A bloody long row — Discovery Islands, Day 3

Sunday July 19: day 3 of our voyage, sunny and even hotter, but eventually successful!

Once again, our objective was Cortez Island across Sutil Channel. The forecast was also a repeat, 10 to 15 Kts of wind out of the northwest, supposedly with an ebb (northerly flow) until 14:40. After our unsuccessful attempt to cross the day before, we had a much clearer picture of the challenge, and a revised strategy. We’ll set out a bit earlier, and if and when the wind dies (the northwester blocked by Read Island), we’ll get out the oars and row around Viner Point and hopefully into clear air beyond. And, armed with our knowledge of the back-eddy south of Read, we’ll not let ourselves be swept south like we did on our previous, innocent attack.


our anchorage in Drew Harbour, inside Rebecca Spit


the view from Rebecca Spit in the morning, our crossing beckons

The day broke warm and clear, we brewed coffee and breakfasted onboard, used the park facilities on the Spit, and stowed the clothesline and ground tackle. We didn’t manage to get off any earlier (best laid plans awry already), we left the beach just after 10:00. The breeze freshened and we made good time beating out to the Bretons, bearing off at 11:20 to reach across Hoskyn Channel.


crossing Hoskyn Channel, once again


closing on Viner Point

As we approached the wind shadow of Read Island the pressure slowly eased, just as expected, although it did carry us just past Viner Point this time. At noon, half a mile east of the point and 4 NM into the crossing, the breeze disappeared completely.

Oars out, sail down, foils up, 1.5 NM to the Subtle Islands, the sea is a mirror, and man it’s hot! Chris took a spell on the oars, we sipped water every 10 or 20 strokes, the temp climbed and the world was in slow motion.

“Are you sure we’re moving? and not being drawn south?”

“Yes, it’s ok, watch that point against the far island, see it slide away ever so slowly?. And, according to Navionics, we’re holding our course at 1.3 Kts over the ground.” “What about now?” “Yes, still moving, our ranges are all good, damn it’s hot!”

We closed on the indent between the Subtles, and in crystal waters spied sand between the thick eelgrass of the cove. Selecting a clear spot we dropped our hook into a billow of white sand in about 3 feet of water, I stripped and jumped in, icy cold bone-jarring relief. Slowly cooling my core and strolling waist-deep around our little boat it felt like I was in paradise. Keith dropped anchor and swam, we chatted, set up some towels for shade, ate lunch, and took in our surroundings. We have crossed! New worlds await!


a lunch stop and swim in the Subtle Islands

The Subtle Islands are privately held, with a man-made causeway connecting the two Islands across the shallows separating them. Small 4-wheelers with uniformed staff and luggage-piled trailers zoomed back and forth across the causeway, guests arriving? departing? chambermaids and gardeners? Somewhat surreal! So much for our paradise, someone already owns it! (And, it’s said they’re not friendly. Lucky they were a bit too far away to see we’re naked. We hope…)

Another unexpected phenomena, cell phones that have been silently sleeping while in the bays suddenly spring to life when you’re in the big channels. Distant towers provide excellent coverage in the middle of Sutil, and texts arrived while we rested and ate: ding ding! Chris phoned home, and then her brother on Cortez to arrange a rendezvous.

“We’ll be coming in at Whaletown, but not sure when. It’s a bit of a row yet, and very hot!”


looking north, behind Subtle Islands, through Plunger Passage and up Sutil Channel

Another 1.5 NM to the entrance of Whaletown Bay to the south, and no sign of Derek and Lacy. We horizoned them by oar when we left Viner, “Let’s just hope they’re working their way across, and get going.” The heat had set a haze across the Channel, no sails in site, and once round the point our feelings of vastness and wildness and wonder returned. Bending on the sticks became rhythmic, I discarded my PFD and shirt for ventilation, my skin became wet and cool, I gained boat length after boat length, I settled into a joy of work and motion. It seemed to go forever, and I didn’t mind at all. Wow, it’s hot…


no wind meant many miles of rowing on the hottest day of our voyage


shade is hard to find on a little boat at sea

About halfway down, the radio crackled “Is that you guys along the shore?” A small spec of dark crystallized from the blue, and LIBERTY appeared slowly, oars flashing. The Pirates are together again!


Chris is relieved to know where LIBERTY is, and to be near landfall

Then, a kayaker paddled alongside to chat, and then, a big motor cruiser called over, “that’s the way to travel!” and then a little tickle of air, and hey, we’re at the entrance, and hey, we’re sailing!! Not a breath of wind in every direction except in here, and we’re heeled over and hauling ass into harbour like it belongs to us. We all do donuts of glee, 3 little marauders, bluffing our way into the bay.


ZEPHYR about to dock, and LIBERTY 53 close behind


happy scampers all!

We commandeer the Government Wharf, claiming land as we see, and Chris’ brother strolls down the gangplank with a supply of the Coldest Beer To Be Had, and a slab of the creamiest cold-smoked tuna To Be Seen. We be wharf rats, hiding beneath the gangway from the heat, our feet in water so clear, so cool, a breeze through the oily scented piles… Stoves set up, supper shared, sailing stories and rowing tales told, sun was dipping quickly now…


under the wharf


the Whaletown post office serves all residents of Cortez Island


Cortez Island Public Library, open on Fridays


Library hours: Friday 10:00 to 3:30


evening sail in Whaletown Bay

Anchored off, in the shallows behind the wharf up against the trees, we slept so soundly we must’ve been smiling, all night the milky way above hardly seen through such tightly closed and slightly burnt eyes.


we anchored in the shallows of the bay behind the gov’y dock

Some lessons learned about rowing LUNA:

  1. my nine-foot oars are just long enough to effectively row this boat, and I think another six inches might even be better. Of course this is a problem, the length desired does not fit in the boat’s sole of only 8’3″ long;
  2. I sit on top of the stack of sleeping thwarts, with a boat cushion too, to set me at the correct height for the oarlocks, almost 6 inches higher than the seat tops;
  3. the most important modification yet to do is add a riser for my feet, I’d say your stroke power is halved if you don’t have something to push against;
  4. breakdown oars fit, and are convenient when stored (mine fit inside the seat lockers), but not so when needed;
  5. the transition to rowing is much simpler, faster, thereby safer, if the oars are stowed in their locks, secured to the combing or gunwale;
  6. the risk of problems re-boarding over oars so stowed has yet to be fully evaluated, capsize testing required;
  7. these oars, Sawyer composite two-piece (purchased through Gig Harbor Boatworks), are very light. The shafts are perhaps about 1.5″ diameter, and the blades are an ovoid shape, with a fair amount of surface area, more like a sliding-seat oar but with a small-diameter shaft. So, when you first apply pressure, the shafts bend alarmingly, and it feels like all your effort is going to waste. However, once you get the boat moving, they seem quite responsive, not so bendy, and as time goes by you appreciate their lightness very much. The more I use them, the more I like them!
  8. ultimately (and pointed out by others more experienced than I), a SCAMP may be a better motor-and-sail boat than a sail-and-oar boat, but more testing and time is required (and very much desired!). I will resist the motor for as long as I can.


Day 3 Navionics track
Start Time: 2015-07-19, 10:14 AM
End Time: 2015-07-19, 4:42 PM
Distance: 8.1 NM
Total Time: 4H 55′
Average Speed: 1.8 kts
Max Speed: 5.1 kts

A glorious failure — Discovery Islands, Day 2

Saturday July 18: day 2 of our voyage, a very hot day, a fabulous sail, and 0 miles gained.

Our objective was Cortez Island, about 6 NM due east of Heriot Bay, across the southern end of Sutil Channel. Forecast was 10 to 15 Kts of wind out of the northwest, with an ebbing current (flowing towards the north) until 13:30, when it would turn and flush us southward at 1.5 to 2 Kts. Once crossed we’d head north to Coulter Bay or perhaps even as far as Carrington Bay, if there was enough breeze. If not enough wind to buck the current, we could bear off south to Whaletown, or one of several other havens further down the coast of Cortez. With plenty of time ahead we didn’t really care where we went, just the going was more than good enough.

Setting off was delayed a bit, I had to repair a rip in my prototype boom tent. The recycled tent-fly fabric was so degraded by sun in it’s previous life it split wide open across a stress point. Several feet of gaffers tape applied, and we left the dock at 10:00, on a sunny morning with a gently building breeze.


saying good bye to “the folks” at Heriot Bay


staying out of the way of the Heriot Bay to Whaletown ferry became an ongoing theme

Anticipating the breeze we all put a reef in at the dock, and as we beat out of Heriot Bay the promised pressure appeared, reassuring our decision. We aimed for the Breton Islands to the northeast, planning to go through them, then cross Hoskyn Channel to the southern end of Read Island which would be about halfway to Cortez. As we got into the Bretons we realized that they were blocking the wind, and, after a few tries gave up our attempt to get between them and bore off to round the southern end of the group.


LUNA and LIBERTY in the Breton Islands

Derek had by now shaken out his reef but Keith and I were still carrying ours, and looking across the whitecaps in Hoskyn, we felt comfortable with our sail area. Running along the islets at the southern tip, we cleared the lee and gained speed quickly as a group of hauled-out seals watched us fly by. Yippee! This was it! Dreams come true!

Hardening up to a beam reach once clear of the rocks, our excitement and joy notched up another level, we were rocking!


crossing Hoskyn Channel

Within minutes we were in the middle of the Channel and could see the pressure was easing ahead, so bore off a bit, then a bit more, and soon we were running and the wind was disappearing. Obviously being blocked by Read Island, it seemed we would have to give Viner Point, at the southern tip of Read, a wide berth to stay in some breeze. Derek was about a quarter mile behind Keith and I, and seeing our plight, bore off earlier to round further south of us.

At 12:02, half a mile southwest of Viner Point, the wind died.

Shake out that reef and shift to light air tactics — work crew positioning for boat speed, ease the outhaul a bit more, play the shifts and wind lines, watch for ripples, all good fun. Frustrating, though, not being able to make trees on Viner, in fact, it’s not getting any closer… but there’s a line just over there… a wee bit more… damn! now it’s behind us, oh, here it comes…

At 13:50, after almost two hours of chasing little puffs, Chris says

“I’ve had enough of this shit! Look, we can hardly even see Viner now, we’re so far away. We’re just getting further and further, we’re way out in the middle, and I don’t like this!! I don’t want to go to Comox, and that’s where we’re headed…”

I pull out the Navionics track on my phone, and sure enough, we’re now 1.73 NM south of Viner Point.


Day 2 Navionics track

Although we were always pointing towards Cortez, and it felt like we had boat speed, we’ve actually been dragged south all this time. Did the current turn to flood early? Were we in a massive back eddy? We shouldn’t be here!

“Right, we’re rowing.”

I deployed the oars, and Chris got on the radio. Derek and Lacy were a lot further south than us, a little dot on the horizon! Chris outlined our decision to row, and urged them to do the same. Keith was right behind us. We head northwest, half an hour of pulling took us a mile closer to the Bretons, and, all of a sudden, we were out of the wind shadow of Read. We hoisted sail and beat into that familiar 15 Kts of breeze coming out of Hoskin Channel. Overpowered, we soldiered on, not willing to give any northing away, now that we were moving. Another half an hour and we were very happily well west of the Bretons, and decided to bear away and run down into Drew Harbour for the night. We hit 5.6 kts as we eased off our heading, and we were soon on the beach inside Rebecca Spit. Landed at 15:50. It took Derek about an hour longer, short-tacking up the shore of Quadra, staying out of the current.


LIBERTY beating up the shore


setting up a clothesline anchor in Drew Harbour


dinner on the beach of Rebecca Spit

Dinner on the beach less than a mile from where we had set out in the morning, lots of laughs, decompression, and planning our second attack of the crossing. We slept on a clothesline anchor, Keith on the beach, and Derek and Lacy anchored off after a sunset sail around the bay.


Derek and Lacy head off for an evening sail


kayakers glide past our anchorage

A few more lessons learned:

  1. if you’re going to go to the effort of creating a tent, you might as well buy decent fabric (this is applicable to many other tasks, projects and builds!);
  2. when navigating new waters, don’t entirely rely on tide tables to predict currents, local anomalies such as headlands and bottom contours can create deviations in strength and direction;
  3. sailing directions and cruising guides are written for large vessels, touring in a dinghy with no engine is quite different, requiring information not covered in published guides (we knew this, but it’s worthwhile restating). Kayaking guides could be more valuable, but their concerns are different, too, and I couldn’t find anything covering this area with any detail;
  4. if you’re employing an electronic navigational aid, you should look at it more often when you don’t have much wind;
  5. listen to your crew, and even more important, your significant other. Check your assumptions, ask for other opinions, talk to your sister ships and sailing buddies, that’s what the radio is for.


Read Island at centre, and Cortez Island to the right (almost due east): our goal once again!

Navionics Track Stats:
Start Time: 2015-07-18, 10:00 AM
End Time: 2015-07-18, 3:50 PM
Distance: 9.3 NM
Total Time: 5H 50′
Average Speed: 1.6 kts
Max Speed: 5.6 kts

Liberty 53, Luna, and Zephyr: Scamps cruise the Discovery Islands

Three SCAMPs, eight nights aboard, seventy nautical miles travelled by sail and oar.

The guys first met at Scamp Camp #1, in Port Townsend WA, in the summer of 2012, where they learned how to build their 11’11” SCAMP sailing dinghies, were dubbed the Pirate Team, and dreamed of sailing together in the Salish Sea. Keith finished ZEPHYR in 2013, and we reconvened in PT for her launch, I finished LUNA in 2014 and the team came to Vancouver for her first splash, and Derek completed LIBERTY 53 a week before for our long-planned cruise this summer.

Keith, and Derek with his lovely lady Lacy, trailered their boats from Oregon to Vancouver on Thursday and the five of us, including my (filleting queen) Chris, set off the next morning for an excellent adventure.

Friday July 17 — Day 1 was a long drive from Vancouver to Quadra Island, 2 ferry rides, 3 boat launchings in Heriot Bay, parking and securing our trailers and tow vehicles, dinner for 9 with friends and family, and bedding down on the dinghy dock.

Ground support at our launch and retrieval location was invaluable. My mom and dad (Fred and Liz) came for the launch, joining our convoy for the final stage from Campbell River to Quadra Island. They helped get the boats in the water, arranged tie-up at the Heriot Bay Inn dinghy dock, had dinner with us on the deck, and stayed overnight in the Inn. And, our very dear friends Rob and Heather (Quadra residents) did ground work reconnaissance, scouting boat ramps and parking for the tow vehicles, and booking dinner at the Inn. We all had a fabulous send-off meal, a few laughs and good fun on the deck overlooking our cruising waters.

An exciting day, but somewhat tempered by the anticipation of the voyage ahead.


Derek and Lacy launching LIBERTY 53 in Heriot Bay, Quadra Island


Heriot Bay Inn


red sky at night…


morning on the dinghy dock

Several lessons learned:

  1. convoying is a communications nightmare when members cross international borders and cellular packages restrict usage (I can see the attraction of CB radio for land travel);
  2. if at all possible, ferry bookings should be made months earlier;
  3. ground support in a remote location is a rare treat;
  4. when sleeping on an open boat at a marina you should not tie up under a lamp pole;
  5. and, you should check to see if there’s a rock band playing the evening you decide to stay at the dinghy dock! No worries, with all the excitement and a few cocktails, we all slept like babies. It was a good band.