On every sail, either things go wrong or they don’t. When they do go wrong, usually at least 2 or 3 things go wrong. Winter sailing is prime time for things going wrong because generally conditions are tougher. My Friday sail was one of those where a few things go wrong. Fortunately they were minor enough to be worth laughing over, and we had 3 days following where everything went right.
Friday: Shilshole -> Eagle Harbor
I had Monday off for MLK Day, so I took a vacation day Friday to make it a 4-day weekend. Natalie didn’t have Monday or Friday off though (she has less vacation accumulated than I do), so on Friday I singlehanded down to Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge. Eagle Harbor is our staging point when I want to sail somewhere and pick Natalie up – she can take the ferry over from downtown and I row over to the park to pick her up.
Friday had a small craft advisory with 20 knot winds from the south – against me of course. So I was a bit nervous heading out because that’s probably the most I’ve singlehanded in upwind. Downwind would be easy-peasy, but upwind is harder. It was wind against current, making for some choppy waves (wave spray hitting the dodger), and I had two close crossings – one with a tug in the shipping lanes who I was on a collision course with (he didn’t respond on VHF 16, but I bore off to take his stern).
This year’s 1-month cruise took us from Seattle all the way to Nootka Sound, more than half way up Vancouver Island’s west coast.
Starting from Seattle, we had an upwind slog getting out the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria, followed by a relaxing five days exploring Barkley Sound’s quiet anchorages. We next went up to Clayoquot Sound (after one false start due to awful wave conditions). We didn’t stay long in Clayoquot, heading up to Nootka Sound to see how far we could get. We had fun exploring Friendly Cove, but someday will have to come back when we have more time to explore Nootka.
It was time to turn around back south, so we headed to Tofino and picked up an unwelcome stowaway for one night. We stopped in Barkley Sound again, regretting we didn’t have more time to stay in this most epic of sounds, and headed back down the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Fortunately we had some time to relax in Victoria, checking out some anchorages we normally wouldn’t have time for. Passing through the San Juans they were as beautiful as always, but sadly it was soon time to return to Seattle.
A month sounds like a lot of time, but it’s really not, at least not when you’re trying to cover ground by sail. About 3 weeks in we realized we had packed the schedule a bit too tight, and probably shouldn’t have stretched to go to Nootka Sound. While it was cool to reach our farthest point north on the west coast ever, we had many long and tiring days and not quite enough short days or lay days.
It’s important to have balance in a cruising schedule. I often think of it like a video game – if you always have the difficulty setting on “hard”, you’ll get burnt out. Most days going up the west coast are medium or hard difficulty, so we needed a few more easy days in the mix. Fortunately the last week, in the Victoria area and San Juans, provided some nice easy days.
View of our route with the return leg plotted as well.
- Nights at anchor: 27
- Nights in a marina: 3
- # times stern tied: 0
- Distance Traveled, as the motor boat travels: 600 nautical miles
- Distance Traveled, as sailed (approximated): 800-900 nautical miles
- % time spent sailing (approx): 75%
- % distance spent sailing (approx): 50%
Sailing home is always bittersweet – it’s the end of a journey, a return to work, and the end of amazing days figuring out how to harness the wind to take us to beautiful anchorages. On the other hand, it’s a return to a bit more normalcy, routine, and the creature comforts of land life. Returning from a long cruise always stuns me with how comfortable modern life is, how few true problems we have in an average day, and how fortunate we are that that’s the case. It’s no wonder that some sailors never manage to leave the dock.
After Victoria, since we had less than a week left to our month long cruise, it was time to start heading back to Seattle.
[This post took place from July 26-30.]
Always amazing sunsets at Sidney Spit
Sidney Spit had lots of birdlife in the morning. We saw at least a dozen blue herons and this group of seagulls was just a splinter group of a couple hundred seagulls.
We had a couple extra days in our schedule in the Victoria area, so we spent two nights at Becher Bay (around the corner from Race Rocks), doing some fishing both mornings. The point off Becher Bay is a fishing hotspot, and there were 40 small fishing boats out there with us. Since we were in our dinghy, we were the smallest boat out there, and got some curious looks. We didn’t catch anything (trolling along the 120 to 200 ft lines with a flasher, weight and green/white spoon as the current switched to flood) in the course of an hour and a half, but we only saw one other boat catch something (what looked like a small rockfish).
I’ve been having a difficult time having the patience required for fishing. It seems it involves hours and hours of sitting around not catching anything. As they say, fishing is called fishing, not catching. But why do so many people do it when they’re not getting any fish? I guess they may think the same thing about sailing – why sit there for hours going so slow instead of using a motorboat that can go 15 kts instead?
[This post took place from July 22 – 25]
Race Passage – Riding the Lazy River to Esquimalt
We left Becher Bay near the start of the flood and caught a 4-5 knot push through Race Passage. We were sailing, because there had been some inflow breeze in Becher Bay, but the wind completely disappeared outside the bay. But since we were going 4-5 kts on current, we figured we’d just keep going like that, with just the main up. It was fun going through lots of tide rips and lines of squaking sea birds competing for position in the swirling waters.
The cool thing about riding current is it looks like you’re not moving (the boat isn’t moving relative to the water, so there are no ripples, no sound and no apparent wind) but looking to shore you can see the land behind rapidly slipping by (called “making trees” in sailor lingo). After Race Passage we had 7-8 kts wind behind us, so we sailed slowly up to the Esquimalt Harbor entrance. Even though it’s only July 22, we seem to be well into August weather now – there was little wind today and the Strait was socked in fog.
Sea birds competing to feed in the swirling waters
After losing an extra day in Tofino due to the mouse that snuck aboard in the 4th St marina, we were eager to depart. A heavy morning fog was present out on the ocean though, so we waited till 10:30 for that to clear (plus there was no wind yet). We ended up having to motor all the way to Amphitheater Point outside Ucluelet – about 4 hours – but were able to sail with 8-10 kts that showed up in Barkley Sound. We’ve been finding the wind has been arriving later and is more short-lived in late July than it was the first half of July. Previously good wind started at 11am or noon, but now doesn’t start till 4 or 5pm.
This has made me wonder whether our July west coast cruise is perfectly mistimed by about 2 weeks. It would be better to start mid June when there’s still a chance of southerlies, and then return south in the 2nd week of July, when we had strong, consistent northerlies. Summer seems to have come early this year, and the last 2 weeks of July are resembling August weather – fog and low wind.
Still, sailing into Barkley Sound was fun, and I was reminded again of how spectacular Barkley Sound is – the sailing is always good there (at least all 7 days we were there during the month) and there are dozens of beautiful anchorages, many of them with no boats in them. We easily could’ve spent the whole month just cruising Barkley Sound, and I kind of wondered whether we should’ve done exactly that.
[This post took place from July 18 – 21]
Rocks outside of Wouwer Island
Wouwer Island is on the outside of the Broken Group, and is a really beautiful anchorage – surrounded by rocks, islands, trees, views of mountains and crystal clear water in the anchorage. Most guide books say it’s for settled conditions only, and I’d agree if there’s more than 20 knots it wouldn’t be comfy. The winds were about 15 after we arrived, and we had some wavelets and slight rocking. Not bad, but certainly not as calm as some other Barkley Sound anchorages.
There’s plenty of room in here for one boat, but two would be tricky without stern ties.
A couple days ago as we approached Nootka Sound, sailing close hauled, I remarked “it’s all downwind after this!” That evening, a southerly moved in bringing rain and south winds just as it was time for us to head back south. The fun downwind sail I had envisioned evaporated into a long upwind slog. But, no matter – we ended up having some fun, challenging ocean sailing, even though it ended up a tiring day.
The south wind was only 9-12 kts, but the waves were much larger than you’d have in those conditions on a sound. Exiting Nootka, we were motoring with wind and swell on the nose, only making 5 kts when we’d normally do 6, and rolling from -10 degrees to +10 degrees. There was a 3 foot westerly swell with SW wind waves mixed in. We decided to sail, even though going upwind around Estevan Point would take a really long time. But setting sail actually made things much more comfortable – we were no longer rolling 20 degrees.
It took us nearly 4 hours to get around Estevan though, 8 hours overall from Friendly Cove to Hot Springs Cove. The swells approaching Estevan were really large, and if only 10-12 kts does that, I’d hate to be caught out there in 20.
We spotted lots of sea otters!
Normally we’d consider waiting a day for the wind to switch back to northerly, but we were running low on water (~9 gallons of 34 capacity), and hadn’t been to a marina in 2 weeks (which is why we were also approaching a dire coffee situation – we had only whole bean coffee left, with no real way to grind it. We thought we could run our coffee grinder off a small portable inverter we have, but it turned out the grinder uses more than 70 watts. So we’ve been grinding coffee with a battery powered Cuisinart, but it just produces a coarse chop).
Our route sailing around Estevan Point to Hot Springs Cove, with a south wind
As we sailed towards Hot Springs Cove, the wind steadily backed to the west, giving us a lift (sailor lingo for a favorable shift in wind). We were pointed right at Hesquit Harbor now, so we said why not go to Hesquit? We could always do the Hot Springs on the way back. We make changes in plans like this often when wind or weather gives us a favorable shift to take advantage of.
In this case Hesquit made sense also because it gets us a little further towards Estevan Point and Nootka Sound. We knew Estevan can be treacherous, with its outlying rocks and confused swell convergence. So being a bit closer allows us to monitor conditions and choose the right time to go, plus shorten the passage to Nootka (to ~21 nm).
As we sailed, we saw a gray whale feeding close to shore off Flores Island. Earlier, while motoring out we had seen 6-8 sea otters just hanging out floating on their backs with their toes in the air – so cute! It was a sea life rodeo today. As we entered Hesquit Harbor and passed over the bar (a 20-30 ft section) we were stunned to see a humpback feeding past the bar only a few hundred feet from our boat. We were sailing downwind by now (the wind backs into Hesquit Harbor) at 6 kts, and I altered course to give him a wider berth.
The Nootka Sound lighthouse
Hesquit ended up being a very nice anchorage. It doesn’t look like it would be, but nestled behind Anton’s Spit (a shallow spit on the west side that’s submerged at high tide), we had complete protection from waves, and a great view of the mountains of Clayoquot Sound. It’s true it’s about 2 nm in, but in the afternoon you can generally sail in downwind, and in the morning it gives you quick access to rounding Estevan, shaving ~6 nm off the alternative option of Hot Springs Cove.
We were the only boat there, and would consider Hesquit again.
Estevan Point lighthouse