GSSR#7 – Roche Harbor to Nanaimo

Greetings all!

Total Distance: 5,276 nm
Run so far: 87 nm
Nautical Miles to go: 5,189 nm
Today’s goal: 45 nm

Roberta and I have been in Seattle the past three days, but are back now on Sans Souci, at Roche Harbor, in the San Juan Islands. We’re within a few miles of the Canadian border and will be crossing into Canada this morning.

This update will be short, because in a few minutes I need to start engines. and get rolling.

Our original plan had been to clear into customs at Sydney, which would have meant an “out of the way” detour, but a friend recommended just clearing at arrival in Nainamo. To verify this was possible I phoned Canadian Customs, who confirmed that it was.

I couldn’t ask for better weather for today’s run:

Fri/24-Roche Harbor to Nanaimo Weather:

Partly cloudy to start. Clouds tend to increase during the late morning and the chance of showers through Fri/night. Visibility should range 5-10nm. However, closer to 3-5nm in rain showers Fri/pm. Winds: Variable 05-10kts, tending more W-SW 15-20kts from the late morning through the eve-night. Winds may shift NW-N 15-20kt, gusty 25kts during Fri/night-overnight. Wind direction could vary locally. Waves: For the most part, 1ft or less. Closer to 1ft during the strongest winds Fri/pm.

That said, the report was the same for yesterday, and Braun Jones, of Grey Pearl said that he had 3-6 foot waves and 15-20kts of wind. So, we won’t really know the weather until we are out there.

The run from Roche Harbor to Nanaimo is short, but tricky. Just off the west coast of Canada lies Vancouver Island, which stretches for 250 miles along the coast. The southern portion of Vancouver Island lies about 15-20 miles offshore from mainland Canada, and is seperated from Canada by the “Strait of Georgia”.

From where we are, the simplest run to Nanaimo would be to run right up the middle of the Strait of Georgia. On a day like today, I’d almost think about it. However, the Strait of Georgia can turn quite nasty, and is best avoided. Instead, we are going to zig-zag through the islands. There are some narrow passages, and tricky places, but overall it is a simple run.

There is really only one major problem spot to focus on. Just south of Nanaimo lies “Dodd Narrows”.

Dodd Narrows is the narrow channel shown above. It is a narrow passage of only about 100 feet. As water narrows to pass through a narrow passage, it speeds up. The water above and below Dodds narrows is barely moving, but as you can see, it is now moving at over 6 knots through the passage. My boat is capable of over 10 knots, so, theoretically, this is navigable, but in reality, it would not be safe to enter the narrows with the current running this fast. Too much risk.

Therefore, I’ve done advanced planning, and know that the tide will be reversing at 4:50pm today, and for a brief period, the water will be slack (not running) in the narrows. This tells me I want to be sitting at the entrance to the narrows, ready to pop through, when it is slack time. I am a little over 40 miles from the narrows. If I were to run at 10 knots, I would be there in just four hours. However, the doors are like a door that opens once every six hours. I have to arrive at just the right time, or I will be shut out, so I don’t want to risk late arrival. The smart play, which also saves fuel, is to run a more leisurely 8 knots, and take five hours to get there, targeting arrival at 4:30. This gives me some speed in reserve, so that I can speed up if delayed for some reason. I’ll relax until until around 10:30 am and then start preparing to depart.

And, on a different topic…

I’m experimenting with a small GPS tracking device, called “The Spot”

It should allow anyone to track Sans Souci’s current location, anywhere in the world, at any time. If you know any pirates, I would appreciate if you NOT share the following link with them:

On the other hand, if it seems to be stuck in the same place for an extended period of time, please contact the coast guard. (Just kidding!!! I haven’t the vaguest idea if this thing works. If it doesn’t move, that just means that I’ve botched turning it on).

And, running off to another new topic…

Plotting my course last night was annoying. I have both Nobeltec, and Navnet 3d, and both were giving me fits. The run to Nainamo requires a lot of zigzagging between islands, and staying the right part of the channel. I wanted to get the course plotted on Navnet 3d, and it was the first time I had tried the routing feature.

As most of you know, I’m a fan of Navnet 3d, but, unless I’m missing something, it is fairly weak at allowing you to enter and edit a route. After accidentally destroying my route a few times, I gave up and went to Nobeltec to enter the route, where I also had problems! I have a little joystick for a mouse, and it just isn’t oriented to doing detail work. Once again I gave up in frustration. I’ve certainly made routes before, but usually I’m plotting open ocean routes, where the distances are long, and there isn’t a lot of precision work.


I have Nobeltec on my laptop, with a real mouse. This made creating the route easy. I then moved it to the nav computer for the boat. I’ll be stuck with Nobeltec today (which isn’t at all bad), and figure out Navnet 3 route editing tonight.

And, lastly…

There’s a customs office here on the docks in Roche Harbor. The officer looked lonely, so I stopped to speak with him for a few minutes, and asked about how I would clear back into the US on the other side of Canada. He suggested I take a trip to Friday Harbor (just 20 minutes away by taxi) and apply at the customs office for I-68 passes, which would require passports and finger-printing from everyone on board. I wasn’t excited about going to Friday Harbor, so I called US Customs in Ketchikan to see what they’d say. They were very nice and said that the I-68 passes wouldn’t help, and that I should just call them a few hours before arrival in Ketchikan, and that they’d come to the boat. They made the process sound very simple.

Actually….one more thing – a quick update on the other two GSSR boats:

Grey Pearl just arrived in Vancouver, and Seabird is still stuck in Seattle, waiting on the arrival of some guests, and some last minute tweaking of the boat.

Oops… running out of time. I need to get the boat ready to go!

Thank you, Ken Williams
Nordhavn 68, Sans Souci

PS Make sure you go to the blog ( from time to time. There is a “Post Comment” button at the bottom of each blog entry. The comments are better than the blog most days!

25 Responses

  1. The “Spot” is very cool. We have one when we go snowmobiling in the mountians of Utah.
    Good luck and smooth sailing –the trip of a lifetime!!!

  2. Ken,
    Good luck on your trip. I have checked out the “SPOT” device plots and they look really good. Will be using the same system this summer as we travel to Nova Scotia and beyond.
    Glad to see that Tina and Braun are enjoying the trip as well. We traveled to Bermuda with them in 07.
    Have a great trip and stay safe.
    Jim & Marge Fuller
    Summer Skis

  3. Dave:

    I’m fairly certain my AIS is transmitting. I’ll try to get some surrounding boat to confirm it … but, I’m 99% sure.

    There are two possibilities:

    1) My signal isn’t strong enough to reach wherever their receiver is
    2) They don’t cover this area at all

    My guess is #1 above. My AIS antenna is a little lame. We had a larger one that was giving huge range, but seemed to cause radio frequency interference with the radios, and even the autopilot. So, I dropped to a smaller antenna, and may have gone too small.

    -Ken W

  4. Ron:

    We’re tied to the dock, in the marina, safely. See the pictures in today’s blog. I’m about as remote as one can be at the marina. Because of our size, and at the request of customs, we were forced to this dock. That said, I could have chosen a place much closer in, but I was predicting wind for today, and wanted a location that would be as easy as possible to depart from.

    Thanks – Ken W

  5. Ken,

    Thank you for your blog. I really enjoy reading it. Best of luck on your voyage. I also want to tell you what a beautiful boat the “Sans Souci” is. Nordhavn is the best. I envy you and Roberta. Me? I’ve got to go to work Monday, but someday we hope to be visiting the South Pacific in a Nordhavn. (Can’t come too soon).

  6. Looks like you made it into Nanaimo just fine. Hopefully you got through Dodd in time without expending extra fuel……. Spot worked great right into the harbor but your AIS is either off or not broadcasting. I’m sure you know it and will probably be telling us all about it soon enough.

  7. Ken,

    SPOT worked perfectly and it looks like you had smooth sailing through Dodd Narrows at slack tide.

  8. Sam:

    Thanks for the info. I agree – Princess Louisa is awesome. We went there a couple of years ago on our power cat. We’re not going to have time on this trip. We’re trying to run fast, with not much time for side-trips.

    Today we go to Nanaimo, tomorrow to Lasquetti Island (to anchor) then Sunday to Campbell River. Then….

    As to Spot, I have it mounted up on the roof of the pilot house (actually, just tied to the top of the hot tub.

    It does use batteries, and I’ll have to remember to put new ones in sooner or later. I also need to remember to turn it back on every day.

    I have some video of everyone lined up to go through the narrows. I’m behind a tug pulling a long batch of logs. Hopefully they get through fast. If I miss the window I won’t be happy.

    -Ken W

  9. Mike,

    AIS is VHF based, meaning that the range is limited based on a variety of factors like obstacles in the way. The AIS Live Ships website depends on shore based stations which relay the information to the internet. These shore based stations are, I believe, based on the VTS system. So, when a boat is out of range of a shore station its information will not display. And I don’t think there are many shore stations (since there’s not much traffic!) on the route Ken is taking to Japan, so I think SPOT will be the most reliable way to track his progress.


  10. On your way at last, showing up on Spot but nothing on live ships. I know i sound like a broken record but do not want to miss a minute of your trip.

  11. A few comments about the SPOT…

    I used one last summer and it worked great. There were a few times when it didn’t send position reports for a while for no apparent reason (like in the middle of the Strait of Georgia), but it worked perfectly at other times. Even in Princess Louisa Inlet, where my primary Raymarine GPS lost signal briefly, the SPOT was able to transmit. I almost always kept it on a shelf in the pilothouse and it worked fine through the roof, which is a 1/4 inch glass on each side of 1 inch thick balsa. I’d imagine it would struggle in Ken’s boat since there is probably a lot more material above the pilothouse.

    The key with the SPOT is to remember to turn it on. I tried to make it a normal part of my routine when leaving the docks, and turn it on along with the radar, chartplotter, VHF, engine, and so forth. Still, there were some days where I forgot. It would be nice if SPOT made one that could be tied in with the ignition switch so that whenever the main engine is running the SPOT is transmitting. I used the same set of batteries for about 30 days and didn’t have a problem, so I don’t think the battery issue is really much of an issue.

    My dad used it earlier this year when he was in Patagonia and it worked fine there as well, even though it is on the border of where SPOT says it will get service. Overall it is a great product and gives peace of mind to relatives as well as allowing them to see where you are and look up the places you’ve been near.

    Ken, regarding planning routes on NN3D and Nobeltec:

    Can you plan a route on your laptop and then export that route to a memory card in a format that NN3D could read? I know I can export waypoints from my Mac running GPSNavX to a compact flash card and then import them onto my Raymarine C series. I still have to assemble the route on the Raymarine but it’s a whole lot easier plotting waypoints using a real mouse and big monitor than it is on the marine stuff.

    You might want to visit Princess Louisa Inlet on your trip north if you haven’t been. It’s truly beautiful and highly recommended if you have the time. You might also want to stop at Lund to grab cinnamon rolls from the bakery (especially if you’ve run out of donuts from Roche!), they are great! I’d spend a few days in Desolation and the Broughtons before pressing on towards Alaska as well.

    Good luck with the trip,

  12. I think that the SPOT track report filters out some reports after the fact to keep the list of reports short. The normal contemporaneous interval is 16 to 21 minutes. Later these are displayed as intervals of 4, 3, 2, 1, hours and then 21 and 11 minutes ago. As a result, they allow these filtered positions to corrupt your graphic track and you end up traveling over land!

    Nonetheless, it’s great to be able to follow your actual route of adventure. It is very exciting.


  13. Good advice about getting into the queue for Dodd Narrows. If you need to stock up on veggies in Nanaimo, Harbour Park Mall has a fine grocery. It is located a few blocks South of the inner harbor. If you have a knitter aboard, there is a nice little yarn shop called “Mad About Ewe” also within walking distance from the harbor. It is in the old town in a courtyard shop. Up Fitzwilliam, left on Wesley. Enjoy Dodd. It gets sort of boring and… unscenic… between Dodd and Nanaimo. Thank you for doing your blog. Enjoying vicarious thrills of your adventure.

  14. Hello Ken and Roberta:

    Thanks for the “Spot” link, cool feature now I’ll be following you guys throughout your voyage.

    Good luck to you both and travel safe.

    Monte (From Huatulco)

  15. Ken:

    The tale of US/Canadian immigration trials and tribulations made me smile. Based on 31 years of crossing the US/Canadian border for work and pleasure \i have seen many changes and variuos helfulness(??) from border personnel.

    Our cottage is 200 yards south of the border in the St Lawrence so some comments re crossing

    1. On either side you are considered to have ‘landed’ in that country as soon as you have ANCHORED! so call the Authorities before dropping the hook!
    2. The I68 is only really useful for repeated crossinga and entry in the US, otherwise as you have found out call the coast guard or Immigration (for either country) I68’s used to be free and available by mail but post 9/11 things are a pain and cost $’s

    Keep up the postings and smooth seas

  16. Ken & Roberta Congratulations! You are finally underway and that has to be a great feeling, given all the preparations you have gone through. A heads up tip re Ketchikan Customs: From Prince Rupert to Ketchikan is about 90 miles. If you want to stop in Alaska before clearing customs in Ketchikan, you may anchor in Foggy Bay but you must call Ketchikan Customs before hand and get permission. They will grant same, enter you in their log and say “see you tomorrow” This is important as they can, and do, occaisionally check on boats anchored in AK water prior to clearing. God speed and safe travels.
    Chuck Conway
    Arctic Tern N3505

  17. It’d be a good idea to arrive early at Dodd. On a nice day, a lot of boats will be waiting to ‘pop’ through.

  18. Also, regarding the SPOT, I looked at the manual and see that the batteries only last 14 days in tracking mode. Did you lay in a gross of AA *lithiums* at CostCo, or did you figure out some way of hacking a power connection to your DC bus? (May be nice to see a version of SPOT designed for fixed installation.) Finally, does the antenna seem to function properly from within the wheelhouse?


  19. Ken, I’ve always found clearing in at Bedwell Harbour on Pender Island quite painless and it’s on the way.

  20. Ken, something I’ve long wondered: How do you post the routes from NN3D/Nobeltec to the autopilot(s)? How do you avoid confusing the APs with conflicting route packages from the different systems?



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