“Mom! What’s going on?” The blood rushes from my face with Tara’s scream from the cockpit. I am down below, setting up the autopilot for remote use. Looking up the companionway, I see Tara’s hands hovering around the helm, yet she’s looking at the helm in disbelief. Oh my God! I’ve accidentally switched the autopilot to pilot mode instead of standby. I kill the autopilot and bolt to the cockpit to look around. Tara explains that not knowing why, she no longer had control of the helm and wondered if we had run aground. With only a few metres between Mazu and a bell buoy, a reasonable thought. We’re fine, yet my already anxious state ratchets up another level.
Tara, my 25 year old daughter and I, are sailing from Vancouver to Mazu’s homeport in Sidney on Vancouver Island. I had been looking forward to skippering the boat without Jürgen, yet the circumstances that have made this possible are not ideal. Jürgen’s health took an unexpected turn the previous day and he is unable to sail back to Sidney with me any time soon. Jürgen’s confidence in my skills, perfect weather and the availability of Tara to crew makes the crossing a go.
The sailing adventure with Tara started the previous evening. I was to pick her up from the dinghy dock near Mazu’s anchorage in False Creek. While waiting for Tara, alone on Mazu, I fretted about the proximity of a nearby boat. Had one of us dragged anchor during the day? Earlier, Jürgen and I had agreed that, yes, the boat seemed closer than when we first anchored, but we’d be all right. Now the distance between the boats was not all right. As I texted Tara, warning that we may reset the anchor once she arrived, a mast swings into view adjacent to the galley port light. Poking my head above the companionway, I see that Mazu is swinging towards that proximate boat. Oh, no! I get the engine ready to turn on, but my safe options are limited. Weighing anchor in these tight quarters with our manual windlass and nobody at the helm would be tricky. It looks like Mazu is moving with the current and the other boat is in our swing radius. The other boat isn’t moving, so the absent owner has let out very little rode. I head to the bow, shorten our rode length, and will the distance between our boats to stop narrowing. My angst is interrupted with the need to get Tara from shore. Once we’re both onboard Mazu, I continue to shorten the rode to a tolerable length for a night at anchor. Over the next hour, we maintain our distance from the other boat, but when a nor’wester picks up, relief washes over me as Mazu swings away to a more comfortably safe distance.
In the morning, Tara takes the helm while I do the bow work, weighing and securing the anchor. It is only as we leave the anchorage do I feel the responsibility of being in charge. Throughout the past three years, Jürgen and I trained in parallel, developing our competence with boat systems in tandem. The degree to which we take one another’s competence for granted is apparent to me now as I decide which tasks to assign to Tara.
Now at the bell buoy, about to cross the Strait of Georgia to the Gulf Islands, the autopilot error has heightened my senses. There is a different smell in the cockpit, yet when I stick my head into the lazarette there is no hydraulic fluid leaking from the autopilot. The boat, the engine, everything sounds a bit off but is working fine. Once we raise the sails and kill the engine the sound of the wind and the water against the hull calms me.
In the Gulf Islands, we have a steady 20-knot wind on the nose. With 25 NM still to the marina, an afternoon of sailing hard to the wind is out of the question. We’d be docking in the dark, not a new experience for this day. Mercifully, as we near Sidney, the wind drops, then dies. Looks like we’ll have perfect docking conditions. I’ve coached Tara on the docking procedure, emphasizing that the entry to our slip is tight. As I turn Mazu into the marina fairway, a Zen-like calm flows through me. We slide into the slip so quietly that I am able to step off the boat to secure the stern line, while Tara secures the midship line. We did it!
* The 2001 Oxford English Dictionary defines girl power as “a self-reliant attitude among girls and young women, manifested in ambition, assertiveness, and individualism.”