Author Archives: Patrick

Month 5 Cruising Summary: Gulf Islands to San Juans

In August, the 5th month of our 6 month cruising plan, we went from the Gulf Islands to Garrison Bay in the San Juans. August was a *BIG* change from our previous months. We didn’t go very far, and many times we stayed in the same anchorage for 3-4 nights. This was our plan all along though – we wanted to hang out somewhere nice, yet not go very far at all, because August is typically the worst month for sailing.

The first week we sailed through the Gulf Islands (early August had great wind!) and then we spent the next 3 weeks bouncing between Friday Harbor, Sucia Island, Shaw Island (Blind Bay), and Deer Harbor. The San Juans were starkly different in August than when we came through in April. They were super busy, with motorboats zooming everywhere and the marinas and anchorages were all very chaotic and busy.

This took some getting used to, after months of sparse boat traffic (July was a bit busier, but August noticeably more so). But we enjoyed the short days because it gave us lots of time for hiking, photography, blogging, catching up on boat chores, etc.

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The #1 impact on our August cruising though was the forest fire smoke. I’ll talk more about that under Weather, but the short version is that the Pacific Northwest has been blanketed by dense forest fire smoke for the last few Augusts, and it really puts a damper on being outdoors.

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Stats

  • Distance as the motorboat travels:  120 nm
  • Distance traveled overall (estimated): 180 nm
    80% upwind, 20% downwind
  • Highest wind speed at anchor: 15 knots (Montague)
  • Highest wind speed while sailing: 20 knots (Gulf Islands).
    (If you don’t count that first week though, the highest wind speed we had in August was 13 knots – the lowest peak of all months so far).
  • Engine Hours: 13 (3.25/week)
  • Diesel Consumed: 7 gallons (1.75/week)
  • # Marina Stays: 2

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Sailing the Windy Gulf Islands

“Windy” isn’t a term usually used to describe the Gulf Islands, but windy is exactly what we’ve had for the last week (July 29 to August 4). Every day we had consistent southeast winds in the 10 to 20 knot range. Although we’re southbound, which means upwind, we’ve been having great sails doing short hops between anchorages each day.

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One of the other great things about the Gulfs, which I hadn’t really noticed before, is there are a lot of sailboats – more sailboats than powerboats even! Many spots had about 60-70% sailboats, which is in steep contrast to our cruising experience in waters further north (north of Cape Caution), where motorboats were about 90% of the cruising traffic. I think the Gulfs probably have the highest density of sailboats anywhere in the Pacific Northwest.

Also, the sailors there actually sail! About 90% of sailboats have at least unfurled their genoa when running downwind in 15 knots (about 10% still motor downwind in 15, which I totally don’t understand), and about 50% sail upwind.

It’s been great to see how many Gulf Islands sailors make the effort to sail, and has made our sails more interesting – we get to plan crossings with other sailboats (stand-on versus give-way), and track our progress and tacking angles in comparison to them.

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Month 4 Cruising Summary: Johnstone Strait to the Gulf Islands

In July, month four of our cruising plan, we started slowing down (intentionally) and enjoying hot weather and easy sailing. After the challenges of June, easy sailing in Johnstone, Desolation Sound and the Strait of Georgia was a welcome change.

Also it got hot – really hot, in some cases – 90F in Desolation Sound. We weren’t used to this heat, and it was great while sailing (like sailing in the tropics!) but tough the rest of the time (sailboats heat up like an oven, and good ventilation doesn’t really do much when there’s no wind).

In July we went from Port McNeil to the Gulf Islands (Tent Island, at the top of Saltspring). We only did 20 days of sailing (we had a 5 day break to attend a wedding, and 5-6 days where we stayed in the same anchorage), and took a fairly meandering route (see map below).

Blue line indicates approximate rhumb line, not actual sailed line.

We had a fast downwind sail through Johnstone Strait, and then took a loop around East Thurlo Island. We reprovisioned in Campbell River and then sailed to Desolation Sound, spending 5 days in Pendrell Sound enjoying the sun, swimming, inner-tubing, paddleboarding and hiking.

Next we sailed to Cortes Bay and then headed south in the Strait of Georgia, having very light NW winds (2-6 kts). At Tribune Bay, the wind pattern picked up to NW 15-20 but only at night – from about 8pm – 8am. Very strange, and inconvenient since it meant windy nights at anchor and windless days with very slow sailing. We spent 2 nights at Jedediah Island and some forest fire smoke moved in, making for bright red sunsets but lower visibility.

Next we headed to Nanaimo and spent 2 nights at anchor catching up on chores, reprovisioning, and hiking around Newcastle Island. Nanaimo was busy! About 100 boats in the anchorage and frequent ferries and dinghies racing about, making for choppy conditions until dusk.

The wind pattern switched to moderately strong southeasterlies as we headed south to the Gulf Islands through Dodd Narrows. The Gulfs were unlike I’ve ever seen them – SE 15-20 and pretty choppy waves (wind against current), enough to send saltwater back to our dodger. Previously we’ve only had NW wind in the Gulfs in the summer, and 20 knots was a surprise – usually it’s light wind days (5-10) with the spinnaker up.

Stats

    • Distance as the motorboat travels: 286 nm
    • Distance traveled overall (estimated): 350 nm
      40% upwind, 60% downwind
    • Top wind speed while sailing:
      Downwind: 30 knots NW, Johnstone Strait
      Upwind: 20 knots SE, Gulf Islands
    • Highest wind speed at anchor: 15-17 knots (SE) at Montague Harbor, north of the beach; and 15 knots NW at Tribune Bay, Hornsby Island (a motorboat dragged here in the night, to port of us).
    • Days in motion: 20
    • Engine hours: 20 (~1 hour/day)
    • Diesel consumed: ~8 gallons
      (about 1/2 our engine hours are at near idle RPM, while anchoring, so that’s why our engine only consumed less than 1/2 gallon/hr – when we’re sailing a lot, our engine hours become more predominated by idle speeds due to harbor entry/exit/anchoring)
    • # Stays in a Marina: 1 (Campbell River)
    • # of Gale Warnings: 0 (Yay! That’s 10 fewer than June)

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Pendrell Sound for 5 Days

Pendrell Sound is one of those places I almost don’t want to write about – I’m afraid raving about how much we love it will make more people go and it will become crowded. But I know realistically this is nothing to worry about – because everybody already knows about it, and there’s plenty of room here. And honestly we wouldn’t mind having more sailboats (we could do without the party motorboats and jet skis though – which are fortunately few).

Two years ago we came to Pendrell Sound and declared it our favorite anchorage. This year we already declared Pruth Bay our favorite anchorage, but we’re going to have to say Pendrell is also our favorite. Cruisers are allowed to have multiple #1 favorite places… right?

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Pendrell Sound is a 6 mile long sound (that looks more like an inlet) in Desolation Sound, known for having the warmest water in the Pacific Northwest (75F currently). It’s a special place for us because every time we come it has a perfect combination of conditions – hot, sunny, warm water, and beautiful views of mountains (some with snow still on them in late July!). We swim in the 75 F degree water, paddleboard around the anchorage and lagoon, lounge in our inflatable river tube, do boat yoga, catch up on boat projects, and basically take relaxation to 110%. Pendrell Sound is where you go to take a vacation from your vacation.

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Last time when we were here we stayed for 3 days, and spoke to someone who said he comes for a week every summer. We thought that was genius, and this time stayed for 5 days. We’ve heard some people stay until their holding tanks fill up (Pendrell Sound has lots of oyster farms, so you really don’t want to flush sewage into it). Many boats we saw though stay for only one night.

[This post covers July 19-24, 2018.]

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The Walker Group Anchorage in Queen Charlotte Strait

We’ve wanted to anchor in the Walker Group for a while now but had always passed it up. It’s in the middle of Queen Charlotte Strait and is a small anchorage, only fitting perhaps 3-4 boats. Since it’s in the middle of the strait, it can be somewhat tricky to get into if there’s 20+ knots of wind blowing against current.

The first time we tried to go there, on our way north this year, we had NW 20 gusting 25 against 1-2 knots of ebb current, and we pounded upwind in the sloppy mess that created (3 foot close spaced waves) for 2 hours, only to find that the anchorage looked pretty full, plus a bit of a scary entrance. Swell was rolling right up to the narrow west entrance, which is about 80 ft across and exposed to NW winds.

There are two entrances (east and west), both narrow, and the east one is choked with kelp at low to mid tide. This time we had lighter wind and were near high tide, so we entered through the east entrance since we were coming from Miles Inlet. We threaded a course mid channel to avoid the kelp, and the next day exited through the west entrance (this is the easier way, as it’s passable at all tide levels).

Luckily there was no one there, so we had the anchorage to ourselves. This made anchoring simpler, since there’s not a lot of room and NW wind was blowing through the anchorage at about 15 knots. The NW gusts seem to actually amplify in the Walker Group – we had only about NW 10 in Queen Charlotte Strait.

[We anchored here June 27, 2018 – we’re a bit behind on some blog posts]

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View out the west entrance of The Walker Group.

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Taking the Johnstone Strait Express Train

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.

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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.

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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).

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Month 3 Cruising Summary: Haida Gwaii to Queen Charlotte Strait

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.

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