Category Archives: cruising plans

Cruising the Pacific Northwest by Wind Power

[This article was published in the June 2017 issue of 48 North magazine. But it’s never been published online, and some readers here may not have seen it. Plus it’s a good reminder to us of our priorities as we sail north!]

Newcomers to sailing might think that sailors spend the majority of their time covering ground under sail, solely moving by the power of the wind. Experienced coastal cruisers – those who travel from port to port – know this is usually far from reality. The Pacific Northwest is notorious for light, fickle winds in the summer months.

In between major marinas, it’s often more common to see a sailboat motoring than sailing. The time of year is coming where I’ll see sailboats motoring upwind into a perfect sailing breeze of 10 knots or so, and even sailboats motoring downwind with a light following wind. Essentially, a lot of cruisers are traveling to a schedule. Plus, for many cruisers, sailing in the PNW is a Goldilocks problem – the wind is always too low or too high, never just right.

Certainly there’s nothing wrong with motoring if that’s your choice, but if you’re determined to cruise the PNW by sail power, there can be great rewards to it:

  • Earth-friendly. Sailing uses no fossil fuels while you’re traveling on wind power alone.
  • Cheap. Sailing is pocket book friendly too – diesel costs money, and sailing costs very little (the wear and tear on the sails, per mile, is minuscule – especially if you run your cruising sails to their last legs).
  • More wildlife. Sea life doesn’t come around a boat running a noisy diesel engine with a spinning prop that could cut them to tiny bits. By sailing more, you have more occasions where porpoises play in your bow wake, seals approach closer, and bears on shore don’t run away when you’re hundreds of feet away.
  • Being less reliant on your engine. After our transmission died a slow death on our first cruise, I’ve never felt comfortable being completely reliant on having auxiliary power. Sailing more pushes us to increase our sailing skills and occasionally do things like sail onto and off of anchor.

Last summer we sailed our C&C Landfall 38 over 1300 nautical miles in 3 months time using an average of only 5 gallons of diesel per week. We sailed from Seattle, through the San Juans and Gulf Islands, the Sunshine Coast, Desolation Sound, the Broughtons, and Queen Charlotte Strait, then back to the South Sound and Seattle. About 75% of the mileage was covered under sail.

In 3 months time, many people choose to go to Alaska, and cover more mileage with a whole lot more motoring. But their sail-to-motor ratio reverses, to as high as 90%, 95% or more in motoring. On the other hand, traveling a high percentage of your miles by sail usually means accepting less audacious distance goals. But we were very happy with our decision to prioritize slow paced sail-based cruising over always pushing to further destinations.

There were numerous tips and tricks we learned along the way to make it easier. For starters, a healthy disregard for conventional wisdom helped. We were told people don’t sail the Inside Passage, that the wind would always be on our nose, and the idea of sailing up narrow straits like Johnstone Strait was considered laughable. All those things weren’t true, and we sailed both upwind and downwind in Johnstone Strait and many other straits. About 50% of our sailing mileage was downwind.

To be a sailing cruiser, a few prerequisites make it more likely to work out:

  • Time plus an enormous amount of patience. Modern society doesn’t cultivate this – we get impatient if our YouTube video doesn’t buffer within a couple seconds, or if we have to wait more than a few minutes at a stoplight. Sailing in light and fluky winds for hours at a time requires tremendous patience, and this is a skill that gets stronger through practice.
  • Both of you (if you’re a cruising couple, or otherwise everyone onboard) must be motivated to sail rather than motor. If only one person is into it, the other person will get frustrated and vote for motoring.
  • Have a boat with good sailing performance, both upwind and downwind. You can do it with a slow, heavy boat, but this is going to make it much harder. 60% of our sailing time last summer was in light wind (4-10 knots).
    The boats best suited for sailing full-time in the PNW are performance oriented and sail upwind like they were born for it. You should be able to move over 2 knots in 5 knots true wind on a close haul to beam reach.
  • It’s more than just the type of boat though – it must be set up for easy sailing. It took us over a year before our boat was a well oiled sailing machine. Make sure you have a reefing system that is easy and quick, smooth low friction blocks so raising sails is low effort, and know sail configurations for every level of wind.

Over the last two years we’ve developed a strategy for maximizing sailing:

1) Plan short passages. Preferably no more than 20 nautical miles between anchorages. If you have great wind and are making good time you can shoot for further – plan B. But planning on long days (ex, over 40 miles) is the biggest thing likely to require you motor.

2) Routing based on the wind. A big part of our strategy was heavily integrating the wind into our routing. On a daily and weekly basis we planned our route and destinations to improve our chances of finding good wind. If southerlies were coming, which are fairly rare in the PNW summer, we’d go north as far as we could to use that following wind.

3) The 15 minute rule. We have a 15 minute rule – if the wind has died and we’re moving less than 2 knots for 15 minutes, we can turn on the engine. We don’t always do so, but the 15 minute rule allows either of us to declare a starting point when we’re getting tired of slowly drifting, and helps ensure we don’t give up too quickly. Sometimes the wind comes back up after only 5 minutes, but 5 minutes can feel like a really long time when you’re drifting at 1.4 knots with the sails eager to luff.

4) If there’s wind up, we *GO*.  If you wake up to 10 knots in your anchorage or marina in the morning, you go as soon as possible. The wind dictates your schedule, not your social plans or normal routine.

5) Flexible schedules and timing. If the wind wants you to reverse direction or stay put, why not revisit a place you’ve already been, or spend a day at anchor? Having plans to meet up with friends or crew can make this one tricky. That’s why cruisers have the expression “you can pick the time or place, but not both.”

6) Stay close to sailable corridors. Sailable corridors are the areas of the PNW that have wind. This one requires more experience with local waters, but if you can, don’t sail (or motor) yourself into a corner. We try to avoid going up long narrow inlets (like Jervis Inlet to Princess Louisa) unless we’re really sure the destination is worth it.
The Strait of Georgia and northern Puget Sound are good examples of a sailable corridor. The ideal anchorage along a sailable corridor is often an outside anchorage – for example, Cabbage Island on the outside of the Gulf Islands allows you to quickly get out to the Strait of Georgia on a light wind day, or duck into the Gulf Islands on a high wind day.

This year we’re heading out to the west coast of Vancouver Island, and hope to do something we’ve never done – sail, at least part of the way, out the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

[That was last year (2017). In 2018 we’re already underway in early April and hope to maximize our use of southerlies to get north as far as Haida Gwaii before turning around in late June]

Advertisements

Quitting Our Jobs & Plans for the Next Year

People don’t share their dreams often enough. Dreams are what fuel our adventures. They’re what make all the work to get there worth it. We’re happy to share now that in one week we’re quitting our jobs and taking off for a year or more of travel, both sailing and land/air travel.

We’ve had this dream in the works for a while now but weren’t able to share it until we had told our teams at work. The idea is to sail for 6 months, April thru September, and then in October take a Transpacific repositioning cruise on Royal Caribbean (we’ll be taking a boat across the Pacific, just one much larger than ours!) to Sydney, Australia. From Sydney we’ll explore for a while, hopping over to New Zealand and then most likely either SE Asia or South America, getting back to the Seattle area or San Juans in January or February of 2019.

In 2019 spring/summer, we’ll probably do another extended season of Pacific Northwest cruising. To say we’re excited currently would be an understatement – this is such a big life change that we’re a confusing mess of anticipation and anxiety.

Our Sailing Plans / Route

In early April we’ll leave on a relaxed, slow schedule through the San Juans, Gulf Islands, Johnstone, Desolation Sound, Broughtons, and Haida Gwaii (at least 2 weeks there), and then sail down the west coast of Vancouver Island to get back in the San Juans area by late July. Our plan is to finish major passages by August because it typically has little wind, and we’d rather hang out and paddleboard in the San Juans than do a lot of motoring. In early September we may head up to Desolation Sound for a couple weeks.

Very tentative / approximate route

Continue reading

Setting Sail for the West Coast of Vancouver Island

Tonight we cast off the lines for our third annual summer cruise, following a similar route to the one we did two years ago up the west coast of Vancouver Island. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed with excitement, but we also know there are some challenging waters ahead of us. Our first big cruise two years ago was a bit of a reality check, making us aware that ocean waves can be much more difficult than we expected, and that some of our sailing skills weren’t quite as good as we thought (in particular, we had little high wind experience).

We’re hoping this time it will go a lot better. Besides having a great deal more experience, the boat is in better shape now – having 2 ½ years worth of projects done rather than just 6 months worth. Two problems that stressed us last time – engine troubles in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and a gradual transmission failure – shouldn’t happen again.

Things have been really busy the last month – after moving aboard (becoming full-time liveaboards) there was a flurry of projects and chores to complete, along with some great sailing to the San Juans and a couple local destinations. So I don’t really have much time to write more about our planned trip, and will just refer back to this post from two years ago for our approximate route. This time however, we’ll be going up the Canadian side – Victoria to Becher Bay to Port Renfrew to Bamfield.

VancouverIsland

IMG_2046

Casting Off The Lines

Today we cast off our dock lines and leave Seattle for three months. This day is something we’ve looked forward to for a long time. The trip will be a true adventure. Maybe more adventure than we’d like. Last year we found the adventure we dreamed of was not the adventure we seek.

We don’t know yet what we’ll find. But if we knew every challenge we’d face, it wouldn’t be an adventure.

IMG_1942

It would be far easier not to go. It would be more comfortable and less scary to sit on our couch drinking beer and watching Game of Thrones on Sunday night. Our jobs pay the bills, and it’s difficult to give that up, if only temporarily. It would be far more comfortable sitting in an air conditioned office each workday rather than grinding winches, battling wave spray sailing upwind, and repairing a diesel engine. But that isn’t the life we want to live all the time.

Continue reading

Summer Plans: Seattle to Broughtons and Back

In 2 weeks we take off on our 3 months of cruising. I promised some more details on where we’re going. One thing we’ve been realizing in telling our friends and family about our summer destinations is most people have never heard of these places and have no idea where they are or what they’re like. So in this itinerary I’m including some background info on the locations.

The itinerary is not exact – when cruising we try not to sail to a schedule. All the dates are +/- 2-3 days, and the variance gets higher the later in the trip we get (+/- 5-7 days) – we also might add or eliminate destinations especially in the later half. If any fellow cruisers are going to be in these locations on nearby dates, send us an email (use the Contact link at the top) so we can try to meet up in an anchorage.

IMG_2053

Continue reading