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A rare treat for our Alaska Flotilla

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do not ROB your BATTERY BANK

When thinking of your house battery bank it is useful to view it as a bank account.  Whenever you operate DC powered equipment, you are making withdrawals from the bank that will eventually have to be balanced with deposits.   The deposits can come from the alternator when the engine is running, a generator, shore power, solar, or wind generator.  

Unlike your cell phone battery which can run down to 0%, the battery bank on the boat must remain above 50%.  Going below 50% can seriously damage the battery.   Battery technology is very complicated, many would say akin to black magic, but there are some useful rules of thumb.   The state of charge, SOC, can be reasonably well estimate by examining the voltage.   A full battery is around 13.2 volts and at 50% would be approximately 12.2 to 12.5.  These measures work best when the battery has rested, neither drawing or charging, for two hours.   But are indicative even under load.  You can visit the Battery University at https://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/how_to_measure_state_of_charge to learn more.

Some of our boat come with a battery monitor which provides a much more accurate state of charge indication than the voltage rule of thumb.   These monitors allow you to see charging rates, discharge rates, and current state of charge.  

It is important to manage your electrical usage while cruising:

  • Turning off lights and electronics when not in use,
  • Set refrigeration to the warmest level that preserves the food,
  • Reduce opening and closing refrigerator,
  • If boat is equipped with an inverter, limit its use to essential items.

The banking account analogy breaks down a little for making the deposits.   Unlike your bank, the battery has a maximum charge.   Adding to the battery after that point can damage the battery.   Your cruising yacht has equipment to prevent this from happening.   As state of charge of the battery increases the rate of charge decreases.  After 85% SOC, the rate of charge will change from bulk to absorption.  In practice, it is difficult to get the charge above 90% while you are cruising.  Again you can find more at https://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/charging_the_lead_acid_battery.

When you plug into shore power a battery charger can be turned on to start adding power to the batteries.  The DC electronics on the boat are still taking power from the battery and are not directly run from the shore power.   The batteries will be filling at the net of the shore power minus the DC power consumption.

While you can spend a lifetime understanding all the details a few simple rules of thumb, will make your cruising more enjoyable:  

  • Pay attention to the state of charge of the battery and don’t allow it to get to low;
  • Don’t waste battery power running unnecessary lights and electronics; and
  • Charge the batteries when needed.

GUNKHOLING: the lost art of cruising

While Gunkholing may sound like a smelly and messy activity, it is for many cruisers the ultimate goal in cruising.   It is finding the small, quaint, and most importantly private place to drop anchor. 

GUNKHOLING, according to Wikipedia is a boating term referring to a type of cruising in shallow or shoal water, meandering from place to place, spending the nights in coves. The term refers to the gunk, or mud, typical of the creeks, coves, marshes, sloughs, and rivers that are referred to as gunkholes. Because of the slow pace, this type of cruising is best enjoyed by those cruising by sailboat or trawler. While not necessary, gunkholers typically seek out the serenity of isolated anchorages over the crowds of marinas and popular bays.


We hold that gunkholing embodies the ultimate cruising lifestyle – it’s one of those rare experiences that is best enjoyed slowly and deliberately. Gunkholing is the type of cruising that makes our coast one of the best locales on the planet.  We are blessed with 1,000s of kilometers of wilderness coastline where the mountains fall right into the sea.  We have marinas that range the luxury to quirky.   Those that are in the wilderness to ones that in the center of major cities.   Anchorages where you can be the only boat to ones with over a hundred boats.   Where can even boast a few anchorages with water warm enough for comfortable swimming.  

Some prefer to conquer oceans; we thrive on a good cup of coffee in a peaceful anchorage or quaint marina. Some would spend days and days aboard; we prefer a shoreside adventure such as a hike under the canopy of our coastal rainforest.  Some brandish their swords as they battle other boats on a race course; we prefer to raft up to our fellow boats and make a few new friends.

The magic of gunkholing is really a collection of small experiences that weave together into the fabric of our boating community.  It is impossible to fully describe what one gains by embracing the gunkholing lifestyle with a passage of words, but here is a small sample of the threads that combine to provide the allure of this pastime:

  • The satisfaction of piloting your boat into an unfamiliar harbour by making
    reference to the local charts and publications
  • The joy of kids exploring tidal pools
  • Flashing the barbeque up after a day of cruising from one island to the next.
  • Beachcombing poker – win or lose those treasures found earlier in the day
  • Sitting back and watch an eagle dive for her dinner right next to you
  • The playful banter as we line up at the pilgrimage to the shoreside showers with a towel and kit in tote
  • The camaraderie of flotilla cruising
  • Watching the best in people come out as they assist with docking, mechanical challenges and tips as to the best spot to catch shellfish, take a dip or find the elusive baked goods
  • Sharing the waters with orca whales, dolphins, harbour seals and sea lions

The term originates from that spectacular gunk that oozes off an anchor as it breaks the water.  We

know it to mean so much more.  Won’t you join us so we may properly introduce you to GUNKHOLING?

The Ins and Outs of Desolation Sound

Soaring peaks and picturesque anchorages will make you wonder why Captain Vancouver named it Desolation Sound.   Just 15nm north of Powell River lies one of the best cruising sites in the world.   Just a couple hours after leaving the marina you will round Sara Point and enter this enchanted place.

Fifteen hundred metre (5,000 feet) peaks rise above the deepest continental waters in North American.  Nestled at the base of the mountains are well protected anchorages with stunning views.   These are the warmest waters north of Mexico.   There are hikes, ranging from easy to challenging, which bring you to fresh water lakes for swimming.   You can easily spend weeks and never tire of the area.

Starting north from Powell River your first stop is at 10nm for a short swim off of Savary Island.   The island has beautiful white sandy beaches and water warm enough for swimming.   Drop your anchor and enjoy the swim.  There are no public services on the island.   Lund is just one mile aware and home to the famous Nancy’s Bakery.   It serves a great breakfast and lunch.   The standout item is a blackberry cinnamon bun.  Call the harbour master on VHF channel 73 for a complimentary short-term moorage.   Most marinas on the coast are on 66a, but everything about Lund is a little different. 

A nice first night anchorage is in Squirrel Cove on Cortes Island.   It is a large well protected anchorage with very good holding.   It is a great place to get use the boat with an easy first night anchor.   You may hear wolves at night since the island has a significant population.   Jump in the dinghy and go over to the Squirrel Cove government dock.   Next door to the government dock is the Squirrel Cove Trading Company dock but it is only available at high tides.   It dries at 6 feet.   The Flying Squirrel Restaurant is not to be missed.  

A great choice for the next night is Tenedos Bay.   It is a short 10nm from Squirrel Cove and crosses the sound.   There are several anchorages in the bay but choose the northeast corner.   It has a relatively short trail of moderate difficulty to a great swimming hole.   Carefully examine the charts since there is a submerged work in the bay.   There is limited space to drop the anchor and swing so this anchorage will give you a chance to practice a stern tie.   There are bolts with chains attached to the rocks on shore to which you can tie up.   

Refuge Cove provides the only fuel stop in the sound.    It also has a general store complete with fresh provisions, ice, and a liquor store.    The restaurant has the best pizza you will find around and Townsite Brewing beer on tap.   In the morning you can enjoy their cinnamon buns.   Cinnamons is a cruising thing and you can find them in marinas from Vancouver to Alaska.  The Refuge Cover website describes the marina as whimsical and this is clearly accurate.   It provides power and potable water at the lowest prices on coast.   But, don’t bother to call ahead to the marina.    It is self serve.   Look for an open place and dock your boat.   The moorage is complimentary for four hours and if staying longer you can pay at the store.  It is a great place to spend the evening.

Prideaux Haven is the best know anchorage in the marine park.   It is very well protected and has a stunning view of the mountains to the east.   It is a large anchorage with room for both swinging and stern ties.   Prideaux is very popular and can have be quite crowded during the peak season.  Again, look at your charts carefully the entrance is a little complicated.

Rosco Bay is another wonderful anchorage, but it requires skill and confidence to enter.   Do not use this anchorage unless you are confident of your ability to calculate tides and accurately read navigation charts.   The bay is guarded by a bar that dries at a zero tide.  Once you drop your anchor you are are there until the next tide covers the bar with enough water to allow exit.  There is a very easy walk up to Black Lake that has several excellent swimming spots.   

A few other spots to visit:

  • The top of Pendrell Sound has the warmest ocean swimming around.  Temperatures reaching 26C (79F) in the summer.  
  • Walsh Cove Marine Park at the top of Waddington Channel is a small anchorage with a great vista.   
  • Toba Wilderness Marina is at the bottom of Toba Inlet.   The view is spectacular, as are the rates at $3.50 per foot.  It is quite busy and is advisable to call for reservation. It has power and filtered water.  It is not at all friendly to short term moorage charging $50 for 2 hours.
  • Von Donop Inlet on the west side of Cortes Island is a 3 nm narrow inlet into the island.   Excellent protection and great holding.   
  • Also, on the westside of Cortes Island is the upscale Gorge Harbour Marina.  It is a wonderfully maintained marina with fuel and a small grocery store.   It has a pool and hot tub included in the moorage fee. Once again cinnamon buns are available in the morning. 
  • A little farther afield is Octopus Island Marine Park.   To reach it you need to either go through the either Surge Narrow or Hole in the Wall tidal gates.  Careful attention to the current tables is required to pass at slack current.   

Desolation Sound is a special place to cruise.  There too many places to cover in this brief overview.   The majestic beauty of the sound and the many places to visit can continue to please the cruiser over many visits.   

Bareboat Charters

Cooper Boating, as is the norm in charter companies, offers bareboat charters.  The term has a specific legal meaning and it is important that you understand what it means in terms of your responsibility. 

Bareboat charters certainly don’t derive their name from the inventory and options aboard – that has grown on the boats from a half page under a piece of plexiglass screwed to the bulkhead of boats with virtually no “toys” back in 1983 to Cooper Boating’s current multi-page document that includes many features that make the bareboat charter far less than bare on the equipment side of the equation. Your boat will have what is required to enjoy your vacation.  We can provision the boat so that when you come aboard with your personal effects, everything is ready to start your fun. 

The term bareboat charter refers to the legal arrangement in place for your use of the boat.  A bareboat charter of a pleasure boat (noncommercial use) means the you are in effect the owner for the duration of the charter.   As the owner you are responsible for the safe navigation, the fuel, selection of destinations, proper care of the boat, and purchase of insurance.  You are the virtual owner and responsible for all decisions on the operation of the boat during the charter.   The actual owner legally surrenders ownership of the boat for the charter period and should not have any influence on the operation of the boat.  

In fact, we embrace the concept of you being the owner for the duration – nothing on our boats says they are part of the Cooper Boating fleet.   You don’t rent a Ferrari and want a rent-a-car sticker on the back. We have clients tell us that other boaters are convinced our clients are the owners and don’t see them as charter clients.   We love that, but let’s get back to the discussion of this word ‘bareboat’. 

A charter agent like Cooper Boating can coordinate many of the items such as insurance and crew as required, but it will be on your behalf, not the actual owner of the vessel.   Should you not meet the competency requirements and require someone to be aboard to help you, those arrangements are on your behalf and do not involve the vessel owner.  If you delegate skippering or navigating or any other aspect of running the vessel, the responsibility for those assignments are yours.  The skipper and/or crew are working for you and you are responsible for their actions.

In Canada, you are welcome to buy a boat and providing you have your Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC) you are may operate the vessel for non-commercial applications.   An insurance company may require proof beyond the PCOC to demonstrate that you are an acceptable risk before offering you policy.  They will want to see a combination of experience and training on the size and type of vessel you own.  Chartering is similar – as agents we work to confirm you are properly insured when operating the boat.  Our insurance requires that you demonstrate through a combination of training and experience that it is likely you are capable of safely operating the boat.  We can assist in filling out any requirements stemming from holes in your boating resume.
All the vessels we operate through Cooper Boating are offered on a bareboat basis.   We do not offer a skippered charter or passenger arrangements.   Some charters add crew or skippers, but it is important to understand those people are NOT working for the vessel owner. As with many topics, one can go deeper into the workings and background – Wikipedia discusses further the concept of a bareboat charter (also referred to as a demise charter).  Our agents  would also be happy to help you further as you book your spectacular boating holiday.


Insurable and Comfortable

Following up on the meaning behind the bareboat concept of our earlier post, it seems appropriate to look at how we at Cooper work as agents to take care of our bareboat guests.
The legal side does create certain obligations and a competent charter agent can help with all of those. Cooper’s two guiding principles surround COMFORT and INSURABILITY.
Comfort aboard comes not only from the boat itself and its fit, finish and equipment, but the comfort of the skipper and crew operating the boat vis-à-vis their experience and familiarity with the vessel type. Perhaps it has been several years since you last skippered a vessel. In this case, the prudent skipper often reaches out for some assistance to refresh their skills – either via a formal lesson before hand or by taking someone at the beginning of a bareboat charter holiday to help break free of the boating cobwebs and ensure that the skipper is comfortable handling the vessel and the navigator is up to back up to speed on coastal pilotage.
Familiarity with a vessel type leading to comfort aboard does depend on whether or not this is a boat you’ve operated before (or a near sistership). Changing vessel types – especially large changes like different prop configurations or North American vs. European manufacturers – can lead to an increased challenge for a skipper. We’ve seen the greatest frequency of changes when people make large changes to the type or size of vessel they are using.
Some of the same factors that drive comfort also affect insurability of a skipper. As mentioned in the post about the word ‘bareboat’, the insurance on the vessel is transferring to the charter client for the duration of the trip as if they were an owner. Insurance depends on the risk factor and that includes experience, most specifically recent experience on the size and vessel type. A long track record of boating experience without an accident is a great step to being insurable, as is formal training – especially hands-on training to a national or international standard.
Ironically, when renting a vessel, it is not essential to have a Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC) – providing one walks through a rental boat checklist and signs this off as the charter commences. The fact is, the PCOC seems to be addressing specific accident situations and is especially focused on vessels smaller than those in our charter fleet – the standard of training and competence required to be insured on a charter vessel is far greater than the level offered by a PCOC alone.
If there is an accident in one’s past, it does not preclude insurability – one accident can be a vital learning experience – but it should be fully disclosed so that risk can be Indeed, we use past experience from debriefing accident situations to alert future people to the inherent risks of operating a boat on our coast. Come to think of it, everything provided to back up one’s experience as provided on a boating resume should be completely factual as it becomes an integral part of the charter arrangements. The insurance company isn’t out there checking everything up front necessarily, but if the boating resume is found to contain fictional content when following up a claim, it would certainly jeopardize the insurance coverage in place.
While some of this sounds heavy and does carry with it real obligations, we have been working with folks wanting to have fun on the water for over a quarter of a century now and can make most of this fall to the routine. So, if we’re suggesting something to help you bolster your resume it merely stems from our guiding concept that we want to you be properly insured and comfortable on the boat of your choice. Let’s get going with your spectacular experience!

From the Pilot House

Airline cockpit procedures, applied to recreational boating.

After many years of chartering, we decided to purchase a Trawler. Like many sailors, this purchase has fulfilled a lifelong dream and will become the cornerstone of an active and exciting retirement for us in Sidney.

One of the best parts of the purchase process was getting to know the staff and owners at Cooper Boating and NW Explorations. At the time of our purchase, the two companies were merging to provide excellent service and maintenance to sailors, trawler owners and charter customers in the Pacific NW. 

Recently, the owner of NW Explorations, Ross Tennant, offered me the opportunity to help him reposition a Flemming 55. The trawler arrived in Victoria harbour via transport ship. She then had to be sailed around to Sidney for a checkout from NW Explorations Head of Maintenance and co-owner, John Naissichuck. 

The Importance of Checklists

Just as we were about to start engines and depart, I pulled out my Before Start Checklist. I had made generic checklists up years ago when we started chartering boats. After Ross started the twin diesels, I had my After Start Checklist ready to go.

Seeing my excitement, Ross soon offered me the helm. As I aquatinted myself with the task, I reviewed with Ross the status of the boat, the course I was to steer, power settings and general navigation. 

Before we arrived in Sidney, Ross explained how the arrival would proceed and what we would do if the docking did not unfold as planned. I then mentioned that, as we entered the marina, all discussions should be limited to docking the customer’s boat. Ross had to be thinking, who is this guy?

After successfully tying up in Port of Sidney, we discussed trends in the charter boat industry and the need to better train new owners and improve the skills of existing charter customers to meet increasingly stringent insurance requirements.

Increased Insurance Scrutiny

Ross and Colin Jackson (another part owner of Cooper Boating/NW Explorations) explained that marine insurance companies are putting greater emphasis on charter outfits to verify that customers have relevant and recent experience in the vessels they charter and the waters they cruise in. Increasingly, the industry is demanding more experience from owners and more training for charter customers. Boats, engines, and systems are becoming more complicated. This led to a discussion about my work and how it relates to the boating industry.

So, as Ross undoubtedly pondered, who is this guy?

Why Flying is Like Boating

As you may have surmised, I’m an airline Captain flying a 787 at the tag end of my career. My boating experience comes from working Search and Rescue as a summer student in the Canadian Coast Guard, owning a 23’ cuddy cabin and, a frequent charter customer of trawlers and sail boats.

In my industry, we place a heavy reliance on training, standard operating procedures (S.O.P’s), checklists, risk mitigation and what we call, Crew Resource Management. These skill sets were developed as a necessity when accident investigators learned in the 1960’s and 1970’s that many airline accidents were no longer attributed solely to the result of faulty machinery or bad weather but rather, human error. 

The manufactures were to blame for many accidents in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Engineers began designing and building better and more reliable aircraft that rarely, if ever, failed catastrophically.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, it was time for the airline training industry to up their game and produce better trained pilots, mechanics, dispatchers, and load agents. 

Training in the airline industry never ends. Captain Chesley Sullunberger who successfully dead-sticked a powerless Airbus A320 into the Hudson River made this remark about his training. “I continually made small deposits of skill and knowledge throughout my career and then suddenly one day, I had to make a very large withdrawal.” As sailors, we should also continually strive to improve our skill set.

Ross had observed how I had utilized my experience as an airline pilot and adapted it to the task of sailing an unfamiliar boat. 

He was very interested in learning about the procedures and techniques we are trained to use in commercial aircraft. Many of these lessons can be put to use in the operation of your boat or on your next charter. You can apply these measures to raise the bar of safety, mitigate risk and keep you, your passengers, and your vessel safe.

The Sterile Cockpit Rule

Let’s begin with a common one. The 10,000 foot Sterile Cockpit Rule.

In commercial aviation, most companies have this rule. To be clear, ‘sterile cockpit’ refers to ‘no extraneous conversation’. It does not refer to COVID protocols, Quarantine Procedures, or one’s inability to have little sailors!

From the time a Captain calls for the Before Engine Start Checklist at the gate, and until the plane has taken off and climbed through 10,000 feet, the only conversation you will hear in the flight deck is of operational matters. The same is true on arrival. No extraneous conversation is heard in descent until the jet is parked at the gate, engines shut down and the Parking and Termination Checklist is complete.

We can use the same principle when we are leaving or retuning to the marina. Similarly, we can also apply this rule when transiting a narrow passage, navigating one of the challenging passes in the Gulf Islands or any area that requires attention to detail and precise navigation.

This is an especially good practice when you have guests aboard. We often have friends and family who may not be aware of the critical nature of some of the navigation hazards we have to deal with. It is family time, but our guests should be briefed that in certain critical phases of operation, you and your crew are fully engaged in managing the boat. 

Rather than thinking you are Captain Bligh, your guests and crew will appreciate and respect your professionalism. It’s a signal to them that you take their safety seriously. The response you receive will be a reflection of your leadership and communication skills. A Captain many years ago taught me this simple phrase for communication style, “Keep it firm, fair and friendly” he said. Every time I address the passengers or the crew, those words enter my mind.

Firm, Fair, and Friendly

Some skippers use hand signals, others are now using headsets, others still scream at each other, not so friendly! Whatever means you decide to use for communication, make it clear what the roles and communication cues are in departing and arriving. Inform your guests that there are times when the boat demands your full attention. They can help by not distracting you during times of high workload but be at the ready and available to take direction from you when required. You can also remind them that pointing out hazards you seem to have missed is greatly appreciated! With experience, guests will soon learn what is a hazard worthy of mention during critical phases of operation. It is all part of being one of the crew.

Next time you venture out, brief your crew, and give the ‘Sterile Cockpit Concept’ a try. See if it enhances your situational awareness, focuses your crews’ efforts on the important tasks at hand, and results in less stressful departures and arrivals!

Chris MacKenzie

Owner – Pilot House


Mother Goose Leg 3, Day 9 – Goddard Hot Springs to Sitka

With Sitka only 18 miles to the north, we started our day’s journey at 10 am. We experience a sort of culture shock as we reentered civilization. Not long into our trip we began seeing more and more boats. For most of our adventure we had seen very few boats if we had seen any at all. Now, even the outskirts of a town in Southeast Alaska felt like the rat race.

We wound our way through the numerous rocks, reefs and islets which lie just south of Sitka. There were sea otters everywhere, foraging, frolicking, or just resting among the giant kelp forests. There must have been a lot of fish around because the fishermen, both commercial and recreational, were out in full force. Before long, we turned the last corner and cruised under the bridge into Sitka. We refueled the boats and filled them with water at the fuel dock before making our way to our moorage sites. Normally, we would tie up in the large harbor which sits about a mile and a half north of downtown. Today, however, we got lucky. There is a dock normally used by small cruise ships when they come into Sitka. No cruise ships were schedule to use the dock for a few days, so we were allowed to tie up here. This particular dock sits just a block or two from downtown Sitka, and provided an ideal place for us to go out and explore the town.

After tying up, explore is just what we did. Everyone went their separate ways and walked around Sitka. People shopped, visited churches and historical sites, or just enjoyed the buzz of human activity. In the evening, we all met up for one last cocktail hour and a dinner at a restaurant nearby. Afterwards, we returned for our last night on the boats before departing the next day. We had undertaken an incredible voyage that took us to a number of incredibly beautiful places, but like all things, this too had to come to an end.

Mother Goose Leg 4, Day 1 – Sitka to Klag Bay

The Mother Goose fleet began an exciting adventure at 8am this morning as the boats departed calm Sitka waters. The town was enveloped by many gray clouds, but that did not seem to affect everyone’s attitudes, particularly since the past two days had been very sunny. After the usual safety briefing and discussion of open water and narrow, rocky passages to come, each person left the dock with some trepidation but a lot of anticipation. Everyone produced a smile and a wave to the camera, and thus Leg 4 began.

We spent the morning weaving through tricky, rocky, Piehl Passage, as the boats felt the swells of the North Pacific Ocean beneath them. As we cruised through, we spotted sea otters relaxing by the boat, floating on their backs, while opening freshly caught shellfish for an afternoon meal. Eagles were perched on trees and were caught soaring through the air before swooping down to catch any unwary salmon that happened by. Before we knew it, we had arrived ready to anchor, in Klag Bay.

Once in the bay, everyone trekked over to the remains of an old mine on the shore. We searched through ram-shackled out buildings and old, rusted rail car tracks by the entrance to the mine. On the way, we spotted freshly chewed devils club shoots, and later the resultant pile of bear scat not far off. We left the mine with samples of mining cores in our pockets to remain as souvenirs of the day.

After a long day of exploring, the fleet ended with appetizers and laughs on Deception. We all settled down to the very gentle rocking of the boats in this quite cove and prepared to embark on yet another journey.