Here you will find tales of voyages past and present on our trusty Pacific Seacraft Dana 24, "Sockdolager," and more recently, our Bigfoot29 powerboat, "Raven," 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, sailed to Mexico, 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. In 2018 we cruised up to Glacier Bay, Alaska, and back. We hope you enjoy reading about our adventures as much as we enjoy having them. (And there will be more.)

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Stealth Pizza, the Coast Guard, and other Delights

Raven delivers pizza at sea to Maiden

There’s a lot to report, and Raven has once again found herself in the middle of things. Fun things. Exciting things. Occasionally weird, hilarious things.

We tend to write fewer but longer blog posts, so if this one’s too long, just break it up into small segments to consume with your morning cereal for a few days.

If you haven’t seen Off Center Harbor’s video of us aboard Raven from last summer, with photos and footage from Alaska, here it is.

From last summer-Reid Harbor at Glacier Bay, Alaska

Stealth pizza delivery boat: As you may recall from a previous post, Raven got a bit of a, uh, “reputation,” shall we say, for becoming a floating pub for Robin Knox-Johnston and other luminaries, and also for delivering pizza and other goodies to a series of hungry, round-the-world sailors inbound from a long cold grueling North Pacific crossing. With our friends and Clipper racers Tom and Alex aboard, we’d dashed out to as many of the racing boats as we could and tossed them bags of fresh oranges, bread, sandwich fixins, cookies, and in one case, that of Clipper skipper Wendy Tuck, we delivered pizza, because we’d read on her blog that she was lusting for it. What we didn’t know back then was she’d been thrown across the boat offshore and had broken a rib, and that pizza was like manna from heaven. It put a warm spot in Wendy’s heart (and stomach) for Port Townsend, so this year when we heard that not only had our friend Kaci Cronkhite arranged for the famous racing sailboat Maiden to do a 2-hour mid-August pit stop in Port Townsend, but also that Wendy Tuck is her captain, well… for the good ole Raven, it was damn the anchovies, pile on the cheese, and full speed ahead.  

With our stealth pizza aboard, along with Jim and our crew for the day Denis Wang and Bill Ferry, we cast off our lines and headed out. To lay in wait. We just loooove ambushes. Maiden was coming up Admiralty Inlet from Seattle, and we stationed ourselves just west of the point of Marrowstone Island, so that they’d see us when they rounded the corner. Just as Maiden was rounding it, I called them on the VHF radio: “Maiden, Maiden, this is the motor vessel Raven. Welcome to Port Townsend.”

Suddenly a voice, excited: “RAVEN!!!! This is Maiden!” It was Wendy herself.

“Maiden, Raven here, we are just around the corner, and we have some pizza for you.”

Sound of cheering and laughter in background. Also, sight of someone jumping up and down. Also, sound of someone else asking, Did we order a pizza? Do we need to get cash? “Raven, this is Maiden. THANK YOU! This is wonderful! I have to explain this tradition to my crew.”

More excited conversation and laughter ensued over the radio, and we half-expected the Coast Guard to break in and say TONE IT DOWN, LADIES. But they didn’t.

The crew was fully briefed about the pizza delivery tradition, Maiden put fenders over the side, steered a steady course at about 4 knots, and Raven came alongside with Jim manning her boathook and lifting the string-tied pizza over to them. Cheers all around! Here’s a video of the handoff

Pizza handoff

Maiden then allowed Raven and an armada of welcoming boats to lead her across the bay toward Port Townsend. A huge crowd—some say as many as 1,500 people—was waiting on the pier, on the maritime Center balconies, and all across the beach, cheering and applauding.

Huge reception at the dock, Port Townsend

The movie, Maiden, was showing that week at Port Townsend’s own Rose Theater, so everyone was very excited. If you haven’t seen it, do—it’s quite astonishing what those women accomplished, and if you don’t get a tear in your eye you can buy me pizza. The crowd gave the Maiden crew a warm welcome, with Hip! Hip! Hooray! echoing, and banners flying, and speeches and our town’s magnificent female sailing cognoscenti on the dock to take lines and welcome them.

Kaci Cronkhite welcomes the skipper & crew of Maiden. Carol Hasse was there and gave a lovely speech.

Karen (not cognoscenti) discusses Raven's next pizza delivery with Wendy Tuck

After a small ceremony and a brief but steady stream of boat tours, Maiden was off again, for San Francisco, then Los Angeles, and south toward Valparaiso, then Cape Horn and beyond. All the way around. With a pizza in the oven as she went out the Strait on a bumpy night. We escorted her out of the bay toward Point Wilson, and after swooping close past us for a final goodbye, off she went into the night.

Maiden swoops past Raven for a final goodbye

It seems like everyone's headed for Cape Horn

Adieu for now to a great sailor: In late August Raven crossed the Strait to Canada, to anchor in Cadboro Bay, about 4 miles east of Victoria’s Inner Harbour. The Royal Victoria Yacht Club is there, and our friends Cathy and Bill Norrie, who are members, have a Bristol Channel Cutter named Pixie, that is so beautiful and seaworthy that just one look at it will roll your socks up and down. 

Bill Norrie

Cathy Norrie

I was also amazed to see that Lin and Larry Pardey had given their Cape Horn charts to Bill, and as we gazed at them in Pixie's cabin, Larry’s precise navigation marks showed the track they had made, the one we’ve all read about. It was wonderful to see.

Cape Horn has a fearsome reputation, but Bill wants to sail close enough to get a good photo

Bill and Cathy had already circumnavigated aboard theirPacific Seacraft 37, Terrwyn, back around the same time we were sailing our Dana 24, Sockdolager, to New Zealand. So it’s not like Bill doesn’t know what he’s in for. His dream is to sail around the world mostly nonstop, and on Monday September 2, he left Canada for Hobart, Tasmania, nonstop via Cape Horn, where the Atlantic, Pacific and Southern Oceans collide. After rounding Cape Horn he may stop at South Georgia Island. From there he’ll go past the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Leeuwin. You can see where he is and follow his mini-blog at Pixiesails, or you can search for PixieSails on Facebook.

 He could hardly wait to get offshore and be out at sea, solo. He loves it out there. His planning, preparation, knowledge and skills are second to none.

Bill in his fancy duds at the departure party
In the night, unseen, he passed Jeanne Socrates aboard Nereida on her way in to Victoria, finishing a second solo nonstop circumnavigation, at age 77. She’s the oldest human, male or female, to have circumnavigated like this. One of her friends called her on her Satellite phone during Bill’s goodbye party, and it was great to hear her voice. She sounded strong and happy.

It’s 7,900 miles to Cape Horn. He’ll be approaching it in late November or early December. So Bill, we wish you the fairest of winds, and low seas, and strong hands for hanging on, and clear eyes for seeing your way to a safe return in a year or so. Cathy will be waiting for you, surrounded by her many friends and family.

A dozen pairs of hands guided Pixie out of her slip 

As Bill cast off his lines with the help of his many friends, he set sail and did a swoop past the docks full of cheering well-wishers.

Aboard Raven, we took Cathy out several miles to accompany Bill on this beginning. As Pixie sailed close alongside Raven she was breathtaking in her sheer exuberant beauty, heeling slightly, wavelets splashing across her chainplates with the promise of much more splashing to come.

Bill looked ecstatic and Cathy was, as you might expect, a mix of emotion, mostly happy for Bill but also full of concern for his safety. She’s one brave woman. And he’s a chaser of dreams who loves the sea, and sailing, and living life to its fullest, more than almost anyone we know.

Bye, Pixie, see you in about a year!

Coast Guard love: Time to come home to Port Townsend. So there we were, bucking a mighty, 4-knot ebb pouring out of Admiralty Inlet, dear little Raven’s throttle wide open and roaring, trying to reach Port Townsend, but making only 1.5 knots. A buoy just sat there for an hour as we crept past it. After 8 hours underway, having arisen at 4:00 am to cross the Strait, home was so near and yet so far.

Sunrise in the Strait of Juan de Fuca

It had been a peaceful morning, with Mother Nature playing artist with her palette of colors. Two friends, Bill and Denis, were along as crew. Jim was busy racing in the International Thunderbird Regatta in Port Townsend Bay, and it was great to have their company.

Suddenly—cue military band music, oh let’s have the Colonel Bogey March—two military ships approached us from astern. Biiiiig, tall military ships.

This is a sistership of the one that passed us, named the Arrowhead.

They decided to pass us on each side, which would mean maximum wake fun for Raven. To starboard was a Navy submarine escort ship, the kind with a long row of heavy steel walls where the sub gets between two of these ships and hides from view as it transits waters inconveniently crowded with civilians. The length of these escort ships doesn’t seem to be available anymore online, so let’s estimate at least 300 feet.

The other ship was the 378-foot US Coast Guard cutter Mellon, and its AIS signal told us it was just coming in from a 13-day crossing from Japan. Wow!

The 378-foot Coast Guard Cutter Mellon

Let me just say here that both ships maintained a safe distance from us, (about a quarter mile on each side) and that any slight exaggerations of wake size for comedic effect are mine alone.

Large wake coming in to starboard from the Navy ship! Do we turn the bow into it and let the swift-moving tide erase our progress? No! Turn to the left and take it from the stern! But wait, here comes the Coast Guard ship on our port side!
We are going to be caught between two converging wakes! We don’t want them to think we’re acting weird, even though we are! Okay then, head for the stern of the Coast Guard ship. Make it a nice sharp right-angle turn to port. But what must they be thinking, with us behaving so erratically? Better call them on the VHF.

Karen: “US Coast Guard Cutter Mellon, this is the motor vessel Raven. Welcome home.”

This was intended as an opening, a nice way of saying don’t worry about us, we’re friendly. Maybe even escorting them toward home for a brief moment. A couple seconds passed, then:

Sound of air kiss. One of those big, wet, fingers-to-mouth smacking noises. On the VHF radio, Channel 16, the calling and distress frequency. Coming from the Coast Guard.

Followed by this 378-foot ship saying: “We’ll give you room to complete your maneuver.”

Followed by howls of laughter aboard Raven, shrieks of OH MY GOD DID THE COAST GUARD JUST DO AN AIR KISS??

Followed by Karen picking up the radio mic and coughing out, “Wakey wakey, roger that.”

Now normally, anyone who chatters too long on Channel 16 gets rightfully shushed off to a working channel by the good folks in Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound, who keep that channel clear for calling and distress, so just imagine, if you will, the shocked hilarity that must have ensued among those radio operators in Seattle. I like to think it matched the laughter aboard Raven. I’m guessing air kisses won’t become a customary US Coast Guard greeting, but under the circumstances of the moment, with the Mellon returning from a big ocean crossing, their response was comedic perfection.

The Customs and Border Protection Service's friendly app logo, with the skipper peering from her jail cell porthole.

Shortly thereafter, checking in at US Customs: I had previously heard of an app called “CBP Roam,” that allows you to enter your passport and other data, which in turn allows you to check in telephonically instead of adding an extra 20+ miles to the water crossing by having to check in at official stations in either Friday Harbor or Port Angeles. Yes, someone said, with this app you can go straight home from Canada to Port Townsend and check in there! I called Customs in advance to confirm this was possible, and the officer said, “Just make sure you have enough cell signal to make the video call when you cross into US waters, or you’ll have to go to a Customs station to check in.”

All-righty then!

I entered the data from our two crew into the app and waited for a decent cell signal, but couldn’t get more than one or two bars until we were just off Point Hudson in Port Townsend. This was a little further than “just crossing into US waters,” but if the call couldn’t go through, according to the Customs officer, we’d have to backtrack 31 miles to Port Angeles to check in in person. Nervously, I followed the app’s directions: Enter name, other required data, press continue, check. Select Boat Master, press continue, check. Hmm, it didn’t ask for passengers. Oh well. Here comes the video call. They can see you, but you can’t see them.

Customs Officer: “Hi. I see you’re right here already.”
Uh-oh, he sounds annoyed. And wow, the app must send out the boat’s GPS coordinates.

Karen: “We couldn’t get a strong enough cell signal until we got this far, and I wanted to make sure we got through to you.”

Customs: “WE? Who else is aboard?”

Uh-oh. Give him the passenger names and say, “But their data is already plugged into the app, you should have it.”

Customs: “I do, but you didn’t list them as passengers.”

Karen: “Um, I’m sorry, but the app…”

Customs: What were you doing in Canada?”

All three of us at once say: “We went to the Classic Boat Show in Victoria and then to a party for a friend who’s sailing around the world!” At this admission, the tone of which probably sounded like three fourth-graders competing for teacher’s pet, we could almost hear the Customs officer thinking, yup, boat people, uh-huh. But he said, “Since you didn’t enter your passengers’ names on the arrival list, I’m going to deny your entry.”

Karen: “Oh dear God.”


A few of the screens inside the app.

I break out in a drenching sweat. “Does this mean we have to go back to Port Angeles to check in?”

Customs: “Oh no, just log out of the app and then log in again, enter the correct data, and try again.”

Whew! But I’m still sweating. What if this doesn’t work?

The next ten or fifteen minutes are spent trying to log out of the app but it won’t allow it. Okay, reboot the phone. Oh dear, same thing, here comes a video call from Customs and you’re not ready. Hang up. Try again, same thing, hang up. Annnnd, once more, but this time let the video call come through because you don’t want to keep hanging up on the federal government. A different Customs officer says, “You haven’t entered your passengers’ names, so I’m going to deny your entry.”

Great, now I’m a repeat offender. I can see the headlines: Woman human trafficker smuggles two dudes into Port Townsend who already live there. And look! Over there, just across the bay, it’s Jim, racing his Thunderbird… goodbye my darling, it’s off to the hoosegow for your little chicken.

By now I’m exhibiting clear signs of APP-rehension: “Okay, but our entry has already been denied once, and the app won’t let me…”

Customs: “Try rebooting your phone.”

Karen: “I did.”

Customs: “Okay, I see what happened—I’m still in your file trying to process it, so give me a minute to log out and then try again.”

I do, and as Raven makes circles outside Point Hudson, the first Customs Officer comes back: “Okay, now I see your passengers’ data. Let me talk to them.”

I point the phone at Denis, then Bill, then back at myself, drenched in sweat. I must look utterly guilty of something, because don’t most criminals sweat like this? And the very act of sweating this much makes me even more conscious of the fact that sweating isn’t good when you’re being questioned by the government, which of course makes me sweat even more. Yes it’s a warm muggy day, but you, dear reader, haven’t tried touring the inside of my imagination.

The Customs officer says, “I’m approving your entry,” and I say, “OH THANK YOU!” which sounds a little too relieved, know what I mean? I ask, Sir, can I explain the reason for my mistake? And he says yes, so I say the reason is that the app didn’t specifically ask for the passengers’ names, and I didn’t want to select three Boat Masters, and he says okay, which makes me hope he will tell someone in the Software Department so they can keep this from happening to other people, but this is the government, and I know how it might go because I used to work for the government, so fair warning, everyone, I made the mistake so you don’t have to: Be sure to select the Boat Master first, and then select all the passengers before hitting the blue bar that says CONTINUE. Unless they fix the app first. Then good luck to you in your stateless limbo.

Just as the video conference finishes, without realizing that he can probably still hear me, I yell, “We’re legal! We’re legal!” And then I think, Oh dear God, I hope Customs has a sense of humor like the Coast Guard does.

Regressing in time to the Classic Boat Festival in Victoria’s Inner Harbour, where the docks in front of the majestic Empress Hotel were lined with enough varnished wooden magnificence to create a need for drool rags, people happily walked among these beauties, chatted up their owners, sometimes went aboard for a tour, and looked as if we were all reverting to happy carefree childhoods. An event like that energizes me as if I’ve been breathing pure oxygen, and it’s highly recommended. And guess what? Just in time to satisfy more craving, this weekend it's Port Townsend's turn--the Wooden Boat Festival!

Now, in addition to Raven’s growing fame as offshore pizza delivery boat and round-the-world escort service, we can also say she was air-kissed by a United States Coast Guard Cutter. Okay wait, I retract round-the-world escort service, that didn’t sound quite right. Make that boat arrival escort service… no, wait, how ‘bout… oh dear, I’m sweating again.

Raven bids adieu to Maiden as she rounds Pt Wilson into the Strait

Thanks to Elizabeth Becker, Jan Davis, Bill Ferry, and Denis Wang for photos and videos.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Raven's route to Alaska and back

The green line is heading north, and red is going south.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Slow August

 Our friends at OffCenter Harbor have started a new thing we like: Slow August. In it, they present short videos with no narration, just late summer bluebird days with those slurpy chuckling water sounds of a boat at anchor near a beach, or someone rowing, or other quiet August scenes meant to restore the sanity of anyone trapped in a cubicle office. They’re great, except Jim said, “We just came back from almost four months of that, so I kind of fast-forwarded through them.”

“Did you know they dubbed us the King and Queen of Slow? And featured our blog on their site?”

“I haven’t gotten to that email yet,” he said.

“I rest my case. To us, those videos are regular speed.”

“The King of Slow, huh? If my racing friends find out, I’ll never hear the end of it.”

**Edit, much later: Off Center Harbor filmed this video interview of us, about going slow, small and simple up the Inside Passage.

We’re home. You know you’re out of the wilderness when, aboard your single-engine, small quiet cruising boat, you are “outraced” at harbor entrances by large, tsunami-generating gin palaces seeking the last remaining whatever in the harbor before you get to it.

Ugh, gack, giant, surfable wakes. Makes small boat cruisers mildly homicidal.

 We even heard one of them say on the radio, “White sailing vessel, alter your course!” Which confirms the unfortunate inequality trend toward “might makes right” out on the water. Watching these fiberglass stampedes is reminiscent of some warped Evacuation of Dunkirk Billionaires scene as multiple fortresses plow giant furrows past you at close quarters, racing each other to the harbor spoils and giving you the feel of being a contestant in “Bowling for Small Boats.” It’s the sudden ejection from slow wilderness into the anti-universe of Breakneck Speed August at Mergers and Acquisitions Harbor that gets me every time. I won’t say exactly where this is, but you will know if you’ve been there in August trying to check into US Customs. I sometimes use an ancient traditional greeting when they roar past and we buck and jump in their wakes, and I sometimes chant, “May your props become tulips.”

Bet you thought I meant the OTHER ancient, traditional gesture. At least this one got a few laughs.

We met our old friend Roly Brown, with his wife Marian, aboard Tropic Isle just south of Shearwater, and as we held the two boats together while floating around, we had a nice gam for a few minutes.

Tropic Isle with Roly and Marian.

So, the remaining voyage details:
we left Shearwater and made tracks to revisit Green Island Anchorage off Fitzhugh Sound, one of our favorite spots.

Here comes the fog!

Although there were three other boats at anchor in the main cove, our narrow little side slough was free and we spent a peaceful night. Even after a stay in a small remote marina these days, I find myself aching to get back to anchor. We also realize the value of cruising out of season, because back in May, except for tugs with barges, there wasn’t another boat to be seen for days—maybe the weather’s not as good then, but you sure find the solitude a lot easier. Shhh, don’t tell anyone.

At breakfast, watching Jim dip a Pop Tart in his coffee:
Me: “I wish I had something easy like that.”
“You could learn to like them.”
“They taste like gourmet cardboard.”
“A bite here, a bite there, I think you'd like them if you tried.”
“You mean, that’s the same Pop Tart you had a few days ago?”
“No, but they actually taste amazingly good when they're stale.”
This from a man who won’t eat bread that’s more than a few days old.

Since the next day was the best forecast of the coming week, we decided to go for it, and rounded Cape Caution, where swells from the Pacific gave way to a chop that wasn’t pleasant but was a lot better than the wind that was coming.

And the fog, oh my. Jim has never actually seen Cape Caution in all the times he’s rounded it. I saw it once, about 17 years ago.

Jim: “This fog looks like we’re in a bell jar.”
Me: “So, we’re in like, a little maritime terrarium?”

Later: “Lotta logs out here in this fog, you gotta keep a sharp eye out. Where do you suppose they’re all coming from?”

The multitudes of rhinoceros auklets (a small seabird with a punk-rock look) flying, landing, diving and just hangin’ with their homies in the fog was a pleasure to watch.

Rhinoceros auklet. Credit: Planet of Birds.

And then the fog cleared as we entered Queen Charlotte Strait. Off McEwan Rock a whale surfaced less than 100 feet from us; the seas calmed, the wind went aft, and for a short time it was an easy-weather day.

When you see a couple hundred excited birds of several species circling low over the water, (we call this a bird-nado) watch, because something interesting’s bound to happen. Sure enough, there were whales feeding. Five more whale sightings, we think all humpbacks, brought this day’s total to six. Then the tide changed, the wind increased and the seas stood up—this was Queen Charlotte Strait after all, whose tides can run at four-plus knots and which funnels daily gales into Johnstone Strait, so as the seas rose we decided to bail out at Blunden Harbor on the mainland side instead of going to a nice-looking spot in the Pearse Islands near Alert Bay to anchor. Glad we did, because just as we entered lovely snug Blunden and dropped the hook, it began to blow pretty hard, maybe 30 knots. And even with cutting the journey short, it was still a 74-mile day, which for a small boat is pretty good.

We don’t have an anemometer, so we just estimate the wind speed, and the way it works is: as soon as we notice ourselves getting uncomfortable and starting to worry a bit, it’s time for Plan B. The threshold for concern is a little lower on Raven than it was for Sockdolager, but Raven still took some pretty impressive seas with aplomb on this voyage. Sockdolager, by the way, has been renamed “Ouzel” (a nifty water bird) and was in these same waters with her new owner, preparing for a solo offshore sail down the west coast of Vancouver Island. Go Chris! We didn’t have cell signals and couldn’t arrange a rendezvous, but look forward to meeting up with Chris and Lisa soon.

There were a lot of interesting clouds before the front came through. Claydon Harbor, Broughtons.

Johnstone Strait’s forecast wasn’t sounding like much fun, and because we’d heard there was a fishing opener happening soon, we detoured into the Broughton Islands’ watery maze to a nice bay called Claydon Harbor.

Ruins in Claydon Harbor.

The cruising guide urges you to anchor in a small arm in its north corner, and sure enough that’s where at least six boats had crammed together, leaving the entire western bay free for our anchoring pleasure. There was a thunderstorm in the night, an occurrence so unusual in these parts that seeing the lightning flash through my eyelids, I recall thinking sleepily, we must tape over whatever instrument light bulb is malfunctioning, it’s really annoying! Then the thunder boomed. Oh wow. But the wind behaved and a good night’s sleep was had by all.

With all the rain that falls (this is a rainforest) Nature takes manmade structures back pretty fast.

Later, underway, a look at the chart: “Oooh, there’s Mistake Island!”
“Are you sure that’s right?”

The beautiful Broughtons.

Gale warnings continued in Johnstone Strait, so Raven wandered up and down channels in easy weather through the Broughtons, to the very hospitable and tiny Kwatsi Bay Marina (we wanted to try one more remote marina) which is truly in the middle of nowhere. The owners and some cruisers who’ve been coming there for decades held their regular BYOB happy hour with snacks on a covered dock—very pleasant. The marina’s for sale, in case you’re interested… 

Exiting the Broughtons, you see ranges posted here and there, beacons for keeping you on course. As we passed one, Jim pointed: You see that? You could put a floating home right there.”
“But that’d be a lousy place for a floating home, it’s exposed…”
Yeah, but then you’d have a home on the range.”

Home on the range, nyuk, nyuk.

Expecting favorable currents back in Johnstone Strait the next day, we were surprised that it was adverse, until POW! Near Helmcken Island, we got 9 to 12 knots of boat speed for the next ten miles, woot!

Dall’s porpoises frolicked in the current and some standing waves off Tyee Point and weren’t the least bit interested in the King and Queen of Slow’s bow wave. Raven’s economical 20-hp Yanmar pushes her at 5.5 to 6 knots, so in these currents we almost needed seat belts as the shoreline flew past. There was a 6+ knot current in some places, with boils and whirlpools that required careful hand-steering.

Small whirlpool close up, Johnstone Strait.

We try to avoid whirlpools whenever possible. Okay, that’s a bizarre thing to say, but when you hit a small one, it knocks you off course, and when you hit a big one it causes your boat to lean over as you sway off course. The harder the flow and the bigger the whirlpool, the further you lean over when it grips your boat. Here are some whirlpool photos. They don’t look like a big deal, but they are.

Small-ish whirlpool.

Medium whirlpool.

Big, herkin' whirlpool.

In places where whirlpools and boils are truly dangerous, large ships have sunk, so in the backs of our minds was some worry about the turbulence at the fearsome Seymour Narrows down the way, where currents can get to 16+ knots at spring tides, and 19 knots is not unheard of. In fact, it's one of the most turbulent bodies of navigable water in the world. Here’s a video of a big boat bucking a 10-knot ebb in Seymour Narrows. Remember when watching this that currents can get to nearly twice this speed!

We were a little nervous, because coming up was a big spring tide. The cruising guide said to plan your transit of Seymour for times when there isn’t a spring tide, and the tide table said currents in the Narrows were 14 to 15 knots that week, (plus, one of the cruisers at Kwatsi Bay said he’d once missed the tide and took his little 10-knot powerboat through at 23 knots, something he said he never wanted to do again,) so timing the passage for slack water, however little time it might last, would be crucial.

The amount of smoke filling the air was also startling. Whole mountains dissolved into what we realized wasn’t mist, but smoke from dozens of wildfires burning in BC.

The mountains disappeared behind curtains of smoke that were thicker the higher in altitude they went. 

This was August 12, and we would have red-orb sunsets through dense smoke and would not see blue sky again until August 27.

Smoke makes for spectacular sunsets. Granite Bay, off Discovery Passage.

We anchored in Granite Bay, a bomb-proof little cove
off Kanish Bay next to Discovery Passage, and plotted out our transit of Seymour Narrows. The best thing is to approach it on the last of an adverse current, which we did next morning, in order to be ready to take advantage of the favorable current when the tide turned. In this part of Canada, the ebb runs north and the flood runs south—very confusing. There was a strong ebb to fight at first, 4 knots out in the middle of Discovery Passage, so the only way we could make any headway toward the Narrows was to sneak down the side of the channel about 50-100 feet off the shoreline, avoiding rocks. There was even a one knot counter-current in some places! A wide bay called Brown Cove, just up from Seymour Narrows, is a good place to wait for slack tide, and we decided to go there.

Me, at 9:00 am: “The cruising guide says southbound boats should arrive half an hour ahead of slack tide when it’s as strong as this. Slack is at 1:15 pm. So we should arrive at a quarter to one, what do you think?”
Jim: “How about eight?”
Blank stare at horizon.
Me: “Um, Sweetie, didn’t you get enough sleep last night?”
“Oh,” he said, covering his gaffe, “I was thinking we could time travel.”
“I get it. You’ve been reading too much sci-fi, haven’t you.”

We took two-hour watches at the helm. That felt just about right when navigating through narrow waters. 

One thing about being in wilderness in the e-book era:
you get to read a lot of books. I have no idea how many we read, but Jim finished and went well beyond the entire Lawrence Block series of seventeen books and I lost track of the number I enjoyed, including two long tomes by David Foster Wallace (Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again) and a thousand-page Michener epistle called “Alaska,” (which we both read) among who knows how many other books. Our friends John and Lisa gave us a copy of Passage to Juneau by Jonathan Raban at the dock as a parting gift in May; that is the fourth copy of this book I have owned, having lent out the other three to people who loved it so much they never returned them, and it’s just as good after multiple reads as it was the first time.

It’s kind of cool being able to read an online book review when you get the rare one or two bars of cell signal in the middle of a place like Frederick Sound, with not a shred of civilization in sight, and then saying, “I want to read that book,” and then buying and downloading it right there before the cell signal disappears. This is the happiest marriage of two unusual qualities: phone-free wilderness, where you reclaim your once-fractured attention span, and the odd brief cell signal, which allows you to download more books. Yessss! The bridesmaids at this wedding are the two solar panels that let us recharge our ebook habit without having to run the engine. (Oh, and also turning the fridge down to nuclear winter to keep the fish frozen that Jim caught.)

The challenge, now that we’re home, will be to continue to hang on to this reclaimed attention span.

Facing a fearsome narrows is a good time to take a brief break and tell you something we forgot to mention in the last blog post: Another bear story! During our stay In Dodge Cove on Digby Island near Prince Rupert, we went for a hike, which we described in the previous post. What we didn’t tell you about was the sign at the trail entrance: CAUTION, it said, A GRIZZLY BEAR has been seen on Digby Island near Point Elizabeth. It appears to be HANGING OUT IN THAT AREA.

Jim said, “Where’s Point Elizabeth?”
“I dunno, but this is a big island, it has to be in some remote part, right?”
“Yeah, it couldn’t be around here, these folks would haze it until it went away.”
“Yeah. It’s probably on the Hecate Strait side, I mean there’s a city right over there,” I pointed to Prince Rupert’s shipping docks. “Bears avoid stuff like that.”
“Yeah. Let’s keep going.”

There must have been four or five varieties of juicy, sweet ripe berries along the trail network, and during our two-hour hike we gorged ourselves until our fingers were red and purple and berry juice was running down our chins and we smelled like a couple of berry tarts. “Let’s walk out to the point over there,” we said, and found the trail ended in a tall pier across the harbor from where Raven was docked. Oops, dead end, retrace steps, walk the path again, back to town, we’re sitting on the porch drinking homemade wine with the two fishermen who asked, “So did you see the bear?”
“No, it’s out at Point Elizabeth, right?”
“Yeah…?” Raised eyebrows.
“Um, where’s Point Elizabeth?”
“Right there,” they pointed at the pier we’d just been on.

Just kidding. We met only friendly bears. Actually, we didn't meet any up close. Except by dinghy. That was close.

Back to some drama at Seymour Narrows. Just as we rounded Separation Point a small humpback whale dived and showed its tail. Wow! In the past we’ve seen orcas but never humpbacks here. This trip we saw no orcas in these waters. As soon as the right time arrived to get going from Brown Cove toward the Narrows, two tugs and barges appeared, going very slow and pretty much filling up the channel. We waited until they passed, then fell in line well behind the second barge, which was stuffed full of logs hanging thirty feet off each side and piled high.

Its tug seemed tiny in comparison, and I got a bad feeling, so we dropped back, figuring missing slack tide was probably safer than tangling with this barge, which was also far to port, on the wrong side of the channel. We stayed on the starboard side. Then suddenly, the barge turned sideways in the current; the tug struggled to straighten it out, and succeeded after ten minutes, but then the barge turned sideways again; the tug disappeared behind it and the barge was seized by some stray powerful whirlpool because it shot sideways from east to west across Seymour Narrows like a horizontal guillotine, completely out of control. And this was near slack tide!

The log barge gets sideways to its tug, a dangerous situation. 

Completely sideways and with the tug disappeared behind it, the log barge shoots across Seymour Narrows at high speed.

We couldn’t see the tug, which was no doubt struggling. Whirlpools and boils swirled ominously everywhere, but there was nothing we could do; though we wanted to go faster, we had to creep along at two-plus knots, keeping bare steerageway in order to stay away from this barge, which had unintentionally commandeered the entire narrows less than a mile ahead of us. Fast boats could pass, but slower boats; no. Finally the barge drifted slower and was pulled out of the main channel, but now we could see that the tug was being pulled sideways by the barge, leaning way over as it struggled with the tow lines. This is how tugs capsize, and it looked very close. Thankfully and with the aid of a second tug, the little tug slowly came upright. But if we had proceeded at normal speed through Seymour Narrows, it would have been a close call with that barge; we would’ve been right in its path when it shot across the channel.

Whew! Onward. A stop in some very tight quarters at a marina in Campbell River; we wanted to see this town because we’d never been there before, and it’s worth it. After a pub stop at Dockside Fish & Chips (excellent) we were off early next morning to catch a salmon off Cape Mudge. But with 35 to 40 fizzboats all trolling in a small area, it felt chaotic and maybe time to give the salmon a break, so we moved on without catching anything, anchoring in Mud Bay south of Comox. Skies were still smoky but a little less so.

Smoky sunrise, 7:00 am. On our way to fish off Cape Mudge. 

Smoke particles were drawn up into the atmosphere, as high as seven miles. 

A wreck next to an oyster farm at Mud Bay.

Off Qualicum Beach next day there were two humpback whales, one large and one small. The large one enthusiastically slapped its tail for at least ten minutes. Perhaps it was a mother and calf, with the mother slapping the water to let the calf know where she was—there were a lot of fishing boats trolling where they were feeding, and their engine noises may have bothered her.

While passing outside of the Canadian Navy’s restricted area off the Winchelsea Islands, we were treated to an example of their superb courtesy and humor, in comparison to the sometimes huffy, officious responses we’ve witnessed from the American Navy. In an authentic you-get-more-flies-with-honey approach, a Canadian Navy radio operator, talking above the audible noise of a military helicopter towing sonar in the water looking for submarines, said to a boat that wandered into active training operations, “Sir, you are in an active torpedo range. A healthier course would be to make a sharp turn to starboard.” Healthier. Of course it is! 

At Nanaimo we anchored and made a beeline for our beloved Dinghy Dock Pub. This one is a strong contender for first place in the World’s Longest Pub Crawl.

Dinghy Dock Pub, a fave.

Next morning, Dodd Narrows, far smaller and less fearsome than Seymour, but still plenty wide enough for small cruising boats going in both directions, was like a freeway at rush hour with no lanes.

Just a few of the boats headed for Dodd Narrows. Yikes!

Dodd is still worth transiting at or near slack tide, but it’s not like you’re crawling through death’s jaws or anything. Still, everyone was babbling on the radio, trying to warn everyone else HERE I COME, which sounded more like LOOK OUT YOU FOOLS I DON’T KNOW IF I CAN CONTROL THIS THING, and instead of turning the radio’s power setting down to one watt so only local boats could hear, far too many were blasting away at 25 watts until you could hear them all the way to Ladysmith. A few hours of that and reality TV starts to sound pretty good. You really can slip right through Dodd Narrows in line without talking on the radio, and you don’t have to take your half of the channel out of the middle.


SECURITE, SECURITE, THIS IS THE 42 FOOT TRAWLER SUN CHASER (we had seen this boat; its swim ladder blocked part of the U and we thought it said “Sin Chaser,” which we liked much better) WE ARE SECOND IN LINE, SOUTHBOUND, REPEAT SOUTHBOUND, RIGHT BEHIND THE, UH, POWERBOAT… ANY CONCERNED TRAFFIC COME BACK ON CHANNEL 16.

…WE ARE THIRD IN LINE, REPEAT, THIRD, ANY CONCERNED TRAFFIC… FOURTH, FIFTH, etc. All the way to seven or eight or nine boats in line calling in, clogging the airwaves, asking for concerned traffic. Yeesh. The radio sounded like check-in time at nautical summer camp, this session being Maritime Correctness on Caffeine meets Trivial Pursuit. All you need is to follow the lead boat, and maybe call if you’re last in line to give the other side an idea of how long the line is.


“Well,” I said, “I’m concerned about climate change.”
“I wonder what it would be like if someone named their boat ‘Traffic’?”
“What if I did a meep-meep Roadrunner schtick in reply to that guy?”
“Nah, better not.”

Raven enters Ladysmith Harbour to stay on a guest mooring.

At Ladysmith we stopped for a nice visit with our friends Marty and Mae, and they arranged for us to stay on a guest mooring (Thanks Wilf!) M&M had just bought a magnificent schooner and were sorting things out as they moved aboard. It’s currently named Phillip William, but they will soon change the name to Wind Gypsy.

The 42' LOD Brandlmeyer schooner Wind Gypsy.

Oh my, what gorgeousness in every detail of this boat! We are very happy for them.

Marty steers Wind Gypsy.

They took us for a sail, and I got all nostalgic for sailing boats of this size and rig (I used to own a schooner way back).

A nice reach, one of a schooner's favorite points of sail.

We were deck crew, helmspeople, and cabin top snoozers in the sun.

K&J take a snooze on deck.

And we were cookers of snapper and salmon in garlic butter topped with toasted almonds and raspberry chipotle sauce.

Oh yeah, behbeh! Salmon (left) and snapper (right) all caught by Jim. Pan-sauteed in garlic butter and topped with toasted almonds and raspberry chipotle sauce.

And consumers of the finest box wine. And some Bourbon.

Dinner on the ole Raven.

We were big smilers and laughers who promised not to let too much time pass before seeing each other again.

Four friends.

The horse smelled the barn,
and we were eager to get home. Once again we were looking for a weather window to cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It came two days later, to be followed by 25 knots of wind, so we went for it with a couple of long days and crossed on a glass-smooth sea, back to our beloved Port Townsend. As we entered the narrow channel into Boat Haven, there was Leif, Raven’s designer and builder, with his camera. And at the dock there was a big welcoming committee we hadn’t expected! Oscar, Carol, Leif, Anna, Peter, Denis, Gordon, and a little puppy named Indie. It was a wonderful welcome, with everyone grinning to beat the band. Home is a place, but also a feeling.

Da Gang waiting. Oscar waves us in.

We are “of a certain age” (and what’s so “certain” about it we don’t know) where most of us worry about and freely discuss with our certain age peers our eyesight, creaking joints, cholesterol, heart health, and the condition of other personal items you don’t want to hear about. But one thing we are certain about is that we love where we live. (As if to prove the point about eyesight, Autocorrect changed ‘we love where we live’ to ‘we Lloyd where we live.’ If anyone knows how to Lloyd where you live, please inform the makers of Autocorrect.) But I digress.

Although we come from an unhurried town where gentrification and car culture are slowly oozing their way across its fair acres, you can still walk miles of trails, some of which lead nowhere in particular except into the woods, which is precisely the point in an age obsessed with always going somewhere. It’s the shore-based version of the Slow August philosophy, which will, I’m certain, one day be pedestaled up there as the Sixth Great Philosophy of Life. The first five philosophies are: Epicureanism, Stoicism, Platonism, Aristotelianism, and one more I forget but vaguely recall that it’s grumpily incompatible with the five W’s, which are: wine, women, welshing, wasting and woolgathering. Don’t worry, I wasn’t going to go all motivational moment on you with the other five W’s of life, which are who, what, when, where and why we’re all so special.

In small towns everywhere you could probably extend that Slow August feeling into September, well into autumn, and even winter, though at that point it might be Molasses January. The point is, as the Off Center Harbor folks say, “Start off slow, then ease up.” When you slow down, you’ll notice things more; the sense of appreciation seems to increase with a proportional decrease in life speed. You end up actually spending more time with yourself as well as with your friends.

Take it from the King and Queen of Slow, this is the antidote for a hopped-up, stressed-out world.

Boat Haven fairway, entering for the first time in nearly four months. Good to be home.

I love the fact that in our town we can still get a good breakfast at the local pharmacy’s dining section while gazing across the aisle at shelves full of horehound candy, Forever Comfy Gel (gel??), Lint Lizards, and a Potato Express. The latter brings an image of a Lionel train set loaded with Idaho spuds going around and around, to nowhere. But these are the kinds of things that make you pause over your eggs and wonder, who spent their life’s energy inventing that? This is a town where, at the Rose Theatre someone with note cards comes out before the movie begins and tells behind-the-scenes stories about the making of the movie you’re about to see, and then you clap for her and she says “Enjoy!” and the movie starts.

It’s a town that, because it’s that good, you may need to leave every so often in order to feel the homesickness and remember how much you belong, how much you’re going to appreciate it when you get home. It’s home, and home goes just as well with Slow August as away does.

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” –Lin Yutang

Start off slow, then ease up.

 Oh, and to all our readers, followers and commenters--thanks!