It’s been a great couple of weeks. We decided – after cancelling a trip to Arizona – to spend a couple of weeks bumbling about our old stomping grounds in the Gulf Islands in Peanut. It’s been about 4 years since we sold our sloop Fainleog and I had forgotten how spectacularly gorgeous this part of the world is, especially this early in the season when most nautical yahoos are still at home and anchorages are empty.
And despite leaving in late April, the weather was magnificent. We used the wood stove in the evenings to chase away the chill, but as long as the sun was up we were quite comfortable aboard.
It was my first real cruise with a non-sailboat, and the differences were startling. First of all, I can understand how many stinkpot skippers have little nautical skill if a stinkpot is all they ever pilot. It’s so simple: you point the boat somewhere, hit the throttle, and off you go. With the advent of modern navigation technology, you don’t even need to know how to plot a course or read a chart.
There’s an old saw that a stinkpot is all about the destination whereas the sailboat itself is the destination, and I can say that that was my experience. Because I’m cost and environment conscious and so wanted to reduce fuel consumption, I kept Peanut below hull speed: faster than 90% of the time sailing, but still took hours between chosen anchorages. And despite the beauty of the landscape, I did find myself bored at times. I knew my course; I set the autohelm, and just waited to arrive. Other than keeping a watch, there was nothing to do.
With a sailboat you’re always watching your sails, fiddling with the trim, and very much focused on the present and what needs to be done now. The easy motion and silence of sailing helps with this, a Zen kind of thing. Peanut unfortunately has no mufflers and is loud as hell.
A further disappointment was the weather: this being spring there were a number of blustery days with winds exceeding 20 knots in the Strait of Georgia, winds I would have cheered in Fainleog. In Peanut, it meant I had to stay in harbour or get my ass handed to myself and have my wallet drained. She has a planing hull and although I typically motor at displacement speeds, to go out in 20 knot seas would require planing and she would have sucked her tank dry desperately quickly. It was hard sitting at your moorings looking out of the harbour at all the sailboats having a grand time out there.
For example, we were harbour-bound in Nanaimo waiting to head out to Lasqueti Island, with the wind blowing 20 knots dead to windward from the NW. By 6PM the wind had finally veered to the SE and we headed out. The chop that had built all day was of course still present, and over next the 4 hours we ended up burning about 30% more fuel compared to my return trip over calm seas.
Still it wasn’t that bad – we burned 3/4 tank or about 100 litres of fuel travelling from Victoria to Comox. As far as simple miles-per-gallon goes that’s appalling, but miles on the water cannot be compared to miles on land, and that was after a week of cruising, carrying our home with us. Not many vessels of Peanut’s displacement and powered by gasoline could say as much. If we had planed her, her fuel consumption would likely have doubled or more.
The one major way Peanut outshines any sailboat was volume: for a 27 footer, she has a ton of room aboard; she is spacious and luxurious. I learned to sail aboard a 26 footer and that boat had interior volume no larger than a closet. Peanut’s space aboard made for a very comfortable voyage.
The other thing she boasts is her beauty. People repeatedly come up to us, to talk about her, ask questions and admire her. People love her, and that gives me great pleasure. It might be a little strange, but I really like the fact that she makes people smile, gives them pleasure, even if for only a brief moment. By restoring the old girl I’ve kept a little beauty in the world, and so many folks seem to appreciate that. There are millions of boats out there that all look alike but she’s a locally built, hand-made survivor from a different era.
Anyway, before we left Victoria I had given her a tune up. She’s powered by a 1957 Crusader 220, which is a small block Chevy, and I thought finding parts would be simple. Turns out her distributor was not Chevy and that screwed up finding points and such from the auto jobbers. After a lot of running around and grief, turns out marine stores still stock ignition components for this old stuff, and by going that route I had everything I needed within a day. Lesson learned.
The problem was that the condenser I had been supplied with had an intermittent internal short. While the tune up went fine and the engine ran flawlessly, the next morning when preparing to leave the marina, she ran terribly. I couldn’t figure it out. She would start, run well for a few moments, and then start missing and eventually stall. I figured it had to be the carb, which had given me so much trouble in the past, and so I took it apart to clean it. Everything looked okay, and after reassembling it, there was no improvement. Then suddenly it ran fine again.
Not a great way to start a holiday afloat and we missed our tide, but we headed out hoping that would be the end of it. We made it to Sidney Spit the first day, and next morning the engine did the same thing again. More mucking about and then again without warning it started running normally. Throughout the day it kept acting up: it’d be running fine then suddenly start missing and then stall. But it would start right back up and keep running for hours before doing it again.
What all the fuss was about:
At least this helped me to figure out that it was electrical, not gas. We made it to Wallace Island that day, and for the first time ever found the dock empty and were able to tie up in Conover Cove. Further proof of the joys of off-season cruising.
I went back over my tune-up. Either something was going wrong with the coil or the tune up components I installed, and the latter seemed more likely as I didn’t have the problem before the tune up. But the components were so simple: cap, rotor, points, condenser and plug wires. What could give intermittent problems like this? Everything except the condenser was mechanical, and mechanical things usually work or don’t work, they don’t usually switch back and forth. That left the condenser. Fortunately, I had a spare aboard and replaced that. The motor gave me no trouble ever since. So much for new components.
Firewood from Sidney Spit
The following day was warm and sunny with easy starts in the morning, a few hours of motoring, walks on beaches and in forests, and ending with movies on my laptop in the evenings. They were happy, languid days, the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve as lovely as anything I saw in Belize, and our life ashore faded away.
But boating always has surprises in store, and we had another rousing experience when we arrived late one night at Lasqueti. Generally, when travelling between Nanaimo and Comox I spend the night at anchor in False Bay. But I had discovered a lovely little anchorage (named Graveyard Bay, a detail I cleverly kept from my wife) and decided to anchor there for the night. It was dark by the time we arrived so I turned on Peanut’s spotlight.
This ancient light I had salvaged from another even older woody I have rotting on shore, and it wasn’t much help, badly needing an upgrade to a halogen bulb. And its location results in a lot of glare on the deck, making it hard to actually see beyond in the dark. I was also busy manoeuvring inside the small cove, searching for the best spot to drop anchor, according to the chart. What I hadn’t counted on was the chart neglecting to show a massive drying rock dead in the middle of the anchorage.
It was only after the anchor was overboard that my spotlight showed this massive thing directly ahead, barely a boat length’s away. Tracy had seen it since she was up front with the anchor, but was reluctant to complain when I told her to drop anchor so close to it. Of course we couldn’t stay there and so I pulled us further out and found good depths where the chart showed shoals. Proof that one should never fully trust a chartplotter.
The next day we motored across the Strait again, but this time the water was smooth, with barely a zephyr to ripple the inland sea. We stopped off for a visit at Ford Cove on Hornby Island (where we caught hell for blocking the road where we dropped anchor, an accusation I strongly disagreed with), and then made our way into Comox Harbour.
Comox rock sausages
I love Comox Harbour: it’s so open, so spacious, with good holding, a cheap public dock, and gorgeous views of the high snowy granitic spine of Vancouver Island. There are also all the services you would ever need only a couple of blocks away from the docks.
It was forecast to blow a gale so the first night we borrowed a mooring buoy (with permission) rather than anchor. It really howled that morning and Tracy was grateful for the tie; she takes an unaccountably dim view of dragging.
We stayed the weekend in Comox, and checked out the famous Royston Wrecks: a breakwater built from the hulks of old ships, some dating from the late 1800s, including a coupe of old square-rigged Cape Horn windjammers.
Tracy left me to go back to work in Victoria, and I had the treat of a week of solitary cruising as I made my slow way back by water. Peanut behaved faithfully, the only issue emerging was weak charging of her batteries, that I suspect points to worn brushes; she does generate voltage but not enough. It could also be a rectifier or even voltage regulator; I’ll have to pull it apart next week. For a 60-year old boat, she took good care of us.
I stopped off at False Bay on the way back, but it seemed pretty crowded to me, so instead I tuck into a beautiful little cove just outside the harbour.
A little too small, sadly.
Although it was directly open to the Strait of Georgia there was absolutely no wind and the sea was glass-smooth. This didn’t last however for at about 3AM Peanut started rolling like a bitch. There still wasn’t any wind nearby but somewhere out in the Strait there certainly was, judging by the rollers that were now pounding into the cove.
Sleep was now impossible, so very reluctantly I pulled up anchor and motored my way deep into False Bay and tucked between a series of shoals and a whole host of moored vessels of all sizes and descriptions. I’m very happy to say that this time there were no uncharted rocks to waylay me, as the night was utterly black and I had no lookouts on the bow this time.
Not fun running at night when this is all you can see.
Returning across the Strait to Nanaimo the next day I was almost blown out of the water. The route between these two points passes through military exercise area WG, which is most inactive and crossing it uneventful. But you’re supposed to check on the VHF if it is active or not and I had totally forgotten. I was just about to enter it when, sitting one the bow of Peanut enjoying the view, I saw a fighter buzz the ocean a little while in the distance. There were also some warships and a helicopter. That’s when I remembered about area WG. I jumped below and turned on the radio to listen to the weather channel, but I already knew that it bloody well was active and turned Peanut about, just grazing the no-go area. A few minutes later the radio did confirm of course that these were no mere apparitions of an aged, demented mind.
Once I reached Nanaimo, I had barely tossed out my anchor when I was hailed from the docks on Newcastle Island: someone had broken down and needed a tow. For once the shoe was on someone else’s foot and I was only glad to lend a hand and haul them to the boat launch ramp.
Did I say the alternator was the only issue? I almost forgot. The last night I stayed at Portland Island and Tracy had joined me. The next day I dropped her off at the fuel dock in Tsehum Harbour early so she could make it to work, and I decided to tie up at a mooring buoy at Sidney Spit and have a nap. It was blowing a good 18 knots out there and with just me aboard to grab a buoy, I did a lot of manoeuvring trying to get into position. What I didn’t realize, what I didn’t consider, was that our dinghy towline wasn’t polyethylene, and didn’t float. I ended up backing over it, and like an idiot wrapped it around my prop.
That was a real sonofabitch moment. I ran forward and threw out the anchor before I blew onto the beach. The immediate panic dealt with, I examined the situation: the rope was drum-tight to a cleat and to the bow of the dinghy (which was pulled down almost to water level), so I first cut the dinghy free and tied it to Peanut with a different line. I cut the other end off as well, hoping that I could simply pull the line off the prop. Not a chance.
I restarted the stalled engine and tried her gears: she would go forward and reverse, which was a relief, although I knew that with a chunk of rope flapping around under there almost anything could happen, and it likely would at the worst possible time. It was just a little too late in the tide to try careening her there on the beach, but I had a strong ebbing current so I abandoned the spit and made my way back to Oak Bay.
My return was uneventful, but as tides were unusually high due to the new moon I decided to careen Peanut on nearby Willow’s Beach. I’ve never done this and was admittedly a little nervous; naturally Tracy wanted nothing to do with it and although we both slept aboard, she abandoned me before I even left the marina.
I had scouted the place the previous afternoon and had decided on a location between two large cement storm drain pipes. It was only a short distance from the marina, and once arrived I cautiously backed her up, amazed at how little water she needed under her keel. At less than 2 feet I felt her touch, and turned off her engine.
It was barely 7:30, with seas glass smooth and hardly anyone on the beach. The tide would drop another couple of metres so I figured I had lots of time to clear her prop, a gross understatement as we didn’t get out of there until after 3:00 later that day.
Soon she started to list, and after a short time settled on her port side, with barely a groan and creak. By the time the tide had fully ebbed, Peanut was at least 6 or 7 metres from the water’s edge.
Cutting away the tangle of rope was a bit of a chore as her prop and strut were partially buried in sand, and while I was under there cleaned away a couple years worth of critters growing on everything metal. But that job done, I realized I still had several hours before Peanut would float again, and decided to take on a few more chores. If I had planned better I could have painted her hull, but as it was I installed a second depthsounder transducer, repatched an old waterline ding that someone had filled but which had subsequently failed, and at long last repainted her waterline. Peanut is a gorgeous boat, but her broad waterline stripe looked really shabby: one of those weird situations where if it’s bad it’s very visible, but if it’s nice you don’t even notice it.
It was a hot, sunny day and Tracy and I went from chore to chore – the worst over, she had now joined me on the beach – and it was a very productive day. Many people came to talk to us, curious about what we were doing, and commenting on how pretty she looked – the boat, not my wife.
Much nicerLater in the afternoon the tide made it’s way in, accompanied by force 9 winds. I had to throw out a couple of windward anchors to keep Peanut from drifting as she began to float. With the whole, crowded beach watching, we fired up her engine, pulled her to windward with her anchor lines, pulled the anchors aboard and motored away from the beach. A perfect day and perfect solution to a heretofore-vexing problem.
Tide coming back in.
I have a few other reasons to careen her again– I need to replace a soft mounting block for her engine-water thru-hull, rebed a spinning strut bolt, and I want to repair and repaint her swim grid. But those can wait until the next full moon.
I still somewhat bemoan the loss of my dear Fainleog, but Peanut is fast becoming a dear friend and I can tell that when she is eventually replaced by another sailing vessel, letting her go will be another difficult loss.
Incidentally, she spends too much time just sitting there, unused and so I’ve decided to allow others to enjoy her lovely charms. I’m now booking time aboard her, at the dock only, on AirBnB. I’ve spent many a wonderful evening aboard her simply sipping wine in her cockpit watching the sun go down, and can attest it’s a marvellous experience. The details are here. It’s only been listed a few weeks and we have a number of guests booked already!
My book still needs loving…