Tag Archive: Desolation Sound

Sep 13 2012

Desolation Sound Cruise: Bellingham (southbound)


Mount Baker over Bellingham

Something seemed to be a awry with the water heater circuit breaker on the Escape, and we awoke to cold showers. But since it was slightly warmer now that we were down the San Juans, it wasn’t too much of a hardship. We untied early from Roche Harbor and made our way slowly on a zigzag path through the intricate channels of the San Juan Islands, looking for whales and the homes of friends, headed to Bellingham and the end of our journey. I think we all felt happy to be going home but not too eager to get there; and so we made it a 4- to 5-hour journey out of what should have taken half as long.

We never saw any whales despite several promising detours, but finally Bellingham hove into view. Once the boat was refueled, we pulled into our slip, tied up, shut down the engines, and looked at each other with a certain measure of satisfaction that the entire two week journey of more than 400 miles to Desolation Sound had proceeded without any incident. Even better, we still seemed to like each other – or at least, I still liked them.

And that was that. We packed, cleaned up the boat, looked for lost items, and had a final onboard dinner before crashing in our staterooms to rise at daybreak the next day for the drive to Seattle and our flights home.

Sep 12 2012

Desolation Sound Cruise: Roche Harbor

Progress out of Vancouver was slow because we had to zigzag our course to avoid wet rolling seas on the starboard beam. I plotted a route across the Strait of Georgia to cut through the Gulf Islands at TK passage, which would both be more direct and offer us a chance of seeing whales. The only problem: the passage had a stiff current around the time we expected to arrive, and I knew from reading many of the passage guides for British Columbia that strong currents through mountain channels lead to riptides and whirlpools.



Indeed, we arrived just at maximum current, flowing 4 knots while our boat made 10. Fortunately the current was on our bow, meaning that we would just make way more slowly, rather than on our stern pushing us at high speed through the rocky passage. Still, I was alert for riptides where two different flows of water met in a crosschop, as well as for whirlpools that might cause the boat to veer suddenly off course. But the passage proceeded uneventfully (if slowly), only requiring me to avoid two ferries coming the other way. Just near the exit we did indeed run across a whirlpool, visible by a round smooth area of water several dozen feet across with chop at the edges, and the boat changed course about 10° to 15° – nothing serious enough to cause concern.

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Sep 11 2012

Desolation Sound Cruise: Vancouver (southbound)

The three amigos arose with no planned destination, beyond eventually reaching Roche Harbor to check through US Customs in the next three days. Surfbirdhad mentioned than they were going to remain in nearby waters, but we realized that if we did so as well we would have to rush to finally make it back to Bellingham by Thursday night.



Instead, we decided to go back to Vancouver. We had all had a good time there but really had not seen much of the city. So we set our course and got underway, and after five hours of pleasant cruising, arrived at the port.

Our dockage was at Coal Harbor Marina, right up against the downtown waterfront. After our traditional arrival beer, I checked us in the marina office, and then the three of us went for a circumambulation of the nearby city blocks. Our excuse for a place to go was a nearby Starbuck’s. Once again, we were all very impressed with the modern architecture, cleanliness, and youthful vitality of the city.


Vancouver houseboats

As we returned closer to the waterfront, we were all very struck by the vast amount of water activity in the harbor: not only boats, kayakers, and single and multiman crew hulls, but a seaplane port right in the middle of things, with pontooned planes arriving and taking off every five minutes. It has to be the most vibrant, remarkable city harbor in North America.

It occurred to us that none of us had a clue about where to go for dinner, and almost simultaneously, all three of us thought about calling Sarah Howard of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club to ask for recommendations. Instead we emailed her, Read the rest of this entry »

Sep 10 2012

Desolation Sound Cruise: Princess Louisa Inlet (evening)


Guests on Surfbird

After a late afternoon rest (which included re-watering the tanks, cleaning the galley, showering, etc.), and after a short visit to the guests aboard Surfbirdto reflect on the cruise, the last remaining members of the NYYC fleet boarded a cramped and charming commercial fishing boat for a short trip across to the dock of the Restaurant at Painted Boat. During the ride, Glenn attempted to entertain the ladies with his famous pole-dancing video of Saturday night; they seemed dubious.


Jim Barker, Margaret Zoehrer, and Sheryl Kelly viewing the famous pole dancing video

We had reserved the entire restaurant, and filled 4 or 5 tables on the second floor. Being three amigos, one of was bound to be an odd man out, and I chose to join a foursome made up of Jim and Kay Barker and Bill and Alice Burnham, who had been sailing on a 52-foot Kadey Krogen.


Painted Boat Restaurant

We spent the evening talking racing and cruising and the travails of having a three man all-male crew. After oysters and salmon, John McColloch stood and spoke wonderfully about the joy of the cruise, his invaluable wife Brookie, and his happiness that everyone seemed to have truly enjoyed the unusual three-club cruising structure.

And with that, and some dessert and coffee, the Desolation Sound Cruise officially came to an end. We returned on our wonderful little fishing boat to our dock, comparing travel itineraries for the trip home; and scattered to our boats, ready to return.

Sep 10 2012

Desolation Sound Cruise: Princess Louisa Inlet (day)

After a slightly uncomfortable night on a bed a bit wetter than I had thought (thanks to the good seamanship exhibited by all three of our crew in forgetting to shut the portholes on the drenching southbound cruise yesterday), I rose early this morning and dressed quickly for our 9am boat trip up to Princess Louisa Inlet. We almost missed it: an earlier one had tied up next to us, so we expected ours to do the same. But it was at the other end of the dock. Brookie McColloch rousted us from our salon just in time.

The ride up to the Inlet was increasingly dramatic, with the boat operator slowing the boat to point to rock petroglyphs and waterfalls, and with glacially rounded mountains reflecting huge areas of sunlit rain-wetted summits, like bald men caught without umbrellas. Each turn up the route, past abandoned Indian villages or logging ports, became narrower and the crags and wooded slopes on either side more steep. On the last turn the clouds had lowered right to the water, and mist of rain enveloped the boat. John McColloch worried that the mist might clip the views of the range around Princess Louisa, but as we approached the narrow Inlet entrance, guarded by a wood structure with Indian totems, it began to clear.

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Sep 09 2012

Desolation Sound Cruise: Garden Bay (southbound)


mascot of the Escape

All of us were exhausted by Saturday night’s celebrations, and we slept in unusually late – 8am. When we awoke, we discovered that some kind soul had left us a mascot for our vessel, knowing our sad reputation as the three amigos aboard the only stag boat of the fleet.

Unfortunately, we knew that the day’s weather report was for strong winds and waves against us on our anticipated route, so the earlier the start, the better. In the end we managed to hoist aboard the dinghy and get underway just after 9am.

The predictions were correct. Almost as soon as we left the shelter of Cortes Harbor, the seas built and broke over our nose. No choice of speed alleviated the spray or the pitching of the boat. Tom stayed his course using autopilot and I tracked the waypoints and course changes.

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Sep 08 2012

Desolation Sound Cruise: Cortes Harbour

We slept late on Saturday morning: our destination was only a few miles away, south on Cortes Island at the Seattle Yacht Club’s northernmost outpost in Cortes Harbor. After malingering aboard, Glenn and I set out for the oyster beds to replenish our cache of shellfish. Slippery rocks and shallow waters made it difficult but we collected another bucketful of critters.

On our way back, we noticed that Bob Eichler’s dinghy was away from his boat, and Tom hailed us as we approached that Bob had radio’d of finding another, even more impressive bed nearby. We didn’t even unload our haul – we motored off immediately in the general direction of the outer cove where we expected to find Bob.

Indeed we did, and with a burst of throttle caught up to him. “Throw those away,” he insisted. “There’s a beach over here that is shellfish heaven.”

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Sep 07 2012

Desolation Sound Cruise: Squirrel Cove

Friday was a “day on your own” for the fleet, and vessels departed to various points of the compass. We decided to head southwards to a midsize cove on West Redonda Island known as Teakerne Arm, where we arranged to rendezvous with Bob Eichler, a recent member of NYYC that Glenn has sponsored and I had supported. Although Bob was part of the cruise, he had chartered his sailboat somewhat late, and this would be the first opportunity to meet with him. As we left the dock, we learned that John Berg of Seattle Yacht Club was also planning to rendezvous there.

The first trick was finding Teakerne. The second was learning how to pronounce it. Throughout the cruise we called it Tikerniki, Teakarny, and various other malapropisms. By midway in our passage we had solved both those problems. On the other hand, we noticed as we began to approach it that it seemed to be draped in fog.

Just as we began our turn to the entrance the radio came alive with conversation between two other boats in the fleet: Teakerne was closed and we must all turn about at once, because what appeared as fog was in fact smoke. A forest fire was burning above the cove in the very spot we had intended to visit ashore, and the smoke was spreading along the island into every cove. We could see helicopters in the sky above the mountains, apparently ferrying water buckets in a sort of aerial bucket brigade.

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Sep 06 2012

Desolation Sound Cruise: Dent Island


early morning, Grace Harbor

We decided to rise early (0630) to get a quick start northward to Dent Island. Although the journey would only be 2.5 hours, we needed to pass through a channel near the end called Yuculta Rapids – and we had been warned that rapids, they were. Several adjacent channels funneled their ingoing and outgoing tides through Yuculta, and currents could reach 11 knots, far faster than any sailboat and many powerboats could resist. Worse, cross eddies and whirlpools could make steering impossible, and cause smaller boats to broach and even sink. Only two times a day were safe in the channel, at slack current when the tide changed from ebb to flood or vice versa; our opportunities were mid-morning or mid-afternoon, and we chose morning so Tom and I might have time to fish.

So we weighed anchor from Grace Harbor, knocked a couple of starfish off the chain, and set off. It was Yet Another Beautiful Day in Desolation Sound, and we anticipated a delightful passage.

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Sep 05 2012

Desolation Sound Cruise: Grace Harbor

On Wednesday we rose late, and decided to relocate from Prideaux Haven to a cove called Grace Harbor, a few miles back towards the entrance to Desolation, where Kristal Dockery had mentioned that Surfbird would re-anchor. But when we arrived at midday, after a short hour’s cruise, they weren’t to be seen. We couldn’t raise them on the radio using the fleet’s channel of 72, so we simply dropped anchor in 50 feet of water and settled in.

Only a handful of other boats were in the cove, and after Glenn and Tom dropped the crab trap in the cove’s entrance channel into deeper water, Glenn visited the lone vessel flying a Seattle Yacht Club burgee and invited them for cocktails at 1800, before sundown. We spent the afternoon lounging and cleaning, and enjoying the lay day. Sometime late in the day, from the hidden entrance to the cove, we spied the dinghy from Surfbird with Joe and Kristal and their guests, simply exploring. Apparently they had anchored in the hidden part of the cove behind us after we had arrived, not far from our crab trap

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Sep 04 2012

Desolation Sound Cruise: Desolation Sound and Prideaux Haven

On Tuesday we finally arrived in Desolation Sound, after about 5 hours cruising northwest from Pender Harbor. While Glenn usually handles the boat in close quarters at the marinas, I skippered for most of the passages, which involved little more than an occasional change of direction at waypoints on the route. I was also the navigator so I plotted the route. Much trust on the part of my crew mates! It was an easy passage overall, but you needed to keep your eye out for logs and patches of eel grass, which would clog the engine intakes.

Making the turn into Desolation around Sarah Point was quite spectacular. The mountain ranges, which up until then were tall but rounded and tree-covered, were suddenly replaced with a range far more vertical and bare. There was not a lot of snow to be seen, but it was clear that in winter these are dramatic ranges in white.

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Sep 03 2012

Desolation Sound Cruise: Garden Bay (northbound)


Entering the cove at Garden Bay

We rose at 0700 to back out of our metal-covered housing and exit Vancouver Harbor. This time, however, we made a turn to the north: our destination was 50 miles and 5 hours away in Garden Bay at Pender Harbor and the docks of the RVYC outstation.

The mountains on either side of the Strait became taller and more covered with unbroken stands of evergreens, but remained rounded and worn, no doubt from eras of glaciation. It turned out that our docks were actually at the Garden Bay Marina, adjacent to the RVYC slips, and our entrance required a stern-first negotiation of several vessels on either side of narrow channel between two docks. It proved too tight for Glenn’s comfort, and we abandoned the initial attempt and chose instead to tie up on the outside of another dock.

Our first “greenbox”, as the members call a BYOB sunset rendezvous, was via a trail from Garden Bay to the RVYC clubhouse – a slightly tricky maneuver with hands full of bottles of liquor and plates of cheese and crackers. But it was well worth it. Far more casual than the RVYC dinner, instead this evening everyone simply enjoyed each other’s hors d’oeuvres and company.

After a bit of socializing, John and Brookie McColloch interrupted the evening to call together an impromptu choir to sing a cruise song, which charmed the crowd. Not long after, each of the participating club’s liaisons spoke about cruise conditions, protocol, etc. in an informal skipper’s meeting. With that, we collected our cocktail paraphernalia and returned to our boats.


Sep 02 2012

Desolation Sound Cruise: Vancouver (northbound)


Salt Spring sunset

Cast off a 0930 to make the transit of Porlier Passage, which needed to be timed to match slack tide because of strong currents. As we approached we spied several vessels of our fleet making the same transit. Once through without incident, we settled in for a long two hour crossing of the Strait of Georgia, with our prow pointed towards a headland behind which lay the city of Vancouver. The Strait is a major commercial waterway, so we kept our eyes on several tankers headed northbound to the same destination.

Vancouver’s skyline rises from behind a large bay, on other side of a high-span bridge, and our particular marina (the docks of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club at Coal Harbor) lay just shy of the city in a small inlet. The docks were a haphazard collection of slips, metal sheds, and wharfs, seemingly assembled organically over the years without a recognizable plan; so after I turned the helm over to Glenn for close-in work (his name is, after all, on the charter agreement), we poked around trying to find the slip number we had been given. It took some time to realize it was in one of the covered sheds, with a sign so minuscule it couldn’t be seen until you were nearly on top of it. Unfortunately it also put us in a crosswind and cross current to enter, so it took a bit of helmsmanship and some shouting to get inside. Once there, in a ramshackle building of plastic-covered planks and corrugated metal siding, we hunted for fresh water spigots and hosed off the boat.

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Sep 01 2012

Desolation Sound Cruise: Salt Spring Harbor

captain-Glenn On Saturday morning we ate quickly, and Glenn returned the rental car. I made a final run to the grocery for a pair of jeans – more appropriate wear for the cool days to come. And with that, we were off.

We rounded Portage Island, cruised north in Hale Passage and turned west at the north point of Lummi Island to cross the main shipping channel into the San Juan Islands. Every shallow bank was strewn with networks of crab pot buoys and rock markers so we plotted carefully and kept our speed low.


Along the lower BC coast


Canadian customs

Once across we could thread between Sucia and Matia islands, beautiful refuge harbors filled with sailboats, and kept westward to S. Pender Island and the Canadian customs office at Poet’s Cove. The ordeal of checking through Canadian customs required a 5 minute phone call with a lovely Canadian customs girl, and poof, we were off again. Two hours later we arrived at the summer island resort of Ganges Harbor, and our berth at Salt Spring Marina (a tricky dockage requiring avoiding rocks and spinning the boat into our slip).

Comm. Elwell and others were already in port, and after a refresher drink at the marina restaurant, Glenn made the obligatory cocktail visits. Tom and I relaxed for a bit, then became concerned that Glenn was being held hostage so we came to rescue him, which required us to accept vodkas and introductions all around. Finally we proceeded ashore for dinner at what must be a Relais and Chateaux restaurant, given the personalized menu and excellent meal of perch and dessert berries.

Aug 31 2012

Desolation Sound Cruise: Bellingham


the cruise flag

Today was the day to begin the NYYC Desolation Sound cruise. Rose at dawn to catch the Newark-Seattle flight, where I connected with Glenn Fuller and Tom Carroll at baggage claim and loaded up a rental car for the 2 hour drive to Bellingham.

San Juan Yachting had arranged for us to charter a 52′ Nordic motoryacht named Escape, and Tom had arranged for a local girl to purchase our provisions. At the harbor Glenn and I sat through the long but amusing charter captain’s orientation while Tom stowed the provisions; and after a meeting with the yacht owners and a final run to Fred Meyer grocery for the required alcohol complement, we ate onshore, headed back go the boat, and drew cards for our cabin assignments.

To Tom’s chagrin Glenn drew for the bunk beds while Tom won the master. With that we retired and dreamt of mountains and fjords.