Strait of Georgia – 2011 South BC Coast Trip

Strait of Georgia – 2011 South BC Coast Trip

October 7th, 2011  |  by Marilyn  |  Published in Ship's Log

The Strait of Georgia is about 140 long (stretching NW to SE) and about 20 miles wide.  Unlike in the island groups, there are not many convenient anchorages available, so you must travel some distance between overnight stops. If the wind kicks up there are big waves and swells, so this is an area where it’s great to be in a sailboat rather than a motorboat. We enjoyed 4 excellent days of sailing when there was some frontal systems passing, but sadly we had about the same number of days motoring in dead calm during the hot settled weather.

Since we went through the Gulf Islands before we entered the Strait of Georgia, we only travelled the northern 70 miles of its length twice, but crossed it three times. (The fourth “crossing” was via winding protected channels in the Desolation Sound area.)

We did our first crossing from Silva Bay, Gabriola Island towards Sechelt in 15-18 knot apparent NW winds. We set off at 7AM because the UW wind model forecasts said the wind would be best in the morning. (If you sail in the region covered by these wind models, they are fantastic aids to knowing when and where to sail – check them out!) As predicted, there was a NW 15 knot wind to greet us that early morning as we worked our way between the islands outside Silva Bay into the strait. It was rather rough at the passage due to the waves bouncing off the land. We had a bit of trouble getting the sails up do the big waves and wind, and we learned the lesson that we should do much more sail prep while at harbor before getting underway. While I sat white knuckled at the helm trying to keep the bow pointed straight into the waves, Van eventually got all the problems resolved so he could set the sails, and we set off close hauled towards Sechelt. Sailing in this wind was great fun after days of light wind. After we crossed the Strait and nearly reached Sechelt in one tack, we then had to tack back and forth to make our way north past Merry Island  to reach Secret Cove on the Sunshine Coast (as the mainland BC coast is called in that area between Vancouver and Desolation Sound). We were underway about 8 hours.

On our travels northwards, we went went up Jervis Inlet to Hotham Sound, but no further. We couldn’t face the idea of motoring all the way to Princess Louisa inlet, especially in late August when the waterfalls would not be impressive. Hotham sound was lovely, surrounded by towering steep mountains. And that’s where we encountered the problems with anchoring in the glacial carved waterways. The water is very deep right up to the cliff-like shores – maybe 100 feet – so you cannot drop an anchor. It took us quite a while to find a spot where we could drop in 60 feet, then stern tie to shore allowing a reasonable scope on the anchor chain. Very tricky anchoring.

In the next few days, we had to motor most the way north to Desolation Sound. Yuck!!! Maybe we should have stuck to the Vancouver Island side of the Strait, because I think there is more wind over on there in the summer. But the problem with the Vancouver Island side is that there are very few anchorages. This same problem applies on the Sunshine coast, but it’s not quite as bad.

From Cortez island, we thankfully had great wind for the crossing back towards Vancouver Island, rounding Cape Mudge near Campbell River and sailing up Discovery Passage towards Seymour Narrows. We stopped at April Point Cove. That run from Cape Mudge to April Point was FAST despite having to tack into the NW wind.  The current was with us, so we reached 10 knots speed over ground as 4-5 knots of current swept us along. It was definitely a “saltwater river” at that point. Timing our tacks so we could exit from that “river” into April Cove was a bit tricky – I certainly didn’t want to get swept past it! We hit the cove entrance almost spot on and I only had to motor against the current a few minutes. Whew! No way did I want to get flushed through Seymour Narrows during a strong ebb tide.  (That wouldn’t have happened, even if the engine failed because there was plenty of wind to allow us  to sail into a back eddy to escape the current. But it sounds dramatic, eh?)

On our return journey about a month later, we were able to sail from Desolation Sound towards Westview. There was great 15-25 knot SE wind, so we sailed close hauled and tacked our way south. The water was pretty rough because the day before the Strait had 50 knot winds and 8’ waves. Despite that, we hit a speed record for our boat of 7.62 knots. Due to the waves, we took on lots of spray over the bow. Because there was wind gusts, we eventually reefed the main and jib, which slowed us down but it made handling the boat much easier.

When we did the final crossing from Smuggler’s Cove on the Sunshine coast to Gabriola Pass in the Gulf Islands, it was another windy day – this time 15-25 knot NW winds and 5-6’ waves resulting from a passing frontal system. This was the roughest water we’ve been in for an extended time period. We were on a far reach on a starboard tack, so the waves were coming at us from the aft quarter. That made steering pretty rough as we surfed over the waves. After some of those wave crests passed under us and we were riding in the trough, we could see the wave crest higher than our bow! Van steered almost the whole way because I wasn’t strong enough to manage it. We again reached 7+ knots speed through the water. With the current and waves pushing us along, our speed over ground at times exceeded 10 knots. There was lots of spray, and one wave made it’s way over the side and washed into the cockpit! Because we had the cockpit canvas secured down, we didn’t take on more than a few quarts of water, but what a surprise how the water flushed in the lazy jib sheet and washed across the cockpit floor. All told, that quick 3.5 hour journey across the strait was fun and exciting, as long as I didn’t dwell on the fact that our standing rigging is about 15 years old… To watch a minute of video showing the waves bouncing us about, click here.

So my assessment is that when the wind kicks up, the Strait of Georgia is definitely a place for a solid sailboat like our Nic 38. It was fun to get in some distance sailing in some more challenging conditions. Someday we hope to go offshore, so this is just the sort of practice we need.

Next area: Johnstone Strait

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