Big Day sailing on the West Coast

The only movie of this day is in my head, and it has been playing repeatedly since August 23rd 2015.

Having decided to move quickly towards Barkley Sound due to  a forecast of bad weather 3 days hence , I got going at first light from the anchorage at Matthews Island, in Forward Inlet, near Winter Harbour.

It is always exciting to go around Cape Cook at the end of the Brooks Peninsula. Even if the weather is calm and settled it is exposed and spectacular. The day’s forecast was for the usual summer conditions of building NW breeze, perhaps to 25 knots by mid-afternoon.

In early morning there was no wind but a leftover swell from strong winds offshore. The motor drove us along in the cool sunshine. Another big dragger, the ‘Northern Alliance’ steamed across my course heading straight into Quatsino Sound. It was accompanied by hundreds of pelagic birds including Albatrosses and several species of Shearwaters and Petrels. It was dragging these birds far out of their usual range, in their hope of some fishguts for breakfast.Winter Harbour to Friendly Cove

The wind finally started to fill in by late morning as I approached N of Cape Cook. Near Solander Island I was under full sail. I tried sailing dead downwind with the jib clew sheeted to the float bow and the mainsail strapped down on the other side, but this felt slow; safe but slow.

I did not want to raise the spinnaker because I was fairly confident that the wind would increase soon to a strength at which I would not want the it. Control felt like something to hold on to.

Shortly after passing Cape Cook I passed the last sportfishing boat out of Winter Harbour, and started to feel some real wind and the building seas. This was getting good. Deep jibes with the apparent wind kept at about 100 degrees.

By 1400 hrs the conditions were as good as it gets. The foam was streaking downwind so we were in more than 25 knots and the seas were building. Regularly surfing, we were still in control. Working jib , with now one reef in the mainsail. Each jibe was about 5 miles. The actual jibes were undramatic as long as I did it while surfing when the loads were light. Twice ,early on,I stuffed the bows dramatically into the wave ahead and slowed form 14 knots to 4 knots in just a few meters.Loose articles propelled forward belowdecks. No hint of the stern lifting as in a pitchpole, but they were warnings I decided to heed. We touched 17.2 knots, which is as fast as I have ever been under sail.

I mostly handsteered and that was easy with only a light hand on the helm required. To attend to nutrition and peeing, I engaged the tillerpilot, and rolled up the jib. This slowed us to 9 to 11 knots and everything was totally controlled and relaxed. When ready, disengage the pilot, unroll the jib, and off we went like a scared cat.

I learned quickly that the boat could be steered even while surfing down a wave and diverted laterally along the trough, if the back of the wave ahead looked too steep for easy ascent.

This was serious fun, and it was several hours of the best sailing I’ve ever had. It felt similar to backcountry skiing in good snow. We were probably about 10 – 15 miles west of Nootka Island when passing Ferrer Point, brilliant sun and wheeling birds. I saw two long-line fishboats heading north, and they were making heavy weather of it with spray flying back over the entire boats.

Occasionally we were at the top of a wave about to start surfing, when the top would break and cascade over the rudder, aft cabin and a bit into the cockpit. Just enough to keep me in waterproof trousers and boots. Twice the foam and whitewater was deep enough to render the rudder momentarily ineffective, but never long enough to lose control.

I had a vague idea of sailing all the way to Hotsprings Cove, and possibly there may have just been enough daylight to do so. But I was getting a bit tired and i didn’t relish the thought of pressing on into the night unnecessarily.

Therefore I jibed over and reached in towards Nootka Sound by Friendly Cove. Once in the shelter of Bajo Reef the boat really lit up, as the sea was smoothed and the wind persisted. Smoothly sailing along at 13 to 15 knots, with no stress, as the sun declined. What a sail!

The sun set as I passed Yuquot and ghosted right into Santa Gertrudis Cove in the dusk.

I had covered 87 nautical miles that day, and I won’t soon forget it.

I learned a lot about sailing an F 27 trimaran in fresh surfing conditions. I could see how one might get a bit carried away with running hard perhaps with the spinnaker up. A good surf, then stuffing the bows, and over she goes, head over heels. But I never saw anything approaching that situation and it felt very safe, especially once I eased off on the ‘throttle’ a bit.

Next day on to Hotsprings Cove

Vancouver Island circumnavigation 2015: episode 5 To the West Coast

On August 20th at dawn, around 0545, I raised the anchor and sailed out of Loquilalla Cove into a 10-15 knot NW breeze in Goletas Channel.

What an absolute thrill and pleasure to be underway , under sail, in the pre-dawn, tacking up Goletas Channel in smooth conditions. Every tack to the NW leading to more of the open Pacific scend. Holding the tacks until we were close under the overhanging trees first on Vancouver Island, then across to Nigei island; still in the dawn twilight.

On my second board towards Nigei island I suddenly saw four little specks of light close to the beach, bobbing and jumping, then shining directly at me. Then I could just make out in the gloom two open canoes with four paddlers and headlamps. I knew from seeing them two days prior that one boat had a cargo of two small children. I suppose that they were underway so early, heading south on Goletas, to try to make distance in the light morning winds; perhaps returning to Port Hardy at the end of their adventure. I stood in close enough to wave at the paddlers, and perhaps a bit closer than they wanted. They had no way to tell if I could even see them, until I waved.

On the next starboard tack we were lifted nicely and were able to sail direct for Tatnall Reef on the Vancouver Island side of Nawhitti Bar. I had made such good progress that what with fixing coffee, then breakfast underway I hadn’t consulted the tide/current tables. Now I did, and found that we were nearly at max ebb over the Bar. Usually not a really wise choice in a small boat other than at neaps or in very flat swell conditions.

However, in 10 or so transits of this area I have only crossed the Nawhitti Bar twice; most passages have been by way of Tatnall Reef. Always in small sailing craft.

My course took us directly to the beach inshore of Tatnall Reef, and the 8-10 knot west wind veered nicely to lift us along the beach, perhaps 150 yards offshore. Never less than 20′ of water under us, and the kelp field was thinner than I remember in past times. That was a good thing as the knife-like foils on this boat do not shrug off the kelp nearly as well as the stubby appendages did on Silas Crosby.

I could easily see the overfalls of the ebb on Nawhitti Reef, perhaps a mile to the north. It looked forbidding but probably wasn’t too bad in reality. With the ebb we were making 7 or 8 knots over the bottom. The seas were square and lightly breaking, but since we were only making about 4 or 5 knots through the water there was no violence in our passage. Up a steep wave back; poise on the top; and teeter down the other side , with little spray or fuss. Just a bit of an elevator feeling while maintaining surprising progress. Short tacking along the reef-strewn coast with sharp eyes out for boomers or current effects.

As we passed into deeper water I glanced seawards and could now see the Pacific Grace motor sailing out from Bull Harbour and across Nawhitti Bar. Then, a ship coming in from seaward: the Osprey, a 150′ dragger in with another load of hake for the hungry planet.

The wind eased more, the birdlife changed with more shearwaters, and the cloud lowered. It is exciting always to approach Cape Scott, even in settled conditions. The whole approach to Cp Scott, the whole length of Goletas and the bar or reef transit, is interesting.

Finally the wind just died in Scott Channel with a good 2 m swell steepened by the current. Motor on and a light nap on the wingnet while heading the 8 miles down to SeaOtter Cove. I could see the Grace heading west, towards Triangle Island . We did that trip 23 years ago and spent the night in a poor anchorage at Triangle, but it is an exciting destination nonetheless.

At SeaOtter Cove I found Paul on Samphire, from Sointula, with a charter group aboard. They had money to clean up the beaches, sent over by the Japanese government as compensation for littering the ocean with tsunami debris! They reckoned that perhaps 15% of the beach debris was from the tsunami of 2 years ago, and the rest from offshore shipping, domestic litter and aquaculture.

I was able to compare Lowrie Bay (which had just been cleaned up) with the next coves to the north (which were still littered). Quite a contrast. I think i had stopped noticing all the debris on the beaches. It had become ‘normal’ to me.

The 22nd of August found me heading out of SeaOtter into a very light SE breeze and smooth seas. Tack and tack, inshore and offshore brought us near Grant Bay by noon. I could see campers at Raft Cove and Cape Palmerston as I went by.

While motoring into Quatsino I found a patch of cellphone coverage just off Kain Island Light. I conferred with Hamish who planned to meet me somewhere on the west coast of Vancouver Island. With the poor weather forecast over the following week, and the fact that he was going to bring 5 year old Rohan along, we decided that if I could get to Clayoquot or Barkley Sound before the bad weather struck, it would generally be better.

With that new plan in mind I went into Winter Harbour, bought 4 gallons of gasoline, topped up with water, walked the boardwalk; then turned around and headed back out to anchor in North Harbour off Matthews Island. Calm, starry evening.

To bed early because I planned a big day in the morning: rounding Cape Cook and see how far I could get in the expected fresh westerlies.

What a day that turned out to be!

Vancouver Island circumnavigation;episode 4: Bull Harbour bummer and Goletas Channel sweetness

Lowry Bay

Lowry Bay

day 11 day 12

IMG_2323.CR2These photos are all that I took in the whole 5 weeks. The dslr takes good images , but I am loath to lug it around in the kayak especially in the generally cold and wet conditions I had. That said, I used it for months and months in southern Chile a couple of years ago, so it must be a ‘mood’ thing.

The last exciting episode left us going to bed, anchored in Cascade Harbour on the NE aspect of Nigei Island. This is in an area of Earth that is pretty interesting and generally exciting for poking around in small boats. In past trips we have usually passed along Goletas Channel with fair expedition, anticipating the challenges of the Nahwitti Bar and Cape Scott.

Not this time though. Having approached from a different direction; from Capes Calvert and Caution, it became a destination. Who can resist the names? Nigei, the chief of the Nawhitti people who had a big village on Hope Island ( more of that later). Or Goletas Channel named after the vessels of ,I think, Malaspina or perhaps it was Quadra ( a Peruvian born and bred). Either way, Goletas just means schooner. One of the first times I traversed this channel I saw the schooner Pacific Swift emerge from the mist near Shadwell Passage as it merges into Goletas; ‘schooner channel’

As you sail northwest along Goletas with either a fair or headwind you are moving from the inner protected waters into the open, and the Pacific swell makes itself felt just at VanSittart Island.

I went ashore at Cascade Harbour to look for relics of settlement. my memories of previous reading were vague, but when I returned home I pulled out  a slim volume named ‘Coastal Villages’ by Liv Kennedy from my home bookshelf. Chapter 25, the last one, called ‘Cascade Harbour- Shushartie’ is what I had read.

Christian Cholberg, from Norway, ‘a self-taught genius at ship design and ship building’ according to Kennedy, settled in Cascade Harbour, a wilderness cove that is remote now, let alone in 1929, more or less, in the throes of the Depression, with his family. I don’t know if he was heroic, but he had a vision and plenty of energy, for sure.

So I went ashore and found some relics, from at least two epochs. I found old cast flywheels, from a mill perhaps, or an engine. Old bits of wooden boats. Cholberg built or rebuilt a few commercial fishboats right there on the beach, in the mist and wind and cold.

But also there was much more recent construction, maybe just old enough to be interesting. I have heard the opinion that 65 years is the minimum for some bush relic to morph from debris and garbage into interesting artifact. However here on the BC coast where the rain and the alder and the cedar move in and take over in  5 or 10 years, the romance also grows more quickly. These 3 ( or more) derelict plywood cabins were apparently inhabited for some time and homes were made here. Were they hippies or what? Is there a record anywhere?

Two summers ago I explored Kitkatla Inlet of Porcher Island and found several old plywood homesteads sprinkled around. Nobody there now.

Forty years ago I poked around the bays of Jervis Inlet with recently abandoned logging camps, just old enough to be really interesting.

So, when I met squatters Josh and Johanna back in Okisollo Channel, my first thought was that they would have had a lot more company with sympathetic world views 40 years ago.

I could have spent more time poking around in Cascade Harbour. I did not even walk the 1/4 mile out to the existing red-roofed recreational house facing the channel. Looks sort of resortish, but noone there this day. It was likely their mooring buoy I dragged around the bay.

In Kennedy’s book she had a photo of  a Canadian Fishing Company cannery in Cascade Harbour that ‘closed shortly after the turn of the century’. In the photo, so many trees had been cut that I really couldn’t recognise the place at all.

I hauled the anchor and headed out into a fresh day. Swell, a fresh and gusty NW wind and big whales in the channel along with a 3-4 knot current. Soon, close-hauled with a reef in the main I was ripping towards Goletas, easily breasting the current, tack on tack. How much fun was that! On one tack close enough to count the barnacles on Nigei Island I saw two open canoes, paddled by parents with toddlers ensconced amidships in each boat. They were skirting the rocks headed also for Goletas. A wave acknowledged and on I sped. I saw the flare of their fire later that night, where they had camped around the corner on Nigei across form my spectacular anchorage at Shushartie. Then,  another 2 days later, just at dawn as I tacked north along Goletas from Loquilalla Cove heading for Cape Scott, I suddenly saw them in the gloom paddling for Port Hardy. They must have roused those toddlers at 0500, well before light, to get packed and loaded to be on the water and paddling that early. They flashed their headlamp and waved as, again, I tacked close to the rocks and flew off and away heading into the swell smoothly at 7 knots. What an adventure they had. Will the kids remember? Not consciously, but it is all good brainwashing.

As I sailed into Goletas Channel on this day I saw another sail just ahead, and they continued on into Bull Harbour. It was the Sea Pilgrim from Seattle, a 40′ ish double-ender ketch, built in Japan in the 1960’s of yellow cedar strip planks on oak frames.Looked in good shape. I went aboard once I was anchored in Bull Harbour to get the VHF weather forecast as my handheld radio couldn’t receive at that location.

There was a new sign at the dock explaining that all of Hope Island was First Nations land and permission is required to land. There had been similar signs posted for some years, but anytime we went ashore we were greeted in a friendly way, so I went ashore. Within a few minutes a truck came down the road, stopped, the driver opened the window, and he informed me that I was trespassing. He wanted no discussion.

I turned around and returned to the boat. There was no discussion of fees or permission.

It left a bad feeling, especially thinking that he was watching all movements from his house at the head of the bay. In view of that I pulled anchor and left the bay. Too bad, because the walk across to Roller Bay is a pleasant one. He was perfectly within his rights, but still. Things change over the years, and there are still many familiar and new places to explore.

I heard subsequently that a few other boat crews have either been unceremoniously asked to leave or asked to pay from $5 to $20 per head for landing.

So in the late afternoon I was sailing under jib alone in Goletas Channel looking for a good anchorage. The forecast was not ideal for rounding Cape Scott the next day so I headed a little way SE. I headed in to have a closer look at the old pilings from the settlement at Shushartie. I decided to drop the anchor, then back in and tie astern to the pilings. This worked out very well; calm ,quiet and great views N and S along Goletas Channel.  I caught a nice little rockfish off the boat for my supper.

Overnight, rain started with some vigour, but little wind. Low cloud, fog really, also moved in. So I lazed around reading and drinking coffee, with the heater on intermittently. At about 1100 a SAR helicopter swooped very low and had a good look at me. I suppose they were involved in the search for Aquila, that I had seen a few days prior in Port McNeill, having trouble docking. At around noon the rain stopped and the fog thinned, so I cast off astern , pulled anchor and sailed quietly SE along Goletas. Actually I wanted to sail far enough towards Port Hardy to pick up a cell signal, as I’d been incommunicado for a few days. With only the handheld VHF aboard I was much more cut off from communications than I ever had been in the Southern Ocean or the Gulf of Alaska.

By the time I picked up a strong enough signal I was past God’s Pocket and within a few miles of Hardy Bay. Communications completed,  I hove to so I could prepare for the beat back up the channel. The breeze had grown to 20 to 25 knots NW so I put a reef in the main and partly furled the jib, donned foulies and boots. The current was flooding which was against me, but it made the sea smooth. Tack and tack back up the channel in exhilarating conditions , and the sky was clearing. I’d had a look into Loquilalla Cove, on Nigei Island as I sailed past earlier, so that was my objective. I saw a sail in the distance heading my way. Half an hour later as we closed, I could see that it was a large catamaran, and then saw that it was ‘Habitat’ owned by Ian McAllister of the Pacific Wild organisation in Shearwater. Also, Meredith and her co-workers from the film company were aboard. They were just finishing a 2 week voyage around Queen Charlotte Sound, on and off soundings to try to film some of the wildlife. Lots of waving and smiling, and we both sailed on. It is a small coast.

Conditions were fairly active and we were sailing at 7-8 knots hard on the wind, with little stress. The tillerpilot was handling things well. Nearing Loquilalla Cove though, the boat slewed into the wind out of control. Two problems: the little pin on the tiller in which the autopilot engages had sheared off. The end of the autopilot arm had then pushed across and dislodged the rudder blade hold down rope. The rudder blade popped up. Hmmmm.

I also have a ’tillertamer’ mounted so used that to get to the cove. Then a simple SS bolt replaced the broken pin and all was good.

By 1730 I was anchored under lee of the  the trees of Loquilalla Cove, in the calm while the wind blew outside.

A CG cutter went by heading south, towing a 45′ ketch called Aquila.

The Pacific Grace schooner motored by heading for Bull Harbour.

I made dinner, kayaked ashore and poked around, seeing plenty of wolf prints.

I slept.

anchored at Shushartie

anchored at Shushartie

anchored at Shushartie: view south down Goletas Channel

anchored at Shushartie: view south down Goletas Channel

anchored at Shushartie: view north

anchored at Shushartie: view north

anchored at Shushartie: tied back to an old pierhead

anchored at Shushartie: tied back to an old pierhead

Cascade Harbour; old wharf

Cascade Harbour; old wharf

Cascade Harbour :stem

Cascade Harbour :stem

IMG_2309.CR2

Cascade Harbour: stem and flywheels

Cascade Harbour: stem and flywheels

Cascade Harbour deadwood

Cascade Harbour deadwood

at Cascade Harbour

at Cascade Harbour

at Cascade Harbour

at Cascade Harbour

IMG_2304

Cascade Harbour

Cascade Harbour

from Cascade Harbour

from Cascade Harbour

Fury Cove evening

Fury Cove evening

Fury Cove evening

Fury Cove evening

Fury Cove evening

Fury Cove evening

Fury Cove evening

Fury Cove evening

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Yorke Islsnd anchorage: kelp and boulders

Yorke Islsnd anchorage: kelp and boulders

Yorke Island

Yorke Island

Yorke Island

Yorke Island

Yorke Island: the view over Johnstone Strait

Yorke Island: the view over Johnstone Strait

Yorke Island

Yorke Island

Yorke Island

Yorke Island

Yorke Island

Yorke Island

Yorke Island gun emplacement: camouflage , rocks on concrete

Yorke Island gun emplacement: camouflage , rocks on concrete

Fly 2