Sunday, August 21, 2011

Summer Afloat in British Columbia

     I made it back to Nanaimo on June 14. Claudia arrived two days later. Sabbatical had survived the winter in good shape, although it took a week to get her provisioned and ready for sea. On June 21, our anniversary, Claudia and I sailed north across the Strait of Georgia.  With 15-20 knots of wind from the southeast, we had a fast run to Bargain Bay, then continued north the next day to Westview Marina, near Powell River.  There we learned that my sister Janet and her husband Paul, who are taking their first extended cruise in their new boat, Talos IV, were anchored in Gorge Harbor on Cortez Island.  So we headed there.
     Here Claudia is looking toward the narrow gorge that is the harbor entrance as we approached under power.
And here she is looking (unsuccessfully) for ancient petroglyphs that supposedly can be seen on the walls of the gorge.
     Janet and Paul had accompanied us on the run from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas in October-Nov 2009, that is chronicled earlier in this blog. They must have liked cruising with us, because they bought their own boat in Seattle and were making their first lengthy cruise this summer. When we entered the harbor, we found them at anchor, having cocktails with a salty, couple who had circumnavigated on a replica of Spray, Joshua Slocum's famous sloop. Janet reported that as we prepared to anchor nearby, the captain of Spray complemented Claudia, saying "that woman can really handle chain..." For a cruising woman, this is high praise. Shown below is Paul waving hello from the immaculate Talos IV.

Janet and Paul's sailing blog can be found at We shared a couple of dinners together, and tried some crab catching (unsuccessfully) before they headed north toward the Broughton Islands. We stayed another day at anchor in Gorge Harbor, so that we could hike across Cortes Island to Whaletown.
      When we tried to leave the next day, our diesel engine overheated as we were heading through the gorge. With wind and current pushing us toward the rocks in the narrow channel, I could not stop, so I continued until we were out of danger, before shutting down the engine to see what was wrong. It was just a broken fan belt. Knowing I had two spares, I was not worried. But when I tried to install the spares, neither would fit! I had bought the belts at a chandlery in Long Beach, before we left for Mexico in the Fall of 2009. I had given the chandlery the Westerbeke part number for the correct belt, and they had supplied what they claimed were two equivalent generic belts. They looked to be the right size, but I had never actually tried them out. They were, in fact, about an inch too long to work.    
     While I was figuring this out, the tidal current was moving us back toward the rocks. There was practically no wind, giving us no way to sail out of danger, so we rigged our inflatable dinghy. My initial effort to tow Sabbatical out of danger did not work very well. The tension of the tow line kept turning the dinghy--it was impossible to maintain the necessary heading. So we lashed the dinghy beside Sabbatical, fore and aft, so it could not turn. In this configuration we were able to make progress and get ourselves away from the rocks. Eventually, a light wind came up from the south, so we raised sails and slowly made our way back into Gorge Harbor, where we dropped anchor again, wondering how and where we could get a fanbelt.  Here I am adding more coolant.

As it turned out, the problem was easily solved. At the Gorge Harbor Resort, we learned that a shuttle bus service called Cortes Express makes daily runs (via ferry) to Campbell River and that they will deliver parts from chandleries there. I was able to order the correct fan belt from a diesel supply place there and have them delivered to Gorge Harbor Resort the next afternoon.

The next morning we were on our way north again. On June 29, we passed through the tidal rapids at Beazeley Passage, and anchored in the Octopus Islands, a BC Marine Park. It was a beautiful area, but it rained hard for the next four days, keeping us mainly in the boat, and allowing us to discover some new leaks in our hatches and around our mast. The bad weather gave me time to work on some academic writing, so the time was not wasted. Shown below are some of the Octopus Islands during a break in the storm, and a picture of Claudia bundled up in the cockpit. It did not feel like summer.
We thought about continuing north to the Broughton Islands, but it was so cool and rainy we decided to head south again, back to Desolation Sound, where the waters are warmer and the summers are (usually) sunnier.  As we headed back through the Beazely Passage, a local couple passed us in a small runabout.  The snowy peaks are on Vancouver Island. 
We continued south to Herriot Bay, on Quadra Island, where we re-supplied and rode out some strong north winds in the small marina.
    From there we sailed south again, around the southern tip of Cortes Island, and across Desolation Sound.  We had a glorious day of sailing with 20 knot winds in the afternoon.  By late afternoon we had reached Roscoe Cove, one of our favorite hang-outs in Desolation Sound.  We stayed there for nearly a week, enjoying the peaceful cove and the nearby, warm freshwater lake.  Here are some pictures of the cove.
    While at Black's Lake, I was able to try out the new "pontoon shoes" I bought at West Marine.  They worked surprisingly well in the fresh water.  I highly recommend them.  They are a little awkward at first, until you get used to sliding them forward.  It feels more like ice skating than walking.  But it is very fun to be able to "stroll" over to nearby boats. 

     From Roscoe Bay, we moved north to Pendrell Sound, one of our favorite places from last summer.  But it started raining again, hard.  Once again, we spent most of our time in the boat rather than outside.  But I got some more writing done.  At one point we snagged an oyster net in our propeller.  I had to dive into the cool water with a knife to get it off.
     After three days of rain we were ready to get out of Pendrell Sound, so we motored south toward Prideaux Haven.  Rain was pouring down hard enough to teach me the limitations of some of our foul weather gear.  Some lightweight rain pants that claimed to be water resistant didn't resist for long.  I was soaked by the time we anchored in Melanie Cove. 
     At Melanie Cove it continued to rain, but we managed to do some kayaking and hiking anyway.  While hiking from Melanie Cove to Unwin Lake, we spotted a Great Grey Owl.  According to Claudia's bird watching books it was well outside its normal range.

Here is Claudia looking down on Double Island at the entrance to Toba Inlet. We hiked to this spot from the Toba Wilderness Resort, where we stopped for fresh water.
The water comes directly from a waterfall fed by melting glaciers on the mountain above through the pipes shown below. The flowing water also powers the resort's hydro-electric system.
 Here we are about 12 miles up Toba Inlet.  We considered driving our bow under the waterfall for a boat wash (which we had been assured was possible) but thought better of it due to the cold weather.

More later....

Sunday, August 22, 2010

End of Sabbatical

Before leaving our boat in Nanaimo for the winter, we needed to make a number of repairs. Some of the caulking in our teak deck was beginning to fail, so we removed the bad sections, cleaned the joints, and installed new caulk.

We also rebedded a couple of deck prisms, which had developed leaks, and installed a new mast boot, again to cure leaks. It is very important, in rainy British Columbia, that the boat be water-tight.

We hired a company called Nanaimo Yacht Services to check up on the boat in our absence. At their suggestion, we removed all of the canvas, including the sails and dodger, which required also removing the solar panels. We took various other steps to "winterize" the boat, which seemed odd in the heat of August, but will be essential to getting the boat through a cold, wet winter without damage.
It wasn't all work, of course. I was able to catch fish, including a big, tasty Dogfish, right from the dock in Nanaimo. We also caught more crabs by lowering our crab pot (and the remains of the Dogfish) off the back of the moored boat.
Claudia was able to collect ripe blackberries by the bucketful from berry bushes near the marina. So we were well fed on local products. There are also two pubs near the marina that we had to try.
Here is Sabbatical as she looked when we left her on August 16th, stripped and covered and (I hope) ready for winter.
The marina is next to a float plane terminal, where we caught a plane to Vancouver airport, from which we flew back to California.
We've now moved back into our house in Irvine, and we are still getting used to having so much space. After our spare lifestyle on the boat, where we had to think carefully about whether any item was worth having aboard, we are uncomfortably aware of the sheer amount of stuff we own. We pulled boxes and boxes of clothing and household items out of storage--an impressive array of items that we somehow managed to get along just fine without during the past year while living aboard Sabbatical. The experience has us talking seriously about ways to simplify our lives and reduce the number of possessions.
I have also been thinking carefully about ways I have used (and misused) time. For me, happiness and productivity seem to go together. Looking back over the past year I see that I got a surprising amount of academic work done, and that I was most productive in the places that were beautiful and fun. It will take a while to absorb all the lessons from a year of cruising, but these tentative thoughts are much on my mind.
I feel I should also post some thoughts about the practical aspects of cruising--about what we have learned about equipment and supplies, what to take and what not to take. I'll get to that a bit later.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Desolation Sound

We left Princess Louisa Inlet on July 19th and motorsailed down to Egmont, where we stopped for the night at the Back Eddy Marina (shown below), which is just downstream from Sechelt Rapids. The Back Eddy has a good WiFi link, which I needed in order to e-mail comments to several graduate students whose dissertations I had been reviewing. It also has a nice pub.

The next day we continued on to Powell River, stopping at the Westview Marina. There was a stiff breeze blowing, allowing us to sail most of the way, but we encountered strong head winds as we rounded notorious Grief Point, forcing us to beat upwind. We eventually got tired of tacking back and forth, so we motored the last few miles. Powell River is the last major stop before Desolation Sound. We loaded up on provisions, changed the engine oil, and got prepared for further adventures.

On July 21, we left Powell River for Desolation Sound. We rounded Sarah Point, sailed up Malaspina Inlet, and entered Grace Harbor, hoping to find a good place to anchor. What we found was many, many boats. The place was jammed; the only open areas were over rocky patches with poor holding. While poking around for a possible place to anchor, I nearly ran into a big submerged rock. So we left Grace Harbor and anchored by ourselves in a small cove just outside. It was a pretty place where we stayed two days while I worked on reviewing manuscripts for a couple of academic journals. From there we continued up Malaspina Inlet, passed over a shallow bar, and entered Theodosia Inlet. Theodosia can be entered only at slack water, and this seemed to have kept away most of the other boaters. There is an active logging operation there, but it is tranquil and pretty. I spent mornings working on academic projects. Afternoons we kayaked, hiked, and gathered ripe blackberries.
A big bald eagle liked to roost near our boat.

Here are some views from the boat on a calm morning.

On July 25th we decided to move on. We went first to Tenados Bay, which is highly recommended in cruising guides, but found it jammed with boats. So we continued on to Roscoe Bay, a narrow inlet that can be entered only at high water. We waited for high tide, and crossed the shallow bar. Inside we found only a few boats; we were able to anchor right in the center, with plenty of room to swing.

Roscoe Bay is beautiful. The water was warm; we were able to swim off the boat. From the head of Roscoe Bay it is only a short walk to a large freshwater lake, called Black Lake. One day we walked in and went swimming. The next day we carried our kayaks in and made a grand tour of the lake, stopping for lunch on some small islands. We saw no one else that day. It felt like we were far from civilization.

I continued to work on academic projects every morning. By July 28th I had a lot of materials ready to be e-mailed to students and collaborators, so we left Roscoe Bay and motored to Refuge Cove, which has a marina, a store, and the all-important WiFi connection.

While Claudia bought supplies at the store, I downloaded and uploaded. We then left the cove, heading for Teakern Arm, another highly recommended venue. There, once again, we found boats lined up, side-by-side, in all the good anchorage spots. It was jammed. We tried to anchor in deep water in a couple of out-of-the way places, but could not get our anchor to hook on the rocky bottom. So again we gave up and moved on, heading for Von Donop Inlet. There we found plenty of room to anchor over a mud bottom. We spent a couple of nights in the upper end of the Inlet, near a trailhead for a hiking trail to Squirrel Cove. We later anchored just outside a small Lagoon that had its own small, reversing tidal rapids, which was fun to negotiate in the kayaks. Here is Claudia pulling a kayak upstream (during low tide). When the tide was high the rapids ran the other way. We had a minor disaster when I pulled the dinghy ashore over some sharp oysters. An oyster shell slashed the fabric, spilling the air from our inflatable dinghy. Luckily we were anchored near the shore. Claudia swam out to the boat to get our kayaks, which we used to pull the disabled dinghy back to the boat. My initial effort to patch the hole was unsuccessful, but I'll try again.

On August 1st, we left Von Donop Inlet and headed for Toba Inlet, which is famous for its green glacier-fed waters. We motored part of the way up the Inlet, passing an impressive waterfall.

We probably should have continued up Toba Inlet, but we had heard that it is difficult to anchor there, and we were ready to relax, so we turned south and headed for Walsh Cove, a nearby anchorage that is highly recommended in the guidebooks. We should by then have noticed the correlation between guidebook recommendations and crowding. Walsh Cove was jammed with boats. Smaller vessels were stern-tied side-by-side around the entire cove; the center was occupied by huge trawlers. It was not what we had in mind.

As we continued south, I studied the charts, looking for possible anchorages that are NOT recommended by any guidebooks, and found one called Doctor's Cove, on West Redondo Island. Part of the cove is occupied by a commercial salmon farm, but we found an isolated spot behind a small island, where we managed to anchor in fairly deep water (85 feet). It was a pretty spot, and we were the only boat there. I swam to the small island to have a look around and again felt like we were far from civilization. Back at the boat, I turned on the VHF radio and heard lots of chatter about full anchorages. Desolation Sound seems to be filling up with vacationing Canadians--it is the high-point of the summer boating season and the popular anchorages, like Walsh Cove and Prideau Haven are overflowing. But our experience showed that there are still nice, isolated places to anchor if one looks beyond the beaten path.

Interestingly, once we anchored in Doctor's Cove, several other boats that were passing in the channel outside came in to investigate. Had we not been anchored there, I doubt they would have given the place a look. They motored past us, checking their depth gauges, and looking for a spot they could anchor as well. But we had gotten our hook down on a fairly narrow shelf, surrounded by much deeper water, so they had no luck. It was another example of what Claudia and I (with a nod to psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky) call the anchoring/anchoring effect, or the anchoring effect for anchoring. When choosing a place to anchor, skippers seem inexorably drawn toward other anchored boats. Thus, the first boat or two into an anchorage set the pattern for where subsequent boats will anchor. I have not collected data systematically, but I believe we have been seeing evidence of this effect all year. As we see new boats entering an anchorage, Claudia and I try to predict where the skipper will choose to drop anchor. Regardless of the size or configuration of the anchorage, it will usually be in close proximity to boats already there.

I believe there is also an anchoring effect caused by nautical charts, which use an anchor symbol to designate good anchorages. When a single boat is observed in an anchorage, it's position is typically right over the anchor symbol on the chart. But I digress.

After a night at Doctor's Cove, we motored to nearby Pendrell Sound, which is renowned for its warm waters and oysters. The popular anchorage spots were crowded but we used our growing proficiency at deep water anchoring to good advantage. Although the bottom sloped steeply away from the shore, we managed to drag our anchor up-slope across a shelf until it hooked (at a point about 80 feet deep). We then used a stern tie to shore to hold the boat in place.

Pendrell Sound was great for kayaking and swimming, and also had wonderful oysters. The picture below shows a lingcod that I caught in Doctor's Cove. It was delicious.

The next picture shows me going ashore near our boat in Pendrell Sound to collect some of the local oysters.

They were also delicious. We really like catching and collecting our own food.

There were a lot of boats in Pendrill Sound, including some classic old motor yachts that are being used as small cruise ships. The yachts below charges guests over $1000 per night. I'm certain their guests did not enjoy the place as much as we did. We will definitely come back.

On August 4th we left Pendrell Sound and headed south to Powell River. Although it is still the height of summer season here, we are running out of time--our sabbatical will soon be coming to an end. We had arranged moorage for the boat at a small marina in Nanaimo. Our plan is to return to California and come back again, for more sailing, next summer.

After a night at Westview Marina, we continued south to Bargain Bay, one of our favorite spots on the way up. Once again, Bargain Bay was a bargain. We were the only boat anchored in the bay, and again we found an excellent WiFi connection. We noticed a number of buoys for crab pots near our boat, so we decided to try our luck. I dropped a crab trap right off the stern. When we collected it the next morning, it was swarming with red rock crabs. It was a bit of a struggle to get them out of the trap and sorted, but we had enough males of legal size for a nice crab dinner. This is what they looked like.

On August 6th, we left Bargain Bay and sailed south, across the Strait of Georgia, to Nanaimo. We had to detour around an area known as Whiskey Golf, where military exercises were underway, but made fairly good time, despite facing strong winds from the southeast in the afternoon. When we entered our slip at Departure Bay Marina, we had completed the last voyage of this sabbatical.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Princess Louisa Inlet

For several days the Canadian weather service had issued "strong wind warnings" for the Strait of Georgia, north of Nanaimo. We waited for a window, but were getting impatient, so we decided to forge ahead on July 11th. We left early in the morning, hoping to make it across the Strait to Pender Harbor before the winds reached their peak in the afternoon.

We had 15-20 knot winds from WNW, and choppy seas, but we made good progress with a single reef in the mainsail. As we approached the mainland shore, the winds shifted to SE, allowing us to make a fast run into Bargain Bay, where we anchored. We were feeling pretty smug about our ability to handle the "strong winds" of the Northwest, which at that point seemed far easier than what we had encountered in the Sea of Cortez.

The next morning, however, we got a stronger taste of what the winds of the Northwest can dish up. We motored out of Bargain Bay and turned north into the Malaspina Channel. There we encountered some of the gnarliest conditions we have seen. There was 25 knots of wind on our nose; the wind had been blowing hard all night and had whipped up steep, short-period swells that came crashing across our decks. With the engine at full power we were barely making progress. We only had to go a few miles before we could turn into the Agammemonon Channel, where I expected more protection from the wind, but after a few minutes (during which the GPS showed us making about 1 knot per hour over ground) Claudia and I looked at each other with a common thought--why are we doing this? We quickly decided to head back to Bargain Bay and wait until conditions settled down. It was a good decision.

Bargain Bay was a great place to anchor, with excellent protection on all sides. It is connected with Pender Harbor by a shallow passage that dinghies can traverse at high water. On our arrival, we found we could pick up (or perhaps I should say pirate) free WiFi connections from the local vacation homes. Our connection was good enough to allow us to watch streaming video of the World Cup final--which was a true bargain. While waiting for the winds to calm down, we stayed a second night, using the extra time and internet connection to search for winter moorage for the boat and to catch up on some academic projects. Here is a picture of Bargain Bay.

The next morning, we headed up the Malaspina Channel again, and this time had no trouble reaching the Agammemnon Channel, which took us north. By lunch time we reached the town of Egmont and stopped at a public dock. From Egmont we hiked a couple of miles up Skookumchuk Narrows, where we looked at the famous Sechelt Rapids. These tidal rapids, which fill and drain Sechelt Inlet, are some of the strongest in British Columbia. We timed our visit for max ebb, and because it was a Spring tide, the rapids were truly impressive.

It is amazing to think that these rapids reverse themselves every few hours, and that boats can pass through during the slack periods.
When we got back to Egmont, we saw that the tide had fallen remarkably--about a 15 foot drop from high to low--which is what drives the rapids.
At about 2 pm we left Egmont to make the 35 mile run up to Princess Louisa Inlet. To enter this inlet, one must pass through another tidal rapid called Malibu Rapids. We hoped to ride the rising tide up toward the inlet, reaching the entrance at high water slack, which was expected at 9 pm. All went as planned. In fact, we had a glorious sail up the inlet, with 15-20 knots of wind directly behind us. We dropped the main and sailed along with only the genoa, but the wind was strong enough that, with the help of the tide, we made 6-7 knots the whole way. At each twist and turn of the channel, the wind shifted to stay behind us. The scenery along the way was spectacular, with high mountains rising right out of the channel, snowy peaks, and waterfalls.

We passed through Malibu Rapids at slack water and were immediately struck by the beauty and immensity of Princess Louisa Inlet. It is one of the most gorgeous places I have ever been. Imagine Yosemite Valley if the floor of the valley were covered with seawater. The inlet was carved out by glaciers, leaving steep cliffs on both sides. Some of the cliffs are over a mile high. Snow and glaciers at the higher elevations feed a variety of waterfalls that cascade down into the inlet. The high cliffs provide protection from the winds, so that the waters often have a mirror-like surface that reflects the surrounding cliffs. It is an awe-inspiring place.

The best part was that relatively few people were visiting. There were maybe a dozen boats in the entire Inlet when we arrived, and they were scattered far and wide. We were able to pick up a mooring ball behind McDonald Island, near the center of the Inlet, where we stayed for the first couple of days. We later moved to a public dock at the end of the Inlet, where we also found space. But we found that a bit too busy with other boaters, so we anchored near a waterfall and, for the first time, secured the stern of the boat to the shore with a stern-tie (a popular way to anchor in the Northwest).

We spent a lot of time kayaking in the relatively warm water.

At one point a baby seal, who appeared to have lost his mother, came up to the kayaks. He bumped against the kayak as if he were trying to nurse, and cryed a bit. We felt sorry for him, but decided there was nothing we could (or should) do for him.

Near some of the waterfalls, we found a profusion of local berries growing. They were ripe and delicious. We gathered and ate them with great delight.
Even with all these pictures, it is difficult to convey the serenity and grandeur of Princess Louisa Inlet. It is truly a special place. Our visit has been one of the highlights of our whole sabbatical. The picture below gives some sense of the height of the cliffs--that is Sabbatical (the boat) anchored along the shore.