Friendly Cove, Nootka Island, BC, Canada
Approaching Nootka Sound
It’s heady sailing to a place Captain Cook sailed to. Nootka Sound, on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, was that place for me.
When I left Port Langford on the north side of Nootka Island, headed south, I was undecided whether to go on the outside or inside. With the morning winds light, I headed for the inside. However, they picked up before I had gone very far, so I altered my course for the outside. This worked out well. I poled out the Genoa and sailed wing and wing down the coast. It turned into a great day.
I stayed a few miles away from the coast because a submerged reef lies off of Nootka Island. As I sailed outside of this reef, I watched the largest swells roll in, build, and break over it. The roaring sound was mighty and the frothy white surf, intimidating. It is not a place you want to be and mind yourself as you approach from the north. There is a buoy to aid you.
If you look dead center on the horizon, you’ll see where you don’t want to be.
The wind followed me into Nootka Sound. At first, I thought I would go up Ewin Inlet, on Bligh Island but I decided it was too far and too late in the day to be that ambitious.
My next choice was to try Santa Gertrudis Cove, which is just north of Friendly Cove, on the inside of Nootka Island. In the picture below, you can see my GPS track as I investigate. The Dreamspeaker Cruising Guide described it as a shallow, sheltered cove mostly used by charter fishing boats overnighting for early access to the ocean. They also warn there is a rock in the middle of the entrance. They suggest if you can’t see this rock, don’t go in. As I approached, I could see Walde Sailing’s Niagara 35, Xanadu, comfortably anchored inside. However, I could not see the rock. Since my low tech ways had me relying on an outdated paper chart and a leadline, I thought it prudent to fall back on my third choice, Friendly Cove.
This choice worked out. I was able to sail into the cove and drop the hook. The only boat at anchor, I had as much swinging room as I needed. The previous night in Port Langford I was plagued by mosquitos. I had no such problem in Friendly Cove. Ironically, I met up with the Waldes a couple days later, and they mentioned being mobbed by mosquitos in Santa Gertrudis Cove. My low tech ways had saved me from another sleepless night!
Checking out Santa Gertrudis Cove
The early evening was calm. I tidied up the boat, had some dinner, and went to bed. As I lie in the bunk, drifting in and out of sleep, the boat was suddenly slammed by a wall of wind. It swung around and tightened up on the anchor rode. The bow roller creaked, the passing waves caressed the hull, and the halyards slapped the mast. All this reverberated inside the boat. I jumped up and opened the companionway to assess the situation. I had originally, incorrectly, thought the wind was blowing from the ocean into the cove. It was the overnight thermal winds blowing down from the highlands. I let out another 100 feet of anchor rode, strapped the halyards to quiet them and after a few minutes decided there was no need for alarm. I went back to sleep.
Up at sunrise, the outbound thermals were still blowing. The cove was a lee shore and the wind about 15 knots. The question at hand was whether to sail off the anchor or motor out. While sailing off is theoretically riskier, it is also far more interesting. So yeah, I decided to sail.
As I prepared for the maneuver, I had some decisions to make. Do I want a reef in the mainsail from the get-go or do I go full main to make sure I have enough power? Once the anchor is disengaged, I won’t be able to change my mind. Should I have the outboard started as a safety net? If I do, that means it will create extra drag which will affect the sailing performance.
I decided on one reef in the main. The wind was strong enough, and the boat performs much better with the proper sail area. If things go wrong, there is less sail area to carry the boat to the lee shore. As for the motor, I would have it idling. If things go sideways, it would be quick and simple to engage the propeller and turn up the throttle. The wind was strong enough that the extra drag would not be too much of a hindrance to sailing performance. The maneuver was challenging enough to warrant prudence. I also prepped the jib, it’s halyard, and it’s sheets. I would need this sail too, once the anchor was up.
The mainsail was raised, reefed and allowed to luff, the motor, lowered and idling. I went to the bow and began weighing anchor. Without a windlass, this endeavor is hand over hand and I fed the line through the hawsepipe as I went. The last thirty feet of rode is chain, and I felt it’s weight when it began to lift. It was hustle time. “Take your time, but hurry the #$@! up!” I said to myself. Next, I felt the anchor pop out. I stopped feeding line into the locker and let the rest flake on the deck. The boat was adrift. When the anchor came to the bowsprit, I pulled it into place and secured it with the pin. The rest could wait. The boat was on a course about 90 degrees to the wind and headed towards the docks and the rock you can see in the picture below. I quickly went back to the cockpit, sheeted in the main hard. I hauled up the jib, secured the halyard and sheeted it in. The boat heeled over and gained speed. When I had just enough momentum to come about, I put it on a starboard tack. This took me back across the anchorage, giving me “breathing room.” I sheeted the jib in hard, gained a bit of ground and speed, went back on the port tack, and sailed out of the cove.
Once out, I was in the clear. I shut down the motor and raised it from the water. The wind was strong enough outside that I wanted a second reef, so I did that next. Then I put the boat on a course where it would self tend and finished stowing the anchor rode and securing the anchor.
I enjoyed some great downwind sailing for a few miles. But thermal winds are regional, and once I was outside of Nootka Sound and the sun started warming the area, the wind abated. Oh well. Sailing into and out of an anchorage is always good fun and the morning’s challenge was exceptional.
Sailing in is Red, Sailing out is Blue.
Thanks for the overhead pictures of Nootka Sound. I recently wrote a story that ended at Nootka Sound. I could imagine all the old ships resting in that small space.
Jim, I’m glad it helps give you perspective. Thanks for reading.
I was doing some googling about sailing the west coast of Vancouver Island, and I landed on one of your blog posts. I read through the entire thing until I made the fun discovery that it was yours! Your blog is helping stoke the excitement of traveling on my own boat. Thanks for sharing your trip. I’m going back to your blog to read some more. I hope your refit is going well and all this rain and wind isn’t getting you down! I’m planning on being in the yard for the rest of the winter, and in the meantime catching up on needed maintenance. I’m now in the process of removing and re-bedding my port lights one at a time — 3 down and 7 more to go. It’s slow going with a full-time job. Dreams of cruising keep me going! I hope you’re doing well. cheers, Eric
Thanks for checking it out Eric. The west coast of Vancouver is very accessible and in your back yard.