While we got a late start for our summer cruise, it’s been fueled by the extra weeks of anticipation that accumulated throughout May as we watched the Boat Haven shipyard empty of the working boats and head north along with the early cruisers. What kept us in PT was the start of the first human-powered Race to Alaska. While people have been human powering to Alaska for centuries, there’d never been a race. It appears that the notion was born in Hop Diggity saturated minds of mariner-adventurers gathered at the 2013 Wooden Boat Festival and given shape when Jake Beattie threw down the gauntlet a year later to have it picked up by sixty intrepid teams of paddlers, rowers and sailors who showed up with an array of watercraft the likes of which Port Townsend had never seen.
Meanwhile, the extra weeks at the end of the school year let me pick up some of the unfamiliar skills of landlubbers. I was able complete a Master Composters course with Washington State University and a bio char workshop that attracted passionate experts from four counties. Neither course would’ve happened without the efforts of my kick-ass activist friend Nina. We also squeezed in a hop over to Seattle to throw a party for Cait Rippey the day she got her MD degree. She and Jay cycled out to Shilshole on the Burke-Gilman Trail with 3-year old Finn and a whole string of well wishers. We also welcomed Qamar Schuyler from Australia and to meet partner Frank and 7-month Max. Floating Bistro Aurora served 23 guests. We have perhaps 175 square feet of the most efficient living space anywhere – and it moves. Now it’s moving North.
Friday, June 5 – Port Townsend to Victoria
Jack the Skipper’s log notes that we threw off the lines from our Port Townsend slip at 6:15 am and got through a blob of fog near Point Wilson. Then a single tack takes us all the way to Victoria at 4 or 5 knots. Along for the ride are fellow mariners and Portland-transplants, Jon and Matt, who bless breakfast with mimosas and proceed to finish off two bottles of bubbly before we need to declare our liquor to Canadian Customs. Approaching the city, we pass a SCAMP, a not quite 12-foot-long wooden boat built and piloted by Simeon and a friend. We tie up at in the Inner Harbour in time to cheer the Race to Alaska’s Team Noddy’s Noggins across the finish line. Hats off the oldest crew and the smallest boat. They are among the teams doing only the first leg of the race: the passage from Port Townsend takes them 35 hours and 30 minutes.
Moored right in front of the historic Empress Hotel and British Columbia’s majestic Parliament, we are in the thick of the action: buskers along the shore, waterbug-like taxis, survival-suited whale watchers on fast commercial boats, and the majestic Coho, its splendid multi toned steam whistle announcing another arrival of people and cars from Port Angeles. All of the Race to Alaska craft are rafted along adjacent slips, so we finally have the chance to see them all, meet the crews, lend tools to those making repairs and last-minute modifications.
We tell our Victoria friends to come down to have a look. Erica and Alan, Mona and Nelson, and Amanda with 3 year old Ryder all gather on Saturday. Erica not only turns up with Lebanese hors d’oeuvres and dessert but introduces us all to her great-nephew Captain Peter Reed, who is taking a group out on a sunset cruise on historic ship Thane.
The next morning I bike up to the top of the hill above the Harbour to Christ Church Cathedral to hear the bells. Alan and Erica are among the ten bell ringers who mount the 72 steps to the tour a couple of times every Sunday to put on a 30 minute performance. I was to have seen it but I am late and the church folks seem less than keen on showing me the way up, which greatly annoys Erica, who has taken pains to set it all up. But now we have an excuse to sail back during the winter, plus a Nexus pass that allows us to reenter the US without the inconvenience of passing customs at Friday Harbor. I need to keep up with this friend and mentor who has set me straight on many things. She and Alan are now in their late 80s, sharp minded academics who surprised us this spring with a short visit to PT enroute from a conference in Seattle.
Later Sunday morning Jack and I cros the Blue Bridge and take the long winding waterfront trail to Westbay, where we find the beautiful new Esquimault Loo, a Portland export, on the way to Stephanie’s beautiful 25 foot sailboat moored among elegant float homes. Stephanie is Jon’s Québeçoise girlfriend, a long distance cyclist and cross country hitchhiker who became a live aboard after on a short sail on Aurora this spring. We take Steph’s new home out and drop anchor to watch the noon start of the full state Race to Alaska until a harbor official in an inflatable reminds us we we’re in a no anchor zone. We retreat to land where we take photos of the craft and watch a mother deer and a pair of Canadas play on shore with new babies.
Monday, June 8 – Victoria to Montague Harbour 48º537’N 123º24’W
“Rough, choppy waters on an otherwise fair, low wind day”, notes Jack in his log, “‘Cape Victoria’ is evil sister of Cape Scott.” Yes, indeed, we have a new name for the essentially unnamed southernmost tip of North America’s largest island, which pushes the international boundary deep into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Could it ever be as bad as Cape Scott at the north end? Probably not, but we round it with deep admiration for that little SCAMP that sailed in on Friday and the human-powered Alaska-bound boats who left on Sunday.
We motor up the coast to Montague Harbour on Galiano Island where we grab a Marine Park mooring buoy. When a nice lady motors up to take our fees, we say two nights please and give her $24 in greenbacks, having been too busy to get Canadian cash. We start the vacation part of our cruise thankful for the much needed Wi-Fi blackout and no need to do anything more than take naps, read, and enjoy being the last boat on which the sun sets over the isthmus that separates Montague’s big bay from Tricomali Channel.
Wednesday, June 10 – Montague Harbour to Thetis Island
Early morning departure takes us up Tricomali Channel where we forego Porlier Pass to revisit Thetis Island with its charming little marina with pub, tiny store and post office. This, however, ends our Internet break. When we log on to the Race to Alaska tracker, we’re astonished to see that the lead boats have made astonishing headway toward the northwest,against NW winds, while several promising contenders, including PT’s Team Turnpoint Design with their purpose-built craft, have dropped out in the face myriad difficulties. Jake’s daily updates plus the growing coverage by the media and impassioned onlookers mean there’s a lot to read. While scanning my Twitter feed for #r2ak hashtags that evening I happen on a tweet from KPLU’s Gabriel Spitzer requesting an interview (on toilets, should you need to ask). Since we don’t have to throw off the lines until 10 am to catch slack at Dodd Narrows, I’m able to take the Skyped call and address concerns about social equity, basic dignity, and human rights. Spitzer seems okay with the ambient noise of the marina waking up, perhaps he’s good good techs and the Gulf Islands are on the far edge of the listening range of his Seattle based NPR station.
Thursday, June 11 – Thetis Island to Nanaimo – 49º10’N 123º55’W
Lovely sail through the islands with Jack piloting in the cockpit and me sitting on the spinnaker box watching out for logs. The closer we get to Dodd Narrows, the more there are: the telephone pole type logs not old growth spring tide drift. We arrive on the end of a northward flood and just as we’re about to go through, the captain of a southbound tug informs “all concerned traffic” on 16 that he’s barging through with a log boom.
The narrows are only about 75 feet across. Maybe running against the tide gives better control and by the looks of the logs bouncing against the rocks to say nothing of the loose ones we’ve encountered he needs it. As soon as the first boom struggles through, a second follows. Perhaps they’ll be reconfigured as one for the southbound journey but we don’t stick around to find out.
I take lookout on the bow and we slip through into Norththumberland Bay, its west shore lined with rough milling operations and sawdust mountains, its east with tiny tugs preparing more booms for shipment.”You don’t want to know this,” says Jack,”but coming out we were in six and half feet of water.” That’s six inches under our keel. Just enough.
The wild west of the area soon succumbs to the easy urbanity of Nanaimo. We tie up in the city port on the new Cameron Island dock, for which a commercial pier acts as breakwater. It’s continuation of the public port which shelters rec boats, the fishing fleet, passenger ferries, and small tugs. Everything is integrated into the city’s contemporary waterfront, its pleasant walkways with distinctive white steel barriers a-bustle with buskers, bicycles, baby carriages, and bare arms and legs, bewitchingly tattooed. We visit the farmers’ market and a craft fair, where a young couple from The Netherlands takes our photo and we take theirs.
On Sunday we head several blocks up the hill to the Old City Quarter, which we’ve never visited. We see the century old homes and churches along leafy streets and Nainamo makes more sense. Like Port Townsend, it must have kept its genteel uptown separate from the riffraff of the traditional downtown waterfront, now razed, sanitized, transformed. We spend the afternoon at Nanaimo’s annual International Street Festival. Three stages and a couple of dozen booths show off the city’s crazy quilt mix of First Nations and ethnic groups from every continent. A Sri Lankan woman proffering garden starts of rare Asian vegetables offers me a taste of her homemade date lime chutney. After tasting it with our Oregon farm raised pork chops, I regret leaving with only one, generous $6 jar.
The strong winds out on the Strait coupled with whitecaps right in the Port keep us in Nainamo an extra day. Number of the Race to Alaska teams are also holed up along the shores. But the excitiment continues as Team Elsie Piddock – three guys in a 25 foot trimaran – crosses the finish line in Ketchikan to win the Race to Alaska in a mere 5 days and 55 minutes! CHECK and cite some articles. One of the crew is Graeme Esary, son-in-law of our Point Hudson neighbors Tom and Marie, spouse of writer Janna Cawrse Esarey whose book is memorably titled The Motion of the Ocean: 1 Small Boat, 2 Average Lovers, and a Woman’s Search for the Meaning of Wife.
Sunday, June 14 – Nanaimo to Lesqueti Island 40º295’N 124º137’W
When the wind finally calms down, we head out and put up the sails. We’re flying along nicely but after about an hour with the rail in the water we decide to practice heaving to and reef the main. After all this vacation is about remembering to do things the easy way and bringing the boat to a comfortable stop in the middle of a raging ocean is magic. Once the sail is reefed, we go just as fast – hull speed – but our VMG – velocity made good – is bad. We end up near the mainland but far south of where we want to be. So we turn on the motor and head up toward Taxeda Island and drop the hook in Lesqueti Island’s Boho Bay. Down day. Time to read, write log and process the photos that ever since digital we now shoot will nilly.
About 5 pm I go up to the deck to to find that we are now five boats – all sailing vessels – in this little bay that could accommodate many in a storm. Three of us are two-nighters, the other two arrived today, one from Blaine, Washington and one flying the Maple Leaf with a not so young crew, who emerg from their hammpck-like catboat’s sail where they were lounging, dived in, swam around their modest boat and then climbed into a small sailing dinghy and a kayak to explore. About six we were visited by Elizabeth and Matt, a fit and nicely tattooed pair from an intriguing (two night) schooner who dinghy up offering on beautifully filleted slabs of freshly caught ling cod, a decided delicacy anywhere on the coast. At first I thought they either lacked freezing capacity or wanted to sell. Neither, they just like to fish. Turns out this catch is a 30 inch, 15 pounder who never took their hook but grabbed a smaller rock fish who had. Bounty upon bounty.
The day has been long and hot, intensified by the approaching solstice, something we’ve mostly experienced at higher latitudes. Abnormal? Or the new normal? The CBC is talking about British Columbia stepping in for California’s Central Valley, assuming enough water can be secured. We’ve had supper, the sun has dropped behind the bank, Jack has turned in, and the guitar and voice from the Sea Gypsy from Blaine is permeating the silence. Very nice. But still, we need some cold rainy days. In 2012 we had a solid month of them along this coast.
Tuesday, June 16 Boho Bay on Lesqueti to Campbell River 50º019’N 125º145’W
From Skipper’s Log: ‘Sabine Channel choppy (as always) Georgia Strait glassy, calm, no sailing. Had to slow down to avoid full spring flood at Mudge Point. Saw Orcas. Got great back eddies up Discovery Channel. Saw R2AK Team Sea Runners arriving 1800 Campbell River.’
Jack logs the big points by the time my sun burned body has cleared the decks of books, binoculars, cameras, and much cast off clothing. The orcas are four females who jump, snort and blow right off our port side before disappearing with a synchronized dive. We decide to dine at the Riptide Pub on condition they had Internet. Bingo. Good draft IPA, spectacular seafood linguini, and the fastest Internet we’ve experienced anywhere in years. As we leave, Team Puffin walks in – beaming and elated – to join fellow two person, small boat R2AK Teams Coastal Express and Sea Runners.