Category Archives: summary

Transition to Winter: Slowing Down, and Finding Balance between Sailing or Not

It’s been a bit over a month now since we stopped full-time cruising (after being at anchor 95% of the time for 6 months!) and holed up in a marina for a break. I know there are some sailors that spend northwest winters at anchor, hopping around, but honestly that seems really really tough.

Fall seemed to arrive fast and furious this year, bringing surprisingly strong early southeasterlies and pretty regular rain. Some people are saying that fall lasted only one week, because by early October we already had lows of 36 F in the coastal areas and snow in the mountains. A tough time to live on a boat at anchor, even with a diesel heater.

The rainy weeks are tougher than the cold ones – when it rains for 7 days straight we rely pretty heavily on our AC powered dehumidifier to dry out wet clothes and keep the boat from growing mildew. At times the pounding on the deck seemed unrelenting.

So in the fall and winter we turn to marinas more for power and also for a break from cruising. Marina life is way easier than being on the hook. We have luxuries like unlimited power, water, and laundry machines on shore. Plus there are restaurants, so occasionally we can get a break from home cooking all our meals. Of course, these luxuries are something most people take for granted, but as sailors you learn to appreciate them a lot more.

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Thoughts on a Month and a Half Sailing the West Coast of Vancouver Island

We just finished our first full circumnavigation of Vancouver Island. This is a big milestone for many sailors, although for several years we shied away from it – partly due to misplaced fears, and partly because we don’t do things just to check them off a list. We’re trying to maximize the fun ratio in cruising, and we weren’t sure the west coast provides the best bang for the buck.

To sum up the whole trip would be very difficult – we spent over a month going north on the inside, and 6 weeks going down the west coast. I’m going to recap the west coast part though because that’s the portion that was the most unknown to us (and to most PNW boaters).

As they say in cruising, the highs were very high and the lows very low. Overall though we didn’t have any terribly difficult parts – our main challenge was dealing with the weather, which turned out to be highly unusual this year. It was the rainiest, chilliest, darkest, most humid July we can ever recall.

And that’s not just our perception – Seattle meteorologist Cliff Mass apparently thought so too. We had southerly wind the majority of the time, which meant our voyage was mostly upwind, not a downwind sleigh ride like everyone thinks it is. More on that later.

Route

We started out from Port Hardy, sailing/motoring up Goletas Channel to Bull Harbor. From there we crossed the Nahwitti bar and sailed around Cape Scott in excellent conditions. We spent some time in Quatsino Sound, spotting sea otters and refueling at Winter Harbor, and then sailed around the Brooks Peninsula, having one of our best sails on the headland that has the scariest reputation.

Next we spent 5-6 days in Kyoquot Sound, slowing down to explore the beautiful anchorages and also because there was no wind. We motored to Esperanza Inlet on a flat, calm ocean, and then the forecast changed to a low pressure front bringing 5 days of southeasterly wind! We wondered if there is ever northwest wind on the west coast, and where summer was.

In the second half of July, summer showed up and we sailed from Nootka Sound to Clayoquot and then Barkley Sound, spending 2 weeks in Barkley Sound. We had sunny days and easy sailing inside Barkley Sound, although the rain wasn’t completely over (we got drenched for 24 hours on August 1). A few days later we headed into the Strait of Juan de Fuca via Port Renfrew and Becher Bay, bringing the west coast portion of our voyage to an end.

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Month 6 Cruising Summary & Reflecting on Half a Year of Sailing the PNW

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.

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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).

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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.

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Month 5 Cruising Summary: Gulf Islands to San Juans

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.

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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.

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Stats

  • 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

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Month 4 Cruising Summary: Johnstone Strait to the Gulf Islands

In July, month four of our cruising plan, we started slowing down (intentionally) and enjoying hot weather and easy sailing. After the challenges of June, easy sailing in Johnstone, Desolation Sound and the Strait of Georgia was a welcome change.

Also it got hot – really hot, in some cases – 90F in Desolation Sound. We weren’t used to this heat, and it was great while sailing (like sailing in the tropics!) but tough the rest of the time (sailboats heat up like an oven, and good ventilation doesn’t really do much when there’s no wind).

In July we went from Port McNeil to the Gulf Islands (Tent Island, at the top of Saltspring). We only did 20 days of sailing (we had a 5 day break to attend a wedding, and 5-6 days where we stayed in the same anchorage), and took a fairly meandering route (see map below).

Blue line indicates approximate rhumb line, not actual sailed line.

We had a fast downwind sail through Johnstone Strait, and then took a loop around East Thurlo Island. We reprovisioned in Campbell River and then sailed to Desolation Sound, spending 5 days in Pendrell Sound enjoying the sun, swimming, inner-tubing, paddleboarding and hiking.

Next we sailed to Cortes Bay and then headed south in the Strait of Georgia, having very light NW winds (2-6 kts). At Tribune Bay, the wind pattern picked up to NW 15-20 but only at night – from about 8pm – 8am. Very strange, and inconvenient since it meant windy nights at anchor and windless days with very slow sailing. We spent 2 nights at Jedediah Island and some forest fire smoke moved in, making for bright red sunsets but lower visibility.

Next we headed to Nanaimo and spent 2 nights at anchor catching up on chores, reprovisioning, and hiking around Newcastle Island. Nanaimo was busy! About 100 boats in the anchorage and frequent ferries and dinghies racing about, making for choppy conditions until dusk.

The wind pattern switched to moderately strong southeasterlies as we headed south to the Gulf Islands through Dodd Narrows. The Gulfs were unlike I’ve ever seen them – SE 15-20 and pretty choppy waves (wind against current), enough to send saltwater back to our dodger. Previously we’ve only had NW wind in the Gulfs in the summer, and 20 knots was a surprise – usually it’s light wind days (5-10) with the spinnaker up.

Stats

    • Distance as the motorboat travels: 286 nm
    • Distance traveled overall (estimated): 350 nm
      40% upwind, 60% downwind
    • Top wind speed while sailing:
      Downwind: 30 knots NW, Johnstone Strait
      Upwind: 20 knots SE, Gulf Islands
    • Highest wind speed at anchor: 15-17 knots (SE) at Montague Harbor, north of the beach; and 15 knots NW at Tribune Bay, Hornsby Island (a motorboat dragged here in the night, to port of us).
    • Days in motion: 20
    • Engine hours: 20 (~1 hour/day)
    • Diesel consumed: ~8 gallons
      (about 1/2 our engine hours are at near idle RPM, while anchoring, so that’s why our engine only consumed less than 1/2 gallon/hr – when we’re sailing a lot, our engine hours become more predominated by idle speeds due to harbor entry/exit/anchoring)
    • # Stays in a Marina: 1 (Campbell River)
    • # of Gale Warnings: 0 (Yay! That’s 10 fewer than June)

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Month 3 Cruising Summary: Haida Gwaii to Queen Charlotte Strait

Month three of cruising was our most challenging month yet, stretching our capabilities as sailors and testing our patience with wind and weather conditions. June is early season in Haida Gwaii, and we had some of our toughest sailing there, but really enjoyed late June conditions on the Central Coast.

In April (month one), we traveled from Seattle to the Octopus Islands near Campbell River, BC. In May (month two), we sailed from the Octopus Islands to Haida Gwaii. In June (month three), we went from Queen Charlotte City at the center of Haida Gwaii to Port McNeill.

June started in Queen Charlotte City, where we reprovisioned, rented a car for 2 days and explored the north end of Haida Gwaii. We then moved to Sandspit marina at the east end of Skidegate Inlet, where we got stuck for 5 days waiting out southeast gales. On the 3rd day we tried leaving, overly optimistic about the forecast, got beat up in huge waves and wind across the Sandspit bar and turned back.

On June 9 we had a good forecast, escaped Skidegate Inlet and were back to normal cruising! We made our way through Gwaii Haanas national park, briefly waiting out another 2 day gale in Bag Harbor. When the wind finally turned north, it did so suddenly and with a bit more force than we would’ve liked. We had a harrowing crossing of Hecate Strait on June 15 in 30-35 knots with 6-12 foot waves at 6-7 second interval.

But after that it was back to the Central Coast, which we love and provided some nice easy sailing days plus 4 days at the beaches of Pruth Bay. We had fun spotting all the R2AK (Race to Alaska) boats and rounded Cape Caution under sail this time. We explored the wildlife rich anchorage of the Walker Group and then finished the month in Port McNeill for a couple days.

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