Friday, June 23, 2017

Eight Weeks In

Written by: Donn

Eight weeks ago, we started this little adventure. On many evenings we have ended our day, be they hard days or easy days, with the beauty of sunsets like one cannot imagine. Each one has been different, each one has greeted the night for us, reminding us how fortunate we are to be executing the Freedom Project, finally.

Each day we greet brings us a new morning of adventure, a new place to explore, a new place to leave and plans for the new place we will find the next day. Each day we see some place, or leave some place, that we will never see again. It's a wonderful kind of discovery and also one of departure, of leaving. We are currently in Shearwater, B.C. We arrived here a few days ago for the first time and, if our plans go as we expect, we shall never see it again.

It's been the same for Hunter Bay, Jones Island, Sucia, Port Browning, Ganges, Herring Bay, Nanaimo, Owen Bay, Otter Bay, Port Neville, Port McNeill and a host of other anchorages and marinas. Each time we get to see a place with new eyes, only having read about it in a book, or seen it on a chart. Each time we leave, it's forever. I always say, "Goodbye," to the place, out loud, with gratitude, even if the trip there, the stay, or the departure was challenging.

Each place has given me a gift, a memory, a chance to see a place in the world I have never seen. The fact that I may never see it again, makes it all the more precious.

And I've left so many things behind that I really don't miss. We do check in with the internet, email and facebook when we get in port but, I don't miss it. It's hard to latch onto the daily distractions of such things when faced with the water and wild out here.

So far, Brigadoon has treated us well. She has been stout and dependable. Yes, we have had some minor and somewhat scary things pop up, like when our steering decided to have some issues in Port Browning, but I called Port Townsend Shipwrights and, after a false start at a fix, was able to finally resolve it a couple ports later. Our Dickenson heater gave us some issues but, I tore it down to its bones after a fight or two, and it seems to be doing much better now. The cheerful yellow flame keeps us cozy and warm, once I did the job right. So far, I can fix this boat. I can keep us going. Brigadoon keeps us safe and warm. We couldn't ask for a better home, a better vessel, in which to discover the world.

I've walked places, old and desolate, full of the remnants of people's lives. Shadows of what used to be where I stand, with stories told in old books, rusting machinery, and fallen down buildings. I'm reminded that I'm not the only person who has ever been here. Every time I walk around a corner I find a ghost of the past on ground trodden by someone else, long ago.

There are abandoned canneries, falling down and long dead, giving themselves back to the land. We visit these dying places, witnessing the things that were here before yet no longer are. Namu was a ghost town, passed quietly as we dove deeper into the cove, seeking shelter from a driving rainstorm. I set our anchor in rain that came in sheets, while Kerry calmly talked to me over the headsets. We took to the safety and warmth of Brigadoon to try and dry off and have dinner. It was a damp night, but the Dickenson heater did what it does and we awoke to a dry and warm home.

Yet, in the morning, when the rain had passed, we were left with nothing but the beauty of the tidelands, until they were covered by the waters again. The mirror smooth waters reflecting the quiet life all around us.

Sometimes, when I was so busy pointing the camera, I didn't see the deer for the trees. Hidden among the tidelands, and the drying seaweed, under the watchful gaze of the towering firs of Blunden Harbor, a red deer snuck into my photograph. It stood there, unknown and undiscovered until a week later, when I looked closely enough. So many creatures move though the world, hidden from our eyes.

And yet, some of them are brazen and bold, standing right there, not feet away. In Port McNeill, great bald eagles sang and chittered every night. They owned the top of every mast, every piling, even when harassed by crows and terns. 

Yet, they weren't the only raptors plying the bays. In Allison Harbor, we were entertained by a pair of Ospreys, whose cries were higher and faster than the great eagles. They wheeled with a light grace not found in their bigger cousins, flying around each other like acrobats. Light of color and light on the wing, they owned Allison Harbor.  

Through it all, we have slept well on our Ultra Anchor, safe and secure knowing it rides just below Wilson, our anchor buoy. We have almost perfected the use of this trip line and buoy and plan to continue its use as we set our Ultra at every anchorage. Being able to look out and know exactly where our anchor is set gives us peace of mind and a knowing that we didn't have before.

We have anchored in the shadow of great mountains, graced with snow still, even in June. These craggy ramparts greeted us as we worked out way towards Melanie Cove, former home of Mike the Logger, whose old homestead we walked among on our trip ashore. Do yourself a favor and read "The Curve of Time" -- you will not be disappointed in the places and times it takes you.

The best thing on this journey so far, has been the deepening relationship between the crew. I won't lie. The first couple weeks out was a little rough, sprinkled with misunderstandings and miscommunication as we figured things out. It was harder than I expected but, it was easier than it could have been, because of my lovely First Mate, Kerry. Through her patience, honesty, and trust in me, we have worked through the initial challenges and become a crew that is strong and trustful. 

We sit here, in Shearwater (52 deg 8.850 N, 128 deg 5.398 W) the farthest north and west we have traveled so far. Tomorrow we head westward into the edges of the open Pacific, then north, talking of Ketchikan more every day.

Alaska is in our sights and I couldn't ask for a better partner for this journey.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Port McNeill -- Alert Bay -- Sointula

Written by: Kerry

 We arrived in Port McNeill on Wednesday, June 7th, after a long 42 mile trip up Johnstone Strait from Port Neville.  To date, this may have been one of our longest days on the water, but it was an excellent trip.  We started off early, just before dawn, to catch as much of the ebb current as possible. We weren't disappointed - we arrived in Port McNeill just before 11am with the wind at our back, having motored and motor sailed (rolled the genoa out for awhile) at 6.5-8 knots the whole way.

After settling in, we decided we'd stay a few days and explore the area a bit - two other nearby island harbours - Alert Bay and Sointula both had ferry service from Port McNeill and we thought that would make for a fun day of ferry travel and walking around a couple new towns.

Friday, June 9th we got up early enough to catch the 8:40am ferry to Alert Bay, paid our fares and walked on for the 30 minute trip.  Alert Bay has a well known and highly respected First Nations museum - The U'mista Cultural Centre and we headed straight there as we turned left off the ferry. On our way we caught a couple photos of local sites as we walked down the waterfront boardwalk:

The museum was fantastic, as promised, and also quite sobering.  The history we watched on video and read about was filled with both beautiful examples of Kwakwa̱ka̱╩╝wakw culture and history, as well as the devastating treatment they suffered under the white man's laws and influence.

From there we walked back into town, as it was, and visited the local grocery store and deli (definitely the social hub of town at lunchtime), got a snack and headed back to the ferry.  Now the ferry is based out of McNeill and there is just one - so it goes to Alert Bay and back to McNeill and then out to Sointula and back to McNeill, etc. - all day long.  So we asked if we could just stay on the ferry when it hit McNeill again and keep riding to Sointula.  Yes!  No problem!  And they only charge you when you get on in McNeill, so we rode all day for the initial fares paid.  :-)

We arrived in Sointula on Malcolm Island just after 1pm.  As we waited to disembark, we chatted up a local woman who encouraged us to enjoy the town and check out their museum too.  We wandered off the ferry and turned right, Donn leading the way, and almost immediately discovered the town Info Centre with a string of old beach cruisers in front with a sign saying "For Loan".  What's more fun then a free loaner bicycle for the afternoon to explore a seaside town?  At that moment, not much.  

We proceeded to ride back the other direction from the ferry and found the Sointula Community Library and Museum.  This was a whole different experience from Alert Bay.   Sointula is a town settled by a group of Finnish Socialists in 1901 with the hopes of creating a utopian community.  The museum was like walking into an antique store with a focus on a specific town.  Two large rooms and a basement held all kinds of photos, clothing, household goods, personal items, and industrial equipment from the past.  Stumbling across a large map of the Northwest, we got a photo opp of the distance we've traveled so far...

After departing the museum, we headed around the bay towards the marina and found the Burger Shack, where we enjoyed really good halibut and chips and shakes.

We then headed back towards town and returned the bikes.  We checked out their Co-op grocery store and then crossed the street to enjoy a treat at the local bakery, owned and run by a lovely Chilean man, right next to the ferry.  Donn enjoyed a cinnamon roll made with cardamom that was divine and my lime shortbread cookie wasn't too shabby either.  

Our ferry ride back to Port McNeill signaled the end of our day - we were home by 5pm, feeling tired but happy.  The best thing about both Alert Bay and Sointula?  Without fail, everyone we came across, waved or said hello as we went by.  This included people in cars, on foot, or on their bikes.  It felt amazing to visit these towns and be so welcomed by the locals.

The last few days have been full of chores - laundry, provisioning and getting the boat ready for our next big leg - across Queen Charlotte Strait, up and around Cape Caution, and further north on our journey.  We leave tomorrow morning.  More adventure awaits!

Living the Yotting LIfe

Written by: Donn

We are six weeks or so into this adventure of cruising on the yacht Brigadoon. It's been five years of planning, five years of sacrifices, hard work, missed schedules, changing plans, but we are here.

"It's been a long road,
getting from there to here.
It's been a long road,
But our time is finally near.

I can see my dream come alive at last..."

Getting this far has been a beautifully challenging mix and, it's nothing, I tell you, nothing like living on land. The interesting thing has been the assumptions we've been witness to and the target of, as we embark on and continue this adventure.

For example, in a conversation about my country (The USA) a friend raised a very political question about our immigration policies:

"There are no developed countries a US citizen can go to and, so long as we physically make it onto the soil, are welcomed with open arms, no questions asked, and immediately provided all the benefits of natives. No matter who we are or how sad our story, if we don’t follow their rules we’re turned around and sent right back where we came from. They require we follow their rules or they don’t let us in.

The same countries we’re jealous of for their “free” healthcare and extensive social programs also have very strict immigration rules. They clearly value the interests of their own citizens over those of others."

My basic response was, "We (edit: this country) are rich enough to take them all and provide for health care for all, if we choose to. There is nothing special about being born here."

I meant it. My country is rich beyond measure and, if it weren't for the greed corrupting our high ideals, I truly believe we could set an example to the world, if only we wanted to.

Setting that political question aside, because I have no interest in debating that here, I'd like to focus on his response and the assumptions contained therein.

"Since I know you to have a very good sense of humor I'll just ask: Are you being funny, or is a guy who's currently sailing around the world on a yacht telling the rest of us how easy it is to embrace the huddled masses?

My friend has since apologized for his assumptions, that we are some rich, well off yachties, sailing around the world, telling him and others what they should do with their guilt. Let's talk about those assumptions, because this isn't the first time we've run into them. They are in Facebook posts about young couples who threw it all way to take on the sailing life, tossing aside the normal cares of the work-a-day world, leaving all of those wage slaves behind. They visit tropical islands, far flung places, arriving on their yacht, only to depart for another paradise the next week.

Allow me to inject a little reality into this life we have chosen and share a little bit about us.

First off -- the money. We are not rich, or even well off anymore. True, we had fairly high paying jobs but, we used all those resources to pay off our debt, outfit our yacht to make her safe and seaworthy, and set aside a little for living expenses. There is some savings but, we are basically unemployed at this time and I, for one, have no plans on ever working for anyone else, ever. Not ever again. I'm working on a novel, which I hope people will like and buy but, aside from that, it's our savings and my modest retirement that will see us through this adventure. Money aside, let's talk about what it's been like to go cruising on a yacht.

Brigadoon is our home. She contains all our earthly possessions within the confines of her hull. This includes clothes, food, art, tools, spares and anything else we think we might need. That means that, when we are sitting in a beautiful cove, surrounded by towering firs and cedars, with eagles flying overhead and otters playing in the cove, we still have to fix that leaking water pump or get that diesel stove working so we can keep warm. There is no ordering of parts from Amazon Prime (and getting what we need in two days). There is no mechanic to call, who will arrive and fix the problem while we go out to dinner and a movie. There is no store to drive to (if we still had a car), to get what we need. We have to be resourceful and make do with our resourcefulness and parts on hand. No one is coming to save us.

Imagine if you had to work on sink at home. The water isn't coming out. You can't just have someone replace it. You can't just run to the big box hardware store in your car and get a new faucet. Water pressure is supplied by a pump, not the city. By the way, all your water (80 gallons of it), is stored under the floor of your living room. The pump is located in the corner of a closet, hidden behind fishing poles, dock lines, buckets, and a host of other things that must be stored there. You have to remove all those things to get to it and, they have to stay on the boat. There is no spare room to move them to, so you stack them in your small back porch, hopefully in a corner so you can still walk around.

You need tools and spares.

The spare water pump is located under your bed. Not under it like you just reach under a regular bed under it, like inside the the box springs, under the mattress. You have to lift the mattress with the block and tackle (it weighs 80 pounds) and dig though various spares.

Tools are located under and inside your couch in the living room, so you have to tear all the cushions off and put them on top of your bed. The rest of the tools and miscellaneous spares are located under the cushions of your love seat, so you have to take the cushions and pillows off that too and put them on your bed.

You now have absolutely no place to sit, but it's time to get to work while otters play along the shoreline and majestic bald eagles hunt from hundreds-year-old fir trees along the granite cliffs surrounding the beautiful cove in which you are anchored.

You work on the problem until it is solved, or you give up for a break -- remember there is now nowhere to sit? You get back to work until you solve the problem. Simple as that. You have nothing but what is on the boat and you can't go get anything else you need. When you do finally solve the problem, because you have to, you simply have to, you put all the stuff back.

All the tools and spares have to be put away in some semblance of order so you can find/use them again. Once that is done, you dig all the cushions our of your bed and put them back on your couch and love seat so you can sit down again.

If you are skilled, resourceful and lucky (never discount this), you fixed the problem and can now enjoy the paradise in which you are currently anchored.

Then the house heater malfunctions the next day. You start moving cushions again, lather, rinse repeat.

Until the next problem.

So you plan your road trip to a destination twenty miles away. You check the weather, because winds and road conditions can literally swallow your car and everything you own. If the road is too bumpy today, it might be too dangerous to go. You double check the route to make sure there are no obstacles in your path on maps you have never seen before, and you have to trust that they are correct. If they aren't, and you hit one of those obstacles, the road can literally swallow your car and everyone inside. You might want to call for help or a tow but, no one may respond and, if you really screw up, no one is likely to find you. You make sure you have enough fuel (there are no gas stations en-route). You make sure you have enough food in your fridge (there are no stores on your route). Do you carry spares or a means to replace or repair every single part of your vehicle (there are no stores or mechanics along your route). Do you even know how?

Then, if everything is ready, you leave the beautiful cove, with the playful otters, the shell beaches, the hunting eagles and the bears (don't forget the bear spray). You take the car our of park (manually lift a 46 lb anchor and 160 lbs of chain) and hit the road.

Along the way you may find that the weather report lied or the conditions simply changed. The roads are now outright dangerous. You have to find a safe parking lot and you hope your parking brake (anchor) can hold you in place until the weather passes. You find it and decide dinner is called for -- the stove doesn't light because one of the propane tanks is empty, so you have to go out to the back porch and switch to the backup.

Then you discover the knocking noise every time you turn the steering wheel...the last person (not you, then you who tried to fix it the first time) didn't solve it.

But the place you parked is beautiful and, when the storm blows over the next day, you find yourself in a Yottie's paradise, surrounded by towering fir trees, hunting eagles and kingfishers, otters and maybe an occasional porpoise or whale. You are in paradise for a day and, to be honest, it was worth it to get here, even if the bumpy road tossed everything in the car just simply everywhere.

But you earned every eagle, every otter, every skinny dip in a warm mountain lake, every stroll along pristine shell beaches.

Even if no one really understands what it took to get here.

And you'll do it again the next day, and the day after that, because you want to.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

One Month!

Written by: Kerry

We’ve been out here a month and boy has it flown by!  Thought it might be fun to share some numbers and facts about the first month of our adventure.  J
We have visited the following places:

Hunter Bay, Lopez Island (anchored 3 nights)
Blind Bay, Shaw Island (anchored 1 night)
Deer Harbor, Orcas Island (docked 2 nights)
Jones Island (north bay) (anchored 2 nights)
Echo Bay, Sucia Island (anchored 3 nights)

Port Browning, North Pender Island (docked 1 night)
Ganges Harbour, Saltspring Island (anchored 4 nights)
North Cove, Thetis Island (anchored 1 night)
Herring Bay, Ruxton Island (anchored 1 night)
Nanaimo, Vancouver Island (docked 4 nights)
Garden Bay, Pender Harbour (anchored 4 nights)
Sturt Bay, Texada Island (anchored 1 night)
Cortes Bay, Cortes Island (anchored 1 night)
Grace Harbour, Desolation Sound (anchored 3 nights)
Melanie Cove, Desolation Sound (anchored 1 night)
Squirrel Cove, Cortes Island (docked 4 nights) – this place is awesome, you should come here.

Nautical Miles Traveled: 237.36

We’ve sailed only once, motorsailed once and motored the remaining times due to low winds, or wind right on the nose.

We have made water 4 times, approximately once per week. 

We have done laundry 5 times.

We have topped up our diesel tank twice, although we’ve never been under half a tank empty.

We (meaning mostly Donn) have raised over 1200 feet of anchor chain (at 1.6 lbs per foot) with our rebuilt Seatiger manual windlass.

We’ve been on 11 walks/hikes – either on trails or exploring towns.

We’ve been through one “rapids” where we had to time our passage (Dodd Narrows).  We have many more of those coming up soon.

We’ve seen one movie (Guardians of the Galaxy 2 in Namaimo).

Donn make $12 Canadian busking on the Nanaimo waterfront with his guitar.

We’ve enjoyed numerous coffee shops, a few takeout places and two sit down restaurants.

Meals with new friends:
Dinner at Dan and Paula’s home in Ganges (Thanks to Evan who introduced us online!)
Happy Hour aboard “Sleighride”, a sailboat we crossed paths with twice so far, with Judy and Scott
Breakfast aboard a resident boat in Nanaimo with Trinda and Kevin

We’ve cooked dinner on our rail mounted BBQ 8 times, with everything from corn on the cob to sausages to steaks.

We’ve used our Honda outboard, our electric paddle, and our oars to get around in our dinghy.

We caught, cooked and ate two red rock crabs.

We’ve each been sick with a cold once.

We have installed an Iridium Go antenna cable, created a windlass chain retainer, modified our stay-sail sheets for a 2 to 1 purchase, repaired a loose rudder quadrant (twice), replaced o-rings in leaky water pump, built and modified our safety tethers using our Sailrite sewing machine, perfected the design and use of our anchor buoy, re-positioned our Danforth stern anchor, and re-engineered our dinghy davit slings.

Donn caught one small flounder, which he threw back in.

We’ve seen countless eagles, herons, oyster catchers, kingfishers, gulls, terns, vultures, ospreys, doves, murrelets, swifts, moon jellies, sea cucumbers, otters, salmon, herring, harbor seals, sea lions, kelp crab, red rock crab, and one cavorting weasel.

A Hike and a Swim

Written by: Kerry

We pulled into Grace Harbour on a beautiful Saturday in May, early enough in the day to enjoy the afternoon.  We had read about a trail leading from the head of the bay to a nearby fresh water lake and after securely anchoring the boat and lowering our dinghy, we set off to explore!

OK – let me set you up with a little background on me…   I am not an outdoorsy kind of girl.  I had some bad hiking experiences in my youth and in my thirties and I’m well aware of the baggage I still carry around due to this.  So although walking and hiking are going to be a part of my life from now on as a cruiser, I still ramp up on the anxiety scale around this activity.

The guide book had said a “15 minute walk” to the lake.  I thought, “Great!  I can do that.  It’s getting to be a really warm day (80F) and a dip in the lake might be nice!”  We beach our dinghy and set off.  Donn’s leading the way.  About 10-15 minutes into the walk, we’ve had to scramble a bit and duck under a tree or two.  We reach a point where it looks like the trail could go one of two ways.  We pick the path to the right, which leads us down to a stream/waterfall area, which is obviously coming from the lake, but the trail seems to disappear at this point.  

We confer and agree to go back to the fork.  By now, my anxiety is starting to creep up and I alert Donn, who is always understanding and supportive.  He listens, says "ok", and we keep going.  We now find the trail to the left, which crosses the upper end of the stream and keeps going through patches of mud.  We are wearing our crocs, which helps with the terrain and muddiness, so I keep trudging forward, hoping the lake is getting closer.  We go over and under more fallen trees, I’m getting hotter and more anxious, not seeing any signs of thinning trees or a lake.  Donn keeps checking in.  I drink water and try to calm my breathing.  We keep going.

Finally the lake appears - (It’s probably only been 30 minutes) - and truly, it is lovely.  My stress starts to seep away, but now I get to face a new dilemma.  I REALLY want to go swimming.  But the edge of the lake accessible to us has one nice flat rock outcropping just under the water, but it’s pretty slick with algae, and there are reeds and lily pads in the way of truly swimming out into deep water.  Except!  There is one good path between the reeds that looks like there is nothing blocking our way – so that is the plan.  We strip down.  The lake is deserted save for some frogs, small fish, and water bugs, so we decide suits are not necessary.  I keep my yellow crocs on.  Another thing I can’t deal with is touching soft stuff under the water, especially when it’s murky enough that I can’t see more than 1-2 feet down.  So my plan entails squatting or sitting on the slippery rock, and pushing off into full swim towards the break in the reeds out into deeper (cleaner?) water.  I am not interested in touching my feet down if I can help it.  Donn asks if I would like him to join me – hell yes, I do!  This is pushing all kinds of scary buttons for me and having him out there too will make me feel better.   We’re naked (except for my crocs) and we creep out onto the slippery rock.  The water is a lovely temperature – not too cold, and definitely refreshing after the crazy 30 minute hike I just endured.

I dog paddle like crazy to keep my body as close to the surface as possible until I get through the reeds.  Success!  I do not touch or run into anything under the surface and out into open water, I relax a bit.  Donn is still standing on the rock, debating his entrance plan.  He starts to move closer to the edge and I watch him slide and slip himself into the water.  He follows my path and soon he’s out there with me.  He finds a log or stump to stand on and invites me over, but I decline the foothold (too scary if I can’t see it).  I come over and float closer to him.  We swim around a bit enjoying the sun and solitude of this amazing lake.  When we decide to go back in, he leads the way and crawls up on to the slippery rock, finding finger holds in cracks to pull himself up and out.  I follow suit.  Soon we are on the shore again, drying off in the sun.  I’m feeling rather proud of myself for making it there at all, and getting out there in the water.  The return hike looms, but at least I know what to expect now.  We get dressed and prepare for the journey back.  

As we walk, I’m the one who suggests we take that first offshoot we tried and make our way down to the lower stream and shoreline and see if we can walk back to the dinghy around the edge of the bay rather than up and over through the woods again.  Donn thinks that’s a fine idea and we work our way down to the low tide line and pick our way among the rocks, oysters and barnacles.  Again, very thankful for our crocs!  We get back to the dinghy and Donn rows us back to the boat.  I immediately crawl into bed for a nap, happy and proud of my big adventure in Grace Harbour.