Passage: Kaua'i To Victoria

Sunday June 11, 1000h:

Finally, the anchor has been weighed (it's heavy) and we are sailing out of the lovely anchorage of Hanalei Bay. The morning's activities had included several bouts of dashing around the deck to gather our laundry each time the rain came through, followed by hanging the clothes back out again in an attempt to get them dry before we left. We finally gave up and left the still damp items swinging around the cabin on hangers. The dinghy was fairly dry when we folded it up and stuffed it into the v-berth.

We were beginning the long and final passage of our two-year odyssey, heading for home. The Sunday morning quiet of the anchorage seemed a strange contrast to the excitement we felt on this momentous occasion. Where was the fanfare? We glided quietly out of the bay, admiring the surfers who had been riding the waves with varying degrees of skill since dawn. A large turtle swam by, less interested in us than we in it.

Fellow Canadians on the 39 ft boat Corail IV had left about 4 hours before us, headed for Vancouver. We weren't likely to catch up to them, but it gave us something to look for. They gave us the frequency and time when they check in via HAM radio with a net, which should allow us to eavesdrop on their position reports and perhaps learn about the conditions ahead.

The First 4 Days

So far so good – we have had amazingly smooth sailing. The wind has been steady and on the beam, the waves and swell low, and our speed is good, allowing us to average over 135 miles a day! This began a running joke that we would arrive in time for Canada Day if we could maintain that pace. The chances of this are slim but when our speed would go over the magic 5.5 kts, someone would start to sing: O'Canada...! When we slowed a little, the Star Spangled Banner might get a few bars.

The transition to night was eased by the full moon and clear sky on our first night. Over the next few days, the waning moon began to allow for some early evening stargazing, followed by a comforting light for the rest of the night. We set our course to follow Hokupa'a, which is the Hawaiian name for the North Star (hoku is star and pa'a is stuck), watching it get a little higher in the sky each night, while Hokule'a (Arcturus), which is at it's maximum height over Kaua'i, slowly sinks. We can't see Orion any more as he goes to bed before dark in this season.

We had a passenger one night for a couple of hours when a booby settled itself on our life line. It maintained balance simply by gripping the lines with its red webbed feet, and was able to groom itself with its blue beak, and settle in for a nice little nap. Bjarne disturbed its snooze by touching its tail feathers: it woke up right away, ruffled its feathers, looked to see who was disturbing it, and then went back to sleep.

The easy conditions have allowed us to adjust quickly and, like the booby, to get adequate rest. We can't believe how good this is! We wonder when it will end...

Days 5-7

The traditional route from Hawai'i to the West Coast of N. America recommends that sailboats initially head north to stay on the west side of the N. Pacific High that usually parks itself around this area (and gives us nice summer weather in Victoria). Once you are far enough north you can start to head more east around the top of the high. A specific location to turn can't be known ahead of time as it depends on the weather, but we entered a rough estimate into the GPS, just to have something for it to count down to. We called the waypoint Hard Butter, but our butter got hard well before we got this far north. For our first few days we were right on track and enjoying a perfect wind direction as we skirted the outside of the high. Theory and reality often differ: our good conditions didn't last, and another high came along, causing this one to shift to the west – suddenly we were dealing with head winds because we were on the wrong side of the high! Just to keep things more interesting, we also crossed through a stationary front in the early evening. It presented as a line of low clouds stretching across the horizon. We could tell it was long, but somehow assumed it was narrow and that we would pass through it quickly. Not so. The winds picked up, stirring the seas into a choppy mess that sent salt water washing over the deck as Freya bashed into the waves. We were unimpressed with this weather, but everyone has a different perspective – a pod of spinner dolphins showed up and it was clear they were having a grand old time playing in the waves. As always, we enjoyed their visit immensely, although this time we watched their antics from behind the shelter of the dodger, instead of braving the now colder spray up at the bow. It was a tiring night, not helped probably by our lack of adjustment to cooler weather. We spent our time on watch below, popping up regularly to look around. In the dark night we were surrounded by bright phosphorescence, which is the plankton's response to stress – as Bjarne put it, “Freya was beating the snot out of them” as we raced through the water.

We were out of the front sometime the next morning. The next couple of days remained cloudy. We were still going close to the wind, but at least we weren't being headed as far off course anymore. Gradually we resumed our northward heading, aiming for Hard Butter.

Day 8 (Jun 18)

We have been at sea for one whole week and have covered more than a quarter of the distance. The days are getting longer and the twilight now lingers, as if the sun is reluctant to abandon us. In the tropics, when the sun sets it's more like someone leaving work on a Friday night. Each evening we watch for the green flash and have been rewarded a few times for our vigilance. The water temperature is now 10 C lower than in Kaua'i and toques have become part of the night watch uniform.

Our high is shifting toward its “proper” location now, but it is really big and we are inside of it where the winds are light. To go around it we would have been well on our way to Japan. On the plus side was a clear blue sky with sunshine to warm the cool air. We took advantage of the weather to heat our solar shower – bath day is always good for morale! We sailed along at a slow pace, making comments about Labour Day now rather than singing national anthems. By the afternoon there wasn't enough wind to keep the Great Pumpkin full so we gave up and started motoring. The light winds make getting a few chores done easier, so Bjarne put some new blocks on Hellena and replaced some worn rope – Hellena works pretty hard on these passages, we wouldn't want her to go on strike.

We had some fellow sailors that became noticeable in the light winds: sailing jelly fish! These are either small Portuguese Men'o'war or a relative thereof, and have a little flat half-moon shaped sail that projects above the water. The sail is offset a bit so the jelly fish slowly rotates as it moves through the water. We thought there were a lot passing by at random intervals, but then we saw an entire armada glittering in the sun. They formed a path of maybe 100m wide, which extended as far as the eye could see in either direction.

A bit of excitement ensued after sunset: the steady chuffing of the engine suddenly changed to a weird clacking/rattling noise - yikes! Bjarne shut the engine down right away and we proceeded to investigate. Our air filter, it turns out, had self-destructed; we believe parts of the foam element went into the engine and interfered with the valves from closing properly. We started it up again and the noise diminished after about 20 seconds as the bits burned up. Marine environments don't have a lot of dust so it's easy to become complacent about checking the air filter. The last time I cleaned it, I noticed it was not in good shape, but we didn't have another and weren't anyplace where we could get one. I kind of forgot about it and it never occurred to me it could break down that much, but we should have checked it in Hawaii (where there are stores!). Now, with no Canadian Tire or West Marine in sight, we are running the engine without a filter. As I said, it isn't very dusty out here so it will probably be OK, but we are both a bit shamefaced at having neglected this bit of maintenance.

Tonight has been perfect for stargazing until past 0100h when the almost-half moon rose, leaving only the brightest stars visible. It was quite peaceful listening to the low rumble of the engine while searching for constellations, a sight especially appreciated after a few days of overcast. Tonight, I was pleased to finally figure out where Draco, the Dragon, is. Progress is marked by the disappearance of the Southern Cross below the horizon.

During the night, BJ spotted a light on the horizon. The big ships often have more than one light on so he thought it might be Corail IV. They didn't respond when he called on the radio though – and a few minutes later he discovers he was hailing a star. I wonder what his horoscope would say about that.

Day 10 (June 20)

The winds remain light; we are traveling under sail at a slow pace - 2.5 kts this morning, gradually increasing to 3.5 by the late afternoon. In these light winds we are more susceptible to the swell, causing an annoying roll, but otherwise it's nice to have the engine off. We enjoyed the sunny day, read, and played ukulele.

In the early afternoon we overheard a US warship on the VHF radio telling another warship about conducting small arms firing practice! Our first thought was to ensure we weren't in their line of fire, so we hailed them on the radio. They hadn't spotted us before we called, but a few minutes later the watch officer indicated that they had us on radar, could see us, and wouldn't be coming close enough for us to be in danger. As they approached (eventually passing one on either side of Freya) we kept alert but as promised they didn't hit us.

We determined that we still have a minor leak but we can't figure out where exactly the water is getting in from. It leads to a small amount of water pooled in one of the settee lockers, but can wait until we get home to track it down.

Dolphins visited BJ during his watch, but he let me sleep on...

Day 11 (June 21) Summer Solstice

The first day of summer is not best celebrated in the North Pacific: we sat in the cockpit this morning wearing our many layers, eating oatmeal, and sipping hot tea. We had a hearty chili for supper.

Our nightime dreams are becoming land-based – BJ dreamed he was in Canadian Tire. He set off the store alarm when he opened the packaging on a claw hammer. I dreamed that Bjarne called me to the cockpit to steer the boat while he did a sail change, but I was having trouble keeping Freya on the correct side of the road.

This day brought more light wind sailing combined with motoring. For a while the Great Pumpkin moved us along nicely, but we don't like to have the spinnaker up at night. It's too hard to take down quickly, or by only one person.

Day 12 (June 22)

We had fresh bread, cooked up from dough made the night before, with baked apples for breakfast – perfect for a cold, rainy day.

The barometer had dropped 10 millibars in the last 24 hours and the weather fax showed we were at the bottom of a low pressure system. This brought us more wind (35 knots) than we preferred but at least it was in a good direction; we moved along at a good clip and reached the “Halfway to Home” mark earlier in the day than we had expected. Bjarne was on watch for the time when the seas were the worst: he describes Freya being poised at the top of a couple of steep 5 m waves, and then pushed by the wind down the wave, losing the ability to steer while surfing down the face of the wave as fast as the water is moving. Spray was flying from the bow and then Freya would come to a quick halt in the valley of the waves. He was consoled by the fact that these large swell waves weren't breaking, and that most of the waves were quite a bit smaller. Too bad I slept through that.

Day 13 (June 23)

Two years ago today we were sailing out the Strait of Juan de Fuca, about to begin our first offshore passage. We sure are a lot less tired than we were that day. We reflected on how much more comfortable we were with passage making now, which isn't to say we won't be mighty happy to reach land. Calm seas, light winds and some hazy sun convinced us to bare our necessities to the chilly air and have a shower in the cockpit. That, and fresh sheets on the berth in honour of passing halfway were exciting enough, but to add to the celebration we had a fine supper of pizza and coke. As we were doing the dishes, I called out to invite the whales to come visit. A few minutes later I was startled by a loud whoosh of a whale spouting off! It surfaced twice, allowing us a look at its back with a small dorsal fin and then vanished. I told Bjarne I didn't want to abuse my powers, so would wait until tomorrow to call the dolphins.

Day 21 July 1 – Happy Canada Day!

In honour of our country's anniversary, breakfast was pancakes with maple syrup, or more appropriately, maple syrup with pancakes. As we hung out in our 6 layers of clothing in the drizzle, we thought enviously about folks at home, wearing their shorts and t-shirts, going to outdoor concerts, and watching fireworks. Bjarne suggests we set off a flare...

The last week has been challenging as there have been lots of impediments to both our progress and our comfort, making this week feel like an endurance test, made harder by the fact that we don't know when it will end. The wind has either been too light, strong and on the nose, or frequently changing strength and direction causing confused seas and a meandering course; we have had lots of mist, drizzle, and rain, which in addition to being unpleasant, reduces our visibility so we have to keep a more vigilant lookout. We have seen more ships this passage than on any other one. Instead of that nice Pacific High that one normally expects this time of year, we have been plagued with a low pressure system and its fronts. Bjarne is convinced that the weather gods have it in for us; it does sometimes seem like there must be a capricious power who has decided to make life difficult. The forecasts suggest we could have head winds for most of the trip, a depressing thought. Today we tried to name as many shades of gray as possible, figuring we've seen them all in the last week: slate, soot, charcoal, magnesium, steel, Dorian (that was BJ's). To our relief, there were some blue patches this afternoon and a good showing of stars for part of the night.

The omnipresent moisture makes for a chilly environment, especially when our outside clothes are damp. As the number of layers we are wearing has increased, so has the time taken to get changed between watches: putting on all those layers while bracing ourselves against the heeling and bouncing is challenging. We've started keeping much longer watches because it feels like too much work to get out of our clothes. To keep warm, we've been making good use of our hot water bottle and pocket warmers, as well as planning meals that involve the oven whenever possible. When you add in all the hot drinks, we are probably going through propane at three times the rate we were in the tropics. We have noticed, however, that we are starting to adapt to the cool weather – appropriate observation for Canada Day, I suppose.

With the cloud cover, and the new moon, the nights have been extremely dark. However, our instruments give off some light and we often have a light on to read by. It is these lights that I assume are drawing the attention of some small birds. They have been swooping around, chittering away throughout many dark hours, and twice now one has ended up in the cockpit. We think they have flown into something as they seem a bit dazed. Both times we have been able to pick them up and set them in a place where there was more room to maneuver and after a short while, they depart. During the darkness, we have also been visited by dolphins, alerted to their presence by the exhalation when they surface, and then mesmerized by the glowing trails of phosphorescence that give away their location and pathway.

We know we are getting closer to home as Bjarne spotted both kelp and a seal yesterday. A couple of whales have also come by.

Day 22 (July 2)

Three weeks at sea. There are less than 500 miles to our waypoint at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Victoria is another 60 miles after that) We have hit an area of very low winds, so are motoring quite a bit. When they pick up a little we sail but can't usually get closer than 30 degrees off our course line, and often we are even further off. Morale has been improved by breaking the 500 mark and because we are getting more sunshine. We were able to dry out a few things this morning. The very calm water makes spotting wildlife easier and Bjarne saw about a dozen whale spouts in the distance. At first he thought the very large plume of spray was a sail and was getting set to hail them on the radio. He became suspicious when it disappeared quickly and reappeared a couple of times. Seals too have come by – one was sunning itself on its back with its flippers in the air.

We haven't been able to catch Corail IV on the radio for about 2 weeks now, but we speculate and wonder where they are. If they were on a better side of the low they might have made it to Vancouver by now. During the cold and rainy weather we also spoke about the very nice, enclosed, pilot house they have. Us, jealous?

Day 24 (July 4)

Yipee!! We are finally making progress! We are on a nice beam reach, heading directly for the Strait of Juan de Fuca, going over 5kts. What a relief. At noon we had 302 miles to our waypoint. We are close enough to switch to a larger scale chart. This is exciting because now it looks like we are getting somewhere. When we plot our fixes every 6 hours on the chart from Hawaii to Victoria, we've usually moved less than a centimeter (lately, a lot less). Bjarne just hailed a passing ship and learned that the winds ahead were 10kts NW. Sounds good.

Yesterday the winds became a little more favourable but were still very light. As long as we were moving through the water without the swell causing the sails to collapse and make a terrible racket, we didn't use the engine, in deference to our dwindling fuel supply. When we do motor we are keeping the RPMs low to stretch the diesel out as long as we can. The winds were just enough to keep us averaging about 3kts, except when they frequently died; all day the engine was on and off and the sails were up and down. The sun at least filtered through the clouds providing some warmth and allowing us to be outside without our wet weather gear on. What a treat – that stuff doesn't breath very well so one starts to wonder if the name comes from keeping the moisture in or keeping it out. The calm conditions were good for a little ukulele practice.

I too saw some whale spouts in the distance; Bjarne was right, they do look like sails at first glance.

Last year on this day, we were in Tonga at a party for the King's birthday. It was close enough to Canada Day and the U.S. Independence Day that we cruisers from our two countries worked that into our celebrations also.

Day 26 (July 6)

Still at sea, but less than 100 miles to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Much to our annoyance, the wind has once again abandoned us, but only after toying with us, and leading us into trying various useless sail arrangements. The Red Baron had some air time but there was barely enough breath to fill it; to make matters worse, what wind there was shifted forward of the beam so the spinnaker just hung limply, like a broken balloon. We've just done a more careful measurement of our fuel and calculated how many hours of motoring we can wring out of it at various RPMs, and think there is just enough to make it to the Strait on what's in the tank. There we can hope for some land breezes maybe, or take advantage of the funneling of wind that often happens in the Strait. We have a backup of 2 gallons in a jerry can just to make sure the tank doesn't run dry as we approach the dock. We were getting hopeful that we would arrive on Friday July 7 but that hope is diminishing rapidly.

Yesterday the Great Pumpkin was on duty, and doing a fine job until a corner of it ripped. Back we went to using the genoa and lost a good knot of speed. Ironically, earlier that day I commented that I was surprised at how long that old spinnaker had lasted.

The water has changed to a dark green colour that is familiar but we haven't seen for a long time. We'll miss the beautiful offshore blue and the amazing tropical shade of blue-green. There's more seaweed and kelp floating by as well, to let us know that land is nearing. I had a short visit by a Dahl's Porpoise today, the first one in two years. Yesterday we could hear a plane on the VHF asking all the boats it found to identify themselves and say where they were coming from. We felt left out that it didn't find us.

Land Ho! There is a long line of low cumulus clouds in the direction of land, except for a break where the Strait of Juan de Fuca is. The clouds were visible long before the land beneath became so, but as evening approached we were able to distinguish outlines of mountains.

Bjarne started sorting out our flags, in preparation for our homecoming to Victoria. After arriving from a long voyage, it is traditional for a boat to fly all of the flags of the countries it visited. He was reminded that we had made the wrong flag for Nuie, based on a reference book that should have known better. That just won't do Bjarne decides, and so he is working on a proper flag. Small projects like that, or practicing ukulele, are quite pleasant when the conditions are calm and there is wonderful sunshine; we probably had as much sun on this day as we have for the last 3 weeks total. The moon, just past half full, also made an appearance this afternoon and brightened the night watch considerably.

Day 27 (July 7)

What an amazing day! We had to motor throughout the night but as dawn approached we were able to ghost along under sail, albeit off course and slowly but how nice to shut the engine off. The seas were so flat that there was little to impede our progress or to make noise. How wonderful to watch the sky gradually lighten and colour the brush strokes of clouds hovering over the coast of Vancouver Island. As we drew nearer, the breeze brought the spicy scent of land out to my eagerly sniffing nose, conjuring up images of walking through the woods. This part of Vancouver Island is not yet over-developed so still has lots of areas of the rugged wilderness that BC is so famous for. It is by no means untouched, however, as evidenced by the scars marking the areas that have been clearcut. A pretty red lighthouse, with a very long staircase leading down to the water, is just one of the navigational aids along this coast. The scenery was lovely, but even more exciting was the wildlife. We saw Dahl's porpoises, seals, and tons :-) of whales, both Humpbacks and Orcas, spouting off and surfacing. The sun was shining and who cares that we won't make it into harbour today?

We made our way up the Strait slowly, doing our best to catch every bit of wind that we could. Still, there were times we needed the engine to keep moving, but we felt hopeful because the forecast was predicting increased winds. We had plenty of time to enjoy the lovely scenery along the coastline at least. The fragrance of forest continued to waft out to the boat, along with some hints of campfire, reminding us of fun times camping.

Before midnight (Freya time – local time is 3 hours later) the tide began ebbing, which meant a contrary current for us. At about 8 miles from Race Rocks, where the current can be quite strong, we decided we wouldn't have enough fuel to motor through the current which would be close to peak when we reached Race Rocks. We decided to try and hold our ground as best we could with what wind we got until the current began flooding. Once the moon set there was some good stargazing, albeit not quite as spectacular as in the middle of the Pacific.

July 8 (Day 28)

Six hours later we are a little more than 8 miles from Race Rocks. Those forecast winds never did make an appearance. Dawn was presaged by a brilliant star (Venus?) rising between two silhouetted hills. It gradually faded from sight as the sky brightened, bringing us another sunny day. Bjarne counted 101 small boats out fishing in the early morning. The quiet was punctuated, not unpleasantly, by the occasional shout drifting across the placid water: woohoo! 15 pounds...! As lovely as it is here, it's still a bit painful to be within 18 miles of our destination and not be able to get there.

0810h (Freya time) the current finally stopped pushing us backwards. Gentlefolk, start your engines. Now we are getting help from the current – yippee! We cut through the passage between Race Rocks and the shore, where the currents were swirling and chaotic. This would be a bad time for an engine to die. Once past there, we got just enough breeze to put the Red Baron up again, giving us a pleasant, gentle sail toward Victoria. We didn't see any more exciting wildlife, but enjoyed the sunshine while we tidied up the boat and ourselves. It was exciting to listen to favourite radio stations and pass familiar landmarks.

Home sweet home. At 1253h (1553h local time), 28 days, 2 hours, and 53 minutes after leaving Hanalei, we are now tied up to the Canada Customs dock. Yippee!!! We made it!

Aside from the Customs officers, the first person to greet us was Claude from Corail IV. They arrived in Victoria 6 days ahead of us, curse them :-)

The Custom's officers didn't care about our leftover cabbage and potatoes but did think we had a bit too much rum. They decided not to make us pay any duty on our booty.


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