Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The fleet is out

It must have been something I said.  Everyone except us left this morning and for a few minutes there was just us and one other sailboat anchored in this little cove.  Since then a couple more have arrived but its still a far cry from the mob that was here before the SNSYC crew left. 

We had intended to leave too but it was another gray BC day this morning complete with a little drizzle and a wind warning for the whole strait.  We’d have been fine moving – its sheltered and we generally operate from indoors anyway – but we decided to stay put.  If its gray tomorrow morning we might just stay here another night.  Its pretty easy to talk ourselves into staying when its as scenic as it is.  There’s a bit of commotion involved with a move – untie the stern tie and reel in the line, stow the dinghy, undo the anchor bridle and stow it, pull, wash and stow the anchor – and then of course you have to do it all in reverse when you get to wherever you get to.  So staying put is a pretty attractive option at least until we get bored with the current scenery. 

Washing the anchor and chain was something that we hadn’t really considered before we started doing it but it is likely the most important part of anchoring.  You really need to be well equipped for washdown and from what we’ve seen a lot of people simply aren’t.  I’ve often seen people using a bucket to splash water over the chain – that would be like pissing on a house fire – right idea, wrong execution.  Good heavy clay is our preferred choice of bottom – not that we get to pick – but when you find that clay it is covered with wet clay on the top – not too surprising since its under at least 25 feet of water.  Anybody who has slogged through the Regina gumbo will know that it sticks to everything.  When you’ve got 100 feet of anchor chain lying on the bottom that means you are going to have 100 feet of gumbo to wash off the chain as you reel it in. 

The system on Gray Hawk when we bought her was a joke.  Perhaps it worked at one time although I find that hard to believe but by the time we got her it was worse than useless.  I’m still not wildly happy with what we have but its workable.  Our seawater pump is adequate but I need a pressure reservoir so that the pump doesn’t cycle off and on while you are washing the chain and I’d like the reservoir to be stainless or plastic because it will be holding salt water.  So far I haven’t found what I want so the stream occasionally pulses while Marilyn is aiming it at the chain. 

In really good mud we have to stop regularly so the wash process can catch up with the chain retrieval.  If you don’t wash it off all that mud ends up in the chain locker.  Aside from the mess it will make I expect it would stink because it would be wet mud inside the boat.  Eventually after we wash enough chain we get to wash the anchor.  The Sarca has brought up some absolutely incredible lumps of mud on occasion.  Sometimes we let about 15 feet of chain fly out once or twice just to get rid of the worst mud before Marilyn does the final wash on the anchor.

Gorge Harbour just phoned to say they’ve had enough cancellations to get us on the dock for June 30th/July 1st so we might wait it out here and move directly to Gorge Harbour on the 30th.  It will be weird having a dock to tie up to after so long on the anchor. 

We’re constantly commenting on how similar the scenery is to the Churchill River system.  We have loved travelling and fishing on the river and so far there’s nothing out here that is any prettier than what we have in northern Saskatchewan.  Obviously we don’t have mountains in the background in Saskatchewan but typically it isn’t pissing rain while you’re looking at the scenery either.

We’re seriously looking forward to getting back on the prairies.  Every day out here the anchorages get busier, there gets to be more chatter on the radio and when we travel we increasingly have to contend with someone else’s wake.  I can’t imagine what a gong show it must turn into after the July long weekend and I don’t want to find out.  We always loved the Shuswaps until after Calgary Stampede and then were glad as hell to get out – I expect this place is exactly the same.  Hardly a day goes by now that there isn’t some moron doing something idiotic on the radio or the water or both. 

Whenever we do get around to spending a whole summer out here we’ll absolutely be doing it at least in the Queen Charlotte Islands or the Broughtons.  To get up there you have to get through Johnstone Narrows which has a couple of tidal bores that act as gates to keep a lot of cruisers trapped down on this side.  I expect that even that area may get more crowded than we like but this area definitely will.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Yesterday we left Squirrel Cove which had become less crowded but was still a pretty busy place and trolled our way around Redonda Island.  Once again we failed to deplete the BC fishery at all. 

Before starting our unsuccessful fishing expedition we made a brief stop in Refuge Cove.  Judging by the age of the buildings around the bay it was an early supply depot for the Desolation Sound area.  Its now owned by some kind of a co-operative made up of local property owners but it was pretty quiet yesterday.  The store manager was extremely happy to see us there buying his overpriced groceries.  Maintaining grocery stock in a place like that would be a thankless job – I expect he throws out 1 part of produce for every 2 or 3 that he sells.  His produce was fresh but the selection was limited and it was all bloody expensive so we bought as little as we thought we could get away with.  Our goal will be to hit Comox or Pender Harbour with no fresh produce left onboard.  Which side of the strait we end up on will be entirely weather dependent.  So far the winter (southeast) winds have been relentless.  If that continues we’ll likely end up on the mainland side of the strait.  There’s a lot of open water to the SE if you leave from Comox; if you leave from Vancouver the crossing is relatively short to Active Pass.  Either way we’ll get bounced around a bit but for a much shorter time if we leave from Vancouver.

Refuge Cove is also home to Dave’s garbage barge which is exactly what it sounds like.  Up here you can’t just drop off garbage when you tie up to a dock because it costs them money to get rid of garbage in these more isolated places.  I suppose if you spent the night on the dock they might (or might not) take your garbage but for sure when you tie up to go grocery shopping you don’t get to leave anything behind.  That’s where Dave comes in.  He’s pretty ragged looking and likely smells really bad but we didn’t stop long enough for that to matter.  We sidled up close to his barge, he flopped his bare feet over close to the edge and when we got close enough he took our bag of garbage.  Marilyn handed over 5 bux and we were on our way.  We had a “big” bag which should have een $10 but ours wasn’t very full so we got rid of it for $5.  As we were leaving I’m sure Dave was sorting through our garbage looking for recyclable cans but he would have been disappointed because those get stomped on and put in a cat litter pail to wait for SNSYC’s recycling bin.  They use the funds to support their junior sailing program.

After we gave up on fishing we slogged on through the rain to Elworthy Island.  I had scoped out several potential anchorages ahead of time but Elworthy was my first choice.  It was also the last one we came to so we checked out a couple before we got there just in case it was full or not to our liking.  As it was it turned out to be a delightful little spot.  We ended up stern tied to the island in a narrow (maybe 300 yards at its widest spot) channel with 2 sailboats.  It was absolutely pissing rain by the time we got anchored but we got a brief respite that let us get a stern tie rigged and it was still pouring this morning.  We had decided we wouldn’t move in the rain but in the late morning the clouds broke a bit and we ended up pulling the anchor and having lunch under a bit of sunshine.

We only had about 4 miles to go to get to our current location but the timing of our arrival was critical.  The entrance to Roscoe Bay actually dries at chart datum.  That means that at “zero” on the charts you can walk across the channel that we came in through today.  I’m looking forward to the extreme low tide early tomorrow morning so I can get a good look at the rocks we came over.  I’ve got our track saved on the GPS but I think I can go through with the dinghy at extreme low and get a track on the Garmin handheld that I will then be able to export and compare to the one we came in on.  The extreme low tomorrow is still 5 or 6 feet above chart datum so the channel shouldn’t be completely dry.

This whole chart/tide thing is part of the learning curve.  Charts in Canada are drawn to mean lowest low water levels.  In the US they are drawn to mean low water level which has the effect of making US water look deeper than Canadian water which of course it isn’t.  From a practical standpoint you just want to avoid hitting the rocks.  Intuitively it would seem that always entering on a high tide would be the safest way to accomplish that but that isn’t always true.  High tides can hide rocks just below the surface just as easily as low tides can bring you close to other deeper rocks.  In a perfect world we would scout out the channels at low tide and traverse them at high tide but that opportunity doesn’t always present itself.  We’re going to spend a couple of nights here so I’m going to make a point of doing exactly that and then save the results for the next trip.  And I’ll use the results on the way out, all the while listening to the shallow alarm on the depth sounder going beeeeeep, beeeeeep, beeeeeep, beeeeeeep …………….

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Boating 101: Part 17

The more attentive among you may remember that before we left for Desolation Sound I said I was going to make a run to Nanaimo for some stern tie line.  Stern tying for you landlubbers is the practice of setting an anchor and then tying the ass end of the boat to a convenient attachment point on the shore, usually a tree.  We have a variety of skills that we have had to learn along the way and stern tying was obviously one we hadn’t learned – we didn’t have any stern tie line so stern tying wasn’t an option. 

Harbour Chandler in Nanaimo is a wonderful place and they just happened to have 1/2” nylon line in 340 foot spools for $44.95 per spool so I came home with two.  Then of course we had to find an excuse to try it out so today when we arrived in Squirrel Cove, more or less at the front door to Desolation Sound, we resolved to do a stern tie. 

We first cruised the outside of the anchorage, which is remarkably full for this early in the season.  We located a suitable tree on the shoreline and pulled up ahead of it to drop the famous Sarca.  It was a little cranky about taking a bite in the bottom but eventually it hauled us up short.  To be honest I’m not sure it brought us up in line with the tree that we initially picked but there’s a lot of trees up here so we adapted.  Once we were sure we had the anchor firmly set we figured out the next step. 

We’ve never actually seen anybody do a stern tie so we had to improvise but its not rocket surgery after all.  As usually happens with a new project the damndest things turn out to be problematic.  The things you think up front will be difficult are usually no problem but it seems there’s always something comes out of left field.  Today it was how to get ashore with the line.  We were at extreme low tide and still there weren’t many rocks showing.  The shoreline around this cove pretty well drops straight down so it wasn’t going to be easy to get the dinghy somewhere that I could step out with two lines in my hands.  I made a reconnaissance trip, found a spot that I thought would work and then Marilyn came along for the real trip. 

With the ass end secured we then proceeded to the bow.  We’re quite sophisticated in that department now, after I spent $70+ on a little bit of stainless steel in Anacortes. 

Its not a good idea to put a bunch of strain on your anchor windlass.  The shock load up a chain can be significant in a bad blow.  When the chain is slack it actually acts like a cushion so you don’t get much shock loading at all but when it starts to tighten up there’s obviously no give – it’s a chain after all.  The way you ensure that there is some cushion even when the chain is tight is by securing the chain to the boat with nylon lines.  And not just any old nylon line will do – these lines should be 3 strand twisted line because it has much higher elasticity than the double braided lines that we use for mooring lines.

So tonight we’re tied fore and aft in a cove that probably covers 10 acres with about 25 other boats.  According to the cruising guides this place typically holds 100 boats in the high season.  I’m glad we’re not going to be here then.  We stern tied just for the hell of it today but you put 4x as many boats in here and everybody would have to stern tie just to get everyone to fit.

Monday, June 20, 2011


We’ve been trying to leave for Desolation Sound for a couple of months now but finally we’re on our way.  Friday we got up early – well – early for us – in order to catch the slack current at Gabriola Passage.  We arrived there just as it was turning so we could have been up a little earlier or hurried a little more on the way.  The tide tables aren’t 100% accurate.  According to Ports and Passes we should have been ahead of the change but we were actually a little behind it.  I don’t trust all the electronic tide predictions mainly because I usually have two or three choices side by side on the screen, each displaying different predictions.  I’m not sure why I think the printed version is inherently more accurate but it feels more reassuring to hold a several hundred page book and see the times in black and white.

We had a pretty lumpy crossing although the waves weren’t all that high.  According to the automated buoys at Halibut Bank and Sentry Shoal the waves never got past 0.6 meters but their angle and timing were awkward.  We were taking them on the transom and that’s always problematic because the boat tends to surf down the face of a wave until it buries its nose which brings it up short and then the stern slides sideways down the face of the next wave.  Its an uncomfortable motion, constantly speeding up, slowing down and slewing sideways.  Marilyn’s stopped up ears likely make her more susceptible to motion sickness so she had a pretty unpleasant afternoon. 

We arrived in Pender Harbour around 6:00 Friday and tied up at Anne’s dock across the channel from Madeira Bay.  Finally I got a good daylight look at Kivak, her custom fibreglass sailboat.  Kivak is named after a little Russian village on the east coast somewhere north of Japan.  The name is in honour of the builder who was a Russian refugee who jumped ship in Vancouver and worked in a shipyard there sometime in the late 60’s.  He eventually amassed enough money to start building his own boat but by the time he got the mechanicals installed he had pledged it to a bank in support of a friend’s business.  The business failed, the bank took the boat and Anne and her husband bought the boat from the bank.  They finished the boat by fitting out the interior and wanted to give her a name that would recognize her Russian heritage.  They painted the boat themselves including the name so it had to be easy for Anne to letter.  She said she searched the atlas for Russian names from the right region of the country that had only straight sided letters and finally came up with Kivak.  She’s a very stout and at the same time attractive vessel – the Russian obviously knew his art. 

We spent the weekend with Anne and then moved to anchor in Hospital Bay so we could join the flotilla from SNSYC that is on its way to Desolation Sound.  They left this morning (Monday) for Princess Louisa but we decided not to join them.  We were just up there a couple of months ago and there’s a lot more to see.  We also bumped into (literally) some folks that we met at Trawlerfest this spring.  As we were leaving Anne’s dock so she could give us a tour of the harbour we were hailed by Alice J.  They were idling in Garden Bay so we idled over to join them and briefly rafted up together.  Jim had put Betty on the plane in Victoria and she is due into Pender Harbour this afternoon.  In the meantime he has been anchored in Gerrans Bay so that is where we are now too.

Pender Harbour is a tiny little bit of civilization but an incredibly large anchorage at the same time.  There are about 6 usable little bays that lead off the main access to the village of Madeira Park which appears to be the prime centre of commerce.  Unlike so many of the places we have visited, Pender Harbour’s water isn’t littered with mooring balls so there are actually several places for us to drop our anchor. 

It takes quite a bit of room to anchor safely.  Right now we’re in just under 30 feet of water with 150 feet of chain out.  If you add 6 or so feet of height to the bow that’s a little under 5:1 scope but we’re at low tide.  As the tide comes in we’ll add another 11 or 12 feet of depth leaving us in around 40 feet of water for something just over 3:1 scope.  So we can’t really have any less chain out and at low tide we swing in excess of a 350’ circle by the time you add our scope plus the length of the boat.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Idiots and maroons

Not everyone we meet on the water is a fool. Yesterday I noticed somebody eying up the boat and finally opened the door to visit with him.  Having previously had extreme difficulty getting rid of Mike from Canora I was reluctant to engage the next dock-walker in conversation.  He turned out to be a welcome relief from Mike the Ukrainian. 

He lives near Anacortes and takes occasional contracts with local charter companies to help newbie boat drivers get used to a boat.  That’s why he’s here now – “here” in this case being the inner harbour at Victoria.  He must have a couple of the aforementioned idiots as charter customers though because evidently this is the third time they have hired him.  They could just like his company I guess.  Our Sarca had caught his attention so we spent a long time talking about anchors.  He had evidently never seen a new-gen anchor which seemed strange given his part time occupation.

We pulled into the inner harbour around noon yesterday in order to get Marilyn to her class for wannabee actors.  There’s some certificate you need to have in order to work on a film set.  She has talked about doing that as long as I can remember.  I think the anticipation was better than the reality but for better or worse here we are.  The price has gone up – way up – since the last time we were here – we’re into high season moorage rates now.  And by “high” they mean HIGH.

Before we left Cow Bay I noticed that we didn’t have a red nav light.  Actually when I looked closer all we had was a green nav light – both our forward and rear facing white lights were also out.  So I spent yesterday tracking down electrical gremlins and now we not only have nav lights all around we also have spare bulbs for the three – count ‘em – three different bulb types that are used in four nav lights plus two spreader lights.  That doesn’t count the anchor light which is a different bulb again.  I’ve managed to standardize a lot of the interior lights by going to LEDs but the exterior lighting is still a mishmash of original equipment and various owner modifications/bodges. 

Diving classes are over and SWMBO is now certified.  Certified and damaged to be completely accurate since the last dive did something to her ears and she now can’t hear properly.  (She hasn’t been able to hear properly since I met her but now she admits she can’t hear properly.)  Today she went to a local quack who told her that time would fix the problem.  That means no fun dive this weekend.  The class was over last weekend but some of them are going back for a last dive this weekend.  They’ll have to do it without her and that means that we can leave a few days earlier for Desolation Sound. 

So tomorrow we’ll ride the tide back up to Cow Bay so she can return her diving gear and I think I’ll run up to Nanaimo to buy a spool of stern tie line.  Then we’ll be ready to head out and we’ll likely cross the Strait on Thursday.  There’s a huge armada from the yacht club leaving about the same time on roughly the same route so we’ll hook up with them off and on for a couple of weeks.  They’re going up to Princess Louisa first and we don’t really want to go back there yet so we’ll likely see them off from Pender Harbour and then head for Lund.  We’ve got our oldster friend with the dock in Pender Harbour that we need to stop in on – she’s already invited us for supper.  Once we get past Agamemnon Channel it will be new water flowing under the keel again. 


The graphic kind of shows our route from the tip of Gabriola Island to the entrance to Desolation Sound.  Pender Harbour is about dead centre on the image and Gabriola is about three hours north of our dock at Cow Bay.  We’ll leave from there because it lets us get around the south end of the Whiskey Golf (WG) live weapons range that the navy uses between Comox and Nanaimo.  Lots of times its inactive and you can transit it freely but we’ve got no way of knowing that ahead of time so its easier to just plan to miss it.  That also lets us miss running Dodd Narrows but we’ll have to run Gabriola Passage instead so there won’t be any big gain there.  It just happens to be slack about 6:30 PM boat time so that works out well.  Considering that its going to run at 6.1 and 7.5 knots that day we really don’t want to be there anytime but slack water.

Now back to the idiots and maroons.  Being on a transient dock is absolutely the best place for unscripted entertainment.  You can hear them coming.  The good operators are almost silent – the first sign you see of them is their hull ghosting quietly by a window but the idiots are another matter altogether.  They invariably announce their presence by either drunken yelling or revving engines or on the really good occasions, both.  Today there was a Uniflyte arrived – about 40 feet long.  It came flying down the slip beside us before I had a chance to get outside to menace it with my boathook.  We’ve got a really wicked boathook with this great ugly rusty iron point on it.  I like to visibly wave it around so they know that they are going to lose some gelcoat if they get too close but this clown was by us before I could get outside. 

Then he drove all the way up to the head of our slip all the while yelling at passersby that he was in a hurry and asking where the harbourmaster was.  When he got up to the causeway in front of the Empress he was about 30 feet from the harbourmaster’s kiosk so then he started waving imperiously for her to come out and talk to him.  Never heard of a radio I guess because I have been keeping a watch on the harbour channel and it was silent the whole time.  He had about a dozen men aboard and they started hopping off whenever he bumped into a finger pier, which was fairly regularly.  Once they were on the piers they could keep him fended off by leaning against the boat whenever it got too close.  The harbourmaster is long on charm and short on wisdom (she looks to be about 14) so she decided that he needed to go over two fingers.  He argued with her for a while but eventually gave in.  Then he came charging back out past us and over to the neighbouring pier where he tried to execute a 360 in the slip by bouncing off a very large boat that was already tied up over there.  Whenever he bounced off something he would rev the engines all the harder.  The owner of the boat he was bouncing off of looked like he would have enjoyed using my boathook.   Its getting late in the day – with luck there will be some late arrivals for evening entertainment.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Out and about

We left Cow Bay on Thursday headed for Montague Harbour which is on Galiano Island.  Galiano’s main claim to fame is as a refuge for granola-eating tree-hugging fudge-packers.  More on that later.

When we arrived at the marine park in Montague Harbour there was hardly a soul there but it started filling up Thursday night.  I estimated about 40 mooring balls in the harbour and by Friday night about 30 of them were occupied.  So not full-full but close.  I don’t trust the mooring balls so we dropped our Sarca and after a couple of tries got a good set.  That seems to be emerging as a pattern.  The first drop doesn’t necessarily produce a set but we’ve never had to drop it more than twice and we absolutely know we’re set when we get done.  I think I actually pulled it out in Montague by pulling too hard on too short a scope the first time.  We were in fairly deep water (around 50 feet) and I think I only had maybe 150 feet of chain out.  When you add the freeboard to the water depth we might have been under 3:1 scope and I powered up pretty hard against that so not too surprisingly we moved. 

The purpose of the trip to Montague was to meet up with a group from SNSYC who were going on to Chemainus for a night of dinner theatre.  We had to bug out of the Saturday flotilla to Chemainus in order to get Marilyn to diving class in Maple Bay.  That meant we had to be up before daylight but it was so pretty at that time that it was almost worth the early start just for the scenery. 

I dumped Marilyn off at the dock in Cow Bay and after she headed off to diving class I made my way alone up to Maple Bay.  I had trouble finding a decent place to anchor when I got there.  Mooring at the “public” dock was out of the question as it usually is. 

The open water dive consisted of walking in off the beach so I hung out on the anchor and watched the class.  Not that there’s much to watch once they go under water.

Marilyn did really well and actually enjoyed the experience, contrary to all expectations on her part.  At one point her group went directly under Gray Hawk and I assumed they would at least check the anchor set and ideally the bow thruster zinc at the same time.  No such luck.

When the dive class finished we made a high speed run up to Chemainus to rejoin the SNSYC group.  They were already having cocktails on the dock when we blew in at a blistering 8 knots.  We managed to get tied up in spite of help from the harbourmaster and immediately poured some bagged wine so we could join the party.  Later we walked to the dinner theatre which was neither a particularly good dinner nor a memorable theatrical performance.  I would have to have strong reasons to go back for either activity but in this case the real purpose was to network with the yacht club members and that was worth the price of admission. 

Yesterday we spent a leisurely morning saying goodbyes as the group broke up in Chemainus.  There were three of those old fashioned kind of boats with the sticks in the air who wanted to leave early in case the wind happened to work for them on the way home.  Their main benefit by leaving early was likely that they could catch a favourable current down Sansum Narrows.  By noon pretty well everyone had left so we had dinner and then chugged our way down into Maple Bay.  It was so crowded there that we didn’t even try to anchor and instead came across to Burgoyne Bay which is where we are now. 

Eclectic doesn’t begin to describe the variety of floating accommodations in this bay.  There’s literally everything here.  It is however very peaceful and we are having a delightful quiet day at anchor here.  Tomorrow we’ll probably start a circumnavigation of Salt Spring Island.  There’s several harbours that indent the island and its time we knew what is in each of them.



Now back to the tree hugging fools on Galiano.  The highlight of the evening in Montague Harbour was a bus ride to a pub for supper.  It was actually a pretty good supper and kind of a cute setup – the pub sends a worn out schoolbus down to the dock, everybody piles on and then this long haired freak driver hauls us up to the pub for the evening.  On the way back to the dock he proudly announced that the citizens of Galiano Island had put Elizabeth Dipshit May over the top on election night.  He was evidently stupid enough to believe that was something to be proud of.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sux to be Bob

Different Bob.  It very much does not suck to be me but that’s not the point. 

No, it sucks to be Bob Rae.  Ya really gotta pity the guy.  First he jumped ship from the Ontario NDP to the federal Liberals just about the time that their internal cancer started to become publicly visible.  Then he got beat by a known idiot in his first run at the party leadership and stepped aside graciously to allow the coronation of the next wrong leader.  Now he had to watch his old party installed as the official opposition and agreed to the thankless task of rebuilding a party that still doesn’t realize how fundamentally flawed its internal workings are.  And despite being the only viable candidate for that rebuilding he is still so distrusted by the party apparatchics that he had to swear off all future leadership ambitions in order to be appointed to the futile task of interim leader.

The problem is that, at the root of it all, I think Bob is a pretty decent guy and not just because he has such a good name.  He always appeared to have a sense of humour, confirmed by his recent job acceptance.  Any politician prepared to show his naked backside with Rick Mercer on national television is either a complete idiot or a pretty decent sort.  The Libs already elected one complete idiot as a leader so I suppose we shouldn’t completely rule out that possibility.  Bob clearly has a sense of duty to the Libs, gawd only knows why though because they equally clearly don’t show the same loyalty to him.