VICE, or Vancouver Island Cruising Experience, is one of BCA’s signature events. It is a short offshore trip typically from the west coast of Vancouver Island, and it is a chance to see what it is like to make a passage. VICE is more about getting yourself ready than getting your boat ready and that might be far more important than many of us realize.
Three boats did VICE in 2021, Naida, Cambria, and Vórtice. By chance, we each came from a different BCA chapter. We all had slightly different learning opportunities during VICE.
Getting Ready to Go
Organizing for VICE was relaxed, we had a few zoom calls and put up a couple of Google sheets to collect info on boats and crew. More people signed up as crew than there were crewing opportunities, but some connections were made for future sailing.
Our planning sessions were focussed on picking a location and date to meet on the west coast. Two of the boats that did VICE went around Vancouver Island first so that put our timing into early to mid August. This also gave time for another boat to complete some major repairs but sadly they could not finish in time. Our planning also addressed what boats and/or crew would attend, and that our passage would be a couple of days. When we met on the west coast, we would make the final departure date decision and pick a waypoint to head towards, both decisions being based on the weather at the time. It should be noted that VICE is not a course with an instructor but rather an opportunity for experience. No one was going to evaluate whether a boat or crew were competent to do VICE. That being said, we were doing it as a group to have the support of each other.
When we met in Ucluelet, we made the final decision on how long we wanted to be on passage (~48 hrs, long enough for two overnights), when we would leave, and what waypoint to head towards, all based on the wind forecast, and we agreed to anchor in Joe’s Bay in the Broken Group on our return. Importantly, we also discussed what we would do if the wind did not materialize, and whether we would stay together if one boat was slower than another. We decided that we were not going to just motor for 48 hours and set a decision time of midnight on the first night; if the wind wasn’t good for sailing we’d turn around. I felt it was good that we set expectations ahead of time.
We each arrived early in Ucluelet giving us the opportunity to enjoy some happy hours getting to know each other and learning how each planned to do things on passage. We discussed boat systems, sails, stowage, cooking, and told tall tales. Pretty much a normal get together of sailors.
We made plans for how we would stow the dinghy, where we would sleep, what shifts we would keep, and what meals we would have. Each boat had slightly different ideas based on what they knew about their boat and themselves. No one plan is right for everyone or every boat. That is the point of VICE, to experiment and experience.
We were also fortunate to meet up with Fortitude X in Ucluelet who joined us for some of our socializing and were a great send off crew when the fleet departed.
We had an uncomfortable sea state on leaving Ucluelet, but we had wind and we were off. The first night was beautiful and clear with the sky full of stars and the phosphorescence streaming out beside and behind the boat. At times over the passage we had no wind and rolly seas making for flopping noisy sails – an opportunity to learn how to deal with this, and we had long hours of motoring. We had fog and silly fish boats that sat 30 – 60 nm out from Ukee in the dark and fog for us to try and find on radar and dodge. For some reason, they appear to think AIS is unnecessary. Truth be told, though it is part of the learning because our subsequent experience heading down the coast to Mexico is that the fish boats act the same everywhere.
We monitored VHF 16 & 69 and planned to check in roughly every 3 hours via Iridium GO! text message. As it happened, we stayed in VHF range the whole time and there was some conversation on the VHF radio but most communication happened over Iridium GO! text message. We were unsure if the off-watch person would be disturbed by radio chatter. Naida and Cambria have HF radios and Ken has a ham license so also checked into the Great Northern Boaters Net regularly.
Naida had two things happen on passage; the shackle on the sail outhaul came apart and the alternator output cable broke off the alternator. These both ended up being minor and were good reminders that it is easy to overlook little things like the shackle that is hidden in the stack-pack and somehow didn’t get seized the last time the sail went on. The broken alternator cable was the last straw in a persistent vibration problem with the alternator mount and prompted a stopover in Sidney on the way home to install a different alternator and stiffer mount. This issue though also highlighted one of the great things about cruisers – I had a spare cable lug but not a crimper – Vórtice had a crimper on board – problem solved.
While going out a hundred-ish miles is not far offshore it is far enough to raise some anxiety. The crew of Naida are fortunate to have had a Hawaii-Victoria crossing under our belt. We were students then, not in any position of responsibility. That trip was the opportunity to experience a passage with knowledgeable instructors who made the decisions. Our responsibility on that passage was to look after ourselves, and experience life aboard during passage making. In VICE though, we were now responsible for crew, craft, and mission. We made the decisions and lived with the consequences. It is good to get used to this gradually. I can’t imagine setting out on a first passage of any significance without this experience. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know. When we left to go down the coast in September we bungee boated (as Sailing Totem calls it) with another BCA boat. They had not done VICE nor had any other off-shore passage experience. They are highly experienced sailors though, I’d say they are better sailors than we are. However, they discovered that one of them gets sea-sick in the open ocean (despite never having had a problem before, even when circumnavigating Vancouver Island) and the other can’t sleep while the boat is underway. Whatever the cause, wouldn’t it be better to learn this early and find solutions before having severed your home ties and turned left at Cape Flattery?
I’ll confess I didn’t place a high priority on doing VICE in previous years and only offered to organize it this year because we were going to be on the outside of Vancouver Island anyway and figured we’d probably do a practice run out and back, even by ourselves. Having now spent 3 months working our way down the coast to the tip of the Baja peninsula I would suggest one consider VICE mandatory before heading off and the sooner you do it in your preparations the better. We did the Hawaii crossing before investing anything in offshore cruising and it was necessary but not sufficient. Doing VICE was the next step and in hindsight we should have tried to do it earlier. In the context of preparing yourself and your boat don’t think of only doing it once, just before you leave for your offshore adventure, do it many times. The key is in the name, Vancouver Island Cruising EXPERIENCE. Get that experience early in your preparations when making changes, or different decisions, is easy. Don’t wait until you’ve invested so much, and each day takes you further from home, that changes are hard to make. We are having a blast and are glad we are here, but the truth is it is not always fun or easy so the more you can sort out ahead of time the better. Rick Ellis taught us in the Psychology of Cruising that we will experience a grieving period when we leave behind a world of jobs, home, and family that we have mastered, to start an adventure where we are beginners. The only way to get over being a beginner is to get experience.
For us, the Hawaii crossing, going to Haida Gwaii, going around Vancouver Island, and doing VICE made it much easier in September to turn left at Cape Flattery.