Desolation 2019—week one

And we are off. We had planned on heading to the coast on the 25th but unfortunate circumstances meant we had to cancel our flights last minute (Ouch!—but it’s only money right?). A couple of extra days and we got everything fixed up and took off on the 29th.

The plan was to cruise Desolation for a few weeks and meet up with the Calgary Yacht Club’s annual flotilla. My brother had joined them last year aboard his friend’s Kelly Peterson 44 which apparently had enough room for him and his wheelchair—something our Hunter just can’t manage. The flotilla was heading north from Comox, up to Blind Channel and then circling back by way of Toba Inlet. It looks to be a pretty busy agenda, so hopefully we will get our relaxing in first. And I imagine they will all be keen to actually sail.

And we’re off…

 29 April

We left Edmonton around 9 am, abjuring our usual seaplane flight from Vancouver to Nanaimo in favour of a flight into Nanaimo’s airport because that got us on the boat about 4 hours earlier. Ian from Nanaimo Yacht Charters picked us up at the airport and we had a nice visit on the drive in.

I’d forgotten our keys (among other things) and so I grabbed NYCSS’s set from Beth and we started hauling our gear on board. A few hour later we were mostly moved in and took a break to lunch with L’s parents who had driven in to meet us. Then we finished unpacking and headed off to the grocery store to provision. Eventually everything was done and we kicked back to try and relax after a long day.

Speaking of forgetting things. So far, because I got cocky and didn’t consult my pre-departure provisioning lists, I have realized I didn’t bring: a long sleeved button down (useful for cool evenings), my good kitchen knife, my gorilla pod for the go-pro knockoff, the aforementioned boat keys, my radio license renewal and enough long sleeved t-shirts. That’ll teach me. Or not.

30 April

We woke up to 10°C — a cold start to the day. We had intended to be off dock early but you know, one thing or another… Eventually we did cast off and headed across the Strait for the Sunshine Coast and the start of this year’s adventure.

We discovered right away the bearings on the wind transducer were shot. In what was obviously ~15 knots of wind, the wind instrument was reading from -1 knots up to a peak of 3 knots. I found later this was probably due to a big storm early in the year which had abused a few of the boats in the fleet. As per usual, after a year of being off the boat, we were a little off balance and since we opted to head straight out rather than have our normal couple of days at anchor in Nanaimo to settle in, we were a bit jangling. So the lack of accurate info about the wind and an initially bouncy ride led us to decided to motor sail rather than sail. I know, I know… we’re so weak-willed. What can I say…

I also discovered that the issues we had been having with the chart plotter last year were worse. I had assumed last year it was a battery/power issue which we had dealt with at the end of our cruise; but the screen was still dimming as time went on and the faint odour of ozone could be smelled. It got so bad that by the point we were ready to transit the narrow, rocky entrance to Smuggler Cove I couldn’t see the screen in the sunlight and decided to fire up Navionics on my phone to double-check our position.

But we made it in safely, dropped anchor and took out a stern line to the fancy new chains that had been installed. L took the line out in a change of our usual procedure. Seems she was tired of me yelling instructions from shore on how to maneuver the boat. So she had to put up with me yelling instructions from the boat on how to run the stern line. Some people just can’t win…

After dinner we discovered a horrible fact that almost ruined the whole trip. There was no kitchen drain plug! We searched high and low but to no avail. Horror! We quickly started researching places to head off to in order to find a replacement. In the meantime I McGyvered a temporary fix out of Press-and-Seal and a side plate. Disaster averted and dishes were duly done.

We were treated to about 3 hours of helicopters repeatedly coming by and dipping their buckets in the south cove. The fire couldn’t have been too far away as they were back every 4 minutes or so. Exciting stuff.

1 May

We awoke to 11°C and moored in the shade of a cliff which meant there was no hope of warming sunshine for at least 3 hours. Since 13° is our cut off for firing up the heater, I decided to fire up the heater. What I got was a horrible noise. Long time followers of this blog will note that my relationship with our Webasto Hydronic heater is not the best. In fact I would estimate that at least 50% of the time that I have gone to fire up the bloody thing it has failed to satisfy my need for heat. It again did not fail to disappoint me.

As soon as I flicked the breaker a horrible noise came from the aft locker. I glanced over at the thermostat control and noted it was already on (this is not good in my experience as it means it wasn’t shut down properly). I shut it all down after a few minutes and tried again. After my third try the thermostat control now started giving me an error message in the form of a series of indecipherable coloured blinks. And that was that. I wasn’t going to go through another whole cruise with no heater—it was now a matter of principle. Besides, we need a new drain plug.

I called Ian, let him know we were headed back and asked him to have a technician on standby. He thought it might be the bearings in the pump and cautioned that a replacement might be several days away. But I stuck to my guns and said were gonna get it fixed. I can get stubborn about the oddest things.

It was glass calm as we motored back across. That will serve me right for not sailing when I had the chance. I also noticed on the way back that the stitching on the Sunbrella edging of the jib had frayed and was now flapping a bit. That was a bit of a problem because given a little bit of wind, it was sure to get a lot worse.

Back at NYCSS, it became apparent that the issue was the recirc pump. Unbeknownst to me (I have been mystified by the setup of that bloody Webasto from day one and no one has been able to explain it to me) our install had an external pump—which is apparently just your typical freshwater pressure pump—plumbed in to pressure up the system. This pump turns on as soon as the breaker is turned on, before the Webasto’s internal pressure pump is actually fired up. Apparently the logic is that because the Webasto Diesel system is originally designed for trucks, there might not be enough oomph in the built-in pump to deal with the elevation changes and length of runs. An external pump ensures that airlocks are less of an issue.

So we swapped out the pump (which was still working and “probably” would have lasted the whole trip) but unfortunately the new pump had manufacturing defect and we had to put in a cheaper one. This means I can now hear the recirc pump running, but since the whole system generally sounds like an airliner running up its turbines, I figured it wasn’t much of a big deal. And the error code had reset itself. We successfully fired up the heater several times. Success! Of course in the week or so since we had it fixed the mornings have all been pretty good and I have yet to have had occasion to actually use the stupid thing. Sigh.

After a quick consult, we decided to haul down the jib. A & M canvas is just up the hill and theY agreed to do a quick sew job; we had it back in just a couple of hours. In the process we did notice that the foil that the jib slides into was loose and then had to find a couple of new set screws to get that taken care of.

I also decided that the chart plotter was unacceptable as it was. We will be okay because I had both my phone and my iPad to use and frankly I prefer using paper charts except for very narrow entrances and exits. We talked it over and decided that anything newer risked having to replace a lot of other instruments that talked to the chart plotter and that it could quickly run to almost $10,000 if we got carried away. I found several refurbished Raymarine e80’s on line and decided that for several hundred dollars it was worth it. So I bought one and it should be waiting when we finally get back. Hopefully it will be an easy swap.

All in all it was a busy and expensive day. Oh, and Beth found us a replacement plug…but it wasn’t as good as the original constarn it… We cast off and a few minutes later dropped anchor in Mark Bay around 5 pm. Then we dinghy’d over to the Dinghy Dock Pub for dinner and some cider.

2 May

These will get shorter, I promise. In any case we awoke, phoned the municipal dock to see if we could tie up for an hour instead of having to lower the outboard off and on. They said yes and we headed in. At first we were supposed to raft onto some crabbing boats but they were already getting pretty dense, so the harbour guys had us tie up in an empty slip normally occupied by the Spill Response boat.

I screwed up that dock. I wanted to reverse in but the wind kept catching the bow and swinging me out. As usual I got stubborn before I got smart and at one point even touched my anchor to the rail on one of the aluminum boats. Eventually I smartened up and just went in bow first. Easy-peasy. We dropped off some mail, bought some batteries and found another replacement drain plug (which still wasn’t as good as the original) and cast off again.

The winds were lighter but we managed to sail for for 40 minutes or soon until they died and we were left only making 2 knots of boat speed. Really starting to regret not sailing that first day…

A few hours later it was windy stern tie in Smuggler and there a lot of shenanigans until I was satisfied. It’s not as quiet as it was two years ago at this time of year. We shared the anchorage with 3 boats the first night (with two more in the back cove) and there was never less than 2 the entire time we were there.

3 May

The next morning Leslie wrote a proposal for a conference that she had left to the last moment. Around noon we managed to scrabble together enough internet signal to send it off. I on the other hand, discovered the shelf life of FSR is about 4 years. My wondrous blue rust-eating jelly was now a watery pink. So much for me spending some time working on the inevitable creep of rust stains.

So I let L row me around the anchorage. Eventually we tied up to the north shore and went for a hike out to the point—something we’d never done. Dinner was the first pizza of the year!

4 May

Another lazy morning followed by a longer hike that pretty much covered all the available trails. Lots of tourists and local availing themselves of the sunny day and beautiful scenery.

5 May

I wanted to get north, so we headed out with the intention of making Sturt Bay or maybe even Lund. One of my objectives is to try an meet up with S/V Violet Hour. Violet Hour is a C&C 38—if memory serves me—that Patrick and his partner (whose name completely escapes me at the moment) bought right around the time I was researching our own purchase. Them, Matt (on Gudgeon—who we finally met up with last year in Von Donop) and us make up a trio of sailors who all bought boats and started blogs right about the same time. The three journeys make an interesting compare and contrast for anyone contemplating life on the water in the PNW.

They were a couple of days ahead of us heading north at the time of our first abortive attempt to cast off and now were already exploring Desolation. As their intent was to head further north I wasn’t sure if they would still be around when we eventually arrived in Desolation.

The forecast called for 10–15 knots from the N and as usual the Malaspina was uninviting. We could have sailed but once again wimped out and decided a straight line was more efficient than spending the day tacking back and forth. Just outside Pender Harbour I spotted a dorsal fin and we were treated to a pod of 8 or so orca about 300 feet off the port side. We killed the engine and drifted alongside for 15 minutes or so as they headed south.

In the end it turned out that banging into the waves was not to our taste and we aborted our northward journey and decided to duck into Blind Bay. We had been to the Hardy Island anchorage there before; Dave (R Shack Island) had meant to take us to Ballet Bay on the south side one day but we’d never made it. So we decided to give it a try on our own. We arrived a low, low water and anchored in 20 ft surrounded by rocks. Six hours later the rocks had completely disappeared and suddenly all the warning in the guide books about approaching with caution made a lot more sense.

I am still refining my anchoring distance sense — we settled in slightly off centre in the small bay and I would have sworn there was barely enough room for us. An hour or so later another boat came in and dropped anchor a comfortable distance off our bow. Later when we went for a row we realized there was probably enough room for a couple more boats as well. So much for getting better at judging distance…

6 May

The winds were gone again. So we motored out of the bay and headed north up a much calmer Malaspina Strait. A bit later we spotted a sailboat on the AIS gaining on us. Eventually it turned out to be a Hunter 38 (pretty much the same boat as us but a few years newer). We had been running at close to 2500 RPM this trip which is much higher than our normal 2200 “Dave speed.” But these guys were beating us by almost half a knot in what was pretty much the exact same hull. L wouldn’t let me speed up. She’s mean.

We followed the other Hunter into Lund about 20 minutes behind. I tried to stern into the fuel dock and lost my bow to the wind. Again. That’s three times already. You think I’d learn. Anyway we backed out and came in on the other side after the the other boat had finished refuelling and cast off. Much easier. Then we picked up some more cider, topped up the water and took off again.

By this time I was just looking to find someplace to settle into for a few days. Violet Hour was supposedly heading for Cortes Bay but that didn’t appeal. Apparently according to our spiffy new 20919 Waggoners there were a bunch of new chains in the Copeland Islands and that was barely 2nm out from Lund. So we decided to give them a try.

The wind had picked up out of the northwest and our chosen anchorage looked a bit choppy so we bailed and went back to our cozy nook in the south islands for 2 years earlier. The entrance is a bit nerve-wracking but it was low tide and at least we could see the rocks instead of guesstimating where they were. We passed over one section where there was less than 2 feet under the keel but then passed into deeper (8 feet under the keel) water. Since we were about 3 feet above low tide we figured we were good for a few days.

As soon as we settled were greeted by the local seal. Later dinner was interrupted by a trio of noisy otters transiting the cove with their own victuals and we watched a bald eagle catch and consume a fish just off our stern. Idyllic. Leslie went for a row.

7 May

L spent the morning working (she is delivering a paper at the Learneds June 3 in YVR and still hasn’t finished her paper). I relaxed and thought about cleaning rust. Then we lowered the outboard and went for a cruise around the various islands in the group. The strait was dead calm so we crossed over to Major Islet and killed the engine just to the west of where the sea lions were gathered. We slowly drifted past these loud pinnipeds, managing to not disconcert them too much (although they did object to us when we attempted to row a bit further out…loudly). We also spotted some seal pups sunning themselves on the shore. Seriously cute.

We finished the day up with some shore exploration by drifting along the rocks: tons of starfish, sea cucumbers, anemones and all sorts of unidentified sea creatures—guide books are not as helpful as one would suppose. A quick hike next to watch the waves off the west side of the island and it was back on board for dinner and some episodes of Episodes.

Starting to relax

That pretty much wraps up our first week aboard. A bit more hectic than we could wish for but an improvement on the rush of try to head to the Broughtons that we went through last year. We have about 10 days before we meet up with the flotilla boats—either in Comox or a day later in Gorge. We haven’t decided yet. Everything in Desolation is pretty close to everything else so hopefully we can get in some sails without worrying about schedules.

I’d also like to find a chandlery and buy some cleaning supplies. The canvas could use a good scrub and the stainless needs some work. But our options are limited and I’m not that committed to it yet.
—Bruce #Cruising

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