Pointing the Bow North

A Coastal Sailing And Snowboarding Adventure




Spring brings variable weather and an itch to cast off the mooring lines. Except my itch goes beyond sailing. I have toyed around with the dream of combining sailing and snowboarding for a few years now. Growing up in the Comox Valley, these two sports helped shape my childhood, as they’ve done for many others in the Valley. Now as an adult, my playground has expanded to wherever my sails and feet will take me.

I spent all winter pouring over Google Earth and topographic maps, trying to find beta from neighbours, colleagues, and friends attempting to scratch that itch. I had my head in the engine room every chance I could get to ensure my boat would be trustworthy enough to bring our crew of mountain-lovers up the intricate coastline of the Discovery Islands and beyond. By the time March rolled around, I had a capable crew confirmed, a purring engine, and a route set to find snow.

We left Campbell River with the ebbing tide, pushing north through Seymour Narrows at a swift 10 knots. Our split boards and skis were safely stowed, and we cruised into a nearby cove, protected by any wind that may blow overnight. We settled down for an evening of fresh oysters, pouring over charts and playing a round of cards before crawling into our cold berths for the night.

The wind was forecasted to switch and build to 40 knots NW by the afternoon. The next morning, we slipped out of the safety of our anchorage and cruised north with glassy waters and just a breath of wind on our stern. Right before we rounded into the more protected waters of a nearby channel, a squall threatened us off our bow, charging towards us like a dark wall. It hit in a fury, forcing us to quickly stuff the spinnaker back in the bag before we lost it overboard in a gust. The swell built just as quickly as the wind hit. We turned our port quarter to the wind and threw up a small triangle of jib to surge us forward towards the promise of snow. Sleet blurred our vision and a tugboat hauling a log boom emerged in front of us. It was too close for comfort and I jumped to the VHF radio to make our intentions clear. It was too late to alter course.

Committed to our trajectory, we slipped between the bow of the tug and an island that lay on our lee shore. Just as quickly as the angry storm engulfed us, it charged on, leaving us pulling on the sheet lines to let out more sail. The snowcapped mountains of the Coast Range came into view, luring us forward, and I could feel the energy onboard shift.

pointing the bow north gallery

We found home for the night at a nearby government dock, around the corner from where we would start in the morning. The gear shuffle then commenced, combining our shared and personal items into our expedition packs. The last thing to pack would be our sleeping bags, which would have to wait until morning, as the boat had no heater, and our -15°C bags were needed.

A high-pressure system rolled in and the morning greeted us with frosty decks and sunshine. With our boards a-framed to our backpacks, we piled our gear into the tender before making our way to shore and starting up a logging road. Our feet carried us forward in hopes that we would find the
snowline sooner than later.

We live on a wild coastline and with the wildness comes a little bit of struggle to get to our goal of carving down the mountainside. This route was no exception. We found snow at about 400m elevation, strapped on our skins, and pointed our tips uphill, following beside a drainage system. Fresh grizzly tracks along a creek bed reminded us that we weren’t the only ones out here. The sunshine beat down on us as we gained the ridge, and the creeks that we had crossed were melted, warning us that winter was rapidly nearing its end.

Coordinates on my inReach guided us to where a cabin should be, and a wedge of green siding poked out, confirming that we had a place to call home for the night. Our bodies were tired, but the sun was rejuvenating. We were hoping to lose some weight in our bags before grabbing some laps, but it was time to lose the splitboards and get to work with shovels in hand. The cabin slowly revealed itself as the sun lowered across the inlet that we were just sailing earlier that morning.

The temperature dropped well below zero overnight and we awoke to a snowpack that had us reaching for our ice axes to get to the outhouse. A slow morning in the cabin allowed the sun to warm up the landscape. Our ski crampons dug into the crust and we made excellent time to the upper ridge. I had a moment, as we shed our skins and looked down to the ocean, where it hit me that my dream of combining my two favourite sports was finally coming true. Each turn was followed with a hoot and a holler. We had originally contemplated bigger objectives but with the inconsistent weather forecasts and clouds rolling over us, we decided that it wasn’t about the gnarliest line or bagging the nearby summit; it was about the
experience as a whole.

My inReach pinged with the latest weather forecast and as a group we decided to pack up and return to the boat. After leaving the cabin behind, the momentum of our heavy bags had us carving through the tight trees in a slightly uncontrolled fashion. We barrelled down to sea level in a
fraction of the time it took us to get up the previous day, arriving at the boat with a new sense of pride and completion. As we collapsed to the dock with a celebratory drink in hand, I couldn’t help but think about our trip home the next day. Our adventure wasn’t over yet; we still needed to get through
Seymour Narrows before the forecasted weather built later the next day. I turned my logistics brain off for now. It was time to enjoy the rock crab that awaited us in our crab trap.

The sail slapped open shortly after we left the dock the next morning; our bow pointed south again. I can safely say my itch for an adventure of snow and sail has been scratched, yet I know this is just the beginning of where my sails and feet will take me. It didn’t take long before we were immersed
in topographic maps again as we cruised back to Campbell River. Each inlet that jutted into the mainland offered a new route and had us questioning whether or not we could pull it off. We didn’t mind as the Coast Mountains faded in the distance—we were already picturing next year’s turns.