Where’d You Go?

[This post was drafted in Victoria, finished in Bedwell Harbour on Pender Island, edited in Browning Bay (around the “other side” of Pender Island), and underwent final editing at Salt Spring Island. Such are the joys of Internet access on a boat. To wit, this post was substantially delayed, but here goes…]

Greetings from beautiful Victoria, BC. Events have overtaken me since our last post, and I’m way overdue to draft an update.

The refit was great “edutainment,” but it was time to cut ourselves loose from Nanaimo and experience a bit of this Pacific Northwest nautical playground that we now call home. We bid a temporary adieu to our mentor and technical wizard, Nathanael, but only after he kindly made a Sunday house-call on the eve of our departure to fix an electrical snag. Thanks!

The boat was in good order, and we had learned a lot during our three sea trials with Nathanael, but we still needed some “adult supervision” before we set off alone. What we needed were a couple of experienced mariners who had ventured around the globe under sail, who had owned boats since before I discovered solid food, who were life-long liveaboards, and who were patient enough to teach us a few things. Meet Douglas and Mary Solomon…

I know them through their son, my multi-talented Air Force buddy, Graham. I’ve been privileged to know the Solomons since I was a puppy, and have been avidly following reports of their sailing adventures since forever. I suspect that Gra’s stories about growing up on a sailboat as he circled the globe were at least partly to blame for our crazy retirement plans.

Doug and Mary arrived in Nanaimo by floatplane on Monday morning. I was secretly intimidated to have two sailors of their vast experience upon our “newbie” vessel, but their enthusiasm to be on the water was infectious, and I soon thrilled to watch Nanaimo grow smaller behind us.

The Solomon’s instructional technique was to have fun at all times. We observed and tried to imitate. They brought crab! This necessitated a picnic, which took us a to lovely Plumper’s Cove on lovely Keats Island.

In total, we spent three days together, touring around Howe Sound, practicing boat handling, docking, mooring and anchoring. Doug seemed overall quite satisfied with the boat, which made me feel overall more satisfied with the boat, if you know what I mean. Mary taught Debbie some knot skills, which is great because I’m still struggling with shoe laces. Thanks, Mary and Doug!

LET THE MEANDERING BEGIN!

Since being “cleared to fly solo” by our mentors, Deb and I have been contentedly cruising in Casper; doing just the sort of happy, aimless coastal wandering that we envisaged. We’re seeing the coast from a new perspective, and I imagine the excitement of the first western explorers as they first beheld the bounty of this majestic coast for the from the decks of their wooden sailing ships.

We left Gibsons – for the first time – last Thursday, with intention of cruising to Gabriola Island. Ten minutes into the Straits, the choppy waters made us reconsider, and we tucked our tail between our legs and retreated to a mooring ball in now-familiar Plumper’s Cove on Keats Island. We hiked in the Provincial Park and drank cider on the flybridge to pass a pleasant, if blustery, day.

Blustery Day - not to scaleBlustery Day – not to scale

The next day dawned wet and grey, and saw us cross the bay from Keats Island to again enjoy the relative urban charms of Gibsons. We provisioned with groceries and water, dawdled over coffee downtown, and napped on the boat. A fabulous dinner at the Smitty’s Oyster House was delicious compensation for the evening’s cold rain.

The conditions on the Straits during our prior abortive crossing were moderate at worst, with a chop of only 1 to 1.5 feet, but still a match for our newbie mariner experience. I was a bit surprised that it wasn’t forecast. I’m still looking for an “app” that will depict actual and forecast sea conditions for a route. The Environment Canada marine weather forecasts aren’t much help: “gusty winds in the morning, diminishing late in the day…”. Thanks! Navionics helps with tides and currents, but in another stark contrast to aviation, I haven’t found anything to adequately describe, “what it’s like out there.” Aviation weather forecasts seem positively florid with detail by comparison. What am I missing? I suspect that sea state reports are a bit like airborne icing. Pilots typically say, “Ice is where you find it,” meaning that forecasts are still of limited value. In both cases, local effects seem to predominate; at least among the Gulf Islands. Seeing is believing.

Last Saturday dawned with light winds and gentle seas across the Straits, allowing us to take another stab at a crossing to Vancouver Island. Six hours is a long time for an “airplane guy” to travel the roughly 40 nm to Thetis Island, having decided in the interval that the passage into Gabriola Island was still a bit spicy for our experience level. Between Navionics’ automatic routing function and our spiffy new Lowrance chart plotter, following a safe route between the islands and ensuring adequate depth presented no difficulties. Navigation is fundamentally the same skill, whether at 300 knots or seven knots.

The one challenge that I hadn’t fully appreciated was the influence of the current. When we arrived at the Gabriola Passage (between Gabriola and Valdez Islands), the sea was quite evidently heading in the other direction, with a roughly 2-3 knot current burbling and squishing through the narrows. The water looked confused. I blithely pressed on. Other than slowing our progress, the moving water had minimal effect upon handling, but I don’t think it would be wise to repeat if the current were any faster. Lesson learned.

We pressed on to lovely Thetis Island, docking at the marina in a drenching sun shower. Deb handled the dock lines, while I stayed inside ostensibly to supervise engine cool-down. Deb’s rain coat and sense of humour are both working fine, thanks. The afternoon saw us hike to what our guide book called the “largest Arbutus tree in BC.” It was big. And flakey. And orange.

Biggest Orangest Arbutus in BC

The next day involved a sunrise departure for Salt Spring Island, having learned that when cruising at a blistering seven knots, it’s best to befriend the tides. Casper arrived in Ganges Harbour before noon, just as a fresh wind was rising.

Docking thus far had presented no difficulties, for the simple reason that I had avoided doing anything difficult. With a single screw and bow thruster, it would be fair to say that Casper has a few limitations in tight quarters. Most significantly, there is enormous “windage” (we airplane people call it “drag”) from the covered flybridge. Also, I have yet to find any meaningful control response from the rudder while reversing. Below about 1 knot, Casper handles like a milk bottle.

Arriving in busy Ganges harbour, we did the simplest possible thing; tying up at the outside of the outer dock. By the time I returned from the wharfinger’s office, the boat was being gently beaten against the dock by a firm breeze and choppy waters. It was time for our next lesson. The intrepid crew decided to undock and seek a more sheltered spot in the marina. We tried. We really did, but the wind had us stuck firmly to the dock, overpowering the bow thruster’s feable attempts to point the boat away. We were stuck. It was an unpleasant night, but scuffed fenders were the only cost of a valuable lesson: don’t tie-up where you may be blown onto the dock.

That brings us to the present: Victoria. We motored down on Tuesday. It took about five hours, against myriad confused and confusing currents. Near Portland Island the current was our friend, and we saw 10.5 knots. The water was going every direction but straight up at the Baynes Channel, and minutes later, passing Trial Island, we had slowed by 4.5 knots. How can water be going in so many directions at once?! I need to understand this.

Then I found the picture above in a tidal almanac in a Chandler. (No, I didn’t buy the book. I only took a picture. Do you know how much boats cost?!) Clearly, there isn’t a singular tidal current, but a crazy dynamic pattern of tidal currents. The image is for roughly the time of our Ganges-Victoria passage, and rather nicely describes the currents that I observed. The islands turn the tides into a tumbling mess of currents and swirls. While the resulting patterns look chaotic and turbulent, I’m willing to bet that experienced mariners can learn to anticipate the result. It reminds me of the atmospheric thermal chaos that is a summer afternoon. Newbie aviators just shrug and tolerate the turbulence, but experience helps flyers see patterns in the chaos that provide a smoother ride or free lift. I need to understand this, indeed.

Arriving in Victoria by boat is just breathtakingly beautiful, but that will await another post.

That brings us up to date, more or less.

4 thoughts on “Where’d You Go?

  1. Glad to see you’re out and having fun exploring. Keep it up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. You guys too!

      Like

  2. Another great update Rob.

    Have a look at windy.com as a terrific weather forecasting website. It has practically every weather forecasting parameter that you can think of. Not only is it useful for us landlocked souls, but it provides weather forecasts oceanwide! You can even use it for when you’re feeling more adventurous and decide to cruise to the Antarctic.

    Like

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Jeff. I found Windy.com a while ago, and I agree that it’s terrific. I use it for the “big picture” weather overview before each cruise. I love how it allows the user to position a cursor on the map to detail local winds, pressure, temperature and sea state. My only objection is that none of the forecast models had enough fidelity to show local effects at the resolution we expected. As well, where we have truth data to compare, such as the instrumented marine buoys in the Straits, Windy’s results were always significantly more benign that the actual conditions. Admittedly, it’s asking a lot of an app to show whether the seas are calmer in the lee of an island, considering winds, currents, etc. Overall, the app is excellent.

      As for a cruise to the Antarctic, Jeff, we’ll be happy to read all about that experience from the comfort of our slip in Nanaimo.

      Like

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