20 Knots and All’s Well

Note: I am currently maintaining two blogs and have decided to keep day-to-day trip report stuff here on my personal blog. I’ll reserve things on Neverforever.ca for more specific “boating topics”

After sitting in Nanaimo for half a week, we felt it was time to move on. R Shack Island was unfortunately delayed and had agreed to meet up with us later. So we set our sights on Secret Cove across the Strait and cast off. The winds were up (15-20 knots) and I wanted to try actually sailing our new boat.

Now here is the thing about us, learning to sail, and new boats. Every single time we have raised the sails in a new boat, it has been stressful, terrifying and generally a total laugh-a-minute circus. And this time was no different. Even though there was good wind, I decided to motor out past Snake Island; that way we would have plenty of sea room for any (inevitable) shenanigans. The seas were quite rough with spray coming over the bow as we were banging straight into them, but the boat handled them fine. So far so good.

Eventually we were far enough out we could attempt to raise the sails without fear of having to head toward anything solid while we figured it all out. Given the winds were peaking at 21 knots, I wanted to start with a reef in. But I’d never actually reefed a furling main, so it was all theory at this point. Our Selden rig has a continuous furling line and on the mast there’s a switch that allows you to switch it from free-running to ratchet. The theory being that when in ratchet mode you can loosen the outhaul and furl in the mainsail without the wind grabbing it coming unfurled again. That’s the theory.

What I failed to think through was this means you have to let the sail out all the way and then ratchet it back in. Starting with the furling line in ratchet mode just means you can’t pull the sail out; a fact that occurred to me after 5 minutes of tugging on the outhaul, looking up jammed mainsail in the manual and scratching my head. You see, my theory had been to pull the sail out only half way from the safety of the cockpit, so I had gone out on deck and engaged the ratchet first.

Eventually I figured it out and switched from head scratching to head smacking. So we let out all the main, engaged the ratchet and then furled it back in about a meter. I had no idea how much reef that was, but in a traditional mainsail I figure we would have at least one reef in and be contemplating a second. This looked roughly like one reef. I hoped. Then we headed off the wind and started sailing north close hauled, but left the motor running just in case. As soon as we started to turn, I unfurled the jib and away we went.

Of course the winds being so strong, we immediately started to heel. Leslie had the helm and was doing a good job, but as things started crashing down below — we never do manage to secure stuff well the first time — and the boat started hitting 20° and we were still looking for the damn tell-tales to try to trim the sails and the various wind instruments were not in agreement and the spray was crashing over the bow and… well, suffice to say the stress levels went up and the confidence levels went down as per usual on our first big sail.

Afterwards there was some discussion about the merits of having your first big sail in 20 knot winds. I mean, after all, it wasn’t likely to get worse and we worked out all the flaws in the system pretty quickly, if only because of sheer panic. That meant the rest of the trip should be relatively benign. Others might say a gradually rising curve of difficulty might be a better scenario, but we’d done that in the Shearwater the first time we sailed in the 20-knot range and all it had done was fill us with false confidence until we were literally doused with cold water. As it turned out, the boat handled the winds just fine as we spent the next 15 minutes trimming and tweaking and getting used to the heel. It’s always a bit terrifying the first time you heel the boat over so far you are literally climbing to get to the high side of the cockpit, but after a few (10 or 15?) minutes you get used to it and gain your confidence that the boat isn’t about to roll over like a breaching whale.

So, poise regained, we sailed in steady winds for an hour or so until they gradually started to drop. Eventually they settled down to around 10 or 12 knots and we were feeling very salty and sailorly cruising along. That’s why we then decided to heave to, shake the reef and let out the rest of the main before heading on our merry way. For the rest of the afternoon the winds continued to drop until they were bouncing around 6 knots on our beam just off the Merry Island lighthouse. I have no idea how fast our boat will actually go in the heavy winds because, frankly, we never did get them trimmed right. We had been doing a steady 5.5 to 6 knots most of the trip, but in the light winds we managed a respectable 3.7 to 4 knots on a broad reach. Eventually, as we got inside Thormanby Island, the winds shifted direction and I hauled in the jib and fired up the engine. We motor sailed through Welcome Passage, cruising along at 6.5 knots while only running at 1800 rpm.

Smuggler’s Cove

The tide was about 3 hours short of high, and after discussing it, we decided to try Smuggler Cove. Smuggler Cove is a marine park just a bit SE of Secret Cove. We had been in there for a look-see once before at low tide but had never stopped. The entrance to Smuggler Cove is a narrow, rock-filled channel with all the rocks showing at low tide and very few of them visible at high. They are all well charted and between your paper charts, your chart plotter and a Mark I eyeball, it’s a pretty safe and easy passage. The challenge comes when, once you are inside, the dozens of boats that are all stern-tied at various angles seem to combine with all the rocks on the charts to make a giant slalom course. We were perfectly prepared to abandon our plan if it was too crowded or seemed too risky.

Luckily, the cove was only moderately populated and a big cliff face with lots of depth and several red-painted metal rings for stern ties was readily available with lots of room on either side to give us a margin for error. Which, it turned out we needed. Learning seems to be like that.

Once again, the “first time in a new boat” syndrome bit us on the ass. We got the anchor down easily enough and our stern pointed at the ring, so I grabbed the 200’ stern line and jumped in the dinghy. I didn’t neatly uncoil the line (unless you’ve rock climbed for years, you can’t imagine how unforgivable a sin this is), I didn’t discuss a plan with Leslie, and I didn’t, in any way, even bother to check for currents. There was one. Right on our beam. That swung the boat 90°. Sigh.

Eventually I got the dinghy ashore and the rope untangled and took a wrap around the metal ring to try to haul the stern back. That was pretty much a lost cause. This left me (with my limited imagination) with little recourse but to begin shouting instructions to Leslie to try to get her to maneuver the boat back to where it had started from. A thus we have set our scene for a very Shakespearean comedy of errors.

There were miscommunications, slapstick hijinks, well-intentioned — but ill-informed — do-gooding, misdirected wrath, intentional malfeasance (on the part of the dastardly current), heroes, heroines and villain (again the current) and even a bear. Well, there was no actual bear, but our hero did growl a bit, especially after falling in the water while exiting the dinghy onto the rocks for the third time.

But, as in all good comedies, it all turned out and eventually we were secure and steady and ready for a bear… I mean a beer. The opening night review read that there was a strong cast and great story, but the actual plot was a bit lacking and it could have used a song or two. In retrospect (don’t you love retrospect?) my big mistake was not discussing the various possible outcomes with Leslie before I exited the boat and then just leaving her in charge of execution. The reviewer noted that attempting to captain a boat from shore is at best an exercise in futility and more generally an act of egoistic stupidity. Our heroine was perfectly capable of dealing with the issue on her own, but it was never made clear it was her issue to deal with, so she just kept trying to interpret the hapless hero’s less-than-coherent shore-based instruction. But at least we amused, amazed and terrified our neighbours, so at least that was something. They definitely got their money’s worth. Thank god there’s still time for some rewrites.

The Three Rs

As the tide rose, a few more boats showed up, and although none of them got caught out as badly as we did, a few did have their share of troubles, and we learned a quite a bit by watching how they chose to resolve their issues. Soon the tie-up rings on shore disappeared beneath the water. The full moon and time of year combined to give us some of the highest tides of the year, rising to 16′ from a low of 2.5′. A few of the later boats had to run their lines through rings a foot or more below the surface.

When we toured the cove by dinghy at low tide the next day, I noted that there were an awful lot of traps for the unwary at Smuggler Cove if one came barreling in here at high tide. It was good to see the lay of the land before we ever attempt to penetrate deeper into the cove. The back cove especially has a treacherous curved entry with a shoal that runs out from the red marker that would be most dangerous with the tide at its mid point.

Despite the long weekend, Smuggler Cove emptied out during the morning and soon there were only four boats left to enjoy the whole front cove, with three or four more tucked away in the back section. It is a beautiful spot to stay and relax, but I imagine most people just treat it as a stop-off spot on their way to and from Desolation Sound. That’s kind of a pity. Next time we intend to stay more than overnight we will brave the much quieter back cove and avoid all the morning and evening traffic.

The other thing of note — and I have no idea why this is — is that it seems this is a cove that inspires outboard use. And by that I mean of the 15 or 20 tenders and dinghies we saw exploring the cove, only one other boat besides us rowed. Everyone else explored the tiny cove using their outboards. Very odd for such a small quiet place. And even though there were quite a few kayaks, I saw more than one kayaker exit back onto the mother ship and then hop aboard the tender, fire up the 15-horse outboard and putt away to explore some more. Very odd indeed.

As for us, well, we rowed, read and relaxed. These are now, hopefully, the three Rs of our boating adventure. At least for the next few months.

Oh, and I finally got the graphics on the bow of the dinghy. Laughing Baby has officially been christened.