As we sailed through Race Passage in Johnstone doing 6 knots over water and 8-10 knots over ground, with pretty much flat water, we marveled at the conditions. Easy downwind sailing in Johnstone on a sunny, warm day – it can’t be often that this happens, and we felt really lucky.
We went through all our favorite downwind sail configurations: spinnaker and main wing-on-wing, genoa and main wing-on-wing, and broad reaching with a slightly reefed main and reefed genoa. Our boat loves 15-20 knots of wind downwind, and we had that pretty much the whole duration of the flood tide.
A sweet downwind sail in Johnstone while southbound is more probable than not, but it’s not a foregone conclusion. The last time we did it, we had to motor one or two days in very calm, windless conditions. Other times, Johnstone is raging gale force winds that even downwind wouldn’t be very fun.
So we were very excited when this year our southbound run through Johnstone worked out pretty much perfectly – NW 20-30 the first day, and NW 10-20 the second day. We started from Farewell Harbor in Blackfish Sound, hopped to Port Harvey, and then to Blind Channel anchorage (not truly the end of Johnstone, but close, and we had extra days we wanted to spend exploring the area around East Thurlow Island).
Day 1 – Farewell Harbor to Port Harvey
The first day we started from Farewell Harbor, on the edge of Blackfish Sound and Blackney Pass. We had planned to spend a second night there to wait out the day’s forecast of NW 20-30 – 30 or more (if the forecast was slightly off) could be not very fun conditions in Johnstone, even downwind. But we decided to go for it, and are glad we did. Conditions were tough, but manageable, and we had the flood current with us.
The forecast ended up being accurate for once, and we had 20-30 knots the whole time, flying just our genoa at various levels of reefing. The worst waves actually were near the start, in Blackney Pass where strong, complex currents hadn’t yet fully switched to flood. In Johnstone we sailed mostly dead downwind at 6-7 knots with about 2-3 foot waves. Running only the genoa was a good call because it allows us to point close to 180 instead of 150, keeps the sail effort forward, and is easy to reef and unreef.
- Approx 21 nm sailed
- 4 hrs 13 min (avg speed 5.4 kts*)
* note average speeds are deceptive because 5.4 means we were sailing at 6-6.5 kts for most of Johnstone but 3-4 knots for an hour or so sailing 3 nm into Port Harvey.
- Max speed 7.8 kts
- Wind NW 20-30
- Sail Configurations: Double reefed genoa only, single reefed genoa, full genoa.
Day 2 – Port Harvey to Blind Channel anchorage
- Approx 40 nm sailed
- 7 hours 13 minutes (avg speed 5.5 kts)
- Max speed over ground: 10.5 knots (Ripple Shoal after Race Passage, sailing at 6 knots)
- Sail Configurations: Main + spinnaker, main + spinnaker wing-on-wing, reefed main + reefed genoa, reefed main + full genoa, full main + full genoa.
The second day was we think the best sail we’ve ever had – 7 1/2 hours downwind doing a consistent 6 knots or so in 10-20 knots of wind, in mostly flat water (except for 2-3 foot swells approaching Fanny Island). We really lucked out this year, having a 2-day downwind sail northbound, and southbound. It pays to have a flexible schedule, carefully watching the forecast for the right conditions.
We crossed paths with lots of boats – pretty much all going westbound / uphill. We were going the easy way, east, when most people are going west (north). It’s early to be heading south, but we don’t see it that way – we’ve been underway for 3 months, and are ready for some easier and sunnier conditions.