During the past couple of years the cruisers participating in the Peterson Cup Cruising Rally (PCCR) have had some kind of a theme to rally around. This year’s theme was “Transiting the Panama Canal” and the goal was to play in each ocean and test the skills that would be needed in making said transit. It was a fun week, even when things didn’t quite go as planned, and a somewhat complicated voyage – just like BCA peeps seem to enjoy! This story is of that simple day-by-day; the challenging part is believing how and when islands in the Salish Sea can be a substitute for the Panama Canal experience. So first, an orientation to the substitute locations:
- Panama – Islands in the Salish Sea
- Shelter Bay Marina – Nanaimo, anywhere is good, you just have to know how to dock.
- San Blas Isles – Hornby Island at anchor in Tribune Bay – even has natives of various kinds.
- Canal: Gatun Locks – Little Bull Passage (your charts and GPS have errors here).
- Gatun Lake – Secret Cove, South Arm (there are crocodiles on the docks and decks).
- Colon – We stayed away from there. Main and Hastings, Vancouver?
- Milflores Locks – Secret Cove, entrance to the South Arm at low tide – a tight raft for transit.
- La Playeta Anchorage – Tribune Bay, complete with a resort beach-bum-like atmosphere.
- Gulfito – sail from BC mainland to Nanaimo, with ferries, waves, birds, marinas and markets.
2017 Peterson Cup Cruising Rally Participants
- August Moon with Russ Alfreds and Louel – twice through the Canal
- Blue Rose with Rally Advisor Ken Christie and Joel Taylor, Ocean Yacht-Masters instructor.
- Camdeboo with Campbell Good and Jennifer Handley, and crew of really happy relatives.
- Cookie Cutter with Peter McMartin and Connie Morahan – many times through the Canal, with a past skipper – assisted by regular racing crew member Sigrun.
- Dulcinea 2 with Frank and Dawn Gaudek, previous Cup winners and strongly independent folk.
- Libertina with Adam Wanczura with his very competent crew member Kelly Arnold, originally from Texas, Florida and south.
- Mischief with Heather Marshall of Calgary, aka the BVI Caribbean sailing girl.
- Tradewind Seeker with Roger Frost and Janet Ross – the “can do” and “just did that” people.
Day 1: Saturday, July 29
A loose collection of cruisers gathered in the Shelter Bay RestoBar (Dinghy Dock Pub) to plan the passage. The Rally Advisor, Ken Christie, rolled out the ancient chart of the possible anchorages for this world class voyage: San Blas to Gulfito. Everyone promptly loaded it with food plates and glasses of beer and wine. Not disturbed by this, the Advisor passed out the ZARPE forms and the actual Panama Canal application forms to be filled out (yes, amazing what you can do with a scanner and printer). For the purposes of this pretend transit, the documentation would allow the boats to travel from San Blas Isles and Shelter Bay Marina to the Amadore Causeway anchorages and then sail for Costa Rica, anchoring in Gulfito, where they would later be loaded on the transport ship for Victoria, BC. This was a hit, although both Cookie Cutter and August Moon already had the real numbered certificate for the others to copy from. Lastly, the role of the Advisor was discussed, and rally participants were encouraged to feed him a variety of freshly made fruit pies with whipped cream at the regular 16:00 Appy Hour. One boat per day volunteered for Appy Hour duty. All agreed the first anchorage would be at Jedediah Island, and if desired, boats could transit Little Bull Passage.
Day 2: Sunday, July 30
Sunday afternoon, as agreed in the Shelter Bay RestoBar, the first half of the Canal was achieved directly in Little Bull Passage, but there was no rafting. Mischief anchored closest to shore in the western end of Little Bull, others found a spot in deeper water. Sailing in tight passages produces anxiety and requires skill. The emotional feelings of being forced into a canal was achieved by the high cliffs of Little Bull Passage and clearing the poorly charted reef (our boats can do these things, it is the skipper and crew who must adjust). This area served as the Caribbean side of the Canal, because, as some may know, Shelter Bay Marina has two unmarked reefs at the entrance, where numerous boats have been wrecked. To add to the anxiety and surreal, it was here we first saw clouds of forest fire smoke above us, layered against Texada.
Everyone relaxed at 16:00 when the fruit pie was produced and the Advisor shuffled aside so the party could begin. Somehow it was decided to stay at Jedediah and go for a hike. It was also voted to sail at dawn for Hornby Isle. One vote was absent: Dawn and Frank of Dulcinea 2 were MIA. Where did they sail to? By 21:00 the happy sailors were rocked to sleep by the waves, safe and secure in their sturdy little boats.
Day 3: Monday, July 31
After the party, memories had faded. Heather, Joel, and Ken hiked up Jedediah to see over the horizon. The other boats were not visible over in Boho Bay: that part of the fleet had already sailed away to hike the tropical beaches of San Blas. August Moon knew what and where the San Blas Isles were. Libertina, and Cookie Cutter raced them, someone won. Perhaps it was Libertina, anchored closest to the beach, crowded with “sun tan all over” people.
Back at Jedediah, unbeknownst to the Advisor and the main fleet, Dulcinaea 2 had also anchored and stern tied, but way over in Deep Bay. Frank and Dawn also hiked a trail to Long Bay, through the thick woods. Neither group found the other, but both enjoyed the present moment where they were (an important aspect of cruising). Later, when Mischief and Blue Rose hoisted sail at mid-day, sailing west on a beam reach for Tribune Bay, Frank and Dawn missed that call. They had gone to the other end of Jedediah, and remained there for a second night.
As Monday evening approached, Mischief and Blue Rose sailed into Tribune Bay and dropped anchor. A boat count was made by the Advisor: two southern boats were still missing. But then, look! There on the horizon, framed by the golden sunset was… yes, the 7th sturdy little boat was entering Tribune Bay, arriving just in time to join Appy Hour. Yes, Camdeboo had survived a series of inconvenient, but not insurmountable, electrical failures, which happened way off in that southern ocean of the Salish Sea. No GPS, no depth-sounder, no auto-pilot, no radio, no cell phone charging, no lights – just an old-fashioned sailing boat with three happy peeps and Skipper Campbell, all living the Dream. They easily persisted, finishing that long passage with paper charts, local knowledge, and old-fashioned navigation. Campbell sailed onto anchor just past Roger on Tradewind Seeker, at the outer edges of Tribune Bay. They found us. BCA together.
Missing another boat? Yes, no word of Don Cudmore aboard his plywood Trimaran out in the waves of the Salish Seas, pounding north. His new cell phone was dying; where was he? The Advisor paced the decks… He is a very competent BCA sailor; do not worry.
At Appy Hour, a good time was had by all, with scintillating and entertaining conversation as each participant shared how they got into sailing in the first place and the history behind their boat name. Destination for Tuesday? A unanimous decision – time for a play day. Tribune Bay will magically transform into La Playeta in Panama. And the waves rocked all to sleep.
Day 4: Tuesday, August 1
The Fleet was astir, but Don, Frank and Dawn were still missing. Mid point of rally week was, for most, a day to enjoy the laissez-faire tropical lifestyle, complete with a warm breeze, sandy beach, walks along the sandstone cliffs, swimming and kayaking, summer markets, arts and music, good food, happy hippy-like locals, blackberries galore, cool beer (how many determined crew beat the path to the local beverage supplier?), ice cream, and the companionship of new friends.
Two boats did set off to explore nearby tropical waters: Tradewind Seeker hoisted sail after Roger loaded on some Island Natives, and not to be outdone, Joel followed suit on Rosie and pulled off anchor, tacking after them, to explore nearby bays and islets.
Appy Hour was aboard Camdeboo; the 16 rally participants were joined by BCA members Heinz and Lisa aboard Umbra, who unexpectedly found themselves anchored in the middle of the fleet. Seven dinghies bobbed off Camdeboo’s stern and the party continued. The anchorage on Wednesday night decided it would be Secret Cove; the waves rocked all to sleep in their sturdy little boats.
Day 5: Wednesday, August 2
At dawn, Libertina sailed eastbound off anchor, with August Moon hot in pursuit. Spinnaker runs for all except Mischief (Heather found her light sailboat could easily maneuver past larger vessels in thermal updrafts and wind shadows) and Camdeboo (which went as fast without the hassle of raising the spinnaker, as proven by Campbell who experimented with a piece of PVC pipe to keep the Genny out on a wing-on-wing run).
Speeding down Sabine Channel, Cookie Cutter easily spotted Russ posing on August Moon’s bow under the spinnaker. Libertina only lost a few minutes as they twisted the chute left then right, then left, then right, while passing Lasquiti’s Fegan Islets, and not realizing the Blue Rose paparazzi was taking photos. Camdeboo left last of all after a leisurely breakfast, but soon overtook Tradewind Seeker and Mischief, finally catching up to Blue Rose at Upwood Point off Texada Isle. Well, Rosie had tacked into the edge of a wind shadow there, and Joel and Ken were fanning the sails to escape. Looking back, they saw Camdeboo had closed in, tacking out of windy Sabine Channel. Campbell and Jennifer laughed as they gleefully passed Rosie, and promptly coasted deep into the wind shadow, where both vessels then drifted and alternately waved at each other. Looking back, they could see Mischief flying along. Heather had seen Rosie and Camdeboo adrift, and successfully tacked away from the wind shadow. Soon, she was billowing out the jib a mile south of the point. It was now Heather’s turn to wave, but she was soon too small to be seen, at which point Camdeboo declared the race officially over and fired up the iron genny.
Libertina and August Moon won first and second place, which meant they got to choose the anchorage in Secret Cove. However, the Cove, filled with traffic and anchor buoys, was too deep. The only place left was the very narrow, south arm, chosen by Cookie Cutter as the perfect spot for seven BCA boats. The entrance was narrow enough to make the second side of the Panama Canal. It looked tight for Camdeboo without the electronics and depth sounders, but Jennifer tossed the lead line, while Campbell motored and picked the course. There was only just enough width at the low tide to run two ships abreast; wisely, the fleet stayed single file.
So what happened to the rafting practice skills needed for a true Panama Canal transit? As it turned out, Mischief did raft up to Cookie Cutter, as the channel opened slightly in front of a surprised RVYC outstation. Together, these two hosted the final Appy Hour; Mischief with the best Appy hour deck and cockpit – she is the California Party Boat – and Cookie Cutter, thanks to Connie, supplying freshly baked cookies and whipped cream to layer on them. Wow. The Advisor had to fight his crew to just get one.
Tonight the yellow-gold, hazy sun set in a brilliant full sky of orange; the night was warm, forest fire smoke made the stars dusky. Gentle wavelets rocked all to sleep in their sturdy little boats, secure and calm in the south arm.
Day 6: Thursday, August 3
Dawn brought the fabled, overpowering NW winds (Strong Wind Warning – Small Craft Warning, etc, etc…). The Fleet wasted no time and charged out of Secret Cove. Well, Campbell poked his way out. Yes, far out in the Strait, the waves were building. It would be a fast beam reach for most. The Panamanian Navy was in the way: Whisky Gulf was active. Then, suddenly it was not. What was going on?
Cookie Cutter reported that the three armed ships aimed at them were actually running for Alaska. Must be salmon trouble up there. The Advisor found a notice of cancellation on the Coast Guard “Notices to Shipping” website. So away we go: Mischief had a fast and epic run; August Moon and Camdeboo reported 28 knots. Adam smiled; Pete smiled; Connie smiled, Cookie Cutter just loved it. Heather achieved it. Roger smiled: Tradewind Seeker was happier with a close haul toward Schooner Cove. Camdeboo smiled as she saw 9.2 knots off Five Fingers and achieved a new personal best – 4 hours anchor-to-anchor across the Strait. Libertina arrived at Protection Island a while later, having missed the news of Whisky Gulf’s sudden opening and taken the longer route around its southern boundary. Rosie’s broad reach finished, she temporarily anchored in the giant mud flats west of Duke Point: First Mate Joel needed a dinghy ride to catch the ferry ASAP. Solo now, the Advisor set sail for a home (where is home; a place, or a feeling that we live in?), finding one among the growing number of BCA boats gathering for the weekend Rendezvous. By 1900h he found most of his Rally at Gina’s Mexican Restaurant and they even brought some re-discovered friends: Frank and Dawn were happily there, rejoining the PCCR after five days MIA. It was a long, long table.
Day 7: Friday August 4
We all had such a great time and the pies were so good that another Appy Hour and a special, secret award were needed. Go buy food. Go raise balloons and flags on the marked tables just above the Newcastle dock. Peter and Connie and all other crew and interlopers, including BCA Commodore Leslie, cornered Heather to praise her seawomanship, and a lot of other talents and skills (where are those promised recipes, Heather??). The bottle of Bubbly was a small token of the love and appreciation that we all have for her. Yes, BCA is like a family reunion, except you want to be there…
And what of the missing boats? Frank and Dawn had sailed in on Thursday; Frank wanted an explanation from the Advisor as to how they spent the whole rally in a parallel universe. Don Cudmore also arrived, alive and well, but had such adverse conditions for his tiny craft, all hopes of catching the PCCR fleet were dashed.
Postscript – The August Rendezvous Party
There were so many BCA folks that tables had to be bribed from campers. The coveted Peterson Cup Cruising award (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) was presented to Heather Marshall by a large committee of voters, who presented the Commodore with an envelope containing the winning name and the praise and confidence expressed for Heather and her intrepid Mischief. Three hours later, Ken, relieved of his duties as Advisor, hauled up anchor. A night passage over flat seas, guided by the light of a dusky full moon moving across smoke-coloured skies, was assisted by Calgary crew member Dee Logan. But to where? Another home again. He arrived in Vancouver for the birth. The healthy grandbaby boy arrived at 2:35 am. Talk about a “Close Reach”…
And they all slept happily, rocked by the waves in their sturdy little boats.
Check out this photo gallery for more pictures of the 2017 PCCR.