Sailing the Gulf Islands, Part 11 (The End)

Day 19, Wednesday 9/17/14

Deer and Geese at British Camp

Deer waiting for pears to fall off the trees at British Camp.

I left Garrison Bay about 11 AM. Slack wasn’t until 2 PM, but I was anxious to get started on this long leg of the journey. It’s 22.5 miles from Garrison Bay on San Juan Island to Mackay Harbor on Lopez Island, and a lot of open water. Conditions were forecasted to be calm, so I knew I was in for great sailing, or motoring if the wind faded.

I wound my way through the treacherous Mosquito Pass, with a channel that is 24 feet at its deepest point and that dog-legs left and right. I was very thankful to have my Maptech charts to navigate this waterway. The OpenCPM and Canadian charts worked well for me in the gulf islands, but the Maptech charts have a lot more detail.

Leaving Mosquito Pass, a stiff southwest wind greeted me as I stormed out into the middle of Haro Strait. As the coastline of San Juan Island swung around to port and aft, the wind shifted with it, becoming southeasterly and continued to curve around to the east the further south I went. I raised my genoa and sailed west-by-southwest, averaging 2 mph, heading out into deeper water, and awaiting the ebb tide, still two hours away.

Preparing to sail across a large body of water always gives me butterflies in my stomach. Early in my sailing career, I got caught in the middle of Rosario Strait with a large chop, heavy tides, a short shaft outboard that kept cavitating, and almost out of gas. Not knowing how to sail correctly, I was running out of options. I was able to flag down a tow that day, but the feeling of helplessness and insignificance echos at me whenever I prepare for real sailing.

Thetis Payphone

When was the last time you saw an actual payphone? There are still a few in use in the Canadian Gulf Islands.

In contrast, once I’m out in the middle, with the ship under firm control and the winds calmly harnessed, I feel powerful and confident. It’s not dominon over nature I feel, as I always maintain a small pit in my stomach of fearful awe for natures power and how quickly it can get out of hand. What I feel is dominance over my weaker self. I’ve proven once again to that still voice that says “I can’t”, that in fact, I can.

Under these light, slow conditions, progress was almost negligible. Feeling a little sedated, I considered the calm seas and long distance still to travel and concluded that it was a good day for stimulants, and so, made myself a second pot of coffee. I sailed for an hour till I lost the wind, then motored the rest of the way to Mackaye Harbor.

As I motored along, I reflected on my personal character. The thing is that I like the person I am when out here. The peace and stillness of the natural world evoke those same qualities in myself. Out here I am patient and calm and at peace. In society, I can’t maintain this mindset. The constant stress of alarms and assignments make me snarky and short. I am a better person when I’m out here. No question about it.

As I draw closer to my home port, I can feel my mental armor begin to re-assert itself in my psyche. My attention is more concerned with objectives and efficiency. My mind wanders less and my inspiration to write wanes.

It’s not that there aren’t rules out here, they are just different. In society, the focus is on money as that provides security and comfort. Out here, the focus is on weather and safety. Those are what provide security and comfort out here.

The water got even glassier as I approached my destination, but Mackay Harbor was squirrely and tucked away, not unlike Garrison Bay. There was a public dock at Mackaye and secure anchorage. It would make a great place to anchor a boat for a day or two while visiting friends on the island. (Mental note-to-self)

Day 20, Thursday 9/18/14

Gerry Oak

Gerry Oak grows prolifically in the Canadian Gulf Islands, but does not grow in the US San Juan Islands.

Thursday dawned dreary and wet. The clouds almost touched the water, but began to rise rapidly as it grew light enough to see. I thought about how my parents were back in Portland and Andy was back home too. I feel like the last little boy playing outside, stubbornly refusing to come in for the night.

Looking back, I have to say this was an ideal shakedown cruise. I had no major failures. The boat and her subsystems all performed admirably. I have a short list of the improvements I need to make for longer and more comfortable trips.

But cruises are always separated by long periods of work and dullness, and it is getting through this next period of preparation that I am dreading. Winters have always been hard for me to bear. The thing I’m haunted by is the feeling that I’m closing the door to something sacred; for a time at least. The feeling of heading back to purgatory in order to earn more time in heaven. Stormy’s use of the term ‘freedom chips’ to describe money takes on a deeper meaning.

I made the decision to head back to my home port today. As I left Mackaye Harbor, a stiff wind was coming from the southeast. I motored into the face of the wind and looked off my stern to Battleship Island. “Wow!”, I thought. Battleship Island *really* looked like a battleship…

Then I looked a little left and saw the real Battleship Island. I was, in fact, looking at a battle ship, or at least, something that cut a convincing outline. Too close to Port Townsend, only an outline could be seen from this distance.

I continued on my way, and lost the wind as I crossed Point Colville on the southern tip of Lopez. Rosario Strait and all my favorite places were within view. As I motored across that last half of Rosario Strait, I realized I had circumnavigated the Gulf and San Juan archipelago in a big figure eight. My world had gotten much smaller, my backyard had gotten a whole lot bigger, and I felt more connected to all of it.

Locations Mentioned In This Post:

Related posts:

Controlling Fear While Cruising
We're Taking On Water!
Bad Mood
2 Responses to “Sailing the Gulf Islands, Part 11 (The End)”
  1. Kevin says:

    Chris, I really appreciate you sharing your trip, and the open way you share your thoughts and fears, and dreams.

    Next year my wife and I will spend the summer in the islands. I have some experience with boats and the ocean, but the living of our dream will be an all new experience for us, and there is much to worry about. Your blog is a comfort.

    At the moment I am in Eastern Montana driving an 18 wheeler through a 45 MPH side wind. Later I will drop my load in Chicago. It is not my idea of fun, and I don’t even get to enjoy the wilds of Montana, and North Dakota, but that is how I earn my “Freedom chips” as you call it.

    To keep myself motivated I often think of some of the beautiful places I have been. Take Patos Island for instance, and I remind myself that it is still there, and even if no one is there to see and enjoy it, it is still beautiful. The little beach at the end of the harbor is still there, the light house at the end of the island is still there, and the seals still hunt and play in the current.

    The thought is an anchor to me while I do what has to be done.

    We are on the same search for balance, we want to put away worries of the “rat race” but we also want to be productive members of society. My thought is to “do good” where ever I find myself. There are things that need done everywhere I go, and my hope is that I will have time to do them, and I will find my sense of “productivity” in that. We will see, I hope. I really hope.

    Thanks again for sharing, we will have much to talk about when we finally meet one day. Keep plugging away at the debt, and remember the beautiful places that are out there, right now, seen or unseen by anyone.
    Remember your dolphin? He’s still out there, I wonder what he is doing?

  2. Kevin,

    Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment. I love it when kindred spirits like you drop a line. I wish you the best of luck in your journey. It certainly sounds like we walk parallel paths in life.

    I think of the islands like you mention a lot. I like to think about how all those beautiful places are out there, just waiting for us. They were there before we were born. They’ll be there long after we’re dead. And they’ll be waiting for us whenever we can get to them.

    Good luck to you and your wife. I look forward to rendezvousing with you some day. I frequently monitor channel 69 when I’m out. Feel free to hail Solace on your radio.

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