Northbound at Shearwater this summer, we met Eric (Rick) and Sharl Heller, who live on the east coast but keep their beautiful Sabre 40 sailboat out here for summer vacations. Rick told me about a surprise storm they experienced at Ganges, in the southern Gulf Islands, and promised to send a report. The report begins, however, with the storm they rode out in Bay of Plenty in Laredo Sound, on the west side of Princess Royal Island.


Bob and Marilynn,

It was really great to meet you; we hope our trails cross again.

My apologies for taking so long to send this in. After seeing you, we took off for Dean Channel (Elcho Harbour all to ourselves for two days, Eucott Bay with one other boat and a delightful hot springs session, Ocean Falls, Fiordland (superb weather again), and now Laredo (midsummer storm — I mean the formal type, as defined by the weather service).

Bay of Plenty was a delight at first; we explored more than a mile up the river. We set the hook well for the coming weather but then got pretty nervous in a pitch-black night of anchor watch: ESE winds of 30 knots, gusting to 40, blowing up the anchorage — whitecaps, chop, horizontal rain, 6″ of it in one night, etc.

We anchored right where we were supposed to, as the only boat in what we now call Bay of Plenty Wind. The good news was the good holding; no dragging on a 33-lb Bruce with 220′ of chain out at the height of the excitement. (The bottom mud was like gelatin, though, when we finally raised anchor.) Admittedly it was doing 50-55 in Hecate Strait, but sustained winds reaching 40 hours on end with a one-foot whitecapped chop seemed a little extreme for an all-weather anchorage. I must admit the risks of being exposed crossed my mind as we entered, as I saw there was no place to really tuck in anywhere in the bay, and it is, after all, open to the SE. We checked in with the Prince Rupert Coast Guard on 83a in the middle of the night and the the reception was great — very comforting. During the worst of the storm I had the motor idling and every instrument up and running, ready to go. It didn’t calm down until about 4 a.m., but picked up again to 20-25 knots all the next day. In all, we were pinned there for three days. As for crab, we got two total in three tries. But it was worth it for the trip upriver.

So this is our second wild anchorage this summer; the first we told you about happened in Ganges in June with five or so boats dragging and two that hit the shore. That description follows.

Resonance

June 22, the longest day of the year, we spent enjoying drinks and appetizers in the cockpit. We watched a beautiful sunset during our leisurely dinner. Music and laughter could be heard from town. About 9:30 we noticed a man in a dinghy trying to board a sailboat anchored very near our own. A strong gust of wind was spinning his boat and our boat began to horse around as well.

The man had barely got aboard when his boat started drifting backwards towards ours. I yelled to him that he was dragging, and he yelled back that we were drifting toward him. That is a natural reaction but unfortunately impossible; boats do not drag upwind. I grabbed the boat hook and fended him off. He ran for his anchor and tried to pull it up by hand. Before he could manage it his boat was aimed at ours again. This time his bow was heading toward our side. I yelled, “Back your boat!” The man ran back to his cockpit, and I fended off his bow with the boat hook for a second time. Finally he got away and re-anchored far downwind.

The wind kept increasing, now blowing 35 to 40 knots. By dark we had white caps and a chop in the harbor. I saw another sailboat that had broken loose. It was heading towards us and a powerboat anchored on our starboard side. I grabbed the air-horn and blasted, hoping to wake a sleeping crew. Somehow the sailboat slid between our boat and the power boat, missing us both by a few feet, but now heading towards a rocky cliff. Before it hit the shore, it swung stern to the wind and held fast! We thought he had caught our anchor chain but somehow, he had managed to get his prop wound around a mooring buoy.

By now the wind was howling and several boats seemed to be moving in the dark upwind of us. Sure enough, a huge, spanking-new blue steel hulled powerboat had broken free and was heading downwind towards us. We had seen the boat come in earlier in the evening, steaming through the harbor much too fast. The skipper ignored my hand signals to slow down, and Sharl and I had said to one another, “I guess they can’t wait to get to dinner.” (We later learned from another couple that the skipper of the blue boat just came to a stop when he arrived, dumped out his anchor without setting it, and headed to town in the dinghy).

The blue boat careened through the harbor, and was doing a good three knots at one point. Unfortunately, it snagged another sailboat (it too had no one aboard) and the two entangled boats headed towards a small power boat that blasted its horn. The entangled boats missed the small power boat but then threatened the larger power boat anchored next to us. It was very dark, and we could hardly see what was happening. I sounded the air horn again. Then I called the Coast Guard, just as the big blue boat and its captive sailboat crashed stern-to on the lee shore. I kept the Coast Guard informed, but their vessel, only a half-mile away, was snugly at harbor with the crew probably scattered on Saltspring.

Resonance, even is distress, is a beautiful vessel.
In the howling wind and building waves we saw two dinghies arrive at the boats aground. Lights went on but the boats didn’t move. Saving the boats would be difficult because the tide was going out. About an hour later the Coast Guard arrived and managed to untangle the sailboat, drag it off the rocks and haul it away. The Coast Guard boat returned an hour later, passed a line to the big blue powerboat and pulled it off the rocks, towing it to the dock too. We heard later that it was banged up visibly. By then it was well after midnight and we thought the worst must be over. However, I noticed that we were closer to the boat behind us. I watched for a while and figured we were dragging steadily at about one foot per minute. I imagine a furrow in the mud. We re-anchored farther out.

This pandemonium could have been avoided if all boats had actually set their anchors. The wind that night seemed fairly isolated; the phenomenon seemed a little Qualicum-like: there is a low pass over Saltspring Island from Booth Bay to Ganges Village and onto the anchorage. You couldn’t predict the problem by listening to the weather on VHF.

Five years ago we rode out a 40-knot night with perhaps 50 other boats anchored at Newcastle Island, across from Nanaimo. Nobody dragged that I know of, but the wind was up most of the day and no one was lulled into complacency.

Once, in Gorge Harbour, we had to fend off a sailboat at anchor when it began to blow. The owner had put out 300′ of rode in a fairly crowded 5-fathom anchorage — a 10:1 scope when boats in the Northwest anchor on 3:1 to 5:1 at the most.

I do not claim to be infallible. Above shows a picture of our boat, Resonance, aground at anchor in Leask Cove in Bute Inlet the result of a stern tie that went too slack at low tide, plus a seche pushing us over to the side. Luckily, no damage at all. Leask Cove is now impossible to anchor in because Michelle Pfeiffer has filled it with concrete docks and rocks at the bottom for her log mansion complex there.

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