Monday, February 20, 2012

The Law of the Sea

Civilization ends at the waterline.  Beyond that we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top.

Hunter S. Thompson

I’m starting to plan our trip to the Broughtons and that quote seems apropos.  There’s a lot can go wrong between Cow Bay and Port Neville.  Pacific Northwest boating is constrained by a series of gates.  For Americans the first gate is the US/Canada border and a lot of them never make it out of the San Juan Islands.  If they do make it into what they call “the Canadian San Juans” (the Gulf Islands) then they often join the large group of Canadians who trek north to Desolation Sound every year but are then too timid to brave the reversing rapids that defend access to the Broughton Island cruising grounds.  And that timidity is well justified.

Some of the channels will run up to 15 knots on a big tide – they call the big ones “spring” tides but it really has bugger all to do with seasonality so we won’t worry about that right now.  Most of the channels routinely run 5-8 knots, in alternating directions and that’s our cruising speed.  At 8 knots I’ve got the throttles pretty well all the way ahead so in an 8 knot opposing current the best we could hope for is to stand still.  Some of them turn on a dime too, going from flood to ebb in less than half an hour, sometimes much less.  Add in the additional challenge that the change from flood to ebb comes earlier as you get farther west and the problem compounds.  Our goal on every set of rapids will be to transit it at slack water but if we wait for slack at the farthest east set for the day then the rapids further west will have already turned to ebb.  In the Quest for the Holy Grail Lancelot said, “I could handle just a little bit of peril” – we also can handle just a little bit of current.  So our plan for each day is to enter the rapids while they are still flowing slowly against us, proceed through successive rapids as we head west with each one further into it’s ebb and then stop travelling for that day when we start hitting rapids that are flowing too fast in our travel direction to be safe.  In theory you get flushed out of the rapids if the current is in your direction but in reality you just go too fast and can’t avoid other boats, miscellaneous driftwood, whirlpools and rocks.  People write about staring into the abyss on some of the whirlpools and never wanting to return so we really don’t want to go there.

I’ve been buying new guidebooks and rereading the ones we already have.  I had a good visit with Peter Vassilopoulos, author of several west coast cruising guidebooks at the Vancouver Boat Show and took a lot of comfort from that conversation.  The maximum current speeds vary dramatically depending on how big the tides are.  It’s the action of the tide alternately filling and draining Georgia Strait twice a day that creates the tidal rapids so when the tides are smaller then the currents are consequently smaller as well.  It turns out that there are some particularly small tides at the end of March so that is our target for our trip to the Broughtons.  Last year we pushed our comfort zone to get up into Desolation Sound; returning there doesn’t seem like any big deal now.  This year the adrenalin will be flowing as we go through Yaculta Rapids, Whirlpool Rapids, Dent Falls, etc but with a bit of luck maybe next year those names won’t sound so intimidating.

Assuming we reach the point where travel to the Broughtons seems easy then the next “gate” is Queen Charlotte Sound.  If you look on the map that’s a huge body of water that is entirely open to the Pacific Ocean all the way to Tokyo.  Once we get that behind us and into Hecate Strait then the last gate on the way to Alaska is Dixon Entrance which doesn’t look all that bad on the charts but apparently it can get pretty lumpy.  After that you’re in Alaska.

Between now and the Broughtons we have to make a trip to the prairies and a trip to Port Angeles.  In the interest of simplicity I think we’ll use the truck for the prairie trip and the boat for the Port Angeles trip.  We’ve got a haulout booked in Port Angeles but the yard keeps rebooking it later in March so I’m not real confident when that is going to happen.  We did have a good visit with the yard owner at the boat show and confirmed that he is expecting us.  The last delay was to facilitate having a Naiad representative on hand during the haulout.  Our Naiad stabilizers have a maintenance schedule that I’m not sure has been adhered to so I want to have somebody who knows what he is doing have a look at them while we’re out of the water.

The stabilizers consist of two big fins, one on each side of the boat roughly amidships and about 2 feet below the waterline.  They sit on the end of a heavy shaft (maybe 3” diameter) that runs through the hull and is attached on the inside to a hydraulic cylinder.  The hydraulic system is controlled by a gyro which causes the fins to flop up and down in order to counteract rolling actions of the boat.  The potential problem is that we have a big shaft stuck through a hole in the side of the boat with bearings to support it.  If salt water gets into those bearings then they can rot away and eventually let water into the boat.  There’s a couple of seals that are supposed to be replaced every 2 or 3 years and I’m not sure that schedule has been followed.


Reluctant Cowboy said...

Sounds fun but I have a simpleton question. Why not go up the west side of the island? (Vancouver Is.)

Hope your trip is a good one...
if you can get the boat serviced sometime before summer ;)

take care

Jorgito's dad said...

Good question Skip. I've been told that if you can circumnavigate Vancouver Island then you are ready to sail around the world. Apparently the weather outside the Island is pretty fierce and there's not many places to hide when gales come howling down off the Gulf of Alaska. Someday I hope that we will think we're ready for an Island circumnavigation but we're not there yet.