Friday, July 24, 2015

Of Gales and Light Airs: To Vancouver and Home again

I'll pick up where I left off, twenty days ago, in Pender Harbor.  We had been planning to leave on the 5th of July, but woke to very strange weather- a yellow, smoky sky, raining ash, and no wind.  There were huge forest fires nearby, obviously.  Environment Canada (The Canadian NOAA) reported low visibility out in the Strait of Georgia,  as well as very light wind.  We hung out another day, hoping for wind and visibility to improve.  

Can you see the ash on the top of the winch?  
This photo is unedited- the light really was that yellow!  

We finally decided to head out, making for Secret Cove.  The wind was on our nose, but we made our way.  I baked bread, which is always an adventure when we're going to windward!  The gimballed oven, (it's on a swinging bracket, so it stays level as Rabannah heels), kept everything in its pan.  

 Secret Cove is about 40 miles from Vancouver, which we thought we could maybe cover in a single day, if the wind came from the North.  The wind wasn't coming from the North, but from the South, so, we set our sights on Plumper Cove, in Howe Sound, 24 miles distant, to the South.  

We started out with ample wind, which gradually faded over the course of the day.  Proper anchorages are few and far between on that stretch of the Strait of Georgia, and we had to find the best of the bad options for the night.  We tucked into the little bight  near the town of Sechelt, or Davis Bay, more specifically.  

The Strait of Georgia was in a tame mood that evening, and the next day as well.  We weren't very protected at anchor there in Davis Bay, but there wasn't any wind to speak of, and the only swells came from the occasional passing tug or container ship.  We went for walks, tossed our frisbee at the nearby park, and listened to every new weather report.  The Canadian-accented voice crackled bad news over the VHF, (Winds 0-5 knots from the Southeast), but we were optimistic as usual.  We tried to leave in the afternoon of the first day, just hoping to cover the 11 miles to Plumper Cove on Keats Island.  We headed out, drifted for a few hours, then turned around.  

The next morning, the wind looked light but constant out on the Strait.  We raised anchor yet again, despite the forecast, and headed out, determined to make it to Plumper Cove.  The wind blew just enough to keep the sails full, and Mr. Vee handled the helm.  We read to one another from The Venturesome Voyages of Captain Voss, (He circumnavigated the world in a modified dugout canoe, completing his voyage in 1905).  Cody baked some mini-quiches for dinner, and while we still hadn't made it to Plumper Cove, we had passed the point of no return.  We couldn't go back to Davis Bay.  So, we decided to just keep sailing, and hoped to arrive in Vancouver in the early morning.  The forecast called for more wind around 4am, when it should be nearly light.  We set a watch schedule, set up a life-jacket with a light and a whistle, and arranged to stay in the cockpit while alone on watch.  

I took the first watch, and enjoyed a beautiful sunset out on the perfectly calm waters, sailing along at about 1 knot.  Her majesty trailed along behind us, happy as a duckling following her mother.

Cody climbed into the V-Berth to try and sleep for a few hours.  He came out to check on me when the wind increased around 11:30, and he felt 'Bannah start to gently heel.  By 12:30, we had dropped the genoa (our larger sail that we use until it's blowing about 15 knots or so), and raised our staysl', the smaller headsail.  We tucked one reef, then another into the mainsail.  The wind kept building, and the seas along with it.  I went below to try and stay warm, and maybe rest a bit.  I wedged myself into the vberth and listened to a podcast to try and drown out the sound of the wind howling in the rigging.  

The wind kept on building, and so did the seas.   At some point in the night, when we were sailing under our double-reefed main alone, which is the smallest amount of sail we can fly, we heard an announcement over the radio, of a revised forecast for the Strait of Georgia, south of Nanaimo.  "Strong Wind warning in effect.  Winds increasing to 25 knots."  Well, we had discovered that for ourselves!  Luckily, we were the only boat out on the Strait, so there was no concern about collision.  I had retreated back to the V-berth, cowering from the conditions, which was not the best idea- I emerged, rather urgently, having found the bucket just in time. 

It was the roughest, longest, worst sailing of our lives.  We abandoned the idea of continuing on to Vancouver, and made for the closest anchorage we could find, which was Plumper Cove.  When we altered course, Her Majesty was no longer protected from the wind and waves, like she is when we're going to windward.  I looked back just in time to see her narrowly avoid being flipped by a large wave. I took over the helm while Cody pulled her in closer behind us, and played her painter to help keep her upright.  

Once we entered Howe Sound, we found some much needed and relished relief from the large seas.  The wind however, wasn't through with us.  Some williwaws came screaming down the side of Bowen Island, and nearly knocked us flat, despite the fact we were still only flying our double reefed main.  Finally, finally, the wind abated, and Rabannah stopped heeling, and we timidly raised more sail.  A call came through on the radio, the Coast Guard reporting a call from a "Concerned Citizen" about a 30 foot pleasure craft that may be in distress, just east of Bowen Island.  We looked around, wondering what other poor souls were out in these conditions, but we were the only vessel.  In our sleep-deprived haze, we didn't realize that they must have been talking about us!  

We dropped anchor at 8am, 23 hours after we set sail from Davis Bay.  Our GPS track says we covered 41 miles, but measured in straight lines, we went 19 miles. We were exhausted and starving and feeling defeated.  We slept through the morning, and stayed in Plumper Cove for two nights, recovering from our epic.  

Rabannah had handled the heavy conditions excellently, and we sustained no damage whatsoever.  We were a bit shaken by the whole affair, and vowed to bring Madge on board, lashed securely to the foredeck anytime we're heading out onto a larger body of water, like the Strait of Georgia or the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We also were convinced that a motor with a longer range would be a valuable addition, especially as we continue to sail in these inland waters.  The engine wouldn't have gotten us out of the rough conditions, but it would have gotten us safe to an anchorage before things got rough. 

We never felt as though our lives were in danger, we were just uncomfortable.
 (Don't worry, Mom & Dad!)

Finally feeling up to setting sail once again, and bouyed by a good weather report, we raised anchor and headed, yet again, south toward Vancouver.  This time, the sailing was great, and we made it! We tacked through hundreds of boats out sailing on English Bay, (it was Sunday, and many races were going on), and sailed all the way up to the Burrard Bridge, which crosses False Creek, and marks the beginning of the "No Sailing" zone.  False Creek is somewhat narrow, and full of vessel traffic.  Small foot ferries zip around paddleboarders, mega-yachts glide majestically through, and sailboats put along.  We dropped sail and fired up our little electric outboard motor.  We had been on energy conservation mode for a while, and the battery said it was fully charged, its little green light shining.
We had just passed beneath the Burrard Bridge, and were heading for the Granville Bridge, only .4 of a mile from where we hoped to anchor.  The battery was now showing a yellow light, which means it's half full.  We were fighting a headwind, and making about half a knot through the water.  I checked the battery again- Uh-oh.  Red.  

We prayed and crossed our fingers, and eventually made it to a snug little spot, though the battery was angrily blinking red, and wasn't fully charged until a few sunny days later.  

False Creek was an absolute pleasure to visit as a boater, and one of the highlights of our voyages so far.  What a contrast from Princess Louisa!  

We visited Granville Island, which has a fun European-style market full of good food, lots of little shops and buskers.  (My favorite was the trio of teenage boys tap-dancing!  We watched Singin' in the Rain the night before, and it was neat to see young people dancing in the same style as Gene Kelly.  Kind of- they tapped to Uptown Funk, but the steps were similar.)  

We loved walking through beautiful Stanley Park.

"Girl in Wetsuit" at Stanley Park 

False Creek is surrounded by parks, and they were just full of people out walking dogs, jogging, biking, playing volleyball, throwing Frisbees.  Were we Canadian, and could find work in BC, we would move to Vancouver.  We met some other engineless sailors around our age, and loved hearing about their adventures and visiting their boats.  After taking our licking in the Strait of Georgia, we had doubts about continuing to pursue sailing.  It really boosted our spirits to feel like we're not just these singular, completely insane people- there are other people just as crazy as us!  

We wished we could have stayed longer in False Creek, but we have plans for August, and had many miles to cover to get back to Seattle.  We lucked out, and left on a day with good, constant Northeasterly wind.  We covered 49 miles, and dropped anchor on the southern tip of Saturna Island, in view of Orcas Island.  

We spent a beautiful evening in Echo Cove.  

Two days later, after remembering the challenges of sailing in the strong currents and fickle winds of the San Juan Islands, we cleared customs in Roche Harbor.  

It felt wonderful to be back in US Waters, to be able to use our phones, and have familiar waters ahead.   

1 comment:

  1. Great post! We have been caught on a bad forecast many times now and have had some harrowing experiences as well. Looking back, most of them would not be that big of a deal today as we have learned what our vessel is capable of and how to better handle her. I do like my engine though! It has helped us escape many of those "closer to nature than you want" events. It would not have been nearly as bad if it had occurred during daylight, may have even been a little fun. A 9.9 four stroke would be a great addition to Bannah. The dingy on the hood if your not in a channel is our rule now as it is very difficult to right her when she is seas...pelting rain...40+ knots, with a lee shore close! An experience we don't need to repeat and you can avoid.
    I can't decide if it's better to sail out of US waters or back in. Maybe that would make a good blog point.
    The quiche looks really good!
    Godspeed you!