Winter Crusing: Destination Vancouver

This year we decided to try something new for our winter break – cruise to Vancouver, spend a few days downtown and then bus to Whistler for skiing.

Planning started in early November when we began thinking about how we would spend winter break. Mixing cruising with winter sports seemed like a fun thing to try, but before committing to the plan we knew we’d have to do some research. Weather related boating conditions were something we knew we would have to take seriously.

I reached out to a few friends and posted a few notes online asking for opinions about winter cruising. While we’re year-round boaters, our winter water activities have usually been confined to Lake Washingtion, Lake Union and, occasionally, Bainbridge Island.

One thing that definitely influenced our plans, this time, was the fact that the KAYLA is almost four times heavier than the LAIKA. Were we to encounter rough seas we knew, with our newer vessel, we’d have a better chance of handling whatever we encountered.  Though, we weren’t foolish enough to think we’d be invincible, and safety and crew comfort were of paramount importance. In fact, our plans were designed to forgo the cruising component if weather dictated we travel solely by land.

Weather Guides

Since our journey would cover two countries, we’d have to rely upon two government-run weather and marine forecasting services: NOAA in the United States and the Canadian Government for waters North of San Juan Island and near Vancouver.

Weather conditions near San Juan Island

Wind forecasts around Vancouver, BC

One app I was referred to and became quite attached to was WindAlert. I used both their iPhone and iPad versions and it definitely helped with regard to understanding what we were likely to face the day we traveled North.

Sliding Between Storms

We planned to leave on Sunday, December 21, 2014. A week before that date the Puget Sound survived a minor windpocolpyse, with wind gusts reaching as high as 70mph on the coast. Another strong series of winds had been forecast for the 19th and 20th. Would they subside by the time we left Sunday morning? The forecasts said they would. So, we decided to commit to our trip and spend the evening on the boat in our marina so we could head out before sunrise.

That evening, though, the winds were definitely strong on Lake Washington. As we were moving some of our gear to the boat we witnessed several large powerboats returning from that evening’s Christmas Lights boat parade, and they had a heck of a time docking. The wind was so strong it pushed a 45 foot Bayliner into the dock, significantly damaging its stern fiberglass and chrome rub rail. That convinced me to add two more lines to our boat that evening, as well as another fender.

My alarm sounded at 6:30am and I began preparing to leave. The plan was to allow my wife and daughter to continue sleeping, at least until we made it to the locks.

I made it outside to happily discover a glassy calm on the lake. So far, so good. The first job was to get the generator going and disconnect from shore power. I did that without delay. Next, I got our lines untied and slowly left the marina. A hundred yards out I stopped, donned my life vest and brought up the fenders. Though, this time I decided to do something differently. Since it was still dark outside I knew no one would see our fenders. So, I put them in position for the lock, and kept them dangling from both sides of the boat. Ease of planning and safety would trump boating style, this time.

Safely back at the helm I started off across Lake Washington. At 7 knots it would be a relaxing, almost serene start to our journey. If we met with similar conditions in Puget Sound it would surely be a fantastic vacation.

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As we approached Union Bay (and Husky Stadium) Cathia came up and joined me. She took command of the vessel while I fixed a cup of coffee. I also got a chance to take some pictures. As the sun had yet to rise we enjoyed some beautiful scenes on the water. Best we could tell there were no other boats near us. This was the first time we had left so early and it was really quite beautiful starting off in the dark and then watching the sun rise.

Union Bay early in the morning

Union Bay early in the morning

University Bridge before sunrise

University Bridge before sunrise

Locking through there have only been a few times in our boating experiences that we’ve approached the locks and were flagged right through. More often than not we encounter a decent wait, whether it’s because there’s a bunch of enthusiasts waiting to transit through or an Argosy boat “reserving” their spot a good twenty minutes before reaching the area.

The sun had been up just shy of an hour by the time we exited the lock into Puget Sound. It was high tide as we began heading North. Within moments we were planing at 24 knots and would pretty much maintain that speed through the journey.

The biggest obstacle we faced wasn’t weather so much as a massive amount of floating debris – mostly large logs. We encountered them throughout the journey but they seemed to appear mostly where opposing currents met one another near large land masses. We couldn’t avoid hitting some small pieces but, luckily, didn’t make contact with any large ones, or anything that could cause damage.

As we neared the body of water between Lummi Island and Orcas Island we encountered a bit more chop, but it was nothing too severe. While it did require us to hold on while moving about the boat, it didn’t prevent me from making my way to one of the big windows and capturing some video. Though, video always seems to make the conditions look calmer than they really are.

Lummi Island

Once we entered the Strait of Georgia and found similar and increasingly improving conditions we knew our trip would, ultimately, be successful. Once we entered the bay West of Vancouver we stopped to capture some of the sights, including some massive ships that were anchored. I noticed on the back of them the same kind of emergency evacuation capsule that was depicted in the movie “Captain Phillips.”

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Escape capsule on the back of the cargo ship

Escape capsule on the back of the cargo ship

As we approached Lion’s Gate Bridge we were greeted by a massive hovercraft. Within minutes we were circling the North part of Stanley Park and would, shortly thereafter, arrive at Coal Harbour Marina.

BC Hovercraft outside Vancouver near Lions Gate Bridge

BC Hovercraft outside Vancouver near Lions Gate Bridge

The only problem we encountered was the floating gas station just outside the marina had lost power. So, we’d have to wait another day to top off our tanks in preparation for our return journey. Which, incidentally, may prove more exciting. There’s another storm coming, so we’re figuring out which day, exactly, to plan our return. Stay tuned!

An ideal smoke alarm for boats

Did you know that boat manufacturers (from small cruisers to big yachts) continue to sell and deliver their products without installing integrated smoke alarms? Boats with enclosed cabins will typically come with carbon monoxide detectors, but it’s rare for smoke and fire detectors to be present – despite the clear and obvious benefit to health and safety.

Recently I discovered a smoke and fire detector that seems purpose built for boats. It’s small, battery powered, easy to install and has a piercing audible alarm. Manufactured by First Alert, the SMOKE1000 Atom Micro Photoelectric Smoke Detector has found a place aboard our boat the MV KAYLA.

First Alert Smoke 1000

First Alert SMOKE1000 (left) seems ideal for boats. It was installed next to the built-in carbon monoxide detector that the vessel’s manufactured provided.

Although I’ve linked to Amazon for the SMOKE1000, I discovered them at Loews for a few dollars less at under $20/each. If you need several there’s also a three-pack available through Amazon.

If your boat has an enclosed cabin with sleep quarters and you don’t have a smoke detector it’s imperative you acquire and install one. Don’t wait until it’s too late!