Aug 3: A Hardy swashbuckling time

[Note: While your admiral and usual faithful scrivener is off in Leuven, Belgium, exploring while the Captain actually gets a chance to take off his foulies for once and use his Ph.D in Liturgical Studies in an academic milieu, her son and his friend Hans took the opportunity to hijack Braesail for a little joyride…or is it joy-float?…in the Broughtons! Ahoy, ye hearties, and join us lost boys for a few blog posts.]

After arriving from Vancouver the previous evening, assessing the state of the contents of the fridge and other provisions, and making a run out to the local Cave-on Foods for provisions, Hans and I had a good, long, and much-needed night’s sleep. We finally dragged ourselves out of our respective bunks well after 9, giving us time for a blueberry pancake breakfast, a few quick errands, and for me to finish up a few bits of work that required internet connectivity while Hans parked his car in Port Hardy Marina’s long-term parking lot.

We finally pushed off the dock after 11 (which, thanks to my folks’ pointing Braesail towards the outside of the marina, became a fun challenge rather than a frustrating one—only requiring pulling back a few feet and a few well-timed blasts of the bow thrusters to slide us free of two commercial fishing boats rafted ahead of us and allowing us to pass both with mere inches to spare). Figuring we might actually get some sailing in due to the later start, and having it get rather warm in the enclosed cockpit quickly, we removed several of the side panels of the cockpit bimini before leaving.

Hans works for OSI Marine, a provider of navigation systems for large commercial ships, and he’d decided to bring along one of their training laptops loaded with their software, to see how it actually works “in anger” rather than “in test”. This gave us three different digital charts: the built-in charts on the radar chartplotter, the Navionics charts on our iDevices, and the official Canadian Hydrographic Service charts on his laptop. All three charting sources showed we should have over 50 feet under the keel. There were a number of markers up the channel that were not shown on any of the three charts. This, plus the depth sounder insisting that we actually had 5-10 feet under the keel (probably thanks to turbulence), meant a slightly nervous skipper and picking our way slowly around the headland.

The weather forecast was showing a ‘strong wind warning’ of 15-20 knots in the afternoon, which was supposed to die down later in the evening. In other words, what all the cruising guides say is a bog standard Queen Charlotte Strait wind forecast. What we had once we were in open water was rather more than this: we found ourselves rapidly pointing directly into 25 knot winds, with confused seas to match. Having faced that for days on end when delivering Braesail from LA, we knew exactly what to expect, but once we were well clear of any obstructions and laying in a course for Wells Passage, we turned this into a beam reach, whereupon the wind calmed down to a comparatively boring 12 knots (on Sagres, that would have been perfect…), giving us an opportunity to blast a photo of Braesail under full sail off to my parents via Facebook before losing connectivity…and dropping the staysail to give us a bit of extra power and control in what had turning into a lovely broad reach in 2-3 foot long-period swells.

Thus began an absolutely exhilarating afternoon sail across the Strait. Most of the passage featured fairly consistent 20-25 knot winds on a deep broad reach, and piloting Braesail as if she was a gigantic surfboard; getting the occasional wave push that caused our speed over ground to pop as high as 11 knots in several instances! Once we started approaching the Nunas Islets in rapidly unstable wind conditions, we decided it was time to shorten sail…and discovered that Braesail’s mostly new running rigging obviously hasn’t been sailed much as neither sheet had their usual stopper knot tied! This caused both sheets to blow themselves clear out of their blocks; this combined with a briefly stalled rudder meant that we were literally ‘two sheets to the wind’. After some heavy cussing, furling the yankee, and retrieving the sheets out of the water back on deck to re-rig later, we elected to continue to fly along at 7-8 knots under main alone in what was building into 30 knot winds, which Braesail took with great aplomb…with enough stability for us to go around and ensure that everything was properly stoppered. We’d considered furling the main and running the staysail, but given the wave conditions, we also didn’t want to risk an accidental jibe on a reefed main, which is an excellent way to blow out a sail. As the BC Lottery ads famously say, “know your limit; play within it”. We’d found our limit, and we were going to play solidly within it, particularly when slightly shorthanded.

After making the turn into Wells Passage (and observing on WX that Environment Canada had sensibly upgraded Queen Charlotte Strait to a solid gale warning, prompting a knowing chuckle from both of us), we soon lost the wind and dropped hook in Claydon Bay in time for a well-deserved couple of beers. Once we’d taken a plunger to the drain hole for the propane locker—apparently we’d taken enough water into it to cause the propane tanks to float!—we feasted on a BBQ chicken and salad dinner, deploying the remainder of the chicken skins into two crab pots, which we set out from Coracle before planning the next day and retiring for the night.

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