Monday, June 24, 2013

By Michael

This is where we sat anchored for two
nights. It was pretty damn nice, a place
and time Windy and I won't forget.
We'd have stayed there until we ran
out of food, but the clock is ticking
on our trip north to Alaska.
I keyed the VHF mic: “Securite, securite, securite. This is Del Viento, a 40-foot sloop, inbound Malibu Rapids. Any opposing traffic, please come back on 16, over.”

We were 100 yards from the entrance to the narrow, winding pass, copying the protocol we’d observed over the past thirty minutes as slack tide approached. Currents are critical to navigation up here, especially in narrow passages like this where a deep-keeled, cruising sailboat under power can be overwhelmed by the whirlpools, overfalls, and rapids they can produce.

Malibu Rapids is the entrance to the Princess Louisa Inlet, our destination nearly 40 miles inland from the Strait of Georgia. This trip up Princess Louisa Inlet is a detour from our dash north to Alaska, but well worth it, we were assured.
I advanced the throttle and began our transit.

About Malibu Rapids, the guidebooks use hyperbole to emphasize the hazards of approaching when the 9-knot current is running. We were careful to time our arrival for slack tide. The guidebooks also say that upon approach, we may hear crowds screaming from the Malibu Club,* but that we shouldn’t worry, they are just spectators watching and applauding the yacht transiting ahead of us. But today there would be no screams, it was too early in the season for that and only a few boats were waiting to make the pass. And because of our timing, our transit was uneventful, just me steering our boat through a couple of tight, boulder-bordered S-turns, like driving a semi through a drive-thru. (We’ve been through other rapids since, about a half-hour before or after slack tide and the currents have made it turbulent, Del Viento yawing back and forth, even being quickly swung 90-degrees before sliding sideways into the next contrary flow, the helm and throttle ineffective.)
This is me in the dinghy with the girls,
exploring one of the minor falls. They
are small only relative to Chatterbox,
this one stretched twice again as high
as the camera lens was able to capture.
This was nearly the end to a day-long passage, most of which we spent either slack-jawed or smiling. We started off in the Malaspina Strait before heading northeast up the glacial cut Agamemnon Channel to Prince of Whales Reach to Jervis Inlet and finally Queens Reach, off of which was Malibu Rapids and the entrance to Princess Louisa Inlet. For nearly the entire day, Windy and I agreed it seemed just like we were motoring up the valley floor of California’s Yosemite National Park—there was even a granite wall of a mountain that resembled Half Dome. It was big and dramatic. Five-hundred to a thousand feet up on the lush, densely forested slopes, raging waterfalls appeared as streaks of white, run-off from the still-snow-capped peaks. The scars of massive rockslides were dwarfed by the enormous scale of everything around us.

And now through the Rapids, the mountains on either side of Princess Louisa Inlet closed in dramatically and rose near-vertically. We poked our heads out from under the bimini just to look straight up past the trees to the narrow band of blue sky above. We glided along for about 30 minutes before the channel turned an revealed Chatterbox Falls, about a mile ahead.
It raged at the head of the Inlet, with several minor falls on either side as we approached. Even 500 yards away, we could hear the roar of rushing water over our Yanmar.

The prime anchorage spot is directly in front of the falls, where we dropped the hook in 40 feet. The local current from the falls is swift, about 2 knots, and so there we stayed, rock solid for two nights despite contrary winds and tides.
The next morning we set about exploring, soon coming across a sign at the head of a trail that practically begged us to not continue to the abandoned trapper’s cabin.

"Abandoned trapper's cabin? How cool does that sound?"

"Cool, yes, but that sign's like the one over the gate to hell in Dante's Inferno."

“Let’s just see what it’s like, how far we can get—we can always turn around.” I said.
Windy nodded and with the girls in tow, our little family headed up the trail.

* The Malibu Club was once a swank resort built in 1945 by Hamilton, the name behind the variable pitch aircraft propeller. He was introduced to the property by Mr. Boeing and his remote resort was popular with the likes of John Wayne, the Kennedys, Bing Crosby, and Bob Hope. But five years after it opened, it was shut down and abandoned one rainy night. Then, in 1953, an organization called Young Life bought it for $300K. Since that time, they’ve hosted teenagers here from around the world, offering spiritual guidance and passing yachts to scream at.

This is our entrance to the Malibu Rapids, Malibu Club overlooking.
If any of you can help me convince Windy that we don't need a
bike on deck, I would be grateful.

This is what our entrance to Princess Louisa Inlet looked like. A picture
just doesn't do it justice. And look at Windy in short sleeves and
sun hat--we couldn't have had nicer weather.

Our trusty Pudgy and kayak, tied up on a beach near another
of the several minor falls we went to explore. 
We're only doing about 3 knots, but that didn't diminish
the girls' enthusiasm for the ride.


  1. Staggeringly beautiful! Wow! I am still sweating from nerves just reading about your transit. It would really suck to have to go through such a nerve wracking bit of piloting only to have a view of- meh. Good news is the area looks astounding and seems to have been well worth the effort!

  2. looks incredibly beautiful. And yes, you DO need a bike on deck.

  3. This makes my heart hurt. My most favorite place on the planet.

  4. We went up to Chatterbox Falls about 4 years ago now and just like you, were in awe. It is like sailing into a cathedral where the main attraction is not fully revealed until the very end. In our case it has rained incessantly for three days prior and there were smaller but not insignificant falls in every direction like the minor altars before the primary. And yes, our necks were almost sore from constantly looking towards elevated grounds.
    The trip up to the trapper's cabin is no trivial pursuit so we discovered in spite of years living in Jackson Hole .
    Thank you again for sharing this experience in your beautiful and witty prose photos. We too have a yellow portand pudgy but have not yet taken it to "church".

  5. Enjoying your blog.

    Yes, keep the bikes.


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