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.
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.
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.