Blind Channel Resort to Village Bay on Quadra Island – 7-28,2014

There’s no point in getting up early, since we’re hemmed in by other boats and we can’t check out until the marina office opens at 8am. Also, a later start works in our favor, since we need to time the slack at Dent, which occurs near noon, and we’re only 2 hours away. We get up at 6:30 anyway, and enjoy our coffee in the cockpit in brilliant sunshine. Boats start pulling out around 8am, and we join the exodus. DSCF6519 A guy we talked to yesterday says the silver salmon fishing can be good in the bay just this side of Dent, so we head out against the ebb, intending on doing some downrigger trolling while waiting for Dent to go slack. We reach Denham Bay about an hour and a half before Dent is safe to pass, and I hopefully set out my gear. Several other boats are also fishing in the vicinity. I use every trick I know, but we don’t get a single strike. The day is too beautiful for lack of fishing luck to spoil.

Around 11:45 it’s “lines up” and time to head through Dent and the two other rapids which follow in quick succession. As we near the narrows we start encountering northbound boats, and we join with the southbound flotilla. There don’t seem to be as many boats passing through as Sandy and I saw on our northbound passage. The water is mostly smooth as we clear Dent. The flood has started by the time we reach Gillard Pass, DSCF6528and it’s beginning to noticably run at Yaculta. Our engine is running at around 2500 rpm, which usually generates around 5.5knots on still water. We accelerate to over 8 knots, and see some small whitewater current lines. It’s fun, but no problem.

Once clear of the rapids, I fix lunch and we kick back in the shade of the bimini, eat our grilled chicken sandwiches, and watch the scenery pass by. We continue on down the main channel, and gaze over toDSCF6527 Hole in the Wall, which opens to starboard. We take the next cut off, which is named White Rock Passage. It will lead us over to Quadra Island, at the head of the Strait of Georgia. This passage is extremely narrow, with boulder fields on either side. It’s only 5.5 feet deep at a zero tide in one place. Two sets of range markers help you keep to the center of the channel. We carefully line up with the range markers, and motor through without difficulty. It’s a scenic and fun passage.

After exiting White Rock Passage, we enter a broad channel which leads down to the Strait of Georgia. We pick up a light breeze and decide to raise the main, pay out the jib, and do some sailing. It’s upwind sailing, in mostly light air. We’re playing more than traveling, but we do make some headway and I get to dry out the DSCF6531main. After a couple hours of tacking, our wind finally fails, so we fire up the engine and begin searching for an anchorage. We had thought of staying at Rebecca Spit, but I pick up some radio traffic which makes it sound crowded there, so we study the chart, looking for a likely little cove. Village Bay, on the northwest side of the channel looks promising, so we head there. On approach we see one other sailboat at anchor, but there appears to be plenty of room. We go inside the other boat and find a comfortable patch of water with 25 feet of depth. Just perfect. The anchor sets hard on the first try. Soon we’re sipping rum and cokes, enjoying the warm late afternoon.

Village Bay to Tribune Bay – 7/29/2014

Long day ahead, so I’m up at 4am and off the anchor by 4:25. A light breeze is drifting out of our bay. To the east, just a hint of lightness in the otherwise dark, star filled sky. The morning star is brightest by far. I love this time of day, everything so calm, quiet and peaceful. We’re the only boat moving. Running lights are on; there is no chatter on the VHF. At the mouth of the bay I raise the main, in hopes that the breeze will strengthen and give us a push. It remains fickle and light, but I leave it up anyway. One can always hope. Peter passes a welcome cup of coffee out to me, and joins me in the cockpit.

We motor out toward Cape Mudge, which is a recognized salmon fishing hotspot. We find a half dozen boats out trolling, and we join them. I fish for just over an hour, however, in the end, salmon will not be on the menu this evening. I do manage to hook a pair of “shakers”, very juvenile salmon which are too small to keep and must be “shaken” off the hook. A small dogfish shark also gets the shake. Around 8:15 it’s “lines in” and we head south, down a very tame Strait of Georgia. I set a waypoint just off the northeast corner of Hornby Island, about 29nm down the Strait. We plan to anchor in Tribune Bay, on the south side of Hornby.

The breeze remains light as we motor south. We hear the Canadian military scolding boaters who attempt to cross “Whiskey/Golf” a military exercise area just east of Nanaimo. When it’s operating, boaters must stay out of the area. Obviously, DSCF6533 several boats haven’t gotten the message, at least until Winchelsea Control hails them with their powerful VHF radio transmitter. We will pass through the area tomorrow, however, I see a route close to shore which should be ok. Just past noon the sea turns to glass, and as I gaze astern, I can see our wake rippling out for miles behind us.

Around 3pm we arrive at Tribune Bay, a large south facing bay with a broad sand beach at its head. This is clearly an extremely popular place. I count at least 70 boats here when we arrive, and more come in after us. However, there is plenty of room for everyone, us included. We pick out a spot close to the sandstone bluffs on the eastern shore of the bay. We suffer a small mishap while setting the anchor, catching the DSCF6535 dinghy bridle in the prop. The engine and prop are fine, however, the bridly gets cut in two. Truth be told, that old bridle has been worrying me for a while. It’s pretty badly frayed, and past time for a new one. I just happen to have a nice length of half inch poly line on board, so the afternoon project becomes splicing up a new bridle. Once it’s complete, I go for a quick swim in 70 degree water. It feels great. Then, we dinghy ashore and go for a walk along the beach. Peter comes across a faint pictograph depicting a stick man, etched into the sandstone at the base of the bluff. I’ve left the camera on the boat, so no picture is taken. We are sipping on some nice red wine, munching crackers and cheese, which serve admirably as the evening appetizer. Our dinner will be a taco salad, which represents the last of the prepared meals which Sandy made and packed for this trip. Not sure what we’ll do for dinner tomorrow, but we have lots of good food on board, so I’m sure we’ll come up with something.

Tribune Bay to Clam Bay/Thetis Island – July 30, 2014

Long miles ahead today, and a noon time slack at Dodd Narrows, 30 miles away; both factors point to another early start. I’m up at 4:15, and find a warm northwest breeze blowing down the anchorage. Peter mans the helm, just to be safe, when I raise anchor at 4:45am. We raise the main and pay out the genoa, setting up for wing on wing, exiting Tribune Bay as thin clouds in the eastern sky begin to tint pink. The promise of a rolicking downwind sail on the Strait of Georgia seems fleeting, however, and before we’ve gone a mile, the breeze begins to fail. I roll in the jib and we push ahead by motor. I leave the main up, in hope of improved wind. About an hour later, wishes come true as the wind builds, setting up two to four foot following seas. We DSCF6548DSCF6545 again set the genoa and main for wing on wing. I rig a preventer on the main and the whisker pole on the jib, and these measures cut down on flopping sails as well as the risk of a uncontrolled gybe.

As we near the Ballenas Islands I radio Winchelsea Control regarding our intended course near the Whiskey/Golf military exercise area. Whiskey/Golf is active today, but I see an inside route which appears to skirt the charted boundary. The controller replies to my call and assures us that our route is ok for transit. As we clear the islands we are able to alter course slightly, to westward, and this allows us to sail a near reach. Since we want to reach the approach to Dodd Narrows not later than DSCF6549 20 minutes before slack, so we can get a push through the narrows from the dying ebb, we must motor sail. We have enough wind to average close to 6 knots with the outboard turning only 2000rpm. Once we round into the broad bay in front of Nanaimo we are able to shut the engine off and sail again wing on wing, with a speed of 5 1/2 knots. About 3 miles shy of the narrows the wind eases, so we furl the jib and motor up. We encounter some unusual traffic on approach, in the forms of a Canadian Navy ship and a tug hauling a log raft. The naval vessel passes out into open water, but the tug is heades for the narrows. I’m glad we got there ahead of him.

Our timing works out perfectly, and we gain a 2 to 3 knot push through Dodd Narrows. On the south end we motor sail for a few miles before once again losing the wind. Near the north end of Thetis Island a nice breeze ruffles the channel out of the south. Since we have plenty of time to reach a reasonable destination, we opt to tack down channel for a while. The sailing is comfortable, with slight heel and speeds of 2.5 to 3 knots most of the time. Around 3:30pm we realize it’s time to find an anchorage. We had originally intended on going down to Prevost Island, however, we identify a promising little nook on the chart, just a few miles away. We motor over to it, and find it to our liking. We have it almost all to ourselves, while across the bay, close to 2 dozen boats are arrayed. It’s a peaceful place for appetizers, some mellow music, sausages on the barbque and just watching the day end.

Clam Bay to Oak Harbor – July 31, 2014 – We just keep on going

DSCF6553Our plan is to rise early and cruise southward, through the Gulf Islands, cross back into the US, clear Customs at Roche Harbor, and then stop for the night somewhere close to Deception Pass, so we can time tomorrow’s 7:30am slack. I check the house battery before getting underway, and it’s still sitting strong at 12.5 volts, even after we watched a couple of movies on the laptop the night before. I haul the anchor in and we idle our way out of the anchorage around 4:45am. The sky is once again clear, the waters calm as we commence our cruise down Trincomali Channel in the emerging daylight. We encounter several ferries as we near Navy Channel. They can easily surprise the unsuspecting boater at this crossroads of channels, popping suddenly out from behind Prevost or North Pender Island. We also encounter a group of 7 or so canoes, each with 8 or more paddlers. They’re flying various flags, apparently First Nations paddlers out on some sore of excursion. They move surprisingly quickly across our bow. It’s good to see them out on these waters.DSCF6566

I make an unsettling discovery while going below for breakfast, when I happen to glance at the digital voltmeter. It should be reading over 13 volts while we’re under power, however, the readings for both the ignition and house batteries are down in the 12.3 volt range. Here we are, on almost the final day, and something has gone wrong with the charging system. It’s amazing how a discovery such as this can instantly destroy one’s feeling of wellbeing. I now have something to worry about. I reassure myself by thinking that we’re nearly home, and that the solar panels should help keep the batteries up, but it’s still unsettling.

DSCF6556As we enter Swanson Channel I give the downrigger and salmon fishing gear one last try. It sure would be nice to hook into a nice coho before we cross the international boundary (I’m only licensed to fish in Canada). However, this is not to be, and when the GPS shows us crossing the line, I reel in for the final time, and stow the fishing gear. I also lower the Canadian courtesy flag and raise my golden yellow “Q” or quarantine flag. I’ll fly it until we clear Customs at Roche Harbor.

We keep a sharp eye out for orcas as we near Stuart Island and the Turn Point Light. On my last trip through these waters we were rewarded with a nice sighting of orcas just south of Turn Point. Not this time, however. Apparantly both orcas and salmon are hanging out elsewhere this time.

We quickly eat our final apple as we near the Customs dock at Roche Harbor. As we make our approach we find the Customs dock completely filled with boats, except for one small space right behind a US Customs patrol boat. This ominous craft is dark gray in color, and it sports 4, if you can believe it, yes 4 300 hp outboards on her stern. I’ve seen triple 300’s before, even triple 350’s, but never a quad. I wonder how often they need all that horsepower. As we idle in, the patrol boat fires up and backs away from the dock, leaving us a nice spot to tie up. I grab our passports and boat registration papers, and walk up to the Customs office, where I wait my turn. Before long, I’m face to face with a very stern looking Cusoms Official. After providing the correct answers to the standard questions, he directs me to follow another officer back to the boat. They need to check for limes, green onions and a few other items on their black list. The officer goes on board, does a rather cursory check, and then clears us in.

Before starting the engine I give the voltmeter a check. Both battery readings have come up, presumably due to the solar panels charging. Sure enough, when I start the engine, the readings drop back down. It’s a mystery I’ll have to solve later. We dodge boats on our way out into Spieden Channel, which is strongly ebbing. As we pass between Spieden Island and San Juan Island we DSCF6567enter an extensive area of tidal rip current, with 2 to 3 foot standing waves. Our speed slows until we clear the northeast corner of San Juan Island. The adverse current is unwelcome for more than the obvious reason. I’ve opted to not take on fuel at the Roche Harbor fuel dock. I’ve carefully calculated our distance traveled, and rate of fuel consumption. Although my second 12 gallon tank is nearly empty, I still have 9 gallons in plastic jerry cans, and I figure that will be enough to get us home, with a few gallons to spare. I realize, however, that adverse currents will cut that small margin even thinner.

Boat traffic here in the heart of the San Juans can be simply crazy. After all the lonely cruising we’ve enjoyed in waters up north, it’s hard adjusting to Bayliners and the like, plowing huge wakes in every direction. It’s hard to make headway when I have to slow and turn into wakes every 5 minutes or so. Things finally seem to settle down as we cruise eastward, through the channel between Shaw and Orcas Islands. I’ve got the autopilot set, and we’re motoring comfortably at 5.5 knots when, suddenly, I hear an abrupt, increasingly loud roar astern. I am shocked as I quickly glance over my right shoulder and see a large Bayliner, plowing an enormous wake and rapidly overtaking us, not more than 15 feet to starboard. The “captain” of this vessel gives us a silly grin and a wave of the hand as he roars on by. I use one of the precious seconds I have to shake my fist at him, before disengaging the autopilot as fast as possible, cutting the throttle, and cutting a sharp turn into his turbulent 4 foot wake. We barely make the turn, but still get severly jolted. We’re outraged, but utterly helpless as he races away. This intentional, irresponsible behaviour could have seriously damaged the boat if I’d been just slightly slower in reacting, and beyond that, if I’d had passengers below, our up on deck, major injury or worse could have occurred. I’ve encountered rude boat operators many times in the past, however, this guy was simply outrageous.

DSCF6569DSCF6571As we enter Thatcher Pass, we begin reevaluating our cruising plan. It’s only around 2:30pm. We decide to press on, across Rosario Strait and toward Deception Pass. We expect to reach the vicinity of Deception Pass around 4:30pm, which just happens to coincide with the peak of flood, which is projected to run at 6 knots. I figure we can duck into Bowman Bay, perhaps fix some dinner, and then run Deception an hour or two after peak flood. As we get close, we see several boats heading into the approach to the narrow pass. I make a snap decision: let’s go ahead and run it. I raise the rudders and centerboard and in we go, under the steel arch of the Deception Pass highway bridge, which spans the shear walled gorge of Deception Pass, more than 100 feet above my masthead. I set the throttle at 3000 rpm and try to steer to the center of the current. Off to either side, nasty whirlpools spin off toward the rocky channel sides. Our speed increases to a peak DSCF6572of 9 knots, and I increase throttle to maintain control as we enter strong rip currents on the inside, where the channel begins to widen. We get jerked one way, then the other, heeling 20 degrees or more, but the power and quick steering response of my outboard enables me to retain control. Our run through the pass is exhilerating, and soon we back on smooth water.

We pick up a stiff westerly breeze in the inside, and this causes me to make a change in plans. I’d intended on anchoring out at nearby Hope Island, however, the wind is blowing right into the anchorage and I don’t favor the idea of our final night in a bounchy anchorage, so we keep on going. I see a promising nook on the chart, which could give protection from the wind. However, as we near the place, our wind shifts direction, and leaving us no other option than to motor onward. Given the lack of suitable anchorages on Skagit Bay, we resolve ourselves to going all the way in to Oak Harbor Marina. At least, we can look forward to going out for dinner, instead of making do with the last of our fresh provisions. As we get within 5 miles of the marina, I run the water ballast out and speed up. I calculate that I should have just enough gas to make it, and we do. Around 6pm we idle into a guest slip, finally ending our boat retrieval cruise. On our final day we cruise more than 15 hours, covering 77 nm, much further and longer than I intended, however we are back and glad for it.

Postscript: Next day we pull the boat out, lower the mast, and prepare the boat for towing. The drive home goes without incident, with the final few miles taking us through Tumwater Canyon on US Highway 2, which has just reopened to traffic. The highway has been closed for several weeks due to wildfire, and we see the dramatic evidence as we drive through the canyon. The fire burned down to the river for 5 miles or so, however, fire crews contained the fire to the south side of the river. Around 7pm on August 1, I finally back the boat up our driveway to its accustomed parking spot, thus ending our most dramatic cruise ever.