It took us two months from re-launch in July to prepare for our second shake down trip. Not that everything is done – for example although the solar panels are mounted they are not re-installed electrically – but the rented storage areas are emptied and all boat parts stored aboard. All storage bins, drawers, hanging closets and shelves are packed full of essential sailing equipment and food and our clothes. The pilot berth holds Jon’s essential tools and materials for sailing repairs (those not in the foc’s’le) as well as my industrial sewing machine. Most systems are working, the engine and sails are operable. We’re not quite ready to head offshore, but ready to get the boat moving again.
Apparently a simple shake down would be boring, so we loaded up the boat living areas with another half ton of supplies for our cabin in Canada and headed out. We can still see our waterline. If we squint and the water is clear. There is now one functioning bunk on board, my quarterberth. The second quarterberth is jammed full with a wood shelving system and buckets of hardware. The settees are both full of totes and bags. The space between the port settee and the table is packed with long things. I can just scooch down to the head on the starboard side if I turn sideways and imitate a crab. There is an outboard engine on the starboard side deck, a fifteen foot dory trailing behind us, its spars and rudder packed in around the dinghy on the cabintop. Just a normal run up the Strait, check into customs, and head to our island.
US to Canada – up the Strait of Georgia
We motor. There is no wind, and frankly we are not eager to see what would happen if we heeled even 5 degrees. It’s an uneventful day, the engine works splendidly now that the heat exchanger has been cored out. Most of our food is blocked behind piles of stuff, but the basic grains and refrigerated foods will work for this short trip. The dory, destined to live out its days as an island boat, travels gracefully behind us. Then at 3 pm the current is fully with us, and the wind starts to rise on our nose, in opposition to the current.
The Strait of Georgia is a large body of water. It and the Strait of Juan de Fuca define inland sailing in the northern Puget Sound and Salish Sea. They can both be angry bodies of water with over a hundred miles of fetch each. But we are within a couple hours of Nanaimo and a night’s sleep so we continue into the growing chop. I cover my sleeveless top first with fleece and then with full foulies, top and bottom. The car ferries pass us, looming silently from behind and disappearing quickly ahead. The light is failing, but we are close.
Customs requires that you call less than four hours and more than 30 minutes before arriving at their dock. They never, in my experience, actually meet you there, but you are supposed to touch down after calling. At two pm I start calling. I call a total of five times. The first time I maintain a connection for 23 minutes, hunkering in the head out of the wind and engine noise. The next three times the call is dropped after less than 10 minutes. Now the wind is quite fresh and I need to take the wheel while Jon prepares the foredeck and fenders. It’s dusk and choppy and hard to see, hard to see exactly where the seaplanes circling over me want to land. Yikes those things scare me.
Finally we approach the fuel and customs docks, perhaps a bit too much speed, but I push into reverse and gas it as we arrive. We stop, just as a huge explosion rocks my eardrums. Did we hit? Did a fender explode? What happened? No, the spring line exploded as it was loaded. It was an old line and I must have had too much speed on. I’m embarrassed, and anxious, and still haven’t reached customs. I’m also cold and exhausted. I get on the line again and reach them 25 minutes later as Jon finishes fueling. I get a light reprimand about not calling ahead and he seems to understand when I explain about the weather and bad connections. We are cleared.
We pull ahead onto the customs dock from the fuel dock and consider our options. The anchorage looks crowded and windy. And dark. And we’ve heard you have to take a mooring these days, no more anchoring. The boats bounce and pull at the moorings. The other boats appear to be half our size. None of them have 15 foot dories tied to them. I bet none of them are cargo boats in disguise. How strong are those moorings? Our boat and cargo must weigh 30,000 or 32,000 pounds.
The customs security comes by to tell us we cannot stay on their dock. The fuel dock is now closed and the dock access locked off. Jon crawls into the dinghy and uses it to back both boats onto the fuel dock. We tie up again under the security light and the red-lettered NO OVERNIGHT MOORAGE sign. We’ll be gone by morning, so that’s not really overnight, right? Jon and Willow sleep in the cockpit and I retire to the quarterberth. We’re up at five and off the dock at 5:45 as light begins to show in the sky. No damn planes are out flying yet, though I can hear them running their engines in preparation for a morning takeoff. But we are gone.
To the Island
Seven hours later we anchor at the locally named north end of the island, really the West end, but maybe that sounds too chi-chi. It’s Friday afternoon and we haven’t slept well for several days. The boat is full of cargo for delivery to our cabin at the opposite end of the island. To get it there we will first have to get the truck running, which has been parked nearby for the last year. Then, during a hole in the foot ferry schedule we will move the boat to the ferry dock to unload it to the storage shed on the dock, then re-moor the boat, come back by dinghy, load up the truck and drive it down the island a couple of times. What – a few hours work?
My job on Friday afternoon is the cushy one. I sit at the pub, drink the local Sleeman’s and check weather on their free if turtle-like wireless, getting gently hit on by the local older islanders. Jon goes to reason with the truck, bringing it new batteries as an offering. Hours later he returns, his offering having been summarily rejected. Not only will the truck not start, but it seems to be locked in gear as well. We return to the cargo-laden boat, cook a simple meal and crash heavily asleep. For a few hours until the increasing rocking and rolling announces the arrival of the dreaded Qualicum winds. It’s a rolly night but we are well anchored and get some sleep.
Saturday dawns hopeful, but ends with no running vehicle. Sunday and Monday are devoted to boat work – wiring solar panels and such. We try to reach several people that might have time to be hired to haul our stuff to the other end, but communication is difficult with intermittent cell signals. I finish my last books. I get bitchy and restless. Jon, damn him, is having fun poking around the solar work. The weather mostly holds and the anchorage is calm.
Tuesday the ferry is off island and we grab the opportunity to get the damn cargo off the boat. I think Jon knows I am very close to tossing it all in the bay. Jon buoys off the anchor and I bring us into the ferry dock, dodging the small boats tied up. Forty-five minutes later, the day suddenly warming with our efforts, all the cargo is off the boat, up the ramp, and in the fortuitously empty shed. We re-anchor and dinghy back, having secured a ride to the bottom of our hellishly steep 100 yd driveway, which is the best offer we’ve had in days. We unload in the grasses on the side of the road. Home again. Only four days to get down the island – it has taken longer, but not often!
To the Cabin on the Island
Having decommissioned our cruising sailboat as a cargo ship, and having delivered our remaining worldly goods to the bottom of our hellish driveway, only a few jobs separate us from heading south for our final preparations to sail to Mexico for the winter. Three minor jobs really: move lumber from our neighbor’s shed to our property; stack the firewood we had had delivered two years ago; and move the 15 foot dory we have been using as a dinghy from the north end twelve miles to our property at the south end. Simple really. If we had a working truck.
So Wednesday we awake refreshed, ready to carry out these few small tasks and head south.
Island reality intrudes and I am writing this the following Tuesday at noon, looking at the nicely tarped off cords of firewood. No dory. No lumber. Our aging truck worked long enough to demonstrate it had no brakes, sending Jon backwards down our steep hill, crushing the rear bumper and shattering the rear window against a provident tree on the edge of the cliff. With island logic he said – “Oh it’s fine, I just have to drive in compound low and use compression braking. No problem”. He said it with the same flat finality that a young island woman once told me “Radiator caps are really overrated” when I pointed out hers was missing.
Have I married a mad man? This is a very hilly island.
But now the truck is safely at our neighbors, having worked long enough to have been hooked to the trailer, driven down the hill, loaded with lumber … then a firm and continued refusal to start. That was two days ago and Jon and the best mechanic of the south end have been exorcising the truck’s demons to no avail.
Summer is clearly over. After 70 days of no rain the rains have returned. It is 55 outside and a balmy 58 inside. The burn ban is still on, so we cannot use our wood stove, but the rains should change that before we freeze. I think. Mexico is looking further away as it becomes increasingly desirable.
But by Thursday we have managed to hire a bigger truck (“we’re gonna need a bigger truck”) to haul our truck and trailer full of lumber to our house from our neighbors. The lumber fortunately does not have to be hauled up the driveway from hell but is loaded into the bus – our once-mobile storage area parked at the bottom of said hellish driveway. There are now three vehicles there – school bus, Land Cruiser, and Shrek the green truck-chassis cum trailer. All dirty, all rusted, all cranky. I’m sure our neighbors love our curb-appeal decorating scheme.
Friday at dawn we get a ride to the north/west end of the island where the boat patiently waits at anchor. Friday afternoon Jon and a friend are finally able to load the dory onto the bigger truck and take it to the south/east end of the island. Jon hitches the twelve miles back to the boat and gets several rides to speed his process. By 7:30 pm we are on the boat and readying for a morning departure, also coincidentally my 60th birthday. It is pretty clear that no birthday cake will be forthcoming, but, hey, I’m a cruiser now, I roll with these little disappointments.
Canada to US
9 am on my birthday morning we are coffee-ed up and ready to haul the anchor and go home. But apparently the dead truck has been communing with the manual windlass – the windlass will not feed the chain into the locker but binds up with each pull. So we pull by hand – utilizing the main winches – tying a rope to the forward-most part of the chain, me winching and Jon pulling up. Re-tie the line, pull the next section – on and on for 250 feet of chain and a 65 pound anchor – about 500 pounds of metal. Honestly there isn’t a better way to spend one’s birthday morning I later assured my husband. Well, it could have been raining and cold, but it was actually lovely.
At 10 we putter away on a windless (and windlass-less) morning towards the old country and the final stage of preparation for cruising to Mexico. At 7 pm I call customs and alert them we have just entered US waters. He checks all my information, notices that it is my birthday, and tells me with a serious voice:
“Well actually ma’am, with the current Canadian exchange rate you are only 45. Have a nice day!”.
Best. News. Ever.
At 10:15 we have an thankfully uneventful landing at the fuel dock of Semiahmoo (for a sailboat we spend an inordinate amount of time tied to fuel docks) and fall asleep instantly. We slide into our borrowed slip the next morning and start work again. Mexico seems very far away.