We had no idea what to expect of Lund. Would it be a run down, end-of-the-road industrial site with some aging working boats? Oy a silly, expensive, prettified place focussed on its historic hotel, a bit ilke Roach Harbor? It was neither. We’ll go back again.
Lund is small with several picturesque coves facing the sea. It’s about 20 miles from Powell River, close enough to be administratively a part of that community. But the harbor is community-owned and operated. Two floating fingers serve recreational boats and one commercial boats, although we were given space at the commercial dock. An ingenious, segmented, offset breakwater has hundreds of feet of tie up space with easy access to a dinghy dock. Moorage was a welcome $0.65 a foot. Surrounding businesses include the Boardwalk restaurant, Nancy’s Bakery and the 1905 Lund Hotel. The hotel, which is owned and operated by the Slimmom First Nation, had everything we needed: first real grocery since shearwater, laundry, and a friendly pub with internet.
Monday and Tuesday, July 23 and 24 49º37.85’N 123º07.53’W Pender Harbour
We sailed down Malespina Strait on reliable winds for wing and wing. I’ve figured out how to pole out the jib by myself. I figured out how to use the the anchor snubber to keep from losing it over board and to keep it from catapulting me overboard when I remove it under pressure of the sail.
We were delighted to see they Fisherman’s Marina could take us. Unfortunately, this meant a poor season thus far for Dave and Jennifer. The level of simple service remains high. We were greeted and made fast by the utterly polite and accommodating front line liveaboards, John and Liz. It was nice to finally be able to attend to email and enjoy a beer and supper at the Garden Bay pub, despite the shock of so many boats and people around.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, July 25-27 49º17.47’N 123º07.53’W Coal Harbour
We’d phoned Coal Harbour for reservations, which proved unnecessary. Hordes of people out in the hot sun on the waterfront and in the parks, however. We visited the Aquarium and got our questions about marine mammals answered. Despite the awkward choice of days, we got to spend time with the Habibs, who hope to go sailing with us out of Port Townsend over Canadian Thanksgiving. On the last evening, Poonam took me to dinner, talked about her interesting job, and provided helpful orientation to what I need to do for PHLUSH on return to Portland.
Saturday, July 28 48º145.04’N 123º11.04’W Bedwell Harbour
We had a terrific sail across the Strait go Gerogia to Porlier Pass but arrived too early for slack. So then we did a counter productive tack south against wind and current and ended up having to motor down to Active Pass to hit it at slack. It lived up to its name, with many ferries going and coming, the largest shooing us to one side right in the middle. Jack had me at the helm and said, “Just stay on course and do NOT look behind you,” It was great to do our first transit of Active Pass on such a nice day.
In Bedwell, we seemed to lose our anchoring karma. After moving away from a boat to which we seemed too close we landed a bit too close to another but stayed on deck in hopes of telling them how great our ground tackle is. But as soon as we went down for supper, they moved! If only people would communicate. In the morning, about eight links of our thick chain chain jammed but this provided a chance to practice what seems to be a foolproof unjamming technique: I use the staysail sheet and winch to put counter tension on it.
Sunday, July 29 48º145.04’N 123º11.04’W Friday Harbor
Just as well the anchor routine took time; some of the fog out in Boundary Channel could dissipate. No problems. We had the usual Canadian flag lowering ceremony. With cell phone data service I was able to check US Customs and Waggoners sites for updates on regulations. It seemed that a beef ban was in effect, although the Customs guy in Alaska had asked only about fruits and veggies. So we tossed our a Vancouver Safeway steak overboard, only to discover at Customs that the ban had been lifted and our dinner was feeding the orcas! Next year we’ll do research and hope that USDA coordinates with customs so the current regs – somewhat complicated in the case of Canada – are clear.
Customs people were very cordial but the Friday Harbor Customs float is weird. Large cleats are too distant to be of use and there are only a few openings under the metal toe rail. The wind and current were against me but I managed to secure the midships line to a chain holding the dock’s rubber fenders and the stern to a cleat. The official had appeared by that time but said he wasn’t allowed to help people tie up. So I just threw the bow line on the dock and raced onto the float to retrieve it. The other weird thing was that there was no American flag. Not very welcoming.
By the time the sun broke clear there were boats everywhere, mostly sailboats. A typical summer Sunday in the San Juans. We took one look at the busy fuel dock and gave up. As the places on the outer transit dock disappeared, we anchored after carefully agreeing on the best place.
July 24 Woke up from a desperately needed sleep to voices in many languages on the Victoria waterfront. Cleaned up the boat a bit, threw together a tuna salad from leftovers and provisions, and managed to get the laundry done just as Selena arrived with Amanda and Jeff. Everyone was in a celebratory mood. The advent of uncompromisingsummer sun had coincided with the weekend. Selena had just filed a big case against the State of California and was taking a break. We were resting on our laurels.
Over lunch we asked Selena if she wanted to do the Olympics or the Gulf Islands. She opted to stay in Canada and she and Amanda took off to get groceries, which are fairly distant from Victoria docks.
Once we knew we’d be in Victoria on Friday we called Erica and invited her for Sunday or Friday. Since Skander was there with 11 year old Evaan and 3-year old Nora, we decided to hang out on the boat and called Mona and Nelson to join us. The food Selena and Amanda brought from a nearby take out was delicious, though there was a misunderstanding over who wanted fish and chips (ie halibut and wedge fries) and who didn’t care. Swept up in the sudden return to civilization and its temptations, I made a bit of a fuss and ended up eating Erica’s halibut.
The cockpit was rather crowded and our view of the bay was blocked by the Attessa IV a 330 foot plus luxury yacht of unknown ownership being polished and provisioned by a uniformed crew. But the sun was heavenly and we a nice view of the waterfront and all the people gawking at the big boat and having their picture taken in front of it. Of course, Erica, who always lavishes us with hospitality, insisted that we all come for supper on Friday, exactly the trouble we’d been trying to save her.
July 25 Nothing is more dramatic than entering and exiting Victoria Harbour. First we had to get out of the dock; that went flawlessly and Jack backed out leaving unscathed the two historic live aboard ships near which we’d portside tied. We just missed the Coho, the car ferry from Port Angeles, which actually backs halfway out of the harbor without even a small tug assisting. Selena took the helm as a float plane landed parallel, a water taxis crossed in front and boats pulled in and out of the fuel dock.
Confused and confusing waters rocked and rolled us as soon as we made it out but once we turned and got our sails into the wind it was a blast, at least until the ebb outpaced the wind in the boundary channel past Stuart, where we were unable to stop because we had not passed US customs. At Bedwell Harbor there was a single buoy, one near the cliff, which we nabbed in a single stroke. Selena was impressed.
July 26 The last time we’d stuck our nose into Ganges Harbour, it was so busy and so churned that we turned around and dropped anchor in the lovely west-facing Annette Inlet on Prevost Island. So this time we were determined to at last see one of the regions coolest little towns and Salt Spring Island. While we were dodging the crab pots, a suddenly fouled depth sounder showed 5.5 feet under our keel. Unnerving but wrong. We followed the chart, radioed the marina and came in comfortably on an end dock. The number of empty slips on this beautiful mid summer day confirmed the light number of cruisers this summer. This year sailboats reign. And differences in gas prices, the values of the dollars, and the cost of moorage make it advantageous for Canadians to head to the San Juans and Puget Sound this year.
Our arrival coincided with the weekly farmers market, small but exceptionally interesting despite the retarded season. We filled our bag and Selena did up several dishes of fresh veggies.
July 27 Selena and I wanted to hike but the trailhead eluded us and when we finlly found a little travelled road, we took it and found a delightful vineyard with a attesting room and a picnic table for lunch. The reliance of Salt Spring Islanders on their cars and their indifference to sidewalks made the otherwise lovely place feel like any other rural suburb anywhere.
The high point of Ganges was the circus on a sailboat. Well, that’s how it translates into the vernacular. La Loupiout is from France, home to a young family. The parents are comédiens-danseurs-acrobats-funambules-mimes. They’ve created two completely different spectacles, one at 5:30 and another at 7:30. More when I get the pictures. Delighted to see that they are coming to Port Townsend on August 20-22!
July 28 We departed Ganges at a little after 6 for a dreamy ride though the islands in the early morning sun. Selena appeared just as we turned in toward Victoria. We got an end tie near the entrance (opposite what they call Mary Tod Island Park) and watched the boats come and goIn the afternoon, Jack and I made our regular visit to the Maritime Museum, marveling over the Tillicum, the cedar canoe in which Voss cruised to far parts of the earth at the turn of the last century.
July 29 Morning reading on the boat. Afternoon at the museum. Supper at Erica’s. Frances missed her ferry from Vancouver and arrived late so we stayed late. Said good bye to Selena whom Mona dropped at Amanada’s so she could fly home the next day.
July 30 We left Oak Bay early but found good wind once we took the waves on our quarter sailing way out to the south east before jibing toward Cattle Pass. At Friday Harbor a young customs official found we had “prohibited items” and boarded with me to remove three perfectly ripened tomatoes, one kiwi and an anonymous apple. They found my passport funny – clumsy consular officer in Casablanca used white out! – and the infraction went on the record.
Next we went to the fuel dock and survived a remarkable jam of boats at the fuel dock, whale watchers and the Victoria Clipper arriving just as the car ferry was departing. Friday Harbor beautifully chaotic but it all seems to work out.
July 31. Best sail of the trip and most interesting destination. Home port of Port Townsend. A single tack took us from Cattle Pass to Hudson Point. All we did was adjust a couple of degrees and the amount of sail. A fitting finale to a great cruise.
After Hoonah and Sitka, worsening problems with Aurora’s 29-year-old transmission made it unwise for us to return to the lower 48 through the Inside Passage. Without a reliable engine how could we anchor at night and cross the numerous rapids along that route? But since Aurora is a tried-and-tested offshore vessel, we figured it was time for us to try blue-water sailing. And maybe the sooner, the better, since we might not like it at all.
So we engaged a young licensed captain from Port Townsend named Peter Frost. After walking us through the preparations, he met us in Alaska on July 6th along with his partner, Kelsey Boesch. Here is the account of our voyage on the Outside, a hundred miles off the Alaska and British Columbia coasts.
In struggling find the words to describe this extraordinary voyage, I feel a bit like a space traveler who knows she’s done something few others have had the opportunity to do. But it should be clear that we loved the trip. In fact, it promises to alter the course, reorder our priorities and reshape our dreams.
Day 1 Wednesday, July 7, 2010 Seasick!
Coordinates at noon: 56º45’N 135º46’W
We cast off from Sitka at 7 am and motor straight out through a couple of remaining “piles of rocks” until we we’re in the open ocean. A curious sea otter, his breakfast on his stomach, watches us go by. Looking up, we notice instrument failure number one. The wind vane at the top of the mast has lost its tail and is bobbing around uselessly. The damage is recent, certainly done by a large bald eagle, undeterred by the bird proofing mechanism. Seagulls abound in other fishing harbors, but in Sitka there are none to be seen. Eagles rule the roost, hovering over vessels as they unload, darting after what they can get or just standing watch on masts.
The fog is thick so I volunteer for bow watch, and a shot at real concentration because the queasiness I’d feared is taking hold. When I start vomiting it’s the best place to be so I just stay up tethered in front and tough it out.
Finally my stomach settles a bit and I head back along the jackline to the cockpit. On my way, I stoop down to move the jib sheet car back along its track. With that simple gesture my right thumb joint gets stuck in flexed position. I can straighten it manually but it doesn’t stay. As I climb into the cockpit puzzling over this, the other four fingers of my left hand spasm out and become useless. Within a minute my left calf lumps up with a painful cramp and immediately after that a whole complex of muscles in my right thigh contract violently. Imagine my confused terror as four limbs fail at once!
Peter calmly reassures me that this is a common symptom of sea sickness. My body is making a bunch of micro adjustments as it gets used to the motion of the waves and swell. And he’s dead right. Within a couple of minutes the paralyzing cramps and spams subside. I continue my watch, feeling a strange kind of gratitude that my body knows what it’s doing. Soon enough my nausea has waned and the physical self confidence I had been so carefully nurturing with daily yoga has returned.
The familiar fauna soon yield to albatross, ponderous in size, dark in color, and nearly horizontal in flight. (According to Wikipedia,”Albatross have high glide ratios, around 22:1 to 23:1, meaning that for every metre they drop, they can travel forward 22 metres.”) I am tempted to see them as creepy but suppose it’s just a figment of fragment of Coleridge haunting my imagination. But then Peter dispels any doubts by recounting an incident during a voyage back from Hawaii, when an albatross flew into the mylar sail of a racing vessel and ripped it in half with its beak!
When we are well off shore – about 40 miles out – we adjust our course toward the south. Aurora’s engine works fine since we have no reason to idle nor reverse and the transmission is regularly nurtured with small doses of fluid. So we continue to motor through weak and uncertain weather. Peter has carefully thought out our route so that we’ll be in a position to catch the northwesterlies when they begin. At noon he pencils in our coordinates on the chart and consults his GPS to verify our course and strategy. Soon we discover instrument failure number two: the cigarette lighter-style DC power outlet in the companionway does not work. So we must use AA batteries, of which we have barely enough. Throughout the trip, Peter will combines his years of experience in navigation with judicious use of his GPS. Since a compass fix is needed in the open ocean, he determines the course and we stay on it using the compass on the binnacle.
We’re still far north and the days are long. Toward the end of our 2000 to midnight watch, Jack and I can no longer read the compass. But we have no idea how to turn on the red night light in the compass, and neither does Peter. In fact, since we’ve never navigated at night, we had neglected to include the compass when verifying the instrument lights according to the checklist Peter had sent about a week earlier. With calm aplomb the captain moves us beyond equipment failure number three by duct taping the little red flashlight Jack bought to the permitter of the dome on the binnacle.
Day 2 Thursday, July 8 Routine
Coordinates at noon: 54º46’N 134º55’W
Segmenting this account into days is misleading since we never stop. Every day includes night and the period of darkness lengthens as we cross parallels going southward.
We’re setting into our watch schedule, which combines two daytime watches of six hours each with three evening-night-early ones of only four hours. Today’s looks like this:
0800-1400 Peter & Kelsey
1400-2000 Jack & Carol
2000-0000 Peter & Kelsey
0000-0400 Jack & Carol
0400-0800 Peter & Kelsey
This rotation is a flip of yesterday’s. In the last 24-hour period Jack and I had 14 hours on duty at the helm; in this one we have only 10 but it includes the midnight to 4 am watch. The new team comes up from below on ten to fifteen minutes before the previous watch ends to be briefed and get the feel for the point of sail, the height and intervals of the waves, and the (steady or gusty) quality of the winds.
When Jack and I go above for our 4 am watch, Peter and Kelsey brief us on the graveyard shift saying they’d enjoyed the Northern Lights.
Nice as it would be to see everything, it’s more important for us to go below, cook some hot food, and get some sleep. We are very small beings in the middle of vast seas and our bodies seem to know what they need. Sleep comes easily; the best we can be is ready for the next watch as well as anything for which extra hands are required.
Peter has been doing 24-hour watches since he was a child and now as a licensed captain sleeping in snatches while being alert to ship and crew seems to be instinctive. No only does he come up the companionway to check on us, he uses whatever issue Jack and I are musing about as an opportunity for hands on instruction.
Unlike Steve Plantz, Peter was not one of those kids raised at sea. Thanks to a fortuitous set of circumstances, however, every summer he was able to step out of an otherwise normal American childhood. Starting at the age of nine he spent summers crewing on a sailing vessel which plied the Great Lakes 24 hours a day. Peter credits the Canadian youth program that seems almost a throwback to British naval training in 18th century with providing a solid foundation. He returned to the brigantine every summer until he was fourteen, when they were shipwrecked. As only of three of a crew of 33 neither injured nor a victim of seasickness, Peter recounts the details of this unwelcome opportunity to perform under stress. Jack and I listen in grateful amazement that this seafarer, not yet thirty years old, has nearly twenty years offshore experience.
We are under sail about 100 miles out. Our southeast course takes us past Prince of Wales Island in the morning and past Dixon Entrance in the afternoon.
Day 3 Friday, July 9 Weather
Coordinates at noon: 53º18’N 134º21′
At reports of worsening weather, we make a detour, motoring several hours to get out its path. Now southerly winds mix with rain and push us on. Opposite the Queen Charlotte Strait, the weather turns nasty. Peter and Kelsey take over at the helm and Jack and I go below.
Although we’ve cleared the deck of most everything, the preventer – a line that restrains the boom to prevent an accidental jibe – gets caught on on the aluminum swim ladder, bending it and forcing Peter to go forward to unhook it. Now that we’re rid of the old hard shell skiff that covered the place where the ladder is bolted to the deck we’ll have to do something about it. At the same time, the absence of skiff has vastly improved visibility. In fact, now we can sit on port or starboard and maintain our course by lining up numbers on the compass with stationary guides positioned 45º degrees to either side of the desired heading.
Sitting at the helm and using the compass works less well in coastal cruising. Along a coast you have one eye on the chart, the other usually on the point of land to which you’re headed. Water depths constantly change thanks to irregular bottoms and the high tides of the North Pacific. The shape of the land affects the velocity and direction of the winds and accounts for crazy currents and roiling rips. And you need to pay attention to other boats, and hope they are paying attention to you. After thinking about it a bit, Jack and I realize that offshore sailing under the tutorage of a skilled instructor and navigator can work for fledgelings learning to sail.
At the same time we’re thankful the skills in coastal navigation we’ve acquired and the different sort of concentration sailing in more sheltered water takes. We rarely do more than ten or twelve hours at a stretch between anchorages but long days are exhausting and often leave the First Mate pleading for extra hands on deck. But unless they’ve got specific assignments and really want to be there, having friends on board can be distracting. So we ponder ways to manage more challenging voyages and the practicality and prudence of well-thought out watches.
Watches also make a small boat feel much bigger. Except for a pre-departure dinner, we have not shared a meal with Peter and Kelsey. We’re hot berthing, sleeping in the same places close to the mast. That leaves accessible space for personal effects fore and aft. Finding things in a hurry is important. My undocumented stashing of foodstuffs in fridge, lockers and bilge has had us rifling a bit but [almost] never for important things like headlamps, gloves, wrenches, extra line, binoculars, duct tape and the like.
Day 4 Saturday, July 10 Musings
Coordinates at noon: 51º48’N 131º58’W
Jack and I pull daybreak and afternoon watches. The gleam of morning sneaks over the horizon covering the enormous swells with a skim of crinkled, pink foil. Minutes later the sea is billows golden chiffon. The hues are so vivid that we are tempted to wake up Peter and Kelsey but we regale them with stories and photos when they come on watch. After all we missed the aurora borealis; in 24/7 passage making you just can’t experience everything happening around you, although this comes pretty close.
Our six-hour afternoon watch follows a long satisfying nap and a good meal. Winds are from the northwest, seas are high, sun is full. In sweater sleeves – it’s warm – Jack and I alternate 30 minutes at the helm. We’re headed southeast – 135º magnetic – with ten knot winds moving Aurora along at five and a half knots. The lightness of the winds make it all the more difficult to keep the compass needle between 130ºM and 140ºM.
Captain Peter emerges briefly from the companion way to demonstrate the micro movements the helmsman must master. I keep my hands steady on the wheel, note the approximate orb and make it part of my rhythm. There no need to twirl the wheel or make big adjustments, if one stays attentive. And without headlands, mountains or stars to head for, all my focus is on the compass in front of me.
The sky is cloudless and the line of the horizon distinct. From where we are sitting in the cockpit, the horizon is a mere three and a half miles away. This is our own tiny patch of the Pacific. No wonder we’ve seen no other boats since that troller in the fog less than an hour out of Sitka.
The nearness of the horizon inspires reverence and respect. Our planet is small: it drops off quickly. When we gaze out on successive ranges of mountains, as you might do heading inland from the Oregon Coast, or looking northwest from Islamabad or Boulder, the world seems much bigger than it really is. The seas don’t lie. If we stand up on the spinnaker box on the deck against the mast, we might see a seven or eight miles radius to the horizon, from the top of the mast perhaps 25. A very compact area. Almost cozy. Nothing like I’d imagined. No wonder the ancient mariners knew the earth was a sphere, something it took centuries for their land-lubbing cousins to grasp.
I get better at keeping the yellow needle of the compass on target. I watch intensely as the black disk, all 360 degrees calibrated in white, bibs and spins in its ocean of oil under the glass dome of the compass. The compass is about 7 inches across, the radius to its horizon three-and-a-half inches, which echos the three-and-a-half miles of ours. Our great dome of the sky is now evenly light grey, like milky glass, the slate purple grey of the sea gently rocking and bobbing Aurora exactly in its center. I imagine a miniature sailing ship in a glass bottle, although this time it is a tiny Aurora floating at the center of the compass enclosed in the hemispherical glass dome atop the binnacle.
Day 5 Sunday, July 11 Encounters!
Coordinates at noon: 49º55’N 130º00’W
At about 50º10’N 130º30’W, when I am at the helm facing heavy seas, something smacks low against the keel. “Look at that sunfish!” Peter exclaims I manage to stay focussed and not turn around but Jack says it looks something like a huge barn door. “A barn door that must really hurt.” [ Wikipedia on sunfish: “unique fish whose bodies come to an end just behind the dorsal and anal fins, giving them a “half-a-fish” appearance….the largest of the ray-finned bony fishes, recorded at up to 3.3 metres in length and 2 tonnes in weight.]
The winds are stiffening now, but I am getting the hang of the helm. The helm is usually Jack’s task so this is great experience for me. To keep the ship on our heading of 135º magnetic, I need to keep that compass needle somewhere between 1-3-0 and 1-4-0 on the dial. Despite the good wind, the seas are rolling us a bit. My attention needs to be sharp and complete but my shoulders and hands relaxed as I turn the wheel. Toward the end of my watch, I enter yogic space between ease and effort and feel my practice is finally bringing results.
Then suddenly, the boom whirls across the cockpit in an accidental jibe. Worse, the force pulls the preventer, a block and line designed to prevent the wind from getting on the wrong side of the sail, right out of the boom. I am devastated.
Peter rushes up to deck and gets Aurora back on the proper heading. With a spare line about sixty feet in length we rig a makeshift preventer, tying one end to the boom and the other to a cleat in the bow, dipping and rising between great following waves. When Peter finishes, he asks me gently if I’m “ready to get back on the horse.” It’s noon, so I take the helm briefly while he goes below to check our position and progress of the past 24 hours and pencil them on the chart. When he emerges from the companionway, he says with a broad smile, “You’ll be interested to know that we’ve just crossed an area of magnetic disturbance.” Ah, ha! It was the compass that got mixed up!
For four days we’ve had our bit of ocean to ourselves, but on the evening watch Jack and I spot a southbound ship on the horizon and then another and another. Their massiveness is half hidden by the horizon and the huge swells make them disappear all together. At a distance of a couple of miles they are as benign as the three ships of the Christmas Carol sailing toward [landlocked] Bethlehem. But we know we are near an open ocean shipping lane and we intersperse visual checks of the horizon every five minutes with checks of the radar, which is bouncing with all the noise the waves are throwing up.
At midnight Kesley and Peter take over at the helm and shortly afterwards (49º30’N 128º20’W) Kelsey calls me back on deck. There’s a ship bearing at 2 o’clock and the disposition of its lights suggests it’s headed toward us and they are not responding to radio calls. Peter has turned into the wind in an attempt to speed past it, moving from his 090 heading to 060. Kelsey and I each take one of the high powered emergency lamps we’re carrying. I flood the sails with strong light while she flashes her light at the ship.
But the distance is closing and soon we see red and green: when both the port and starboard navigation lights are visible it indicates a collision course. I take the VHF and just keep hailing “the northbound freighter off the west coast of Vancouver Island”. No response, nothing, silence. Then miraculously, a weighty, Slavic accented voice responds. It’s a miracle. The Zim Djibouti asks our heading. “Okay,” says the captain, “I’m changing my heading.” Slowly the red light disappears and the white masthead lights creep apart to tell us we have their starboard safely abreast of ours. To come that close in such a huge ocean! The guy on the Zim Djibouti is clearly surprised but as relieved as we are. He is very nice. Explains that he couldn’t see us on his radar. Advises us to get a new reflector but our radar reflector is a good one and designed for offshore. It’s interesting how nearly everyone seems to have suggestions on stuff you can buy for your boat, even the captain of a passing freighter. [Later I check the Internet and learn that M/V Zim Djibouti is “one of the largest container ships operating in the world” and travels at 25.8 knots. And btw our radar detector is top of the line. Swells just too big. ]
As the night lengthens, my gratitude for the escape from danger multiplies and Nature co-conspires to regale us with a sublimely glorious encounter. Aurora’s wake is now a broad phosphorescent path behind the stern and the waves breaking around the cockpit are full of light. It’s the phenomenon of bio-luminesence, tiny marine organisms that emit light when surrounding waters are disturbed. It’s the sprinkles of sparkles seen when paddling at night, or in the splashes of a bucket drawn from the sea, or whirling around in the bowl of the head when it is flushed. But tonight we have a full-blown show. All around us – even at some distance – are light-capped waves. Billions and billions of creatures are performing for us! And then suddenly there are ribbons of light streaming alongside the boat, forward and aft, port and starboard. Dolphins! They dart to and fro, playing in our bow waves, enjoying their strength. In the tubes of light in which they swim we see their large white spots. Like firework-spouting tug boats escorting a great ocean liner into port, a pod of Pacific-white sided dolphins are our escort through this patch of wilderness night.
Beyond the continental shelf along Vancouver Island, the ocean floor slopes down to minue 10,000 feet or more to what is known as the Abbysmal Plain. But from these depths rise seamounts, knolls and ridges, giant underwater mountains. A few rise to just 1500 to 2000 feet below sea level, bringing rich habitat and dolphin feeding grounds just beneath our keel. This time the short intense blackness of our night has coincided with a wondrous display.
Day 6 Monday, July 12 Speed
Coordinates at noon: 48º52’N 126º30′
The adrenaline is flowing, keeping Peter’s judgement sharp and energy unflagging. He’s been at the helm most of the day and is totally in his element. He and Kelsey have double tethered and opted to stay on deck through our watch. Jack and I hand up Clif bars and exchange words from the companionway.
It’s too rough for Jack to go up to the cockpit; we both struggle to move around safely below as it is. Whereas we’ve been been using one salon berth and the floor below it – port or starboard as appropriate – now we are both bedded down on the sole. Were the boat to get tossed Jack would too and land on top of me. We feel the speed through the length of our spines as Aurora creaks and groans.
Peter has been sailing the Gulf of Alaska for years. In fact, this his second trip this summer, the first taking him from Seward to Juneau following a coastal cruise down the Inside Passage. Back when he started college in Olympia, he bought an old 27-foot Oday to have a place to live. Soon enough he had it fixed up and seems to sailed up the coast at every possible opportunity. So when the Environment Canada announces 25 to 35 knot winds he knows that not only is that fine, it’s also probably an exaggeration. Indeed, Jack and I have rarely experienced winds as strong as official Canadian predictions.
But today the winds are forty knots and gusting well above that. We thought that the Brooks Peninsula, which sticks out from the top of the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, might break up the swells a bit, but it is not to be. Kelsey has put the drop boards in the companionway hatch but occasionally will take the top one off and shout down “Fourteen and a half knots!” Anybody who knows anything about hull speed knows a forty foot boat can’t move this fast. But under these extraordinary conditions of high winds, broadly spaced swells and following seas, Aurora is surfing, riding half out the water, surfing.
A blend of intense concentration, physical strength, quiet confidence and sheer joy can be seen on Peter’s face every time we look up the companionway. He’s been at the helm fourteen hours straight and is going strong. There is nothing quite as efficient as forty feet of Valiant with Carol Hasse sails and free air.
The distant shore of Vancouver Island finally begins to recede as we round the southern tip. Once we have been soundly shaken by the confused winds and currents of the approach to the West Entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, we got up on deck in the waning sun. This is our first time here but years of marine weather reports have established its reputation for being pretty terrible most of the time.
Dusk brings weariness. Justifiable for Peter and Kelsey, it becomes contagious. The shore of Washington state is in the distance: in a way we have arrived. As we cross the great shipping lanes of the Strait, we need to inform radio vessel traffic service that we’ve entered the strait. We hail “Seattle traffic” on channel 5A but get no response; maybe our VHF defaults to channel 5. We then try VTS for south of Seattle on channel 14, but they fail to respond. We’re down to our last set of fresh AA batteries for the GPS unit, though we can recycle the old ones and ones stolen from ordinary radios and flashlights. Remaining on the lookout in all directions, we cross the lane for the local westbound traffic, then the one for ships bound for the Pacific, then the mile-wide separation lane, and the eastbound, for vessels headed to Vancouver and Seattle, finally landing in the lane for local eastbound boats. Jack is consulting the Navionics charts on his iPhone, but the information he’s getting doesn’t gel with what Peter’s has. As black night closes tightly in, a ship passes in a place it clearly shouldn’t be. The currents are troubled and although I’ll confess it to no one, I suddenly feel my first discouragement all trip.
Peter reviews our options. We are opposite the reservation of the Makah Nation at the tip of the Olympic Peninsula, where the lights of Neah Bay twinkle seductively. The promise of sleep brings the alertness we need to guide our ship and anchor in its tiny harbor.
Day 7 Monday, July 13 Stars
Coordinates at noon: 48º21’N 124º36′W
The sun streaming through the plexiglas of the aft cabin hatch finally wakes me from long uninterrupted sleep. The others are up. Kelsey and Peter smile broadly, as if on a drug-induced high, but thoroughly revived after going without sleep for more than twenty-four hours. Peter pencils the noon coordinates on the paper chart and discovers that we have covered 150 miles a day for three days in row. This is unheard of. Who gets back from Alaska that fast? Peter recounts how at one moment clocked a speed of 17.5 knots, the fastest he’s ever gone in any sailboat. It happened when a gust of 60 or 70 knots shoved a cresting swell from behind causing Aurora to soar and surf. On either side, walls of water shot past, enclosing the cockpit.
At last able to cook and safely cut up our remaining fresh fruit, we sit down to a huge breakfast. Some of us check voicemail and messages, others are just not ready. After a singular grasse matinee we lift anchor, tie up at the village dock, top off with fresh water and head to shore for AA batteries. Neah Bay is by no means affluent, but the waterfront seems forward looking with finishing touches being put on a new casino. Interestingly, Neah Bay is a dry town, like British Columbia’s Hartley Bay. Unlike the latter, however, there are stores. The big hardware store sports a bulletin board with up to date notices. Out front a girl at a card table is signing up people for an event. When pay for our batteries, we admire Makah baskets, drums and shell jewelry newly crafted by Neah Bay residents.
It’s already early afternoon when we head back out into the Strait. It’s blowing with gentle steadiness from the West. Soon our broad reach turns into wing and wing and eventually we pole out the jib on starboard. It’s a beautiful day, but there are hardly any other boats. We stay a mile or two off the Washington shore, passing Clallam Bay, Crescent Bay and Freshwater Bay, relishing the growing heights of the snowy Olympic peaks. Warm sun floods the cockpit. We thaw out a huge hunk of the king that Mike gave us back early June and feast on salmon, vegetables and rice and the dregs of plastic bag of Franzia merlot we find hiding behind the water bottles.
The mainsail on one side and the genoa on the other signal our forward progress as the fiery orb sinks behind a luminous horizon.
Then the stars appear, more and more and more of them. They come right down to the blackness of the land, to the jagged line where the Olympics fall to the sea. The firmament is a star-speckled blanket with a great cream stripe of Milky Way in the middle. We are still wing and wing with Peter at the helm. Unwilling to miss any part of it, he recommends three hour watches. I get to stay on deck while Jack and Kelsey go below.
The glow of lights that is Port Angeles passes on starboard and on port those of Victoria in the distance, on the more familiar shore. A westbound ship briefly breaks through the darkness and the silence and is gone. There is nobody else around. The Milky Way arches above us, framing the sails perfectly parallel to our beam. Engulfed in the theatrical resplendence of it all.
Suddenly Peter asks me to go below and bring up the high powered lamps. He has eyes in the back of his head and has seen or heard something I missed. Indeed, when I return I notice the green and red lights of a ship headed toward our port side aft. I throw a bright beam on our sails while he aims the second straight on the approaching vessel. Soon enough they hail us on the radio. It’s the Coast Guard and it’s their practice to board recreational boats, which after some discussion on their end, they decide they will do “as soon as we can get a boarding party together.” They ask if we have any arms; we reply no.
For the next two hours the peaceful silence of our run under sail is broken first by the Coast Guard cutter out of Port Angeles, which follows us throughout, and eventually by a noisy inflatable that draws up alongside. Weird as it is to have armed men enter your home in the middle of the night, we are ready. Back in Sitka, Jack has checked all the safety equipment according the checklist provided by Pacific NW Expeditions and Aurora’s documents are all in a plastic envelop in the nav station. Since my name’s on them as co-owner, I can handle it; Jack opts to stay holed up in our diminutive “aft cabin”.
Neither boarding a boat under sail nor being boarded is easy, much less in the black of night. But Peter’s cool at the helm and we figure we’re providing an excellent training opportunity to young Coast Guard recruits. The first man to stumble on says he needs to check to see if it’s safe for others in the boarding party. He goes down the companionway and checks all the bilges before giving the all clear. The inflatable pulls alongside again and dumps out two more guys. They are polite as they go through the checklist: Everybody’s got life jackets. Fire extinguishers recently checked and tagged. Emergency flares up to date. VHF works. “No Oil Dumping” decal posted (fortunately they have no authority to cite us for a dirty bilge). Navigation rulebook on the shelf. Correct illumination of navigation lights (this catches them up since few ever board boats under sail at night.) Documentation in order. The team leader sits in the cockpit, working on a little backlit PDA. I wonder why I need to sign on the screen before he prints out the little receipt but when I do everything checks out. He assures me that the receipt should protect us from routine boardings for three years. But, gee, two hours time with twenty men burning fuel idly in a 72-foot cutter and an 18-foot tender. Doesn’t the Coast Guard have more important things to do? Couldn’t we do this at dock? Just like we take our cars to garages for DEQ emissions checks?
We are still running gently wing and wing when Kelsey comes on watch to enjoy the quiet stars before the dawn dims them.
Day 8 Tuesday, July 14 Home
Coordinates: 48º6′N 122º46′W
I have just fallen into my deepest dreamiest sleep, when Kelsey wakes me. Deep fog has closed in, the currents are rushing together confused, and we’re nearing the point where the traffic lanes from Vancouver, Seattle, Bellingham and the Far East converge. It’s time to unhook the whisker pole that holds out the genoa and take down the sails. The fog shoves the horizon in near the boat. With the engine now, we won’t hear the behemoths that ply these waters so attention to both radar and our circle of horizon is all important. Even though we can see nothing, this is familiar territory. Juan de Fuca filled with fog and the crazy currents you endure rounding Point Wilson are the price you pay to get to Port Townsend. And today we are facing the height of the ebb with Puget Sound and Rosario Strait rushing into one another as they empty into the Pacific. Getting home seems to take forever.
But there is a silver lining in our slow, at times non existent progress against the current. Shortly after we have heard the last blow of Point Wilson’s fog horn, the sun breaks and its lovely red and white lighthouse comes into view. As we round the headland, we see the first of more than a hundred Native canoes. The annual canoe journey of the coastal tribes has come to Port Townsend this year! In two months in Alaska we saw Tlingit canoes every day: the ceremonial canoes of Hoonah are kept in front of the school, under a wooden canopy guarded by great totems, while Sitka’s great painted canoe is displayed on the waterfront park next to the library. But this is the first time we see one underway.
The canoes are long and short, with anywhere from six to twenty paddlers. Some are dressed in full regalia, others are bare chested. Some paddle confidently, others are flagging. There are vessels with high, elegantly carved bows. Others are covered with the distinctive stylized designs in the traditional red, turquoise, black and white. Many sport large flags. We watch the first canoes beach just west of the Marine Science Center and their tired crews disembark. As we round Point Hudson we see the long line of canoes emerging from Puget Sound. We later learn that this year’s Celebration will take the paddlers, and their accomplices in power boats laden with supplies, all the way to Neah Bay as it is the Makah Nation that is hosting the crowning event. Having just come from there, we have an idea of what they will be up against, and applaud their determination.
As wonderful as is Sitka, there is no town more beautiful and welcoming to mariners than Port Townsend. Still, when we tie up at the dock, I feel that familiar pang of regret. This voyage is over.
Here’s where the Aurora took Jack the Skipper and First Mate Baggywrinkles this summer. We cruised a thousand nautical miles along the Inside Passage, north from the 48th to the 59th parallel parallel and west from 123º to 136º. We sailed out of our former home port of Port Hadlock on Port Townsend Bay, Washington, on June 13th and arrived at our new home part of Hoonah, AK on August 1.
The year 2009 will be remembered for a magnificent summer that followed a monstrous winter. Our most difficult day was the very first – crossing Juan de Fuca Strait; our most difficult hour was also the very first, rounding Point Wilson for the umpteenth time. As for the normally obstreperous waters of Johnstone Strait, Queen Charlotte Strait, Cape Caution, Milbanke Sound, Dixon Entrance, and Icy Strait, they all behaved for us, as our endless stream of sun-filled photos show. Next year when we come south through the usual rain, fog, or storms, we will have the vision of these spectacular vistas still in our heads.
Have a look at our pictures. Those of the Skipper and First Mate together were taken by Piers Rippey, who brought welcome hands to our deck for ten days from Prince Rupert, BC and Auke Bay, AK. The photos are arranged chronologically on one page; slide show takes 18 minutes. No photo captions at the moment but here’s our route.
June 13 Mitchell Bay, San Juan Island, WA, at dock 48 34 N 123 10 W
June 14 Montague Harbor, BC on mooring buoy 48 53N 123 25 W
June 15 Nanaimo, at dock 49 10 N 123 56 W
June 16-17 Comox, at dock 49 40 N 124 56 W
June 18 Campbell River, at dock 50 02 N 125 15 W
June 19 Kamish Bay/Granite Bay, at anchor 50 14 N 125 19 W
June 20 Shoal Bay, at dock 50 28 N 125 22 W
June 21 Forward Harbor, at anchor 50 29 N 125 45 W
June 22 Lagoon Cove Marina, at dock 50 36 N 126 19 W
June 23 Laura Cove, Broughton Island, at anchor 50 50 N 126 34 W
June 24 Sullivan Bay, at dock 50 53 N 26 50 W
June 25 Blunden Harbor, at anchor 50 54 N 1217 17 W
June 26-27 Duncanby, at dock 51 24 N 127 39 W
June 28 Green Island, Fish Egg Inlet, at anchor 51 38 N 127 50 W
June 29-30 Shearwater, at dock 52 09 N 128 05 W
July 1 Klemtu, at free dock 52 36 N 128 31 W
July 2-3 Khutze Inlet, at anchor 53 05 N 128 16 W
July 4 Hartley Bay, at free dock 53 25 N 129 45 W
July 5 Klewnuggit Inlet, East Inlet, at anchor 53 43 N 129 44 W
July 6-10 Prince Rupert, at dock 54 20 N 130 18 W
July 11 Brundige Inlet, Dundas Island, BC, at anchor 54 36 N 130 53 W
July 12-13 Ketchikan, AK, at dock 55 21 N 131 41 W
July 14 Meyers Chuck, at free dock 55 44 N 132 16 W
July 15 Frosty Bay, at anchor 56 04 N 131 58 W
July 16-17 Wrangell, at dock 56 28 N 132 23 W
July 18-19 Petersburg, at dock 56 49 N 132 58 W
July 20 Portage Bay, at anchor 56 59 N 133 19 W
July 21 Hobart Bay, Entrance Island, at anchor 57 25 N 133 26 W
July 22 Taku Harbor, at free dock 58 04 N 134 08 W
July 23-24 Juneau, at dock 58 18 N 134 26 W
July 25 Auke Bay, at dock 58 30 N 134 39 W
July 26-27 Hoonah, at dock 58 06 N 135 27 W
July 28 Bartlett Bay, Glacier Bay, at anchor 58 28 N 135 53 W
July 29 North Sandy Cove, Glacier Bay, at anchor 58 43 N 136 00 W
July 30 Sebree Cove, Glacier Bay, at anchor 58 46 N 136 10 W
July 31 Bartlett Bay, Glacier Bay, at anchor 58 28 N 135 53 W
Four days of fine breezy days have taken us from Port Hadlock all the way north to Comox, in the middle of the east coast of Vancouver Island. Here’s how we got here.
Day 0: Turn key departure and land transfer. Doesn’t count on cruise log. But still… Cleaned up the apartment so it’s presentable for Scott, Douja and Inez when they visit from Tunisia, threw the leftovers from the fridge into a cold box, and hopped into the car for the ride along the spectacularly beautiful Hood Canal to Port Hadlock. Always good to chat with neighbors on the docks in Aurora’s home marina. It’s been a long winter and we’re all ready.
Filled the bilge with additional provisions while waiting for high tide so I could get the dinghy out. She’s been tied up all winter in a little otherwise unusable space between the outermost dock and the seawall. I’ve visited T/T (tender to) Aurora regularly to bail her out but it’s been nearly a year since she had her bottom properly wiped. We thought about using a halyard to bring her up on the dock but our live aboard neighbors Doug and Sandi were broiling steaks, concluding a work party on their antique wooden trawler Vicki V. So not to disgust them with the proceedings, I laboriously (dirty bottoms are hell) rowed to shore, hauled the dinghy up halfway onto the tidal muck, pulling a top -of-the-tibia muscle in the process, and turned her over. From her bottom I scraped off a four inch eco system, home to tough bivalves, squishy tomato-like creatures which exploded in my face and really creepy six inch long millipedes. Exhausting.
Day 1: Early departure from Port Hadlock under cloudy skies. Point Wilson as obstreperous as ever. Things didn’t settle down much at all as we crossed the Juan de Fuca Strait but at least the sun came out. We pitched and rolled and yawled but the winds nonetheless moved us though it at 6 knots. Pretty much the whole way I felt sick, but pleasantly, dreamily so, stretched out on the deck catching the rays in my down parka and fleece lined hat, ear flaps down. Jack was of course in perfect form as always, even though he’d drunk the same boxed cabernet that had been languishing in the bilge, seal broken since the last trip.
We flew past Victoria and sailed up San Juan Island to the tiny, not very deep Mitchell Bay, populated with happy kayakers. It’s shallow finger of water and I was tired. Not thinking too clearly, I misjudged the length of the anchor chain. In the late long afternoon, before we’d finished our G&Ts, we noticed we were dragging anchor. So we pulled it up and motored into the small Snug Harbor Marina just adjacent. After a supper of Portland leftovers and a good night’s sleep, I spent and hour the next morning on an unfinished task: pulled out the entir
e anchor chain, marked it at 25 foot intervals with plastic ties, swept two summer of mud out of the chain locker and put it back, ready to go.
Day 2: By 8 am we were under sail under clear skies and perfect winds, rounded San Juan, Spiden and Stuart Islands before heading out into Boundary Channel, where Jack insisted on a proper flag ceremony.
We stopped at Bedwell Harbour on South Pender Island and cleared customs. No sign of the little blue Sea Robin and sailor friend Nelson Walker from Victoria, so we just carried on.
The wind was absolutely perfect all day. First we thought we’d stop at a favorite anchorage on Prevost Island but it was too early and the weather too perfect.
So we went right on to Montague Harbor, a truly fine Provincial Marine Park, which provides an enclosed shelter save for a gap in the high cliff that left us bathed in sun right up until it set, spectacularly, about 9 pm over the water and the islands beyond.
Day 3: Early departure. Oatmeal with cranberries en route. Dreamy stillness. No wind so we motored, with the intention of spending the day at Pirates Cove waiting for slack in Dodd Narrows. But as we passed Porlier Pass between Galiano and Vladez Islands, we checked our tide tables and realized we were coming up on dead slack. So we turned east into the great Georgia Strait rather than winding our way through the islands. It was very still so we proceeded with the “iron genny” arriving in Namaimo about 3 pm. Delighted to be in port that had been too crowded for us to stay the past two summers, we pulled up to the same dock where we’d first come with the Acquitted in 2006 and ODd on fish and chips in the Fisherman’s Market next to us.
Day 4: Feeling great. Yep. Sea sickness is only a Day 1 or 2 thing. Then it’s gone! Today on our 11 hour journey to Comox we had the pitching-rolling-yawling conditions similar to Day 1 on Juan de Fuca Strait, but no prob. I finished off overdue reading – the last two months of NW Examiner, the whole ReDirect Guide and even went below deck to cook three days of meals.
Provisioning aside we’re making steady northward progress. On Friday, July 18th at noon we crossed Juan de Fuca on a dependable breeze and a beam reach. Nice sun. A dearth of 1000 ft cargo ships in the lanes. The wind calmed down as we approached the San Juans and we found Cattle Pass calm as we motored through. The bouys on Turn Island being all taken we pulled into Friday Harbour for the night. The next morning we sailed up the channel to the northern most of the San Juans and stopped at Sucia Island. Yes, sucia is dirty but in a nautical rather than en environmental sense: you need a good chart to get into safe harbor. When we arrived there were already a bunch of boats in Echo Bay – some folks we met from [the Portland Neighborhood of] Goose Hollow counted 99, most all sailboats. We dropped the anchor with the expected trepidation and when it took hold we were within closer spin range of a fine Vancouver 45-footer than we’d have liked. This led to much interrupted sleep between 11 pm and 5 am but to very good sleep between 5 am and 11 am, by which time we were able to nab a free buoy. To our delight another Valiant pulled up near by, the pilothouse version, of which fewer than 20 were built. Though lacking our extra space on deck and below, this is really the ideal boat for the Inside Passage and Alaska. And compared with the Hunter moored beside it, it clearly performs better under sail. Dawn rose rosy as we pulled out and hoisted the sails. A nice southeast wind and on a broad reach gave us the chance to read and bliss out on the vast horizon of the middle of the Straight of Georgia. Kindle in hand, Jack even bought and received a new book and got a free sub to the Washington Post. The sun calmed the wind just as we met the outflow of the Fraser River. Finally we were motoring across English Bay. As we rounded Stanley Park and headed into the First Narrows, a huge cruise ship suddenly appeared; no sooner were we under the Lion’s Gate Bridge than an even larger container ship charged forward, squeezing us to one side. Although trained harbor pilots are aboard these vessels, it’s strange that they are not required to be escorted by tugs. (The 60 mile fetch of open seas just beyond the narrows can bring unpredictable seas and winds.) But it must keep shipping costs down.
Customs was a snap – a phone call with boat name and number and our names. No passport info requested; they seemed to know us – homeland security everywhere, I guess. We simply write 20082030675 on a piece of paper and scotch tape it to a porthole. Upon tying up at Coal Harbor Marina next door to the customs dock, we called Frances Dodd but she was already en route home and was off the next day with sister Kika from Amsterdam to join the family in Williams Lake for Skander’s wedding. Checked email, announced safe passage, and invited local friends to an on board pot luck on Wednesday.
The next day Emily Coolidge, whom we’d last seen on Prince Edward Island, came by and over a bottle of Oregon wine let us know that Vancouver is even cooler than we’d suspected. She lives on the west side in Kitsilano and once sister Amanda leaves Nairobi, she’ll probably be her neighbor.
With duty keeping us close to the boat, we didn’t get out to visit friends or tour. But we had a wonderful reunion with Habib, Gulalai and Saeed who showed up our last night in Vancouver with a wonderful fish dish and a bag of goodies for the cruise. After supper, we pulled out our maps and guidebooks as they are going on vacation soon and we’d hoped to rendezvous. Lo and behold, reality set in! There are no roads reaching the coast where we’ll be sailing! Route 101 stops in Lund, just a few miles north of where we are now. Right now we’re anchored in Garden Bay, in Pender Harbor, inside a maze of islands and inlets on the Sunshine Coast. We’ve finally got the dinghy in the water and will try to find a some wifi on shore. That’s it. This lovely wooden yawl just sailed past – time to be out on the water. (Wait a minute, we ARE out on the water.)