sailboatbliss

Cruising by sail in the Pacific NW


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Willywaws

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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Georgia Strait

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

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

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

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

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

Georgia Strait Summer Weather

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

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

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

Whiskey Golf

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


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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) 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 occasional offer 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 as once the weather sets in; the waters off of Solander Island can be treacherous for days on end.  The good news is that there are things to do in both Quatsino and Nootka sounds, so waiting need not be a hardship.
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Nuchatlitz, Esperanza Inlet

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