Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Always Bring Extra Crew

We had been planning this trip for years now, ever since we got our new boat. My brother and sister-in-law really wanted to come sailing with us, but life kept getting in the way. Most recently, life came in the form of my small nephew. But now that he's quickly approaching 3, and we've got the boat so much closer, we synchronized our schedules and went out last weekend. We warned them that something always goes wrong and that half the fun of sailing is finding out what will go wrong this time and then fixing it. We've rarely sent guests home with boring stories.

We had intended to arrive well before our visitors, to stow our stuff and check on a few things. Bryan lived aboard most of the week while the girls and I were at Girls Camp, but it was his last week at Oracle, so he was a bit preoccupied. Of course, packing took longer than we anticipated and, of course, we forgot the girls' life jackets. (I can't wait until they are big enough for the extra adult ones we always have on board. No. I take that back. They're growing too fast already!) So we showed up only a few minutes before our family and then we did the headless chicken thing for a bit. At least they got to experience what is apparently an essential part of a typical sail for us.

We pulled up our headsail right away, taking advantage of the perfect north wind to help fight the current as we pulled away from the dock. Then we hauled up the main for a fast upwind sail downriver--not too far, we didn't know how Small Boy would respond, but soon he was shouting, "Ready, about!" at each tack (and randomly in between) like an old salt. We turned and sailed downwind upriver (got that?) on the Washington side of Sand Island for a while but before turning back upwind, we put a reef in the main. The wind had picked up a bit more and the reefed main made for a much more comfortable ride back around to the Sand Island Dock.

We had fun using Split Pea to ferry camping gear to shore for our visitors while the kids invented new ways to get dirty on the beach. S'mores over the campfire followed grilled corn and sausages and we all went to bed happy. 

After a windy, bumpy night on the boat, the campers joined us for a very leisurely breakfast (another Lee family boating tradition) and we set off again for a sail. Err, make that a "drift." After tacking unproductively across a few times, we gave up on making any progress past marker 77 without assistance from the engine. Bryan suggested motoring up to Sauvie Island for lunch and a wander in the bird sanctuary and everyone agreed.

Everyone but the engine.

It didn't cough or sputter, it was just on one second and off the next. When the problem didn't appear to be any of the usual suspects (fuel, spark plugs, etc.), we declared lunch the first priority, sailed toward shore, and dropped anchor. Blood sugar levels (and attitudes) restored by fajitas and Oreos, the men poked at the engine while Hannah played with her cousin, my sister-in-law and I lounged in the cockpit and Meira read the engine repair manual.

When attempts to reattach "this dangling wire" to "that thingamajig" resulted in stinky smoke, we postponed dealing with the engine and decided to sail back to the long, empty city dock instead of trying to sail into our slip at the marina. The sail back was uneventful, but docking when the wind and current are opposing is never easy and this was no exception. We prepared well, sending the kids below and giving everyone a job to do, trying to anticipate all the things that could go wrong.

We sailed past the dock, intending to turn up into the wind and tuck back in next to the dock. The current had other ideas though, and as soon as we turned downriver, we stalled out in a hurry, lost steerage, and got knocked sideways toward the breakwater. With a yank on the tiller and "turn, baby, turn!" from the captain, LiLo eased away from the breakwater and made for the inner finger of the dock. Thankful there was space at the end of the float, I scrambled to the bow pulpit to prepare for a hard landing. We were heading in bow-first and, despite loosing the sheets, approaching in a hurry.

I don't really know how I managed to climb between the headsail and the bow pulpit (a curve of protective metal railing at the front of the boat), jump down to the float, and keep the bow from smashing into the dock. I do remember rushing to loosen the dock lines from the starboard side (we thought we were docking port-side...lesson for next time: release all the lines when docking in difficult circumstances!) and looking up to see the guys madly fending the stern off a fishing boat, watching Split Pea drift lazily in as our frantic motions gave way to the exhilaration of relative success.

We've wondered since if there would have been a better way to dock, but, as my brother commented afterward, "Any landing you walk away from is a good landing." We provided ample Sunday afternoon entertainment for the bored fishermen on the docks. No boats or people were damaged in the making of this memory. And we (yes, even our press-ganged crew) are already plotting to go out and do it again.

So if we ever invite you to go sailing with us, consider yourself warned:

Something will likely go wrong.

You may be asked to use skills you do not possess to help salvage a situation you do not understand.

You will almost certainly want to come again.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Poet's Cove to Victoria, 2009

We reluctantly left Shallow Bay but soon turned eagerly toward our first stop in Canada, Bedwell Harbour. After checking in through customs, we called the marina to see if we could afford a slip for the night. Even after doing the dollar conversion (we were initially shocked at the high prices until we remembered), the cost was more than we wanted to spend. So we found a place among the anchored boats just outside the breakwater and rowed on in.

The marina there, Poet's Cove, is a charming little resort, but we wasted no time exploring once we saw the swimming pool.

The girls dove in while Bryan and I took turns doing the laundry. The kids spent most of the evening in the pool sharing pool noodles and snorkel masks with some other kids, while the adults congregated in the hot tub sharing sailing stories and making plans for a hike the next day.

After an early breakfast, we rowed back over to the marina and met our new friends. They were visiting from eastern BC, where they race a small sailboat and were enjoying the challenge of their chartered catamaran.

We worked our way up the hill behind the marina and soon found the trailhead marked, “Enchanted Forest.”

The easy network of trails and the interpretive signs along the way gave the eight of us plenty to talk about as we worked our way through the beautiful NW forest.

On the way back down the hill, we paused to stare at a not-very-wild deer nosing around the meadow behind the resort.

Over and over on each of our trips we stumble across wild things, wonder-inspiring sights and are grateful for whatever impetus impels us to get “out there” where all the serendipities live.

We're not very good about taking it easy while on vacation and soon after returning from our morning's hike, we weighed anchor and headed south toward Portland Island. We joked that even if we failed in our plans to sail down the coast and up the Columbia, at least we could say that we had sailed to Portland! We chose to anchor in the cove on the north side of this lovely island, which was a gift to Princess Margaret (when she visited BC in 1958) and from Princess Margaret (who gave it back as a marine park in 1967).

The mooring basin here is quite small, so to accommodate as many boats as possible, the authorities placed large rings into the rock walls around the bay. Ideally, one would drop anchor toward the middle of the bay, back toward the wall to set the anchor and then—quickly before drifting into another boat—row a stern line to shore to hold the boat in place. We'd never attempted this method and were grateful for a helpful neighbor who, whether for our good or the protection of his own boat we'll never know, dinghyed our stern line to the ring and back.

I laid down in the saloon and pretended to read, mostly staring out the companionway at the trees towering so close behind the boat and Bryan sent the girls to shore with strict instructions. “Tie the dinghy up tight, find a path and turn left. Walk until you're about half tired and turn around. Take every right until you get back to the dock.” We figured that with two of them on a round island, they couldn't get into too much trouble. And sure enough, we heard their happy voices as they explored, first that way...then back confident and independent.

The next morning, we walked across the island to the bay on the south side, just for the sake of a lovely walk and a bit of beachcombing. Many of the islands seem remarkably similar, but each one has it's own history (in addition to being gifted back and forth across the Atlantic, this one has relics from it's time as a Native settlement and fruit trees and roses planted by Hawaiian immigrant farmers from the 1880s).

We took several hours to make the trip over to Vancouver Island (this beautiful boat was headed the other direction).

The original plan had been to put in at Oak Bay for a couple of nights and take the girls to the Aquarium I remembered with fondness from a childhood trip. However, I was concerned about the difficulty of nabbing a slip in downtown Victoria on a busy summer weekend. We decided to head straight for Victoria and take the bus to Oak Bay. Later, we discovered that the aquarium had closed a few years ago, so we were more than pleased with our decision.

The entrance to the harbor was busy as ever, but with the help of our harbor chart and memories of our previous trip, we worked our way through the traffic, slowed for the seemingly obligatory interaction with the uber-polite harbor patrol (“Would you like a harbor chart? Did you happen to notice that you came in on a seaplane runway? Have a nice day!”) and pulled into a primo spot at the base of the Empress Hotel.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Shallow Bay, Sucia

We've been out on LiLo twice already this spring, each trip a gorgeous day of sailing spiked with its own surprises ("What? I thought you packed the blankets!" "Well I thought you packed them!"and "Didn't the marina say the approach to our slip was dredged to 7 ft? Then why is our 4'6" keel stuck to the 7' deep river bottom?") but if you'll pardon the belated tale-telling, I'm going to make sure I have a record of last year's trip before we start making too many memories this year. 

Last I checked, we were stuck at Jones Island with a broken engine, not a bad place to be stuck if it's absolutely necessary. In the morning, Bryan sent the girls and me to shore to explore the island while he tried to figure out how to file the points on the distributor cap. One of the previous owners had ominously warned Bryan that he might need to learn this skill at some point and the other owner (his wife) had laughed at the funny-later memory of that fateful trip when she saw more of her husband's backside than his front, as he spent most of the trip upended in the engine compartment. We were so thankful for their experience and especially for the preparations they'd made for future problems--a full point kit, complete with tools and instructions was tucked away in a back locker. 

The girls clambered over the logs on the beach while I sat in the sand and read. We finally rowed back to the boat, worried not to have heard the engine, hopeful the problems had been resolved, but either way, hungry. As the companionway steps double as the engine cover, getting down into the cabin was trickier than usual, and there wasn't any place to sit once we did, so we scrounged up some lunch and let Bryan go back to work. Not too much later, he managed to get the engine running again. I was so glad he could finally relax and enjoy the island with the rest of us.

We had dinner in the cockpit and spent another peaceful night before making the dash around the west side of Orcas Island to the small island of Sucia. Several years ago, this crab-shaped island was purchased by a group of marine clubs and later donated to the Washington state for a marine state park. The island's unique shape, with its multiple inlets, and its criss-crossing trails make it a very popular destination for boaters. We were glad to find a spot to anchor in Shallow Bay, on the west side of the island, where we spent a warm and fabulously sunny Saturday. 

The girls made instant friends with a golden retriever and his owner invited all of us to go for a ride in his Zodiac. I'd forgotten that some boats are made for speed! We had hoped to get a closer look as some of the other bays, and this was such an unexpected and enjoyable way to do it. We left the girls on LiLo and took a row around the bay and, later in the evening, set them off to for a row themselves. They ended up in an informal race with an inflatable dinghy weighed down with passengers and dogs and, despite the inflatable's questionable use of their electric motor, the girls kicked a little dinghy booty. We laughed with pride from the cockpit to hear the other sailors shouting, "You girls rock!"

The next day, many of the boats left the bay in the morning, perhaps heading home or just looking for a more protected spot to wait out the incoming weather system. It wasn't a storm, really, but the wind from the east sweeping across the isthmus at the center of the island, conspired with swells from the west to keep our boat turned cross-ways to the chop and we sat inside, out of the drizzle and increasingly miserable until Bryan convinced us to bundle up and go for a hike. We were so grateful for his wise suggestion and for his hard work building us such a sea-worthy dinghy. Even in choppy conditions, Split Pea is such a pleasure to row!
Once we were under the trees, we barely noticed the rain and it cleared off enough for us to do a little more poking around on the sandstone cliffs, famous for sheltering smugglers throughout the years. We stumbled onto a geocache and, according to the instructions, left an object and took an object. Hannah took a beautiful feather and somehow Meira ended up with a black baseball cap labeling her (in sparkling rhinestones, of course) as "High Maintenance." She was convinced that this meant she should do all the repair work above her head and for the rest of the trip tried to help with anything she couldn't reach. We didn't have the heart to explain otherwise.

That evening, back on the rolly boat, we debated putting out a stern anchor to hold us stern to the swells. We knew it would make for a more comfortable night, but no one else in the anchorage had one out. Finally, Bryan decided he'd give it a shot. He rowed out and set our stern anchor and immediately we could tell the difference. It was good to have the reminder that we're not the newest or least knowledgeable sailors out there anymore. Though it was a little thing, we both felt a boost to our confidence and a reminder to think for ourselves. We turned in satisfied and eager for the new day. Next stop, Canada!


Wednesday, March 10, 2010


The keys I lost a month ago (found in the couch).

The energy to make chocolate chip cookies with my husband at 11:30 at night (found in the smile on his face when I said, "why not?")

My first and much grieved fountain pen (also in the couch; why didn't I check there sooner?).

The perfect weekend for the first sail of the season (found on the Columbia River with my intrepid family).

The motivation to write something new on this online journal (found at the junction of my grateful heart and my untrustworthy memory).

We'll see if all these things stay found.