Category Archives: trips

Fishing in Puerto Vallarta

“Fish on!” was called out across the boat. It was my turn in the fighting chair – 9th in a lineup of 9 on our charter in the Bay of Banderas. Everyone else had caught yellowfin tuna, so I was expecting that was what was on the line. But immediately it was clear this was something very different. The line on the spool started running – fast. The spool was at max tension, but it did nothing to slow this fish as it dove deeper and deeper. The two Mexican crew running the boat looked at each other and started speaking in Spanish, too fast for me to understand. El marlin negra – black marlin – is what they think was on the line.

Black marlin can grow to 10+ feet in length and hundreds of pounds – a whole different story than the 20-40 lb 3’ yellowfin tuna. The captain stopped the boat and they told me to go slow, a long fight was on my hands.

The fish kept running – 100 feet, 200 feet, maybe 300 feet of line spooled out. The line was going straight down, and was so tight you could play piano notes on it. As he kept running we started worrying the spool was going to run out of line. Finally he stopped and I worked hard to bring that line back in. It was a full body work-out pulling the rod up and then coming down, cranking the spool hard, repeated again and again.

Then the fish started running again, careening way off to the side, and the line started running out – losing 100-200 feet or so of my progress. At times I could only stop and rest, shaking my numbed arms to bring some life back into them. I was out of breath and drenched in sweat. This was more of a workout than I imagined fishing could possibly be.

Eventually I passed the torch to the next in the line-up – Natalie – and she fought the fish for a while. In the end, four different people took a turn, but as we were transferring to the 4th person, the marlin (we think) snapped the lead on the line, and we came up empty handed. It sure would’ve been great to see what it was. But, the experience was worth it in itself, and we had some delicious yellowfin tuna for dinner that night.

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Summarizing 3 Months of Cruising – Part 2 of 2

In Part 1 of this post, we summarized our route, trip stats, and the wind and weather conditions we experienced. In this part we’ll describe the sailing a bit more, wildlife, and what went wrong (or didn’t) with our boat.

As inevitably happens on a 3 month trip, some equipment breaks or starts acting up – it’s Murphy’s Law of the sea. But while cruising we quickly learned to focus on only the things that actually matter. You get good at prioritizing really quickly. We had to conserve our energy because most of it went towards sailing the boat during the day.

Now back on shore, some of the problems we worry about in day-to-day life seem trivial in comparison. I heard a Clipper racer recently said:

I think I’m doing this because life has become too easy.”

That’s a good way of explaining the difference between shore life and life at sea. While cruising, the challenges are real, and have a direct connection with your safety, health, or comfort. Long-term sailing makes you realize how easy, cushy and soft our lives have become in modern times.

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Sailing Tactics

As the wind levels mentioned previously show, if we didn’t sail in 4-10 knot winds, we would’ve done very little sailing. We found our sailing became very tactical this year. It was like a constant chess match with the wind – trying to make sure we left anchor at the right time, were sailing with the wind if possible, didn’t sail ourselves into wind holes, and watched for puffs of better air on the water.

We used the spinnaker, our storm staysail, and nearly every reefing configuration we have for the main and genoa.

But what was more important than which sails we had was having patience and flexibility. The patience to wait for wind, and the flexibility to not sail to a schedule were the two key factors that enabled us to sail more.

We averaged 5 gallons of diesel per week. We have a 16 gallon diesel tank plus up to 10 gallons in jerry cans, so we had enough we could’ve gone a month without filling up in theory – but never risked going below 50%. About 2-3 times per week we sailed onto or off of anchor. It’s not often possible to do that, but when it was we liked to just for fun – it was good practice of a new sailing skill, and gave us confidence we’d still be okay if our engine failed going into an anchorage.

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Summarizing 3 Months of Cruising (Part 1 of 2)

How do you describe three months of sailing? The truth is you can’t – no words can really sum up that amount of time in a short blog post. We had such an amazing time that to say it was life changing wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration.

Some areas of remote BC were more beautiful than I could adequately put into words. We had surprise visits from humpback whales, seals and bears, reminding us we were not the only life out there. We encountered high winds and strong currents, situations that tested our boat’s strength, and our abilities as sailors.

My relationship with wind changed – I can’t look at water now without seeing wind – the ripples and the tidal interactions. A flag blowing on a hill side, or a gentle breeze on your arm. So many signals we used to read wind; wind started to become a kind of three dimensional map on the water, or a 6th dimension to our senses.

Wind was our motive force, our fuel – for this reason it reached a greater importance than ever before. We had a lot of mileage to cover, and most of it was wind powered.

All the stress of packing up our condo, selling or donating excess possessions, finishing last minute boat projects, and moving onto the boat had long since been forgotten – erased by the single minded focus you get while cruising. The only thing that mattered was keeping the boat moving and keeping us safe. Fun was a secondary goal, and as long as we were safe, it usually came easily.

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Anchored in front of the waterfall in Princess Louisa Inlet.

Route

Our route took us over 1300 nautical miles, starting June 10 from Seattle at Elliot Bay Marina, and ending September 3 back in Seattle at Shilshole.

We first headed north to the San Juans, and spent a week or two there (meeting up with family), then traveled through the southern Gulf Islands before hopping over to the Sunshine Coast and visiting Princess Louisa Inlet.

From there we headed north for some sunshine and warm water in Desolation Sound. Next we traveled through the back route to the Broughtons, bypassing most of Johnstone Strait but still dealing with the high currents of the tidal passes and some high winds once we reached Johnstone.

After reprovisioning at Port McNeil, we skipped past the Broughtons because we had southerly wind, and explored Queen Charlotte Strait. Miles Inlet was our furthest point north, almost to Cape Caution, at which point we headed back south and spent over a week in the Broughtons. The highlight of that area was sailing into MacKenzie Sound and visiting Nimmo Bay Resort.

We were a little tired of all the powerboats in the Broughtons and the mostly overcast, chilly days, so we headed south back through Johnstone Strait (all the way this time) and returned to Desolation Sound. Desolation Sound was hot and sunny by this time (late July), but also very crowded – we found a wonderful, more secluded spot in Pendrell Sound.

As we continued south, we visited Lasqueti Island, and went across the Strait of Georgia to Nanaimo and the northern Gulfs. Later we went across the Strait again to visit Vancouver for several days, and then crossed the Strait back westward (encountering high winds this time), to visit the Gulf Islands some more. We enjoyed the Gulfs, but before long it was time to move on – back to the U.S. through the San Juans.

We stopped in Port Townsend and then sailed south, past Seattle, to southern Puget Sound. Despite a complete lack of wind most of the time, we had fun visiting Natalie’s family in Olympia. From there we headed back to anchorages around Seattle and Bainbridge for a few nights, before it was time to truly end our trip and return to work.

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Looking west, on the way to Desolation Sound.

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Crossing the Strait of Georgia in a Southerly

As the waves settled out a bit from their previous roar, we said (for the fourth time), “Things are looking better now.” No sooner had we said that than another series of rollers came along. The boat rolled from toerail to toerail. We could hear the wave coming by the roar of the breaker. Breaking waves don’t normally happen outside the ocean, but minor ones do happen when you have 3-4 foot waves at 3 seconds.

Each time bigger waves hit our stern quarter, the wave crest would push the boat’s stern, causing us to start to round up – in 20 knot winds. So I have to anticipate every wave and react quickly and forcefully with steering. As a wave lifts us up, the boat surfs and we drive down it. We’re doing 7 knots at times, under a single reefed main and no foresail.

We were in the Strait of Georgia – a seemingly routine waterway east of Nanaimo – heading from Porlier Pass in the Gulf Islands to Pender Harbor, on Tuesday. We knew we’d have a flood current with a southerly wind – two good things, since you want wind following current, and the wind here is usually not southerly, but southerly allows us to sail downwind which is much easier than upwind in choppy waves. We expected a downwind sleigh ride. But it wasn’t working out as well as hoped – high wind is manageable, but the short steep swell was an issue.

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Easy sailing – We began the crossing with 10 kts, on a broad reach

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West Coast Vancouver Island – Trip Summary

Last week we got back from our 4-week trip out the Strait of Juan de Fuca, up the west coast of Vancouver Island to Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds, back through the Strait to Victoria, around the Gulf Islands a couple days, and then back to Seattle.

This was about 600 nautical miles, but that’s just the straight line distance – with tacking and jibing when we were sailing, we probably did closer to 800.

Overall route (not all circles represent stops, those are just the points where I needed to change the route line direction)

Overall route (not all circles represent stops, those are just the points where I needed to change the route line direction)

Detailed route of Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds.

Detailed route of Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds.

As cruisers often say, the highs were very high and the lows very low. Cruising is often more intense, in both the good and the bad, than land life. Our two biggest problems were mechanical – the fuel filter clogging in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the transmission progressively failing. There were human challenges too – dealing with very tiring passages, mild seasickness, difficulties in confused ocean waves, challenges controlling the sails in high winds, and almost swinging into rocks at anchor.

Despite the challenges, I feel we did quite well. We didn’t have any failures of seamanship – no groundings, no navigational mistakes, no anchor dragging, no poor timing of weather, no docking mishaps.

There were hard times, but for this post I want to focus on the fun times – all the amazing experiences and especially the great photos I got.

Stream-fed bathing pool at Matilda Inlet

Stream-fed bathing pool at Matilda Inlet

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Anchored in Matilda Inlet (our favorite anchorage of the trip)

Wildlife

The trip was not a roadside safari, yet we saw plenty of wildlife.

  • Whales – a gray whale while we were sailing south of Hot Springs Cove in large, confused seas, and a small whale near Effingham Bay that actually breached (jumped out of the water)!
  • Bears – two separate sightings of black bears on Vancouver Island from Clayoquot Sound.
  • Orcas – multiple groups in one sighting in Becher Bay near Victoria. There were several whale watching boats following them.
  • Pregnant sea otter? Offshore of Barkley Sound we saw a sea otter curled into a fetal position on her back, feet sticking straight into the air – we thought she must either be giving birth, or sick. It was the oddest sight, randomly a couple miles offshore in ocean waves.
  • Lots and lots of eagles. My favorite was in Tofino when a male bald eagle carrying a salmon head in his claws flew right in front of me only about 15 feet away.

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  • Seals (of course).
  • A raccoon just a few feet off the trail on Portland Island.

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Great Hikes

  • Portland Island (aka Princess Margaret island, part of the Gulf Islands national park) – this was probably our favorite sailboat-accessed hike yet – about a 6 km trail running around the island that had great views the whole way and interesting vegetation and scenery – lots of photo ops.
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Portland Island

  • Effingham Bay – I did this hike twice, once with Natalie and once with Kristina and Scott from Seattle. It’s an easy hike with a great beach, and when Natalie and I did it we went to the sea cave. The cave would be fun to explore further with a flashlight.

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The sea cave at Effingham Island

The sea cave at Effingham Island

  • Hot Springs Cove – this is an easy hike on a boardwalk, with a natural hot springs at the end as reward!
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Hiking to the hot springs

  • Bamfield Boardwalk – it’s a stretch to call this a hike, but Bamfield was super cute – especially the dogs!

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Arrived in Victoria and docked in front of the Empress Hotel

Arrived in Victoria and docked in front of the Empress Hotel

Our last day - with a failing transmission but a 12 knot wind at our backs, I pointed the bow pointed at Mount Rainier and we sailed home.

Our last day – with a failing transmission but a 12 knot wind at our backs, I pointed the bow pointed at Mount Rainier and we sailed home.

Taking off for a month on the Vancouver Island coast

Tomorrow we take off for the west coast of Vancouver Island. I had my last day of work on Wednesday until August!  It’s a little weird since I’ve never taken this much time off, ever. We have a pretty great adventure planned and will be going out the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the rugged, remote Vancouver Island coast along the Pacific Ocean.

This is sort of a test – a test to see if we like real cruising. Not vacation cruising where you hurriedly jump from one destination to another, but cruising in the true meaning of the word – where you go at a sustainable pace living a mostly normal life, just one spent on the water.

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Our itinerary (tentative, since the goal is to remain flexible) looks roughly like:

  • July 4-6 – Seattle – Sequim bay – Neah Bay – Ucluelet
  • July 7-8 – Barkley Sound
  • July 9-10 – Tofino and Matilda Inlet
  • July 11 – Hot Springs Cove
  • July 12-14 – Hesquiat Harbour and to Nookta Sound
  • July 15-19 – Return south to Tofino (includes buffer days)
  • July 19 – Meet crew while Natalie flies back to work for the week, cruise Barkley Sound.
  • July 23-24 – Bamfield – Port Renfrew – Victoria
  • July 25 – Victoria rest day
  • July 26 – July 30 – Gulf Islands and maybe the last day or two in the San Juans
  • July 31 – Aug 1 – Return to Seattle via Port Townsend

We’ll probably try to post some updates of our progress as we make our way along.

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Passage from Canada to Seattle

After our mishaps in Customs, we took off from Point Roberts as soon as possible (about 11:15am, right after the Customs officer released us) so we’d have time to make Friday Harbor comfortably before dark. There was a fairly strong 15-20 knot north wind, so that would make for some fun sailing.

As soon as we got out of the marina, the waters were pretty rough – there were 2-3 foot waves, with kind of two wave trains converging – mostly NW but some NE. This made motoring pretty uncomfortable – the boat was rolling whenever the stern quarter got hit by a larger wave. So we worked on getting the sails up asap – but this was our first time sailing the boat together, and we had forgotten to prep the deck before leaving dock.

Lone Star has an inner forestay, two aft checkstays, and several halyards that need to be moved out of the way of the sails. Natalie and Jeremy had to do this while the boat rolled as I steered, trying to keep us from being knocked about too much. Compared to the J/35c’s I’m used to, the LF38 seemed to roll more, but pitch less. Once we had the sails up, things were much calmer.

Passing south into the San Juans, the waters looked like a dream.

Passing south into the San Juans, the waters looked like a vision out of a dream.

We literally couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. It was sunny every day, and we had north winds following us for parts of every day. Temperatures were in the 50’s during the day, and the sun meant we weren’t cold even though it’s February.

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The boat was super fun to sail. Easy to get moving in light wind, and easily handled in a variety of wind conditions. We were really happy that this trip confirmed we had made the right choice.

In Friday Harbor on Saturday (Valentine’s Day), we had dinner and drinks at Haley’s Bait Shop, which was slammed due to the holiday weekend and nice weather, but had Bale Breaker IPA on tap.

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Sunset at Port Ludlow marina.

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Happy hour on the boat at Port Ludlow.

The first (and only) problem of the trip came in Port Ludlow, in the morning of the last day when we were about to depart the marina. Upon starting the engine, the exhaust wasn’t spitting out any water – which could cause the engine to overheat and us to be stuck in Port Ludlow if we couldn’t fix it.

So we checked the raw water filter. Sure enough, it had a fair amount of grass and gunk in it, along with what looked like a green paint ball the size of a grape! I don’t know what a clump of green paint was doing in the marina, but it probably blocked the intake enough (from within the strainer basket) that water couldn’t get through.

Going through the Ballard Locks.

Going through the Ballard Locks.

The last day (Monday) we managed to sail all the way back to Seattle with almost no engine use (just to leave the marina, and for a few minutes when we got stuck in the calm south of Whidbey Island).

We made it through the Ballard Locks without issue, and excitedly motored into Seattle, docking the boat at her new home in Fisherman’s Terminal.

Sunset at Fisherman's Terminal.

Sunset at Fisherman’s Terminal.

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