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

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