Monthly Archives: July 2017

Southbound from Tofino to the Strait of Juan de Fuca

After losing an extra day in Tofino due to the mouse that snuck aboard in the 4th St marina, we were eager to depart. A heavy morning fog was present out on the ocean though, so we waited till 10:30 for that to clear (plus there was no wind yet). We ended up having to motor all the way to Amphitheater Point outside Ucluelet – about 4 hours – but were able to sail with 8-10 kts that showed up in Barkley Sound. We’ve been finding the wind has been arriving later and is more short-lived in late July than it was the first half of July. Previously good wind started at 11am or noon, but now doesn’t start till 4 or 5pm.

This has made me wonder whether our July west coast cruise is perfectly mistimed by about 2 weeks. It would be better to start mid June when there’s still a chance of southerlies, and then return south in the 2nd week of July, when we had strong, consistent northerlies. Summer seems to have come early this year, and the last 2 weeks of July are resembling August weather – fog and low wind.

Still, sailing into Barkley Sound was fun, and I was reminded again of how spectacular Barkley Sound is – the sailing is always good there (at least all 7 days we were there during the month) and there are dozens of beautiful anchorages, many of them with no boats in them. We easily could’ve spent the whole month just cruising Barkley Sound, and I kind of wondered whether we should’ve done exactly that.

[This post took place from July 18 – 21]

Rocks outside of Wouwer Island

Wouwer Island

Wouwer Island is on the outside of the Broken Group, and is a really beautiful anchorage – surrounded by rocks, islands, trees, views of mountains and crystal clear water in the anchorage. Most guide books say it’s for settled conditions only, and I’d agree if there’s more than 20 knots it wouldn’t be comfy. The winds were about 15 after we arrived, and we had some wavelets and slight rocking. Not bad, but certainly not as calm as some other Barkley Sound anchorages.

There’s plenty of room in here for one boat, but two would be tricky without stern ties.

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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

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Clayoquot to Nootka Sound: Farther and Farther from Civilization We Go

As we sailed towards Hot Springs Cove, the wind steadily backed to the west, giving us a lift (sailor lingo for a favorable shift in wind). We were pointed right at Hesquit Harbor now, so we said why not go to Hesquit? We could always do the Hot Springs on the way back. We make changes in plans like this often when wind or weather gives us a favorable shift to take advantage of.

In this case Hesquit made sense also because it gets us a little further towards Estevan Point and Nootka Sound. We knew Estevan can be treacherous, with its outlying rocks and confused swell convergence. So being a bit closer allows us to monitor conditions and choose the right time to go, plus shorten the passage to Nootka (to ~21 nm).

As we sailed, we saw a gray whale feeding close to shore off Flores Island. Earlier, while motoring out we had seen 6-8 sea otters just hanging out floating on their backs with their toes in the air – so cute! It was a sea life rodeo today. As we entered Hesquit Harbor and passed over the bar (a 20-30 ft section) we were stunned to see a humpback feeding past the bar only a few hundred feet from our boat. We were sailing downwind by now (the wind backs into Hesquit Harbor) at 6 kts, and I altered course to give him a wider berth.

The Nootka Sound lighthouse

Hesquit Harbor

Hesquit ended up being a very nice anchorage. It doesn’t look like it would be, but nestled behind Anton’s Spit (a shallow spit on the west side that’s submerged at high tide), we had complete protection from waves, and a great view of the mountains of Clayoquot Sound. It’s true it’s about 2 nm in, but in the afternoon you can generally sail in downwind, and in the morning it gives you quick access to rounding Estevan, shaving ~6 nm off the alternative option of Hot Springs Cove.

We were the only boat there, and would consider Hesquit again.

Estevan Point lighthouse

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Barkley Sound to Clayoquot: Ups and Downs of Cruising

Week two of our July cruise began in Ucluelet, at the northwestern end of Barkley Sound. We anchored out in front of the main marina, after first filling our water tank at the 52 Steps dock, and emptying the holding tank at the pumpout station in the marina ($5 CDN). On the way into the harbor we saw a huge group of eagles (15-20) on the eastern shore, feeding on a salmon head.

We had dinner reservations for a date night at Norwoods, Ucluelet’s fine dining restaurant (a tiny town like this only has one). Everything was really good, and we’d recommend the steak and halibut entrees, and I was really impressed by Category 12 Brewing’s dry-hopped sour ale.

A First Nations statue outside Matilda Inlet

Attempting to go to Tofino and the (accidental) DSC Distress Call

Monday morning we disassembled the Portabote for storage on deck, since we knew there was a chance of big, rough waves on the way to Tofino. The forecast was iffy – a gale warning for Vancouver Island South, but that forecast region is enormous, and it sounded like the gale was primarily for the northern part (north of Estevan Point by Hot Springs Cove). We’re also often skeptical of Canada’s marine forecasts because we’ve found they frequently overestimate the wind compared to US forecasts – this time that may have been a mistake though.

We were prepared for some challenging upwind sailing, but the waves were the main concern. I was closely monitoring the reports from La Perouse Buoy, Lennard Island lighthouse station off Tofino, Estevan Point, Tofino Airport, and Cape Beale. We left Ucluelet early with very mild conditions in the harbor (2-4 kts SW) and Cape Beale reporting SW 8-10, which would be very good for us if it made it to Ucluelet. But as soon as we turned the corner out of the harbor, there was about 10 kt NW, but the waves quickly became the real problem.

The 6-9 foot waves from further out on the ocean were hitting this 50-60 foot depth region and stacking up into 5 foot standing waves. Standing waves are nothing like ocean swell – they’re unbelievably closely spaced waves that your boat doesn’t roll over, it dives over. Our previous 6 kts motoring speed got squashed to 2-3 kts by these waves, and the boat was pitching so much that I buried the bow, despite steering as best I could. These were probably the worst waves I’ve ever seen while going against them (going *with* the waves is much easier, and we’ve gone with comparable waves in the Strait of Georgia and Queen Charlotte Strait).

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Exploring the Remote Anchorages of Barkley Sound

Our arrival to Barkley Sound was a tremendous relief – after bashing and motoring upwind for 200 miles, we were ready for some relaxation and easy sails between idyllic anchorages. Barkley Sound had all that and more. We sailed between every anchorage, attempted some fishing, went swimming in a waterfall creek, hiked Brady’s Beach, made pizza and cookies, and had a dinner out in Ucluelet.

Our route through Barkley Sound: Dodger Channel to Bamfield to Jacques-Jarvis Lagoon to Refuge Is (Lucky Creek) to Ucluelet

Refuge Island anchorage near Lucky Creek

Dodger Channel

The first night we were getting in around 7pm after a tiring day of motoring/sailing since 9:30am from Port Renfrew, so we decided to stop at the first available good anchorage – Dodger Channel. This isn’t an obvious anchorage, so we were the only boat there, but our guide book described it well, and a user report on Navionics has it rated 5 stars. It has a narrow, shallow (12 ft when we entered) south entrance which provides complete protection from waves, and is surrounded by scenic shoreline on all sides. In the morning a deer grazed on the grass to the north, and we rowed the dinghy to the south shore on Diana Island to explore the beach.

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Frustrating Conditions in the Strait of Juan de Fuca

It seemed long ago, but only yesterday (July 1) we had been hoping for some more wind while crossing the Strait from Port Ludlow to Mackaye Harbor. Today, Sunday, we were bashing upwind towards Victoria, battling a small craft advisory that was soon to turn into a full-on gale. We were heeled over 20 degrees and pitching through big waves – going into the cabin to fetch lunch or use the head was an exercise in bracing ourselves nearly sideways against bulkheads and doorways.

Although the wind was “only” 15-18, 15 in the Strait of Juan de Fuca can feel like 25 in Puget Sound. The waves were the main challenge – 2-3 foot wind waves on top of swell (in some places) which had built up from the prior night of high winds, with tide rips thrown in for extra fun. To surmount these waves we had to stay powered up to crest over them and then slam down into the trough, our lee stern quarter slushing away what seemed like a mountain of water. We had a reef in the main and a reef in the genoa, closed hauled for 4 hours.

We got into Oak Bay marina about 3pm, fortunately before the gale really arrived, bringing 30-40 knot winds. Race Rocks registered 42. These summer inflow winds are throwing a hitch into our plans of getting out to the west coast, and are in stark contrast to the near windless conditions we saw in the Strait two years ago at this same time of year. It brings newfound respect for the Strait, where previously we’ve never seen more than 10 knots, in over a dozen times in the eastern Strait.

Sunday’s upwind bash through confused waves from the San Juans to Victoria.

Fortunately we weren’t at Race Rocks for this, but we worried a lot about running into it the next day.

But, while it’s disappointing to be making slightly slower progress, it fits with our deliberately slow pace of cruising, and delaying our Strait exit is actually the prudent move – Sunday night is the peak of the gale inflow, so we wouldn’t want to be anywhere near Race Rocks at that time.

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