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Cruising by sail in the Pacific NW


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Westcoast Shakedown – Sailing Non-Stop Down the West Coast of Vancouver Island Part 2: The Passage

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It was sometime last spring when we first proposed the idea to do a 3 or 4 day “practice passage” down the west coast of Vancouver Island at a Bluewater Cruising Association meeting.  At the time, we didn’t think much of it – it just seemed like a good idea.  As the end of July approached, it seemed so much more, especially with the unstable weather we’d had through the first 3 weeks of the summer.  However, in spite of this dodgy weather and our apprehensions, by the time we tied up in Shearwater on Saturday July 27, we’d gotten a 3 day usable weather window and were mentally committed to doing the trip.  The nervous energy of the last few days didn’t disappear, but the pointless hand wringing did and was replaced with a fevered effort to get stuff done as fast as possible so that we could get underway: recycling, last minute grocery shopping, diesel, propane and laundry…all in just over an hour.

We started motoring south down Hunter Channel, next stop Sooke, just after noon, in gentle southerly winds and mostly overcast skies.  We could’ve beat down the channel, but our schedule and the light winds kept us motoring.  Eventually, we exited the very tight archipelago at the south end of Hunter Channel and motored into the open water of Queen’s Sound.  Surprise, surprise, the weather was still not quite as promised.  Instead of sun and a glorious reach, we got clouds and a motor in the sloppy leftovers from the departing south-easterly.   Not very exciting, but the monotony was probably good – it turns out that it’s just as hard to stay nervous when you’re bored doing the activity that was making you nervous in the first place as it is when you’re busy running around preparing for that activity.

We motored for quite a while, choking down what should have been a wonderful meal along the way.  Eventually though, our patience and faith in the forecast was rewarded and we were able to sail in light winds on a close hauled course straight at Cape Scott.  Fortunately, Palomita sails very well in these conditions and we were happy to trade the din of the engine for the satisfying swish of the water.  By 9pm, we were doing 7 knots on a close reach.  We were 32 miles north of Cape Scott and it was magical.

Before we left, we’d decided on a formal watch schedule starting at 10pm and ending at 8am.  Our plan was to do a 3 hour watch each, and then a 2 hour watch each.  We figured we could manage the daylight hours on an informal basis.  With a little tweaking over the two nights we were out, this system worked really well for us, and unlike our previous experiences sailing through the night, neither on us really got to the point of total exhaustion.  The first watch on Saturday night was mine, and it was a highlight.  The night was pretty much perfect for sailing to weather: Palomita rose to the gentle seas with enough wind to keep her moving fast, but not so much that we were on our ear.  The ride was so pleasant that we both spent our off watches in our regular bunk.  At midnight we were 11 nm from Cape Scott,  still on a close reach doing 7 knots, and it was still magical.

We rounded Cape Scott – which is really a 5nm wide pass between Vancouver Island and the Scott Islands – at about 1:30 in the morning, where we decided to turn the engine back on for 20 minutes to power through the wind shadow of the Scott Islands.  My watch had ended at 1:00, but because we weren’t sure what we were going to find at the cape, I stayed up until we were clear of the pass.  We’d never done this long of an overlap between shifts before, and we really liked the time together – so much so that we think it should be a regular part of our night watch routine.  Along with breaking up the monotony of sitting alone quietly while on watch, it gave us an opportunity talk about the conditions, other vessels, our location, our course and our sails.

I turned in when we were able to sail again.  Unfortunately, Lori’s watch lacked the sailing perfection that mine had.  The wind continued to veer into the west, but it didn’t build.  When you are sailing into the wind, the wind speed the sails feel is a combination of the true wind speed and the boat’s speed.  Palomita will sail quite well in 8 knots of true wind speed as long as the wind is coming at her.  As you turn to have the wind behind you, the wind in the sails drops.  If you are sailing dead downwind, the wind you feel is the wind speed minus the boat’s speed.  We don’t sail downwind very well at all in 8 knots, especially if there are waves.  As the wind shifted aft that night, the wind across the deck fell to the point where Lori had to fire up the motor for another half hour just to keep the boat moving at a reasonable speed.  By the time I got up at 4:30, reality finally started to catch up with the forecast, and the wind had risen enough to keep us moving well as we sailed towards Brooks Peninsula on a broad reach.  It was the beginning of a remarkable day.

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After going off shift, Lori managed to sleep for a couple of hours, but the by the time she got up, I had no desire to lay down.  The cloud cover was still close to 100%, but we were moving well and I was having fun sailing.  We also had lots of wildlife to enjoy: albatross, petrels, and shearwaters in the air, and multiple humpbacks in the water.  The whale sightings sound great, but having a humpback surface or breech right beside your boat can be a little nerve racking.

The morning progressed, and the wind built as forecast.  By the time we were rounding Brooks Peninsula, 50nm south of Cape Scott and commonly regarded at the most demanding headland on Vancouver Island, we’d pulled the main down and were running under jib alone.  It was only blowing 20 kts, and we could have left some of the main up, but the boat goes fine in that much wind with only the genoa out, and it’s safer -we can run almost dead downwind without having to deal with poles or boom preventers – and we were expecting the wind to keep rising through the day.  As an added bonus, the sun started to make an appearance.

It’s hard to describe our day running between Brooks Peninsula and Estevan Point in a way that adequately describes our experience.  Pictures can’t really show what we saw, never mind what we felt.  It was at times awe inspiring, amazing, monotonous, and exciting.  Rounding Brooks had been easy – the wind and seas were was still moderate – but the conditions built steadily through the day as we made our way south until winds were blowing a steady 28-30 kts, gusting to 35, with an average seastate of  2-3m.  This means that the odd 20 footer rolled under our keel.  Spicy, but not scary.  In fact, this time was some of the most amazing sailing that I’ve ever done – just us and our boat doing hull speed in big waves and sunshine.  It’s amazing what being in the midst of “it” does to your mind – the positive effect of actually being fully engaged in an activity instead of just thinking about it.  This is a lesson I have to learn over and over again.

 

The fun lasted until the wee hours of the next morning during Lori’s watch.  It’s not easy to sleep with the sails slatting as they alternately filled with air and then lost it as the boat rolled.  Lori kept heading up – turning into the wind – in an effort to increase the wind over the deck, but by 4 am it was pointless – we were on a close reach doing 4kts and pointing right at Hawaii. We were 15 miles off of Ucluelet when we fired the engine back up and turned the boat 90 degrees to port to get us pointing back at our destination.20190729_060417

Day three was pretty mellow compared to the day before.  We motored for quite a while, a couple of hours of which were in the fog.  Gale force westerlies were forecast for Juan de Fuca Strait, but these usually fill in early in the afternoon, so we motored on, anticipating a great sail to finish the trip off.  Juan did not disappoint…by noon we were sailing again and by three we were running under foresail only.  We’ve done this stretch under these conditions before, so this sail had a distinctly laid back feel compared to the day before.

We finally pulled into Sooke Harbour at seven.  It was blowing pretty hard over the spit, and we spent quite a while poking about looking for a good spot to drop the hook.  In the end, we settled in a tight spot just off the spit near the entrance to the harbour.  We were the second boat in, so our tight spot was really tight..not the best, but the winds were supposed to stay out of the west all night so we hoped we’d be fine.  We were, but the wind and tight spot didn’t inspire the confidence I need to sleep well.

We arrived in Victoria at about noon the next day after another great sail through Race Passage.  The sail was absolutely fantastic, but even so, the difference in our stress levels when we tied the lines to the dock was palatable.  We were supposed to meet friends on the dock, but they were a day late.  Good thing – we spent the afternoon tidying up the boat and hit the sack early. We would’ve been terrible company.   

It’s been a month and a half since we arrived in Victoria which has allowed plenty of time for reflection.  Lori maintains that she had “type 2” fun – the kind of fun that is better in hindsight – but that she’d do it again “for a purpose”.  I get it.  There is no doubt that the time leading up to us getting underway was fraught with needless angst, and that living on a small boat at sea is tiring and uncomfortable.  But I’m having trouble 20190730_151035squaring up the time frame of my fun.  I missed being out there almost immediately – cruising in Desolation Sound just wasn’t the same after the high adventure of surfing down 10′ waves for hours at a time.  Three days is just a small taste, and it’s highly likely that  sailing like this for days on end would grow to be routine and might (would?) eventually become tiresome. The bottom line is that, regardless of how we handled it or felt about it, the trip was totally worth it.  There is no other way to test yourself, your boat, and your systems other than to get out there and sail, and I’m happy to report that we passed this test.

I’ve created a companion video for this post.  You can view it at https://youtu.be/KzFp5lLq6Dg

Some of what we learned:

All of our little steps over the years have lead us here with confidence.  I’m pretty sure the next trip like this will be much easier in terms of pre-departure anxiety.  Everyone who wants to head offshore would benefit from a trip like this.

The autopilot (Raymarine Evolution EV200 with a linear drive) can handle fairly challenging conditions, but oversteers using the settings we were using.  We will have to tweak these to try and get it to steer a more consistent course, especially when the boat starts rolling in cross seas.

Our modest 160W solar array kept up with the demand over 24 hours no problem with no engine run time.  I’m hoping that by expanding it considerably – we’re thinking of adding another 400W – this will remain true in lower latitudes.

5 miles is not enough sea room off of either Estevan Point or Brooks Peninsula when it’s blowing.  More is better.

Shorter watches with a scheduled overlap made the night watch go so much faster.  The trick is to sleep as much as possible during the day to stay rested.  We’ve sailed overnight a grand total of 10 nights – I think that it’s likely that longer watches would become easier with more experience.

We’re both pretty immune to seasickness, but there is a limit.  Neither of us really felt like eating for the whole trip.

25 – 30 kts behind you in the ocean is still fun, but I wouldn’t want to have to sail into it.  30 – 35 is doable, but is pushing it as far as fun goes.

Our boat is fun and easy to sail, even shorthanded.  We already knew this, but we appreciate it more as we learn more.

 


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Westcoast Shakedown – Sailing Non-Stop Down the West Coast of Vancouver Island: The Go / No-Go Decision

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Sleep deprivation…check.  Lack off appetite…check.  Exhilaration…check.  Scary…well maybe a little. Rewarding…absolutely.   I’m not sure how we ended up committing ourselves to a multi-day non-stop voyage down the west coast of Vancouver Island, but we did.

It’s not really a big secret that we have spent a huge amount of time and money refitting our boat with designs on going further afield sometime in our future.  For a couple in our situation, the reasons to do a trip like this are pretty simple: how else can you see how you, your boat, and it’s systems handle being underway in a true ocean environment over multiple days other than going out and trying it.  We weren’t really looking for fun; we just wanted to test ourselves and our boat.  So we decided to sail as much of the BC coast as we could over a 3 or 4 day period at the end of July.

We chose this itinerary – as opposed to just sailing out into the ocean for a couple of days – for a few reasons: the prevailing winds in the summer are NW, so we could reasonably expect to have a predominately downwind sail with conditions similar those found sailing south down the west coat of North America, or westward in the trades.  Secondly, the five sounds on Vancouver Island’s West Coast are all fairly easy to access, even in bad weather, meaning that we’d have the psychological crutch of shelter if the weather turned bad. Lastly, it seemed like a really good way to get south and back into reliable summer weather quickly.

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But like so many other things, there’s so much more to a trip like this than just picking a a destination and going sailing for a couple of days.  In addition to planning around the weather, provisioning, and setting up the boat for being underway for multiple days, there is dealing with your brain.  I wish there was an app for that.  My brain isn’t always my friend.  In fact, it’s often my nemesis.  When we’re doing things that are bigger than things we’ve done before, my brain likes to fire up my imagination, making up lists of possible maritime disasters and other unlikely catastrophes.  I’ve figured by now that these imaginings are pretty much a waste of time and energy, but it still sucks being anxious.  My hunch is most people are no different.   

Our singled minded commitment to our boat over the last 3 years also added an extra dimension that, unlike our entirely predictable pre-departure jitters, I didn’t anticipate: what if we decided not to go at the last minute – would our excuse hold up to scrutiny? Would a bail this time mean that we’d always bail? What if we went and hated the trip?  For me, there was way more at stake than just a 3 day sail – in my head, this would either be a vindication or a condemnation of all the blood, sweat and tears we’ve poured into Palomita.  Like I said – my brain isn’t always my friend.

We left Ocean Falls on the morning of July 27 in a downpour.. things looked kinda grim.  Even if the rain stopped and the sun came out as advertised, the weather window was tight with a new low pressure system due to pass over the coast in only 3 days.  And as is so common when a system moves on to be replaced by high pressure, the winds were predicted to swing strongly into the north-west.  The last forecast on the night of the 26th called for winds to 35 knots south of Brooks Peninsula.  We could manage the shortened schedule, but 35 knots was way more wind than we’d like.  So we motored south with some serious doubts.

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As we neared Shearwater, the rain slowed and patches of blue arrived.   We tuned in to the 10:30 forecast sure that it would just confirm that the winds were going to be heavy over the next few days, and at the very least, we’d  postpone our trip for another week, and maybe scrap it altogether.  No such luck – the new forecast called for the wind to build to a westerly breeze of 15 knots (perfect) over the afternoon, swing to the northwest through the evening, and finally build to NW 20 – 30kts the following day.  Strong, but within our comfort zone.  The forecasts from both Windy and Predict Wind were even better with winds to only NW 20kts as long as we stayed fairly close to the shore.  With these forecasts, any reasonable excuses for bailing disappeared…we were going to do our third circumnavigation of Vancouver Island, this time without stopping on the West Coast.

 


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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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Planning a trip down Vancouver Island’s West Coast?

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In the fog near Tofino

Lori and I recently had the pleasure of presenting a seminar about cruising the West Coast of Vancouver Island.  Helping a group a strangers with decision making on fairly ambitious trip like this is a bit of a balancing act.  Some are sailors, some are power boaters.  Some are looking for solitude and wilderness, and others are looking to test themselves and their boat.  Some are just looking to see someplace new, and some aren’t sure what they are after.  Everyone wants to have a good time.

The question becomes “what do we highlight?”  We tend to be fairly adventurous, and enjoy testing ourselves and our boat.  Do we highlight this for the portion of the audience looking for a test, or do we highlight the majority of roundings that we’ve had that required the motor or patience?  This roughly divides itself on power / sail lines, but there are many sailors who’ll take a calm motor over a rough sail, and a few power boaters who love a rough water challenge.
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Sunset in haze from forest fires, Barley Sound

Over the course of our talk, there were a couple of comments or observations that made me think about this.  Firstly, one participant observed that there is a passage in Douglass’ guide that suggests that if you’ve cruised to Alaska, there is nothing new to see on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.  A statement like this speaks directly to motivations – why cruise here?  How does our bias and what we highlight in our seminar reflect the attractions of this area?
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Totem in Friendly Cove, Nootka Sound

While we haven’t been to Alaska, we have seen a huge portion of the BC coast.  If I were deciding destinations solely on beauty and anchorages, I’d choose the Bella Bella area of the central coast every time.  This area has it all, and is much easier to get to and from than anywhere on the west coast of Vancouver Island.  And this is precisely why I’m looking forward to my next cruise down the west coast – it’s not easy to get to. As Douglass puts it:
In addition to outstanding beauty and solitude, the waters of western Vancouver Island occasionally offers environmental conditions that challenge the wits of small-craft skippers and keep life interesting.
Cruising the West Coat of Vancouver Island, 2nd edition. Don Douglass and Reanne Hemingway-Douglass
Sign me up.  For us, the appeal of the west coast is that it is exposed and we enjoy the challenge of the open ocean.  We go for the downwind sleigh ride, and the solitude and beauty are exclamation points on a series of rewarding passages that require careful planning on a day to day basis.  That doesn’t mean there is nothing for power boaters, but it is likely that our pro is their con, and this is undoubtedly the reason that sailors outnumber power boaters on the west coast by a significant number.
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Paddling up the creek at the head of Bacchante Bay, Clayoquot Sound

The second observation was made by a participant who asked for some clarification via email.  He directed me to the wind and fog tables in appendices E and F of Douglass’ guide.  These tables imply that the average wind speed off of the windiest point on the west coat – Brooks Peninsula – is actually quite low, and that the presence of fog is at worst 30%.  It is possible that our presentation made it sound like the conditions are likely to be worse than these numbers suggest.
Our first hand experience is the 10 weeks we’ve spent there, first in Barkley sound in 2005, and then on VI circumnavigations in 2010 and 2012.  On average, I believe that our experience is similar to the data in those appendices for both fog and wind.
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Sea Lions, Queen Charlotte Strait

 

2012 was particularly foggy, with the fog often extending well up into the sounds and lasting all day, especially in Barkley Sound in August.  This makes sense as Barkley sound is relatively open to the Pacific – there are almost no land masses to block the fog as it makes its way inland.  However, we also had heavy fog for a few days in Clayoquot, which unlike Barkley, is filled with taller islands separated by narrow channels.  We were in Victoria by mid August that year as we’d had enough of the fog.

2010 was completely different.  Any fog we saw that year was limited to the Pacific coast – going inland a few miles almost always resulted in clear skies and sunshine.  We left Bamfield on August 25th that year after a very pleasant, sunny month on the west coast.  It was an exceptional trip in all respects.  I think the bottom line is that the tables in Douglass’ guides are only averages, so any given year is a crap shoot. If you choose to time the trip so that you are out there in June when there is a lower chance of fog, you need to keep in mind that June often brings more rain; in a typical year, you’re trading fog for rain.  It’s all a gamble though – the last 2 Junes have been very nice, and last August was pretty wet.
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Sailing to Dixie Cove in Kyuquot Sound

The same goes for the wind – the figures, which imply fairly benign conditions much of the time, are averages and do not say what the time periods are (August winds less than 20 kts off Solander Island 57% of the time).  I assume that they are hours as that is the way Environment Canada reports the data.  If this is so, daily fluctuations would account for a substantial portion of the time with low winds.  While the winds off of the west coast seem to be a little more consistent than on the inside, they are still affected by warming through the day.  A forecast of gales off of Brooks Peninsula is fairly common, but they are also often in the afternoon with the wind often dropping off overnight and through the morning.  If the time periods are days, the data is even more promising: the tables suggest you would be able to expect approx 20 days a month of winds less than 20kts.  Either way, the data implies provide many opportunities for a civilized rounding if your passages are timed right.
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Exercising patience on a foggy approach to Barkley Sound

Based on our experiences, this holds true: one should have no problem getting around either Brooks Peninsula or Estevan Point in the relatively common calm conditions that are implied by the table data by waiting for a favourable forecast and leaving early.  In conversation with other VI circumnavigators, we’ve met many people who’ve motored the whole coast in benign conditions using this strategy. The trickiest part might be having the patience to wait; once the weather sets in, the waters off of Solander Island can be treacherous for days on end.  The good news is that there are things to do in both Quatsino and Nootka sounds, so waiting need not be a hardship.
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Nuchatlitz, Esperanza Inlet

Upon reflection of the information we presented in the our seminar, I hope we did not give the idea that this trip is likely to be much more challenging than any other trip.  Our bias toward making passages under sail undoubtedly colours our presentation.  In addition, any seminar is part entertainment, and everyone likes a good  story.  We actively seek out conditions that we can sail in, and occasionally get a little more than we bargained for.  Case in point is the 40kts we saw off of Brooks in 2010.   These times make for good stories, but in every case that we’ve been tested, waiting a day or two would’ve made a huge difference.  In 2010, a day’s wait would’ve equaled a calm motor in the fog.  While rounding Cape Scott is a commitment to doing 250 ocean miles, they come in relatively small chunks and needn’t be scary.  That these passages are each book-ended by large sounds with many secure anchorages only heightens the appeal.


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Brooks Peninsula

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Playing on the beach near shed 4, south Brooks Peninsula

Brooks Peninsula sticks out of the north west coast of Vancouver Island like a sore nose.  While it is not as well known as its northern neighbour – Cape Scott – it is not for lack of trying.  A little digging on typical summer conditions reveals that Solander Island at the westernmost tip of the peninsula regularly reports the highest wind strengths on the coast.  Added to the wind is a rugged topography that tends to reflect any seas into a random mess.  The cherry on top is a complete lack of anchorages anywhere along the coast of the peninsula.  For a counter-clockwise circumnavigation, it is the barrier that separates the north from the south, the cold from the warm, worry from relaxation.  For most boats, it represents the major headland on the entire trip.

In 2010, we sailed around the island with a couple of other boats.  In 2 months, it rained for a total of 1 day.  We had some amazing sailing, ate amazing food in fantastic company (I gained 10 pounds), and spend many hours sitting on the plethora of deserted white sand beaches that line this coast.  It was an incomparable summer.  While our group ended the trip even closer than we’d left, it wasn’t all smiles.  The two major roundings (Cape Scott and Brooks Peninsula) both induced some stresses into our group – the inevitable result of such a large group having varying interpretations of the weather and different ideas about acceptable risks.   For our Cape Scott rounding, we talked quite a bit the night before, but ultimately momentum carried us around in unpleasant but benign conditions.  A week later, day after day of gale warnings off of Brooks required that we rethink how we functioned as a collective.  We’d have to actually pick a window – just getting up and leaving in the morning wouldn’t work.

We waited in a beautiful spot called “East Cove” for 3 days.  At first, we just enjoyed the wonderful weather, but as the days ticked by, with gales forecast for every day, we started to get a little stir crazy.  On the third day, we got the break we were looking for: NW gales of 35 to 40 knots overnight easing to 20 in the morning, and building to 40 by the afternoon, followed by a day with NW 10 to 15kt winds building to NW 25 knots.  This was the first mention of anything less than 25 knots at anytime of the day for a week.  We decided to leave the next morning and head south to a place called Klaskish Inlet – the closest anchorage to the peninsula – so as to position ourselves for a rounding on the next day.  Lori and I suggested that maybe if the conditions were good in the morning, we should just go for it and forgo another wait.  We retired that evening with a plan.

The next morning, we motored out of Quatsino Sound in light winds and turned south.  As per our suggestion, Lori and I headed offshore towards Solander Island in an effort to check out the conditions – so far they were mellow.  The other two boats made for Klaskish and kept in radio contact.

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Approaching Solander Island, running before 2 5kts of wind

A couple of hours from Solander Island, we were overtaken by two small (28′) powerboats doing a speed trip around the island – they screamed on past us and agreed to give us an on the spot report of conditions off of the headland.  We pressed on under power – there still wasn’t enough wind to really get the boat moving.  5 miles out, and we finally were able to shut the motor off. We also got a weather report – winds NW 25kts, and seas about 6′.  Doable.  At this point, Lori and I decided to go for it.  Our friends decided not to.  This parting was a big deal in a very positive way: it gave everyone on the trip license to make their own decisions without worrying about what the rest of the group thought.  This sounds like an obvious imperative when reading it, but it is often hard to separate from a group.

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Past Solander Island – a downhill sleigh ride!

Sometime around noon, we were abeam of Solander Island and totally committed.  We were still running with a perfect NW 25 knots, but the seas became quite unpredictable.  Because of the shape of the shore, the waves that hit bounce off and interact with the arriving swell.  This creates random pyramids of water that appear out of nowhere.  The secret to avoiding these is to stay well offshore.  We were a couple of miles off – way too close.  I got quite the workout at the wheel as the boat surfed down the waves.  Not only did we have too much sail up, but any of the irregular waves would make the boat want to round up, requiring a very active helm to prevent a broach. In addition, the seas tended to be from the west, meaning that we had to steer towards shore when going down a big one.  I steered, Lori watched ready to help where needed, and Solander Island slipped by.

Half an hour after passing the island, the wind hit 40.  We rolled up half the genoa, and rode it.  Thankfully, the seas diminished and became more regular – we’d turned the corner and were out of the “wave reflection zone”.  Our insistence at going out in high winds close to home to build confidence really paid off here – everything was under control, and with the boat surfing at up to 10 kts, we were having a blast.

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The shoal area in Columbia Cove at low tide

It was over 40 miles from our departure point to our destination in Columbia Cove.  An hour after rolling the genoa in to reduce sail area, we’d round Clerke Point (the SW corner of the Peninsula) and were motoring in no wind and flat seas along the south shore of the Peninsula.  This shore is amazing – beach after beach, with nobody on them. We stripped off the layers of foul weather gear and anticipated a fantastic afternoon of lounging on one of them in the sun.

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Our pocket beach next to Shed 4

We anchored in Columbia Cove sometime around 2 in the afternoon, and promptly set off for “Shed 4”, the most accessible beach to the anchorage.  We landed in the surf on a wonderful pocket beach, and as anticipated, enjoyed the solitude in a pristine wilderness.

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Shed 4 from a perch above our pocket beach

Tips for Brooks Peninsula:

  • Our friends rounded the next day with low visibility and no wind.  This is not uncommon.  Weather windows do happen, but you might need some patience.
  • During periods of sunny summer weather, the pattern is fairly predictable: NW gales by the afternoon.  If you think you can sneak around in the morning, leave early and don’t dally.  Be prepared for the wind to arrive early.
  • If it’s blowing, give Solander a wide berth; this will help avoid the seas created by the waves reflecting off the shoreline.  In 2012, we sailed around in 15 – 25 kts and very comfortable seas.  Here is some video about 5 miles off of Solander Island:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0FCkdPIPcsDSCN1538
  • Expect the winds to pick up south of Solander Island.  As the wind hits the north side of the peninsula, it has to funnel around the corner – this increases the wind’s velocity (corner wind).
  • Be careful in Columbia Cove – the bottom in the inner basin is covered in kelp and the holding as quite bad.  We learned this the unpleasant way.  This “learning experience” is probably excellent fodder for another post.
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On the hook, inner basin, Columbia Cove