The First Decision
Steve and I gathered up our cruising guides on the back patio on a warm June evening with a cocktail in hand. After flipping through the guides for an hour and watching the kids play with the hose (and completely flood our tiny little backyard), we decided to go to Keats Island for the weekend. Then we thought maybe we’d hop across the Georgia Strait from there to Silva Bay on Gabriola Island. Then we changed our minds again. Cruising plans can be fairly fluid and depend a lot on the weather, but we finally decided to cross the Strait to Porlier Pass (an opening between Valdes and Galiano Islands), which is a 20 NM trek across the Strait, at a compass heading of about 210. Our boat can go a maximum of 7 knots, so we were looking at a few solid hours in the boat.
Thursday morning we packed the van full of gear, bought our fishing licenses for the year, and grabbed some food and snacks. Thursday was Paige’s last day at school so we picked her up after her 90 minute day (really??!!) and headed to VRC. Two wheelbarrow loads later, the gear was stuffed into all the available nooks and crannies on our little 27 footer and we were ready to head out.
The weather was a bit overcast starting out and the winds were light. We ended up motoring the entire way across the Strait. Ho hum. Paige enjoyed doing some drawing at the settee and Spencer helped drive the boat. They both also enjoyed using the winch handle as a microphone to sing songs. Steve saw a pod of Orca’s in the distance but the rest of us were down below napping at the time and missed seeing them.
We arrived at Maple Bay just off Dionisio Point, which is a provincial park on Galiano Island accessible only by water, at about 6 pm. It took us just under 5 hours to cross the Strait by the time we left the club.
We had heard that the sandy beach in Coon Bay (just one bay over) was fantastic and were excited for the kids to play there. We anchored in the bay (and Steve played with his rangefinder to ensure we were securely anchored) and took the dinghy to shore after dinner. The kids were excited to try out their new fishing rods but were disappointed that they didn’t catch anything. They thought all the fish must have been asleep or chased off by the seal that was playing around in the Bay. I didn’t tell them until after that I had forgotten the bait on the boat. Oops!
Paige and I hiked over to Coon Bay on a beautiful path. The sun was starting to get lower on the horizon and cast some shadows through the trees. As we were walking, Paige told me “this forest creeps me out, Mom.” Okay kiddo, I think she’s been watching too much Scooby Doo! Coon Bay was beautiful, with 270 degree views of the water. Paige and I decided that we would pack a picnic lunch the next day and hang out at the beach! So we headed back to Maple Bay to tell Steve and Spencer the plan.
Galiano Island was once inhabited only by the Penalakut First Nation, and was discovered by Dionisio Alcala Galiano, a Spanish Explorer, in 1792. Interestingly, the beaches are full of tiny white broken shells, which are the remains of midden pits from the Penalakut peoples (basically, their old dinner scraps from oysters, clams and other shellfish). Apparently the Penalakut used to take their canoes across the Strait to the Fraser River to catch salmon, then head back to Galiano and the other Gulf Islands for the winter.
We found the geology at Dionisio Point to be beautiful, with smooth sandstone flanking both sides of Maple Bay. The water had carved a beautiful partial cave on the Eastern side of the bay. It was eerie looking up inside the cave and seeing only a small crust of rock above. In addition to the smooth rock there were a large number of “moon rocks” (a very technical term assigned by the kids). These “moon rocks” are actually sandstone that have been eroded by the saltwater and the result is a beautiful honeycomb pattern that is otherworldly.
We had an enjoyable evening and put the kids to bed. Steve and I enjoyed a refreshment and the scenery of the glass-like water. We then retired to bed and drifted off quickly…until…
Maple Bay is an anchorage that is exposed to the North West. We have two prevailing winds in Vancouver, Northwesterlies, and Sou’Easters. As luck would have it a light Northwesterly picked up in the evening. Since the anchorage is exposed, the waves build up over the long fetch in the Strait and crash into the beautiful smooth sandstone.
The boat started rocking and rolling in the anchorage. Steve was up and down a million times that night checking the anchor to ensure we weren’t dragging. Unfortunately the rangefinder wasn’t much help in the dark. I was in the v-berth with Paige and she was sleeping soundly. Every once in a while Spencer would cry out. You could tell he was not comfortable. On one roll, the cushions on the settee bed slid off a bit and Spencer got wedged between the wall and the cushion. Poor little guy!
It’s times like these that you are forced to make difficult decisions. Perhaps we made the right decision, and perhaps it was the wrong decision. At about 3 am, Steve and I talked about raising anchor and going through Porlier Pass to find a less exposed anchorage. Our anchor was holding fast, so at that point we didn’t have to worry about getting dragged onto the rocks. I didn’t know what the current was doing in Porlier pass and we weren’t familiar with any nearby anchorages, so finding one in the dark safely was a concern. We decided to wait it out until first light then go find another place to anchor.
At 5 am, the first weak rays of sunshine peeked out over the horizon, and we hightailed it out of there. The other boat anchored in Maple Bay the previous night had left early as well. We motored to Clam Bay off Thetis and Kuper Islands and went back to bed for a few hours to catch up on some much-needed sleep. So much for our planned picnic lunch and frolicking on the beach at Dionisio.
The Next Decision
Now where to go? Our plans for Dionisio were shot. We weren’t going back there with a Northwesterly blowing. We decided to go where the wind takes us and head south to Montague Harbour. As luck would have it (yet again), as soon as we got into Trincomali channel, the wind changed direction and was on our nose. More motoring.
It was our first time at Montague Harbour Provincial Park so we toured the little bay before deciding to pay an extra $4 (for a whopping total of $16) to dock for the night instead of picking up a mooring ball. Boy were we glad we did! We docked close to the Nature House and the Naturalist, Monika, showed the kids various flora and fauna native to the Island. We did some fishing (with bait this time), swimming, relaxing on the beach and exploring.
After dinner we decided to take the Hummingbird Pub bus to have some dessert. The signs at the Nature House told us that the bus came to the nearby campsite every hour. We didn’t really know our way around so we found a meeting place with a bunch of benches and waited there. Unfortunately the bus never came. We heard it at one point turning around and reversing off in the distance, but it never made it to the meeting place. Another oops. We decided to walk over to the marina to catch it the next hour. By this time it was after 7 pm and the kids were already getting tired. The walk to the marina was uphill the whole way (well, not quite, since it’s at sea level)! With kids riding on our shoulders and me wearing flip flops, it sure felt like it was uphill!
Finally we managed to catch the bus. As we were walking up into the bus, we had people handing us tambourines. Huh? Well, it was a party bus! We listened to the Beatles and other music from the ’60’s. The kids loved shaking their tamborines to the music while the Bus driver drummed on drums mounted above his windshield. We stopped briefly at various sites along the road and learned a little bit of history about various houses and farms on the island. It was an awesome experience!
The next day we all slept late after the previous night’s bus adventures. The kids enjoyed some quiet time down below while Steve and I sat in the cockpit and planned out the day.
After breakfast we went on a hike all the way around Gray Peninsula at Montague Harbour. It was beautiful. We hiked through beautiful arbutus trees shedding their bark to reveal their smooth red skin. We had the water on our left all the time. The kids picked up hiking sticks and were “skiing” down the little hills on the path. At one point Spencer took a tumble and landed his face in the dirt! A little drink of water and a quick dust off and he was back in action! We walked along the beautiful white shell beach on the north side of the peninsula, more remnants of midden sites from the past.
The Final Decision
After heading back to the boat and filling up our fuel at the gas dock in the marina, we were headed off. We had a nice breeze and were able to finally sail. This time, the plan was to head North to either Degnen Bay (just inside Gabriola passage), or power through to either Silva Bay on Gabriola or maybe even to Keats Island. As always, plans change. As we were in Trincomali Channel between Galiano and Valdes, we saw Bowen Island on a straight shot. We looked at each other, then through the pass, then back to each other. We both knew what the other was thinking. Let’s do it.
The wind was fresh and there was a small craft warning in the Strait. Steve reefed the main and we headed out through Porlier Pass and into the Strait. We decided that if it was too bad, we would turn back and anchor in Clam Bay or Lighthouse Point for the night.
Paige’s 6th birthday was the next day and we were going for dinner with my parents and my niece, so we wanted to get back home in time to get freshened up. After three days with virtually no running water, we were all a bit salty.
The wind was about 20 knots, and we were glad we had a reefed mainsail. We had only partially unfurled our genoa, so we weren’t too overpowered, though we were still heeling quite a bit. We were sailing fast on a close hauled track, which is the least comfortable point of sail. Since we don’t have autopilot, we would be hand steering for the next 20 nautical miles. It was uncomfortable for the kids, so they assumed their passage positions, tethered and laying on the floor in the cockpit. Both of them fell asleep after a while, lulled by the lilting boat over the waves and the white noise of the spray.
About halfway across the Strait, I asked Steve to go down below and grab my phone so I could take some pictures and videos of the crossing. When he went down into the cabin, he realized that there was an unpleasant liquid coming from the head (that’s boat talk for bathroom). Unfortunately, our toilet had backflowed into the cabin. Thankfully we were heeled to one side so it was contained to one side of the boat. He grabbed the suction pump we have on board for changing the oil, and used it to clean up the mess. Not a fun job. Steve definitely took one for the team cleaning that up!
The End of the Adventure
It had been a long and tiring day so we wanted to get home and cleaned up (literally). I also didn’t really want to sleep on the boat until it was disinfected from top to bottom.
When we were nearly across the Strait and were coming up to Point Grey, the wind settled down a bit, which made for a more comfortable sail through English Bay and towards First Narrows. By this time we had been sailing for about eight or nine hours, so we were all relieved to tuck into our slip at VRC. I had packed up the gear while we were motoring in, so we unloaded and I took the kids to the shower while Steve disinfected the boat. We headed home and crashed into bed.
Another exciting sailing adventure with the Buchis’ on a Boat!