A lot of cruising blogs seem to only have nice things to say about the places they visited. It gives the impression that everything is always sunshine and rainbows for them – which if true is great, but for us everything isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. We try not to be too cynical, but there are definitely a few places where if we had known what it was like, we probably wouldn’t have gone there. We’d rather know about the bad things along with the good, rather than be in the dark. Although everyone’s experience is different – what was bad for us might be great to someone else.
South Puget Sound – from the Tacoma Narrows to Olympia and adjacent inlets – is an area some guides and reports we’d read say is a wonderful cruising destination that is too often forgotten by the many boaters who primarily travel north (to the San Juans and BC). For us though, cruising means sailing, and in the South Sound we had the least sailing we’ve had all summer.
No Wind Makes For Sad Sailors
We really enjoyed visiting the city of Olympia, but it would’ve been much easier and quicker to drive there. We did close to 30 miles of motoring each way, and south of Gig Harbor there was basically no wind for four out of the five days we were there. Completely flat water without a ripple in sight, and less than 2 knots registering on the wind meter – morning, afternoon, and evening. One day we got 4-5 knots for about 20 minutes, and raised sails, but it quickly died back to zero.
August often has little wind in Puget Sound – so perhaps the South Sound is a good destination only in the shoulder seasons (fall and spring). But even though Puget Sound was getting 10 knots, according to the West Point NOAA station and Washington State ferry readings, we were getting none. And as soon as we left the South Sound and got to Gig Harbor, we had wind again.
Passing under the Tacoma Narrows bridge
As I sat in my inner tube behind Violet Hour anchored in Selby Cove, beer in hand and sunny blue skies overhead, I reflected on how quickly conditions can change while cruising. Just yesterday we were in the Strait of Georgia with 4 foot waves and 20 knots of wind, the Strait a raging cauldron of turbulent waves and wind. The boat was rocking enough that even using the head was a struggle. When we weren’t uttering unprintable words about the state of the waves, the kindest word we had for them was “manageable.” As in, “these waves are pretty awful, but manageable.” Then moments after passing through Porlier Pass into the Gulf Islands, a dramatic change occurred – the water went completely flat and the wind died to an easy 6-10 knots. The protection afforded by the Gulf Islands is truly impressive.
Three days prior, on the way to Vancouver, we had crossed the Strait with completely flat water and 3-5 knots of wind. We continue to be impressed by how dramatically different the Strait of Georgia can be from one day to the next.
We left Vancouver at 9:30am, early, because according to the buoy reports, the wind was already up in the Strait of Georgia – blowing a steady 20 knots since midnight. We didn’t feel any of it in Vancouver though, the calm, flat, windless surroundings lulling us into thinking we had a relatively easy day ahead of us.
As soon as we got out into Burrard Inlet, the wind picked up to 10 knots on the nose, so we set sail. As we sailed upwind, we tacked close to giant container ships that are often anchored in the bay. I said to Natalie, “this is the closest I ever want to be to the bow of a tanker” (at least not when it’s moving).
Before long the waves in the inlet grew to 3-4’ steep, close spaced waves. They were manageable, but not fun – we considered turning back. As we beat upwind into the steep waves, they slowed our boat’s progress to only 3 knots at times, even though we had full sails up in 15 knots, which normally means 6 knots of boat speed. Carefully focusing on hitting each wave right allowed us to keep a speed closer to 5 most of the time.
Arriving in Vancouver was filled with confusing emotions and memories – coming into a big city after months away from cities was overwhelming. There were so many people! And towering apartment buildings holding unimaginable numbers of people – unimaginable because they hold more people than we’ve seen all summer.
Our first time sailing into Vancouver also brought forward some nostalgia since it’s where we bought our boat a year and a half ago. Those memories feel so long ago, yet it was only February of 2015 that we were arriving to Granville Island for a weekend on the boat to prep her for the trip to the US. It was freezing cold and we had to make a run to Canadian Tire to get a heater. We knew so much less then about how to maintain / repair boats – we didn’t even have a square head screwdriver, necessary for the hundreds of square head screws on our boat. It felt like a bit of a homecoming finally sailing our boat back to Vancouver.
It was also the 2 month mark of our 3 month cruise, and we were starting to miss some aspects of normal life – basic things like talking to other people, restaurants, and biking. After a lot of time away from civilization, we were ready for some time in a city.
Getting to Vancouver involves driving past plenty of anchored tankers.
On our return trip through the Sunshine Coast, we made a stop at Lasqueti, to “Graveyard Bay” on the southwest side. Although Graveyard Bay sounded ominous, it was the perfect little anchorage. There’s tons of wild life around Lasqueti – in our little cove we saw numerous birds, seals, a couple blue herons, and three sheep grazing on the hillside. It’s a quiet, peaceful place, with few other boats – most other boats pass up Lasqueti on their way to Desolation Sound, probably because it requires detouring a bit out into the Strait of Georgia, rather than sticking to the more common route up Malaspina Strait.
We met up with another sailor we know from the Seattle area – Alan of S/V Kingfisher. Our paths happened to be crossing, and we had a great time having dinner on our boat (with ribs, salad, and plenty of beer and wine) and then breakfast on his the next morning.
Sailing upwind to Lasqueti.
We regretted not spending a second night at Lasqueti to try out a new anchorage, but the wind forecast was perfect for sailing to Nanaimo, our next destination. But first I need to jump back a bit – there were several other stops on our Sunshine Coast round 2 before we made it to Lasqueti.
After the Broughtons, returning to Desolation Sound in late July was a bit of a shock – there were so many boats! And it was hot – really, really hot. In the Broughtons we were wearing long underwear and fleeces much of the time, but now we had to pull out our bathing suits. Adjusting to the heat was tough the first few days – it made us dead tired, and we doubled the water we drank. The number of boats was an adjustment too – some anchorages (like Squirrel Cove) were so full, it felt like we were on Lake Washington in Bellevue.
Beautiful views while anchored in Pendrell Sound.
Inner Tubing in Pendrell Sound
Pendrell Sound turned out to be everything we could’ve possibly hoped for, and made our week. We had heard good things about it from other cruisers, but our guidebooks didn’t have a lot of detail on it, and we weren’t sure about a few parts. Would the depth of the anchorage make it difficult to find a spot (especially given how crowded other anchorages around here have been)? Pendrell Sound is somewhat like Princess Louisa – thousands of feet deep in the middle, and towering mountains on the sides. There are no bays or protected anchorages with large areas of shallow depth. I also worried would strong winds funnel down the channel making the anchorage uncomfortable and unprotected?
These worries turned out to be unfounded – the weather was perfect (sunny, hot, and no wind above 8 kts), and we had no trouble finding a very nice nook to anchor in with a stern line run to shore.
We anchored in one of the nooks on the west side, about 3/4 of the way into the sound (not at the head, where the majority of boats seemed to go – we’re not sure why, perhaps the view is a little better there). We switched our anchor to our 300 foot rope rode (with 25’ of chain) instead of our 150’ chain, since the rope is better for deep anchorages. We ended up dropping in 60’ and only putting out 120’ of rode. We then pulled the boat back with the stern tie, getting to within about 50’ of shore. At low tide the depth at our stern was 21’.
We met another boater who spends a week in Pendrell Sound every year. We spent two days, but could easily see ourselves coming back next year.
Our trip south back to Desolation Sound was quicker and less difficult than our trip north through the tidal passes. This was to be expected since going south on this route you usually have the wind at your back. For this reason we took Johnstone Strait the whole way, rather than dealing with timing the rapids at four tidal passes on the back route. We still had to time currents at Race Passage / Current Passage, but were fortunate the wind wasn’t even blowing the day we went through there.
That’s not to say it was without challenge though. Our most harrowing, dangerous moment came as we were racing downwind in Johnstone Strait pulling into our anchorage for the night (Mary Island, off of Sunderland Channel and Fanny Island). The winds had picked up to 25 gusting to 28, and the seas had risen to a 3 foot chop as the current rushed with us at peak flood. We still had the full main up, with no genoa – we should’ve reefed the main, but the wind had risen quickly and we figured we could ride it out since we were 30 minutes from the anchorage.
I had hoped the anchorage would provide some protection from the wind so we could do the mainsail takedown in there, but the anchorage was small and the wind was gusting into it too. We soared into the tiny bay at 6-7 knots and then turned into the wind, cranking the engine up to counter the 25 knot winds and surging waves. There were rocks to our starboard, rocks to port, and an island behind us. We did a fast drop, and got the main down okay – everything was fine after that, but it was one of those moments you remember forever.
Sailing wing on wing in Johnstone Strait in about 15 knots