Sailing with the Wind

By Larry MacDonald

Is it the journey that counts – or the destination?

My wife Sandy and I are avid sailors, although for many years we didn’t actually own a boat. To get our sailing fix, we simply chartered yachts in a variety of destinations. Typically, we would follow routes suggested by the charter company, always returning to the home marina within a week or two. And often, especially on our last day, our course would be directly into the wind, requiring us to beat, motor or both.

“Wouldn’t it be nice,” I often suggested, “to have our very own boat so we could have the freedom to just sail with the wind?”  

Then one fine 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 after completing the paperwork, we became the proud owners of a cruising sailboat.  

Wind Dancer lay in Ladysmith Harbour on Vancouver Island while our home marina was in Powell River on the BC mainland, about 60 nautical miles to the north. If the wind blew briskly from the south, we’d be home in a few days, allowing some time for sightseeing.

We spent our first day aboard Wind Dancer provisioning and planning routes, keeping in mind that we would only sail with the wind. The next morning, following a joyous christening, we began our maiden voyage by motoring out of the harbour into dead-calm conditions.

The nearest land was Thetis Island, where we dropped the hook in Preedy Harbour and explored the grounds of Capernway Retreat: 97 acres of woods, meadows and seashore. We spent about an hour on an elevated point, admiring the well-protected harbour and, of course, our very own boat bobbing gently in the quiet anchorage. Had the wind been suitable for sailing, we likely never would have discovered this enchanting setting. Chalk one up for no wind.

Getting under way the following day, we eagerly hoisted our sails to run with a faint northerly. But the 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 Vancouver Island town with the world’s largest outdoor art gallery – 33 colourful murals painted on business establishments – and a jolly good ice cream shop to boot. Another fortuitous encounter, again the result of no wind.

I was beginning to 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. Did I get that right?

In two days, we had traveled a total of eight miles, all under power. Our idyllic notion of sailing with the wind was clearly responsible for our mollusk-like pace: at this rate, we might make it home within the year. Our feeble efforts to rely solely 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 the exhilaration they must have felt being whisked along by consistent trade winds.

Our plight was more akin to early sailors stalled in the horse latitudes, having to throw livestock overboard to save provisions. We weren’t quite that desperate just yet, but you get my drift…oops, bad choice of words!

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 that leads to 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 for a change of mindset. We concluded that sailing only with the wind depends on at least two factors: infinite patience and the degree of urgency to get someplace…like home. If our boat was our home, we would only have one factor to consider – and in my case, that’s the deal-breaker. Patience is not my strong suit – whenever our speed drops below two knots, I reach for the ignition key.  

To this day, like most sailors, we still prefer to sail with the wind at our backs. But now and again, we find ourselves beating, motoring or both, just as we did in our chartering days, to reach a destination. Doing just that, we finally made it home to Powell River in a few more days. Obviously, the Greek god of the south wind, Notus, was busy elsewhere during our voyage.

Photo Captions
Photo 1 – Wind Dancer…sailing downwind.
Photo 2 – The author and wife Sandy aboard Wind Dancer.

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