A planned circumnavigation of Vancouver Island — in a 25-foot Ranger Tug — is blown back.
We knew we had to make a major decision at Port McNeill: Do we continue on to Port Hardy, then past Hope Island, around Cape Scott and into the Pacific Ocean for our planned circumnavigation of Vancouver Island in our Ranger Tug R25SC, or do we cut the trip short and head back? As decision time neared, the winds showed no signs of settling down.
At 9:30 a.m. on July 6, we arrived at Port McNeill, where we picked up a complimentary B.C. Marine Weather Station Map with the marine reporting stations and buoys — it’s a compilation of several Environmental Canada site maps put together and provided by Campbell River Yacht Club (cryc.ca) — that was an immense help in listening to the broadcasts on the VHF radio.
Listening to the marine weather forecast was part of our daily routine, but on this day, we listened to it all morning and even checked Environmental Canada online and hoped for something encouraging in the forecast. Much to our dismay, the gale-force winds were just not going to settle down in time for us to make our crossing. The forecast for south of Brooks Peninsula was worse yet. The gut-wrench- ing decision was being made for us. Following an after- noon of frustration and disappointment, we decided to take our time, enjoy our trip back south and use the cruise to reflect on all of our “learning curves” that will have us more prepared for making the circumnavigation another time.
BEST LAID PLANS
Using all the information we had collected over many months, we decided to depart Anacortes on June 22, which would give us plenty of time to arrive at Port Hardy and Bull Harbor so we could cross Nawhitti Bar and Cape Scott within a three-day window where high slack occurs early in the morning with neap tides. As an added bonus, leaving early left us with a week to explore the Broughton Islands. Sounds like a plan, and it turned out great, with one exception: the weather. During our months of planning, we read the 2015 “Waggoner Cruising Guide,” “Exploring Vancouver Island’s West Coast,” by Don Douglass, and “West Coast of Vancou- ver Island,” by Don Watmough. We took the books with us, along with paper charts and a laptop computer with charts and tides and currents. Also part of the planning was preparing and freezing 42 dinner meals to be kept in our portable freezer.
Once we launched in Anacortes on June 22, we had a rough itinerary to get us to Port Hardy and Bull Harbor the first part of July. We spent the first night at Blind Bay on Shaw Island in the San Juan Islands. From there, we headed to Bedwell Harbor to clear customs and on to Newcastle Island for the second night. We planned to go through Dodd Narrows, but we would have had to wait a couple of hours for slack, so we decided to go through Porlier Pass and up the Strait of Georgia. The wind was start- ing to pick up, but the seas were only a one-foot chop. A little bumpy, but Sisu took it well. The next day we headed across the Strait of Georgia — around the Whiskey Golf test range, since it was active — and headed to Pender Harbor for fuel before moving to Ballet Bay on Nelson Island. We were surprised to be the only boat there, which sure made it nice for our first attempt at a stern tie. Fortunately, all went smoothly and we enjoyed a very quiet night before cruising toward Teakerne Arm. Before we got there, however, we cruised into Lund to see the end of the Pan American High- way and then checked out Copeland Islands and Refuge Cove before heading to Talbot Cove, which turned out to be an active logging camp. We spent the night at Cassel Falls, where we hiked on the trail and Dave found an old logging donkey, which occupied the next 15 minutes as he examined it before we made it to the lake.
ON A SCHEDULE
Some days start with a dead- line, and this was one of them. We needed to make Yaculta and Dent rapids at high slack, which was at 10:30 a.m. Before we even left, Dave said that things just didn’t look right. “It looks like it is close to high tide right now,” he said.
Off we headed, arriving at Yaculta at 9:10 a.m., and it definitely was not slack, so we decided to stop at Big Bay — where we discovered that high slack wasn’t until 2 p.m. We turned on our laptop and double-checked. We had made a calculation error. From that point on, we made checking infor- mation on the laptop and listening to the weather channel part of our daily routine. The unexpected delay gave us time to explore Stuart Island and hike to Eagle Lake, a trek definitely worth the time. We motored to Dent Rapids at 1:45 p.m., navigated through with- out any trouble, and spent the night at Blind Channel, where we enjoyed a German dinner at the family-run restaurant. The wind picked up, however, and we experienced a night of rocking and rolling.
Our timing the following day was much better, as we hit Green Point Rapids and Whirlpool Rapids at slack and had no problems, though the wind was picking up and we were concerned about Johnstone Strait. For a short distance, the seas were two to three feet, but it quieted down after about 5 miles, and our trip to Lagoon Cove was uneventful. There we were met by Jean Barber and promptly invited to happy hour at 5 p.m. She apologized that there would not be prawns; it seems the commercial season had just closed and pretty much wiped out the prawns for the next couple of weeks. Barber has improved Lagoon Cove, with the help of a nice couple, Lyle and Heidi, who have helped her fix up the docks and complete other work that needed to be done. Happy hour was enjoyable and informative, as we talked to other boaters. We spent the evening figuring out our schedule, since we had arrived in the Broughton Islands earlier than planned and we had a week to spend exploring new places and revisiting ones we had been to before.
Kwatsi Bay, a nice, quaint, quiet spot, won the where-do-we-go-first? sweepstakes, and we explored Bond Sound on our way. We were pleased to discover another 5 o’clock happy hour, and we enjoyed visiting with a couple from Holland and other boat- ers. The advice we received here about the outside of Vancouver Island was simple: “As soon as it is daylight enough to see logs in the water, go.” We were also told about the Environ- mental Canada website, which proved to be a valuable resource when we had Wi-Fi.
RIBS, PARADES, PAR 1S
Sometimes, fortune favors the lucky, and we got about as lucky as one can get this far north. Our stop at Echo Bay fell on a day there weren’t very many boats — a
nice surprise — and that they were having prime rib — a nicer surprise. We arrived early enough to hike over to Billy Proctor’s museum, where we had a delightful visit with him and bought the book about his life story. (We are looking forward to his new book, which is coming out this fall.) Another tidbit we learned at dinner is the “formula” another boater uses to decide when it’s OK to travel the ocean: “Maximum wind = 20 knots; sea height plus three seconds (i.e., a five-foot sea should be @ eight seconds); wind wave under three feet.” After dinner, our hosts told us we needed to come back for the July 4 celebration and that we wouldn’t need reservations because we are small enough to fit in. Hurray for being 25 feet.
At Shawl Bay the following day we discovered — or rediscovered — an emerging trend: happy hour at 5 p.m. Only two boats were there, but we enjoyed the conversation that evening and a pancake breakfast in the morning before departing to Sullivan Bay, where a surprise awaited us. Capt. Canada feted our arrival! It was Canada Day. Again, we were surprised by the small number of boats. The proprietors told us a lot of boats had cancelled due to the winds and seas on Johnstone Strait — and the wind did blow all day. There would be brats at 5 p.m. and then a float parade after that with a bonfire on it. And while the wind managed to cancel the bonfire portion of the show, everyone still got a turn trying to hit a golf ball onto the floating “green” with a flag- stick in the middle of it.
DECISION TIME NEARS
Stuart Narrows at slack posed no problems the following day, and we reached Jennis Bay easily, where we were greeted upon arrival by the caretaker, Warren. He is very friendly and help- ful. There was one other boat there when we arrived, but it left when Stuart Narrows was slack again. As we enjoyed Jennis Bay, the wind
blew and the marine weather fore- cast called for gale-force winds for Johnstone Strait and Queen Charlotte Strait. We hoped it would settle down before we had to cross Queen Char- lotte Strait. We checked the laptop for slack tide at Stuart Narrows the next day, so we could go to Laura Bay, if it wasn’t full of boats. Luck was on our side again, as there was only one other boat in Laura Bay, so we anchored with a stern tie. Fuel and the Fourth of July were both on tap the following day, so we made tracks for Echo Bay where we just had to stay for the festivities and a pig roast. Fortunately, they had plenty of room for us. A 42-foot sailboat came in behind us, and the crew told us they had planned to circumnavigate the island, too, but had decided to turn around and head back down because the wind pattern was not settling down anytime soon. It was discouraging to hear, but we decided to make up our own mind when the time came.
After a sunny afternoon at anchor and a night anchored behind Goat Island — we were delightfully surprised there was only one other boat there — it was a big day: off to Port McNeill. We listened to the marine weather again, and it didn’t sound good, but we could leave early in the morning and get across Queen Charlotte Strait before the winds picked up, so we did and arrived at Port McNeill for what would be our last night before turning back.
Little did we know that the challenges going back were going to be more difficult than they had been coming this far. We hit a four- to five-foot chop and 40-knot gusts at Grief Point and were forced to tuck into Garden Beach Marina for the afternoon and night. The next day, the winds calmed down to 15 knots, and we headed to Pender Harbor. As we reached Northeast Point on Texada Island, the seas had built to a three- to four-foot chop and we had 16 miles left before Pender Harbor. Dave did well trying to keep Sisu on the flat part of the waves, and Sisu handled the seas a lot better than the crew did. At Pender Harbor, it was Pender Harbor Days, and we got to tour a Canadian “Sea Tow” rescue boat. The boats are all operated by volunteers, are equipped for any and all emergencies, and are stationed all over Vancou- ver Island. It was very impressive, and it’s reassuring to know that when we do circumnavigate, they will be within range.
The rest of our trip was uneventful and enjoyable. We waited a couple of days for the winds to calm to 10 to 15 knots before we crossed Strait of Georgia, and we waited at Newcastle Island until Dodd Narrows was at slack and before we motored to Chemainus for the night. We cleared customs at Roche Harbor the following day and moved on to Anacortes for the night, so we could get an early morning pullout to head home.