sailboatbliss

Cruising by sail in the Pacific NW


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Fun with decks

When we bought our Mariner 36, the surveyor made it pretty clear that our decks were wet and needed work.  Lori and I were pretty bummed to hear this and were ready to walk away from the purchase, but after spending the cash to take a day off, driving to Seattle, hauling the boat and hiring a surveyor, the least we could do was take her for a sea trial (we have a little rule about turning down a nice sail on a sunny day).  This, alas, was our undoing.  One pass across Lake Union, and we were sold.  She sailed like a dream.  Deck, shmeck…we decided to reduce our offer and walk away happy.  The seller didn’t hesitate. hmmm…

We happily ignored the wet deck for the next 6 years, sailing and growing on a boat that also needed pretty much everything else fixed too.  The deck, while wet, didn’t really feel spongy, and aside from constantly resealing the chainplates to stop leaks,  it was fairly easy to pretend that it was fine.  And then Jeff ( a very good, but overly observant friend) said “feels like you have a soft spot here”.  Damn.

There are a few schools of thought on fixing decks, but in my humble opinion, all but two are nonsense.  These two schools both require the removal and replacement of all of the wet core material; one through the top skin, and one up through the bottom.  Any suggestion that a satisfactory long term repair can be done without removing the core is wishful thinking.  Any rot in the deck will spread, maybe slowly, but surely as long as there is there is water in the core.

We tackled our decks both ways.  Our first effort was the foredeck, and this we did from below because of the easy access.  The job was unpleasant, but not overly difficult.  First DSCN1464we cleared the boat in anticipation of the fibreglass dust that we’d create, and did what we could to contain the mess with plastic.  I then removed the headliner and cut the deck open with a 1/4″ straight bit in a trimmer (a small router)  attached to a shop vac to minimize the dust.  While much of the core came out as a black paste, I was surprised by the amount of structurally viable but wet core I had to remove around the void to find dry core.  In the end, the hole I created was about twice the size that I’d anticipated.

Next I cleaned the area up with a sander and 80 grit paper.  This is required to get a good clean surface to bond the new material too.  I cut new core material to fit the irregularly shaped hole I’d created, and rigged up a clamping mechanism before breaking out the DSCN1466epoxy.  I borrowed an idea from guitar making to do the actual clamping: I cut many thin sticks of maple just a little longer than the space between the v-berth and the underside of the deck.  These were to act as legs holding up my work; the extra length meant they had to be bent.  The result is a nice dependable spring that will accommodate irregularities in the surface such as deck camber.

I did the layup in two stages – first I bedded the core in a thickened epoxy paste and clamped it overnight.  Then I laid up the bottom skin with rovings, biaxial cloth and unthickened epoxy.  I thought that doing the glasswork overhead would be a huge hassle, but it wasn’t.  I was well covered with protective gear, and as long as the pieces were not too large they were easy to put on by myself.  The biggest benefit of this approach is that as long as there is a headliner, there is no reason to try and make anything look good – the finish can be terrible as long as the quality of the layup is adequate.

Our next deck project was much more difficult.  Our side decks, particularly the starboard deck, were rotten in significant portions.  Due to the location of the cabinetry and the chainplates, doing the work from below would’ve been possible but very difficult.  The big advantage would be that the deck would remain fair and the nonskid would be fine; going in from the top would destroy the non-skid, but the interior could stay in place, the space to work in would be less awkward, and gravity is an assist.  I thought about this for a long while, and finally decided to go in from above and use Kiwi Grip to replace the missing non-skid.

This work was accomplished in essentially the same manner as the foredeck.  The two big differences were that the edge of the top skin needed to be beveled to create a strong joint to the new glass, and the whole thing needed to be fair.  Both were accomplished with the judicious use of a belt sander and angle grinder.  Thankfully, my experience in the wood shop really paid here as it is actually quite difficult to create a large fair surface with a small belt sander.  The other major challenge was weather, and in this we were ridiculously lucky to start the work at the beginning of one of the driest springs in Vancouver’s history.

This job was an incredibly intense process, and I would not tackle it again unless I really had too.  Certainly, sound decks were a prerequisite as we searched for our new boat.  Between Lori and I, we estimate that there are close to 500 hours in the job, including stripping the deck hardware, doing the deck work, painting everything, and finally re-bedding all of the deck hardware.  Given my background, much of these are at a professional’s pace.  None of it was easy work, as it is all in an awkward place given the shape of a boat.  We are very happy with the results – the deck is solid, straight, and free of the crazing normally found on an old boat’s gel coat.  In addition, we raised all of the stanchion bases off of the deck with solid glass spacers and removed the core everywhere a fitting penetrates; the new deck should be far better than the original.   The real irony is that we’re selling her after enjoying the new decks for only 2 years.  Word on the street is that I like projects; I’ll pass on doing another deck thank you.

 

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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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Anchorages on the West Coast of Vancouver Island – Part 2

Clayoquot Sound and Barkley Sound are the two southern-most sounds on the west coast of Vancouver Island.  In addition to being a welcome re-introduction to the benefits of civilization for those doing a counter-clockwise circumnavigation, their relative accessibility from Juan de Fuca Strait make them attractive destinations for those who don’t have the time or inclination to do the 360 degree tour. While they are both beautiful, they are also very different from each other; Barkley is wide open to the Pacific, and dotted with small islands and anchorages that often lie amongst islands instead of in them.  Clayoquot is much more like cruising the Broughton Archipeligo, with narrow channels separating large islands indented by well protected inlets and bays.

Clayoquot Sound

Bacchante Bay

Bacchante Bay is a logical first stop after leaving Sidney Inlet for boats traveling the flat water route behind Flores Island.   Protected by a narrow entrance, this large bay provides excellent shelter for many more boats than one is likely to see in all of Clayquot Sound.  That said, the real reason to visit is the creek at the head of the bay.  It is stunning, with mountains that rise almost straight up out of the crystal clear water, and was easily navigable by kayak when we visited.

 

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Kayaking up the creek in Bacchante Bay

Matilda Inlet

Matilda Inlet is another classic Clayoquot anchorage – a large, well protected bay nestled at the end of an inlet.  The main attraction here is the bay itself; it is quiet, and fun to explore as long as your are mindful of the depths.  In addition, there are a few trails to get out and stretch your legs on (one of which leads to a beautiful beach), a warm springs, and two small villages to explore – Marktosis (pretty much abandoned when we stopped in 2010) and Ahousat First Nation.

“Tranquilito Cove”

One of my all time favourites, Tranquilito Cove is a must stop on a sunny day.  Located near the head of Tranquil Inlet, this small picturesque bay is far enough away from both the main route through Clayoquot and the hustle of Tofino to be quiet and very remote feeling.  It is also protected enough that the water gets plenty warm enough for swimming.

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Leaving “Tranquilito Cove”

Tofino

Tofino is a tourist Mecca, and deserving of the hype.  It is also the first sizable community during a counter-clockwise circumnavigation; after spending a few week on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, arrival will definitely induce some culture shock.  It has everything a visiting boater will want except good moorage – restaurants, shops, a real grocery store, and a liquor store.  It is also close enough to some of the spectacular beaches along the Pacific Coast (Cox Bay, Long Beach and Chesterman Beach) to make a visit to one of these this a viable day trip via bus.  Despite all these positives, there is no good anchorage, and as already mentioned, the moorage is pretty dodgy.  The most likely spot to tie up is the 4th Street Public Dock, which is located along the very busy water front a short walk from “downtown.”  It is clean and well run, but will be crowded; expect to raft.  You can also expect to be bounced around by the wake from passing boats if you are close to the outer end of the dock – no one really seems to pay any heed to their wake here, not even the RCMP.  The fuel dock is the worst we’ve ever visited, for the same reasons.

Barkley Sound

The Broken Islands

The Broken Islands form a small archipelago in the middle of Barkley Sound.  There are a number of excellent anchorages here, all a short distances from each other.  Our favorite is “Turtle Bay” – between Turtle Island and Dodd Island – but any of the anchorages listed in the guide books are worth a visit.  Keep an eye out for the small pocket beaches that dot the shoreline of these islands.

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Pocket Beach on the North west side of Dodd Island

Lucky Creek

Lucky Creek in Pipestem Inlet is really is more of a destination than an anchorage.  In fact, the anchorage is pretty ho hum, with an intriguing creek to explore but marginal protection.  The destination, which is a fairly long dinghy ride from the closest anchorage, is amazing, and in settled weather is worth any risk the partial protection at the anchorage might imply.

Lucky Creek flows down a rocky bed that has eroded into a series of pools separated by short rocky bluffs.  The water itself is warm, and many of the pools are deep and ideal for swimming.   To access the creek, anchor either behind Bazett Island, or in the islands at the mouth of Cataract Creek, and dinghy across Pipestem Inlet and up the lower portion of Lucky creek on the last of a rising tide.  The end of the navigable section is marked by an impassable bluff – tie up here, scramble up the cliff (easy), and enjoy a series of wonderful pools and fun scrambling on the rock.  We had the creek to ourselves on the day we visited, but apparently it is a well known destination with tour operators in the area and can be crowded on a hot day.

Useless Inlet

Despite appearances on the chart, the entrance to this short inlet is fairly easy to run: follow the piloting advice in Douglass’ Guide.  The waters inside are very well protected and picturesque.  However, its outstanding feature was the crabbing.  Given that the return of the sea otters on the west coast has decimated the crab population further north, this discovery was quite a treat!

Bamfield

We love Bamfield – while it doesn’t have the facilities of Ucluelet, it makes up in charm.  There are a number of places to tie up in the inlet, but we like to anchor out in the obvious basin just north of Rance Island.  The holding here is very good, as is the access to the dock.  The best grocery shopping is on the east side of Bamfield Inlet, but the real charm is the boardwalk on the west side.  If you’re up for a walk, be sure to make the well marked trek to beautiful Brady  Beach.

 

There are many hidden gems along this amazing coast that make a visit to the West Coast of Vancouver Island very worthwhile – please share in the comments section if I’ve left your favourite out.  For those who haven’t made it out to Vancouver Island’s wild side, I hope that this small sampling of highlights from our journeys here will inspire you to set out and explore!


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Anchorages on the West Coast of Vancouver Island – Part 1

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The West Coast of Vancouver Island is a wild, remote cruising paradise.  Safe harbours, solitude, abundant wildlife, and excellent fishing opportunities are plentiful.  The northern portion – north of Estevan Point – is particularly magical.  We were recently asked for a list of some of our favorite stops along this amazing coast.  Here, in part 1 of 2, are a few, starting in Quatsino Sound and ending near Hot Springs Cove in Clayoquot Sound.

“Rubby Dub Cove”

Located in Koprino Harbour on the north side of Quatsino Sound, this is a wonderful place to spend a few days waiting for a favourable forecast at Brooks Peninsula.  The day we sailed in, a squall blew through pushing the winds high into the thirties as we made our way east from Winter Harbour.  By the time we neared the anchorage, the sun had come out and the wind had settled down to a constant 20kts, but we were still a little on edge after being surprised by the high winds.  A safe spot was high on everyone’s priority list, and we were a little unsure as we sailed into the cove with whitecaps all around.  Thankfully, we settled into the nook behind Linthlop Islands in a perfect calm. It was a little strange to watch the whitecaps gallop across Koprino Harbour from our little oasis of calm.  Lori and I made the run from here all the way around Brooks Peninsula a couple of days later; our buddy boats made the run to Klaskino Anchorage and joined us a day later.

Columbia Cove.

Not a great anchorage, but the magnificence of the beach at Shed Four more than makes up for the marginal holding.  There used to be mooring buoys in the most protected area (shown on the chart), but they’ve been gone for a while now.  The area they were in is shallow with a kelp covered bottom – the kelp is the reason the holding is poor.

We anchor farther out – it’s less protected, but the holding is better.  After dragging across the bay on our first visit, we think this is a good trade. Be careful of the shoaling depths at the head of the bay if you anchor in the inner basin.

 

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There is a trail from the inner basin to the beach, but it is only easily accessible at high tide.  If you don’t time it right, it will be a long carry to get your dingy back in the water.  We take our dingy around the outside instead and pull in behind a rocky outcropping that breaks up the surf on a pocket beach immediately east of the main beach.  This beach, and the main beach, are both amazing.

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Scow Bay, The Bunsbys

This bay is a must stop for everyone going around the island – expect to see other boats here.  It is protected, wild, and very pretty.

Unlike the anchorages closer to Brooks Peninsula, The Bunsbys are outside of the sizable rockfish conservation area in Checleset Bay – fishing was allowed here on our last visit, but check the current regulations before dropping a line over the side.  Be sure to tour the intricate waterways in your dingy.

 

Dixie Cove and “Petroglyph Cove”, Kyuquot Sound

Both of these anchorages are landlocked hurricane holes with easy anchoring.  We’ve been swimming in both, and on a warm day, the water was excellent.  I don’t know which I prefer, so recommend you see both and decide for yourself!

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A word of caution – the VHF weather channels might not come in clearly, especially in Petroglyph Cove – you won’t always know what is happening outside the coves until you take a peek yourself.

Nuchatlitz

Nuchatlitz is the first good anchorage you will encounter as you enter Esperanza Inlet from the north.  Other commentators suggest nearby Queen Cove as the preferred first stop in this vicinity, but after being awoken by the sounds of industry there on our first circumnavigation, I have to disagree.

Protected by low islands, reefs and a tricky entrance; Nuchatlitz offers a wild, pristine setting that Queen Cove does not.  To add to the drama, the open Pacific is a stone’s throw away, and easily visible.  That said, while it is protected enough to sit out typical summer weather, Nuchatlitz is probably not the place to sit out extreme weather, especially from the west.

 

Yuquot (Friendly Cove)

Even though you’ll see the odd boat overnight here, Friendly Cove isn’t really much an anchorage but rather a must see day stop.  The First Nations village here is the historic summer home of Chief Maquinna and the Nuu-chah-nulth people.  The chief, and this location, hold an important place in the early history Europeans on this coast.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time in this historic spot, and also made time to tour the neighbouring lighthouse.  If the idea of rolling yourself to sleep after your visit isn’t appealing, there are a number of nearby options that will provide the flat water peace needed for a comfortable night.

 

Hootla Kootla

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Sidney Inlet has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to good anchorages, starting with the crowded but still worthwhile Hotsprings Cove.  You don’t have to venture far to escape the crowds; there are a number of inviting coves along the west coast of Flores Island that will fit the bill.  Hootla Kootla is our favorite in the vicinity because of its beautiful white sand beach.  There is also excellent fishing right outside the anchorage.

The anchorages farther up the inlet to the north are also worth visiting for their all weather protection and warm water.

Stay tuned for part 2 – Clayoquot Sound and Barkley Sound!

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Books on Board: Our Reference Section

We love reading, and during a typical summer, it is not uncommon for Lori and I to blow through 30 or 40 books.  Finding new fiction to replenish our selection is always a challenge, but we’ve been lucky to work with a wonderful librarian who is constantly keeping an eye out for stuff we might like.  There are, however, a few books that we insist on taking every year: our reference section.  Following is our list of favorite “how to” books.  We have no stake whatsoever in any of these publications, they are included because we like them:

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Ports and Passes.  Easy to use tide and current tables that have daylight savings already included in the quoted times.  The government tables are excellent too, but they break the coast of BC into 3 regions and are more expensive if you are cruising more than two regions of them.  In addition, you need to remember to add daylight savings time to the times listed.  Ports and Passes is easier.

 

 

 

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Any of the cruising guides by Don Douglass and Reanne Hemingway-Douglass.  We carry Exploring the North Coast of British Columbia: Blunden Harbour to Dixon Entrance and Exploring Vancouver Island’s West Coast .  These guides are short on destination detail, but cover most nooks and crannies, no matter how improbable.  Because they are so comprehensive, you’ll need to spend some time with them.

hamiltom coverCruising the Secret Coast: Unexplored Anchorages on British Columbia’s Inside Passage  by  Jennifer and  James Hamilton.  While this book is by no means essential, it does contain a small number of out of the way places like those we are always looking for.  I believe that this book is responsible for much of the increased traffic in formerly remote destinations such as the Goose Group and Spider Group.  The authors are pretty brave, and outline many tight places that we are hesitant to go into.

wagonnerWaggoner Cruising Guide is an excellent companion to the anchorage focus that the Douglass guides have.  The Wagonner Cruising guide covers the waters from southern Puget Sound to SE Alaska, including Haida Gwaii.  It has piloting information, anchorage information (somewhat limited north of Desolation Sound) and a comprehensive listing of facilities and towns.  Best of all, it is a free download.

DreamspeakerThe Dreamspeaker Guide Series by Anne and Laurence Yeadon-Jones. We don’t own any of these books, but we’ve cruised with people that do and really like them.  They cover the same ground as the Douglass guides, but are picky about the anchorages they include.  Because every stop listed is a worthwhile destination, the books are easy to use.  The excellent pictures and drawings make them fun to read.

local knowledgeLocal Knowledge: A Skipper’s Reference : Tacoma To Ketchikan by Kevin Monahan.  A book of transiting notes that is particularly useful for understanding and using the tides and currents in the many passes on our coast.

Nigel Calder’s Cruising Handbook,  Marine Diesel Engines, and the Mechanical and Electrical Manual.

They all get used occasionally.  The Cruising Handbook is focused on buying and setting up a sailboat for voyaging, and at this point I read it mostly for enjoyment.  It is 15 years old, and you can tell, particularly the electronics section.  That said, the info on cruising sailboat design and layout is worth the cover price alone.  The other two books are very hands-on troubleshooting type books that are applicable to power and sail boats.

voyagers handbookThe Voyager’s Handbook: The Essential Guide to Blue Water Cruising by Beth Leonard.  The title speaks for itself.  Although it is written specifically for those intending to go offshore in a sailboat, it has information useful to coastal cruisers as well.  Plus, I’m a bit of a reference book geek.  Beth Leonard has circumnavigated twice, and has rounded all 5 great capes – she knows her stuff.

1st aidSt. John Ambulance First Aid Reference Guide: Preparing for emergencies at work, home and play.  While any up-to-date First Aid book should be mandatory on board, we carry this one because it was the manual used in the course we took a year ago.

 

 

weather bookWe carry a weather book that tries to explain how our weather works.  Although it is well written, the one I have is pretty general, and covers concepts that apply globally.  I’ve been looking for one with a local bias, and found Living with Weather Along the British Columbia Coast: The Veil of Chaos by Owen S. Lange.   Based on the description and review on Amazon, I think it is going on my wish list.

Lastly, we have two 3″ binders full of the documentation that came with our gear. All of it. Included in this is a shop manual for both the diesel engine and our outboard.  Unfortunately, this stuff is referenced constantly; fortunately, it’s easy to find.

If I’ve missed a resource you find indispensable or particularly well written, please leave a comment and share the title.  Thanks!


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Cruising North of Desolation Sound. Navigating The Passes

DSCN0485Every year Lori and I present at the Seattle Boat show.  One of the main topics we talk about is the area north of Desolation Sound.  This rather long post is primarily informational, and is meant as a resource for those who haven’t yet gone north to see what all of the fuss is about.

Our first two summers on the water, the pull of the north was like a siren song that was barely audible in the background: we could ignore it, but it was there.  Our first year out, we motored north towards the south tip of Stuart Island and noted the latitude.  It’s in the log as a badge – our furthest point north.  Our second year out, we explored the San Juan’s, Sechelt Inlet, and Princess Louisa.  There wasn’t time to venture north, even if we’d felt up to the challenge.  We succumbed to the call our third season.   After motoring around Desolation Sound for a couple of weeks, I was bored and needed some adventure.  A week spent going as far as Sointula filled that need.

Since then, we’ve gone north of Desolation Sound almost every year.  It’s not that we don’t love the cruising locally; the Gulf Islands and Desolation hold a special place in our hearts as the places where had our first exposure to what a summer afloat can offer.  That said, between the summer crowds and our familiarity with the anchorages, neither area offers the magic of the unknown that we crave.  There was a time though, when we felt that sailing north was a daunting challenge.  We wondered what would it be like so far removed from civilization.  How hard was it to run the rapids?  What happened if we got caught in an inevitable Johnstone Strait gale?  I’m pretty sure these are fairly common questions…

 

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A happy fisherman north of Desolation SOund

Running the rapids – the options

There are three routes that we use to venture north; we refer to them as the inside route, the middle route, and Johnstone Strait.  All of these routes can be a walk in the park if they are timed properly for both weather and current.  But, they can also be miserable if you are in a rush, particularly going northbound.  Furthermore, there are a couple of spots that can be very hazardous if you attempt to transit them at the wrong time.  Of the 10 or so trips we’ve done north and back, we’ve only been caught out in rough conditions once – unpleasant but not dangerous; and we could’ve (should’ve?) turned around and waited a day.  Bottom line: be patient and time the tides.

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Pounding north into a 25kt NW wind.  I can’t imagine it in 35 kts.  We should’ve waited a day. Photo Jane Creed

The inside route follows the mainland, and requires you to run 5 rapids: Yuculta, Gillard Passage, Dent, Greenpoint and Whirlpool.  It has the advantage of being less affected by the gales that can make Johnstone Strait unpleasant (euphemism for really scary).  That said, there are 10nm of the strait that are unavoidable, which is plenty to have a rough day.  At 6 knots, it is likely that this route will require a layover enroute.  Our normal stopover is Forward Harbor. Northbound, this is the way to go when Johnstone Strait is blowing.

 

Discovery Islands w routes

The middle route starts at the Rebecca Spit area of Quadra, and goes through Beasley Passage and the Okisollos, joining Johnstone Strait at Chatham Point.  It has the advantage of excellent re-provisioning in Heriot Bay, but puts you in Johnstone Strait for over 30 miles – a significant gamble if the weather turns.  If the weather is good, it is possible to run all the way to Havannah Channel (and out of Johnstone Strait) in one long day.  Northbound, this is the route we use if we have stopped to cruise Desolation Sound for a while, have an appropriate weather forecast, and need groceries.  If the forecast isn’t favourable, we use the inside route.  We almost always go south using this route – the gales in Johnstone are no where near as scary when they are behind you.

The third option, running Discovery Passage through Seymour Narrows, and then up Johnstone Strait to at least Havannah Channel is the easiest, but the one that puts you at the mercy of the NW winds the longest.  This is the most direct route – we have done Campbell River to Port McNeill in a long day – but ironically is only 3nm shorter than the inside route if distances are measured from Pender Harbour.  Northbound, this is the way we’d go if we were in a rush as it is possible to make the run from Vancouver to Port McNeill in 3 reasonable days: Home to Pender Harbour = 50nm; Pender Harbour to Campbell River = 50 nm; Campbell River to Port McNeill = 70 nm.  We’ve never used this route to go south.

The Rapids – Northbound:

A few notes about the following routing information.  Although all of these routes can be done with little fuss by planning to transit the critical portions at slack water, they also  have the potential to kill the careless.  Use tide tables and be careful.  We use paper current tables (Ports and Passes is our favorite) as we’ve noted worse discrepancies between our electronic current predictions and reality than we have with the paper predictions.  All of our routing is based on our cruising speed of 6 knots.  In addition, the current is significant everywhere in Johnstone Strait and Cordero/Chancellor Channels; we always go north on an ebb tide and south on a flood, even if it means leaving in the dark.

The Inside

The inside route has the most individual rapids, but with the right plan and speed, all of them can easily be run on one exchange, even at 5 or 6 knots.  Our strategy comes straight out of Wagonner’s Cruising Guide, and works on almost all tides.  Extra caution should be used on large spring tides.

We arrive at the south end of Stuart Island an hour or so before the turn to ebb (Yuculta is a correction on Gillard Passage in many publications).  For the first part of the passage, we use two large eddies in Yuculta (shown in red below) to turn the last of the flood into a favorable current that we ride almost into Big Bay.  This will put you at Gillard Passage just before slack.  We power through the dying flood, and head straight for Dent – the most dangerous of the three rapids.  At 6 knots, you should arrive at Dent close to slack.Yucultas

Continuing along the mainland shore, we usually motor right through Greenpoint regardless of the state of tide and have never had a problem.  That said, Local Knowledge: a Skipper’s Reference (Kevin Monahan, 2005) suggests that these rapids are safe for most vessels that can do 6 knots within 1.5 hours of slack.  This is the place where you’d want to pay special attention on large spring tides; these rapids run at up to 7 kts, and if you are uncomfortable running them while they are flowing, wait.

Whirlpool Rapids are the northern end of the passage, and we time our arrival for close to  slack.  The distance between them and Dent makes this easy at 6 knots.  While many boats make this trip in one exchange safely every year, the easiest (safest way) to deal with this route and its multiple rapids is to break the passage up into a couple of days.  There are a number of attractive destinations and marinas in the area that make this easy.

The Middle.

There are 4 sets of rapids on this route: Beasley Passage, Upper Rapids, Lower Rapids (we call this pair “the Okisollos”), and the channels around Helmcken Island in Johnstone Strait.  We only plan the first.Okisollos

To run this route, plan to be at Beasley a half hour before the turn to ebb and have a look.  You’ll want to push through as early as you dare, but its narrow so don’t be in too much of a hurry – finding yourself unable to fight the current to make it through would be quite hazardous.  If you do go in too early and can’t power into the current, don’t try to turn around – the current will push you onto the shore.  Instead, reduce power and let the current flush you back out.

Once through Beasley, you’ll need to push hard to get through the Upper Rapids before they are flowing too fast.  You will get a ride through them if you run both on one exchange.  Another option would be to split the passages up and wait it out in the Octopus Islands – there are worse places to be.

Provided the wind does not pick up, the rest of the passage is straight forward and you will get the benefit of significant following current all the way west (north) up Johnstone Strait.  If the NW wind does pick up, do not try to run Race or Current Passage; the wind over tide will create very nasty seas.  Seek shelter and wait for better conditions – there are good spots close by including an anchorage right on Helmcken Island.

Johnstone Strait.

Technically, the difference between this and the middle route is the passage used to get to Johnstone Strait as both follow Johnstone Strait all the way from its southern end.  This route uses Discovery Passage and Seymour Narrows to reach the strait.  Logistically, it is the simplest as there is only one rapid worth worrying about, and it is a major one in every current table: Seymour Narrows.  We run this one at slack tide on the turn to ebb and ride the favorable current all the way north.  The same warning mentioned in the middle route description about seeking shelter if the NW winds come up applies for this route.DSCN0545

Southbound.

We always use the middle route to go south.  It is simple, direct and leads into Desolation Sound.  The main simplicity is that we don’t have to plan to be anywhere at a specific time at the end of a long passage – we run Johnstone Strait to Small Inlet on the NW tip of Quadra (see the map above) on one day, and the Okisollos on the next.  The first passage is planned to take advantage of the flood current, and the second is planned around the turn at Upper Rapids.  We’d do the run into Campbell River the same way.

 

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Albatross running down Johnstone Strait 2007

The other simplicity is that the wind is much less of an issue: with a flood tide blowing from behind, any NW winds that do materialize have trouble raising much of a sea, making for exhilarating sailing in flat water.  And that’s if there is wind – we’ve motored down Johnstone Strait way more times than we’ve sailed it, almost always in a windless gale warning.

To run the Okisollos and Beasley in one exchange going south, plan to be at Upper Rapids a half hour before the turn to flood.  This means that you will be fighting the current in Okisollo channel and you must take your reduction in speed over the ground into account.  There are a number of small eddies close to the south shore between Lower Rapids and Upper Rapids that you can use to help keep your speed over ground up.  You will have to fight the last of the ebb through Upper Rapids.  After clearing Upper Rapids, it is about 6 miles to Beasley Passage.  At 6 kts, this means you will be riding the flood through Beasley Passage almost an hour after the turn.  While doable on most tides because the flow in Beasley is quite straight, it is far easier and less stressful on smaller tides (9 kts or less at Seymour Narrows).

The inside route has the complexity of 5 rapids to plan, but on a flood tide, they turn in sequence, starting at Whirlpool, and then working east.  The fact that the tides turn to flood earlier at the west end of the passage than at the east end, it is easier to plan a transit close to slack for all of them.   To run all of the rapids in one exchange, transit Whirlpool near the turn to flood, and time your passage to arrive at Dent at slack at the end of the flood.  Because Yuculta will turn to ebb after Dent, you won’t be fighting much current when you get there. Both East bound and westbound, the most important thing on this route is to run Dent at or near to slack tide.  It can be a scary place; people have died running these rapids at the wrong time so be cautious.

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All of these routes are well documented.  We started running them using the very helpful passage notes in Waggoner’s Guide.  There is also excellent information in The Dreamspeaker series,Vipond and Kelly’s Select Anchorages on the Inside Passage and various online resources such as this article in Canadian Yachting:

onlinehttp://www.canadianyachting.ca/destinations/canada/932-bc-tidal-passes-passes-beyond-desolation-sound

Happy Cruising; we hope to see you north of Desolation!

 

 


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Skedans

IMG_2230A friend of ours has been to Haida Gwaii many times, twice making it to the park on Moresby Island (Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site) on her own boat.  For some reason, Skedans came up in conversation frequently – no doubt the place had left an impression.

Skedans is the first Watchmen site in Haida Gwaii as you work your way south from Skidegate Inlet, and the only one not actually in the park.  It is on an unsheltered neck of land that looks like it juts out into the inhospitable environs of Hecate Strait.  Before we arrived, I had conjured visions of an open, rocky anchorage surrounded by sea monsters and storms.  I fully expected to give it a pass lest we come to some grief.  Maybe we could wave as we passed by.  My visions weren’t far off, but thankfully, both the sea monsters and weather cooperated, leaving only the terrible, rocky anchorage to deal with.  We enjoyed our stop, but I watched the boat the whole time.

After leaving Bearskin Bay, the anchorage at Queen Charlotte, incredibly early, we arrived at the Skedans anchorage with another boat around lunch time.  The tidal range in Haida Gwaii is a maximum of 26 feet – the currents can be vicious and we’d left at 2am to avoid the morning morning flood flIMG_2225owing into Skidegate Inlet and north in Hecate Strait.  With almost no wind, we’d motored most of the 30 miles to Cumshewa Point, caught a nice salmon, and then made our way into the channel separating Skedans from a group of small, rocky islands lying close offshore.  While this whole area requires a careful watch as there are hazards everywhere, we had no problems picking our way into the small bight south of Skedans.  There is a buoy in the incredibly tight bay in front of the village site, but along with the other sailboat, we elected to anchor out farther.  As was the case at all of the other sites, the anchorage was marginal, and only suitable for short stops in settled weather.

We radiIMG_2233oed to ask permission to go ashore, and were told that we could join the crew from the other boat, making for a party of six; this was the only site were we spent time with the crew from another vessel as the watchmen make to some effort to maintain a wilderness feel for their visitors by limiting the numbers ashore.

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Shyla, our capable guide. Meeting the people working at each site was a highlight of our trip in Haida Gwaii

While the approach was tricky, the landing was very easy. For defensive reasons, the Haida valued village sites that required careful navigation to approach, hence the care needed as we motored in.  They also valued beaches that were easy to land on as canoes were their main mode of transportation and they needed to be able to pull them up out of the water and launch them easily.  Skedans’ bay is typical: rocky offshore hazards leading to a very small, shallow and well protected bay headed by a gentle pebble beach.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a very friendly young lady named Shyla.  The watchmen do shifts of a few weeks at these site, living in small longhouses.  Originally, the watchmen were volunteers from Skidegate or Masset whose job it was to literally watch the site to deter theft and vandalism of any remaining artifacts.  Their role has evolved over the years, and while they still watch over the sites, they also welcome visitors and act as interpretive guides.  Shyla was typical in that she was knowledgeable, friendly and very generous with her time.

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A Mortuary Pole at Skedans. The person buried in this pole did not die of misfortune – you can tell because the small human figure being licked is upright.

Skedans itself is one of two watchmen sites at which one can view standing totem poles (the other is SGang Gwaii at the south end of the park).  In addition to the totem poles, there are a number of longhouse sites to see.  Without some explanation, the house sites look like large holes with rotting trees lying in them.  However, Shyla, like her colleagues further south, was able to conjure images of what life would been like in these structures.  She explained the building process, the political structure (which was tied intimately to house construction), and the living arrangements in these dwellings.  In addition, we were taught the about the significance of the three different types of totem poles, and how art, story, and societal structure were all interconnected and represented.

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Remains of a longhouse. The houses were all built around a large, tiered pit. These pits were large, and were dug by hand over one day only. Large holes would’ve required many workers. Therefore, the size of the hole was a symbol of wealth and prestige.

Skedans was wonderful; seeing these sites and learning about the culture first hand are the main reasons to cruise here.  However, the marginal anchorages at each site do not inspire confidence, and you’d need to be bigger risk takers than we are to overnight at one.  The closest good anchorage is Thurston Harbour which is a short distance south of Skedans and is the first logical stop for boats heading south.  As such, it is relatively popular.  By late afternoon, there was a total of four other boats sharing the large bay with us, one of which we’d met a couple of weeks earlier in Port McNeill.  Despite the stiff afternoon breeze that developed, we made plans to dinghy over and enjoy a staple of our cruising life: a potluck.  We had a wonderful evening, and planned for more over the next few days.  Unfortunately, those plans didn’t pan out, and we spent the remainder of our time in Haida Gwaii as the only boat in each anchorage.

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My dad enjoying an evening aboard Ultegra, a Beneteau First 42 currently cruising the Sea of Cortez.(http://svultegra.blogspot.ca/)

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