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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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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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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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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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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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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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.


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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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.

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.


Curiousity leaves Morse code in its tracks

Curiosity talks to itself as it drives around the surface of Mars by leaving Morse code for “JPL” imprinted in its tracks to help refine its navigation.

 NASA – Rover Leaves Tracks in Morse Code

NASA’s view of the transit of Venus

NASA has compiled a series of solar videos into a terrific short movie of the transit of Venus on June 5…


Strong passwords that aren’t passwords

Creating usable passwords that resist cracking and yet are memorable is becoming an increasing burden, given how many sites, devices, and messaging systems we all now use. The trick is not to use a password, but a passphrase, and to encode it with symbols, not merely numbers and letters. It’s longer to type but by that very nature far harder to break. Consumer Reports has a short article on this very point, with some interesting tips.

How to create a strong password (and remember it).

Spirals found on Mars: fire versus ice

Geologists disagree whether the odd spiral shapes in recent photos from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are caused by lava flows or by evaporating ice.

Huge Spirals Found on Mars—Evidence of New Lava Type?

via Huge Spirals Found on Mars—Evidence of New Lava Type?

Arduino: control your world

I’ve been waiting for device control as the next big wave of home computing: tie the brains of the ubiquitous computer to the electrical and electronic tools that surround us, such as HVAC systems, telephone systems, lighting, etc. But to my surprise there’s been little of this to emerge, other than limited systems like X10.

But now there’s an open source effort to provide cheap generic microcontrollers that can be easily programmed in a kind of homebrew fashion, coming out of Italy of all places.

Arduino is a tool for making computers that can sense and control more of the physical world than your desktop computer. It’s an open-source physical computing platform based on a simple microcontroller board, and a development environment for writing software for the board.


via Arduino – Introduction.

Quantum levitation

Hmmm! Rather “cool” video of quantum locking of superconducting magnets. IOW, magnets that float and move in a locked position relative to other magnets.

via Quantum Levitation 

Most store honey…isn’t pure honey

Food Safety News performed a series of lab tests at Texas A&M University to learn if the labeling on honey sold in major stores was reliable. Why is this important? Because “ultra filtered” honey, which sounds more pure, actually isn’t:

Ultra filtering is a high-tech procedure where honey is heated, sometimes watered down and then forced at high pressure through extremely small filters to remove pollen, which is the only foolproof sign identifying the source of the honey. It is a spin-off of a technique refined by the Chinese, who have illegally dumped tons of their honey – some containing illegal antibiotics – on the U.S. market for years.

Hiding the pollen in honey is a technique to prevent tracking of its source of production, and thus to disguise its impurity, not its purity.

What were the results? Not good:

  • 76 percent of samples bought at groceries had all the pollen removed. These were stores like TOP Food, Safeway, Giant Eagle, QFC, Kroger, Metro Market, Harris Teeter, A&P, Stop & Shop and King Soopers.
  • 100 percent of the honey sampled from drugstores like Walgreens, Rite-Aid and CVS Pharmacy had no pollen.
  • 77 percent of the honey sampled from big box stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Target and H-E-B had the pollen filtered out.
  • 100 percent of the honey packaged in the small individual service portions from Smucker, McDonald’s and KFC had the pollen removed.

The best defense appears to be to purchase honey labeled as “organic”, which seems to usually come from Brazil.

Much more detailed information, including brand names, is here.

Charleston’s tiniest house

The tiniest house in Charleston, SC, at Reid and America. Known as the “House of the Future” (eek), it was designed by David Hammons as an art entry for the 1991 Spoleto Festival. It’s maintained by the contractor to this day. Keep your elbows in.

via charleston sc – Google Maps.

Worrisome charts on the Spanish economy

Even though the debt/GDP ratio is middle of the road for the Eurozone (less even than Germany’s), the unemployment stats and other social indicators are alarming.

[warning]Chart On The Spanish Economy - Business Insider[/warning]

via Chart On The Spanish Economy 

Alcohol sharpens the mind

Eureka! Drink up.

The drinking group solved nearly 40 per cent more problems than the others, and took an average of 12 seconds compared to the 15.5 seconds needed by sober subjects.

via Alcohol sharpens the mind, research finds