Over the years I’ve been known to do the occasional Crazy thing or two in a boat. I love being out in the wild open fresh air and seeing new things; I have a bit of “going where no man has gone before” in my blood. My first adventure trip in 1996 was an unrefueled run, 764 miles across the Atlantic to Bermuda, in a Glacier Bay 260 Canyon Runner, a fun trip that took two attempts. On the first one, a low pressure tough developed ½ way there and basically blew us off the ocean (winds to 45Kts), but 6 weeks later we made a smooth crossing.
The next big trip in 1998 with two Glacier Bays (2680 and 260) was to Midway Island out in the pacific. This was a 1,357 mile trip from Oahu, up the Northwest Territories of the Hawaiian Islands, to Midway with one stop on Turn Island for refueling and re-provisioning. This is a warm water trip with 6 uninhabited islands to peek at enroute, but major open ocean exposure for days.
The following summer of 1999 was Alaska adventures. We did two; one crossing the Bearing Sea from Nome to Russia’s Big Diomede Island in Early July and a second 3,600 mile trip later in July from Seattle to Homer Alaska crossing the Gulf of Alaska. These trips were full of dramatic scenery, whales, sea otters, COLD water and some ice burgs.
Mixed in with these trips over the years, I’ve run from Everett, Washington, to Portland, Maine, crossed the Alaska Peninsula on Lake Illiama and the Kwejack River, as well as toured all over the BC and the Alaska coast lines. What I’d never done was an unrefueled trip around Vancouver Island. When Pacific Yachting issued this new challenge in April I had to give it a shot. I’d considered it before, but my concern was the North Pacific’s typical weather/sea state of being not so friendly. It has such a reputation that on my trip south and around the country in 2003, I was unable to get even one marine writer to go along on that section of the trip. But with the new Aspen C100’s sea handling abilities, this was less of an issue. Looping unrefueled also seemed feasible considering its economy at speed.
So now I’m committed, its time to actually figure out if I can do it. My first project was to understand how the C100s fuel economy would be affected under very heavy load conditions. To test this one day during the Spring TrawlerFest boat show in Anacortes we gathered 16 show neighbors and attendees for a test ride on Gateway II. Getting the weights from the guys was easy. For the gal’s, I gave them the clip board and let them write down their own weights while I looked the other way. In this test we had full fuel, ½ water and 2,265 pound of cargo (people) on board. This approximated the trips beginning fuel weight as well as spares, food, safety equipment and the estimated weight of our expedition tank.
What we found was top RPM and speed had decreased by only 10% to 21.7 Mph/18.5 Kts, cruise fuel burn rate at 17 Kts was also off only 10%. I was somewhat amazed, but happy as this made the trip planning much easier. The boats handling and sea performance also worked well, a bit more sluggish while docking, but generally just fine. Most 32’ers would not do so well with more than a Ton of extra weight on board; many would not even plane anymore.
Next on the trip planning was to find a boat and gather sponsors’ who can lend a hand with logistics, equipment and expenses. Nate Martin at Gateway Yachts was first in with a boat - Gateway II. I think he thought I was a bit “off” but he’s an adventurer himself. Next was Volvo, our engine supplier. They agreed to cover the fuel cost, spare’s and do a review/tune-up of the Volvo 220 D3 in Gateway II. Garmin electronics stepped up with two of their new Verb action cameras with GPS tracking and electronic charts, and finally Global Star stepped up with a Spot Hand Held Satellite phone for communications. Pacific Yachting was also committed to help with media contacts and press releases.
Once we had the sponsors laid out, figuring out who would actually go came next. We had a lot of requests from current owners to prospective owners, press, dealers and both my sons. In the end, I chose my son Nick who had missed out on the earlier trips due to school or work, and our Dealer Dave Bonar of Bosons’ in Vancouver. Dave’s a very knowledgeable boater, knows the inside passage well and not a big person which equals less weight, I’d thought that would equal less food, but was wrong.
Wow, we’re 14 days from departure, Time to get the expedition tanks final design done and off to the tank builder. Time to order the charts and chips, cruising guides, Mustang survival suits, and safety gear. As well as start looking at extended weather forecasts and build the snor-machine (a sleeping pad shaped to fit your body that works a bit like a suction cup to hold you from banging back and forth while at sea). Works GREAT! Sleep is valuable on non-stop trips.
Three days before trip. Boat preparations are about done, motors perfect, bottoms clean, systems all tested and working 100%, safety gears in place. Weather window looks good. Vancouver Island is not easy for weather routing as the Island’s almost 300 miles long and centered on an area where the Pacific weather typically breaks north or south. Good weather at the bottom of the Island almost always equals bad weather at the top.
The day before, Thursday in Anacortes, check weather at 9:00AM our good weather window forecast around the Island is still “on” per the web weather for Vancouver Island and marine forecasts. Smooth in the south, nothing more than 20 Kts up north, we’re a GO! Load final items on board, test fuel system, fill all tanks and are ready to head over to Victoria, the starting point, by 4:00 PM. I decide to step in to the office at Nordic NW and check on the weather one more time. Wow what a change! A low pressure system in the Gulf of Alaska has been stalled out due to an Alberta High that’s not moving as planned and the low has bubbled south. The top of the Islands engulfed in gale force winds exceeding 100 kilometers per hr /60Kts-67Kts, seas are exceeding 14 feet. We call off the departure.
I’m frustrated how the weather could change that drastically from the original forecast 7 hrs earlier. My confidence in environment Canada’s forecast is now low. In my past open ocean adventures, I’d always used a weather router (Walt Hack) from New Jersey via satellite phone with amazing results. Walt passed away a few years back and as this trip was near shore I’d thought we’d be fine without one – maybe not. I called Bruce Hedrick of NW Yachting, as he’s very involved with several open ocean sailboat races in the NW. Bruce said he uses Commander Weather from New Hampshire. I looked it up and got in touch with Tom on Friday morning at 9:00am. Tom asked about the boat, its speed and capabilities, and then started reviewing the weather systems in the area. Tom said, “You’ve got a window coming later today for about 48 hrs. The inside looks good, 10-15Kts up north and around the outside, the first 50 miles south look like 20-22Kts with some gusts higher but nothing like last night.” I hang up, and call Nick to say, “let’s go!” We grab our gear and head for the boat.
CAPTAIN'S LOG: Larry Grafs Minute By Minute Breakdown
At 10:00AM we’re casting off from Anacortes headed for Victoria. In route I call Dave Bonar and Roger with Pacific Yachting and let them know that we’re on again. Roger calls the media outlets and clues them in on our plan. The straights are bucking a bit in route to Victoria, the typical wind against tide right on your nose, seems always to be that way. We arrive in Victoria at 2:00PM and clear customs at the new dock on the south side of the inlet. After topping off the fuel tanks, we head to the public docks right in front of the Empress hotel. Several members of the media are there and Dave Bonar meets us with a small truckload of food and drinks (thanks Dave). We chat with the Chek TV reporter, store the provisions and cast off at 2:55PM.
I’m excited we’re underway but also a bit apprehensive. Between the un-forecasted storm at the top of the Island the night before, combined with all the mechanical and electrical equipment that needs to run just right for the next 48 hrs and matching our speeds with current direction in areas like Seymour narrows and Johnston Straight, have me on my toes.
Friday Afternoon. 2:55PM we cast off with just a bit of fan fare. Our run north starts out smoothly, fluffy white clouds floating by in a rich blue background. The boats heavy, I can feel it, and our fuel burn is running 8.8 gallons per hour at just 16 against the tide. I know it won’t last but it is hard for my engineering mind not to calculate that burn rate (8.8x48=417 gallons) for the whole trip and see we can’t make it. We only have 320 gallons on board. We become concerned that our VHF radio has winked out, we’re not hearing any traffic and in talking with Roger from Pacific Yachting, the AIS units (our satellite locations devise) has gone dark online. This is not good. It’s getting late but Dave and I decide to investigate the connections which involve removing several access panels. We find a cable connection that’s bad but its one thing we don’t have in our spares box. A little MacGyvering and we peel back the cable and its shielding and combined with portions of a butt connector, fabricate a temporary connection. Viola the VHF works when tested. A VHF is important for communications in an emergency situation. We were all pleased it’s back online. The AIS is still out but we have a Spot locator with us as well, so online tracking is still possible.
Friday evening / night. As we run up the west side of Texada Island the sun begins to set. Seas are calm, the boats running sweet, all is well. We left 2 hrs behind our original tide/current plan due to Thursday weather bump, so we decide to keep the speed up and by 10:15PM it’s dark. We had the radar running, ranged in to ¼ mile, the chart plotter dialed in and dimed down to keep our night vision working. This seemed reasonable as we have encountered no logs or debris thus far. This was OK right up to the point it wasn’t. Just south of Cape Mudge, we hear a big BOOM and go up and over a medium sized tree complete with branches and all just south of Campbell River.
We slow down to a troll get the spot light out and peek at the tree and the two bows and the hull side. We also check all 6 water tight compartments. All is sound not a drop. We ease the throttle back up and she’s smooth as silk. Having a protected prop and double bottom hull and 6 watertight compartments is comforting in these situations. It’s really dark now so we ease back to a 10 Knot troll. I had seen some flecks on the radar to our starboard side just prior to hitting the tree so I begin to wonder if the radar is centered with our heading. I set the display for overlay and review the GPS shoreline with the radars paint of the shore line and find they are about 8 degrees off. This I corrected in the settings section of the radar setup page. It’s interesting to note that 25 hours later while on the outside of the island heading south on our second blackout night, the radar was off about 6 degrees the other direction and needed to be reset again. We’d had a very heavy sea day so maybe something was bumped? The gyro Compass Maybe? I’ll have to ask the Garmin tech’s when we get back.
Saturday Campbell River 12:43 AM. A Traffic jam of cruise ships and commercial tugs, who would of thought? As we enter the pitch black channel between Quadra Island and Vancouver Island we find an amazing mix of unidentified points of light. Our job is figure out which lights are fixed and which are moving and present a risk. We slowly identify fixed shore lights, car lights navigation lights and two Cruise Ships coasting along (or are they hotels on shore), 3 tugs with barges and the ferry crossing to Quadra and we think two anchored fishing boats all in the space of 20 minutes. All hands and eyes are very busy. The traffic congestion stems from the slack tide at Seymour Narrows 8 miles to the north that just occurred. These big boats do not want to get caught in that furious tide while passing the narrows.
We motor north toward the narrows and boom it goes from so many lights on shore and in the water to NOTHING TO SEE – pure black. We dim the dash lights, get a towel and cover some cell phone chargers and such and dig up a chunk of cardboard to fashion a dash brow extension (the chart plotters even on their lowest setting reflect a bit on the windshield) our eyes adjust over the next 10 minutes and the faint twinkle of navigation lights on Orange Point and Race Point just below Seymour Narrows begin to appear.
Seymour Narrows 2:00 AM. We're late, the tide changed 1 hour ago, its low overcast and drizzling and now we are flowing through a boiling channel 1500 feet wide at 1500 RPM (just above idle) making 12-13 Kts with almost no reference points other than tiny red markers in Discovery Passage miles ahead. The autopilot is not able to keep up with the spin rate the boiling pools are giving us so I take over following the chartplotter as a reference 70% of the time and looking out the window the balance. Nick has been studying the dim red twinkle’s in the distance which I actually can’t see, I’ve been studying the chart plotter, my eyes are adjusted to that light level. Nick says, "Dad your heading toward shore!"
Yep I think he’s right, I switch my focus to about 50-50 chartploter and the dim lights outside. The Garmin chart plotter while a premium very fast unit still has a lag time from the boats movement to its displaying the new position of about 5 seconds. In these pools 5 seconds is about 4 seconds too late to correct for. In the dark and in the fog the normal fast reaction tool is the compass but we found earlier that night the compass light was out, so that tool was useless (I’ll check that before I leave on future trips). We find a grove with Nicks eyes focused only outside and mine only glancing at the plotter were able to keep a reference and steady heading (the tension eases a bit). I open the window for some fresh air and am a bit startled by the noise the pools are making – we can’t see it at all in the black but its boiling pretty well out there somewhere. Dave Bonar missis this whole section, he’d decided to try the snore machine at about 1:00AM, it must have worked he’s out till first light.
Discovery Passage 2:40AM. Were out of the narrows now and while only running 2200 RPM normally about 10Kts we are making 13-14Kts over the bottom. I’m delighted, I’d expected a downhill push through the narrows but this push is strong. Nick takes the helm and I set the dinette up for sleeping, the Volvos purring, the seas are silky smooth, I check out, it’s been a long day.
North end of West Cracroft Island (Johnstone Straight) 3:50 AM. Nick and Dave are trading shifts I step out on the back deck and enjoy the very first hints of dawn peaking through the eastern sky mixed with the peaks around Knight Inlet. I don’t see this stage of day very often, we're in a ¾ mile wide channel with Cracroft Island just to our North and huge 5,543 ft. Mt Tsitika to our south. It’s not every day when you get to cruise along the base of a lush green snow caped mountain 1 mile high that pops right out of the ocean alongside you. Most cruisers avoid Johnstone Straight due to the winds associated with the mountains but if you catch a nice day its grand.
Malcolm Island entering Queen Charlotte Straight 7:30AM. Far in the distance we see a plume of while spray – not sure what it is but it moving fast right on our nose. It grows in size, it’s a boat, it’s a Yacht, It’s a Blue and white expedition Yacht about 90 feet long, plumb bow flying along at about 30 Kts complete with a 35-38’ sport fishing boat on the back deck. The clouds are lifting a bit, seas are just rippled, currents not pushing, but not hurting us in this area.
Port Hardy 9:20. We find a neat little Island complete with miniature light house and decide to splash our photo boat for some action shots of the Aspen. Our photo boat is stabilized and has immense power – a Zodiac Zoom 8’9”s and the power is Larry on the oars. But she does the trick we get stills and video and are back underway in about 12 minutes.
Goletas Channel. This is the last group of islands before you begin to round the top of the island (Nigei and Hope). I take a break out on the expedition tanks seat and just soak in the day, and grand scenery. I’m not sure what made this area special, the trees weren’t huge, the mountains weren’t either but the lay of the Islands and their grey lumpy rock shapes and the occasional steep gravel beach was just magical with the new growth on the trees and fresh marine air.
Nahwitti Bar 11:25,265 miles into the trip. We cross the bar taking the inside channel and begin to feel the ocean rollers. It is still calm, but we’re in the ocean now and for the next 24+ hrs. I wonder a bit about what we’ll find, our weather router at Commander Weathers told us to expect, “20-22 knot winds and seas of 4-6 ft. with a bit of a swell for the top 50 miles of the Island.” But here as we head for Cape Scott all we have is a 2-4ft swell could we be catching a break? Looking out toward Cox and Lanz Islands it looks nearly flat. It’s always fun to just go see an area, Lanz and Cox on the map look like nice roundish little Island to see them in real life they tall and pop right out of the ocean one 700 feet and the other 1065’ with lush green forest. The boats lightened up a lot now we’ve burned 116 gallons (900 pounds) and floating through the swells with ease at 18 Kts.
Cape Scott 12:20PM. This cape has a reputation, and as we approach it didn’t let us down. In a very short (15 minute) period as run west, we go from friendly 3-4 ft. rollers on 10-12 second centers from the North West to 5-7ft rollers from the North West and a 2 ft. Roller from the SE, and a tight wind 3’ chop from the SSE rolling right up the mountainous shoreline, Gateway IIs still slicing through it at speed but at times we find a just square wave and have to angle off at 45degrees to give the hull time to slice through. It’s sunny, the sprays flying, the boats earning her keep at 17 Kts. We set the auto pilot for the NW tip of the books Peninsula 52 miles out and enjoy the huge surf busting the rocks and shore line.
Topknot Point 1:30PM. I’m beginning to wonder if the name of this point has significance. Wind and sea state have picked up significantly, we’re now having to pick our way through the seas, some sections 1000-2000ft long were able to slip through at 16 Kts. Other sections about the same 1,000-2,000 ft. are just square waves, we have to drop back to 10Kts. The Garmin Virbs are in a monsoon mounted to the bow rail, one flips over upside down in its mount (should be interesting tape to watch) but with seas like this going out on the bows not an option. Dave decides it’s time for a nap and heads down to the snore machine both Nick and I are wondering just how he’s sleeping, must be airborne 25% of the time. He’s gone for 45 minutes comes up says it wasn’t great sleep sorta like an elevator with a short circuit in the up-down buttons.
Quatsino Sound 3:34PM. Seas have eased up a bit here we slow down and flip direction at idle to top up the tanks (one never knows when the seas will allow this again). As we do this we hear an odd snap and then quiet and then Snap. What’s that? I wonder if I’ve broken something in the heavy seas. We look over the back deck, nothing loose. So bobbing up-and down on the elevator, we decide to unbolt the Expedition tanks rear cross member. This allows access the two aft deck hatches and hull storage areas. We look round, we can still hear the intermittent snap and it’s louder, but where is it from, nothing viable moving or looks amiss. I begin to “feel” the various structures and bulkheads and find that the removable upper section (used for major engine service) of bulkhead #3 is tight – but just loose enough to snap. We tighten the bolts and Viola fixed! Note to self-add another bolt to each side and bond on future boats.
Brooks Peninsula/Cape Cook 6:14PM. The seas have built again as we neared the cape. We are now in 7-8Ft swells from NW, still have the 2-4ft SW swell and the SSE blow up the coast has intensified to 25Kts steady with gust to? 35-40Kts. The wind chop on top of the swell is about 3’ to mostly 5’. We are making 8-9Kts through it but burning fuel like it’s going out of style. Climbing the waves and pushing through this much weather is taking more than twice the fuel of smooth water. But the suns out and the blowing mist from the seas and the dramatic back drop of Harris Peak (2930ft) and Mt Seaton (3155) with the rich green mountains is grand. We slip between Cape Cook (wonder which explorer got here first?) and Solander Island, another steep cone shaped Island and re-set our course for Estvan Pt 88 miles to the SSE. I pull out the satellite phone and put in a call to Roger at Pacific Yachting to give him an update on events and our progress. I’ve done this several times before with excellent results but this time after several dropped calls we give up. Our guess is that with all the elevator action the signals not able to connect, we did not have time to order the remote antenna that plugs in to the phone and are using just the small flip antenna on the phone itself. No hot meals from Chef Dave tonight. It’s pre-made sandwiches, cookies and fruit. The seas around the Cape are doing something very odd (I’ve done a LOT of boating over the years and not seen just this) with the three direction wave activity combined with a certain amount of reflected wave off the coastal rock walls we’re seeing big waves that simply IMPLODE on each other. They create a water spout-mushroom that at times is 5ft around and 5-8ft tall. Now as a boat designer I’m thinking to myself “how do I design for that?” We drive around those we can and chop off those we can’t.
Kyuquot Sound 9:00 PM. Just about sunset and we see something racing through the ocean straight for us at great speed- it looks like 2 dozen torpedoes. I grip the wheel ready for evasive action. Turns out they're Black Fish come to play. They slide right into formation with the cat and begin to jump in the bow wave and stern wave. Then we see them zoom right up through the tunnel and jump in front of the boat. What a playful group of ? Kids? They leave just as fast as they came and just then we see a whale blow to our starboard side, the mist floats off in the setting sun. The coast line in this area is just GRAND. Huge green mountains that just pop right out of the ocean, a bit like Kuwie in Hawaii but they are much taller and yet have extensive fjord and inlets wrapped around them. Adventure trips are Good! The seas have calmed and as I only got 3 hrs. sleep last night it’s time for bed. Dave takes over.
North of Nootka Sound 12:05 AM. Dave wakes me, says he’s nodding out and seen some lights out to the west but not able to see them on the Radar. I grab a Coke and the bag of coconut cookies and saddle up – 3 minutes later I hear Dave snoring, guess he really was nodding out. Nicks out cold in the forward stateroom. The first thing I notice is the seas have SMOOTHED OUT dramatically. All that’s left is the long NW swell, the boats running quite, the Volvos purring along at 9 Kts on 2 Gph. The autopilots hardly working but man its pitch black outside feels like I’m in a dark basement closet with my cell phone, I can see nothing outside, inside everything’s covered but the chart plotter on its dimmest setting. What to do? I decide it’s time to go exploring. First up is those lights Dave saw to the west. I turn off the radar overlay and go to the radar only screen where ranging far out seems to work better. I sweep out 8 miles and there’s nothing then 16 miles still nothing then 24 still nothing (could Dave have seen something farther out?) I go to 36 miles and the little Garmin HD 18 begins to clearly paint something big at 32 miles its tracking I think at about the same speed and heading as I am. Ok got that now to explore the Island the new chip Garmin sent for the trip has lots of info and detail as well as google map info of the land sections and harbor photos. I spend 5 minutes exploring Vancouver islands coast and inlets then pop back to the chart/radar to check ahead and see all is well. This keeps me busy for far longer than I ever imagined, this is one amazing coast line full of inlets Islands and fjord after fjord. I have to come back.
Estvan Point 3:40AM Sunday. Still very black out but am able to make out a few very faint navigation markers. Its misting slightly and the seas are calm I decide to test the spot light and instantly barbeque my eyes, it takes 15 minutes to get my night vision back so I can see the light on Estvan Point. I round the point and reset the new waypoint 3 miles off Lennard Island 30 miles to the south. I then scroll back down the track zoomed in on the chart plotter to make sure I haven’t run myself over an Island or small rock. This takes 3-4 minutes and all looks clear as I finish and then I see I’ve been zoomed in to .5 miles. Per inch on the display and my standard is .2 miles per inch. I remember a charter class put on by SanJuan Yachting that said more than ½ their groundings occurred by captains that didn’t check their course at .2 or closer or were driving with the chart plotter set to a scale larger than .2. Dang, I reset the scale to .2 and begin to go back over the course that I was sure was OK, nothing had shown up at .5 miles per inch. Then Boom just 1.6 miles ahead of me the chart plotter is now showing a Wash Dry ROCK (WD) with little squiggles around it where just 30 seconds ago no rock was present. It’s right on my laid in course, I’m about to go ashore? In the dark, 3 miles off the coast. Time to take a detour around that little rock in 165’ of water.
Flores Island 3:50AM Sunday Sun Rise. Doing these trips at Summer Solstice is great, our last light was at 10:20 yesterday and now just 5 ½ hrs. Later the sky’s beginning to brighten. By 4:15 we are able to pick up the speed. It’s been 125 miles since we were able to get up to a full cruise speed and it does feel great. We have burned off another 300 pounds of fuel and this combined with the NW swell right on our stern and we are gliding along at 19-21Kts. Nick and Dave come up for sunrise and to snap photos of the rich purple glow over the Island peaks.
Pachena Pt 8:45. It’s time for another photo shoot with this big lighthouse in the back ground. Our goal is to time it just right with the boat passing the light house at the exact time a big wave bursts on the rocks. We make 3 runs but never get it just right. Time to go. Dave makes a hot breakfast of oatmeal and fruit. He also tells us of the adventure he and his wife Sue had hiking the coastal safety trail down from Bamfield to Port Renfrew and swapping cars with a stranger on the other end of the trail to get back to your car, a common practice on the Island.
Carmanah Point 10:06. We can see Washington – Neaha Bay and the Olympic mountains now to the South East. The Seas have smoothed down to just a 2’ swell we are making great speed almost 21 steady now only burning 6 gallons per hour. Starting to get a little excited about finishing. But don’t want to spoil the smooth sailing by talking about it.
Race Rocks 1:15. 534 nautical miles down, 20 to go. Race Rock are bigger than I’d imagined (actually small Islands) over the years the rocks have gotten a lot of press with sail boat races and marine misadventures. This is my first time by, they look like they might be a neat spot to explore in a kayak in good weather at slack tide.
Victoria Harbor 2:00. The harbors just booming with sail boats, fisherman. Cruisers, water taxies, whale watching boats, and high speed joy riders. We idle in and give the boat a quick clean and spruce up we even change our shirts – but don’t get too close no time for showers. We call the harbor master and she’s saved our slip right up front but before we slip in we do a little victory pass by the local press and pop a big bottle of Champaign feels good - tastes good. We are greeted at 2:55PM by the news team from Check TV, Roger MacAfee and an editor from Pacific yachting, and Ron and Sherry Burr Aspen owners from Anacortes who made a special trip to join in the festivities. We feel proud, excited, and relived. This was one big adventure. Here are the stat’s
Mileage 557 Nautical miles/641 Statute Miles/1068 Kilometer’s, via chart and boats trip odometer (GPS)
Fuel Burned 267 gallons, 1009 litters, via engine computer and refill. Average Fuel burn 5.6 Gph
Fuel remaining 53 gallons or 153 extra miles, Elapsed Time 47Hrs 5 Minuets