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Melissa & Dave - Adventures at Sea

Who needs to be rescued anyway?

The day started out amazing.  Melissa got up at about 5am as the sun was coming up.  The lagoon we were in was dead calm.  The only noise was the birds chattering and the fish jumping as they tried to escape the seals that were fishing for breakfast.  She could hear the crows talking to each other over long distances.  One nearby would crow and then one on the next island over, and then one further away than that.  Then a “message” would return the other direction.  Amazing.  She sat on the deck for an hour just listening and watching. 

Dave got up at 6am and we debated whether to go for a Kayak ride or just get underway early and make tracks.  Today we were to cross the Queen Charlotte sound – which is an open ocean crossing that can be tough.  But given how quiet it was, we voted to get underway before the winds started up.  The crossing was smooth as glass with just a bit of ocean swell.  So we were patting ourselves on the back when at about 8am we heard a loud THUNK.  Sounded like maybe we hit a log (not horribly unusual – we heard a piece of driftwood bounce off the side yesterday).  But then SCRAPE and THUNK and we slowly ground to a halt.  Melissa asks Dave “are we aground?”.  Indeed, embarrassingly enough, we had hit a rock in the Queen Charlotte Sound.  It was on the chart (appropriately named Dominis Rock), but Dave had the chart zoomed out because he was working on getting his heading right for rounding Cape Caution (a tricky point that you have to stay away from).  We found ourselves stuck.  Well, sort of.  We were thrashing about like a fish flopping on the dock as each wave of swell came by and hit us broadside.  This scared the life out of Melissa who thought we were thrashing because we were filling with water and sinking.

Despite Melissa’s shrieking, Dave maintained a cool head and realized we were just spinning around on the keel (which is lead and sitting on it won’t damage the boat more than cosmetically).  He had tried to back off when we first hit, but reverse didn’t have enough power.  The tide was falling – so being stuck would mean in a few hours we would be laying on our side on the rocks – which can punch a hole in your hull.  But Dave just waited a minute or so (seemed like longer but wasn’t) until we had flopped around 180 degrees and powered forward off the rock.  Multiple checks of the bilges and the keel bolts showed there was no damage (other than to Dave’s ego) and no leaking.  We had hit softly – the real risk in hitting a rock hard and coming to a sudden stop is that the keel is so hard it can tear off the boat or buckle the fiberglass around where it attaches to the hull.  There was no evidence of this and we had hit so softly that we weren’t even sure at first we were aground.  So after playing 20 questions with Melissa, Dave finally managed to convince her we weren’t going to sink.  None the less, she didn’t stop shaking till about 1pm.

Fortunately this is what the weather looked like for the whole crossing:

The day was not over though.  When we got across the open ocean crossing and got inside Calvert Island, we hit unforecast winds.  The forecast was for 5 to 15 knots – perfect sailing weather.  But we caught downbursts that were rolling down the hills off the island that were 30 knots.  The problem with downbursts is that – unlike strong winds parallel to the water which the sails will “dump” and help make you go faster, a strong downburst can actually smack the boat sail all the way to the water line and hold it there till the burst is gone.  Called a “knock-down” this was something to be avoided.  When the first one hit, Dave decided that he would take down the jib (front sail).  But rolling it in turned out to be a challenge in the strong wind – even the motorized wench was struggling with it.  This scared the crap out of Melissa again.  Can you run out of adrenalin?  Apparently not.


Dave headed out into the center of the channel away from the downbursts.  And after a few more hours of sailing, we heard a call for help over the radio.  A couple was stuck in a dingy and needed a tow back to their boat.  The Canadian Coast Guard was struggling to hear him as he was on a small hand held radio.  People were trying to relay messages for him – including we think a small aircraft that was flying overhead their location.  We were an hour from them.  Dave says to Melissa “What do you think? Want to go for a rescue?” This of course is like asking Lassie if she wants to go rescue Johnny from the well.  Sure enough, it turned out there was no one closer, so we radioed the Coast Guard to let them know we would assist.

An hour later we arrived at a small island where they had paddled their broken dingy.  They were super well equipped with survival suits and food.  So they could have survived all night.  Indeed part of the reason Dave decided we would take the detour and go retrieve them was that it was apparent the guy was experienced – not freaking out despite the radio transmission struggles.  We were happy to go rescue someone who wasn’t going to come aboard all pissed off at a broken dingy.  Turns out they had hit a rock and sheared the entire lower gear unit right off their motor.

We retrieved them without difficulty and took them back to their boat – which turned out to be a 57 foot Nordhaven called Joint Decision.  Just after we got anchored next to them in Green Island anchorage, a Thunderstorm – the type you usually hear in the mid-West rolled through and the skies opened up and poured rain.  While the squall blew through, we were treated to dinner aboard and a tour of the yacht.  Liz and Gary turned out to be super experienced with boating all over the world having put 55,000 miles on their boat, so we spent a delightful evening swapping stories and learning a number of useful tips such as how to use a weather prediction service designed specifically for boats making long offshore crossings.

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