Three Seafaring Ladies and a Boat

By Judee Fong

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Cathy Harris had often thought about circumnavigating Vancouver Island by boat. Last summer, over a glass of wine with fellow sailors Alison Kershaw and Margaret Thomson, she casually announced, “I’m thinking of sailing around Vancouver Island. Do either of you fancy joining me?” And, thus began 32-days of adventure, lots of laughter, hard work, spectacular scenery and fantastic cooking feasts at sea.

All three women are experienced boaters.

“We’ve all sailed with our spouses and others, but we only sailed together for about four or five hours before this trip,” says Cathy. “There’s always a concern when you take a long trip that you may lose your friends,” she adds.

Margaret smiles in agreement. “Before the trip we didn’t know each other’s preferences for tea or coffee but now we do, plus all the other little idiosyncrasies!”

Margaret made a distinctive blue bra burgee to fly from the mast and set a daily routine for afternoon tea by providing a banana loaf their first day at sea.

Cathy provided her 36-foot (11 metre) Beneteau, the “Rivendell II” newly equipped with fridge, freezer and a two-burner stove with a reliable oven. This galley produced extraordinary meals including handmade pasta, cabbage rolls, occasional barbecues, freshly baked croissants, muffins and biscuits.

“We had a roster where we took turns doing cooking, cleaning-up and motor maintenance. We also rotated berths every three days, so no one felt she had the best or the worst for the entire trip!” says Alison.

So, in the month of August, when seasoned sailors shake their heads at a trip taken in “Fog-ust,” the Rivendell II sailed out of the Sidney North Saanich Marina. The route would be counterclockwise around Vancouver Island starting with the Inside Passage. Much of the coastal areas were a new experience for the women.

“I’ve raced in the Swiftsure and the furthest north I’ve sailed is Desolation Sound,” says Cathy. Margaret had sailed to Cortez Island and Alison as far as Hornby Island.

“We had to plan where we could get diesel fuel and gauge the distance we had to travel, but wherever we docked, we would fill up our fuel tanks, even if it was only a ‘top-up,’” says Cathy.

“I remember we docked at Walter’s Cove, where they use to have diesel fuel, a restaurant and a fish-packing plant, but nothing was there anymore,” Alison recalls. Cathy nods in agreement. “I had two 20-litres of emergency fuel just for times like that. It got us to our next fuel stop.”

Since most boaters take to the coastal waters in May, June and July, there were a number of concerned comments when the women docked at various anchorages in August. Smiling, Margaret reflects that the positive side of August is that anchorage wasn’t a problem. “We entered an inlet and it would be totally empty. We have photos of the Rivendell II, all by itself. Then we would stop at another place with a few more boats and we would say, ‘Who are they? What are they doing here?’”

Snug on board, they knitted, read, did crosswords and baked while they tied up to wait the storm out at Sea Otter Cove.

“There was a fishing boat in the bay with us and it was nice to know there was someone else there, especially when we were going through a gale!” says Cathy.

Seeing eagles, herons and whales were unforgettable, but the sea lions captured a lot of their film. Margaret recalls the unbelievable noise they made in their feeding frenzy. “At first it was fun watching them circling these schools of herring and pushing them up to the surface so the others could feed. They were so incredibly loud and the noise never let up. I had enough photos of them and thought to myself, enough is enough, go away!”

Another unforgettable memory: when Cathy and Alison were able to visit “Cougar Annie’s Gardens” in Hesquiat Harbour. Cougar Annie was a feisty pioneer woman who outlived four husbands, raised 11 children, survived by her wits and managed to create a beautiful garden from two-hectares of wilderness.

They encountered some solo male boaters who were quite intrigued to meet three women sailing around Vancouver Island.

“It must be a dream for every single male sailor to meet three women in a boat!” laughs Margaret. Alison recalls one incident in Silver Bay. “This fellow is standing there in the middle of the docks and his wife is standing at the other end. As we’re walking towards him, he shouts, ‘You know what? I’m seriously thinking of ditching my wife and wouldn’t mind marrying any one of you three!’”

Another solo boater came across with a blueberry cake he had baked, was invited for cocktails and stayed for dinner.

Reflecting on their trip, all three women agreed it was the best time they ever had despite a few rough storms at sea. The spectacular scenery, the natural friendliness of people they encountered, the wildlife in its natural habitat and the experience of their sea odyssey made their voyage memorable.

“When you’re only with women on a boat, you gain more confidence because you do a lot more on board. It’s quite different when you’re sailing with men,” says Alison. At the end of one of their speaking engagements, Cathy recalls a woman standing up and saying, “’This is another example of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.’ I turned to Alison and said, 'We’re not ordinary!'”



For speaking engagements on this sailing saga, contact Cathy Harris at, Alison Kershaw at, or Margaret Thomson at Margaret Horsfield’s book “Cougar Annie’s Garden” is available at Bolen Books and most bookstores.

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