After a pause during COVID, Vancouver Island Cruising Experience (V.I.C.E.) has made a strong recovery thanks to excellent leadership and favorable conditions. Usually, the sailing experience departs from and returns to an agreed-upon location in Barclay Sound. This year Ucluelet was chosen for its moorage availability, with fellow BCA participant boats able to meet in close proximity, allowing an opportunity to share each other’s preparation for the adventure. Ucluelet also offers reasonable access for final provisioning and dining options, be it a restaurant or a BBQ at the marina.
Getting to the departure point for V.I.C.E. can be an adventure in itself. It is common in July for WNW winds to build in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The prudent sailor, with sufficient time available, plans to do the passage a day or two earlier than the expected arrival day in Barclay Sound, anticipating that the common headwinds will abate, providing a more favorable day for passage. The transit from Victoria to Barclay Sound can be a long day for a cruising sailboat. This can be rendered more manageable by getting through Race Passage, timing for favorable current, and stopping before or in Sooke Basin, inside Whiffen Spit. Additionally, a night over in the Port Renfrew area is more attractive now since the opening of the Pacific Gateway Marina. In calm conditions, and especially when SW rollers aren’t entering Port San Juan, reasonable anchorage is an option on the NW side of the bay in Thrasher Cove. Having done both, I know my crew preferred the marina option!
Benefits of V.I.C.E.
The actual V.I.C.E. trip entails about 3 days where the fleet sails directly out into the Pacific, out of sight of land, to get a sense of their level of preparedness for the subsequent voyage south. Confirmation that safety strategies so often learned in Fleet are fully employed, is paramount. This might even include a group decision to delay departure by a day or two for a better weather window. Inter-boat communication can also be practiced offshore. Generally, participating boats will sail to an agreed upon lat/long position on the deep blue, then back to Vancouver Island. This year (2023) provided a mix of wind conditions that meant various sail configurations could be tried out and validated.
A direct out and back course is an option or, as Corra Jane and Dreamer showed this year, a triangular course can be taken. If the triangle course includes Tofino on the return, be prepared for pretty strong current right on the docks! The beauty of the usual Barclay Sound return is a reentry into a vast, interesting playground of channels and anchorages where one can easily spend a week just winding down from the offshore experience.
It is often said that circumnavigating Vancouver Island is a good warm-up for the offshore voyage south. Although I highly recommend the experience of sailing down the West Coast of Vancouver Island, (every one of my 6 passages has been a delight) I don’t consider it a substitute for the preparation that sailing well out of sight of land provides. During the circumnavigation of the Island you’re usually coming into a protected anchorage every night. You miss finding out whether a 3-hour watch rotation works for your boat better than a 4-hour watch, as described by Irma and Ben on Malaya. I had the good fortune of chatting with Irma and Ben, on the far beach of Effingham Island, after their VICE trip this year. It was clear they were “pumped” about their accomplishment; and so they should be!
Syntropy, like the other participants, saw a wealth of marine life and Swadeshi was able to confirm the value of their Hydrovane. This is the time to find out whether equipment needs to be adjusted before the big departure or if it works as intended. Most forgiving this year was the favorable sea state with no reports of sea sickness. (See The 2023 VICE Experience.)
Sadly, Scott and Janette Brown, who so skillfully led the organization of this year’s V.I.C.E. rally, weren’t able to take part in the actual event. Their planning and leadership testify to the tremendous value of volunteerism within BCA. Bravo Zulu! Thank you for your wonderful contribution, Scott and Janette!