Beating Windward

Rock Quarry Selfie

A selfie I took at the top of the rock quarry on Hardy Island.

I left in the afternoon from Pender Harbor. The Blues Festival was underway and I pumped gas as guitar strumming pumped out of big speakers above the marina. Dodging the islets guarding the entrance, I worked my way into Malispina Strait and raised the genoa. Texada Island cast a wind shadow on the far side and I tacked to avoid it.

I’ve read a lot of firsthand accounts of the psychological states a long distance, solo sailor goes through when crossing the ocean. The boredom and loneliness that most people would expect evaporates after a few days. Life becomes pleasantly simple, with a clear and meaningful purpose: keep the boat moving. Upon making landfall, instead of rejoicing, the common response is a slight melancholy from the trip being over and anxiety at rejoining society. After a 20+ day crossing, many sailors anchor out for a day or two before actually going to land, just so they can acclimate from a distance.

I don’t think I’ve progressed far down this path, but travel days do take on a simple, easy pace similar to that of a blue water cruiser. The day is exchanged for putting miles under the hull. My goal is clear and my aim in focus. This is far different that the scattered mini-missions required to complete chores when at anchor.



The wind kicked up suddenly as I passed Nelson Island. I lowered the genoa after strapping on my safety harness and checked the weather radio. A high wind alert was being broadcast for that evening. That explained the sudden uptick in wind speed.

Hardy Island Marine Park

Solace anchored with a stern tie in Hardy Island Marine Park.

Under main sail alone, I sailed into Hardy Island Marine Park. My forty year old guidebook described the rock quarry in front of the anchorage as abandoned, but it was very much active. It was a Saturday evening though, and there were no boats at the little dock. I decided to brave the ‘Danger’ and ‘No Trespassing’ sings to explore it.

The views were worth the risk.

The next morning I got up early to check the weather and catch the morning flood tide. Steady northwest winds were forecasted for the next week. I’ll be beating the whole way to Desolation Sound. It was going to be a slow slog north, so I set out right away. The chop and wind was most savage just outside the anchorage. I thought hard about turning around, but with no prospect at better weather, I decided to nut up and get through it.

The wind and chop was slowly reduced as I crawled painfully and indirectly north. The wind was coming exactly from the direction I wanted to go. I cheated by motor sailing, but it was uncomfortable and the high winds made me feel as though I was balancing on the edge of a knife. I balanced the boat as best as I could with the first reef in the main and the 50% storm jib flying.

Old Quarry

This is the ‘old’ quarry just above the marine park. The new quarry is above the old one.

Just past Grief Point I got a more favorable angle to the wind and a slight boost from the current. I raced past the town of Powell River at 5 knots, anxious to get to Lund and see if Alan and Emily would still be there. I bought a bottle of rum to celebrate with them, but confess that I’d already tapped into it.

The further I travel, the more approachable traveling becomes. If I can cross the border, I can probably make it through the Gulf Islands. If I can cross the Strait of Georgia, I can probably make it up to Princess Louisa Inlet. If I can cross Cape Caution, I could probably make it up to Alaska!

As my horizon extends, my sense of ‘home territory’ extends with it. I could easily see myself pushing the limits until it extended up the Alaskan coast. Could it be reversed? Could I ever get trapped into a small town mentality after this? Convinced that I could ever be content to call one small town in one small county in one small state my home?

Busy Bee

The bees and flowers were out in full force on Hardy Island.

About four miles south of Lund my engine suddenly stopped. I lifted the cowl and saw a big clump of brown goo trapped inside the first fuel filter. As soon as I opened the filter to replace the cartridge, the gasoline evaporated and the goo turned into a flaky wax. My first thought was bad gas, but I was careful to inspect it during the fill-up. I think this must be some leftover varnish from reconditioning the gas tank.

Replacing the filter took about 10 minutes and then I was back under way, the engine humming merrily along. Two miles away from Lund the engine stopped again. Not a wheezing cough typically associated with clogged fuel lines, but a sudden death. The first filter looked good so I replaced the second filter downstream of it. The engine still wouldn’t start. By this point I was between the mainland and Savary Island and the current was pushing my boat in weird directions. I raised all the canvas I had and coasted north, ever so slowly in the light afternoon winds. Luckily the wind had shifted around Savory Island and it was now blowing from the east, instead of from the northwest direction I’d experienced for the last week.

I was pretty sure some of that gunk had made it past the filters and into the carburetor. I’d have to take the carburetor apart and clean it. Not really something I want to do while under sail. Luckily, the marina at Lund had a floating breakwater made up of concrete dock. I was able to radio for permission to tie up to them, and then I sailed (smoothly, I might add) onto the dock, dropping the genoa at the last minute to reduce speed. In between boat traffic wakes that would slam Solace into the concrete float, I managed to remove the carburetor without losing any parts.

Boat Laundry

More boat laundry pictures. You can see my setup here.

After taking the carburetor apart, I tore my boat up looking for the bottle of carb cleaner I knew I had. A tardy, foggy, alcohol-fuzzed memory reminded me that I had given it to Alan on my last visit. Doh! I soaked the parts in a pail of gasoline, hoping that would help. Nothing appeared obviously clogged. After assembling everything back together, the engine ran great… for about 15 minutes. Then it suddenly died again and wouldn’t start. About this time the winds began to pick up violently.

I sailed off the breakwater with the intention of sailing into the marina – a sketchy proposition. Luckily another sailor who had been watching my afternoon struggle pulled up in his dingy and asked if I’d like a tow in. I thanked him profusely. Hmm… my engine dies only 2 miles from the marina after 50 miles of heavy weather with few facilities in between. The wind suddenly shifts to make sailing to the marina slow and easy. A floating dock that I can easily and safely sail onto magically appears. A helpful tow appears right when I need it.

Awfully synchronistic.

A second attempt at taking the carburetor apart this morning seemed to get the job done. I couldn’t round up any cleaner in town so I settled for just blowing as hard as I could on every orifice. I ran the engine for a full hour before I shut it off. Tomorrow I’ll test it by motoring into the fabled Desolation Sound Marine Park!


Places Mentioned In This Post

Related posts:

Our love of the San Juan Islands; Passing it On.
Sailing the Gulf Islands, Part 11 (The End)
Finding Tranquility
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