August 30, 2009


Maia and my mum and stepdad
We're in Sidney - on the southern end of Vancouver Island. The last few days have been a whirlwind of visits. We fit in as many people as we could, but missed out on seeing so many more.
Maia's suprise birthday visit from the Maxwells (she turns 8 in a few days)

The air is cooler now and despite the sunshine, it's clear that summer is winding down. The sense of wanting to stay longer, wanting to do more, see more of the coast and explore deeper into inlets is dampened by the fact that the water has dropped by 10 degrees C over the past few weeks. It's clearly time to head south.
saying goodbye to my sister Deb and family

We'll be spending the next few days woking hard. Evan has a to-do list taped to the wall and I have my list of deadlines beside the computer. Maia has a stack of new movies and her homeschooling program to keep her busy.
southern migration

This is the stage of leaving that's a bit of a blur for me from our last trip. I recall anchoring at Sidney Spit and trying out our sextant, doing the calculations and repeatedly finding ourselves in the southern hemisphere (we decided the new fangled GPS thingy was going to have to do!) And I recall siting in our final anchorage feeling like I didn't want to go but then meeting a young couple who had just retured from their journey and being energized by their joy. But beyond those images - the memories are gone. I'm sure it was like now - a race against the weather while we try to find all the parts we need, finish all the paperwork we have to have in order and fit in as many last minute goodbyes as possible.

Knowing how much we have to look forward to should make our departure easier for me. But this time, even more than last time, I'm aware of the beauty of the place I'm leaving and friendships and family ties I'm trusting to the stresses of oceans and distance.
It's not easier to leave. It's not easier to say goodbye.
The only thing that is easier is that this time I know what we're heading toward.

August 26, 2009

Sinking Dream

We first saw E in Cortez Bay, tucked in out of the rain looking sturdy and homely amongst the sleek yacht club boats. Her old fashioned lines, tan sails and British flag piqued our curiosity. She was small to have come so far, maybe 27”. But as fellow bluewater cruisers, we watched her decks with more interest than those of the other boats. We hoped to catch a glimpse of her skipper, the way kids eagerly watch the moving truck for playmates when new neighbours move in.
We met her skipper, R, a few days later – in Prideau Haven. Conversations between sailors start in a different place than normal chats. Rather than talking about careers or kids we talked of where we’ve been and who we know in common. Then we moved on to boats: boat’s we’ve had, designs we admire, boat’s we’d like to sail and then, most importantly, we shared our dreams.
Dreams are fragile things, but speaking them out loud can give them power. The problem comes in choosing who to reveal them to. To say, I dream of seeing this particular island and this particular harbor and I plan to get there under my own power, by my own hand and with my own skills- is a dream that’s easy to have but hard to make real. And to share such a dream with someone who doesn’t really understand can take away the magic it needs to thrive.
We met R a few more times. He was always smiling and always ready to share a story and his dreams – to visit Îles-de-la-Madeleine, to convert to the dark side on his next boat and get a fast Trimaran. We tossed around ideas and plans – I jokingly referred to him as our single legged, single-handing friend – in reference to his prosthetic leg. The last time we saw him was in Smuggler’s Cove - he looked tanned and happy and told us his plans to visit the Gulf Islands before putting his boat to bed for the winter then trucking it east.
“Mayday this is the vessel E I’m taking on water and abandoning to my dingy.”
R’s voice was breathless, but unmistakably his. We listened as the Coast Guard asked his position and then plotted his latitude and longitude on the chart we had in front of us. We discovered we were once again crossing paths, but weren’t close enough to help.
We’d been in this position before, listening as fellow cruisers lost their boat. There’s a helplessness to it and the sick, morbid fascination of being voyeurs. But there’s more to it than that – there’s a vulnerability and a desire for answers. As the drama unfolded I felt a need to know how a boat could sink on a calm day in semi-sheltered waters – as though somehow by having that answer I could save myself from that fate. And there was the pain of knowing someone’s lovingly cultivated, painstakingly realized dream was sinking before his eyes.
We listened for achingly long minutes as vessels reported their progress as they sped to his position. Then we listened to his rescue unfold, the news he was safe. We heard that he told his rescuers that E had been holed by something he couldn’t identify and out of fear he could be trapped with only one good leg he had abandoned her without trying to repair the damage.
Then came the words that made the story lose shape. It seemed he was refusing to let the navy personal, who had fished him and his dingy out of the low grey swell, go aboard his boat and try and save it. He said there were three holes and it was unsafe. Then the police boat was on site, reporting that R was physically ok but agitated by the attempts to save his boat. As salvage pumps emptied the water out of the boat's hull, and brought her back from her plunge, the police reported they were, “looking at the criminal aspects.”
Dreams are fragile things. They can be buffeted and broken by personal storms you didn’t know were brewing. They can drift away. They can sink into low grey swell when help comes sooner than planned but later than when it's really needed.
We saw the boat towed into the dock a few hours later. When we went over we found R slowly unpacking the boat's sodden lockers, looking weary but unharmed. The boat was whole and floating, she had a few new scratches but nothing that resembled holes. We talked about how to dry out a half sunken boat and how save a drowned motor but we were careful not to ask how the boat had gone down and R was careful not to tell us that part of the story. He was subdued, his bright smile and easy laugh were absent, but in an off guard moment a dream slipped through. "E still has miles in her," he told us. 
They’d carry on.

August 23, 2009

Slowing Down

Our year leading up to leaving was pretty frenetic. Between our two careers, which require a fair amount of travel, juggling our child, building the boat and planning to go I was pretty mind-less, and definitely not mindful.

Mindfulness is one of those new-agey concepts that I used to ponder back when I was land-based. For me it was the idea that if I could just change my life I would become aware of the world around me and really have the time and the wherewithal to pay attention to the small details that always seemed to be slipping through my fingers. The fantasy was that once we were aboard we'd wake slowly and savour each moment of each day. We'd give up the hectic pace and learn to move to more natural rhythms. We'd get everything done we set out to do and still have time to gaze in wonder at the stars and cook well-balanced, gourmet meals.
The outcome would be inner peace or at least less grumpiness and a healthier diet.

There's another reason for being mindful when you live on a boat: if you're not, you could die. Or at least seriously screw up. Boats, we've learned, require a certain amount of attentiveness.

We were reminded of this over this past few days. Things have been hectic. I finally had fast wi-fi - so I was researching and filing stories like a crazy woman. The anchorage was flat and Maia had a playmate, so Evan was doing to-do list tasks like moving and revamping the outboard bracket. And we were expecting guests - so we had a deadline and were trying to clean, and shop, and work while also visit with the wonderful family that was hosting Maia and keeping us in blender drinks.

Then Evan broke his toe while rushing to grab a boat hook because I dropped something overboard. And we were reminded why we need to slow down. If we had been out on the ocean, I would have taken my first-aid skills to a whole new level. Instead we got to borrow a car and drive to the closest rural hospital with an emergency room where we saw an x-ray of Ev's very broken toe.
The next error came when I drained our (just filled) water tanks while we were out at anchor with our friends. One flip of the wrong switch, a bit of inattention and bam, we were down to drinking beer and wine and washing ourselves in salt water. Fortunately we were only anchored a day sail from a water hose, but in another place and another time the whole situation would have sucked.
So even though we live on a boat and, as far as everyone else is concerned, our life is one big fat vacation - it's clear we have the same problem we always did: We need to slow down. We need to savour the sunset, pay attention to where we put our feet and look at the electrical panel when we flip switches. We need to be mindful.

August 21, 2009

Roots Don't Grow at Sea

Maia woke in tears this morning.
For the past few days we've been visiting her school friend at a snug little cabin that her family has been coming to for over 50-years.
It's the sort of place you imagine when you think about a family cabin: Cupboards full of mismatched dishes for serving up meals of fresh fish and crab to as many as needed. A dock that catches the evening sun, where generations of kids learned to fish and many a Happy Hour has been passed. A cabinet filled with games for rainy days. And rooms that have sounded with the laughter of countless cousins, aunts, grandparents and friends.

I understand Maia's tears. She is beginning to realize we are giving up our roots.

I recall feeling the same sadness on our last trip. We were in Mexico and had been invited to visit a Mexican family we had taken sailing. When we arrived in their home we were enveloped into their extended family. The rooms rang out with stories and laughter from cousins, brothers and sisters. Everyone lived near by and they gathered together for every occasion and no occasion.

Late one night I recall telling our host that I was envious of his family, their closeness, how complete they seemed just by being together. He told me he envied our freedom - our ability to take off on every adventure, our independence, "You can't have what you have if you have what we have. You can either stay put or pass by."

We kept choosing the adventure. Opting to pass through the fringes of other peoples lives, admire and envy their roots, then keep going. When we had Maia I imagined this as the best childhood I could give her - one that fills her imagination and offers up the possibility of carving a unique path. Over time she'll understand that we can tie ourselves to the people we love in other ways - that even if we don't all live in the same village, or gather in the same place we can still stay connected.
That will be her lesson to learn though. All I can do for today is kiss away her tears and tell her I understand what she is missing.

August 19, 2009

Up the Mast Without a...

I mentioned before that we still have stuff to do before we start our off-shore trip down to San Francisco then onward to Mexico in the next few weeks. This is pretty typical – most boats are a work in progress. And the cliché, that cruising is nothing more than fixing your boat in exotic places, is one that was no doubt penned by some puzzled inhabitant of a lovely South Seas Island who couldn’t understand why boaters would come into harbour, climb into their engine compartments, swear loudly for a while, zoom into shore to pick up parts flown in at great expense and then leave on the next tide – never seeing anything beyond the hardware store and the post office….
The thing is it isn't that much of a hardship, being anchored in a gorgeous cove while needing to, say, go up the mast to-
1) Install mast steps
2) Replace a broken windvane
3) Put a new light bulb in the masthead light
Sure, it would be nicer to lounge on the foredeck sipping a drink while reading a novel, or kayak to one of those little rocky islets that seems to whisper secrets and call to be explored. But in the scheme of things a little foray up the mast is better than many of the alternatives.
Unless you’re the guy going up the mast and I’m the person getting you there.
On little Ceilydh, a trip up the mast was accomplished the old fashioned way: One person volunteered to go up and see the view (I’ll skip that trip I'm good with seeing the photos, thanks!) another person cranked the winch and a 3rd helper kept an eye on the person going up while tailing (holding) the rope.
On new Ceilydh, Ev decided to simplify things and dispense with the need for a helper. The halyard now leads to the anchor windlass and with the flick of a button I can send him up the mast while tailing the line with my other hand.

The problem is I’m not good at multitasking and the button I need to flick is really easy to mess up when I'm looking upward. So I started Ev up, then in an effort to stop the windlass and check on him, I flicked the button to the to down position, then got flustered by my error and sent him back to up, then down, then stopped, then up and then the windlass (which has enough oomph to lift a large waterlogged log off the bottom) started to dispair at my indecision and popped a breaker.
Eventually I got him to the top. The very top. Which if you’ve ever been up a mast you’ll know was a bit beyond where he should be… And then he began the repairs.
1) Mast steps on
2) Light bulb turned out to be the wrong size for the fixture, which turned out to be made by a company that should have nothing to do with electronics.
3) Evan was now too queasy to install windvane.
We repeated the exercise the next morning and now have two out of three tasks complete and the knowledge that we have a couple more new ones to do.
Fortunately we’re in a beautiful calm anchorage and the end of a long fjord. So much better than a boatyard… Unless you’re Evan.

August 15, 2009

Family, errr, dinghy

We gave up our car a couple of weeks ago.
We’ve been carless before and relied on our bicycles for transportation, but this time we’ve sold those too. These days, other than our kayaks, our primary mode of transportation is by dingy. And seems how we’re rarely at a dock, our dingy is even more important than a car. We use it for sightseeing, visiting neighbouring boats, scouting out good places to picnic and go grocery shopping.
It’s a system that works pretty well, when you plan ahead.
It’s less than perfect when you find yourself anchored 8-miles from the nearest settlement and discover you have no cat food.
Seaside villages in Desolation Sound are well set up for boaters. The stores often have more dock space than land-based parking and are well stocked with appies and alcohol. What they don’t have are regular hours or easy anchorages. So when you’re 8-miles away, and you only travel at 8-miles an hour, the best option (after attempting to make something the cat would eat out of brown rice and tinned sardines) is to hop in the dingy (which goes twice as fast as the big boat) and head to the shops.

If you were headed to the corner store on an evening cat food run, it probably wouldn’t be a big deal. But when your outing takes you across two channels, past four uninhabited islands and up one sound - it’s called an expedition. It’s something you only do after unpacking three lockers and two cupboards (just in case there’s more cat food stashed somewhere you forgot), checking the weather report, listening to sea state reports, topping up fuel tanks, grabbing the handheld VHF, checking the chart for unmarked hazards and rocks, double checking that the dam cat won’t eat the glop you made, packing a light (just in case sunset happens before your return) and putting on your life jacket.It’s safe to assume that the cat is not the least bit impressed when you make an effort like this on his behalf. But I’m grateful that we went with a motor on the dingy this trip – it would have been a bitch to row all that way.

August 11, 2009


There are lots of things that can disturb a deep and peaceful sleep on a boat: Changes in motion, rising wind, engine noise that sounds like you are about to be run over by a very large truck…
The large truck wakes us every time.
First we contemplate whether the island we’re anchored off of has an 8-lane freeway we failed to notice, then we wonder if we dragged up near it. It’s when we poke our head out the hatch when we realize the noise is a float plane – which is coming directly at us.
It took a bit to get used to this. There is something a bit unnerving about staring directly into a propeller; a feeling that hasn’t improved despite the fact that we have the experience multiple times a day. Pretty much any quiet harbour doubles as an airport up here and inevitably we seem to always anchor right in the middle of the runway.

Desolation Sound

I always thought Desolation Sound was given a bum rap by Captain George Vancouver when he charted the area in 1792. Pretty much any cruising guide will tell you about its charms: zillions of islands, fjords and beaches nestled at the base of a snowcapped mountain backdrop, (dominated by 9,000 ft. Mt. Denman). But my guess is when Cpt Vancouver did his time, charting the rocky little bays that twist and turn with currents that don’t make sense and wind that comes from all directions at once, it was raining and blowing a gale.
In those conditions calling the place desolate is sort of a compliment.
The good news for us is Cpt V did an awesome job charting the place – so as the wind kicked up and the skies opened we took cover in a peaceful cove where we cooked up a pasta dinner, baked a cake, invited a friend over from another boat then let Mother Nature do her thing.
This morning the air is crisp and clear. We kayaked into a tidal lagoon and played in the rapids and decided that Cpt V was a bit of a curmudgeon who probably just needed a vacation or something. Actually, we thought something else, but this is a family blog.

August 7, 2009

What Inspires You?

Sometimes it’s good to rediscover just what moves us. There is a quote I like; to paraphrase, it says we spend our lives searching for the thing that first inspired us. It sounds simple really, and for me it probably is. For me, inspiration comes down to a place: a sheltered harbour, tucked in beside a small cozy town that is ringed by impossibly perfect mountains and glaciers.
I was four or five when I was walking the docks at Comox Harbour with my dad. I remember it as one of those crisp winter days; the sky was bright blue, the mountains snow capped. The wind was calm, but cold slapped at my cheeks. Most of the dock was taken up by fishing boats, their wooden hulls were bright white, their trim painted in jaunty contrast. Here and there were little sailboats. It was those we stopped for most often. “Sweet lines.” I remember hearing, when we stood in front of one just a little longer than all the rest.
The one with sweet lines intrigued me, but there was a different boat that really caught my eye: Strong and long and dark, where the others were light and graceful, I sounded out the hailing port: Hawaii. It was then that I understood that boats could cross oceans. And as pretty as my little town was, with her winding rivers, white sand beaches and dense forests, I knew I would leave.
As a teenager I sailed out of that harbour as often as I could. At high tide I would skirt as close as I dared to the mud flats and dodge my way across the Comox bar – making for the open Straight as quickly as the wind would carry me. In the late afternoon, when the sea breeze shifted and began to drop, I would point my bow at Forbidden Plateau and begin a reluctant tack home. Finally, the day came when I left for good.
The thing about leaving a place as pretty as Comox – is you have to go back. You forget, after a while, what drove you away, and remember a place only for what you love. When the chance came to do a story about the area I knew it was time to sail home.
Maia was anxious to see where it was I grew up. So we tidied the boat and headed to shore. “This is it?” Maia asked, her urban upbringing making her scornful of the short blocks of businesses. “What else do you need?” I asked as we walked. There was a bookstore, a marine store, restaurants and across the street, a mall with a grocery store and pharmacy.
Maia was silent, then told me it looked old. “Old fashioned?” I offered. She pointed across the street at the turn of the century Lorne Hotel. “That’s old fashioned.” She said, “The rest is just old.”
I spent the next few hours touring her around, trying to burnish my hometown’s tarnished image. I told her we could visit the beautiful Filberg Heritage Lodge and Gardens and told her about the old tidal swimming pool that was still there when I was a child. I offered up the long beaches at Kye Bay where at low tide we could search for sand dollars. I pointed out that deer still wander across the street here. But in the end she just wanted the playground.
“I used to make cotton candy at summer fairs and festivals that happened in this park.” I told her as she played. Suddenly her eyes lit up, and I was bestowed with a look of admiration beyond any I’ve ever experienced. Slowly, she started to stroll across the grassy park, taking in the details of the marinas, mountains and the little town on the hill. “It’s so beautiful.” She told me. “I can’t believe you actually lived here. Was the cotton candy pink or blue?”
It’s hard to know with a hometown if the magic you remember is real and tangible to others, or just a figment of childhood.
But it’s good to pop in and check on the place that first inspired me. It’s nice to visit the places I loved and then wander the docks; looking for those far-away hailing ports. When I find one, and I silently month the words, it’s as though I’m five again, and the world is mine to explore.

August 5, 2009

Cats Can Swim

Cats can swim.
But they don't like to.
Most do everything they can to avoid it.
But occasionally a cruising cat will fall overboard. Travis the cat fell in about 35 times before we stopped counting.
So far Charlie hasn't even gone near the edge. But we know that on some dark night a flying fish or a giant moth will lure him overboard.
We want him to know how to rescue himself when the time comes.
And while this may just look like a fun thing to do to a cat, it's really for his own good.

August 4, 2009

It turns out that 12.5 knots down wind is a bit too fast. The rhythm we had at 10 knots changed. The waves roared and splashed up over the stern and into our cockpit, the wimpy little auto-pilot became erratic and the boat got too noisy.
At 10 knots we could all relax. Maia could play with her dolls, Charlie the cat was content, Evan and I could read.
So we slowed down.

Homeless? or Cruiser?

Evan and I discovered a new land-based game to play, we call it: Cruiser? Or Homeless Person?
Before you decide that I’m a horrible, thoughtless person who has no sympathy for folks who are down on their luck, I have to explain something: It’s really common for cruisers to let themselves go.

By the time we got back from our last trip the t-shirts and shorts we started out with were pretty much rags. Evan had a buttoned-up shirt he had once worn at work, which on our return was missing buttons and had holes in it, but he still insisted in calling it his “good shirt”.
We got some of our boat parts out of dumpsters.
I cut Evan’s hair myself and even let him cut mine on occasion (shudder).

The thing is when the decline is gradual and everyone looks just like you, you tend not to notice if you’re a bit unkempt and out of fashion. Who cares if you wander around town wafting the smell of the underwashed, in threadbare clothes, with a bag of garbage in one hand (while you look for an unlocked dumpster), a bag of dirty laundry slung over your shoulder and a couple of random boat parts stuck under your arm. If you can find an unattended shopping cart to help you with your load, you’re off to the races.

Seriously. Homeless Person? Or Cruiser?
Only the shoes really give it away.

August 3, 2009

Take 2

It was 14-years-ago that Ev and I were doing our first shakedown on little Ceilydh in preparation for heading south to Mexico. It seems a bit like deja-vu as we anchor in these same islands, thinking the same southerly thoughts, saying goodbye to many of the same people.
The difference is in the years that have past: The Coral years.
When we headed south last time we left later in September than we should have. We got pasted in a storm that rocked our confidence and made us want to quit. So we slunk our way into the first safe harbour on the Washington coast. While there we met the crew of the Running Shoe – Dee and Stew. Dee talked us through our fears and became one of those friends that will last a lifetime. A few months later, in Mexico, her daughter Coral was born.
Kids mark time for us. I think it would be really easy to ignore the fact we’re getting older – if it weren’t for these magical creatures who grow from sweet bundles to long legged beauties in what seems like too few years. Coral’s first year was spent in the Sea of Cortez – her solemn eyes watching as friendships formed over long slow days in the sun.
More kids have come along since Coral but she is still the reminder of the miles we’ve sailed and the distances we’ve come.
Another post-mexico reunion this time with the off-spring of Chris and May (Klee-Wyck)