If you want to understand the power of the wind, there’s no better way than being on a boat in a gale. It’s truly amazing how the wind can push a boat around like it’s a toy. If I have to be on a boat in a gale though, I’d very much prefer it be in a nice anchorage.
The forecast for Saturday April 27 had been clear well in advance – NW 25-35 kts (later upgraded to NW 30-40). So we had plenty of time to prepare, and slowed down our passage through the Gulf Islands – with strong north winds all week we’d have to wait out this gale in a good anchorage.
There aren’t many good anchorages in the northern Gulf Islands though. The Gulfs are quite challenging compared to the San Juans because most of its anchorages are open to either the northwest or southeast – the two primary wind directions. Strong winds can rule out almost 50% of its anchorages.
We wanted to be close to the northern end of the Gulfs and the passes out to the Strait of Georgia though so we could make our sail across it once the winds calmed down. We decided to try Degnen Bay, on the north side of Gabriola Passage.
But another challenge with Gulf Islands anchorages (in addition to many of them being quite small) is that several of them are crowded with permanently moored boats and unused mooring balls. These include Ganges, Silva Bay, and Degnen Bay. This can make it very difficult to find a good place to anchor.
Three weeks into our 2019 cruising season, we’re finally feeling in tune with the cruising mindset. Time has started to slow down, and we’re drawn to the peaceful serenity of quiet anchorages. We’re feeling excited for what lies ahead – the snow capped mountain vistas we had sailing up the Strait of Georgia last year, and the welcoming pinnacles of Desolation Sound.
Even the challenge of Johnstone Strait is something to look forward to – will we luck out and get the southeasterly downwind push we had the last two times northbound in Johnstone?
Although this April has been tougher than last year (rainy with rapidly changing wind), the ups and downs of cruising are part of the package. And these early season months are some of my favorites.
Last year we cruised the San Juans in April and loved it, so we weren’t surprised to enjoy it again this year. Empty anchorages, all the park mooring balls open (makes it easier to grab one under sail!), and great wind for sailing (in fact there was no day where we couldn’t sail).
That said we’ve found this April to be much more challenging than last year. We’ve had more rain than last year so far – equaling a lot of pretty chilly days. On grey, wet days we need to run our diesel heater, but on sunny days we don’t (these have been rare though).
We’ve also had more wind, from fairly strong cold fronts moving through. We’ve already exceeded the highest wind speeds we experienced in last April and May combined – gusts to 34 knots while sailing, and 25 knots at anchor/mooring. Last year there was only one month out of six (June) where we reached those levels.
Admittedly the 34 knots while sailing was our fault – a poor decision to go out on a borderline day. We’ve had a tough time making the go / no-go decision this month, partly because the weather forecasts have been so complex. Making the right call is incredibly tough, as the line between fun conditions and not-fun is very thin. If anything this month has taught us to lean towards conservativism, which seems to be a lesson we need to be retaught every year – it’s easy to forget the power of high winds pushing against opposing current.
It’s easy to forget how difficult sailing in the Pacific Northwest can be. We’ve been underway a week and a half now, and made a slow escape from Puget Sound. Every couple days a different weather system has been coming through, and interpreting the forecasts has been incredibly difficult.
We first sailed south to Blake Island, and had a few southerly gales while there (bringing pounding rain and graupel at times too!). Then we had only light wind going north to Port Madison (S 6-8) and then Port Ludlow (S 4-12 and N 12). The next day, en route to Port Townsend, brought N 18-25 with a gale warning for the evening (we left at 7am to beat it!).
Part of the challenge has been weather patterns that are completely different from one area of Puget Sound to another. On some days there’s been south wind at Seattle but north wind at Port Townsend, or vice versa, and a small craft advisory at one but no wind at the other. Another difficulty we’ve found is the NOAA forecast has often been wrong in wind magnitude or direction, or both.
Fortunately the ECMWF model (European) in Windy has been pretty accurate (more so than NAM, the North American model).
This goose at Blake Island hung out with the Canadian geese but looked nothing like the others. Anyone know if it’s a different species or some sort of albino Canadian goose?
The Canadian geese didn’t give two hoots about the raccoon (which got on our boat only once).
A couple days ago we tossed our docklines in Seattle and started our 2019 sailing season. Like last year we’re full-time cruising for spring, summer and fall. We’re excited to say we might finally circumnavigate Vancouver Island this year! We’ve been up part of the west coast twice (as far as Nootka Sound) but have never done the top half.
I say “Probably, maybe” because last year our probably-maybe plan was also to round Vancouver Island (but from Haida Gwaii). Cruising plans are never fixed, always flexible. Last year we changed plans because we were worn out from tiring, difficult crossings of Hecate Strait and persistently rainy, powerful southerly gales in the first half of June.
We had dreamed of some of the beaches and beautiful scenery of northwest Van Isle (like the Bunsby’s), but rightly decided to prioritize what’s most important in cruising – enjoying the adventure. (As Larry Pardey would say, “as long as it’s fun”).
Gross approximation of our possible route (in reality we’ll spend more time in the sounds than this depicts, and may go a bit further north – ex, Shearwater/Bella Bella).