When cruising for a long time, there’s a risk of becoming jaded – after countless beautiful anchorages and waterways ringed by snow capped mountains, eagles calling overhead, it can start to feel the same. When this starts to happen I remind myself how lucky we are to be cruising in one of the best areas of the world, and any jaded feelings quickly fall away.
Even though we sail through a seemingly repetitive slideshow of evergreen forests, panoramic vistas, sea life, mountains, and pristine water, there’s always something new happening to break you out of any affectation of beautiful monotony. Perhaps a rare clear night where you see more stars than you’ve ever seen in your life. A humpback quietly surfacing near your boat, or a riveting downwind sail.
The cruising life has its hard moments, but it’s rarely boring. While cruising we’re more connected with nature than we ever were in the city. It feels like long ago that we cast off the lines from our live-aboard community at Shilshole, but it’s only been two months.
In month one, we traveled from Seattle to the Octopus Islands near Campbell River, BC. In the last month, we’ve come a long way: from the Octopus Islands to Haida Gwaii.
We relaxed in the Octopus Islands, got lucky with a fantastic quick passage of Johnstone Strait, hung out in the Broughtons for a bit, and then rounded Cape Caution. Going around Cape Caution was hard, but then we had awesome, easy sunny days on the Central Coast.
From Shearwater we headed up the North Coast of BC, and had a very rainy 3 days stay at Clark Cove waiting out a gale. Our luck with wind ran out and we had a slow, frustrating crossing of Hecate Strait to Haida Gwaii.
There’s no doubt that this month was more challenging than the previous. We got lucky with a lot of easy sailing in April, having only 1 or 2 hard days. In May we crossed into more remote areas with more difficult waters.
And there are two sides to every coin – although the cruising life has its rewards, it’s also hard being disconnected from friends, family and social circles for so long – the areas we’re in now have so few people that even an introvert can get lonely. At the end of month 2 we started to suffer from some cruising fatigue.
- Distance as the motorboat travels: 450 nautical miles
- Distance sailed (estimated): 575 nautical miles
85% upwind, 15% downwind
- Top wind speed while sailing:
Downwind: 30 knots (Johnstone Strait)
Upwind: 25 knots (Queen Charlotte Strait and Fitz Hugh Sound)
- Top wind speed at anchor: 15 knots (Growler Cove and Clark Cove)
- Engine hours: 36 (9 hrs/week, 1.3 hrs/day)
- Diesel used: ~12 gallons
- # Stays in a Marina: 2
- % of Anchorages where we were the only cruising boat: 86% (25 of 29)
- # Days with rain: 12
- # Sailboats seen underway: 8
- # Motorboats seen underway: ~40; ~100 with counting commercial boats (fishing + tugs).
Similar to the second half of April, the weather has been mostly warm and sunny, interspersed with occasional drizzle. We had 2 or 3 days with heavy rain in the first half of May, and then had a 3-day rain storm with gales at the end of May. Other than that though, the warmth and sun has been very much appreciated, and we haven’t needed to run our heater nearly as much as expected.
The summer-like weather often meant northwest wind has predominated. A high pressure ridge was firmly established most of the month, a classic summer weather trademark. This meant southeasterly winds have been rare, and our progress to the north has been a bit more work because it’s all upwind.
But it’s worth it for the sun. From our perspective, summer sailing conditions started April 15 this year. Crazy huh?
Wind & Sailing
The sailing this month has been fantastic. We’ve done so much sailing that it’s hard to wrap my head around. While living aboard and working in Seattle I always thought I could never get enough sailing to satisfy my need for it. Sailing was limited to a couple times a month by our busy schedules and work. We’ve sailed close to 200 hours this month and I’m still not tired of it, but it’s gone a long way towards satisfying that craving for moving by the power of the wind.
We still encounter other people on sailboats who say you can’t sail up here, and I have to check my laughter, realizing they weren’t making a joke. The sailing is great here in May, unless you’re a believer in the phrase “gentleman never sail to weather.”
Almost all days have had some wind, and since we’re not in a rush we’ve been able to use even the days that only have 5-10 knots of wind. It’s made us appreciate our boat choice time and again – a sailboat that sails at 3-4 knots upwind in 6-8 knots of wind goes a long way to enabling us to sail more.
We’ve used fewer of our sail combinations than prior years. Our main and genoa, sometimes with one or two reefs, have been handling most conditions. We used the spinnaker only once and haven’t used the staysail yet. Mostly this is because wind has been in our optimal range of 5-18 kts, and downwind courses have been mostly dead downwind (which our asym spinnaker doesn’t do well at).
We’ve had a few more boat issues this month, most of them minor:
- Our main sail lost a batten (probably last month, but just noticed it early May). Unfortunately there are no sail lofts in Shearwater or Haida Gwaii as far as I know, so we just have suboptimal leech shape for a while.
- Our new outboard (for the dinghy) from the Ballard Inflatables auction has been acting up. It’s always been hard starting when cold, but now the check engine light has been coming on at idle, after running at 1/2 throttle for 15-30 minutes. I had overfilled the oil a 1/4”, and took some out to get it to the proper level, but the problem didn’t go away. We started having some disturbing power loss after about 30 minutes of running at 1/2 throttle.After emailing Tohatsu, I figured out I had been measuring the oil level incorrectly – it should be measured with the dipstick fully screwed in, rather than resting on the lip (as our engine transmission oil should be measured). Removing some more oil seems to have fixed the problem.
- The genoa furling line chafed after I adjusted the lead position to make it furl more smoothly. An unintentional consequence was it rubbed when the sail is reefed, and it chafed through the cover, possibly weakening the core. Although we have lots of spare lines, it turns out we don’t have a thin 8mm one to fit our new furler. So for now I’ve reversed the line end-for-end which hopefully will put the chafed part after the cleat when the sail is reefed.
Patrick’s favorite anchorage was Pruth Bay, Calvert Island. The beaches were the best we’ve found in BC, but not being a big beach person I was more impressed with the hike to the viewpoint and south beaches – an easy, well maintained hiking trail with amazing views at every turn.
Natalie’s favorite anchorage was also Pruth Bay. She was particularly a fan of 6th and 7th beaches. We’ll be back someday for sure.
This coming month we’ll be heading down the east coast of Haida Gwaii and then back south to the west coast of Vancouver Island.
One of the hardest things this month actually has been a lack of social interactions. This doesn’t seem to be discussed much in cruising guides or magazines, but the remote areas of PNW cruising are very isolating.
Boaters in the remote areas mostly keep to themselves (seclusion is a desired feature in many anchorages) and there are so few boats here that sometimes we go a week without having any people nearby. There are far more birds than humans. We miss our friends and family, and it can be tough to have no one to talk to besides each other for so long.
We hope more sailors will take on the challenge of venturing far north in the early season in future years.