Good things multiply on the way to the Last Frontier

Our chartered Nordic Tug named Osprey shares a dock with a burley Canadian tug named La Fille at Ford’s Cove on Hornby Island, British Columbia.

ONE OF MY NEW FRIENDS told me about a good way to work through difficult times: Every day, write down three good things that happened that day.

I tried it, and it has turned into my journal for our voyage to Alaska. Here are my entries for the first few days, featuring me and my three crewmates: Barbara Marrett and Bill Watson, from Friday Harbor, and Carol Hasse, from Port Townsend.

Saturday, May 28

  1. We departed on our great adventure to Alaska.
  2. We saw orcas! Just off Flattop Island as we motored from Bellingham to Sidney. Spouting and surfacing again and again. We throttled down, veered away, and oohed and ahhed.
  3. At the Sidney, B.C. customs dock, we met an extremely friendly and helpful crew of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police patrol boat. (On the side of the big, modern vessel was the silhouette logo of a Mountie on a horse.) They were the nicest federal agents you ever could meet. They gave us tips on where to find hot springs and great crabbing as we head up the British Columbia coast. O, Canada!

Early in the day, oil-pressure doubts delayed our Bellingham departure. The gauge was reading well below what the owner’s cheat sheet recommended (55 rather than 70-90), but after we took our worries to the charter office, Matt the mechanic came and gave his OK. We were misinterpreting the gauge reading as kilograms instead of PSI – pounds per square inch. Oh, well. Better cautious than stranded dead in the water.

We motored through nice, pancake-flat seas most of the way to Sidney. Caught a counter-current along the shore of Speiden Island, which sported a gorgeous, seasonally transitional mix of green and brown hillsides, sculpted like a shapely gelatin mold. Stately oaks punctuated hillsides grazed by Japanese deer, which previous owners of the island had imported long ago as part of a misguided exotic-game hunting scheme, briefly renaming the isle “Safari Island.”

Osprey skirts the shore of Speiden Island.

Carol donned her knitted maple-leaf tuque hat (complete with dorky chin straps and a beany on top) to raise the Canadian courtesy flag as we crossed the international border on Haro Strait. We sang the two bars of Canada’s anthem that we knew. I vow to learn the words before the voyage’s end.

Crew member Carol Hasse, aka Sea Goddess, raises the Canadian courtesy flag as Osprey crosses Haro Strait.

Sunday, May 29

Three good things today:

  1. How helpful and kind my three friends were when I, taking a turn at the helm, totally botched the dock departure from Port Sidney marina. (I looked at the side-thruster toggles and couldn’t for the life of me figure out which one to use as I backed out. For those familiar with the holiday film “A Christmas Story,” I pulled a Total Ralphie. “Football? What’s a football?”)
  2. On the way to Nanaimo, we navigated and transited our first major marine challenge, Dodd Narrows. We perfectly timed it, got there an hour before slack water and didn’t get stuck behind the waiting tug with a long raft of logs. We smiled and waved at a small crowd of spectators sitting on the rocky shore watching boats maneuver the often-swirling waters. Apparently it’s entertainment when you live in Nanaimo.
  3. We snagged a buoy tucked into pretty Mark Bay at Newcastle Island Provincial Park, with a smashing view across the harbor of downtown (with its three high-rise – 25-story? – buildings, which I don’t remember from when I was last there about 20 years ago). After a happy hour on Osprey’s sun-drenched rooftop, we went for a walk in Hasse’s “favorite park in the world” to see the big old-fashioned dance hall and lovely views of anchored freighters. Then all four of us scrunched into the dink to buzz across to neighboring Protection Island, a few hundred yards away, for dinner at the Dinghy Dock Restaurant, accessible only by boat. (A giant bowl of clam chowder for me.)
Nanaimo at sunset, as seen from our delightful moorage at Newcastle Island.

Monday, May 30

Three good things today:

  1. After lots of angst, angst, angst about the day’s planned destination of Comox, for which we didn’t have proper charts, the anchorage sounded dodgy, and the departure involved transiting a very iffy bar, we bailed on that idea. As we passed the gorgeous lighthouse on Chrome Island, we spied little Ford’s Cove Marina on neighboring Hornby Island. Hasse and I asked ourselves, “Why not here instead?” It would add just 12 miles to our planned 30-mile day tomorrow, I discovered with a quick flick of dividers on the nautical chart. So we headed in and tied up in one of the homiest, funkiest little non-tourist marinas this side of Mexico. We were the only visiting boat among an earthy, friendly community of locals and liveaboards who were out sanding rails and leaning against pilings. They reminded me of the Scottish townspeople in the movie “Local Hero.” A great little store, well-stocked, stood a few feet from a building housing terrible, stinky pit toilets. “Sorry, we’ve no running water,” explained the charmingly accented young harbormaster as we paid our $50 Canadian for a night.
  2. While Barbara and Carol went for a walk to a waterfall and other scenic wonders, I hung with Bill and prepared dinner: salmon steaks marinated in soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sesame oil and turmeric, with grilled fresh asparagus and quinoa with olive-oil toasted almonds. On our rooftop, we dined in the sun and listened to eagle calls and the echoing kettle-drum thumping of a woodpecker on a dead tree high on a wooded hillside above us. In the distance: snow-frosted mountains on Vancouver Island. Sublime!
  3. We ended the day with a lively round of Barbara and Bill’s favorite board game, “Ticket to Ride.” I almost won, laying down a rail route from Seattle to Montreal, but Barbara edged me out. Bill and I agreed to get up early the next day and shove off while the women slept in, so we could catch the tides right for our passage of dreaded Cape Mudge (you have to say it with a droning voice of fear, which Barbara has mastered) on the way to Campbell River, our stop for the night. I sat on the rooftop and wrote in my journal as the sun sank behind the mountains and a refreshing chill settled over the cove. The morning would bring rain, dramatic mists, and more adventures.
One of the full-of-character project boats at Ford’s Cove.

8 thoughts on “Good things multiply on the way to the Last Frontier

  1. O Canada, land of the free, O Canada, we stand on guard for thee! Sung at many a Winterhawks hockey game in Portland with Andy! In my next life I want to come back as a Canadian Osprey!

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  2. Brian, Loving your writing, observations, and 3 positive things/day. My favorite store is in Campbell River, the House of Treasures. All First Nation products.

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  3. Boy do you travel in good company! Barbara is the reason our first sailboat was a Hallberg Rassy Monsun 31 (Mahina Tiare) and Carol taught my wife proper sailmaking skills. We are Jon and Merry Nofziger. We purchased a lot on Center Island last year. Can’t wait to meet you. Sounds like we have a lot in common 🙂 Looking forward to more of your updates. Jon

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  4. Ah, three gratefuls a day! Great practice. Wish I were heading back to my homeland via your cool boat. Keep us on board as you journey on.

    Hilary

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