It’s 7:42am and I’ve just spent a howling, windy night safely anchored in the crowded marine park at Montague Harbour, just northwest of Active Pass. I didn’t make it quite as far as I had intended yesterday, but I’m not too far off – I had hoped to make it back to Clam Bay, just west of Porlier Pass, but I’m still twelve nautical miles south of there. I had planned to leave Victoria at 6:30am and go hard all day, but even the best-laid plans tend to go awry when you stay out drinking with friends until 4:30am.
When I finally rowed home at 5am, I did consider just staying up and making a go of the day, but I figured that a lack of sleep could lead to the making of poor decisions, and since it’s just me out on the boat I figured I should play it safe and at least get some rest. I woke up at 10am and made myself a big breakfast and a strong pot of coffee, and left Gonzales Bay at about 11:15am. I motored out past the Chatham Islands and immediately ran into big, heavy breaking ocean swells; Tie Fighter jumped and danced in the waves while my hangover and I had a long, serious discussion about using better judgement in the future.
The wind was blowing strongly from the southeast, and once I rounded the southeastern tip of Vancouver Island, I cautiously put up the mainsail. That went reasonably well, so I followed up with the staysail, and decided to just leave the two up as that was already pushing me up to 6kn, which is about as fast as I can go under motor anyway. I figure if I’m sailing faster than I can motor, I’m doing well, and having too many sails up can be very dangerous in high winds. I booted along for about an hour until I got a little further into the channel, out of the huge ocean swells, and when the wind and waves had died down a bit I decided to put up the yankee.
With the three sails up, Tie Fighter took off like a shot, and I don’t think she fell below 8kn for the next two hours. The water went down to smooth little one-foot swells, but the wind picked up again, and I found myself cruising along at 9kn! I ran the generator for a while, sat on the deck and did some day-job work, and made myself some lunch. On a hunch, I shut down the generator and put it away and cleaned up the deck – and then ten minutes later, a wave system came out of nowhere. Maybe it was the incoming tide? Whatever it was, I had to abandon a chat with a coworker and give the sailing my full, undivided attention. I was literally surfing down eight-foot waves, watching the GPS knotmeter jump from 7.5kn while sliding down the back of a wave, up to 9.6kn surfing down the front. Then 9.9kn! Then 10.0kn! Then 10.2kn, a new speed record for Tie Fighter!
While I was surfing down waves, I looked over and saw a dolphin two wavelengths away, surfacing every few seconds, bobbing along the swells with me. I’ve seen dolphins once before, but never this close – lovely!
As I started my way past the San Juan Islands, the waves and wind calmed down – or at least they appeared to, it felt a lot calmer but my GPS still reported 8.4kn. I was able to put Steve the Autopilot back on duty and get a little more work done, and for the next three hours the wind sloooooowly died down. All day I had been seeing those huge Zodiac-style whale-watching tourist boats from Victoria whipping past, often coming within a few hundred meters and having all sixteen passengers wave as they went by – but as the wind slowly died, I found myself with slack sails, sitting idle just off the west coast of Stuart Island pretty much surrounded by the tourist boats. I was in mid-chat with Trent when suddenly…
HOLY CRAP, ORCAS!
A huge fin broke the surface about 300m off my starboard bow. Then another, and several more, and even more – a huge pod of orcas were making their way through the channel! There must have been hundreds of them – I stood on the starboard wing and watched them for probably twenty minutes or so. This was the first time I’d seen whales outside of an aquarium! Intense! I’m really starting to feel the sting of not having my camera battery charger – I would have loved to have pics of this.
Anyhow. Today I try to make the passage back to Vancouver. In a few minutes, I’ll be pulling anchor and heading north towards Porlier Pass – the slack tide today is at 10:38am, and it’s now 8:03am; I have about two and a half hours to make it twelve nautical miles, which shouldn’t be too difficult under motor. Once I’m out in the straight I’m hoping the wind will pick up again – 15kn of southeasterly wind would blow me straight home with some serious speed! Hopefully it won’t also mean huge ocean swells, but I guess I really don’t have much say in that matter…