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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.

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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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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.


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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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Cruising the Sea Of Cortez – Loreto

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Moonrise at San Juanico

Loreto?  Where’s that?  What can I say about this amazing cruising ground that isn’t obvious from our pictures?  Bottom line, this area should be on any cruiser’s short list of destinations despite – or maybe because of – the fact that it is almost unknown.  The weather is perfect, the anchorages are close together, the scenery is stunning, the people are friendly and helpful, and the water is warm.  But options for getting a berth are limited to sailing your own boat down, or staying with a friend – there currently are no charters operating out of Loreto.

Loreto is a small city a couple of hundred miles north of La Paz, on the east side of the Baja California peninsula.  It is an old, historically significant city of about 15000 that is still off of the mainstream tourist trail.  It boasts a small charming downtown center with good restaurants, a few hotels, and a small beach.  It is popular with travelers looking for a laid back pace and outdoor recreational opportunities, especially water sports – fishing and diving.  The closest facility for cruising boats is 15 miles south in Puerto Escondido.

Our story really starts with our Haida Gwaii trip in 2015.  As I like to do every time we tie up somewhere, I went for a dock walk just to see who I’d meet.  Just down the finger, I struck up a conversation with a fellow named Dennis installing a watermaker on his sailboat Ultegra.  I asked a few questions, and his very thorough answer eventually led to sundowners in the cockpit.

Normally, this would be the end of the story.  We meet, and socialize, with people on the dock that we never see again all the time.  This time was different; two weeks later we just happened to anchor next to Ultegra in Haida Gwaii.  Serendipity.  This coincidence resulted in an excellent potluck, and eventually, an invitation to join Dennis at some point on his journey.  Even though we didn’t really know him – we’d only spent a couple of evenings socializing – we didn’t really spend much time thinking about it.  After all, he was offering up a berth aboard his boat in one of my dream destinations…What could go wrong?

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Our host Dennis in Haida Gwaii

As it turns out, nothing.  I won’t bore you with the details, but our gracious host opened his home to us and allowed us to share 11 days of fantastic sailing, perfect temperatures, mind blowing scenery, amazing food…the list is long.  He was kind and trusting enough to include us in all of the daily operations of the boat: planning, sailing, provisioning, cooking, and cleaning (yes cleaning – nothing makes you feel more at home than doing the dishes); we very quickly felt comfortable and at home.

I’m so glad we jumped at this opportunity.  It would’ve been easy to say thanks but no.  Happily, we didn’t.

A massive thank you and safe journey home to our host and friend, Dennis Giraud aboard the SV Ultegra.

 


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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 equalled 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.