It is both relaxing and exhilarating to sit in the cockpit, feeling the sun warm on your shoulders and a light breeze fanning your face, while sipping one’s morning coffee. As Don and I enjoyed the scenery about us this morning, we began reminiscing. It was a joyful experience and we realized we have come a long way.
It was June 1999, after more than 23 years of marriage, when I finally agreed to purchase a sailboat. My experience with boats was nominal. A Vancouver girl, our family would travel to the Southern Cariboo to visit our waterfront “cabin.” There, I would use the pedal boat or perhaps row out into the bay, but my favorite pastime had been to swim. I was afraid sailing was a most dangerous sport, and so had refused to entertain the thought while raising a family. Now, I felt I could no longer continue to squash Don’s dream, and relented by assigning him a most moderate budget.
Our first boat, a Fortune 30, was a home kit boat, also known as a Blue Pocket Cruiser. It was a fat little cork in the water and was perfect for the West Coast area. I clearly remember taking possession of the boat. It was located at the Oak Bay Marina and, as it happened, at low tide we walked down the ramp and along the dock to where the boat was moored. Don demonstrated for me how to climb aboard. Placing my right hand on the grab rail of the dodger and stepping over the toe rail, I boarded our sailing vessel. We pulled away from the dock and threaded our way past the rocks out to the bay.
It was a perfectly cloudless day. The sun was shining and we were travelling on a rising tide, with the current running with us. Don raised the sails, shut off the engine and with just enough wind to fill the canvas, we scooted quietly across the waters. It was lovely. I was sold on this experience and in answer to my question, Don reassured me it’s pretty much always like this. This was sailing. We rounded Gordon Head and as we entered Sidney Spit, we tied to a mooring buoy for a picnic supper, before arriving in our slip at Sidney North Saanich Marina.
After Don put out the fenders and lines, he instructed me to hold onto that line and step onto the dock. I had been pretty relaxed until we entered the breakwater. However, all these other boats made me nervous. Judging distances was different than in the car. It looked as if the front of the boat would plow right into that piling. My heart pounded, “this rope?” I held up the bow line.
Now to Don, this was nothing new, nothing to be fearful of. I doubt he even knew how terrified I was, as he had always been on the water and had skippered tug boats, and pulled barges up and down the Fraser River. But to me, everything was new; it was all an unknown, and when around other boat traffic, I found it terrifying.
My assignment was to wrap the line around the cleat and hold it tightly. I was a nervous wreck. With my heart thumping and the blood rushing in my ears, I stood with bow line in hand. As we neared the dock, I prepared myself: I was ready to hurl myself onto the dock, but Don was firm…”Wait and step off.” I was worried. What if I was too slow? What if I let go of the rope? What if I couldn’t get off the boat? As it turned out, we were complimented on our docking. I must have stepped off like a professional.
Walking up the dock to the ramp, I voiced my contentment. I told Don how superior this marina was in comparison to the one downtown in Oak Bay. He agreed with me that its location was better for getting out into the Gulf Islands; and he mentioned how lovely the Arbutus and Garry Oaks appeared, as their branches stretched over the water along the shore. Oh yeah, I thought that was great, but what most impressed me was the ramp. I liked the fact that they’d built it on the level rather than such a steep hill. I’ve since come to understand that low tide and high tide do affect the grade of the ramp!
We laughed; we’ve come a long way since that June day.
Sometimes part of the learning curve is being aware of the other boaters. Two weeks after purchasing our boat, we left on vacation. It was the July First long weekend of 1999, when we anchored in Poet’s Cove at Bedwell Harbor. Back then, Poet’s Cove was less developed. It was a time before the big fancy hotel and bar, a time before the condos and time shares, and cobbled roads. It was a quiet, peaceful place, with a little green grocer and laundromat.
We arrived in the bay around 1400h, dinghied ashore and walked the country roads. Once the sun went down, we left the cockpit and headed to bed. Now, I’d never slept on the boat before, and the noises were strange and numerous. I felt like a teen-aged babysitter in a strange home. I heard all sorts of noises and could only imagine what terrible things might be causing them. I nudged Don: “What was that?” Several nudges later, Don became exasperated with me. “Go to sleep” he commanded. I was not silenced “Well, it sounded like a chain running right down the side of our boat and when I look out the window I see what looks like a floating hotel”, I announced.
Now Don was paying attention. Now he was out of bed and running up on deck. I thought this was likely an important event, so I too, got dressed and went top side. There, a large motor boat was swinging alongside our boat. I could hear music and there were teenagers in the stern of the boat. Don leaned over our toe rail and rapped his knuckles on the hull. He requested the boys get their Dad to come speak with us.
These people were not cooperative. Don stated they were too close and needed to anchor elsewhere. Repeatedly, the owner told us he had been to the Caribbean and back, and he was well dug in. We were insistent. Reluctantly, Caribbean man pulled in a bit of scope and disappeared within his boat. Now, instead of sitting next to us, their stern swung under our bowsprit. Again Don called for the captain of the boat. Caribbean man didn’t want to move, but Don was relentless; they must pull up anchor and move. Angrily the man went to the bow of the boat and pressing his toe into the windless, began to pull up the anchor.
Although the anchor was off the ocean floor, it was not yet out of the water before he slammed the boat into gear, towing us behind. The roar of the motor boat swallowed Don’s screams. In desperation, he threw out more scope. I had no idea what to do; but feeling the need to assist in some way, I ran to the helm and stood at the wheel, hoping I could turn the rudder and thus avoid hitting other anchored boats. Realizing we were being towed, the motor boat stopped, but not before we had slammed into the swim ladder of another vessel.
It was a sobering night; the wind had picked up, the anchorage was full, and now we had to re-anchor in the dark. We sat up in the cockpit for a long while before returning to bed. It is a fairly accurate statement that sleep eluded us on our first night onboard the boat.
The following day, we left Poet’s Cove and once around the corner, porpoises came along side the boat. I was thrilled watching them speed down the Port side, dart beneath the boat and resurface on the Starboard side. We turned off the engine while they dived and frolicked alongside us and then, they were gone. I took it as a good luck omen. Restarting the engine, we headed to Dodd’s Narrows.
It had been more than 20 years since Don had read a tide book, and I am venturing to say a refresher course would have been helpful. He flipped open the new tide and current book for Dodd’s Narrows. It read 1 pm, plus 7. His interpretation was that at 1 pm this would be high tide; 7 feet of water. We were 2 hours away and it was now 11:00 – perfect timing. Off we went, full throttle, approaching from the south rather rapidly. I remember peering over the side of the boat thinking, the water is boiling. A shot of fear ran through me and I sent up a quick prayer. I watched the people on the shore. They looked very impressed with our new boat and my fear was replaced with pride. Some even pointed at us as we sped past them.
Don, however, saw this event differently. Realizing his error and recognizing there was no turning back, he charged ahead. People on the shore sat with their mouths agape, pointing at the sailboat traversing the waters at 14 plus knots. Knowing there was a whirl pool just through the Pass, he hugged the west shore and somewhere between the whirl pool and the rocks, we shot through to the calmer waters beyond. God looks after the foolish and the innocent!
By the time we arrived in Garden Bay, we’d been on the boat for almost a week. I was becoming more familiar with some of the routines and did not hesitate to point out to the Captain another boat, which I felt had anchored too near us. Don agreed the boat was perhaps a bit close, but he informed me he was more concerned about the motor boats across the Bay. He pointed out that if the wind came up, it would be coming from over there. If any boats were to drag anchor, it would likely be those ones. During the night, the wind grew stronger and sure enough, those boats did drag anchor; and to my horror, three big white power boats were in the middle of the Bay, anchor chains entwined. One of the vessels let their anchor loose and left the immediate area to tie up at a dock. However, two motor boats continued to wrestle, chains taut, clear of the water. What a sight.
The lady from one of the motor boats, along with her teen-aged boy, motored out in their inflatable dinghy, attempting to unhook the anchors. Soon, one pontoon had deflated and the outboard motor was submerged, as she was left straddling the inflated side like a cowgirl. Her son swam back to the boat, abandoning mom and reappeared on deck after a quick shower.
The wind set the boats onto the dock, and panic took hold while people ran helter-skelter for every available fender. Eventually, the anchors were untangled, while the boats sat where they had crashed into the docks. Fortunately, we simply watched and learned.
I’ll never forget the time we purchased a new jib. Wanting to get a head start on our vacation, we waited to install the sail until after we had motored up to Nanaimo. One hot afternoon, while sitting at anchor, we draped the canvas on the deck and began threading the sail into the groove of the forestay. It was a long, arduous procedure, but we finally accomplished it. Looking up, we saw the jib was flying upside down; its narrow point plunging toward the deck and a wide green stripe of Sunbrella underscoring the blue sky. Humbled and horrified, we quickly lowered the jib, re-aligned the fabric and started over again. We later laughed it off, stating likely no one had noticed. Although a comforting thought, we later learned otherwise.
It was a weekend trip to Montague Harbour, when we first anchored under sail. As we approached the entrance, we took down the sails and fired up the engine, only to hear a screeching noise. The impeller needed replacing and we didn’t have a spare. Immediately we turned the motor off, hoisted the main and unfurled the jib. With only enough wind to fill the sail, we inched down the channel and rounded the point into the anchorage. Staying away from the other boats, we anchored into the wind; then we waited until the wind filled the main sail and quickly, we maneuvered the boom to one side, while dropping the sail. We were viewed cautiously by other boaters, but we came to realize although we’ve yet to master all the nuances of sailing, we are gaining experience and we are proud of our accomplishments.
There have been occasions when self rescue was necessary; sometimes raising the sail when encountering engine problems is sufficient. However, there are times when the wind does not cooperate and lashing the dinghy to the side and using the outboard to get us into the anchorage was our only alternative. We’ve anchored this way on two occasions, including once to stern tie.
Today we are sitting in San Diego harbor. We’ve travelled 1,000 nautical miles as the crow flies, and we’ve encountered a whole new set of challenges. We’ve enjoyed the boat, learned from our mistakes and taken some courses. Part of the reason we’ve been successful is due to the friends who’ve encouraged us and helped us, while at Bluewater. We built knowledge upon experience and we’ve come a long way.