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.
The May cruise & learn class saw some of the wildest weather we experienced in a long time. Sun, light winds, strong winds, rain - Neptune threw everything at us he had in store; even a lighting storm.
The first day we sailed around Bowen Island and anchored in Port Graves. Winds were light, but good enough for an easy sail. BBQ under the bimini (awning) in torrential rains ended the day.
The following day we headed towards the Strait of Georgia sailing through Collingwood Channel. The ebbing tide was fighting with the Southerly winds resulting in a very lumpy sea. Later in the day we sailed to Halkett Bay where we enjoyed a beautiful sunset and yet another BBQ on the back of the boat.
Look what we got on the line :)
The following day greeted us with pleasant weather - the calm before the storm: It’s very unusual to get lighting on BC’s West Coast. But as luck had it we were rolled over by a rare storm. First there was no wind. However, black clouds formed over the the entrance to Howe Sound and slowly rolled towards us. We headed for Snug Cove on Bowen Island, but too late.
The flood gates opened and drenched us with torrential rain. Within about 10 minutes, the lighting started and the wind picked up to maybe 20 knots.
We hove to so we could hunker down in the cabin, away from the lighting. Having a big aluminum stick high in the air in the middle of the ocean while lighting strikes all around is was not much fun.
Luckily the storm blew over quickly and we sailed on.
After some crew overboard drills in Queen Charlotte Channel, we sailed into Snug Cove. Like if we not had enough exitement for one day: Just before making it into the marina a maybe 100 or 150 m long cable blocked our way. It was floating just under the surface and we noticed it at the very last second. Not enough to clear it and we nudged it slightly on our side sending it under for good. The monster disappeard under water, leaving only air bubbles on the surface.
After some R&R at the dock, the students successfully wrote the exam and we headed for the pub for a pint of beer and some grub.
The last day we sailed back to Vancouver in sunshine and a nice breeze. Another sailing course came to and end. We enjoyed having a crew from Barnet Sailing Co-op on the boat and hope to see you out there sailing in one of your Co-op boats.
Your Simply Sailing team.
Christof is the owner and operator of Simply Sailing. An enthusiastic sailor he loves to share his knowledge with other sailors.
If you are interested in blogging on this site, please send us an email. We would be happy to feature you as a "guest blogger".