August 7, 2009
Of gales at sea and night lightning under the mast and huge oil tankers, long as a city block, threatening to run us down. And bubbling hot springs and spinning dolphins flipping out of the water during the early morning hours in a storm tossed sea. Upon those 3-meter waves, we were flung through the highs and lows. We broke some gear and had seas wash our decks many times over. But little IO, on that vast sea, stayed afloat and carried us safely home. Back in our familiar stomping grounds, returning here to Bamfield seems like a return home. Upon entering this port we can finally add a badge to IO. One full circumnavigation of Vancouver Island via the Queen Charlottes. We have been 100 miles south of Alaska and farther north than the Aleutian Islands. With over 1000 nautical miles logged on this voyage, I can safely say that sailing in here on the west coast of Canada sucks! To all my sailing friends, yes, you read that right! Here on this coast the wind is either too light or too strong and which ever it is, it is always always always going in the wrong direction! Next time I tour this coast; it’s going to be on a powerboat! To clarify, I still and will always enjoy sailing and think that it is the only way to travel long distances at sea, but our coast, powerboat all the way! Next, we look for fairer winds southward bound.
The full account: we left Ikeada bay at 9 pm with a 15 knot northwesterly, a forecast for more of the same and sailed southeast for a few hours. We could see the thunderheads looming in the distance but there was not much activity. About 2 am the lightshow started. Lightning storms on the prairies are certainly something to behold, but an electrical storm on the open ocean where you are the only thing around and standing under a 15-meter aluminum rod adds a whole new sense of stupidity to this particular endeavor. Despite what we all know about standing out in a thunderstorm, it turns out that sailboats rarely get hit by lighting, and if they do it is not often problematic for the crew. A sailboat has a mast. To hold up the mast are a series of strong wire cables attached to the top of the mast then to the sides of the sailboat. A sailboat also has a large metal keel. All one needs to do is attach the rigging from the mast to the keel or other metal fitting like the propeller and the entire sailboat becomes a perfect Faraday cage, which acts as a conductor of electricity around the crew and not through the crew. So turns out that sailboats are usually quite safe in an electrical storm. Despite this simple and logical explanation, and my repeated consolation, Hyo remained unconvinced! And since it was her watch, she was not about to sail us directly into what in her mind was utter destruction. We hove-to (used the wind to put the boat in park) for a few hours and got some sleep. The only real hazard of being hit by lightning is that it may fry most of your electronic gear. The precaution is to unhook everything and stuff all your gear into the oven, which acts a second Faraday cage, which we did.
In the morning we sailed out of Hecate straight and into the open Pacific where the wind abruptly turned off. If you look at the map, you will see that the Queen Charlottes are triangle shaped with the tip pointing down. We were sitting at the tip of the triangle with the inability to move. Wind makes waves and the waves travel in the same direction as the wind that made them. The waves were coming down Hecate straight from North to South. The waves coming in from the pacific were traveling from Northwest to Southeast. When those two wave sets meet each other they combined to make our lives nauseously interesting. Try this, take your right hand, palm down, and spread your fingers. Now take your left and do the same. Now place your thumbs side by side and continue to overlap your fingers. See how there are big holes between your fingers and other places your fingers are doubled up and in between both of those there are single fingers pointing in two directions. That was the wave pattern out there. One second there would be a great hole in the ocean 2-3 meters deep and the boat would fall into it, then a wave would hit from the left, then a double large wave that was triangular in shape would lift IO 3 meters up, then into a hole again. With no wind to steer by we were left bobbing about in stomach-churning misery for hours. To try to help the situation you can leave the main sail up to offer some resistance to stop the rolling of the boat, but then it slats and bangs and in your mind you can actually imagine each fiber straining and tearing under the repeated stress. I broke down and we motored for 2 hours just to provide some regular motion to the chaos.
Finally a fresh breeze picked up from the Northwest and we had a lumpy but decent sail southwards. The wind kept building and building and we kept reducing sail until we were down to our smallest scrap of cloth, blazing up each wave and surfing down the backs. Our boat has a haul speed of 6 knots. We hit 12 several times. If you have ever surfed a 3-meter surfboard down a wave and thought that was exhilarating, try surfing a 10-meter sailboat that weighs 7-tonns down a wave! Finally as evening drew near, and the wind was still increasing, we decided to heave-to for the night. For experience sake we tried setting the sea anchor (a 3-meter parachute, thanks Jim and Steffi) and spent the night in a storm tossed sea listening to the wind howl in the rigging and the occasional wave break close by sending its salty foam onto the windward deck. I turned the radar on every 15 minutes to look for ships. “When troubles come, they come not but single spies, but in battalions” or in our case big fricken oil tankers! We were over 30 miles out to sea, with so much space why the crap do those huge ships have to come straight for us? At 2 am you just know that the ship is on autopilot and everyone is asleep, they would not even know they hits us. Certainly that is why they would not answer our repeated calls on the radio. After a way to close a call, when the next ship approached, I fired a flare and finally got a response in the form of angry swearing over the radio. Trust me I would rather be yelled at over the radio and know I have at least been seen, than to hear nothing but silence and wait to be crushed by one of these huge ships. Needless to say I got no sleep that night but I do have a few new grey hairs!
The next morning when is was time to get underway, with the wind still blowing 30 knots I went out to retrieve the storm anchor. I was tired, and really cranky and knew that it was going to be allot of work to get the para-anchor in. On deck at the pitching bow I started to heave the line between each wave. Out in that empty sea, I began to realize that I was not alone. In the sea amidst the surf, I was surrounded by pacific white sided dolphins. They thought the chute was the biggest jelly fish that had ever seen and were playing all around it, surfing down the waves and diving under and over the anchor line, doing acrobatic flips and all sorts of dolphin tricks. There, with the wind howling and the seas crashing, and in my groggy state, I had to take a minute and realize what a precious scene I was involved in. It was beautiful.
We put in at hot springs cove and washed the cold away amidst the pools and showers of steaming water. We pulled a line from there to Barkley sound where I had to take it in because our fish hold was again full, this time packed with Coho salmon.
Our northern voyage is concluded and we now prepare to head south. Leaving from this port where we have good memories and good friends seems a fitting place for our departure.
Ikeada Bay N52 17.7 W131 9.4
Vomitous waves N51 49.8 W130 44.1
Hove-to in Full gale N49 41.2 W128 4.8
Bamfield N48 50.0 W125 8.1