The Captain Triumphant

Jun 20, 2008| 0 Comment

Wednesday, June 18th – It dawns rainy and grey. After departing Squirrel Cove, we stop to retrieve our beloved shrimp trap. This time we only get 7 edible shrimp (plus 2 very small shrimp and 3 ugly sunstars). Oh well! Maybe an appetizer. After we get going again, The Captain has another satellite board meeting call. He feels it is wiser to just motor rather than have sails up during his meeting. As happens with such meetings, the one-hour call goes on for almost three. We are heading across the Strait of Georgia to Campbell River to provision, refuel, top off water tanks and do laundry. Tomorrow, we plan to go through Seymour Rapids at slack tide and then head north.


Winds pick up considerably during his phone meeting, and, by coincidence, it is raining! When he finishes, The Captain wants to raise the sail, but The First Mate tells him to “dream on.” It is a team effort to raise sail on this J-160, and in this cold British Columbia rain and wind, The Captain’s team is on strike. That means that the autopilot can competently keep doing its job as the motor thrums away and that The First Mate will remain exactly where she is out of the elements. There is where she intends to stay. She can think of nothing that would convince her to stand at the helm, gamely holding the bow into the wind (and the rain), while the sail is being raised. Absolutely nothing. Life is too short! The First Mate remains sheltered curled in a ball under the dodger.


Campbell River is one of the best harbors along the eastern coast of Vancouver Island for a quick turn-around. Everything needed is within walking distance. The stores are well stocked, and the laundry and showers are modern and clean. There’s even a Starbucks. The only issue is that there is often a strong tidal current in the harbor making docking a challenge. Today, there is also a stiff wind coming from the south. We have been given the end slot on the north side of a pontoon dock. Right now, the tide is running out fairly strongly, and that means that both tide and wind are going to be doing their utmost to push Avante away from the dock and wreck havoc with any docking procedure attempted. The First Mate slowly motors toward the dock and turns the boat around to back down. She has come to trust backing in like this, for Avante does back down beautifully. With The Captain’s help, she adjusts angle and speed for wind and current. Avante approaches the dock, and for a scant two seconds, she is alongside and parallel to the dock. Time enough for The Captain to jump off with the mid-ship line, secure that and then run aft to secure the stern line that he also carried off with him when he jumped. As soon as she sees that Avante is on the dock with at least one rope tied, she runs forward to get ready to throw the bow line to The Captain.

This is the part she positively dreads. Her history of throwing a thick, black dock rope quickly and accurately to The Captain on shore has for the most part been abysmally unsuccessful. The rope is heavy, bulky to handle, often wet, and just plain yucky. She does not even like touching the thing. Her antipathy toward it has given it life, and it is as much against her as she is against it. With all that dislike in the air and her stomach in knots, she must pick the thing up and throw it to the poor sucker (usually The Captain) standing there on the dock waiting for what he thinks is going to be a lifeless twist of benign rope to come looping over, falling just to his side so he can effortlessly catch it. However, when she hurls the rope through the air in one powerful thrust, it may all go sailing out. It may even look like a good throw, but then the diabolical rope will stop itself short like it has hit some kind of invisible wall and will plummet straight down into the water, just out of reach of the person to whom it was aimed. Time and again, this happens. The Captain gives her instructions, and she tries but she just can’t throw that rope with regular success. The rope doesn’t loop out as it should. Her throw just has no power in it. What can she do? She throws “like a girl!”

Not only can’t she throw far, but she cannot aim either. Aim as in throwing directly toward one’s intended target. Aim as in “Susan, where the H— were you aiming?” Suffice it to say that where she thinks she is aiming has nothing to do with where the rope goes. The Captain, standing ready on the dock, not only has to worry about whether the throw reach him, he has to worry about where it is going. Can he get to it fast enough before it slithers off the dock and into the water? Often he has to duck, scramble and sometimes fly himself to catch it. She thinks it is all about physics again. There are too many weight, distance, speed and looping variables to factor in at the instant of throwing. Nothing about it feels natural or easy. Shamefully, she looks like a 3-year old throwing a tennis ball. Where it goes, nobody knows!

Getting a boat tied to a dock should be done quickly and cleanly. Upon such occasions when her first throw ends in the water, the look she receives from The Captain leaves no doubt that he would like to send her in after it. Having failed in that first attempt, she now has to retrieve the thoroughly wet and slimy thing, coil it somehow so it will loop out without tangling and then valiantly heave it out again. She swears that she has seen the rope lying there panting at her just daring her to touch it again. At times, she is so full of angst at the second throwing of the thing that she turns sideways and kind of slingshots the rope. As long as he catches it, she cares not. Success no matter how ugly is success!

Today, to her relief after all the angst, she does manage to throw the bow rope in the general direction of the dock. It was a clumsy, ugly throw, and it wasn’t anywhere near accurate, but The Captain is able to retrieve it (He was a shortstop when he played baseball many years ago) and lash us down. Avante is now tied to the dock with stern, bow and midship line, but she is not exactly nestled right next to the dock. Both current and wind are pushing her away. The First Mate points out to The Captain that he may be able to jump 3 feet from boat to dock or dock to boat, but The First Mate certainly cannot. Together we slowly haul Avante in closer. Spring lines are attached, and, with sighs of relief, we are properly secured.

We barely have time to admire our work before we see another sailboat coming in to dock on the next pontoon over. We note that they have three people onboard which gives them two on deck to handle lines. We don’t pay much attention, because they are not really near us. The next thing we know, we hear yelling. We look up and see the boat at a 90 degree angle to the dock. It is tied on one end but the wind and current have pushed the other end out, and it is sticking straight out into the fairway. The boat looks like it has t-boned the dock instead of tying up alongside it. No one appears to know what to do. Finally, a fishing boat comes by and offers assistance. A line is thrown to the fishing boat, and the askew sailboat is pulled back to the dock.

Our mothers always told us that it is “not nice to gloat”, and she really isn’t, but The First Mate cannot help but feel pretty good about our docking execution in this adverse wind and current. Even with her abysmal childlike throwing exhibition, we looked quite adept getting Avante on the dock. Later. she meets a woman from that other boat in the laundry This woman tells her how envious she and her husband were watching our boat back down into the dock because their boat is a “pig” to back up. Then she tells The First Mate how amazed she was to see a woman at the helm. Did that ever make The First Mate’s day! — but – hold on – there is so much that can go wrong so quickly on a boat that you cannot let any compliment go to your head. One small mistake can quickly spell disaster. Still it does make this First Mate feel like she is getting somewhere on this long learning curve of boat handling.

Now securely tied to our berth after that miserable cold and wet slog across the Strait of Georgia, the skies clear, and it becomes a bright, sunny, albeit very windy, day in the harbor. We have a lot to do, and The First Mate has her tasks in turn-around logistics down to a science. With no hold-ups like waiting in line for a clothes dryer or having to walk 2 miles to the grocery and then take a taxi back to the boat, the tasks of shower, laundry and shopping take 6 hours. That is with keeping on the move the whole time – hauling laundry, hauling groceries, etc. Quick port stops are not her favorite time. If the boat also needs a good cleaning below deck, add another 2 hours at least, and then The Captain had better take The First Mate out to dinner.

Since we do not have internet access on the boat, not added into those hours is the time it takes to find internet access, connect to the outside world and update and publish the blog. The blog alone can run between 2 – 4 or more hours depending upon how temperamental it is acting on that day. Add all those hours together, and The First Mate would like a full day or at least an afternoon and the following morning in harbor. She has not always been accommodated with this meager amount of time. The Captain, however, is belatedly and log-headedly getting the idea that this thing called Marital Bliss, which he sometimes jeopardizes, is a really good thing to maintain onboard the sailing vessel Avante.

But The Captain is pushing his luck today. It is 1330 by the time we are fully tied up, and he wants to depart tomorrow morning. She sets off with two loads of laundry, and he follows carrying the other two.


By late evening, all necessary tasks are done, and a nice restaurant dinner has been enjoyed. The First Mate decides Avante is clean enough, and the internet can wait until the next marina. We are prepared to head off to Seymour Narrows tomorrow at around 1030 so we can catch slack tide. As we navigated these rapids successfully last year, The First Mate now fully understands the significance of slack tide. This year, she thankfully will not be spending a sleepless night worried about what lies ahead.

Thursday, June 19th – We wake up to pelting rain and winds in the harbor clocking in at 20 to 25 knots. The First Mate is about to voice her objection to floating movement of any kind, when The Captain wisely voices his opinion that it is too miserable to motor out anywhere. We will sit out the day at the dock, each contentedly involved in his/her own interests. For The First Mate, internet and blog are on the agenda.

We will tackle Seymour Narrows tomorrow. Even cruise ship operators respect this stretch of water where current and wind have brought disaster to the unwary. If you have not read the entry in the blogs of 2007 entitled “A Sailboat Runs Rapids?”, you might want to do so to obtain a fuller picture of this stretch of nasty water. There certainly is an advantage in doing something a second time. Last year, having read the books about the extreme currents in The Narrows, we planned our departure from Campbell River to reach the entrance just before slack tide. We went through with no problem and continued up Discovery Passage to Johnstone Strait. Due to the timing of slack tides, the only option that made sense for us then was the tide change from ebb to flood that occurred around noon. Later, as we were heading up Johnstone Strait against the flooding tide, our speed kept getting slower and slower, as the incoming current increased. When one’s boat speed is only 7 – 8 knots, 3 knots of adverse current is a big deal. Our Speed Over Ground (SOG) slowed to a dismal 4 – 5 knots before we escaped from Johnstone Strait onto some of the alternate passages.

The storm, which has given us a relaxing day in harbor, has now put us behind schedule by a day. The Captain, being the Type A personality that he is, has a plan to make that up. He has checked the tide table and found that slack current in Seymour Narrows occurs tomorrow at 0629 and 1255. The First Mate thinks the 1255 time sounds terrific as that means an 1115 departure from Campbell River. However, The Captain points out that the 0629 time will be a shift from flood to ebb tide, and if we go with an ebbing tide, by the time we get to Johnstone Strait, we will have all that wonderful current moving with us. Unfortunately, that means leaving Campbell River tomorrow at 0515 or, more precisely, rising out of a warm bed at 0430. “It’s still dark then”, opines The First Mate. “No, up here, if you were ever awake at that time, you would have noticed that it is light at 0430”, smugly replies The Captain.

Friday, June 20th – The alarm clock, which The First Mate no longer believes belongs in her life, clangs at 0430. Despite a morning cappuccino, she is still bleary eyed and half-awake as we motor out of the harbor. There is nobody else out there, which she tells The Captain is at it should be at this unnatural hour. Ignored, she is told to set the engine on high speed, powering Avante through the water at 8 knots. “Signal Buster”, says the former aircraft carrier pilot. “We are 15 minutes late!” As the tide is still flooding in, there are almost 2 knots of current against us giving us a mere 6 knots of speed over ground. “Just wait”, enthuses The Captain.

To The First Mate’s amazement at this hour, a few other boats and even tugs with tows appear out of the mist. As we round a bend and can see the entrance to Seymour Narrows several miles ahead, two powerboats that had been waiting for the slack begin to move toward the rapids.

As the tide slowly changes from flood to ebb, we watch our SOG inch upward to 8 knots. We enter notorious Seymour Narrows 10 minutes after slack tide. Traversing The Narrows at slack is once again a non-event, but that is as it should be with proper foresight and planning.


We are now going with the current just as The Captain planned. The First Mate, still bleary eyed, is unimpressed with 8 knots of SOG knowing that we will pull the throttle back to our normal setting now that we are through. “No big deal,” mutters The First Mate. “For this I was forced out of bed at 0430!” But she is told that current does not reverse instantly. After it changes direction, it slowly builds up speed. Tired of watching low clouds and dreary scenery in the light rain and noting that autopilot is capably doing her job, she dispiritedly returns to bed to catch up on her interrupted sleep, leaving The Captain to watch his SOG by himself.

Hardly noticing her absence, he is in his element comparing last year’s times to this year’s and with immense satisfaction, watching our SOG steadily increasing along with the current.

We reach Chatham Point where Discovery Passage joins Johnstone Strait in 1 hour and 25 minutes. Last year it had taken us 15 minutes longer. By the time we reach Mayne Passage, where we had turned off Johnstone Strait last year, we have about 3 knots of current. Having that much current with us rather than against us, reduced our time between Chatham Point and Mayne Passage from 1 hour down to 30 minutes..

When The First Mate finally comes back up on deck, we have partially sunny skies and are flying down Johnstone Strait averaging between 10.5 to 11 knots. The Captain is elated with this performance. Our highest speed is 13.6 knots as we race through Current Passage.

Even the winds are favorable. Johnstone Strait winds are well respected and are published on the marine forecasts often with ominous gale force warnings. Today, they are supposed to be light in the morning, picking up from the south in the afternoon. They do as predicted, and pick up to 10 knots as we clear Current Passage.

When the wind speed builds to 15 knots, The Captain sets the jib to flying. The wind was soon gusting between 20 – 25 knots from behind us enabling the jib to pull us along quite nicely.


Note the unsettled water due to the conflicting currents in Johnstone Strait. Now imagine what it would look like with gale force winds blowing against the current. Definitely not a place to be – as the books so strongly advise.


Captain’s Log: 1310 we round Cracroft Point and enter Blackney Passage headed for the Broughton Islands. We have covered the 74 miles from Campbell River in 7 hours and 40 minutes. The Captain is positively jubilant. He has triumphed. Last year, this same trip had taken us two days slogging up hill against both wind and current. This year, it is over in a little less than eight hours. We averaged a thrilling 10 knots per hour. Even The First Mate is impressed — as she well should be!


Under calm conditions (wind and sea), we enter narrow White Beach Passage and head to our anchorage. We have arrived in the Broughton Islands and are back on schedule. We now have a stretch of relaxed exploring days ahead of us.

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