…WITHOUT A VISIT TO HORSE DRAWN FARM on Lopez Island for pumpkins and gourds.
Gourd-geous, aren’t they?
…WITHOUT A VISIT TO HORSE DRAWN FARM on Lopez Island for pumpkins and gourds.
Gourd-geous, aren’t they?
I’M A WIDOWER, a word that through 99 percent of my life I never for a moment thought would someday apply to me. Any more than I imagined giving up journalism to become a Certified Public Accountant. Or developing a taste for lutefisk. Or voluntarily moving to Arkansas.
I was one of those lucky people who found the love of my life at a young age. She was also my best friend. In our optimistic youth, if Barbara and I ever talked about old age and death, we made a pact to blaze out together while making mad, passionate love until our wrinkled old bodies could take no more. The autopsy report would make interesting reading.
It didn’t work out that way, sorry to say. Damn, damn cancer.
I’ve kept it no secret that I’m no fan of solitude, but for better or worse I’m now the sole human occupant of Nuthatch Cabin, on a remote little island reached only by small boat or plane.
But I’m not here alone. I have a cat.
A dopey orange cat who has helped me weather loneliness and occasional depression over the past 18 months.
Galley Cat got that unusual name because she was a boat cat for most of her life. It was my lame play on “alley cat,” suggested as kind of a joke at the time. But it stuck. When Barbara and I visited a cat-rescue center in 2013, a few months after another well-loved kitty had taken up residence in the cat graveyard by the Nuthatch’s front path, my dear wife was lobbying for a sedate, older gray tabby. One that would be happy to snooze most of the day and come with no challenges.
But as a teenager I had grown up with a handsome orange cat that I adored. When the adoption-center aide showed us a beautiful little five-month-old tiger-striped ginger, still with kittenish ears too big for her head and an assertive, slightly pugnacious attitude despite her still-healing spay scar, Barbara’s hopes were dashed. She knew her husband couldn’t let that one go by.
Even at a very basic level, Galley is a rare animal. Because of a fluke of genetics, only one in five orange cats is female. Orange coloring in felines is carried by the X chromosome. Females possess two Xs and males possess an X and a Y. Male kittens need the orange gene only from their mothers to become a ginger, whereas females must inherit an orange X from both parents — making females much less likely to exhibit the trait.
Whether Barbara liked it or not, Galley had a particular fondness for her, obviously regarding her as a mother figure. When Galley’s cuddling and purring adoration went too far, Barbara would have to chuck her off her lap with protests of “Cat drool! I can’t stand cat drool!”
Galley Cat had a tough year just as I did when Barbara passed away in 2021, followed closely by the death of our older cat, Bosun, Galley’s buddy since the day we’d brought her home. That summer of 2021 was about the same time Galley started getting chased outside by wild foxes, which an idiot neighbor had trapped on a neighboring island and illegally released on Center Island because he apparently thought it would be fun to have more wildlife. (Even on the other island, these foxes are not native to the San Juans, but are an invasive species brought by humans.)
Can cats understand death? All Galley knew was that two of the beings she loved most had left her. And suddenly the woods she loved to roam weren’t safe anymore. More than once she’s had to bolt up a tree to escape a predatory fox. She became skittish and easily frightened. She would hiss at people she didn’t know. They thought she was a mean cat. She’s not mean, she’s just had her world shaken. I can sympathize.
She and I bonded in our solitude. After so many years of living on the boat, at age 10 she loves being outside, and I can’t deprive her of that, so I’m trusting that she’s learned how to escape foxes. I find joy — an emotion in short supply lately — when she gallops up the path to the top of the rocky knoll behind the cabin, sometimes continuing six feet up a maple tree before looking back to be sure I was watching. I cheer her on every time.
She has been good company in my months of adjusting to life without Barbara. Galley sleeps on my knees most nights, and sometimes noses her way under the blankets. Occasionally she’ll want to lick my face in the night. Kitty kisses are no substitute for Barbara’s, but they make me grin awkwardly until her rough tongue starts to take skin off and I have to push her away. Sometimes I get drooled on. (Like Barbara, I’m not wild about that.)
Having a pet limits my travels since I don’t have a regular cat-sitter. I hate to take her to a boarding kennel, and she’s made it clear that she, too, hates that experience. Sometimes she accompanies me when generous family members and friends don’t mind hosting both of us. I put that to a real test recently when Galley and I went on a road trip to visit a friend in Walla Walla, a long day’s drive over the Cascades and across the state. I provided her bowls of food and water on the floor in the Honda’s back seat, along with a small litter box should she need it. As long as I let her wander freely inside the car, snoozing when she chose, she didn’t seem to overly mind the long ride. At times, she would stand on the passenger seat with her rear paws on the seat and her front paws on the dashboard, looking ahead with interest. I don’t think she’d ever seen mountains before. Once again, she proved a good sidekick.
It’s hard to quantify the value of a friend, whether human or animal. All I can say is that, in the toughest time of my life, a dopey orange cat has helped get me through.
WELL, MAYBE ONE BEER, ANYWAY.
Oddly enough, it’s something to celebrate on Center Island. Our deer are returning.
Loyal readers might recall that when I first made this rock my full-time home four years ago, I used to temper the monotony of my morning bike laps by counting how many deer I passed. Admittedly, since I rode a circular course, some were repeats, but my record for three laps of the airfield — about a 20-minute ride — was in the range of 45 deer.
The down side to that was that you couldn’t plant a new tree or shrub on Center Island without fencing it. And if you love swordferns like I do, you better get used to them being munched down to the hilt. Those guys can be voracious. Nonetheless, there was something peaceful and comforting about seeing the Center Island herd grazing the grass airfield on a misty morning. It was part of our bucolic island scene.
Alas, 2021 brought more than COVID, it brought a mysterious virus that killed most of the deer in the San Juan Islands. It’s been months since I’ve spotted Bucky or Bambi on my morning ride.
This morning, as I trundled downstairs to make coffee, the first thing I spied out front of The Nuthatch was a handsome buck, antlers proud and pointy, bedded down in the tall grass beyond the salal patch.
He spent the morning. In fact, as I was lounging outside on the deck with my second cup around 11, taking a break from rebuilding the cabin’s back balcony, I was starting to worry about the guy. Was he hurt? Was he, shudder, sick?
Just about then, a rustle sounded from deep in the salal, and out came a little doe. Wow, here come the deer, I reveled. And I bet a girlfriend will get his corpuscles puscle-ing.
But before he could rise and introduce himself, more rustles split the morning’s peace. And out of the shrubs came another buck, with antlers even pointier. I didn’t just have one deer in my yard, I had a whole new herd!
Just as things were looking up for the hoof-and-hatrack population, a fearsome thought sprouted in my bean: Would a battle over the doe ensue? Would this happy population explosion blow up in my face with a fight to the finish between these two young studs?
Everybody just munched on my salal and hung out for a while. It was all chill.
Bucky, Bambi, welcome back. Just, please, leave the swordferns alone.
THE MESSAGE CAME IN A WHISPER. A whisper of breeze. “Autumn,” it sighed. “Autumn.”
I was enjoying a cloudless Tuesday morning, lounging in my Adirondack chair on the Nuthatch’s deck, from which I looked through mossy trees to the quiet waters of Lopez Sound. A warm September day. Not a breath of air moving. What was moving were a few midges that I swatted at between sips of my day’s second cuppa and my few daily minutes with a New York Times Sunday crossword.
That’s when the branches suddenly rustled, high in my biggest fir. A soft breath of wind came with the rustle. A cool breath, spiced with the scent of the woods.
“Ahhh,” I sighed back. “It’s here.”
For days, we islanders have known fall was coming. The berries and currants have swollen like pregnant bellies and ripened with a purple from the deepest sea. Flower baskets on decks have splashed color about like an artist who knows an international oil paint shortage is right around the corner. Endless weeks of sunshine have driven me and my splitting ax to the woodpile day after day, inspired perhaps by the same instinct that causes woolly bear caterpillars to grow blacker and fuzzier.
Officially, the autumn equinox is at 8:03 p.m. PDT this Thursday. The equinox is when the sun shines directly on the equator, and the northern and southern hemispheres get the same amount of rays.
That’s the official time, and the scientific explanation. But I know a new season arrived on Center Island this morning around 10:30 when a cooling breeze gave me goosebumps and a few windblown fir needles pattered quietly down on my deck railing.
Welcome, I whispered back. Welcome.
CAN A MAN HAVE TOO MANY BOATS?
Naw. What kind of a question is that?
I’m enjoying a lazy day back on my island after six days away, four of which were spent in hard physical labor at Seattle’s Canal Boatyard during the necessary every-three-years haulout of my beloved old Westsail 32 sailboat, Sogni d’Oro.
Daughter Lillian and I sanded and repainted (two generous coats) the boat’s ample, full-keeled bottom, among other tasks. A modified-epoxy, copper-infused antifouling paint is key to keeping barnacles and long streamers of kelp from taking up residence on the hull of Sogni d’Oro, whose name is the Italian version of “sweet dreams.”
The Cantwells haven’t a drop of Italian blood, as far as I know. But my late wife Barbara and I had enjoyed memorable travels in Italy in 1989, the year we made the boat ours. (“Bought” isn’t the right word.) At the time, we were smitten with all things Italian. These things happen.
If nothing else, the exotic name is a good dockside conversation starter with folks who ask “what’s that mean?” and “how the heck do you say it?” (“SO-nyee DOH-ro”). My daughter and I still say it to each other when we bid each other good night.
The boat means much to me and Lillian. My family lived aboard the sailboat for the better part of 25 years. When Lil was born in 1991, Barbara and I brought our little girl home from the hospital to a marina on the Columbia River in Portland, where we lived at the time. In the mid-’90s, we took a great sailing adventure to Mexico’s Baja Peninsula and the Sea of Cortez. The full-keel boat was meant for ocean cruising, and given the right wind and sail handling, she charged through waves like a sea-going locomotive. On one memorable passage, hundreds of leaping dolphins surrounded us as we plunged through the seas.
Once settled in Seattle, for 20 years we threw off the mooring lines and spent two weeks every summer exploring every cove and cranny of the San Juan Islands. It’s how Barbara and I fell in love with these islands and ended up retiring here.
When her mum and I moved to Center Island in 2018, now-adult Lillian moved back aboard Sogni d’Oro at Seattle’s Shilshole Bay Marina. She and her cat, Tiberius, are the boat’s liveaboard stewards now — with a healthy bit of elbow grease and wallet-loosening from Papa come haulout time.
In recent years, the boat has mostly been “dock sailed,” as sailors snickeringly describe it when a vessel doesn’t leave the marina. It’s a matter of some regret for us. But sometimes rocks poke up in your life’s plotted course.
For me, these four days in the boatyard were like an intimate reunion with a salty old friend. In our head-to-toe Tyvek painting suits (which on a warm day feel a lot like wearing a portable sauna), Lil and I scraped barnacles from the prop and restored the bronze shine. We applied $500 worth of paint. We hand-cleaned and polished the fiberglass topsides and the gleaming green stripe beneath the teak cap-rail. Lillian sanded and refinished 32-feet of rub rail. Everything below the waterline got inspected, cleaned and restored.
Someone asked if this might be my last haulout. It’s a lot of work. I’ve always insisted on doing it myself, and ain’t nobody getting any younger. I love my good old boat, but, I admit, Lil and I discussed whether it might soon be time to find someone new to love her.
For now, I’m still basking in the glow-slash-exhaustion from all that we did to spiff her up.
I do still have a lovingly restored 1957 runabout, a 10-foot plywood sailing dinghy, an 8-foot inflatable Zodiac with outboard, and a two-person inflatable kayak. I still have boats to “mess about in,” as Kenneth Grahame memorably put it.
Too soon to say. In the end, I might just find someone new to love my island cabin, and move back aboard Sogni d’Oro. Lots of sweet dreams happened there.
WHAT ARE THINGS COMING TO on this island that nobody’s heard of?
From the time that hopeful real-estate magnates subdivided this 172-acre rock into half-acre lots in about 1960, until just a few years ago, nobody felt the need for street signs.
On the island map, Nuthatch Cabin’s gravel cowpath was called Chinook Way. Another was Makah Street, another Haidah Street, and one was Wishkah Lane, which pretty much sums up the Greater Center Island traffic grid. People knew what road their cabin was on. Nobody needed to mark the roads with signs.
Most folks marked their property with the lot number from the original plat, because when you invited some new fellow you met on the dock to drop by for a beer, he needed some way to find you.
Then, a few years ago, bureaucracy arrived on our remote isle. The county made us post street signs.
OK, fine. Some island do-gooder got out his jigsaw, cut the letters from wood and cobbled together some pretty innocuous signage.
Now, Friday Harbor’s latest thing is a push for each of us to post a county-assigned house number — not the lot number — in front of our cabins. Sheesh.
They say it’s important so that emergency services can find us.
A minor point to make: We live on a little island with no fire department. No fire engine or medic unit is ever coming here, unless maybe the whole island is aflame. And by the time anybody gets a fire truck here on a barge, the place will just be a smoking ember among the Read’s Bay eelgrass.
As for law enforcement? I think a sheriff’s deputy has been on the island twice in the nearly 20 years since Barbara and I bought here. When it does happen, half the people on the island know in advance. They are at the dock to meet the sheriff’s boat, wave their arms and point the way to the trouble.
So far, posting your street number isn’t mandatory. Nonetheless, at the foot of my front path yesterday I planted a shiny new 7-inch by 10-inch reflective metal sign, delivered by Amazon and the U.S. Postal Service to the mail shack at the end of Center Island International Airport (aka our grass airfield).
Call it caving to peer pressure, maybe. Or thinking about the seconds that might be saved if I have a major stroke and use my Airlift Northwest insurance to call for a helicopter evac.
Or just call it being a good citizen. There are still some of us out here.
It doesn’t mean we can’t grumble.
IT’S LIKE PAINTING THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE, maintaining my little piece of the rock. I start a project at one end, and by the time I’ve made it to the far side, it’s time to start over again.
After my 10-week voyage to Alaska and back, there’s plenty of deferred maintenance at the Nuthatch, the cabin whose name honors Center Island’s most common bird, with its endearing bandit-masked face and its call like a tin horn that a 19th-century child might have found in a Christmas sock. Of course, you also have to be a bit nuts to live here. No shops, no garbage trucks, no Starbucks.
The helpful meteorologist has given me day after day of pleasant sunshine the past two weeks, during which I’ve gotten back to rebuilding my slowly crumbling 25-year-old wooden deck. Unfortunately, Mother Nature has contributed a bumper crop of mosquitoes and no-see-ums, so I’ve started every day by liberally spraying my T-shirt with bug repellent. Supplementing that: the fun new handheld bug zapper, like a battery-powered handball racquet, sent me by a friend. It emits a satisfying crackle and spark every time a little blood sucker meets its maker.
Understand, the deck rebuild isn’t a quick project. It’s in about Year Four, and it happens plank by plank. Being nuts enough to live where I do, acquiring fresh lumber generally involves a boat trip to Skagit County. Once off the boat, I trek over to the long-term parking lot across from the dock and revive my 11-year-old Civic for a trip to Home Depot or Lowe’s.
It might make more sense to have a pickup truck for this purpose, but my noble pickup, Ranger Rick, lives at the public dock on Lopez Island, waiting for my next trip to the dump. The bought-and-paid-for Civic is my mainland car. One is not made of money; one makes do.
So the speed with which the deck is rebuilt depends not only on my leisurely attitude toward home repairs, but on how many eight-foot planks can fit inside a Honda Civic four-door sedan.
Now, there is actually a bit of fun involved here. See, the rear seat of the Civic folds down so that there is clear space down the center of the car from the trunk through to the dashboard. When I wheel out into the parking lot with my cart laden with half a dozen 8-foot-long boards, pop open my car’s small trunk and stuff in the planks, one by one, I can’t help but feel like a conjurer. Penn, minus Teller. Siegfried, if not Roy. I’m sure I’ve mystified many a fellow hardware shopper.
I’ve also brought deck boards back from the lumber yard on Lopez Island on occasion, using my 20-foot runabout, WeLike. The conjuring trick is pretty much the same.
This week I’ve replaced six rotting boards. That might not sound like much but progress is evident. The old wood is generally soft enough that when I pry up the boards, the nails securing them to the frame below stay in place as the board pulls away. I then yank the old three-inch nails from the framework, which is generally in good shape. Yanking out nails that long is often a matter of throwing all my 166 pounds into leveraging the hammer claw. Sometimes it’s been a near thing that I haven’t catapulted off the side of the deck when a nail finally gave way.
There is sawing to make pieces fit. Sealing the old nail holes. Two coats of stain to delay the march of time and onslaught of weather. A spray of copper-infused preservative for the raw wood ends. It all takes time.
But the deck hasn’t fallen down yet. And it looks better after every little trip to the lumber yard.
BACK TO THE REEF, and the rock also known as Center Island.
I needed a writing hiatus for a few weeks after returning from the Alaska adventure. It’s been a period of readjustment to the landlubberly life, and to daily existence shared primarily with Galley Cat, with whom I’ve enjoyed a joyful reunion with many shared runs up and down our rocky knoll.
It took a week or so until I was waking in the morning without the inclination to jump out of my bunk, get coffee water heating on the Force 10 stove and climb down in the hold to complete the morning engine checks so we could weigh anchor.
My past three weeks of land-based confinement has hardly been solitary, though. After a couple of days reuniting with my brother Tom, who was my cabin watcher/cat sitter for 10 weeks, I was invited to lunch on Lopez Island with old friend and Seattle Times colleague Lynn Thompson and her family.
Shortly afterward, The Mad Birder and his wife, Carol, invited me next door with three other neighbors to share a bounty of Dungeness crab, freshly hauled from Lopez Sound. That led to another party two days later after neighbor Steve, a restaurant chef from Nevada, took the crab shells back to his holiday cabin to create a stock from which he whipped up a splendid vat of paella, colorfully aswim with fresh San Juan Channel shrimp, Read’s Bay crab and Center Island Farm vegetables. I was among the dozen or so neighbors who got to partake of that locavore lovefest on a sunset-view deck thanks to Steve and his wife, Dawn, the organizing force behind their family-owned eatery.
As cabin-owners come and go on our rock, you never know who will be your next neighbor. Right now, we’re enjoying an amiable mix of compatible friends along our dead-end spur of Chinook Way, the grandiose name of the gravel cow-path winding through our thickets of salal and Nootka rose. Three of us are sailboat owners (four, when you count the neighboring farm). Among others is a family with three energetic boys, ages 5, 7 and 9, who added an element of fun to the block party. The kids’ mom told me they are fans of a YouTube channel called “Outdoor Boys,” and the youngest had recently learned of the edibility of seaweed. So as we prepared to sit down to paella on Steve and Dawn’s deck, this adventurous 5-year-old, expertly wielding a pair of chopsticks, doggedly ate his way through a bowl of some sort of kelp. I like that spirit.
Over good food and drink, we all pondered our island existence. Because our cabins face west overlooking Lopez Sound, with the frequent reward of a sinking sun setting the saltwater sparkling brighter than a Tiffany’s display case, we decided our neighborhood’s new nickname should be “Sunset Strip.” There was serious talk of carving a sign.
A couple days later longtime friends Ken and Kate from Portland joined me for three nights at the Nuthatch, giving me a chance to barbecue, one of the things that makes life worth living (in case you didn’t know). Hickory-smoked vegan burgers with Lebanese spice one night. The next: thick-cut pork chops with a crust of fresh island rosemary, minced garlic and romano cheese, grilled with apple-wood smoke.
All that camaraderie and good food was lovely. But stress and emotion wasn’t absent from my return to the island. On my calendar, these days led up to last Sunday, August 21, when we committed my dear Barbara’s cremated remains to the Salish Sea. It wasn’t an easy day to plan for.
Sucia Island, a 90-minute boat ride to the north, was the location. For some 20 years, my family and I would spend a couple weeks of every August poking around the San Juans in our cozy old Westsail 32 sailboat, Sogni d’Oro. On those sojourns, Sucia Island State Park, near the Canadian border, became perhaps our favorite place in the world. In our wills, Barbara and I both requested that our remains be cast on waters around Sucia.
For a day trip with a dozen family members and friends, I chartered the Paraclete, the water taxi that I routinely use for passage to and from Anacortes. It was a day of good karma; just before arriving at Sucia, we encountered a pod of orca. For my sister-in-law Jane, who spent much of her childhood around the San Juans, this was the first time she finally saw an orca in the wild.
The Sucia visit included a one-mile hike to a new memorial bench honoring Barbara. The bench installation took more than a year to bring to fruition. The effort’s success can largely be credited to the persistent persuasive powers of my friend Daniel Farber, a retired official with Washington State Parks, along with dozens of friends and family who donated to a GoFundMe campaign. The bench’s bronze plaque reads: “For Barbara, who loved this island, from Brian, who always sat beside her.” I’m sorry it doesn’t acknowledge the many others who played a role in the bench’s creation. Barbara and I chose the wording some time ago, paraphrasing a line from a favorite old movie, to be adapted for whomever went first.
Barbara loved to picnic, so we all brought sack lunches and sat on the bench or on the rocky hillside sloping down to the water. Barbara’s sister Julie made a couple loaves worth of sandwiches; ham-and-pickle and chicken salad, according to family tradition. Her brother Mark brought a toothsome potato salad. For the first time in my life, I made deviled eggs, another family favorite.
After lunch, we reboarded the boat and motored a short ways offshore while snacking on chocolate-coated cream puffs, one of Barbara’s favorite desserts, baked by daughter Lillian. We toasted the memory of a dear wife, mother and sister as we scattered her ashes into the sea along with armloads of summer flowers, many provided by our friend Monique from Center Island Farm.
It was a bittersweet but wonderful day. A regrettable follow-up: At least three people who made the trip came down with COVID within days. Sigh. Their symptoms are mild, thanks to vaccinations. I’m feeling fine, so far. One way or another, it seems likely that we’ll all catch this stupid bug eventually.
The Mad Birder summed up the day.
“Regardless of the consequences, Sunday was beautiful, and … the bench is soooooo perfect.”
Lillian and I have resolved to revisit that bench every summer. Barbara will be sitting beside us in spirit, I’m certain.
A LOT CAN HAPPEN in a week at sea, including the final miles of a long and memorable voyage to Alaska aboard a chartered 37-foot Nordic Tug. Here’s a recap.
To paraphrase a classic cruiser’s mantra: Another beautiful (hot) day in paradise. Melanie Cove, in Desolation Sound, to Lund, B.C., via the Bliss Estates dock, where we dropped Catherine Collins to catch a seaplane back to Seattle.
Three good things this day:
(1) First thing, I took a thermos jug of my Midnight Eclipse coffee over to Carol H. and friends next door on Glorybe. It was lovely to get Hasse’s coffee-jones smile of appreciation again! She reciprocated with a generous gift of dark roast for me to take home. Had a tour of Glorybe’s compact cabin. At 36 feet, she’s a foot shorter than Osprey, but 4 fewer feet in beam (nine vs. 13). The narrower width makes a massive difference in interior space. But I loved the clever design that maximizes what’s there. At the pilothouse and navigation table, I (at 6 feet 2 inches tall) could stand without hitting my head. I loved how, when you step down a couple steps toward the bow, the nav table becomes the ceiling for an efficient, pocket-size galley. Across the cabin, the head is like a little phone booth, innovatively equipped with a composting toilet. Forward were single bunks on each side and a v-berth. The roomy stern cockpit has a hardtop cover that makes it a living space fit for rainy days or sunshine. A nifty old boat!
(2) I got to know Catherine a bit more during the 45-minute trip to her seaplane dock. From Osprey’s rooftop we spotted a school of Dall’s porpoises, a delight for her. She works in her organization’s office, working on grant applications and applying policies and such for the Adventuress, and doesn’t get out on the water as much as she’d like. I’m glad we met, and that she got a taste of small-vessel cruising.
(3) At the Lund, B.C., marina, I grilled Beyond Meat burgers for dinner. Always a treat. Also made coleslaw from my own new made-up recipe: 2 cups cabbage (mix of green and purple), sliced and diced; ½ cup of mayonnaise, or to taste; 2 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar; 1 tablespoon lemon juice; 1 tablespoon maple syrup; ½ cup chopped walnuts. Add ½ cup diced apple if you have it. Pretty tasty.
From Lund, B.C. to Skerry Bay, Lasqueti Island
(1) Easy, blessedly breezy (for cooling us off) passage after another beastly hot day.
(2) Barbara M. successfully contacted old friends, brothers Bruce and Gordon Jones, and Gordon’s wife, Kat, who live on remote Skerry Bay on Lasqueti Island. Barbara last saw them in 2007 when she and her family enjoyed a retreat at some off-the-grid cabins on nearby Rabbit Island. When Barbara reached the Joneses by phone, Kat immediately invited us to tie up at their dock, adjacent to their aquaculture pens, and come for dinner. Barbara M. offered to bring a pasta salad with smoked scallops, a raspberry-jam crumble, and wine. Good karma strikes again: As in Meyers Chuck, Alaska, long unseen friends were home and generously receptive to guests dropping in on short notice!
(3) A delightful dinner on Gordon and Kat’s deck above Sabine Channel and looking across to Texada Island’s thickly forested, 2,900-foot Mount Shepherd. This entire section of Texada is park land, they tell us. We dined on tasty Honey Mussels, nearly as big as razor clams, a hybrid they developed through their longtime business, Innovative Aquaculture, which previously grew shellfish but now focuses on producing a single-celled green algae, Nannochloropsis oculate, which they sell as food for larval finfish and shellfish. It is also used in cosmetics and “nutriceutical” drinks.
By evening’s end, Kat, a saucy complement to her quiet and seemingly staid husband, Gordon, declared us all to be “Jonesworthy,” a title apparently bestowed on visitors who show up at their dock with good food, wine and (this was key to her) “good stories to share.” I liked her, and her friend C.J., visiting from Calgary where she has an auto-repair shop. (When they all toured Osprey, C.J. was the one who climbed down in the engine room to gawk at the big diesel.)
Bruce was a sometimes elaborate storyteller; his family wryly (but lovingly) referred to the circumstance of being “caught in a Bruce wind.” He told us Lasqueti’s name came from Spanish explorers under the command of Captain Quadra, a chum of Captain George Vancouver.
He also told of an occasion when some high-powered celebrities accompanied by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police boat dropped anchor in the Joneses’ outer cove in summer 2000. One of the Jones household spotted a formidable white-haired woman hanging over the prow of a skiff and declared, “Either that was my aunt or it was Barbara Bush!” Yep. The visitors included the late President George H.W. Bush and the former first lady, along with former British prime minister John Major and his wife. Among notable goings-on was when Mrs. Major went for a jet-ski ride with her arms wrapped around the former prez.
We signed the Joneses’ guest book and discovered that, even in their remote location, visitors had been at their dining table every day of the past week: old friends, people they had rescued as Coast Guard Auxiliary members, and so on. Quite the social whirl in a British Columbian backwater!
Lasqueti Island to a small not-to-be-named island in the northern Gulf Islands.
Three good things:
(1) The Jones delegation came down to the dock for a morning tour of Osprey and a friendly send-off. Kat and C.J. posed as celebrity spokesmodels on our bow. At Barbara M.’s suggestion, we made gifts to Gordon and Bruce of our Port Hardy Coast Guard Station caps, which seemed appropriate considering the brothers’ service in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, helping to rescue boaters in trouble. In fact, they told us of a rescue late the previous night when they responded to a call from a stranded boat that had broken a cooling-system belt just after a young teen aboard had caught his leg on a sharp metal edge of a boat step and cut it to the bone. The Joneses took the boat in tow to a dock on a nearby island for which they are caretakers, where they planned to meet a Coast Guard vessel that was responding to the mayday call. But the small dock – posted as private – was taken up by two visiting boats and their partying, drunken occupants, who refused to move even when told there was a medical emergency. One of the women in the party assured Gordon that she’d see he was fired (from his volunteer job) for being rude and, well, demanding.
The Coast Guard vessel managed to get the boy aboard and transport him to a medical facility, but no thanks to some drunken idiot boaters. Sigh.
(2) Successfully navigated, again, Dodd Narrows, a tricky passage we well remembered as our first major challenge on our northward journey. It looked even narrower than I remembered.
(3) On another good-karma whim, we met up with a couple of long-ago acquaintances of Barbara Marrett’s. At her ex-husband’s suggestion, we stopped in the northern Gulf Islands at a small island owned by the retired founder and CEO of an American marine-supply company. I know the firm well and briefly worked for it years ago, but for privacy concerns I won’t name the businessman or his island.
I had never met the man, who is something of a legend in the boating world. Barbara M. hadn’t seen him or his wife for years, but they once ran in the same circles when Barbara and her ex had a business offering sail-training voyages. We thought it might be fun to invite the couple aboard for a drink. We weren’t certain where to find them on their island, but as we circled it Barbara M. spied a dock with a boat that bore the wife’s name. Aha.
After Barbara M. walked up the dock and spoke into a camera mounted next to a “Private Island, No Trespassing” sign, we waited. There was no sign of a house nearby, just a narrow dirt road leading into woods. About 20 minutes later, the couple came down the dock ramp, recognized Barbara M. and immediately invited us to go for a sail with them in their gaff-rigged daysailer.
As we circumnavigated his island in pleasant breezes on a sunny Monday afternoon I told our host about the 18-foot wooden Jollyboat-class sailboat my father had built that we sailed on Guntersville Lake in Alabama when I was a kid. He talked about learning to sail in small boats. To shade himself from the sun, he wore a giant, broad-brimmed straw hat that he said he’d gotten in Texas. In it, he looked a lot like my brother Doug, for whom I bought a similar hat when we visited him in New Mexico a few years ago.
After the sail, we all walked across the island through madronas and firs, including a few old-growth trees scarred by long-ago fires, to their comfortable small home on a southerly point. Walls of windows offered views of both the sunrise and sunset. The gentleman of the house proved that he could serve a good gin and tonic, which endeared him to me. After nibbling more than one platter of their smoked salmon and cheese, with me talking about my favorite places in Ireland, which they are about to visit, and him sharing stories about his youth working a dude ranch in Wyoming, we parted. I told him I liked working for him way back when, that I thought he ran a good company, and that I was even a stockholder once. He modestly said he hoped I hadn’t lost much money. As we parted, he gave a gentle wave and told me he was glad we had connected. I felt the same way.
Northern Gulf Islands to the San Juans
Three good things:
(1) At 11:40 a.m., after several electronic prompts from the VHF radio, Bill switched it from Canadian mode to U.S.A. mode. “And I can see Stuart Island!” he announced. “Yay!” Barbara M. crowed. At 12:08 we crossed the border in the middle of Boundary Pass. Barbara M. went up to the top deck to lower the Canadian courtesy flag. Bill soon got a phone call from U.S. Customs, responding to his online filing notifying them of our return. After he answered a few quick questions we were cleared for entry. No need to go to a customs dock anymore.
(2) With no required in-person customs inspection, we soon realized we didn’t need to go into Roche Harbor, with all its pretentious superyachts and smelly cigar smokers. So we made a quick U-turn and headed for one of my favorite places: Prevost Harbor on Stuart Island. We found half a dozen open mooring buoys at the marine state park there – unheard of in early August. (Our good karma didn’t fail us.) And Osprey carries a season-pass sticker on the stern, so we didn’t even have to pay the park’s mooring fee. Sweet.
(3) We enjoyed a serene and scenic first night “home,” back in the San Juans we love. The biggest crowds have apparently gone to Desolation Sound!
Stuart Island to Sucia Island
(1) Knowing that crewmate Bill had felt deprived of an anticipated prime-rib fix at the Roche Harbor restaurant, I schemed a consolation prize and convinced my shipmates to make a brief stop at Roche while I went ashore and bought some of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten: three 10-ounce ribeyes, plus a bottle of nice Sauvignon Blanc, which we would savor on our final night out, at lovely Sucia Island.
(2) Nabbed a state-park buoy in Sucia’s scenic Echo Bay, from which we enjoyed a full-frontal view of still-snowy Mount Baker.
(3) I hiked out to see, for my first time, the park bench funded by friends and family and erected in memory of my dear wife, Barbara. A state-parks crew and my friend Daniel Farber installed the bench two weeks ago on a knoll of sea grass and salal overlooking Sucia’s western shore. I couldn’t be happier with the bench and its site.
I sat there for a half hour communing with Barbara in spirit. The sun cast myriad sparkles on the Salish Sea below me. A soft breeze cooled me after the 30-minute hike from Echo Bay. The bench is a beautiful, highly functional thing, built for the ages. Cedar-hued planks soaked up the August sun. At the base a tremendous slab of concrete will anchor it in the fiercest winter storms. It provided good back support and was long enough that I could nap on it if I chose. Around it were gnarled firs and cliffs of Sucia sandstone pocked and twisted by the forces of the Earth.
Kayakers paddled along the shore below me. We exchanged waves. Three small sailboats full of young people motored into adjacent Shallow Bay. Waves sloshed noisily on a big algae-upholstered rock below that reminded me of a humpback whale just lazily breaking the water’s surface. Miles out, white sails caught the wind. Straight across Boundary Pass was Canada’s hilly Saturna Island. To the left, the stretched, python-like profile of the San Juans’ Waldron. To the right, woodsy Patos Island, and to the far left, the backside of Turtleback Mountain on Orcas Island.
A small Zodiac motored around from nearby Fox Cove and into Shallow Bay, and again I exchanged waves. This is a bench to wave from.
I snacked on nuts, gulped some water from my water bottle and used the rest to clean the bench of a few bird droppings. (It’s a place of rest for all.)
Barbara would have loved this bench. We did good by her.
A whirlwind day. Sucia Island to Osprey’s home port: Squalicum Harbor, Bellingham
Three final good things:
(1) Found good currents skirting the northeast side of Orcas Island and made good time around the south side of Lummi Island and into Bellingham Bay. No difficult winds, as had been forecast. A few episodes of 18 knots on the nose, but nothing to faze us seasoned seagoers.
(2) Arrived at the Bellingham dock at 2 p.m., with no waiting at the fuel dock. Final refueling: $1,200, for fuel used from Ketchikan to Bellingham. Total fuel bill for the voyage: $3,700. We motored 353 hours, traveling about 2,000 miles in 10 weeks.
(3) Had a nice reunion with my brother Tom, who had come to take me home after staying overnight with us aboard Osprey at her San Juan Sailing and Yachting dock.
After a pub dinner in town, Barbara M., Bill and I embarked on a near complete packing of all our belongings in preparation for relinquishing the boat by noon the following day. It was an exhausting exercise, well into the evening. The voyage was truly over.
Whales, bears, eagles, totems, snowy peaks, gushing waterfalls, leaping salmon, steaming hot springs, new friends, happy reunions — all branded in our memory. Thank you, Osprey, for the epic journey.
OUR VOYAGE WINDS DOWN, but delight still happens. A day of worthwhile errands and shopping in Port McNeill on July 24, then southward as the “g” word — gale — keeps cropping up in daily forecasts from Environment Canada. Spoiler alert, the good kind: The big winds never caught up with us.
Port McNeill to Telegraph Cove, B.C.
We chose to motor 90 minutes southward to get a good attack first thing Tuesday morning on Johnstone Strait, where winds were supposed to kick up by afternoon. And Johnstone Strait is one of those places where you can easily get the living cooties kicked out of you if winds and currents oppose each other.
Three good things:
(1) Nabbed a great spot in Northern Vancouver Island’s cozy and scenic Telegraph Cove, right at the entrance to the tiny marina, in the middle of the hustle and bustle at the height of the summer tourist season in this historical little boardwalk resort. At the General Store, bought a bottle of pinot grigio made from grapes grown in British Columbia’s famed Okanagan Valley and bottled by Wayne Gretzky Estates. If nothing else, the legendary Canadian hockey player has enough money to hire a good winemaker, right?
(2) Went for a hike to a pretty beach on nearby Bauza Cove. A campground manager warned that the area has the highest concentrations of cougars in North America. “But you never see them,” she says. Hmmm, is that because your cold, dead eyes are being chewed on like Jujubes by a 120-pound cat?
(3) With tourists from Abbotsford, New Westminster and Victoria watching from every vantage point, I consumed some of that hockey wine while sitting in an Adirondack chair on Osprey’s roof, reading a good book and munching chips and salsa. Fell asleep in the sun. Felt like vacation time.
Telegraph Cove to Shoal Bay, B.C.
Three good things this day:
(1) After hours of creeping through fog on Johnstone Strait, we broke through to a glorious blue-sky, sun-dappled day with glistening water and snow-dotted peaks all around. Winds never kicked up. Current was in our favor for a 50-mile day to pretty Shoal Bay on Cordero Channel, a good staging spot for a morning run of two “rapids,” Dent Rapids and Yaculta Rapids, leading to Calm Channel, a back-door gateway to Desolation Sound. The names of these narrow channels denote the hazards of transiting them in high currents during spring tides, when there are whirlpools and “drop-offs,” which sound like something one might not enjoy in a 37-foot watercraft. But we’re having mild neap tides — not very high, not very low — and the rapids are close enough together that we can get through both at slack water tomorrow, keeping on schedule for our planned arrival at Desolation Sound.
(2) From our anchorage at Shoal Bay, we enjoy a happy hour and dinner on our rooftop with a panoramic view up Phillips Arm with scenic mountains in the distance. Salmon inexplicably leap high out of the water all around us, again and again and again, so many that we laugh. There’s no sign of predators pursuing them. Maybe they are catching the horseflies that occasionally buzz the boat? Go, salmon, go! Also on the water a boating neighbor is trying out his electric hydrofoil surfboard. Surprisingly for me, I find I don’t mind this intrusion on the natural order. Maybe because it is silent.
(3) Chatted up a friendly old gentleman from a sailboat on the dock who told us about Shoal Bay and the history of a pub that formerly operated here. Turned out he was Tom Cooper, former owner of Seacraft Yacht Sales in Seattle, who in his previous life bought the molds and continued to build the Dana 24, Pacific Seacraft’s popular little pocket cruiser, after the parent company went bankrupt. One of my favorite little sailboats. You never know who you’ll meet when you’re cruising.
Shoal Bay to Tenedos Bay, Desolation Sound. Summer’s here!
(1) Awakened to a perfect, cloudless summer morning. With only 10 days left, it’s the first day of this trip on which I put on shorts and a T-shirt to start the day. It’s going to be in the upper 70s here. Friends and family are enduring 90s and 100s to the south of us in Washington.
At 10:55 a.m., I’m once again lounging on Osprey’s bow. We’re transiting Yaculta Rapids, the 14th boat in a parade, all catching the slack waters here while heading for Desolation Sound (gulp, it could be crowded). The channel is broad, the currents not bad. Twenty minutes earlier I piloted us through Dent Rapids, which were narrower, foggy at first, and more exciting, with tide rips, but still no big challenge. Slack water is key; these passages earn their “rapid” names if you hit them at the wrong times. After idling near Horn Point just north of the rapids with half a dozen other boats, waiting for slack, I kept the throttle down to keep steerage in the rips and stayed in line as we all proceeded.
Now, I’m sipping a cup of steaming dark Midnight Eclipse coffee from Nabob Coffee Co. of Toronto, laced with 6-percent cream (because they were out of half ‘n half – they call it Creamo in Canada – at the Port McNeill IGA). I’m looking out at the myriad diamonds of water–glistening riplets ahead and soaking up the warm sun while a light, conifer-scented breeze keeps me comfortable. The sound track is the “krish, krish” of the bow plowing the active currents, and, from behind me, the low feline purr of our diesel engine. Next stop: Desolation Sound at peak season. No more remote bays all to ourselves for this trip. What a trip it’s been. I just wish my Barbara was sitting next to me so I could bring her a cup of that good coffee. She’d have loved this.
(2) The day’s temp got up to 78 degrees Fahrenheit, a scorcher by our “North to Alaska” standards. After enduring the every-new-thing-is-a-lesson experience of anchoring with a stern tie to shore, necessary in these deep, crowded bays, we are on the hook at Tenedos Bay in Desolation Sound, and ready for a swim. Barbara M. and I are enticed by a freshwater lake, Lake Unwin, an easy quarter-mile hike from the head of the bay. The water is not icy like snowmelt, but cool and wonderfully refreshing after the warm day. I dunk my head twice. And again.
(3) I barbecued chicken on the grill. Slathered on a Dijon butter sauce, and the boneless chicken thighs from Osprey’s freezer grilled up nice and crispy. With tri-color quinoa and steamed broccoli and carrots, it was another cruising feast.
One disappointment: The boat carrying Carol Hasse and friends, the rebuilt 1914 motor vessel Glorybe, is waylaid in Powell River with an electrical-system failure. It is in need of new batteries, a new alternator and regulator, so we probably won’t see her here. We may try to rendezvous in Lund, about 20 miles south of here, a couple days from now.
It’s 73 degrees at 8:45 a.m. as we depart Tenedos Bay for nearby Melanie Cove in the Prideaux Haven area of Desolation Sound Provincial Park. Another cloudless morning.
Three good things:
(1) I got up around 1 a.m. to climb up on the roof to see the stars after dousing Osprey’s super-bright anchor light for a few minutes. (It’s the brightest anchor light I’ve ever seen, lighting the shore cliff so vividly you could do shadow puppets.) The Big Dipper hung directly above us, pointing to the North Star right over our bow. The Milky Way smeared the eastern sky. Haven’t seen a wide vista of stars like that since I-don’t-remember-when. By comparison, my Center Island cabin, surrounded by tall firs, has only a peekaboo view of the cosmos. It’s nice to reconnect with another element of the natural world. Wish I had someone to share it with. So I’ll share it with you.
(2) Spent a pleasant, quiet day aboard Osprey while Barbara M. and Bill went for a long hike. Sat atop the boat and painted a watercolor landscape of a little island at the head of our anchorage, Melanie Cove, and the soaring hills above it. After painting watercolors on my travels for decades, this is the first I’ve done in a long time. Strictly amateur stuff, but it helps me connect with a place. It gives me peace.
(3) Took a late-evening kayak paddle as the sun set behind the big rock wall to which we’re tied. Serene. One of my favorite new ways to end the day. Circled the little islet that’s in my painting. Also got happy news: A generous fellow cruiser pitched in to help with the electrical work on Glorybe, so everything is replaced and repaired. Both boats are on their way here tomorrow.
Stopover day in Melanie Cove, Desolation Sound. 86 degrees F.
Three good things this day:
(1) Took a marvelous hour-long kayak tour of the Prideaux Haven islets and coves. A uniquely beautiful place, wildly popular with the hundreds of boaters anchored here. Towering over it all is spiky Mount Denman, sometimes called “Canada’s Matterhorn.” In my kayak, I discover a narrow, shallow channel where anchoring is prohibited, and for 20 minutes on my way to Laura Cove, I’m on my own among cozy, rocky, oyster-filled bayous. A bit of Louisiana come to British Columbia. No alligators, just sea jellies. Fun history trivia: Capt. George Vancouver and crew named this beautiful place Desolation Sound because he could see no attraction to the steep, rocky, forested shorelines that offered no useful tracts for raising sheep, building cozy cottages with white picket fences, and making the place look like England.
(2) The 36-foot motor yacht Glorybe arrived with sea goddess (and former Ospreyite) Carol Hasse, and friends. Also on board were Catherine Collins, the effusive executive director of Sound Experience, which operates the 133-foot Port Townsend-based sail-training schooner, Adventuress; and Glorybe’s heartily-laughing owner, Betsy Davis, former director of Seattle’s Center for Wooden Boats and currently at the helm of Port Hadlock’s Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. Glorybe backed in for a stern tie next to us in Melanie Cove.
The 1914 vessel, which Betsy and students at Seattle Community College rebuilt after it burned to the waterline in a 2002 fire at Seattle Yacht Club, was a welcome bit of nautical eye candy, far outclassing the nearby ultramodern power yachts resembling floating sport shoes (in Width “Double E”). Originally Vashon Island-built, Glorybe features a mustard-colored hull complemented by burnished bronze fittings and bits of varnished wood here, there and everywhere. Sweet.
(3) We had a delightful potluck dinner on Osprey’s roof. Draped a bedspread over the topsides boom for shade. Met Hasse’s shipmates, Catherine and Betsy, along with Harmon and SuAnn Rogers, Seattle-based cruisers off of the sailboat Salish Breeze. Harmon, retired professor of veterinary medicine at Washington State University, and SuAnn, a retired CPA, helped rescue Hasse and friends by installing new batteries, alternator and regulator aboard GloryBe at a marina in Powell River, then followed them to Desolation Sound to be sure all was well. Wonderful conversations with new and old boating friends as the sun dipped below a rocky cliff behind us. Cruising at its best.
Back in Bellingham by Thursday. Will wind things up with you soon!
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