Month three of cruising was our most challenging month yet, stretching our capabilities as sailors and testing our patience with wind and weather conditions. June is early season in Haida Gwaii, and we had some of our toughest sailing there, but really enjoyed late June conditions on the Central Coast.
In April (month one), we traveled from Seattle to the Octopus Islands near Campbell River, BC. In May (month two), we sailed from the Octopus Islands to Haida Gwaii. In June (month three), we went from Queen Charlotte City at the center of Haida Gwaii to Port McNeill.
June started in Queen Charlotte City, where we reprovisioned, rented a car for 2 days and explored the north end of Haida Gwaii. We then moved to Sandspit marina at the east end of Skidegate Inlet, where we got stuck for 5 days waiting out southeast gales. On the 3rd day we tried leaving, overly optimistic about the forecast, got beat up in huge waves and wind across the Sandspit bar and turned back.
On June 9 we had a good forecast, escaped Skidegate Inlet and were back to normal cruising! We made our way through Gwaii Haanas national park, briefly waiting out another 2 day gale in Bag Harbor. When the wind finally turned north, it did so suddenly and with a bit more force than we would’ve liked. We had a harrowing crossing of Hecate Strait on June 15 in 30-35 knots with 6-12 foot waves at 6-7 second interval.
But after that it was back to the Central Coast, which we love and provided some nice easy sailing days plus 4 days at the beaches of Pruth Bay. We had fun spotting all the R2AK (Race to Alaska) boats and rounded Cape Caution under sail this time. We explored the wildlife rich anchorage of the Walker Group and then finished the month in Port McNeill for a couple days.
- Distance as the motorboat travels: 460 nautical miles
- Distance traveled overall (estimated): 650 nautical miles
75% upwind, 25% downwind
- Top wind speed while sailing:
Downwind: 35 knots, crossing Hecate Strait
Upwind: 30 knots gusting 35, forereaching then motor sailing (Sandspit Bar)
- Top wind speed at anchor: 18-20 knots (Queen Charlotte City, Bearskin bay)
- Engine hours: 32 (8 hours/week, ~1 hour/day)
- Diesel consumed: ~16 gallons
- # Nights in a Marina: 7 (5 of these in Sandspit)
- # Sailboats seen: ~20
Motoring underway: 6
Sailing underway: 7
At anchor: 5
- # of Gale Warnings: about 10 (1 out of every 3 days)
A few interesting points from these stats: we spent more than double the nights in a marina as a typical month (due to 5 nights waiting out gales in Sandspit), and had more gale warnings than the sum of the prior two months.
The weather was much more challenging in June than it was in April or May. I’m not sure if this was due to location (further north, and in Haida Gwaii for half the month) or due to June just having bad weather this year. It rained a lot, nearly every day in Haida Gwaii, and gale warnings were in effect every 2-3 days.
All the rain was tough because it limited our activities off the boat. Oftentimes, during the frequent gales, the rain was quite heavy – going outside meant our foulweather gear got drenched through in only about 15 minutes. (and we have decent gear, but it doesn’t stand up to a steady onslaught of rain)
When the sun did come out though, it was pretty wonderful. The watchwoman at Hotsprings Island told us Haida Gwaii had only 12 fully sunny days the entirety of last year, so you have to appreciate them when you get them.
Wind & Sailing
The wind was from the south for the first 14 days of June, with nary a sign of north wind registering on the Hecate Strait buoys. This was starkly contrary to my expectations – reading climatology reports, wind roses, and past years’ buoy readings, it looked like north wind occurs about 50% of the time in June.
This meant we were sailing upwind almost all the time. In May we had northerly winds as we were making our way north, and in June we had southerlies as we were ready to turn south. It’s the classic Pacific Northwest sailor’s complaint that the wind is always on the nose. Yet this was surprising to us because the past 3 years we found this expression to be false, or at the very least a big exaggeration – about 50% of our sailing was downwind in prior years. This May and June we’ve been about 75-85% upwind.
It’s likely our timing was a bit off this year because we headed north 2 months earlier than we ever have before (April instead of June) and headed south 1 month earlier than prior (June instead of July). We also had an “upside down summer” during spring – summer-like conditions in late April and all of May, and April-like conditions in June.
Despite a lot of upwind work, we haven’t minded it most of the time – we enjoy sailing upwind in 5-15 knots and our boat is in its groove at that range. When the south wind is over 20 though it’s meant we’ve usually had to wait it out, because sailing upwind in 20+ with blowing sheets of rain and breaking waves isn’t very fun.
- We still have a badly chafed genoa furling line. As mentioned last month, the cover chafed off while roller-reefed with a bad lead, and the core has started to pull out. The line is probably still strong enough (the core provides at least 50% of the strength) but we don’t have a replacement (we have tons of spare lines but they’re all too large diameter to fit in the furler drum). For now I’ve done a hack-job MacGyver’ing by wrapping the core and cover with whipping twine so the core hopefully doesn’t pull out more.There are no marine supplies in Haida Gwaii, so it goes to show how important it is to have spares and be self-sufficient.
- Our Tohatsu outboard started flashing the check engine light again. I thought I fixed it by correcting the oil level (it was overfilled) but it’s doing it again despite correct oil level. No idea why.
Patrick’s favorite anchorage was Codville Lagoon. It’ a very nicely protected anchorage that doesn’t take too long to get into (about 1 nm), has a short hike to Sagar Lake, and the lake itself is the nicest sandy beach lake we’ve ever been to in the PNW.
Natalie’s favorite anchorage was Hotsprings Island in Haida Gwaii. The sun came out, and we visited the hotsprings twice. They were our favorite hot springs yet – natural, but not sulfury, with a great view of mountains to the west.
90 days of cruising is a lot, and in month 3 we notice we tend to have some cruising fatigue. This year in particular it’s been tough because we’ve been in such remote areas that we haven’t really had much contact with other boats or people in 3 months.
We were reflecting on what we miss the most from cities like Seattle, and for both of us it was going out to have a meal that we don’t cook ourselves. We’ve been cooking 99% of our meals for 3 months now, and while we certainly eat very well, it’s hard not to miss the world-class food scene of a big city like Seattle or Vancouver.
Sailing for long durations isn’t as simple as 2-week or 4-week cruises, and we’ve also found lack of structured goals and work accomplishments has been challenging – sometimes we have a vague lack of fulfillment simply because we don’t have a regular routine like we did in the working world. It’s important to have hobbies other than sailing while cruising, yet it’s also hard to figure out what those should be, and make the time for them.
In terms of health and wellness, cruising has been excellent for our health – we get a workout trimming sails, rowing the dinghy, or doing yoga nearly every day. I’ve been losing weight even eating 4000 calories a day. Sailing burns calories like crazy and I basically have to eat every 2 hours in order to replace those calories. Natalie says we’re really feeding 3 people – her, me, and my second stomach.
In the month of July we’ll be continuing south, thru Johnstone Strait, Campbell River, Desolation Sound, and the Strait of Georgia. We’re pretty excited because July will have more sun and warmth than June had, and we’ll be visiting some of our favorite places. We also know July will mean much more crowded anchorages – instead of being the only boat in all our anchorages, there might be several others. But we’re looking forward to that too, because after 3 months of sailing alone, it was starting to get a bit lonely out there.