The Joys of Winter Cruising

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(published November 2016)

When the rain came, I pulled my hood over my hat, lowered my head slightly to look at the compass and took my sunglasses off. Yahtzee powered forward as the wind kicked up and I could sense that this squall was the beginning of what would be a tumultuous weekend of weather. It was the first day of winter in British Columbia’s Gulf Islands and weather-wise, we’d had it all: rain, sunshine and wind.

As the sun faded behind the mountains of Vancouver Island that evening, we tied to a provincial park mooring ball and were the only cruising boat for miles. On went our diesel fireplace, out came books and games for the boys and dinner was soon in the oven. Despite the passing of a strong low over the next 48 hours, we were tucked in tight and safely in position to leave the confines of the boat for some shoreside exploration on a nearby island.

The range of weather conditions continued during our time there and we endured wind and rain. But the sun also made several brilliant and prolonged appearances, which allowed us to circumnavigate the small island by foot, play in the sand and kick a soccer ball on a grassy meadow. Overall, we had a blast living in the moment and reveling in the solitude and beauty that was created by this unique winter weather.

   To be sure, our penchant to keep moving throughout the winter in the Pacific Northwest isn’t for every cruiser. The days are shorter and cooler, rain is more frequent, and fierce gales can and do blow in off the North Pacific Ocean on a regular basis. But over the past two winters I can count on one hand how many times we’ve seen snow or frost on deck and don’t even have photos to substantiate that claim. For us, the weather isn’t that bad, and tends to be more of a state of mind thing anyway.

Sailing into our third winter as nomads in this amazing place I couldn’t be more excited. The crowds of summer have returned to their home marinas, leaving incredible parks, anchorages and ports open and ripe for the picking in the San Juan and Gulf Islands. And because the islands are within the rain shadow created by the craggy Olympic Mountains and their sloping rainforests to the south, we’ll enjoy the magic that comes with the varied weather.

   With winter approaching, though, we’re regularly fielding the question, “Why don’t you head south?” And my simple answer is, “Why rush?” A lifetime of cruising can be had between Olympia and Alaska and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface. Yes, someday we’ll head south, but not now. And even if sailing back-and-forth to Mexico every year was even somewhat practical, we wouldn’t want to do it. If we did, we’d miss the joys of winter cruising in the Pacific Northwest.

 

Andrew, along with wife Jill and sons Porter and Magnus, are currently cruising the Pacific Northwest aboard their Grand Soleil 39 Yahtzee. Follow their adventures at threesheetsnw.com/yahtzee.