Monday, October 29, 2012

Why Be a Sailor

My thoughts this morning are with the crew of the tall ship HMS Bounty. Somewhere in the Atlantic are two young sailors, adrift in 20 foot seas. The good ship Bounty has been abandoned and presumed to be sunk.

I am overwhelmed with sadness, and have spent the day pondering why people like us are drawn to this life. 

For now, I will let the words of others express my thoughts. Perhaps at some later time I'll put my own feelings into writing.  Not today. 

God bless the family members and the crew of the good ship Bounty.

Photographs from our experiences on the water accompany the quotes.


Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. 
-H. Melville

"The desire to build a house is the tired wish of a man content thenceforward with a single anchorage. The desire to build a boat is the desire of youth, unwilling yet to accept the idea of a final resting place." 

'A sailing ship is no democracy; you don't caucus a crew as to where you'll go anymore than you inquire when they'd like to shorten sail."    
-Sterling Hayden
"The goal is not to sail the boat, but rather to help the boat sail herself."                             

"The ocean has always been a salve to my soul...the best thing for a cut or abrasion was to go swimming in salt water. Later down the road of life, I made the discovery that salt water was also good for the mental abrasions one inevitably acquires on land."   -Jimmy Buffett

 "Never a ship sails out of a bay, but carries my heart as a stowaway." 
-Roselle Mercier Montgomery

 "I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving: To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it - but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor." -Oliver Wendell Holmes

 "Confronting a storm is like fighting God. All the powers in the universe seem to be against you and, in an extraordinary way, your irrelevance is at the same time both humbling and exalting."  -Franciose LeGrande

 "I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it’s because in addition to the fact that the sea changes, and the light changes, and ships change, it’s because we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have, in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea - whether it is to sail or to watch it - we are going back from whence we came."    
- John F. Kennedy

 "For the most part, a sailboat navigates through its world of wind and water not leaving a single trace of its passage. Nothing is consumed. Nothing is altered. The winds and the water are left in exactly the same condition for the next user. Sailing is forever."
-Michael B. McPhee 

 "A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for." 
-William Shedd

 "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." 

-Mark Twain

"If my ship sails from sight, it doesn't mean my journey ends, it simply means the river bends." 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Handy Tips to Make Marina Life a Pleasant (and Safe) Experience for All Involved.

I should start my post with a link to this article on the Boat US website:

As winter creeps in to the NW, we're battening down the hatches on Kwaietek for our somewhat lengthy stay indoors. I really do like this time of year--although don't get me wrong, I'm not really excited about the infamous howling winds and long walks down our dock in the driving rainstorms!

And speaking of walking down our dock, I'd like to focus a little conversation about life on the docks.

Marina habitation is quite a fascinating slice-of-life. In the best of times it is a vibrant place where boaters from all backgrounds and interests share a passion of the water. Neighbors are there to help each other and offer advice from a vast pool of experiences, especially in the work-boat section. I really love the hustle and bustle of this time of the year. The fishing fleet is heading out for the chum salmon openings right now and the charter fleet of Grand Banks paraded past us just this morning, en route to their winter homes. Owners are hustling to winterize their boats for the season. This is the best part of marina life, (well, the second best part to spring when we all prepare for the coming sun)!

Conversely, the down-side to marina life would be the careless or inconsiderate boaters who lack consideration for others living and working around them (and yes, I fully realize that one can find these sort of people in any situation).  However, in a tight marine environment these people can be downright dangerous as well as nuisances.

For example (and I just might be heading toward a rant here), dock-hoses that are haphazardly piled around the main walkway can become severe tripping hazards--forget about trying to push a heavy dock cart down the docks. My only satisfaction comes from pushing the full pump-out cart over top of these hoses: drip, drip, drip... When the heavy rain arrives and surfaces begin to freeze, the hose issue is a rather dangerous one in a marina.

Vessel owners that fail to check the condition of their bilges when they tie up for the winter present a completely different problem. The shiny slicks that appear in the fall when boats return to dock are not only a hazard to the other boats nearby, but to the eco-system of the marina.  I'll refrain from outting a couple of the perpetrators that prefer to simply push a button and deposit their holding tanks into the water rather than motor over to the pump-out station (or attempt to push a poo-cart over the dock-hoses)... but they are back in the marina again and it's fairly obvious, if you know what I mean.

Of particular annoyance lately, the pet owners who find it inconvenient to pick up their animal's fecal matter. Now when one lives on land, poopy shoes can be a real pain in the neck, but just try tracking it onto your boat!  It isn't enough to be winding your way down a zig-zaggy obstacle course of dock-hoses, but dodging tiny piles of dog crap simultaneously, makes for a rather challenging trip to the boat.

One of our neighbors, a long time live-aboard, summed it up best when he said, "The only real difference between living in a marina and a trailer park is that most of us choose this life because of our aesthetics. And as such, we should treat each other well and enjoy it--otherwise, ya might as well live in a motorhome in a gravel lot." So, let me close my little treatise on marina life by repeating the golden rule: Please, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.


Since I'm writing about preparing for impending winter conditions in the marina, let me just jot down a few things that we've learned in the past two years of living aboard.

  • Have a safety/ security plan drawn up and practice it.   This not only applies to the big, commercial vessels like Zodiac, but to private boats as well. (All it took was witnessing the fire last spring where two people perished, to make this a mandatory drill on Kwaietek).    *additionally- ensure that ALL exit/entrances are free and clear.
  • Do not keep your water hose connected and pressurized to shore.  One of the biggest causes of sinking is allowing the onshore water to act as your main water pressure. Should the water pressure become too great without a step-down system in place; a boat can fill and sink in hours.
  • Perform an annual appliance inventory and check all UL labels.  Most land-based appliances are not designed to run in a salt-water atmosphere. Check your outlets, plugs... check your amperage draw when appliances are running. Don't leave appliances plugged in when not on the vessel (even if turned off). A friend of ours is currently replacing part of his deck house due to a refrigerator fire onboard.
  • Keep extra dock lines handy and tie 'em on early and often!  There is a reason that Marine Exchange sells out of fenders after the first big blow!
  • Have a chili locker handy. Okay, in reality, this one is a lesson learned from Zodiac... during the last few north-easterly blows, we've had to take her off the dock suddenly and hide out in Teddy Bear cove for safety... you wanna have an emergency stash of food (and beer and decent videos) on the boat for a few night's stay away from shore).
  • Draft up a call-list (and keep it current). Same scenario as above-- in cases of emergency (or even when you have to leave town for a while), make up a list of contacts that can hop aboard at a moment's notice. It is invaluable.
  • Watch those dock lines.  Remember in driver's education when they taught you that it's the "other"driver you have to think about? Well, it's the "other" boats poorly tied lines that you have to worry about. The neighbor in the slip next you can be a threat if his lines fail in a blow. Make a habit of looking at everybody's lines as you stroll back and forth on the dock.
  • Pay attention to alarms.  They call them *alarms* for a reason!... Cpt Tim chastised me last winter for ignoring a distant alarm. It was going off all day, I figured somebody had called it in or notified them. Wrong. Since then, I've called twice when one of our neighbor's alarms went off--turns out it was his high-water sensor. He was very grateful.
Ahh yes, the clinking of halyards against masts has begun and I hear our mooring lines begin to creak. Those forecasted winds arrive as I write this post. How very nice.

Well, try and keep warm everyone, and remember-- stow those dock-hoses!


Monday, October 8, 2012

A Heckuva' Good Time at the NW Windjammer Gam

This weekend was the much anticipated NW Windjammer Gam at Spencer Spit (Lopez Island).
The second annual schooner * gam  had been on the books since last winter. Boats were coming from all margins of the San Juan archipelago and passengers were on the various ships hailed from all across the United States.
*for those not in "the know", a schooner is a sailing vessel with at least two masts; the most aft mast being of equal or greater height than the forward mast(s). Many are gaff-rigged, however Bermuda rigs are becoming more common.  Some schooners may carry yards on the foremast with a square sail. These are called "topsail schooners."

The definition of "Gam" is:  To hold a visit, especially while at sea.
The definition of "Windjammer" is: A large sailing ship. A person who is talkative.. (also applicable in this instance).
A large portion of our family assembled on Kwaietek Friday evening to participate in the event. We weren't even close to being a schooner, (although Kwaietek does have two masts)!  The honorary title was awarded just for the weekend, and as we were bringing the 40 pounds of clams and fixings, we were allowed to join the club for the gam.

The morning dawned beautiful and warm in Bellingham Bay as we prepped Kwaietek for departure.
I took the boat off our dock with Jeffery standing by offering support in case of weird currents or unexpected seine skiffs. All went well and I am happy to report that I'm becoming as familiar with our little boat as I am with handling the Z... but in both cases, very grateful for the presence of Tim and Jeffery when close quarters maneuvering.

Dane and Megan were onboard Kwaietek for the weekend. Juliet invited her friend Talya as well, so we were a pretty full boat. "Rollin' deep" as Dane would say.

The weather in the Salish Sea was picture perfect. Winds were 0-10 knots (and as we were NOT a sailing vessel, this was just fine). In hindsight, I expect that the schooners were a little grumpy with the lack of workable air currents. We motored down Rosario Strait behind two fishing vessels that were rafted together as they headed south. As we approached Thatcher Pass, I spied a couple of tall masts coming up from Burrows island. The schooner Zodiac was beating northbound, squeezing every ounce of sail-able wind out of the halcyon breeze.

Jeff called over to the Z to check in, we wanted to make certain that we beat all of the other vessels to the spit. In order to fire up the burners and get our pots of clams, chicken, yams and corn on the cob cooking, we hoped to be anchored by one o'clock. I throttled up the Gardner diesel and Kwaietek contentedly chugged forward.

The anchorage was sparsely populated on this Saturday afternoon. We selected a prime spot to drop the hook and within minutes Kwaietek bobbed along with the soothing swells of Lopez Sound.

Juliet and Talya jumped onto the deck house with life jackets already fastened. "Let's go Dad!" our impatient teenager wailed.

The launching of  tender went smoothly and Jeff rowed the girls ashore to reconnoiter a camp site with fire pits. I watched them go and smiled, thinking that what she lacked in a backyard, our daughter made up for in a variety of playgrounds.

Before too long our first schooners came into sight. I grabbed the binoculars at first sight of a pair of tall masts bobbing over the sandy horizon of Spencer Spit. Dane and Megan came over to take their turn with the binocs. "Who do you think it is?" Megan asked.
"I'd say with that topsail, it's probably Spike Africa." I replied.

Dane simply grunted a respectful note of approval as he peered across Spencer Spit toward the oncoming ship. "Huh. Nice." he mumbled.

Jeff appeared alongside in the bobbing tender. "Hey! I found a great spot on the beach. It's right next to the cabin and the fire pit has three big tables all around. Lets get the burners and pots on shore before we lose 'em."

We lugged the big 15 gallon aluminum pots over to the dinghy. With coordinated efforts, we loaded them into the tender. "Be careful with those--that's dinner for eighty hungry sailors tonight. We don't want to lose them over the side!"

Jeff nodded and cast off. "See ya' ashore!" he called back.

I helped Dane negotiate himself into my kayak before going below to gather up our gear. "Hey Megan. Keep an eye on your bro while he paddles to the spit will ya? It's been a while since he's kayaked."

Within the next half hour, schooners began to sail into the anchorage. First to arrive was the schooner Phoenix. Her bare sticks soaring over the side of our boat as she motored by us. captain Jim Kruse waved amiably as he positioned his vessel between Kwaietek and the tree-lined shore of Lopez Island. moments later, the rattle of anchor chain could be heard (and felt) as he let out his scope.
Spike Africa rounded into view. Her sails now doused, she motored over to us and proceeded to drop her hook a little ways to the south. "Yeehah! Spike Africa is here!" Megan screamed. "I love Marshall and those guys... Whoot whoot--I'm goin' ashore now!" 

Right behind the Spike Africa, came the majestic Zodiac. She was running down wind under full sail. I could guess that Captain Tim was planning to sail onto the hook. "Wait a minute Megan! Stay on deck and watch the show." I called to my daughter. It was always a blast to see Zodiac come in under sail. I relished the opportunity to watch it from a distance. (Usually I was on deck calling the process).

She came to a graceful stop, her crew had completed the job effortlessly. Good job Brandy and Tim I muttered to myself. Our new mate was really coming into her own on the Z since I stepped off the boat.
The schooner Martha  arrived a short while later. Her captain, Robert D'Arcy wowed us all by ghosting across the small stretch of water between the spit and Frost Island. Propelled by momentum alone, her sails bereft of any breeze, she slid through the narrow inlet, shadow painted starkly on the cliff face of the island. Beautiful.

It was time to go ashore.

I hitched a ride with the Zodiac's tender and found Jeffery and Jim near the keg. The pots of clams were steaming away, aroma of buttery clams and chicken filled the beach. Juliet ran toward the water and informed me that she and Talya had prepped the s'mores (just in case they could be used as appetizers). I ignored the whining and justifications for chocolate as an hors d'oeuvre and went in search of a beer mug. This was shaping into a pretty swell evening.
We watched the boats from shore and before long, we could see the various tenders loading up with passengers. Jeff and Juliet went to the water to catch lines and help folks disembark.
I took the opportunity to grab my kayak and paddle around the vessels. The water was clear and calm, (hard to believe that this was the first week of October)!

As the passengers and crew gathered on the beach, we lit the campfire. Strangers from different boats and states came together for an evening. The deckhands from the vessels greeted each other and raised a cup to each other's boats. 

Over clams and bread and glasses of cold beer, we talked about boats and our voyages to Spencer Spit. Sea chanties broke out (as they are wont to do when sailors get together), and a bottle or two of rum was procured from the folds of several jackets. a good time was had by all.
photos courtesy of Peter James Photography

(For more pictures of the windjammer Gam, check out Peter James page here)

I woke up at the leisurely hour of eight o'clock Sunday morning. The sun was already ablaze and the reflection on the water was truly blinding. A press of coffee was waiting for me on the fan tail and I eagerly poured myself a large mug of java. Zodiac sat complacently at anchor, framed nicely by the gap of thatcher Pass and the islands behind it.

While we ate a tasty breakfast of hash browns and chorizo (potatoes cooked with clams the night before make for some great hash browns, by the way)... The Zodiac began to weigh anchor. She got underway and pointed her bowsprit directly at us. We watched with amused excitement as she gingerly picked her way amongst the smaller-draft vessels and brought her massive hull into the shallow waters. (Zodiac draws 16 feet under the water-line). The passengers waved good bye and shouted their appreciation for an excellent clambake as the captain and crew gave us passing honors on their way home. 

I sighed audibly as she kicked into cruising speed and her stern wake left us rocking to and fro. For a brief moment, I felt a twinge of sorrow to see my boat sailing away, then Jeffery poured another big splash of black coffee into my cup and I smiled, Oh yeah--this is the life. I'm on my own boat with my family.... We can come and go whenever we want to and best of all--our home is where we take it!

We sat back and enjoyed the rest of the morning. The Windjammer Gam had been a rip-roaring success! 

I cannot wait until next year.

 - Chris

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Victoria BC and the Ex-Forestry Service Vessel Rendezvous

Well, it has only taken us two months to post the photos of our time in Victoria. Chalk it up to busily living the dream!

First step was to drop the youngster off at Lang's Horse and Pony Farm for a two-week camping/ horse-riding extravaganza. She was somewhat sad to miss out on the festivities, but the lure of Bailey-the-quarter-horse was far too great. We bid farewell to Juliet and her mount and hit the water: Canada-bound.

The British Columbia Forestry Service Centennial took place on August 3rd-5th in Victoria's Inner Harbour. Eleven vessels total came to be on display and to help celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Forestry Service. The event coincided with BC Day weekend (something akin to our 4th of July, I suppose). The city was bursting at the seams and we felt pretty special to be awarded dock space at the Ship Point Pier--smack in the middle of all the events! (Even if it meant rafting together two and three deep).

The squadron of privately owned ex-BC Forestry
Vessels lines Ship Point Pier in Victoria. 8/3/12.

Jeff and I motored into Victoria early to clear customs before the masses arrived; good thing too, as the winds began to pick up upon our departure. I watched with baited breath as our single screw, full keel boat was swept toward the Harbour Air seaplane fleet... Jeffery used our windage and the direction of the blow to spin Kwaietek around quite handily. More than a few people on dock and on neighboring vessels shouted out their praises as he maneuvered our 63' boat out of the tight squeeze. Seaplanes (and my nerves),  intact.

Even though I had piloted Kwaietek all the way over from Bellingham, I left the close quarters maneuvering to Jeffery still. My summers on Zodiac leave me little time to familiarize myself with how our own vessel handles in small spaces. I took my place at the foredeck to handle lines and toss fenders. Several Bayliners came cruising by us as we approached our dock and called over things like, "Hi there! Looks like he gave you the tough job!" and "Ahoy Matey! Your Skipper sure has a beautiful boat!".... I found myself gritting my teeth and forcing a wave to the yachties. Oh yeah? I've got your tough job right here, asshole. Fuming as only a true Scottish lass can fume.

It had been a thing with me, ever since we started sailing. I'd always bridled at the stereotypes where men were at the wheel while their wives stood by the dock lines... the rhinestone-encrusted First Mate logo spread across the chest of a blue and white striped blouse--white Capri's and visor over the bleached blond hair-thing. I swore way back then, like with all things I have undertaken, that I would never fall into the "belay babe"/ "ski bunny" / roles. ...and now here I was with my 100-ton captain's license waving to yachties while tossing fenders. Grrrrr.

Eventually I got over my temper tantrum about this perceived slight to my feminine abilities and began to enjoy the show. We were rafted next to Syrene, an 81 foot Edwardian yacht that was built in 1921. Her owner, Robert Boyd, had become an old friend of ours from cruising on the Zodiac and we enjoyed the chance to catch up with him while at dock.

Syrene and Kwaietek (formerly the "BC Forester"), rafted at dock.

The highlight of the festival was hosting the Forest Rangers onboard. The old gentlemen (some of whom could barely make it over the rails), climbed aboard their old vessels and instantly became 30 years younger. They'd tour their old boats, always stopping in the engine room to reminisce about the our case, the "Granny" Gardner, our six-cylinder 105 HP diesel engine. After a time, there would be quite a bottleneck in the engine room passageway. Jeffery held court down below, extolling Granny's virtues and soaking up all of the old stories from the engineers and old timers.

One of our new acquaintances, a BC Forest Ranger
stopped by for coffee and tales on his old boat.

The third day of the event was a much anticipated performance of the Victoria Symphony, playing live on a big barge in the middle of Inner Harbour. The finale was to be the 1812 overture with cannons firing (at us), and fireworks overhead (of us). Crowds began to appear around seven in the morning. I mentioned to Jeffery that it was beginning to resemble a Grateful Dead show what with the blankets and festival chairs springing up all around the harbour. Jeff replied, "Yeah, except for the tempeh burritos and overwhelming essence of patchouli , it might as well be a Dead show." Well, yeah. He had a point. Before the big event occurred, the speakers all around our docks began to pipe out music from the Nutcracker ballet. I followed the gaze of my shipmates and laughed aloud as the tiny "pickle boats"--iconic water taxis that buzzed about the harbour, performed a synchronized water ballet in the center of bay. It was truly hilarious!

Dance of the pickle boats!

That night, we sat on the deckhouse with several of the other forestry boat owners, sipping hard cider and watching the entertainment. When the cannons fired off and the fireworks burst over our heads, we decided that life was pretty durn sweet right then.
Happy hour on Kwaietek prior to the Symphony Splash.

The next morning, we made our preparations to head back home. My time off of the Zodiac was drawing to a close and I needed to be back onboard. We said good bye to our new friends in the Ex-BC Forestry Vessel Squadron and promised to make it to the round up in 2013. Before we cast off from Syrene, Robert leaned over the railing and invited us to buddy-boat back into the San Juan's. "Let's anchor up at West Sound tonight. I'll take you to a restaurant that has the best crab cakes in the islands!"

"Done." Jeff replied.

We spent a gorgeous day crossing Haro Strait, following behind the much faster  Syrene, ( TWO Gardner diesels in her engine room)!... and matched pace with another one of the smaller forestry vessels. By lunch time, we encountered a large pod of killer whales off Battleship Island. We made it into West Sound in time for crab cakes at the Madrona Pub. Robert wasn't exaggerating; they were awesome!

Kwaietek tucked into Pleasant Bay for the evening.

Reluctant to fall right back into our routines at home (yeah, yeah, I expect to get no sympathy from anyone about returning to work on a 160' schooner)!... We anchored our last evening in Pleasant Bay and made a fancy dinner for ourselves. It had been a wonderful weekend and we decided that next year will be all about finding adventures just like it!

Dinner without the kid...hoot hoot!
... except with Juliet along for the trips next time.