Wednesday, September 17, 2014

When opportunity knocks….

A Post from Kerry (First Mate, SV Brigadoon)

Last February I was attending the Annual Women’s Boating Seminar being held on the North Seattle Community College campus.  It’s a wonderful day full of seminars and talks about boating – both sail and power.  For women, by women.  A great chance to chat up fellow female boaters and learn a few things.  It wasn’t my first time attending, and at this point I’ve been around enough boat shows and seminars in the last four years that I’m starting to get on a first name basis with some of the region’s most inspiring female boaters.  At lunch I found myself sitting around a table with many of the speakers from the day – Wendy Hinman, Judy Nasmith (who also organizes this fun event), Nancy Erley, and Linda Lewis.  All women I’d seen speak before – full of knowledge, experience, and a lot of passion for being on the water.  Later in the afternoon, Linda approached me between sessions and casually asked if I had any extra vacation time to use up this summer.  I smiled and told her that yes, actually, there was a chance I might have some extra time I could use….  “Why?”  She said she was planning to take her annual trip up to the Broughton Islands and was looking for crew – would I be interested?  My first instinct was to step back and tell her that I couldn’t possibly take the time off necessary to go with her, but then I thought better of it and just said that I’d love to chat more about it when she was ready to start planning out her trip. 

Four months went by and I completely forgot about this conversation.  Then I got her phone call.  Linda called me in June and told me she was starting to put together her roster and itinerary and did I still have time off I could use?  I said I’d have to talk to my managers and Donn, but that yes, it was possible.   We narrowed it down to a vague time frame and I told her I’d get back to her in a day or so.  As I checked at work and with Donn, I was met with complete support and excitement for me to go on an adventure.  When all was said and done, Linda and I agreed that I would fly up to Blind Channel, meet her as she was making her way back south at the end of August, and crew for her for seven days, ending up in Anacortes on Labor Day if all went well.  As we chatted on the phone about the logistics, I asked “who else will be on the boat?” – She replied that it would just be her and me. 
Captain Linda Lewis teaches boating.  She teaches navigation classes through the Coast Guard Auxiliary, which is how I met her in the first place.  I knew that this opportunity would afford me some amazing one on one time, with her, on her boat, learning about new waters and soaking in everything I could in seven days.  The weeks went by as I waited for the day I was to fly out on a float plane from Kenmore Air on Lake Washington.  The morning of August 25th was beautiful.  Donn dropped me off at the docks and we parted ways.  I was nervous and excited – having never been on a float plane before.

We landed in Nanaimo as we made our way north, so we could check in to Canada, and the pilot could refuel.  Taking off again, the pilot informed me we’d be in Blind Channel in about 45 minutes.  I can’t express how beautiful the world below looked.  I followed on the rudimentary map they provide, as I picked out which islands were which as we glided over them.  Tiny specks of boats were below me, making their way north or south, through the Strait of Georgia.  I knew that’d be us soon enough.

I realized we were now flying over the island just south of Blind Channel – East Thurlow Island.  The hills full of trees were getting closer as the small plane followed the curves of the land down to the channel below, making another smooth landing.  We snugged up to the dock, I grabbed my bags and stepped off to find Linda waiting for me with a big smile on her face. 

She led me back to her 45 foot trawler – “Royal Sounder”.   A 1978 KhaShing power boat.  She’s got classic lines and a beautiful bow.  Linda and her husband have maintained her beautifully and she really is a comfortable and sturdy vessel.  Linda showed me around, showed me where I’d be sleeping and where I could stow my belongings.  She pointed out a few things that we’d get more in depth on later.  Then as we stepped out on the deck to head up to land for lunch, a couple on one of the neighboring boats told us to look out in the channel.  A small pod of orcas were swimming through.  I’m pretty sure I saw at least one adult and two babies – my first sighting of whales in the wild ever!  I figured it was a good sign to be welcomed so warmly by the orcas just after arriving.  J
After a nice lunch and some texts to Donn to let him know I’d arrived safely, we headed back to the boat.  We discussed our route for the next day.  We had a bit of a dilemma because of the currents the next morning.  As we talked over our options, I felt a strong pull to head east towards Dent Rapids.  It seemed like a more interesting choice.  She agreed with me, but also acknowledged that we couldn’t make it to Dent in time for slack from where we were, even if we left at first light.  So the decision was made to make it a short trip to Shoal Bay, leaving around 9:30 or 10, catching the current east and easily reaching Shoal Bay before Noon.  We would then proceed through Dent and the other passes the following day, easily accomplished from the closer location.  Then Linda started explaining in more detail what our respective roles would be around docking, anchoring, and while underway.  Her processes were detailed, clear, and very thorough.  I knew I was in good hands.
We awoke early – she whispered down to me to see if I was awake yet and asked if I wanted to see something amazing.  I hopped up quickly and went out on deck to see one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever witnessed (photo above!).  As the pace of the city started to fade away a bit, I began to truly breathe in the beauty and quiet around me.  It was gorgeous up there.

As she had shown me the night before, I got the lines ready for departure.  In Canada, most of the docks use “bull rails” and not cleats as we’re used to in the States.  I had used bull rails before, but not often and hadn’t yet mastered a good process.  That was about to change.  In seven days, I learned, struggled and somewhat conquered bull rails and how best to work the lines around them when docking and departing.   I think we had conversations almost every single day while we were under way about techniques and tricks on how best to work with them.  Cleats are like a walk in the park now!

Another cool tool she uses is headsets.  These are AWESOME!  Donn had reconfigured some motorcycle headsets for use on our boat, but we hadn’t had a chance to use them yet.  On this trip I learned just how much they can help keep things calm, and organized.  So we had on our headsets, she was at the helm, and I was on the boat ready to release the lines.  Everything went smoothly as we pulled away from the dock.  Then we switched places.  I manned the helm as she went outside to release the skiff away from the boat’s port side hip and back behind to the end of the towing line, where it stayed while underway.

Dock at Shoal Bay

Shoal Bay was beautiful and quiet.  A small community of volunteers run a small pub out of a living room and maintain a garden and a chicken coop.  For a donation you can garden a bit, harvest a few things, and possibly get a few eggs if you so desire.  We wandered, then headed back for the daily happy hour on board.  These were some of my favorite times – we’d sit back, we’d each have one beverage of choice, along with a few snacks and just talk.  This was our first chance to really get to know each other, as we’d never spent time together outside of a boating class.  As the days wore on we laughed a LOT and were delighted with how many things we seemed to have in common.
The next day we timed our departure to catch Dent Rapids at slack.  She made sure I was at the helm, so she could get the requisite photo of me yawning through the boring waterway, which only a few hours before had been running at 9 knots.  Gillard Pass and Yaculta Rapids were equally as exciting.  We made our way to Von Donop Inlet where we had decided to spend the night at anchor.  As we eased in to the Inlet, following two other boats, we worried it might be crowded.  We made it to a wonderful spot where other boats had settled in, but where there was still plenty of room.  I was at the helm, with Linda at the bow looking for just the right spot.  I read out depths to her as we circled around slowly like a cat picking its spot in the sun.  She directed me at the helm as she lowered the anchor.  Soon enough we were dug in and ready to relax for the rest of the afternoon and evening.  It was warm out and I was so tempted to get my bathing suit on and go for a swim, but she dissuaded me with a warning about the coldness of the water.  I grabbed a PFD and tether and climbed down to the swim step.  Rolling up my pants, I stuck my feet in the water.  It was cold, but felt so good.  I stayed down there a while, just lying on the swim step, looking up at clouds quietly drifting by.  Being at anchor, especially in a protected, quiet anchorage, is incredibly peaceful.  I slept well, knowing we’d be up with the sun again to get underway by 6:30am.

Westview Marina - looking back at the entrance

The next day brought us closer to civilization.  We made it to the Westview Marina, near Powell River on the BC mainland.  After docking and getting the boat squared away, I headed up in search of a shower and a chance to walk around a bit.  Later that night we found a great Italian restaurant “Snickers”.  We were craving pizza and each ordered our own personal pizzas.  I went on to amaze Linda with my ability to put away food.  This became a running joke for the rest of the trip….   
Another early departure started us off on our longest day of the week.  We had hit a perfect weather window to cross the Strait of Georgia and head to Nanaimo.  We maintained a shift schedule of one hour on, one hour off.  It was a long day, with waves coming at us from the north as we crossed SW, but they never got too strong and we maintained an excellent course.   I think we made it in about six and half hours.

Each day of the journey I learned more about the various instruments and tools at the helm and how I could best use them to help make decisions about other boats, our course, etc.  We were using the autopilot much of the time, which was nice.  I kept watch by looking outside, then glancing at the radar, and then at our course on the navigation software on her laptop.  I learned how best to use the radar to determine whether other boats around us posed a threat if they were heading our direction.  So simple, but so effective – and reassuring.

Radar shot while at anchor in Monague Harbor

We arrived in Nanaimo tired and the docking process ended up being a touch stressful, with a strong current pushing us away from the dock and a marina employee who was less than helpful.  But we managed to get tied up safely and settled in.  I realized that after such a long day I needed some alone time, so I bid Linda adieu and headed out in search of a shower and some comfort food.  I also allowed myself to call Donn for the first time since leaving.  Up until then we had texted at least once or twice a day when I had cell coverage.  By the time I got back to the boat in the early evening, I felt more rested and relaxed.  Linda showed up a little while later and we enjoyed another nice evening talking and sharing stories.

The next morning we left on the early side to make it to another pass at slack time.   Once again I was at the helm as we made our way slowly through Dodd Narrows.  Then it was a straight shot down to Montague Harbor where we anchored for our second time, surrounded by boats enjoying the end of the summer.  It was Saturday of Labor Day weekend.  Once we had anchored securely, we realized we had a nice quiet afternoon stretching in front of us.  We separated to our respective berths.  I napped, watched a movie I had downloaded onto my Kindle Fire for the trip, and read a bit.  It rained off and on and created an incredibly cozy day.  There was no doubt in my mind – I was in love with this life on the water and I couldn’t wait to come back up here with Donn on our own boat.
Sunday brought us back into the US, where we checked in at Roche Harbor and anchored close by in Garrison Bay.  Then we hopped into Linda’s 17 foot skiff, built by her husband, and motored back to Roche to get some ice cream and check out the sights.  I went on walkabout and explored the Sculpture Park and the Mausoleum.  It’s a beautiful place, and being Labor Day weekend, the marina itself was packed with boats.   We headed back to the boat before sunset, had a nice final dinner together and went to bed early, ready for another early morning to head out on our last leg to Anacortes.

Grinning like a cheshire cat as we glide through Pole Pass

Monday’s trip to Anacortes stared off with the sun shining directly at us from the sky and the water.  It was blinding and I wasn’t quite sure how to keep watch.  I used my sunglasses when looking out and then pushed them down my nose when I needed to see the instruments.  An hour or so in, we changed direction just enough to change the angles for the better.  One more pass – Pole Pass on the south end of Orcas Island and then we were home free.  We made it to the dock at Anacortes by 11:30am with Donn waiting for us at the dock, ready to catch our lines.  It was a pretty awesome way to arrive back to the mainland.

Happy Reunion!

Overall we had amazing weather and for the most part were able to use currents to our advantage.  We kept our speeds between six and eight knots for the most part.  I worked hard, relaxed deeply, and truly enjoyed getting to know Linda better in the seven days we were together.  I also came home with a list of ideas and processes I hope to adapt for us and our boat.  Some of these include docking practices, others include timing of keeping watch and manning the helm.  I think the most valuable thing I brought home with me was a sense of inspiration and accomplishment.  I feel empowered and capable in ways I haven’t before.

It’s been two weeks since my return.  This past weekend, I suggested we take our boat out into the lake early on Sunday morning so I could practice docking at Ivar’s dock just east of Gasworks.  No other boats around and hardly a whisper of wind – perfect conditions.  We used our headsets, I was at the helm the entire time.  Donn talked me through departure from our dock and then docking and undocking at Ivar’s.  Then we came home and I docked at our own dock, which has its own challenges.  I glanced our pulpit off of one of the posts that stick up from our dock, but otherwise, nothing damaged, and no one hurt.  All good.  After four years, I finally got up the courage to dock my own boat.  And that’s huge. 

Many thanks to Linda for the opportunity to join her, the encouragement, and the wonderful fellowship.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

I've taken pictures...

I have a rather long relationship with photography. When we moved aboard Brigadoon, I couldn't help myself.  Here are some photos taken over this, so far, four year journey.


Friday, September 12, 2014

On being a Captain

There's an old joke that I have always enjoyed. It's more a barb, really. One uses it in response to someone claiming the title of "Dr." somewhere near their name because they have a Ph.D in some field and insisting that you use and recognize that title.

"Sure, you're a Doctor but, to a Doctor are you a Doctor."

Titles are nice and all. They are a convenience for understanding, really. Titles can communicate what a person is, what they can do and what we can expect from them. They also can carry a lot of other baggage and assumptions that hinder understanding and communication too.

So, let's talk about Captain.

I am not an officially titled Captain (OUPV, commonly called a "Six Pack" or a Master) by the United States Coast Guard. I have not the required hours under way, nor have I passed the written test for any official license. This means I cannot reasonably insist that people refer to me as Captain, nor do I offer that title in any context where it does not apply. I have no business cards with the title, it isn't in an email signature, and I don't claim the title where it's inappropriate.

I am, however, Captain of Brigadoon.

This doesn't mean that I get to be in charge. It means that I have to be in charge. There is a subtle difference in those two concepts that is important to understand. One gets to have dessert, to go on vacation, to have a day off, to do any number of things that we would like to do. Some people like to be in charge and, for them, being a Captain means they get to tell others what to do. In any arena where a person makes decisions, be they a police officer, a judge, a manager at a company, a parent, they exercise power over others. That is why some people who find it agreeable to wield power are drawn to roles in which they have control. The problem with this kind of person is, they also have to wield responsibility. If you are a Captain, you are responsible. There is no escaping this fact.

I am the Captain of Brigadoon, not because of a desire to wield power. I am Captain because I am responsible for the safety of the vessel and all those aboard. I am responsible for the operation of the vessel so that it is in compliance with all maritime laws. I am responsible for ensuring that my vessel is operated in a manner that reduces risk to other vessels.

It doesn't mean I'm right all the time, or that my decisions are above question. It means that, when something is happening now, that requires a decision, that I have to make it. I'm responsible.

This also means that if anything happens to Brigadoon, to others on board, or to something I damage with Brigadoon (another boat, a dock, you name it) that I'm also responsible. I don't get to make excuses for my lack of knowledge, preparedness, decision making, or competence. Something happens. I own it. This is very unlike most of the news stories you read in the press about Very Important people shirking the very thing they wanted in the first place; being important and the responsibility that comes with it.

It keeps me on my toes. I constantly study. I assess my abilities. I look for shortcomings in my boat, boat systems, my crew, my safety equipment, my education and my capabilities.

I'm the Captain of Brigadoon. It's not just a title. It's a job.