Tonight we cast off the lines for our third annual summer cruise, following a similar route to the one we did two years ago up the west coast of Vancouver Island. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed with excitement, but we also know there are some challenging waters ahead of us. Our first big cruise two years ago was a bit of a reality check, making us aware that ocean waves can be much more difficult than we expected, and that some of our sailing skills weren’t quite as good as we thought (in particular, we had little high wind experience).
We’re hoping this time it will go a lot better. Besides having a great deal more experience, the boat is in better shape now – having 2 ½ years worth of projects done rather than just 6 months worth. Two problems that stressed us last time – engine troubles in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and a gradual transmission failure – shouldn’t happen again.
Things have been really busy the last month – after moving aboard (becoming full-time liveaboards) there was a flurry of projects and chores to complete, along with some great sailing to the San Juans and a couple local destinations. So I don’t really have much time to write more about our planned trip, and will just refer back to this post from two years ago for our approximate route. This time however, we’ll be going up the Canadian side – Victoria to Becher Bay to Port Renfrew to Bamfield.
Adding solar power to Violet Hour is something we’ve been meaning to do since returning from our cruise last summer and having trouble keeping our batteries charged because we weren’t motoring enough. Most sailboats in the PNW do a lot of motoring, which allows their engine’s alternator considerable time to charge up the batteries. We prefer to sail, and were sometimes getting less than 15 minutes of alternator time per day.
Surprisingly, it’s common to hear sailors say they were “motoring to charge up the batteries.” This is apparently one explanation for SMDs (sailboat motoring downwind). This seems incredibly silly to me, and is something I’ve always vowed to never have to say. Burning diesel to convert it into electricity while pushing an 18,000 pound boat through the water is terribly inefficient. As a believer in Muscles Over Motors, motoring your sailboat around just to run your fridge seems downright sad.
Solar panels will allow us to sail more while still keeping the fridge cold enough to not need to buy bags of ice or allow premature spoilage. It may also allow us to anchor out more since we’ll no longer have to visit a marina once a week to top up batteries (although we may still visit marinas to make groceries + laundry easier).
Solar has come down in cost a lot in the last 20 or so years. A 200 watt system is only about $1000 ($1400 minus the 30% solar tax credit*), if you can install it yourself. In other words, enough energy to power a fridge for 5 years with zero pollution costs less than half what the average American spends on gasoline in one year. From this perspective, solar is a no-brainer.
*A quick note on the solar tax credit if you’re not familiar with it: It’s a tax credit to incentivize clean solar energy replacing dirty energy sources. It might start getting phased out in 2020-2022. It can be applied to your second home, which a boat counts as if it has a galley and head. Anyway, our boat is our first (and only) home currently. Also, a tax credit is not like a deduction – credits are for anyone who pays any federal tax at all. (note: I’m not a tax advisor – do your own due diligence of course).
The system may even pay for itself after about 5 years. The electricity cost savings are small, because Washington’s plentiful hydro-electric plants provide cheap energy rates, but all the little savings add up:
- Reduced electrical consumption at dock while living aboard.
- Abstaining from shore power hookups in BC marinas once or twice a month ($5-8 per night typically).
- Skipping 1 or 2 marina visits per summer cruise ($50-60 per visit).
The importance of a shakedown sail is, I think, often forgotten or underestimated. A shakedown sail before a longer one helps discover problems with boat work done over the long winter. And perhaps more importantly, it rebuilds sailing skills, especially physical and mental stamina that might have grown weak over the winter.
Not just any shakedown sail will do – the weekend cruises we did twice a month over the last 7-8 months don’t prepare us fully for the 1-month cruise we’ll be taking this July (to the west coast of Vancouver Island, much like the route we did two years ago). So last Thursday evening we took off from Shilshole for a 4 1/2 day trip to the San Juans (2 days in the islands before we needed to head back for work the day after Memorial Day).
Thursday: Shilshole to Port Ludlow
We took off about 5pm and sailed upwind to Port Ludlow, taking about 5 hours and arriving after dark. There was only 6-10 knots of wind, and sailing upwind makes the journey take quite a bit longer, but we sailed 100% of the way except for the last 1-2 miles into the harbor. Going past Point No Point we had 7.5 knots over ground with the 2 knot current push.
Currents were a recurring theme of the four days – there are large tides currently, due to 2-3 ft minus tides and a new moon. We encountered many whirlpools and tide rips in the San Juans and around the Point Wilson washing machine. This was probably the biggest benefit of our shakedown sail – it was a good refresher in using currents to our advantage, and we hit them all right, often getting 3-4 knot boosts.
Sailing into the sunset towards Port Ludlow