I feel fortunate to have grown up with the Pacific Ocean right at my doorstep. I have always loved being on the water and whenever an opportunity comes up to go for a cruise, or a paddle, a row , or a swim, I am in!
Sailing, is an activity that didn’t come my way too often, and when it did, it usually involved a lot of stress! There was always too much ducking and moving about and far, far too many ropes to keep track of.
After one harrowing experience off the California Coast, I vowed to never sail again. I had been invited by my sister and her first husband to help sail their newly purchased ‘Westsail 32’ from Dana Point to Newport Harbour. That part went well, but when we decided to take an excursion to Catalina Island that’s where it all went wrong! We were pulling up the anchor to head back to Newport, after a day’s diving for abalone, when we discovered the dingy rope had gotten caught in the prop so we were without power… and we were heading for the rocks! With not a breath of wind that day, our hopes of using sail power to steer clear of the imposing cliffs was not an option. We (the crew of three) stood ready with oars and long poles to push the island away from us, while after many failed attempts to free the rope from the propeller, the frantic owner jumped into the tender and with all his might, rowed that heavy yacht off the rocks! It was pretty amazing.
So now safe from the rocks we found ourselves adrift…for hours, waiting for wind or a tow. We finally figured out how to use the radio, and got ourselves some help. Being towed (at dusk) into Newport harbour was an interesting experience. Dodging the ferries that run back and forth to Balboa Island was a little stressful, not to mention navigating around the many other boats in this very busy waterway.
So you see, anything with a sail, keel, or excessive ropes I have tried to stay away from.
As luck would have it, I met Bruce. I learned one of his passions and desires, was to own a sailboat. He promised me, I would NEVER have to go offshore, so I am now the proud part-owner of a 1974 Catalina 27.
So this is where the ‘inexpensive’ comes in. We got this lovely little boat for a song. It had been well cared for and seemed pretty sea-worthy. The real selling point was the possibility to take over mooreage space in its present location which suited us well. The Sechelt Inlet is a great place to begin boating, scenic and protected at a reasonable rate.
We spent that first summer season just putting around close to home, learning about the boat and learning how to sail. For very little money we spent some wonderful times over-nighting at Storm Bay, a scenic and protected place only an hour or so away. Being kayakers already, we decided to use them to get to shore, and to investigate the coastline and to pick up the occasional oyster for dinner!
When our first boating season came to an end, we decided to sign up for the Canadian Power Squadron Boating course which took 10 weeks to complete and was a real challenge. We learned a lot. I felt like I learned too much, and thought I might do better to just stay on land! The fear of REAL wind in our sails was one more thing to add to my list….a fine sailor I was turning out to be?
Having the winter to regain my courage, and practice my knot tying, I felt renewed to get out there again and take a bite. Our summers goal, was to shoot the rapids. The Skookumchuck Narrows is a short stretch of waterway that takes us out of the Sechelt Inlet where we presently keep our boat, to the outside waters leading to Jervis Inlet, Desolation Sound and the Malaspina Strait. These Rapids are the largest salt water rapids in North America.
Making this trip, was going to be a huge step for us novice sailors. We needed much planning. We would have to put our chart reading and navigating skills to test. Reading tide and currant tables would be very important. We talked about it with other sailors, some saying oh ya…piece of cake, while others warned of EVERYTHING that could go wrong?! So we talked about it some more, pretty much all summer, until it was too late to make the trip. Oh well, we did spend an awesome summer boating regardless. There’s always next year?
One of our other goals for this second season, was to get the bottom of the boat painted. We spent a lot of time researching this area of maintenance, and due to the fact that there is pretty much nowhere to have a fin-keeled sailboat hauled out in the Sechelt inlet, we were planning on doing what they did in the old days. Take your boat in to a sandy shallow beach and wait for the tide to go out. Scrape and paint one side before the tide comes back in, then do the same thing on the other side the next day……That seemed daunting to us. There was also the ‘ways’ at the government dock. (another system of bottom maintenance that requires working within the tide changes. These systems are also not environmentally practical due to the anti-fouling paint being scraped off into the ocean. All the scrapings must be caught in tarps and disposed of properly.
We finally found a boatyard that would haul the boat out for us. We had everything set up, pressure washer, paint etc. We were going to do the work ourselves. Unfortunately the lift they were using was faulty and started to push the side of the hull in! We were quick to act and stopped the process before it was too late. What a disaster. It didn’t end up costing us anything but our loss of nerve. We took the boat back to its dock, and we decided to start at square one again….next year.
Well, next year did arrive, our third year, and we began our boating season with lots of enthusiasm. The boat looked a little tired after a long winter of wild weather beating on her, so we started renewing some of the woodwork. One piece at a time we would remove, take home to work on, then bring back the next time we went sailing. A labour of love really. While Bruce did much of the woodwork, I made some new curtains for the cabin and mended the sail cover.
We decided that this was the year we were going to venture a bit farther in our little boat. We still needed to get the bottom painted, and after searching and searching, we did find a place that would haul our boat out no problem? All we had to do was bring the boat there. Simple. Not! The boatyard was located on the ‘outside’ which meant bringing the boat through the Skookumchuck! We spent most of the boating season putting this adventure off. There was always some excuse? Eventually the day did arrive though, and we packed up our things in preparation of this big trip.
We set off in the afternoon, to make our way to our overnight anchorage, Storm Bay. We would be closer to the Skookumchuck from there for our morning ‘run through the rapids’! We spent a beautiful night there watching the stars and the amazing bioluminescence in the water.
We were smart sailors and diligently put our anchor lights on for the night to warn other ships. Little did we know we were draining our battery that we would need the next day to operate our marine radio and depth sounder?? Miner detail. Upon wakening, and realizing we were without, we decided to not fret about these trivial instruments and head for the rapids as time was of grave importance!
Arrival at Skookum Island which is just at the start of where the currant can be felt, was about 15 to 20 minutes early. We thought it better to be early and wait it out so as not to miss the very short window of time allowing us to pass through the narrows during slack tide. As we inched our way closer we didn’t realize we were being sucked into the narrows as the currant had not yet slowed! We panicked and turned the boat around and gave it all the gas we had to head back to Skookum Island where the current couldn’t drag us. Our power wasn’t enough to take us back, but we did manage to hold steady. After only a few minutes we spotted other boats approaching to pass through the narrows. We let one boat go ahead of us (boaters that obviously knew what they were doing) and we turned our boat around and bit the bullet! We were IN and motoring through without any further incidence. Wow how exciting! Although the tide was slack, there was still the slight pull of the current. The day was perfect for boating, calm and warm and we continued our journey to the mouth of the Sechelt Inlet, then turned left, down Agamemnon channel, which is between Nelson Island and the Northern tip of the Peninsula. We would pass by Earls Cove where the ferry runs to Saltery Bay. At the end of this channel we would reach Irvings Landing where we made our first stop. We pulled up to an empty dock, where the old pub used to be. Not sure if we were allowed, but it was just for a short while. There was so much more boat traffic than we were used to, coming from the calm and serenity of the inlet. Now was our chance to use our ‘schooling’. We would have to watch for channel markers and remember port from starboard??
We set out again, not ever hoisting the sails as there was not a breath of wind all day. We made our way down the coast to Secret Cove, where we had friends that lived on the waterfront. We were able to tie up to their dock for the night, which was such a bonus. No need to find mooreage or anchorage.