June 26, 2016
Sailing is a multi-tentacled pursuit. Romantically inclined think of it as billowing sails, galloping along the seas off Barbados, maybe a dolphin or two playing in the wake from the bow (admittedly, the inner visual I hold dear and that gets me through random weeks of anchor repairs). The notion that sailing is really about "sailing", handling lines, managing sails, navigating your vessel with an assured finesse. And it can certainly be that, particularly if you are day sailing or have a vessel that is kept very simple.
When we first got into sailing I somehow glossed over the conversations and articles regarding the other elements of sailing. Particularly when it came to boat repairs and maintenance I thought the cliche' of cruising being mostly "repairing your boat in exotic harbors" sort of quaint. Even after the cold splash of reality last year, six weeks working on Tumbleweed in Sitka, I still kept a healthy disconnection from reality. That was just a one off, rarely happening type of thing. Anchored at the north end of Vancouver Island, entering our fifth week of trying to resolve our broken windlass gypsey, I'm starting to embrace the-constant-repair-and-upkeep-of-a-sailing-vessel as a solid core component of cruising.
When we meet with other cruisers the early lines of conversation tend to curve around to the things we have all fixed, replaced or are accepting "as is" for this part of our trip. There is often an edge of gallows humor about the whole thing, embracing the pain of recalling when a line wrapped around the boats prop forcing a quick jump into 40 degree water with a kitchen knife. How they ran into an uncharted rock and lost a stabilizer and limped back from Alaska. They lost their engine and returned to port using their dinghy outboard. Many water pumps failing. A transmission failure on a boat we met in Nanaimo, they sailed back to Anacortes, replaced the transmission and caught up to us in Port McNeill (gleefully recalling coming into the marina in Anacortes under sail and having to dock under sail at night).
If sailing is some multi-tentacled pursuit and we're at the white board scrawling out Venn diagrams we'll have to make a wheel for patience. Sailing is loaded with opportunities to slow your heart rate, focus on your breathing, gaze off to the horizon, center yourself, and think calming thoughts. Usually in a healthy way, as in to be present in the beauty of an experience, often as a technique to keep yourself from unraveling.
Traveling by sailboat there is a certainly a preoccupation with what can go wrong, what has gone wrong and what needs to be repaired. We started out this past winter with a list of something around 140 projects we wanted to complete before we left Port Townsend. And we plowed through them. I mentally dusted off my hands and thought we were at a point of completion, for at least a summer of sailing. Anchored in this beautiful bay at the end of the fourth week of trying to repair our anchor windlass I have fixated on the fragile nature of sailboat systems.
It is the sound of the loon that pulls me out of that frame of mind. Several times a day a loon calls from somewhere at the edge of the forest. It is such a gorgeous cry, but what makes it haunting is how rare it calls. Once or twice in the morning, another call in the late afternoon, maybe once as the sun begins to fade. It is the unexpected timing of its call that gives it power, and reinforces the silence of the bay. After the loon calls the bay seems to become hushed for awhile and the place stills.
Last night, deep in the few hours of darkness we are getting at this latitude, I woke to the howling of several wolves. I sat up and listened to them call to each other for a few minutes before their calls faded away and the cove was quiet again. But I was awake and had time to think, to turn over in my mind not the problem with the broken gypsy or the month of time we have spent in limbo trying to sort out repairs, but instead time to be focused on what a magic place we have found ourselves, bobbing about in a sailboat in a cove at the far north of Vancouver Island. To have found space on this planet where we can embrace quiet and solitude. Our view from the head of the bay is down a long body of water with two small islets with Vancouver Island in the background. There are no lights of civilization, seldom the sound of a plane overhead, and about as rare are vessels off in the distance as they make way along the coast of the island.
There is not a linear equation to finding a place like this, and often the physical place can be found but the inner space needed for a solid connection is missing. We have spent several days here instead of the overnight stop we had planned. By pushing on and making our way around Cape Scott we would have missed out on so much that makes this a special place. When traveling by sail I find that we often spend the day focused on the physical act of sailing the boat and navigating safely, we'll anchor typically late in the day, sort out putting the boat to bed, and work out the plan for the next day and deal with assorted boat chores - run the water maker, fix meals, etc. And although we are always receptive to appreciating a place we don't always get to embrace it as fully as when we are in a place for days, such as here. I love the calm of places like this and the space to think and to slow down.
The people we continue to meet along the way has also been a rich part of the experience. We have connected with people that we know from Port Townsend, others that we have met briefly earlier this year and now hail as long lost friends, and we have bumped into people that after a few minutes chatting invited us over for conversation, gave us large fillets of salmon, fishing lures, and sourdough starter.
There are these dimensions to traveling under sail, slowly poking along, sometimes taking a few steps back or sideways or meandering in circles, that make this mode of travel magic. The great days on the water with all our sails up, the people that we meet, and conversely the solitude of remote waters, are experiences that go to the core of my sense of being human.
We had good news yesterday from the maker of our windlass. They have cast a new gypsy and shipped it out in the day's FedEx. Depending on Canadian customs we should have the part Monday, perhaps Tuesday. Tomorrow we'll sail back to Port Hardy and wait on the part. That will give us a couple of days to restock some provisions, maybe make a laundry run, embrace the "chaos" of civilization.
If all goes well we'll head around to the west side of the island next week.
June 29, 2016
Update: We are in Port Hardy now. The part arrived yesterday. It was cast marginally better than the previous gypsy but still locks up on retrieval and causes the links to skip and fly on deployment. I think we are pretty much over working with the manufacturer on a solution. We have a couple of work arounds - manual, hauling up the chain and anchor (tried that out yesterday and that's a good workout!) or working with the "wildcat" on the other side of the windlass, that's a smooth drum used to retrieve our rope anchor rode. We can use that to run a snubber line to the chain rode and haul it in. Tedious and slow but safe and not too much effort. We'll use some combination of those and move on. We are going to provision in Port Hardy today and move north tomorrow.
This morning "Bad Kitty" one of the boats racing in the Race 2 Alaska (R2AK) was tied up at the end of our dock. They broke their rudder a few miles out last night and limped into port around midnight, their race is over. It is a tricked out, racing catamaran with a crew of 4 seriously experienced guys and they were in the running for the money. Breakdowns and repairs seem to come with the territory, even with the pros.
Port Hardy is a good stop for provisioning and taking care of a few tasks. But feeling ready to move on and get over to the wild side.