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A Stationary Cruise
by Jamie Orr

It looked like a marine version of the Joad’s exodus in the Grapes of Wrath. On top of the van was my son Alan’s Elegant Punt, Creamsicle. Behind the van was my Chebacco Wayward Lass, and stuffed inside Wayward Lass was my daughter Lindsay’s canoe, recently renamed Que Sera. (This canoe is a cedar strip rendition of Rushton’s Sairey Gamp, only nine feet long and weighing almost nothing.) Lindsay and Alan themselves followed the boat trailer in Maureen’s (my wife’s) Toyota. We were on our way to Schooner Cove Marina, the jumping off point for South Winchelsea Island, owned by The Land Conservancy, a non-profit outfit dedicated to preserving land that might otherwise be developed and lost to public enjoyment. The Winchelsea Islands are only about two miles south of Schooner Cove and about a mile from the shore of Vancouver Island. Schooner cove itself is just a few miles north of Nanaimo, also on Vancouver Island.

We arrived at the marina, after picking up Joan and Jim, old friends from Calgary, at the Nanaimo ferry terminal. Half of us went to look for Lyle, our Land Conservancy contact, while the rest started unloading gear and getting Wayward Lass ready for launching. By the time we’d got the mast up and the halyards untangled, our food and bags were transferred to the Land Conservancy boat, and we were set to launch Wayward Lass and go.

Except it was low tide, and the bottom of the launch ramp had a covering of sand and gravel, making it impossible to get deep enough to float or push Wayward Lass off her trailer. (We don’t have rollers, just carpet covered bunks.) Things looked awkward until Lyle came to the rescue with a stout towline and some 100 horses. A burst of throttle and Wayward Lass was afloat!

Again, we split up, half the gang going in the powerboat, and half in Wayward Lass. A short time later, we were all together again at our island retreat, getting settled in. Pretty nice cabin – big living room, three bedrooms and an attic room, indoor plumbing, a propane fired stovetop and fridge. Downright palatial, really. Even Wayward Lass was well looked after, with a good solid dock, and the loan of some serious fenders to keep her off it. These were much appreciated, as the lower edge of the dock was high enough for Wayward Lass to catch her sheer under it as she moved – her own fenders might not have been enough to do the job.


A view of the cabin, from our dock


Wayward Lass and Creamsicle

Although the dock is in a somewhat sheltered bay between the north and south islands, the full width of Georgia Strait was just a few steps away, across a rocky spit. There was a good wind blowing, and waves were crashing on those rocks, with lots of spray and noise. We all headed over to that side, checking out the pools for crabs and small fish. Lindsay suddenly announced that she’d seen a snake in one of the pools. We thought at first that it must have been some kind of eel, but after we waited a few minutes, sure enough a snake’s head rose up from the weeds at the bottom of the pool and broke the surface. The snake stayed quite still, only its tongue flickering as it caught its breath. Then it disappeared as quietly. It came up again for air several times while we watched, occasionally in a different place, but we never saw it moving around the bottom because of the weeds. Finally it swam to the edge of the pool and glided off through the rocks, towards the grass and bushes. This was all new to us, but since then we’ve been told it’s not unusual for snakes to hunt for their dinner along the shore.


Rear view of snake in the water

I mentioned that we had Lindsay’s little double paddle canoe, Que Sera, with us. After our sail, Lindsay took it out to explore the edges of the bay, while Alan and I rowed Creamsicle to keep her company. We raced up the gap between North Winchelsea Island and an unnamed island close beside it, to the bay where the navy have a large dock. I was rowing, and could just beat Lindsay in the sprints, but she had the advantage over the long haul. She also went more easily through the narrow channel – our oars just barely made it between the sides. We said hello to a harbour seal, then rowed and drifted back to the bay. Lindsay turned off for a quick swim at what we called our beach, a strip of pulverized shells that was clear of the water at low tide, and covered completely at high. For an hour or two in the middle of each tide, it looked like a real beach, lying between two rocky outcrops.

The next morning, several of us piled into Wayward Lass for a sail. The wind was strong, so we tied in both reefs before casting off. We used the motor to get away from the dock, since there was a rocky shore immediately downwind, but shut it off as soon as the sails caught the wind. Once we cleared our “home” bay, the wind blew harder and the waves were higher, but we only took an occasional bit of spray aboard. We headed north, beating up between the Winchelsea Islands and a group of smaller islands and large rocks, not really going anywhere, just enjoying being out. We had a good view of the military installation on the north island – the islands are just inside an area known as Area Whiskey Golf, where the Canadian and US navies play torpedo games (without the warheads!) We continued on around the north end of the island, then ran down the east side, finally turning west and north again, back to our bay. This was a good shake-down outing, giving a couple of our less experienced sailors a feel for what they could expect.

Once we were back, it was time to sail Creamsicle. Before doing anything else, I tied a reef in her sail, re-lacing the sail lower on the mast. Then we slid her over the rails, and dropped the mast, with the sail set, into its step. The rudder went on next, after some fiddling (later we found it was easier to launch with the rudder already in place) and finally the leeboard. Lindsay, who is (was) a non-sailor, and I went out first. I handled the sheet, and Lindsay sat in the back with the tiller. We had no problem getting moving, and went back and forth across the bay, at maybe three knots, but with a bow wave good enough for six!


Jim in Creamsicle, without the reef

After that, Lindsay went looking for her brother, and the two of them went out. They made a load that was well matched to the hull – my 225 pounds are really too much to share the boat with anyone else. Together the kids weigh less than that! They were pretty excited, so much so that they were two hundred yards away before I realized they’d left their PFDs behind. I motored out in Wayward Lass with the PFDs, and took the opportunity to get a picture or two. I was really quite impressed with the way the elegant punt carried the two of them – we haven’t used the punt much since the sail was finished. Lindsay is seventeen now, and Alan fourteen, but both are pretty slim. Together they probably weigh 200 pounds, but more importantly they were able to balance each other nicely.


Alan and Lindsay in Creamsicle, with a reef in the sail

The highlight of the day was seeing, up close, a baby seal. Joan was sitting on the rocks by the shore when she noticed a very small seal on a bit of gravel below her. Most of the time it lay very still, but as the water rose, it had to climb higher up and that was probably what caught Joan’s eye. Soon it had six pairs of eyes watching its every move, and was looking a little nervous. However, once we all found seats and stopped moving so much, it appeared to calm down and accept our company. We watched each other for quite a while, until the rising tide finally covered the strip of gravel, and the little seal swam off.


Baby Seal

We think it must have been left there to wait while its mother went off to catch herself some dinner.

On Tuesday, the kids wanted to stay at the cabin, so only the four adults went off in Wayward Lass. We set off, this time on a reach with no reefs, towards Nanoose Bay, a mile away and almost directly west of us. It’s a couple of miles deep, and fairly narrow in comparison. It’s also sheltered from most of the northwest wind. It didn’t take long to get well into the bay, or to reach our goal, a small marina on the south shore. The marina, whose name I’ve forgotten, was in pretty rough shape – many of the docks looked like they’d been damaged by storms, and only a few boats were tied up there. However, we went ashore and managed to find a small store a few hundred yards away, where we bought some ice creams – the real reason for coming here!

Going home, as we reached the point at the end of the bay the wind was stronger, and our island was now somewhat to windward. A reef was in order, so as usual, I centred the mizzen, and let the mainsheet run. This normally keeps us head to wind, but for some reason it didn’t work this time. I think that having four adults in the cockpit must have cocked up the bow, which made it catch the wind more than usual. In any case, we used the motor to keep us into the wind while I reefed – at least with all those bodies aboard, there were lots of extra hands. Once reefed, we had a good sail back to the island, passing several rocky islets that are home to dozens of birds and seals.

Docking at the island was always interesting. On the first day, under power, I managed to ram the dock – gently, but still not a satisfactory landing. After that, every landing but the last was done under sail, and there was no more ramming, nor any missed landings. The dock stuck out at ninety degrees from the shore, and for our week at least, the wind was blowing almost directly onto shore. Since the shore was rocky, we had to make our approach at less than ninety degrees to the dock, turning sharply into the wind to finish alongside. I have to admit I never finished right beside the dock, but always about two feet away. At first I thought I was turning too early, but later I wondered if it might be due to the sharp turn. Even with the bow almost touching at the start of the turn, we would pivot on the centreboard, which was still 10 or 12 feet away from the dock. In any case, we always had to step across the last two feet.


Coming in to dock, two reefs in the main

The wind increased on Tuesday afternoon, so Jim, Lindsay and I went out to see how Wayward Lass sailed under jib and mizzen, or jib and jigger as the old timers might have said. As I’ve commented elsewhere, the jib on a Chebacco really needs a bowsprit to get it away from the mainsail, but we didn’t plan to use the main at all. I think the wind was about 25 knots when we went out. We found the jib and jigger worked fine, making 5 knots across the wind. We didn’t go to windward very well, though I think we might have beaten off a lee shore if given enough time and enough room for very wide tacks.

By late afternoon, the forecast was upgraded to a storm warning, with winds of 44 knots or better. Just before we sat down to dinner, I was looking over to the Vancouver Island side, and saw a small powerboat plunging into the waves, now a good bit bigger and showing a lot of white. I was glad it wasn’t me out there, but they seemed to be making steady headway towards Schooner Cove, another two miles to windward.

A few minutes later, we looked out and saw a small (16 foot) boat heading into our bay, and went down to give them a hand docking. Sure enough it was the same boat I’d seen a few minutes earlier. They’d been out fishing, and had left it too late to get home – they thought they’d be all right, but after a couple of waves came right over the bows, they decided to turn and run for Winchelsea. Luckily they had a foredeck with a windshield and a bit of cabintop, otherwise they could (would?) have been swamped. We offered some dinner and somewhere to sleep, but they said no thanks, they’d eaten and they’d be fine down on the dock – they did accept some sleeping bags, though, and some fenders and mooring ropes. They were asleep when I went down to check on Wayward Lass at 2:00 am, so I guess it wasn’t too bad.

Next morning it was still blowing hard, but the storm was over and the forecast said it would improve further by lunchtime. It hadn’t rained at all and the whole week was warm, even at night. Our “guests” wanted to get on their way, and we wanted to get over to Schooner Cove as well, as Lindsay had arranged to stay with a friend in Victoria for the second half of the week. We agreed that conditions had improved enough by 11:00 am, and both boats set off. The power boat quickly left us behind, our 5 horses had their work cut out just to keep us plugging away into the wind – we didn’t try to sail as Schooner Cove was dead to windward. We were making maybe half the speed we would normally manage on the same throttle setting. By the time we got in, Jim, Lindsay and I were all soaked by the spray, but at least Lindsay was able to change before she started her drive.

After seeing Lindsay safely away, we thought we’d run under the jib alone on the way back to the island. The wind was still dropping, and we could have used the main instead, but wanted to experiment. It was quite successful, with an estimated 20 knots of wind we managed 3 knots downwind under the jib alone, and 4 under jib and mizzen. We also tried out my latest gadget, a bright red plastic foghorn, to alert our wives that we were coming in, and wanted someone to photograph the boat in this rig. The horn worked like a charm, so I’m able to show you a picture here!


Under jib and jigger

On Thursday, we were down to a small craft warning, and that not until the late afternoon, so we planned something a little more ambitious, a trip to the Ballenas Islands, about 4 miles to windward. We had a good sail, making most of the distance on one tack, and turned into a large protected bay between the islands. It was about time for some lunch, so we headed downwind to a long curving beach. It was a lee shore, but we had good protection from the wind and waves. We dropped the anchor about 100 yards from shore, and let out a lot of rode, drifting back towards the beach. Tying a line to the inflatable, we could get two people ashore at once, then pull it back for the next load.

We had a good lunch, then hiked around a bit. The beach was made up of tiny stones, about ¼ inch around, and polished smooth – very hard to walk on as we lost half a step for every one taken. Behind the beach, we found some fruit trees from an old settlement attempt, with pears and apples on the branches, but they weren’t ripe yet. Once back on the beach we buried Alan in the tiny stones, then Jim and I went for a swim. We’d forgotten our suits, so we just went along the beach a ways, and stripped off. Our wives were laughing at us and taking pictures (the camera was out of film, so you can keep reading) while Alan did his “These are my parents.” routine. It’s tough being a teenager – just as well the camera was empty.


At anchor at Ballenas

The trip back to Winchelsea was a treat, running before a good breeze. It was over in no time at all, and everyone agreed we’d had a great day.

Friday was our last full day. The wind was light, although there was another small craft warning for the late afternoon. We were pretty familiar with our own island by now, and since we’d all enjoyed the day before, we thought we’d try repeating it with another island. The only new candidate less than 10 miles away was nearby Maude Island, at the mouth of Nanoose Bay. Only a mile, but the chart showed it had an interesting indentation at the south end.

The chart was right on. The indentation turned out to be a narrow cove with steep rocky sides, leading back to a gravel beach. Jim stood on the bow to guide me as we motored in, as there were lots of rocks below the surface. Once in, the bottom was smooth gravel. We dropped the anchor in five feet of water, and Alan rowed me ashore in Creamsicle (which we’d towed over) with the other end of the line for a stern tie to keep Wayward Lass off the sides.


In the cove at Maude Island

It was a perfect anchorage for the day – completely sheltered from the wind, and open to the sun. When it got too hot, there was shade by some large rocky bluffs. There were two pairs of mother and baby seals on the outer rocks – we could see them quite well, but didn’t get any good pictures. We lazed around, ate, swam – the usual stuff. I had a good look at Wayward Lass’ bottom then swam down to the anchor – I love the cruising guides that tell you to do this to make sure it’s properly set. I’d like to see the writers do this around Victoria! We were able to swim here because the water gets noticeably warmer as you go north in Georgia Strait, supposedly because the tide doesn’t bring in the cold Pacific currents every day.

We finally packed up and headed back to our own island. On the way we had our only mutiny, caused not by rough weather, but by too nice weather. We were half sailing, half drifting quietly along when the mutineers, led by the captain’s wife, demanded that we start the motor so we could get home to our dinner. The captain, not being stupid, promptly started the motor.

And that’s about it. Saturday was going-away day, so in the morning we cleaned up the cabin and packed the gear. The Land Conservancy was sending out a boat at 12:30, but I knew it would take some time to recover Wayward Lass and get everything ready for the road, so Alan and I left at 11:30 for Schooner Cove. We arrived about 12:00, and both of us were busy for the next hour and something. I was just finishing the last job, lashing the Creamsicle on top of the van, when we saw the others coming in.

Altogether, it was a great holiday, and South Winchelsea is a great base for small boat sailing. If anyone would like to know more about it, or about The Land Conservancy, go to http://www.conservancy.bc.ca , or email me, Jamie, at jorr@bcauditor.com.


Wayward Lass in the afternoon sun – my “artistic” photograph