Amie Renaud recounts her exciting week aboard Tula.

Female helming the boat

The best way to describe a week aboard Tula is being in a state of complete bliss. You are truly oblivious to everything else, and simply enjoy the adventure created by the sea.

Projected Sailing Course with overnight anchoring points
Projected Sailing Course with overnight anchoring points

Do you ever get that urge to leave everything behind for a grand adventure?

I certainly do. Last year I did something drastic to find it. (Read the story: How I sell my belongings, leave my apartment and full-time job to solo cycle 3,000km from my home in Victoria, BC to Tijuana, Mexico).

But you do not need to do anything quite as dramatic. You can find challenge and adventure right here at home! When Peter Simpson (affectionately known as Cap’n Pedro) proposed a week aboard his 39′ Beneteau Sailing Vessel, I couldn’t have said yes any faster!

I have been sailing dinghies most of my life. In fact, I spent 9 years as a dinghy instructor teaching others how to do so. Embarrassingly, I still know very little about sailing larger vessels, and the ocean intimidates me. For the next week, I would finally be learn ocean navigation, practicing navigating narrow channels, safely anchoring in coves for overnight stays and learning to dock and undock a vessel this size, all under the careful watch of a very skilled and experience Cruising Instructor. 

Day 1: Comox Harbour

Comox Harbour, fishing vesselsA quick trip by bus from downtown Victoria lands me in Comox at the Comox Bus Depot, where I meet Kellen, my fellow crew member for the week. A short cab ride gets us to the Comox Fisherman’s wharf, where Tula has been docked while replenishing for us. We board Tula around dinner time, and sit down around the dining table to brief on the plan for the week. We are presented with our itinerary for the next day, (author’s note: our daily itineraries tend to include much earlier rises then I am used to…but I would come to love those early mornings on the sea) and safety protocols for the vessel, then we each settle into our cabins for the night. Tula is a spacious vessel, with lots of room to move about inside, and all the creature comforts from home.

Day 2 : Comox Harbour to Little Bull Passage (31.1 Nautical Miles)

Sewing a sail repairExpect the Unexpected! This is the lesson from today. Less than half an hour after departing the harbour that morning and hoisting our sails, a loud SNAP surprises us all. The Clew block – what holds the bottom right corner of the Main Sail taught to the end of the boom- suddenly snapped away from the Outhaul leaving the main flapping violently in the wind.

We quickly spring into action, powering up the engine, and lashing down the main to avoid further ripping of the sail, and more importantly, painful slaps to the face. We quickly assess the damage: all 3 heavy-duty webbing straps that keep the Clew in place have completely sheared off under repeated strain. Luckily, we all seem to have a little bit of MacGyver in us and we begin the tedious process of hand sewing a repair using 3 strips of spare webbing, some crafty sewing techniques and brute force to pull the needle through. It is not pretty to look at, but it will last us the remainder of our 5-day trip. 

Day 3 : Jedidiah Island Marine Park (17.5 Nautical Miles)

Did you know there is an island with a mysterious history of farming and a wild pack of sheep on it?! I didn’t either. And we anchored right beside it. That morning, we opted for a little island exploration. We prepared Cap’n Pedro’s dinghy and carefully dropped it into the calm waters of our anchorage from the night before. All three of us climbed on board and set off to find the closest beach access point.

A few from Jedidiah Marine ParkHiking onto this remote island feels like going back into time. Less than 10 minutes into the hike, we hear a distant sound of sheep’s bahs, and then all of a sudden, we spot dozens of wild sheep roaming and grazing on grass.

These sheep are like nothing I’ve seen before: completely covered in heavy wool coats stained by the grass and mud they roam on, but they also look  completely tranquil and unworried on their land.  As we pressed on through the forest, we arrived to the remnants of farm and family home, which was once populated, now abandoned and protected through various land conservancy agreements. Jedidiah Island warrants an entire article of it’s own to explain it’s curious history.

Once back on Tula, we load the dinghy back Boat anchored off white sandy beachonboard and set sail for Buccaneer Bay, a beautiful white sandy beach cove. A perfect spot for a lunch stop! The entire day has me smiling and makes me wonder what it must have been like to be the first explorer’s discovering these parts long ago. 

Day 4 : Secret Cove to Nanaimo Yacht Club (40.9 Nautical Miles)

There are many factors that contribute to THE perfect sailing day: Strength of wind (not too light, not too strong), consistency of wind (is the wind broken up by gusts and lulls?), direction of the wind (is it constantly shifting?) and weather (is it sunny and warm, or cloudy, cold and rainy?). Today we hit the jackpot! The weather, wind and waves are perfect for us to enjoy the quintessencial sail across the Straight of Georgia. We soak up the soak as we enjoy a pleasant heel on the boat heading into our first Port Visit since we left Comox Harbour.

Boat heeled over on a beautiful sunny dayIt is now time to practice  practice our docking skills as we will need to fuel up at Nanaimo Harbour’s Gas Dock and then dock for the evening at Nanaimo Yacht Club’s Visitor Dock. After so many years of coaching, I can probably dock an inflatable coach boat with my eyes closed, but attempting to dock a vessel 4 times that size next to a boat costing $150,000 is slightly more nerve-wracking! With the expert guidance from our Cap’n and Instructor Peter, we both manage to dock Tula…although not on the first try! 

Day 5 : Nanaimo Yacht Club to Sidney North Saanich (43.73 Nautical Miles)

Wedged between Vancouver Island and Mudge Island is Dodd Narrows, a very narrow channel that allows passage to vessels heading  to and from Nanaimo. The channel is so narrow in fact, that boaters politely wait their turn to pass through. We are there early as we must make sure to time it correctly with the morning ebb (tidal current moving away from land) in order to avoid the powerful currents created by the narrow channel. Student Plotting a courseWe skirt our way through  Dodd Narrows when the coast is clear, and on the other side, we are treated to incredible Fjord-like views. We would be treated by these views for the next several hours as we motor south through the Gulf Islands.

Given that the wind has died, Peter chooses to use our transit back to home port as an opportunity to practice man overboard drills. He selects a wider part of the channel to toss in one of Tula’s Fenders to simulate a person in the water, and we each practice quick maneouvres to rescue our helpless victim. We safely dock into Students Practicing WhippingTula’s home slip about an hour later, where we are ready to write the Sail Canada Basic Cruising Standard exam. It is an anxious wait as Peter corrects our exams, and we are delighted when we find out we have passed. Our last order of business for this trip: A celebratory beverage at the Sidney North Saanich Yacht Club to toast the fair winds and following seas. 

I look forward to my next sail with Tula!