It’s hard to know where to start, as Nancy and I have been meaning to do this for quite some time now. I suppose the best way to start is at the beginning, when we purchased our first-ever sail boat two and a half years ago.
After our first year in Victoria, my very Scottish need to avoid rent increases led to a strange idea: why don’t we live on a sail boat? That would be cheap and fun! I texted Nancy and she immediately replied with “YES YES YES!” I had only sailed a handful of times, and though Nancy had crewed on a racing team in Western Australia, she didn’t have much more experience. However, we have always loved the ocean and have always been up for an adventure. After viewing several boats with good friends, we found her. The seventh boat we viewed was spacious, covered in shining teak, and had just been fitted with an oh-so-tempting enclosed canopy for romantic nights in the cockpit. She exceeded our budget, but after getting home from Ladysmith, we decided to contact the seller and put our cards on the table. For me, this was a sleepless night, constantly waking up to check my phone, until at 0530h, we received a response accepting our offer. Nancy grumpily woke to a very hyper, Scottish husband staring at her with a huge smile. The next weekend we did the paperwork and were now the naïve owners of our first sailboat: the Satellite, a 1975 Maple Leaf 42-foot sailboat.
Still to this day, the best analogy we have heard is that having a boat is like showering in cold water whilst ripping up hundred dollar bills. I like to think I would also have a nice dram of whisky in my hand while I did it! To say that the boat needed a lot of work seems an understatement, and to say that we didn’t quite know what to look for in her seems just as large an understatement. Satellite had no running rigging, no sails, old outdated electrics, no navigation beyond a broken compass that was leaking mineral oil, and no emergency equipment beyond a few outdated fire extinguishers. The list goes on, but she did have a beautiful interior thanks to the previous owner, and she was a perfect, gorgeous marina liveaboard.
The hard work began on week two. The first job, with help from a couple of good friends, was to plumb in an additional head and a black-water tank. Then it was time to move the boat to Victoria. With great crew, a handheld VHF, and an iPad, we set off on a journey of firsts, from fueling up for the first time, to pulling into dock for the first time, to throwing our first mooring line. On arrival, we were greeted by a celebratory glass of champagne and an amazing sunset.
I was tempted to go from here to listing the huge variety of trades we have learned and jobs we have completed, but I feel like this could be a bit much. What we have discovered is that Nancy and I make an amazing team. I would be lying if I said it has been easy, but we have helped each other through the highs and lows, and we have learned how our skills and passions compliment each other. I am the family buyer, being Scottish…always happy to find a bargain. I am eager to perfect working with wood, steel, and fiberglass. Nancy has a talent with electrics, computers, charts, and planning. So far, every argument has ended with a rum, and every project has ended in success.
Bluewater Cruising Association
We found out about the Bluewater Cruising Association through one of our many anxious visits to Trotac. Nancy looked into it, and by October we had attended our first meeting. After a few weeks, an announcement was made that the Watch was searching for a secretary. Nancy put her name forward, hoping to be able to give something back to an organization that seemed so driven to support its members. The result of truly engaging with BCA has been an outpouring of encouragement and aid from its community members at every stumble or achievement of our new boating life. We are continuously inspired by the awesome presentations and talks by fellow cruisers, their experiences, their eagerness to chat boats and configurations, and the kindness of people in this community.
I decided to volunteer with the local sea rescue at Oak Bay Division 33. In the year and a half I was able to participate, I learned and gained so much! The time was filled with great training, time on the water, opportunities to get to know other volunteers who had their own incredible experiences to share. I was part of an amazing crew with a brilliant coxswain, all underlain by the appreciation of people we helped whilst being on call. I cannot rave enough about my time there and the amount I learned.
About a year in, it was time for us to get crew. Nancy really wanted a pet. For what felt like years, she had been dropping constant hints and digs about getting a dog. I didn’t think a dog aboard was a good idea, so the focus switched to a cat. In secret, I started researching the type of cat best suited to boats and water. Bengals kept popping up in my search, and eventually I organized to go and see one while Nancy was away on holiday. I met the seller at a Starbucks, just to chat and maybe see the kitten. As soon as I walked up, she handed me this little ginger, eight-week old kitten wrapped in a blanket, with huge wide eyes (like Puss in Boots). Who could possibly refuse? That very night, our new crew member joined the Satellite family. I took this frightened, teeny tiny kitten aboard and opened up his carry case in the main cabin. It took him awhile to come out, but eventually (and after several traumatic mosquito encounters) he got settled. After Nancy came home a week later, we decided on the name Boogie, “Boogie the Bengal”.
In the year that we have had him he has only fallen in the water once, and luckily it was while we were at dock. He has traveled hundreds of miles with us (usually tucked in his favorite nook under the main sheet winches), been seasick and miserable (just the once!), hunted many a terrified fly, been taunted by sea gulls just off the stern, and staked claim to every million dollar power boat he could put his paws on. He has expensive tastes!
The Longest Journey to Date
The first year, we worked so much on the boat that we only took her out five times in total. This year we moved marinas up to Sidney. We’ve doubled our record and taken her out on the water for ten trips, ranging over as many Gulf Islands as we can reach in a weekend. Our latest journey and biggest to date was eleven days over 225 nm from Sidney to Sechelt Inlet. What an eye opener, and what a time to learn some incredible lessons! We anchored every night we were away, with no issues at all. Given that we have not anchored much in the past, that was a huge achievement for us both and a big confidence boost. We also successfully traversed the Sechlet Rapids. A serious lesson from the first crossing was that timing is everything. We hit the rapids thirty minutes before slack, creeping through the whirlpools and avoiding the tightest turns. Another boat followed us into the rapids, possibly thinking (incorrectly) that we knew what we were doing. At one point we were side by side, engine at 2000 RPM, and going an impressive 0.1 knots per hour. I heard the spectators on shore asking whether we were actually going forward or not!
Another first for us on this trip was running aground on a reef, but I promised Nancy I wouldn’t mention that. We also had our first pre-dawn departure to catch the tide through Dodd Narrows. Our timing was spot on and we got through the Narrows on perfect slack. We used our handheld VHF to call our crossing and had an easy remainder of the journey to Galiano. Our final stretch back to Sidney was beating upwind at 5-6 knots, slooped over and cruising with control.
Highlights of Previous Trips
We have had so many precious, unforgettable moments over the past two years. One of the first times we got the sails up and engine off, we were lucky to hear two male Orcas near our stern, playing and diving on their way to meet a pod in front of us. On our first full weekend away, forest fires turned the sky an eerie sepia and we sailed home in strangely muted, glowing conditions. We have paddled through brilliant bio luminescence, had our first anchor watch under the stars (note to self: Prevost Island is not the Haro Strait weather region!), spent birthdays at mirror-calm anchorages, watched Boogie chase bats, kayaked and hiked around the islands, and just generally learned what it is to truly spend time on the ocean, even just as visitors.
What does the future hold for the Satellite? Well, no surprise: more boat work, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel and the dream is still there. We have so much learning left, from a small diesel mechanics course we’re taking at Camosun, to the Level Two dingy courses through UVic. Nancy has less than a year and a half left of her PhD, and we are using that time to get the boat and ourselves ready for the next phase of our lives.
We were reminded of why we do this at the marine garage sale this year. An older couple with the same dreams of Alaska sold us their guide book for almost nothing, saying that they had just waited a few years too long. It was a beautiful and sad reminder that dreams have to be pursued while we can give chase. It has made us appreciate our own dream of going to Alaska and encouraged us to live life to the max and enjoy every moment.
Time is ticking but we have the eagerness to learn, the drive to succeed and the Whisky to help us get through it all!
We cannot express how much gratitude we have for everyone who has been part of our journey to date. You know who you are and probably received a mixture of texts, e-mails and conversations with the variety of questions we always have. There has been so many people offering advice and support. Thank you.
Thank you to the local marine companies who have not only given us the products that we needed, but the help and advice as well.
Thanks to you, the Oak Bay SAR. It was an honour to be part of the team. Lastly a huge, massive thank you to Bluewater Cruising Association and the Fleet Group. So inspirational to see dreamers moving into being doers!