I set out to write a blog post about the sheep on Jedidiah Island (spoiler alert). To do that, I wanted to write about how glad we were our windlass worked when we arrived at Jedidiah. To do that, I had to explain that we had just fixed our windlass. To do that, I wanted to share the story of when we broke the windlass before sunrise the previous morning. To do that, I felt it necessary to explain why we had to be up so darn early. And that, my friends, is why this is really 5 blogs in one.
Part one: We have to get up very early
The tides in this part of the world are enormous. In 6 hours, up to 12 vertical feet of water will move into an area 600 miles long (but with all of the inlets and islands, it has over 15,000 miles of coastline) through two entrances– the Straight of Juan de Fuca and Dixon Entrance. This massive volume of water shoves past shorelines, whirls around islands and forces itself through narrow passages. After 6 hours of rushing and cajoling, just as it peaks, the moon calls it back and that same volume of water is sucked out through the 2 passages, now presenting themselves as exits. It is an exhausting cycle that morphs the shorelines before our eyes and dictates all of our movements.
Which is why we were making coffee in a pre-sunrise stupor, anchored and stern tied next to Wallace Island. Our plan for the day was to reach Nanaimo, a small town just north of the Gulf Islands. Getting there requires transiting one of half a dozen passages between the islands. Dodd narrows, the passage furthest north, is the most direct route. But reaching the narrows at the wrong time can be disastrous. It seems as if the majority of that 12 vertical feet try to funnel through this 170-foot wide channel. The current can run over 7 knots. To put that in perspective, we motor at 6 knots on a good day. Transiting narrows like this requires a fair amount of precision; less than an hour before or after slack tide, the current can already be running at 2 or 3 knots. Our window was 7:15 – 8:00 am. We were a 2-2.5 hour motor from the narrows.
Part two: the windlass breaks before sunrise
At 5 we hauled ourselves out of bed, turned on the weather (on a VHF channel, not on the morning news…), and cranked up the engine. John started hauling the stern tie, a line wrapped around something on shore (in this case, a conveniently placed mushroom-shaped rock) and tied to the back of the boat to hold our position and minimize swinging in this compact anchorage. I started hauling the anchor using our trusted windlass, a mechanized drum that has converted hauling anchor from a backbreaking affair to a button. Simultaneously, as if choreographed, the stern line got caught on a piece of driftwood and the “up” button on the windlass stopped working.
We aren’t morning people. We probably (ok, definitely) hit snooze once or twice. We likely hadn’t actually exchanged words yet. But we both knew we were working under a timeline, and it was time to go. With a few grunts of communication, we threw a paddleboard in the water for John to free the stern line and I fiddled with the remote before retrieving the manual wrench. It took us 45 minutes to haul the anchor by hand, 4 chain links at a time. Our anchor was certainly held fast; we hauled a conservative 15 lbs of mud up with it.
I looked at my watch as we finally motored out of the cove, the sun peaking over the hills. It was 6:20. We had most assuredly missed our window. We reset the day’s expectations to include a 5-hour layover in a small cove south of the narrows, pushing back our much-anticipated showers. But as we motored by Porlier Pass, one of the first passages between islands leading into the Straight of Georgia, I did the math. While the current was still running strong north of us at Dodd, it was almost exactly slack down here. The discussion was not longer than 45 seconds. I made a U-turn and headed for the pass. The timing was perfect; ½ knot of current carried us into the Straight. Clear of current rips and the myriad of hazards inside the islands, we settled in for an easy motor up the straight and around Gabriola Island. The detour added about an hour of motor time, but with such an early departure, we were still tied up in Nanaimo before noon.
Part three: we fix the windlass
Time to prioritize. Showers, lunch, laundry, a freshwater bath for Halcyon. Squeaky clean (the boat, the clothes and ourselves), we headed to the local chandlery and the grocery store. It was getting dark by the time we dug into the broken windlass. We started with the easy part (the remote), then moved to the wiring at the remote terminal, then traced the wires into the windlass itself. Due to a poorly placed cutter chainplate, accessing the inside of the windlass involves unbolting the entire unit from the deck. Which involves folding myself through a very small “door” into the anchor locker with a ratchet set and a headlamp. With the cover off, it didn’t take long to locate the issue – the terminal for the “up” wire had completely severed. I’ll save you the details of the project. The short version is that John put his mcguiver skills to work with the use of a dremel, soldering iron, crimp connectors and heat shrink. I feel confident the unit is now more durable than Lewmar ever made it to be.
Boat projects aren’t fast. It was 11pm before the windlass was put back together, the “up” button was confirmed working and the boat was cleaned up.
Part four: we are glad our windlass works
The tides requested another pre-sunrise morning, but without any narrows to transit, we opted for a more decent start to the day. We pulled away from the dock at 7 for what we knew would be a slow bash into the wind across the Straight of Georgia. That was a day that makes me grateful for our dodger!
We rounded the corner to Jedidiah Island just as two motor boats were setting their anchors. The bay is small and narrow and while the water was calm, the wind was still whistling. Another spot that demands a stern tie, there is not enough room for even two boats to be able to swing at anchor. It took us four tries to get the anchor and stern line set properly. Each time we decided to reset and I hit the “up” button, I was thankful all over for John’s bombproof mcguiver skills. By that evening, 4 other sailboats had joined us in our narrow little sanctuary.
Part five: And finally…there are sheep on Jedidiah island!
We had read in the guidebooks that the island is home to wild sheep, goats and deer left here in the 1800’s (well, their ancestors were) by Spanish traders. Once settled (and after happy hour, of course), we walked the trails of the island. The sun was low and gave the old growth forest an orange dappled hue.
The rock wall formations looked perfect for bouldering (we’ll always be climbers at heart). The meadows could have been in a Disney movie.
30 minutes into the hike, and about half way across the island, we were discussing the chances of actually seeing one of these wild ungulates when as if on cue, there was a “mmaaaaaaaah” from off to the left. We scrambled up a hill, following the barnyard smell, and found the sheep!
It was a funny sight – the sheep look just like the ones you see at the farm, just mangier, and frolicking about on big rocks in the woods.
Eventually, we wandered into what used to be an apple orchard at the far side of the island and realized the pursuit was not necessary. There were about 20 sheep milling about, munching grass and hoping the ravens would drop them apples. John tossed them an apple. About 5 of them came trotting towards it, butting each other out of the way. The game was on. By the end, there was a single sheep brave enough to come within a few feet of John to retrieve the treat.
Jedidiah has been one of our favorite stops so far, and not just because of the sheep. The island itself is varied and beautiful, with lots of small inlets to explore and vistas with views over nearby islands. We could stay a week, but we’re watching the calendar so we leave plenty of time for the southbound offshore leg.