Crossing the Straits of Georgia is kinda a big damn deal…Every variable from flat as a pond to down right dangerous is possible. Stories of how Georgia handed them their ass on a platter is common in the boating world, perhaps more so than how flat and calm the crossing was. I think most boaters like the “platter” stories way more than the calm and smooth story, it’s a crazy rite of passage.. That said, I am way happier with the calm and smooth version and we had a most excellent crossing, our ass is still in the same place it was when we started – rite of passage escaped!
We look at multiple weather reports, we angst on the weather and we discuss it at nauseam but at the end of the day our threshold for ass whooping in the boat is low. Today was like a golden halo, from the time we motored out of Montague Harbor on Galiano Island BC to pulling into Westview Harbour Marina.
There are several challenges along this passage in addition to the big mother, the Straits of Georgia. Heading north from Montague, Dodds Narrows is the first challenge. It is a very narrow little passage–perhaps 60 meters wide at its slimmest point—and contains a slight dogleg which make it a bit tricky!
Depending on the lunar cycle, currents can ebb or flow in the Dodd Narrows at up to 9 knots, or nearly 150% of an average sailboats speed. Timing is, obviously, everything. Even a current of three knots will throw a slow boat around and can make it considerably harder to steer. A current of 5 knots against will virtually stall a sailboat; more than that and they will likely move backwards. Add the complications of transiting these narrows with tugs pulling logbooms or inconsiderate powerboaters that zip through at high speed hitting slower boats with abnoxious wakes, and you get a sense of the drama that this passage can involve.
I was too busy piloting the boat to take a video or photo at Dodds but the one below that I found on the web shows the beginning of the rapids …when the tide isn’t at slack current.
Even though we are a power boat with considerably more speed and better handling capabilities than a sailboat we still time our transit through Dodds. Today we went through Dodds with an ebb tide pushing us northbound through the narrows at around 2 knots. For us this is a very gentle push and saves us some fuel.
Because Dodds is so narrow, it is best to transit the passage one boat at time. Protocol is that the captain uses channel 16 on the VHF radio to let other boaters know their intent. When a marine radio transmission begins with the phrase “Sécurité, sécurité, sécurité” it means that what follows is important safety information.
“Securite, Securite, Securite, this is the motor vessel Beach House entering Dodds Narrows northbound. Any concerned boaters please respond on channel 16”. Since we had been monitoring channel 16 upon our approach to Dodds, we knew there was pleasure boat traffic southbound waiting to enter. Most considerate boaters wait and cue, like a roundabout, letting boats transit each direction. Lucky for us there was not any huge tugs with logbooms coming through, only pleasure boaters.
Uneventful, was what is was…yes, it’s a tight passage but not a big deal if the timing and weather are in sync. After Dodds, the bay opens up to a view of a big lumber mill on one side and logbooms on the other. What’s this means for us, is that we have to dodge large logs, often the size of telephone poles for the next few miles.
The next big hurdle is Whiskey Golf Military area which is just a few nautical miles away outside the passage of Nanaimo. CFMETR is an important test facility for both Canadian and US Navies. Operations focus on torpedo, sonobuoy and underwater testing. Most testing operations are carried out in the adjacent area in the Strait of Georgia known as “Whiskey Golf” aka WG.
Don’t know about you but the last thing I want to encounter with motoring around Canada on my boat is a torpedo. Okay, it’s not armed but does that really matter if it hits you broadside and sinks your boat???
If WG is not active, then the prime area to cross the Straits of Georgia is open. If WG is active then the passage is severely restricted and passage must be made outside the boundaries which are heavily patrolled. Venture out into the restricted area and you will immediately be hailed on the radio and give a stern dressing down.
In our case, WG was active and there was no other options but to motor north and shirt the area. We learned this by calling the military control center and listening to channel 16. Luckily, the weather gods had granted us a smooth passage no matter where we crossed so the extra miles to skirt the possible torpedoing were not a problem.
That said, had the wind and tides been different this route would have taken us almost straight across the big strait which could have left us open to being broadsided by wind waves. And this my friends is when the ass Whooping happens. 1 or 2 for chop is no big deal. 3 foot chop starts getting uncomfortable and 4-7 chop, which can happen on a windy day is a recipe for a serious ass whoopin!
Our transit across the Strait of Georgia took less than 2 hours…that was 2 hours of silky, smooth water and we loved every minute of it. The only hazards that we encountered were logs, dead heads and lots of junk floating in the water. Hitting a deadhead or a big log could have been another disaster but we had great visibility and used teh binoculars to scan the horizon. Imagine how hard it would be to see these kinds of hazards had the waves been 4-7 feet and you are unlucky enough to get caught in that or are just plain dumb and go out knowing how bad it is. With a low wind wave situation, you will likely see these hazards and have some time to react to avoid them but in heavy seas, good luck to you!
Once we crossed big, bad Georgia there was still the Malaspina Strait to deal with. Again, favorable weather continued and our passages was a piece of cake. At this point we had several plans of where we might go should Miss Malaspina decide to start whoopin on us. We took the fair weather luck card and continued on through Malaspina to Westview near Powell River on the mainland BC side.
We knew there was a decent marina there with an easy walk into town for dinner plus the pets could make the 6 hour total cruise there without any duress. Bentley was offered a potty break on the back swim platform of the boat out in the calm straits but he decided he could wait. Don’t worry, he had his life jacket on as did Wally when I brought the boat to an idle in the calm waters.
All in all it was a long day but an easy day on the water and we were thrilled to have had such a smooth crossing. The only real glitch today was that the starboard engine wouldn’t turn off when we arrived into the marina but that is a whole other story!