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February 10, 2010
by Alvah Simon
Henry David Thoreau once warned that one should, "Beware of all enterprises that require a new set of clothes."
Nevertheless, my wife, Diana, recently ferried from our winter haven of Poulsbo Marina over to the Seattle Boat Show in search of a new set of sea clothes for our upcoming enterprise; an 8000-mile crossing of the Pacific.
In a spirit of optimism I won't refer to "foul weather gear." Perhaps "mildly inclement weather apparel" best fits my hopeful vision for a pleasant crossing.
Unfortunately this crossing begins with the bugaboo of the Straits of Juan de Fuca. On a falling tide, an enormous amount of water in Puget Sound and the large waterways behind Vancouver Island gushes through this single outlet. The ensuing tidal stream can be a helpful boost to a departing vessel, but when wind blows contrary to that tide, all hell breaks loose. Because of the miles involved, it's impossible to clear the Straits in a single tide, thus if one's progress is thwarted for too long, you'll find yourself being sucked back into the maw.
Diana is all too aware of the Strait's harrowing reputation. She's not loosing sleep over it, but I am. She likes to see me up and at our preparations early, and she's right. Time is short and the work list is long. When my thoughts drift eastward towards skiing down steep mountains, she brings me back to another type of steep mountain with the reminder that the highest wave ever recorded on Earth was not near Cape Horn as one might expect, but off the coast of Vancouver Island just north of our winter home.
To safely meet these challenges I must haul and paint the Roger Henry's bottom, service the propeller, cutlass bearing, and packing gland, repair the ever-ailing transmission, rebuild the water-pump, and re-install and adjust the engine controls. Then I must turn my attention to inspecting our rig, preparing our storm sails, sea anchor, and drogue.
Besides her duties of provisioning, updating the medical supplies, researching visa requirements and customs restrictions, Diana will be busy charting all of our intended landfalls, and all the alternatives in the event of emergency or radical change of plans.
I confess that on no less than two occasions I've delivered her not just to the wrong port, but to the wrong continent. She now cuts a wide swath with her charting. Once as we were approaching the Americas from Africa I tried to convince her that we should turn south towards the grey chill of Cape Horn instead of north to the sun-drenched Caribbean. She reached for the Pilot Book and read out loud the chapter covering southern Patagonia. This described in dramatic detail the perennial paint-stripping gales and hull-crushing seas we could expect.
I countered by telling her that on rare occasions the Uttermost South experiences a mild-weather phenomenon called Cook's Summer. "And can you believe it?" I enthusiastically informed her, "There's one predicted for this very year!" Getting carried away on a wave of my own rhetoric, I advised Diana that if she consented to my marvelous new plan, she'd better bring along a good sun hat and a swim suit.
Ah, how sweet and deserved was her revenge. Too many difficult months later, as we neared Cape Horn in a bone-chilling winter wind, Diana suggested that I don my sun hat and swim suit for the rounding.
Because we've spent the last couple years in northern Japan, the Aleutians, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest, I no longer own that or any other swimsuit. So, like Diana, I'm going to ignore Henry's advice and get some appropriate clothing for our upcoming grand enterprise.