Wind Against Current In Johnstone Strait



One morning, with the wind blowing between 30 and 40 knots from the north, we decided to find out just how rough Johnstone Strait was with an opposing max ebb current. We would discover that it was both "not so bad" and "really, really awful"—all depending upon location. We put on our inflatable PFDs, had our big Type I's handy, lashed everything down both inside and out, and nosed out of Port Harvey with the intention of returning right back if the water was too rough.


The Aurora Explorer, a large barge that had come in the night before to escape the winds, remained firmly tied to a boom as we passed.


The conditions were surprisingly good—the water was fairly smooth and we were taking very little spray over the bow. We continued past Port Neville and Sunderland Channel without any problems, feeling that the "wind-against-current" concern in Johnstone Strait was a little blown out of proportion, until we hit the tide rips at Kelsey Bay. The seas went from relatively calm, to towering, closely-packed breaking waves with their tops being blown off by the high winds, not far beyond which we could see smooth, calm water again. The waves were in excess of ten feet high and strung completely across the channel, with no way around them. We could have just turned back at this point, but part of the reason we were out there was to evaluate the conditions, so we continued on.


This is the view of the rips looking north when we were beyond the worst of them. Waves never seem to look as big in a picture as they actually are, but this is all wave action and not our wake.


Working against the rip required a substantial effort at the helm. We would head Dirona up a steep wave at maximum throttle, steering aggressively to maintain course, come off the throttle as the wave crested, riding the top before slowly sinking down the other side. Then we came back on the throttle again to climb the next one. As we descended into each wave, the bow gradually sank into it and water poured over the sides, similar to a gentle tidal flow, such that the entire bow was awash with over a foot of water. Because it was clear, non-frothy water on the smooth side of the wave, however, we could see right through it to our deck, which was most unusual.

Behind us a large fishing vessel was also working its way southbound into the rips, but no other boats were in evidence. Note how the wave tops are being blown off by the wind.

After about 15 minutes, we were through and back out to calm water again. We proceeded in Race Passage, south of Helmcken Island, beyond which another set of tide rips was clearly visible, but with plenty of room to avoid them.

Although the water was quite calm from our perspective, we started seeing other vessels approaching from the south, some in excess of 100 feet, and all taking huge waves and spray over their high bridges.

This large northbound sailboat bucked and pounded, its bow lifting right out of the water long enough for the bow thruster to drain completely. We were having a comparatively smooth ride southbound however, likely because we were running with the wind and waves rather than into them.


Our conclusion is that with a strong wind running against the current, entering Johnstone Strait should not be avoided outright, but it certainly can live up to its reputation. You definitely want to stay away from any areas marked with tide rips, but careful runs might be managed without much discomfort if you first evaluate the conditions and are prepared to turn back if necessary. If we had simply gone down Sunderland Channel instead of proceeding south towards Kelsey Bay, we would have had no problems at all.




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Copyright 2012 Jennifer and James Hamilton