In the last three days we’ve had the first genuinely tough days in the 45 days we’ve been cruising. Day one we were beating upwind in 20-25 knot winds with awful steep waves generated by wind against current. The next day we were sailing slowly in dense fog, not able to see more than 1/10th of a mile.
Finally the 3rd day we rounded Cape Caution in 6 foot swell without enough wind to sail – motoring for about 3 hours in waves that tossed our boat around and made me feel seasick.
It’s days like this that make us question what we’re doing. I’ve long believed that successful sailors must have really bad memories, or just are good at erasing the bad parts from their memory. Because conditions like this make us question why anyone would want to do this.
Part of our trepidation is due to knowing we have two potentially much worse passages ahead – crossing 70-90 miles of Hecate Strait to south Haida Gwaii, and later sailing 110+ miles from the southern tip of Haida Gwaii to Cape Scott at the north end of Vancouver Island. At average 5 knots those passages will be over 24 hours, and there’s no quick refuge if conditions get miserable.
Picking our weather window and crossing strategy will be really important – if we do it right, and with a bit of luck, it could be a wonderful sail.
[This post covers May 11-14, 2018]
We reached the Broughtons on May 5 this year, and the weather has been amazingly good. We honestly can’t believe our luck, and sometimes wonder whether this is for real – are we really getting summer-like cruising in early May? It’s actually hotter than it was on our previous trip here two years ago, in mid-July!
In case you’re skeptical, allow me to describe the conditions – we’ve been sailing barefoot, hanging out in the evenings in shorts and t-shirts, sunbathing and paddleboarding. Sure, it’s chilly and foggy in the mornings and we’ve had occasional rain – but usually brief and sun soon returned. Overall we can’t believe our luck – we had been expecting chilly, rainy, overcast days.
[This post covers May 5-10, 2018]
Two years ago we had expected the Broughtons to be the pinnacle of our 3 month cruise, and were a bit disappointed – finding it chilly, rainy and crowded with many motor-yachts in mid-July, but no sailing sailboats. We’re enjoying the Broughtons much more this time around – partly due to the weather of course, but also for a couple other reasons.
Heading up Johnstone Strait is one of the hardest sailing challenges we anticipated for our cruise, and this year we planned for it to take as long as 5 days. Many boats motor it in 1-2 days, but we wanted to sail, and had a detailed strategy for different wind and current conditions.
We ended up doing it in just two days – thanks to good timing of a super ebb (very strong ebb tide giving us a 1 to 5 knot push) and a ripping southeasterly on the second day which propelled us on a crazy downwind ride that got a bit too windy towards the end.
As we pulled into the Octopus Islands, I could tell right away that the several hours detour and two tidal passes we had to go through had been worth it. We entered a narrow waterway through the trees, and rounded small islands vibrant with greenery. We anchored in 20 feet, the only boat here, and once the engine was off I listened, straining to hear any sounds. It was so quiet I suddenly knew the meaning of the phrase “so quiet your ears hurt.”
The absence of city sounds, distant boats / machinery, or even wind noise is unusual in modern life – even in a quiet house, a fridge or computer is usually running and our ears rarely experience true silence.
The Octopus Islands reminded us a lot of the Broughtons (but without going nearly that far) – peaceful and enclosed by green trees and mountains. They’re located northeast of Campbell River, and are accessible only by boat and after passing through one or two tidal passes (fast flowing current which can be dangerous), which I hear keeps this place pretty quiet even in the summer peak season.
We had read a great description of the Octopus Islands from S/V Yahtzee’s trip here in 2016 and were pretty sure we’d like it here. We decided to stay 2 full days / 3 nights. The first night we were the only boat, the 2nd night a motorboat anchored in the cove east of us, and the 3rd night two sailboats joined the motorboat in that cove.
The weather was great (sunny and in the 70’s) and there’s lots to do here – we hiked the trail to Newton Lake twice, paddleboarded, visited the art house in the woods, did boat yoga, and caught up on boat chores.
Mitlenatch is a small island in the middle of the northern Strait of Georgia. Most boats don’t stop at it, and we couldn’t find reports of anyone anchoring overnight there, but the forecast was for zero wind – perfect conditions for a relatively unprotected anchorage. Waggoners did mention it as a temporary stop, and Riveted had done a good write-up from a lunch stopover.
[This post covers April 26-27, 2018]
We had to motor about 3 hours from Blubber Bay. It was another summer day in April – 75-80 F and sunny. The typical summer conditions though also typically bring windless days. We’re not complaining though – the sunny hot weather is worth it, at least for a bit.
Adding excitement to our motor, we saw a pod of orcas feeding in the Strait, and a tug towing two big hotels (or fishing lodges?). Pretty weird to see houses on the Strait of Georgia. He hailed us on VHF 16 because we were on intersecting paths, with us sailing at only 1.6 knots and he was going only 3.8 knots. We let him pass us with plenty of room, and it was nice to get the call to be sure.
In the first month of our six months allotted for cruising, we sailed from Seattle to the Octopus Islands north of Campbell River, BC. About 80% of this mileage was actual sailing – we lucked out with getting pretty consistent wind this month.
Starting from Seattle, we headed north riding a southerly to the San Juans and spent some time there before a stop in Bellingham. Next we spent a few days in the northern San Juans, having a rolly night at Matia but a great night at Sucia.
We checked into Canada at Cabbage Island and then headed through the Gulf Islands a bit. As we went further north in the Strait of Georgia, the weather turned summer-like and we had great upwind sailing coupled with sunny days exploring Lasqueti, Tribune Bay and Blubber Bay.
Sucia Island, looking south over the entrance to Shallow Bay.
We did a one-night stop at Mitlenatch Island, a bird sanctuary and busy seal / sea lion area. (blog post coming soon)
To finish up the month, we reprovisioned at Campbell River (preparing for a week or two with no grocery access as we transit to the Broughtons) and spent our last day of April in the Octopus Islands (blog post coming soon).
It’s hard to believe the good weather we’ve been having given it’s only April. This week it hit 74 F north of Nanaimo, and we’ve had a steady run of sunny days for a while now. It’s shorts, t-shirts, and no shoes kind of weather, and I’ve been paddleboarding every day. Yet there’s also been good wind most days, so we’ve been able to sail 100% of the way to most of our destinations.
[This post covers 4/22-4/26. We’re now westbound in Johnstone Strait.]
It doesn’t get much better than this, but we know not to take it for granted – we certainly have some more rainy and cold weather ahead on our travel route to Haida Gwaii. For now we’re taking advantage of the sunshine and heat to the fullest, and can’t believe how lucky we are to have this weather. The decision to start cruising early – at the end of March – is proving to be a very good one.
As we left our nice calm anchorage at Sucia Island in the San Juans with a 20 knot southerly, we knew the winds would build quickly. We raised the mainsail with one reef as we left the anchorage, and seconds later hit the wind and waves outside the anchorage, nearly burying the bow in the steep 3 foot tidal rips. It was wind against current – tough to avoid entirely because the currents run fast through this area and we had several tidal streams to negotiate.
Out came the genoa reefed to 95% and we took off like a train. Slaloming through steep waves with gusts to 25 knots, we hit 7.5 knots over water for a moment. Water sloshed over the toerail and wave spray hit the dodger. Our day had gone from calm to crazy in just a few minutes.
The marsh near Cabbage Island, on the Tumbo Island hike.
We kept a high speed for the short 6 nm jaunt across the strait and got behind the protection of Cabbage Island, furling the genoa and very slowly working 4 knot gusts till we picked up a mooring ball. It took a half hour, but as we reminded ourselves, we have nothing but time now.
Cabbage Island and adjacent Tumbo Island on the southeast of Saturna Island are beautiful, and we were the only boat there. We rowed over to Cabbage to pay our mooring fee (14 CDN) and went for a walk around the island, spotting a lone deer. It’s really fun to explore at low tide because there are many rock formations that are only visible then. The anchorage looks completely different after the tide rises 8 feet.
It rains a lot in April is the ultimate statement of the obvious in the PNW, but in the last week it’s something that has often come to mind. We’ve had most of the kinds of rains we tend to have: light rain, heavy rain, misty rain, foggy rain, sideways rain, pelting rain, drippy rain.
But this is something we just have to get used to. I like to say “April showers bring May flowers” is really “April showers bring more May showers.” The concept of flowers not until May is a reminder to me of how wrong this expression is (it’s probably from the East Coast) – here we get flowers in March! And May will still have plenty of rain, although probably less than April.
It’s not all rain though – we’ve also had some sun, and plenty of wind. We’ve continued to do San Juans hikes most days, beach yoga during sun breaks, bird watching, photography, cooking, and plenty of reading. One of my favorite things about cruising is there’s always something to do.
Viewing the entrance to Sucia’s Shallow Bay during a 20 knot southwesterly.
Thursday March 29, we cast off the dock lines at Shilshole Marina in the early morning and headed north. It was 6:30am and still mostly dark, but we had the tide to catch – a super ebb to carry us towards Port Townsend.
Leaving on a big cruise is always a bit more of an anti-climax than we expect. Months of preparation culminates in the short simple action of leaving dock. Mostly our thoughts are of surprise and relief: “We’re really doing it!”, and “I’m glad all the hard work is done.” But we quickly settled into the cruising routine – the stress of the city melted away as we sailed north, and land life became a distant memory.
Our plan in early season sailing is always to ride the southerly winds north – but southerlies aren’t guaranteed. Fortunately, much like our 2016 ride to Port Ludlow then Watmough, we had a light southerly all the way from Seattle to Fort Worden (Port Townsend) to Watmough Bay (Lopez Island).
Downwind and northbound in the Strait of Juan de Fuca on a light south-easterly.