Heading South II: Sept 4–6

September 4

We woke up and started to get ready. As per his habit, the boy stayed in bed. This meant I had to retrieve the stern tie myself. Luckily it all went pretty smoothly without any embarrassing slip-ups. We raised anchor and headed out. Dave’s GPS was being finicky getting a signal so we took the lead out the narrow entrance.

An hour or so later we were at Surge Narrows. We had timed it pretty good so I went straight through and hit about 9 knots with the current. Easy-peasy. The wind was coming up so we tried the jib and a few minutes later decided that sailing was possible on a bit of a run. We sailed in variable winds, trying some wing-on-wing and then gybing back and forth trying to make some good time. It was a short run and Dave phoned ahead to Heriot Bay so we had lots of time.

Then we saw the orcas. They were feeding just off the starboard bow. At this point we were thankful for the light winds and sort of just drifted while we watched them circle and thrash in the water. Eventually they moved past us and we watched them for a half an hour or so as they moved off back towards Surge Narrows. Just as we were giving up trying to spot them, a whale watching boat came zooming by headed directly towards them.

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Then we dropped the sails and headed the rest of the way down the Sutil Channel. At the end of the channel no less than 4 more high speed boats loaded with paying customers came screaming up the channel in search of those poor orcas. For the first time I felt sorry for them and a bit disdainful of the whale watching industry. A bit hypocritical I know, but 5 boats for barely six whales? Like I said, poor things.

We tied up in Heriot Bay because Dave had given up and ordered a brand new foot pump; our repairs hadn’t worked. Heriot Bay is a lovely hotel and pub with rickety ramshackle docks and one of the highest moorage rates yet. They say all the money goes to dock improvement, which I really hope is the case, but it does seem a bit off to pay such high rates for tippy docks, bad power and only one fresh water outlet. We did however get our propane tank refilled, as it had run out the evening prior. It had lasted just over a month. The old spare with the outdated valve still had propane left so we had just switched over.

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We headed up the hill to do some shopping. There is a Thrifty’s just up the hill that has great selection and a liquor store. It really is a great stop and of course you can anchor in nearby Rebecca Spit and just dinghy over. We also dumped our garbage and recycling which had been collecting since McNeill.Then we spent a relaxing day and dried out in the sunshine.

We had always intended to make tonight a pub night even if we had followed through on our original plan to anchor out. Turns out there was a band playing and everything. Now we might actually be able to stay late enough to hear them. And it turns out R Shack had met up with old O-dock buddies Paul and Kirsty from Canty, a 34′ Catalina and invited them to join us for pub night as well. It was a party.

They came and gathered us up around 5:30 and we headed up to the pub. The food was great and I chatted to Paul about batteries and power systems. Canty was at anchor so they decided to bail while there was still light, but Leslie, Zak and I hung on with Dave and Margaret to hear the band. They were all old coots and played a great selection of soft rock and oldies. The crowd were mostly locals and regulars and were having a lot of fun. Zak fled after the fourth or fifth tune but we hung on until 10:30 or so. In retrospect I wish we had showed up later and stayed the course. It was a fun evening and it’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed the small town bar atmosphere. Next time.

September 5

The next morning we headed back up the hill for a few last minute purchases. Then I topped up the water tanks and we were good to go. I threw the motor on the dinghy and Zak took off solo to scope out the anchorage while Leslie and I cast off and followed at sailboat speeds.

Canty was anchored at the south end of the spit which was a bit off the beaten track, so we thought we would give it a try. The band of shallow, but not too shallow, water is narrower there so we blew our first anchor attempt. We were set, but I felt our swing would take us too close to shore and the tide was still dropping at least 9 feet by morning. So we tried again and I was pretty happy with it. The winds were SW so we were a bit exposed and it was blowing us onto the shore but they weren’t too strong.

L decided to use up the browning bananas and make banana bread now that we had propane again. Meanwhile R Shack Island showed up and anchored on the far side of Canty even further south down the spit. I dinghy’ed over for a beer and we arranged to meet for a walk later.

Once gathered on shore we walked almost all the way around spit. Zak hung out by the tenders on the beach and carved, while the four of us stretched our legs and enjoyed the terrain. Dave and I bailed as we came back parallel with the dinghies while Les and Margaret headed off for parts unknown. Eventually the intrepid explorers came back and we all took a moment to visit the little bears’ room before heading back to our respective boats. Nice day. I really enjoy the exposed side of Rebecca Spit. The beaches, rocks and monstrous piles of driftwood are so beautiful.

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Dinner was Nachos! Then we broke out the Skip Bo and played by candlelight until I begged to be allowed to go to sleep.

September 6

I awoke to a 6 am text from R Shack stating they were aground. I hopped on deck with the binoculars and sure enough they were tilted on their side at a 45° angle. Yikes. Everyone (and everything) was ok and they just had to wait out the tide to refloat the boat. We perked up some real coffee and I grabbed half the loaf of banana bread and took it over to them since their galley was out of commission. I offered to take M back to Never for Ever to clean up but she declined.

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In the end, all was well. The Shack regained her proper attitude and no damage was done except maybe for a stiff workout out of the old heart rate. We up anchor’d just a bit after our scheduled time of departure (it was going to be a long day to Texada Island) and were soon motoring out of the bay.

L got two calls on the cell from an Ontario number and the second one left a message stating we should call the credit card company. I called in and turns out L and I’s shared card had been compromised. Either that or I had been buying very expensive shoes online. Anyway they told us to cut up both cards and they would send us out new ones. I told them to send them to the house and we would get them later. Its always so amazing and creepy how they catch these things.

A little while later I spied some whale watching boats on our course. Seems the good luck of Zak was on a streak. He unfortunately was still asleep and we didn’t want to wake him. Sucks to be tired 🙂 We were treated to an extraordinary show with some leaps in the air and two smaller orcas playing. As we floated there with our engines off we could here the killer whales breathes and the sound of the whale watchers lecturing his passengers. It was serene and surreal. On of out best experiences ever. It is hard to imagine that before this trip we had never spotted killer whales in the wild. Now we were up to 40 or 50 whales over 6 different experiences. Absolutely amazing.

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After the whales passed us by we fired up the engines again and motored southeast in the calm waters. A little while later Leslie popped her head up and informed the tap had “fallen off.” Huh. We switched off positions and I headed down below. Sure enough the galley sink’s tap had “fallen off.” Turns out the restraining nut on the threaded rod below the tap had worked its way loose and needed to be retightened. I took as much of it apart as I could and tried to WD-40 the rust out as much as I could. Then I reassembled the whole thing and we will wait to the next time it falls off. Boats. What ya gonna do.

I had set up a track with waypoints for fun and we followed the charted course all the way to Sturt Bay on Texada Island. We tied up at the Texada Boat Club which is one of my favourite places. Clean, well maintained, water, 15 amp power and cheap as borscht. The only downside is they don’t take garbage for free and that’s no great trial. There is even a store in nearby Vanada, but we’ve never visited. That’s for a future trip. And I got my favorite stern-in spot by the canopy and flower pots: score!

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We opted to walk into town and up the hill to eat at the Texada Hotel. Good friendly service and decent food. And a vital part of the whole ‘small town’ experience. Afterwards we did Skip-Bo 2: the Revenge, and then hit the sack after a long day.

Heading South III — The Conclusion: Sept 7-9

September 7

We cast off at 10. As soon as we cleared the bay the winds climbed to 10-12 knots from the SE so we raised the sails and killed the engine. Woo-hoo!

It was a long, long beat down Malaspina Strait with winds varying from 12 to 20 knots. We tacked back and forth all day until a bit after 4. We were an hour out of Pender Harbour but two more by sail from our original destination of Secret Cove so we decided to switch destinations. The winds were climbing a bit and I was pretty damn tired so I decided to call it and fire up the engine. It had been a grand day and I didn’t want to ruin it with a last minute bout of stressful sailing. R Shack tried to stick it out for a bit longer but eventually hauled in her jib and motorsailed straight to Pender.

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The thing about sailing close hauled is that while you can do up to 6 or 7 knots steady vs the 5 to 5.5 you would do under motor, your course is anything but straight. So there is always a net loss. The real advantage is that when motoring you are generally bashing and bouncing into the waves and under sail, the boats slice through the water smoothly and with way less bounce. And it’s fun. Until you get scared. Then it’s not so fun. But is it still more fun than bashing into waves at a slower speed? That, dear Horatio, is always the question. Or is that a question for Yorrick? Hmmmm.

We wended our way through Pender Harbour and admired the big boats and fancy houses. We even spotted Oceanus III of the free salmon at her home berth. It crossed my mind to raft up to her and knock on their door, but decided I am not yet that sociable. We dropped anchor in Garden Bay and settled in for the night. I was pretty exhausted so I set L & Z to making meatballs and wandered over to the Shack for beer and bullshit with a fellow tired captain, Dave. I spent a moment regretting I had given up sailing. It would have been nice to say I had sailed all the way from departure to arrival… not something I have yet accomplished.

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Dinner was delicious spaghetti and meatballs, which I cooked up upon my return and we crashed early after some cards and chatter. The winds tomorrow are looking scary so we have no idea what the plan is going to be. Unfortunately we have what is known as the biggest danger in boating: a schedule. We will see what the conditions are like in the a.m.

September 8

We were ready to go for a 10 am departure. As we exited Pender Harbour the swells were pretty big and that didn’t give me much confidence about the conditions once we got out of the lee of Texada Island. The original plan was to motor as far south as we could and try for a beam reach across the Strait of Georgia to Nanaimo. That planned lasted about 5 minutes as we bashed into the waves. So we unfurled the jib and tried to point as high as possible. Dave was sailing under two reefs and his small jib and we were keeping pace at around 4.5 knots so it wasn’t a bad setup. The sail kept us steady and who really needed to faster?

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The problem appeared as we tried to clear the lee shore of the southern tip of Texada. I just couldn’t point high enough under just the jib. Eventually I made the call to turn into the wind and bring out the main. We needed a big reef in it and still haven’t worked out a could procedure on how to do so. The issue is to reef we need to engage the ratchet which is located on the mast. And if the ratchet is engaged you can’t bring out the main. So we would have t bring out the full main and then send someone out on deck to engage the ratchet and then bring the main back in. It’s not that hard but with the 6-8 foot waves and the 15-20 knot winds, it is a bit intimidating. I frankly cant remember how we did it. There were way too many things going on. But L safely made it out on deck and we reefed the main so only a metre or so of sail was out and headed back into the wind.

It was a great setup. One of the best we’ve done. And what followed was the very definition of an exhilarating experience. R Shack Island‘s tweet really captured it:

  • @RShackIsland: Pender Harbour to Nanaimo in 20 knot winds and big seas up to +15 feet 9.5 hour best and only 1.7 hrs on the engine. *

Priceless!

Winds gusted to 26 knots and were steady at 19-22. The helm was never over-powered and we maintained at least 6 knots with some peaks as high as 7.5 knots. And no one was stressed or too uncomfortable and everything went just like it was supposed to. The only casualty was poor Z. He started up in the cockpit (reading) but felt cold and uncomfortable so went below to crash on the salon cushions. A couple of hours later it started to get to him and even though we dosed him with Gravol and hauled him back up on deck it was too little, too late. We still have some things to learn…

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After we hit the cost of Vancouver Island off Winchelsea Islands we decided to stay on sail. The waves were still damn big and we wouldn’t make much headway motoring in on them. So we tacked back out into the Strait and started beating our way into Nanaimo. At one point we came right along side the famous Shack Island. It was another 2+ hours sailing before we made the entrance to Departure Bay but it was probably not going to be nay faster if we had motored direct. And I got my (mostly) point to point sail.

We decided to go in the Departure Bay side to get in a 15 minute motor around Newcastle Island while R Shack sailed on and came around the end of Protection Island. We wanted some hot water for a shower and to put a few amps on the batteries since we had been doing so much sailing. Soon enough we pulled into the bay and tried to drop anchor. After two failed anchor attempts — we got good sets but kept ending up too close to other boats — we followed R Shack Island to a mooring buoy and tied up instead. It was the smarter choice given how tired we were.

I was also too tired to cook so we through the motor on the dinghy and invited D & M to join us at the Dinghy Dock Pub. They forwent the engine so we gave them a tow over to save Margaret’s arms (she is the row-master). Turns out it was acoustic night at Dinghy Dock. Great stuff. Two “kids” did a kick-ass rendition of Can’t Help Falling in Love with unique phrasing and a raspy voice: awesome. Then we towed the other tender home in the dark (this time we had left lights on the boat) and called it a night.

September 9

The next morning Dave swung by and we rowed in to pay up for the use of the mooring balls. Then we booked Zak’s ticket on the Greyhound and headed over to say adieu to the Shack and crew. They were still two days from home and were off to try and make slack at Dodd’s Narrows. It had been a grand 5 weeks or so and we were sad to call the trip over. But it was, at least for us. Time to start thinking of the next leg after we rested up an bit and attended top some chores.

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We cast off the mooring buoy and did the short motor to the Port of Nanaimo docks. Then it was clean up and pack up and get the boy ready to travel. The Greyhound terminal in Nanaimo is now at the Departure Bay ferry terminal so we loaded up in the Dinghy and headed for the visitor dock at Stones Marina which is where Nanaimo Yacht Charters is based out of. Then it was a short walk to the ferry terminal. We picked up the tickets and sat around waiting for the ferry to show up Then we said our goodbyes and thanks and watched the boy walk away for his 19-hour journey home.

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I had been a great visit and a great way to end our Broughton adventure.

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Back at the boat we did laundry and tried to relax. And we started thinking about what was next. The only thing we did know was it would involve hanging out here for a bit to do some evaluation and planning.