The seventh season of our sailing odyssey along the coast of British Columbia has begun. My husband, Patrick, and I can’t seem to stop coming back to these waters; the drama of sea and mountain, sun on snow, ancient cultures and wildlife draws us back to the northwest coast year after year.

We’ve had extraordinary weather this June. Typically cold and rainy, this month it has been almost unrelentingly sunny, with day after day of temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s. It has made cleaning up, commissioning, repairing and provisioning our 50-foot Mikelson cutter so much easier and more pleasant! No endless trips up and down the dock with wet Docksiders and rain dripping off the bill of our baseball cap.

We spent an unforgettable first night out having dinner with dear friends. As we feasted on perfectly prepared, freshly caught local wild salmon, we watched a regatta in English Bay, with Stanley Park and the Vancouver city skyline as a backdrop.

It was growing late the next day as we cruised through Desolation Sound. We decided to spend the night in a little bay, just south of a series of tidal rapids we planned to transit the following morning. There were two other boats in the anchorage with the wind coming up, so we positioned ourselves with plenty of room between us and our neighbors. With about 70 feet of water beneath our keel, we let out about 225 feet of anchor chain. In these waters a 3:1 ratio of depth to anchor chain, known as ‘rode’ — three times as much anchor rode out as the depth you are anchored in — is about minimum; a 5:1 ratio is safest, but not always achievable in a small, populated anchorage. We made sure the anchor was well set and holding strongly by backing up and tugging on it. She held admirably.

As we were setting the anchor, my husband, Patrick, heard an odd sound in the transmission, so as soon as we were secure he opened up one of the floor hatches to investigate. Odd sounds are almost never good news, and this was no exception. The connection between the diesel engine and the drive shaft was loose. Of four bolts holding the two flanged ends of the link together, three had worked completely loose and dropped into the bilge below. The drive shaft was being held to the engine by a single bolt and was out of alignment with the engine to boot. It had been a long day already; we decided to make the necessary repairs in the morning.

We settled in to make dinner and watch a movie while the restless wind began to pick up, moaning through the rigging and pushing Tenacious around all the points of the compass. Several more boats had come in to the anchorage by the time our movie ended.

It was completely dark other than the tiny anchor lights high atop the masts of other boats in the bay. Patrick did his customary check around the boat to make sure all was secure for the night. He noticed that another sailboat had anchored near us, and that our two boats were now nerve-wrackingly close together. We watched for a while as our respective boats swung around in the wind, sometimes alongside, sometimes one just in front of the other. Eventually we saw the flashlights of the other boaters on deck. Patrick called out, asking if they didn’t think the boats were a little close. They replied that their anchor was holding (implying that ours was not,) and they had no plans to make any changes. We guessed from their boat and their attitude that they had chartered a bareboat and had little, if any, experience in these waters.

Patrick explained that we had over 200 feet of chain out, what would be considered bare minimum for safe anchoring in these waters, and asked it they would kindly let out more rode so that their boat would swing farther away as the wind blew. They replied that they had a total of 50 meters of anchor line (about 150 feet) and that it was all out already. Knowing they were in the same depth as we, we realized that they had not only anchored dangerously close to us, but had far less scope out than required for safety. They never should have anchored in such depth with so little anchor line available. Because we had at least the recommended amount of rode out, our anchor was at far less risk of dragging, but we had a larger swinging scope as Tenacious moved around with the wind.

Our naïve but stubborn anchorage neighbors had clearly communicated they did not intend to move or take any other action. Our options were to take in our anchor chain to shorten our scope (which we eventually did, though it put us at greater risk of dragging) or to move our boat in the middle of the night. Not only was the latter an unpopular and risky option in the pitch-black confines of the bay with any number of unseen boats, crab traps and other obstacles around us, but our drive shaft was inoperable. Patrick determined that we needed to make our repairs immediately, to protect against a middle-of-the-night situation that would cause us to have to move the boat.

Thus followed two exhausting — and uncomfortable — hours, with Patrick hanging head-first into the engine compartment under the floorboards and me lying on my back with my head at a 90-degree angle against the side of the aft cabin bench, and my left arm dangling down into the engine compartment in order to hold a flashlight at the exact correct angle to light the work area. Patrick successfully fished in the bilge for the missing bolts, washers and nuts, but we couldn’t shift the drive shaft into the correct position to align the bolt holes until I suggested loosening the one remaining bolt. Finally I reached down, grabbed the drive shaft and horsed it back in to position while Patrick slammed the bolts through. We emerged greasier but victorious at around 12:45 a.m., knowing that we had done the right thing. We were now prepared for any eventuality. It was an uneasy night for both of us; every little while, we would awaken to check on our situation.

Early the next morning I heard the rattle of anchor chain being winched up. Our feckless anchorage neighbors slunk away just a little after dawn. Another hour or two of sleep, and we were on our way once again.

Lydia Chaverin McKenzie ( and her husband of 18 years, Patrick, are both retired from careers in the computer industry. They winter in Sarasota, Fla., and spend their summers from June to September living aboard their 50-foot sailboat, Tenacious, exploring the Pacific Northwest. So far their perigrinations have taken them from Portland, Ore., up the Oregon-Washington coast, in to the San Juan Islands, Gulf Islands, the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia and now to the north coast of BC. They keep trying to get to Alaska but always seem to find way too many fascinating people, places, creatures and experiences to hurry along just to meet some arbitrary schedule. But hey, maybe this year!

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  • Nancy Turner July 26, 2014 at 10:44 pm

    Hi there Lydia, were you and your husband up at Khutze today watching the grizzly bears? if so, we have some nice photos of you with the mama bear in the foreground. would love to send them to you if you can share your email. amazing day! best, Nancy

  • Carol Clarke July 7, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    More please. Have just returned from our 7th journey in to Desolation Sound and never get enough of it. Keep blogging!