and run over there quickly if anything went wrong. We had to coach Paige to keep the radio with her while she was playing as she didn’t answer our hails very quickly; but it was a great learning experience and she was proud to take care of her little brother!
We ended the first evening in Port Hardy with a fresh salad (yay…lettuce!) and had a hot shower. Bliss! However, the next morning starting around 5 am we realized why there were very few cruisers docked at Seagate Peir. The Pier is outside the breakwater, and once the fishing boats head out of the harbour (which was about half a mile further into the bay and behind a reef and breakwaters), they would speed full-throttle past the Pier. Oh, the waves! I was worried our lines would chafe right through! Steve ended up cutting a split on some extra hose and wrapping it around one of the docklines to reduce chafe. But, by 7 am the boats were all out and we could catch a few more z’s before getting up for the day. The wind picked up there each afternoon like clockwork and would give us a rock and roll – we started to get used to it, but never got used to those darn wakes waking us up in the morning!
Our first full day in Port Hardy was busy: Steve did some repairs to patch the dinghy, and chiseling off old silicone and preparing the new hatches, adding silicone around the base of the toilets and fixing leaky faucets. I hauled out the sewing machine and made some mesh panels to keep our food in place when the boat heels, and also put some velcro in our mosquito netting for easy access to the stern when at anchor. It was a very productive day and we felt great about getting lots of chores done that we had been putting off on our last few weeks of “holidays.”
We had fun meeting some of the other boaters who pulled up to Seagate. I witnessed a hilarious exchange between an old guy trying to listen to music and drink his morning coffee while another guy was sanding and grinding his teak. “Are you going to keep this up all day?! I came down to the dock for peace and quiet!!” I couldn’t help but laugh under my breath and look out towards the vast ocean, much more peaceful than a government dock! Some other friendly cruisers came and went – I helped one couple dock and carry some groceries for them, and was pleasantly surprised when they ended up giving me a delicious fillet of salmon. Yum! Another neighbour, John (the one who was the one grinding the teak), was smoking fish on his boat and offered me and Steve a taste. I love how friendly cruisers are and it’s so interesting to talk to people. Everyone has a different story!
I had prepared a 30-day meal plan and grocery list for our trip down the west coast, so I left the kids with Steve and headed to the grocery store. I don’t think I’ve ever filled two grocery carts before! I had just left one cart in the checkout line to grab the other cart I had stashed by customer service when a guy stood behind me in line with only two items in his hands. You should have seen his face when I pulled up with the other cart! He gave me a grateful look when I told him to go ahead of me. Thankfully, the Save-on-Foods staff are used to boaters doing large purchases. I had two staff members boxing the groceries for me. Apparently, my $750 bill paled in comparison to some others they had seen! They gave me a taxi voucher to get the groceries down to the dock.
At this point I was thrilled because I was done the grocery shopping and was back at the dock within 2 hours. I had heard stories from other cruisers of how grocery shopping takes all day and I thought “Ha! It only took me two hours! Take that” How foolish of me…when I got back to the boat I had to then find a space to put all of the food. The kids immediately started unloading the boxes looking for their favorite foods, then they hopped into the boxes to play – Spencer even grabbed a sharpie and drew a steering wheel on his, while Paige made a seat in her box by sitting on a case of pop. I quickly sent Steve and the kids away so I could have some peace and quiet to focus on re-organizing. By now, we had been living on the boat for a month and knew what we needed to use frequently and what could be stored in less accessible places. I ended up removing every item of foodstuff from every cupboard and even the fridge (which Steve had defrosted and cleaned for me, yay!).
Our original plan was to stay three nights in Port Hardy doing chores and provisioning. We had done some laundry already in Blind Channel but that was weeks ago. We wanted to freshen our bed linens and start our trip with all fresh clothes. I didn’t realize how overwhelming it can be to do both grocery shopping and laundry on the same day. After I had been storing the food for hours, the thought of also doing laundry made me want to cry! And there were going to be around 4 or 5 loads to do! Seagate Pier is not near a laundromat so we would have to taxi over to the laundromat in the harbour and cross our fingers that there would be enough machines open so we wouldn’t be there all night! Well, given that we aren’t on a schedule, and given that I was nearly at my wit’s end, we decided to stay an extra day so we could get the laundry done and not be in a rush. It was a great decision.
Steve managed to take all four loads to the laundromat while I took the kids to the library and picked up some items we had missed on my epic grocery shop from the day before (apparently Red Rooster Sriracha is hard to find in Port Hardy!) We all headed back to Seagate for a relaxing afternoon, and Steve saw a fisherman he had befriended at the laundromat – who gave us a sockeye salmon. We could not believe our luck and counted our blessings for meeting so many generous and friendly people here!
We decided to celebrate our last night in Port Hardy by going to Taziker’s restaurant at the Glen-Lyon Inn. We had a delicious dinner and the kids were thrilled that they had an aquarium with a red-tail shark. The server fed the fish so the kids could watch them eating their dinner!
Finally, we were ready to go! We were excited to head to Bull Harbout, but first we headed back into the harbour to fill up our fuel tank. I felt like I docked like a boss at the gas dock – doing it all in reverse! I have a bit of a reverse-phobia on our boat, but it was finally starting to dissipate. We even met another cruiser at the fuel dock who was heading down up to Bull Harbour and all the way down to Mexico (picking up his daughter in LA), so we had planned to have a BBQ that night with him and his girlfriend in Bull Harbour to share our fresh sockeye and dabble in sinful liquids!
Once our diesel tank was full we aimed our nose out of the harbour and I dialed in our RPMs to the sweet spot of around 2,200 – but the next minute our RPMs shot up over 3,000 and plumes of smoke billowed EVERYWHERE! I was confused and thought Steve had bumped the throttle when he was removing the stern-line from the cleat nearby, and Steve had thought I had revved up. I tried throttling it back down but the throttle handle wouldn’t budge. Steve tried as well but he couldn’t budge it either…oh, the SMOKE! I thought the boat was going to BLOW UP! Steve pulled the kill switch to turn off the engine and all was quiet – we were dead in the water.
Thankfully, there wasn’t a lot of wind, but our nose was being pushed back towards the harbour – back towards shallow water. We were in the middle of the channel so I grabbed the radio and did a Securite call to notify other mariners that we were in the way and couldn’t move. A few moments later, after Steve had tried to re-start the engine to no avail, he grabbed the radio and did a Pan-Pan call. He had bad reception with the Coast Guard, so he called *16 on the cell phone to speak directly with them. While Steve was on the phone, I kept watch to ensure no boats were going to smash into us and looked around to see if there were any boats who may be able to help us. Across the harbour, there were a bunch of fishermen on a huge, aluminum fishing boat. They yelled to me, “Do you need us to come tow you?!” and I yelled “YES, PLEASE!!!” Two of them lowered their skiff into the water and motored over to us – it must have been because I used my manners! By this time, Steve had let the Coast Guard know that there were people here to help and he hung up with them. He threw them our bow line and they towed us towards the nearest empty dock at the marina
We were pretty rattled by then and had no idea what the problem was. We just knew that we had filled up with fuel moments before, so the fuel seemed like the most likely culprit. The fishermen were convinced that we had filled our diesel tank with gas, though Steve had requested diesel fuel from the dock hand at the fuel dock. A man came up and told us we couldn’t stay at that dock as they were nearly fully booked at the marina. Clearly, we couldn’t easily move the boat, so he left and told us he’d see what he could do and came back and told us we could stay – but only for the one night. We wanted out of there anyways, given that the marina was nearly 3X the price of the government dock, Fisherman’s Wharf, less than 100 yards away.
So early the next morning, Steve devised a plan to tow the boat over to Fisherman’s Wharf with the dinghy. However, Murphy’s law was in full effect and the dinghy engine didn’t start. Luckily, Steve was able to start the engine eventually and headed over to FW to check out where there were empty spots. He had one in mind, which meant we didn’t need to switch the docklines and fenders. So we un-docked and were on our way. The plan, which seemed very plausible at the time, did not go the way we thought it would, but just at the moment we realized our plan was not going to work, a water taxi motored over to us and grabbed our bow line and started towing us. I was so thankful, but at the same time freaking out because he was pulling the boat so fast, and we had no way to slow down once we had momentum. As we got closer to the dock, we realized there was an easier spot to get into since a boat had just left – but it meant I had to race around and switch the fenders and docklines to the other side before we smashed into the dock! In the meantime, another boater jumped in his dinghy to help and the dock was lined with people to help pull lines. Again, I was buoyed by the sense of camaraderie among boaters and that people were so willing to help (even if it may have been just so we didn’t hit their boats!) We finally got tucked into our new slip at Fisherman’s Wharf. When the lines were tied and we weren’t moving, Steve and I were both exhausted and drenched in sweat…and it was only 10 am!We were thankful to be at a friendly (and much cheaper) marina – especially since the conversations with our insurance company were not going well and our issues were likely not going to be covered – Steve had joked with the insurance broker that we should have waited until the boat blew up – as then we would have had a claim! The insurance company recommended a local mechanic shop, so we called them and, of course, they were completely booked up for a week or two! However, they managed to refer us to Jason Clark (Clarky Diesel), who came to see us on his day off. It turns out that Jason is an awesome mechanic, and was trained at the College of New Caledonia (where Steve’s dad, David, was a heavy duty mechanics instructor). He really knew his stuff!
Before Jason came to the boat, Steve had checked the oil level and found it was really high and the consistency was thinner than pure oil. He also was text troubleshooting with his brother, Norm, who is a commerical transport mechanic. He suspected that diesel was getting into the oil pan somehow, which Jason later verified. Diesel and oil had actually overflowed into the air intake of the combustion chambers, so Jason suspected it was one of three things:
A hole in the diaphragm of the diesel lift pump, but they couldn’t find anything wrong with it on the surface,
An issue with the fuel injectors, but nothing was obviously wrong with them either – so they would need to be sent away to get the spray patterns checked, or
Faulty fuel pump, which was very difficult to access, but seemed like the most likely issue.
Before doing any further work or removing the faulty parts, Jason had to leave for the day to contact some fuel shops before they closed to see if they had the parts to even do the repairs. Given that there were no fuel shops in Port Hardy, the parts would need to be sent “Down-Island”. Jason managed to find a shop with the parts we needed and he estimated a one-week turnaround time (including the long-weekend). We were fine with that, and happy to be safely at a dock to spend some time here.
Jason came back the next day and brought some pieces of baleen and some whale teeth for the kids to look at. The day before, he must have been listening to me read the kids excerpts from our book on “Whales and Dolphins” while he was troubleshooting with Steve. The kids were thrilled to see the baleen and teeth, and he even gave us a piece of baleen to keep! In the meantime, he wrestled with the fuel pump for an hour and a half to get it off. Once it was off, he confirmed that there was a fairly significant leak from the fuel side to the oil side and took the parts with him to send away for repair.
In the meantime, I was (secretly) excited that we were going to stay for a while because I had convinced my Mom to come for a visit! Apparently, she had been hoping for the same kind of delay and did not need much convincing…she got up at the crack of dawn the next day to catch the 5:15 am ferry and made it to Port Hardy shortly after lunch. We toasted our good fortune with some Caesars when she arrived! The kids were also beyond excited. It’s good to change up the dynamics every once in a while on the boat, and we are going to make the most of our misfortune!