December 6, 2011

The island's lure: 2

(HERE IS the continuation of the story that started last Monday about a sailboat trip my wife June and I did some years back in a Cape Dory 25D called Jabula. The article was first published in Cruising World magazine.)

The Lure of Vancouver Island: Part 2

WE DUCKED INTO snug Bull Harbour to wait for calm winds and a slack tide. There, in our northernmost anchorage, we joined three other bigger yachts intending to run down the west coast.

The northwester came rushing in over a low spit of land and whipped up the waters of the anchorage. Bent over against the wind, we walked along a little dirt road bounded by high hedgerows bursting with blackberries, salmonberries and strange berries we’d have liked to taste but didn’t dare. We met a Native American man and requested, belatedly, permission to come ashore, for this is First Nations territory. He smiled and told us to make ourselves at home. We soon came to Roller Bay and watched high surf storming in from thousands of miles of open Pacific, pounding the shoreline and throwing up a thick salty haze. It was majestic, but a little scary, too.

Back in the anchorage, we were invited to join Burl and Abigail Romick aboard their C&C 35, Wind Song, for coffee after supper. Burl, a retired engineer from Portland, Oregon, asked: “Does your dinghy fit on board?”

“No,” I said. “We’re going to tow it.”

“Across Nahwitti Bar? It can get very rough.” The Romicks had been this way before.

“I have a secret weapon,” I said smugly. “You haven’t seen it yet.”

While I’d been waiting for June to join me, I’d made a spray cover for Tokoloshe out of a cheap blue poly tarp and a length of shock cord. It was the first cover I’d ever made, and I’ll admit it was a bit short in the front and a little lopsided, but it would surely keep the dinghy dry and buoyant even if waves rolled right over it.

I lay below wide awake that night, listening to the wind howling in the rigging, and calculating my worry factor by the number of flaps per second from the stern-mounted ensign. Flutter-flip-flip-flap-flap was bad. I got up to check my anchor bearings, but the holding was good. We didn’t drag.

The gale lasted three days. We rowed over to visit Stuart and Pip Briscoe aboard Pyreneenne, a 41-foot Jeanneau sloop from Sidney, B.C. They were sailing around the island with their daughters Kate, 7, and Lizzie, 3.

They’d been listening to reports from fishing boats at Cape Scott describing 12-foot seas.

“I don’t care, I’m leaving tomorrow, come hell or high water,” Stuart announced. He spoke in the desperate manner of a man who’d been cooped up with bouncy kids for too long. 

“So am I,” I said.

That evening, I tried Tokoloshe’s new spray cover. It was difficult to fit it from Jabula’s cockpit. I stretched out and managed to roll the shock cord over Tokoloshe’s gunwale. I pulled the cover forward as far as it would go. I let the dinghy ride aft on the painter again and looked at my handiwork with some pride.

Then a heavy gust of wind came along. In the flicker of an eyelid, the two sides of the cover sprang up over the gunwales and contracted themselves into a fat sausage along Tokoloshe’s centerline.

June almost choked with laughter. I could have bitten her.

I ripped off the cover and hurled it into Jabula’s cockpit. “The dinghy will just have to take its chances,” I said grumpily.

That night, a change in wind speed woke me up. The ensign was lazily going kerflap ... pause ... kerflap. I turned over happily and went back to sleep.

The next morning was misty and cold. As we approached Nahwitti Bar under mainsail and motor we could see breaking water ahead--whitecaps on the top of standing waves. The current was still flowing seaward at about 4 knots, and we were soon sucked into it. For 45 minutes, Jabula stood on her head in short, steep seas. June chocked herself into a corner of the cockpit and clung on tightly.

A large fishing boat, a dragger, passed us slowly to port, plunging her bows through the steep swells rolling in from the Pacific, and sending heavy spray high over her bridge.

I didn’t dare look back as I wrestled with the tiller. “How’s the dinghy doing?” I asked June.

“Still afloat,” she reported. “Rolling like mad, but so far, so good.”

When we came to buoy “MA,” marking the end of the shallow bar, the seas gradually lengthened and flattened. We pulled Tokoloshe alongside to bail it out. To our astonishment, it was almost bone dry.

“Doesn’t need a cover after all,” I observed.

“Just as well,” said June, trying not to giggle.

The wind was fitful that morning and came at us from all directions as we motor-sailed slowly toward Cape Scott against a 2-knot current. Wind Song and Pyreneenne passed us at about 1 p.m. and disappeared ahead, flying down the coast with the new ebb.

Strong currents seemed to change direction every few minutes as we rounded Cape Scott at a respectable distance. Although the weather was calm, the waters around the green-gray, sinister-looking cape were restless, sometimes rearing up suddenly as a swell rode in from seaward, then flattening out again in another swirl of current. Jabula’s constant tugs at the helm made steering tiring, so June and I took one-hour shifts, anxiously watching the GPS and correcting all the time for sideways sets.

Then, to our great relief, we were free of the notorious cape and in deep water once again. We laid a course for Sea Otter Cove, the first fully protected harbor down the coast. It’s only about nine miles from Cape Scott, but the going seemed very slow, perhaps because we were emotionally drained. The engine’s chattering became more obtrusive, specially as it seemed to be talking about us:

Such fun today, such fun today,
We crossed a breaking bar today,
We passed a dangerous cape today,
And they were scared,
They were scared,
I could tell, I could tell.
Not far to go
Now thankfully,
Not far for them, not far for me . . .

It wasn’t far, but the landfall was difficult. The entrance to Sea Otter Cove is very narrow and hidden among rugged islands, none of which look like their outlines on the chart. We couldn’t see any sign of the rock-and-reef-strewn entrance to the deserted cove until we were within 100 yards of it.

But eventually we made our way in and found ourselves in sole possession of a beautiful, perfectly protected bay fringed with evergreens and sandy beaches. We lay back with drinks in the cockpit to soak up the evening sunshine.    The sun was putting on a spectacular show of oranges and purples.

“This is simply gorgeous,” I said.

“It’s our reward for a hard day,” said June. “It’s always better when you’ve had to work for it.”

Tokoloshe misbehaved during the night, jamming the painter between the rudder and the keel. For a while I feared I might have to dive into the icy water to free it, but I found to my great relief that I could pull the loose end through after untying the stopper knot. I tied Tokoloshe firmly alongside to stop any further nonsense.

Today's Thought
Life ought to be a struggle of desire toward adventures whose nobility will fertilize the soul.
— Rebecca West

“Mommy, Mommy, come quick, there’s a spider as big as a house.”
“Oh for goodness’ sake, Johnny, haven’t I told you 20 million times not to exaggerate?”

(Coming Friday: The third and final episode of The Lure of Vancouver Island)

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