The green mountains of the Brooks Peninsula shot up into the clouds off our starboard side. In front of us, Solander Island and its rocky, toothlike shape pierced straight from the depths of the sea. A deep blue Pacific Ocean with frothing white waves, meeting an equally blue and white sky, rose and fell around and under us. And Yahtzee’s white sails spread out wide full of breeze, moving us fast downwind.
With all four of us in the cockpit, we surfed the swell, smiled at one another, whooped it up and danced to the rhythm of the boat moving with the waves. There’s nothing I love more in life than my family and sailing, and if this day could have continued forever or been bottled and kept for a rainy day, I would have.
Shortly after arriving in Barkley Sound, I took my usual long hard look at the weather and began to notice a string of intense lows setting up for a long march eastward across the vast openness of the North Pacific Ocean. The frequency and pattern of the systems seemed somewhat atypical for this time of year and I remarked to Jill, “I have a feeling the weather is going to get real weird for about the next 10 days to two weeks.” Turns out, I didn’t realize how right that assessment would be.
Fast forward about a week and our intended one or two day stop in Ucluelet — or Ukee as it’s affectionately known — started to slow down when an intense low, followed by a slightly weaker one, was forecast to sweep in off the ocean and pummel the Pacific Northwest. The pressure of this low was something more akin to the storms we get in late fall and early winter, and having cruised through many of those, we had no intention of being at anchor or underway when the storm force winds started driving ashore.
Before we reached the long ocean swell of the Pacific I could feel what was coming. The wind was going to build, the waves were going to stack up and oppose one another, and the sailing was going to be a mix of awesome and miserable. All of that and more came true.
Our journey started in Victoria’s Cadboro Bay on a sunny morning with an unfavorable westerly gale. It was howling out there but our intention was to only get about 15 to 20 miles so we’d be within striking distance of Barkley Sound the following day.
The gale was set to subside as the day wore on and we waited in Cadboro Bay until the late afternoon before heading out. At Trial Island the strong ebb tide slung us westward and the once palpable breeze soon began to die. With a modest southwesterly left in its place, we motorsailed towards Race Rocks and had three anchorages in mind: Pedder Bay, Quarantine Cove and Becher Bay. The first two are before Race Rocks, so if the wind stayed up and we had to beat slowly west we’d stop there. If we moved faster and could get through the rocks before nightfall, we’d stop in Becher Bay.
This is the sixth in our ongoing series called “5 Favorites” in which we’ll explore a range of topics including memorable anchorages, marina showers, cruise-in breweries, parks of the Gulf Islands, the joys of winter cruising, fun things to do, meals to make aboard and much more. The aim is not to make a list of “bests” or to rank things, but rather to provide an entertaining and insightful look at what we’ve enjoyed while cruising the Pacific Northwest. And since every boater has their favorites, we invite you to share yours in the comments below.
Fuel, water, provisions, a trip to the chandlery, showers and laundry, and the proposition of a hot meal cooked by someone else are some of the many things that boaters look for when stopping during a cruise. Most experienced Pacific Northwest mariners have their favorite marinas and ports of call along the way, and whether they’re utilitarian, charming or both, one of the great things that makes cruising the Salish Sea so special is the immense amount of quality stops we can make. Just like all my 5 Favorites articles, my top five cruising towns were difficult to narrow down. But here goes…
In a way, San Juan Island’s Friday Harbor has turned into a home base for us while cruising the San Juans over the past three winters. For cruisers who are paying a quicker visit, though, there is U.S. Customs & Immigration, ferry and floatplane service to drop and pickup guests, ample room to anchor, a welcoming marina operated by the port, two grocery stores for provisions, boating services, a fuel dock, a small chandlery, a hardware store and more. Friday Harbor also houses several great restaurants and bars on or near Spring Street, a welcoming library, numerous specialty shops and is home to The Whale Museum, which promotes “stewardship of whales and the Salish Sea ecosystem through education & research.”
Beyond all of that, we’ve found the town to be particularly welcoming to our family and have met residents during the offseason that befriended us like we are one of their own. For the boys, the Family Resource Center, library story times, A Place to Play and the pool at San Juan Island Fitness are all great entertainment, especially during the wetter and darker days of winter. And joining in the town’s Halloween festivities and Turkey Trot for Thanksgiving have been highlights of our time there.
Yahtzee’s restaurant of choice: Haley’s Sports Bar & Grill Continue reading 5 Favorites: Cruising Towns
After a quick jaunt through the dense, electric-green forest on Portland Island, we came to a grassy clearing that sloped quickly down to the sea. I laid my backpack on a rock, grabbed a water bottle, two beers and snacks from inside and passed them around, officially kicking off our family’s impromptu celebration in honor of being back in British Columbia’s beautiful Gulf Islands.
The boys were soon off exploring and I stood next to Jill for a moment taking in the sunshine and gorgeous views of Salt Spring Island across Satellite Channel. It was great to be back in that spot and Porter echoed the feeling when he found me to say, “Dad, I’m so happy to be back here.” The sentiment absolutely melted my heart — he was right. Continue reading At home among friends in British Columbia
Due to the unconventional lifestyle that we lead while cruising aboard Yahtzee, we tend to field a lot of questions from sailors and non-sailors, friends, family members, strangers and folks who follow Three Sheets Northwest and Rollin’ With Yahtzee. You can find many of these basic questions on our FAQ page, but we’ve recently had quite a few new ones so I’ll answer some of those below and will then post them to the page later.
If you’ve got any questions of your own, please feel free to leave them in the comments section and I’ll get them answered and posted.
Do you have a TV?
No, we don’t have a television. The reason is that we don’t really like TV and therefore have no need to sit in front of one. It isn’t that we’re anti-TV necessarily, it’s just not something that we want or find useful on a sailboat. I get plenty of “screen time” working on the computer and really the only thing I could think that I’d even like to watch on TV would be football. And for Jill, since housesitting this winter and getting hooked on the show “This Is Us”, she’s now hopeful to find a way to finish the season. Continue reading TVs? Enclosures? Rain? and other recent FAQs
“I tell people that you guys are annoyingly content.” Our friend Chris said with a chuckle while sitting at Yahtzee’s nav desk. “It’s a good thing. What I mean is that you’re the most content people I’ve seen handle the unknown. Most people have a hard time dealing with that, and you do it so seamlessly.”
Over the past couple weeks, we’ve had several conversations with friends and family about what we’re up to next aboard Yahtzee. And several of those have led to quesitons about the precarious nature of it all and how we deal with it: Are you nervous about what’s next? Is the uncertainty frightening?
Our answer to the basic question of where we’re going next is that we’ll head north to British Columbia in March and see what happens from there. How far north and upon what route, we’re not sure, but we’re thinking Alaska.
The lines of questioning then become less about where we’re going and more about our lack of concrete plans and dates. The underlying concern here is how we deal with the “maybes” of it all — the unknowns of not having an exact route and time frame. And how some days we might not even know where we’re going that day.
Jill was at the helm when we coaxed Yahtzee off the dock in Anacortes against a stiff cross-breeze, and while closing the gate and stowing fenders I heard a voice yell, “Hey, Yahtzee! I hope you guys are feeling better!”
The salutation — from a blog reader who noticed the boat — brought a smile to my face and I answered with what else but an uncontrollable hacking cough. That wasn’t the response I was digging for but we all got a good chuckle out of the moment. It’s always fun to meet readers and his well wishes sent us out towards the San Juan Islands on what would end up being a turning point day for all of us and our battle with the flu.
The perfect cure
Sailing westward into the San Juans, it felt like a heavy weight was slowly lifted from my shoulders and left somewhere on the east side of Rosario Strait. The tranquility of the islands beckoned with open arms, welcoming us home to a place we know well and love dearly. We’ve missed not being around here as much this winter, but we don’t need to anymore. Continue reading That good old San Juan Islands cure
The vast majority of the time, living our nomadic life under sail is highly entertaining, rewarding, stimulating and challenging. It’s an amazing way to raise our children and to see the world, especially the great Pacific Northwest, and there’s nothing more we’d rather do.
That said, we’ve recently dealt with a couple realities of this life that are particularly difficult and often get amplified by our situation. Fortunately, they’re typically ones that we can live with and move past in a positive direction.
Small spaces can be tough
While out for a short sail last weekend, I knew something was up. Rather than being on deck sailing like usual, Porter really wanted to take a nap. He never naps.
Not long after I put him in his bunk, he called up to me and mustered the effort to get his gear on and come out. But a short time later he just wanted to be held. While cradling him in my arms in the cockpit it hit me. He was sick. Uh oh.
A while later and after another nap, we took his temperature and found it to be over 100 degrees. Double uh oh. We live in a very small space and my fear soon turned into a reality: The entire crew had come down with a wicked flu. Continue reading A couple of cruising realities rear their ugly heads
With the red buoy off Bainbridge Island’s southeastern tip fine on the port bow, Yahtzee healed hard on port tack. A wet, blustery squall had just passed and in its wake left sunshine and a stiff 25-knot breeze that scuttled clouds quickly across the sky. Glancing down from the mainsail to see our speed, I couldn’t contain my smile when I read 8.4 knots. Yes!
Shortly after, gusts in the mid-30s kept the adrenaline pumping and a rainbow framed the channel markers leading us into Eagle Harbor. We’d sailed 20 miles in under three hours in what turned out to be one of those days on the water that wiped away the fiberglass dust, boatyard grime and dollar signs that inevitably came with all our recent boat work. This was a day of sailing we’d been looking for.
When we’re cruising in our normal winter routine, we typically plan to sit and wait places for days if necessary to catch favorable breezes — sailing to a schedule just doesn’t suit us. Earlier this week we’d headed down to Gig Harbor in the snow, knowing that when a warm front came on Thursday we’d be in for a predictable southerly and smooth sail back north. Boy, did we get it. Continue reading The sailing we needed
Motoring south towards Colvos Passage, snowflakes the size of quarters dropped from the sky in a deluge. I could barely see the water in front of the bow and had to pull my hood down nearly over my eyes to keep my jacket from filling with snow. Just then, Jill popped her head out from the warm cabin, looked at me with a wry smile and said, “Should I take a picture and caption it ‘Living the dream'”.
I laughed. She’s always had a way of making me do that.
This is our fifth winter living aboard Yahtzee in the Pacific Northwest and our third of full-time cruising. In all of those winters, we’ve seen snow on deck just a handful of times and have been underway in it just twice. And though unusual, it was actually quite beautiful.
From the sheltered fire pit on Blake Island, we shined a light towards Yahtzee, which was the only boat sitting in the marina. A set of eyes glared back at us from the cockpit and we watched while a raccoon scoured the outside of the boat for food.
Having been to Blake Island many times before, we were well aware of the raccoons that pester campers and boaters alike, hanging out waiting for any opportunity to find a meal. The rules are simple, though, don’t leave any food out and don’t leave the boat open, and they’ll usually move on after a quick search of your boat or campsite.
About a half hour later, we returned to Yahtzee and one of the little critters climbed off the boat just as we arrived. Then, while standing in the cockpit, I felt a bump on my leg and looked down the companionway hatch to see a wily raccoon zipping around inside. Continue reading “There’s a raccoon down below!” and more from Blake Island
With the sun gently rising, I poked my head out of Yahtzee’s companionway to watch orange and purple hues spread over glassy Mystery Bay. Down below, the smell of hot coffee wafted through the cabin and while the boys played and read books, preparations for a hearty breakfast were well underway.
It was the start of a leisurely day at Mystery Bay with our friends Ryan and Autumn aboard Velella, and typical of us, we were going to make it up as we went along.
The day prior we’d each enjoyed a fast and fun ride up Puget Sound on a strong southerly and chose the bay to spend a relaxing last few days of 2016. We’d visited Mystery Bay once before, but it was merely a quick anchorage for the night and then we were out. This time we were going to explore what the bay had to offer. Continue reading Discovering Marrowstone Island’s Mystery Bay
We have a special connection to Bellingham, Washington. Magnus was born there a little over two years ago, and during our stay in town aboard Yahtzee, we fell in love with many of the things that this video depicts and represents. When I saw it, it captivated me to the bitter end, so I had to share.
The Pacific Northwest is truly an amazing place and we’re happy to call it home. Enjoy!