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!