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).
The final month of our 6 month cruising plan wasn’t a tough one, but was definitely a fun one. As September started, the forest fire smoke faded fast from the San Juans and we spent a relaxing 5 days in Garrison Bay with the Puget Sound Cruising Club raftup. It was great to spend some time with people we don’t get to see often, in a beautiful setting.
Shortly after that we stopped by the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, drawing inspiration from the abundant passion of the sailors there. Especially exciting was seeing the Sail Like a Girl presentation (winners of the 2018 Race 2 Alaska, which we had followed from the Central Coast).
Following that we took a week and a half break to visit family on the east coast for my sister’s wedding. The remainder of September we had a week of fun, easy Puget Sound cruising before it came time to winterize the boat (our land/air/sea travels are beginning soon!).
So we didn’t go very far – about 200 nautical miles – but had a lot of fun socializing with other sailors and enjoying some great sailing with wind returning and anchorages emptying out.
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.
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.
- 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
“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.
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.