We work as ecotourism guides (as well as biologist and boat captain) often on the BC Coast, but also as far ranging as the Arctic and Antarctic. We have an insatiable curiousity for the planet; all its hidden gems and what makes them tick. That and our love of sailing is what inspired us to sail around the Pacific in Narama, our tough and pretty little sailboat.
A new species of fish took our line the evening we sailed from Bahia Magdelena for the 180nm jump down to bottom of the Baja peninsula. Thus we feasted on dorado for the next two days - magnificent in all respects, the colours are so vivid when it is first caught . It got off the hook before I killed it, so another bloody mess in the cockpit while it slid around with the boat bouncing merrily along and me trying to subdue it with a little brandy and a winch handle. Fish don’t have eye lids, so they see the winch handle coming with every strike, the large fish with big eyes make this process fairly unappealing, hence the alcohol(for the fish). Approaching the sprawling condos and tourist traps of Cabo we ran out of wind after a good sail down with only 4 sail changes. I wonder how Steinbeck would have described the jet skis, para-sailers, cruise ships, dinner cruisers, glass bottom pangas, sports fishing vessels, tall ships……… all crammed into the protection of the small Cape. All this in only 30 years! So we left the next morning. Our planned early departure was delayed by heavy sleep and we paid for it as we beat into 25 – 30 knots and steep sea’s later in the day, so Bahia Los Frailes was a welcome relief late that evening. As part of a national park, the waters and reefs here were teeming with fish. Even the snorkelling around the boat with large schools of green jacks that adorned each of the dozen boats in the anchorage was an experience. Not a bad place to be stuck waiting for weather. Manta rays often leaped out of the water nearby and we had a potluck beach dinner with other cruisers, flew a kite, cut Heidi’s hair and hiked on the white sand beach and hills above the bay. The need for internet to organize Christmas plans and work contracts for Heidi (now dissolved) and a fairly dire need of water (down to 30L) pushed us on. So another day of heavy weather motor sailing into 25- 30kns for another 46 miles up to Los Muertos. Finding our needs here but still running low on most other things (the only fresh things on board now are a few limes and ½ a chili, the yeast is done so its all un-leven bread, and no more eggs for baking), so we have been creative with the canned food supply and growing lots of sprouts. Our perceived short supply of tucker is relative to the plentiful larder we are used to, in reality we could make do for much longer, but we are fortunate having the option to restock. Many of the small fish camps that we have past don’t always have this option. So we stayed till the northerly winds abated and had a great sail most of the way around to La Paz. Now it is clean up time for us and the boat to rid the many layers of salt that has slowly coated everything.
Six years ago we were introduced to Baja on a kayaking trip to the remote mangrove channels north of Bahía Magdelena (Mag Bay) by our friend Rick, a great adventurer and kindred spirit. Sailing Narama south was a perfect opportunity for a Baja reunion. So we met Rick in Asuncion a few weeks ago, where Angela and Miguel were gracious hosts to us all six years ago. They were wonderful to us once again; son Miguelito took us fishing for the day, then Miguel BBQed our tuna that evening. It was a special treat to take some of the family out for an afternoon of sailing as a thank-you and have a hundred dolphins swim past. Sailing with friends in Asuncion
On the next stage of our reunion, Rick paddled out to meet us in Puerto Magdelena, for a week of exploring new territory in Mag Bay. First a hike up the ridge on Isla Magdelena for spectacular scenery of the outer bay and mangrove channels, then we sailed south to anchor in an isolated little bay on Isla Margarita. Stevo and Rick did an overnight reconnaissance paddling trip to see if it was possible to cross the “Rehusa” a potentially narly mouth of water where wind and tide can whip up and be unfriendly to kayaks (no crossing this time). Heidi explored on land from the anchorage and discovered a beautiful lagoon full of birds and a great hike. So we all went up a canyon into the middle of the island, which we named “Arroyo Mariposa” after the multitude of butterflies on all the greenery lining the canyon. We even found a pool of fresh water to freshen up on the return – a rare treat in Baja!
Rick is an avid fisherman and caught us a fine dinner of Corvina, Spotted Bay Bass and Halibut, which we cooked over an open fire on our beautiful beach. It was a quintessentially perfect evening – sunset, bottle of wine, fire, great food and company, in a week of great sailing and exploring. As Rick would say, “we’re living like millionaires!”
Dining out on the beach
Mag Bay Species List
Great Blue Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Yellow-crowned Night Heron
Little Blue Heron
A lovely NW breeze meant that we could set sail inside the breakwater in Ensenada. We tacked among the freighters anchored in Bahia Todos Santos and headed west into the setting sun. We thought that we would likely spend the night at the nearby islands of Todos Santos, but found all the anchorages full of aquaculture nets. While we approached a fellow came out in a panga to let us tie up to a mooring for a “propina” or tip for el Jefe. We stayed long enough to prepare dinner and watch a huge pod of dolphins in the last of the setting sun. It would take us two nights to reach Guadaupe Island in light winds, which had us frequently changing sails and occasionally give up and run the engine. We approached the north end of the island just after sunrise and spent the better part of the day heading south. We saw stark and stunning volcanic geology and occasional pods of dolphins throughout the day. Some friendly fishermen told us that the village on the west side had a large swell running right now and was therefore unsuitable. They were happy to give us a couple Jurel or Yellowtail for our dinner.
Guadalupe Island has enough endemic plants and birds to make Darwin giggle, so we were anxious to explore onshore the next morning. However with steep shores and the swell running and wrapping around, we had to satisfy ourselves with a kayak cruise. We had wonderful looks at Guadalupe Fur Seals, which are endemic breeders here and were declared extinct not once but twice and have managed to recover from the brink to healthy numbers. Females and nursing pups were among the boulders along the rocky shoreline and we were impressed at the pups’ agility compared to Steller Sealions which we have worked with at home in BC. Guadalupe Fur Seals
With no sheltered place to land, a few more rolly nights likely and a perfect sailing breeze filling in, we made the decision to set sail again. Frustrating to be so close to a village of friendly people, an island full of natural wonders and the permit which took half a day; but once again the conditions at sea rule! Just before leaving we traded some fresh fruit for lobster so I could have a good lunch underway. Then we proceeded to catch a tuna later that afternoon for dinner. With a great breeze and shorter crossing we arrived at San Benitos Islands the next day. This is also a small outpost with interesting wildlife and a tiny village of about a dozen houses for fishermen and their families. We gave one fisherman some club soda to drink while in his panga and later while we were ashore he invited us to his house. He answered our constant questions about island life, fishing and wild animals. He built a picket fence around his dusty yard, complete with a gate to protect his small boy from breeding Elephant Seals. I looked at that fence and thought it might keep his three-year-old inside, but I’m not sure it would stop a bull Elephant Seal if he wanted through! We sat on his porch and chatted until well after dark as his wife fed me lobster (Stephen just had to watch as he’s allergic!) and gave us spices and recipes for our next catch. It was a great evening, even with our language challenges. Our anchorage here seemed to have all the non-breeding Guadalupe Fur Seals and as we lay in bed that night we listened to their funny sounds.
We have arrived in Ensenada after a lovely overnight sail from San Diego. It felt so good to sail out among the warships and submarines past Point Loma. Yesterday we spent the entire day sorting through the necessary bureaucracy to import the boat, get visas, etc. The most exciting piece of paper of the day was permission to sail to an offshore island. Weather permitting, we'll visit Guadalupe, 200 miles offshore. Arriving in Mexico feels like an important transition into some real exploration! We no longer have a cell phone and will likely be out of touch even more.
Yesterday we checked our email for the first time in awhile (scamming free wireless signals is our usual routine when ashore). It’s nice to get in touch every now and then, but we have to admit that we love being disconnected from the mod-cons of civilization for periods of time. We’ve spent the last ten days of ‘disconnect’ sailing through the Channel Islands. Getting there was delightful – our best day and night of easy sailing, without even starting the engine to pick up or drop the anchor. This was when we rounded Point Conception – the big elbow of the California coast, where the Channel Islands sit just south in an eddy of warmer current. We’ve had it all for weather; sitting out a gale, gorgeous hot and dry days of hiking and even a couple days of mist and rain, a relative rarity in this semi-desert climate. While we seem to have left the forests well behind us, the wildlife is still prolific and interesting: curious and endemic island foxes, loads of common and bottlenose dolphins, elephant seals snorting through the night at our anchorage, weird and wonderful Risso’s dolphins and bright orange Garibaldi’s (damselfish) are now swimming through the kelp, a sign of even more colourful fish to come as we head toward more tropical communities.
We are now anchored at Santa Catalina Island, still considered part of the Channel Islands, but not part of the National Park, a gradual re-intro to the civilized world. There’s a pub and a general store (we ate the last half onion last night, so fresh food is welcome) and lots of big shiny yachts and powerboats. We are definitely well below the average size of cruising boat down here.
It seems hard to believe that we’ve been in California for two weeks. After a stay in San Fransisco we’ve been hopping down the coast, living comfortably at anchor every night. Except last night when we did an overnight voyage south from Monterey Bay. It was meant to be a lovely sail with a NW breeze forecast. Instead we motored into a bare breath of southerly and nearly lost all faith in the weather forecasters. Today we were lucky however, no wind but the first day since San Fran hat we’ve been at sea with enough visibility to see much beyond our bow. No kidding, we have had enough fog thanks! The clear weather meant that we could see humpback whales beaching and tail slapping and dolphins and shearwaters. Perhaps we will have more of this clear weather when we get around Point Conception – a major stepping stone on the California coast. This point juts out into the Pacific and turns the cold southerly current away from the coast. We have made the other side of Point Conception into a fairytale in our minds, where the weather is hot and we can put away our winter clothes.
We crossed the Strait of Juan de Fuca sailing most of the way, to officially check in to the US at Port Angeles. When the wind died we called ahead to US Customs to tell them of our arrival. Not ten minutes later as we were still stowing our mainsail we were visited by a border patrol vessel and two armed officers boarded us to have a look around Narama. They were very polite and to the point, but it was a new and intimidating experience for us! We hit the weekly farmers market and stocked up for the voyage south. Following day we motored and sailed to Neah Bay, the last protected anchorage before the big jump down the coast. There we sat for a few days waiting for the summer north-westerly’s to return so we could set sail for California. I think that we were a week too late! Eventually there was a break in the SE in between low pressure systems and we took the chance and headed out. That first day was spent motoring south and west to get far enough away that we wouldn’t be in the strongest wind when the next system blew through.
It was a week at sea. Two fronts come through with 20+ knots of southerly wind, we had a few days of lovely NW breeze that filled our blooper (asymmetrical spinnaker) and ghosted us along at 3 knots very comfortably and we were also becalmed a couple days. Our daily 24-hour runs (in nautical miles): 127 (under power), 85 (pounding into headwinds), 77 (very light following wind), 133 (very strong following wind), 99.5 (a bit of everything), 95 (hardly anything). On the morning of our seventh day we anchored in Drakes Bay (visited by Sir Francis Drake himself in 1579) spent a luxurious day eliminating the squalor in the boat, having a swim and shower and SLEEPING!
Narama is anchored in the lower right framed by two trees
It was an early rise to catch the flood tide under the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. We had imagined this would be a highlight and the excitement was only heightened by the fact that it was pea soup fog. We had to feel our way in with radar (which shows as a solid line for the bridge- so where is the gap?) and only glimpsed the span as we passed beneath. We are now in a great anchorage in the Aquatic Park for a few day stay in San Francisco.
From the log: 12 September, 2009 0200 “The most beautiful display of bioluminescence: 6 Dall’s Porpoises playing under our bow. Their bodies glow like green magic with their trailing wakes still sparkling behind them.”
California SeaLions take over the pier!
Victoria to San Fransisco Species List
(in order of appearance)
California Sea lion
Great Blue Heron
South Polar Skua
Pacific White-sided Dolphin
The following is an excerpt for an article which we wrote for the Blue Water Cruising Newsletter, it briefly describes our sail down the west coast of Vancouver Island. We are now about to set sail for the US and ports south!
Rather than sail down through Johnstone Strait and Strait of Georgia which we have done numerous times, we decided a trip down the west coast of Vancouver Island would be a great send off to Canadian Cruising. We were surprised at how busy it was compared to the Central Coast, but with many peaceful anchorages to ourselves we could still feel the wilderness.
We spent a couple of days sailing to Bull Harbour at the north end of Goletas Channel. This is the last protected anchorage before rounding Cape Scott and was busy with nine boats while we were there. We had read of previous cruisers who walked across Hope Island and Tlatlasikwala territory to Roller Bay, but when we asked if this was ok, we were told that we were trespassing.
The following morning we caught the perfect sized pink salmon for our dinner before motor-sailing around Cape Scott to Quatsino Sound. We only stayed in Quatsino Sound a few days but enjoyed a hike to Grant Bay, a beautiful west coast beach, picked lots of huckleberries for scones and caught another “perfect pink” as we headed south to Klaskish Inlet, just north of Brooks Peninsula. This short passage would be one of our best sailing days with 25 knots of NW breeze pushing us south. We paddled our double kayak up East Creek which felt like a remarkable moment since it is one of only 6 intact watersheds remaining on Vancouver Island. We were also lucky to be there on a weekend so our peace wasn’t disturbed by any of the current road building into this valley.
Our wind deserted us the next day which meant that rounding Brooks Peninsula was fairly calm, but we had to motor through patchy fog. We managed to catch a glimpse of three Transient Killer Whales near Solander Island as they disappeared into the mist. We wondered if they had been after the many Steller Sealions hauled out on the rocks.
We anchored at Clanninick Cove and went for a paddle and hike up the creek the following morning to see large, stunning sitka spruce and collect another bonanza of huckleberries. Our only other anchorage in Kyuquot Sound was Cachalot Inlet, which is actually not a great anchorage, unless the weather is calm and then there are no-see-ums, but we were curious to go ashore and explore the remains of the old whaling station. We have visited many of these sites in several countries and on several continents and find this era of human history sad and yet fascinating at the same time. We were pleasantly surprised to find an overgrown sculpture of a 20-foot sperm whale above the bank. Stephen cleared several thimble berry bushes so that we could actually see the statue properly, before just the bulbous head was sticking up out of the brush.
The hidden Sperm Whale statue
The following day we headed south and before we put up our sails we saw a group of 6 killer whales breaching and feeding, with gulls trying to scavenge the scraps! The wind was fluky, but we persevered until we could sail right to the mouth of Friendly Cove. When we chatted to the friendly lighthouse keepers onshore, they noted our arrival under sail in this historic spot where Captain Cook first came ashore. They also made a funny comment about the prevalence of “stick boats” – sailboats that are always under power. It was busy in the campground here as the Mowachaht/Muchalaht first nation were having a summer gathering and several families were camping with more arriving on each visit of the MV Uchuck for this special event.
Out next stop was Hesquiat Harbour in Clayoquot Sound, where we counted three grey whales and a couple humpbacks as we rounded Estevan Point in the sunshine. We woke in the morning to the sound of rain and paddled ashore to try and find Cougar Annie’s Garden. If anyone doesn’t know the story of this infamous west coast pioneer who out-lived four husbands and tamed the wild forest into an impressive and productive garden, it is worth reading the book by Margaret Horsfield, or visit www.cougarannie.com.
After the garden we sailed to Hotspring Cove. This is when we decided that we really had been previously spoiled on the Central Coast with its isolation. We watched three high-speed daytripper boats depart for Tofino as a couple float planes arrived and we anchored among the dozen or so yachts already there. That’s when we decided to get busy making kelp pickles and save our bath until morning. We woke up at 5am and went ashore to enjoy the hotspring by ourselves for an hour before breakfast. It was worth the wait!
Feeling relaxed and refreshed we anchored at the mouth of the Megin River to see how far we could paddle upstream. With the dry summer weather, we didn’t make it far when the portages across gravel bars became more common than the paddling, so we carried on to an un-named bay on Obstruction Island. Then the skies opened up and the serious west coast rain fell. All this water would have made the river easier to paddle, but we stayed put and tested our water-catcher. As the deluge continued we had no problem filling our tanks from the 20L jerry can that we placed under the catcher. Out of curiosity, I timed each 20L’s. The fastest (ie. the heaviest squall) was filled in only 12 minutes!
Up to this point we had been very lucky catching salmon, picking berries, pickling seaweed and catching water, so we didn’t feel the need to call into Tofino and so carried on to Barkley Sound. This would be our last of the five major sounds on the west coast and we enjoyed some great sailing and whale watching with friends who joined us in Uclulet. We also paddled in the popular Broken Group and caught a Coho on our way into Bamfield to pick up a fellow biologist and dear friend who joined us for the quick sail up Juan de Fuca.
Time always seems to pass way too quickly when cruising and for every anchorage enjoyed or river explored there are several more to come back to!
A day you don’t learn something is a slow day. Today I learnt “datum” (the start point for all depths on a chart) was the singular for “data”. That aside, we have had other learning processes on the boat. The weekend before leaving, the anti-siphon valve on our engine failed, which meant the engine back flooded from the wet box and started filling the bilge via the air intake. So I learnt how to remove all the injectors and so on to clear salt water from where it should not be. I was thankful for having 4 spare oil filters on hand as we live far from a metropolitan area. Lesson 1- we will always shut off our water intake now instead of “usually” shutting it off, even for short periods. Lesson 2 – lots of spares is a good thing.
With the engine running again we did manage to get out for a bit of the weekend and found a humpback and orcas for Lorraine and Tara who’d travelled west and north to come and see us. They brought all sorts of food plus a care package full of edibles and drinkables from Lorraine’s Mum that we all enjoyed and are still finding after they were stowed for space and sailing.
At Sea-fest in Alert Bay, we didn’t win a prize in the around the island kayak race but we did win a hamper of native food in the Artfest raffle. What a treat; smoked, canned and dried salmon, oolichan smoked and 2 jars of grease, dried seaweed and some new potatoes to go with it. We were fortunate to be able to share some with those who appreciated it before we left and still have a good supply. George and Susan from “Top Brass” also gave us some home canned salmon and Dave and Maureen the day before we left, brought a case of home canned salmon down to the boat along with a box of veggies from their garden. Dave’s comment was to make sure we came back. How could we not after such kindness. Ten days later we have just eaten the last of the garden veg and are savoring the salmon. Our final learning curve was a lesson on simple but nourishing food. We met Yoshi, a Japanese sailor who we had for dinner and he gifted us a special type of nori and other seaweed and told us how to cook and eat it with rice (and celery with every meal).
On leaving we tried to say our goodbyes to as many people as possible, but as we learnt on our first departure from Oz 6 years ago, sometimes just slipping away quietly is a good thing too.
Well we have finished our last work contract here on the BC coast and are getting the last few things ready on Narama. We will leave in the next few days. Setting out on such a huge voyage seems a bit bitter sweet when you love your work and where you live. We know that this voyage will be hard work but also very rewarding. We will miss our friends and this great place! We promise that we will try to keep in touch as much as possible with our blog, but we don't take any internet or email connections with us at sea. So hopefully you can wait until we make each landfall and find a local internet cafe.
Our bit of work involved counting Steller Sealions and their pups and sampling for DNA and scat on the entire North BC Coast and into Alaska.
For those who don't understand all the joys of boating, I will let these pictures talk. We decided to take a few layers off this year to really smooth out the bottom. I was warned at the beginning of the weekend that if we were still in the yard on someones birthday there would be little amusement. For two and a bit solid days we sanded until the arms were more than a tad tender. A big pasta meal a friend brought down and cooked on board as we finished up was a savior on day two (thanks Trudy) and in the hot weather.....sooo looking forward to Baja, the paint went on and polishing started. The threats had eased over the weekend and polishing was OK on Heidi's birthday(I married the right girl), though we still did not hit the water untill a day later. The good news is we gained nearly 1/4 of a knot. That's about 1hrs less sailing each day on the long passages we are now one step closer to making.
Using different coloured anti fouling each year we sometimes end up with two colours on the hull using the last years left over. The also gives us a quality comparison and we are sure the black works best. Why.........you tell me??
When Stephen and I arrived in Canada on Narama after six months of long ocean passages interspersed with some cruising, we jokingly said to our friends that we highly recommend traveling great distances by air rather than toiling on the surface. After our recent travels I’ve reversed that opinion. We arrived in Helsinki jet-lagged, dehydrated and sick from recycled air and slightly shocked to find ourselves in freezing temperatures and near blizzard conditions after warm sunny days in Victoria. A mere 15 hours of airplanes and airports and we were dropped half way around the world, stumbling and poorly adjusted. The last nine days however, have reminded us why we are planning another major voyage on Narama; it’s not just the destination, but the travelling we love. We boarded MS Expedition in Rauma, Finland and set out across the Baltic Sea. We had a gorgeous warm spring day as we crossed Germany in the Keil Canal with cranes flying north over our heads, then occasional Common Dolphins playing under our bow as we headed south in the North Sea. We slowly pealed off layers of clothing as the temperature rose until we greeted Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel Island in Tshirts. Staying on the surface and watching the wildlife and climate slowly change as we cover several hundred miles is fun, flying is for the birds.
We were motoring across Queen Charlotte Strait, heading home towards Alert Bay when a group of Dall's Porpoises came to play under the bow, seeming to escort us home. It was a miracle of a day in March, not a ripple on the sea and bright sunshine. The clarity of the water was wonderful, tempting us to jump in for a swim. The fact that we were still wearing toques and big winter gloves as well as our parkas, kept us above water.
We have been home for a week now, catching up with friends and correspondence and necessary evils, like income tax. We head away from Narama next week to Finland and the Azores for work on the MS Expedition, but we keep thinking about our upcoming voyage and leaving this precious coast for who knows how many years. Any town where a pub night means that you get to meet the elected and hereditary chief, biggest property baron and owners of most of the establishments and watch them cut a rug on the dance floor is a place worth calling home! I think that this perspective will make our voyage of personal discovery even more valuable; every coast on the Pacific has tiny communities full of character and we can't wait to meet them.
Narama Sailing Out of Knight Inlet
As spring starts to awaken the coast, the last of the winter job lists are making there way to summer and pre-departure to do's. Winter has been kind to us in our care-taking role at Knight Inlet Lodge, our remote hermitage in a beautiful mountainous fjord on the BC Coast. We have had lot's of opportunity to tiddle Narama in preparation for our planned voyage which we plan to embark on later this year. We sailed away from a winter spent in the company of two lovely dogs (Casey and Finnegan) in an estuary where we watched grizzly bears fattening up on salmon before denning for the season. The notorious outflow winds carried us to the Broughton archipelago with record sailing speed (8.7 knots!) where we had a week of cruising among the islands with every anchorage to ourselves.