Monday, May 30, 2011

Port McNeill

Our last planned stop in lower British Columbia was Port McNeill.  This is a small town near the northern tip of Vancouver Island.  Because it is accessible by road the prices are considerably cheaper than all the nearby small towns that are serviced only by barge or floatplane.  We had planned to just spend one night here, stock up on groceries and fuel and be on our way.  Our plan was looking pretty good by the end of the evening, we had done laundry, bought food, gone out to eat at a nearby restaurant, and found the ice cream shop.  The following morning I decided to do a quick oil change on the boat since they had waste oil disposal at the marina.  In running the engine to warm it up for the oil change, I noticed saltwater pouring from a fitting on one of the cooling lines.  After some disassembly and further inspection I found corrosion in the fitting and several holes allowing the water to pour in to the boat.  I spent the next few hours walking around town visiting each of the machine shops, finally finding one that could repair the part.  I left it for them to fix the next morning and went back to the boat, where I decided to continue with the engine maintenance and change out the fuel filters.  After changing the fuel filters I was having some issues getting the air out of the fuel lines and ended up spilling some fuel in the bilge, mixing with all the saltwater that was already there.  The next day our repaired part was ready and was quickly reinstalled, but the clean-up lasted a good portion of the day, forcing us to remain at the dock an extra day.  The up side of this was that I got a chance for another visit to the ice cream shop, and some friends of our showed up on their boat so we got to hit the nearby pub for burgers and beer.
We are now heading out for some of the more remote sections of the British Columbia coast, so we are crossing our fingers that everything is fixed and working.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Who you calling a shrimp?

In our search for self-caught seafood, we have finally progressed past crab.  That's not to say we are giving up crabbing, the fact that we have eaten crab almost every day for the past two weeks will attest to that.  What we are doing is expanding our menu.  Our first attempt this year at catching prawns was much better than either of us hoped for.  Not only were the spot prawns we caught very big, but we got a bunch.  Since that first day we have continued catching them in smaller quantities, just enough for an appetizer before our meal (a meal usually consisting of some form or crab).

Our cat Hope is still not sure what to make of these odd creatures, but is always up for some investigating.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

More Critters

There is a lot to like about this lifestyle.  I'm sure as time goes on I will write about many of the positive aspects of traveling by sailboat, but there is one event in particular that I would choose as my favorite.  There are certain species of dolphins and porpoise that will interact with the boat when you get close to them, swimming just in front of the boat or playing alongside.  During our trip in 2009 we had quite a few interactions with Dall's Porpoise, and at one point posted a short video of them playing around our boat.  As we were leaving our anchorage the other day, I noticed splashing further out in the channel, and it turned out to be a pod of Pacific White Sided Dolphins.  We sat for a while watching them, and then when we turned the boat to head up the channel they followed along for 5 or 10 minutes playing around the boat.  There were probably at least 50 individuals in the group, maybe more, and even with that many close at hand I still failed to get any really good photos.  At least the pics I got show how close they get to the boat and some of their antics.

We also found another bear anchorage, I'm sure there will be many more, but this one featured one bear within spitting distance to the boat, and at least four more at the far end of the bay.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

As we were getting ready to leave Seattle I kept making to-do lists to keep myself on track.  One of the things that was always on the list but never got done was to get a haircut.  Now  my hair has become long enough to start getting in my eyes on windy days, so it's time to do something about it.  Having limited resources for hair salons, I instead locked myself in the head (bathroom) and got a bit crazy with my electric clippers.  The results may not be perfect, but I probably won't scare little children and it's certainly a lot more manageable for a shower deficient lifestyle.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Name Calling

Naming a boat is a delicate process.  Everybody seems to have differing criteria for choosing a name.  There are a lot of good boat names out there, and some truly horrible ones.  Some are clever inside jokes that may seem stupid until you are "in the know".
I find it almost more difficult to name the tenders we carry with our bigger boats.  Most sailboats have a small inflatable Zodiac-style boat that they use to get around when the bigger boat is anchored.  Some carry a small rowboat, and some carry both.  It has also become popular to carry kayaks, either plastic sea kayaks or inflatable ones.  All these boats should have a proper name, and in my eyes that name should have something to do with the boat itself, the bigger boat it serves, or in a best case option, both.
The first sailboat I lived aboard named herself.  With an interior of varnished mahogany and crimson colored interior upholstery, in the evenings with the interior lights on she literally glowed from within, and hence the name "Warmheart".  I took her north from Seattle one summer and bought a small red inflatable Zodiac for the trip.  It was several weeks into the trip when I was dragging the inflatable up on to a beach in the freezing rain and the name came to me, "Cold Hands".
Our current sailboat is named "Baraka", which is an ancient Sufi word, roughly translated as a blessing, or the essence of life from which the evolutionary process unfolds.  Pretty heady stuff.
In 2009 when we took our four month trip to Glacier Bay and back, we had two small boats with us.  The first was a very small rowing pram that we carried on the forward deck of the sailboat.  It was painted to match Baraka, red with a horizontal white stripe, and became known as "Mini Me". (Any other Austin Powers fans out there?)  Our other tender was a grey inflatable with an outboard motor that went fast and seemed to splash a lot even on calm days.  Nicole and I decided it needed a less serious name to offset "Baraka", and it became know as "On Porpoise".  We gained and lost several tenders over the next couple years, and by the time we were ready to leave on this trip we had inherited a nesting rowboat from our friends Tor and Jess.  This is a boat that comes apart into two pieces that fit one into the other for storing in a small space.  It fit well on the forward deck and was already painted red to match the sailboat.  One of the criteria in us buying the boat was that we keep it's name, so we are now the proud owners of "Poor Tender".  The other boat we have with us is another inflatable.  This is a catamaran style boat, with two lower inflatable pontoons that keep the middle portion of the boat out of the water when it is lightly loaded or speeding along under power from our outboard motor.  This style of boat has good and bad aspects, but one of the good points is that it tracks fairly well under oar power because of the twin hulls.  This boat is also red to color-coordinate with our sailboat, so it seems another good fit.  So once again the pressure to arrive at a suitable name was upon us.  Nicole mentioned that many of my land vehicles were named for their color, and so we played in our heads for a while with the color red, and I finally came up with Rose.  Nicole decided we could go one better, and we present to you the newest member of the family, "Rows".

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Having our own fuzzy critter on board doesn't detract from our excitement from spotting other animals while cruising.  Being attacked and bitten by a wild creature is a pretty regular occurrence for me, and I'm really counting on our cat Hope growing out of that behavior at some point. In the mean time, I'll share some photos of other wild animals we have encountered so far on our trip.  We have been seeing seals pretty regularly in our anchorages each evening, and they seem to enjoy sneaking up on us while we are rowing our inflatable, but I keep forgetting to take a picture of one.
In one anchorage I counted seven raccoon patrolling the beaches around our boat.  Several of them would swim from one small island to the next looking for food, this is the first time I had seen them swim any distance.
We also spotted a pair of weasels catching smalls crabs on the shore one afternoon.  I'm not great at small mammal identification, but my guess would be that they were mink.  If someone with a regular internet connection can confirm or provide a positive ID it would be great.
When I originally wrote this, we hadn't yet seen a bear, but because I couldn't get access to our blog at the next stop I had to wait to post this and since then spotted our first bear, so I can include a picture of him/her as well.

Monday, May 16, 2011


When we left Seattle we were wondering if we might have headed north too early this trip.  Our first real travel day from the Seattle area, to Port Ludlow, we had a brief snowstorm and I was again wondering at our timing.  Since then the weather has actually been OK, and we ended up checking our old ship's log to see if the weather really was better than our trip two years ago or if we are just better at accepting what comes our way.  Turns out the weather has been about the same, with temperatures in the 30's and low 40's at night.
Yesterday we spent a pretty miserable day of heavy rain mixed with sleet, thankfully sitting at anchor in a well protected lagoon.  The bright side to this is that as we headed out the next day, the clouds cleared off enough for us to get a glimpse of all the new snow on the mountains around us, a truly stunning sight.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Feeling Crabby

We were just starting to feel a little foolish about spending a large sum of money on a Canadian fishing license when we got to the Octopus Islands.  We had tried crabbing several times in Desolation Sound, and got skunked each time.  The first location wasn't all that good, and we were making things up as we went for bait, so it wasn't surprising we didn't catch anything.  Our second set was almost too perfect, and I still think someone came by and pulled our traps and emptied them, but regardless they were empty when we went to retrieve them.  When we had the anchor down in the Octopus Islands, Nicole went in to shore and dug clams for bait, and we set out one trap.  The first pull a couple hours later got us one keeper red rock crab and one female dungeness that we threw back.  I was encouraged enough to dig more clams and grab another trap to set.  By the time we left the anchorage we had five keeper red rock crabs, and only one dungeness crab, but the biggest dungeness I have ever caught.  Eating crab once or twice a day for the past several days has been pretty nice, and after crab omelets tomorrow morning we should have enough room in the fridge to start all over again.

Friday, May 13, 2011


Most people avoid math whenever possible.  I was one of those kids in school that actually liked math.  It was easy for me, it made sense, it didn't involve conjugating verbs.  With calculators, computers, and the general dumbing down of society, most people don't do much math in their heads anymore.  Sailing is no different, there are electronic devices to do most of the math for us.  We have a chartplotter on the boat, a small video screen that shows nautical charts, and with its built-in GPS can show our position on these charts.  By moving the cursor to the spot I choose for a destination, it will show me how many miles away I am.  It can also tell me at my current rate of travel how long it will take to get there, and when my attention wanders watching an eagle through the binoculars, it tells me how much time I've just added to the trip by wandering off in some random direction.  Even though I use this function regularly, I find that I am also doing the calculations in my head, checking to make sure they are right, because you really can't trust those electronic thingies.  It's a struggle some times to find reasons to do math, so I purposely make up reasons.  Water depth is a perfect example.  The charts on our electronic chartplotter are set to read water depth in feet.  My subconscious seems to work in feet so glancing at the chart it's easiest to assess danger that way.  Most of the paper charts we carry have the depths in fathoms.  Converting 6 feet for each fathom is pretty simple.  Our depth sounder on the boat is set to meters.  We bought the boat in Canada and the depth sounder was set to meters, and we've never bothered to change it.  In fact, when we replaced the chain for our anchor we purposely marked the lengths in meters to match the depth sounder.  It's not much, but the conversion from feet to meters to fathoms, back and forth, keeps my math muscles from going away completely.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Desolation Sound

I think I'm finally starting to like Desolation Sound, which is kind of a bummer because we just left there headed for bigger and better things.  Years ago my experiences in Desolation Sound included being too new to sailing and overwhelmed by the responsibilities of a new skipper and later that same year being overwhelmed by how many boats and people can be crammed into small anchorages.  Add to the crowds the fact that many boaters seemed to have an exceptional lack of boating  skill, common sense, common courtesy, or any combination of these.  I could do without the mayhem of Desolation Sound in the summer.  Having now visited twice in the early season before the other boats show up, I'm warming to the place.  We spent several days in Squirrel Cove, sharing it each night with one other boat, and during the days with ducks, geese, eagles, and seals.  We dragged our rowing dinghy "Poor Tender" through the tidal rapids into the inner lagoon for some peaceful exploration, and generally hung out and enjoyed nature.
Our next stop was Roscoe Bay, another beautiful, completely protected bay surrounded by mountains.  The tricky part of Roscoe Bay is getting in.  There is a gravel bar across the narrow entrance that dries at low tide, so you need to consult the tide tables, do some third grade math, and come up with a time that you won't feel the thud when your keel hits the bottom.  My math is usually pretty good, but I'm not overly patient and drifting around outside the entrance when I could be anchored inside enjoying a glass of wine makes me push the timing.  The depth sounder stopped it's downward plummet at 0.8, and because we have it set for meters of water under the boat, I thought 2.5 feet was a reasonable margin.  Inside the bay we had the place to ourselves for several days.  More bird watching, more seals, some good hiking trails, another positive experience.  Probably the highlight of our stay in Roscoe Bay were the jellyfish. Normally our interactions with jellyfish involve trying to scrape their remains out of the washdown pump we use for hosing down our anchor, but here they literally filled the bay and were beautiful to watch.  The signs on shore say they are Moon Jellyfish, and this is a normal occurrence in the bay each year.
Our third stop was right in the heart of Desolation Sound.  Prideaux Haven is considered the quintessential Desolation Sound experience.  There are several anchorages all close together, all well protected from the weather, with good to stunning views of the surrounding snow-capped mountains.  Folks we had met in Victoria were anchored in Melanie Cove and invited us to dinner, so we threaded our way through the rocks and anchored nearby.  Another couple days passed with only our two boats in the anchorage, along with the requisite ducks, geese, eagles......  Maybe this isn't such a bad place after all.

Monday, May 9, 2011


This may come as a surprise to some of my friends, and not at all to others, but I'm not much of a sailor.  That's not to say I can't sail, I actually do pretty well at keeping the boat moving with the power of the wind, but I don't feel the need to always be under sail just because I have a sailboat.  The beauty and serenity of the boat being pushed along over calm waters with a gentle breeze is wonderful.  10 or 12 knots of wind on a beam reach (wind direction at 90 degrees to the direction of travel) is just about perfect.  The motion of the boat settles to a natural rhythm, and the bow slicing through the water makes a sound that it truly hypnotic.  For people that pick and choose the days they go out sailing this is what they are waiting for.  Those of us that are out every day, and don't get to pick the conditions, deal with a far greater range of conditions and therefore a greater range of enjoyment and disappointment. I feel like we err on the side of disappointment, but that's probably  because the bad days always stick with you longer than the good ones. Before we left Seattle I purchased new sails for our boat. The ones we had were old and because they were made for other boats and purchased second-hand they didn't fit very well.  The sails I purchased this time were also built for another boat, but I lucked out with the headsail and it was not only a great fit but was new and well made, at a very good price.  I was not as lucky with the mainsail.  It too was new and a very good price, but when I got it to the boat I realized it was too big and would have to be modified (re cut).  I got a good quote for the work and sent it off to the sail loft for the work, which was completed quickly.  All this is happening in March, and the weather is not cooperating, heavy rain and/or high winds mean I have to wait days or weeks before I can put up the sail at the dock each time I want to test fit or take measurements, and when the sail has been re cut and I finally get a break in the weather, I hoist it only to find that it needs more work.  The sail goes back to the loft, the additional work is complete, and the sail is  returned to us a few days before we leave in April.  We leave the dock April 2 on our "sailing adventure" and the mainsail is stuffed in a bag and taking up valuable sleeping space on our bed.  When the second round of work was done I had them leave off some of the reassembly of the sail, mostly because I'm cheap and didn't want to pay them to do it, but also because I thought I could do it myself.  I'm cramming everything I own into an over sized floating closet and leaving on a multi-year vacation, it's not like I have other things to do.  Once we are away from Seattle I find I don't have all the supplies necessary to complete the assembly, so the sail completion waits until we get to Port Townsend.  The sail is now off the bed and installed where it should be, but many of the control lines need to be moved or adjusted to work with the new sail, and the lines for reefing (making the sail smaller for higher winds) seem to be missing all together.  The next couple weeks travel include winds that are too strong for full sails, winds that are coming directly from our intended destination in narrow channels, or a complete lack of wind.  During our extended stay in Nanaimo I find the reefing lines buried in a locker and install them, and our boat is ready to be sailed.  Finally, what this long-winded rambling is leading up to, is that we had a beautiful sail in Desolation Sound, and the new sails look like they will work fine.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Almost Famous

I posted this on my Facebook page, but for those of you not on Facebook, we are almost famous.  Our boat was featured in a Seattle-based on line boating magazine.  The article ran right after we left Seattle and we didn't have internet access for a while, so we almost missed it.  To read it in their archives:

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Whiskey, but not for drinking.

When you leave Nanaimo by boat heading north, there is a large military exercise area blocking your path.  Area WG, Whiskey Golf, is used for torpedo training, mostly by the American military.  They are pretty clear in announcing when the area is active and needs to be avoided, and we have normally lucked out and been able to cut across this stretch of water and shorten our crossing of the Strait of Georgia.  This trip our timing wasn't so good, the area was active, and on getting out of the harbor it was easy to spot the submarine, several chase boats, and a sub chaser plane overhead.  Traveling in a boat that is made of steel, is relatively noisy while motoring, and is painted bright red, I thought we were probably a little too tempting of a target to try to sneak through the area.  The fact that all these military vessels probably have electronics capable of counting the number of cans of vegetables we have stored in the bilge also added to the unlikelihood of us transiting undetected.  I had just finished another Tom Clancy novel and felt pretty up-to-date on my knowledge of submarine warfare and decided our chances of surviving an aggressive encounter with a military sub were pretty poor.  Instead, we played the law abiding citizen and kept to the narrow corridor they allow for boats to bypass the area.  We still don't have the ability to reef our mainsail ( make it smaller for stronger winds) and having to stay in this corridor limited our direction of sail, so the day turned out to be a pretty uncomfortable motoring expedition with strong winds and sizable waves.  On the positive side, we were not shot at and sunk by a torpedo from a submarine.