Messing about in a boat has great charm. You always manage to keep busy doing nothing in particular, and if you are like me, the destination is only secondary to the pleasure of getting there.
I have been learning the art of helping a boat sail itself, mostly single-handed, for the last 47 years. I have survived in spite of myself. At 28, I sailed too close to hydro lines on a flooded Lake Winnipeg. My intention was to get close enough to swim ashore to a hot dog stand. The result: wooden mast met 45,000 volts, with my left arm nearly blasted off. Manitoba Hydro searched for the culprit who blacked out three lakeshore towns for days; but the locals knew “nothing,” when approached by Hydro officials.
B.C.'s rich and varied coast has been my home for the last 30 years and the Strait of Georgia my playground. Last summer’s leisurely two month cruise around the Salish Sea on my 30-foot (9.1 metre) sloop, *Island Bound*, might be called an adventure. I just call it recreation and fun.
Other than one frantic situation when transiting swift running Dodd Narrows, it was endless days of sailing in benign breezes to peaceful retreats with protected anchorages.
I cast off from my home port of Sturt Bay, Texada Island with fresh baked cookies and a warm send-off by Phyllis, my wife of 50 years. “Don’t forget to phone home - and take your vitamins,” she shouted over the noise of my single-cylinder Yanmar diesel inboard, as I left the dock. It was a perfect day to be heading north under jib alone. Grey skies and a 20-knot southeaster blew *Island Bound* swiftly to Desolation Sound. Named by Captain Vancouver on a greyish winter day, it is now the playground of the rich and famous.
Freedom, open air and the lure of adventure are like a drug. Days roll on one after another like a tropical dream. Fair winds, hot sunny days and balmy nights, and the magic of drinking “boaty” tea in the cockpit late at night under a glittering dome of stars, and listening to soft music are all God-given moments that can seduce with thoughts of sailing forever.
I had been enjoying ports and anchorages from Comox to Salt Spring Island for the better part of a month, and was headed north to Nanaimo after leaving a pretty anchorage tucked in behind Dunsmuir Island near Ladysmith.
Dodd Narrows, the gateway to Nanaimo was on my bow. This short, tight, deep passage between Mudge and Vancouver Islands has currents that run up to 10 knots, and a tricky rock ledge when transiting from south to north. There is barely room for two boats to pass in Dodd Narrows, both keeping to the centre of the channel.
Large cruisers have little trouble travelling this narrow waterway an hour each side of slack tide. Sailboats have the problem of Dodd Narrows' turbulent waters taking hold of their deep keels trying to swirl the boat about.
Slack is when the tide turns and, for 15 minutes, the waters are somewhat still. Whales have been seen waiting for slack tide. The following is an example of how destiny can sneak up and bite you.
I was leading a convoy of boats north through Dodd Narrows, heading for Nanaimo one hour before slack tide on a passage that was about to become memorable. The current, still running at four to five knots drew our boats quickly through the channel. Southbound boats maintained station outside the narrows on the Nanaimo side, waiting their turn to enter when the tide reversed.
My convoy was midway through the narrows when a huge cruiser came at us pushing a swollen bow wave and pulling a large stern wave. Rather than wait his turn with the other boats, he charged into the channel. I reversed my engine to no avail. We were going to collide! This 50’ (15.2 metre) yacht towing a fishing boat nearly as large as my 30’ (9.1 metre) sailboat roared into Dodd Narrows with a foot to spare between rocks and my boat. His following wave met the opposing tide setting up a standing wave that reached up to my mast spreaders. I braced! I clutched the wheel. My boat went vertical, then plunged deep into a trough, narrowly missing the submerged rocks at the exit.
VHF radios were alive with curses and yells directed at the dangerous captain of the offending yacht.
Glancing behind, I was astonished to see a big cruiser in my convoy hovering on the crest of a wave high above my cockpit. Its captain, grimly clinging to his wheel on the flying bridge looked down at me wide-eyed, and shrugged. Fortunately, he went to port as I turned to starboard.
Some hard lessons over the years have persuaded me that preparation is the best prevention to keep the sea from worming its way in with problems. But all the planning in the world can’t guard against the unwise incompetents who sometimes own the largest boats.
Anchoring in Nanaimo’s tranquil Mark Bay sheltered by Newcastle and Protection Islands was the “sublime” antidote to the “ridiculous” Dodd Narrows event. And yes, the ocean still enchants me. Over the years, I have found that saltwater can be a “bomb” or a “balm.” Sailing makes me realize that life is not about how much you have, but how little you really need. Explore, dream, discover, and do it now!
JUNE 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND
What's in a Name? In an effort to connect the bodies of water stretching from the south end of Puget Sound to Desolation Sound at the north end of the Strait of Georgia including the western mouth of Juan de Fuca Strait, Washington State Board on Geographic Names voted five to one in favour of the name “Salish Sea.” Geographical Names Board of Canada will also have to give its approval. “Salish Sea” will not replace the current names. The aim of the amalgamation is to evaluate problems facing the area and to implement ecological preservation in an all-encompassing name.
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