Sunday, February 27, 2011

Lessons learned

The ocean is a tough headmaster.  There’s no kindergarten for folks like us who come to this adventure late in life.  We get dropped into junior high if we’re lucky but sometimes we get a doctoral dissertation before we’re out of high school.  It is finally starting to come together.  I no longer feel like we are liable to end up dead every time we untie from the dock. 

The biggest variable for mariners is always the weather.  It’s a given that if you boat in the Pacific Northwet then you are going to get wet, regardless of the season.  This time of year you will get wet and cold but anytime of the year you are going to get wet.  Given that we can’t avoid the wet, our big concern is to avoid wind.  I’m starting to assemble a toolkit to do that.  Environment Canada’s website is pretty well the definition of unfriendly but there is a lot of information there if you are motivated enough to find it.  The link will take you directly to the page where you get realtime information from the ocean buoy at Halibut Bank.  There’s two reporting buoys in Georgia Strait, Halibut Bank in the central strait and Sentry Shoal at the north end of the strait.  Then there’s the lighthouse keepers’ reports which have become more useful as we start to figure out where the lighthouses are located. 

The other website that I check regularly is  They purport to predict wind speed and direction for several days ahead  which made the Environment Canada geek at the boat show laugh out loud but I’m not sure they’re wrong that often.  I also monitor Weather Bug on my Blackberry and the other sites like Intellicast and Accuweather.  The key though as far as I am concerned is not the absolute forecast but rather the trend of the forecasts leading up to a departure date.  A forecast of moderate winds in isolation could mean a bumpy ride or a dead calm passage depending on what preceded that forecast.  If the forecast is getting steadily better as we approach our departure then I tend to think it will continue on that trend and vice versa.

We left Comox shortly after daybreak with an uncertain forecast to guide us.  It wasn’t great for the last couple of days but seemed to be trending better.  Then this morning the wind forecast was actually worse.  What we needed was a south or better a southwest wind so that we would have protection from Vancouver Island.  Instead the forecast was stubbornly in the southeast, which was a deterioration from last night.  Southeast means right up the strait.  So we left the dock at Comox but agreed that our bugout point would be the south end of Denman Island where we could have pulled into Deep Bay.  We’d have had to pay to tie up there though because the bay is really too deep to anchor comfortably and the bottom has a bad reputation for fouling anchors if you do use it. 

We got bashed around a bit coming out of Comox but the pass down the side of Denman was quiet and when we got to Chrome Island Light the sea wasn’t calm but it was pretty damn good nevertheless.  So we carried on and most of the trip wasn’t bad.  Our stabilizers actually help us the most if we have beam seas.  Typically a boater wouldn’t choose a beam sea, taking them on the nose usually gives a better ride.  In our case though, within reason, we are better off taking a beam sea and letting the stabilizers do their job.  When we take them head on we pitch heavily(against a level horizon mind you).  Today the only option was to take them head on so we had a rough 3 or 4 hours.  That stretch from Nanaimo to Chrome Island Light is just a long old grind of open water, there’s no way around it. 

Tonight we’re snuggled into Newcastle Island, across the channel from Nanaimo.  I expect we’ll spend a couple of nights on the dock here unless some officious busybody comes along to kick us out.  The great advantage of travelling at this time of year is that everything is closed so we can tie up for nothing here where it would cost us close to $100 per night in the summer.  So far the only officials we have seen are Rocky the Racoon who scurried away quickly when we arrived and a sea otter who climbed up on the neighbouring finger pier, did his business and then slipped back into the water.  I guess if I swam in the water all day I wouldn’t want to crap in it either and by the looks of that pier he has been doing it there for a long time now.

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