A Singlehanded Circumnavigation of Vancouver Island in ‘Fly’ an F27 sailing trimaran

Day 1 2015 VI Circ Day 2Finally, in early August, 2015, I got away from Comox, BC on my planned summer long-trip. Various activities such as hiking, attending a memorial service, and general social activity had kept me closer to home since our fine summer weather started , several months previously.

I’d had spent plenty of time sailing the tri all around the Salish Sea in the spring, and in fact had slept aboard for over 60 nights since first launch for us in February this year up to early August. One of the highlights of the spring/early summer cruising was getting to Port Townsend for the start of the Race To Alaska , and then shadowing the fleet across to Victoria. That was really exciting with the dawn start of 50 , more or less , boats heading from Point Wilson into 20 knots of west wind and tide rips. Then Gavin and I encountered shreds of the race fleet as they crashed into unseasonal fresh headwinds in the Strait of Georgia. We were leisurely cruising north without beating ourselves up at all. Some of the race participants were falling by the wayside with gear failure and slow progress. Meanwhile the race leaders were GONE. Hightailing it up Johnstone Srait into 30 and 40 knot headwinds and square seas; wet cold tired and worried about their boats breaking or injury. Type III fun I would say.

Sailing the F27 trimaran for me has been a real learning experience after 30 years on ballasted keelboats. My memories of sailing my 17′ heavyish catamaran (based on a British design, the ‘Jumpahead’) that I had built as a teenager were faint, but there are some parallels. The acceleration and silence as a gust hits are thrilling. But then if the gust persists and increases, the fear kicks in as the boat refuses to lay down and de-power. Faster and faster we go in what seems to be an unnatural and scary way. I’m getting used to it and learning to manage the power.

With respect to sailing around Vancouver Island, I had done it 6 times before, once solo. But not on a little trimaran. I was hoping for fun and good sailing. Got that. I was hoping to avoid disaster. Got that too. I wasn’t expecting warm or dry weather. Those expectations also were realised.

I didn’t keep statistics about how much of the distance was traveled under sail vs. motor, or even how many miles I traveled. However I did do a lot of sailing, much of it in light winds. The 6 hp 4 cycle outboard used about 12 or 16 gals of gasoline. I would say that the biggest difference between sailing my old boats ( a Brent Swain 36′ steel cutter ‘Silas Crosby’ and a  Spencer 35 ‘Cor Leonis’) and Fly is that there are many more wind conditions that are good for sailing in the little trimaran. Light or strong headwinds are fine. Sloppy seas are uncomfortable and cause a short jerky movement on the tri,but if there is any breeze more than 4 or 5 knots we can make good headway. Following winds are great, but I have tried running dead downwind on the tri and it is much less satisfactory than doing deep jibes.

The downside of solo sailing is that it is a little lonely, and perhaps a bit more dangerous. The upside is that I am quite patient with marginal sailing conditions and I do not need to be concerned about anyone else’s comfort or perhaps impatience and boredom.

So, the trip started with the my 9th launching of the trimaran at the Comox ramp. On my own it takes me about 40 minutes from arrival at the ramp with the boat on the trailer and the mast down, to tied to the dock with the amas out and rigged. About 10 minutes can be cut off the process with one helper because inevitably some bit of rigging will hang up as the mast is being raised, requiring me to climb up onto the boat from the ground (where I am operating the trailer winch) sometimes 2 or 3 times.

After 3 days of provisioning and general local fooling around I set off at 1000 on Sat Aug 8th 2015 with a good 15-20 knot SE wind and a few drops of rain. Ripped across to Mystery Reef that comes south from the east end of Savary Island, north past Lund, NW out Baker Passage, N through Uganda Passage, and then across to Heriot Bay (past some Grey whales), all under sail arriving about 1600 and anchored, now in real rain, as close as I could get to the beach in Heriot Bay, without taking the ground at low tide.

The only incident of note in the day was that in a good 20 knot gust with the boat traveling 10 or 11 knots, the cleat holding the rudder blade in position slipped, possibly from a piece of kelp, allowing the blade to come up and eliminating any steering. We spun out like a car on gravel, all this happening just after I’d sailed through the lee of a charter sailboat. While not close enough to be dangerous, they must have wondered what I was up to. I re-cleated it and used the back up horn cleat as well.

Next day at the Heriot bay dock I met Brent and Haidan in sunshine and we chatted about boats and people.

Doug and Silas found me at around 1100 and we managed to sail around for a couple of hours in light breezes. They were heading for the Broughton group the next day for a week of kayaking.

Around 1600 I left Heriot Bay and in zero wind motored through the narrow gap between the Breton Islands and Quadra Island then up Hoskyn Channel making Beazley Passage with ebb and continued up Okisollo Channel to pick up a mooring off Josh and Johanna’s house on Maurelle Island across from the Octopus Islands, by 1900.

Josh is a guy from Ontario who has squatted in this Maurelle Island  cove for 9 years.He arrived there after circumnavigating the earth in his 30′ steel junk rigged boat named Lorcha. Johanna arrived sometime later and now they have Kai and Jack, 2 little boys. Not only that but they are building a lovely wood/epoxy 42′ catamaran to Josh’s design (with input from Russell Brown ) in a shed next to their cabin. Interesting, welcoming and positive, energetic people. Living quite happily without the usual delusions of security that home ownership or landlord /tenant agreements usually confer. Nor the expenses.

Three more years, more or less, for them to launch this boat and set off again.

The next morning was cool, cloudy and calm. So I set off in the kayak to re-visit Waiatt Bay. Just as I was leaving the bay I saw a classic gaff rigged boat inching out through a rocky gap. As I approached I could see that Grischuna (Bruigom-built in Comox) was not moving. In fact they had gently run aground on a rock just before low tide, so they had to impatiently wait for 1/2 hour or so to refloat, and relieve their professed but unnecessary embarrassment.

I set off from the mooring bound through Okisollo Rapids without consulting the current book. I made it most of the way, of course until the swiftest water, which was too much for my 6.3 knots with 6 hp, so I ferried across to a small bay north of Diamond Bay and anchored in the sun to await a slackening. By 1400 I could tell the current was abating and under motor we proceeded through the rapids out into Johnstone Strait, past Chatham Point and with a good ebb lift all the way to Billygoat Bay on Helmcken Island.

I am using a Fortress fx23 aluminum anchor (which weighs 15 lbs) with 20′ of 1/4″ chain and 250′ of 1/2 ” nylon 3 strand rope. It takes a lot of scope and careful setting and backing down to trust the holding of this ground tackle. Sometimes I will do 2 or 3 efforts and retrievals before satisfaction, then I can shorten up some rode. But it is not a big deal because hauling it in is easy with the light weights involved. It is tempting to get a 25 or 30 lb anchor on this 3500 lb boat but Farrier is constantly reminding us to keep the weight of gear down. So far so good, but I do miss all chain rode and a great lump of steel anchor on the bottom. I started using a bridle to both ama bows but now I just do a rolling hitch on the nylon rode with a line to a snatchblock on one ama. This reduces the sailing at anchor and keeps the rode from chafing the bobstay when the bowsprit is down. The rather large Fortress is too big to go into the anchor locker so I just lash the ends of the anchor cross bar to the bow pulpit stanchions where it has remained meekly in some pretty vigorous sailing conditions. I do have a small claw type Bruce anchor, with a bit of chain, as a spare, but it sure looks small.

Thus ended the second day of my cruise, with good progress. Too much motoring today, but with a great current lift. I was prepared to catch the next ebb to carry me north to Yorke Island in perhaps 8 hrs or so, at first light.