We’ve been moving fast (relative to our usual pace) in the last week. After a quick provisioning stop in Port McNeill, we had a southeasterly wind forecast for Saturday May 18. So we decided to skip the Broughtons and use this wind to sail downwind and make miles towards the Central Coast.
We were a bit unsure about the forecast though – Canada said SE 20-25 and the ECMWF (in Windy) said SE 15-25 with gusts to 28. 15-20 would be great, but 25-28 can make some pretty rough, close spaced waves in a strait, and we’d be doing most of this with wind against current. The ebb ends at 9am now and the flood runs 9am-3pm. The wind was forecasted to run only until 4pm, so most of our southeast wind would be opposing the flood current (we did start at 6:30am though to catch as much ebb as possible out of Port McNeill).
We couldn’t find any accounts of people sailing Q Strait in a southeasterly (NW wind predominates in the summer), and one of our guidebooks warned that winter easterly systems could be dangerous (but it’s spring now, and those presumably were stronger systems). Queen Charlotte Strait has very complex currents and underwater topology, not to mention numerous rocks to dodge.
Anyway, all our worrying was probably for nothing, because we ended up having a great sail. The wind was SE/ESE 15-22, mostly less than forecast, with occasional light periods (SE 9-12). And the day was sunny with great visibility – a rare but fortunate condition for a southeasterly. I’d hand the forecasting win to the ECMWF once again, although its gust forecast was misleading this time.
“Windy, windy!” I remarked for what seemed the upteenth time this month. Early May has had a lot of wind, nearly every day, from the northwest. This is due to a big high pressure system parked offshore of Vancouver Island, creating gradients with the low pressure over inland BC and Washington. It’s also meant nice weather – sunny and hot.
I can’t remember the last time it’s rained. Although it’s probably only been 2 weeks, that’s a long time to go without rain in the Pacific Northwest spring. Our boat became more and more salt encrusted as we bashed upwind to Campbell River.
In Campbell River we did a significant boat repair project (more on that later), and provisioned for our circumnavigation of Vancouver Island, which will take us through July. With 2-3 months till our next big grocery store, we bought even more stuff than we did in March in Seattle! After a tiring three days of boat work and chores, we were ready to move on to Johnstone.
Sunrise from Otter Cove at 6am
The end of April and start of May found us transitioning into much easier cruising conditions. Partly it was the weather (less rainy and more moderate winds) and partly the location – we found a lot of great anchorages on the Sunshine Coast and in Desolation Sound.
Our week of waiting for a gale to pass paid off and we had a great crossing of the Strait of Georgia on Sunday April 28. We started out with NW 18 at Entrance Island and still very sloppy seas (3-4’ close spaced chop) – the boat got covered in salt back to the dodger windows. It’s impressive how rough this area (around Entrance Island and Nanaimo) can be in relatively moderate winds. But things calmed down quickly and we sailed right up to Smuggler’s Cove.
We had never been to Smuggler’s Cove and found it had all the things we like in an anchorage – gunky, well protected, scenic and some good hiking. Oh and shallow is always good too, with our manual windlass – our biceps have gotten enough of a workout lately.
We stayed two nights in Smuggler’s and then sailed up to Pender Harbor for reprovisioning, and then to Sturt Bay. We lucked out on our sail to Sturt Bay and had light southeast winds the whole time – flying the spinnaker! This was unexpected because the forecast was for light NW, and the wind stations on the western side of Texada were showing NW winds. Somehow though it was flowing from the southeast in Malaspina – we suspect it was outflow wind from the snowy mountains of the Jervis Inlet area.
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).