I’m a weird guy: shy, misanthropic and anti-social combined with a strong aversion to being alone, intensely curious (or snoopy if you prefer) and sporadically “afflicted” from FOMO… you could say my relationship with the world is complicated 🙂 My brother OTOH is a people person. He collects friends wherever he goes and is never shy about forming bonds with anyone he comes across, no matter what any particular social code may say about that. I guess that’s why the guy without a boat and in a wheelchair is the one who got me out cruising with a flotilla and not vice-versa.
So there we are, cruising around Desolation Sound with a diverse group of people. And not just people: racers! Will drama ensue? Fights over who won what? Secret midnight commando attacks to sabotage other boats? Spoiler Alert: it was plenty ‘o fun! And chock full of details so brace yourself for a long one…
The morning started with a skipper’s meeting. The current right outside Blind Channel (where, if you remember, we were currently docked), while not particularly dangerous was going to be running at 5 knots around 9 a.m. which incidentally was the time we would need to leave to catch the midday slack at Dent Rapids. While we did see three boats slowly make their way up the channel against the current, it was agreed upon to wait out this current, head to Shoal Bay for an afternoon break and do the 7 pm slack.
We cast off first. I am still a bit agog about how nervous the other skippers were and how blasé we now are about the various currents and rapids. I think Waggoners puts a bit of a scare into everyone with their “worst case scenario” approach (although I appreciate why they do it). Be that as it may, we bucked a couple of knots current for a few minutes and then emerged into Cordero Channel with absolutely no wind.
A bit later L spotted a sea lion eating a largish fish. He would pop his head out of the water and thrash it violently until the fish went flying off leaving a nice hunk in his mouth to swallow. Then he would fetch his fish and repeat the whole process. So determined was he to choke down this meal that he sunk out of sight as a powerboat passed right over him and then immediately resumed the process. We watched him in the binoculars for quite a while: onboard entertain at it’s best.
The wind came up just as Shoal Bay came into sight and we could see the rest of the flotilla way behind us raise their sails but we opted to just settle in to the bay. As its name suggests Shoal Bay shoals out quickly. Drop your hook in 50′ of water and you can find your stern in 8 feet or less. It took us 3 anchor attempts to be sort of satisfied (either it was too shallow or the anchor kept skipping) and immediately decided our earlier offer to Teka to raft alongside us was not going to work. 30 minutes later Teka showed up and rafted alongside us — how’s that for decisive.
L went for a row to rescue a fancy fender that was drifting out of the bay; turns out it belonged to one of the powerboats tied up at dock. Then, as it turns out Jean on Teka was a bit of an amateur bird enthusiast and I had mentioned to her we had spotted some stunning Violet-green Swallows here last year, Leslie was drafted to take the budding ornithologist out to see if one could be spotted. Alas to no avail as the silly things wouldn’t hold still.
It was a pretty lazy afternoon as we all just hung out and visited. Later L and I went ashore, watched the crew of Rainbow’s End and Time Warp play horseshoes and watched a horde (around 10-12) of hummingbirds zoom around the feeder at the little pub. I really do like Shoal Bay.
Some of the fleet cast off early — leaving us and Teka behind. We took the time to have a tour of this classic old 80s boat and then reciprocated by giving Larry a tour of Never for Ever. Some very different design aesthetics from two very different eras of boat building.
Then Teka let go her lines and we started to raise anchor. At this point we actually started to pay attention to our surroundings and it turns out that at some point in the last 20 minutes or so (during the tour) our anchor had let go and we were hundreds of feet away from where we used to be. Not only that but we had about 80 feet of chain out and were now in 90 feet of water. Umm… Turns out later our drifting had not gone unnoticed but the crew had failed to make connections between our movement and the fact that we were no longer anchored to the bottom. Oops. Oh well, no harm done.
We motor-sailed for a bit until we caught up (and passed) Teka and then killed the engine and sailed downwind just on the jib. The rest of the flotilla was still ahead of us, having been out gybing back and forth and having a good sail as they all waited for slack at Dent. We really have to take a page out of these guys’ book and raise the sails more often.
When we arrived it all looked good so we surged ahead of the fleet and entered Dent about 15–20 minutes early. It was a flood turning to ebb so we got a good push and actually had to try and slow down to not be too early for Gillard. Once Gillard was safely transited we motored to the community docks at Big Bay and tied up first at the otherwise empty docks. Everyone else slowly slotted in and an appie pot luck was declared for one hour hence. I had made some boule on the sail down and popped the focaccia that I had also prepped into the oven so our contribution was fresh bread with some oil and vinegar.
I also gave a few more boat tours to some of the other cruisers while L was stuck socializing with the group at large. And that pretty much ended the day. So far socializing with other people hadn’t killed anyone yet — fingers crossed.
It was a sunny morning. Big Bay on Stuart Island is situated right between the Yuculta and the Gillard rapids so we had to wait until noon before we could cast off. Our destination was supposed to be the Toba Wildernest (which we had attempted to visit two years ago but were turned away). But a last minute email de-invited us to tie up at their docks — they really don’t like spring cruisers there I guess. So we had a skippers’ meeting aboard Norfinn to settle the day’s plans. It was decided that we would head to Walsh Cove and along the way have a little pre-race race to see how each boat and crew could perform.
A quick note about racing.
Apparently the charter companies don’t like their boats participating in racing — and having seen the mindset of racers in action I have no problem understanding why :-). So the CYC members were careful to refer to any competitive sailing as “the Parade.” They weren’t fooling anyone but the forms were followed and that’s all that counts.
The plan was to gather at the 40°N mark south of the Yucultas at 2:30 pm and head around Raza Island and up Pryce Channel. The halfway mark would be just abeam of island north of West Redonda around 165°W with the finish between of the light at the top of Waddington Channel and Beam Island on the north shore of the channel. I asked what we would do if there was no wind and the others were confident that wouldn’t be an issue . Heh heh heh…
The rapids were a bit swirly as we cast off but no big deal to transit about half an hour early.
The fleet was divided into two divisions: the two big boats (Gloman Magic 42′ and Norfinn 49′) and the most experienced racer (Rainbow’s End 36′) in Division One. The other division was us (completely new to racing), Teka (theoretically a big old barge of a boat) and Time Warp (who at 32′ would technically be among the slowest of the boats). At the start the wind was clocking in around 3 or 4 knots so Teka and TIme Warp decided to cheat by rolling out their asymmetrical spinnakers. So here’s the thing. Our Hunter, with it’s weird-ass B&R rig, sports a tiny 110% jib. Both these other boats already had us out-gunned with their 130%+ genoas, but that wasn’t enough for them. The lightweight colourful spinnakers are huge and meant for kind of light winds we were currently experiencing. Luckily they are a pain to raise and fussy to keep filled in these slow drifting conditions.
So we took off like a shot (well ok, more like a slightly inebriated slug with a bad sense of direction) and gained substantial distance on our division-mates before they even crossed the line. We slowly drifted past both Norfinn and Gloman Magic (who eventually stalled in a dead spot and gave up on the race entirely) and that put us second overall and first in our division — Woot! Apparently we also came up on Norfinn on the windward side and stole what little wind they had. Who knew I was a race tactician on top of everything else?
About an hour later Rainbow’s End, who had read the conditions right and had been sneakily drifting towards the opening of Hole in the Wall, caught a nice breeze and took off at a bazillion miles an hour leaving the rest of us looking like rubber ducks bobbing in a bathtub. Eventually, one by one, we all caught the breeze and had a lovely beam reach sail into Gaza Passage. Where we stalled. Like I mean really stalled. So stalled our dinghy were passing us because they were lighter and drifted faster.
Now one might think this would be extremely boring and frustrating. And I suppose on one level it was. But at one point when we were drifting faster than Rainbow’s End and Norfinn (who had reached the passage before us), it looked like we would actually take the lead of the “parade.” At .25 knot boat speed, our adrenaline surged as we urged our vessel forward, determined to capture the overall lead. But alas we caught a back eddy and lost all the gains we had made. An hour later at 5 pm they called it. We had a few hours to go to our anchorage and had moved less than a dozen meters in the past hour. Division Two ended up almost perfectly all line abreast so who “won” remains in much dispute. (Although I think our claim that we stalled first secures us the win.)
After that it was a glorious motor-sail to the head of Toba Inlet and Walsh Cove with stunning views and loads of sunshine.
We stern-tied in 50’ at Walsh Cove and had a bit of an issue with the anchor not catching. But eventually we ended up in 12 feet of water with our stern about 10′ off the rocks: easiest stern tie ever. All settled in we rowed over to be social aboard Teka and had a glass of sparkling wine to celebrate Larry and Tracy’s 36 anniversary. Look at us…being social…
Quite the day.
For some reason I was being mobbed by bugs. Small black flies that didn’t bite or anything but I ended up with half a dozen drowned in my coffee. Blech. And what’s with this bug sense they seem to have? There appeared to be a consistent number and density of bugs annoying me but no matter how many I killed or drowned there seemed to be replacements waiting in the wings. Is there some sort of infinite supply that mandated to maintain the proper level of bug density? If there are actually infinite bugs why am I not drowning in the pesky buggers? Curious minds want to know.
L and I went out for a row to explore and check out the petroglyphs on nearby rocks. Quite nice examples of the form. We also spent some time peering underwater and watching the Oystercatchers that were wandering the shore. Really cool looking birds. In turn, a snoopy seal spent quite a bit of time checking us out.
Eventually we took off had a great sail tacking through Waddington Channel and eventually turned to go up Pendrell Sound where the flotilla had decided to stop for lunch. We made it about a quarter of the way up on sail before the wind died altogether and then we motored the rest of the way.
The fleet had been maintaining a watch on VHF channel 68 for inter-boat communications but as we started tacking back and forth across Waddington it turned out the Waggoner’s Alaska flotilla was also on 68. So we were treated to a bit of a guided tour of Desolation Sound with some interestingly insecure boaters asking all the good noob questions… ah, those were the days.
We dropped anchor about 3/4 of the way up Pendrell. Three boats were already there rafted together and splashing about in the water. Apparently Pendrell Sound has the warmest water in Desolation, which in turn has the warmest water in the PNW. On the surface it was running about 72° (22°C) that day. Of course about a foot lower it was much, much colder. Still, it was bearable and much splashing and swimming ensued.
Pendrell is a beautiful place, surrounded by snow covered mountains and rolling hills. Jean and I watched an immature bald eagle who spent its time watching us. Its identity was in doubt for a while (immature bald eagles do not yet sport the distinctive white head) but eventually her bird book and some high-powered binoculars confirmed the ID.)
After lunch we all headed off for Grace Harbour. It was calm until we hit Desolation Sound proper and then the wind climbed into the 20s with some pretty nasty gusts. We were just about to roll out our headsail when Time Warp, who was just ahead of us sailing on their genoa, got nailed by a huge gust and rounded all the way up. Then Norfinn tried to raise their main and almost immediately dropped all their sail again. We decided to just motor the rest of the way, although everyone but Gloman Magic eventually managed to find a nice balance and sailed it. Apparently Rainbow’s End and Teka — way behind us — had a great sail managing to hit hull speed (their theoretical maximum speed through the water).
The current was running in Malaspina Inlet and we managed to hit 9 knots over ground in a few of the narrower spots. Eventually we all trickled into Grace Harbour anchor in fairly close proximity. We enjoyed a late supper, some tea with Teka and relaxed in the setting sun.
Morning came around grey and cloudy and we lounged around until 11 am. Brian had dinghyed by to let us know today was race day. The “parade” would go from between Sarah Point and Kinghorn Island to Major Islet (the rocks just off the Copelands where we had seen the sealions).
Raising anchor proved that perhaps we had anchored in a bit too close of a proximity to us and Gloman Magic‘s anchor came up with Rainbow’s End‘s chain. A quick tug from the dinghy and it was all good.
Coming out of Malaspina Inlet the winds were fierce and most everyone was throwing in reefs and we were contemplating bailing altogether — but once we got out into the Sound proper they settled down and it looked like a long downwind sail was what we had in store. And right after the start of the race everyone with a reef shook them out and we were off.
As previously noted Hunters are not known for their downwind performance so we decided to check out the rumour that gybing back and forth in long broad reaches is actually faster. So we watched as the other boats headed downwind towards the finish line and we sailed westward towards Vancouver Island. We had just turned back towards the line and, at 6+ knots, it looked like we might actually rejoin the pack in a good position, when Time Warp asked permission to raise their spinnaker and then “poof,” Teka had theirs up in a shot as well and any hope of catching them was gone.
Teka won. We think it was unfair. Mostly because we lost. We were the underdogs and so should have won…right?
I had been worried about pulling into Lund so late in the day but the wharfinger did a fantastic job of squeezing us all in (along with the Comox Yacht Club who were there as well). We were rafted up to Rainbow’s End and Time Warp ended up rafted alongside Teka and everyone else got a nice spot at the docks with no one relegated to the breakwaters.
Dale had been looking forward to a good shower after a few days of being stuck on board but it turned out the handicap shower was out of order. But they made do. He also popped a tire in his wheelchair but a patch kit and a borrowed air pump made short work of that. As if cruising isn’t already full of work that needs to be done. All cleaned up and presentable we all headed up for dinner and presentations at the newly reopened pub at the historic Lund Hotel.
Growing pains made dinner for 20-odd people a long, slow process and the thought of presentations was abandoned since half the people were ready to go before the other half had even been served. Our table managed to score free drinks as an apology and we had a nice evening chatting with the American contingent of the flotilla.
It was rolly in the harbour overnight and a squeaky fender between us and Rainbow’s End threatened to keep me awake after I woke up in the middle of the night. So I dragged myself out of bed and liberally applied some dishwashing soap to the fender to lubricate it. The bright blue Dawn soap made for an interesting “stain” the next morning.
We gathered on the dock for presentations. We came in third in our division and scored a lovely bunch of smoked oysters. I think were were robbed and should have gotten second (I guess I really wanted the 2nd place bunch of smoked oysters). It was obviously a high-level conspiracy and we had failed to grease the right palms (wasting all our lubrication on the fender). I figure this means we will just have to come back next year and exact our revenge.
Teka came out of it as leader of Division Two and overall winner. Apparently they managed to lowball expectations and sandbag to a point where everyone had expected them to barely be able to cross the line with their handicapped crew and overweight brick of a boat. Hah! We weren’t fooled, even if they managed to pull the wool over everyone else’s eyes.
Watch out Teka…we are watching you now…
After that we all started to pull out for our respective destinations. Gloman Magic and Norfinn were due back at the charter base in Comox and Teka had crew to drop off at the same place. Rainbow’s End and Time Warp were headed back to Sidney and we were going to start our slow way back to Nanaimo.
Rainbow’s End was off like a shot and we kept company with Time Warp while they broke out their spinnaker again as we sailed downwind around Harwood Island. Then they opted to head further west and we gybed back towards the Malaspina Strait.
Later we lost the wind and motored south in calm waters eventually deciding to keep going until we hit Smuggler. It was a long day but we had a glorious few days of doing nothing ahead of us so decided to get it over with.
Morning found us stern-tied back in Smuggler. It was a the start of a lazy, lazy day. All that socializing takes a lot out of a guy. And we really weren’t used to the constant movement from one place to another. We really hadn’t done much of that since we got our own boat.
I wanted to take the dinghy into Secret Cove to pick up some FSR (to start on the brightwork) and some Doritos — running low on snacks can be a grave issue. So we did. And that was the sum total of useful things we did that day.
What a week. We had tons of fun and there were enough people and enough separation that we could all find some time a space to hide when it got to be too much. I have to say I think I really could start to like the idea of flotillas. At least with a groups of interesting and friendly people. And almost uniformly boaters seem to be interesting and friendly people. So there you are. I’m glad my brother invited us along and we will be sure to join in again if schedules align.
And I found out apparently, because of the last minute presentations, we were cheated. Cheated out of our traditional right to winge and moan good-naturally about our failure to win. I knew it.
This racing thing might be addictive.