Sailing terms irk me.
Wind’s abaft the beam? What’s wrong with “the wind’s from behind”?
Coming about, prepare to gybe, helm’s alee? How about, “The boom’s coming for your head. Duck!”
Simple. To the point.
I sat in Nanaimo reading sailing books with all their silly jargon while waiting for that perfect weather forecast to cross the Strait of Georgia to the Sunshine Coast. We also waited to pair good weather with a closed Whiskey Golf.
The military test area, Whiskey Golf, lies just offshore from Nanaimo. If they’re practising, testing missiles or whatever they do, it means long detours for sailors, or travelling on a day they’re closed.
A 65-year-old couple casually told us they travel through regardless and let military helicopters chase them out.
We chose to wait for a closed day. I guess we’re just sissies. We also didn’t care to risk becoming a friendly-fire incident.
With a 10-knot wind, we set sail for five hours in a southeast wind with hardly any need to change tack. We instead sat sipping coffee, watching one shore drift away while another approached.
Beautiful, poetic and kind of dull. A lot of fair weather sailing means just bobbing along, going with the flow, unless you’re one of those neurotic, always-tweaking-sails kind of sailor. We are not.
On the Sunshine Coast we were greeted with plenty of sun, oppressive heat and blackberries. Everywhere we walked, blackberries. Plump. Delicious.
Each night we fought deer and thorns for the juiciest patches. Before long our fingers were stained purple and our bellies ached from the gluttony we could not curb.
After fueling up on blackberries and strolling around Pender Harbour for several days, we continued on through Malaspina Strait, beating into a 15-knot wind which grew into a 25-knot, instead of falling to light as predicted.
Waves crashed over Oriana‘s bow as we struggled to reef the mainsail. Now I understood what sailors had warned about—”If you’re thinking about reefing, you should have done it already.”
“Sometimes,” I thought while clutching the lifelines, “sailing sounds much more romantic than it really is.” There’s either not enough wind or way too much.
But the anxiety and terror faded when we woke the next morning in Desolation Sound Marine Park under blue skies, with a song sparrow perched on the backstay, singing.
The 30-degree days in early September made our chilly Yukon summer memories fade. No more toques and long johns.
We spent early mornings hiking up mountains before the heat of the day suppressed motivation. In the afternoons we swam in lakes and bathed under waterfalls.
After dinner in the cockpit, we rowed Seamouse through coves under sunsets, watching jellyfish and sipping cheap wine-in-a-box.
I think What’s Up Yukon’s wine guy, Peter Turner, might cringe. But for us on a budget, hooch is hooch.
We hiked rugged mountains and found touches of civilized comfort. After an arduous hike up a mountain on West Redonda Island, the summit offeredsweeping ocean and forest views.
But also, perched on the edge of a cliff waiting for wearied bodies, was a weather-worn, storm-battered park bench.
That just never happens in the Yukon.
By late September the weather had begun to change and we found ourselves trapped in Pender Harbour, riding out gales and storms on the hook, waiting for a window of favourable winds to cross back to Nanaimo.
While waiting, we spent rainy afternoons in coffee shops chatting up locals (including a legendary Canadian artist) and browsing bookshops.
Our boat was to live in Nanaimo for the winter but after six days of storms we were getting nervous. How are we going to get across?
Eventually a 10-knot northwest wind falling to light wind by afternoon was forecast. The day after was another gale warning. This was our window—a small one, but a window nonetheless.
Though the winds were light, the seas still pitched from a tumultuous week. Oriana rolled in the rough waves, our cockpit edges dipping into the water. It was a rough sail as we again clutched lifelines and braced ourselves deep in the cockpit.
As I fought back the urge to crawl into a useless fetal position on the floor, I suddenly remembered a harbourmaster who told me he didn’t sail because “it’s 90 percent boredom and 10 percent sheer terror.”
How I agreed.
After we arrived in Nanaimo, the winds continued to howl. But for us, tied safely to a dock, there would be no more nervous anchoring or sailing. No more worrying over tricky passages or battling strong winds. We were firmly planted on land again.
We bought a boat. We fumbled. We laughed. We drank like true seafarers. We sailed—for four full months.
Though the Yukon wilderness will always call us home again, every now and again we have to step outside our familiar world, challenge ourselves and chase a dream.