Sunday, July 06, 2008

Swinging From Limb to Limb

We're pinned down by a nasty south easterly here in Heriot Bay, Quadra Island. If you're trying to find it, look about halfway up Vancouver Island where everything pinches towards the mainland and the water squeezes up to the top through a series of very narrow passages. We're swinging around like a kite in a wind storm -- which is precisely what we are so that seems an appropriate image. The winds are steady 20 gusting occasionally to 25. A few minutes ago Dr C crowed when the anemometer registered 30.

My mother looks nervous. For a land lubber, the rigging of a sailboat in 30 knots is a high pitched nasty whistle straight out of a nightmare generated by watching Perfect Storm and Master and Commander back to back. However, we've not only heard considerably louder and worse, we've sailed through it recently. For Dr C, the girls and I, the happiness comes from watching our Bruce anchor hold Don Quixote fixed relative to everyone else. We picked a spot to hunker down where the leeward shore is roughly two nautical miles away. Jaime and Dr C figure that with that long a run even idiots like us can't hit something before cottoning to the fact that we're dragging. We positioned the boat behind a low rise as close to shore as we could anchor with enough rode out to pin us to the ground through sheer weight alone. With no fetch in front of us, the ride is smooth even if it is noisy. If Mom's nervous now, it would be nigh impossible to get her to sit through a few days of bobbing up and down in chop with round the clock anchor watch.

Other than swinging back and forth and trying not to get bored stupid, there's nothing to do but wait it out. Going out around Cape Mudge is out of the question until this breaks. The fetch at Mudge stretches all the way down to Port Townsend in an unbroken channel of nearly 300 miles. The waves crossing yesterday were a bitch and that was before the Wind Fates had spent 36 hours stirring them up. I have this image of an Olympian toddler standing a thousand feet tall astride Halibut Bank paddling wind and waves north with every fiber of his being, a look of concentrated temper and frustration on his face. Fortunately, his mother -- in the form of two weakening lows north of us -- should show up late this evening and usher him to bed. By morning, we anticipate conditions will improve enough to make our long awaited provisioning stop on the docks in Campbell River.

Everything up here is considerably more challenging than we thought. From what I'm hearing in comments and personal letters, it is probably more challenging that anything Don Quixote will face cruising Central America this winter. The tide routinely swings 15 to 18 feet. What you think is open, deep water suitable for travel or anchor can six hours later reveal itself as a unfriendly landscape strewn with house sized boulders and encrusted with oysters and mussels. This tidal swing presents unique efforts to practice high school trigonometry as you calculate whether the rise over run between your anchor and the boat will result in your stern ending up 10 feet higher than your bow at low tide. Stern ties are ubiquitous since by the time you get close enough to shore for the depth sounder to actually get a reading (ours converts everything greater than 500 feet to 1.9 feet which is a bit disconcerting), you are practically picking pine needles out of your teeth.

Books and charts don't even bother to discuss a passage if the currents run less than four knots as so many around here top eight at peak. Many come with Sailing Direction descriptions that turn the blood absolutely cold. The words "overfall" and "whirlpool" scare me spitless. Rocks abound everywhere -- charted and uncharted -- and bow watch as you pass through narrow spots and near shoals are absolutely mandatory. Services are few and far between, Internet connectivity even more rare, and except in the notable Desolation Sound areas, the water is really cold, thank you very much.

On the other hand, the scenario is stunning. High snow capped mountains, fresh water mountain lakes, and wildlife everywhere create a landscape that routinely takes the breath away. The stars are vivid and bright, the air clean, and on windless nights the anchorage is so quiet you can hear the blood move behind your eye balls. The girls are thriving, turning into little brown balls of organically fed goodness despite every effort on the part of their father to keep them slathered in sun screen. We're all growing leaner and stronger, smarter and calmer. My waistband is getting looser, Dr C's beard is getting longer, and our school morning routine is becoming a smooth transition from one state to another rather than an abrupt, unhappy context switch. My mother caught me reading non-fiction books to prepare me for my "job" as a cruiser; she caught my husband reading Harry Potter. This role reversal is so profound it rendered her momentarily mute. And while Jaime and I are not friendly, we are gradually learning how to live and work together. She even made me a hemp bracelet, her way of saying I’m not a total monster.

We are through the honeymoon period of cruising and well into the zone between vacation and lifestyle. While we no longer have the sensation that we are on an oddly extended holiday, we are not as yet fully adapted to cruising life. The planned stay in Seattle, for example, looms large in our collective conscious as a visit home rather than just one more provisioning stop on a series that stretches in time out to infinity.

In the next six weeks, we'll confront of the most difficult water we'll face during our entire first year as we run from Campbell River to Port McNeil and from there over the top and around Cape Scott. If we survive the wind, current, waves, weather, and each other, we will have earned our vacation in Mexico.

1 comment:

Behan said...

Not sure what bugs me more some days, my lack of regular internet access--- or YOURS! Keep the tweets coming. I hope we get plenty of catch-up after you're back, and before we go...might just be a matter of days we overlap. yikes! meanwhile, send Dr C our way when he's here if he needs a boat fix. Or just a rum drink. We're good for all of it. :-)