From our first days of cruising, photography has been a big part of telling the story of what it’s like to sail in the Pacific Northwest. We sail to spectacularly beautiful places, including areas that few sailors will ever get to, and I feel it’s my duty to share what we see. Photography is the best way I know to communicate what we love about sailing the PNW.
Often we remark that the picture doesn’t do it justice – capturing these natural environments is incredibly difficult. We’re usually on the boat, a moving platform from which it can be hard to capture the perspective we’re seeing (vast open spaces, ourselves surrounded mostly by water). The weather may not cooperate, and wildlife (like whales) appear for mere seconds, often far away.
I (Patrick) do the photography for the blog (which is as much an outlet for my photography hobby as it is for telling the story of our adventures). I’ve been doing photography as a semi-serious hobby for about 15 years, including landscape, travel, nature, macro, portrait, and even a bit of studio practice. But only the last 5 years or so have I been doing photography from a sailboat.
We’re traveling for the winter and just finished a month of exploring New Zealand. It’s as beautiful and grand here as we expected, and the mountains truly make it a unique place. The hiking here rivals what we have in Washington and BC, and the weather is quite similar (rainy, chilly, sometimes sunny, and changeable by the hour).
Here’s some photography from our journey across the south and north islands.
Hiking Roy’s Peak, near Wanaka on the south island
We’re traveling in the Southern Hemisphere for the winter, and I had some requests for updates from our non-sailing travels, so here are my favorite photos from our 3 weeks in Australia (we’re in New Zealand as of November 20).
We had an amazing time in Australia, with beautiful sunny weather in the 75-95F range. The highlights were definitely Sydney and the Great Ocean Road, but Cairns and Melbourne were good stops as well.
Surprisingly few large boats are winterized on the hard in the Pacific Northwest, as is standard practice in other areas where the water freezes (New England, the Great Lakes). We have the luxury of not having to; the relatively steady ~50 F water temperature prevents engines from freezing or harbors icing over. And we have the option of year-round sailing – although much of the winter is pretty rainy and dark, we always have some stretches of sunny, 45-55F weather (positively balmy!).
Yet there are some advantages to storing your boat on land (“on the hard”) – less bottom paint wear, no dock line chafe, etc. So this year we went this route, given we’re traveling for the winter and won’t be able to use our boat. Debating the pros/cons of storing in the water vs on the hard, it was hard to find much information specific to the PNW.
Even though many boats never leave the dock in the winter, their owners still choose to leave them in the water, paying significantly higher moorage costs. This is perplexing, but I guess it boils down to convenience – it takes a bit of work to winterize a boat, and there isn’t a huge surplus of winter storage yards in the Seattle area.
Perhaps another deterrent is that most storage yards have a couple neglected, derelict boats that have been there for years. In some cases, yards are where boats go to die – and this can be very hard to see (not to mention the concerns over their boat catching on fire next to yours). Leaving our boat is a scary thing because not only have we put thousands of hours of work into it, it’s our home now too.
At the end of September we spent several days working to prepare our boat for storage on the hard. There are many articles on winterization (Sailrite, West Marine, Discover Boating), but I’ll cover some things we learned that weren’t mentioned elsewhere, and the checklists we used so we wouldn’t forget things.
The final month of our 6 month cruising plan wasn’t a tough one, but was definitely a fun one. As September started, the forest fire smoke faded fast from the San Juans and we spent a relaxing 5 days in Garrison Bay with the Puget Sound Cruising Club raftup. It was great to spend some time with people we don’t get to see often, in a beautiful setting.
Shortly after that we stopped by the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, drawing inspiration from the abundant passion of the sailors there. Especially exciting was seeing the Sail Like a Girl presentation (winners of the 2018 Race 2 Alaska, which we had followed from the Central Coast).
Following that we took a week and a half break to visit family on the east coast for my sister’s wedding. The remainder of September we had a week of fun, easy Puget Sound cruising before it came time to winterize the boat (our land/air/sea travels are beginning soon!).
So we didn’t go very far – about 200 nautical miles – but had a lot of fun socializing with other sailors and enjoying some great sailing with wind returning and anchorages emptying out.
In August, the 5th month of our 6 month cruising plan, we went from the Gulf Islands to Garrison Bay in the San Juans. August was a *BIG* change from our previous months. We didn’t go very far, and many times we stayed in the same anchorage for 3-4 nights. This was our plan all along though – we wanted to hang out somewhere nice, yet not go very far at all, because August is typically the worst month for sailing.
The first week we sailed through the Gulf Islands (early August had great wind!) and then we spent the next 3 weeks bouncing between Friday Harbor, Sucia Island, Shaw Island (Blind Bay), and Deer Harbor. The San Juans were starkly different in August than when we came through in April. They were super busy, with motorboats zooming everywhere and the marinas and anchorages were all very chaotic and busy.
This took some getting used to, after months of sparse boat traffic (July was a bit busier, but August noticeably more so). But we enjoyed the short days because it gave us lots of time for hiking, photography, blogging, catching up on boat chores, etc.
The #1 impact on our August cruising though was the forest fire smoke. I’ll talk more about that under Weather, but the short version is that the Pacific Northwest has been blanketed by dense forest fire smoke for the last few Augusts, and it really puts a damper on being outdoors.
- Distance as the motorboat travels: 120 nm
- Distance traveled overall (estimated): 180 nm
80% upwind, 20% downwind
- Highest wind speed at anchor: 15 knots (Montague)
- Highest wind speed while sailing: 20 knots (Gulf Islands).
(If you don’t count that first week though, the highest wind speed we had in August was 13 knots – the lowest peak of all months so far).
- Engine Hours: 13 (3.25/week)
- Diesel Consumed: 7 gallons (1.75/week)
- # Marina Stays: 2
“Windy” isn’t a term usually used to describe the Gulf Islands, but windy is exactly what we’ve had for the last week (July 29 to August 4). Every day we had consistent southeast winds in the 10 to 20 knot range. Although we’re southbound, which means upwind, we’ve been having great sails doing short hops between anchorages each day.
One of the other great things about the Gulfs, which I hadn’t really noticed before, is there are a lot of sailboats – more sailboats than powerboats even! Many spots had about 60-70% sailboats, which is in steep contrast to our cruising experience in waters further north (north of Cape Caution), where motorboats were about 90% of the cruising traffic. I think the Gulfs probably have the highest density of sailboats anywhere in the Pacific Northwest.
Also, the sailors there actually sail! About 90% of sailboats have at least unfurled their genoa when running downwind in 15 knots (about 10% still motor downwind in 15, which I totally don’t understand), and about 50% sail upwind.
It’s been great to see how many Gulf Islands sailors make the effort to sail, and has made our sails more interesting – we get to plan crossings with other sailboats (stand-on versus give-way), and track our progress and tacking angles in comparison to them.