Here you will find tales of voyages past and present on our trusty Pacific Seacraft Dana 24, "Sockdolager," from Port Townsend, Washington, USA. In 2009 we sailed north from Puget Sound up the west coast of Vancouver Island to the Queen Charlotte Islands (now called Haida Gwaii.) In 2010 we went back to the west coast of Vancouver Island. In July 2011 we left the Northwest, and in March 2012 we crossed the Pacific to French Polynesia, then on to the Cooks, Niue and Tonga. We spent several months in New Zealand, and in May 2013 loaded the boat (and ourselves) on a container ship for San Francisco. In June and July 2013 we sailed north along the California, Oregon and Washington coasts, and in August we arrived home. In October 2016 Sockdolager found new owners, and we are now enjoying Raven, a unique wooden 29' powerboat. Plans are to head north. We hope you enjoy reading about our adventures as much as we enjoy having them. (And there will be more.)

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Post Cards from the Ocean Road

Raven greets our Canadian friends. Photo by Mae Ying.
We are safely tied up at a marina in Prince Rupert, Canada, waiting for a gale to pass and listening to the tortured Chewbacca-roar of bow thrusters squeezing large yachts into small spaces. We are also reunited with our friends Marty and Mae.

Marty, Mae and their friend Max aboard Wild Abandon.

Karen and Jim do a slo-mo greeting ceremony.
The World’s Longest Pub Crawl continues, with two pubs visited here in Prince Rupert and one in Shearwater a few days ago. We will continue this important “research” at Ketchikan once the gale passes, and you will have a full report at the end.

View of Raven in "Lounge Mode," looking forward.

Our last post left you in high suspense about an oh-dark-thirty departure from Port McNeill, at the top of Vancouver Island, bound across a mean stretch of open water that flows past the aptly named Cape Caution. It didn’t go as planned. While we did get up at the ungodly hour of 1:30 am and made a 2:30 departure toward Queen Charlotte Sound in pitch black, and while we won’t be making a habit of doing that anymore, the winds and seas were larger than forecast, and the fun-to-not-fun ratio rapidly declined. We bashed in the darkness for 29 miles, then decided that 1, things weren’t going to get any better out there, 2, we were too tired to safely keep going, and 3, a nice nap in a quiet cove sounded much more fun. So we pulled into a little indent in the rocks on the northwest side of Hurst Island, called “God’s Pocket.” As pockets go, it was one of God’s more linty outer specimens, because a dive resort has taken up all the best places for transient boats and we were forced to anchor in deep water and roll like hobbits in a barrel.

After a nice nap we moved to Clam Cove on the northeast end of Nigei Island to wait for the forecast 20-30 knot headwinds to subside, and wow what a great spot that is.

Clam Cove, a superb anchorage. Shhhhh...
The crossing happened next morning during an unexpected lull, but with seas at 2 meters and some higher, plus fog the whole way, it wasn’t a place to linger, especially after we heard while halfway across that a gale warning had been issued. Raven again surprised us with her stability and solid progress—those were the largest seas we’ve had her in so far, but not the worst in terms of roughness, because the wind was light. Our original destination was Fury Cove, at the mouth of Fitzhugh Sound, but we decided to keep going to get more distance from those forecast gale-whipped seas. Green Island Anchorage, further north on the east side of Fitzhugh Sound, is another gorgeous, secluded, bomb-proof cove surrounded by dripping old-growth forest. And we had it to ourselves.

We fished. First, from anchor. Jim set up a chair on the tailgate.

This photo has driven certain people to wish they'd bought our boat before we did. You know who you are.
I asked, “Are you jigging?”
“What are you using?” (as if I’d know the difference.)
“This is the “true roll” lure Marty and Mae gave us. It works for trolling, jigging, mooching, pretty much everything.”
“Mooching?” (whoa! new fishing vocabulary!)
“So, mooching, would be like, when you go up to someone who’s jigging and say, can I have that fish?”

Jim installed a downrigger at Raven’s stern, and we went out in search of dinner. Troll over a high spot, zzzzzzzzz, fish on! A lingcod, too small, we release it. Keep trolling. Catch a nice rock bass, perfect for dinner! Haul it slowly up to the boat, a nice big one, and I ask, “Where’s the net? I’ll get the net!”
“Didn’t bring it”, says Jim.
“You want the gaff?”
“Nope, I’ll just grab it with my ha... Whoops! Oh crap!”
“There goes dinner.”
We are both too astonished to speak. We just look at each other. It was like in the movies where the female character goes HOW COULD YOU and the male character goes I DIDN’T THINK IT WOULD HAPPEN LIKE THAT and the woman goes I WANT A DIVORCE! Except we said nothing. Finally I say, “We are going to buy a net, right?” After several more tries and a few too-small catches that were released, we get another rock bass. Dinner was good and the marriage was saved.  

Jim cleans a fish on what is our combination fish cleaning station and bar. 
As we travel, we read aloud to each other from the Evergreen Guide, a pair of chartbooks annotated with hundreds of notes about the history of each place we pass. Much of it is about Vancouver’s exploration aboard the Discovery in the 1790s, and how places were named. Thankfully, there are also notes about the names of some places before contact with white explorers and settlers. What’s interesting is how Vancouver named prominently noticeable places such as islands, peaks, points, and passages for prominent people back in England (or ship’s crewmembers), while First Nation (native) names are all about the more practical aspects, such as foods to harvest or avoid, and the behavior of water upon canoes. “Place of poison clams,” for example, needs no further explanation.

Forward cabin view through hatch.
And the depths! These are deep, deep waters. No wonder whales like them so much. In Fitzhugh Sound you can be a quarter mile from shore and it’s a thousand feet deep. Another spot made us gasp; with a good arm, north of Hakai Passage you could throw a rock to shore while in water 2,250 feet deep! The Evergreen Guide described how Vancouver’s ships would drift on the tide with their anchor cables fully out, hanging straight down. Occasionally they would tie the ships to trees ashore in order to keep them from swinging out and causing their anchors to drop off ledges into deeper water to hang uselessly.

Karen enjoys a quiet sunset moment while Jim rows around the anchorage.
A couple days later we spent 2+ hours ashore at Shearwater, just enough time for our two priorities, the hardware store and a pub lunch. And here is where perhaps another anecdote about what I’m calling “Jim-isms” might fit: Several stops back we happened to be in a BC Liquor store and came across some, we kid you not, Pamplemousse Margaritas. Oh. My. Stars. Two things: first, pamplemousse, those luscious tropical grapefruits on steroids, along with Margaritas, are two of our favorite things, so the genius who combined them has our everlasting gratitude. Second, you may recall that we have in past posts recommended that BC Liquor stores put defibrillators near their entrances for American customers who wander in, see the prices, and faint. The very kind and helpful store owner took us in search of different types of Margaritas, one of which was selling at a discount of one dollar.
“These,” he said, holding up a 4-pack, “are pretty good.”
“Hm,” said Jim. “Buck off.”
There was a bit of thoughtful silence. The store manager began a quiet retreat.
“Um, Sweetie,” I asked, “you said buck with a b, right? As in, the discount?”
The store manager fell over laughing, as did we.

As if that wasn’t enough, at a hardware store that sold fishing gear, Jim, concerned about making sure we catch legal sized fish, asked the owner, “Do you have a device to measure fish that’s not American?”
“The fish don’t care,” said the hardware man.
A customer who obviously spent a lot of time in the store leaned on the counter and chuckled, as did a store assistant, like, hoo boy, we got a live one!
“The lengths are the same,” continued the store owner. “Just remember, 10 centimeters is 4 inches.”
“Well what’s 17.3 inches?” asked Jim.
This completely bumfuzzled everyone. Nobody, including us, could figure out how many centimeters 17.3 inches was, and believe me, we all tried. Finally, the store owner found a rolled-up plastic decal that measures fish in centimeters, and Jim was happy. We asked for some bungee cord, and the store owner, a true comedian, picked up a short length and said, “Do you want two feet?” He stretched it out. “…or four feet?”
“Good one,” said Jim. “Can we pay in metric dollars?”

The pink pig has been on at least half a dozen Grand Canyon raft trips, has sailed across the South Pacific, and is now Alaska-bound. Nothing fazes him.
Anchored that night a few more miles up the ocean road, in Powell Anchorage behind Ivory Island, we could hear surf rolling outside. The weather has been uncharacteristically hot and sunny, and I cleaned Raven’s windows so well that when I went to press the suction cup for a sunshade onto a side window, it slowly dawned on me that the window was open and a suction cup won’t stick to thin air. But I had to try it not once or twice, but three times. It was one of those moments where you look around to see if anyone has seen you do a truly dumb thing, and of course Jim had, and was laughing.

We passed Princess Royal Island and looked for the white Kermode (Spirit) bears but did not see any. Beyond the rocky shoreline, the forest of tall firs and cedars was too thick to see through. What we have seen are otters, eagles, herons, ducks, and seabirds, including dozens of pairs of marbled murrelets, a small, potato-sized bird that’s not faring too well in our home state. It’s reassuring to see them.

Day 13 was a long one, transiting narrow Grenville Channel to anchor in 35 feet atop a terminal moraine in the otherwise deep Khutze Inlet, a fjord. Although cruise ships, ferries and all manner of vessels large and small use Grenville Channel, the biggest things we saw floating were logs and trees.

Hitting one of these babies would ruin your day. This tree was about 100 feet long.
After a rainy winter, river outfall has been tremendous, and it has carried a lot of woody debris into waters where it’s normally not so plentiful. You have to keep a sharp eye out, because hitting a log and damaging your boat’s hull or prop could harsh your mellow. Plus, currents can reach 8 knots, so you need to plan ahead for your transit. We caught the tide ride, and Raven did a steady 9 knots over the bottom, reaching 10 and even 11 at times. Thrilling!

While anchored at Kumealon Inlet, Jim launched the dinghy and went exploring.

There’s a narrow channel leading to a lagoon behind the inlet, and he rowed up there. He was gone a long time, and I began to worry. Finally he returned at 9:30 pm (still in broad daylight) with the dinghy, oars and himself utterly filthy and also full of… foam?

“What on earth happened?” I asked.
“That was definitely one of the oddest experiences I’ve ever had,” said Jim. “It looked like someone had dumped not a box but a barrel of Tide at the base of a waterfall back there. I was rowing through the inlet and all of a sudden this deep foam came toward me and started filling the dinghy! It was crazy! If I’d stayed there it would’ve filled the dinghy. As it was, I couldn’t see the oars while I was rowing. Here, look, I took a video with my phone.”

I looked at the video. (We would upload it, but the internet signal is too weak.) Jim’s voice calmly narrates the scene of oncoming foam, and then it all goes into overdrive. He says, “These suds, they’re coming aboard, they’re taking over! Lookit this, whoa! Whoa! I gotta put down this phone and ROW!” You see the screen go black, hear him rowing and breathing hard, making the exact sounds of a person being chased by zombies, then he picks up the phone, out of breath, and says “Whew! That was nuts!” It was like watching a water version of the Blair Witch Project. Turns out this foam is a natural occurrence and nobody dumped soap, so don't worry. It has been happening here for centuries. 

Kumealon Inlet anchorage, with a train of foam flowing out the narrow inlet at the head of the cove.
Thick fog greeted us at the north end of Grenville Channel, and stayed with us to the narrows approaching Prince Rupert, but the radar and chart plotter took most (but not all) of the worry out.

Cap'n Jim is steady at the helm in thick fog, watching the radar for other boats and the water ahead for logs.
We are having a wonderful reunion with our friends Marty and Mae aboard Wild Abandon, their aptly-named, newly-painted navy-blue sloop. These two are hard-core sailors and fishermen. They catch so many big fish and send us photos of them that we call it piscatorial porn. And man, can Mae ever cook that seafood. We enjoyed a fabulous dinner of spot prawns in garlic butter (appetizer) followed by barbecued marinated salmon with mango salsa, seasoned with much laughter.

Mae made salmon loaf with the leftovers, oh my. And now we’re gale-bound in the same marina together! Looks like there may be a weather window on Tuesday, so we will head out toward Ketchikan as soon as the weather permits.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

North to Alaska!

Raven leaving Port Townsend for Alaska on a silver misty morning with the Hawaiian Chieftain sailing in the background.
We have sorely neglected our bloggery, but we’re back with fresh stories as we head for Alaska aboard our 29’ wooden powerboat, Raven.

The dinghy comes aboard through the tailgate and fits inside the boat - very handy.
On May 4 we left Port Townsend with a proper sendoff that included friends who brought treats, books, good wishes, and very bad puns. And one brave soul who waved farewell from his paddleboard off Point Wilson.

Friends seeing us off with good wishes and bad puns.
After several long days, one of which covered 90 miles, we arrived at Port McNeill, at the top of Vancouver Island, just ahead of a gale.

Sloppy going in Johnstone Strait...
...followed by a rainbow! (and a gale.)
There’s a lot of preparation, as you no doubt know, for any long trip (we will be gone for several months), and toward the end we became a pair of walking lists:

“Did get a spare whatsit?”
“Oh rats, I was just at the hardware store, I’ll get it next trip.”

There’s the endless organizing…

Jim makes things orderly aft.
…and the endless provisioning and storing of food, even though you rationally and totally get that yes, Virginia, people actually do eat and have grocery stores in Canada and Alaska.

Storing provisions in the cabin.
We have learned from our trans-Pacific crossing to never pass up an opportunity to visit a grocery store in a different country; you never know what you’ll find, and you never know when you may find it again. I think that idea may have cemented itself that time in the Marquesas when I paid the equivalent of six dollars for a third of the last head of limp cabbage on the island, and felt like I’d scored the deal of the decade. So what have we done with all that food that fills our boat? We left it aboard and went on the world’s longest pub crawl!

Here’s the itinerary so far:

Day 1: Cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca and anchor in Reid Harbor, Stuart Island, San Juan Islands. No pub unless one considers that Raven herself has served as a floating pub to a bunch of round-the-world sailors.

The tailgate as a private wharf.
Day 2: Cross Haro Strait, check in with Canadian Customs, and go to a wood-fired pizza pub. Also a very fancy boat show in the marina where we were berthed.

Day 3: Get underway at 6:00 am in order to make the slack current at Dodd Narrows, where people set up lawn chairs to watch the parade of boats chaos-ing through a whirlpool-infested rock bottleneck. Anchor off Nanaimo’s famous Dinghy Dock pub, which can only be reached by boat, and whose patrons and waitstaff were, to a person, extremely jolly.

Raven anchored off Nanaimo. View from Newcastle Island.
Day 4: Get underway at 5:00 am, go out into the Strait of Georgia in a spanking southeasterly breeze, think, oh wait, we’re not a sailboat anymore! and go like mad, downwind, sometimes surfing a bit, to anchor at Comox, where the exquisite Black Fin Pub awaits conveniently near the top of the fishing pier.

Underway at first light.
Day 5: Get underway at 4:00 am in darkness, picking our way out of crowded Comox Harbor, with a goal of passing through the dreaded Seymour Narrows on the slack tide at exactly 12:51 pm. To get an idea of the strength of this Narrows at maximum speed, imagine your boat being thrown into an industrial Maytag washer, first on extreme agitation followed by a nice fast spin cycle, with the twin peaks of a blown-up small mountain and some wrecked ships lying 45 feet beneath your keel. This was a 90-mile day; we caught the currents right and just kept going, all the way to Port Harvey, which has no pub.

Sonar view of the twin peaks of an underwater mountain that, after the largest non-nuclear explosion in history (in 1958), deepened from 9 feet under the surface to 45 feet. 
Day 6: Despite the weather service forecasting a strong Northwest wind, which worried us, we found a nice light tailwind from the southeast when we got underway at 5:00 am. It built to a gale by afternoon, but by then we were already tied up snug at the marina at Port McNeill. Dinner at Gus’s Pub.

Total miles so far: 279.
Gallons of fuel used per hour: 0.57.
Number of nautical miles per gallon: 10.5.

As you might imagine, we’ve been challenging ourselves to keep up such a pace because we want to get to Glacier Bay and then take it easy. Today being the aftermath of the gale, we decided to make it a lay day. But tonight we leave Port McNeill at 2:00 am, to catch the current and (we hope) lighter winds of early morning.

Did you know that there are a whole series of unspoken laws of the sea? For example:

#1. If you are on autopilot and there is a crab pot anywhere near your course, your boat will head straight for it.

#2: If you turn the temperature of the boat fridge down in hopes of preserving the food you’re not eating because you’re on a pub crawl, and also to test its power for the off chance that you might catch a nice big fish, it will cause a localized nuclear winter. Corollary: You will always discover the frozen beer at exactly happy hour.

#3: If, in desperation caused by Unspoken Law #2, you respond to your husband’s amused comment to “think outside the bottle” by cutting the top off a frozen bottle of Coke, you will have an instant slushee. Corollary: You will also have an instant brain freeze.

#4: If you are away from the worrisome daily news firehose for awhile and decide to check online to see what’s going on in the world, it will feel more like novelty than self-flagellation.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

That Nautical Affliction

It’s the middle of winter, and once again we are astounded anew that water can actually freeze and behave so badly in gale-force winds. What happened to summer? And why, after living full-time on a 24-foot boat and crossing 10,000 miles of ocean, do we find the normally palatial digs of our 850 square-foot house confining?

This is the time of year when most of us make big offshore voyages and fun coastal cruises—in our minds.

We browse online for off-season sales of boat equipment, and we concoct work plans that will fall apart like melting ice as soon as good weather hits.  Because, would you rather work on the boat or go boating? The adverbial clause sounds so much more action-oriented.

Meanwhile, we do things like walk the docks, stare at others’ boats while watching our frosty breath, we repair gizmos and make gilhickies in front of space heaters in our garages, and we plan for the next round of boat improvements. “Boat improvements” is the only phrase I know to have proven more potent than the previously most expensive four words on the planet: “While we’re at it…”

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know that Jim and I don’t have much self-control when it comes to boats, and, very likely, neither do you. It turns out there’s a name for this nautical affliction: OCHD. Our friend Steve Stone at Off Center Harbor, being the first to scientifically pin down this syndrome after years of study, has naturally named it for his company, which, if you recall the way stadiums are named for corporations, isn’t unusual except that this isn’t a stadium, it's an affliction. Oh well. Go, Steve.

So, in light of this new name for it, Jim and I wish to say, “Hi, We are Karen and Jim, and we’re addicts.”

Check this list of symptoms to see if you, too, might be afflicted with OCHD:

1. Did you ever name a pet something nautical? 


As a kid, Jim had an English setter named “Boots.” He says this was a family dog name, but come on, what’s a sailor’s favorite footwear at sea? He also had a turtle named Nellie Belle; okay, what rounded bronze item do sailors like to ring?

My developing OCHD has been less subtle; I had a schnauzer named Sparks. Her full name was “Chief Petty Officer, Telegraphist Sparks, Royal Navy retired, SAH!” Being the ship’s radio officer, she was the reason I’d point to when people would ask, “Why don’t you keep your radio on all the time, I was trying to reach you.” I also taught her to salute. Yes, that’s possible with a dog. But how to do that is top secret. One day at a parade of sail in Alexandria, Virginia, a Vice Admiral came up to the boat and said, sotto voce and looking slightly embarrassed, “I, uh, hear that your, uh, dog, uh, salutes.” A small crowd of about 50 midshipmen gathered grinning around a quickly amassing row of officers whose brass was so bright I put on my sunglasses. “Yes,” I said, “she can salute.”

“Uh, er, well,” said the Admiral, “We were wondering if she would salute us.” He gestured down the row of Admirals, Generals, Captains and Colonels. Sparks saluted them, and you never saw so many brass-laden arms snap to hat brims so fast. The Admiral smiled and said, “Uh, would you consider coming to my home and teaching my dog to salute? I’d like to be saluted when I come through the door each day.”

2. Do you dream about boats and sailing trips rather than working?
Well, duh.

3. Do you shop endlessly for boats (or boat items) online?
Being the epitome of nerdly boat geekness, Jim in no way can deny this. My OCHD predates online. Back in the Cretaceous period, the arrival of the Defender catalog, which was in tiny black-and-white letters on newsprint with even tinier photos, would trigger an extreme bout of OCHD. Obsessive poring would not begin to describe what I did over it for weeks on end, imagining where I would stow all that gear without sinking, and maybe I could take out a loan...

4. Is it harder to hear your spouse’s voice when you're around boats? 
We both have OCHD, so we’re balanced.

5. Do you take long mental voyages without untying from the dock?
I myself have sailed across the Atlantic approximately ten thousand times, visiting all of its historic ports, including the Mediterranean—during the age of sail, which kind of passed me by a hundred years ago.

6. Do you spend hours fixing defects that are unnoticeable to others?
Now see here, this is getting a little personal, don’t you think?

7. Do you make lists of things related to boats? And do you make lists of lists?
Possibly one of the most damning symptoms of all. Asking someone who is prepping for a voyage about this could unhinge them.

8. Do you have the ability to see boat equipment in store windows from half a mile away while simultaneously doing a U-turn faster than any landlubber can?
Of course you do.

9. Do you have trouble with control of drool at boat festivals?
Ever wonder why boat people like to dress so casually? Ever wonder why pirates wear scarves? This is why.

10. Do you love the smell of Stockholm tar, varnish, teak oil, and other things that are supposed to be bad for you?
It’s not just that you love them, they transport you to an alternate reality. To heck with steak and lobster, these are the steeds you ride to olfactory bliss.

Steve has suggested that someone find a Twelve Step cure, but so far all that’s been found is that those twelve steps lead straight down the dock.

Hang in there, northern hemisphere peeps, the days are getting longer.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Turning the page

Sockdolager leaves Port Townsend for her next chapter with her new owners, Dwight and Carmel. 
Sockdolager has been sold. Our eyes mist over a bit, but we know her new owners will take good care of her, and she, in turn, will treat them well. May their voyages, no matter how large or how small, leave a wake of fine and happy memories, including lovely scenes like this one, that found Sockdolager anchored at Wolf Bay, where we discovered to our delight why it was called “Wolf.”

One of our favorite secret spots. Shhhh.
Not counting six or seven dinghies, rafts, and kayaks, we are now down to two boats: Raven, and… did I mention that Jim bought a half-interest in a 53 year-old Thunderbird (26-foot racing sloop,) that with his buddies he races the living bejesus out of? Port Townsend has a large fleet of T-birds, and most of their owners are so gung-ho that Jim felt he had to go down to the docks last Saturday a couple hours before the remnants of Typhoon Songda were to hit, to make sure everyone knew the race that day was canceled.

Thunderbird racing action. Jim's T-Bird is called "Thatuna."
Catching up:  Although much of the summer was spent on boat maintenance and getting Sockdolager ready for sale, (not to mention Jim racing in the T-Bird Regional Regatta,) we did have some spectacular cruises. In April our Colorado-based friends Tom and Alex joined us aboard Raven to Seattle, to greet the incoming Clipper Round the World fleet arriving from Qingdao, China.

Clipper Round the World Race legs. Crews said the North Pacific was the hardest.
Twelve boats, 40,000 miles, 9 countries, 3 great capes, 6 ocean crossings… wow! The four of us knew that the crews of these Clipper 70s were going to be exhausted after a 5,868-mile slog in the frigid, stormy North Pacific in March while burning an average of 5,000 calories per crew per day. Hm, we thought, what might such people need besides sleep?

Pizza, of course!
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston is the originator of the 20 year-old Clipper race. For those of you who haven’t heard of him, let’s just say that he’s one of the most major gods in sailing’s pantheon. He won the first around the world nonstop solo race ever, in 1969, and at 78 he is still one seriously bada$$ sailor.

Tom, Alex and the Clipper fleet in Australia.
Tom had raced aboard the Clipper boat “Garmin” from Cape Town, South Africa to Airlie Beach, Australia, via the southern route, and he participated in the Sydney-Hobart Race. Hoo boy, the stories that man can tell!

Some of Tom’s friends were still aboard Garmin, and he was eager to see them. But… one does not greet such a fleet empty-handed, does one? Alex and I organized a shopping trip, and off we went to pick up goodies for the incoming crews… ohboyohboyohboy, we chuckled, are they ever gonna be surprised! Piles of food disappeared into Raven’s commodious storage spaces, even filling the dinghy.

Plenty of room for stowing extra food. We filled the dinghy.
Now we can hear you saying, wait a gol-durned minute, these race boats are coming INTO the land of the Big PX and you’re shopping for food? What were you thinking?


Over the space of a week or so, we went roaring up full throttle to every incoming Clipper boat we could find, all of us honking and waving wildly, making Raven look like a boatful of spiders. SLOW DOWN! WE HAVE FRESH FOOOOOOD FOR YOU! we yelled.

Raven at full speed trying to flag down Garmin. Campbell Mackie photo
Eager as they were to get in to port, their stunned expressions said it all as a boathook was extended from Raven’s bow to their sterns, loaded with bags containing fresh oranges, sandwich meat, cheese, bread, cookies, pastries, fruit juice, and pizza. EAT IT BEFORE YOU CLEAR INTO CUSTOMS, we meant to say, but that was not necessary.

Garmin crew not quite believing their eyes. Photo: Alex Weaver.
We ambushed three Clipper boats about 10 miles north of Seattle, and later two more off Port Townsend. One of the skippers gushed in an on-camera news interview at the Seattle dock, “...and then there was this little boat that dashed out from shore and gave us PIZZA!”

The witty LMax crew eyeing the bag 'O food.
One of the Clipper boats, LMax, had a French skipper, Olivier, who observed the food transfer and drily asked, “What, no wine?”


“Oh, white, sil vous plais.”

We tossed him a Bota Box. “Don’t worry,” we said, “it’s good boat wine and it bounces!”

The stormy North Pacific stripped the entire port side of this Clipper boat.
Knowing well in advance that Tom and Alex were coming to visit, we had started trying in January to make a reservation for April moorage at Seattle’s downtown Bell Harbor, where all the Clipper boats would be staying.

Bell Harbor Marina, downtown Seattle. Photo: Port of Seattle.
It’s too early, the marina staff said. So Jim called every week. Still too early, they said. Then: It’s too late, we’re all booked up. In one week? Rats, we said, and made plans to moor at Bainbridge Island across Puget Sound and take the ferry to Seattle each day. But on the day we arrived, we radioed Bell Harbor Marina to ask permission to drop off Tom and Alex and the family of another Garmin crew member. “Can we stay for an hour, just to see the boats?” Sure, they said. An hour later, Jim asked, “Can we stay for the night?” Sure, they said. You got the last berth, stay as long as you want.


Raven at her duty station.
We tied up among some bajillion-dollar yachts, feeling rather smug. The thing is, Raven was on the main dock fairway, and everyone on the Clipper boats had to walk past us to get to the gate to street level.

“Tom, do you think Sir Robin’ll be here in Seattle?” I said, gripping a well-thumbed first edition of Sir Robin’s book about that 1969 race, called “A World of My Own.”

“Oh yeah,” said Tom, “He always shows up at race stopovers.” And so begins the Tale of the Little Rogue Hospitality Boat.

The world's only Temporary Floating Clipper Race Pub.

Alex and I each had our copies of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston’s book, so we lay in wait for him to walk down the dock. Here he comes, I said.

Leave this to me, said Alex, and called out, “Sir Robin! Would you sign our books?”

“Why sure,” he said.

“Would you like to come aboard?” asked Jim, followed by, “And would you like a beer or glass of wine?”

“Red wine, please.”

Thus began an epic era in the annals of maritime history that did not end for three whole days.

At first: “Sir Robin…” said Alex.

“Stop calling me Sir, it’s just Robin,” he said.

Okay, we said.

“Have you got any more wine?” he said.

So there we were, a gathering crowd listening to the man himself spin yarns late into the evening, over mostly liquid dinners. It was, to put it mildly, an astonishing development.

“I’ve got an old friend who lives in this area, Robin mused, “John Guzzwell, it’s been years…”

“I KNOW HIM!” I exclaimed, then thought, just call him. Won’t that be a surprise. So I went below to call John, and he was pleased to hear from me. I told him who our guest was, and he said, “Oh, put him on, I’d love to talk to him!” So, walking up the steps from the cabin, I held out my phone and said, “Robin, John Guzzwell would like to speak with you.” He looked at me stunned, then looked at the phone and blurted, “Oh for God’s sake!” and reached for it. I laughed. They had a great conversation and we arranged to get these sailing legends together, two nights hence. For those of you who haven’t heard of John, he sailed the 21-foot self-built Trekka around the world in 1959. Robin told us that he himself had been utterly inspired by John.

Clipper boat Qingdao wins the beauty contest.
During daytime, racing sails needed mending, so for the next few days Alex and I patched, sewed and glued a gigantic genoa, with sail palms and sewing awls. We put in more than a dozen patches.

Seattle's cruise ship baggage handling area became a sail loft.
Many sail repairs we could not tackle because the damage was too bad, so those went to the professionals.

Garmin's genoa clew ripped right out in a 60-knot gust.

Dr. Alex repairs sails. "Just like stitching up patients," she said.

Garmin was also one of three or four boats that broke their carbon fiber bowsprits.
Garmin crew holds up broken bowsprit. All repairs were made during the brief stopover, but for the crews and race support staff it was a scramble.
There was plenty of damage after this exceptionally rough passage.

One of many bent stanchions - this one was aboard Unicef.
On the first evening, the well-stocked Raven filled with sailors from around the world. Robin held court as everyone listened.

Around 7PM a couple of well-dressed men stood on the dock and peered in. Come aboard! I said, but they demurred. What they wanted was for Robin to come to their boat, which was one of the bajillion dollar babies parked nearby, because they were all ready to host him. A collection of other equally well-dressed people were evidently waiting, too. Jim and I figured it must have been the official hospitality boat. Uh-oh, I thought, we might be interfering with official functions.

“Right. I’ll be over straight away,” said Robin.

An hour later, the envoy was back. “We’d like to INVITE you to come over to our boat,” they said, pointing. So Robin and his crew went, but were back aboard Raven within 90 minutes, and stayed until what in a pub would be called “closing time.”

“We’d better buy more boxes of wine,” I said to Jim. “That was fun!”

Our cruising friend Will Sugg could hardly believe it when I posted what was happening on Facebook, so he joined us for sail-mending over the next two days, and naturally, for the evening’s activities.

Will Sugg helps Catherine, Garmin's crew in charge of sail repairs.
Robin stopped by in the afternoon, pressed a wad of cash into my hand and said, “Take this. No arguments. I’ve been drinking up all your wine.” So each evening I filled Robin’s glass, and it was fuel for the best stories ever.

Around 7PM, THREE well-dressed men stood outside Raven, but would not come aboard. “We were HOPING you might come over to OUR boat,” they said to Robin. “Be there in just a minute,” he answered. An hour later I whispered to Jim, “Here they come again, I think they hate us.”

Next day, sail repairs, third night, more wine and tales aboard Raven, but this time there were two well-dressed men and one well-dressed woman in the 7 PM envoy. I was feeling sorry for them, but hey, it was party time on the good ole Raven. And not only that, John and Dorothy Guzzwell were aboard, and the Clipper crews who recognized them were amazed, and we’d ordered pizza for everyone and were all having the time of our lives. In this photo Robin Knox-Johnston, Tom Reese, Jim Heumann and John Guzzwell are discussing offshore sailing. Jim said later, “I was about to say how long and tiring our 37-day passage from Mexico to the Marquesas was until I remembered just in time, who I was talking to!”
Robin Knox-Johnston, Tom Reese, Jim Heumann and John Guzzwell.
“Really,” said one of the well-dressed men standing outside Raven, as nicely as possible, “We would like to have you come over to OUR BOAT. We have a fully stocked bar and hors d’oeuvres.”

“I promise you, WE will be over soon,” said Robin. At this I was thinking, nuh-uh, they don't want me, not in these Carhartts.  Just then, the “Visit Seattle” Clipper race boat arrived from China, and the entire Raven party, along with the bajillion dollar boat envoy, went down the dock to cheer them in. Speeches were made and Visit Seattle’s crew were whisked off to Customs to clear in, and when they came back down the dock we were dangling slices of pizza at them. The other boat’s envoy did not know who John Guzzwell was, so Robin explained it to them, in deservedly glowing terms, and the envoy invited him and Dorothy to their boat, too. By now they had stopped making eye contact with me, even though I was trying to tell them with my conciliatory smile, we didn't steal Robin, he just likes it here.

As Robin, John and Dorothy were leaving with the envoy, I said, “We’ll see you later,” but Robin looked at Jim, Alex, and Tom, grabbed my hand and said, “Oh no you don’t, you’re coming with us!” So, like pirates at a Blackbeard barbecue, the entire Raven party boarded the bajillion dollar boat, and its owners were mighty good sports about it. Jim and I made an early exit (I mean, Carhartts and Gucci, really) but within 90 minutes the gang was back aboard Raven. “We drank them dry,” someone said.

A sign stuck in Raven's window. 
Earlier that evening, we had told Robin that this would be our last night in Seattle, as we had to get back home. “You CAN’T leave!” he said, “What are we going to do without you?” So the evening grew merrier and continued, shall we say, “quite late,” with stories and yarns.  At one point Robin was standing near Raven’s starboard (dock) side telling a story, and when we all crowded around him, the combined weight of all of us together caused Raven to heel over a little, and the next thing we knew, Robin was doing a slo-mo- backwards fall off the boat. But being the athlete he is, he managed to grip with his knees the boat’s rail as he went over, which softened his descent into what looked like more of a melting than a fall. He landed on the dock with his feet still in the boat and knees draped over the rail, without spilling a single drop of wine.

There was a stunned silence. Good god, I thought, the great Robin Knox-Johnston just fell off our boat. What the hell do we do now?

Will Sugg and others listening to Robin Knox-Johnston on the last night.
Without missing a beat he let out a laugh, which caused us a huge sigh of relief. Handing me his wine glass, he reached for peoples’ arms, and we pulled him back aboard, apparently none the worse for wear. A few more stories were told and we bid each other fond farewells.

Karen Sullivan, Robin Knox-Johnston, and Jim Heumann.
Since then, the Clipper boats have returned to England and are getting ready for the next round-the-world race. Guess who’s going to be on it?  Alex. You go, girl.

NOt counting a few short jaunts, there were two more cruises this year, both to Canada via the San Juans, and another 4-day sail in the San Juans aboard the 137' schooner Adventuress, but we’re going to save them for the next post.