Adventures on the Blue

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Today was probably the only time I've actually been a bit afraid of what the wind had in store for quite a while. The onshore wind was 15 knots but there was nothing too nutty looking out in the strait. I got down to the beach and launched with the wind just whistling at my back. We were in for a fun time on the water. The plan was to go to Chatham, but that plan was rapidly disappearing.



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The one great thing about nice winds, the yacht club scrambles every available boat to go out and play. We made our way out of caddy bay and I started getting a bit worried about the conditions. The wind was making huge black streaks on the water and when we got out to flower I could already feel the swell coming off Haro strait. Most of this summer, I've been spared any wind warnings at all, so today was my first strong wind warning for a while.



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I looked over Baynes and it seemed more or less fine, but I couldn't convince anyone to cross it. Instead we headed toward the vortex of whitewater off Ten mile point. The wind gusts were just hurtling through and on the other side of the rocks was just steep whitewater with a whole bunch of fetch allowing for some pretty noisy surf crashing on the rocks. I kept trying to survey my partners to make sure no one attempted that stuff. John and I paddled a bit close to the rocks and the wind just told us to go away.



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And we did. We headed back out to Jemmy Jones to prepare for crossing to oak bay. And then I kind of lost everyone.. they crossed back to flower and I came after them a bit later. Just as I crossed over, about 10-15 sailboats decided to come through the channel we were paddling in. I got over to slightly shallower water and snapped a bunch of photos as the flotilla passed by. We rafted up for a few minutes to watch all the boats go out and around ten mile into the stronger winds.



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Paula was off and heading over to the rocks near cattle point, so I just kept pace with her for a while, but John and Louise had fallen behind. There was no fetch over Cadboro bay, but the current was opposing the wind in the middle of the channel kicking up some strange chop. It was pretty fun actually, and as much as I wanted to try for oak bay, I surmised my partners had had enough.



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John and Louise caught up and we all stuck together along the rocks on the shore. The wind had picked up into some even stronger gusts, I was getting blown back out to sea on more than one occasion. made it kind of hard to take photos. We eventually paddled back and pulled out after a short but windy little run.




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Sunday, October 26, 2008 Leave a Comment 0 comments

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So it's a week later and we're on lesson 2 of our 3 day crewing course. The weather cleared up again today, making for some great conditions for learning some of the finer points of docking, points of sail and basic navigation. We repeated our breakfast at Kitty's and met Katy at the entrance to the marina. I sort of took my time locking up the van and when I looked up my friends were half way down to meet her.



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Katy had been out on a few challenging days in the week including an almost day long sail from Oak Bay to West Bay thanks to fierce headwinds on Friday. We all hopped aboard a much more familiar Rose of York and set down to do our tide, weather and current predictions. The old current atlas came out so everyone could have a peek at the wild patterns of current around the Juan de Fuca and Haro straits. We logged it all - man how this feels just like getting ready for a day of kayaking. If you missed them before, I did a few tide and current table templates a while back that I still like to fill in for unfamiliar trips more than about 10km.



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We got the boat setup and then the skipper showed us some of the finer points of reefing a main sail. The airs were nice and light and we were head to them, so we decided to raise sail in the slip and give reefing a try. The reefed nicely and we got some key ideas of what lines need to be eased and hardened. We shook out the reef and then put away the main sail. We started the motor and Kevin took the helm while Jordan and I cast off. It was time to do some docking exercises.



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So this was the part I absolutely dreaded. We each got about 3-4 solid tries at it in a nice wide slip. Kevin was first to go and did great, I held the stern line and basically just watched the technique. Jordan took the helm and I hopped up to do the bow line. Jordan also got it nice and quick. Just to make it a little more fun, we all got to test 3 point turns, too. So it was my turn and much to my chagrin, both the wind and the currents under the dock had been slowly increasing.



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But I found out there's nothing to worry about if you just keep in mind where you're aiming the pointy bit up front. A good cue for me was the rear cleat on the dock. Aiming for that and keeping just enough speed for steerage meant everything would be alright. After those little exercises, I had a good feel for the tiller save the little accidental, "no, not that way, stupid brain," moment. I stayed on the helm and motored us out into the wind and waves.



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We stopped just outside the V21 buoy and raised the sails. The wind was nice and brisk this morning and the boat absolutely loved it. I called a (sta-)port tack and we steered to course and started trimming in the sails. We cruised for a ways and then did a few quick tacks for each of us, just to get the muscle memory down. by the end of that we were swinging around the cockpit much faster that the previous week. We were on a close reach for a bit and were getting some good speed from the boat, but as we pressed forward, we were being a bit over-driven. The boat heeled over nicely and we started to see why the crew sit on the edge of the sailboats from time to time.



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So The skipper decided to demonstrate heaving to to get us totally stopped in order to trim the mainsail. It's a much quicker procedure than I thought it would be. We went into the heave to. We got super close hauled and the boat started to turn a bit, then we tacked without adjusting the headsail and the boom swung across. We eased the heck out of the main sheet and with some nice merciless tiller work and we were stopped. Our skipper lashed the tiller and Kevin and I hopped up behind the boom to lower the mainsail. we lowered the sail, put the reef in and hauled it back up. Man talk about work! Raising a mainsail while full of wind took all my body weight and Kevin locking the tail to the cleat every time. We got it all back up, adjusted our downhaul and boomvang and we realized... we're still stopped.



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We got out of it by just by bringing the main sail back to close hauled and moving the tiller slowly back to the centerline. The boat crept around slowly and we trimmed the sails just right. Suddenly, POW - the power came back into the sails and we were off again. We were still heeling a bit so we went through the rather quick task of furling back a bit of our headsail and we got the boat on a nice even keel in a beam reach. The power was great and we just sat on the course for a while. We had a look at the chart and found we were hurtling into a traffic lane. No sooner did we recognize that, two large container ships appeared from the mist heading toward trial island. We altered course and headed back along the path we came to keep out of their way.



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We had a quick break while the boat was being nicely behaved and one little reality was hitting us, the wind was subsiding. We set a course for clover point and had a little go on a broad reach. We cruised there for a while and the speed was just getting lower and lower. Jordan unfurled the headsail and we got hove to again to go shake out the reef for the rest of our downwind journey. From this point on, the skipper let us try and come up with a nice path home. It totally hit home exactly how the sails could help steer the boat and what we'd have to do to go where we wanted. I sighted the Brotchie ledge light and suggested we keep to starboard of it. We adjusted the sails for the helm's new course and sat back and saw the magic in action. The winds were getting lighter on our run. It's a tough job keeping the run going, so Katy showed us a neat idea called a preventer, a rope tied from the trailing edge of the boom to the forward cleat that prevents and accidental jibe if the wind veers or backs or the helm falls asleep.



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As we got around Brotchie ledge, we decided to remove the preventer and get into a close reach to get closer to Mcauley point. The boat behaved just as expected and we kept a nice even course toward Esquimalt harbour. We were being followed by another sailboat on the same tack and he was windward. We had to tack, so we just waited for enough sea-room for us to execute the tack. We sailed only a little way after the tack and lowered the sails. I motored us back to the marina and managed to get us back to the slip in one piece. I am much happier about motoring and docking now and sailing's starting to feel strangely familiar. We got the boat all cleaned up and found ourselves totally giddy about the great day on the water and the unusual October weather.


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Saturday, October 25, 2008 Leave a Comment 0 comments

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Tonight was one of those rare weekdays that I got out before sundown. I had a quick glance at the currents and my usual oak bay playtime was right out. The winds were calm through all of the coastal waters, so today would be a revisit of Ogden point, mostly as a little bit of exercise. It turned into a really beautiful evening just taking my time - and a little time to breathe.



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Ogden point is a tricky place to launch and land as even in the calmest winds, there's a nice little swell coming onshore. I rigged up the boat and waded out nice and far from the barnacle covered, rocky beach. Setting off, the breakwater was a very painterly scene with deep blue skies and silhouttes of people enjoying an early evening stroll. I drifted into a kelp bed and got some photos of the lighthouse against the sky. Powerboats whizzed into the traffic lane from behind me.



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The currents were really insane today and the few little rips around the tip of the breakwater and McAuley point were just turning into little whirlpools. I made a good choice not facing Baynes this afternoon. The inside of the harbour was alive with people putting their boats away for the day and a few visiting tied up near the coast guard offices. The helijet and the entire fleet of seaplanes were lined up for takeoff. The traffic lane in the inner harbour can be a scary place for kayakers.



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Downtown looked just great wiht the sunlight hitting all the old buildings. Laughter and sounds of dinner were coming from a number of boats in the inner harbour and the Clipper began to start up her engines with an ominous jet noise. Just as many float planes filed in as had left and as they all pulled into the dock, I decided to cross to Vic west.



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The Songhees were a popular spot for outrigger folks. 3 long, 4-6 man canoes from Ocean River, VCKC and GO all paddled to the rhythm of a disembodied voice in the group. I paddled easily into West Bay marina and saw exactly why the place was dredged. Outside the channel was about 3-5 feet deep. The water was so clear, you could see little skate-type fish flitting around the sea bottom.



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I had a look around the marina, picking out some things I liked and disliked about some of the moored boats. I headed back out to the little swallow birdhouses on the east entrance of the marina. Variously labeled with varions names, numbers and acronyms, the little birdhouses were empty and weather worn. The sky was becoming all kinds of colors as the sun began to set. I awlays find it hard to get a camera to really catch everything that's going on in the sky.



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I crossed from McAuley point back to the breakwater lighthouse and saw a few whale watching boats coming into the traffic lane. I'll have to remember to bring a light if I ever want to stay out longer than this, because the incoming boats would have never seen me. I went back around the breakwater and kept looking over my shoulder for the amazing sunset behind me. By the time I got to the beach, nearly all the light was extinguished and I cruised into a quiet beach to quietly take out. What a great little journey.


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Wednesday, October 22, 2008 Leave a Comment 0 comments

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It's my first day at sailing school! A couple of my friends from work expressed some interest in going out to sail and I was quick to join them. We selected a school pretty much all over the internet, because we're huge nerds. The school of choice was VIMA ( Vancouver Island Maritime Academy ) down in Esquimalt, just west of downtown Victoria. Our gracious skipper let us do some great hands-on work the first day, and our basic crewing course is off to a great start.



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We started the day at Kitty's for a little breakfast and then went to West Bay Marina to meet our instructor. Previous to today, I had no idea that this particular part of the marina even existed. The water was super flat with only strong currents in the forecast. Neither wind nor rain were even on the radar for Victoria harbour. It has been a great October so far.



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We met up with Katy at the marina office and she walked us down to the 28' Cal, The Rose of York, in it's slip in the middle of the marina. She had us step aboard and set out to the basics of good seamanship, reading the daily tidal and weather forecasts and introducing us to various features specific to the boat. She pulled out one of the most well used current books I've seen in my time. We logged the tides, currents and weather on a convenient worksheet and then got the boat ready to sail.



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This boat has a gasoline outboard motor sticking off the transom and some nice modern conveniences like a furling headsail, electric starting motor and a fairly roomy cabin. We cast off under power and headed to the gas bar across the water. It wasn't long until we were in the flight path of the float planes. As luck would have it, the death from above strobes started to flash just as we stuck our nose out into the runway and we had to alter course slightly. When the plane landed, we made a quick transit to the gas station at fisherman's wharf.



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We got fueled up and motored our way out of the traffic separation scheme at the entrance to the harbour. before we knew it, we were clear of the breakwater for the inner harbour and out into the strait. The wind was calm out here with mostly just rogue swell echoing around the bay. The currents were going to be on a pretty fast ebb, so we were worried more about that than the winds. Our first exercise was crew overboard recoveries under power, which I found incredibly confidence-building. For those not used to working a tiller, we all seemed to really have some fun getting close enough to recover our overboard floating flag.



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It was time to set sail! We learned how to raise the sails and fill them first thing. There were few times when we didn't have giant grins on our faces. The boat feels fantastic under sail. No noise, just the creaking of lines in the windy patch our skipper found for us. I'm glad a lot of the local knowledge in kayaking applies to sail. Coming around to trial island and clover point is much gentler in a sailboat. The only little hints that there was current was a general drifting feeling and a bit of vibration on the tiller unlike the "oh god" moment of watching a 4-5knot eddy line coming square at your beam that you'd get in a kayak.



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We got on a solid starboard tack and let it carry us for a spell. We all took turns at the tiller and watched for changes in drive. The boat heeled over a little as we got up to 5+ knots into the ebb! I guess there were some nice breezes hiding out here after all. We successfully performed our first tack from a close hauled starboard tack to a close hauled port tack and the skipper dived down into the cabin and whipped up some hot chocolate for everyone. That was a very welcome treat. We sailed back in the way we came and got some even higher speeds thanks to a beneficial current.



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Next up was adjusting our sails to achieve different points of sail and learn to "steer" using the sails to rotate the boat. What seems so complicated on paper is rather readily accomplished just by letting nature do her thing. The current was just ripping through setting up kilometer long eddies along the water. The birds were all on the water feasting on these teeny tiny fish (as well as being bad omens of weather to come). A few inquisitive seal heads popped up from time to time. This was just a heck of a day to be afloat, I think I wiped a single honorary tear from my eye thinking about how fantastic today would have been for kayaking.



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The last task under sail for the day was running. Now I say running a bit tongue in cheek. We set up the sails for a run and the wind just tapered to "emphysemic grandpa" speed. We decided to try our hand at control of the tiller, trying to keep the boat in this narrow slot of wind without accidentally gybing. We got her out to running wing and wing - at 1-2 knots... The shore got closer and our instructor mentioned that there's no sail allowed in Victoria's Inner Harbour and left it to us to judge when to lower sail. We got the sails down nice and clean and headed into port.



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Another float plane took off as we transited into the west bay to tie up. We motored back to the slip and just missed the dock by a hair. I guess we'll need more practice and communication amongst us to get this stuff down to a science. The skipper got us docked up quick and we had a quick debrief. It was a pretty fantastic time and my first outing of 3 in the next few weeks. I am so stoked about learning to sail, I haven't thought about much else this week. Kind of reminds me of when I bought my kayak... hmm... does this mean I might be poor soon? Speaking of being broke, Remember: tomorrow at noon is the big MEC swap at James Bay Community Center 12-4pm.



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Saturday, October 18, 2008 Leave a Comment 0 comments

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After yesterday's fun little jaunt around Portland island, I wanted to try out my luck at Trial island while the tides were fairly easy and the wind was down. If I have anything to give thanks for this weekend, it's the water conditions in Haro and Juan De Fuca straits. Nothing but a calm bathtub all weekend! Today I started the trip with John, Louise and Paula.



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But I wasn't with them long before I saw we were going out to flower island. I had pretty much settled on visiting Trial island today. So I let them know to meet me out at the chain islands. I was guessing if I paddled my average speed, I'd meet up with them close to the right time. I paddled against a flood tide that was a touch earlier than the prediction which made progress down to Gonzales point fairly slow, especially near Mary Todd and Fiddle reef.



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Gonzales point was calm and the golf players up on the green gave me a friendly wave as I passed. Usually there's a bunch of swell out here, but today it was just flat with only eddy lines dirtying up the place. I headed out to the south point just in case the current through enterprise channel was a bit to much. The current was on a pretty swift flood already, it wasn't supposed to happen for about another hour or so.



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The east side of trial island is where all the whirlpools live. Lots of swirly, snaking little eddies all around the coast. It was a fairly easy paddle once I got in the lee of the island, the really neat currents are bout 400 meters off shore. The island is really bare, decorated with a few large transmitting antennas and a red and white lighthouse. A couple of folks came down from the lighthouse and wished me a Happy Thanksgiving - I didn't know the place even had visitors!



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The south tip of the island, Staines point is covered in birds - crows, seagulls, ducks, cormorants and smaller rock birds. The birds were huddled closely together and almost every square inch of some of the rocks had bird crap on them. There are quite a number of big boats out here, so I kept an eye on the waters to the south. Just as I got around the rocks, a huge wake from something out there met with a fairly large eddy and it just exploded on me. I started giggling uncontrollably thinking about bringing my friends out here. I was soaked.



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The eddy line took a few seconds to pass, but I just ran out of steam trying to overpower it even at my full cadence. I'm not sure why the currents were so different from predictions, but there it was. I decided to turn around and head to the chains instead of fighting the current any longer and missing my meet up time with them. The trip back around was pretty quick though. I got away from the island and ended up in some really noisy patch of confused water and whirlpools where the confluence of enterprise channel and and the waters in Juan de Fuca meet over the deep sea bottom.



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I just paddled through it as fast as I could and got a great push from the flood all they way back to Great Chain island. The others had just rounded the island as I came in. They had taken some photos of the sea life and had a little visit to Chatham island. We headed toward Mary Todd island and found where all the seals were hiding. The seals had all hauled out on a number of reefs in the area and were fighting for space on the rocks.



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Very few boats were on the water in the morning, but when we came back from our trip there were a few boats leaving the bay. We took the scenic route home through the rocks and ended up at the beach just as the wind came up. We went for coffee after packing away the boats and when I came back down to the beach to get the Van, I saw a Triak in real life. It was a cool little contraption, it's a multi-piece trimaran with the overall hull shape of a sea kayak. He put into cadboro bay in nice winds and started to tack back and forth across the bay. When he put up the spinnaker, I nearly lost it. What a great idea for a boat!


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Sunday, October 12, 2008 Leave a Comment 0 comments

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John Louise and I decided it was time to visit Portland island today. We started off at our favorite beach at Robert's Bay near Sidney. The water was a bathtub with nothing else other than traffic impeding our progress. Lots of wildlife and a fairly clear day in Fall, what more could you ask for?



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I arrived at Roberts bay and found the tide a ways out as predicted. John has fancy new Hully Rollers on his van, so he did a quick demo of unloading the boats even with them well overhead. Looks like a pretty pimp setup. The beach was pretty slimey as usual at low tide. I didn't see anything going on on the water at all and the marine weather was all clear of warnings. On our way out, we all got a shot of a heron looking regal on the rocks AND a seagull eating a crab.



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We paddled out of the Bay and around to Tsehum harbour. The harbour was full of activity with multiple vessels coming and going at the entrance. Everyone was headed in different directions to find the best wind except one mariner towing home an old motor boat with his sailboat. We chose our crossing and headed up Page/Iriquois passage with the currents acting as bizarrely as they always do. There were a number of herons hunting for fish in the passage, and most of them flew away as John got out the telephoto camera.



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Things got interesting as we held up waiting for the Ferry to pass. We paddled north to the Coal island light and saw the ferry coming around Portland Island. I was dead set on running the ferry wake. I got a bit of fun wake to play on and decided to continue the mission out to Pym island. When I got there I looked behind me and saw neither of my partners. ahem. woops. Turns out Louise had a bit of a fight when the ferry wake arrived at the shallows.



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I saw John and Louise coming across the water looking a bit addled, but they had made it and they noted that they were in new territory. So with the nerves squared away, we had a flat water paddle to Portland Island. The winds diminished and the current was slowing, so we got to Brackman island in good time. There were a number of seals and shorebirds on Brackman island, but there were no signs of life at all on Portland island. The southern "shell beach" was empty and ours were the only footprints on the sand.



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We had a little break and decided to continue our mission to circumnavigate Portland island. There's a funny effect when I paddle with John and Louise, there's these points where we all become really quiet, but not like awkward-like. It's like it's an accepted part of our conversation just to shut up and realize where we are for a few minutes. The silence broke when we approached Chads island and saw two eagles and a huge seal haulout. There was a small blue rowboat coming through the passage between Portland and Chads and we didn't make much contact. We also kept a cautious eye out for Ferries in Goss passage, multiple boats all went by at the same time and we decided to get away from the rocks.



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From there, it was a quick paddle to Arbutus point for a quick look around. There were a few damaged trees on the grounds and the campsite was empty. The view was spectacular though. There was light haze over Moresby passage and it made the entire area look like a fairy tale. I showed John and Louise the famous composting toilet on the island - I mean... we had to see the whole Island, right?



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High clouds started to roll in and the sun was being blotted out. After an interesting beach launch, we rounded the reef near the campsite and headed down toward the marina. The water was quite flat and the air was even lighter than before. Haro strait was becoming a massive bathtub with the only fair air out near Moresby, even there, the sailboats weren't making much way.



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The Marina was sparsely populated with mostly live-aboards. The cliffs on the island led to these strange erosion structures that looked like caves or those things you see on mystic beach, shallow shelves formed by water over the years. I kept a mental note so I could go back and visit them again later. We met up with the folks in the row boat again and they had found a neat little trick in progress: A raccoon was swimming from one of the outer islands toward Portland island. Apparently it wasn't shy about it's trek, mostly ignoring the nearby watercraft.



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It was time to head home, so we got away from the reefy side of Pym and crossed back the way we came in. There was no traffic in Colburne passage, so we went for the marina right near Swartz bay. There was nothing remarkable on the trip back, we got to the beach at a nice high tide and had a really short walk up to the cars. Overall, I'm really happy to see my paddling buddies doing these long outings! These new boats have made a big difference in their comfort level with slightly wavier situations. PS. When I got home, I noticed that Sean Morley is home and safe in Port Hardy. Can't wait to read the post-mortem on that epic trip. I'm still floored that anyone can make it around the island in just 17 days!


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Saturday, October 11, 2008 Leave a Comment 0 comments
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