For the first time in months, we left Victoria aboard Del Viento. Motoring out of the picturesque harbor, the girls assumed their familiar sailing positions under the dodger: Frances cozied up on the port side of the companionway, Eleanor to starboard. Clear of Ogden Point, the wind blew 15- to 20-knots on our beam and we charged full sail into a 2-knot opposing current at nearly 7 knots. Windy and I sat in the cockpit, smiling at the thrill it was to be underway again. All of us wore warm layers and warm hats to defend against the 50-degree air.
After two hours, we turned left at San Juan Island and ran up the Haro Strait in rolling swells, now nearly dead downwind. Hours later, just at the entrance of the winding channel leading to Roche Harbor, we furled the jib, started the motor, and rounded up and dropped the main. It doesn’t get any better than this (unless it’s warmer).
Roche Harbor is a former company town that’s been turned into a weekend getaway spot for sailors and a home for wealthy retirees. It’s like the Pacific Northwest’s version of Southern California’s Avalon on Catalina Island, only 1/100th the size. Apparently, this place is bustling in the summer, but we dropped the hook in 30 feet with only two other boats to share the large anchorage and then nestled down below for a warm dinner and peaceful night aboard.
Only this column on the mausoleum
was constructed to appear broken,
to represent man's unfinished
work over a lifetime.
Ashore the next day, we walked into the forest to find the Afterglow Mausoleum.
John McMillin bought all of Roche harbor back in 1886. He turned the place into the largest lime producing operation west of the Mississippi. Late in his life, the turn-of-the-century tycoon commissioned construction of a mausoleum in the adjacent forest, a grand structure built of limestone to serve as the permanent home for his remains and those of his wife and the four McMillin children. It looks like some kind of Greek or Roman ruins, but apparently the guy put a lot of thought into exactly what it is. It’s so gaudy and out-of-place in the quiet forest, that it’s actually pretty cool. Today it’s a National Historic Place and mecca for the Sigma Chi brotherhood.
After we spent our second full day at Roche Harbor aboard, at anchor—reading, cooking, and playing games while we listened to the light rain tap on the deck above—we woke the next morning to sun and motored five miles over to Stuart Island and tucked into Reid Harbor, a beautiful, isolated narrow inlet with excellent holding. Emboldened by the sunny sky, Windy and the girls hiked up and over the island. Along with a bunch of animal skeletons Eleanor collected, they found a one-room schoolhouse that serves the island’s school-age children (both of them; in 1911 there were 14). There are no commercial establishments on Stuart and only about 700 permanent residents—all of them living off the grid, like cruisers. U.S. Postal Service mail comes three days a week via boat.
Looking at a chart, it’s clear this five-day trip away from our winter home scarcely covers a tiny piece of the puzzle of islands (thousands of them) that stretch up the inside passage to Alaska. We saw very little of what there is to see in even this small geographic area; it’s clear June, July, August, September, and October will only allow us to scratch the surface of this landscape.
Tonight we are in Friday Harbor, preparing to sail (hopefully) back to Victoria tomorrow, in time for the girls’ drama and gymnastics classes on Tuesday. I’ll spend the next few days completing some small boat projects in preparation for heading out again, soon. I think the next five weeks we’ll be in and out, wrapping up the lives we’ve made in Victoria, getting ready to leave that city and several good friends behind.
The flowers are blooming at Roche Harbor, but walking around
the deserted tourist trap was like walking around Disneyland in
the hours before they open.
This is it. The remains of each family member are entombed
beneath each chair. Each chair back is engraved with the
name of a deceased and the titles they attained during
their lifetime. John's includes, "32-degree Mason, Knight Templar,
Noble of Mystic Shrine, Sigma Chi, Methodist, Republican"
His wife's single accomplishment? "Wife of John McMillin"
The girls reading in the empty library of the Stuart Island schoolhouse.
Overlooking Reid Harbor, our bright yellow Pudgy at the public
dock and Del Viento just visible at anchor in the upper left.
The girls on a bluff on Stuart Island.