Monday, 17 August 2015

Selecting the Right Self Steering Gear

The Golden Hind IV prior to Refit.
As an Albin Vega enthusiast, and upcoming offshore singlehander of the Golden Hing IV,  # 2179 Albin Vega, I will speak mainly of gear suited for these smaller vessels.  Typically most Sailboats under 30 ft will require a similar vane.

Navik from Plastimo  Altho out of production, perfect for a Vega

Given that short-handed sailing is the default situation for many boat owners, some kind of efficient self steering system is a huge benefit. Indeed, a decent self steering system can be as useful as two crewmembers – they don’t need to sleep, nor take meal breaks.

Windvane systems are rugged, dependable and won’t drain the batteries – all good reasons why they are the favoured self steering choice of long-term cruisers.

Before buying any type of self steering it’s important to analyse exactly what level of performance you need from the unit – this is a crucial first step in narrowing the many different options and levels of specification. Will the system be mostly to take over briefly while you’re doing other such as making a cup of tea, or to take the boredom out of motoring in a calm? Alternatively, is it to take over when the going gets tough and there are no volunteers to helm, or to steer the boat for long distances on extended passages?

If the answer to either of the first pair of questions is “yes”, an entry-level model may suffice. However, if the answer to either of the second pair of questions – indicating more serious use – is affirmative, this points strongly to a quality model – either windvane or electric – that will be capable of steering the boat for long periods of time in challenging conditions.

Windvane vs electric

There was a time at which any long-distance voyaging boat would sport a windvane self steering gear on the transom. They tend to be robust, often requiring servicing only after tens of thousands of miles, require no electrical input, and can often be easily fixed using locally sourced parts and labour even in remote parts of the world. These remain undeniable advantages in today's world, and many seasoned skippers swear by their wind vane gear for good reason.

On the downside, the upfront cost can be relatively expensive, and windvanes tend not to be effective sailing downwind in light airs, when the apparent wind is low, and are useless for motoring in a calm, when the apparent wind is always from ahead, irrespective of your course. For this reason many yachts with a robust windvane system will also carry an electric pilot, although this does not need to be of a high specification, as it will only be used in easy conditions.

Electric autopilot
If choosing an electric pilot for serious sailing, buy the very best you can afford.

The best electrical systems are now equally capable of steering a boat across an ocean, although carrying spares of key elements of the system is a sensible precaution. On the downside, they can also consume significant amounts of power, making it more of a challenge to keep batteries topped up on a long passage. This can be particularly true for lower specification units that struggle to keep the boat on course, thereby using more power than a system that will steer a better line. Quality electric systems also tend to be preferred by owners of modern lightweight yachts that are designed to sail downwind at planing speeds in strong winds.

Types of windvane

After first being developed in the post-war years by the likes of Bernard Moitessier, Blondie Haslar and others, windvane design now favours servo pendulum types, which magnify the power produced by the small vane on top of the unit.

A number of companies have with their own designs based on this theme, most of which work on similar principles but offer advantages in terms of size, price or track record. One that stands out from the rest is the Wind Pilot.   As an Albin Vega Owner, The Wind Pilot Light is a great choice and in fact operated on countless Vegas as a replacement to the now out of production Navik system.

Here is a video of the new installation of the Pacific Light on the Golden Hind IV:

The Navik System has been considered for decades to be the answer to windvanes on the Vega.  This Windvane has been said to be built as the perfect companion for the Vega.  Unfortunately the Navik windvane was bought by plastimo and then put out of production....  Good news on the horizon though as a new windvane system has been developed very similar to the Navik which will be available to the sailing community in the next year or so!

Another windvane which is a fairly young design is the MeVee system.  Here is a picture of the MrVee on the Golden Hind IV.  This system would work well on some boats but not the Vega.  In fact it never really worked right and subsequently has been removed for sale at the next marine swap meet!  The main issue was the drive quadrant was way to small and its light construction. It just never worked right and the final straw was when the pendulum paddle slid right off the pendulum shaft in calm seas!  What if this had happened offshore?

 Beware, Cheaper is not better on a critical part of your sailboat's steering capabilities.

Golden Hind Tacking Off Cheen Charlotte Strait 27 Knt Nor'easter

Electric pilots

The simplest electric pilots are the basic all-in-one tiller pilots that just require a 12V power feed, and equivalent basic wheel pilots. If of an adequate size, these can work adequately on smallish boats.

However, the basic unit’s lack of a rate sensing or gyro compass mean that they are not able to respond as quickly and will struggle to keep a boat on course, especially in a quartering sea. In addition, the on deck units are vulnerable to failure as a result of water ingress.

Bowden self steering cable
A Bowden cable from a Canadian-manufactured Octopus drive passing through a waterproof gland allows a top specification below-decks pilot to be used on tiller steered boats.

If you’re undertaking serious sailing and opting for an electric pilot, the best you can afford becomes essential. This means a below-deck unit, with a gyro or rate-sensing compass and separate pilot computer. The compass is important here – a lesser model simply won’t provide data to the unit sufficiently quickly. This may well be fine in easy conditions, when the pilot is a useful convenience, but may not work in the kind of heavy weather in which a small crew is likely to depend on the pilot. A further step up will give you a system that also includes a heel angle sensor, which further improves the accuracy of steering.

The right size unit

Manufacturers of all types of self steering gear generally quote recommendations by boat size and length. However, it’s worth noting that many yachts, especially older craft, were built with thicker laminates than the designer originally specified and may well be significantly heavier than the figures quoted by the boat builder. In addition, even boats of a modest size tend to collect a significant weight of additional gear, supplies and crew weight that can easily add a further 20 per cent to the total weight of the boat that must be considered when the pilot is specified.

Balancing the rig

No pilot, whether a windvane for electric model, will work efficiently if the sail plan is not well balanced - paying careful attention to sail trim and shortening sail in good time as the wind increases is crucial to the ease of steering the boat and therefore the performance of all self-steering systems.

Electric pilots allow you to tweak the settings so that the unit will both maintain a reasonable course to windward and tack efficiently across a wide range of conditions and long-distance short-handed racers even talk of trimming their pilot settings in a similar manner to trimming sails in order to get as close to 100 per cent performance as possible. An electric pilot will be only as good as its inputs, so accurate calibration of the instrument system, including compass, masthead wind angle, and boatspeed is also important.

If you are interested in building a windvane steering system, here is a good starting point for ideas.:

Friday, 14 August 2015

Self Steering Without a Windvane - A Few Simple Tricks

Sitting at the tiller is exhausting and something that you will find to be deeply regarded as the least favorite thing to do by long distance sailors. It requires constant attention, minor adjustments, and absolute focus. Without self-steering, the single-handed sailor gets no relief while under way -- and any relief that might come while hove-to is accompanied by the haunting knowledge that distance gained while sitting at the tiller is now being lost. Even with a crew, self-steering gives everyone more time to lay around together, talk without distraction, play chess, cook, etc.
The best self-steering solution is probably a windvane gear. They have to be custom made for most boats, though, so buying a commercial vane would cost almost as much as my entire boat did. Building a windvane yourself is possible, but that usually requires welding and access to a machine shop. The alternative self-steering systems can be just as reliable, and they also help to cultivate an enhanced understanding of sail trim, sail balance, and the forces that are at work as your boat moves through the water.
Once you finally get a self-steering system worked out, it's a great feeling to stand on the bow as the boat sails itself along.

Sail Balance

A critical self-steering concept is that your boat should be able to sail itself most of the time. The idea is that it's possible to balance the boat on a fixed heading using the sails alone, and that any extra self-steering equipment is only to correct for wind variation or wave motion. This makes it necessary to understand the basics of sail balance.

In the right diagram, as the wind hits the main sail, that pushes the aft of the boat to leeward and the bow rounds up into the wind.

The exact opposite happens when wind hits the forward sail, pushing the bow to leeward and rounding the boat off the wind. In reality the wind is hitting both sails at the same time, so if the sail sizes and trims are balanced correctly, only forward motion (with a negligible amount of side slippage) will result. If only one sail is up or one sail is much larger than the other, the results will be predictable.

While sailing on a close reach, sail balance is complicated by heeling. As the apparent wind increases, the boat will roll to leeward (moving the mast and sails off to leeward as well). This causes the mast of the boat to act like a lever arm that is no longer pushing directly forward, but rotating up into the wind. The boat will now have a tendency to round up, which must be corrected for by the tiller. This is what's known as weather helm, since the boat is constantly trying to go "to weather."
A little bit of weather helm can be alright, but too much will defeat any self-steering system and give you a really sore arm. Knowing what we know about sail balance, in these conditions it's possible to correct for weather helm by adjusting sail balance. We could, for instance, reduce the size of the main or increase the size of the jib. Like-wise, we could sheet out the main so that it catches less wind. Both would have the effect of using the sail balance to counter-act the forces of weather helm.

Sheets To Tiller

The basic premise of non-windvane self-steering systems is to balance the tiller using some feedback from the mainsheet or jibsheet. There are different ways to do this effectively, depending on the point of sail.

Close Hauled to Beam Reach

The basic idea is to start by balancing the boat. Then use the force of the main sheet to increase the pull of the tiller to weather during puffs, and reduce the pull of the tiller to weather during lulls. If the main sheet is connected to the end of the boom, this is done by attaching a control line to the main sheet, running it through a block on the weather-comb of the cockpit, and fastening it to the tiller. For an opposing force, connect lengths of elastic from the opposite side of the cockpit to the tiller.

It takes some experimenting to figure out how strong the elastic and weather helm control lines needs to be. The point where the elastic goes slack should be when the tiller is exactly center or slightly to leeward. This means that if you need more tension on the elastic, it is necessary to connect an additional piece, rather than pulling an existing piece tighter. Otherwise the elastic will not go slack until the tiller is well to leeward.


Broad Reaching

A close reach or close haul is a stable point of tack. As the boat falls off course on these tacks, the wind forces tend to automatically correct it. If the boat sails too far up, it will luff and fall off. If it sails too far off, the weather helm will increase and push it back up. Unlike a close reach or close haul, the broad reach is not a stable point of tack. If the boat starts to drift off course, the forces which initially moved it will only increase until the boat is changing direction faster and faster. This makes self steering systems even more important for a broad reach.

It turns out that a correctly trimmed jib sheet is incredibly sensitive to changes in direction on this tack. If the boat falls off the wind any, the jib is blanketed by the main and the jib sheet goes completely slack. If the boat heads up any, the jib is hit hard and the sheet becomes extremely taught. If your jib is small enough, you can hook it directly to the tiller as the weather helm control line, balanced by a large piece of elastic.

If the tension on your jib sheet is too much for a direct connection to your tiller (strong winds, large jib, etc) -- it is possible to build a lever which can measure the tension in your jib sheet instead.

Running Downwind

The best method for long runs straight down wind or slightly off the quarter is the use of twin headsails. This requires that you sew two identical headsails with staggered hanks, most likely out of 4.5oz spinnaker nylon. These can be flat, so it's just a matter of cutting the fabric, sewing the hems, and reinforcing the clews. With two identical headsails, it's possible to pole them out on either side, then connect both sheets directly to the tiller.

If the boat heads off the wind in one direction or another, the windward sail will tighten (increasing windward tension on the tiller) and the leeward sail will loosen (decreasing leeward tension on the tiller). This should immediately correct the course and continue to hold steady. For trans-oceanic passages, many people find the trade winds, put twin sails up, and don't touch the tiller again for a month.

These are a few options to keep in mind.  Sheet to tiller steering in fact is a great way to learn proper sail trim as it balances the boat to a higher level.  Honing these skills makes you a far better sailor and lessens the loads on the rudder and gear.  In my years of sailing, Sheet to tiller steering has become just another part of the tacking process.  Even a poorly trimmed sail config set to self steer will allow a single handed sailor get up on the front deck to secure gear or put in a reef.

 Give it a try and let me know how you did!     

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Ever Experienced a Chinese Gybe? This frightening Experience Can be Avoided! Here are some tips to help.

You Know the feeling,  Its a beautiful day to be on the water..  Sun is shining, wind is climbing...  Maybe you should think about reefing, but there is that boat you have been battling for the last hour and you don't want to lose a knot or two for the time it takes to put in the reef to control the heel...  Things are starting to get exciting but on the helm you can feel the boat taking control away from you.  Anyone on the boat who has experienced a "Chinese Gybe" is feeling the pressure as you start to fight the roll to windward.  

That Leeward point to round is right on the edge and you are pushing it as you don't want to put in a time consuming (and risky)gybe.  All it takes is a slight rise in pressure and you know it instantly as the boat heels to windward just a touch more and you are now poised right on the edge of what you have experienced before and hoped not to again.  Split seconds from the infamous Chinese Gybe or aptly named, "Crash Gybe" or "Death Roll". 
What’s the cause?

In order for the death roll to start you normally have a combination of all or most of the below:
  • Sailing dead downwind or very close to it.
  • Mainsail hasn’t got enough vang on, causing it to twist a lot, hence creating a sideway force.
  • Spinnaker too loosely sheeted and not “strapped down”, allowing it to sway from one side to the other
  • Boat (slightly) over-powered for the wind it’s sailing in
  • Often gusty conditions
  • Waves can also help trigger the death roll movements
1.  Move as much weight aft!
 The stability of the boat can be increased by moving crew weight aft.  The bow is unstable and given floatation due to the narrow design.  Altho, you must be careful about making this move too quickly as you can drag your stern.  Not really too much of a concern unless you are pitted in a tight race.  Each boat is different and so you will learn from experience with your vessel, when the right time to shift weight has been reached.   A competent and experienced crew knows in a time like this, coming up on your mark, that it is time to be on attention and ready to stay low and use their body weight to stabilize the boat.
2. Control mainsail twist
The mainsheet will probably be all the way out, but putting on more vang will help stop the boat from rolling. Make sure the cunningham is all the way off as both these have control over the leech.
If the mainsail is too open at the top then the side forces are working against you (ie to windward). Pull it in when the boat rolls to windward and let it out again when upright. Trimming the two sails in unison will have a good effect on keeping the boat tracking straight.

3. Spinnaker Control
If you are at this point flying a spinnaker, your trimmer will want to run the pole forward to create a more stable approach.  Maybe halfway between the head stay and the shrouds  This helps as the spinnaker is pushing a little to leeward rather than hard forward, which shifts the boat balance forward onto the narrow bow.
Over trim the Spinny slightly and bring the tweaker on HARD!   This will help balance the boat. 
Heeling to Windward = Wind the sheet on!
Heeling to Leeward = Ease the Sheet!

PW 5 tips Diagram

4. Smoke the brace (dump the guy)
The most effective tool for saving these wipeouts is to ‘smoke’ the guy to the headstay. It might create enough leeward side force to bring the boat back onto its feet, but the trimmer needs to be very aware. Good communication between helm and trimmer is critical as you don’t want to be winding the guy back when release was never needed!
If the worst does happen then make sure heads are down and everyone is hanging on and don’t ease the spinnaker sheets. If recovery requires dropping the spinnaker then keeping it close to the boat makes life a lot easier.
5. Emphasis on steering
For the helmsman it can be quite a good workout! Make sure you are in a good body position so that you can push and pull the tiller without having to adjust your stance each time as a split second delay could be a death knell.
If you are trying to run deep the key thing is to watch the spinnaker. If you allow it to get too far to one side of the boat it can be difficult to get it back. ‘Keep the boat under the spinnaker’ is obvious advice, but it can be harder than it sounds.
When the spinnaker is about to start its roll out to windward you should already have the tiller to leeward to counteract this movement, and vice versa. Don’t go too far though as this could result in spinning out the opposite way.
The best advise obviously if you are cruising is to not get into this situation in the first place.  When the wind pressure is climbing, pull in the canvas to a safe level.  No need to heel more than 15'.  My rule of thumb when cruising is if the boat's heel is sustained at 15 to 18', put in the first reef.  This will stand the boat back up and you can power up more.  The boat will be far more comfortable and the mental attrition which is attributed to the higher heel will diminish and you will find out that you will go faster!


Monday, 13 July 2015

Van Isl Circumnav - Part 2 - West Coast leg

June 15.  Hope Island is one of those misty dark places on the west coast that you read about with utter beauty as the Sun rises on the water. The caves on the inlet of the bay look surreal, like something you might see a movie with the mist coming in off the Pacific. The Golden Hind stirred to life early this morning, wasn't hard to get out of the bunk today..   We will be turning left as we gybe to port around Cape Scott.

The Sun rose in front of us as we set sail early on what I would call some of the best sailing I've ever had. The wind was blowing about 15 Knots northeast. On a broad reach as we had clocked around the island enough towards the Cape that the wind was now in a favorable direction. The golden highway was only about a one foot chop as we made 6knt on our 24 nautical mile run to Cape Scott.

Reaching the Cape, we could see the sand beaches in the distance. Wind was still 15 to 20knt, small seas and just on the end of a flood, perfect conditions for rounding. We made our bearing southerly and gybed to wing on wing.  Poling out the Genoa we quickly jumped in speed to 7 knots. Sun was slowly starting to break through the low lying West Coast fog and the beach was visible.  We stayed on a south westerly course until we saw approximately 12 nautical miles sea room to the coast. This was about right where we could turn more Southerly for our run past Brooks Peninsula. Approximately 10 miles sea room of Brooks is what I'm comfortable with due to the upcoming forecast. The following seas slowly built through the day and saw surfing up to 9 knots averaging five and a half and surfing to 9. Throughout the day, the Sun came out. Bright sunny blue water,  beautiful conditions 3 to 4 ft following seas and we were making time. The boat is handling flawlessly and surfing like a high performance surfboard. Power those sails up and she'll take off.  The Albin Vega design has proved to be faster than I expected with a hull speed of approximately 6.5 knot. She gets on top and rips at 7 to 8 knt quite happily.  We passed Brooks Peninsula and the seas began to climb while the wind rose as predicted by the Coast Guard. This is why I increased the sea room. A planned overnighter and looks like we may have high winds tonight. At this point I've increased our distance to 16 nautical miles. The forecasted high wind of 35 to 40 knot wind will be blowing on our stern. As the seas climb and the night progressed we found ourselves surfing at  11 knots. Had some troubles getting the jib down of course...   I made the classic mistake of not reefing early. Now my jib furler is fouled and my large sail will not come down. Current wind passing 25 knots and I'm surfing 11 knots.  Up to the bow under the stormy dark light, pulling the jib down through the cockpit and out of harm's way. Sad to say I blew out the leech line with the sail violently whipping in the wind. Like I say, lessons learned.  Anyways looking at the bright side I will get to test out my new sail repair kit.
With the headsail down and the double reef main,  boat was still surfing at 7 knots so in come the sails around midnight and heave to for the night. This was part of the plan, to try the boat in a storm like condition while still under control. That's one of the things this trip is about, to see how the Vega performs when I pressure it. She hove to nicely, lashing the tiller over to you leeward. Keeping about a 50' angle to the waves with bare poles, was just barely enough to hold angle. She could use a storm jib but very small one.... Add that to the shakedown list... I climbed inside the companion way and dad says to me," what do we do now?" for me there's nothing left to do but get some sleep. I'm exhausted.. The Drift at present is  perfect with the wind and the sea room we were drifting at 1.5 to 2 knots in the 16 foot waves directly down the coast. I told Dad," well, the longer we sleep the less distance we have to cover tomorrow."  I think that relaxed him a little bit. Actually I doubt it, but I climbed into my bunk set my alarm for every 45 minutes to check our position and drifted off to sleep. We bobbed in the storm with our drift in the right direction all night. Woke early as the wind started to subside to around 25knt now and the Seas still large. I fired up the diesel and pointed us in the direction we wanted to go just to double reef the main then shut her off, and off we went. The secret plan to hopefully hit Hot Springs Cove is now kind of a necessity and not a want anymore... More of a need. Dad has never been there and talked about it since I was a boy. there was no way we're going to miss that. The wind died down to 15 to 20 knots. The storm jib and a double reefed main seems to be awesome sail combination for higher wind sailing. Very easy to balance.  Dad's nerves were on high alert from the night while I found it to be quite pleasing. It's funny the perspectives. We made her into hot springs Cove mid afternoon on the 16th. and made the 2 mile hike out to the springs with bathing suits in hand.

Hot Springs Cove is a magical place. When you feel like you need it, there is a natural hot tub full of European women.  On the docks when we arrived, I spoke to the Restaurant Manager and the guide charters about the tourist industry here. They all mentioned that it is 80% women who book tours here.  Bummer, when I hit the spring,it was just me and Dad...

This area of the West Coast and the Clayoquot Sound, have rich history with the First Nations. Opensit Peninsula is covered in sacred sites, tree carving and burial grounds most remarkable are the burial caves.  Everybody at this beautiful spot is very welcoming and pleasant. We spent the night tied to the wharf with two half wolves down on the dock to keep us company. That definitely ensured that Mylo the boat kitty kept all 4 feet on board!

We woke up early to the charter boats starting to come in. One of the reasons I like to anchor out...  The reputation of this place definitely stood fast. We enjoyed our coffee on the dock and had an early exit from hot springs Cove under a new sail configuration for Ucluelet.

June 17th.  This was a 40 mile run in excellent conditions bright sunshine 3 to 4ft following seas and 10 to 15 knt wind. A far cry from the storm force and constant the gale force + wind we enjoyed all the way up the Johnstone strait!  A number of mast slides had failed in the storm off  Brooks. So we had to limp our way down under double reef instead of full main and #2 jib which would have been ideal in these conditions. We lost approximately a knot, maybe 2 all day which made the run a little longer than it needed to be. But it would be easy and beautiful as we were accompanied by porpoises most of the day. We passed off down the coast past Longbeach, Chestermans beach and Cox bay. The ocean in this area is a little more turbid than other areas. The crystal blue water of the Johnstone Strait has given way to murky water of the west coast. The storm from previous days must have turned it up quite a bit. We rounded the corner, navigated the reefs into Ucluelet Harbor under a beautiful warm sunny spring evening and tied to the government Wharf to make dinner. Repair parts, mast slides and clips are on their way thanks to my good friend Lew at West Marine. Mom is bringing the parts along with company down to the boat and that includes Duke my dog which I am missing very very badly at this point. How am I going to do it being away from him for the passage to Australia, I don't know.  We met some interesting people down on the docks as they prepped for squid fishing off the wharf.

June 18th.   First thing in the morning we swapped docks for fuel and then the next government Wharf down where access is much easier for Mom. Just down from the Ocean Marine Center, there is a small but excellent Wharf for transferring fuel and provisions. Mom showed up with Duke and Ray and Val along with their little dog. We had a great visit on the boat, I repaired the sails. modified the self steering gear to support it better. Generally brought the boat back up to 100% maybe a bit better. Tomorrow after being fully rejuvenated with the layday, a great dinner at the local restaurants, laundry done, new provisions we are ready for the final leg home. This is the home stretch. This area is where I learned how to sail my Kirby. I spent days, months and years sailing giant triangles in that strait cutting from Canada to United States, back to Canada. The Vega is a heavier boat, and far easier to handle in these conditions but not near as fast. That I kinda miss...

June 19th.  Leisurely morning, sailing past the Broken Group motor sailing as the wind is about 5 knots and flat calm. Not the best sailing conditions but that's the way she is out here... Get out early and the wind will constantly rise throughout the day until you have the most amazing sailing down the coast. Wasn't long before we saw more giant sea otters and porpoises around us. This ecosystem here is so alive. The shallow waters that run out distances have random pockets of kelp beds floating where the sea otters find their food, the giant sea urchin.  Floating on their backs with their hind paws sticking out of the water like furry slippers, they eat their urchins by breaking them open with their favorite rock. They tuck this little rock under their arms so they won't lose it.  The largest of the Weasel species, this otter has the densest fur in the animal kingdom.  This spurred relentless hunting from the mid 1700's to 1900's, pushing them onto the endangered species list.
Off in the distance Cape Flattery came into view as we slowly passed by Nitnat River, Carmanah and Walbran valleys. Once inside this strait, it felt more like home with Whiffin Spit on the agenda for the stop over tonight. It wasn't long inside the strait that we finally got our first hit on the fishing rod. Eased the sails to slow the boat and pulled in a small spring which had grabbed the hook which was bouncing on the surface at close to 7 knt! We look forward to BBQ salmon and potatoes with peppers. Rounding Whiffin spit in the early evening, he caught a favorable tide to our shallow anchorage just inside the protected waters and out of the way of this busy passage. A great anchorage with flat calm waters and a nice hike to stretch the legs.  We celebrated a little with a bottle of port and turned in floating over the reflecting lights of Sooke.
June 20th.  Jada brought us coffee first thing in the morning and we enjoyed, as usual, a chilled morning in the cockpit until the tide starts to ebb.  With caffeine and muffins in our system we pulled anchor and headed for our next Anchorage which was Sydney spit on Sydney Island. Good sailing as this was the fastest I have ever sailed past Victoria. Typically a slow day with the convergence zone the deal with. Today, we flew past Victoria at approximately 7 knots sustained with a 15 to 20 knt wind, 2 foot following seas and sunshine. Suntan lotion, fishing rod out. We flew through Discovery passage en route to our next Anchorage. That eve we hooked to one of the existing mooring pins at Sydney spit under an early evening sky. Tucked in between all the yachts and other sailing vessels much like mine. Dinner and easy lounging in the early summer sunset.  Tomorrow we run for home past saltspring  isl. 
June 21st. We woke to the sun peaking over the coastal mountains in yet another flawless, blue sky.  What are the chances to make it all the way around the island with only maybe 4 hours of light rain the entire time?!  Breakfast and off we went.  Hoisted the sails even tho the water was like a mill pond..  Like we were coaxing the wind to give us something...  We motored past Sidney, between Fernie and Goudge isl. and past Saltspring...  Being a bit early for the tide at Samsun Narrows, we sailed in the light wind at approx. 1-2 knt to buy time.  Samson Narrows is always a treat and a beautiful short cut to Stuart Channel.  The tide just sucks you through.  Eagles and Harbor Seals abound here.  Sailing up Stuart Channel, motoring when the sporatic wind died, we made home dock by 18:30.  The Vega completed the Circumnav in almost exactly 15 days!  Quite an achievement for this little cruiser and crew. 
When I complete this route again, I will make a few minor adjustments.  Firstly, no more chasing a fleet.  Altho we completed the circumnav in almost the same amount of time, we pushed harder in spots than I felt like.  I wont pound up Johnstone Strait in Gale force NE's. but rather take some of the secondary routes like Chancellor Channel and Mayne passage.  Get further out into Desolation sound.  I wouldn't change the company.  What an amazing short expedition with my father.  He rose to the occasions when we needed it and made a mean pot of campers coffee in the mornings. 

Starting to realize that the cruising grounds we have right here may be some of the most diverse in the world.  From technical sailing in the current swept passages to strong, blasting winds in the channels.  Nooks and crannies everywhere you go which could be your own private paradise.  No matter where life takes me, this will always be home.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

A Van Isle Circumnav- Part 1 - East Coast Van Isl

I sit here after the completion of my first circumnavigation of Vancouver Island, thinking back to all the ports of call, the spectacular views and spending 2 weeks of quality time with my father.   Sort of looking at my blog wondering where to start and what to say as the whole experience of skippering my Albin Vega for her first real shakedown.  Pouring over my Captain's log, so many hidden memories come flooding back...  I guess best thing to do is to start at the beginning and slowly edit out the bits that don't make the cut.

About 5 years ago, I came up with this plan.  To buy a boat, refit her to a standard I am comfortable with and sail her around the world.  This has been a personal challenge that has become a driving factor in my life.  So many things have to come first, family, money, refit, work, and personal training to name just a few.  Slowly over the years everything has began to fall into place and many things are yet to come to fruition.  At one time, I thought of sailing offshore as being a far off goal, one to attain someday.  First was to compete in the Vic- Maui International Yacht Race to gain offshore experience and then to skipper my Albin Vega around the Island.  Well, if you make the right decisions and stay focused, these things happen.  Last year, I competed in the Vic-Maui, completing the run from Victoria, BC to Lahaina, HI.  This rooted the need to be away from land and the sweet isolation of a place far away from anything, a place of unbroken horizons.

But this blog entry is not about the Vic-Maui, it is about a 16 day adventure around this rock we call Vancouver Island. 

I had no idea how amazing it was going to be to set sail and get my own 360' view of one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Not only experience these things first hand, but to get to enjoy these things with my father at 72.

The Albin Vega is a pocket blue water boat.  Chosen after a number of years of research into small cruisers.  The Albin Vega always came to the top.  Smaller than what some would consider but perfect for someone who wants to experience the purity of sailing solo or short-handed for long distances in a expertly designed and safe vessel.  

With much of the refit completed, the summer of 2015 is the year to tick one more  check off the list.  Shakedown the boat in a real offshore environment.  What better way than to chase the Van Isle 360 fleet?  So the adventure took shape and after provisioning, gutting out all the stuff I didn't need, I untied the lines...

June 5th, 2015.  A mid morning exit from Ladysmith marina in the bright sunshine, after saying goodbye to a new friend, Malcolm. From Australia, who recently brought his boat to summer over(or winter over) depending on your perspective, at the marina.  I motored out of the harbor and set sail for a layday in Nanaimo for my son's grad photos and to pick up my crew.

June 6th. I watched the Van Isle 360 yachts cycle in the harbor and eventually get their start at 10:00 for their circumnav.  I waited for an evening start after spending most of the day with the family and photos on the waterfront.  Couldn't wait to set sail as the anticipation built of the upcoming adventure. 18:41, I pulled the hook with dad onboard and we headed for a late day and evening run to False Bay on Lasqueti Isl.  This short leg was a tough one as we fought Gale force headwinds and built seas all the way to our midnight hook drop.

June 7th.  Up early in the morning sun, we pulled hook from this flat calm anchorage and powered out past the idle fishing boats.  Again, gale force winds on the nose meant motor sailing to make our destination of Comox harbor.  We made it by early afternoon, slipping past all the pleasure boats and families on the beaches.  Fueled and watered and set hook.  We had caught up to the Van Isle fleet.  Touring their boats on the dock, I was amazed at what they had for shore support.  motorhomes full of food, people everywhere, bbq's, sails and parts all over the lawns.  I wondered how we would fair if this is the kind of support they take...  One little boat with two people on board with no support crew. 

June 8th Not so early start on yet another beautiful, sunny day as we steamed out of the harbor and over the Comox reef and out ahead of the fleet.  15-20 knot wind, 2 foot seas, perfect for getting a head start on the fleet.  After an hour or so, we were making 6.5 knt as the fleet flew by.  Perfect day on the water.

Sun shining, water glistening and the sound of bubbles under the hull.  We sailed for
Painters cove.  The marina at painters cove is quite sheltered if you are on the right side of the dock.  We weren't.  The swell from the channel enters the bay, around the corner, causing an undulation in the boat.  Swinging the boat around made this much more comfortable.

 The shower and then beer on the deck of the restaurant was a good treat to celebrate our first few days out and marks our last night before shooting Seymour narrows and into the beginning of Chattam Strait.

June 9th.  Late start to hit the right tide, Gale force on the nose as we entered Seymour narrows.  The seas built good 6 foot standing and dynamic waves as the current opposed the gale force winds.  We motor sailed through the narrows, taking waves over the cockpit regularly.  The dodger definitely saved our butts many times from getting soaked.  The waves would hit and as long as you are backed up right under the dodger, all the water would cascade right over top.  Dry as ever. Dad laughed everytime, as if he was getting away with something..   I blew out my #2 jib so we cut the day short and pulled into Kanish Bay, tucked in behind Chained Isls.  Swapped out the sail for my new storm jib as the forecast for the Johnstone strait is Gale force+ NE for the next 3 days at least.  Worst possible wind for a little cruiser.  Here we enjoyed the beach, and saw one of the competitors from the Race to Alaska.  A small yellow Catamaran....  And a cat meowing in the bush....  Hmmmm, interesting, lets investigate... :)

June 10th.  Left early on an opposing tide in close to Gale force.  Found that unlike all the advice given by the salty sailors in the area, it was much better sailing on an opposing current with the NE winds as the seas did not build.  We had amazing high wind sailing under double reefed main and storm cut #2.  Ripped by Chattam Point, made the corner and headed for Helmcken Isl.  Sun is shining, strong wind and 1 ft chop = amazing sailing.  As the tide slacked and began to ebb, the seas built and by the end of the day, we made far less progress as the favorable current built nasty 4ft steep seas and regularly topping 6-7ft. close, steep waves.

Happy to set the hook in a quiet, flat calm and icy blue water for Helmcken Isl.  This island is full of life.  We build a small beach fire to shake off the wind blown cold feeling and stretched our legs with a short hike.  Great night sleep as the feeling of slight exhaustion starts to set in.

June 11th.  This is bound to be a longer day.  We need a layday.  The forecast is for storm force
winds for the next few days so we want to run for a harbor to sit this wind storm out.

 We sailed the Johnstone strait under our new plan of opposing tide and smaller seas.  Under the hot sun, we sailed past unbelievable scenery, rugged coastlines and foreboding rock escarpments.  The density of the forests here and the sheer cliffs would make this place an almost impenetrable landscape.  Sailing past Robson Bite, we kept our eyes peeled for Killer whale rubbing their backs on the rocks.  This famous area is one of the only documented places on earth where the whales enter the shallow waters to rub their back on the rounded rocks.  Why they do it?  I don't know.  I'm an engineer, not a biologist!  We made it to Telegraph cove before last light.  Happy to be here.  Was rather humourous to watch my poor dad try to get his land legs back as he wobbled up the dock, almost taking out a sign or two.  Exhaustion has started to set in, I can tell.  I need to keep a very close eye on this.  Tomorrow is a layday, and what better place to enjoy it?  Telegraph Cove!

June 12th.  We did very little.  Toured the docks, ate Bison Burgers, laundry, showers.  Back to 100%.  The history of Telegraph Cove is very interesting.  Starting out as a remote logging camp, it saw bunkhouses built and a small working community grew.  Eventually the mill shutdown and this small bunk community turned into a ghost town.  After being bought privately, the bunkhouses have been restored and now caters to an ever growing eco-tourism hub.

  If its on your way, stop here!  But not if you need diesel.....  Only Gasoline on the fuel dock...?  The local crystal blue water is a mecca for Kayaking.  Next time, the kayak will replace the dinghy on the foredeck...

All and all, a must see with its whale museum and amazing collection of skeletons of local creatures from eagles to whales.

Local Bears..  These two just hang around.

Sea Otter...  More like little Demon
Race To Alaska Team FreeBurd!

 June 13th.  We reluctantly departed Telegraph cove under the morning glow of the rising late spring sun.  Strong wind forecasted as a high pressure ridge off Haida Gwaii started to diminish.  Today is an easy 28 nm run to Port Hardy.  Was a fantastic day sailing.  Strong wind, 3 ft chop and sunshine.  The day passed quick leaving us considering continuing for Hope isl.  We decided to stay for the night and provision.  We took on fuel, water and diesel as our next opportunity to provision is in Ucluelet.  I find that you tend to meet some really great people down on the docks.  The steady procession of little ones walking the docks with their parents always love to talk about the boats.

Mylo, the boat cat is always a big hit too..  Met Gerd, the Skipper of the Taranga and shared tech advice on the ""  Chart plotting and offshore systems.  He knew of the Albin Vega design and commented on the heavy rigging and reputation of this exceptionally strongly built vessel.

  The anticipation of the upcoming west coast leg is building.  The ever so cute Wharfinger Angela was friendly enough to take me for a tour of the small port town.  Great conversation and a very sparky attitude was definitely the highlight of this Port.  Shoulda got her number... Damn ;)

June 14th.  Another beautiful blue sky slowly lit up the horizon as the sun rose in a cloudless sky.  The wind forecast is for lighter winds now in the Queen Charlotte Strait.  The high pressure ridge off Haida Gwaii which gave us our Gale Force+ wind up Johnstone Strait has pretty much diminished.  The planned run from Port Hardy to Bull Harbor, Hope Isl is a short 25nm..  15-20knt wind, small seas and full sunshine means whale watching with the smell of suntan lotion.  You gotta love cruising life...  There is no better way.  Broad reach most of the day gave me lots of time to fiddle with sheet to tiller steering to pass the time.  I enjoy rigging the steering this way.  A couple homemade bungees made of surgical tubing and a length of rope is this boat needs to steer itself. Simple and fun as well as a great exercise in balancing the boat.  Bull Harbor is a great stop over on the way to Cape Scott.  Fully protected and often used by the fishing fleets as a stop over before heading offshore, you can find a free, free floating Gov't wharf as you enter the harbor off the starboard bow.  We had about 20ft under the keel on low tide as we played with the shiners under the dock and amused ourselves by videoing them feed off crushed mussels.

Interesting history behind this island.  The Coast Guard communication station is long since defunct.  All that is left are a few empty houses and unkempt lawns.  That's not really the interesting part though.  At one point in time, the First Nations decided to build a city on this island North of Vancouver Island.  So with the swipe of a pen, millions was spent by the Government to see this built.  A great dock was built, roads were widened to Gov't standard, cement sidewalks, street lights...  All the infrastructure was put in.  Power was needed so a generating station was installed to run the street lights.  Gravel was needed for the road beds so a gravel pit was dug.  After all the infrastructure was put in and millions spent, nobody wanted to move there..  So it sits, a modern day ghost town with nice lights..  Future development of wind power may see this island start to generate livelihoods with the descendants of the Tlatlasikwala, Nakumgilisala, and Yutlinuk peoples.

Tomorrow morning we will make the 24nm run for Cape Scott and make the turn South for our offshore leg.  Time to eat, make last minute preparations and get some sleep.  Offshore leg is here...

For all the things in life I am grateful for, one of the most important to me is sailing.

 Nowhere on earth can you find such peace.  When the seas are happy, the horizons open up and you find yourself floating on another world. When she is angry, you must be brave and protect your everything. Humbly you emerge the other side..  To do this, you must first step away from the land and for gods sake, sail.

To be continued.........................