Currents, tides, winds.
It is a lot for me to keep track of while trying to remember how to hoist a mainsail (loosen the mainsheet, release the boom vang, tighten the topping lift, pull main halyard, release the topping lift—and so on and so on).
While honing our sailing skills around B.C.’s Gulf Islands National Park (GINP) for six weeks, we motored through tight passages known for strong currents and even stronger whirlpools.
We received odd looks when I was at the helm maneuvering our boat through tricky narrows while John rested on the edge of the cockpit drinking coffee. The same puzzled looks followed us whenever I rowed John around the coves in our rowboat, Seamouse.
Anchored under a full moon in Long Harbour, Salt Spring Island – PHOTOS: Anna Tupakka
We grew brash and raced 40-foot sailboats. We learned more about sailing with every mistake we made.
It was out in the 25-knot winds where I learned that if we’re going to beat into the wind, remember to shut the galley windows and stow away the pots. It’s more than just an uncomfortable lean.
Another lesson? Williwaws.
These sudden blasts of wind don’t just exist in exotic sailing destinations. They can rise in the middle of an otherwise calm evening in a Gulf Island bay.
Though our anchor held tight despite violent jerking from the oddly warm winds blowing off the mountainsides, we watched other boats drag anchor, smashing together like bumper cars.
One long dark night of williwaws put an end to any more restful (and naïve) nights at anchor.
Only once did we impress our fellow sailors. Arriving in Royal Cove on Portland Island, part of GINP, I drove the boat with confidence and set the anchor while John rowed to shore in our tender to tie a stern line.
We were told we looked like seasoned pros. Pleased with ourselves, we boasted that it was our first time stern-tying. It would be the only time we did so fluidly.
Never again did we stern-tie without tangled lines, a wet foot or a complete forgetfulness on my part to cleat off the end of a rope.
Never did we mention our many follies, unless there were witnesses.
But it wasn’t all about the sailing. We had come south to explore the islands and found ourfavourite to be the one with a sordid history.
Pirate’s Cove on De Courcy Island is known for the greedy cult leader Brother XII and his whip-wielding mistress, Madame Zee, who cheated their followers out of their life savings in the 1920s and ’30s.
But instead of whips and treasure chests we found an idyllic island to clamber over windswept headlands, hike through arbutus forests and sit in envy of the quaint little farm where chickens and sheep grazed beneath apple trees bursting with fruit.
For a short while I took advantage of the winding trails through fragrant cedars for evening runs.
During one such run at dusk on a narrow, rocky trail, a flying raccoon leapt out of a tree, snarling toward my face, and took off after me. He put a greater fear into my heart than any surprise meeting with Yukon grizzly or moose.
Two more islands and three angry raccoons later I would finally give up on evening runs and instead put up with running in the heat of the day while angry critters slept.
Evenings were better spent rowing around bays and coves in Seamouse.
We hiked mountains and lounged on beaches watching river otters morbidly pluck legs off crabs, one by one.
We speculated about the red wormy creatures the pigeon guillemots were diving for. We visited farmers’ markets bursting with fresh fruit, vegetables and goat cheeses.
We sailed alongside Pacific white-sided dolphins and curious harbour seals.
We whiled away the days peering into tidal pools, looking at the feathery tongues of barnacles and watching hermit crabs carrying their wee shell homes. We strolled white shell beaches and ran the trails alongside playful mink.
Pileated woodpeckers called from deep within the raincoast forest, while ospreys and great blue herons fished the shoreline.
We snacked on salt crackers and pickles in our small cockpit while on the radio Stan Rogers sang about the rise of the Mary Ellen Carter.
We don’t have a great big boat with Mylar sails (we had to learn early on how to repair rips in worn sails), or a power boat with a big engine (ours is a humble10hp diesel).
But a hatch above our bed offers the stars on a clear night. And in our wee rowboat we discovered the eerie beauty of phosphorescence.
Tracing each oar stroke, otherworldly green swirls appeared in the black water and in Seamouse’s wake, lights danced as vibrantly as the northern lights.
We arrived in Nanaimo dodging log booms, barges, floatplanes, kayaks and ferries to pick up a mooring buoy at Newcastle Island Marine Park.
From here we would have to learn how to navigate the “Whiskey Golf” area, wait for settled weather and set off on the 20 nautical-mile crossing to the mainland. This would be our longest journey away from land yet.
A big feat for two rookie sailors six weeks out of the home port.