Sailing the Gulf Islands, Part 10

Day 17, Monday 9/15/14

Gladness Departing

Gladness departing for Roche Harbor.

I woke up early, worried that I may miss my last chance to spend a morning with Andy before the trip ends. We are in a special mental state, he and I. Two weeks without the stress of family and work, we will rarely be more real or honest than we are now. Our conversations are genuine, untroubled by day-to-day distractions.

I made coffee and puttered around the boat until he woke up, pulled anchor, and rafted up to me. We had a nice, lazy morning discussing the highs and lows of the trip; talking about what we’ll do this fall and improvements that need to be made before next year. At 10:30, with glassy water and a looming ebb tide, he set off for the customs dock at Roche Harbor.

I remained anchored for another hour, hoping for more wind to sail with. Finally I motored out of Camp Bay. I ran into fluky winds and raised the genoa to give chase, but they petered out after an hour and I motored the rest of the way to Portland Island.

Map of Portland Island

Map of Portland Island

There are two coves on Portland Island: the north is called Royal Cove and is exposed to ferry wake. The southern one, called Princess Bay, between Portland and Tortoise Island is where I headed. The anchorage was small and crowded. I could only set my anchor with a 2:1 scope! However, a piling to a dock was only 100 feet off my stern. If the weather unexpectedly picks up, I’ll run a stern line to it.

The entirety of Portland Island is a marine park, gifted by Princess Margaret. A ‘heritage’ orchard is left over from early settlement days, but the unexpected treat was ruined upon discovering that the trees only grew sour, green baking apples. The hiking trails were well marked and well maintained, but otherwise the island is feral and thick as a jungle. The thick underbrush is a contrast to the more northern islands with the thick tree canopies and open understory.

I had one live crab chilling in a bucket that I caught during our brief stay in Boot Cove of Saturna Island. I cooked him up while frying potatoes. I never would have guessed how well crab meat and seasoned red potatoes go together. I ate the whole pan!


Day 18, Tuesday 9/16/14

Crab and Potatoes

Dungeness crab and red potatoes. Yum!

I woke up early, troubled by thoughts of my impeding return back to the States, work, and a conventional(ish) lifestyle. I poked my head out of the forward hatch as I snuggled deeper into my sleeping bag and watched the morning unfold. I like seeing the sun come up and hearing the wildlife salute the morning.

I am both happy and sad to be returning. I’m looking forward to continuing my battle with debt and to begin whittling down the list of preparations I need to make before next summer. I’m not looking forward to trading the best eight hours of every day for a few numbers in a computer, created by fiat.

More than anything, my search for San Juan Sufficiency is a search for Aristotle’s Golden Mean. I’m trying to find a balance between too much time and too much money. Between productivity and leisure. One difficult thing about this holiday I’ve been on is the unproductiveness of it. I’m a naturally productive person and banal indulgence of my whims does not sit well with me. But in a society so hyper-focused on a 40+ hour work week, the hardest thing to find is leisure time. We are a culture of extremes.

Both the current culture of modern society and its impending conflict with climate change scare me. My little space ship into the wilderness is my way of keeping society at arms reach and mitigating that future. I am convinced, now more than ever, that a boating lifestyle is the path to my golden mean.

Weird Algae

Around Portland Island I found this weird algae floating around in the water. They looks like giant versions of stuff you’d find under a microscope.

I have no advice to give on the future but this: get prepared now. Do what I am doing. It will never be easier to prepare than it is now. It will never get less expensive, only more urgent. Find a way to keep society at arms reach and you will be more liberated for the effort.

Still, as Thoreau postulated, one man’s good is not another’s. I can only do what is right for me, and that is all anyone can do for themselves.

I left Portland Island around 7:30 and motored toward Roche Harbor on San Juan Island. I’ve heard conflicting stories about how time consuming it is to check in through the customs outpost there. I wanted to get through it early to have time to determine my anchorage for the night.

Not far south of Moresby Island I passed over a shoal 60 feet deep, in what would otherwise be 300 foot deep water. This kind of underwater texture is ideal for bottom fishing, so I shut down the engine and drifted as I dropped my homemade lure into the depths. After 20 minutes or so, I was rewarded with a fat Kelp Greenling. Dinner! I threw him into a bucket and continued on my way to Roche Harbor.

Before leaving on this trip, I was hoping that I’d get far enough north to see a white sided dolphin. I’ve never seen one. Ever since I started sailing, I wanted to have the experience of seeing a dolphin ride my bow wake, an experience that sailors so often write about. As I passed along the southern length of Stuart Island, I heard a splash that made me raise my head. “Huh, I wonder what that was.” After two or three more splashes I walked around the boat to see what was making the noise.

White Sided Dolphin

This lone, white sided dolphin rode my bow wake for about three miles.

A single, lone dolphin was riding my bow wake and hitching a free ride. He stuck with me for about three miles. Our eyes met on several occasions. At one point I laid down on the bow and stuck my hand in the water. He approached to within two feet and watched me wiggle my fingers at him. He had several scars on his body, two nicks on his back and a deep scar above his right eye. I knew this last scar had been made by a propeller from watching whale documentaries with naturalist and friend Katie Jones. It had been deep, but was old and well healed.

As I moved around the boat, he jumped around, presumably taking note of my changing location. Just a little south of Stuart Island, he stealthily drifted away. To get this personal escort across the border rang of synchronicity. A final sendoff, as if to say “Come back soon, all of this beauty will be waiting for you. And by the way, you are exactly where you are supposed to be right now.”

I do not believe in god, but I continually see evidence of synchronicity in the islands. I suspect it is an unknown force, similar to quantum entanglement, that we simply do not understand yet. I do however believe in an inherent benevolence among all life forms. But whatever it is, moments like these bring tears of joy to my eyes.

Checking in at Roche Harbor was painless and quick. I tied up at Roche Harbor marina and charged my batteries as I contemplated docking for the night or continuing further south. The winds were building and I had aspirations of sailing south along the western edge of San Juan Island. I’ve never sailed that route and it’s the most likely route to see Orca whales. I dropped anchor in Garrison Bay, facing the legendary English Camp of the Pig War that settled the border between US and Canada. I plan to sail south tomorrow if the winds pick up again like they did this afternoon.


Locations Mentioned In This Post

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