The Outer Shores Adventure Begins

Charting a course for BC's picturesque Gulf Islands aboard Outer Shores Expeditions' Passing Cloud. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Charting a course for BC’s picturesque Gulf Islands aboard Outer Shores Expeditions’ Passing Cloud. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

“We’ve got nowhere to go and all day to get there.” That’s how Outer Shores Expeditions Captain Matt Lemay explained our next four days aboard the elegant 74-foot long schooner, Passing Cloud, to us. There are a total of three crew and six guests on this quick sailing through British Columbia’s Gulf Islands on the West Coast of Canada; a decidedly intimate mix that’s perfect for exploring just a handful of the over 200 islands that make up the Gulf Islands region.

Captain Matt is right: the beauty of a sailing adventure like this is not having to be constrained to schedules, transit times, and pre-arranged ports of call. Instead, the guests of the Passing Cloud will be treated to four days of lazy rambling around one of the most scenic areas of British Columbia.

Our adventure begins at the Port Sidney Marina in Sidney, British Columbia...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our adventure begins at the Port Sidney Marina in Sidney, British Columbia…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...nestled in the heart of Vancouver Island. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…nestled in the heart of Vancouver Island. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

A salty sea dog? The Sidney Pier Hotel and Spa is in the background. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

A salty sea dog? The Sidney Pier Hotel and Spa is in the background. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

My adventure began at 10am at the Port Sidney Marina, just a two-minute stroll down from the Sidney Pier Hotel & Spa where I spent the last night. Met by First Mate Liam and Captain Matt, we were led from the marina entrance to the beautiful Passing Cloud, which was obscured at her Pier F berth by the hundreds of other boats that have berthed in the harbour for the winter.

Welcome aboard! Passing Cloud's main lounge comfortably seats all six guests onboard, and is one of the most welcoming spaces on any ship. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Welcome aboard! Passing Cloud’s main lounge comfortably seats all six guests onboard, and is one of the most welcoming spaces on any ship. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our welcome onboard was casual and relaxed. Chef Graham had coffee cake and freshly-brewed coffee and tea waiting for us in the ship’s cozy lounge upon arrival, and guests were shown to their staterooms and given a quick briefing on how to use the ship’s toilet and shower. All the facilities you’d expect at home or in a nice hotel are here, albeit in their maritime versions: the toilet is an easy-to-use electric one with a two-step flush and fill system, and the shower is equipped with fine soap and body wash; all crew ask is that guests use the shower sparingly to conserve fresh water onboard.

Cabins are small but very functional...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Cabins are small but very functional…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...and all have ample light, both natural and artificial. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…and all have ample light, both natural and artificial. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Afterwards, Captain Matt explained the philosophy behind Outer Shores Expeditions and the history of its founder, Russell Markel. This was followed by a quick safety briefing and some introductions by Matt, Liam and Graham.

A few neat changes have been made since I sailed aboard Passing Cloud two years ago. Firstly, the ship’s complement has been limited from eight to just six guests to increase the already-intimate atmosphere onboard.

Most meals are served in the Lounge, at this nice long table...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Most meals are served in the Lounge, at this nice long table…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...flanked by books on local BC history and culture. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…flanked by books on local BC history and culture. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The ship has one marine head and shower, but cabins are equipped with their own wash basins. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The ship has one marine head and shower, but cabins are equipped with their own wash basins. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The second change is that there is no longer an all-season chef onboard. Outer Shores prefers to hire local chefs from Vancouver and Vancouver Island restaurants and bring them on a for a few runs at a time. This allows the company to seriously increase the quality of the food served onboard, which utilises locally-sourced ingredients and seriously approaches ‘gourmet’ quality.

A few things that impress me about my fellow guests, who hail from Canada and the United States. One couple in California booked passage on Passing Cloud because of an advertisement they saw in Sunset magazine while they waited at the dentist’s office. Another couple had heard about it through someone else, and another lady is on her third run with Outer Shores in nearly as many years.

Preparing to depart Sidney under rainy conditions. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Preparing to depart Sidney under rainy conditions. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Since this is my second trip with the company, I like that word is slowly but surely getting out about what an exceptional sailing experience this is. Within minutes of stepping onboard, I felt immediately at home – again. I’ve sailed on ships that cost hundreds of millions of Euros to construct that don’t have this kind of innate coziness right out of the gate. It’s a testament to what Russell Markel and his dedicated crew have been able to achieve in just a few short years.

The pitter-patter of rain on the glass skylight above Passing Cloud’s lounge let us know that the weather up top had changed. I changed into my waterproof jacket and pants (essential on expeditions like this) and headed topside to enjoy our departure from Sidney.

Racing the Washington State Ferry, headed to the San Juan Islands...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Racing the Washington State Ferry, headed to the San Juan Islands…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...and in hot pursuit of some whales. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…and in hot pursuit of some whales. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

With the skies opening up above us, the adventure began. Two whales were spotted off our port bow as we motored out of Sidney’s marina and raised our sails. A bright-red whale-watching boat was in hot pursuit, zipping around in the water around us with frantic abandon. If you ever want to spot whales, look for the chase boat. It will make you seem really smart, particularly if the whales are a long way off.

The whales eventually crossed over to our starboard side and ran with us for about half an hour, having had the decency to disappear from view just as lunch was served in the lounge.

Haida-inspired water cups grace the table in the lounge, where all meals are served during inclement weather. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Haida-inspired water cups grace the table in the lounge, where all meals are served during inclement weather. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Today’s lunch menu: sliced fresh cucumber and radish; freshly-baked whole-wheat bread; and a bowl (or two – up to you) of piping-hot chili, made from scratch onboard. With the rain still hammering down on the skylight, it made for the perfect warming meal.

Them, as we left Sidney and ran parallel to the commercial shipping lanes, something incredible happened: the rain stopped, and the sun came out.

Mid-afternoon snack, anyone? That's local smoked salmon and cream cheese. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Mid-afternoon snack, anyone? That’s local smoked salmon and cream cheese. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Delicious! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Delicious! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Yes, the sun still shows itself from time to time on the BC coast in early October. It continued to shine brilliantly as we passed massive bulk carriers, car carriers, freighters and ferries, before we turned to port to re-enter the Gulf Islands proper. Entering just off the southwestern side of Saturna Island, winds were strong enough that we were making an easy six knots over the ground. It’s just shy of the seven knots that Passing Cloud’s single-propeller diesel engine is capable of.

Guests were encouraged, first and foremost, to relax and take this as an opportunity to slow life down. We did. I spent nearly the entire day, rain or shine, out on deck, taking photos or just admiring the beauty of British Columbia and sailing around this wonderful region. I called BC home for nearly 13 years, and I always enjoy coming back.

The appeal of BC's Gulf Islands is readily apparent. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The appeal of BC’s Gulf Islands is readily apparent. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

This tranquility was interrupted as we skirted the shipping lanes...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

This tranquility was interrupted as we skirted the shipping lanes…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...where vessels larger than us ruled the waves. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…where vessels larger than us ruled the waves. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

At least the birds aren't bothered! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

At least the birds aren’t bothered! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Charting our course...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Charting our course…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...and embracing the elegance of sail power. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…and embracing the elegance of sail power. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

I also took time to browse through the books in the ship’s extensive onboard library, and sat out on the fantail of the ship, where I typed this report on my iPhone. Frankly, pen-and-paper would have been better; the auto-correct on this thing is driving me bonkers.

This evening, we anchored in Lyall Harbour, on the northwest end of Saturna Island. A few other boats had the same idea, and the small inlet is littered with glowing lights of ships clustered just to the east of the large BC Ferries dock.

Lyall Harbour is named for David Lyall, a surgeon aboard the British Navy ship, Plumper. He served onboard between 1857 and 1859, and presumably arrived here during that tenure.

This evening, we anchored off Lyall Harbour, on the northwest side of Saturna Island. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

This evening, we anchored off Lyall Harbour, on the northwest side of Saturna Island. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Her Majesty’s Ship Plumper also left its mark on the region, with a swath of equally-unfortunate names. There’s Plumper Bay, Plumper Cove, Plumper Harbour, and Plumper Passage.

If I sound smart rattling these off, I’m not. The information comes to me via a spectacular book in Passing Cloud’s main lounge, British Columbia Coast Names: Their Origin and History.

Tonight, we dined on a spectacular three-course meal that is among the best I’ve had on any ship. It tasted all the better thanks to the locally-sourced fish, cheese and vegetables. I’ll remember the petit roasted beets for a long time to come!

Going over our route inside Passing Cloud's main lounge...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Going over our route inside Passing Cloud’s main lounge…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...while the oil stove ensures we're all nice and toasty! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…while the oil stove ensures we’re all nice and toasty! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

After dinner, Captain Matt went over our route today on Passing Cloud’s digital screen located in the main lounge. Hooked digitally up to the ship’s navigation software, it gives guests a great overview on where we’ve been, where we’ve sailed, and where we’re headed thanks to the ship’s vessel tracking and plotting software.

Once the briefing was over, guests sat up enjoying wine and conversation until late. With the sound of the wind whistling through the ship’s rigging and the heat coming from the oil-burning stove, the lounge took on the warm, cozy feel that must have permeated the classic days of the sailing ships of old.

It’s nice to see that tradition being kept alive here onboard Passing Cloud, where traditions of all kinds come alive for future generations to see.

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report aboard Outer Shores Expeditions’ Passing Cloud continues tomorrow as we make landfall and circumnavigate Saturna Island! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

Outer Shores Expeditions - BC's Gulf Islands

DATEACTIVITY
Monday, October 17, 2016Embarking Passing Cloud in Sidney, British Columbia, Canada
Tuesday, October 18Circumnavigating Saturna Island and overnighting on Prevost Island.
Wednesday, October 19Saltspring Island and Russell Island
Thursday, October 20Disembark Passing Cloud in Sidney; Recapping our Journey
 

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