sailboatbliss

Cruising by sail in the Pacific NW


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Willywaws

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“Holy crap that was a big gust!” (My dad was there – I had to keep it PG)

After a long but eventually fruitful day of fishing in the drizzle, we pulled into Matheson Inlet in Haida Gwaii for a quiet night.  Our weather pattern had changed a couple of weeks before as the abnormally strong Pacific High of spring 2015 regressed into something that we think resembled normality for BC’s north coast- regular dousings interspersed with frequent but short lived sunny stretches.  In Haida Gwaii, these low pressure systems were textbook: sunshine slowly disappearing into the gradually thickening cloud bank of the warm front, drizzle followed by a short stretch of unsettled weather, and then the thick, wet cumulus of the following cold front.  The passage of these systems never lasted long, and were always followed by a day or two of warm sunny weather before the next system arrived.  In addition, none of the lows to this point had been were particularly deep or violent.

This changed in Matheson Inlet as the next low moved though the next day.  Nothing too extreme, just enough to remind us of the value of good ground tackle and conservative procedures.  We were also fortunate to be sitting alone in completely enclosed bay with lots of swinging room.  We had 7:1 out, 100′ of which is chain: it pays to be prepared to sit out a blow.

The thing I found most interesting about the day is that I’m convinced that the wind was far less strong outside the bay.  The topography of Moresby Island – relatively tall peaks on a very thin stretch of land – lends itself to places where the wind is accelerated as it moves through the passes between peaks and down the valleys.  Environment Canada’s excellent resource on coastal weather explains it like this:

The narrowness of Moresby Island allows southeast winds along the east side of the island to flow over top and hit hard onto the waters of the inlets on the west side. In strong wind conditions, this makes it difficult to anchor or find shelter. The southernmost part of Haida Gwaii is particularly difficult in this regard, with Gowgaia Bay and Tasu Sound two examples of places where gusty winds come down off the mountains.

I can attest that the above is also true, but in the reverse, when strong SW’ers blow.  For us, these gusty winds meant sustained winds of 25 kts, with gusts to 46, or almost double the sustained speed.  The worst winds were during daylight and our situation was very secure, so we relaxed and enjoyed the spectacle.  Thank goodness for good anchors!

 

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Georgia Strait

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Aside from losing our steering in Choked Passage on the west coast of Vancouver Island, our scariest moments have all been in Georgia Strait.  But then, it is our proving ground and we take more risks there than elsewhere.  We’ll go out in Georgia Strait in pretty much any forecast and often go a few days between listening to the weather.  As a result, we’ve img_1112been spanked a few times, but we also feel that we are better sailors because of these lessons.  Outside of Georgia Strait, we are quite a bit more conservative – we pay close attention to the weather and pick times that we feel are within our comfort zone.  The experience in poor conditions in Georgia Strait has served to make our comfort zone bigger, and has given us some confidence that we can handle tougher conditions if we pick our times poorly.

Our scariest moment has to be on a passage from Smuggler’s Cove on the Sunshine Coast to Silva Bay on Gabriola Island in a late summer SE gale in 2009.  We’ve run with a gale many times, and have mostly found it to be fun if managed properly.  On this passage, we decided to go out and see what beating into one was like.

We motored down Welcome Passage very slowly, repeatedly burying the bow into the next wave and anticipating the moment that we could bear off and actually sail.  We’d tried (and failed) going around the north end of Thormanby the day before in similar conditions and decided that it was worth the tough motor south to get a better angle across the strait.

Eventually, we arrived at the passage between Merry Island and Thormanby Island, and decided to sail from there.   Based on our misadventures the day before, we pulled out only our blade (90%) and bore off.  After the brutality of the motor, the smooth motion of the boat under sail was a huge relief, and we all had smiles as she picked up speed and started over the waves at a pleasant 6 kts.  The bliss was short-lived.  Just as we were leaving the pass and entering the strait proper, an enormous wave reared.  I called for all hands to take cover under the dodger as the boat rose up the face of the wave and then fell off the top.  It was only the first of a series and the boat was still going down as the next wave rose up in front of us; the only way for us to go was through it.  I’m not sure how much green water came over the deck, but it looked like a wall and I got soaked despite my foulies.  Luckily, nothing broke, and the rest of the crew stayed mostly dry.   Of course there was a third in the series, but we were able to rise to it as we had to the first.

The rest of the sail was completely uneventful.  By half way across we had the main up too.  Eventually we even had to tack back eastwards as the wind on the west side of the strait was light.  Nonetheless, it was difficult to relax – its hard to describe what went through my head as that wall of water washed over the boat, but it left me uneasy for the rest of the day and still leaves a vivid image in my mind.  Now, we always tell people that we enjoy running in strong winds, but will never intentionally beat into 35kts again; once was enough.

Georgia Strait Summer Weather

Summer gales aren’t common, but strong winds are.   Our observation is that these are not based on the time of day nearly as much as they are in other locations such as Juan de Fuca Strait.  However, as I mention in my story, they can be highly localized; it is quite normal to have strong winds at Entrance Island and no wind at Merry Island (or the reverse).  NW winds seem to be strongest between Sisters Island and Entrance Island, probably due to the funnel that Texada and Vancouver Island create in this area; SE winds can be strong anywhere, but are often nasty farther south.  Fortunately, the strait is blessed with many reporting stations, and it is very easy to determine current conditions.  If you have access to the internet, it is also possible to get data for the previous 24 hours on Environment Canada’s website.  If you’ve been monitoring weather, this is a powerful tool as not only does it allow you to see trends, it also allows you to see any anomalies in the forecast.

Our experience is that the forecasts are fairly accurate, but almost always overstate the wind.  Of course, this is only true if they haven’t understated it; you take your chances betting on Environment Canada being conservative with their wind forecast.  Another thing  to remember is that the forecast is for the strongest wind in the forecast area over the forecast period, which is not necessarily the part of the strait you are planning to transit.  We’ve also noted that strong summertime SE winds usually don’t last for more than a day, and while NW’ers can and do set in for prolonged periods when the weather is warm, this isn’t the norm either.

Lastly, Georgia Strait is not really that big.  Given a good window, most boats are rarely more than 2 or 3 hours from shelter, and usually far closer.  In addition, there are lots of places to stop in most areas of the strait, many of which are worthy of being destinations in their own right.  So, enjoy the strait and all it has to offer – we are lucky to have such a beautiful body of water in which to learn our craft right on our doorstep.

Whiskey Golf

Whiskey golf is an annoying military area right on the rhumb line between Nanaimo and Pender Harbour, and is marked on all Canadian charts of the region.  It is used by the Navies of a few countries, predominately Canada and the USA, to test fire torpedoes.  If you enter it while it is active, not only will you be putting your vessel at risk of being torpedoed (they’re not armed with explosives, but that’s probably academic for most of us), you will earn the wrath of the military and be the day’s entertainment for all those listening on VHF 16.  To avoid all of this unpleasantness, simply monitor the VHF weather channels – they will tell you if area WG is open or closed.  You can also try VHF 10 to talk directly to Winchelsea Control.  Unfortunately, it is hard to make plans for transiting this area in advance as they don’t usually broadcast future usage dates.  We try to transit the area on a weekend – while this is no guarantee, the Navy seems to like days off as much as the rest of us, especially Sundays.


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Moving On – Selling Palomita

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Palomita at sunset on what is probably our last night aboard – Jan 1, 2017.

Its been an eventful and stressful fall; after talking about it for years, we decided to buy a new boat.  And while it seems like 10 months should be lots of time to make this happen, we are currently the proud owners of two boats so as to eliminate any possibility of being boatless next summer.  Ouch.

Buying a boat is a complicated task.  You’d think that experience would make the task easier, but after spending so much time out on the water our list of necessary features in a boat has grown incredibly unwieldy.   This means that just choosing a suitable boat is hard, never mind actually finding one.   It’s all such a royal pain that Lori has always said she’d refuse to participate in a next boat search until I’d done a bunch of weeding through options – not because she doesn’t have any opinions on the matter, but because it was so hard to find something we liked last time.  Countless hours poring over listings on yachtworld.com and specs on sailboatdata.com looking for something that met our expectations didn’t make the process any less daunting.  At any given time, there just aren’t many candidates that feature the look, layout, performance and build quality that we want at a price that we can swing.  Even with a continent wide search, they are few and far between.

Then there is selling Palomita; we love our boat.  She’s been amazing, teaching us and taking care of us every summer since 2004.  Our family has grown up onboard, and many of our social connections have their root in our beautiful boat.  We can’t imagine having done everything we’ve done over the last 13 years on any other boat.

Still, we both agreed that we wanted more space and performance, and the only way to get that was to buy a new boat.  Last spring we found a candidate, and she was local.  We weren’t really seriously looking at the time, but the boat did strike a chord with both of us.   Finding her in BC made her especially intriguing.

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Indemnity (don’t worry, the name isn’t staying) is a a 87 Sabre 42CB.  Her layout, performance and reputation fit the bill, but the cored hull and centerboard raised serious concerns about the possibility of a compromised core and insufficient stability.  The lack of alternatives forced me to look deeper. Simply put, there are lots of boats out there, and they are all compromises.  Short of building a custom boat to suit our individual quirks, we’ll all have to pick our boat buying poisons.  After some research, we decided that a centerboard and a cored hull are ours.  After some digging, I’m not even sure they’re compromises.

Palomita draws 5 feet, and this has always been a double edged sword.  We’ve appreciated the freedom of having shallow draft and bemoaned the leeway while beating .  Indemnity also draws 5 feet, except for when she doesn’t.  Put the board down and she draws up to 8’6″.   Yes, its a pain to crank the board up and down, but the deep draft with the board down should make her point fairly high and with a 42% ballast ratio compared to Palomita’s 35%, it is unlikely that stability is an issue.   We’ll see.

To my mind, the cored hull is a little bit more straight forward.  Well done, it allows builders to build stiffer, lighter boats.  For someone interested in performance, these are both desirable attributes.  Sabres have been building cored hulls for a long time and have a long reputation for quality glass work.  On top of that, the survey was great, so we’re pretty confident that she’ll be fine.

But this is all just a bunch of technical mumbo jumbo.  While it’s really important to get right, it turns out that it’s not the hardest part of getting a deal done.  It really shouldn’t be a surprise that the toughest part is the people part.  Buying a boat isn’t the fun it should be considering the cash involved.  Negotiations, schedules, emotions and the unknowns of purchasing something as complex as a 30 year old boat make the process fraught with tension.  Dealing with vastly different ideas of what seaworthy maintenance looks like only adds to the frustration.  On second thought, maybe it’s not fun because of the cash involved.

So here we go.  Selling a big part of the last 13 years of our lives, and starting again on a new boat is a major undertaking full of challenges.  And once the buying and selling is all done, the real work of making the new boat ours will begin.  It’ll start with a new name.