The wet west coast is again getting pounded by another massive storm too early in the season; November is historically the month that the whoppers roll in and here we have had two and it’s not even half way through October yet. As the last time they are calling for hurricane force winds, and checking the weather station off Brooks Peninsula I see that it hit 70 knots, only a few less than when we were there.
RIght now I’m stuck in a little sanctuary/hole called “Pacific Playground Resort” about 1/2 way between Comox and Campbell River. We ended up here because my son and I had a major shitkicking in the Strait on Thursday. It was an awful day. The worst of my trip, frankly, even including all the insanity of the outer coast. I hate the Strait of Georgia. When the wind kicks up you don’t get swells, just a mean, ugly chop. It only reached perhaps 20 knots or so, but it really kicked us in the ass. I don’t know, but Is suspect that swells help reduce chop; the hills and valleys seem to flatten them. It’s also possible that since the swells move downwind, wind waves don’t build up so high because the relative speed of wind and water is reduced by the speed of the swells. I don’t know this to be true, but we ran into worse waves on the Strait than anything we experienced on the other side.
The days started innocuous enough (it always does). with good winds for sailing and a bright sunny sky. It wasn’t supposed to get messy until the evening but the front must have speeded up because the good conditions didn’t last as we beat upwind across a stiffening southeaster.
The first hitch happened when we pulled out the tack fastener of the jib. No big deal and fairly easily fixed, but it was the first of several problems.
Part of the problem was that the direction of the wind meant we had to pass over Sentry shoal, and that place really heaps up the waves. we had breaking rollers all around us when we went through there with a partially-furled jib and double-reefed mainsail. The pounding was incredible, with tons of water rushing across our decks.
The next issue was the dinghy flooding. Stuart didn’t properly plug the daggerboard slot and water was squirting into the dinghy . That meant I had to swing the thing aboard in this awful surf. I decide to heave-to rather than run for two reasons: I didn’t trust my life with Stu at the helm and I was loathe to lose the little windward way we were making. That meant heaving-to, which put us broadside to the surf.
Trying to hoist a heavy, hardshell dinghy aboard with a spinnaker halyard in a boat rolling that bad was very dangerous. I was good and tethered but footing was treacherous and that dinghy swinging wildly, banging against the hull or whisking past my ears. Trying to get it in position on the foredeck despite the presence of the jib, it’s sheets, my tether, the halyard and the dinghy painter was a nightmare, and I wouldn’t let Stu on deck to help because there was only one tether and harness.
I got clobbered a few times by the dinghy, the deck got marked some, and the dinghy lost a lot of gelcoat, but I finally got the damn thing tied down.
In all that kerfuffle, we lost both my hat and a boat hook.
We kept on heading towards Comox, but the pounding created such leeway that we weren’t gonna make it even close before we had to tack. When we left Desolation Sound the angle was perfect to sail right into Comox but this meant tacking upwind for potentially hours. The seas were definitely getting worse and Stuart at the helm took a full wave, soaking him down. I’ve never had that much water come into the cockpit. I was only saved because I was in the lee of the dodger.
About then the autohelm started acting up. Whenever the wheel was put hard over it would go into alarm mode and shut down. Not that we were using it much but when we did need it, it had to be there. Stuart just didn’t have enough experience and in some circumstances I just want to put the boat on a certain course and know it will do it.
So we had to stop counting on Otto.
ANd about then I ripped out the double reefed main again. Naturally. I didn’t anticipate it when we left that morning, but the longer we went into that stuff, the more I expected we would lose it. I was trying to depower the thing by tightening the mainsheet further and there she went. So much for upwind sailing. I climbed on deck to lower the main and was subsequently drenched. I got Stuart to start the engine and we had the main mostly put away when the engine stalled.
At that point I was ready to run her onto the rocks. I was tired, scared and fed up with my crew’s and my mistakes. We came about and I ran below and sure enough, huge vacuum in the fuel line. I switched fuel filters, dumped my tools everywhere, dug out the three wrenches I needed, got Stuart to empty the mountain of gear out of the port lazarette so i could get at the engine. I had it bled in record time. I got him to start it while I watched the vacuum gauge, and to my horror it began climbing again. It was far higher than I’ve ever seen it so I got him to cut the motor again. What the hell? I could believe the rodeo we were in was stirring up crud in the fuel tank, but it was impossible that the new filter was plugging that fast!!
Now we were screwed. No mainsail and now no engine. What started as an idyllic day sailing had become a disaster. I impotently tried forcing fuel through with the fuel primer bulb and that’s when I noticed – as I pumped, the vacuum still in the system went down but the bulb began flattening. It would squirt out fuel, but it wasn’t sucking anything in.
I couldn’t believe my eyes; it wasn’t the fuel filters at all’ for some reason the pump could suck fuel into the line itself. I thought maybe the vent had plugged and a vacuum was forming in the tank, but not so. Even after opening the fuel filler there was still a vacuum in that line. I checked and the shut-off valve was still open. I then took the bulb off the line and blew backwards into the tank. I didn’t really notice any obstruction, but when i put it all back together I was able to pump fuel again and we were able to start the motor.
By this time I was all done in and just wanted a safe harbour. At best we were making 2 knots to windward, which would mean motoring another 5 hours in terrible conditions. For the first time I gave up and turned before the wind.
After so much desperate work and damage I was loathe to go all the way back. Fortunately I recalled a couple of small harbours on this part of the coast and the chartplotter indicated a small marina about 3 miles north. It had a really, really ugly entrance that you could only cross with a min 7 foot tide and 4.5 feet of draft. We had enough tide but god, that entrance made Sea Otter Cove look like Vic Harbour. Not only was it desperately shallow, it was ridiculously narrow and broadside to the surf, to boot. You could reach out a boat hook and clip the pilings to starboard and the black shoal marker to port. There were sand bars right beside us and you could have jumped off the boat and landed ashore without even getting your feet wet.
So I’m helming Fainleog through this, fighting to keep her on course despite the rolling, entering a marina that I know nothing about and who’s dimensions seem much more suitable to dinghies. I can’t believe how narrow everything was, including inside. It was with enormous relief when we finally pulled up and tide to an empty berth.
DOn’t get me wrong; I’m sooo grateful this place was here, but by the time I worked us through the eye of the needle my nerves were utterly shot.
I slept ten hours that night.
And I decided I needed a little break from this bitch of a boat. She got us here by god, I have to give her that, but I need my feet on terra firma for a few days. The weather looks snotty for a few more days so I’m heading back to Vic for some R&R from my cruise. I got the autohelm fixed, and the engine (touch wood) seems to be running okay, but I’m not sticking my nose out in anything more than 15 knots.
Tracy came up last night to pick me up after the asshole driving the Greyhound blew past me at the stop yesterday. The weather is very tempting right now, with no winds and sunny skies, but I’m still taking off. I realised this morning that I am emotionally exhausted. Between the various intense experiences of the last week (including some deep and heavy discussions with my son), my nerves feel fragile. I need to gather some emotional resources for the last leg home because god knows what will happen.
I also want to spend some time thinking about the choices I have been making. Generally I’m a very conservative sailor compared to a great many that I’ve met, and yet on the trip I’ve really been pushing the envelope and myself. Maybe we all have to do this at times but the danger is that you can push and push and you only know when you’ve gone too far when something really bad happens. Maybe I’m still a long way from that; we ran into a fellow in Bull harbour who sailed up Johnstone Strait during that hurricane, running downwind in a 26 footer in 50 knot gusts. That sounds foolish and a suicide wish, but who knows?
I do know that after a few days away I’ll feel better able to deal with whatever Fainleog and the weather holds for me.
It’s a little late, but I have a couple of videos of the trip that I’ve compiled. It’s taken this long because the files are big as I wanted to show as much detail as possible and most hosting sites have limits on file size and or video length. Uploading has been a real chore. I also recorded them with a cool soundtrack, which most hosting sites freak out about (the evils of using commercial music on a personal home video!) Because this is a file host and not an image site, you’ll have to download the files before you can watch them. Still, I think it’s worth it. It freaked Tracy out when she saw it and even stressed me out!