1986 Cruise to Desolation Sound

Salvaged from the archives

This year we decided to visit Desolation Sound marine park, an area popular with pleasure craft originally named by George Vancouver (he didn't like it!).

14 September 86

We set off from the marina in Ladner at about 1pm; late as usual after two trips in our pickup that only seats three. The marina fuel dock that we usually use remained firmly closed, so we decided to fuel at Steveston, a commercial fishing port at the mouth of the Fraser about 7 miles downstream.

On arrival at Steveston we have no trouble finding fuel. Normal fuelling procedure on Alastor is to pull up the trap in the cabin floor and estimate requirement with the aid of a dip-stick. On this occasion the crew member watching the gauge misplaced the decimal point and attempted to dispense 200 litres instead of 20. Opening the inspection fitting to ply my dip-stick resulted in a fountain of petrol into the cabin. We decanted the excess fuel into an erstwhile water container and flushed the bilges with soapy water. After gingerly starting the engine and casting off we rigged a deflector on the forward hatch to give a good draught. Lunch was postponed as no-one wished to chance igniting the gas stove with petrol vapour present.

After leaving Steveston we motored on towards Sand Heads, a lighthouse some 6 miles out in the Georgia Strait where the water is finally deep enough to turn north. The wind was either moderate against us or calm for the whole cruise, so we did a fair bit of motoring, in contrast to our cruise the previous year in the same waters when we enjoyed brisk following winds.

I had intended to sail through the first night, in part as we were duplicating the first two legs of last years cruise with the same crew, and I wanted to `break new ground' as soon as possible. However at about 1am I was confronted with mutiny, as the crew couldn't get to sleep while underway, so at about 3am we put into Trail Bay for the remainder of the night.

16 September

We continued uneventfully north up Malaspina Strait. A couple of weeks earlier I had acquired a Loran-C set, so I amused myself trying out the various displays and alarms. The Loran coverage here is very good and the set gives continual positioning information accurate to about 1/4 mile. The newer charts here have the Loran grid marked on which is corrected for local variation, though the set will perform conversion to Lat/Long. I adjusted the gain on our Seafarer MHD log to agree with the Loran. The log previously read 6kn for 4.5kn. As there wasn't much wind or tide I believe I got it about right, though strictly speaking the adjustment should be performed with a reciprocal course.

We anchored for the night in a small cove on Texada Island, and in the morning put into Westview for fuel. This is a community that seems to be a residential area for Powell River, a town a few miles up the coast that boasts one of the largest pulp and paper mills around. Judging from the smoke and steam, I would want to live a few miles away too. While waiting for fuel, I took the opportunity to tighten the stern gland that had been dripping steadily for some time. It was possible to stop the leak by using the remote greaser, but not while the propeller was turning. I found that I could just see the drips if I stuck my head past the engine one side and shone a spotlight from the other side. This trip I had brought a cordless electric drill with me which proved useful as a screwdriver to remove the 12 or so 2" screws that hold down the cockpit hatch.

Midday saw us rounding Sarah Pt. and entering the marine park itself. Desolation Sound is the largest marine park in the area with many bays and anchorages. Facilities vary but typically consist of a few rustic picnic tables, a couple of pit toilets, and maybe some prepared fire pits for camp fires. The marine parks are free for all, whereas similar Provincial parks on land charge a small fee. They are, however, more likely to possess running water, showers and other amenities.

As we entered Malaspina inlet under power there was a terrific bang and we stopped suddenly. I had been climbing the companionway and found myself at the bottom again. Having deduced that we had struck an immovable object, I had a quick look below for water coming in then went over the side with mask & snorkel to see what had happened. It turned out that we had struck a rock with the forward part of the keel where the ballast is located and were now being pushed gently sideways against a niche in the rock by the tide so that we could not go forward or back. I was able to push Alastor sideways a bit, with some help from the wash of a distant powerboat, so that we could motor to deeper water. The gash in the keel was fairly deep but there was no extensive damage, and as we did not seem to be taking on any water we decided to ignore the hole and continue our holiday. The reason for the collision can best be explained as carelessness - I hadn't looked closely at the chart as I didn't realize that we were as close to the shore as any of the marked hazards.

Suitably chastened we proceeded to Grace Harbour, one of the sheltered anchorages in the park. There were two or three other boats there and a couple with a small baby that appeared to have arrived in a sea kayak. We went ashore and walked down one of the abandoned logging trails that are a feature of southwestern BC. Most places seem to either be active logging areas, projected logging areas, or logging areas abandoned at some point in the past 150 years.

17 September.

No wind to speak of, but we had arrived and planned to merely wander around the park. We motored past a small islet which featured several seals, and having anchored nearby thought we would be able to get a closer view in the inflatable under oars. We were disappointed, however. It is possible that our inexpert rowing is actually noisier than the Nics slow revving propeller.

After lunch and a bit of snorkeling in the clear water I ascended the mast to re-fix the VHF antenna mount that had broken in the collision, presumably due to a whiplash effect. Conditions were perfect for such activity - no waves, no wind, no rain - though I could sometimes wish for a ladder.

We then continued slowly to Tenedos Bay, where we anchored for the night. Before dusk we portaged the Avon & outboard motor to a freshwater lake about 200 metres inland from the bay, and went for a motor round. The lake may have formed as a result of logging activity in the past, as there were many tree-trunks in the water and below the surface.

18 September

We anchored for lunch between two small islets, and spent some time snorkeling round the smaller of the two. We saw the usual collection of brightly coloured starfish and small jellyfish, even a complete fishing rod that had been in 20 feet of water for some time. The water was very clear but would have been extremely cold if we did not have wetsuits. Alastor tended to resemble a sea-going washing line with various wetsuits, towels and swimming costumes drying on the safety lines.

19 September

After anchoring for the night in another sheltered cove, we put into Refuge Cove for fuel and provisions. This is a tiny community outside the park with one of the old-fashioned general stores one only seems to find in the wilderness, selling everything from charts to ice, from beer to postage stamps.

From Refuge Cove we turned south for home, still with no favourable wind. We anchored overnight in Brew Bay, which offered hardly any shelter. Fortunately the sea remained calm overnight and we were able to get a good nights sleep.

20 September

Continued south uneventfully. Anchored overnight in Plumper Cove, a small marine park not far from Vancouver which we had visited on several previous occasions.

21 September

After a hike around the park in the morning, we set off for Sand Heads. Coming home we are forced to rely on some method of navigation as Sand Heads cannot be seen from the point of departure. This time we were able to try the Loran. Having been previously told the location of Sand Heads it displayed the course to steer. We sailed earlier in the day, but switched to the engine when it became apparent that we would be tacking to- and-fro till dusk. At 2140 we arrived back at the marina with 300 miles on the log.