Sailing To Victoria

I definitely need to get my camera back in action.  Somehow I managed to completely lose the battery charger during my move onto Tie Fighter, and despite tearing apart both the boat and my storage locker, I cannot seem to find it.  Just now I logged into eBay and purchased a charger and a pair of new batteries for a grand total of $22 including shipping from China; we’ll see if they actually arrive before Burning Man.

So!  The next chapter of yesterday’s massive update.  After two epic sailing adventures, both with crew but both with significant solo-sailing time (ie, crew sleeping, cooking, whatever), I figured it was time to really push myself and head out on the epic adventure of the summer: wandering the islands alone, going wherever the winds blow.  I had also promised my friends in Victoria months before that I would be sailing over for a visit “any day now”, but the weeks of work on the boat piled up and the summer was slipping rapidly away from me.  Having a destination, however fuzzy, would be a good kickstart to the adventure.

I tried to leave on Thursday, July 30th, but the wind was nonexistent.  Then I tried to leave on Friday, but errands and work got in the way, and I left quite late – I made it as far as Kitsilano Point, where I anchored for the night.  I rowed to shore at about 10pm, pulled my dinghy up the beach through a few small groups of drunken fratboy types, padlocked it to a signpost and went to have beers with Jason Stormchild.  Lesson learned: don’t leave your dinghy on Kits Beach at night, or some drunken asshole might piss in it.  Ugh!  Seriously, that’s the second time I’ve had to clean the bodily waste of a sub-human out of my dinghy – the first time at least it was a harbour seal, which, while disgusting, was at least somewhat forgivable. Sort of. I guess.

Saturday, bright and early-ish (ie. somewhere around the crack of noon), I left Kits Point and headed out to sea.  Heading across the Georgia Straight I caught some excellent wind for the first hour or so, but then it died utterly leaving me with slowly luffing sails and almost no forward speed – so I had to fire up the engine and motor for a couple of hours.  This was actually the first exciting part of the trip, as I found myself further out to sea than I’d ever been, somewhere around fifteen kilometers from land!  At this point, in the beautiful, thirty-degree summer sunshine, at least three kilometers from the closest other human beings, I found myself unable to come up with any decent argument for pants, and so I spent the next couple of hours letting Steve the Autopilot steer the boat while I lay out on a towel reading a book.

the anchorage at Clam Bay
the anchorage at Clam Bay

Eventually I made it across the Straight, and headed towards Porlier Pass.  My Canadian Tide and Current Tables showed me that the next slack tide (ie when the tide would be neither coming in nor going out) would be at 8:29pm, which was a good solid two and a half hours away.  I tacked around for an hour and a half, but then finally grew impatient and decided to go through the pass an hour early.  This was a mistake I won’t make again – the pass was a series of eddies, whirlpools and standing waves, and a couple of times Tie Fighter was spun around nearly ninety degrees by the current!  I learned my lesson, and made it through to a crowded anchorage at Clam Bay where I spent the night.  I put on my swimsuit, planning to jump in to cool off, but when I went to dive in I saw to my surprise that the water was absolutely full of jellyfish!  Seriously full, like a jellyfish every two to three feet – there would be no way to avoid them, so instead I played guitar for the jellyfish for an hour or two, then went to sleep.

The next day, Sunday, I made my way south, past the Secretary Islands, past Salt Spring and the Pender Islands, and finally to Sidney, where I decided to rest the night before making the final leg of the trip to Victoria.  When I left in the morning there was excellent wind, which lasted up until about noon before dying off for a few hot hours, then coming back up… in the opposite direction.  This meant that while before I could “run” south with the wind, now I had to tack back and forth up the channel.  Tacking is slow, but it makes for fun sailing – you trade good sailing speed for actual progress though, as you have to basically go diagonally back and forth across the channel to make any headway.  I had hoped to make Victoria this day, but after tacking around for hours and hours I kind of blew the schedule, and so around 6pm I decided I’d had enough for the day and pulled into Tsehum Harbour for the night.

Monday I got up early and set sail for Victoria, to an absolutely gorgeous day.  Beautiful 25kn winds, tonnes of other sailboats out, a spacious semi-protected bay with low swells… I found myself with a big smile on my face, ripping across the bay at 8kn with one hull barely touching the tips of the waves.  Then I heard the sort of sound that could only come from something under tension suddenly coming loose – kind of a loose, non-metallic “spaaaang” sound – and the windward hull dropped into the water with a thud.  I looked up to see that my big genoa headsail was looking a lot baggier than it had been moments before.  As it turned out the top of the sail had torn; the big steel grommet that the halyard attaches to had been pulled right out of the sailcloth.  Reading up on this, it usually only happens when the halyard is pulled far too tight, but I don’t think this was the case – I may have been pushing the sail a little too hard, but honestly I think the sail was just getting too old.  There’s signs of degradation around some of the other seams as well, and it’s “blown out”, meaning the material is stretched out making it difficult to properly trim for the best power and efficiency.  Sails have a lifespan of about five to eight years usually, less under heavy use, and as far as I can tell my genoa was at least ten years old, possibly fifteen or maybe even more.

a cutter rig (not mine) at sail
a cutter rig at sail, flying (right to left) yankee, staysail and mainsail. this is not my boat.

It actually turned out quite well in the end, as it forced me to put up a combination of my storm jib and my staysail – but when I did this I realized that what I had thought was a storm jib, or perhaps a small genoa, was in fact a “yankee”!  I had been sailing Tie Fighter as a sloop, using the larger genoa and the main, and occasionally the staysail for novelty, but adding the staysail really didn’t seem to have any benefit over using just the genoa and main and usually just blocked the wind, taking the power out of the genoa.  Once I put up the yankee with the staysail, the benefit became obvious, and Tie Fighter took off like a shot, hitting speeds of up to 8.4kn!  The two sails worked together flawlessly, as though they were designed to be used that way – which, of course, they were.

I blew a couple of hours just sailing aimlessly around the bay, but eventually decided to set out through Cordova Channel and make my way to Victoria before the day slipped away again.  I probably should have checked out the tide and current charts again though, as I spent the next three hours battling the wind and current in the channel making probably less than one kilometer per hour tacking back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth.

That’s when it all started to get bad, actually.  The wind blew up a bit, and maaaaybe I went a little too close to the shore.  When I went to tack away I found the wheel difficult to turn, and when I did get it to turn Tie Fighter had lost her momentum and got stuck in “irons”, which is what it’s called when the boat is pointed directly into the wind and comes to a complete stop.  I found myself at this point harnessed in, leaning far over the back of the boat, boat hook in one hand and my knife in the other, pulling long strands of kelp off the rudder and cutting them.  I was drifting slowly towards the shore, and at that point I drifted right over top of a crab trap.  My easy answer was to start the engines, but the batteries were dead – so I had to pull out the generator, hook up the battery charger, start it up and then return to the stern to continue cutting away kelp, racing to finish all of this before the wind and current took Tie Fighter up onto the rocks on shore!  Fortunately I managed to get it all done in time, the crab trap freed itself without getting stuck around the propellor (that would have required a swim), got the engine started and I motored away safely.

The wind shifted again, so I stopped the engine and tried to sail my way out of the channel, just on principle.  The next two hours were a battle against the wind and current, and about fifteen tacks back and forth while I got the hang of tacking a three-sailed boat solo.  The practice was well worth the effort though, and I’m now much better at handling her under stress!  Finally the channel narrowed to only a few hundred meters wide, and while I could see the end, I was tired of tacking every three minutes and so I gave up and motored out.

In fact, I motored for the next couple of hours, down the coast towards Victoria, where Amanda was waiting to go for beers.  I had estimated a 7pm arrival, but when I rounded the horn and went to pass between Vancouver Island and the Chatham Islands, I noticed eddies and whirlpools and standing waves, just like Porlier Pass from two days prior.  I decided to avoid that, and made my way out into the open ocean and around the Chatham Islands instead.  The water out in the ocean was a bit larger, with rolling swells around four feet in height, making sailing more like riding a horse than driving a car.  I continued along, and as I was coming up on the Trial Islands just south of Victoria I noticed that off in the distance there seemed to be a lot of whitecaps for about a kilometer.  On a hunch, I put on foul weather gear and battened down all the hatches, and as Tie Fighter came up on the whitecaps the sailing became a lot more interesting.  I have no idea why – perhaps tides, or a current pattern, or some kind of squall way out at sea – but the water suddenly became six foot breaking waves for the next kilometer!  Waves were breaking up over the deck, splashing over the bow only to be caught by the wind and come whipping back at me.  I had been out in big weather once before, and knew Tie Fighter was up to the challenge, so I harnessed myself in and enjoyed the ride.  Not one square foot of deck was dry by the time we pulled out of the range of breakers.

Finally I pulled into Victoria around 8:30pm.  I just wasn’t interested in trying to find an anchorage after the long day, so I pulled into the harbour, got on the VHF and booked a space at the wharf in front of the Empress Hotel in downtown Victoria.  As I pulled in, a single guy in a massive sailing trimaran, folks on two boats on the wharf called out to their families to come watch me try to dock.  I brought her around, settled her neatly into the spot and tied her off, which brought a round of applause from the onlookers.  I bowed, and one of the men yelled out.

“Ninety-three percent!”

“Only ninety-three?” I yelled back.

“Yeah, you caught your dockline on your vent there…” he called.  He was right, I definitely did.  I thanked them.

I went below, shut down the engines and packed up to go meet Amanda for drinks.  When I came back up on deck he yelled again.

“Hey – we couldn’t see that boat behind you from here – didn’t realize you parallel-parked her!  Ninety-eight percent!”

I bowed, grabbed my bicycle and headed into town…