29 Jun

Private Moorings? Le Sigh…

We’ve only been cruising the PNW for five years or so and it is already starting to bug me —every year we set out and anchorages that we enjoyed the previous year are now limited or inaccessible because of private mooring balls. Entire harbours are now full of permanent moorages and any hope of anchoring has completely disappeared. And try as I may to see both sides of the issue, it really bugs me.

The Rules

The first thing you have to realize is, in Canada at least, that  the waters of the Salish Sea fall under the control of the Federal Government. That means even though derelict and abandoned boats (another issue entirely) are becoming problems in many harbours, there isn’t a clean and straightforward path for the various jurisdictions to deal with them. Places like Nanaimo and Victoria have been working for years to clean up the mess of boats and are faced with issues like legitimate authority, murky ownership and disposal costs.

One of the things that has seemed to help is that the Canada Shipping Act 2001 (CSA 2001) now includes specific regulations on how to mark private mooring buoys. This included contact information. It further states that when a private buoy does not meet legal standards, the Minister may remove or order the owner to modify it to meet current standards. And The Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA), which protects the public right of navigation in all Canadian waters, states, “No work shall be built or placed in, on, over, under, through or across any navigable water unless it is approved by the Minister.” Transport Canada considers mooring buoys as “works” under the NWPA. Of course enforcement is spotty. Or, more accurately, almost non-existent where it doesn’t interfere with commercial traffic.

So I can’t believe every single one of the new “legal” moorage buoys I have seen has been reviewed and approved by the Feds. And given the strange triumvirate we have up here in Canada between the Coast Guard, RCMP, and Fisheries Department, I am not sure who is actually responsible for enforcement (I think the Americans got this one right with their Coast Guard). I can’t imagine that any of them wander around with a database of GPS coordinates detailing “approved” buoys; as far as I can tell there are no licence or registration numbers attached to private buoyage and no other way to track them making the task even more difficult. I do know it is often left to local government to deal with any issues arising in their local waters and only in larger urban places like Vancouver, Victoria or Nanaimo have I heard of any successful regulation.

I suppose there is some consolation in the fact that at least the newer buoys popping up everywhere tend to conform to the regulations. But it doesn’t really seem to make the problem any easier to deal with.

Mooring Positive

I am not completely down on mooring balls. A couple of years ago I was looking for a temporary place for our boat and a friend had a new mooring buoy in Degnen Bay that we contemplated using. I also found a few to rent in places like Cadboro Bay and Tsehum. A mooring buoy would have been a great, cost-effective option for us and I really appreciated the opportunity. Finding moorage is often difficult and expensive, and it is one of those factors that tends to make boating a more elite activity. Imagine if you had to pay to park your car in your garage. It would make you think twice about owning one.

Private moorings outside Gibsons mean there is more room for everyone.

And a good mooring field can cram a heck of a lot more boats into a harbour and — if done correctly — can do it much more safely and effectively than just having a bunch of boats anchored out all year. If I lived on the coast full time and could have a permanent moorage for a reasonable one-time cost I would be pretty gung-ho about it. Owning a boat has been a long-time dream for me and who am I to deny anyone else something that takes them closer to their dreams.

Private moorings can also make bad or mediocre anchorages safer to use. And rather than building one of those monster docks that seem to choke the the life out of the shorelines of places like Pender Harbour, boats can be kept out on a mooring making the whole shoreline more beautiful. What could possibly be wrong with that?

And while I won’t swear they are better for the environment up here in the PNW, they are used to help save the sea bottom in the tropics. Who knows how much better the crabbing would be if we stopped tearing up the bottom in popular anchorages. (OK, maybe it’s not that likely but still…)

The Parker Ridge Effect

The dilemma for me falls under a phenomenon I personally refer to as the Parker Ridge Effect. Parker Ridge is a short but steep hike in the Canadian Rockies that takes you to the top of a ridge overlooking the Saskatchewan Glacier and the Columbia Icefields. I first hiked it in my early 20s and blithely cut across the switchbacks and trampled the delicate alpine terrain with no thought other than to get to the top the quickest way possible. Years later I went back and the entire trail was marked with “No Cutting Across…”  and “Stay ON the Trail” signs and had huge areas blocked off for trail rehabilitation. And I quipped something along the lines of “If only the other people would stop wrecking things for everyone, then I would still be able to cut across the switchbacks…” I received a baleful look in response and I dutifully stayed on the trail.

Because you see, it’s not that shortcuts (or mooring balls) are in any way inherently wrong, and it’s also not (unfortunately) that there are idiots out there wrecking it for the rest of us (although there are). The real issue is there are too many people all wanting to do something the local environment can’t handle. And if we don’t regulate it (a word that occasionally makes me shudder), then the combined selfishness and/or thoughtlessness of us common people in pursuit of our own, largely innocent goals, means that eventually it will be unavailable to everyone. And that, as much as it irks me, also includes me.

The Downside of Private Balls

First and foremost they are crowding out anchorages. I mentioned Degnen Bay. The only place left to anchor here is in what is (according to a local) technically a seaplane right-of-way. Silva Bay also has virtually zero anchorage space left. The same for Telegraph Harbour. I laugh every time I see Tsehum written up as having an anchorage. When we visited Ganges in May, I kept an eye out for anchoring room and didn’t spot a single place left where I might want to drop a hook. And places like Garden Bay, Nanaimo, Heriot Bay, and Montague all had less space than last time we’d visited due to private mooring balls. I get that locals want inexpensive and convenient moorage, but not all cruisers are wealthy yacht owners and $50-70/night at a marina is a big hit. Visiting boaters want inexpensive and convenient options too.

Not much room left in Degnen Bay.

Degnen Bay from the other angle.

For relative beginners like us, another thing that is really irksome is that anchoring in the mix of randomly spaced mooring balls and other anchored boats is hard. A boat on a mooring line doesn’t swing the same way, and with multiple mooring balls in the anchorage, distances that are already tricky (for us) to judge suddenly become a geometrical nightmare.  And if the mooring balls are empty or occupied by a dinghy, we have no idea how much swing the owner’s boat will have when (or if—more about that later) it returns.

Funny story. I was caught out in Garden Bay when I went to anchor in our favourite spot off the Royal Van docks. Our spot was occupied by an old aluminum boat tied to what I thought was a mooring buoy. So I grumbled a bit and anchored some distance over with lots of room for the owner of the mooring buoy to tie up a fairly large boat. Half a day later the aluminum boat was ominously closing in on me, and I was starting to doubt my ability to judge distances again. That evening the owner showed up in a slightly larger aluminum and told me that in fact the float marked the end of his (permanent) 150 foot anchor rode and that we were destined to go bump in the night. So we moved.

What this does illustrate —even though it was, in the end, not so much about mooring balls — is that if permanent moorages are made badly or thoughtlessly, they are just plain stupid. We’ve all experienced an anchorage where the first few people in haven’t been overly considerate and a cove that could hold 10 boats now only has room for 4. But that situation resolves itself eventually as people move on. When people are being thoughtless about where they drop their permanent mooring, then an anchorage can be virtually ruined for anyone else on a permanent basis. Not cool.

Mooring ball or anchor? You tell me…

And since the balls are private, they take up the space even when not being used. And I know for a fact that some of these moorings go unused for long periods of time. I even know of a few people who have dropped moorings in places on the off chance they may need them later and have no intention of using them. I suppose some people will go ahead and tie up to one of these private balls anyway and move on if the owner comes back, but that’s not really my schtick. Especially if it involves an already-crowded space and the potential of having to relocate in the middle of the night. So all that previously useful communal anchorage space is now taken up by a bunch of seldom-used or unused private mooring balls. Talk about inefficient.

So What’s the Answer?

Sure some of them are park buoys, but those are mostly empty. Except for a few anchored boats, the rest are private ones in one of my favourite anchorages.

Realistically? There isn’t one. Like all Parker Ridge Effect scenarios, growth in popularity and ease of access means the amount of people wanting cheap moorage will continue to grow and transients are, by their very nature, at a disadvantage. The congestion is just going to continue and likely get worse; unless we start spending tons of tax dollars on regulation and enforcement — and frankly, it wouldn’t work any better than posting speed limits prevents speeding. And to be fair, I guess that a lot of cruisers occupy the “tourist” slot and it’s not unreasonable for them to contribute to local economies by paying for their moorage. But we took up cruising to avoid that “tourist” stigma, and I while I enjoy a day at the docks hobnobbing and sampling the local wares, I would much rather swing on my hook in Mark Bay and stare at the lights of Nanaimo, happily self-sufficient. That is, until there’s no more room left for me.

Disclaimer: a lot of the preceding is based on my own personal knowledge and interpretation of the rules governing mooring and I did some background research but make no guarantees about the completeness or accuracy of the facts as I state them.

21 Jun

Spring 2017 Roundup

April 20–June 16

Well, we are back from our first—and likely only—cruise this year. And I think I can safely say it was a success. We saw some new anchorages, hiked some new trails, met some new people, had some great sails (and finally some good downwind ones) and learned quite a few things.

Quick Numbers

  • 58 days
  • 8 (-ish) weeks
  • 434.8 nm (805.3 km) travelled
  • 26 days traveling
  • 8 marinas visited
  • 20 nights in a marina (only 8 were paid for—the other nights were in our home berth)
  • 33 nights at anchor
  • 5 nights on the hard
  • 0 nights on a mooring ball
  • 7 new anchorages visited
  • 5 popular Desolation Sound anchorages that we had to ourselves
  • 1 new marina visited
  • 120′ of new G4 chain
  • 4 new motor mounts
  • 2 pieces of teak refinished
  • 0 whales, dolphins or any other large sea mammals :-(
  • 681 images captures
  • 333 film clips (62 gigabytes of files)

Our Summary

We had so wanted to make it back to the Broughtons, but after talking to a few of the marinas up there about services in April, and the fact that Leslie was going to break up our trip by flying to YYZ at the end of May, we decided to limit our trip to Desolation Sound. And it was magnificent. Over and over again we had popular places like Smuggler Cove, Garden Bay, Laura Cove, Squirrel Cove and Teakerne Arm all to ourselves. For the first 25 days our definition of a busy anchorage was 4 boats. And when we headed south in mid-May you could see the stream of bigger boats heading north and we smirked in self-satisfaction.

Sure there was rain. And cold. But on average we saw some blue sky every second day and there were always times we could go for a hike or walk without being poured on. We quickly settled into a 13° C rule (55° F). If the temperature in the cabin was 13° or lower when we (I) crawled out of the berth, then we fired up the Webasto diesel heater. If it was 14° (60°F) or higher, we just boiled water for tea and toughed it out with blankets.

And the weather meant we moved a bit more than previous trips since there was less lolling around in the sun. In the past we have tended to try to stay 4 nights and max out our battery capacity before heading to a marina to do a bulk recharge. But since we were only staying in anchorages 2-3 nights, generally the couple of hours engine time going from one anchorage to another was enough to recharge the batteries sufficiently to keep ahead of the dreaded 50%-discharged level. And that saved us tons of marina fees.

The only downside of the trip was we when we both caught colds and discovered that rain + colds + wilderness anchorages = misery. So we spent a few unnecessary days tied up at an off-season resort (cheap!) and pampered ourselves with unlimited heat and hot showers.

And we had some great sails. Maybe not as many as we had expected, but it was nice to sail in moderate winds for once. It seems too often on this boat, we have sailed in light winds or reefed down and holding on for dear life. And we got some good downwind sails in 10–20 knots — and I finally experienced the real deficiency of the B & R rig. In Ganges, I ran into a fellow with Hunter 380 who had spent ~$9000 to add a slick roller-furling gennaker to compensate for the poor direct-downwind performance, but at that price, I think I will stick to just gybing my way downwind. At least cranking in the main over and over is good exercise.

Conclusion

Will we do the early-season trip again? I sure hope so. We had a ton of fun and there were very few negatives. If we can continue to cover most of our boat ownership costs with July-August-September charters, then having the boat for up to 2 and half months in the shoulder seems a perfect solution. This year we were off mid-June because we had a charter booked for the last two weeks of the month, but I might consider not doing that next year as it would be nice to finish off the cruise with some really warm days for ourselves. But then again, maybe not. We had some nice days and I remember all those boats heading north—I wonder if we might be turning into sailing misanthropes? Oh well, there is always Alaska.

Now all I have to do is see if there is anything worth posting in all that video I shot.

The Interactive Map

I broke the map up into three legs: Desolation Sound, our return via the Sunshine Coast and the Gulf Islands. You can see some of the stats from the Navionics tracks from the sidebar or if you go to the Google maps site, although they aren’t completely trustworthy as I run Navionics on my old iPad and it has a tendency to crash—so I have to go in later and edit the tracks by hand thus screwing up the stats. There seriously has to be a better way…

Itinerary

20-Apr Stones 19-May Smuggler Cove
21-Apr Stones 20-May Smuggler Cove
22-Apr Stones 21-May Gibsons
23-Apr Stones 22-May Gibsons
24-Apr Nanaimo Harbour, Newcastle 23-May Plumper Cove
25-Apr Nanaimo Harbour, Newcastle 24-May Plumper Cove
26-Apr Smuggler Cove 25-May Nanaimo Harbour, Newcastle
27-Apr Smuggler Cove 26-May Stones Boatyard
28-Apr Garden Bay 27-May Stones Boatyard
29-Apr Garden Bay 28-May Stones Boatyard
30-Apr Westview 29-May Stones Boatyard
01-May Copeland Islands 30-May Stones Boatyard
02-May Melanie Cove 31-May Stones
03-May Melanie Cove 01-Jun Stones
04-May Squirrel Cove 02-Jun Stones
05-May Squirrel Cove 03-Jun Clam Bay
06-May Cassel Lake/Von Donop 04-Jun Clam Bay
07-May Von Donop 05-Jun James Bay, Prevost Island
08-May Taku Resort 06-Jun James Bay, Prevost Island
09-May Taku Resort 07-Jun James Bay, Prevost Island
08-May Octopus Islands 08-Jun Ganges
11-May Octopus Islands 09-Jun Russell Island
12-May Octopus Islands 08-Jun Russell Island
13-May Laura Cove 11-Jun Sidney
14-May Lund 12-Jun Montague
15-May Lund 13-Jun Montague
16-May Texada Island Boat Club 14-Jun Stones
17-May Garden Bay 15-Jun Stones
18-May Garden Bay 16-Jun Stones


10 Jun

A Brief Note about Life on the Hard

It’s another one of those new experiences that, having read about them or seen them again and again on YouTube, you think you are prepared for. Life on the hard is a … unique … experience and, while not exactly unpleasant, has very little to recommend it. Summed up, it’s sort of like getting all the negatives of living on a boat (with a few extras thrown in) and none of the benefits.

The first thing we really noticed about the hard was that the boat didn’t move. At all. I soon discovered we step differently when we are on a boat in the water; there is bit more roll in my step and my stance is a bit lighter—more on my toes, I guess. And the first time I hit the bottom of the companionway after the boat had been propped up on stands, it felt like my foot was going to go through the cabin sole. It just felt wrong and it took a few days to get used to it.

Water

The problem here is that we have no grey water tank, nor any way to redirect the grey water (grey water being what come out of the various sink drains as well as the shower sump). That means while I did have running water aboard, I couldn’t indiscriminately do dishes and drain all the scummy water onto the tarps under the boat.

I also couldn’t flush the head. That one was a bit unforeseen and we didn’t figure it out until we were getting ready to go to bed the first night. While whatever was in the bowl went directly into the holding tank, the head draws seawater through a thruhull from the stuff we are usually floating in to flush it down. No water…no flushing action.

Luckily Leslie was to be away for five days starting the day after we were hauled, so I could resort to more man-like solutions to the problem. After trying a few different methods, eventually I settled on leaving a big pot in the galley sink and collecting all the wastewater that accumulated throughout the day and then used it to flush the head at the end of the day, which was the only time I used it.

Wind

I’ve read time and time again that boats are hotter and stuffier when on the hard, and lo and behold it seems it’s true. There must be a constant breeze on the water, even on calm days, because the stuffiness has not heretofore been an issue. In the yard, it was hot and still, not to mention dusty and grimy, and the boat became pretty unbearable during the hot days no matter how many hatches I had open.

And then it turned cold. And the cold wind flowed straight into the cabin through the companionway. We’ve gotten used to swinging on the hook and always being bow into the wind. So I had to fire up the heater and leave all the hatches closed.

Noise

The yard started as early as 5 a.m. since that was when the tide was in. And It’s hard to sleep through a 83-ton travel lift rumbling past your stern again and again. And then the boat work would start. Banging, clanging, hammering and hosing, the number of different sounds emanating from the multitude of boats was an experience in itself.

And of course there were people, both staff and boat owners and trades people working from dawn to dusk. Boat yards cost money and people want to get things done. Nothing too obnoxious, but constant. Always someone yelling instructions or walking around discussing the next thing to bang on, hammer into shape or hose down.

Work

But I also had a lot of time to do chores. I stripped and refinished some of the teak, scrubbed the anchor locker (and then decided to buy new chain because I wasn’t putting the old rusty one back in my pristine locker—that, and it was almost time to replace it anyway).

I pulled my knot meter (which is so much less intimidating when you are not in the water), intent on replacing the paddlewheel that was missing one paddle. And then put it back unchanged when I discovered it was almost $150 to replace that one tiny little part. I also fixed the now shredded dinghy painter and patched some fibreglass in the dinghy’s hull.

I also tried to clean the boat, which turned out to be a fruitless endeavour. Right now, a week later, I still despair of getting some of the grime out of my non-skid. Next time I think there will be a rule that shoes need to be left at the bottom of the ladder to try to keep the truly grungy grunge out of the boat entirely. We did get most of the canvas scrubbed, but not until we were back in the water.

Odds & Ends

It was a remarkable social experience. I ran into Jim and Gwen from Sea Esta X, the Catalina 42 that accompanied us down the West Coast last September. And a few days later Tim and Donna showed up from Northwest Passage (the boat I crewed down the coast), and we had a grand visit. Everyone was back after a successful season cruising Mexico and were back to visit and wait out the hurricane season.

The I spotted Canty waiting to be hauled out. We had met and visited with Paul and Kirsty a few times during the first year of our cruise. They were there to haul out and do their bottom paint. It was nice to catch up and we compared schedules to see if we would meet up later in the month.

My friend Darrell from Schooner Cove also came by and bought me a coffee and we caught up. All in all, it was a reasonably social experience for being stuck in an industrial zone.

It wasn’t the worst experience I have ever had, although I think if both Leslie and I had been aboard, I would have been tempted to find a hotel. But it was sure a relief when we were back in the water and the world started to move again. Boats just aren’t meant to be still. Hopefully it will be a while before we have to endure it again.