sailboatbliss

Cruising by sail in the Pacific NW


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Back to the Sea of Cortez: An Offshore Experience

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I took lots of sunrise and sunset shots.  Way too easy to get great colours!   These two booby birds hitched a ride on the bow pulpit for quite a bit of our crossing.

We loved cruising in the Sea of Cortez in 2016, so when Dennis asked if we’d like to return, we accepted without any hesitation.   Sailing in shorts and tee shirts is always appealing, especially in March.  Add in some adventure, good company, and Mexican culture, and the decision to go made itself.  A couple of significant differences meant that this trip wouldn’t be a repeat of our adventures in the Loreto area: our intinerary and the crew.

Dennis has been cruising in Mexico since 2015, Dennis and Gerriwith significant diversions ashore during hurricane season, first in the Sea of Cortez, and then along the west coast of the Mexican mainland.
In 2016, he found a partner to join him on these adventures.  Gerri’s home is now Ultegra, and she was graciously inviting us to share it based only on Dennis’ experience with us two years ago.  Wow.

Second – the itinerary.  This trip wasn’t to be the pleasure cruise of 2016.  Instead, Dennis and Gerri have been working their way north from their southernmost point of Zuhuatanejo to La Paz, and asked us to join them for the offshore portion from Puerto Vallarta.  As the crow flies, this is 360nm (648km), all against the prevailing NW winds.  With a couple of zig zags in our course, we could cut the longest leg down to 170nm – at least one night at sea, maybe two.  Speaking to those cruising in Mexico, this crossing sounds pretty routine, but for Lori and I, doing this trip would be it’s a step up in terms of length at time at sea and would be an opportunity to get some more offshore experience in a small, bite sized chunk.

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Chartplotter showing our track as far as Los Frailes on the Baja peninsula

We arrived in Puerto Vallarta on Wednesday, March 21, made our way by taxi 25km to the small town of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, and joined Ultegra as she swung on the hook in the bay just off of the beach.

La Cruz is on the north side of Bahia de Banderas, and is wide open to the Pacific, but the brisk thermal wind held the boat into the prevailing swell making the boat motion bearable.  We did our introductions, stowed our stuff, had a drink and headed in for dinner.  The town itself is ridiculously cute with cobbled streets, narrow streets and good restaurants.  Our meal at a small cafe on the street – literally – was a highlight.

 

Thursday was very busy – provisioning, clearing out of the port, and moving to a quieter anchorage 10nm closer to our destination.  Lori and I love provisioning in new places – there is no easier way to get a feel for a place than to go grocery shopping with the locals.  La Cruz is too small for a proper market, but a short ride into Bucerias gave us access to a huge supermarket that carried everything from tires to Tequila.  The bus ride was a lot of fun too, but it was a good thing that Gerri knew what she was doing, because the buses in Bucerias don’t work quite the same as they do here.

grocery bucerias

Bucerias isn’t a big town, but it sports a huge, well stocked “grocery” store that also caries tires, BBQ’s and clothes.

While we shopped, Dennis cleared out of the port.  In la Cruz, this involved a trip to the port captain’s office with our passports in hand.  This process in not consistent throughout the country and one needs to rely on cruisers already in port to determine the procedure in each new place – we cleared into La Paz on the radio.

Friday began with a series of boat jobs including a good bottom scraping and the installation of the still broken hydraulic backstay adjuster.  We weighed anchor at noon and motored out of the bay bound for Isla Isabela, a small island 70nm north.`

The first night only confirmed our previous experience with exhaustion, and as we approached Isla Isabela at 2 in the morning, I needed sleep badly.  Unfortunately, the favoured anchorage – a small bight behind some pinnacles – was occupied by three cruising boats and a number of fishing lines attached to floats.   As we bobbed around looking for space, I began to hope that Dennis wasn’t just stopping here because Lori and I wanted to see the island, but couldn’t find the will to say anything.  We should’ve kept going but I just wanted to sleep.  In the end, we found a safe spot in the less desirable southern cove and grabbed a few hours of rest.

 

Isla Isabela is quite astonishing in the daylight.  In particular, the pinnacles on the eastern shore are very dramatic.  The underwater scenery is also supposed to be very good, but unfortunately, our schedule dictated that we move on without a swim.

The next 48 hours were almost everything Lori and I could have wished for: sailing, fishing and getting into the rhythm of being at sea.  Immediately upon leaving Isla Isabela, Dennis put out the fishing gear, and not long after, had a Yellowtail Jack on the line.  These are prized game fish with dark flesh and a mild flavour.  Box ticked.

 

The forecast winds were supposed to be out of the north, building up to 20kts for the days we’d be crossing.  We didn’t really get these winds until we were withing sight of the Baja Peninsula on Tuesday morning.  Instead, we got light, variable winds for the first two mornings, building to 10 from the NW in the afternoons. Despite these contrary winds, we managed some wonderful sailing, motoring for less than half the passage.  Our strategy under sail was to point as high as possible while maintaining boat speed.

Ultegra is a racing boat at heart, and sailing her in the light and variable conditions was an enjoyable challenge.  We followed some advice I’d read about passage making and focused on keeping the boat moving in the right general direction, not our rhumb line (direct course), figuring that eventually the wind would shift in our favour.  Our first tack took us north towards Mazatlan, and the second across the sea.  Our passage ended early on our third day with our promised 20kts from the north: a favourable shift and strengthening winds on the starboard beam, giving us 8kts of boat speed and huge smiles all around

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Lori watching the sun come up on our last night watch, on a fantastic beam reach in 20 knots of wind.

We landed at an open anchorage not far from San Juan del Cabo called Bahia de los Frailes at 9 am.  The winds remained strong, but the anchorage was very comfortable with minimal swell.  The dinghy stayed deflated and stowed, but after a long swim with a challenging exit in the surf, Lori and I managed a short walk on the beach anyways.  The next day was another long passage to windward, bound for a bay called Bahia de los Muertes, but Ultegra was built for this kind of work, and despite the rough conditions, performed beautifully with a couple of reefs in the main and full 135 genoa.

 

We spent an extra night at Bahia de los Muertes, hoping the strong northerlies would ease.  The break meant that we could put the dinghy back in the water and go ashore.   Finally!  This is a beautiful spot with a sandy beach and a couple of beach restaurants.  The highlights here were a bocci ball game, drinks in a posh resort with the crews from two other boats, and a fine meal out at the restaurant at the other end of the beach.

The winds didn’t die early enough to make our next passage easy, but we were feeling a little pressed for time and left anyways.  This stretch, between the mainland and a large island – recently re-named Jacques Cousteau Island – has a reputation.  The pass has currents up to 2.5 kts and the wind can howl.  Fortunately for us, the high tides were in the morning, so the ebb current and northerly winds were going in the same direction.   Even though they were contrary for our direction, the fact that they agreed laid the seas down a bit and made the passage smoother.  As the day wore on, the wind gradually eased, and by the time we neared the northernmost point of our trip and stated to turn south into the bay La Paz Bay, the wind had died completely.

The difference in marine traffic around La Paz was astounding.  All of a sudden, we were worried about room in the anchorage.  We managed to find a place in one of Dennis and Gerri’s favorite spots called Caleta Lobos, and spent a quiet last night in the wilderness before returning to civilization.

 

A short sail the next day put us anchored off of La Paz at about 2 in the afternoon, thus completing our transit of 430nm in 8 days.

 

We’d pushed hard to get to La Paz on Friday so that we could explore the city all day Saturday before flying out Sunday afternoon.  It wasn’t quite what I expected.  It is a cruiser’s resource center, with tradesmen, chandleries, a sail loft and access to materials. None of this is apparent from the waterfront.  In addition, the downtown core is suffering from big-box-itis – as has happened in many other places (hello Nanaimo), the proliferation of big box retailers farther out of town has left many storefronts in town empty and in disrepair.  We saw evidence that this is slowly changing – there has been a large investment in the seawall path (The Malecon), along with services that cater more to tourists, such as restaurants and coffeehouses.  With its beautiful location, I can envision a day when the seaside is once again thriving.

Lori and I love sailing here, and this was a great trip to expand our experience.  Thanks for the invite Dennis and Gerri!

Lessons we learned:

Sleeping during the day, even with the engine running, isn’t an issue.  All it takes is a little sleep deprivation to get you in the mood, and then its lights out.  As for the engine noise, well it might even help.

We enjoyed being at sea for more than a day.  There was was plenty to do, and tons of wildlife to watch.

Comfortable watch keeping seats are a must.  My back was killing me after sitting for most of two days, and I hand steered almost all of the passage from Los Frailes to Los Muertos – 60nm – just to be doing something while standing.

Overall, Predictwind.com was only marginally better at forecasting the weather than using a “tomorrow will be just like today” methodology.  It was wrong all the way across the sea, but did accurately predict the wind going from strong to light as we neared  La Paz.

Under sail, unless you are close to your destination, boat speed trumps a rhumb line course in light winds or head winds.  This has been borne out repeatedly on our trips.  The wind always shifts.

 

 

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Hanging out in the Discovery Islands

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Anchorage in a nook in the Cordero Islands

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the different strategies for navigating the tidal rapids north of Desolation Sound.  In that post, I mentioned that we always time our journey to coincide with the ebb while going north, and the flood going south, even if it means leaving in the dark.  As entertaining as that sounds, leaving at 2am to catch the tide isn’t super high on my fun list.  Thankfully, there are alternatives.

Over the last 3 or 4 years, we’ve managed to approach our passage through the rapids on dates with no great morning departure times – they’ve either been crazy early, or a little too late.  This, along with our increasing desire to limit the early morning heroics, forced us to re-examine our passage planning for this stretch of water.  These ideas all work best on the inside route through the Yucultas, and are as follows…

Idea #1 – Arrive late.  Who said that you need to be in Forward Harbour by 2 in the afternoon?  We’re talking about summer travel here; the sun is out til after 9pm!  As ridiculously simple as this sounds, it took a few years for us to really look at this as an viable alternative to leaving early.  The key is that it’s only 30 miles from Yuculta rapids to Forward Harbour.  Even at only 6 knots, that’s only 5 hours; with the tide behind you it’s more like 4.  If you transit Yuculta Rapids at 3pm, that puts you in Forward Harbour at the still civilized hour of 7pm.

Idea #2 – Hang out between the rapids.  You don’t need to spend the night between rapids to make this one work, just patience.  The plan is to catch the last of the ebb through Yuculta, Gillard and Dent, and then relax as you poke your way north.  Go for a walk at Shoal Bay, fish at Hall Point or just bob along slowly and enjoy the scenery.   There really isn’t that much current to fight for the first 12 or so miles after Dent Rapids, and you will have about 6 hours to kill before running Greenpoint Rapids.  Besides, there is something really powerful about surrendering your schedule to the turn of the tide.  Be sure to time your transits so that you are at Dent at slack and are pushing through the last of the flood at Greenpoint.

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Heading north

Idea #3 – The obvious one – spend a night at one of the many cool places in the Discovery Islands.  Some options that we have used (there are many that we haven’t):  Big Bay.  It’s always abuzz with activity, has a dock, reasonable anchoring, and a great walk to Eagle Lake.  Big bay is a little like a toilet bowl with a rock in it – watch both the shoal area and the currents.  Shoal Bay.  Also a busy place, but with a more laid back atmosphere than the bustle of Big Bay.  Thurston Bay Marine Park.  Quiet and a little off all of the the main tracks north.  Cordero Islands (Greenpoint Rapids).  A very pretty anchorage right on the main channel.  There is room for eight or nine boats in the two nooks between the islands.  Blind Bay.  An upscale marina (but not too upscale) with a great walk and a good restaurant.  The current at the dock can be tricky, but the staff are eager to help.  If you want to continue north via the inside route, you’ll have to time your departure for the end of the flood as the currents in Mayne Channel and Greenepoint Rapids run opposite to each other.

Despite the cold water, the channels north of Desolation Sound offer a laid back experience that is significantly different from the crowded waters in northern Georgia Strait.  If you’re in a rush to get north but the tides don’t allow you to blast through, take the opportunity to slow down and explore.


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The Shake Out Cruise – A Review of Our Sabre 42 CB and Some Pictures From Our Summer

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinally!  After all the work we completed in the first 6 months of 2017, we relished the opportunity to stretch our legs over a couple of months of cruising and really see what we had.  Our original plan was to spend our first week in the Gulf Islands to test our new systems and get familiar with them before setting off north for more ambitious destinations; we thought that the comfort of knowing that we’d always be close to help and supplies would take the edge off.   However, after a fun and relaxing first weekend near Silva Bay, we decided to head north to cruise with friends using the logic that everything seemed to be working fine so far and that Desolation Sound isn’t really that far from assistance if we ran into a problem.

Our first real test came on our 4th day out on the passage from Silva Bay to Pender Harbour.  This is a 33nm run to the north, and can be a challenge in a strong northwesterly – the prevailing wind here in the summer.   It was in blowing in the low to mid 20’s on this day, and Georgia Strait was in a bit of a mood with a steep 3′ chop.  Period is everything when it comes to waves, and Georgia Strait is notorious for generating waves with a short period.  It was 4 seconds on this day – short, steep and wet.  Perfect weather for learning!

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Hard on the wind in Caamano Sound

We got our first “new boat” lesson when we went to put up the main.  The halyard on the Sabre is wire, and it has considerable mass.  As soon as I attached it to the headboard of the main, it started to flap all over the place, and in short order, had wrapped itself around the steaming light. With the boat bouncing and the spray flying, I gave up trying to free it pretty quick.  The day would be a headsail only affair!  The lesson?  Put the main up before it’s too rough.

Turns out we didn’t need the main anyways.  With the 130 genoa all the way out, we took off like a freight train – doing up to 7 knots at 40 degrees apparent, straight through the waves.  Fast, fun and wet.  We could’ve pointed higher with some main up, but the wind built and eventually we had to reef the 130 down, so perhaps having the main up would’ve been too much.  Regardless, the speed and comfort in difficult conditions were impressive.

We got our second lesson soon after setting sail.  However, this one was more of a reminder of something we already should’ve learned: make sure the hatches are dogged BEFORE setting sail.  Not long after settling into the groove, we took green water over the deck.  A good portion made it over the dodger and right into the cockpit.  A short while later, it happened again.  Wondering about the integrity of all of the window seals etc, I asked Lori to see if it was dry below.  It was not.  Just as she descended into the cabin, we went through yet another wave; the cascade of water down the fore-hatch was clear evidence that it was not dogged down tight.  Oops…The lesson here is embarrassingly obvious.

We learned our third lesson after docking in Pender Harbour : it’s probably a mistake to ignore a  leaking fuel tank.  (Yes, I know the “bad things happen in 3’s” thing is a cliché, but it really was the 3rd and final major lesson for the summer.)

We’d discovered the leak a few months earlier, but decided to ignore it as it was only leaking a teaspoon or so every week.  We put an oil sock in the bilge and a pad under the tank and moved on.  The rough crossing disabused us of this notion.

Soon after docking, I checked the bilge only to find the pad and sock quite heavy with diesel.  We debated leaving it, but decided it was now too much to ignore.  The next day, I emptied the tank and pulled it out.  Upon inspection, it was clear that the hole was always of a significant size, but had been partially blocked with diesel sludge.  The agitation from the rough sail changed all that and turned the small drip into a cascade. Although a new tank is on this winter’s boat job list,  I’m happy to report that the temporary patch I put on at the beginning of July is still drip free; JB Weld is amazing stuff.

The rest of the summer was relatively uneventful.  The 2 systems that I was most concerned about both worked well: we put 180 happy hours on our new diesel with no significant problems, and the electrical system worked as designed, with full batteries every day thanks to our new solar system.  I’m also happy to report that by August, I was spending almost no time doing maintenance or improvements; things just worked!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome thoughts on the Sabre 42 and some comparisons to our Mariner 36

Overall, we are very happy with her; she’s roomy, fast, and comfortable.  The cockpit is wonderful for entertaining, and has plenty of places to brace yourself when it gets rough out.  We weren’t sure how we’d like the sail plan with it’s relatively small head sail and large main, but we’ve found the boat easy to sail and the smaller foresail an asset when beating to weather.  Down below, plenty of hand holds make getting around fairly easy, and the large galley is a delight to work in.

Sailing:

  • With the main up and centerboard down,  she’ll point quite high and makes very little leeway.  We raced her in June, and were pointing as high as our friend’s C&C 33 – around 30 degrees apparent.
  • Our trip across Georgia Strait was fast but wet.  She tended to sail through the larger waves (6′) without slowing down.  This is partially a product of the shape of the chop in Georgia Strait.  A 3′ significant wave height means we saw the odd 6′ wave.  All of them had a 4 second period.  These are steep waves that didn’t really allow the boat to rise to them.   We’ve only really had this one day of beating into strong winds and we looking forward getting out in the strong stuff again to learn more.
  • When going downwind under all whites, her best VMG is dead downwind, even in fairly light winds.  We’ve rigged permanent preventers, so sailing deep is pretty stress free.  In really light winds, we still tack downwind flying the asymmetrical spinnaker, but we seemed to need this extra power less often than we did with the Mariner.  In heavy winds, her longish keel means that she tracks quite well.  In contrast, the Mariner sailed so much faster on a reach that we often tacked downwind in light to medium winds.
  • There are genoa tracks and cars on the toe rail; moving the sheets outboard for downwind work dramatically improves sail shape and provides chafe free leads. We tried all kinds of things to achieve this on the Mariner; none of our efforts were as satisfactory as the outboard leads on the Sabre.
  • She stands up to a breeze, despite the fact that the keel is only 5′ deep.
  • The helm is super light.  After 13 years of sailing with an unbalanced rudder hung off a skeg, our new spade is almost too light.  On the bright side, it’s not tiring and the autopilot doesn’t really ever work that hard.

Motoring:

  • We replaced the Westerbeke 46 with a Beta 50.  At 2000 RPM, she’ll do 7 kts on roughly 3 litres/hour (just under a gallon).  Max RPM is 2800.    This efficiency is similar to the Mariner, which is fantastic considering the Sabre is 6′ longer and 2000 lbs heavier.
  • She doesn’t pound when sailing to weather, but does when motoring, especially when compared to the Mariner with her v sections forward of the keel.  Bottom line; she’s designed to sail, not motor.
  • The cockpit is super quiet!  The motor is under the sink, not the cockpit, making conversation under way a pleasant, no shouting, affair.  As an added bonus, the noise below is about the same as the Mariner.
  • She turns in her length, and backs up fairly straight.  I was worried that the distance between the prop and the rudder would mean that slow, close quarters manoeuvring would be difficult, but this hasn’t been the case.

Miscellaneous

  • The quality of the glasswork is excellent, even in out of the way corners.
  • Access to almost everything is good.  The diesel tank was a piece of cake to remove and reinstall.
  • Cabin stowage is good, but for my tastes, the cabin could’ve been a little smaller and the storage behind the settees bigger.
  • Cockpit storage is excellent.  The two lazarette hatches provide access to a massive space that holds our cabin heater, fenders, paddle boards, fishing gear, stern line, dinghy wheels,  and dinghy pumps.  The sail locker is equally impressive.
  • The side decks are like runways, and provide excellent access to the foredeck.
  • The original install for the windlass was problematic.  The biggest issue was that the windlass didn’t drop the chain into the anchor locker; the previous owner actually hand bombed the anchor down when setting it, and peeled it off of the gypsy and flaked it by hand when weighing anchor.  I’ve since installed a new windlass and provided a lead for it to drop into the anchor by itself.
  • The bilge sucks.  There is a reasonably deep but small sump aft of the engine, but otherwise the bottom is flat.   I didn’t like it when we bought her, and I still don’t like it.  Unfortunately, most modern boats are built the same way.  The Mariner had a keel stub that would hold a significant amount of water and prevent it from sloshing around under the cabin sole.  Yes, I know the bilge should be dry, but that is pretty much impossible with a keel stepped mast.
  • The cabin top winches, clutches and cleats are just silly.  Not only are they toe killers and tripping hazards,  their location means that it takes 2 on the deck to take down the asymmetrical spinnaker.  With 2 of us on board, that means nobody is in the cockpit.  This is getting fixed this winter.
  • The anchor locker divider is also silly.  The top edge of the plywood divider is exposed to falling chain and moisture meaning that it will eventually rot out.  We took ours out and replaced it with a shelf.

Our Summer Route:

This year we were focused on learning the boat, so stuck mostly to places we’ve been before.  Most of the pictures are from the area north of Bella Bella – our favourite stretch of the BC coast.  Our route took us north around Cape Caution, up past Bella Bella and Klemtu via the Inside Passage, and finally up Laredo Channel  to Campania Island.  Our route south was similar, but we stuck to more open waters on the outside wherever possible to take advantage of the strong north westerlies that established themselves early in August.  Our best sail was a 45 nm run down Laredo Sound into Hecate Strait, around McInnes Island and into Queens Sound.


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Willywaws

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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Georgia Strait

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

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

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

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

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

Georgia Strait Summer Weather

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

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

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

Whiskey Golf

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


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Moving On – Selling Palomita

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 


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Crossing Hecate Strait

This is for some friends who are leaving for Haida Gwaii in a couple of weeks.  I hope you enjoy your trip as much as we enjoyed ours.

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The sun setting over Haida Gwaii, 50nm behind

I’m not sure how others who’ve cruised Haida Gwaii felt about crossing Hecate Strait, but I do know that it was a life event for me.  In hindsight, both crossings were smooth and  easy, but really, these passages are just as much about dealing with the mythology that surrounds them, and the ensuing anticipation, as they are about the actual event.  The same has been true for all of the “notorious” stretches we have sailed: Cape Caution, Cape Scott, Brooks Peninsula…  We are careful and strategic when choosing our weather windows, and have the boat and ourselves well prepared; without fail this work means that each new trial is no trial at all.  Even so, I still wonder on each new adventure if this next crossing or rounding will be the one where preparation and planning fails.  Will this one be the one where the ocean has her way?

Early on in our planning, far from the north coast and with the comforts of our home and time, we decided it might be fun to do two overnighters on our Haida Gwaii trip – one each way across Hecate.  As we worked our way north, this ideal became expendable.  Reality has a way of changing things.  Eventually, we settled for a very uneventful motor across the strait and anchored in the dark.  Not quite the same as an adventure filled night sail, but it did involve mucking about in the dark and allowed a huge sigh of relief.  One down, one to go.

After three wonderful weeks exploring the islands, it was time for part two.  Unlike our first crossing at the end of a long stretch of sun and strong westerlies, our second crossing had to fit into a tight window between the low pressure systems that had been sweeping across the islands on a regular basis. Sun, rain, wind, repeat.  Our strategy became listen decide, and go.  We needed to pick a window and leave with no hesitation.

The day we eventually picked was an oddity mostly because of the spontaneity with which we went for it – we spent all of 2 minutes making the call.  We started the day with a wonderful visit to SGang Gwaay – truly a mystical place – dodging squalls and wondering when the sky would open.  We were lucky to see many strong showers close by and avoid all of them.  We even enjoyed a great sail on the way back into the anchorage at Rose Harbour.  As we approached our intended stop and were mentally preparing for a tough evening of good food, a bottle of wine, and maybe some reading, I decided to listen to the weather – a broken repeater had made weather info very hard to get, so frequent attempts were important in order to get any sort of mental picture of likely developments.  This attempt was successful, and I poked my head back into the cockpit with the offhand remark that we should just cross now…start a 110nm trip at 2:30 in the afternoon.  Everyone had heard the forecast of SW winds to 20 knots with showers turning to rain in the morning.  I’d long since abandoned the thought of a night crossing and wasn’t really serious, so was mildly shocked to get a “Sure, why not?” from the crew.

The sail that night was both amazing and difficult.  The wind was perfect – 8 to 23 kts on the beam – as were the seas.  The rain held off until we were within sight of our destination, and the scenery before sunset was stunning.  The short night was not stunning.  The  depth of the night was intense – like sailing through ink – and the cold was relentless.  And after an early morning the day before, so was the fatigue.  At 12:30 in the morning, my dad was clearly suffering and I sent him below to sleep while I kept watch.  Even though we were heavily reefed to slow the boat down, thoughts of plowing into one of the many trees we’d seen floating in the waters on the mainland side of the strait kept me tense as I shivered in my dark corner.  Two long hours later, Lori relieved me, but even in the cabin, sleep and warmth were elusive.

We arrived in Mouat Cove, just east of Ivory Island, at 8:10 after sailing 110nm in 17 hours, much of it at 5kts under reduced sail.  The promised downpour arrived pretty much as soon as we dropped the hook.  Needless to say, the relief and feeling of accomplishment were intense.

I know many have done this trip; many have done trips that make this one look small and insignificant.  For me, these crossings were a life event.  It’s all in the anticipation.