Make ready for sea! – North to Alaska

The day before leaving, Vinni and I say the magic words to each:

“Make ready for sea”.

Make ready for sea.  Taste those words.  They are magic, bringing up visions of empty oceans, faraway anchorages, adventures beyond description and life as a cruising vagabond.  Make ready for sea.  Any cruiser will tell you that they send a chill up your spine and plaster an ear-to-ear smile on your face.

Make ready for sea.  We jumped to it with a vigor we haven’t shown for a long time.  A couple of hours later, Capri was ready to sail and we could just sit and smile at each other.

We planned to leave Port Angeles early in the morning, but then we looked at the tidal currents in Oak Bay (Victoria). Friends recommended going to Oak Bay because it is a nice marina with first class facilities.  The bus stops right at the gate and runs straight into Victoria center.

Ok, we’ll go to Oak Bay.  We are, however, in that part of the world where tidal currents are a force to be reckoned with.  In some areas, a force to be hugely reckoned with.  Oak Bay is one of them and if we wanted to sail in without major problems, we needed to arrive at around 2 p.m.  Port Angeles – Oak Bay is about a 4 hour sail so no need to get up before the roosters starting crowing – we could enjoy morning coffee and a good breakfast, leaving at about 9:30.

Capri is SO ready to sail – just take in the electricity, water hose and lines

We hoped for sunshine our first day on the water in almost 18 months, but our hopes were dashed and dashed emphatically.  Totally overcast, but fortunately no rain.  We both had found our heavy winter clothes in the back of the closet (long underwear, woolen cap, sweater and gloves for me.  Vinni the same although she wore a pair of tights instead of long underwear).  We needed all of it – it was colder than the proverbial hell out there (come to think of it – most places are colder than hell – why that expression?).

Get used to it Vinni – it will be much colder further north

Strange to be on the water again.  We’ve forgotten almost everything about how our instruments work – that came back quickly.  We needed to brush up on our Collision Regulations – one tends to forget what one doesn’t use.  There was no wind so we crossed the straits on the iron jenny (engine).  The approach to Oak Bay is a bit of a challenge – there are many small rock islands, reefs and other underwater obstructions.  The channel in twists and turns like a strand of overcooked spaghetti.

We did manage to sail in without problems and started looking for our assigned slip – F26.

The Canadian courtesy flag now graces Capri

Well – what do our eyes behold?  There, on the harbor’s longest pier lies Minstrel Boy, Jeremy and Svetlana’s boat.  We spent many enjoyable hours with them in the Marquesas and knew they live over here in Victoria.  We’ve tried to contact them, but the email they used while sailing has been shut down.  Since the boat is here, the marina can surely contact them and say we are here.

We dock without mishap and are understandably proud of ourselves for making a good passage and a smart docking (yes, I know, we’re old hands at this – but you lose what you don’t use).  We were just celebrating with a drink when my phone rang and Jeremy was saying “Aloha!” on the other end.  They were just wild about us arriving and we agreed that they would meet us the next day and be our tour guides around Victoria.

This will be our route up the coast of Vancouver Island – note Oak Bay all the way in the lower right hand corner

Victoria

Victoria is known as the most beautiful city in western Canada.  It certainly is – although its charm was lessened considerably by the cold, cloudy and blustery weather we had while there.  We spent some time wandering around downtown, then Jeremy and Svetlana picked us up and played tour guides.

Victoria has a number of Victorian houses that grace the neighborhoods.  The inner harbor is impressive and the Parliament building towers over it.  A tourist brochure notes that the building radiates weighty deliberations, serious decisions and somber thoughts.

The building that is – not the people that work there.

The building IS impressive

Ah well – you have an opinion of politicians and the opinions here apparently don’t differ much from our opinions of politicians in Denmark.

A couple of days later, we began our odyssey northward.  First night was in Sidney, although it was just for an overnight.  We tried walking into town, but after walking 5 kilometers, we turned around – after all, we had to walk 5 kilometers back again.  We trekked, not because there was anything really interesting in Sidney, but because, as Vinni always says, “We (read: me) can use the exercise”. 

Our freezer has decided to stop working (it, of course, is filled with meat and other goodies) – this a bit of a catastrophe.  It runs perfectly well on shorepower, but not on 12 V DC.  It really is a huge problem.  We do have an inverter, but our inverter is European, meaning it changes 12V Dc to 220V AC.  The shorepower the freezer likes is 110V AC.  When we are in a marina, we can plug into 110V AC, but we need 12V Dc for when we anchor.  I spent several hours tearing it apart but was unable to find the problem.

We’ve ordered a new one, delivered in Ladysmith Marina, so we will spend a few days there waiting for delivery.

Ladysmith

The sail to Ladysmith is utterly fantastic.  This is an archipelago chock full of small (and large) islands, reefs and rocks.  We slalom between them in the channels, all the while keeping an eye on traffic.  Despite these channels being very narrow, there are still large ocean going freighters sailing here.  Mostly they are picking up wood, either logs or finished timber.  The logging industry is a major industry up here.  Vinni, our navigator, has studied the tidal currents so we sneak through Samsun Channel at slack water.  An added bonus, there is no wind making this passage a simple one.  It can be a hell though.  Katabatic winds fall off the heights around us and if you timed your passage wrong the currents can six knots or even more, creating impossible maelstroms.

About us, we can see snow on the hills.  It is cold and we are heavily clothed.  Ladysmith shows up between the hills and we look forward to getting into the harbor.

What the ????  It looks like a floating barrier across the channel up ahead.  We take some speed off Capri, get closer and yes indeed, it is a floating log barrier.  There is a narrow hole in it at one side we can use, but this barrier is not noted on any of our charts, nor are there any buoys, lights or other markings making it visible.  We are more than happy we are coming here at dusk or in a light fog – there is no way we would have seen it.  Capri can probably withstand hitting it, but undoubtedly, there would be some damage.

Hmmm – Welcome to sailing in Canada/Alaska – it will only get more difficult from hereon in.

On the other hand, we’ve seen dolphins, seals and sea otters on the trip so far and we’re looking forward to all the wildlife we will see the next few months.

Vinni docks us in our assigned slip – but not without issues.  Just like me, she hasn’t docked a boat in a loooooong time, so everything has to be relearned.  It quickly comes back to you, but the lessons can be hard.  Unfortunately, she misjudged the current and had to back out and make another run at it.  Not quite a harbor show, but it certainly got her adrenalin up and running.  The tension cost a cold G&T before dinner.

Isn’t it wonderful to be able to find a good excuse to have a cold G&T?

Ladysmith is an interesting little town.  “The town time forgot” is how they bill themselves.  The town was founded in 1898 as a coal mining town.  Virtually the entire town arrived on the train and was just assembled in a few weeks.  Since there was also a copper mine nearby, the town thrived.  Both the coal and the copper petered out, but the logging industry survived and thrived.  There are two sawmills here in town and the logs arrived both on trucks and by water.  Small tugs tow enormous rafts of logs across the bay.

One of the town’s claims to fame is the local baker, famous “world-wide” for his cinnamon buns.  Since he advertised them as a “cinnamon Danish”, we had to taste test them.  They were perfectly fine, although the bakers in Denmark need not fear the competition.  Ladysmith is fine town to walk through – although the walk doesn’t take long.  There is a small supermarket in the center and despite its small size; it carries an astounding assortment of goods.

Ladysmith is a cute little town, but so small that if you blink as you walk through – you’ll miss it.
All around the town there are pieces of equipment from the town’s mining past – here a “Mule”

Our new freezer should arrive today and we have spent the past couple of day trying to find someone who would like our old one as a gift.  The 12V DC doesn’t work, but the 110V AC does.  No one is interested.  I’m unhappy to toss a perfectly good freezer in the dumpster, but that is what will happen when our new one arrives.  A new one of the same type we’re throwing out costs almost $1000.

The weather

2022 is a Lã Nina year (the opposite of an El Nino year), which means spring will be a long time coming.  The high-pressure area that usually has established itself out in the Pacific by this time is delayed in a Lã Nina year.  Our weather forecasts changed every day – sometimes several times a day.  Right now, the forecast says we will have lots of rain the next week or so.  A couple of days ago, it said we would have sunshine the next week or so.

It is a seaman’s fate to take things as they come.

We probably won’t see warmer weather for a couple of weeks (end of May).  We’re hoping that our summer in Alaska will be sunny.  We know a couple who sailed Alaska last year and it was a wet and rainy experience.

Of course – this is Vinni and Carsten sailing – so we know what the weather will be like (sigh).

Vinni is studying our charts, tides and tidal currents on the other side of the salon table from me.  I hear many sighs and heavy breathing.  I don’t need to ask why.  We will be transiting many narrow passes and in some of them, the currents can run 16 knots or more.  We need to hit them at slack water.  Easier said than done.  In some of the passes, slack water only lasts 15 minutes or so and the passage can take an hour.

The first one we will meet is Dodd Narrows.  Slack water is less than one hour, so you sail up to the entrance and wait with everyone else going through.  A bunch of boats will also be waiting on the other end of the Narrows.  As soon as it is feasible, the northbound boats start through the pass.  High speed is the word for the day.  The northbound boats have be through fast enough for the southbound boats to make their passage.

We will undoubtedly make it and it will be good practice for the other (more dangerous) passages, but I’m sure we will have our hearts in our throats when we turn into the pass.

We took in our lines at Ladysmith and headed north.  The major challenge we will face today is, as noted, Dodd Narrows and we need to hit it at slack water.  Our Pilot Book notes that boats will lie and circle on both sides of the Narrows, waiting for slack water.  The rule is that northbound boats (us) go through first, then the southbound boats.

The sea is literally boiling around us – and this is at slack water!

There aren’t many boats going through today, only four of us sail northward and since we arrive in a staggered line, a southbound fishing boat decides to just come through.  That isn’t a problem today, since there are so few of us, although I can imagine later in the summer when there are plenty of boats, an errant fishing boat would cause serious consternation.  There is room for two boats to come through the pass simultaneously, but not without causing concern.

Well out the northern end of the Narrows, Nanaimo lies just to port.  We’ve called ahead and reserved a slip so we can just sail right in.

Nanaimo is the largest city on the northern half of Vancouver Island.  For those that don’t know, Vancouver Island is something like 300 miles long.  This is the reason it is taking us many days to sail from the southern end to the northern.

But first, a little about Nanaimo.  The town was founded and grew due to the coal deposits here.  There are still many old, abandoned mines in the vicinity.  Several of the mines have tunnels that lead many kilometers out under the sound.  Our slip in the marina lies just alongside Trollers Fish & Chips – voted best fish and chips in the city the past 12 years in a row.  Ok – If they are that good, we’ll just have to try them.  They ARE good, actually very good so perhaps the sign did not lie.

We spent a morning wandering around the city, visiting the local museum.  There were some excellent exhibitions, but one thing we have not seen here yet is a good exhibition on the First Nations (Indians if you will), their culture and lives before Europeans showed up.  Vancouver Island had a large (and still has) First Nations population, but we’ve not seen much about it.  We’re hoping to learn more, further up the coast.

There is a Walmart here in Nanaimo (or rather at the outskirts of the city).  My docksider shoes decided to give up the ghost so I need to buy a new pair.  There are no shoe stores in the center of town, so one morning I took the bus.  I certainly got the grand tour of Nanaimo – the bus twisted and turned through every single neighborhood in the city.  Good thing I’m retired and a cruiser – we have lots of time.  The town boasts a “Historic Center”, but it wasn’t much.  Nanaimo does have a 4 km long promenade along the harbor front that was pleasant to walk – even in the light rain.

One of Nanaimo’s claims to fame is the annual Bathtub race – people mount an outboard engine on a bathtub and then they race around the harbor
Of course, some people just HAVE to win – here is a bathtub mounted on a surfboard type of speedy boat

Our new freezer needed to be installed and since I am not a complete fool, I plugged it in and made sure it worked before making the hardwire installation.  It started right up and began freezing.  OK – I cut off the cigarette lighter plug, soldered up the wiring to our main DC system, called Vinni and said

TA-DAA! While switching it on.

UUUHHH – TA-DAAAA!!!!!

Hmm – nothing.  Nada.  Vinni looked at me mysteriously and muttered something about “amateur electricians”, and went back to reading her book.

Totally stressed out, I started measuring the entire system from one end to the other.  Lots of Amperage.  So I reconnected the cigarette lighter plug, plugged it in and damned thing started right up.  To make a very long story short, after lots of agony, I found out that there was some corrosion on a connection in the electrical cabinet, allowing plenty of amps to flow, but no current.  I cleaned up all the contacts, reassembled it and BOOM – it started right up.

Unfortunately, our old freezer also started right up.  Nothing wrong with it once the contacts were cleaned.  Now we had two freezers, one old and one new.  Svetlana and Jeremy to the rescue.  They drove up from Victoria, picked up the new freezer, which they will sell in their Yacht Club.

Ok – I AM an amateur.

Next morning we left bright and early – the weather forecast was for sunshine with a little bit of wind in the afternoon, so we were off to Comox. 

The first many hours were perfect.

Midday the hammer hit.  The wind increased.  And increased.  And increased.  Suddenly we were sailing in a heavy gale (in reality a storm).  Our aerometer was telling us we had over 44 knots (55mph) gusting and 30-35 knots (45mph) continuous.  On top of all that, it was cold as all get out.  The weather was so hard that we turned back, only to find a half hour after we turned that the gale had passed, the sun came out and we could continue to Comox.  In Comox a slip for Capri and hot showers for the crew were waiting.

While we were at sea, our toilet clogged.  Now everyone knows that toilets only clog while at sea, so our first priority when we landed was unclogging the toilet.  The problem was that the big hose leading from the toilet to the holding tank was clogged – calcification as it turned out.

Some of our faithful readers will recall, with merriment I’m sure, that this also happened to us in Polynesia.  The ones with good memories will also recall that cleaning this is a dirty nauseous task.  I will not go in to the details again – if any of you need to know just how nauseous it is- you can read about it in the blog from Polynesia.

Covered in sh*t from head to toe (literally) after cleaning, I went up to take a VERY long shower.  A happy surprise, the showers here are immaculate and there is hot water galore.  After many minutes under the shower, I could return to Capri.  Vinni was still cleaning up in the head, I relived her and finished while she went up and showered.

Hard work and we went to bed early.

Comox is a quaint little burg with a downtown that has everything; supermarket, bank, restaurants and just about anything else you care to name.  The view from our boat is not to be sneered at either.

See for yourself.

We did get to walk around town – one of our gas bottles needed refilling.  A 4-kilometer walk with an 11-pound gas bottle on a trolley and of course, the obligatory visit to the supermarket.  It was an enormous supermarket with a huge assortment so we filled our larders.

The bald eagles sit on top of your mast up here – there are eagles everywhere
View from our cockpit – not too shabby

We stayed an extra day due to inclement weather.  Up here, inclement means really lousy.  But then the sun came out.  Sunny, but ungodly cold, with ice on the pier, our decks and cockpit.  We bundled up as warm as we can, took in our lines and headed for Discovery Harbor.

So everything was just hunky-dory you might think.  Of course, this is Vinni and Carsten sailing, so hunky-dory generally doesn’t last long.  It didn’t here either.  On our way our engine started making noises like someone was killing the proverbial cat.  I had more than a suspicion of the cause.  There is a small “idler wheel” on the engine that keeps the fan belt tight.  This idler has a set of ball bearings inside and I was pretty sure they are now worn.  This happened to us once before – on Hawaii.

Fortunately, I had the part number for replacement bearing.  Even more fortunately, there was an autoparts store within walking distance that had the bearing in stock.  An hour after we landed, I sent Vinni up in the cockpit to give me some working room (when I have to work on the engine I fill the entire salon with tools and such). 

Once I had the idler wheel off, I put it in the oven and heated it to 375 degrees F.  The housing is made of aluminum and the bearing are steel, so the aluminum expands faster than the steel, allowing the bearing to drop out.

Yeah – right.  They didn’t fall out and I had to use a hammer to beat them out – but, out they came.  Housing back in the oven and a half hour later I could tap the new bearing in place.

TA-DAAA! I said to my darling wife after I’d reassembled everything and started the engine.  Which now sounded not like I was killing a cat, but more like I was ripping its tail off.  Or maybe ripping the tails off several cats at the same time.

Hmmmm.  Perhaps I should have waited with the TA-DAAA!  Ok, the fan belt is old too, but I’m no fool and have a spare.  It, of course, lies at the bottom of the spare parts box that is furthest back in the most inaccessible place on boat.  Once I put it on, I could repeat myself.

TA-DAA!  This time the engine was spinning like a little kitten.  Phew!  I had to make an interim mounting for the bearings, but I can fix that when we get to Port McNiel in a couple of days.

We can’t stay here in Discovery Harbor, because tomorrow we are getting up before dawn to run the fearsome (and feared) Seymour Narrows, where the current can run up to sixteen knots and the maelstroms have been known to swallow boats.

But that is Vinni’s story and she will write about it in our next blog.

One thought on “Make ready for sea! – North to Alaska

  1. Enjoyed your blog. Brought back lots of memories. Remember that from Seymour Narrows to Prince William Sound is world class prawning. Don’t miss it!! Be safe. Edd&judi s/v ClairdeLune

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