Oh what a night!

(by Frankie Valli)

It was the first leg of the long journey home, Ketchikan to Prince Rupert. This blog entry will detail the journey itself while the next one will detail the preparations for it.

The journey encompassed approximately 91 miles and took a little over 18 hours, all solo and hand steered. I departed the docks at Ketchikan at 17:30 and docked at Prince Rupert at 11:24 the next morning.

After departing the docks and moving to mid channel and checking for traffic, I let Opus drift while cleaning up the decks. I didn’t want anything out on the deck that might trip or trap me if I needed to move about later that night. This meant neatly coiling and stowing the dock lines and fenders, mainly, since everything else had been done before departing.

It was a warm, sunny day, and I was dressed in T-shirt, shorts, sandals, and of course my PFD. There wasn’t any real wind to speak of, though predictions were for it to freshen later that night. A bit of foreshadowing there…

Motoring down the channel, the Speed Over Ground(1) was well below what I had hoped for on average, but that was to be expected since the tide would be coming in and the current against me for a few hours before it turned and started to push me back out.

I was taking a different route out than we had coming in, in the hopes of encountering some winds later on. Opus is faster sailing than she is motoring, if there are decent winds. Thus, the route would get me into open water sooner, but added about 10 miles onto the journey.

About 15 miles into the trip, the channel opened a bit and I got my first taste of the swells coming in from Dixon entrance and Hecate strait. They weren’t much, maybe a meter at most, with an occasional one being 1 1/2 meters. It was a welcome change from the rougher chop I had been pushing through. The swell manifested itself more like a fore-and-aft rocking sensation, which is quite peaceful and comfortable.

A little further down that channel, I encountered a fleet of gill netters. Until I got close, I didn’t realize that’s what they were. I had passed a bunch of other boats anchored in some shallows, and thought these were more of the same. it was only as I approached that I noticed the white floats and red end marker and realized I needed to give these folks a wide berth. Thank goodness I encountered them during the day. I’m not sure I would have seen the nets in the twilight. Although, I would have given them even more wide a berth if it were night out, and I would also have seen the lights that signaled they were fishing(2) from a lot further away than I saw their net floats. Sorry fishermen, for getting so close!

Sunset was to be around 22:30, giving me about 5 hours from setting out to get out of the narrow waterways where things like logs might congregate. I wanted to be clear before it got dark and they would be difficult to see. Sure enough, the sun drooped below the horizon, the sky turned into all sorts of beautiful colours and there the sun got stuck. What do I mean by “stuck”? You know how when the sun drops below the horizon and the sky turns all those pretty colours of pinks and blues, and then they disappear and sky goes dark and stars begin to appear? Well, that didn’t happen. The colours just stayed there… and stayed there… and stayed there.

It was after midnight now and the colours were still there, so I took a picture:

Midnight Sunset

That’s looking north westerly. It was a bit darker than the picture shows. I guess my cell phone enhanced the image a bit, but I was still surprised by how light it was. I never needed a head lamp to see what I was doing. I thought that twilight-ish was going to keep me company through out the night, but the clouds moved in around 2 in the morning and then it got dark. I made sure my radar was on, my nav lights were lit, and my radio turned up loudly since it’s down in the cabin and I was up in the cockpit. Still, I was, intentionally, not near the shipping channels, so I really wasn’t concerned about other boats – though I did encounter a few early on.

As I reached the area where the winds were supposed to be, there was not a single puff, and all my flags were streaming straight back. This meant one of a few things:

  1. There was no wind
  2. The wind was from directly ahead
  3. The wind was from directly behind and slower than I was traveling.

In any other case, the flags would have been streaming at some angle to the boat. Cases 1 and 3 were utterly useless to me – I would make more progress by motor than by sailing. Case 2 was useful to me if there was a strong wind, which I would feel on my face and didn’t. Conclusion: there was no wind, despite the predictions.

As a result, I elected to put one of my options into effect and cut across and to the north of Dundas island as it shaved a few miles off the travel. Not as many as I had wasted getting to that point, but at least some, and at 5 knots, every mile is 12 minutes saved.

A few times I had to idle the motor and attend to necessities such as refilling my water bottle or taking care of the end product of eating and drinking, but for the most part we kept plugging along through an incoming tide and then it switching to an outgoing one. The incoming didn’t really help me any, but the outgoing one did shave about 1/2 a knot off my speed. That might not sound like much, but it was 10% of my speed and, again, every little bit helps or hurts!

Daylight came back up while I was heading along the east side of Dundas Island, which I could see on my radar (and of course, knew where it was due to the wonders of electronic/GPS navigation!). As my little world expanded again, I saw that I was in a bank of mist with greatly reduced visibility, of which I had been unaware at night. Immediately, I got out the air horn and started making the fog signals – 1 long (4-6 second) blast every 2 minutes. If I had thought that setting an alarm and having it go off every 15 minute throughout the night had been annoying, it held NOTHING compared to these air horn blasts.

I think there are boaters out there that take these sounds to mean “Hey, come home in on me at full power!” as that’s what at least two boaters did early that morning. No horn signals from them, just a sudden boat headed towards me. Fortunately, they, too, were sailboats, so we had plenty of time to turn away. Still, it would have been nice if they had been sounding fog signals too so that I knew they were out there. I miss my AIS receiver and transmitter that broke just before this trip. That _might_ have told me that they were there – if they were transmitting AIS signals.

The entrance to Venn passage was chock-a-block with sticks and kelp and a few logs. I was quite glad I had planned the trip so that I arrived at this last bit of water during daylight and could visually navigate around them. Eventually coming out the other end of this winding, narrow, shallow, passage, Prince Rupert met my gaze. Calling into the marina, they had a slip open and ready for me. All I had to do was put out all the lines I had taken in at the beginning, ditto for the fenders, and dock. It was even nearing slack tide, so I didn’t have to contend with their infamous currents. Just back into the slip, tie her up, clear customs, and thence get some rest.

Customs was easy – just calling in. They asked me a few questions and, as I had nothing to declare, they cleared me over the phone. No inspection or anything, and then it was time for sleep. I could afford to do Marina paperwork later when I woke up.

One other note I went through three outfits during this sail. I started in T-shirt and shorts, switched to thermals and long pants and shirt plus a windbreaker, peaked at thermals, salopettes, sweater, neck gaiter, and coat with rain hood and sailing boots, and ended up in t-shirt, salopettes (’cause I was too lazy to take them and the sailing boots off), sun hat, and sailing boots. It was a climatically varied night!

1. There are two speeds related to boat travel. The first is Speed Through Water (STW). This is, literally, how fast the wind or motor is pushing you through the water. The other is Speed Over Ground (SOG) which is a measure of how fast you’re actually getting somewhere. Imagine, for example, that your STW is 5 knots and there is no current. In that case, STW and SOG would both be 5 knots. Now imagine there’s a current moving at 5 knots against you. Your STW is still 5 knots, but your SOG would be 0 and you wouldn’t actually be making any progress. If the same current was with you, your SOG would be 10 knots.

2. A vessel fishing at night needs to display a red light over a white light that can be seen 360 degrees around the fishing vessel. In addition, they display a second white 360 degree light that indicates the direction of any fishing gear extending 150 metres or more from the vessel

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