Gumption in Desolation Sound

We were planning on leaving Deer Harbor in our pocket trawler, Gumption, on Friday, July 16, 2004 to meet the Orcas Island Yacht Club group in Telegraphic Harbor on Thetis Island, one of the Gulf Islands in British Columbia, on our way north to Desolation Sound, on the other side of the Straight of Georgia, the Canadian version of Puget Sound.

Deer Harbor to Desolation Sound by the Straight of Georgia
Deer Harbor to Desolation Sound by the Straight of Georgia

But on Saturday, the 10th, out for a picnic cruise following the western shore of Shaw Island south (too close, it turned out) we ran over a submerged rock that brought Gumption to a grinding stop. Passengers in the cabin nearly toppled into the V-berth below and smoke billowed from the engine compartment around its hatch. Oh, no!

Opening the hatch to the engine compartment I could see that the exhaust hose had been knocked loose from the engine. I reattached it and we retreated back to Cayou Quay Marina, all interest in a picnic extinguished.

Sunday we hosted a well-attended Orcas Island Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship annual potluck picnic at our house on Cayou Valley Road. Sharon Abreu and Michael Hurwicz provided the music on this beautiful sun-drenched summer day.

Monday afternoon when the tide was high enough at the upper end of Deer Harbor, I brought Gumption to the Deer Harbor Boatworks dock and Michael Durland pulled her out of the water with his hydraulic trailer contraption. No evident damage – except the skeg was gone, stripped off, I assume, as the aft-end of the keel passed over the hidden rock off Shaw Island.

The skeg, a steel bar connecting keel and rudder, is gone so the rudder hangs unsupported
The skeg, a steel bar connecting keel and rudder, is gone so the rudder hangs unsupported

On our Camano Troll the steel skeg both shields the prop and supports and protects the lower end of the rudder. It had done its job. The prop was undamaged and I was amazed that the rudder could continue to function without the skeg to hold it up – but it did – though bent a bit aft. Michael could replace the skeg by Thursday. I found a little damage in the engine compartment but it appeared to be only cosmetic. We would leave Friday as scheduled.

Friday, July 16th: Deer Harbor to Telegraph Harbor – 10:24 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

We passed through Canadian Customs at Bedwell Harbor on South Pender Island at 12:15, about 13 miles northwest of Deer Harbor. Telegraph Harbor was another 27 miles northwest.

Telegraph Harbor on Thetis Island has two marinas: Thetis Island Marina and Telegraph Harbor Marina. We had stayed at Thetis Island Marina twice for Camano rendezvous, once almost sinking overnight when the anti-siphon valve stuck and the bilge filled with seawater. This trip we’d be at the Telegraph Harbor Marina close by and today reserved (mostly) for the Orcas Island Yacht Club.

At our gathering Friday night I asked around about the best route across the Straight of Georgia. We were on the southwest side and needed to be on the northeast side to get to Desolation Sound. We’d experienced wind and intimidating waves on the Straight the year before approaching Nanimo after coming through Dodd Narrows and out from behind Gabriola Island. It wasn’t fun.

Clyde Teague said he’d crossed easily early one morning from Nanimo on glassy seas. No problem. But we’d need to listen to the weather reports and wait for ideal conditions. We didn’t want to wait. Jack Thomas suggested we continue up the lower shore to Campbell River where the Straight disappears into an archipelago of islands to hide behind. A good place to cross to the other side. But we’d be exposed the whole way and the route would be longer. Roger Crosby recommended going through Gabriola Pass into the Straight, crossing at an angle with Secret Cove Marina behind South Thormanby Island our destination. The route would be about 40 miles, 25 exposed on the Straight. That’s what we’d do.

Telegraph Harbor starfish
Telegraph Harbor starfish

Saturday Yvonne and I brought our kayaks down from the flybridge and paddled around Telegraph Harbor. In the afternoon a group of us walked to a very small local winery and then played horseshoes in the shade. A very pleasant day.

Sunday, July 18th: Telegraph Harbor to Secret Cove – 5:47 a.m. to 11:48 a.m.

Sunday morning while Yvonne slept in the V-berth, I cast off and headed up the south side of Thetis, then right into the Pylades Channel toward Gabriola Passage. But it was too early to enter; a nine-knot tide was still pouring through the pass from the Straight. We’d have to wait for slack tide. In the meanwhile, Yvonne had woken up and we had a quiet breakfast waiting for the tide to turn.

It was a beautiful July morning. Not a cloud in the sky. No wind to speak of. The crossing would be a piece of cake.

The tide slowed and stopped before turning around and we cruised through Gabriola Pass, ducked behind Breakwater Island and then headed north, passed Silva Bay on the left and entered Commodore Passage, a gateway to the Straight of Georgia at Rowboat Point on Gaviola Island, one of the Flat Tops off Gabriola Island. The BC mainland was clearly visible, snow capped mountains in the distance. South Thormanby Island, our goal, was too far away to make out among the rest of the coastline and scattering of islands. I set our GPS for South Thormanby Island and we headed out.

The next three hours were nerve-wracking.

Hidden behind the Gulf Islands the wind was negligible. But now it was unfettered, blowing north more or less along our route of travel. Well, that’s good, I thought. Better than banging away into the wind. The waves, trough to peak, were about six feet high, or so it seemed. They were moving north slightly faster than we were traveling. We were in following seas.

What I most feared was getting turned sideways and broaching, that is turning over. We’d be dead. The trick, I decided would be to try to match the speed of the boat to the speed of the waves, surfing on top of a wave. As long as I could do that the stern wouldn’t be pushed sideways. We’d be OK.

But it was like driving on ice. Because the boat and water were traveling about the same speed a fixed rudder wouldn’t hold us on course. I had to make continuous small adjustments port and starboard to keep us on track. Yvonne tried to talk to me. I told her to be quiet. I couldn’t listen and talk at the same time I was trying to keep us from drowning.

Two and a half hours passed. It was an eternity. When we were out of the wind on the other side of the Straight I loosened my grip on the wheel and apologized to Yvonne for not being more talkative but I explained that I had to put all my attention into handling the boat.

Had we been in danger? As much as I imagined at the time? Hard to say. I haven’t had enough boating experience to know. But following seas are always dangerous and inattention or sloppiness can hurt or worse.

We docked at the Secret Cove Marina at 11:48 and took Samantha for a walk. It felt good to be on solid ground again.

Monday, July 19th: Secret Cove to Lund – 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

A new day. We’re relaxed, yesterday’s stress put away, now two days from Desolation Sound. Another gorgeous day.

With big Texada Island on our left we pass fjords on our right that head inland, the longest, Jervis Inlet, about 50 miles long, with Princess Louisa Inlet branching off to the right, and site of Chatterbox Falls, described by M. Wylie Blanchet in her memoir, “The Curve of Time.” But today we can’t dawdle. Maybe another time.

We arrived before noon at Lund , a town of 300, named by Swedish immigrant Charlie Thulin in 1889 after the University town in southwest Sweden we’d visited with family in 1989. This Lund is at the end of the road, Route 101 and jumping off place for Desolation Sound. From Lund 101 wanders south through BC, Washington, Oregon, and California, never far from the coast. We’d come to know 101 intimately through later land yacht voyages. Many years ago a friend, his wife, and two sons brought their trailerable Catalina sailboat from Seattle to Lund, and spent a week in Desolation Sound – without having to sail across the Straight. Now I understood.

Lund: Gumption, right middle, rafted to a docked sailboat
Lund: Gumption, right middle, rafted to a docked sailboat

The small harbor was crowded so boats were rafted to one another. Al, a Canadian, invited us to tie up to his sailboat. We tried not to disturb him by traipsing back and forth across his deck very often.

It was Yvonne’s birthday so we walked over to the Sunset at the End of the World restaurant for dinner to celebrate. It was a warm evening. Tomorrow we’d be in Desolation Sound.

Tuesday July 20th: Lund to Laura Cove – 9:25 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

An easy cruise along the B.C. coast, inside the Copeland Islands then turning right into Desolation Sound, inside Morgan and Eveleigh Islands into Prideaux Haven, where large motor and sailboats hang at anchor in deep clear water. Laura Cove was a bit farther on and host to about a dozen boats. We saw an open space on the south shore and headed for it.

Like many popular Desolation Sound anchorages, the bottom at Laura Cove falls away quickly as you move away from the shore. The idea is to get close to shore to minimize the risk of dragging anchor off the bottom but then you must also prevent your boat from swinging into a neighbor as the wind changes. That’s accomplished by doing a stern tie: the bow on anchor and the stern tied to the shore.

Experienced friends had explained to me when to do a stern tie and how. Some even had spools with yellow floating poly rope at the stern to dispense line. We weren’t so fancy.

We dropped anchor into 26 feet of water about 75 feet from shore and then backed up about 30 feet. At the helm, Yvonne kept tension on the anchor rode off the bow by idling backwards. I tied one end of our poly rope to a cleat on the starboard stern and took the rope with me in our tender to the rocky shore behind Gumption.

I clambered out of the tender, carried the rope to the nearest sturdy tree, put the line around the tree while keeping it taut with Gumption then let out slack as I returned to the tender. I let out more line as I rowed back to Gumption and then tied off the line to a cleat on the port side of the stern. We were set. When it was time to leave we could just untie from one cleat, pull the line back from shore, pull up the anchor and be on our way.

We were anchored at 50.08.777 north and 124.39.475 west. Our first stern tie accomplished, we sat in the sunshine taking in the scene.

Soon another boat entered Laura Cove, anchored as we had, and began work on a stern tie. They had trouble. I considered video taping the process but resisted.

With the woman aboard at the helm, one man in the tender and another at the stern, they hollered back and forth at each other, increasingly frustrated at the difficulty of communicating. I was tempted to volunteer to help but I thought that would be condescending. I barely knew what I was doing anyway.

The boater heading to shore had a great deal of trouble landing his tender and then climbing the steep rocks to the tree line. He got the line around a tree and started to back to his tender, pulling the line to take the slack out of it. As he got close to his tender, two sections of line pulled apart, he lost his balance and tumbled into the water.

The rope section attached to the boat fell in the water so he had to get into his tender, retrieve the floating line, reattach it to the rest of the line, climb back out, wrap the line around the tree again, come back to his tender and row back to his boat, bringing the remaining line with him as I had done. I don’t know how they had “spliced” the two sections of the rope together but it wasn’t with a bowline. I felt bad for the trio – a bit. Schadenfreude is one of life’s guilty pleasures.

M. Wylie Blanchet's egaging memoir of boating on the Staight of Georgia in the 1920's
M. Wylie Blanchet’s egaging memoir of boating on the Staight of Georgia in the 1920’s

This July night was so warm we carried our sleeping bags up to the flybridge, lying under a bright Milky Way, spotting occasional crossing satellites and a few shooting stars. We talked about the widowed Wylie Blanchet, her five young children, and their voyages in the 25’ Caprice to this very spot almost a century ago.

A few mosquitos found us.

Wednesday July 21st, Laura Cove

We’d heard that because of its long sunny summer days and because tides from the north and south balance each other here, the waters of Desolation Sound are much warmer in summer than those around the San Juan Islands. We wanted to see for ourselves.

After breakfast all three of us (including Samantha the dog) got into our tender and headed for the beach at the top of Laura Cove. We all waded in the clear water – and yes it was much warmer than around Orcas Island, swimmable even. Then we began our search for the ruins of Phil Lavine’s cabin and apple orchard Blanchet describes in her chapter “Cougar.” Lanvine had lost a goat to a cougar and Blanchet had nearly lost their setter at nearby Melanie cove.

Samantha wades in Laura Cove
Samantha wades in Laura Cove

I didn’t mention any of this to Samantha and she was deliriously happy to be on shore. For years Sadie, our Redbone hound, and I would run trails in the foothills above north Boulder. Cougars sometimes chased runners up trees and sometimes worse. I considered Sadie my potential cougar sacrifice but I never told her anything either. Early one Boulder Sunday morning running uphill from Mapleton on the Sanitas Valley Trail near our house, I saw a cougar cross the trail west to east a 100 yards away heading for north Boulder. Sadie saw nothing. I didn’t let on, and we crossed the cougar’s still warm trail a minute later.

We didn’t find Lavine’s cabin but did see some alders spectacularly festooned with thick patches of luxurious moss.

Kayaking on Prideaux Haven
Kayaking on Prideaux Haven

Laura Cove, protected from the bigger waters of Desolation Sound is a great place to kayak. We spent the afternoon in the sunshine paddling among the nearby islands, thinking about native peoples who lived in this Eden time out of mind.

Thursday July 22nd, Tenedos Bay – 9:45 a.m. to 12:03 p.m.

We’d been on battery power for two days and had been careful about battery usage but when it came time to leave Laura Cove both batteries were too drained to start the Volvo diesel. And we didn’t have a generator. Uh oh!

Another Camano Troll had come into Laura Cove Wednesday afternoon and was anchored nearby. We had visited with Otto and Nancy of Hellava Deal so I didn’t feel shy about asking for some help. They came alongside and we ran our long starter cables between the two boats and got the diesel going.

We successfully pulled in our stern tie and raised anchor moving slowly out of Laura Cove into the more open water of Prideaux Haven where larger boats anchored. While we watched, a Kenmore Air float plane out of Seattle landed on the Sound and taxied into Prideaux Haven, approaching a 60’ motor yacht. The pilot helped two passengers out onto the starboard pontoon, the yacht’s tender came alongside to pick them up and they were soon aboard the yacht. What a deal!

It was an extraordinarily beautiful summer day. Mountains all around, seeming to rise almost vertically 8000’ out of the Sound. Not different in kind from the San Juans we’d left but different in scale. In Alaska twelve years later we experienced another even more dramatic difference in scale. Mountains, glaciers, and water again – but so much larger.

Prideaux Haven to Tenedos Bay
Prideaux Haven to Tenedos Bay

Tenedos Bay is an easy cruise just around the corner from Prideaux Haven, large and well-protected. We were successfully anchored/stern-tied by noon close to the trailhead for nearby Unwin Lake. Yvonne, Samantha, and I were ready for a walk.

Twenty boats were scattered around the bay, most close to shore and stern-tied. A half-dozen tenders, fiberglass and inflatable, were pulled up on the beach near the stream that drained the lake and trailhead and more were approaching from around the bay. We quickly joined the group and found ourselves at Unwin Lake 20 minutes later. It was a kids’ paradise.

A cliff rose out of the lake 50 feet north of the trail. Teenagers on the cliff face teased each other to jump into the water fifteen feet below, others in the water called to their new friends, and others were swimming back to shore to jump in again. They were having so much fun! We smiled and smiled, imagining being here with our kids when they were teens. Just the very best thing ever.

Gumption stern tied on Tenedos Bay
Gumption stern tied on Tenedos Bay

Yvonne made delicious tacos for dinner and we enjoyed the long evening and lingering Pacific Northwest twilight on the flybridge. Boating isn’t always fun. Bad weather, boat troubles, and long cruising sessions may build character but this day made up for all that. Our experiences had finally caught up with our fantasies. Perfect!

Friday July 23rd, Grace Harbor by Way of Refuge Cove – 9:10 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Time to turn around and head home. At 9:10, after breakfast, we left our anchorage at Tenedos Bay and headed northwest across Homfray Channel to Refuge Cove, filled up on diesel, took Samantha for a walk, visited the General Store and looked around. A pleasant place to stop and like everything else here and north accessible only by boat or float plane.

Stopping at Refuge Cove
Stopping at Refuge Cove

We recrossed Homfray and ducked into Malaspina Inlet and headed south to Grace Harbor, a quiet, secure anchorage. We were settled by 12:15.

Saturday July 25th Grace Harbor to Pender Harbor – 8:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.

A long cruise. We got started from Grace Harbor by 8:45 but had about 45 miles down Malaspina Strait to travel so we weren’t docked until mid afternoon. Though much of the way we were protected by Texada Island from the wind and waves on the Straight of Georgia, tides coming out of Jeris Inlet held our attention.

Pender Harbor hosts a half-dozen marinas and by chance we recognized Ray and Diane Jarecki’s 49’ Grand Banks, Avanti. We knew Ray, an accomplished long-distance ocean competitive sailor, and Diane from the Orcas Island Yacht Club. He founded the Junior Sailing program on the island and shepherded its merger with Sail Orcas in 2007. It’s a wonderful, popular kids sailing program.

They were on their way back to Orcas and would cross the Straight of Georgia in the morning, pending a reasonable weather report. Winds were expected. The question was how big a blow.

Sunday July 26th Pendar Harbor to Silva Bay with Avanti 11:05 a.m. to 2:34 p.m.; Thetis Island Marina 4:30 p.m.

In the morning Ray and Diane called on the radio and said they thought the weather was good enough for a crossing, not ideal but not dangerous. They planned to cross to Silva Bay and then pass through Gabriola Pass, a return on the route we had taken out. I had expressed trepidation about the crossing so Ray asked whether we wanted to follow them across the Straight. Yes, by all means. And so we did.

The wind was still blowing from the south, this time into our faces. We wouldn’t have to worry about following seas and broaching but heading more or less into the wind meant some pounding so I drafted Avanti, staying in the wake of the much larger boat so we avoided most of the banging. Outbound had been very tense, exhausting. Inbound, though not exactly a pleasure, was no problem.

Once through Gabriola Pass we turned toward Thetis Island and its eponymous marina; Ray and Diane continued south toward home.

Monday July 27th Thetis Island Marina to Deer Harbor – 9:05 a.m. to 1:35 p.m.

We left Thetis Island Marina about 9:00 a.m. and were back in our slip in the Cayou Quay Marina in Deer Harbor on Orcas by about 1:30. All told we’d put about 32 hours on Gumption’s engine and travelled about 250 miles.

We never took Gumption or its successor, Simrishhamn II, a Nauticat pilothouse sailboat, on such a long trip, preferring to be out for only a few days at a time. We found we didn’t like being cooped up motoring for long hours.

Ten years later, after boats, we bought a motorhome, Further, and drove it all over the western U.S, gone ten weeks at a time. We didn’t feel cooped up driving because we could listen to audio books. Gumption would have been too noisy. In Further we could get off the Interstate for a meal or a look-see. Boating in the PNW is more about being where civilization isn’t. That’s nice but we found ourselves wanting smaller doses.

Some boat owners never leave the dock and just enjoy cocktails on the water. While not for us, I can understand the attraction and utility of moored boating.

We had some magic days in Desolation Sound that we’ll never forget. It was worth every minute of getting there and back.

© 2020, johnashenhurst. All rights reserved.

Leave a Comment