We listen carefully to weather forecasts and strategize our movements around the weather, but sometimes the forecasters get it wrong and you get caught out in a storm. This happened to us in the fall of 2007.
September sailing in southern British Columbia is usually wonderful. Warm days with crisp nights foreshadowing the winter weather ahead. We were enjoying a two-week trip from Desolation Sound to Smuggler’s Cove, when the long range forecast started mentioning an approaching storm front.
We had met up with friends from our marina who were also exploring this section of coast. We were experiencing one small low pressure system after another and it looked like there would be one clear day of weather, so we decided to cross the Strait of Georgia and head for home.
We left Smugglers Cove at noon after waiting for the winds from an earlier system to die down. Malaspina Strait can get quite lumpy and we buried the bowsprit several times until we got into deeper water. As the weather improved, we were able to shake out the reef in the main and were optimistic about this weather window which would allow us to get home before the storm hit. Shortly after, the wind direction changed – never a good sign – and as we rounded the southern end of Lasqueti Island, we were hit by a Qualicum wind. There was no way we could cross the strait with a Qualicum, so we made for shelter on Jedediah Island.
Coast Guard radio put out a Pan Pan call – the storm was arriving earlier and we would see winds of 35-45 knots that evening. We had no other choice than to prepare for the storm. Boaters are supposed to stern tie on Jedediah, but our 3/4 keel sailboat does not handle well in wind or strong tidal currents when stern tied.
Late in the afternoon, as the winds started building, we made the decision to let the stern tie go and re-anchored in the centre of the bay away from the rocky ledges that lined the shore. Thank goodness we did.
Our friends and a Bristol Cutter that was already anchored, both dragged anchor several times during the storm. We were able to maintain our position by running the engine for 3 hours during the worse part of the storm to release some of the pressure on the anchor and chain. Even still, the boat shimmied and shaked, swinging from one extreme across a 180 degree arc to the other.
As night fell, the wind whistled through the bare rigging and roared as it funneled down the channel. The VHF radio was alive with boaters reporting boats dragging – Squirrel Cove – Pender Harbour – there was no safe anchorage that night. This was the first time that I heard Coast Guard asking for a tug boat captain to call in and report his position. His wife had called the Coast Guard concerned about her husband when she couldn’t reach him on his cell phone.
We did our first anchor watch that night. Carefully monitoring our position as we swung wildly. The anchorage was supposed to be sheltered from SE winds, but the winds were coming across the island and into the bay as well being funneled through Bull Passage and hitting us from the other side. The strength of the gusts could be gauged by the compass readings.
We did have to bring in some chain when the tide dropped. We were pulled back so tightly on the chain that with the falling tide, we were too close to the rocky shore.
The next morning, we surveyed the damage. Trees were knocked down all around the anchorage. The wind was still blowing at 30 knots and the sea state in the Strait of Georgia was horrible after 24-hours of non-stop wind. Our friends had to catch a plane the next day, so we waited and waited for the winds to die down to make the 5-hour run across the Strait of Georgia, but that is another story.