Southbound from Nootka Sound and a Stowaway in Tofino

A couple days ago as we approached Nootka Sound, sailing close hauled, I remarked “it’s all downwind after this!” That evening, a southerly moved in bringing rain and south winds just as it was time for us to head back south. The fun downwind sail I had envisioned evaporated into a long upwind slog. But, no matter – we ended up having some fun, challenging ocean sailing, even though it ended up a tiring day.

The south wind was only 9-12 kts, but the waves were much larger than you’d have in those conditions on a sound. Exiting Nootka, we were motoring with wind and swell on the nose, only making 5 kts when we’d normally do 6, and rolling from -10 degrees to +10 degrees. There was a 3 foot westerly swell with SW wind waves mixed in. We decided to sail, even though going upwind around Estevan Point would take a really long time. But setting sail actually made things much more comfortable – we were no longer rolling 20 degrees.

It took us nearly 4 hours to get around Estevan though, 8 hours overall from Friendly Cove to Hot Springs Cove. The swells approaching Estevan were really large, and if only 10-12 kts does that, I’d hate to be caught out there in 20.

We spotted lots of sea otters!

Normally we’d consider waiting a day for the wind to switch back to northerly, but we were running low on water (~9 gallons of 34 capacity), and hadn’t been to a marina in 2 weeks (which is why we were also approaching a dire coffee situation – we had only whole bean coffee left, with no real way to grind it. We thought we could run our coffee grinder off a small portable inverter we have, but it turned out the grinder uses more than 70 watts. So we’ve been grinding coffee with a battery powered Cuisinart, but it just produces a coarse chop).

Our route sailing around Estevan Point to Hot Springs Cove, with a south wind

Hot Springs Cove

We arrived in Hot Springs Cove about 7pm, so we just did dinner and called it a night – the hot springs would have to wait for the morning. In the morning we woke up early and were off the boat at 8am, knowing from past experience that it gets busy with tourists delivered via float plane and jet boats starting about 8:30 or 9am. We arrived at the hot springs with only 3 nude campers on the rocks, and had the hot springs to ourselves for 20-30 minutes. So relaxing!

But we were glad we got there early because on our hike out, hordes of loud tourists had started to arrive.

Hot Springs Cove to Tofino

We raised anchor at 10:30 and headed out – as soon as we were outside the cove it was clear there was plenty of wind, from the NW but veering to W due to Estevan Point. We set sail immediately but quickly realized we needed to reef – the boat was overpowered with a 1/4-1/2 turn of weather helm and we were hitting 7 knots over ground. We reefed the main and genoa but later went full genoa (135%). Winds were about 15-18 with gusts to 20.

The waves were where it really got interesting though. Two years ago we had left Hot Springs Cove under these exact same conditions and had a hard time as we got too close to the point, with waves stacking up into short spaced rollers, and we broke a boom vang shackle in an accidental jibe. This time we knew to stay at least 1 nautical mile off the point.

Waves don’t photograph well – the depth doesn’t really show up.

However, the waves still grew impressively large later on, especially within 5 miles of shore – and there’s no way to get to Tofino without approaching shore. We ended up going through Father Charles Channel. These were the steepest waves I’ve ever seen I’m pretty sure – but then, that’s the 2nd or 3rd time I’ve thought that this trip. (not biggest – steepest, as in most closely spaced)

We had made the mistake of not stowing the dinghy on deck. It’s tough to predict when it’s going to be rough enough to need to do that. As we approached the sound, 6 miles offshore, our dinghy would race forward as it reached a wave crest, reaching ahead of our stern, slalom sideways, and then as we accelerated down the wave the dinghy lines (two, for insurance) would snap taut. Later I found one of the lines had chafed its cover off.

Steering was an exhausting endeavor – in the wave troughs we had to drive up to power up the sails and on the crest we drove off to surf over the wave. Also, since our stern was often on a wave crest while the bow was in a wave trough, this exerts a pivoting force on the boat, creating a lot of rudder pressure. At the helm we had to do strong, rapid quarter to half turn wheel turns that our autopilot never could’ve handled. Once within the channel, the waters turned flat of course, and sailing became easy again, running downwind with 20 kts into the Tofino harbor.


We were able to get a spot at the Tofino 4th St marina this time – on the inside of E dock. There’s a shoal right off that area, and even though we had an 8 ft tide, we nearly touched bottom as our depth sounder read 5.0 ft (the same as our draft). Maddie, the marina attendant who was friendly and helpful, said they’re planning to dredge that area.

We overheard a fishing charter guide saying that the salmon are hard to find this year so salmon bites have been hit or miss – but, he said, the tourists are still biting (so that’s what counts!).

The Stowaway from Tofino

At 2am in the Tofino marina I awoke to the sound of scratching, and maybe little feet pattering?! I thought perhaps there was something on the deck trying to get in, or maybe just a line moving around. Getting up to investigate I realized the sound was coming from inside the boat, towards our cupboards. Shining my flashlight there, I was suddenly surprised to see two eyes and a small furry face staring back at me! A mouse, apparently with a taste for Natalie’s homemade granola.

A million questions went through my head: how did he get onboard? Through the companionway hatch we left open for only 30 minutes while we brought up trash at 5pm in broad daylight? After climbing the docking lines or jumping two feet from the dock rail to toerail? Seems implausible, but possible. Or did he enter at night through the only other holes I could think of that we don’t have screens on – the stern dorades to the engine compartment. But that would have involved a 2 foot drop into an unknown black abyss followed by 20+ feet of crawling through random engine space, bilge areas and holes to get to the cabin cupboards.

The other thoughts involved what the hell are we going to do? A mouse is no joking matter on a boat – there are a million places to hide, and enough food to last the mouse’s lifetime. The scratching and chewing on bagged foods could keep us up at night for weeks, not to mention require throwing out contaminated food. What if he died in some corner of the boat and created a stench that would last weeks?

We went to the coffee shop for some wifi time and read up on “mouse on boat” strategies. Fortunately it’s a common problem, but there were some horror stories that scared us (mostly ones involving rats, or multiple mice, a mouse that had babies, or mice that ate the boat’s electrical wiring). We went to the Co Op hardware store and bought 4 mouse traps. Then we had to clear out all the cupboards and food storage spaces of food that was bagged in plastic or ziplocks and put it in the oven and other metal or hard plastic containers.

All this took severals hours and by now we had missed our high tide window for departing the undredged portion of the marina. So we stayed an extra day in Tofino, but moved to be anchored out where we wouldn’t have to worry about more mice coming onboard.

A Few Days Later

Surprisingly, after five days at anchor away from Tofino, we’ve had no signs of the mouse – no traps touched, no food touched, no sounds at night. So our best guess is he left of his own accord in Tofino, probably the same night he entered. This seemed unlikely – after all, why would he leave a warm boat with all the food he could want? But perhaps the mice have families / nests on the dock and just raid boats for food before leaving. I’m really surprised he was able to find a way out, given the companionway hatch was closed and the only option was a 2 foot leap up into the stern dorades, but perhaps that happened. Or perhaps we’ll smell a dead mouse in a few days.

Either way, we were glad to be able to put our boat back in order – there’s no room for uninvited guests on a sailboat.

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