Monday, 24 January 2022

We recently spent a year at Wharf Street Marina, in Victoria (Sept. 2020 - Sept. 2021) living on our sailboat Gjoa. On arriving in British Columbia, we soon learned that being a 'liveaboard' has very negative connotations here due to a derelict boat problem along with the often derelict people that live aboard them. The boats never leave the dock, or, anchor and they tend to just rot in place leaving unpaid bills and a disposal headache for marinas and municipalities. Unfortunately, international cruising sailors are also lumped in with this group. Most marinas have just put their head in the sand and made intractable "no liveaboard" policies rather than deal with the issue. So, it was a breath of fresh air when cruising friends told us about the progressive policies of the GVHA (Greater Victoria Harbour Authority). They have no trouble filling their marinas in the summer season, but, when winter comes, the berths often sit empty. A winter liveaboard program is offered to cruising boats. There's usually a wait list and both marina and personal references are required to even get onto the list. We were accepted at the last minute and heaved a sigh of relief that we had somewhere to go. Rates were reasonable and the usual toilet/shower/laundry facilities were provided and very nice they were too. The rates also included a weekly visit from the sewage pumpout boat. I'm sure at this point most non-sailors are thinking this is "too much information", but, this small thing makes a huge difference in life aboard. Victoria is the only place we've been that offers this welcome service.

The location was also superb and has to be one of the premier city centre marina locations in North America. We thoroughly enjoyed our year there and fell in love with Victoria in the process. There were always things happening in the inner harbour: demonstrations in front of the Legislature (Victoria is the provincial capital of BC), street entertainers, patio dining, float planes that seemed to come and go endlessly and many interesting boats, including the unique water taxis. They have regular stops around the harbour and one day, when I went to check out music being played over a loudspeaker, I came across them doing a unique, synchronized "boat ballet" to classical music! Fun to watch and requires a great deal of skill.

We also enjoyed the wildlife in the harbour. There were often seals and mink around the boat. In the spring a family of sea otters with five young entertained us with their antics. The otters were a mixed blessing. They were often up on and sometimes in the boats, particularly those with swim platforms. They would bring their crab catches up on deck to eat and leave a mess of bones and other deposits behind. This grimacing otter has a crab between its paws and is crunching a mouthful!

There was only one dump of snow all winter and it only lasted a few days. Then, we were back to the usual balmy temperatures in this area.

We enjoyed walking the many neighbourhoods, especially the heritage areas. This is the Emily Carr museum in the very appealing James Bay area.

Oak Bay is another lovely neighbourhood. Deer are considered garden pests here, but, it was fantastic to see them nonetheless.

There were many superb in-town walks: along the Dallas Road seafront, out along the breakwater seawall and through expensive, oceanfront neighbourhoods with fabulous water and mountain views.

Going further afield we must have walked the whole waterfront from Sidney to Sooke. We often took the bus out of town and walked back in. 

We did consider setting up our intended home base in Victoria, but, as much we loved it there, it was still too urban for us and we decided that being further afield would suit us better. However, we intend to visit often in future. Maybe we'll stay at the Empress, lovely any time of the year.

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Sunday, 9 January 2022

After not posting for over a year, some of you may have missed the brief comment about a change of boat in my return to posting. So, in case you missed it, we have now sold (August 2021) boat #5, our 14m Reinke aluminium cruising sailboat and are now aboard boat #6, an 8m Nordic Tug 26, purchased June 2021.

Here she is: boat #6: a 1984 Nordic Tug 26, hull #59 of 184 built. Her name is also GJØA, our third.

I suppose that's enough news in itself, but, wait, it's not just boat #6, it's also our first motor boat, no sails! We've gone to "the dark side". Having said that, this new boat is a good boat, we hope, to enable us to do the type of cruising we want to do next. We probably won't be crossing oceans any more where sails are the only way to travel such long distances, but, we definitely want to coastal cruise, preferably in wild, remote places and perhaps along some more urban coasts as well. Cruising among intricate coastal channels doesn't provide much good sailing wind. We didn't raise our sails once when coming down the coast from Alaska. It seemed pointless to maintain sails and their critical, expensive supporting rig when they're used so rarely in our new type of cruising. Now that we're based on the "we[s]t" coast a motorboat also provides a warm, protected steering station at all times and the means to manage our speed at a consistent 6-7 knots.

General specs for the Nordic Tug 26 are:

LOA: 26 feet, 4 inches 
BEAM: 9 feet, 6 inches 
DRAFT: 2 feet, 9 inches 
WEIGHT: 7,500 pounds 
HULL TYPE: semi-displacement 
PROPULSION: single diesel 
BUILDER: Nordic Tugs, Burlington, Washington,

Our particular model has a few nice, custom features such as a dry-stack exhaust (as seen on many fishing boats) which should require less maintenance than a typical wet exhaust. The engine is a Perkins 4-154, 62HP with 6475 hours (more than we would have liked). We expect to burn an economical 3-4 litres an hour at 6 knots providing an excellent range with our 100 (maybe 150? t.b.d.) gallon main tank.

The transition from a 14m (47 ft.) to 8m (26 ft.) boat to live on wasn't as difficult an adjustment as it might seem. No longer needing storage space for sails, world charts/cruising guides, four-season clothing, offshore equipment and extensive spares/food supplies, the smaller boat works well as a temporary home for two people and will more than suffice for an annual season spent out cruising.

There's no denying the boat is old and the maintenance had been let go, but, it had good bones. The initial viewing, survey and photos all looked good, but, as usual, after a closer look, we've noticed that there are a lot of things that really need to be addressed before we can have full confidence in the boat. The surveyor had noted that an urgent replacement of the shaft cooling through-hull needed to be done. So, first thing after taking possession we headed up to Sidney to get hauled out and do the repair. After we hauled out a leaking crack was also noticed in the bottom of the keel. It also had to be fixed immediately. This wasn't going well. Hopefully, not an indicator of things to come.

On the way back to Victoria we stopped at the always lovely Sidney Spit anchorage and enjoyed seeing our first purple martins. It helped to take our mind off the big bill we'd just paid for the keel and through-hull fix.

Unfortunately, as it turned out, there was more to come. Trying to leave the Spit anchorage we couldn't get the engine started and had to call C-Tow who also couldn't get us started. We were towed in to nearby Van Isle Marina. Now, it *really* wasn't going well, not what you want to happen on the first day out on a "new" boat. We had minimal tools aboard and had scant knowledge of the boat at this point, so, we called Ben at Gartside Marine Engines who went above and beyond to help. He came down to the boat well after his regular workday and quickly determined the starter had seized up. He took it out, sent it for a rebuild and had it back in the next day! We resumed our trip to Victoria wondering what we had got ourselves into with this boat.

Once we finally got to Victoria we kept our two boats side-by-side until we could make the changeover transition happen.

It was heart-wrenching to see our home of the last four+ years leave us standing on the dock on August 26 when she left for the USA on delivery to her new owners. We'd invested so much financially and emotionally it was very hard to see her go even though we knew it was the right decision.

A few days later, near Labour Day weekend, we headed off to our new chosen home base, Port Alberni. It would be our first real cruise in our new-to-us boat. We were a bit nervous heading out on an 8m (26 ft.) boat through the notorious Juan de Fuca Strait and up the exposed west coast of Vancouver Island where the ocean is wide-open all the way to Japan, the very definition of a lee shore. We weren't sure how this tiny boat (compared to our very capable ocean cruiser) would react in the inevitable ocean swell. But, we'd chosen our weather window well and we had perfect conditions. The boat performed admirably. We stopped the first night at Port Renfrew and made the push up to Bamfield on the second day. We didn't want to arrive in Port Alberni during their massive annual Labour Day weekend salmon fishing derby, so, enjoyed a couple of nights at anchor in delightful Bamfield watching a black bear foraging on the beach. We stopped another night at the Port Alberni Yacht Club outstation in the Broken Islands Group (a spectacular spot we plan to return to) before heading up the Alberni Inlet (a 40 km/25 mile long fjord) to Port Alberni. The fjord was very busy with many little sportfishing boats zipping up and down, but, they didn't detract from the beauty of the place. We arrived at Port Alberni in early afternoon. We had done it, changed boats, locations and life direction all in a few short months. It had been a busy summer!

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Tuesday, 21 December 2021

If you're like me, when you've been following somebody's blog story for a while, maybe many years and posting just stops, permanently, it leaves you feeling a little bereft. They may be only 'friends in the cloud', but, somehow a connection is created and I miss them when they're not there. I would enjoy checking in every now and again to catch up. When there were no updates it made me wonder: Whatever happened to them? Where are they now? Are they ok? I often wish people would at least wrap up their story at a certain point and say goodbye instead of just doing a hard stop at a random place without a further word. I'm as guilty as the next person, it's actually been more than a year since I last posted here. Even worse, I suggested I would start writing again last spring and didn't. I don't really know how many people read this blog, there aren't many, but, I know there are a few and if you're one of those who was wondering 'whatever happened to them', well, we're still here and I'm planning at least a few more posts to bring our story up-to-date.

I always assumed I'd start posting again and I did think about posting a few times throughout the year, but, somehow there just never seemed to be anything interesting to say. It's not that there hasn't been a lot happening. There obviously hasn't been much on the travel front due to Covid, but, we've made a few major changes of direction (more on those later). 

I did toy with the idea of not continuing to write and actually questioned why I even write in the first place. This travel blog started in June 2010 when we became live-aboard cruisers on a sailboat. At the time it just seemed easier to post one update online that friends/family could choose to peruse at their leisure rather than repeat the same thing to multiple people in newsletters/email that maybe wouldn't always be welcome. It has stopped and started a few times, but, there are now about 280 posts. I'm finding they are often handy as an aide-mémoire and it's fun to dip into and relive past events, the details of which have long been forgotten. It also spurs the quest for better photographs as I have a place to publish them. There doesn't seem much point to photos unless you're going to share them. So, continuing to write seems worthwhile for a number of reasons and I hope you'll continue to follow along.

Now, on to a continuation of the story. Here's an overview of what happened this past year, details to follow.

Autumn - We arrived in Victoria BC a year ago September. Getting there had been our focus for the previous few years and we hadn't thought much beyond getting there. We'd been out cruising for a decade and wanted to take some time to re-evaluate our lifestyle. We quickly concluded that we'd been just about everywhere we wanted to go and Covid had stopped cruising sailors in their tracks anyway. Having a land base in BC seemed to be a good step for the future.

Winter - The decision to create a home base in BC having been made we plunged into trying to make it happen. We reviewed all the options and decided the best thing would be to build a new house. We applied a logical approach to finding the location and the lot. We chose Port Alberni as the location and we were lucky to find a lot for a reasonable price that met all our criteria. This photo was taken in March. This is what Vancouver Island looks like in winter!

Spring  - The next big decision was, what are we going to do about the boat? Having a world-class cruising boat isn't for the faint-hearted. It costs a lot of money and a lot of time and effort to keep it in fine fettle, safe and comfortable to travel the world's oceans. Sitting at a dock, or, just cruising locally in BC really was a waste of a good boat. We decided to sell it and spent many weeks preparing it for sale. Before we knew it, spring had arrived.

Summer - After we listed the boat for sale we started to get worried about becoming homeless. What if the boat sold quickly (it did) and the house wasn't ready (it wasn't).  We also knew we weren't giving up cruising, just probably not crossing oceans anymore, so, we decided to downsize to a smaller boat that was suitable for coastal cruising and that was comfortable enough to live on until the house was finished. We narrowed the choices down and then, through serendipity, a good boat popped up right in front of us and we bought it. We were now two boat owners, but, not for long. Gjoa departed for the USA to her new owners on August 27. A few days later, we (and our new-to-us boat) departed for Port Alberni. Here we are passing Race Rocks, just outside Victoria, at the entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait.

To be continued (I promise!).... 

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Monday, 28 September 2020

 As planned, we finished up our 2020 cruising season with a passage from Cordova, Alaska to Victoria BC where we are staying the winter. 

This last passage was a bit of a letdown compared to the glorious summer we'd just spent in Alaska. We'd decided to skip the inner passages of SE Alaska as we'd seen most of it before and didn't think it could compare favourably with what we'd just experienced anyway. Also, Canada was calling and we were starting to get anxious about potentially nasty September weather in the Gulf of Alaska. As it was, the weather was reasonable for our crossing, but, no wind! So, again, it was a slow motor against a north-setting current. We hugged the shoreline, so, we'd at least have something to look at. We anchored in Icy Bay for two nights and a day of pouring rain, then on to Yakutat. We anchored there for two nights, surrounded by fantastic mountain scenery, but, didn't go ashore, or, visit the very active glacier there. We knew we'd probably not be welcome due to Covid concerns and didn't want to cause any resentment in the native population. Maybe we'll go back someday. 

We then quickly pushed south towards Dixon Entrance. Dixon is one of those mythic sailing places where a fearsome reputation for horrific weather is usually justified. It takes a full day to enter and we were amazed at our good fortune to cross in brilliant sunshine, calm seas and with no wind. That combination probably doesn't occur very often. The international border runs down the middle and we were heading directly for Prince Rupert, Canada. The sunny day gave way to a pitch-black night. There were a lot of both cargo and fishing boats as we squeezed through the narrow entry. Most local boats, including commercial fishing boats and even some tugs, don't have AIS which makes things a lot more complicated than it has to be, especially with fishing vessels that are constantly changing direction. It's so inexpensive to fit AIS these days, there's really no excuse not to have it. Dawn arrived and we were exhausted as we'd both been up all night dealing with the tight traffic situations. It was quite a relief to enter Prince Rupert harbour.

Arrival in Prince Rupert was not very welcoming. We'd hoped to finish up our 14-day quarantine upon arrival, there were only two days left as we hadn't been off the boat in twelve days. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be. We were informed that our sea time just didn't count, as it had in Alaska and our quarantine must start on our day of arrival into Canada. It was a big disappointment as we'd planned to refuel, reprovision, get caught up with internet activities and get some exercise in Prince Rupert. The marinas had been told not to let any boat in that had any kind of a quarantine restriction on it, even if nobody got off the boat. We sat on the Customs dock trying to decide what we should do. After ten minutes, Port Security showed up to tell us we couldn't stay at the dock. Of course we hadn't planned to stay there, but, maybe longer than ten minutes would have been good. We said ok, we'll cross over and anchor in the bay with the fish farm and we left. We then got called on VHF and told to call Port Security. We weren't allowed to go into that bay, they suggested another instead. It wasn't ideal, but, sufficed for the night. We couldn't wait to leave Prince Rupert the next day. The new quarantine length wasn't really going to be a problem as we'd only be visiting remote anchorages as we worked our way slowly south through the labyrinth of the Inside Passage anyway, but, it did mean not getting off the boat for a full twenty-six days now, not good for the body.

We stayed in some very nice anchorages on the way down, Blunden Harbour and Port Neville were a couple of favourites. We timed the trip down so that we'd arrive at Port McNeill right at the end of the 14 day quarantine and that's what we did. It was a relief to get off the boat for a while and to get some fresh provisions again. While crossing Queen Charlotte Strait to get there we encountered the first of what turned out to be continuing fog. Upon leaving Port McNeill, smoke from the forest fires in Washington state was added to the fog. The only difference in the sky between fog and smoke was the colour of the sun, orange when smoke and white when fog! 

We didn't see much of the scenery, the glimpses we did see looked lovely. 

Not having sailed in this area before it was quite a challenge planning a viable route from the many, many variations that could be traversed. There was no getting away from having to pass through tidal gates, however. Each route had one or more and it required careful study and calculation to deal with them. Some were worse than others and it was clear that no matter how well you plan, there can still be unknown variables that come into play such as the amount of runoff from recent rain, wind over tide etc. Many of the passes are referred to in the sailing guides as 'reversing salt water rivers', so, maybe that will give you some idea of how they work. As newbies, we avoided the trickier ones and the ones with very strong potential flows, but, it still wasn't a walk in the park. Thankfully, our tidal calculations seemed to mostly be correct. Early on, we got caught by the tide only once. Running a tide rip with rapids, whirlpools, eddies, standing waves and haystacks wasn't something we'd expected to have to do in a 14 meter sailboat. It was only a short distance, we managed it, but, won't be trying for a repeat performance anytime soon!

Once through the gates, it became a little more relaxed after the smoke left and visibility improved. We took our time continuing south as our winter berth didn't start until October 1. We spent a couple of nights at Ganges, Saltspring Island which was very nice. We hauled out on a short lift at Canoe Cove to clean the bottom and replace anodes in preparation for our long, winter stay. A couple more nights at anchor and we arrived at Wharf St. Marina in downtown Victoria a few days ago. 

The weather is promising a coming week of sunshine and warm temperatures, perfect for getting Gjoa and ourselves ready to hunker down here for the 'winter'. The coldest month here has an average temperature of +7C, so, it won't be much of a hardship and we'll be looking forward to spring blooms in February. The Covid situation is much better here than in other areas of the country with only about 230 cases island-wide, but, it does we mean we probably won't be travelling very far. We have a few winter projects in mind to occupy ourselves.

Victoria, so far, has been wonderful. We're not in the prime spot we'd hoped for, directly in front of the Empress and Parliament buildings, but, we're nearby and can enjoy all the urban activities on offer. New, no-traffic, bike lanes have been installed in the central area since we were last here and a myriad of more rural no-traffic walking and biking trails surround us. 

The marina facilities are reasonably-priced and very nice, much better than some of the dumps we've been in recently. Old Town Victoria is full of the heritage buildings we love, there's a small, but, interesting China Town and many international restaurants. Even in these virus times, downtown seems to be booming with new construction, outside patios at full capacity, immaculate flowerbeds and many pedestrians. We're looking forward to being here. 

As we don't plan on much, if any, travel during the coming months, we'll probably take a hiatus from blog posting unless there's something interesting to report. Otherwise, check back in the spring when we hope to have plans made for a summer cruise in '21. Thanks for sharing the journey with us so far and stay safe during these difficult times!

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Thursday, 13 August 2020

After a really nice spell of sunny, warm and dry weather we left Seward heading east for Prince William Sound. It wasn't far, but, we were in a hurry to get there to beat a coming SE gale. We made it in time, but, the rain started and it became really cold and wet. Even though it was still early August, we were hoping this wasn't a sign of things to come over the next couple of weeks we'd be cruising in the area. 

The pouring rain didn't deter these two sea otters from giving us a warm welcome.

We felt right at home when we entered the Sound through Port Bainbridge. The first night we anchored in Hogg Bay, Bainbridge Island. Next morning we passed by Bainbridge Glacier...

and then through a very scenic Bainbridge Pass! (what we could see of it in the misty, foggy conditions).

The weather soon turned for the better and the scenery became stunning.

The anchorages were easier and more secure than most in the Kenai Fjords. There were so many good ones it was hard to choose. One of our favourites was Nellie Juan Anchorage, right next to the Nellie Juan Glacier. It was a tiny, perfect cove, suitable for one boat. We tucked ourselves into it on a sunny afternoon. There was a rushing stream at the back of the anchorage, smooth rock walls and glorious views.

The next day dawned into another beauty and we took the opportunity to visit the glacial moraine and stretch our legs. We found a rushing salmon stream, full of struggling fish (and no bears, luckily, as we were on foot).

They were all heading upstream to this waterfall.

Nearby, the glacier was releasing lots of ice into another rushing river coming off the glacier face, the current was too strong to get up the river so we enjoyed a stroll among the beached 'bergy bits' (which is actually the scientific term for these smaller bits of ice) instead.

G, ever the pun master, came up with a new term, 'birdie bits', for bergy bits with birds on top!

We enjoyed many more great anchorages, but, we saved the best for last. We headed north to College Fjord, at 61N, the furthest north we'd be on this cruise. This is a major tourist destination with many tour boats, flightseeing trips etc. that access the fjord from Whittier. This year, we had the entire fjord to ourselves, only seeing one other boat, a tour boat that 'flew' past us at an unbelievable 32 knots, don't know what kind of engine was in there, but, wow!

We headed up to the end of the fjord, the ice was increasing in the approaches, but, we managed to dodge it easily. The air got noticeably colder as we got closer to the head of the fjord where there were two arms with a substantial glacier at the head of each. Harvard is one of the few advancing glaciers left, Yale is a retreating glacier, but, still has a solid face calving directly into the water. There was less ice in the Yale Arm so we headed up that way and anchored right at the head, directly across from the Yale Glacier. We were in a shallow area behind an island, so, most of the ice stayed away from us and we enjoyed the aquamarine, glacial-silted water with just seals and tiny seabirds for company. This was the view from the stern of the boat at around 10 p.m. Through the night we heard a number of thunderous booms from calving ice.

In the morning, we were sorry to leave this idyllic spot, but, we were starting to feel some time pressure as it was now nearing the middle of August. We want to be across the Gulf of Alaska by the beginning of September before the weather changes for the worse. So, we quickly moved on to the far eastern side of the Sound and the town of Cordova, which is only accessible by boat, or, airplane. It was greener on this side and we spent our last night at anchor in green and gorgeous St. Matthews Bay.

We'll only be in town for a few days to reprovision and get ready for our passage across the Gulf of Alaska, heading directly for Dixon Entrance and Canada! We should only be at sea for about a week.

Alaska has been a really wonderful cruising ground. What a summer we've had here, we enjoyed it very much. We only travelled about 700 miles, between Kodiak and Cordova, in three months. It was a motor cruise as there was no wind for sailing. Every night we anchored in a beautiful place and usually had it all to ourselves. 

We feel very lucky to have been able to cruise at all this summer with so many sailors stuck in ports around the world, either with their boats, or, without. To have been in such an isolated place was an added bonus for us, self-isolation and physical distancing weren't difficult to achieve at all, just a regular part of daily life. Now, as we head further south for the winter season, that may change, but, living on a boat is still a good place to be during these trying times.

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Tuesday, 21 July 2020

As mentioned in the previous post, one of the things we loved about the Kenai Fjords was the abundant wildlife we found there. Even though it was late June, there was still lots of young about, including this oystercatcher chick.

We almost missed seeing these young seal pups, they blended in so well with the rocks they were sprawled on.

We saw mature seals on the ice near the Northwestern glacier.

Seeing puffins is always a delight. Here there were tufted puffins, new to us.

In the water there were many of these incredibly beautiful jellyfish to be seen.

The bears in this area were now black bears, no longer the extra-large Kodiak brown bears we saw west of Cook Inlet.

We saw this bear swimming across a large bay.

There was evidence of bears everywhere...

Sea otters have to be the most endearing creatures. They look so relaxed just laying there on their backs. We learned that when they wrap themselves in a piece of kelp like this, it's to anchor themselves to the bottom, so they don't float away while they are eating/sleeping.

We really wanted to see an otter 'raft' where large numbers of otters somehow attach themselves to each other and float, with their young on their stomachs, in a large group. We did see a raft with maybe 25 otters, in Otter Cove, but, didn't want to get too close and disturb them, so, no pictures.

And finally, another eagle shot. This was taken in Kodiak, but,  I couldn't resist publishing it here, that glare is just chilling.

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