© 2010 bigsnit

Talking Crows and a Wild Ride Home

I should have known it was going to be a weird day when someone further up the dock said “this crow says mom“.

Sure enough, there’s a crow sitting on top of the piling, crowing  “mom, mom, mom” in what sounds like a man’s falsetto.

It was Saturday morning.  The dock at Plumper Cove on Keats Island on this particular weekend seemed to have a huge number of families staying the weekend, so the kids came running to have a look at the talented crow.

I kept putting gear away and getting Madsu set for the trip back to Vancouver.

The forecast called for a pleasant 10-15 knots of inflow – but having done this trip many times I knew this could mean anything from dead calm to crazy winds blowing up Collingwood Channel, which runs between Keats and Bowen Island.

Wind from the Straight of Georgia funnels through the channel and I’ve had more than a few hairy rides on that stretch of Howe Sound.

If you’ve ever taken the ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale and the Sunshine Coast, you’ve covered this stretch of water – except I’m going the other way, heading back to Horseshoe Bay.

Sure enough, as soon as a I got within a mile or so of the channel, the wind started to pipe up and really smell different.  That’s a breeze with some salt in it.

I heave-to and put a deep reef in Madsu main.  With the 100% jib up I figured I was fine for whatever was coming – I could see some whitecaps ahead, but nothing serious.

What I couldn’t see were the gusts and wind shifts that I’d spend the next hour playing with.  Actually, it was the wind that played with me for the next hour.

What a ride.

Madsu was well heeled and doing a speedy 6.5 knots on a close reach.  I was glad for the reef but kept the main sheet close at hand, a lesson I’d learned last year on this same stretch of water when I was almost knocked down.  On that trip I’d gotten plenty wet when I put the lee rail in so deep that I shipped water into the cockpit.

The first gust put the rail well down and I had to steer up about 30 degrees, while dumping the sheet.  With my feet jammed against the port side locker, I’m looking straight down at the water.

I couldn’t believe how quick the gusts came, with no warning, and I started watching the water even more closely to try to read the wind on the water.

From what I could tell,  the wind wasn’t really funneling up Collingwood Channel at all.  It seems to be blowing from the Straight, right over Bowen then down into the sound.

So much for a fast and comfy beam or broad reach on the inflow.  Here I was on a  close reach that was getting closer and closer, and the wind kept throwing me around every 5 or 6 minutes.  The puffs forced me to steer up 30 or more degrees to keep Madsu from getting knocked down.

In the puffs, Madsu’s GPS was clocking SMG at 7.5 knots – certainly the fastest I’ve ever seen the boat go.

It was a rocking trip to be sure – lots of salt spray and there wasn’t the slightest chance I’d be able to reach down into the cabin to get my Nikon out, and the waterproof Pentax was at home.

I was the only sailboat going in this direction that’s for sure. I passed a couple of others under power heading the other way, then what looked like a Hunter 30, fully crewed, on a reciprocal course, reefed right down.  The guy on the foredeck was wearing a safety harness and tether. I waved, they waved, and then were gone as Madsu scooted along, never dropping below 6.5 knots.

I can usually trim Madsu’s 100% jib without having to use the winch handle.  Today, the  3/8 inch sheets are stiff as an iron rod and any trimming means grinding.  I once again pat myself on the back for installing those self-tailing Andersen winches 2 years ago.

By the time we reached Columbine Bay on  Bowen the boat slowed down to 5.5 knots and I thought – wow – this feels really slow.  Given that I’m usually thrilled when Madsu cranks up to that speed, it made me laugh out loud.  I stopped laughing when a series of puffs, blowing around Hood Point, set my on my ear again 3 times before finally settling down.

Once I reached the other side of Bowen, the wind let up considerably, though there were still a few rogue puffs to keep things interesting.

I realized that my arm was really tired from yanking on the tiller, and somewhere along the line I’d gashed one of my knuckles.  I have no idea when that happened, but was glad for the little first aid kit so I could lash on a bandage and keep from getting blood on my lovely white sails.

What typically is a three-hour trip (Keats to Horseshoe Bay) was a tidy 2 1/4 hours to the dock.

A sweet wild ride.

I was proud of my little boat – she held up well and kept me safe once again.

And the next time I hear a talking crow at the dock, I think I’ll hank on the storm jib.

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