By Larry MacDonald
My wife, Sandy, and I are both avid sailors, though for many years we didn’t actually own a boat. To get our sailing fix, we chartered yachts in a variety of destinations.
Typically, we followed routes suggested by the charter company, always returning to the home marina within a week or two. Quite often, especially on the last day, our course would be directly into the wind, requiring beating, motoring or both.
“Wouldn’t it be nice,” I had often suggested, “to have our very own boat so we could have the freedom to just sail with the wind?”
One day, we came across a used boat for sale that piqued our interest. After scoping it out, we made an offer conditional on a successful sea trial and marine survey. All went well, and we became the proud owners of a cruising sailboat, Wind Dancer.
We had to sail our new boat from Ladysmith Harbour on Vancouver Island to our home marina in Powell River on the British Columbia mainland about 60 nautical miles north. According to our calculations, if the wind blew briskly from the south, we’d be home in a few days, allowing time for sightseeing.
After accepting the keys, we spent our first day provisioning and planning tentative routes, keeping in mind our plan to sail only with the wind. The next morning, following a joyous christening, we began our maiden voyage by motoring out of the harbor into dead calm conditions.
We made for the closest land, Thetis Island, dropped the hook in Preedy Harbour, and explored the grounds of Capernwray Retreat: 97 acres of woods, meadows and seashore. We spent the better part of an hour on an elevated point admiring the well-protected harbor and, of course, our very own boat bobbing gently in the quiet anchorage. Had the wind been suitable for sailing, we never would have discovered this enchanting setting. Chalk one up for no wind.
Getting underway the following day, we eagerly hoisted our sails to run with a faint northerly. Unfortunately, a southerly current had other ideas, resulting in zero headway. After an hour of senseless flopping about, we motored the short distance to Chemainus, a charming town with what may be the world’s largest outdoor art gallery—39 colorful murals painted on business establishments—and a jolly good ice cream shop to boot. Another fortuitous encounter, again the result of no wind, made me think, somewhat radically, that sailors can have a good time even without wind—or to put it another way, it’s not the journey that matters, it’s the destination.
In two days, we had traveled only 8 miles, all under power. Our idyllic notion to sail with the wind was clearly responsible for our mollusk pace: At this rate, we might make it home within the year.
Several feeble efforts to rely on wind power gave us renewed appreciation for the achievements of legendary sailors Lin and Larry Pardey, who circumnavigated the globe in both directions without auxiliary power. I can only imagine their exhilaration at being whisked along, at least easterly, by the consistent trade winds.
Our plight was more akin to the early sailors being stalled in the horse latitudes and having to throw livestock overboard to save provisions. Our situation wasn’t quite that desperate just yet, but you get my drift.
Hooray! On the third day, a northerly perked up to about 10 knots, encouraging us to head south wing-on-wing into Sansum Narrows, an S-shaped channel leading to the entrance of Cowichan Bay. When we made our first turn, the prevailing wind shifted directly onto our bow, prompting a U-turn, which would have taken us back to the spot where the wind would dictate another 180. Had we adhered to our sail-with-the-wind rule, we might still be frolicking in the narrows.
Furling the sails, we motored to Dungeness Marina in Cowichan where Sandy and I discussed the need to change our thinking about the freedom that came with boat ownership. We concluded that sailing only with the wind depends on at least two factors: infinite patience and the degree of urgency to get somewhere, like home. Now, if we lived on our boat, we would only have one factor to consider—a deal breaker for me. Patience is not my strong suit—whenever our speed drops below 2 knots, I reach for the ignition key.
To this day, like most sailors, we prefer to sail with the wind at our backs. Although now and again, we find ourselves beating, motoring or both—much like our chartering days—to get to a predetermined destination. By the way, we made it home in a few more days doing just that. Obviously, Notus, the Greek God of the south wind, was busy elsewhere during our voyage.
Larry McDonald is a freelance journalist from Powell River, British Columbia, Canada, who writes about his sailing adventures at various cruising destinations. He enjoys teaching about boating whether it be a classroom course for Canadian Power & Sail Squadrons or a Cruise-and-Learn on a chartered sailboat. His website (sailingaway.ca) provides useful information about chartering, nautical skills and destinations.