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Winter Cruising in the Salish Sea

For some reason that is a mystery to me, most boaters limit their trips to summer and maybe late spring and early fall, but don't consider going out in late fall, early spring, or winter.

Granted, in summer, the weather is bound to be mild or even hot, the water may be warm enough to swim in some places, and all the towns and marinas are open, but prices are high, anchorages and docks crowded, and nights can be stuffy.  Maybe the reason is that the kids are out of school, but even retired people avoid the shoulder seasons.

When I bought my boat, I was told that winter sailing is the best-kept secret in the Pacific Northwest.  I wondered what that meant.  I figured that maybe I was being kidded, but was told that winter is when this area has the best winds and no crowds.

I've been on the dock in Vancouver in winter, watching crews in open boats come in windburnt and chapped from a day's sailing, and thought to myself, "That does not look like fun to me".  That is definitely not my style.  I resolved to get a boat that offers protection from the elements while underway and comfort, even in freezing weather, and I did just that.

I spent well over a month in total this last winter and several weeks the winter before sailing out of Vancouver and Sidney on Cassiopeia and although I had planned to go south to the Caribbean this year, I didn't get around to it -- and I was not at all sad I stayed north.

For one thing, I did not mind at all foregoing the 12-hour trip down to the BVIs and 15-hour trip back, plus recovery time, and frankly, I find it too hot to sleep there some nights.  It is hardly worth he trip for one week and barely worth it for two.

I bought a boat that has a good furnace and a full enclosure to extend the season, and expected comfort, but was impressed that -- here at home -- I never encountered a day too chilly to require more than light ski clothing. This boat is warm and dry in any weather, even under sail..  Rainy days are dull, but quite comfortable.  Nights aboard are pleasant.

Cassiopeia is set up to be fun year-round, and with the full enclosure and Espar forced air furnace, is quite comfortable, even in December and January.  With the lines led aft, there is never a reason to leave the cockpit while sailing.  When properly equipped, I found that most days are actually quite warm much of the time and often sailed with the enclosure partly or completely open.

I've sailed in less well equipped boats this winter and found the experience entirely different. I'd be a lot more careful to choose better weather on such boats than when sailing Cassiopeia.  The only weather than kept me in with Cassiopeia were occasional forecasts of gale force winds. In hindsight I would be less concerned about gusts to 30 knots, but such days were few.

That is not to say that winter is without some inconveniences.  There are a few drawbacks to the off-season, but the weather is not even a factor in my mind.. Some resorts and marinas are closed or have limited hours, but the main issue for me is the shorter days, meaning less time for sailing and the need to time the passes more carefully.

There are some bonuses to offset these minor issues, though.  Mooring in parks is free and marinas are half-price. Docks are uncrowded and the VHF radio is not noisy with chatter.

Why not try a winter cruise on a properly equipped boat?  Since the charter firms are less busy, scheduling is easier and the charter company might just cut you a deal or give a bonus -- and be more lenient about cancellations.

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- Home | Greeting | Features | Specs | Video | Marina | Cruising | Adventures -
- Forward Cabin | Saloon | Aft Cabins | Sails | Cockpit | Enclosure | On deck -
 - Plotter and Radar | Marine Head | Refue
lling | Seacocks| Engine | Batteries | Dinghy | Anchoring -
- Inventory | Manuals | US/Canada Border | Winter | Thoughts | Troubleshooting -