Challenging Early Season Cruising in the San Juans

Last year we cruised the San Juans in April and loved it, so we weren’t surprised to enjoy it again this year. Empty anchorages, all the park mooring balls open (makes it easier to grab one under sail!), and great wind for sailing (in fact there was no day where we couldn’t sail).

That said we’ve found this April to be much more challenging than last year. We’ve had more rain than last year so far – equaling a lot of pretty chilly days. On grey, wet days we need to run our diesel heater, but on sunny days we don’t (these have been rare though).

We’ve also had more wind, from fairly strong cold fronts moving through. We’ve already exceeded the highest wind speeds we experienced in last April and May combined – gusts to 34 knots while sailing, and 25 knots at anchor/mooring. Last year there was only one month out of six (June) where we reached those levels.

Admittedly the 34 knots while sailing was our fault – a poor decision to go out on a borderline day. We’ve had a tough time making the go / no-go decision this month, partly because the weather forecasts have been so complex. Making the right call is incredibly tough, as the line between fun conditions and not-fun is very thin. If anything this month has taught us to lean towards conservativism, which seems to be a lesson we need to be retaught every year – it’s easy to forget the power of high winds pushing against opposing current.

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Weird Weather Week: Plenty of Challenges in Early April Cruising

It’s easy to forget how difficult sailing in the Pacific Northwest can be. We’ve been underway a week and a half now, and made a slow escape from Puget Sound. Every couple days a different weather system has been coming through, and interpreting the forecasts has been incredibly difficult.

We first sailed south to Blake Island, and had a few southerly gales while there (bringing pounding rain and graupel at times too!). Then we had only light wind going north to Port Madison (S 6-8) and then Port Ludlow (S 4-12 and N 12). The next day, en route to Port Townsend, brought N 18-25 with a gale warning for the evening (we left at 7am to beat it!).

Part of the challenge has been weather patterns that are completely different from one area of Puget Sound to another. On some days there’s been south wind at Seattle but north wind at Port Townsend, or vice versa, and a small craft advisory at one but no wind at the other. Another difficulty we’ve found is the NOAA forecast has often been wrong in wind magnitude or direction, or both.

Fortunately the ECMWF model (European) in Windy has been pretty accurate (more so than NAM, the North American model).

This goose at Blake Island hung out with the Canadian geese but looked nothing like the others. Anyone know if it’s a different species or some sort of albino Canadian goose?

The Canadian geese didn’t give two hoots about the raccoon (which got on our boat only once).

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We’re Rounding Vancouver Island (Probably, Maybe)!

A couple days ago we tossed our docklines in Seattle and started our 2019 sailing season. Like last year we’re full-time cruising for spring, summer and fall. We’re excited to say we might finally circumnavigate Vancouver Island this year! We’ve been up part of the west coast twice (as far as Nootka Sound) but have never done the top half.

I say “Probably, maybe” because last year our probably-maybe plan was also to round Vancouver Island (but from Haida Gwaii). Cruising plans are never fixed, always flexible. Last year we changed plans because we were worn out from tiring, difficult crossings of Hecate Strait and persistently rainy, powerful southerly gales in the first half of June.

We had dreamed of some of the beaches and beautiful scenery of northwest Van Isle (like the Bunsby’s), but rightly decided to prioritize what’s most important in cruising – enjoying the adventure. (As Larry Pardey would say, “as long as it’s fun”).

Gross approximation of our possible route (in reality we’ll spend more time in the sounds than this depicts, and may go a bit further north – ex, Shearwater/Bella Bella).

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Boats, Aka Infinite Work Machines

It never ceases to amaze how a boat is a Pandora’s box of unending projects. As soon as you start working on your list, five new issues pop up to make the list longer and replace the ones you finished. A boat is like a perpetual work machine – you’ll never run out of things to do!

In many ways I like this, because it delivers a great feeling of satisfaction to be getting things done and improving our home. At times it’s frustrating though, like when everything seems to be breaking at once (our canvas is getting holes, our hot water heater sprung a leak, our hygrometer broke, and our electric space heater is getting rusted / flakey).

As mentioned in the last post, March is project month. We got back to our boat on the hard in Everett on February 27, and were elated to discover nothing terrible had happened in the 5 months we left her. No rodents or bugs had moved in and we didn’t have a boat full of mold!

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Returning Home to Our Boat

We’ve just finished 5 months of travel, and in many ways it was every bit as life changing as our 6 months of sailing prior to that. The things they say about travel are true: that you’ll never regret it, that the world is a very big place and if you only see one part of it you’re missing out on a lot.

It’s also true that it’s not as hard to travel as most people think. Most of South and Central America are not dangerous places (as many Americans seem to think). We heard more scary stories when reading our hometown news than the local news. And you can travel on the cheap in many areas of the world, having a far lower cost of living (COL) than high COL U.S. cities.

But it’s been 147 days since we’ve slept in our own bed, and towards the end we started to miss our sailing home. Travel is hard and eventually you crave having a consistent place to sleep each night, and more than what you can fit in a carry-on suitcase + daypack. And there’s nothing we’ve found that quite compares to the beauty and tranquility of sailing the Pacific Northwest.

Our boat on the hard when we left in September

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Cruising Guides and Sailing Books We Use Onboard

Recently some other Pacific Northwest cruisers have reached out to me asking which cruising guides we used for our passage north last year. It can be tricky choosing cruising guides because the older ones tend to get out of date quickly, and some have spotty coverage or a different cruising style than ours.

Over the last 4 years of cruising we’ve found some good ones that work for us. Finding good educational books on sailing and boat maintenance is also tricky (there are so many!) so I’ve included a few recommendations on those too.

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Traveling the World thru AirBnBs

We’re nearing completion of 5 months of travel, and stayed mostly in AirBnBs across six countries: Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Peru, Costa Rica, and Mexico. Prior to this we had used AirBnB only a couple times, and learned a lot through this experience. There are plenty of AirBnB horror stories on the Internet (from dirty cat apartments to scams or no-shows) but we didn’t have any disaster scenarios (only two places had issues – more on that later).

Certainly you can stay in hotels or hostels while traveling, but 90% of the time we stayed in AirBnBs. They’re often more comfortable for long-term travel – more than a month in hotels and hostels can get really tiring! After staying in over a dozen AirBnBs we learned some tips and tricks to make it easier.

If you find our tips useful, and don’t already have an AirBnB account, please use our referral link if you want to signup. It’ll get you a $40 discount upon your first reservation (and $20 for us, which helps keep this blog going).

Our super cute Cusco, Peru AirBnB in a traditional Peruvian home.

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