The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

Boatless at MIST

Nikki Tate-Stratton

Boatless... for now
May 21st, 2016

Fabio and I met at the base of a cliff at the land-locked Skaha Bluffs near Penticton. I had just returned from six weeks of sailing in the Caribbean, crewing for my brother on a chartered catamaran. I was still finding my land legs, which presented an extra challenge, given that my other passion is rock climbing. There’s nothing quite like being halfway up a cliff when the sensation of a big swell passing beneath one’s feet sets off your panic button! That fateful weekend in Skaha, I was travelling without a climbing partner and Fabio’s intended climbing partner was nursing an injury and, well, you can guess the rest.

We’ve climbed a lot since we met, but I’ve never let go of my dream of some day circumnavigating. Some might think that was a bit of bad planning on my part to hook up with someone who has, to this point, been a died-in-the-wool landlubber. To this I say, the spice in life is found in the challenges!

Fabio sharing knot tying to ensure safe mast hoisting.

When I found out Fabio and I were going to be on Vancouver Island at the same time as this year’s MIST, I started plotting. I signed us up as BCA members, contacted Robert Dodge to see if we might be able to participate, even though we are currently boatless. The next thing we knew, Fabio and I were standing at the dock in the Nanaimo Harbour, waiting to be picked up for the boat ride over to Protection Island for the evening potluck. Ken Gillstrom was giving a Powerpoint presentation introducing us to what lay ahead (fires, floods, fog, and fun).

Ken had a captive audience during the lecture time at MIST.

Ken had a captive audience during the lecture time at MIST.

What a warm welcome we received, though it was pretty clear we were babes in the blue-water world. Advice on boats, destinations, and relationships (“make sure the Will is signed before you send her down to fight the fire”) began, as we took our first nibble of appetizer; and continued until we said our farewells at the end of the weekend.

Fabio had been worried that there wouldn’t be enough to do on a boat to keep his restless mind and hands busy. This fear was quickly allayed as we visited the different boats in attendance, and realized that every one of them had lengthy to-do lists. Some of these lists included items that had been there for a very long time. Stories of exotic destinations and the endless challenges and problem solving that goes on while cruising, soon had him thinking about where we might like to go, and just as importantly, who else might be there. Fabio is a social butterfly and I don’t think it had occurred to him that there’s a whole cruising fraternity out there, full of friendly folk who are happy to lend a hand and willing to share a meal and good gab session. Originally from Italy, Fabio is all about the food and the company, and we both thoroughly enjoyed the delights of good conversation and making new friends in the cockpits of more than one boat.

He’s a natural! Fabio took to dock life like a champ, throwing himself into the social scene at MIST with such enthusiasm we missed the ferry back to Nanaimo!

He’s a natural! Fabio took to dock life like a champ, throwing himself into the social scene at MIST with such enthusiasm we missed the ferry back to Nanaimo!

We spent a lot of time with Rosario and Denis, aboard their Whitby 42 ketch, Counting Stars, and shared lots of laughs as we took turns going below deck during a simulated fire. Blindfolded, we groped our way around the cabin in search of the fire extinguisher, the fire port. (Fire port? Who knew that’s what that little hole was beside the engine compartment?) and then out an exit that was not the companionway. Denis has now moved ‘fix that sticky hatch’ up to the top of the to-do list, after Rosario and I both found ourselves trapped below in the aft cabin, unable to open the hatch as (we imagined) toxic smoke and fumes filled our lungs and flames licked at our heels.

Fabio, Denis, and Rosario all took turns manually pumping out the bilge after we had completed another exercise that tested exactly how efficiently the electric pump was working. Our now well-oiled crew then prepared to abandon ship. Five gallons of water – check. Ditch bag (which included a bottle of Rum) – check. Life raft (actually a crab trap as Counting Stars’ life raft is being replaced) re-positioned and ready to deploy – check. EPIRB activated – check. All crew present and accounted for at the muster station – check.

The muster station on Counting Stars

The muster station on Counting Stars

By the time we set off on our blind navigation expedition, we all felt confident that we could save the ship in the event of fire or a punctured hull or, failing that, could abandon ship in record time (though, that crab trap might not have been terribly useful).

During the blind navigation exercise, all the participants took their boats out in search of a nearby buoy, pretending that we were travelling through thick fog and our electronic navigation systems were non-functional. Using only a depth sounder and knot meter, the navigator (not able to see anything) had to plot a course on paper (how analog!) and the winner was the boat that came closest to the destination. Several boats (including Counting Stars) didn’t have functional knot meters, so alternative systems were devised. We used the ‘cracker in the soup’ method to calculate our speed through the water. Because there was no wind, we motored and Denis kept the engine grumbling along at 1500 rpms. We dropped a cracker overboard at the bow and timed how long it took to travel 42’ alongside to reach the stern. A quick calculation gave us a speed of 4.7 knots, which Rosario used in her subsequent calculations.

Fabio measuring the depth with a led line.

Fabio measuring the depth with a lead line.

Our depth sounder (only worked in feet, didn’t read anything deeper than about 160’) wasn’t so useful in terms of picking up the much deeper contours we had available, but nonetheless, just by carefully keeping track of speed and time (and with Denis keeping a steady course as directed by Rosario) we managed to come within 500 feet of our mark. We were pretty pleased with that, but the winning boat (Brian and Shyanne aboard Rainbird) managed to come within 60’ – while keeping a toddler under control! I’d say the bottle of Scotch (the grand prize after scores for all the days’ challenges were tallied and Rainbird came up the winner) was well deserved!

Rainbird winning crew!

Rainbird winning crew!

By the time our day came to a close on Sunday (after hauling various people up masts and poking about in everyone’s boats, and visiting, and asking questions, and trying to absorb the floods of information everyone shared) we were both exhausted. Poor Fabio’s head was ready to explode with all the new terminology he had been trying to stay on top of. As we lay on the dock waiting for the next ferry to arrive, he asked, “What exactly is a halyard?” We had been using them to haul sailors up masts, but he knew that couldn’t be their primary function. As I gave him a quick definition I couldn’t help but grin. At last, we were having a conversation about sailing that didn’t involve me saying something and Fabio looking dazed! Could a circumnavigation be far behind? With the support and encouragement of the wonderful people we met this weekend (and many more, I hope, in the months to come), it feels like we took a giant step forward toward making this dream of mine a dream of ours and, beyond that, a reality.

I’m curious, though, how others have managed to bring their non-sailing partners aboard? I need to keep the momentum going here, so if you have any thoughts, suggestions, tips or warnings, please send them in so we can all benefit from your wisdom!


  1. RitaBalaam says:

    An excellent article Nikki. Makes me want to go to next year’s MIST.

    1. Nikki says:

      Thanks, Rita! We had a great time and look forward to taking part in more BWC events –

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