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!