15 Sep

I’ve Got New Crew

So the good news is that that Never for Ever has been booked for charter pretty steadily this season. The bad news is that if I want to go cruising again in 2017 it will have to wait until October. But what the hell, how cold could it be… ;-)

And, since Leslie is back at work (although ironically it looks like she will be in Minnesota at a conference when I head out), I had to do some recruiting for crew. After some pleading, couple of old friends volunteered. These are guys I have known since high school, but the last time we travelled together was a highjinx-filled attempt to drive to Vancouver for a weekend from southern Alberta. And one of them is the guy who ostensibly taught me to sail, albeit in Lasers and on a lake. The other, as far as I know, isn’t much of a water person.

New Crew

Passenger or crew?

This will be the first time I have headed out on a cruise with a) someone other than Leslie and b) an all n00b crew, and that has me thinking a bit about what cruising my own boat with new crew entails. My conclusions? Well, for one thing, I have to up my game. I can no longer rely on having a familiar and trusted partner to consult and double-check my decisions. Leslie and I have learned to sail together and, although I technically have more qualifications (at least on paper), she has been there throughout the process, learning at her own pace. The result is our cruising status quo has always been more of a partnership than the traditional hierarchical captain/crew arrangement.

The original team.

With new crew the balance of responsibility shifts completely onto my shoulders. Back when we did a lot of rock climbing, we once hired climbing guides to take us up the apron on the Squamish Chief and I asked my guide (from the most excellent Squamish Rock Guides) how he could trust us as unknowns to belay him up the mountain. His reply was that he essentially had to be confident that he could climb it solo. Looking ahead, I think that this is going to be true  for me as well. Sure it will be nice to have help, but I am going to have to be able to do all the main operations by myself and then really work on my communication skills so I can transmit expectations and be confident that we are all safe. And that starts with a little review of what to expect when you are expecting (to cruise). We have previously done up a Boat Briefing Checklist for passengers, so that takes care of the basics. And the point of this post is to serve as a review of any other factors that I need to consider.

Skill Sets

So what are the minimum skills I expect from crewmember? And which ones will I actually need? A lot of my reading has stressed the difference between passengers and crew. I’ve had passengers before and expected them to do very little other than avoid clogging the head. But I have always had crew and I am not sure I am up to sailing solo in any but the most benign conditions. And October in the Salish Sea always has the possibility of some “interesting” weather.

So I started the specific skills I might take for granted. Thinking about it — and going back through my Competent Crew workbook — I concluded there were only a few really important ones that I either need to teach or ensure are done correctly.

Remember when we didn’t know what one of these was!

And number one skill will be knot tying and line handling. Because if I want to complete the trip with things like fenders, tenders and fingers intact, I am going to have to have faith in how lines are handled and made fast. For me the three main knots are the clove hitch (fenders and tying up to bull rails), the round turn with two half hitches (fenders and general securing of things like the dinghy) and a cleat hitch (self-evidently for attaching things to cleats). In the case of any stressful dockings or moorings, I might not have time to double check everyone’s knots so it would be good to be confident that nothing gets loose right when it shouldn’t.

Flaking and storing lines is also important although I can always find time to do that myself later. I do think it is important to communicate the difference between coiling and properly flaking. When were climbing, a properly stored line often was literally a matter of life and death, but most people tend to be pretty casual about handling “rope.”

In the end, it’s not the actual sailing I worry about because I have been conscientious enough to take the time to learn to do most things solo (although now that I think of it, I haven’t practiced reefing by myself). It’s docking, anchoring and basic seamanship that have always up to now been two person operations.

Ah docking. Is it a skill or a procedure? Leslie and I have a great system and although we can switch up the roles (and often do when it’s straight forward), when conditions are challenging as with a strong current or wind, I man the helm and she takes care of securing us to the dock. With new crew, lines and fenders can be set well in advance so that’s not an issue and we can talk through the steps and let everyone know what to expect before approaching a dock. And I don’t anticipate going into a strange marina, so I should know the general layout of anywhere we are likely to stop. But will my new crew know what to do once we are alongside?

One issue/skill set which we should probably practice before we leave the dock will be dealing with bull rails. Here in the PNW, marinas generally have rails running the length of the docks for boats to tie up to rather than cleats. Most often these consist of a 4×4 rail that is supported 4 inches off the dock every 8 feet or so. When tying up you generally wrap your line around the rail and tie off with a clove hitch. It’s easy to do with practice, but can look a wee bit gordian if you don’t understand what the lines are doing.

That’s a knot?

If you are called on by the skipper to secure a line quickly (indicted on our boat by the instruction to “take a wrap”), the thing to do is wrap the dock line over the top of the rail, tuck it under the gap and over the top again. That gives you enough friction to  stop the boat if necessary but is still easy enough to slacken or cast off again if necessary.

Competent Crew? Competent Captain?

But there’s the rub, how do I ensure my new line handlers know when things are necessary? Some of my most hilarious hijinks on a dock have been when someone secured a line and I lost control of my own boat. Shudder.

Good communication should take care of that but that’s on me. I have been informed that I have a bad habit of mumbling and assuming people can read my mind. In a high-stress docking situation that habit just might be a bit of an issue.

So we will go over the various procedures of docking and undocking, anchoring and weighing anchor, and general boat handling before hand. Doing it out loud should also reinforce it for me and remind me that I can’t assume anything, which I think is the biggest danger I am going to face. Thankfully I’m not proud and have been known to radio ahead and let the marina know just how incompetent we are so we can have plenty of theoretically competent people on dock to help out. If we take things slow and easy and avoid those rare docking situations where “gusto” is called for we (I) should do ok.

Anchoring is another thing I have never attempted solo although I know its theoretically possible. I intend to review the steps, maybe even write down the math and make sure we review  each time we approach an anchorage. They say that the most dangerous time in  learning any skill is when you have achieved unconscious competency…that’s when you get complacent.

 

Sailing Away

Hopefully there will be wind. It would be nice to get in a couple of good sails and nothing gets people working together like beating into the wind, tacking back and forth. Plenty of repetitive actions and a little excitement to get the adrenaline flowing. I am looking forward to some good times.


Competent Crew 101

Things to review either before we leave the dock or before actually attempting:

  • Basic safety orientation (see Briefing Checklist)
  • The running rigging
  • The sails (roller furling jib and mainsail)
  • Reefing
  • Knots & line handling
  • Winches
  • Line handling dockside
  • Points of sail
  • Gybing & the boom
  • Windlass operation
  • MOB 2.0
  • VHF & distress signals
  • Dinghy & outboard
  • Basic chart reading and buoyage
  • Tides and tidal rapids
  • Basic terminology (port & starboard, etc.)
  • Using the engine
  • Fueling

What the hell is all that?

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.

27 May

My First Big Mistake

It was in fact, not much of a mistake. Or maybe not a mistake at all. Really just a moment of inattention while trying something new that, compounded with a lot of other small things, snowballed; and then it all just seemed to gather more and more way as time progressed. I guess that’s how you learn things; I certainly have.

How it Happened

We crossed the Strait of Georgia in winds that varied from 10-20 knots motorsailing because we wanted to charge up the batteries. As we pulled into Nanaimo Harbour the winds were still blowing 15 and we circled around to find a nice spot to drop anchor. Every time we come here there seems to be more and more boats on private moorings appearing and a quite a few that seem to be permanently anchored. It makes harder on us transients. I chose a spot behind a small sailboat that looked like it was on a rope rode, killed our forward momentum as we turned into the wind and signalled Leslie to go ahead and drop the anchor.

And this is when I made the critical decision. Every single other time I have anchored a boat — every, single, time — at this point I have put the engine into gear in reverse and backed away as the rode ran out over the anchor roller. But the wind was up and I, fatefully, decided to let the wind blow us down and try and set the anchor without using the engine. And it worked. The wind slowly swung us beam to the wind as we drifted downwind and then the anchor caught, swung us around by the bow and we were set.

Now the details become important. Because the wind and waves were up while we were crossing the Strait I had let the dinghy painter out to almost its full extent (around 25 ft) — which was a lot more than I usually do. And since when anchoring I didn’t motor in reverse like I usually do, the dinghy wasn’t pulled alongside and out of the way. And since the propellor wasn’t turning and we were drifting so slowly, the painter (the floating line that attaches the dinghy to the boat) gathered alongside the leeward side near the stern and (apparently) under it.

All good so far, but then I decided that I would set the anchor a bit more with the engine since the anchorage was crowded, the winds were up, and I wanted a good night’s sleep…hah. I put the boat in reverse and started to increase the revs. “Whuzzz…Bang!” And then silence. The engine had died…stalled, as it wound the painter around the propellor shaft, tried to suck the dinghy under the boat and then gave up trying.

My newly sharpened blade…

I pushed down on my incipient panic, confirmed with Leslie we actually had a set anchor and took a deep breathe and examined the situation. We were in a pretty good spot although I was wary of another small boat off our stern that seemed to be  on a rope rode. And there was another, bigger sailboat about  100 feet off our stern—plenty of room. First off we grabbed a spare line and cut the dinghy free from its bow down position nearly under the stern— ironically I had spent part of the crossing sharpening the blade on my multi-tool because I wasn’t sure it had been sharp enough to cut a line quickly in an emergency situation. Well I proved it was now. Dinghy secured, I tried tugging on the remainder of the painter but it wasn’t going anywhere.

I decided to give Ian at NYCSS a call for some advice. He suggested that perhaps we could unwind the rope by hand if one person twisted the shaft below while another tugged on the line from behind the boat. Back in the aft cabin I noticed the after engine cover had vibrated loose and I set it aside, then tried to twist the propellor shaft just above the stuffing box. But it wasn’t going anywhere. Another call to Ian got me the name and number of a local diver (Menno from Aquarius Marine) and the offer of a mask if I wanted to try and cut it free myself. I called Menno.

I left a message on his machine and started the engine up to make sure all was well. It seemed to be but did sound a bit different. Then I went below to clean up. But for some reason the back engine cover wouldn’t fit back on. That’s when I noticed the exhaust elbow was an inch or so further back than usual and apparently that’s why the panel wouldn’t go back on. F@ck. Really. I had managed to avoid swearing until that point but really…my motor had moved? F@ck.

I pulled up the front engine cover and checked the motor mounts. Now I have never really looked at my motor mounts before so I had no idea what they were supposed to look like but nothing seemed snapped or broken— although the heavy black rubber pads certainly seemed distorted into odd shapes. So I called Ian again. We determined that the line, winding around the shaft had wound around the space between the prop and the bearing and then started pulling the shaft out until the engine stalled. Since I hadn’t really started to rev the engine everything should — should — be fine but were were going to have to haul her out to be sure. And since the winds were still blowing, we were better off waiting until the next day to try towing her down the narrow channel to Stones.

We lowered the outboard onto the dinghy just in case and a few minutes later Menno called back and offered to come out anyway and try and cut the line, but I decided to just wait. When Leslie popped her head up and let me know that high tide the next day was at 6 am and that it was a new moon so that meant the low tide at noon would likely mean the lift at Stones was inaccessible for most of the day, I almost reconsidered Menno’s offer. We decided a beer was in order and hit the Dinghy Dock Pub for some comfort food and alcohol. Ian called while we were there and said the schedule for the boat lift was indeed stacked up and we would have to wait and try and get Never for Ever lifted around 4:30 in the afternoon as the tide came back in. So we went back to the boat, had a quiet evening and went to bed with the winds dying and all seemingly calm.

Consequence Two

All in all I was pretty calm. Usually stuff that I lose control over freaks me out a bit but so far I had been handling the stress with unusually (for me) little anxiety. So we drifted off to sleep pretty easily, rolling gently.

“CLANK!”

I was out of bed with barely muted “Ah F@ck…” and up the companionway moments later. It was just after midnight and a lovely Bayfield 36  (the bigger boat that used to be 100 feet behind us) was almost alongside with its long, elegant bowsprit having just banged into our not-so-elegant bow pulpit. It was dead calm and the Bayfield’s rope ride was completely slack. I had no idea if it’s anchor had broken loose or it was just too long and was crossed with ours. I grabbed it’s rail and held on, considering my options.

For some reason Leslie had not woken up and the despite the noise, my walking around on her deck and shining my light in the ports of the Bayfield, no one had emerged. So there I stood, boat in hand pondering just how ridiculous this was. Eventually Leslie emerged sleepily wondering why I was missing and grabbed me a line. I tied off the Bayfield to our midship cleat and popped in a few fenders. Then I gave Nanaimo Harbour Authority a call on the VHF and failing that, phoned their land line. No luck, despite the fact that a few years ago, they were responsible for my very first rude awakening aboard when they had banged the anchor on their patrol boat on our in the middle of the night scaring the hell out of me. I guess they don’t work nights in the early season?

The machine at the Harbour Authority did have a 1-800 emergency number and/or a star-16 cell number. Given that I had no ability to maneuver and that casting off a potentially loose boat in a crowded harbour in the middle of the night seemed contra-indicated, I figure this constituted a bit of an emergency. Turns out that star-16 is the Coast Guard emergency line… oh. I didn’t know that. Embarrassed, I babbled an apology and explanation to the nice operator — really, I hadn’t thought this was Coast Guard level quite yet — and she took all my particulars and details and said she would see if she could contact someone, promising to call me back.

By this time Leslie and I had mostly decided that just properly rafting up the two boats for the night was the best solution and I had just started to get the lines and fenders out when a head finally emerged from the companionway of the Bayfield. Seems the young fellow was a sound sleeper. A very sound sleeper. He seemed to grasp the situation pretty readily and was instantly apologetic. I didn’t think it was any of his fault, although when I found out that he had 200 feet of rope rode out in a busy anchorage that was 25’ deep at most, I did scratch my head a bit. Even then it really wasn’t his fault—after all, I had laid my anchor line over his, not vice versa.

We fiddled and pulled and eventually came to the conclusion that the rafting plan was the best thing for now and we could deal with the rest in the morning. So I grabbed my cell, noticed a missed call (I had the stupid Do Not Disturb mode on…bugger) and called the Coast Guard back to inform them that the Bayfield was not in fact unmanned and let them know our solution. I guess they must get all sorts of calls like this because it didn’t seem to phase them and they even thanked me. Then we finished tying up the two boats and retreated to our respective berths.

Day Two

The next morning started early. Our new companion was up at 6 am to cast off and we started hauling rode (he had no windlass). Our chain was lying across his but we managed to lift it off with a boathook and he was free. We cast him off and he moved over to the edge of the anchorage to reanchor.

Then we relaxed for a few hours before heading into town to run some errands. On the way back we checked out low tide at Newcastle Island. It’s a new moon low tide, only .3 feet (that’s the Canadian low, low water), and almost no water between Protection Island and Newcastle: freaky.

Around 3pm, I rigged up a bridle and Ian and crew came out from Stones (Nanaimo Yacht Charters) in their chase boat and we got ready to go. We hauled the chain rode by hand (we being mostly them, but I did help near the end) and we were off. Ten minutes later we were entering the marina and Ian skillfully and gently towed us along the dock by the boat lift.

After a short wait Never for Ever was airborne and my little mistake was on display for all to see. They put her up on stands because now it was end-of-day Friday and likely now no one would look at her until Monday. We did cut through the line though, and the propellor shaft shot back 2 inches. There was a lot of tension created by that wound line — it acted almost like an impromptu gear puller.

And so…

Well unfortunately, while the engine did settle back—mostly, the motor mounts are hatched. All four will need to be replaced as well as the shaft saver — the coupler that attaches the transmission to the propellor shaft. As far as we can tell everything else is good but we won’t know for sure until we get her back in the water—probably not until Tuesday.

I didn’t ask how much this was going to cost, because frankly I don’t want to know right now and and Ian was trying to console me with the fact the motor mounts were likely going to have to be replaced in the next year or so anyway. I will keep telling myself that.

As for me, Leslie got on a plane to Toronto for five days and I will get to learn what living on the hard is like. So far I can’t say I am enjoying it all that much. But…c’est la vie or at least, that’s boat life… I’ve repaired the dinghy painter, filled a few holes in the fiberglass, scraped and sanded down some teak to revarnish, and taken the anchor and rode down to hopefully replace the chain… I guess I will keep busy until we are back in the water.

22 May

Drugs on board … & being sick

When we first moved aboard, I spent some time assembling a good first aid kit to supplement the one already aboard. I also stocked up on Tylenol and Advil and made sure to include a good supply of Robaxacet as my back had developed an insidious habit of spasming at the worst moments and rendering me virtually incapacitated for a few days. Luckily, so far, my back seems to enjoy sailing and I have been thankfully spasm free whenever we’ve been aboard. On my last visit to my dentist, the inestimable Dr. Frank insisted I accept a prescription for a good antibiotic in case we found ourselves far from assistance and suffering from tooth pain (I later was grateful for this foresight).

But the one thing I didn’t stock then and failed to include on this year’s cruise was any cold or sinus medication. Which I assume was some sort of subconscious and misplaced optimism, as we always have some sort of decongestant and/or antihistamine stocked in the medicine cabinet at home. And, as it turns out, we paid for that oversight.

The onset

It had been a bad start. For the first week or so I had been feeling nauseated. I blamed it at first on the disruption of my eating schedule and later on a fairly recent addition of cholesterol meds. We checked in with a pharmacist in Madeira Park, but he felt it highly unlikely the meds were to blame.

Just as I was getting over that, my allergies (which tend to plague me continually in a low-level manner while in Alberta and had, to date, disappeared on the West Coast) returned with a vengeance. It had been five years or more since I had a bad attack that involved a weird post-nasal drip that accumulates assorted crud in the back of my throat and will set off spasms of hacking and coughing every time I shift positions, but it was back and now I found myself incapacitated for minutes at a time as my body’s involuntary reflexes tried to prevent me from choking to death. Trust me, they were so bad that sometimes in the middle of these violent coughing fits, I might have chosen the more sedate choking option.

And of course, we were smack in the middle of Desolation Sound at this point with no easy options for acquiring any antihistamines. So I toughed it out.

I’m not sure who got the cold first, but it doesn’t matter. Suddenly it seemed that both Leslie and I were in the grips of monster chests colds, hacking, coughing and dripping in concert.

On a boat, feeling like cr@p

I have occasionally wondered what being sick aboard would be like, but for some reason I usually imagined it would involve some sort of intestinal problem — probably because that seemed the worst case scenario — and not something that was catching. So there we were, having infected each other, drained of energy and will, and completely without any of the world’s modern miracle drugs other than Extra Strength Tylenol to help. It was the nights that were the worst as both of us have been conditioned by years of habit to load up on OTC drugs when we’re sick, to help us at least get a partial night’s sleep before they wear off.

And despite my previous post’s happy endorsement of spring cruising, the rain didn’t help. On some of the rainier days, there was very little to keep our minds off our suffering stuck below in a cool damp boat. The Webasto got fired up perhaps a bit more than would have been our usual practice.

We were swinging on the hook in Von Donop when I made the executive decision that a few days at dock were called for, and so we raised the anchor and made for Heriot Bay, shore power and, best of all, a supply of medication.

On the road back to better

We tied up at Taku Resort and immediately tromped off to the Market. The selection was limited, but Leslie chose to indulge in her faithful NeoCitran while I opted for a combined cure to both my now incipient head cold and the persisting background allergies: Sinutab Allergies. We loaded up and spent two days on the dock reveling in electric heat, all the hot water we wanted and the ability to walk away from what we regarded as our own personal plague ship.

Of course we didn’t do that much walking, preferring to huddle miserably below. After a couple of days we decided that if that’s the way it was, we might as well go somewhere more picturesque so, after forgoing the worst of the drugs for a day, cast off for the Octopus Islands. And there we sat for a few more days in alternating sun and rain and slowly recovered.

At least I did. My cold slowly receded, although my allergies remained (albeit at a much reduced level thanks to the drugs). But Leslie’s illness had unfortunately settled into her ears, which stubbornly refused to drain, and she was starting to count down to a flight to Toronto that she absolutely did not want to make with blocked eustachian tubes.

The D-word.

Right about then we started paying attention to medical facilities. Or at least I did. Talking it over, we decided if L’s ears weren’t better by a week before her flight, we would bustle off to a doctor for some serious drugs. Of course, walk-in clinics didn’t seem to be overly abundant in Desolation Sound, so we shifted our short-term plans accordingly.

The days went by and with the help of some Benadryl I picked up in Lund, I beat my symptoms into a mere five-minute, first-thing-in-the-morning coughing session. Leslie’s ears did not, however, improve. And so we continued to move slowly south toward more populated parts.

A sign you will be sure to encounter on your walk tot he Pender Harbour Health Centre

A few days short of our one-week deadline we found ourselves back on the hook in Pender Harbour. I gave Pender Harbour Health Centre a call the morning after we arrived to get some advice on the nearest place to have Leslie’s ears looked at. It turned out they had a both nurse and a doctor available and could we be there by 11? I secured directions (a 10-minute walk south down the highway) and we started to get ready.

The A-word.

There are a lot of things about small towns that can be irritating, but Madeira Park—indeed the whole Pender Harbour area—has just the right balance between services and population to make things like going to the doctor a joy. We arrived about a half hour early and Leslie was bustled in five minutes later. I could hear her laughing, and 15 minutes later she emerged with a smile and a prescription.

It turns out that the issue with her ears was not the dreaded infection but instead a symptom of … wait for it … allergies.

“There are lot of things on the coast that cause allergic reactions,” the doctor told her authoritatively.

“But we spent a year here without being affected,” she protested. “And we returned a month ago.”

“Indeed,” he rebutted, “the exact conditions that might bring on such an attack.”

“Oh,” she rejoined weakly, “I see.”

“Indeed,” the doctor repeated kindly.

So we strolled back to town and Leslie filled a familiar (to me) prescription for steroids and we loaded up on Benadryl. Apparently Benadryl, according to the nurse practitioner, should be an essential part of any first-aid kit. Free from “helpful” additives, it’s a pure antihistamine useful in many situations.

And now we wait.

Aftermath

What makes this all poignantly ironic is that just as I was feeling a bit better I read Slow Boat’s (Riveted) latest post about stocking up for their annual Alaska cruise, where they made the point of stocking up with a healthy (pun intended) supply of Nyquill, pointing out how hard it could be to obtain and… Alas, such wisdom delivered only a bit too late. One of the less obvious dangers of cruising too early in the season: you miss the latest crop of internet sagacity.

We are on the mend now and harbour a desperate hope that this allergic reaction is just a fluke and not to become an annual trial. But if it does, I guaranteed next year we will be better prepared and fully stocked up with all the latest medical chemistry to beat our bodies into submission.

09 May

Spring Cruising: The April Edition

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Our first real experience with boating in the PNW was a Powerboat Cruise and Learn in late April. We motored the Gulf Islands for a week learning the ropes (literally) and learning the basics. Since then we seem to have spent a lot of time aboard in May and June, and I have to say I am really not sure the warmth of July and August are enough to offset the benefits of early-season cruising.

Anchoring Out

Now this is where the real joy is. Smuggler Cove: we had it to ourselves. Garden Bay: again we were the only boat anchored out. We had the entire Copeland Islands chain to ourselves. Prideaux Haven had one, yes one, boat in it, and we shared Melanie Cove with one other boat, both of us swinging in the centre. We stayed two nights in Squirrel Cove and shared it with two other boats the first night and absolutely no one the next. Last time I was in Squirrel Cove it was August and I think there were close to two hundred boats anchored there. The difference is simply mind blowing.

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Teakerne Arm, Rebecca Spit, Von Donop Inlet: all the same. Occasionally there will be another boat there, but if you stay a few days you inevitably get the place to yourself. And as we meet more and more of the other boaters, they all say the same thing: spring is the time to be cruising, especially Desolation Sound.

You get the opportunity to visit a lot pf places without the stress of a large audience watching you screw up your stern tie (our first attempt in the deep water off Cassel Lake Falls is a story in itself) or worrying about finding a place to spend the night. It also means you can swing freely in places where you might otherwise have to stern tie.

Enjoy it all

It’s a bit too early for good fishing unless you have a down rigger, and the whales are just returning, but there is still plenty to enjoy, especially if you like puttering around the shores. Eagles are everywhere and the clear, undisturbed water is teeming with life from Lion’s Mane jellyfish to coral. We’ve seen more sea cucumbers in the past week than I have ever seen before.

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The trails are wet and occasionally a bit challenging, but I entertained myself by clearing deadfall to make the walk easier for the next hikers and by keeping an eye on the ground for all the flora and fauna to be seen. I love wildflowers and spring affords me the opportunity to see a whole new range of them and practice my bad photography. Even the lichens are in bloom!

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And the colours are fantastic. The days are already getting pretty long, and the play of sun and clouds across the mountains and water creates some pretty mesmerizing and ethereal scenes. Words aren’t enough and I’m just not a good enough photographer to capture the beauty. You have to see it for yourself. Really.

So what do you need?

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Let’s start with a little background. Never for Ever is a 2003 Hunter 386. She has all the common amenities: gas stove, fridge and freezer, BBQ, head, etc. In addition to that she has a diesel fired Webasto hydronic heater with 3 separate “zones.” That allows us to heat the boat any time we want, although when all the fans are running she is using about 6 amp/hrs (that means that if we run it for 2 hours we use about 12 amp/hrs which is about a quarter of our normal daily allotment). We also have the best-ever fleece sheets that make crawling into a cold bed a non-issue. In addition we have tons of candles and a little candle/clay pot heating system that can take the chill off an evening as the sun goes down.

In the cockpit we have most of a full enclosure (because the mesh side panels don’t completely block the wind). Best of all, the two clear panels that attach to our dodger almost completely block any wind when underway. And while the bimini does leak a bit where it attaches to the arch, we are generally snug and dry in the cockpit even if it is raining.

Back to batteries. We have enough capacity to last four days without plugging in or firing up the engine if we are miserly with the heat, and three days if we stay warm. And it’s often warmer out in the morning sunshine than it is below so we can abandon the cabin if it’s cool but not cold enough to bother with the heater. What’s too cold? 10° C sends me running for the heater when I wake up and 13° C probably means we’ll tough it out with a nice hot coffee/tea to get us started.

What’s This Got to Do with Spring Cruising?

Well, it’s important to realize that for us, in a moderately equipped boat, cruising in the early months is a lot like camping in the mountains. It can be cold and damp at night, but the days generally make up for it — with the occasional rainy day spent relaxing under canvas. A fancy powerboat with a generator can probably leave the heat on continuously and may have lots of canvas-enclosed “sunrooms” that make it all more luxurious. As in the aforementioned camping reference, the trick is to stay dry, layer up and use positive words like “brisk” and “invigorating.”

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But if you can accept the fact that you are going to wear layers, enjoy a splash of rain now and again, and expect to need an extra quilt or two, then there is lots to recommend about cruising the PNW in April and May and very little to fear.

Weather

It’s not that bad. Really. This year we headed up to Desolation Sound in mid-April and we have averaged rain two or three days a week, but it often happens over night or early in the day. Some of our best days have seen us getting up to steady rain and motoring for a few hours as it clears to have fantastic sunny weather when we arrive to explore our new anchorage. Daytime temperatures are usually in the 15–16°C range, which is plenty warm if the sun is out. The nights can get cold, but bring your favourite down sleeping bag and you won’t care. And the sound of rain at night is soothing.

The winds are good if you are a sailor. and not all that bad if you don’t mind bashing into a 20-knot head wind occasionally (we don’t). And the distances to most places are so short (an hour or two) that even a bad day doesn’t last long.

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I do think early-season cruising should be more of a relaxed affair—the more time you have, the better. That way bad weather days are spent relaxing or walking a rainforest in the rain (which I firmly believe everyone should do at least once in their life). If you don’t have the time to outwait the weather (rarely longer than a day or two), then some destinations can be a bit more difficult.

Marinas and Resorts

The other thing to be aware of is that a lot of places aren’t open yet or have limited services. Contrary to expectation, trying to get space at public docks like Chemainus or Westview in Powell River is actually harder since they have not yet opened up space for the summer transient traffic. The restaurant at Gorge Harbour isn’t open for dinner, Refuge Cove has only limited services and, if you go further north, most of the places in the Broughtons like Port Harvey or Pierre’s will have dock space but few or no supplies available.

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On the other hand, Taku Resort off Rebecca Spit has off-season rates, which means you can afford to tie up there. And Heriot Bay is similarly inexpensive at just over a dollar a foot. This makes supply and laundry days much more affordable if you are out for any length of time.

A couple of days ago we pulled into the public dock at Squirrel Cove and tied up. We did some resupply, washed all of our laundry and recharged our almost-dead batteries and were off to the main anchorage four hours later. No competition for space and no rushing. Glorious.

So What’s Stopping You?

I realize some of us don’t have much time, and “wasting” it on a spring cruise rather than waiting until high summer seems shortsighted or foolish. I just don’t think it is. It all depends what you want out of the experience. I value serenity and beauty, solitude and newness. Others might prefer the more social aspects of hanging out in a big anchorage with dozens of other boats, and I will admit that occasionally I wish we had some other boats around to entertain me. After all, we are all part of a community.

Still, if I wanted warmth and sunshine and crowds, I would likely spend my money in Mexico or the Caribbean. What the PNW offers is beauty and more beauty. A sense of wild, untouched landscapes and the opportunity to explore them at my own pace. Oh, if I can swing it, I will definitely come back in July and August, but I truly don’t think that the opportunities afforded by an early-season cruise should be missed by anyone who can afford to give it a try.

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