Here you will find tales of voyages past and present on our trusty Pacific Seacraft Dana 24, "Sockdolager," and 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 Sockdolager (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 began cruising on Raven, a unique wooden 29' powerboat. In 2018 we cruised up to Glacier Bay, Alaska, and back. But in 2024 we had the chance to buy Sockdolager back (we missed her), so we sold Raven. We hope you enjoy reading about our adventures as much as we enjoy having them. (And there will be more.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Post Card from the Ocean Road - Home at Last

Home are the sailors, home from the sea, but still feeling the gentle rock and sway of swell that finds its way around corners into snug anchorages, and we’re planning for the next trip. 101 days, wow. You’d think they’d all blur together, so many good ones crowded into a bright blue and sunny summer, but they don’t blur because we wrote down the stories. In a while we’ll post a final route map, some links to good web sites in case you are planning to visit the Queen Charlottes/Haida Gwaii, and other information. And, for all the requests (!!) we’ll put a slide show together.

Photo: Port Townsend waterfront.

Meanwhile, here’s an account of the home stretch: From Comox we sailed to Lasqueti Island and anchored in False Bay. Karen wanted to meet the in-laws of an Australian friend of hers, and we had a nice time with Kath at the pub. (Vic was recovering from a painful hip surgery and couldn’t come.) The winds have been southeasterly since we started trying to go in that direction, but that’s nothing new to the doughty Sockdolagerians, so off we went into the teeth of a nose wind (well what do you call the opposite of a tail wind, anyway?) We made it to Nanaimo, where, with Jim’s old college roommate Bo and his wife Devi, we enjoyed a fun evening at the famous Dinghy Dock Pub. More on that later.

Photo: The welcoming sign at False Bay, Lasqueti Island.

That night about three am, a line squall blew in with winds of 30-35 knots. We knew Sockdolager was securely anchored, but Nanaimo Harbour is a rather open roadstead, with a lot of boats anchored nearby. Like, several dozen boats. Suddenly Karen heard voices (not just the ones in her head) and arose to check it out. “Get up!” she said to Jim, “There’s a boat right in front of us!” And there we were, fending off a 33 foot sailboat T-boned sideways on our bow. It was dragging its anchor merrily through the harbor, and threatening to catch its rudder or propeller on our anchor rode. The panicked owner tried to put his boat in gear just as it came to rest on our rode, and Karen figured this was probably not the best time to tell him not to do that because he wasn’t listening anyway. So we held them off, prayed that this boat had a full keel that would prevent its propeller from turning into a high-speed rope winch, and our prayers were answered. The boat slithered nicely down our starboard side without bumping our hull, and was easy to fend off. Then off they went into the night and the next victim. Soon they got it under control, came back and anchored right next to us—so close that we had to adjust our anchor rode a couple hours later, but hey, who was sleeping anyway? Dennis the Menace was gone by first light--we hope to a marina. Our varnished bow platform and green topsides were unsullied.

While we were whiling away the remainder of the night, Jim said, “Do you realize that the whole time we four people fended each other’s boats off, that not a single word was spoken?”

Karen replied, “Do you suppose it may have had something to do with the fact that you were stick stark naked in a 35 knot gale?”

“But I didn’t have time to get dressed!” he protested. We decided that we may have accidentally discovered a new shock (and awe) technique to cut down on all the yelling and blaming that goes on when a boat drags into you in the middle of the night.

Photo: A schooner broad reaching under foresail and jib, Strait of Georgia.

From Nanaimo we traversed the whirlpools of Dodd Narrows. Hey! Did you hear about the time when the Canadians were going to put a dam across Dodd Narrows, but gave it up because they didn’t want to live with the name Dodd Dam? Us neither, but it was too bad a pun not to include.

Anyway, a howling gale met us in Stuart Channel so we ducked into a small cove to wait out the blow and visit with a couple who are planning to sail their J-36 to Mexico. Because of strong southerly winds forecast, we changed our own plans, and instead of sailing across the Strait of Georgia for the third time to check into US Customs at Point Roberts and meet a friend at Sucia Island, we sailed down the west side of Saltspring Island and spent two days waiting for better weather at Musgrave Landing, once home to Brigadier Miles and Beryl Smeeton and their famous ketch Tzu Hang. The Smeetons, though long gone now, are two of Karen’s sailing heroes. They sailed around Cape Horn twice, and wrote humorously and well of their adventures and misadventures. We hiked trails and roads all around Musgrave Landing, but most traces of the Smeetons seem to have been ploughed under the expensive new homes and older logging roads. However, the best dock party of the summer materialized the minute we got back to the boat. Three very friendly Canadian couples on cruising powerboats invited us to share appetizers with them, and by the end of the evening we were swapping zingers and laughs, singing songs, and keeping up a lot of people in those expensive waterfront homes. The Smeetons would have approved, we think.

Photo: Impromptu dock parties are always the best.

We crossed Haro Strait in gale force nose winds, because we wanted to be out there. Roche Harbor on San Juan Island was a wind-hole as we tied up at the Customs dock, but we found a sheltered spot to anchor for the night. The next day we caught the tides perfectly (for once!) and made it across a flat calm Strait of Juan de Fuca to anchor off Port Townsend in mid-afternoon. Not 15 minutes went by before Jim’s phone rang. We’d been spotted! Holy halibut! The reunions have been joyful, and we’ve missed all our friends.

Now that we’re home and looking forward to the Wooden Boat Festival, we’d like to share some of the best of a best summer with you.


Photo: Jim with his best catch. This one took awhile to eat.

Best Sounds: The sound of a large whale breathing. It is, well, breathtaking. Also, the sound of several thousand seabirds waking up hungry in the morning.

Best Tides: Canada wins. 24 feet is a lotta water to move every 6 hours (Skidegate Channel.) Unless you go all the way to Alaska’s Cook Inlet, where you get 34 feet plus tidal bores, which are anything but boring.

Best Stories from Other Cruising Boats: Just after we crossed Hecate Strait back to the mainland from the Queen Charlotte Islands, we met a lone Frenchman in Spicer Island anchorage. He bought his boat, a sturdy steel cutter, in Singapore, and sailed it from there to the northern BC coast. He went via the Great Circle Route, past Japan and through the Aleutians. It took him 122 days, nonstop.

The Hats Off prize goes to Foxglove, a 40 foot sloop owned by Yoshi and Fumiko, from Japan. Actually, the prize is Fumiko’s, because the 72-day crossing of the Pacific (for which they’d only put 65 days worth of food aboard) was her FIRST sail. That woman has chutzpah.

Best Pub: We doubt anyone can beat the floating Dinghy Dock Pub at Protection Island in Nanaimo Harbour, where the “parking” signs say ‘Bow in, please,’ the Friday night race fleet sails within ten feet of the pub’s deck, which rocks and rolls in ferry wakes, and the bartender calls the race (which goes through the anchorage) play-by-play in a most racy manner over the pub’s sound system. All this and excellent food and grog, too!

Best Beer--Canadian or American? Are you kidding? You think we want to start a war or something? The only thing we’ll say about it is Jim’s quote: “Cheap beer tastes the same the world around.” But we have to give the Most Original Packaging Award to Canada, whose Pacific brand comes with a sailboat on every can and an insulated backpack for each case. We kid you not. A real beer backpack.

Cutest Sign Ever: We nominate Meeghan’s General Store in Queen Charlotte City as the winner. The photo shows their business hours. Meeghan’s, which sells fishing tackle as well as hardware, bills itself as “The best little lurehouse in Queen Charlotte City.” That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

Best So-Called Food: Cuisines are fairly similar, but some things stand out. Potato chips: No one beats Miss Vickie’s Canadian chips. Grab every bag you can get your greasy little fingers on. Cheerios: Do the Canadians like them mushy? American version is better. Ketchup: Canada’s is zingier and we like it better. Baked beans: Definitely American, Canadians don’t understand the recipe. Sliced, individually wrapped sandwich cheese: The Canadian stuff melts in the ice box and tastes weird. Buy real cheese. Candy: Malteasers vs Whoppers: Malteasers don’t even tease. Buy Whoppers.

Photo: Karen cooks fresh-caught Salmon a la Sockdolager. Mae and Marty from Prince Rupert were our guests that night. Marty Bowles photo.

Other foodstuffs: Lest you think we ate nothing but junk food washed down with beer, we found Canadian fresh produce to be locally grown more often than you see in the States unless you go to a food co-op. Their meats are comparable in price and quality except in remote areas, where it’s all frozen and very, very expensive. Learn to fish. For some strange reason we don’t get, Wonder Bread dominated the bread shelves while multi-grain bread was scarce. Learn to bake bread. We did both, ate like kings, and even managed to lose weight.

Best New Words in Sockdolagerese: One thing we learned from this trip is that there are not enough words to describe some of the things we encountered. For example, what do you call it when the water is so roiled with little whirlpools that it knocks the boat’s bow off course? That word is “currentiferous.” A companion adjective describes the situation when you encounter the engine-stopping qualities of narrow, kelp-clogged channels.

Karen: “The port side of the channel is rather kelpaceous.”

Jim: “I’m steering around it.”

You know how it can be blowing really hard but it’s sunny, so you go sailing anyway, but if it was blowing the same amount with dark clouds you’d stay in port? Jim invented a word for the visual degree of dark rainy threat from the sky.

Jim, looking out a porthole: “The ominiscity’s way up.”

Karen: “Let’s stay in port.”

We invite you to help come up with a word for when the GPS course on an electronic chart tries to take you over dry land. Winner will be announced right here.

Photo: Jim & Karen enjoying a night of cribbage with Mae and Marty aboard Wild Abandon. Marty/Jim vs Mae/Karen. Is the winner obvious, or what? Marty Bowles photo.

AND FINALLY… Best Boat Names with Unintended Meanings: Earlier in this blog you read about boat names such as “Rita’s Mink” and “Passing Wind,” which tend to elicit speculation on the owner’s judgment for inflicting them on others over the radio. Try to imagine the reaction in a hardworking Coast Guard rescue office:

Coast Guard: “Vessel Requesting Assistance, this is the United States Coast Guard. Can you say again your name and the nature of your distress?”

Vessel Requesting Assistance: “Passing Wind! We’re Passing Wind!”

Coast Guard (stifled laughter): “Er, is that your name, sir, or the nature of your distress?”

Some name-karma is self-inflicted. For example, never name your boat “Payday” unless you want strong, vigorous responses every time you use the radio. Ditto for “Bon Bon.” Of course, with a name like Sockdolager, Jim was just asking to spend an inordinate amount of time explaining its meaning and pronunciation to passers-by, so we should talk, huh? But while we’re at it, boat names like “Post Card” or “Ghost Bard” are probably ill-advised, too. There is one name, however, that we would absolutely LOVE to see. Would someone please name their boat “Spartacus”? Oh, we hope so, it would be such fun on the radio:

First Boat: “Spartacus, Spartacus, Spartacus, this is Sockdolager.”

Second Boat: “I AM SPARTACUS! Go to Channel 68.”

Third Boat: “I AM SPARTACUS! Channel 9!”

Fourth Boat: “I AM SPARTACUS!” etcetera. Fun, huh?

But we started this little rant talking about unintended meanings. Sometimes it happens by accident. For example, one of the boats in the Nanaimo Dinghy Dock Pub racing fleet was a sleek, black-hulled racing machine named “Blackadder,” and it had this problem. Just below the outboard mount, the letters “ck” were nearly chafed off, so that from a short distance away you’d read the boat’s name as the “Blaadder.” Considering this particular boat’s beer-loving crew, the new name kind of works.

There are two boats cruising in Canada that we know of named “Kafka.” On the first, crewed by a nice couple of deep thinkers, the name is clearly visible on their gleaming transom. On the second, the letter “f” is blocked from view by their outboard rudder. Maybe they have more time to think deeply because they get so few radio calls.

Finally, there’s a powerboat on Puget Sound called the “Salty Lass,” but when they swing their transom gate open, the “y” in Salty and the “L” in Lass disappear. Makes you wonder…

Photo: Happiness is a good day sailing...