Barkley Sound to Clayoquot: Ups and Downs of Cruising

Week two of our July cruise began in Ucluelet, at the northwestern end of Barkley Sound. We anchored out in front of the main marina, after first filling our water tank at the 52 Steps dock, and emptying the holding tank at the pumpout station in the marina ($5 CDN). On the way into the harbor we saw a huge group of eagles (15-20) on the eastern shore, feeding on a salmon head.

We had dinner reservations for a date night at Norwoods, Ucluelet’s fine dining restaurant (a tiny town like this only has one). Everything was really good, and we’d recommend the steak and halibut entrees, and I was really impressed by Category 12 Brewing’s dry-hopped sour ale.

A First Nations statue outside Matilda Inlet

Attempting to go to Tofino and the (accidental) DSC Distress Call

Monday morning we disassembled the Portabote for storage on deck, since we knew there was a chance of big, rough waves on the way to Tofino. The forecast was iffy – a gale warning for Vancouver Island South, but that forecast region is enormous, and it sounded like the gale was primarily for the northern part (north of Estevan Point by Hot Springs Cove). We’re also often skeptical of Canada’s marine forecasts because we’ve found they frequently overestimate the wind compared to US forecasts – this time that may have been a mistake though.

We were prepared for some challenging upwind sailing, but the waves were the main concern. I was closely monitoring the reports from La Perouse Buoy, Lennard Island lighthouse station off Tofino, Estevan Point, Tofino Airport, and Cape Beale. We left Ucluelet early with very mild conditions in the harbor (2-4 kts SW) and Cape Beale reporting SW 8-10, which would be very good for us if it made it to Ucluelet. But as soon as we turned the corner out of the harbor, there was about 10 kt NW, but the waves quickly became the real problem.

The 6-9 foot waves from further out on the ocean were hitting this 50-60 foot depth region and stacking up into 5 foot standing waves. Standing waves are nothing like ocean swell – they’re unbelievably closely spaced waves that your boat doesn’t roll over, it dives over. Our previous 6 kts motoring speed got squashed to 2-3 kts by these waves, and the boat was pitching so much that I buried the bow, despite steering as best I could. These were probably the worst waves I’ve ever seen while going against them (going *with* the waves is much easier, and we’ve gone with comparable waves in the Strait of Georgia and Queen Charlotte Strait).

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Exploring the Remote Anchorages of Barkley Sound

Our arrival to Barkley Sound was a tremendous relief – after bashing and motoring upwind for 200 miles, we were ready for some relaxation and easy sails between idyllic anchorages. Barkley Sound had all that and more. We sailed between every anchorage, attempted some fishing, went swimming in a waterfall creek, hiked Brady’s Beach, made pizza and cookies, and had a dinner out in Ucluelet.

Our route through Barkley Sound: Dodger Channel to Bamfield to Jacques-Jarvis Lagoon to Refuge Is (Lucky Creek) to Ucluelet

Refuge Island anchorage near Lucky Creek

Dodger Channel

The first night we were getting in around 7pm after a tiring day of motoring/sailing since 9:30am from Port Renfrew, so we decided to stop at the first available good anchorage – Dodger Channel. This isn’t an obvious anchorage, so we were the only boat there, but our guide book described it well, and a user report on Navionics has it rated 5 stars. It has a narrow, shallow (12 ft when we entered) south entrance which provides complete protection from waves, and is surrounded by scenic shoreline on all sides. In the morning a deer grazed on the grass to the north, and we rowed the dinghy to the south shore on Diana Island to explore the beach.

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Frustrating Conditions in the Strait of Juan de Fuca

It seemed long ago, but only yesterday (July 1) we had been hoping for some more wind while crossing the Strait from Port Ludlow to Mackaye Harbor. Today, Sunday, we were bashing upwind towards Victoria, battling a small craft advisory that was soon to turn into a full-on gale. We were heeled over 20 degrees and pitching through big waves – going into the cabin to fetch lunch or use the head was an exercise in bracing ourselves nearly sideways against bulkheads and doorways.

Although the wind was “only” 15-18, 15 in the Strait of Juan de Fuca can feel like 25 in Puget Sound. The waves were the main challenge – 2-3 foot wind waves on top of swell (in some places) which had built up from the prior night of high winds, with tide rips thrown in for extra fun. To surmount these waves we had to stay powered up to crest over them and then slam down into the trough, our lee stern quarter slushing away what seemed like a mountain of water. We had a reef in the main and a reef in the genoa, closed hauled for 4 hours.

We got into Oak Bay marina about 3pm, fortunately before the gale really arrived, bringing 30-40 knot winds. Race Rocks registered 42. These summer inflow winds are throwing a hitch into our plans of getting out to the west coast, and are in stark contrast to the near windless conditions we saw in the Strait two years ago at this same time of year. It brings newfound respect for the Strait, where previously we’ve never seen more than 10 knots, in over a dozen times in the eastern Strait.

Sunday’s upwind bash through confused waves from the San Juans to Victoria.

Fortunately we weren’t at Race Rocks for this, but we worried a lot about running into it the next day.

But, while it’s disappointing to be making slightly slower progress, it fits with our deliberately slow pace of cruising, and delaying our Strait exit is actually the prudent move – Sunday night is the peak of the gale inflow, so we wouldn’t want to be anywhere near Race Rocks at that time.

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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.



Harnessing the Sun: Solar Power on a Sailboat

Adding solar power to Violet Hour is something we’ve been meaning to do since returning from our cruise last summer and having trouble keeping our batteries charged because we weren’t motoring enough. Most sailboats in the PNW do a lot of motoring, which allows their engine’s alternator considerable time to charge up the batteries. We prefer to sail, and were sometimes getting less than 15 minutes of alternator time per day.  

Surprisingly, it’s common to hear sailors say they were “motoring to charge up the batteries.” This is apparently one explanation for SMDs (sailboat motoring downwind). This seems incredibly silly to me, and is something I’ve always vowed to never have to say. Burning diesel to convert it into electricity while pushing an 18,000 pound boat through the water is terribly inefficient. As a believer in Muscles Over Motors, motoring your sailboat around just to run your fridge seems downright sad.

Solar panels will allow us to sail more while still keeping the fridge cold enough to not need to buy bags of ice or allow premature spoilage.  It may also allow us to anchor out more since we’ll no longer have to visit a marina once a week to top up batteries (although we may still visit marinas to make groceries + laundry easier).

GoPower solar panels mid-installation


Solar has come down in cost a lot in the last 20 or so years. A 200 watt system is only about $1000 ($1400 minus the 30% solar tax credit*), if you can install it yourself.  In other words, enough energy to power a fridge for 5 years with zero pollution costs less than half what the average American spends on gasoline in one year. From this perspective, solar is a no-brainer.

*A quick note on the solar tax credit if you’re not familiar with it: It’s a tax credit to incentivize clean solar energy replacing dirty energy sources. It might start getting phased out in 2020-2022. It can be applied to your second home, which a boat counts as if it has a galley and head. Anyway, our boat is our first (and only) home currently. Also, a tax credit is not like a deduction – credits are for anyone who pays any federal tax at all. (note: I’m not a tax advisor – do your own due diligence of course).

The system may even pay for itself after about 5 years. The electricity cost savings are small, because Washington’s plentiful hydro-electric plants provide cheap energy rates, but all the little savings add up:

  • Reduced electrical consumption at dock while living aboard.
  • Abstaining from shore power hookups in BC marinas once or twice a month ($5-8 per night typically).
  • Skipping 1 or 2 marina visits per summer cruise ($50-60 per visit).

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A Shakedown Sail to the San Juans

The importance of a shakedown sail is, I think, often forgotten or underestimated. A shakedown sail before a longer one helps discover problems with boat work done over the long winter. And perhaps more importantly, it rebuilds sailing skills, especially physical and mental stamina that might have grown weak over the winter.

Not just any shakedown sail will do – the weekend cruises we did twice a month over the last 7-8 months don’t prepare us fully for the 1-month cruise we’ll be taking this July (to the west coast of Vancouver Island, much like the route we did two years ago). So last Thursday evening we took off from Shilshole for a 4 1/2 day trip to the San Juans (2 days in the islands before we needed to head back for work the day after Memorial Day).

Thursday: Shilshole to Port Ludlow

We took off about 5pm and sailed upwind to Port Ludlow, taking about 5 hours and arriving after dark. There was only 6-10 knots of wind, and sailing upwind makes the journey take quite a bit longer, but we sailed 100% of the way except for the last 1-2 miles into the harbor. Going past Point No Point we had 7.5 knots over ground with the 2 knot current push.

Currents were a recurring theme of the four days – there are large tides currently, due to 2-3 ft minus tides and a new moon. We encountered many whirlpools and tide rips in the San Juans and around the Point Wilson washing machine. This was probably the biggest benefit of our shakedown sail – it was a good refresher in using currents to our advantage, and we hit them all right, often getting 3-4 knot boosts.


Sailing into the sunset towards Port Ludlow

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We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Pry Bar

The hardest kind of boat project, in my opinion, is any involving getting stuck things out of the thing they’re stuck in. Seized bolts, corroded screws, prop shaft couplers, etc. You may recall 3 months ago I started the project of rebedding our Navtec U-Bolts that connect the rig to the tie rods and chainplates.

Three months later I had completed 5 out of 6 but still had one stubborn one remaining – the first one I had started on, the last one to finish, and by far the hardest. For whatever reason, the starboard aft U-Bolt was more stuck than all the others. It wouldn’t pull free despite trying all the methods I had used on the others – a 2’ long pry bar, heat, PB Blaster, mineral spirits, BoatLife Release, hammering. I even sailed on it with the nuts slightly loose, and tensioned the shroud to 1500-2000 pounds (this didn’t do anything at all).


Tensioning the U-Bolt with the main halyard while simultaneously prying with the pry bar

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