This is our third year chartering Wave Dancer, a 34-foot sailboat from San Juan Sailing, and definitely our most challenging adventure. First, the trip snuck up on us. A few weeks earlier, we’ve cobbled together the trip, food, clothing, linens, books, magazines, and electronics (i.e. VHF radio, GPS, Sputnick, etc.) we needed to take.
A week before the trip, little Suki got sick, making it necessary for us to take her with us. We’d have to sneak her aboard so we could give her antibiotics and a steroid twice a day. We rushed to get a padded kitty carrier, harness and leash, kitten food, and clumping kitty litter and box, which we planned to place in a larger plastic bin that we’d carry onboard at the last minute.
Thursday morning, two days before we left, Suki passed away from renal failure, leaving us distraught and enervated when it came to packing. Nevertheless, late Friday afternoon, we threw everything we’d gathered for the trip into the back of Rich’s car and drove to Mount Vernon. The weekend before, with the help of a then energetic Suki, we’d assembled another pile of “stuff” to take, including Suki’s food, cat carrier, etc.
Seeing her thing on Friday evening brought me to tears. It’s astonishing how she much she meant to us. Rich put up a brave front, explaining we’d done everything possible to save the “little guy’s health.”
It took us less than an hour to sort everything we needed for the trip, and then stuff it in plastic bins and duffle bags. We ended up with four bins, one ice chest, one huge duffle bag (with flattened feather pillows, feather quilt, flannel linens, and towels), one double sleeping bag (to sleep on top of) and two smaller duffle bags with Rich’s electronics.
After microwaved a plate of s’mores, we saw a Pirates of the Caribbean flick. They’re so geeky, but Johnny Depp is always a pleasure to watch.
(Top is me in my beloved yellow bibs, which kept me very dry and warm. Rich is not showing how to eat a s’more, but rather demonstrating how I should “gently” press the shutter on the camera)
The next morning, Rich loaded everything into the truck while I filled up the ice chest with the food from our mini refrigerator in Mount Vernon. We then zipped to Burger King for a marginally nutritious breakfast. As we approached the driveway, one of the warning lights went off in the truck. After gobbling his breakfast sandwich (I find it humorous that fast food emporium refer to anything comprised of protein between two pieces of carbohydrate as a sandwich), Rich popped open the hood of his truck and discovered it was out of water.
Using a cup from the restaurant, he made half a dozen trips to the bathroom, filling the radiator a cup at a time. Since we were only minutes from our house, we decided to go home to both top off the radiator and make sure we hadn’t left anything behind.
Ten minutes later, we were heading to Bellingham. After checking in at San Juan Sailing, we put our bags on Wave Dancer. As I was unpacking the cooler, I realized that we neglected to take the food out of the freezer… loaf of Dave’s bread, Dave’s Sin Dog, a mini rye bread loaf… a pepperoni stick… and possibly other food. I couldn’t remember what I’d placed in the freezer the night before.
Since we planned on having sandwiches every day for lunch, we needed to buy bread before we sailed. After the captain’s meeting, we zipped to the store, and returned not only with bread, but cookies, turkey pepperoni, and other “necessities.”
Finally ready to go around noon, we bid Bellingham goodbye. With the bumpers put away and lines secured, I climbed below deck and started to prepare lunch. Then an alarm went off. I searched madly below deck while Rich looked above. Realizing it was coming from the motor, he switched off the engine and called San Juan Sailing. They told him to check the seacock to ensure no sea grass had gotten into the strainer. There was no sea grass, but neither was there much water. The seacock was shut so no water was flowing through the engine so it overheated.
Once the seacock was opened, we were back in business!
Happily, we made it to Echo Bay on Sucia Island, picked up a mooring ball and had a pleasant evening, including walking along the beach (right) and watching the sunset. Plus, on the way to Sucia, we saw several dolphins, their fins barely surfacing the water at they breezed past our boat.
Sunday morning, we were ready to begin our trip in earnest, hoisting the sails and catching a brisk wind. Rich was delighted, trimming the sails and gently turning into the wind to optimize our speed. Thirty minutes later, I looked up and noticed that the head (top) of the mainsail had slide several feet down the boom. Initially, we thought the halyard had loosened; however, the top of the sail seemed to be flopping.
After toying with the lines a few minutes, Rich realized the fabric tab that attached the head of the mainsail to the furling mechanism within the mast had torn (left)… rendering it impossible to use the mainsail. And because it the mainsail was self-furling, the only remedy would be to have someone replace or sew the tab, climb to the top of the mast using a boson chair, retrieve the halyard and attach the tab to the halyard. In other words, it wasn’t an easy fix and certainly something Rich and I couldn’t do.
We immediately called San Juan Sailing who recommended we go to Friday Harbor to have the sail fix. Since we were heading to Canada, we ask whether there was another option. There was. Ganges on Saltspring Island has a boat repair facility. First, however, we had to clear customs at Bedwell Bay on Pender Island.
Not knowing what to expect at customs, aside from their many restrictions on what you can’t bring into the country, such as raw potatoes and fruits with pits, I was a nervous wreck as we approached Bedwell Bay. And it didn’t help that Rich was vacillating as to what side I should place the bumpers and lines on for docking.
By the time we pulled up to the customs dock, my heart was pounding. Adding to my angst was the slipperiness of the deck and shrouds (metal) from the rain. When it came time to step over the lifelines to get ready to step onto the dock, I got flustered and I stepped off to the right of the shrouds and ended up having to tippy-toe around a stanchion in order to get a good grip of the shrouds. Knowing you have only one minute of mobility should you fall into the frigid water is unnerving. Standing on the outside of the lifelines with your heels extended off the edge of the boat, with a poor grip on the shrouds, is terrifying.
Nevertheless, the docking was flawless. I stepped off the boat, tied off the bow then caught the line to tie off the stern. After securing the boat, Rich headed to customs while I looked at several pretty pulsating jellyfish near our boat and admired the Poet’s Cover Resort & Spa on shore. This very upscale resort features lodge rooms, cottages and villas with the cheapest “package” priced at $478 for two nights in a lodge room from January – April, November or December. In July and August, the rate goes to $698 for two nights in the lodge and up to $1,138 for two nights in a two-bedroom cottage with a hot tub and view of the marina!
Until you clear customs, the only person who can leave a boat is the captain. According to Captain Rich, he simply “called” customs, using one of the three telephones in a small kiosk. They asked him a handful of questions then told him to write down a clearance number on a slip of orange paper, which he was told to display on the port (left) side of the boat. With incremental weather forecast for most of our trip, I placed the paper in a baggie and tied it to our bimini using a twist tie.
After plotting a course to Ganges, we were ready to cast off. As we negotiated out of the marina, I saw a large rust-colored, furry dog frolicking in the water. People on other boats were also watching the “dog,” which resembled less of a dog the closer we got.
It was a huge sea lion gamboling in the waves, lavishing in the attention from the boaters… several of whom got distracted and nearly crashed into each other!
The drive over to Saltspring Island, the largest (17 miles long, 9 miles wide with 83 miles of shoreline) and most populated of the Southern Gulf Islands, was uneventful. We pulled into a slip on the outer dock (top) at the Saltspring Marina, which has been managed by Lesley Cheeseman for the last twenty years.
Perhaps because it was the end of the season, the marina was quiet with few boats. Rich went ashore to pay for the slip and also inquire at the sailing shop about having our mainsail repaired. He was told to check back in the morning.
Anxious to explore the town, we grabbed our camera and coats, and trotted towards the town. I was expecting to see a couple of quaint shops, but was surprised to see numerous art galleries with expensive Native American pieces, sculptures, paintings, and other fine art. There were also many public art pieces, including two giant heads (left) that were twenty or more feet in height.
According to Wikipedia, “Since the 1970’s Salt Spring has attracted a large number of artists, and has become more and more of a tourist destination and retirement spot for the wealthy. This dichotomy of large developments for the hordes of people who want to get away from the development of the city has created a certain amount of conflict. However the island is still primarily characterized by the artists and farmers.”
With 225 farms, the island bills itself as the Organic Gardening Capital of Canada. Conversely, it has more Bed & Breakfasts per capita than anywhere else in Canada. With the cost of property on the island amongst the highest in Canada, the population has leveled off at around 13,000 people.
After touring the town and Rich getting a cone with two scrumptious flavors of ice cream, we gingerly walked along a narrow path to viewpoint. In the distance, we saw a huge ship approaching, which later tied up to the public dock. It was the 170-foot Marjorie Morningstar (top), a mega yacht, built in 2004 that can accommodate ten guests with a crew of twelve — a captain, first mate, deck hands, engineer, cook, and maid (to make the beds, clean, and wait on guests).
From an operational point-of-view, Marjorie Morningstar (the name of the Herman Wouk book my mother was reading when my father proposed to her) holds 2,801 gallons of fuel. At $4 per gallon, it’ll set you back $11,204 to “filler up.” I have no idea whether the ship, which holds 5,284 gallons, of water can fill up their tanks using a common water hose. At a gallon per minute, it would take 88 hours to fill the water tanks!
While we were watching the Marjorie Morningstar approach the Ganges Marina, Rich asked two girls, who were sitting on a rock, why their faces were painted. They mentioned that the Farmers Institute Fall Fair was in full swing, “just up the road.” Curious, we started walking, and walking, and walking… and wondering if it was going to rain before we reached the fair and whether it was worth our effort.
Our hesitancy increased as we passed people, walking back to their cars, in boots, muddied shoes and pants. When we finally reached the fairgrounds, our assumptions were confirmed. It was being held in a large, muddy field with a handful of buildings, tents and tromped on straw-covered paths.
Because it was the tail end of the fair, we were able to sneak in for free, instead of paying the admission fee. Seeing many of the participants packing up, we headed to the buildings to see the arts-and-crafts (very impressive), livestock (one mule, two hogs, one cow, one horse, an assortment of goats and sheep, and quite a few cages of rabbits, geese, ducks, and other birds), and 4H-like displays.
We then walked down onto a muddy field where we saw a zucchini car, but visiting the fair’s Website I now know it must have been part of the “not to be missed” zucchini race. Also in this area were some antique tractors and other curiosities.
While snapping photos of the tractors, a Canadian Mountie, in full regalia, walked by. I was completely thrown for a loop and couldn’t stop staring. I must have looked like an idiot, but until that moment, it’s hadn’t registered with me that we were in CANADA!
Even though the Fall Fair seemed miniscule in comparison to a county fair in the United States, the entry catalog for the event paints a different picture of thousands of entries from baking to bees, miniature horses, field crops, flowers, home wine/beer/cider, mechanical restoration (the tractors), needlework, pet parade, tractor pull, scarecrows, vegetables, and youth projects.
The theme of the fair (learned from their Web site) was “Gumboots and Island Roots,” which explains why I saw dozens of painted rain boots with floral arrangements inside!
With the threat of rain a reality after an hour of arriving at the fair, we hitched a ride on a shuttle (school bus) to the downtown area then scampered back to Wave Dancer to change into dry clothes and hasten to Moby’s, a funky restaurant within walking distance. Even though it was no longer on their menu, they made me a lip-smacking-good plate of smoked salmon, capers, red onions, cream cheese, and baguette slices. Rich had a fancy hamburger with a huge plate of fries. Burp.
Afterwards, we walked back downtown to replenish our food supply or more accurately, buy spur-of-the-moment foods like locally grown carrots and tomatoes, Sun Chips, chocolate chip cookies, marbled halva, and scrumptious almond tarts with rich, flaky dough and a dab of raspberry jam under a crown of almond custard.
When we went to pay for our groceries, Rich realized he left his MasterCard at Moby’s. Fortunately, he had another card. We zoomed back to Moby’s who had the card and misread “Mr.” as “Dr.” so they called him doctor Lary! Ha!
Our final act of the busy day was to take warm, sudsy showers in the super nice facilities at the marina.
The sculpture to the left watches over the Ganges Marina.