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.)



Monday, August 31, 2009

Our route so far

The Home Stretch


We’re in Comox, on Vancouver Island. Nice little town, about 150 miles from home. The weather is still more like San Diego than Canada, hot days and clear starry nights with the odd rainy day the exception, but in spite of worries about climate change everyone on the water is saying “What a summer!” The photo above is a typical wall of fog; one minute it's clear and the next you can't see your toes.

Our approximate date for arrival in Port Townsend is September 8, in time for the Wooden Boat Festival. But we’re still not in any hurry, and are stretching out the end of the cruise to make this lovely summer last as long as possible. Winter lasts awhile and you never know what you’ll get with summers in the Northwest—last year was dreary and wet. Let’s catch you up since the last post.

Broughton Islands redux: The rest of our stay in the Broughtons was good and we’d like to go back there.



Besides several lovely anchorages that we had all to ourselves or shared with cruising boats with whom we visited, a big highlight was the Lagoon Cove marina at Minstrel Island. Naturally, we had to stop there since the island is named after Karen’s boat… or something like that. What a place! It has been described as a summer camp for adults. Happy Hour with steamed prawns (free!) and cruiser-supplied hors d’oeuvres on the deck of an “historic” old workshop is a tradition. Then there are the hiking trails up the mountain, the whimsical metal sculptures, the exceptional trading library, the crab cooking shack, and the sheer friendliness. The owners heard that we’d had poor luck catching crabs in our new trap and gave us five or six huge Dungeness crabs, on which we chomped in an elbow-dripping feast with enough left over for crab cakes. The fishing continues to be good, and we’ve been able to catch dinner nearly every time we try. We visited Simoom Sound because of its intriguing shape on the chart, the glowing descriptions in the cruising guide, but mostly because of its lyrical name. But the sound of multiple chain saws and big trees going CRACK! as they fell, and the sight of mountainsides stripped bare of old- and second growth trees, marred the beauty of Simoom Sound.

Photo: another lousy sunset in the Broughtons.


Water comets deluxe: In the smallest hours of a starry night in a splendid little cove near Seabreeze Island, Karen heard a splash, then a light thump on the hull. She came fully awake and went topside to investigate. The water reflected the stars until she realized those weren’t reflections-- dots of light and tiny comets streaked all around the boat as tiny fish fed on phosphorescent plankton. The thump on the hull might have been a large fish or a seal. “You awake? You gotta see this!” We marveled at thousands of streaks and flashes. Karen whirled a mop handle in the water to create a galaxy of phosphorescence, and Jim created his own galaxy of phosphorescence in a way only men can do.

Photo: Da Bidness end of a lingcod.




Johnstone Strait reflux: This time it was smooth and windless—a bit disappointing to Jim, who’d heard its reputation was fierce, but very much a relief to Karen, who’s transited it twice. We encountered the famous Johnstone Strait orca pod, which had stationed six or seven of the nine killer whales we observed in a circle, where they stayed in place at the surface as the youngsters played together. “Killer whales, yippee!” we yelled. We slowed down and altered course away so as not to disturb them, and the biggest one did a quick spyhop to get a look at us. Then it made a noise. A rather unusual noise for a killer whale. A more usual noise for a human. “Did you hear that?” said Karen. “I did,” said Jim, “I never knew whales could fart.” “Me neither,” said Karen. “Maybe it was a Bronx cheer, ya think?”
Whatever it was, it was a loud one.

Octopus’s Garden nyuk nyuks: Instead of going via Dent-Yaculta Rapids we decided to try the Okisollo Channel and visit the Octopus Islands. Cool name! Wouldn’t you want to go to a place named Octopus? Karen sang a slightly off-key version of “Octopus’s Garden” to Jim as they shot through the rapids at near-slack tide. (‘I’d like to be….under the sheets….in an octopus’s garden….with youuu!’) Though the islands were crowded with boats, those suckers were fun. We visited with a cruising boat named ‘Kafka’ after asking them if they were deep thinkers (they are), and rowed ashore to the Cruiser’s Gallery, an old wood shack stuffed with driftwood art and name-board signs made by cruisers. We left our contribution, a tiny driftwood name-board that Karen carved. There is one other cruisers gallery we know of, in the Wallace Islands Marine Park (Canada’s Gulf Islands.) Then we sailed away, through Surge narrows, to Heriot Bay and now through the Strait of Georgia.

Photo: Sockdolager leaves her mark at the Cruiser's Gallery.



Meedle and Bob: Okay, so it’s time we addressed this issue once and for all. Inquiring minds want to know. What is it they ask? “When you’ve been together 24/7 nonstop for ninety-odd days on that tiny little boat, how do you keep from tearing each others’ hair out?” Sockdolager is relieved to report that though it has not been without its moments, both Jim and Karen retain full and healthy heads of hair. Most of the “moments” have revolved around miscommunications. Not everyday miscommunications, mind you, like the time in Johnstone Strait when Karen admired a sturdy ketch designed by the famous marine architect William Garden and said, “What a well-kept Garden ketch!” to which Jim replied, “Do you think they have any tomatoes?” No, not those kinds of miscommunications, we mean another kind. The dreaded gender-based kind.
If you subscribe to the theory of gender stereotyping, you might say that in matters of speech, women have a tendency to be more indirect than men. This can result in a lot of annoying little clarification discussions. For example...
Karen at helm, noticing Jim’s leg is blocking her view of the depth sounder: “In a few minutes I’m going to need to see the depth sounder.” (Translation: I would like you to get this hint because your leg is posing a threat to life and safety.)
Jim: “Okay.” (He doesn’t move his leg.)
Karen, a few seconds later: “It’s getting shallow. I need to see the depth sounder now.”
Jim looks down at his leg. “Why didn’t you just say move yer damn leg?”
Karen: “I dunno, it sounds kind of rude.”

So, in order to satisfy the simultaneous needs to be direct yet not rude, we invented a few acronym-words that are short, sharp and satisfyingly ambiguous. The new word for “Move yer damn leg!” is “MYDL!” Pronounced meedle so it’s not confused with the medication for women only. In the event the recipient does not register the meaning of this command after two utterances, the helmsperson gets to bark (but only once), “MYGDL!”
Here is another: BOB. Posed as a question, answered as a statement.
Jim: “BOB?”
Karen: “BOB.”

Meaning, “Have you turned the battery switch this morning so that both will be charging when we start the engine?”
“Yes, the battery switch is turned to both.”
Batteries on both. BOB. Saves 26 words, which is significant before we’ve had our second cups of coffee.

There are a couple more, but this should not be overdone. “ISTE.” Comes after BOB and means I’m starting the engine. Finally, a favorite of Jim’s: “AO!” Rhymes with Day-oh. Means the anchor is up. Yes, Jim knows it would be more correct to say “AU!” but he doesn’t care because he likes hollering “AAAYYYYY-Oh!” from the foredeck.

Wait, there’s one more needed. It comes at the end of a long day’s run in more crowded waters, where people call dumb stuff to each other over the radio on VHF channel 16 and half the continent can hear it. You can almost hear the Coast Guard groaning.
“Hey, Rita’s Mink. Rita’s Mink, Rita’s Mink. Ya gotcher ears on? This is Passing Wind calling.” (We kid you not, these are real boat names.)

There can only be one response. That acronym is “TODR!” Turn off the damn radio.

We leave Comox tomorrow, headed in the direction of Lasqueti Island. We’ll try to rendezvous with a friend in the San Juans before we get to Port Townsend. What a summer, what a marvelous summer!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

At Eastern End of Johnstone Strait

We're off to shoot some rapids! Currently we are up Mayne Passage at the Blind Channel Marina. On enthusiastic advice from a family cruising on a Bristol Channel Cutter named Tarquin, we have decided to go via the Okisollo Channel to the Octopus Islands Marine Park, where the anchorage, a favorite of theirs, is unique. The Broughton Islands were great, Johnstone Strait was an easy passage this time, and we'll post more later when we stop longer. Celebrating Jim's birthday today!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Route to date (Aug 20, 2009)

In the Broughton archipelago

We rounded Cape Caution in dense fog two days ago. Before we did, we talked about its name. "I think the name is kind of unspecific and negative, don't you?" said Jim. "Yeah," Karen replied, "Either they should call it Cape Fearful or give it something pleasant, but not a mushy word like Caution."

"How about Cape Carefree?" asked Jim.
"I like it!" said Karen.

But Cape Carefree it wasn't. Those wily Canadians were right.

Funny thing, it didn't look foggy from our view at the snug anchorage of Fury Cove in a group of islets called Schooner Retreat. Hmmm...

"It's not foggy this morning!" said Jim as we arose at 0500. "Yay! Let's go!" said Karen. We left with high hopes of a pleasant downwind sail and ran into a fog bank about half an hour out. When we say fog in BC, we mean industrial strength. No cute little cat's feet for THIS fog. It creeps like a cougar, not a kitty. "It won't last," we reassured each other. Weather reports agreed. Since we don't have radar, we proceeded carefully with Jim being lookout to port and Karen peering to starboard, both looking fore and aft constantly. And listening hard. And blowing our fog horn. And paying close attention to the vessel traffic channel on our VHF radio. Just like everyone did in the olden days. It paid off as we passed two tugs with barges in tow, unseen but clearly heard. One used its horn and the other gave a Securite call on the radio, to which we responded. Ten hours and fifty miles later, with eyes streaming from the strain, we reached the entrance to Blunden Harbor just as the sun emerged to the irony of a gorgeous sparkling day.

"This is the beginning of the fog season," said a boatowner at the very tony floating village at Sullivan Bay on Broughton Island, where we are now. Although it's great to have the same name as the bay and village you're in, it won't even get you a cup of coffee. But Karen did buy the T-shirt. We walked around the floating "road system" (our favorites being named Halibut Heights and Hootchie Lane, where we are docked) and we saw a helicopter on the roof of one of the houses. At dinner we learned that the village is owned by nine couples (several with large motor yachts from Seattle) who have floating summer homes here. Thought it was something like that. Sailboats are outnumbered 10-1 by very large powerboats, not only here but surprisingly at most of the places we've been, including some of the remote inlets.

One note of caution for cruisers who may stop at Bella Bella: although the town was filled with friendly people, the dockmaster was quite rude. Karen remembers being treated rudely in 2001 when she stopped there, too. In the morning after the potlatch we moved Sockdolager to the fuel dock, and the dockmaster angrily refused to give or even, when we asked, to sell us any water (this after several days of rain had considerably helped their supplies) and told us we had to leave immediately. He had just given water, lots of it, to a large powerboat next to us, so it didn't make sense. What provoked him we don't know. So we left and went across the harbor to Shearwater. A couple other boats there had had similar experiences. Our tanks were nearly empty. The water in Shearwater is brown, needs to be boiled, and is undrinkable. The locals don't drink it. We learned about a large-volume water hose on a rickety pier near the ferry dock in McLoughlin Bay to the south of Bella Bella, and found it had plenty of good water. Whew. But cruisers should conserve fresh water supplies just in case.

And a note on wildlife so this post doesn't end on a downer: There was a whale in Seaforth Channel near the entrance to Lama Passage, which is fairly far inland. It was the largest humpback we've seen so far, and it made a dive close by as it approached us as we sailed wing and wing at five knots. We worried about hitting it, but we needn't have. It stayed down a long, long time and we were awed by our memory of the huge size of it. Two days and fifty miles later as we approached Fury Cove, this same whale was there, right near the entrance. Karen recognized it by the odd shaped dorsal fin and the nearly all-black tail flukes. Again it dived nearby as if to welcome us, and this time we were utterly delighted! After anchoring, we climbed over some rocks to watch it frolic right in front of us off the beach. Ahhhhhh.....

A few days later, outside the entrance to the Broughtons at Wells Passage, we saw birds in numbers we hadn't seen before. Karen counted one raft of about 2000 birds sitting on the water; probably 600 gulls and 1400 rhinoceros auklets. This in addition to 600 rhinos sitting outside Blunden Harbor! Then, closer inshore, another raft of a thousand rhinoceros auklets, plus 500-600 gulls feeding frenziedly. Haven't seen birds like that since the Aleutians! It was a lovely sight to see so much bird life all in one place.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Route to date

Back on Canada's Mainland and Heading South


The Inside Passage:
We are in Shearwater/Bella Bella. After 75 days of sailing in these waters, we finally joined the Inside Passage for the first time on August 12 (just north of Klemtu). Since then we’ve seen more boats than we’ve seen on our entire trip. Even the oceans have highways, byways and remote trails. Although going off the beaten track takes more effort and requires a bit more self-reliance, it’s worth it. Currently we’re experiencing a slight re-entry shock at all the civilization here in this village, but our laundry was beginning to speak audibly from its dank corner, we ran out of fresh vegetables, meat and ice, and we wanted to check in with the world. It would be nice to be able to send and receive email and hear the latest news from remote anchorages, but that would require a ham or single-sideband radio. It’s on the list. Jim’s investigating getting licensed and we’re trying to figure where we might fit the radio on the boat. Meanwhile, here’s a catch-up:

Fond farewell to the Queen Charlottes: Can you see the sleeping figure in this photo?
While we were anchored off Queen Charlotte City, we wanted to transit the intricate Skidegate Channel to the west coast, but nearly a week of 40-knot winds after we last wrote kept us from doing that. Even the fishermen told us we shouldn’t attempt it, because the seas that met them at the other end were, they said, huge. And if a fisherman tells you the seas are huge it’s probably wise to believe it. This is a photo of relatively protected waters during the gale. So we rented a car for a day and drove to the far north side of Graham Island, through several interesting villages to the body of water known as Dixon Entrance, across which lay Alaska. Dixon was living up to its wild reputation that day, and we photographed the surf explosively hitting a rock blowhole at a beach. The people along the way were very friendly, the totem poles in several villages were exquisitely carved by the late, beloved Bill Reid and other Haida artists, and the brand new museum at Skidegate Village was breathtaking.
The weather finally moderated. We arose at 0430, got ready, turned the engine key, and... nothing. By the time we replaced the ignition switch it was too late to go that day, and we'd lost our good-weather window for another few days. Still, once it moderated again it wasn’t easy to leave a place like that. Such warm people, such history, scenery and beauty.
Photo: a Haida canoe awaiting its crew.

The Outside Passage: The 73-mile crossing of Hecate Strait took only one long day, starting with the anchor up at first light, and ending 15 ½ hours later. In the photo you can see a sunrise optical illusion, where the sun loses its roundness and becomes columnar--it did this for about ten minutes.

It was also a terrific sail, with beam seas of only 1-2 meters and a nice northwest wind that eventually increased to about 30 knots and saw Sockdolager double-reefed and going like a scalded cat, but comfortably. We actually sailed a bit north on this leg (to the north side of Banks Island) because we wanted to see the little-known “Outside Passage” and sail down Principe and Petrel Channels, with their little-used harbors.

One of the best things about cruising is the people you meet, and this area was no exception. A 30-foot sailboat with the intriguing name of “Wild Abandon” sailed in to the inlet we were in, and within two days we had gone fishing (and caught fish!), had a couple of dinners and many laughs together, some cribbage lessons, and one Big Adventure. “We’re going to Buchan Inlet,” said Marty and May, who are from Prince Rupert, when we discussed whether we’d meet again that night. “We might go there too,” we replied, as we left a couple hours before they did. The cruising guide gave a tiny mention, in its description of Buchan Inlet, that a boat might want to enter the beautiful back lagoon, which is more sheltered than the outer bay, at high slack water. However, it declined to say why. It did show the entrance to be narrow, but lots of entrances are narrow.

So, thinking that Marty and May knew the place and had gone in there a bunch of times, we reconnoitered it and then blasted through the narrows. The outgoing current was around 4 knots and rocks were visible close by, so this qualified as the most hair-raising entrance we’d ever done. Later, Marty zoomed in on his dinghy with eyes wide. ‘HOW THE HELL DID YOU GET IN HERE?” he said. We told him, then said, “We thought you’d done this before and meant to come in here as your anchorage.” “Good God no!” he said. “I’d never come in here after looking at those narrows!” They anchored in the outer bay, and after dinner aboard their boat we had one of the scariest dinghy rides imaginable back to Sockdolager, skimming over a spot that was bare rock shortly after. Here's a photo of the entrance at mid-tide, but wait'll you see the video when we figure out how to post it.
Even the inner cove was not spared from current. Sockdolager was spinning around her anchor like a compass in the Bermuda Triangle. It was muggy and buggy, and there were uncharted rocks and no crabs in there. We decided that this chapter of the cruising guide should be thrown out.

Exiting Constipation Cove would be tricky, so we decided to wait for high water slack the next afternoon. That day we rowed over to the narrows and were shocked: whitewater rapids foamed and surged and flowed into the cove at 7 to 9 knots. Yeeks! We climbed a rocky island in the middle of the channel and filmed them, because it will be hard to believe you could get a sailboat through there, and we intend to prove we did. Finally, with hearts thumping, we threaded the narrows at high tide and got out of jail free. UPDATE: At the end of this post we've added 4 video clips to give you an idea of what the entrance to Buchan Inlet is like. Rest assured, we will NEVER try that again.

Continuing our nautical ramble, the pace of which Jim has described as “Progress akin to that of a wounded snail,” we spent a couple of days riding out a gale anchored on Campania Island among a gorgeous maze of tiny islands stuffed with noisy crowds of ancient murrelets, mergansers, Sabine’s gulls, and eagles that in any other place would be a national park. Did we mention noisy? It sounded like a ballfield at the World Series where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is trying to teach everyone “The Messiah” after too many beers and a no-hitter. Those birds could sing. The transit through Laredo Sound went through a bit of open sea, and we met big swells again, but by the end of a long day the sailing was good and we navigated a little-used channel called Meyers Passage, an inland cut that avoids the open sea.

It feels pretty good to have been out for 75 days without being on any of the “beaten tracks.” Now we are, and there will be plenty of company. We look forward to meeting new friends and reuniting with old ones.

Potlatch! We heard our friend Roly Brown, of F/V Tropic Isle, on the radio and rendezvoused with him at the Bella Bella government dock. There was a huge potlatch going on and the entire town plus tribal members from other villages were there—perhaps two hundred in all. Someone invited us in, and we watched quietly and with awe as the long, emotional ceremonies unfolded. Although we didn’t understand them all, the dancing, drumming and singing were compelling, and we witnessed the giving of special names and gifts such as blankets. A revered elder, a woman named Shirley, was honored with a new carved hat and ornate set of Chief's robes.
In this photo Chiefs are dancing. Their carved wooden hats are hung with ermine skins, and some are topped with sea lion whiskers, which form a kind of cage for loose eagle and swan's down. The scattering of these white feathers as a Chief dances is a traditional sign of peace. Rattles and decorative attachments to the costumes are sometimes made of deer hooves, and they make quite a sound. Combined with drumming and chanting, the effect is hypnotic. In another ceremony, an elder named Al who had been forcibly sent to a boarding school in his childhood was honored and publicly enfolded back into the community. They literally wrapped him in a blanket and hugged him and then his entire extended family circled the hall as the rest of us stood to honor him. It was quite moving, and a real privilege to witness.
And that’s part of the potlatch tradition: everyone is a participant because the act of witnessing the passing of names, possessions, stories or traditions is as important as passing them on. Potlatches, which we learned evolved as a traditional economic as well as cultural system for First Nations in the Northwest, were outlawed in the 1880s and only recognized at mid-century. Of course, they continued to be held in private, called “church suppers” and other ambiguous names. This potlatch started in late afternoon and was to go well into the night. We three stayed for awhile, but reluctantly left to go rustle up some supper.

The Fishing is Ridiculous: Yes, you read that right. Adjectives are flying about this fishing season, including “obscenely good.” And you’ll be pleased to know that we finally have it figured out and can go fishing with reasonable chance of success. In fact, too much fresh salmon can be, well… no we have not reached that point yet but we’re close. Jim, observing hundreds of jumping salmon, could stand it no longer. He said, “I know we have a long way to go, but let’s go over to that reef and fish for fifteen minutes. Just fifteen, okay?” He sounded like an addict needing a fix. After a few minutes of trolling he looked worriedly at his watch and said, “Only six minutes left.” Then, BANG! “FISH ON!” Karen yelled at the zizz of the line. Jim reeled it in as she netted it: a dinner-sized pink. Now Jim is saying things like, “I just want to catch a fish. I don’t really want to eat more fish right now, I just wanna catch another one.” In the photo Jim is doing the traditional "kiss your first salmon" gesture, albeit three or four salmon into his new career. Is he hooked, or what?

D├ętente: Just as Americans take delight in pointing out differences in speech patterns, Canadians are no less enthusiastic about it. We say “huh?” while they say “Eh?” We end most of our sentences on a down-tone, while they end with up-speak. We have weird signs and so do they. (A TV Society? Wonder what the initiation rites are like...)
The BC accent has pleasant Scottish and Irish undertones, which delight our ears. Our flat pronunciations amuse and sometimes puzzle their ears, especially when we use place names, which are so unusual and fun to say that we wrote a song to the tune of Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere.” BC’ers love to hear us rattle off a playful rhyming string of their place names as we sing “We’ve Been Everywhere (in BC).”
Occasionally a spot of politics will creep into conversations. Mostly, Canadians remain baffled by the last eight years and gently probe us to ascertain that we haven’t lost our marbles or been abducted by aliens or something. We assure them that most Americans, with a few notable exceptions, are perfectly sane and rational. We tell them we’re trying to get back to whatever passes for normal these days, as best we can. They are reassured by the individual, startled by the masses, when it comes to dealing with Americans.

But one international issue refuses all attempts to resolve it. There is no quarter given, no conciliatory d├ętente, no mercy, and this is very troubling. It is serious. It is the price of Canadian beer. You think we’re kidding? The cheapest Canadian beer is three times the price of average-grade American. Shock and awe for the unwary. It’s a stealth technique for identifying Americans who might otherwise pass without notice. Unfailingly, the scene unfolds like this:
Jim and Karen, upon entering a liquor store: “GASP! GASP!”
Clerk: “You’re Americans, aren’t you?”

Don’t say we didn’t warn you. One hopeful sign is the rumor that the Canadian government is considering placing defibrillators at the doorways.

Dethump: Karen has developed the habit of whacking her head on any available part of the boat. She sits up in bed, whack. Fails to see the hatch is closed as she ascends the steps, whack. Throws her head back to laugh, whack. She even hit her head on the boat’s compression post, which thundered all the way to the cockpit and caused Jim to ask, “How’d you do that?” While all this whacking gives much amusement, it also gives headaches and lumps. Perhaps she has a case of Whackheimers. But why, after all this time of owning a Dana 24 herself, is this malady just now appearing, and on someone who’s only five-foot two? Karen’s only consolation is her newly minted word for the condition of repeatedly hitting the same body part on unyielding objects such as a boat: a whackadundant.

Depart: Tomorrow we’ll leave civilization to continue heading toward home. The challenge of going faster than a wounded snail is proving to be a daunting one, as temptation lurks at every bend in the channel. We’ll make stops in the Broughton Islands and will attempt the Dent-Yaculta rapids route instead of Seymour Narrows. But a rapids-infested channel named Dent does give a boat owner pause to wonder why it has that name…
video video video video

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Leaving Charlottes

Planning to cross Hecate Strait tomorrow. Forecast is 20 to 25 from the NW and sunny. Ye ha.

Sent from my iPhone