Monday, October 4, 2010

Vancouver Island trip (2010)

In early August, after moving out of our house, we headed out for a three week circumnavigation of Vancouver Island.  This was our “shakedown cruise”, and we did this trip for several reasons.  Transiting the west coast of the island would give us some much-needed offshore sailing experience and as we rounded the corner and starting sailing south we would get to see some of the Inside Passage, a beautiful area with an abundance of wildlife, remote anchorages and unspoiled wilderness.

We also wanted to spend a few weeks living aboard before heading down the west coast of the US.  Most cruisers move onto their boats well before leaving in order to get used to the live-aboard life.  We didn’t have much time to do that.  We had to scramble to get out of our house and onto the boat by August 1st, and now we had another deadline: getting down the coast of Washington and Oregon before October, when winter weather begins to take over and more storms hit the coast.

So, on August 2nd, Saviah sailed north out of Seattle, stopping in Port Townsend for the night and then crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca the next day.  We cleared in with Canadian customs in Victoria, BC and headed out again first thing the next morning.  Once out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, our course was 10-20 miles offshore, slowly motor-sailing against the prevailing northwest winds and swell.  Our goal was to make it around Cape Scott, on the north end of Vancouver Island, and down to Port Hardy in as few stops as possible.  This would be around 320 miles.

This was our first time to sail through the night, which was quite an experience.  Even though we had read that three hour night shifts are optimal, we decided to start off with one hour shifts.  This didn’t last long, as it was cold and wet, and we had many layers on under our foul weather gear.  With all of the rocking of the boat, it took ten minutes to take off the foul weather gear and ten minutes to put it back on.  Needless to say, we spent a significant amount of time the first night just getting in and out of our foul weather gear when we should have been resting.

On our third night, we had no wind and very dense fog with about ten feet of visibility. We couldn’t even see the mast from the cockpit.  It was a very long night, and since we don’t have radar, we were constantly on the lookout for lights from other boats.  We could hear whales around us, but couldn’t see anything.  When the sun came up and the fog cleared, we could see two large gray whales about 100 feet away.
We hadn’t anticipated motoring so much or the low fuel efficiency we were getting going into the wind and wave, and we left Victoria without topping off our fuel tanks, a mistake we won’t make again.  By the third night, our diesel was running low, so we spent that long foggy night bobbing around, listening to our poorly stowed provisions and gear shifting and crashing about in the cubbies as we rolled in the small swell.  At this point, we were 180 miles from Victoria and 140 from Port Hardy, and it was clear that we should find a port to get more fuel.  We went about ten miles up an inlet to Zeballos, a small fishing community.  After topping off our tank, we got a good night’s sleep and headed out again the next morning.
During this passage, there was a big storm northwest of Vancouver Island and a fishing boat with four people on board went missing.  The passengers were never found, and we heard the boat was eventually located off the Oregon coast.  There were search helicopters overhead, and it was a reminder that the waters here can be some of the nastiest in the world.  We weren’t in the worst of it, but we had some stronger winds in the 20 – 30 knot range.  We decided this would be a good opportunity to rig our storm trysail.  Although the winds were nowhere near what you would normally use a trysail for, it was good practice to run the sheets, and get it hoisted.  We learned that our lazy jacks get in the way when we hoist it and made a note to do something about that later. 

We made it around Cape Scott on the north end of Vancouver Island just as the sun was coming up, six days after leaving Victoria.  Later that afternoon, we arrived in Port Hardy and slept for fifteen hours straight.  We stayed there two nights and spent some time checking out the town and doing a bit of grocery shopping.  Now that we had the difficult passage out of the way, we could take it a bit slower in the protected waters of the inside passage.

On August 10th, we crossed the Queen Charlotte Straits and headed over to Sullivan Bay to pick up our friend Eric.  He took a seaplane up from Seattle so he could spend the next week with us cruising down to Desolation Sound.  It was cold and foggy crossing the straits, the same weather we had consistently since leaving Victoria.

In the morning, and then again in the afternoon, we came across a pod of dolphins.  There were around fifty of them, and they were breaching all around us and very close to the boat.  They would swim right under the bow of the boat and stayed with us for several miles.

We stayed at a marina in Greenway Sound  for a night and then anchored in Health Bay the following day.  We had strong winds that night and the anchorage was a bit rough, so we got an early start the next day and covered about 50 miles.  We finally had some favorable winds in Johnstone Strait and sailed along dead downwind at 7 knots under full main and genoa.

During this trip, we transited the Chatham Narrows, Whirlpool Rapids and Green Point Rapids.  In the Pacific Northwest, we have semi-diurnal tide cycles, which means that there are two different tide cycles per day that rise and fall as much as 15+ feet per cycle.  Where islands come together and form a narrow passage, the current can flow over 10 knots during the maximum ebb and flood with significant rip tides as well.  Since our top motoring speed is 6 knots, we made sure to time all of the passages for slack tide, which took  quite a bit more planning.

Di at the helm and marina at Blind Channel
We spent a night at the marina in Blind Channel on West Thurlow Island and then anchored in nearby Bickley Bay the next day.  We desperately wanted to catch some fish and tried just about every day.  We tried jigging for bottom fish and trolling for salmon.  The locals recommended some good fishing spots, but we never had any luck.

We spent another day putting some miles under the keel.  We covered 32 miles before arriving at Cortes Island.  After some cooler weather on the north half of the Vancouver Island, we were excited to make it to Desolation Sound where it was sunny and warm.  We anchored in Squirrel Cove for a night and then moved to the Malaspina Inlet on the mainland the next day.  A small sailboat was beached there some years ago reminding us to make sure our anchor was holding well.

fishing in Bickley Bay and anchored in Malaspina Inlet
Prideaux Haven in Desolation Sound was our next stop and the highlight of the trip.  We spent two days in this beautiful, but crowded anchorage.  Because there are so many boats in the anchorage, a stern tie is necessary to prevent swinging back and forth.  We dropped the anchor when the bow was facing away from the shore and then backed in and tied a line from the stern to a tree on shore.  

Prideaux Haven
We spent the next few days exploring the anchorage by dinghy, hiking, swimming and fishing.  The water in parts of Desolation Sound is warm enough to swim.  It was 75 degrees in this anchorage, while not too far from there it dropped into the 50’s and 60’s.

The next day was Eric’s scheduled departure from Mink Island, but his flight had to be pushed back a day because President Obama was in Seattle airspace that afternoon, and they weren’t allowing in flights in.  We spent the evening in Refuge Cove, and he flew out from there the next day.

After Eric left, we made our way back to Nanaimo and Montague Harbor, one of our favorite spots in the gulf Islands.  Montague Harbor is on Galliano Island and there is a Provincial Park there with mooring balls in the bay and camp sites on-shore.  During the summer, an old school bus comes to the park every hour in the evening to pick up campers and boaters and bring them to the Hummingbird Pub about ten miles away.  We took the bus in and had dinner before we left for the San Juan Islands the next morning.  We cleared customs in Friday Harbor and then made our way back to Seattle.

That left us about three weeks to get Saviah ready, get our affairs in order and say goodbye to friends before heading south down the coast.   Our shakedown cruise had highlighted several things we wanted to improve.  For example, we didn’t have a compass light and found that when we shined the flashlight on it during our night watches, it killed our night vision.  A small red LED light would solve that problem.

There were other things we wouldn’t have time for, but they would remain on the project list for when we had time down the coast.  For example, we bought a watermaker, but still hadn’t installed it.  We also wanted to make sunshades for the tropics and buy and install some sort of high frequency radio.  There will always be a running list of things to do on the boat, but we had finished the most important items and overall felt good about heading down the coast.