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The Story of our Cruise

By the time we are finishing with building our new woodshed, we are into October and it looks like the warm, sunny weather that we have enjoyed all summer is gone. But our plans are made and we load up the boat with lots of food, lots of sleeping bags and warm sweaters and coats and head off through the San Juan Islands and up to the Canadian Gulf Islands. (Click here for a chart of the area). At first it seems cold and gray, but gradually as we leave shore life farther behind we start to enjoy the tones of the water and the clouds and the moods and the sights. There are very few other cruising boats out at this time of year, so we notice the work boats more. The capable tugs take on a rough beauty against the backdrop of a sea that will become stormy as we approach the winter season.

We pass a number of tugs pulling long log booms sometimes stretching almost 1/4 mile behind. Their engines strain, but they barely move through the water towing so many logs. When the tide turns against them, they just seem to hold their own.

A classic sailing ship motors by, heading South - everyone seems to be heading south. We are the only boat heading north except for some of the tugs.

Each night we choose very secure anchorages, since the weather could change suddenly and blow hard. The days are shorter and we have to get into harbor much earlier than in summer cruising. But now we are enjoying ourselves. The quiet mood and the complete lack of other cruising boats makes us feel a space and solitude that throws our family in upon itself more than cruising in the summer. Summer cruising is often quite sociable with all of the other boats and visiting with other sailing families. There are lots of harbor seals to watch. We watch them and they watch us.

We are starting to adapt to the temperature too, so much so that when we visit some good friends who live by the water, we find that we are turning red in the face and getting very warm sitting and talking in their living room, looking out over the water at our boat anchored just off their rocky beach.

From the Canadian Gulf Islands, we head north on our first open passage of this trip towards the mainland coast of B.C. north of Vancouver. As we cross the Straits of Georgia, the wind backs and lifts us so that gradually we can head for the lighthouse off of the Thormanby Islands.

It is a fast passage and we drop the sails outside of Smugglers Cove and motor through the narrow entrance just at dusk. We are surprised to find mosquitoes here and two other cruising boats heading South. These are hardy mosquitoes (not to mention the cruisers) because it is quite chilly. We anchor and run a stern line to a little rocky island, drape our mosquitoe netting over the hatch and start dinner.

Soon the night is very dark. The sky is completely overcast and there are no city lights to reflect off of the clouds. Outside the cabin you can see nothing but the ragged edge of the line where the trees meet the sky. The moon is completely dark this week and there is no light coming through the clouds. This is the darkness that early man knew. You see nothing, the darkness wraps around you full of mystery and suspense. Occasionally there is a rustling animal sound from the shore, or a breathing out of breath across the narrow harbor from a seal surfacing. This harbor is so small and completely surrounded by land that it feels like a little pond and it seems rather strange to have a big sailboat sitting here so close to shore on the perfectly still water. The phosphorescence, when we stir the water with an oar, is dazzlingly bright.

We wake to rain, but get off in the dinghy to explore the park and have a nice walk. This is a BC Provincial Marine Park. These parks are wonderful and we travel from one to the next. Frequently a whole island will be a park.

Three more days and we reach the entrance to Desolation Sound. This is truly one of the most remarkable places for cruising. The scenery is almost unbelievable. There are numerous waterways winding amongst four and five thousand foot mountains. Snow stays on the slopes of the higher peaks year-round. Charming harbors are wrapped around by high cliffs and rocky islets. Quite a few lakes just above the harbors have been left by the carving of the glaciers. There are massive slopes of granite sweeping into the sea. And now the sun surprises us and summer is back!

The clouds are gone and the days are warm with skies so blue and air so clear that it seems like we are in paradise. Our favorite harbor in Tenedos Bay is ours alone, and we row to the head of the harbor and carry our dinghy up the path five minutes to Lake Unwin and spend the days swimming and reading and sailing our small boats. Someone has built a raft of logs lashed together with yellow line so we paddle this out into the lake. Cynthia sails a T15 out from the raft on a Boat Reel.

The next day we row our dinghy through into the second lake and eat our picnic on a warm shelf of granite that sweeps down into the water. We row across this lake and tie our dingy to a bush and hike, following a stream, through old growth forests abounding in ferns and mushrooms. The mushrooms are amazing, red, white, yellow, brown, bright orange, some are thick and heavy, some are light and lacy. The pure white ones are like morning glories, a beautiful curving cone shape, open on one side. There are no trails. We are heading for a third lake, but it is rough going. Laine is making a good hike, she is five years old and bushwhacking through ferns over her head and climbing over slippery logs chest high and stumbling into holes as deep as her knees. She is determined to reach the secret lake, but it is getting late and soon we will have to turn around so as not to get caught by the darkness. We push on faster and the ground gets a little more level. Suddenly there is light ahead through the trees and we come out on the edge of a beautiful lake, lying warm and still in the golden afternoon sunlight beneath a 4,000 foot mountain. If more than four people come here each summer, I would be surprised. This is true wilderness, there are no signs of people.We sit on a log and eat a can of peaches. These are the best canned peaches I have ever tasted.

The next morning, back down at Tenedos Harbor we have a perfect place to sail the T15. Robyn launches the boat from a rock, and we chase it together in the dingy. Our boat is anchored in the background.

Another day, I take a row around the island in Tenedos Bay and spend the morning sailing the T-Class. It is beautiful. A curious seagull looks on. I love the way the T-Class sails. Model sailboats have always given me great pleasure. I believe it is something about the graceful way they capture the free spirit of the wind, or maybe it is just that the water is so beautiful and the boat is so alive as it slices it's path through the shimmering waves. This is an ideal morning, relaxing, fun and lovely. This is why we build the boats.

As I row back I see a bald eagle sitting atop a dead fir. This morning Cynthia is in charge of homeschooling for Robyn and Laine. We keep quite a regular homeschooling schedule while we are cruising. By the time I reach the boat, school is over for the day.

We set out for another hike up to the high cliffs overlooking the harbor. Far below you can see our boat at anchor.


After a week we leave Tenedos and head up around the Redonda Islands.

There is a fire burning on West Redonda out of control and two water bombers are fighting the blaze in a truly heroic effort to save the forest. Their trips from far up the slopes where the fire blazes, then down to the sea and back up to dump their water take only three minutes. They fill their huge orange scoops by dipping them and dragging them in the salt water. It is an impressive show of flying skill, and they appear to be making progress against the fire.

We come through a cut between West Redonda and East Redonda and spend the night in a little harbor surrounded by small rocky islets, our boat dwarfed by a 4000 foot peak on East Redonda overshadowing the harbor. Night falls early with a heavy dew. The stars are the brightest I have ever seen them. It is a perfect night, but cold. I stay outside on deck after dinner for half an hour enjoying the constellations. Orion is out and Sirius, and I trace the great arc around from Orion's belt to the Pleiades, to Taurus, to Capella, to the twins, Castor then Polux, down to Procyon and back to Sirius. Robyn joins me and I point out these stars to her. Many of these stars are navigational stars that I teach my students in my Celestial Navigation course. By morning the cabin ceiling is wet with condensation. Cynthia wipes the ceiling dry with a sponge, while I wipe the cockpit dry from the heavy dew.

The next day we motor on through glassy water. Not a breath disturbs the surface.

That evening brings us in a full circle around East and West Redonda back to Prie d'Eau Haven Harbor, quite near Tenedos Bay. Prie d'Eau is one of the most popular harbors on the Coast of B.C. and one of the most scenic. Here several small bays are linked together with water passages amongst small islands. We are runing out of daylight as we approach. We are not sure of the main entrance in the dusk so we head into Laura Cove which is closer to us and the light holds just long enough for us to slip through this very narrow entrance between shallow rock ledges that come out from each side.

The next morning we row through into Prie d'Eau and find only one boat, an Austrailian who is wintering over in B.C. before heading back to Australia. We have a mid-day swim in Prie d'Eau Harbor in the salt water. It is October 16th and Robin and I both go in. I never thought we'd be swimming in the salt water this late in the season - it is Robyn's idea and we both enjoy it. We all eat sardines and rye crackers on a rock. Rowing back, we stop and have have a good chat with Doug, the Australian, about blue water passages and winter plans. He has done some impressive sailing. We go back to our boat and bake a chocolate birthday cake. It is 2 weeks early, but this day has been so perfect, I decide that it should be my birthday and we celebrate. We are not used to having an oven on board, since we have always sailed on Gimble before. The cake turns out perfectly. What a luxury. There is a beautiful sunset that evening and we sit for a long time on deck enjoying the peace and exquisite beauty of our surroundings.

The next morning it is time to start heading south. We know that orders are piling up and the weather will start to change. The cold nights remind us that winter is coming. The morning is shrouded in fog. We are not sure if we will be able to head out or not. We plot a course hugging the deep shores of the first three islands and then heading across an open patch to hit the deep shore of the next island. The fog wraps us around and we drift through a world floating in clouds, our eyes peering ahead, but making out nothing. The fog gets denser.

Robyn is on the bow deck gazing forwards into the gray droplets. Then it brightens and a bow of light, like a rainbow, but whiter, appears off our bow. The light glows and shimmers stretching high up into the sky and then the bow completes itself in a full circle with the bottom of the rainbow beneath our feet so close we could jump through. We delight in the natural beauty that we are immersed in. Gradually some mountain peaks appear above the fog and then suddenly we sail out into a bright sunny day with blue skies with the wall of fog behind us.

The blue skies hold for a few more days. Then suddenly we sail back into a bank of fog and cloud off of Texada Island and the wind picks up sharply. We reef and keep reefing until the main is double reefed and the jib is less than half. Robyn sails us around the Southern tip of Texada, beating in short tacks through six foot choppy seas, keeping the island in sight through the blowing fog wall. Spray comes over the cockpit. After days of quite light winds and absolute calms this is quite a change and we are glad to be in a bigger boat than Gimble, which would be wet and cold in these conditions. We round Texada, the waves crashing on black rocks off the point to our leeward and reach off for the harbor on Jedediah. We have never been to Jedediah, but the whole island is a Marine Park. When we arrive, we have the island to ourselves, except for the flock of goats, the old work horse and a flock of sheep. The mist and cloud shroud the island and give it a mysterious, beautiful and somewhat forlorn air of being deserted. Robyn and Laine play on the beach as though it is summer and enjoy it just as much, even though it is only 50 degrees. We hike up to the crest of rock called Gibraltar and look out over mist and cloud. The mosses and ferns and trees drip with moisture, the air is chilled.

We have some wind now and a fine day of sailing running down to Nanaimo with the spinnaker billowing out before us, blue white and red against the blue sky. Laine steers us into Nanaimo, racing along at hull speed. We refill our water tank in Nanaimo and head down into the Gulf Islands. Clouds and drizzle welcome us back to the United States. The ferries are the only other boats we see. Friday Harbor where we clear back into the States is very quiet. We stop at the Toy Box, which has carried our boats for many, many years and meet Nancy the owner and have a wonderful visit with her before she closes for the evening. We are enchanted and complimented by her glowing words of praise about our boats and how much she enjoys carrying them and how much she respects their quality and how much her customers enjoy them. Likewise we admire her store - it is everything a small toy store should be, full of charm and fun.

It is nice to be back in Southern waters, the land is softer and the harbors are easier to anchor in, the water is not as deep and the bottoms are sand or mud instead of rock. One more day at Spencer Spit. We arrive late in the afternoon, but the sun comes through, and Robyn and Laine build sand castles and boat harbors on the beach and play in wood houses built by other beachgoers from the driftwood. We have almost the whole park to ourselves. The busy ferries pass us and set us rolling in the evening, but the motion on board seems so natural now, we hardly notice. October is almost over. The next day we sail for home.

It has turned cold and gray. The currents are against us until late afternoon and the wind is spotty, but as we come up Bellingham Bay the tide changes and a beautiful breeze picks up and blows quite strong from the southwest. We leave a wake of bubbles streaming behind us. We race towards our home as dark, turbulent clouds mass in heavy piles to the south. It is always good to come home, although some day perhaps we will just keep sailing.

Home again, home again, jiggedy jog. Our new woodshed still needs the cedar siding. Hopefully we will get it finished before winter really comes. And this is our home, the house that Cynthia and I built eight years ago.

And that is the story of our cruise.

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