A Passage Too Brief in the Pacific Northwest
Spurred on by the calendar and approaching seasonal gales, the crew of Roger Henry still manages to feast on Canada’s bounty of cruising delights.
We anchored the night before as near to the narrows as possible and prayed for good visibility. It wasn’t to be. At dawn, we were forced to probe through a white wall of fog, for as isolated as these waterways seem, all maritime traffic is ultimately funneled through this hourglass passage. It would be less dangerous if these vessels were staggered throughout the day, but most captains prudently wait for slack water.
From somewhere in the misty abyss, the deep warning of foghorns bellowed. We saw an alarming number of moving targets on our radar, but one double image especially caught my attention. It was our worst nightmare: a tug with a barge in tow. Tugboats are limited in their maneuverability, and because of the long towlines, their barges swing in wide, crushing arcs. Their steel cables alone have been known to slice yachts in two. In such a situation, we didn’t think in terms of rights-of-way, for as the old saying goes, “Whether the rock hits the pitcher or the pitcher hits the rock, it’s going to be very bad for the pitcher.”
We clung as close to the rocky sides as we dared, hoping that the tug and numerous other commercial vessels would not, could not wander that far off center course. With radar spinning, foghorns screeching, and eyes, ears and nerves stretched, we shot through the pass into the whirlpools below.
From Campbell River south, a series of small but modern towns began to appear. Since our departure from Seward, Alaska, we’d been on the move for a solid five months, and I must admit that I sometimes make things harder than they need to be. My position is that we are on an adventure, not a vacation. But Diana has had too many years of cold-water baths in a windy cockpit. She suggested, strongly, that we treat ourselves to a night in a marina in Comox, on Vancouver Island’s eastern shore. I considered submitting Diana’s time in the hot showers there to Guinness World Records.
Through our many years of international sailing, we’ve met countless intrepid cruisers, many of them Canadian. Several of these friends would have been upset to hear that we had sailed so nearby without stopping in.
At Ruxton Island, in the De Coursy Island Group, we dropped anchor in front of the rustic cabin of John and Judy Shaw. We’d last seen them on their yacht, Quest, in Panama. In Ladysmith, a quaint little town on the Vancouver Island side of the Strait of Georgia, we reunited with Bryan Gittins, with whom we shared anchorages near Cape Horn nearly 20 years before. (For more on Gittens, see “A Sea Gaucho and His Falmouth 34,” September 2010.)
That list of friends didn’t stop at the border, for there’s also a drop of adventuresome blood in the many sailing Yankees we’ve met. We checked into the United States in Friday Harbor, the main center of the San Juan Islands. This is the home of Barbara Marrett, a well-known sailor and writer. We mentioned to Barbara that we were looking for a safe and convenient winter haven because the seasons didn’t allow us to carry on south toward New Zealand until the following May. She strongly recommended Friday Harbor itself. With countless nearby islands and anchorages, easy ferry access to Seattle, and a cozy café atmosphere, we couldn’t have done much better. We were tempted to take a deep breath, make fast those dock lines, and call it home.