Gone Sailing

“One of the best temporary cures for pride and affection is seasickness.”
– Henry Wheeler Show

July 11th: late afternoon, Queen Charlotte Straight, north Vancouver Island.
The cold wind beat against my jacket and the ominous clouds blew low above our mast. I sat in the cockpit – my arm slung tightly around the starboard winch and my feet braced against the opposite bench. We were close hauled – sailing into the biting wind at a tight angle – and the boat was cutting through the chop, tilted at least 35-degrees. We tacked and I scrambled to grab the port side winch and brace myself for the opposite sail angle. After about two hours, I started to turn a pale shade of green and felt my insides shift in protest. Eyes closed – think of a song. Humming seemed to help. Another three hours to our anchorage? Hmmm … if this is sailing … I might be in trouble.

Flashback: Campbell River, central Vancouver Island
After two weeks of kayaking around the lonely shores of Nootka Island, the team drove east to the bustling port of Campbell River. We loaded our gear and fresh rations onto our new homes: two 37-foot sloops named Luna Quest and Altano. Our goal? Spend two weeks learning how to sail by exploring the straights on the northeast side of Vancouver Island. Had I ever sailed before? Not like this.

We spent the first two days motoring north. In those two days, our instructors focused on some foundational lessons – how to handle the boat under power and how to dock it; how to read a marine chart and how to find your location on it; how to live in close quarters and how to flush the pump toilet; how to empty that pump toilet and how to swab the decks. All important beginnings. By the third day, they decided we were ready to hoist sails. We started with tacking – sailing upwind in a zigzag pattern. There was hardly a breath of wind that morning and it felt like riding a tricycle in full safety gear. “Hey Mom look at me! I’m sailing!” Cute.

The next day was World Cup Day. Thanks to our awesome instructors – quality people who value quality sports – I got to see Spain beat Holland! We docked that morning at a small marina in Port McNeil and headed for the nearest sport-friendly establishment.

After lunch, the game, and a bit of shopping, it was back to the boats. Ten minutes from port someone sees our bumpers are still out. As David and I scramble to haul them in, I notice there are only three … where’s the fourth? Bobbing in the water several hundred yards back. Awesome. We do a quick U-turn and try to maneuver around the floating fender. David and Kalen are trying to pull it in using a hooked pole. I move to the stern and try to lean over the ladder to reach it as we brush by. Still too far away. I step over the ladder and try to balance on the back of the boat. Reach for the fender … and plop. Cold water. Should have known better. I’m now in the water next to the fender, so I grab it and wait for the boat to pull around and get us both. They hoist me up – cold, wet, and very sheepish. What can you do but laugh? Change clothes and get dry.

It’s already 3:30pm, but for sailing the day is just getting started. We have 25 miles or so to go and the wind is picking up. We hoist the sails to begin tacking upwind. Very soon I’m hanging off the winch thinking “Whoa – no fun.” When we get to our anchorage it’s almost 9pm and the whole team is spent. From tricycle to mountain bike – big day.

Each day after that was a new adventure. Some days were bright and sunny, others overcast. Sometimes we had high winds and other times we took down the sails and turned on the engine. One day we had a crazy fog bank swallow us for a few hours and another we had gale-force winds with waves large enough to surf the boats. Twice, Altano’s jib ripped in high wind and so crew members spent the evening in a nautical sewing circle, wielding long needles and palm-shaped thimbles.

Gradually, sailing got less confusing and I found my legs for it – enough to bring my camera on deck when the boat was tilted in a close haul. By the second week I was cooking lunch below while the rest of the crew was tacking and/or gybing above. You know you’re becoming a sailor when: boiling water and making grilled cheese on a rocking stove doesn’t phase you.

The days also included some sightseeing and home-made fun. We stopped off at a couple First Nations’ (Native American) historic sites and two museums. Chris also turned 21 on the first warm day of the trip so we hoisted him up the mast.

Below: Kalen and me working on some navigation calculations.

Below: me steering us into an anchorage.

Below: a very cool ship that passed us in the straight. Arrr!

A video tour of the Luna Quest – the boat I lived on for two weeks.

Meet the mates!
The crew of Luna Quest – Kalen, Me, David, and Lulu with our instructor Alan.

The crew of Altano – instructor Ken with Emily, Will, Nate, and Chris (seated)

Coming soon: Little Boat on the Big Blue – a reflection

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