Category Archives: cruises

A Shakedown Sail to the San Juans

The importance of a shakedown sail is, I think, often forgotten or underestimated. A shakedown sail before a longer one helps discover problems with boat work done over the long winter. And perhaps more importantly, it rebuilds sailing skills, especially physical and mental stamina that might have grown weak over the winter.

Not just any shakedown sail will do – the weekend cruises we did twice a month over the last 7-8 months don’t prepare us fully for the 1-month cruise we’ll be taking this July (to the west coast of Vancouver Island, much like the route we did two years ago). So last Thursday evening we took off from Shilshole for a 4 1/2 day trip to the San Juans (2 days in the islands before we needed to head back for work the day after Memorial Day).

Thursday: Shilshole to Port Ludlow

We took off about 5pm and sailed upwind to Port Ludlow, taking about 5 hours and arriving after dark. There was only 6-10 knots of wind, and sailing upwind makes the journey take quite a bit longer, but we sailed 100% of the way except for the last 1-2 miles into the harbor. Going past Point No Point we had 7.5 knots over ground with the 2 knot current push.

Currents were a recurring theme of the four days – there are large tides currently, due to 2-3 ft minus tides and a new moon. We encountered many whirlpools and tide rips in the San Juans and around the Point Wilson washing machine. This was probably the biggest benefit of our shakedown sail – it was a good refresher in using currents to our advantage, and we hit them all right, often getting 3-4 knot boosts.

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Sailing into the sunset towards Port Ludlow

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Summarizing 3 Months of Cruising – Part 2 of 2

In Part 1 of this post, we summarized our route, trip stats, and the wind and weather conditions we experienced. In this part we’ll describe the sailing a bit more, wildlife, and what went wrong (or didn’t) with our boat.

As inevitably happens on a 3 month trip, some equipment breaks or starts acting up – it’s Murphy’s Law of the sea. But while cruising we quickly learned to focus on only the things that actually matter. You get good at prioritizing really quickly. We had to conserve our energy because most of it went towards sailing the boat during the day.

Now back on shore, some of the problems we worry about in day-to-day life seem trivial in comparison. I heard a Clipper racer recently said:

I think I’m doing this because life has become too easy.”

That’s a good way of explaining the difference between shore life and life at sea. While cruising, the challenges are real, and have a direct connection with your safety, health, or comfort. Long-term sailing makes you realize how easy, cushy and soft our lives have become in modern times.

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Sailing Tactics

As the wind levels mentioned previously show, if we didn’t sail in 4-10 knot winds, we would’ve done very little sailing. We found our sailing became very tactical this year. It was like a constant chess match with the wind – trying to make sure we left anchor at the right time, were sailing with the wind if possible, didn’t sail ourselves into wind holes, and watched for puffs of better air on the water.

We used the spinnaker, our storm staysail, and nearly every reefing configuration we have for the main and genoa.

But what was more important than which sails we had was having patience and flexibility. The patience to wait for wind, and the flexibility to not sail to a schedule were the two key factors that enabled us to sail more.

We averaged 5 gallons of diesel per week. We have a 16 gallon diesel tank plus up to 10 gallons in jerry cans, so we had enough we could’ve gone a month without filling up in theory – but never risked going below 50%. About 2-3 times per week we sailed onto or off of anchor. It’s not often possible to do that, but when it was we liked to just for fun – it was good practice of a new sailing skill, and gave us confidence we’d still be okay if our engine failed going into an anchorage.

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Summarizing 3 Months of Cruising (Part 1 of 2)

How do you describe three months of sailing? The truth is you can’t – no words can really sum up that amount of time in a short blog post. We had such an amazing time that to say it was life changing wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration.

Some areas of remote BC were more beautiful than I could adequately put into words. We had surprise visits from humpback whales, seals and bears, reminding us we were not the only life out there. We encountered high winds and strong currents, situations that tested our boat’s strength, and our abilities as sailors.

My relationship with wind changed – I can’t look at water now without seeing wind – the ripples and the tidal interactions. A flag blowing on a hill side, or a gentle breeze on your arm. So many signals we used to read wind; wind started to become a kind of three dimensional map on the water, or a 6th dimension to our senses.

Wind was our motive force, our fuel – for this reason it reached a greater importance than ever before. We had a lot of mileage to cover, and most of it was wind powered.

All the stress of packing up our condo, selling or donating excess possessions, finishing last minute boat projects, and moving onto the boat had long since been forgotten – erased by the single minded focus you get while cruising. The only thing that mattered was keeping the boat moving and keeping us safe. Fun was a secondary goal, and as long as we were safe, it usually came easily.

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Anchored in front of the waterfall in Princess Louisa Inlet.

Route

Our route took us over 1300 nautical miles, starting June 10 from Seattle at Elliot Bay Marina, and ending September 3 back in Seattle at Shilshole.

We first headed north to the San Juans, and spent a week or two there (meeting up with family), then traveled through the southern Gulf Islands before hopping over to the Sunshine Coast and visiting Princess Louisa Inlet.

From there we headed north for some sunshine and warm water in Desolation Sound. Next we traveled through the back route to the Broughtons, bypassing most of Johnstone Strait but still dealing with the high currents of the tidal passes and some high winds once we reached Johnstone.

After reprovisioning at Port McNeil, we skipped past the Broughtons because we had southerly wind, and explored Queen Charlotte Strait. Miles Inlet was our furthest point north, almost to Cape Caution, at which point we headed back south and spent over a week in the Broughtons. The highlight of that area was sailing into MacKenzie Sound and visiting Nimmo Bay Resort.

We were a little tired of all the powerboats in the Broughtons and the mostly overcast, chilly days, so we headed south back through Johnstone Strait (all the way this time) and returned to Desolation Sound. Desolation Sound was hot and sunny by this time (late July), but also very crowded – we found a wonderful, more secluded spot in Pendrell Sound.

As we continued south, we visited Lasqueti Island, and went across the Strait of Georgia to Nanaimo and the northern Gulfs. Later we went across the Strait again to visit Vancouver for several days, and then crossed the Strait back westward (encountering high winds this time), to visit the Gulf Islands some more. We enjoyed the Gulfs, but before long it was time to move on – back to the U.S. through the San Juans.

We stopped in Port Townsend and then sailed south, past Seattle, to southern Puget Sound. Despite a complete lack of wind most of the time, we had fun visiting Natalie’s family in Olympia. From there we headed back to anchorages around Seattle and Bainbridge for a few nights, before it was time to truly end our trip and return to work.

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Looking west, on the way to Desolation Sound.

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Windless in the South Sound, Except for the Midnight Gale!

A lot of cruising blogs seem to only have nice things to say about the places they visited. It gives the impression that everything is always sunshine and rainbows for them – which if true is great, but for us everything isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. We try not to be too cynical, but there are definitely a few places where if we had known what it was like, we probably wouldn’t have gone there. We’d rather know about the bad things along with the good, rather than be in the dark. Although everyone’s experience is different – what was bad for us might be great to someone else.

South Puget Sound – from the Tacoma Narrows to Olympia and adjacent inlets – is an area some guides and reports we’d read say is a wonderful cruising destination that is too often forgotten by the many boaters who primarily travel north (to the San Juans and BC). For us though, cruising means sailing, and in the South Sound we had the least sailing we’ve had all summer.

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No Wind Makes For Sad Sailors

We really enjoyed visiting the city of Olympia, but it would’ve been much easier and quicker to drive there. We did close to 30 miles of motoring each way, and south of Gig Harbor there was basically no wind for four out of the five days we were there. Completely flat water without a ripple in sight, and less than 2 knots registering on the wind meter – morning, afternoon, and evening. One day we got 4-5 knots for about 20 minutes, and raised sails, but it quickly died back to zero.

August often has little wind in Puget Sound – so perhaps the South Sound is a good destination only in the shoulder seasons (fall and spring). But even though Puget Sound was getting 10 knots, according to the West Point NOAA station and Washington State ferry readings, we were getting none. And as soon as we left the South Sound and got to Gig Harbor, we had wind again.

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Passing under the Tacoma Narrows bridge

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Rough Waves and Humpbacks Breaching in the Strait Of Georgia

As I sat in my inner tube behind Violet Hour anchored in Selby Cove, beer in hand and sunny blue skies overhead, I reflected on how quickly conditions can change while cruising. Just yesterday we were in the Strait of Georgia with 4 foot waves and 20 knots of wind, the Strait a raging cauldron of turbulent waves and wind. The boat was rocking enough that even using the head was a struggle. When we weren’t uttering unprintable words about the state of the waves, the kindest word we had for them was “manageable.” As in, “these waves are pretty awful, but manageable.” Then moments after passing through Porlier Pass into the Gulf Islands, a dramatic change occurred – the water went completely flat and the wind died to an easy 6-10 knots. The protection afforded by the Gulf Islands is truly impressive.

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Three days prior, on the way to Vancouver, we had crossed the Strait with completely flat water and 3-5 knots of wind. We continue to be impressed by how dramatically different the Strait of Georgia can be from one day to the next.

Burrard Inlet

We left Vancouver at 9:30am, early, because according to the buoy reports, the wind was already up in the Strait of Georgia – blowing a steady 20 knots since midnight. We didn’t feel any of it in Vancouver though, the calm, flat, windless surroundings lulling us into thinking we had a relatively easy day ahead of us.

As soon as we got out into Burrard Inlet, the wind picked up to 10 knots on the nose, so we set sail. As we sailed upwind, we tacked close to giant container ships that are often anchored in the bay. I said to Natalie, “this is the closest I ever want to be to the bow of a tanker” (at least not when it’s moving).

Before long the waves in the inlet grew to 3-4’ steep, close spaced waves. They were manageable, but not fun – we considered turning back. As we beat upwind into the steep waves, they slowed our boat’s progress to only 3 knots at times, even though we had full sails up in 15 knots, which normally means 6 knots of boat speed. Carefully focusing on hitting each wave right allowed us to keep a speed closer to 5 most of the time.

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Cruising into Vancouver – A Homecoming of Sorts

Arriving in Vancouver was filled with confusing emotions and memories – coming into a big city after months away from cities was overwhelming. There were so many people! And towering apartment buildings holding unimaginable numbers of people – unimaginable because they hold more people than we’ve seen all summer.

Our first time sailing into Vancouver also brought forward some nostalgia since it’s where we bought our boat a year and a half ago. Those memories feel so long ago, yet it was only February of 2015 that we were arriving to Granville Island for a weekend on the boat to prep her for the trip to the US. It was freezing cold and we had to make a run to Canadian Tire to get a heater. We knew so much less then about how to maintain / repair boats – we didn’t even have a square head screwdriver, necessary for the hundreds of square head screws on our boat. It felt like a bit of a homecoming finally sailing our boat back to Vancouver.

It was also the 2 month mark of our 3 month cruise, and we were starting to miss some aspects of normal life – basic things like talking to other people, restaurants, and biking. After a lot of time away from civilization, we were ready for some time in a city.

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Getting to Vancouver involves driving past plenty of anchored tankers.

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Lasqueti Island – A Gunkholer’s Paradise

On our return trip through the Sunshine Coast, we made a stop at Lasqueti, to “Graveyard Bay” on the southwest side. Although Graveyard Bay sounded ominous, it was the perfect little anchorage. There’s tons of wild life around Lasqueti – in our little cove we saw numerous birds, seals, a couple blue herons, and three sheep grazing on the hillside. It’s a quiet, peaceful place, with few other boats – most other boats pass up Lasqueti on their way to Desolation Sound, probably because it requires detouring a bit out into the Strait of Georgia, rather than sticking to the more common route up Malaspina Strait.

We met up with another sailor we know from the Seattle area – Alan of S/V Kingfisher. Our paths happened to be crossing, and we had a great time having dinner on our boat (with ribs, salad, and plenty of beer and wine) and then breakfast on his the next morning.

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Sailing upwind to Lasqueti.

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We regretted not spending a second night at Lasqueti to try out a new anchorage, but the wind forecast was perfect for sailing to Nanaimo, our next destination. But first I need to jump back a bit – there were several other stops on our Sunshine Coast round 2 before we made it to Lasqueti.

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