Tea For Two

Alvah and Diana set off with tradition and style on their way to New Zealand. "The Roger Henry Files" from our June 10, 2010, CW Reckonings

RH ready to sail 368

Alvah and Diana are ready to go out to sea again.Courtesy Of The Simons

There is something almost smugly satisfying about a sailboat that is polished, provisioned, and poised to take on the high seas. On the dawn of our departure for New Zealand from Port Townsend, Washington, we dropped our lines literally and figuratively from the fixed structures of a modern America. Once again we were seekers, searchers, gypsies, travelers, vagabonds and voyagers. If the Inuit can have a hundred words to describe snow, then so too can the sailor have a gunnysack of sobriquets.

I have said it before, but I will say it again: All we really need is a sack of rice and a suit of well-stitched sails. For in that there is freedom, and in freedom there is everything.

After a long period of non-sailing and major repairs, Diana and I normally like to go on a shakedown cruise before we set sail offshore. More accurately, we like a shake-up cruise-that is we try to test ourselves and our equipment in conditions harsh enough to expose those inevitable little flaws and frailties that, perhaps minor when within reach of repair facilities, can become serious liabilities when alone far out to sea.

But the sheltered waters of Puget Sound refused to co-operate. The skies were blue, the winds gentle, and the anchorages idyllic as we made our way towards Canadian waters. That is no complaint, for we enjoyed every minute and mile of it.

At Spencer Spit, in the San Juan Islands, we rendezvoused with Jeff and Ann Brooke, formerly of the sailing vessel High Drama, which we had sailed with in waters such as Ecuador, Polynesia, and New Zealand. Upon returning from a lengthy circumnavigation, they decided to sell their sailboat and try their hand at power boating. (It doesn't make you a bad person.) They arrived doing a wide-eyed 17 knots in their new cabin cruiser, No Drama.

Other old sailing friends, Cathy and Herve Burnell, shot over from Anacortes at almost that speed on their ultra-light trimaran, Exocet, for a final farewell. Saying goodbye to sailing friends is different from saying goodbye to land-locked family and friends. The sailors do not fret or fuss. They express no concern for your safety and never make you promise to write often. They know better. "Just go do it, you lucky bugger", is their message.

We stopped in Friday Harbor, hoping to turn in Diana's immigration form to the last of the American officials. But subconsciously, I think our mission was to clear our wallets of the last U.S. dollars. Sterling Hayden once cautioned would-be cruisers that if they thought they had sufficient finds to go cruising comfortably, they should wait until that money ran out and then set sail.

Canada welcomed us casually and with open arms. We were cleared in by telephone from the Customs Dock in the beautiful city of Victoria on Vancouver Island. The agent asked me how much liquor we had onboard.

"Well, I'm not sure. Just a bar assortment of mostly opened bottles."

"But not cases and cases, eh?"

"Oh, nothing like that." I assured him. (Which was unfortunately true.)

"And you wouldn't be selling any of it or giving it away as gifts, would you now?"

"Hell no. That's my whiskey!"

"Fine Sir, enjoy your stay in Canada."

We docked under the Grand Empress Hotel in the center of the city, and grand it is. I promised to treat Diana to a proper "High Tea," British style, for which the Empress is world renown.

To an uncouth colonial such as myself, even the best cup of tea, however elegantly poured, is not a cup of coffee. And a scone is just a biscuit that could use some gravy. But The Lady Di, who has lived in London, enjoys refinery, and thinks otherwise. So, off we went into the opulent old hotel with me coaching myself, "Remember to hold out that little finger. And for God sakes, don't chip the china!"

I now suspect that Diana has a drop of the Scot in that English blood of hers, because when she saw the price of $44 per person plus tax and tip, her frugal indignation won out. She settled for a cup of chai at the local Punjabi Café.

A gale blowing in the Juan de Fuca Straits kept us dockside for four more days than planned. Although we enjoyed one of the prettiest cities in North America, when the storm finally blew itself out we were more than ready to go. I slid off the mainsail cover, rigged the halyards and sheets, and dropped the spring lines.

Before I dropped the bow and stern lines I thought to myself that I can't know just how long Diana and I will be fortunate enough and able enough to ply our planet's waters together. I should treat each ocean voyage with the same excitement as if it was our first, and the same appreciation as if it is our last.

I gave Diana a hug and said, "Just an easy-breezy 8,000 miles to go. And don't worry about that High Tea thing. I'll buy you a Singapore Sling at Aggie Grey's Hotel in Apia, Western Samoa. That's a British tradition too, you know."