Sailing is like riding a bike: once learned you never forget. That said, my Figure 8 attempt, now a mere year and two months off, isn’t just any old bike ride. It’s more like a motocross stunt performed over and over again for months.
I need to keep my skills up.
To that end I agreed some time back to help a friend deliver his cruising sailboat, a fast and sturdy Westsail 39 named RAVEN, down the coast of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island. We’ll start in Port Hardy, on the island’s northeastern tip, transit up and over the top, through the treacherous slop of Nahwitti Bar, around notorious Cape Scott and on down into the rugged cruising grounds of windward, western Vancouver. Though all coastal sailing, all if it will be exposed to the Pacific swell and weather.
And we’ll start tonight. I’m writing this from Vancouver Airport’s South Terminal. Small and separated from the commercial hub by a ten minute bus ride, the terminal is situated on an estuary abuzz and serves the float planes and other propellored craft that ferry passengers to the unknown north.
The blue of fir trees all around. Snowy peaks to the east barely visible through the deck of cloud, but west the sky is clear. The soft wind is warm and humid. I am in a t-shirt. Most locals are in shorts, and their alabaster legs suggest the rarity of days like this, suggest I may not have, in fact, over packed.
It took till 1AM to clear the gear cluttering the living room these last days into one large duffle and one small pack, 30lbs in all and mostly clothing. My packing list included heavy foul weather gear, lighter waterproof jackets and pants, light, medium and heavy weight thermals, three pairs of wool-tech socks, heavy rubber boots with wool liners, rubber fisherman’s gloves and four pair of woolen inserts, a light and medium weight fleece hat, and one fleece “helmut” resembling the cold-weather hood worn by Shackleton in the Antarctic. Could be this is taking preparedness to an extreme. But I remember being cold in Alaskan waters in August.
And some of this is gear experimentation. The Shackleton hoody, for example, is a recent acquisition whose genius is that it not only covers the head and ears completely, but it also protects the neck. It might be a design well sooted for my high latitude year. The same goes for a GoLite down jacket whose treated feathers are said to be highly water resistant. Early tests in San Francisco Bay drizzle suggest this is the case, but real rain here is likely, providing a much better test.
The captain’s name is Kurt. We first met in Mexico in 2010 where he was cruising the Sea of Cortez on RAVEN, this when I was there on MURRE, and we have recently become reacquainted as I explored the Westsail 39 as a potential Figure 8 boat. The last two months have been all boat search with this boat being but one of about ten great candidates. But Kurt was quick to disqualify the W39. “Too many windows,” he said. “You’re going south. Think inverted. What the f*ck if one of those pops out. In fact, you wouldn’t catch me down there in anything but those fat, French aluminum tanks.” Such comments to one side, the W39 is a solid Robert Perry design, nimble, stiff, sure-of-foot, and I’m excited to see how she does out in the open.
The cruise is designed to last until July 4th and terminates in Victoria. During that time my communications will be much the same as those during my ocean passages on Murre, that is frequent but all text. There are few towns along western Vancouver and less internet. So, I’ll be using RAVEN’s SSB to send messages to this site.