Adventure Cruising on the Coast of BC


Getting Weather Information Aboard

xygrib screen

I’ve spent many days lamenting the difficulty of getting good weather information aboard using the simple equipment available on a typical coastal cruiser using a smartphone and VHF radio.  On the west coast of Canada, we’re spoiled by the high quality of Environment Canada’s marine forecast.  They tend to overstate the wind which can lead to occasional disappointment in the sailing department, but generally speaking, the forecasts are good at predicting wind direction, wind shift timing and precipitation.  I like to know whats happening under the hood though, and Environment Canada’s synopsis is limited in the geographical extent westward, time frame and detail.  In short, I want more information.

Synoptic Charts

I get a perverse joy out of looking at a surface level synoptic chart and guessing what will happen based on the information presented, and I’m very curious about the black art of using 500mb charts as an advanced tool for weather prediction.  Unfortunately, I’ve had trouble finding easy to read and easy to find charts on both Environment Canada’s and NOAA’s websites, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking.

All that changed when I stumbled upon David Burch’s excellent website  There is tons of stuff on his site – it’s a bit of a rabbit hole of weather information goodness – but for now, this link is my favorite:   This pdf has links to a variety of commonly used charts, each with two ways to download the image.  Because it is a pdf, the document can be downloaded and viewed without using bandwidth.  The links work when viewed in Acrobat, meaning that the only data you’ll use is the download of the actual chart.

The first way to download a chart is to click on the “download from internet” button; the second way is to request it from Saildocs.  Saildocs is a free service, and will email you smaller version of the same image.  The advantage of using the Saildocs service is the smaller file size.  The images themselves are tif files and are viewable in any image viewer.

GRIB Files.

GRIB stands for Gridded Information in Binary, and is the unedited output from a computer using data and an algorithm to create a model of the weather.  These files are the basis for the output from apps like WindyTY and PredictWind.  Both of these apps are very powerful, with excellent graphics that show a variety of forecast weather conditions such as sustained wind strength, gust strength, precipitation and sea state.  For those interested in getting this data on your computer, you can download a GRIB viewer such as Xygrib.  Xygrib is super easy to use, with menus to choose the data you’d like to download and see.  The download dialog box tells you the file size before you click download so that you can make informed choice when download speed or bandwidth are issues.

There are a couple of important things to know about GRIB files.  Foremost is the fact that the data you’re seeing is untouched by human expertise – the viewers make the data  look very official and comprehensive, but quality of the forecast model is totally dependent on the algorithm and the data going into it.  There are a number of models available, and they will all give you a different picture.  Unfortunately, not all models are available on Xygrib for free. 

When using GRIBs to help with your decision making, there are a couple of things you can do to gauge the veracity of the forecast: watch for changes in a single model forecast over time.  A long range forecast that changes little as the day(s) in question approaches suggests a higher confidence in that forecast.  You should also look at a couple of different models – a consistency between models generally implies that you can have more confidence in the forecast.

Text Forecasts

Text forecasts are the same forecasts that are broadcast over the radio.  Not only is having the information in a readable format much easier to digest than listening, the government sites offer a ton of other useful resources that we use constantly.  Our favorite feature on Environment Canada’s site is the 24 hour history for all of the available weather reporting stations.   We feel that historical data is critical when making important go / no-go decisions because it allows us to spot trends and assess current accuracy by comparing forecasts to actual conditions over time.  Lastly, like synoptic charts, forecasts produced by meteorological offices are created by weather professionals using a variety of data sources.  Text Forecasts for Canada are available at:  Text forecasts for the US are available at

Putting It All Together

When we sailed non-stop down the west coast of Vancouver Island last year, PredictWind and Windy both forecast NW winds to 20kt.  The Environment Canada forecast called for 25 -30kts.  All three sources predicted a 3 day window between low pressure systems and their associated SE winds. We saw 30 gusting 35 for about 6 hours.  There is a huge difference between sailing in 20 and 30 kts, but we were mentally and physically prepared for the conditions we experienced.  The bottom line is that predictions are predictions, not promises.  GRIBs and their associated viewing platforms are are awesome and easy to use, but they are not infallible.  Neither is the weatherman.  Use multiple data sources and be prepared for them all to be wrong. 

Do you have other resources that you find helpful?  Did you find this information useful? Please leave a comment.  Thanks and fair winds!



How to Stern Tie Without Drama




I was looking at my WordPress stats and noticed that there were a number of visitors looking for advice on stern tying.  Based on the myriad of techniques we’ve seen – some good and some really bad – this is a great question…how do we stern tie?  This might sound flip, but for the most part, we don’t.  We much prefer to swing free and avoid tying ashore if we can.  We dislike (hate?) tying a line ashore for a few reasons:

  • It’s extra, usually unnecessary, work.
  • We think it is often less secure than swinging free due to the potential of having wind on the beam.
  • Wind or current can make tying back difficult.

That said, sometimes a line ashore is a necessity.  In tight or crowded anchorages a line ashore keeps you from swinging into the shore or your neighbours.  In deep anchorages such as Teakerne Arm in Desolation Sound, , a stern line might be the only thing keeping your hook attached to the bottom.  And for a great raft-up, tying ashore is the easiest way to minimize the possibility of fouling each other’s anchors when setting multiple hooks.


Over the years, we’ve developed the following system that works well for us and requires only two people :

  1. Get your stuff ready.  You’ll need a way to get ashore and a long floating line ready to go.  We use an SUP about half the time, and find a dinghy without a motor is a bit easier to deal with than one with a motor.  Our line is 200′ of 1/2″ polypropylene (floating – very important) single braid, flaked into an IKEA bag.  Flaking your rope instead of coiling it is a climber’s trick – if you flake the line into the bag, it should come out tangle free, BUT, this only works with braided line.   200′ is a bit on the short side for a stern tie line, but it works most of the time.  Being ready means that your dinghy is in the water and your line is in the cockpit ready to deploy tangle free.
  2. Pick your spot with care.  Preferably, you are looking for a spot with fairly deep water right up to the shore, with plenty of room on either side.  A good spot will put you in a protected little nook that will shelter you from the worst of any strong winds.  The perfect spot will put you in a little nook AND line your boat up with the prevailing winds.  Perfect spots are hard to come by, especially in the Gulf Islands where many of the anchorages are lined up with prevailing SE and NW winds, but are too skinny to permit tying ashore with your bow facing in either direction.
  3. Identify a suitable shore anchor.  The best anchor is a purposely placed stern tie ring.  Second best is a dead tree or large log that is firmly attached/stuck in it’s current location.  Third choice would be a live tree – pulling a line around a live tree can kill it by removing bark around the tree’s circumference so we avoid doing so if at all possible.
  4. Line your boat up with your stern pointing at your target stern tie anchor and your bow over your desired anchor location.  For us, this is the hardest part: judging the distance to the shore isn’t easy, and the fact that the depth decreases as you near the shore complicates scope calculations.  Usually, we would prefer a scope of at least 4:1, and in a typical stern tying situation where you are just trying to limit your swinging room, this calculation is easy and identical to a calculation that you’d make if you were swinging free.   But in an anchorage where the depth increases rapidly, you might drop your anchor in 70′ and be lying in 20′.  The thing to remember in these locations is that it isn’t the scope that is important, it is the angle that the anchor shank makes with the bottom – a lower angle is better.  In almost all anchorages, the slope of the bottom works to your advantage when your butt is pointing at the shore, and against you when it’s not.  A stern tie in a rapidly shoaling anchorage makes sure that the slope of the bottom is always working to advantage, and in some cases, might be all that keeps the hook engaged.   Judging the best place to drop the hook in these more extreme cases can be challenging.  Generally we avoid these anchorages, but when pressed, we look for to drop at least 2:1, and back down hard to make sure we are well set before running the line ashore.  In the above example (70′ deep at the anchor location with the boat lying in 20′), we’d want to drop the anchor at least 225′ from the shore, and we’d put out at least 150′ of rode.
  5. Drop your hook.  This should be the easiest step.
  6. Back down on your hook.  Set your anchor as you would if you were going to swing free.
  7. Keep some tension on your rode.  Lower the engine RPM to idle, but generally speaking, do not take it out of gear.  This step is our secret sauce and makes the rest of the process as painless as possible.
  8. Take the line ashore.  When you get ashore, be sure to secure your ride back to the mother ship – watching your dinghy float off while you are running a line around a tree will be unpleasant at best.  If you have 3 aboard, the third crew can help by piloting the dinghy and standing off the shore while you work.  This makes the whole process a little bit easier and is a great job for a child.  Steps 6, 7 and 8 need to be done as quickly as possible.
  9. Run your line through or around your shore-side anchor point.  If you have any doubt about the quality of your anchor point, give it a good test first.
  10. Pull enough line to make it back to your vessel.  Be generous here as it’s easier to straighten up extra line later than it is to let out extra line so that you can reach the mother ship on your way back.  Have the crew fasten their end of the line to a cleat.
  11. Pull your boat into line with the anchor.   On our boat, prop walk moves her slowly to port, and if it takes too long for me to climb ashore and put the line around / through the anchor, she’ll need a little tug to get her back where I want her.   This is an important step important as it will minimize the amount of line needed to get back to the boat.  It is better to do this step after running the line through or around the anchor point – the extra friction that the shore-side anchor provides means that once you’ve re-positioned your boat, it’s not that hard to keep enough tension on the line to keep her in position.  Having the crew take the boat out of gear at this time will help pull the boat into a straight line, but once the boat is lying where you want it, be sure to put the boat back into reverse – it makes the next step easier…
  12. Throw the line you’ve pulled into your dinghy and get back to the boat.  You can row or you can just pull your self back using the line you’ve just run.  If I’m using a SUP, I just let the extra line I’ve pulled float and only take the end back with me.  Sometimes, you won’t have enough line to reach all the way back to the boat.  If this happens and depth allows, move the boat closer to the shore by putting the boat into neutral, letting out more anchor rode, and then putting the boat back into reverse.  If you can’t move the boat closer to shore, you’ll have to tie the stern line off to itself.  In these cases, we always pull out all of our line so that the knot you’ll have to tie will be as close to the boat as possible.   Most of the time, our line is long enough to make to the shore and back.
  13. Hand the end of the line to your crew and have them cleat it off.  The boat can be taken out of gear now and the engine shut down.
  14. Adjust your lines and set your snubber.  In the absence of wind, we like to have our stern line slack enough that it is floating.  Sometimes we let out more scope, sometimes we put out more stern line, and sometimes we do nothing.  If the wind pipes up, a line with slack is far preferable to a tight line as the system will put less load on your gear.
  15. Check your work.  It’s like a high school test – you’re not done till you check your work, only this time the results really matter.
  16. You’re done.  Go ahead and celebrate.

The meat of this system is that it is methodical – we always do this job the same way.  This consistency means that we are efficient.  The secret sauce is to keep the engine running and in reverse for most, if not all, of the operation.


Weighing anchor is usually pretty easy.  Start the boat, and then let the stern line go.  Often there is no wind and we can pull in the line, flaking it into the bag as it’s pulled, and then haul the anchor as per our normal routine.  If its blowing on your beam, these jobs will need to be done somewhat simultaneously, but a floating line will buy you a little breathing space as it can be trailed behind you while you weigh anchor without fouling the prop as long as you don’t get crazy with the reverse.  Beware of the line getting caught in rocks or a branch ashore as you retrieve it – you might have to jettison the whole length and retrieve it with the dinghy once your have navigated to a safe location.

What not to do…

We’ve seen people try some crazy stuff in an attempt to stern tie.  More often though, we just see people working inefficiently or without a plan.  Here are a few things that we’ve seen that don’t work.

  1. Dropping the anchor before you have everything ready to go.  Just don’t do this…it’s silly and usually doesn’t end well.
  2. Tying ashore in a strong cross breeze or current.  This is possible if you’re both practiced (fast) and have everything ready before you drop the hook.  But, it’s really hard to do, especially in a crowded spot where you might be trying to slot yourself between two boats that are already settled.  Our own biggest stern tying dramas have resulted from attempting to do this.
  3. Using the outboard to pull the mothership into position.    This is a regular thing for some people, and with the rope trying to pull them out of the dinghy as they hang on to it for dear life with one hand while controlling the dinghy with the other, it always looks difficult, uncomfortable, and dangerous.  Pull on the stern line to put your boat where you want it while your are standing firmly on the ground – it’s easier and safer.
  4. Tying the line ashore before dropping the hook.  I’ve read that this is a real technique and have seen people pull it off.  We’ve also seen a couple of disasters, including one that required efforts from multiple boats in the anchorage to get the newcomer settled.  Drop your hook first.
  5. Yelling complex directions at each other.  This one usually works, but at what cost?  Having and executing a plan will minimize the need to communicate as you complete the steps.

Tips for being the second anchor down in a rafting situation:

  1. Anchor as you would’ve if you were the first to anchor, but be very careful that you are not dropping your gear on top of your rafting partner’s tackle.
  2. Put out the scope you think you’ll need and back down on your anchor to set it.
  3. Once your anchor is set, let out 40 or 50 more feet of rode to give yourself some slack in you system.  This will allow you to maneuver into position far easier than if your rode is tight.
  4. If possible, back up a little too far beside your rafting partner.  If you’ve done a good job of positioning yourself, you should be able to drift forward and alongside fairly easily.  If you haven’t, power forward and try again.
  5. Once you’ve got your boat secured with bow, stern and two springs, haul in the extra rode you let out and snub your anchor.  Ideally, you want the load shared equally between the two anchors.

If we’re the second both in a raft of two, we don’t usually put out a second stern line – having less gear out makes getting away in a hurry easier.  If it’s blowing enough that we’re worried about the stern line, we will sometimes add a second.  If it’s blowing enough that this is still not enough, it’s time to move.

I hope these tips make your next (first) stern tying experience the low stress routine experience that in can be.  If your experience isn’t routine or low stress, practice will improve your skills and confidence.  Fair winds!


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


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.

vancouver island

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.


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Thoughts on Anchoring and Anchoring Etiquette…or lack thereof

Pirate's cove november

Pirates Cove without the crowds

I wasn’t really planning on writing about anchoring, but I like stories that come from our time on the water, and this one was a surprise no-brainer.  Why a surprise?  It was November.  Who goes out in November?  And with the lack of competition for anchoring spots, how could there possibly be anything to elicit a story about anchoring?

Cruising in the November…on average, it rains 21 days out of 30, and the odds of getting three warm, sunny days in a row on a weekend are not good.  Previous to this year, I crossing the strait novwould’ve claimed that it was a statistical impossibility.  This year, the stars aligned and we we were able to enjoy 3 amazing days cruising the Gulf Islands a month after we normally put the boat to bed for the winter.  We took the opportunity to visit a couple of places that we’ve missed over the last few years:  Princess Cove on Wallace Island and Pirates Cove on DeCourcy Island.

Princess Cove and Pirates Cove are popular places.   Princess Cove is one of the few places that we’ve abandoned in the summer due tobreakwater nov crowding.  Both anchorages are beautiful but exposed to North Westerlies – neither is bombproof.  To add to the mix are the stern ties that require that boats lie beam-to the prevailing winds.  Most of the time in the summer, the winds die overnight and issues are rare.  However, when the combination of crowding and boats stern-tied beam-to the wind is coupled with a fresh, unpredicted overnight wind, it creates a panic that has given both of these anchorages a bit a of a reputation.  Given the lack of boats and benign weather, there were no issues this time out.  But we were lucky that the weather held overnight as there were a few silly decisions made on other boats that put people at risk.  It’s not a wise thing to rely on weather forecasts for your safety – sound decision making, good gear and proper technique help keep us safe when the weather forecast is wrong, which is surprisingly often.  The following are our thoughts on anchoring safely, repeatedly.

Picking a place to drop your hook

Good practice is to pick a spot that won’t put others at risk if you drag – don’t anchor directly upwind of another boat.  Yes, it’s possible to choose well and then have a little shift in the wind put you upwind of a boat that was anchored before you, but you can use this idea to help pick good spots and eliminate poor ones, especially in uncrowded anchorages.  In the Gulf Islands, the winds blow SE or NW pretty much all the time, making following this rule even easier.


Rafting is loads of fun.  We love rafting and do it frequently.  But…both of the times we’ve been involved in a dragging episode, we’ve been having fun rafted.  Dragging doesn’t make the fun better.  The first time, we dragged a couple of hundred feet through a very crowded False Creek at two in the morning.  We were ridiculously lucky to drag through the fleet and miss everything.  The second time, we were anchored in a very remote anchorage on the west coast of Vancouver island.  We weren’t even on the boats when they went walkabout and were lucky to escape with nothing but bruised egos.  We’ve learned this one the hard way: rafting is not without risk.  If you choose to raft, you’ve got to be extra vigilant and have a contingency plan for if the wind comes up.

centennial raft pirates

A club raft in Pirate’s Cove

Tying Ashore

It’s very common to tie a line ashore in BC.  It’s an easy way to increase the number of boats you can cram into a small anchorage, and the only way to anchor in a small nook with no swinging room.  If you do it poorly, it’s a great way to entertain your neighbours.  However, in many cases, as practiced in BC, it does not increase your security.

When they tie ashore, most boaters, us included, tie one lie ashore to stop the boat from swinging on the anchor.  In many anchorages though, the lay of the land and the shore-side anchor location result in your boat lying beam to the wind.  I’m not sure what the math is, but there is no doubt that wind on the beam creates far higher loads than wind on the bow.


No swinging room here!

We hate stern tying.  In crowded summertime anchorages or tight spots it has it’s place, but generally we avoid it like the plague.  It’s a bunch of work that isn’t always easy and the whole wind on the beam thing is stressful.  If there is room to swing on the hook, we swing on the hook.  Still, we see people that tie ashore as a matter of course regardless of where they are – it’s a part of the routine that they follow for no reason other than that’s just what they do.   I suppose that leaves more room for me to swing in the middle, so…thank you?

What’s everyone else doing?

Often, this is an issue in places where people drop two anchors to reduce swing.  There are at least three other factors to think about.  The first is that if the wind is light, boats on a chain rode move differently than boats on a rope rode.  This has caused us grief in the past and now we try to anchor amongst other boats with an all chain rode.  The second is power vs. sail.  The windage of many powerboats coupled with the lack of a deep keel mean that they are usually more affected by the wind and less affected by current than a sailboat.  The last is that boats that tie ashore don’t swing.  The rule here is to try anchor and near boats that are similar in type and anchoring technique.

Not everyone uses these guidelines.  Anchoring on our cruise in November – Why, why, why…

We pulled into Princess Cove fairly early, and anchored just off the port quarter of one of three boats already there.  The boat downwind of us was a couple of hundred feet back, and tied fairly tight to the shore.  The third boat was 5 or 6 hundred feet behind us, deep in the bay.   We set the hook, and went for a walk, just as a power boat was dropping the hook upwind of the boat in front of us.  Not the best, but it what are you gonna do.

When we got back an hour or so later it was a different picture.  The boat we’d anchored behind was gone, and the lone power boat was now a raft of three, all on one hook, having fun directly upwind of us.  Why???  What was their plan if the wind came up?  How much fun were they planning to have?  Would they be OK at 2 am?  The forecast was incredibly benign, but I still wondered…why???  Did they even consider what would happen if they dragged?  Unlikely.  I definitely did.  It doesn’t take much wind to create problems with 3 boats on one anchor.

Things got more interesting at about 9pm when the last boat pulled in in the dark.  They also anchored in front of us, closer to us than where the boat that had left earlier was.  Then they tied ashore.  Why?  What was their rationale for all the futzing around in the dark?  No one else in our neighbourhood was tied ashore.  Did they even look?  What would’ve happened if we’d  swung to a SE wind or a drop in the tide?  I called over and told them that no one else was stern tied, but they were tired, busy, and not interested.  I shook my head and went to bed, hoping that no one was going to learn anything new about anchoring etiquette overnight. Thankfully it was quiet, and we didn’t.

poor anchoring

What are these people thinking?  Thankfully the weather cooperated and there was zero drama.

Anchoring well is probably the most important skill needed to cruise the way we do.  We’re lucky in BC – there are thousands of safe harbours with all around protection, most of which have good anchoring depths and a mud bottom.  This is not the norm in other places on the planet.  But even with our mostly easy conditions, anchor choice and technique can be controversial topics.  What do you think?  What are your favourite anchoring stories?  If you’ve spent any time anchored out on a boat, you’ve seen people having trouble on the steep part of the learning curve.  Please leave a note in the comments section.  Thanks!



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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 following 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 a 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


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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The Great Debate – Reef at the Mast or in the Cockpit?


Everything on a boat – any boat – is a compromise.  Reefing systems are no exception.  When we started sailing, reefing sounded so complicated that I decided that we just wouldn’t go out in conditions that required it.  That plan worked for our first trip – the delivery to our home port.  I learned how to reef on our second outing when we beat into a wall of wind in Indian Arm.  It wasn’t so difficult, except that our leeward rail was well under water and it was hard to find a reasonable place to stand.  The next year, we bought a new main with a much needed second reef point, and I got it in my head that reefing from the cockpit would be fantastic.  I installed single line reefing for both reef points, and set out for our annual cruise.  I was never really satisfied with it though.  There was tons of friction in the system, it was hard to pull the foot of the sail tight, and the massive length of line that ended up in the cockpit was a pain.   Shaking a reef out was no picnic either, with friction again making everything a massive grunt.   I didn’t get a lot of time to perfect the system though as we sold that boat the next fall and moved up into a new boat.

Our mariner had all of the reefing lines and halyards at the mast.  There is a lot of merit to this system.  It’s simple, has minimal friction, and with reefing horns on the boom, only required that I easy the halyard, harden the tack outhaul, and then re-harden the halyard.  If you have to leave the cockpit in weather, the mast is a relatively safe place to work.  Raising and lowering the main is easily accomplished by a single person with very little winching required, and the mess of lines is both smaller, and in an easy. manage location.  These benefits, for years, kept me in the “keep it simple” camp as a strong advocate for the mast reefing.

I have many friends in the other camp.  They have, or have crewed on, boats with all of the applicable lines lead aft.  Their argument is simple – why would you want to leave the security of the cockpit just when the weather is kicking up?  Sure there is friction, but leaving the cockpit is a safety issue.  Whenever the issue has come up (surprisingly often in my circle of friends), I was often the lone defender of the simplicity and ease inherent in having the halyards and reefing lines at the mast.  Now I’m not so sure.


My doubt started on a voyage from Jedidiah Island to Comox one dark and stormy night last summer –  a distance of about 35nm.  The forecast was for following winds of 20 to 25 kts overnight, falling to light the next morning.  Given that we hate motoring and don’t mind a sail in the dark, the choice to leave in the evening was simple.  At first, the sail was quite mellow, with the boat moving easily under full sail.  At about 10 pm, I went up to put in the first reef as the wind picked up to its forecast strength.  It wasn’t completely dark yet, and I accomplished this with a minimum of bother.  By midnight, the seas and wind had built and we were regularly hitting speeds of over 7 kts, surfing down the waves in gusts of 30 kts.   There was no moon, and a spectacular silent lightning storm threatened us in the east.  To add to the drama, hitting floating logs while boating in Georgia Strait is a real concern, and at our speeds, a collision could cause significant damage.  We needed to slow the boat down.

This time, reefing the sail wasn’t so routine.  To preserve Lori’s night vision, I donned a headlamp and went forward tethered to a jackline.  I couldn’t see Lori at the wheel, and she couldn’t see me at the mast.  Even tied to the mast, the work at the mast was unpleasant as the boat rolled in the waves.   Needless to say, I was happy to crawl back into the cockpit with our speeds at a far more manageable 5 to 6 kts.

My experience that night stayed fresh for a while, but I’m still not converted.  However, our current boat is giving me new data to work with.  Palomita came rigged with two line reefing lead aft for both reefs.  We decided to replace the lines, but keep the system as is to give it a good trial before changing anything. So far, it’s been good.  Put a reef in and and shaking one out is a chore, but the two lines minimize some of the issues we had with single line reefing.  With the bigger sail, having a winch available to grind the sail down is a bonus.   It might keep us in the cockpit, but it isn’t as quick or effortless as our old system meaning we might be inclined to push the boat longer without reefing, or wait longer to take one out.   Is it better than reefing at the mast?  I still don’t know.   I need more time, and at least one more dark and stormy night sail before forming a firm opinion.