Voyages North

18 June 2013 | posted at Wrangell
18 June 2013 | posted at Wrangell
06 June 2013 | posted at Ketchikan
06 June 2013 | posted at Ketchikan
01 June 2013 | posted at Prince Rupert
01 June 2013 | Posted at Prince Rupert
01 June 2013 | Posted at Prince Rupert
01 June 2013 | posted at Prince Rupert
28 May 2013 | posted at Pruth
22 May 2013 | posted at Madeira Park, Pender Harbour
11 November 2012 | Shilshole Marina, Seattle
10 September 2012

R2AK on the West Coast of Vancouver Island

22 March 2020
Elsie Hulsizer
Map: Route up the west coast of Vancouver Island

With cancellations of spring regattas and temporary closure of the border between Canada and the U.S., sailing racers may wonder if they should still be planning for the R2AK in June. But a recent newsletter from Port Townsend's Northwest Maritime Center proclaimed that although they were going into hibernation for now, the race is still on (they admitted that may change.)

What better way for sailors to wile away the solitary hours while waiting for changes in the virus status than to strategize about sailing to Alaska?

I was reading 48 North's March edition when an article by Andy Cross, "Unlocking the New R2AK Puzzle: One Change, So Many Options" caught my eye. According to Cross, a change in R2AK (Race to Alaska) rules will now give sailors whose experience and boats pass the race committee's criteria the option to choose between going east (inside) of Vancouver Island and west (outside) - between "winding channels and gnarly currents of the eastern passage and the unpredictable Strait of Juan de Fuca followed by the mighty Pacific Ocean." The article immediately made me wonder, what advice could I, a cruising sailor with years of experience sailing on the west coast of Vancouver Island, offer to R2AK racers considering this new outside route?

When I suggest to cruising sailors that they take the outside route, I often see horror on their faces. They know that a trip up the west coast of Vancouver Island can mean strong northwest winds, waves, fog and rocks. I go on to tell cruising sailors the best way to manage these hazards. But would my advice help racing sailors, especially since speed, not usually the highest priority for cruising sailors is all important to racing sailors. And more important to racers than absolute speed is going faster than and reaching the final destination sooner than the other racers. And that means making the right decision to go up the outside or the inside.

Here is what I suggest to cruising sailors considering the outside route.

When sailing out of Puget Sound (or in this case Victoria Harbour) leave during spring tides at slack before-ebb. This puts your boat in a position to ride with the current out the Strait. Unfortunately, racers don't get to choose either the time or the tide cycle when they depart; they leave when the race starts. In 2020, the R2AK start time is 1200 hrs June 11. The moon will be waning gibbous, just past spring tides. By the time it takes boats to paddle out of Victoria Harbour and set sail west, the current may be close to slack-before-flood (at 15:43 PDT), just when they reach Race Rocks and need an ebb. Competitors choosing the inside route, however, will have the current with them when they turn north.

There are no supermarkets or substantial repair facilities north of Tofino, only general stores. Plan for provisioning and repairs assuming you won't find what you need on the west coast. This is even more important for racers who won't want to take the extra time to go up inlet for provisions. Fortunately, R2AK's criteria boats going out the west coast make it probable they will have space for provisions and necessary spare parts.

Outfit your boat for fog and learn to navigate in it. That means radar, horns, chart plotters and AIS. Navigating in fog could be critical for any part of the R2AK route, not just the outside. Fortunately, fog is least troublesome in June, the month of the race.

Learn to navigate safely among rocks. Keep your chart plotter on and your paper chart handy; when close to rocks, use your chart plotter to get a safe bearing through them, then steer your boat by compass; learn to use kelp to recognize rocks and rock-free passages. I've tried to use the autopilot and chart plotter to steer when close among rocks, but quickly learned the plotter's lag risked putting me on the rocks before it told me I was there. When navigating among rocks, it's helpful to know that kelp grows in water between six feet and 90. If you're approaching rocks and the kelp disappears, watch out! On the other hand, if you're in very deep water and see a kelp bed, you're approaching rocks.

Racers will need to navigate among rocks only if bad weather forces them to shelter inshore. Otherwise, racers will want to cover the miles quickly, and the best way to do that is stay offshore, away from the rocks. A racing boat will most likely spend the whole trip offshore.

Weather forecasts for the West Coast of Vancouver Island require an understanding of the island's geography. If you hear the following on the weather radio, it may not be as bad as it sounds. "West coast Vancouver Island, south part: Gale warning. NW winds 10-20 increasing to 15-25knts in the afternoon except gales 35 north of Estevan" and similarly, "West coast Vancouver Island north part.....except gales 35 south of the Brooks Peninsula. " It took me years to figure out that this weather report means that when gales are forecast for the west coast of Vancouver Island, you'll have them mostly between Estevan Point and the Brooks Peninsula, not south of Estevan or north of the Brooks. In 2016 we used this reasoning to sail in Gale Warnings from Quatsino Sound (the sound north of the Brooks) through Scott Channel and across to Fitz Hugh Sound. When we got out in the ocean, the wind was actually too light. Once we rounded Cape Scott, however, the sail across Queen Charlotte Strait to Fitz Hugh Sound, a broad reach in 20 knots, was magnificent.

Another thing I tell sailors is that during northwest gales, the area immediately south of the Brooks Peninsula near the Bunsby Islands and Columbia Cove is in the lee of the Brooks' peninsula where calm seas and good sailing winds prevail.

Brooks Peninsula
Photo: Strong winds and waves off the Brooks Peninsula

Sailors racing up the coast should keep in mind that most places to duck out of a storm on the west coast require sailing up inlet, adding miles to the course.

The west coast of Vancouver Island is famous for its northwest winds. Summer westerlies can last for a week or longer, tend to be light in the morning, strongest in the afternoon and die off at sunset. Racers weighing whether to sail up the west coast should know that if the westerlies have settled in, chances are they'll stay for the whole trip up this coast. To avoid light winds at night, go farther offshore.

Southerly gales on the west coast usually last only a day or two, are frequently preceded and followed by calms and bring rain (my own observations from 30 years of sailing on this coast). Andy Cross notes that going outside will be largely dependent on a forecast for southerlies. But racers should be warned to expect slow winds before or after southerly gales and rain during the gales. As the southerlies diminish, seas become confused and sailing frustrating. We've motored in glassy seas as the barometer plunged and watched buckets of rain come down during storms while we waited. In my opinion, being anchored in a quiet cove during a southerly gale is the best place to be.

Conclusion. Some of what I've learned over the years would be useful to racers, especially for making the decision whether to take the outside route or not. But what this analysis also showed me is why cruising the west coast of Vancouver Island is a lot more pleasant than racing it.

The west coast of Vancouver Island offers great sailing winds, picturesque towns, a Native population that welcomes visitors, historical sites, wildlife, and spectacular anchorages that you'll have all to yourself. Racing sailors won't see much of that. I hope the glimpses they get will encourage them to go back.

To learn more, read Voyages to Windward: Sailing Adventures on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

Sea Otter Inlet to Shearwater (again). Osprey to the Rescue. August 21, 2019

31 August 2019 | Posted at Port McNeill
Elsie Hulsizer
Photo: The motorboat Sea Fever under tow.

We were listening to the weather after the third of three gales since leaving Prince Rupert, wondering if it was safe to leave, when the Coast Guard interrupted the forecast to announce a Request for Marine Assistance: A powerboat named Sea Fever in Sea Otter Cove was broken down and requesting a tow to Shearwater Marina. Our first reaction was, "Sea Otter Cove, that's on the west coast of Vancouver Island, why would anyone there request a tow to Shearwater?" Then we realized "Cove" must be a mistake, they must mean Sea Otter Inlet. Then, "Oh No! That's where we are and the powerboat must be the one just behind us."

A quick call to the Coast Guard confirmed our assumption: they meant Sea Otter Inlet. Steve called Sea Fever and learned their starter motor had failed and no other boaters had answered their call for help. Then, to my horror, I heard Steve say, "I don't have a spare starter motor that would work on your boat, but we could give a tow."

"No," I said to Steve, "We're going south. How can we give them a tow to Shearwater." (Shearwater was a day's travel north. We had just come from there two days before.)

But Steve was adamant, "Someday we'll need a tow ourselves." He also pointed out that once we got out into Fitz Hugh Sound, we might be able to flag down a northbound boat to take over. I could see I wasn't going to win that argument.

We pulled up our anchor and motored over to Sea Fever. Preparing for the tow, we set up a bridle on Osprey's stern while Sea Fever set up a 200 foot one inch diameter rope tow line over their bow roller and put a buoy on their anchor so they could leave it behind and recover it later (they couldn't lift the anchor without an engine to operate the anchor winch). Having the towline be theirs meant when we arrived, we could throw it off and let Sea Fever drift to the dock.

Our first attempts to start towing were frustrating. We had to first go south before turning north because it took a long distance to turn and we needed boat speed to let our rudder push our stern around. Then, Sea Fever's crew helped by steering as well. Our next problem was that our dinghy, which we were towing just a few feet off our stern, became wrapped in the tow line and we had to straighten that out. Finally, we were out in the open Sound. The wind still blew from the south, setting up a short chop but it was with us. Still, instead of our usual 6 knots, we were doing only 4.2. That's when we realized we could roll out the jib and give us another 0.3 knots.

I looked at the chart plotter, hoping to see AIS symbols for northbound boats. Instead, I saw a screen cluttered with southbound boats. Everybody heading home.

We settled in for a day of towing, rolling out the jib when the wind came up, rolling it back in when the wind died or changed direction. At about 4:00 pm, I called Shearwater Marina on the radio and informed them we were a 44 ft sailboat towing a powerboat. Did they have space for us that night?

The reply: they would make space and to call when we had the marina in sight.

As we turned the last corner, I called and asked where they wanted us to go. The harbour master told me that they had cleared the entire north side of the main dock for us so we could swing wide and let the powerboat drift in. I looked ahead through the mist and saw a long empty dock, more space than I'd ever seen there before.

As we neared the marina, someone shouted, "We've got a Zodiac coming to help." A gray Zodiac came around the corner and as we released the tow line, nudged Sea Fever into the dock. Two men on the dock reached out to take Sea Fever's lines, and two others reached out for Osprey's lines.

We sometimes complain about Shearwater. It has a monopoly on boating services on the Central Coast and its moorage rates are high. But I had to admit they'd come through for us this time and they'd done it in a very seamanlike and professional manner.

That evening as we shared a pizza with Sea Fever's owner and crew in Shearwater's Fishermens Pub, we learned they were from Wrangell, Alaska and were returning to Wrangell after a trip up the Columbia River. They still had a long trip ahead of them.

Later, Steve commented to me that it might be a week before Sea Fever could leave Shearwater because of the time to get parts delivered. And they had to return to Sea Otter Inlet to get their anchor

The next morning after the fog cleared we headed back out Lama Passage. We were only a day behind where we'd planned to be.
We'd made a 32 mile tow from Sea Otter Inlet to Shearwater and another 43 mile trip back to Green Island Anchorage.

To see the area I'm talking about, search for Shearwater Marina in Google Maps and expand south to Hakai Passage. Sea Otter Inlet is just north of Hakai Passage.

Klemtu to Shearwater via Rescue Bay and Oliver Cove. Waiting for the Storm. August 19-20, 2019

31 August 2019
Elsie Hulsizer
Photo: Islands in Rescue Bay

I had just returned from the Klemtu Band Store to the Klemtu fuel dock where Steve was filling the water tanks after taking on fuel. We hadn't yet decided whether we would anchor in Klemtu for the night or move on. So when Steve told me the fuel dock operator had told him a storm was on its way, the decision to move on to Rescue Bay was easy. Rescue Bay is only two hours away from Klemtu and is a better anchorage in a south wind. It's also a more attractive place to spend what could be two days at anchor.

By the time we arrived in Rescue Bay, rain was pelting the dodger and the wind was blowing. Two powerboats were anchored in the bay with room for several more boats. We picked a spot near the south shore where it was most sheltered and prepared for the next day to be a day of rest.

But when we awoke in the morning, the seas were glassy smooth and the skies only lightly overcast. One of the two powerboats, a green boat named Zucchini stopped by to tell us the storm had been delayed and they were going on.

Going on for us meant going through Perceval Narrows and we'd already missed the tide. And the storm could arrive any time. We decided to stay.

While Steve puttered in the boat, fixing plumbing, I rowed the dinghy out to a group of islands at the cove entrance. The tide was out and I saw purple starfish and, a real prize -- a live abalone just sitting atop a rock. From the islands I could look all the way up the inlet to see an unbroken sheet of flat glassy water. Were we wasting time waiting for the storm when we could be traveling?

Back at the boat, Steve was finishing up his plumbing. "What about the next tide? Could we catch that?" I asked. A quick check of the tide tables told us if we left right away, we could catch the next slack at Perceval Narrows. In minutes we had the anchor up and were underway, motoring down Mathiesen Channel to Perceval Narrows which was still ebbing, giving us a small push. As we crossed from the Narrows to Reid Passage, we could see out towards Seaforth Channel. Waves crashed on rocks sending up plumes of white spray. For the first time I believed there could really be a storm.

We entered protected and narrow Reid Passage as rain began to fall and gusts skitter across the water. Oliver Cove Marine Park, a small cove just big enough for two boats was just a short distance away. Another sailboat was anchored close to shore so we anchored farther out. We had traveled 17 miles in just under three hours and hadn't had to brave the storm.

Oliver Cove
Photo: Osprey anchored in Oliver Cove.

The next morning the rain had turned to mist and the wind slacked. We raised anchor and exited Reid Passage to enter Seaforth Channel where a brisk wind was going up channel, our direction. We rolled out the jib and sailed all the way to Shearwater Marina.

Note: This was not the first, or the last time, we have waited for a storm that arrived after the forecast time. Sometimes they have not been as severe as forecast. One possible reason for this is that we are sailing in the inland channels while the forecasts are done for the outer coast. This is particularly true for Queen Charlotte Sound and the Central Coast (where we were at this time). Some of the channels are separated from the coast by multiple mountain ranges.

To see the area I'm writing about search google maps for klemtu and expand out until you see Bella Bella near the bottom right which is near Shearwater. Google maps simply doesn't show all the places I talk about.
Vessel Name: Osprey
Vessel Make/Model: Annapolis 44 sloop
Hailing Port: Seattle
Crew: Steve and Elsie Hulsizer (author of Glaciers, Bears and Totems and Voyages to Windward)
Elsie and Steve Hulsizer have sailed northwest waters since arriving in Seattle via sailboat from Boston in 1979. [...]
2019 Seattle to SE Alaska 2018 San Juan Islands to Great Bear Rainforest 2017: local cruising including South Puget Sound and San Juan Islands 2016:north up West Coast VI, across QC Sound to central BC coast 2015: trip to SE Alaska 2014: Seymour and Belize Inlets through Nakwakto Rapids 2013: [...]
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