December 8, 2011

The island's lure: 3

(HERE IS the third and final part 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 3

WE LEFT SEA OTTER COVE the next day in high spirits. The day was beautiful, with a clear blue sky and a calm sea. We were over the worst, and we could look forward to two more weeks of exploring the five major inlets on Vancouver Island’s west coast.

We saw bears at Winter Harbour and Checleset Bay, and dozens of eagles fighting like seagulls over scraps of salmon in Barkley Sound. In almost every little anchorage we came to we were greeted by a bald eagle. We came across sea otters in the remote Bunsby Islands, including one a mile out to sea that stayed fast asleep as we approached, and then peered at us quizzically through his flippers as we passed by. We greeted Gray whales and Humpbacks as if they were old friends.

We bathed in natural hot springs in Clayoquot Sound and rowed ashore on remote islands to visit the sites of ancient Indian villages. We walked through dense old-growth forest on the untamed Brooks Peninsula to a sandy beach as white and pretty as we’d ever seen anywhere and sat to have sandwiches in the shade of a gnarled madrona while green-blue water rushed in and out of a rocky cove below us. Patches of soft grass spread over the rocks like blankets, and in every sheltered spot the ground bloomed with wild bluebells and buttercups.

We ran under jib only at three knots, dragging a lure to catch fish, and feasted like royalty on grilled salmon and white wine in the warm cockpit.

Day after day, we worked our way south and east, occasionally finding another cruising boat in a quiet anchorage and making new friends. In Barkley Sound we met up again with Wind Song and Pyreneenne. We swapped yarns like long-lost pals. Burl Romick of Wind Song gave us a bucket of oysters he’d gathered in the nearby Brabant Islands, and Stuart Briscoe of Pyreneenne served up delicious gravlox they’d made from salmon they’d caught.

But our days in paradise were numbered. June had to get back to work, so reluctantly we set off on the long crossing to Neah Bay, Washington, across the wide mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

There was a small-craft warning in effect, and it blew hard from the northwest that afternoon. Little Jabula broad-reached down the long swells, occasionally touching 7 knots, which made steering very difficult. Tokoloshe surfed along quite happily at the end of a 75-foot painter that formed a loop and slowed it down when it started to run into us.

For most of the day there was no sign of land ahead, but in the late afternoon we raised Cape Flattery and Tatoosh Island. When the wind got up to about 30 knots in the gusts, I dropped the mainsail, leaving the working jib in place. It hardly made any difference to our speed, but it certainly made steering a lot easier.

The tide turned a couple of hours before we reached Neah Bay. It started running against the wind, which made the waves rough and steep-sided for our final approach. We were very glad when we eventually tied up in the Makah marina and cleared customs by phone. Cold and tired, we declined an invitation to drinks on another boat, had a supper of good, hot soup, and collapsed in our bunks.

We ran into patchy fog the next day, but when it cleared the rest was easy. In bright sunshine, we motored non-stop over glassy swells to Bowman Bay, where we crossed our outward track. Safely anchored in the beautiful state park just after sundown, we celebrated Jabula’s circumnavigation of Vancouver Island with a good hot meal and drinks in the cockpit.

Next day, as we were waiting for slack water at Deception Pass, two tugs came along with a huge log raft. They halted near us and I read their names--Vulcan and Snee-oosh.

“You won’t believe this,” I said to June, “but when I started out, right at the beginning of the trip, these same two tugs were in exactly this same spot with a log raft, waiting for slack water in the pass.”

“Oh, I believe it,” said June. “It’s just another circle closing.”

It was a glorious day for our homecoming. We caught the new flood through the pass and carried it all the way down the Saratoga Passage to our berth in Oak Harbor marina.

There we sat in the cockpit and looked at each other, listening to the engine idling:

Quite a trip, yes, quite a trip,

Saw the eagles, saw the bears,

Saw the orcas, saw the whales,

Saw the islands, saw some gales,

At four knots plus, all thanks to me,

Four knots plus, all thanks to me ...

Good to be back, good to rest

Good to be at home at last ...

            Good to be . . .

I pulled the stop control out and the little Yanmar gurgled to a halt.

“Chatty little guy,” I remarked. “But a bit swollen headed.”

“He has a right to be,” said June. “He’s a Vancouver Island vet now.”

Today's Thought
We are all sailors on the spaceship Earth.
—Frank Braynard.

“Is it true that the trouble with this country is ignorance and apathy?”
“I don’t know — and what’s more I don’t give a damn.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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