Aborted Passage To Cape Scott, Taking on Water, and Finding a New Plan

As we began to motor out Hakai Pass at 5 am, I could see the swell would be getting pretty sloppy soon. But I had no idea how bad it would get. An ebb current was meeting a 2 meter (6 foot) westerly swell and W 15 of wind, creating monstrously uncomfortable waves. Both Natalie and I were nearly instantly seasick, despite taking Sturgeron upon waking (4:30am).

The waves were 6 to 9 feet, very closed spaced and cresting in foaming white water. Heading into the opposing steep swell was nearly stopping our boat at times, despite our Yanmar churning away at 2300 rpm. Our speed was reduced to 2-3 knots at times. The wind was precisely on the nose, and we hadn’t yet cleared dangerous rocks to our port, which the swell was trying to push us towards.

As we crested a wave, sometimes the bow would pound down into the trough, and at times we nearly buried the bow. We were rolling and pitching in the confused swell, with barely enough power to get over the steep waves. It was difficult to even stand – I was braced behind the wheel, unable to sit because the bucking and rolling would throw me across the boat. We could do this for a while, but 70 miles of it (~14 hours) was pretty hard to imagine.

We decided to turn around. It was the right decision, but completely demoralizing because we had staked a lot on this plan and spent 6 days of anticipation waiting for a weather window. But it was the wrong forecast, wrong swell, wrong wind, and probably even the wrong course / plan to begin with.

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“Central Coast is the Best Coast”: A Month of Cruising the Central Coast from Cape Caution to Bella Bella

The Central Coast of British Columbia, stretching from Cape Caution to McInnes lighthouse, is quite possibly our favorite cruising area in all of the Pacific Northwest. It’s a huge area that is often underestimated – while it’s possible to pass through it in 2-3 days (and many people do just that), it’s equally possible to spend 2-3 months happily cruising here. With hundreds of anchorages and dozens of passages, inlets and sounds, in some ways it feels like a larger cruising area than the San Juans, Gulf Islands and Desolation Sound combined.

For that reason we spent 4 weeks here, mid-May to mid-June, as it’s our turnaround point before heading south. The wonderful sunny, summer-like weather we had in the second half of May certainly had something to do with the great time we’ve had. At the end of May we had 80 F days and were wearing shorts and no shoes a lot of the time. While here we’ve seen five black bears, over the course of four separate occasions, and plenty of other wildlife – humpbacks, eagles, seals, etc.

It hasn’t been sunny all the time though – in early June it switched to about a week of near constant rain. This can be tough, as everything gets wet and we feel cabin-bound in the boat. But it’s something we know to expect in the early season, and I still think early season is the time to be here. We were here last year as well and loved it then too.

Following the R2AK (Race to Alaska)

We enjoy following the Race to Alaska via the tracker, and last year it worked out that we were on the Central Coast while some of the R2AK boats were sailing by. This year we were actually at Shearwater, which is even better because the boats are required to pass through nearby Lama Passage. The lead boats don’t usually stop into Shearwater unless they need an emergency repair, but we still were able to see three boats in Lama Passage when we were leaving. There was no wind so they were all rowing / pedaling / paddling.

We also had the excitement of seeing Givin The Horns come into dock at Shearwater because their rudder had broken in half. It was a disappointment for them because they were in second for a while, but I think they had a lot of fun meeting the boating community there. And they did an amazing job building a new rudder out of plywood in less than two days.

Givin The Horns coming in to dock at Shearwater for rudder repair

The next day we saw four more R2AK boats working their way up Fitz Hugh Sound. Another reason we love seeing R2AK boats is they’re the only other sailboats that are sailing with us. Although they represent less than 10% of the sailboats up here, they represent over 80% of the sailboats we’ve seen sailing (other than R2AK boats, only 3 out of ~50). They also show us the boundaries of what is possible (and barely sane), doing things that no other boats do, and in a way that no other sailboat race does.

New Anchorages

Since we had so much time on the Central Coast this year, we made an effort to visit new anchorages. We weren’t in a rush, and often only had 10-15 nm between anchorages, so were able to sail all the way usually (even if that took 4-5 hours). I already wrote about the four spectacular days we spent in Dean Channel, so I’ll just cover a few of the remaining ones we liked here.

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A Sailing Adventure up Dean Channel, Central Coast of BC

As we pulled into Eucott Bay, the aroma of evergreen trees from the forest on our port side was so strong it felt like I was at a Christmas tree farm. Soon we noticed two small black bears on the grassy shore near the entrance. Unfortunately they quickly started running away as soon as they heard the sound of our engine from a mile away.

Eucott was our first stop on a trip up Dean Channel at the end of May. It felt like a bit of an adventure because it’s a new area to us, and one that few other boaters go to (so there’s relatively little advice about it in the guidebooks and charts). In our four days there we only saw one boat cruising Dean Channel.

Fisher Channel, leading into Dean Channel, is one of many inlets and channels the Central Coast has that lead quite far inland from the standard Inside Passage route. We sailed about 30 miles in, but overall it goes at least 60 miles inland. Once in Dean Channel it becomes increasingly remote and rugged, with numerous mountains that get taller and more snow capped as you go further in.

Fisher Channel leading into Dean Channel. Eucott Bay is the furthest in anchorage we visited (at the northeast end of the red line), then we backtracked to Elcho Harbor and then Ocean Falls.

A larger view of the Central Coast. The region we were exploring is only a tiny part of it, inside the red square. That tells you a bit about how much there is to explore here!

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Technical Series: DIY Install of a Below-decks Autopilot in a Tight Space (C&C Landfall 38), Part 3 of 3

That sinking feeling you get when you know something is probably wrong but don’t want to admit it yet hit me as I peered into the stern compartment at the autopilot shelf. We were at anchor in Friday Harbor, and I was doing a routine inspection of our new autopilot system now that we had put it through some rigorous testing.

Sometimes with boats there’s a temptation to stick your head in the sand and ignore possible problems, or not proactively inspect things because you’re afraid of finding a problem. Ignorance is bliss as they say. But this is something I always try to avoid. Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away, and with boats it usually will come back to bite you.

On this inspection of our fiberglassed plywood autopilot shelf I saw a small chip or crack in the top layer of ply, which hadn’t been there before. There was no indication the shelf had moved, but it certainly warranted further inspection. For a few hours I agonized over what it would mean if the shelf were failing. I had put a ton of work into researching and installing the autopilot system the best way I knew how, and yet somehow all that due diligence still wasn’t good enough. If this were a real issue it’d mean I’d failed at one of the most important parts of the project.

I knew if I had to rip the shelf out and rebuild it, it’d be undoing the work already done and doing double that to grind it out and build a new, stronger one. But it’s the right thing to do. The autopilot drive puts up to 650 pounds of thrust on this attachment point, and we want to make sure it’s something we can have complete confidence in.

[This is part 3 in a three part series. You can read more about the autopilot install in part 1 and part 2.]

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Northbound to the Central Coast: Sailing Queen Charlotte Strait in a Southeasterly

We’ve been moving fast (relative to our usual pace) in the last week. After a quick provisioning stop in Port McNeill, we had a southeasterly wind forecast for Saturday May 18. So we decided to skip the Broughtons and use this wind to sail downwind and make miles towards the Central Coast.

We were a bit unsure about the forecast though – Canada said SE 20-25 and the ECMWF (in Windy) said SE 15-25 with gusts to 28. 15-20 would be great, but 25-28 can make some pretty rough, close spaced waves in a strait, and we’d be doing most of this with wind against current. The ebb ends at 9am now and the flood runs 9am-3pm. The wind was forecasted to run only until 4pm, so most of our southeast wind would be opposing the flood current (we did start at 6:30am though to catch as much ebb as possible out of Port McNeill).

We couldn’t find any accounts of people sailing Q Strait in a southeasterly (NW wind predominates in the summer), and one of our guidebooks warned that winter easterly systems could be dangerous (but it’s spring now, and those presumably were stronger systems).  Queen Charlotte Strait has very complex currents and underwater topology, not to mention numerous rocks to dodge.

Anyway, all our worrying was probably for nothing, because we ended up having a great sail. The wind was SE/ESE 15-22, mostly less than forecast, with occasional light periods (SE 9-12). And the day was sunny with great visibility – a rare but fortunate condition for a southeasterly. I’d hand the forecasting win to the ECMWF once again, although its gust forecast was misleading this time.

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Technical Series: DIY Install of a Below-decks Autopilot in a Tight Space (C&C Landfall 38), Part 2 of 3

In part 1 I wrote about some of the planning and decision making process that went into researching an autopilot system for our boat. In this part we’ll get into the technical details of installing a tiller arm and autopilot drive shelf.

The most difficult part of the job, and one that is custom to every boat, was figuring out how to attach a below-decks autopilot drive to the rudder post. Our boat, a C&C Landfall 38, has a pinched stern and very limited space around the Edson radial drive. The autopilot drive is a surprisingly large piece of equipment – about 3 feet long at full extension, and the motor housing is about 8” tall by 9” long.

The attachment of the end of the ram to the steering system is very important because the drive can exert strong forces on the system (650 lbs of peak thrust with the Type 1 unit). The proper way to attach to the rudder shaft is a tiller arm – typically about a 10” long piece of cast bronze that is clamped around the rudder shaft, above or below the radial drive or quadrant. Edson and PYI’s Jefa manufacture them, as well as Buck-Algonquin.

The only problem was our Edson radial drive was already using up nearly all the vertical space available on our rudder stock – of about 4.5”, it uses up 3.75” (the concave disc model). Standard tiller arms are a minimum of 1.75” in height, too large to fit in 1.25” of space.

I looked at all the available tiller arms, measuring and re-measuring, but none of them would fit. Next I considered more drastic options like whether I could move the radial drive up or down to make more space (I couldn’t), and options like flipping the radial drive or buying a new one with a slimmer profile. I talked to people at both Edson and Jefa and both were very helpful, but ultimately this was a very difficult problem – the C&C Landfall 38 simply was designed with a very confined rudder shaft space.

A slimmer Edson radial drive or a Jefa drive with integrated tiller arm might have worked, but would add a substantial amount of work to the project. A radial drive swap isn’t trivial, and each option also would’ve changed the height of the steering cable track, which would require re-engineering the idler shivs to be at an appropriate angle / height (otherwise the steering cable will chafe).

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Sailing Johnstone Strait on the Southeasterlies

“Windy, windy!” I remarked for what seemed the upteenth time this month. Early May has had a lot of wind, nearly every day, from the northwest. This is due to a big high pressure system parked offshore of Vancouver Island, creating gradients with the low pressure over inland BC and Washington. It’s also meant nice weather – sunny and hot.

I can’t remember the last time it’s rained. Although it’s probably only been 2 weeks, that’s a long time to go without rain in the Pacific Northwest spring. Our boat became more and more salt encrusted as we bashed upwind to Campbell River.

In Campbell River we did a significant boat repair project (more on that later), and provisioned for our circumnavigation of Vancouver Island, which will take us through July. With 2-3 months till our next big grocery store, we bought even more stuff than we did in March in Seattle! After a tiring three days of boat work and chores, we were ready to move on to Johnstone.

Sunrise from Otter Cove at 6am

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