Photo: SV Motu
motoring against wind and current in north Discovery Passage.
"I pressed on, taking fresh troubles for granted."
-- Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, captain of the Spanish schooner Sonora
I read this quote in The Spanish on the Northwest Coast
by Mary Neering while sailing north up Malaspina Strait against a strong northwesterly. With my feet braced against the cabin doorframe and my right hand clinging to the dodger while I clutched the book with my left, I thought it a fitting quote. So much can go wrong in a boat but knowing that, we still sail on.
Two days later, I'm not so sure. If we really knew what "troubles" faced us, would we press on? The experience Steve and I had transiting Seymour Narrows the next day is a good example.
Gusts skittered across the water when we left Gorge Harbour the next morning. Once in Georgia Strait, we barreled across to Cape Mudge under full main and jib, arriving at the south entrance to Discovery Passage just as the current turned to ebb (the ebb flows north through both Discovery Passage and Seymour Narrows). With northwest gales blowing in Johnstone Strait, our plans were to transit the narrows near the end of the ebb and anchor for the night in Otter Cove at the top of Discovery Passage, then go through Johnstone Strait the next day when the weather forecast predicted light winds.
We rode the current north to Gowlland Harbour, a bay half way to the Narrows and on the opposite side of the Passage from the city of Campbell River. There we anchored until two hours before the tide changed to flood. That put us at the Narrows an hour before slack and gave us an hour of ebb beyond the Narrows to get a good start on reaching Otter Cove. We'd transited an hour before or after slack several times before without any trouble so didn't expect any this time.
A blast of wind hit us as we pulled out of Gowlland Harbour for the Narrows. I thought about wind against current. "Should we go back and wait for tomorrow?" I asked Steve.
"No, we're fine."
I reminded myself that we would be in protected waters and we'd be motoring, not sailing. How bad could it be?
In fact, the Narrows, when we reached them, didn't look bad at all. Seas were smooth, broken only by a few small whirlpools. At 9 knots (6 of boat speed, 3 of current) we were through in no time. I breathed a sigh of relief; only twelve miles to go to Otter Cove. Then I looked ahead and saw white foam. A few minutes later the boat pitched wildly as short steep combers crashed across the dodger into the cockpit and slammed against the side of the hull.
We weren't the only ones struggling. Not too far from us the sailboat Motu,
a lighter boat than Osprey
, pitched even more, dropping behind us as the waves slowed it down.
The farther we got from the Narrows, the worse the waves became. Steve struggled to keep us on course as current pushed us inexorably toward the western shore. "I can't get us off that beach," he said as he headed Osprey east to go north. Our speed dropped from 7 knots, to 5, to 3. Otter Cove seemed farther away each minute.
"I'm going to head for Small Inlet instead," said Steve, naming an inlet on the east side of Discovery Passage. "It's closer."
Our speed dropped to 2 knots, then to 1.9. Could we even reach Small Inlet? I imagined wind and current pushing us back to the Narrows and getting caught in even worse waves.
"Let's go back to Gowlland Harbour," said Steve, turning the boat. I looked at my watch and saw that the current was just turning to slack at the Narrows. What had seemed like forever had been only an hour. It wasn't too late to turn back.
In a few minutes we were back at the Narrows, speeding south at 9 knots where an hour earlier we had sped the same speed going north. If we'd known what was ahead of us when we left Gowlland Harbour, we surely wouldn't have left.
An hour later we anchored again in Gowlland Harbour. It's rocky cliffs and eclectic mix of classic homes, modern lodges and log booms made it a pleasant place to wait out the weather.
Photo: Gowlland Harbour
Photo: Working a log boom in Gowlland Harbour.
It wasn't until I checked the chart for the correct spelling of Gowlland; that I noticed the island it's on: Quadra, named after Bodega y Quadra, quoted at the beginning of this post. When he wrote that statement, he'd chosen to head north despite orders from his superior and a boat with rotten timbers. What was the chance of promotion, adventure and glory in turning tail? He asked. From the number of places his name appears on the chart, he made the right decision. But then, so did we. The next day we transited Seymour Narrows and Discovery Passage in flat calm.