Favourable winds mark new discoveries
It is early in the season, and other than a few hardy racers and diehard cruisers, there are few sailors on the water.
Our friends from south of the border have not yet ventured north. Temperatures can still be close to zero early in the morning, fog might wipe out all visibility, and an early season gale can churn up the waters.
These are ideal conditions for the well-prepared sailor in search of an adventure and maybe a pinch of excitement.
Sail north to Desolation Sound and beyond in the off-season, and you will get a sense of how Capt. George Vancouver and his men might have felt when exploring this rugged coastline in the vessels Chatham and Discovery. It still amazes me how small those vessels were. The smaller of the two vessels, the Chatham, was just under 60 feet in length and carried a crew of 55. The Discovery was 100 feet long and sailed with a crew of 134.
Sailing on a 50-foot, brand-new boat with hot showers and an espresso machine cannot remotely be compared to how Vancouver and his crew experienced their 1792 voyage.
Nevertheless, sailing up Teakerne Arm and anchoring a stone’s throw away from Cassell Falls, we follow the early explorers’ route. The view is breathtaking, and in the summer months, the warm water of Cassell Lake invites for a swim. It was here where Vancouver and Valdes anchored their boats for three weeks while their crew tried to find a passage to the Pacific Ocean using their small boats. Sipping on a Pacific Lager, I wonder what the Spruce beer — which was brewed aboard the Discovery — might have tasted.
For a few days, we explore some of the most beautiful anchorages this coast offers. Our only companions were Dall porpoises that greeted us as we left Teakern Arm. They played in our bow wave, dove under the boat and followed us for maybe 20 minutes.
Our schedule was dictated to some degree by our onboard dog, Tessa. She needed shore leave frequently and we used that to seek out at least two or three anchorages every day. Sailing with a dog is almost like sailing with small children. Both do not like being on long passages. The difference is that with a dog we looked for a sandy beach, while with our four-year-old son, we often look for a marina with a playground where he might find some playmates.
After a few days of exploring many sandy beaches, it was time to point the bow of our boat, a brand-new Hunter 50, north — aiming for the infamous Yucalta and Dent rapids. These are some of the most notorious passes in B.C. and, if not timed properly, are impossible to navigate. While at slack tide the passage is peaceful, shortly thereafter the waters turn into a raging river full of whirlpools and standing waves that threaten to sink any small craft daring to get anywhere close.
Passing through the Yucaltas, we spot a fishing lodge. It seemed to be as out of place as our espresso machine, but at least we could put the machine out of sight, while these buildings were hard to miss. It appeared to me like the Chateau from Lake Louise was transplanted into this otherwise pristine wilderness, helipad inclusive. I looked the other way trying to picture the early explorers vainly fighting the currents in their sailboats, not having the luxury of a reliable diesel engine
While stopping for another shore leave in Thurston Bay, we make out an empty wooden cabin between the trees just above the shoreline. A silent witness of the once busy logging area. we almost expected a gruff lumberjack to push open the creaking doors. Instead, only silence greeted us when we stepped onto the porch. Inside, we find a broken bed and what was left of an old rusty stove. Leaving the somewhat eerie site behind, we make for Okisollo Channel on our way to the Octopus Islands.
Navigating between these islands with the sun shining through the low fog was magical. The water was crystal clear and we could see the sandy bottom and sea stars clinging to the rocks in the intertidal zone.
While we sailed in mostly light winds and had to deal with fog so thick we had to use our radar to enter a marina, we finally were blessed with a nice breeze as we headed out of Rebecca Spit on Quadra Island. On our way to Gorge Harbour on Cortes Island, we were overrun by a massive black cloud and before we knew it, the wind was howling in the rigging and the wind speed indicator would stay steadily above 90 km/h.
While I think that was maybe a bit “optimistic” and perhaps the instruments needed some calibration, wind speed based on sea state and feel of the boat was definitely sustained at over 70 km/h. With much reduced sail area, the boat handled very well and we enjoyed giving the boat and her crew a good test run. One does not get to play in these winds every day, and we made the most out of it.
The owner of the boat managed very well and, with a smile on his face, drove the boat close to the wind and through the building waves.
An hour later, the winds abated somewhat and we sailed through Uganda Passage, around Shark Spit and snuggled down in Gorge Harbour.
Sitting on the dock with the sun in my face, I enjoyed a cold beer and talked to a couple sailors who told us their story of sailing around the world.
After listening to their countless adventures and other sailors’ conspiracy theories, we settled down in our comfortable bunks, the only sound being the whisper of the wind in the tree tops. I was happy to be in a safe harbour where just hours before we were sailing in a fierce gale. Such is the beauty of coastal cruising in our local waters.
Christof Marti is the owner of Simply Sailing School in Vancouver (simplysailing.ca) and is a director on the Board of BC Sailing. Trained as an engineer and with an MBA in finance, Christof is also a qualified sailing instructor and a certified Yachtmaster. He will be filing reports from B.C.’s coastal waters over the season.
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Christof is the owner and operator of Simply Sailing. An enthusiastic sailor he loves to share his knowledge with other sailors.
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