Crew remains calm and sails on despite stormy weather
A gentle breeze from the southeast filled our sails as we glided north along the Sunshine Coast towards Desolation Sound.
The wind forecast called for light winds for most of the week. While this would be perfect for martini sailing (sipping a martini in a calm anchorage is one of the key attractions of the voyage) this was not what our crew of five were looking forward to.
They all hoped for advanced sail training opportunities – smooth seas never made a skilled sailor.
Just before White Islets (a rock formation south of Sechelt) we lowered the sails and drifted close to the shore and observed curious seals and mighty sea lions soaking up the last rays of sunshine for the day.
We filled the following days exploring picturesque anchorages such as Smugglers Cove, navigation practice using only paper charts and compass, entering and exiting anchorages under sail alone.
It was a lot of work but the crew had some fun too. At Savary Island, some showed off their acrobatic talents using a makeshift rope-swing made from the mast. Unfortunately, Cassel Falls in Teakerne Arm completely dried out, but we still enjoyed a refreshing swim in the lake.
As beautiful as Desolation Sound is, it is anything but desolate during summer months. To escape the crowds an adventurous sailor should head north beyond Desolation Sound. However, with tidal currents through narrow passes at times over 20 kilometres per hour, limited re-supply opportunities and at times challenging weather, such a voyage needs meticulous planning.
Our crew laid out an interesting route through Hole-in-the-Wall and Beazley Passage, both of which had to be carefully planned as raging ebb and flood currents allow passage only during a narrow time window. Strong currents are not the only challenge – many of the rocks, while charted, are often unmarked and studying the marine charts is crucial for safe navigation.
Leaving Teakerne Arm and heading for Hole-in-the-Wall marked the beginning of a 48-hour non-stop passage. During those two days, the crew had to show that they could manage a sailboat day and night – in any condition and in unknown territory.
Heading through Hole-in-the-Wall we were fighting a strong current, barely making any progress. We knew this would happen, but it was necessary to hit the next pass, Beazley Passage (Surge Narrows) in time before strong currents would make it impassable. As we were weaving through the waves, a float plane buzzed by at mast height, waving its wings to say hello.
My crew nailed their timing and we managed to safely navigate both passages and started our sail south towards the Strait of Georgia.
The first night was uneventful and the following day there were strong winds – perfect for sail training. We were in no hurry to head south and took advantage of the boisterous breeze and practiced many sailing maneuvers including various crew overboard recovery procedures. I took much pleasure in watching the crew performance getting better by the hour, managing the moderate winds and seas very well.
The second day of our non-stop passage we saw a magical sunset while approaching Nanaimo Harbour. A few hours later we snuck through Dodd Narrows in the middle of the night, barely escaping a tugboat and its log boom as we entered the Gulf Islands. I stayed up all night to practice more crew overboard procedures in the dark and by 6 a.m., just 20 km from our destination at Poet’s Cove (Bedwell Harbour) I finally crawled into my bunk to catch a couple hours of sleep before approaching the harbour.
Shortly after 8 a.m. I woke up to a commotion on the deck. I stumbled to the cockpit and to my surprise the sea kicked up more than expected and the crew was wrestling with the sails to reduce sail area. We knew the wind was going to pick up later in the day but this happened much faster than expected. By the time we put our second reef in the main sail we were sailing in a full gale. We further reduced the sail area as the wind built even more. By then spray was covering the deck and we had to shout to make ourselves understood over the wind. We took some serious water over the bow as our boat pounded into the building sea.
At this time Poet’s Cove was only four km away, but it might as well have been a hundred miles as we could not make any progress against the building wind and waves. We tried in vain to make some headway, but even with the engine on it was a losing battle. For a brief moment we turned downwind to run for Otter Bay but that turned out to be even more difficult as the boat was hard to control with the following sea.
The crew work was amazing. Everybody remained calm and fulfilled whatever task they were assigned perfectly well. The training of the previous two days paid off! After a short period of sailing downwind, we decided to put the pointy end of the boat into the wind again as it is the strongest part of the boat and could easily take the pounding. We did not make any headway but at least everything felt somewhat under control.
Luckily for us the storm lasted only a few hours and once the brunt of it passed, we managed to make headway again towards our destination. By 2 p.m. our boat was safely tied up at Poet’s Cove, crew and skipper soaking in the hot tub sipping rum and patting each other on the shoulders having managed the storm well. It took us almost six hours to cover just over five km to get to our moorage.
Little did we know that at the time we were fighting our way towards the marina it was blowing over 90 km per hour just 20 km south of us and that the same storm would leave more than 500,000 residents of Metro Vancouver without electricity.
An adventure of a lifetime, a great training opportunity and best of all we managed well and all of the crew were able to port safely while having a story to tell for the rest of their lives.
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.
When the fog sets in on B.C.’s coast, the warmth and hospitality of the people who live along it shine.
On a recent sailing excursion to the Desolation Sound, our family enjoyed such a reception as a thick blanket of haze kept us from heading out to sea.
Read the full article in the Vancouver Sun ...
Below you will find a small selection of pictures from the cruise to Desolation Sound.
Your Simply Sailing Team,
Captain George Vancouver came to mind recently as I was sitting in the cockpit of our sailboat, Celeste, anchored in Prideaux Haven.
Vancouver and his men explored the waters in and around Desolation Sound, and they were not impressed. The Northwest Passage they were looking for remained elusive. The steep, rocky shores, covered in dense forest were uninviting. Erratic or complete lack of wind left his boats, the Chatham and the Discovery, vulnerable to the constant back-and-forth of tidal currents.
He and his men did not see what 200 years later adventure seekers, boaters, fishermen and kayakers would describe as paradise. People even built cabins precariously perched along rocky shores to spend a few summer weeks or sometimes a lifetime in Desolation Sound.
The water during our visit was placid; not a breath of wind could be felt. In the background the coastal mountains rose majestically toward the dark blue sky. As the sun set, the mountains changed their grey and green colour to a warm red, the glassy water reflecting their peaks like a mirror. After the sun disappeared behind an island, stars started to dot the dark sky and I could see the Big Dipper and Polaris high above the entrance to Toba Inlet. It truly was paradise.
The next morning thick fog enclosed the anchorage like a heavy down blanket, closing out the rest of the world as if it did not exist. It was mystically beautiful.
My wife Andrea and our almost three-year-old son Leonardo climbed into our dinghy and rowed toward adjacent Melanie Cove.
We hiked up the small trail from the beach, between massive tree stumps, the only remaining witnesses that this area once was inhabited. Lush fern and rapidly growing alder reclaimed the area, covering any remnants of any cabin that still might be found under the thick, green carpet.
Early in the afternoon, the fog lifted, once again revealing the stunning beauty of the islands, distant mountains and dark blue ocean around us. Eager to push further into the wilderness, we weighed our anchor.
Even though the wind stayed nonexistent for most of our cruise, we enjoyed travelling through these tranquil waters, exploring inlets and channels and finding an anchorage in one of the countless, sometimes secretive coves along our way. Some mornings we would listen to the distinctive calls of the loon while Leonardo could not get enough of pointing out the countless jellyfish around us: “One more, one more”, he would shout. When underway, porpoise would sometimes cross our wake delighting all of us.
After almost a week of cruising we were ready for some civilization. That mainly meant a hot shower (for my wife), a playground (for Leonardo) and to replenish the depleted beer stock (for the captain).
We decided to head for Gorge Harbour on Cortes Island, one of my favourite marinas in this area, knowing it would fulfil all our different desires.
As soon as we left Walsh Marine Park on our way south through Waddington Channel, grey fog engulfed Celeste. We stayed within 50 to 100 metres of the jagged coastline, carefully watching the depth sounder and looking out for oyster farms and their scattered floats protruding into the channel.
Late in the afternoon, the sun broke through the fog, as we passed Kinghorn Island on our way toward Cortes Island. The harbour entrance is through a narrow gorge, with towering rock cliffs. The next two days we spent lazily around the marina, enjoying a hot shower, re-supplying our stores, and Leonardo had fun running around the playground. In the afternoon, we would lounge in the wooden chairs by the pool, sipping on a rum and Coke while the sun warmed our bodies before it set over the hills surrounding the harbour.
In the summer this place is bustling with tourists. This time of the year, it was peaceful with only a handful of sailors visiting the marina and few local residents enjoying fish and chips in the restaurant overlooking the water.
Everything comes to an end, and eventually we had to point our boat south and sail toward Vancouver. We waved goodbye to this fabulous cruising grounds, passed the white, sandy beaches of Spilsbury Point, down infamous Malaspina Strait, and through Welcome Passage the Celeste once again entered the Strait of Georgia.
We sailed along the Sunshine Coast, both sails spread out like wings on either side of the boat. A strong north-westerly wind pushed us farther south and Celeste occasionally surfed down a big wave making my heart jump with joy. After a long, but wonderful day of sailing, the sun set, tainting our wake in an orange and golden hue as we slid under the Lions Gate Bridge toward our home port of Vancouver.
The Curve of Time, Wylie Blanchet
Adventures in Solitude, Grant Lawrence
Cruising Guide to British Columbia, Vol. 2, Bill Wolferstan
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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