Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
(Part 4 of the voyage, see also Part 1, Part 2 , and Part 3) …Up early and we’re off for Galiano Island, where the Captain has a good friend he wants to visit. Well, actually, like me he wants to take advantage of the good weather to run south … but we’re going to stop and visit anyhow. We pull into a lovely little anchorage called “Retreat Cove”, with only about four feet of water under the keel. To be able to maneuver inside the harbor, we bring the tri alongside the fishing boat and lash them together. Here’s the view from the bow of the tri as we entered Retreat Cove.
Once we get inside, it’s a pastoral calm scene. We anchor in the middle and look around:
The Captain’s friend has arrived, and we winch the dinghy into the water, pile in, and head to the dock. She picks us up and drives us to her house up on the hill. It’s warmer up there, and there’s a stunning view from her deck.
She packs us full of salad, everything from her garden, and tells us tales of her doings, and about the ways of the island. She’s a lovely and charming woman, but all too soon, I begin to feel the hours slipping away, we’re burning daylight, and the Captain feels the same. So we all jump in the car and she drives us down the hill to the harbor. The boats are floating happily, the tri nestled up next to the fishing boat.
On the way out to the docks I notice an ingenious solution to where to store your small boat out of the wind and the water … hang it from the dock walkway.
We motor out to the boat and climb aboard. I go forward to winch up the anchor. On the run down I’d finally managed to beat the hydraulic anchor windlass into submission. My mom used to say “If at first you don’t succeed … get a bigger hammer”, and that was exactly the ticket. The problem was a stuck valve, and the solution was a big hammer, lots of grease, and patience. Now that the windlass is working, we no longer have to pull the anchor by hand. But when the anchor comes up it has a huge ball of seaweed on it, a yard (metre) in diameter. So I leave the anchor sticking out over the bow and another crewmember and I pull all of the seaweed off it, one slimy handful at a time. The glamorous oceanic life of the swabbie. When it’s all cleaned off we bring the anchor inboard, lash it down, and we’re under way again. The green line shows our path over two days and one night, including our stop at Galiano Island.
We wend our way south through Canada’s lovely islands. As we near the city of Victoria, traffic increases. We see the “dance of the faeries”, two ferry boats passing in mid-channel, one coming from Victoria, one going to Victoria, and surrounded by a variety of sail and power boats.
We motor past a lovely gaff-rigged yawl, a throwback to an older day.
The “gaff” is the wooden pole along the top edge of the four-sided mainsail. They are a pain in the sub-sacral regions—they’re heavy to lift, and they want to swing around aloft and strain the sail, so you need ropes called “preventers” to prevent that. In my opinion, gaff-rigged boats are a Very Bad Idea™, which is why you don’t see new ones, just replicas of old ones … however, dang, they do look all piratical and romantic.
Speaking of piratical and romantic, here’s how I look, with my keffiya around my head to keep off the sun. It has been hot sun for days now, and us melanin-challenged folks need to take care … OK, maybe it’s neither piratical nor romantic, but it’s very practical.
In the late afternoon we approach Victoria, one of the older Canadian cities. The constricted channels of the islands open up and we see the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with the massive mountains of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula snow-covered in the distance. As we rounded the corner we saw the most curious mirage, with an inverted reflection above the whole extent of a stretch of hilly land extending from Vancouver Island out to sea. Those are not clouds below, that’s a cloud-free sky with a peninsula plus an inverted mirage.
Once we clear from Victoria, we start up the Strait of Juan de Fuca towards the open ocean. For the first time we’ll be running all night, and I’ll have the night watch, so in the late afternoon I crash out in my berth up in the forecastle, or “foc’sle” as it is pronounced. The foc’sle is the small triangular space right at the front of the boat. As is common, this one is tiny, with couple of bunk berths, but it works. I awaken around eleven at night, and take the wheel. I’m told that the autopilot couldn’t handle it so we’re steering by hand … and the reason the autopilot couldn’t handle it is that once again the hydraulic steering isn’t working all that well. As a result, a quarter turn of the steering wheel to the left has the same effect on the course as two full turns to the right, and the autopilot can’t figure that out.
But then that’s part of the joy of being at sea, simply dealing with adversity. I take the wheel, and the others go to bed. It’s clear, the visibility is good. I try to figure out what the hydraulic steering is doing, and get used to its strange behavior.
Being in charge of a boat on the ocean at night, crossing a crowded sea-lane with big ships coming and going, alone at the helm with my shipmates slumbering, is a curious thing. If I make a mistake, if I fail to notice something, if I doze off, if I go left when I should go right, it could get ugly. So I check and double-check my position. I watch in front and in back for lights from other boats and ships. The radar on the fishing boat has been on strike the whole trip, so my eyeballs have to work overtime. Three big ships are coming down the Strait, and a couple are going the other way towards the ocean. There’s no moon, it’s very dark, and so as is often the case at sea, we’re running blind at night. I stay near the shore, outside of the shipping lanes.
I’m running using the GPS, actually we have two of them. I use the one on my iPhone, it shows more detail. I steer the boat west along the Washington coast. After three hours or so we get near the mouth of the Strait. After much peering into the darkness I finally locate the Waadah Island light outside of Neah Bay (yellow circle on the right below), which I find out from my iPhone flashes once every four seconds. Here’s what the iPhone GPS display looks like:
It takes longer for me to locate the Cape Flattery light (yellow circle at left above), in part because it “group flashes”. In this case that means it flashes twice, about two seconds apart, but it flashes the pair only once every 20 seconds. So you have to watch a long time to see it, it’s easy to miss. But what takes me forever to find is the red flashing light on the red buoy shown at the top left above. You don’t want to go inside that red buoy, on the chart there are black dots with red borders that mean rocks that break the surface at mean lower low tide … bad mojo. But the buoy is not high up on a hill like the Flattery and Waadah Island lights, it’s down a few feet above sea level. So you have to be near it to see it. From further away, it’s hidden by the curve of the globe.
Once I finally locate the buoy, flashing red every two seconds, I slowly work the boat around it, and finally we are in the open ocean heading south along the Northwest Pacific coast. At that point, I’ve been on watch five hours, and my part is nearly done for the moment. The weather is still bouncy, the seas are confused, usual stuff for the mouth of a channel. Eventually someone wakes up, and I hand the steering over to them with my thanks. I go outside to relieve the accumulated hydrobiostatic pressure. Not much to see outside, just the cold ocean swirling past as the boat plows through the night. With no one watching, if I slip, I’ll likely die before they find me. It reminds me of my own mortality, and that’s always a valuable thing. I go back inside and head for the foc’sle. Four-thirty am finds me going to bed at sea … life is good.
I’ve got no wi-fi, of course, so this one just goes in the pile with the rest, to see the light of day when I get back to land.
My best to all, may you sleep rocked in whatever ocean is in your own personal dreams …