Yesterday was one of those typical northwest spring days: “if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.” After a bit of a bouncy night at the dock in Prevost Harbor (named, along with Prevost Island, Prevost Hill, Prevost Mountain, James Island, and Charles Bay for James Charles Prevost, a British naval officer and one of the commissioners for settling the infamous—if not famous—Pig War between Britain and the United States in 1859; typical of high naval officers of the period, he doesn’t seem to have been able to read a map—as differentiated from a chart—and thus can be credited with the border crossing between Canada and Point Roberts as part of the peace treaty), we got underway for Sidney, BC and began our quest to enter the “True North, Strong and Free.”
We untied from the dock in a dead calm, to sally forth on what would normally be a quick and easy two-mile trip across the magic black line that separates the San Juan Islands and the Southern Gulf Islands to Bedwell Harbour (the most significant difference between the San Juans and the Gulfs is the “U” in the word that designates where you park your boat). But COVID! and the Bedwell Harbour station has been closed since 2020, so we began the nine-mile upwind slog to Port Sidney Marina to clear customs and immigration. More or less on the nose, we had 4 kt* winds, then 10 kt winds, then 5 kt winds, then 17 kt winds. It was sunny. It was cloudy. It was dry and warm. And about half-way across, the wind rose from 12kts to 35, gusting to 40kts, and a torrential downpour was unleashed. A minute later, someone found the shower valve, and the rain stopped, the wind dropped to about 5kts. That, my friends, was a tropical squall in April at 48º North (and believe it or not, some people don’t think there is climate change).
A little more than an hour from untying, after put-putting at 2300 rpm, we tied up at the customs dock in Port Sidney Marina and called in to clear Braesail into Canada.
For those of you who do math, you might wonder “Braesail is about 40′ lwl. Given
HS = 1.34 x √LWL
she should max out at a hull speed of around 8.5 kts. How did she make 9kts at not that far above idle on the engine?
Let me initiate you into the secret sauce of northwest cruising: Tides and Currents. They are a sailor’s best friends and worst enemies. We timed our run to Sidney to line up with an ebb tide of about 2kts running south and west in Boundary Pass and Haro Strait. So while the knot meter (a little paddlewheel under the boat that measures the speed of Braesail in the water) showed around 7kts, the GPS (which measures the speed of Braesail over the ground) occasionally popped to over 10 kts. There were other times, when we hit a back eddy, when the GPS dropped below 5 kts.
That’s the friend. The enemy—at the same time—could be found at the other end of the Gulf Islands, at Dodd Narrows near Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. That helpful ebb in Haro Strait was a nasty 5-6kt opposing current with lots of eddies, and I wouldn‘t even think of trying to go north through the Narrows, even though the math would suggest we might make it. The water is so turbulent that the propeller couldn’t get a good grip, and full throttle might make 4-5kts, discounting the current itself. So, if we tried to go through the Narrows, we’d be going 2kts backward! at full throttle.
I called the Canada Border Services Agency Telephone Reporting Service after having entered all our info into the ArriveCan app, and were given clearance to go to our slip. A minute later, the phone rang with the order “Please remain at the customs dock. We will be sending an agent to inspect.” It appears that we had been caught trying to sneak an untested Canadian (Martin) into the country back in December (the story is here in the blog) and they couldn’t trust us to tell the truth. Who knows, we might have been trying to slip an apple across the border.
We then waited. For about five minutes. Then the phone rang again. I explained our felonious son’s attempt to bring his friend Omicron back to Canada and our night journey back to Anacortes. With that we were cleared to enter Canada; we tied up, walked into town to find a proper Canadian rum ball (and found an ample supply of Nanaimo bars!), came back to the boat as the rain began to fall again, and had a relaxing evening.
Today we go in search of apples, pears, and potatoes. They are just as illegal to bring across the border as pot, and since I never inhaled, I follow the rules!
* KT/KTS is the abbreviation for “knot/s“ which stands for “nautical miles per hour.” You should not normally say ”knots per hour” because that’s a measure of acceleration, not speed. A nautical mile is one minute of arc at the equator of the earth, or 1.15 statute miles (or 1852 metres, for those of you who use grown up units). 10 kts is thus 11.5 mph.