Advanced course takes participants offshore
We were to leave God’s Pocket on Hurst Island in great anticipation of sailing around Cape Scott, the northern tip of Vancouver Island, before venturing offshore for a couple of days followed by exploring the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Conditions were perfect, a boisterous north westerly blew into Goletas Channel, blue skies and Neptune was smiling on us. At the same time, just a couple hours of sailing south of us, the fleet of about 50 boats participating in the biannual VanIsle360 race crossed the start line in Port Hardy.
With the race fleet bearing down on us, and having a front-row seat to watch some world-class racing action in Goletas Channel, we raised the sails.
Just as the wind filled the big white canvas, our engine quit. So much for a great start to the day. I headed down to check out the engine room and realized that one of the valves on the fuel filter was turned ever so slightly from the correct position, likely the result from a previous filter change. This caused the engine to starve of fuel. Fantastic, now we had the fuel lines full of air instead of diesel.
Bleeding fuel lines at the dock is one thing, doing it in one- to two-metre waves with the wind blowing through the rigging at just under 50 km/h is way more fun though. It took 10 minutes of fiddling around in the engine room with my trusted crew member, Jamie, before the engine was running smoothly.
Not that we needed the engine in this wind, but we thought that perhaps it would be a good idea to have it running again before we really needed it. In the meantime, the fastest boats of the VanIsle360 race caught up with us. Dragonfly, a mighty catamaran, flew by us and soon disappeared over the horizon.
By the time the rest of the fleet caught up with us, we approached infamous Nahwitti Bar. The ebbing tide pushes against the strong winds that enter Goletas Channel, and a sharp drop in the seabed creates impressive waves. Some of the smaller race boats disappeared behind massive waves while we were beating our way to windward, spray flying over our teak decks.
Clearing the bar and then rounding Cape Scott was the icing on the cake. While the race boats popped their colourful spinnaker sails, we headed offshore, into the sunset. After all, this was an advanced sailing course with an introduction to offshore sailing.
We sailed southwest and passed the Coast Guard cutter shadowing the VanIsle fleet. As we sailed toward open ocean, perhaps it was unsettling for some of our crew to leave the company of other boats and the Coast Guard as they headed for Winter Harbour.
We spent the next two nights more than 100 kilometre offshore of Vancouver Island. The sea was ours, not one other boat around us. Nothing but the blue sea, the sun by day and the stars by night and the wind. It was a wild ride in strong to near gale-force winds. This is exactly what the crew of five intrepid sailors joined this expedition for.
Roughing it offshore is one thing, but it wouldn’t be complete without making landfall at one of B.C.’s most magical places: Hot Spring’s Cove, just north of Tofino. Timed perfectly, we made landfall just after sunrise at 5 a.m. and by 7 a.m. we are soaking in the natural hotsprings overlooking the ocean and sipping on a well-deserved rum.
Over the next few days, we explored Clayoquot Sound, famous for the logging protests in the ‘80s and ‘90s. We anchored in paradises like Whitesand Cove in Gibsons Marine Park and explored Mathilda Inlet, where we met Hugh Clark, founder of the Ahousat general store. It is a mixture of grocery and marine hardware store and served as the local post office. Clark started this store 60 years ago when he was in his 20s. Sadly, after having had a stroke, it’s now up for sale.
On we sailed, through the Broken Group of Barkely Sound, exploring Bamfield, trail head of the West Coast Trail, Coast Guard station and once the terminus station of the more than 6,500-kilometre telegraph cable via the Pacific Ocean connecting Canada to Fiji and Australia.
The history on Vancouver Island’s west coast is so rich, we barely scratched the surface. I promised myself to come back again and one day spend an entire summer exploring this marvellous coast.
But once again, the schedule of rigid sail training and yet another keen group of sailors awaiting us in Victoria forced us to leave and sail south. Just as we entered the Juan de Fuca Strait shortly before sunset, a pod of maybe a dozen humpback whales approached us. They came within less than a boat length of us and we had to manoeuvre to avoid being in their path. I have sailed these waters many times, but never have I seen whales this close.
The colossal mammals are graceful when slicing through the water, raising their flukes before diving below the surface without the smallest splash. A fitting last night at sea before the sun set again and we sailed under a starlit sky southeast in the Juan the Fuca Strait — more worried about avoiding deepsea vessels than the odd humpback whale.
Perfect timing again, we sailed through Race Passage, a gentle breeze on our stern, spinnaker up and entered Victoria Harbour two hours later.
Another fantastic cruise came to an end, leaving the crew and their skipper with memories that, I hope, last a lifetime.
Check out the YouTube link here.
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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Hair-raising, but sailboat performs beautifully
Sailing across oceans, exploring exotic islands and living a life away from the daily grind is the dream of many. A couple who I met through sail training two years ago bought a boat in Europe and got one step closer to this dream.
Over the last year, they meticulously prepared their boat Shanty to get her ready for a delivery across the Atlantic to the Canary Islands.
Last month, the owners and I met in Portimao, a sleepy town in Portugal’s Algarve region. The Algarve is famous for its rugged coast and steep cliffs. Wind and waves relentlessly chisel away the sandstone leaving a jagged coastline, towering cliffs and free standing rock formations.
Portimao itself is probably best left out of any travel itinerary. It’s a town full of German and English retirees and clearly a victim of the unchecked construction boom in the ’80s and ’90s. In anticipation of our big adventure, I overlooked the sterile condo developments and unfinished apartment buildings that were abandoned by their developers years ago during the economic downturn.
The marina, on the other hand, is a new development; full of big, shiny boats. The Shanty was probably one of the smallest boats around, but very seaworthy. We spent the last day checking out the boat thoroughly. Climbing the mast for a last inspection of the rig, checking all engine systems, loading the boat with food, water and diesel; these chores are part of any offshore passage.
We left the marina and headed out into the Gulf of Cádiz. The wind was light, but there was a swell as a result from a low-pressure system farther offshore.
We steered southwest seeking more wind. The line between Cabo San Vincente on the southwest corner of Portugal and Gran Canaria divided the zones of wind and no wind. The problem was that the line between calm and gale force winds was very fine. I have been watching the weather for weeks and there seemed to be pattern of low-pressure systems coming towards Lisbon, generating favourable but strong winds along our path.
The winds picked up to a pleasant breeze during the first night and we turned the boat south towards our destination of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. To our joy, the cloud cover broke and we sailed under a starlit sky.
As we had some issues with our communication system to get up-to-date weather information, we had a friend giving us updates over a satellite-based text-messaging system. This worked like a charm.
During second day, the wind steadily picked up and eventually reached a full gale.
The waves became quite formidable. I don’t dare to estimate their height, but they were bigger than anything I have ever seen. They would heave the boat up and I could look down into a trough so deep our boat all of a sudden felt very small.
Then we dropped into the valley between waves, only to look up at the towering waves caped with foaming white caps. Most waves were not breaking, but some hit us with full force right over the boat, sending a wall of foaming white water over the deck and into the cockpit to drench whoever was at the helm. I was in state of being fascinated and feeling apprehensive.
Wind speeds reached between 60 and 70 km/h, gusting to over 80 km/h. Twice the boat wiped out, tossing everybody from one side of the boat to the other, and my heart jumped. Shanty, however, took it in stride and righted herself. She was built and prepared for this kind of weather and never once did I feel she could not handle a situation.
The biggest issue for me was fatigue. With just over two hours of sleep at night, I started to feel really tired; yet we had to stay alert as there were many cargo boats around us.
On the day we expected the winds to drop, we sailed in gale and near-gale winds day and night. This started to take a toll on the crew and everybody felt exhausted.
Finally, on the third day, the weather improved and we enjoyed beautiful sailing. I sat on the bow sprit, while Otto (our autopilot) was keeping a steady course. With my feet dangling just inches above the water, dipping into the bow wave every now and then, it was the most peaceful moment on our passage. The two foresails spread like the wings of a butterfly, a steady breeze pushing us towards the Canary Islands and the sun shone high above in the sky.
On Day 4, the sun rose over the horizon and finally: Land ho! The barren peaks of Lanzarote rose over the horizon some 60 kilometres to our west. A dozen or so dolphins appeared and escorted us towards land. They swam in our bow wave and every now and then jumped through the air. Just beneath the surface they appeared like silver arrows darting through the water alongside Shanty.
A beautiful end to our first leg across the Atlantic towards Grenada, just off the coast of Venezuela. You can follow our progress over the next two to three weeks while we make our way toward the Cape Verde Islands to catch the trade winds and onward to the Caribbean by clicking here.
Winds on that second leg, close to 6,000 kilometres long, typically are fair this time of the year and we don’t expect too rough seas and hope for some good fishing. Then again, it is the sea and one never knows what she might hold in store.
View article in the Vancouver Sun.
TOPtoTOP started in 1999 with a small group of friends in Switzerland who wanted to do something for their beloved mountains. They decided to climb the highest point in each canton and then went to classrooms to tell kids about their adventures hoping to inspire the children to enjoy nature.
From there it was a small step to decide to take TOPtoTOP global and visit all the climate zones of the earth. Their mode of transport between continents is a custom-built, 15-metre-long aluminum sailboat. The hull, mast and sails were donated by a generous supporter, while the rest of the equipment and provisions were put together through the Schroeder’s own savings and donations.
With less than $2,000 in their pockets, the couple left France in 2003 on their sailboat Pachamama (Incan word for “Mother Earth”) under the patronage of the UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) and the government of Switzerland.
So far they have sailed over 60,000 nautical miles in their expedition vessel, climbed over 400,000 vertical metres, cycled over 18,000 km and visited more than 70,000 students!
Read more on their adventure.
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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