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Sailing in BC

Jean Baillargeon

Shamata
Discovery 47 sloop
January 20th, 2016

I know we’re supposed to be dreaming and writing about far off coral-ringed islands; opalescent crystal waters; white sandy beaches with palm trees lazily swaying in the breeze. But while we wait for those days, starry eyed, we still live here in BC, in one of the most enviable cruising grounds of the world. Anyway, so say all BC boaters.

Princess Louisa #1

Over the Christmas holidays we sailed to Princess Louisa Inlet and the Malibu Rapids. The name of those rapids is actually the closest we ever got to warm climes during that cruise.

Here’s a bit of geography, if you don’t know where Princess Louisa is. Grab a chart and look halfway up the Sunshine Coast, east of Texada Island, slightly northwest of Pender Harbour, lies Agamemnon Channel. It is the southern access waterway to Skookumchuck Narrows, Egmont and the backside of the Sunshine Coast. Leaving Nelson Island on your port quarter, once out of Agamemnon, you wind your way up 30nm of grandiose fjords, along a zigzag set of reaches, all very royally named: Queens’ Reach; Prince of Wales Reach, to finally reach (you get the point) a narrow, four-mile long inlet at the head of which stands a wonder: Chatterbox Falls.

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You can try and sail it. But be warned, there are no anchorages past the Harmony Islands or Green Bay, back in Agamemnon. And you do have to time your passage at slack tide at Malibu Rapids, that marks the entrance to Princess Louisa Inlet. Malibu is a short tidal race that could probably be negotiated at speed, if you had lots of power to spare and if it was not very narrow and very S shaped. So out comes the tide table to start calculating slack time. Turns out it’s an easy one. Plus 35 minutes at low water or plus 25 at high, referred on Point Atkinson. Standard time precluded the unavoidable mind bender of having to add that pesky hour for summer time. We made it with about 5 minutes to spare.

Our little cruise started on Christmas morning, after the presents of course. We first went for a nice dinner at friends on Gabriola Island, across the Strait from where we live on our boat at Spruce Harbour Co-op Marina in Vancouver. The next morning, we left Gabriola for Green Bay, or so we thought. Georgia Strait must not have been happy with what Santa brought, because we had to contend with 40 knot winds from the south east all the way across. I was worried, though I think Helen played Scrabble on her iPad the whole way across. Instead of getting to Green Bay with some daylight left, we decided to go into Garden Bay at Pender, as the days are very short at this time of year.

As we were coming in to anchor in Garden Bay, an interesting thing happened. I think they call this a teachable moment! We had just replaced our anchor and rode a few weeks before. And while storing it in the anchor locker, we did not haul the chain in under some load, using our windlass, for example. But rather, we hand fed it into the locker. Oh oh … big mistake. Turns out the rode needs some tension on it in order to properly flake itself in the locker. Consequently, when we dropped the hook, after a long day’s sail to get there, the rode, twisted and knotted (yes, anchor chain can knot itself into a ball) would not stream out the hawse pipe as it is designed to do. The chain, after many back-breaking tugs, tendon snapping yanks and a plethora of well-seasoned Québécois swearing threats, was un-obligingly stuck under its own weight. We were only just able to put out 50 feet of rode… in 30 foot depth. Not exactly your safe scope ratio that everyone and their old salt brother-in-law recommends. Thank God, no big winds were forecast that night, safe and very sheltered in Garden Bay. I thought I’d deal with it in Princess Louisa, where I knew we planned to be on the Park dock anyway.

The following day, slack tide at Malibu was forecast for 1445h. Which meant a 45 nm run from Pender. It was dark and grumpy when we got underway. And that was just inside the boat! The rising sun brought out clear blue skies, which we enjoyed for the rest of the holiday, after that nasty frontal passage the day before.

Princess Louisa #3A

The few photos we snapped going up the reaches hardly do justice to the wonders offered by these winding fjords. The peaks stand around 4000 ft, while sheer walls of second and third growth forests line the shores that plunge to charted depths of well over 2000 ft! The presence of low clouds tucked into the cliffs was proof of how much moisture and cold air these fjords trap. The dew point must not have been much more than half a degree lower than the ambient temperature. The seawater was at around 7C.

Once through Malibu Rapids, we slowly motored up the Inlet. It had just been snowing, we were told by the only other boater there. And the snow had frozen on top of the salt water across the Inlet. It gave the whole scenery an amazing texture of eerie- laced stillness. The high pressure, now settled on the BC coast, had by then quieted any stir of wind. I ran to the bow, iPhone in hand, to shoot a short clip before it all vanished.

The next day the only other boat left for home, having spent their Christmas there.

The low murmur of Chatterbox Falls filled the air. The odd eagle called out. A few seals slowly drifted up and down the Inlet.  We had the place to ourselves for the next three days! Three days filled with a few good books, great food, short walks to the Falls and happy afternoon snoozes.

We’ve all had the quiet experience of being alone in a bay or at anchor somewhere. But something about Princess Louisa brings that experience to a deeper level. There is a sense of contented seclusion and a welcomed isolation that quickly envelops you. Like the bear hug of an old friend. A muffled awareness that the raging world outside cannot, like the pale winter sun, make it above the ridge that bounds the Inlet to the south east. And for that, Helen and I were grateful. To live in a place where such serenity is only a few short tacks away.

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We did de-snag that bloody anchor rode… made for an interesting afternoon project. For what is cruising, if not doing boat maintenance in exotic locations!

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  1. Doug says:

    What a wonderful article!

    1. Jean Baillargeon says:

      thanks Doug. enjoyed the trip and the retelling

  2. Rita Balaam says:

    Lovely story and great pics and video. Thanks Jean.

  3. Jean B says:

    thanks Rita. Glad you liked it

  4. Tom Richards says:

    Great article Jean. I don’t think I have seen such a beautiful showing of the B.C. coast in her winter garb.
    Very appealing in that I remember the wonderful feeling of being in a warm comfortable sailboat floating in a winter scene. Especially in those environs.
    Thanks for the good read. Hope you hoist a cup of hot cocoa for Delwyn and I next time.
    Tom and Delwyn
    s/v Mahalo

    1. Jean Baillargeon says:

      Thanks Tom… hope you guys are enjoying your sailing season… more on the downwind this time. Take care

  5. Delwyn Smith S/V Mahalo says:

    BC at its magnificent best. I imagine the solitude as I sit in a crowded anchorage in St. Anne, Martinique.

    1. Jean Baillargeon says:

      Thanks Del… it was very quiet… we enjoyed it. It’s a special place no doubt

  6. Tom Baker says:

    In 2006 Dawn & I took off cruising with the Fleet of 2006. After 6 years and many thousands of miles we are back. Your article helps us justify the desire to bring our sailboat back home from New Zealand so we could again cruise in Beautiful BC. We’ve only been to Chatterbox Falls in the summer. We’ll have to try it in the winter next time. Thank you Jean.
    Tom & Dawn
    s/v Warm Rain

    1. Jean Baillargeon says:

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for the kind words. high praise indeed for such seasoned sailors as you both. I definitely recommend a sail up to Princess Louisa. Friends of ours mentioned they enjoy doing it around Easter time. No crowds either. A bit warmer, longer days too.