The Consequences of Weather Complacency: BC’s Sunshine Coast

Ah, the BC Sunshine Coast!  Sunshine was definitely an accurate description of our few days’ passage through Garden Bay, Gibsons Bay, and on to False Creek in Vancouver.  Well, except that one little weather glitch.

We arrived in Garden Bay after a long motor from Gorge Harbour.  The trip started out calm and glassy.  The only blemishes on the water’s calm surface were the wakes of large power boats that, for reasons I didn’t understand, seemed to continually pass too close.  (So much traffic!  Having the water to ourselves in Alaska has ruined me.)  Ever so slowly, as we made our way south down the Strait of Georgia, and into Malaspina Strait, the seas went from a glassy calm to subtilely building wind.  The chop increased also, making the last few hours a fairly bumpy ride.

After a last-ditch and unsuccessful fishing effort, we entered the calm of Pender Harbour, and dropped our anchor in Garden Bay.  It was hot, and I was getting worried about our haul-out upon our return – specifically, the cost of it.  If we were able to dive on our prop and keel bulb, then we might be able to avoid a haul-out.  There were two things we needed to check.  First, we had to make sure the keel bulb’s epoxy wasn’t rubbed off when we gave the rocky bottom a little love bump on our way out of Devilfish Bay.  If the epoxy was still on, then the bulb itself was protected, even if the bottom paint had come off – bottom paint could wait until Mexico.  Epoxy, though, was required to ensure the keel bulb itself didn’t rust.

Second, we needed to make sure the prop was in good working order.  We hit a log on our way north through The Broughtons, and if that log bent our prop, we’d have to get it straightened out before using it again.  The log wasn’t that big, so our hope was that the prop could stay in place, and wouldn’t need any work.  But, we had to get a look at it to know either way.

So, after seeing that the water temp in the bay was 72 degrees, I decided to go for a swim.  The water didn’t feel too cold at all, and was actually quite pleasant.  Ellie joined me, and we probably would have swum all afternoon if several things hadn’t happened.

First, I have an irrational fear of underwater, and especially under boats.  I don’t know why – maybe I had too many dreams as a kid where I was underwater and somehow got trapped.  Or, maybe it’s the sea monster no doubt lurking just below the surface.  No idea.  But, the idea of swimming under a boat is completely, 100%, terrifying.

So, when I did make my attempt to dive on our prop, I was foiled by some pretty murky water.  With the visibility being only about one foot underwater, I couldn’t see the prop – couldn’t even find the prop, much less inspect it – without swimming into the unknown murk under the boat.  Despite several attempts, I wasn’t able to force myself close enough to the prop to view it.

Then, the sea monster appeared.  At first, it was a series of loud splashes under one of the private docks near shore.  We didn’t know what it was, and the splashes stopped, so we didn’t give it much thought.  But then the splashes came back.  Since it turned out to be nothing the first time, I assumed it was nothing this time, as well.  Until Rich casually pointed out, “Oh look!  A seal is playing over there.”

Seals are exactly the kind of sea monster I was afraid of.  They’re meat-eaters, and although I’m not very good prey, there are stories of them attacking in murky conditions, likely confused about what they’re actually going after.  Also, although seals don’t usually attack adult people, I had to wonder whether Ellie might be snack-sized for a seal.  So, when Rich musingly said, “Oh look!  A seal is playing over there!” I FREAKED OUT!

Rich tried to talk me down.  “Don’t worry about it, the seal’s all the way over there, he’s not going to come over here.”  “That seal doesn’t care about you.”  “He’s not even hunting, he’s just playing over there.”  He almost had me convinced.  And then, the seal suddenly appeared MUCH closer, apparently playing with the anchor chain of the boat moored 200 feet next to us.  With an even closer seal, and murky water in which said seal could easily think me or Ellie a scrumptious dinner, I was out of that water in a heartbeat.  (After Ellie, of course.)

Despite my failure, Rich was (to my great, money-saving pleasure) still determined to get a look at the prop.  So, he rigged up our Garmin Virb XE on the end of the boat hook with our waterproof spotlight (we love this thing!) attached.  I had tried his contraption once while I was in the water, but I couldn’t see where I was pointing the camera, and after a few seconds the camera died.  We checked the footage I got, and just when the battery died and the clip ended, the prop came into fairly clear view.  We only saw one blade (which appeared to be okay), and that partial success fueled Rich’s continued effort – after a break to charge the battery, of course, and that vicious seal attack.

Rich’s ingenious camera-on-a-stick.

In the end, the murk was simply too much for even the ingenious camera-on-a-stick.  Rich got some good views of portions of the prop, and it looked okay, but we weren’t sure because it was impossible to aim the camera in the blind, and we couldn’t get it deep enough to check the keel bulb.  So, a haul-out was still on the to-do list when we arrived back in Anacortes, although we were also looking into divers to see if that might be cheaper.

The next morning, we were off to Vancouver!  Breakaway pulled out first, and immediately its transmission refused to engage in forward.  They drifted next to us for ten minutes or so while the engine cooled down, and – bam!  Having no low gear, they were off like a rocket as soon as they got the transmission engaged.

I had put our fenders out and gotten lines ready for them to raft with us, in case they couldn’t get into gear.  So, after Breakaway left, I spent a few minutes cleaning up the deck after Breakaway’s breakaway.  I was just about to pull up our anchor when Breakaway called us on the radio: “Hey guys, you know, it’s really pretty rough out here.”

Oops.  Over the last week, we’d gotten so used to the sun, and the calm sea conditions that inevitably accompany sunshine in the Salish Sea.  So, we hadn’t even bothered to check the weather that morning.  The sky the night before was clear, so that was good enough, right?

Out in Malaspina Strait, Breakaway was facing 25- to 35-knot winds, head-on, against the current.  This made for some big, steep seas.  Breakaway worked to navigate through the constant crashing of waves over the bow, making little forward progress.  It wasn’t long before Breakaway’s dinghy, stowed on the forward deck, nearly disembarked the vessel.  (It was secured at its aft, but after the calm conditions we’d been in for days, its bow wasn’t tied down.)  In the high wind, the bow flipped up, and tried to break free from its stern restraints.  At that point, Stan and Laurel decided to turn around and come back in.

Luckily, I hadn’t yet cleaned up the rafting setup, so Breakaway rafted to us when they returned.  We spent the morning relaxing and talking in the cockpit, and Laurel treated the girls to cereal on Breakaway.  (“Mama, did you know that Breakaway has cereal with strawberries?!“)  The wind wasn’t supposed to calm down until the early afternoon, so we sat and waited, chatted and relaxed.  Each hour, we’d download the updated buoy reports to see if conditions had improved.

By 1PM, the wind and seas were calm enough to make a second attempt.  After watching Breakaway drift off her raft, turn the motor on, and burn rubber out of the harbor, we pulled up our anchor and followed.  Because we left so late in the day, and because we still had some wind on the nose slowing our progress, we knew we wouldn’t be able to make it all the way to Vancouver that night.  So, we decided to pull in at Gibsons Bay at sunset.  The anchorage was infuriatingly crowded, but we eventually found a place to drop our anchor and have Breakaway raft up with us.  Laurel invited us over for a delicious curry dinner, and we decided we’d leave around 8AM the next morning for Vancouver, where Laurel was scheduled to catch a plane home to Oregon.

One thought on “The Consequences of Weather Complacency: BC’s Sunshine Coast

  • September 17, 2017 at 4:04 pm
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    Haha, I just did the same trick with a gopro on a boat hook to look at the damage from our little scrape with planet earth about a month ago.

    Reply

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