Plan for three and hope for two. That’s how we approach summer sailing. Our intent is to have three full weeks out on the water, but best laid plans made months in advance get swept aside in the harsh glare of practicality. With at best, six weeks off in the summer, it’s hard to find time for all that we must do and still have time to sail. And while I know that six weeks off is a luxury, it’s a luxury for which we have paid tenfold during the course of the school year- I’ve come to realize how critical our summer sail is to our wellbeing. Time on Journey is time when we can leave our work personas behind and focus on recharging. It’s also time that Greg and I spend time together doing something that is NOT work-related. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a gift to work with your spouse and we’re an effective team. But a relationship permanently caught-up in the work bubble is not good. Balance is critical, which is why we make time to be together, out there.
Our summer 2017 sail was especially sweet- the many years and many stacks of B.O.A.T dollars (Break Out Another Thousand) we’ve spent repairing Journey are finally culminating in a vessel that is safe and water tight, not to mention beautiful under sail. Given a good head of wind, Journey is sleek and fast in the water; the louder the anemometer sings, the better she performs. We long for the day when we can cast off indefinitely for more open waters where Journey can realize her full potential. But of now, we’re content with any wind a bit more consistent than Journey’s home port in the South Sound. Between now and an extended cruise, there is training and learning that must transpire on the part of her crew. But, what the crew lacks in knowledge and time, and the South Sound lacks in wind, is made up for in enthusiasm and appreciation for what we can get.
With a full year lived elsewhere in-between our summer sails, we appreciate the learning curve of familiar and tame waters. Our first few days are spent remembering and practicing the basics; anchoring and grabbing a mooring ball, the most efficient way to cast off and tie-up, putting up sails and taking them down, letting out the Genoa and adjusting for wind (or lack of). We tend to return time and again to our favorite anchorages, ports and small towns. We try new places, too, but cruising is something akin to a road trip; there’s always time for a stop at your favorite burger joint along the way. So while we’ve done it many times before, it always feels epic when we cross beneath the Narrows Bridge. I always take too many pictures of The Mountain poking out of the ubiquitous mist, and we love grabbing our favorite mooring ball on the South side of Blake Island, or tucking into Port Madison for a quiet anchorage. These are destinations that are as familiar as the back of our hand, but they have yet to lose their appeal.
While we inevitably adjust the length of our sail by a week or so, our tacit agreement is that we’re on the water by July 2 at the latest- it’s our wedding anniversary and there is no way we would rather celebrate ‘us’ than watching Journey swing. Inevitably, we drop anchor in time to spend our anniversary in Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island, even if it means putting in a seriously long day while burning a Triceratops or two- anything to get us there in time for our self-imposed deadline. With a distant view of Seattle across the Sound, great restaurants, and a well-stock grocery store within easy walking distance from the dock, Eagle Harbor does not disappoint. Aside from the creatures comforts, the town hosts a down-home Fourth of July celebration, and after spending a year abroad, we are starved for a bit of Americana. The day is replete with all things American: there’s a pancake feed and a fun run in the morning. The main street parade features the local high school band, community organizations and personalities. The street fair is an amalgam of stalls filled with cheap jewelry, waistline expanding, but oh-so-good, carnival foods like funnel cake and polish dogs, and best of all, a massive fireworks show in the harbor. We always invest a few precious days at Eagle Harbor to rejuvenate and reconnect.
The familiar is comforting, but venturing off the GPS track to discover a new familiar keeps the adventure in cruising. So, while we do make a point of returning to our favorite haunts, we also like to work in one or two new destinations each time we go out. Our first stop after leaving Eagle Harbor was the quaint town of Coupeville on Whidbey Island and across the bay from larger Oak Harbor. With a permanent population of less than 2,000 Coupeville manages to beat the big crowds of other Puget Sound tourist destinations which are more readily accessible through the ferry system. With a heart-stopping lack of space between Journey’s keel and the bottom at low tide, we chose to tie up at the basic, but adequate dock rather than chancing anchorage in the shallow bay. It’s a simple affair staying overnight at Coupeville. Once you’re tied up, that’s it- there’s no water and no electric. But what the dock lacks in amenities is made up for in small town charm. Coupeville is a collection of interesting local characters, some fine eating establishments, and beautiful views. We used Coupeville as an overnight stop before braving the intricate and technical corridors of the Swinomish Channel.
Though we had successfully navigated the Swinomish Channel in the past, that was five years ago and we were accompanied by our much more experienced sailing friends, Jim and Kelly. This time we were going it alone. Greg spent a couple days pouring over charts, checking the tides and currents and weather, and we planned our early morning departure accordingly. Extremely narrow, very shallow and with lots of boating traffic flowing each way, it’s best to navigate the Swinomish as a team. This meant that I ‘drove’ while Greg gave explicit directions from various charts telling me when to turn, whether I should be mid channel or hugging the side, when to look out for submerged rocks, and reassuring me when we had only five or six inches under our keel. It takes about two and a half hours total to traverse the Swinomish, from approaching the channel to coming out on the other side. We were proud as could be of our teamwork, planning and navigation skills, and yes, we proudly called Jim and Kelly once through.
Our next stop, and another new watery destination, was Anacortes. Perched on the north-end of Fidalgo Island, Anacortes is known as the gateway to the San Juan Islands. The truth is, we could have chosen an entirely different route. In fact, two other options could have taken us into the San Juan’s more quickly and directly. Instead of Coupeville, we could have continued on from Eagle Harbor heading North and staying West of Whidbey Island until we reached Port Townsend. We could stay overnight, then take a morning scoot across the Straits of Juan de Fuca entering the San Juan Islands from the south. But, like all things associated with the wind and the water, the Straits are notoriously fickle and one takes a chance of being caught up in a bad weather window delaying passage for days. This happened the last time we were in Port Townsend. We waited for days, eventually losing our opportunity. Ironically, we ended up staying in Anacortes longer than originally planned for this very same reason; small craft advisories were in effect and we were rockin’ and rollin’ tied up at the marina.
Another route that avoids the complicated and pulse raising navigation of the Swinomish Channel is taking the short cut through Deception Pass. The name alone is probably enough to guess why we have yet to explore this option- the boating magazine 48° North pretty much sums up why this less-than-experienced crew will wait to tackle this particular passage until we have a bit more experience under our belts:
“Tumultuous currents churn through the deep pass, with a navigable width of barely 150 feet. At more than 8.5 knots on the ebb and 7.3 knots on the flood, the rapidly moving water causes whirlpools and strong eddies along the shores.”
Despite the extended stay and longer journey, Anacortes was an absolute delight. We stayed three nights at possibly the cleanest, best equipped and most conveniently located marina we’ve experienced. While we prefer swinging on the hook somewhere, an extended stay in Anacortes allowed us time to relax, to wander and to explore. I went on a relatively short but intense run our second morning. Trotting the path from the marina along the curve of the bay then up a steep, wooded trail to the top of Cap Sante State Park, I emerged from the tree line sweaty but perfectly perched for a spectacular 180 degree view beginning at Padilla Bay in the east and sweeping west along the Southern San Juan Islands. When I had my fill, back down the trail I scrambled, back tracking past the marina to the opposite end of the bay before heading back. The wind was stiff and a bit chilly; it was a perfect contrast to my typical running experience in Lagos. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Lagos run, but there’s simply no comparison- running the hot and humid trash strewn streets of Lagos ensures I appreciate any time I can lace up and run with nature.
Greg has friends that live in the area, so we met them for a dinner out one night, and a dinner at their place the other. Ted and Melissa are a lovely couple; both have a sharp wit, a kind heart, and a love for life that inspires. We celebrated my birthday with dinner at the Anthony’s located adjacent to the marina. With a sunset view over the marina, it was a fitting celebration of another year gone by. I also began practicing yoga on the back deck of Journey. With a view like that, how could I not?
The next day, we walked to the Farmers market where we indulged in what was to be completely honest, our second breakfast of the day. How could we be expected to pass up Vivi’s homemade tamales, tacos and salsa? Always thinking about the next meal, we sensibly bought cans of gourmet tuna and jars of Korean kimchi before exiting the market, which we then had to haul all over town. Our ultimate destination was West Marine, but we were in no hurry. So we walked and talked, holding hands and taking pictures and we made mental lists of the places we’ll go and things we’ll do when we’re back-back. In our wanderings, we stumbled upon a gelato shop. Since it had been a full hour since our second breakfast and it was approaching the noon hour, we decided a sampling was warranted. We eventually found the West Marine; Greg got the part he was looking for and I bought a long sleeve, sun proof hooded shirt to deal with my heat rash. The shirt is tight and white and I look like a gangsta girl with the hoodie pulled down tight, a perfect excuse to ham it up for the camera the rest of the trip.
Anacortes was fabulous and easy, but after three days, we were anxious to continue on. Our next stop was Bellingham Bay.
Ah, Bellingham. This is where I first fell in love with the cruising lifestyle. A Summer 2010 sailing course was already on Greg’s radar when we began dating Fall of 2009. At some point in the year, he mentioned his summer sailing plans and asked if I’d like to join. My heart sank. As someone that experienced motion sickness in a motor boat of any size, sailing was dead last on my bucket list. But I was in love, and love will make you agree to just about anything so I said I’d try it. In the next breath I said if it sucked I’d never go again. Greg said he understood, and being the smart man that he is, made sure it didn’t. Our instructor, Michael, was calm and patient and to my great surprise, no motion sickness. I got two for the price of one that summer- I fell in love with cruising and I had found my Love. The next July, Bellingham Bay served as the backdrop for our wedding and launching point of our honeymoon. After a short ceremony followed by lunch with friends and family, we untied from the dock in our chartered 42′ sailboat and set off for an overnight anchorage at Naughty Bay before heading into the San Juans. Cruising is not a bad way to start married life.
Similar to Anacortes, our time at dock for this Bellingham layover was spent seeing friends. We had brunch with Larry and Carolyn at a hipster joint downtown and dinner with Jim and Kelly at their house overlooking the Bay and marina. The next day we met Doug and Hope for lunch at a dockside restaurant. Not wanting to leave anyone out, we squeezed in a visit with our sailing instructor from seven years ago; we’re planning a badly needed ten days of training next summer.
After a packed social calendar, we were ready to set sail again, and this time, we would be joined by Jim and Kelly on Azulita, their new-to-them 33.6′ Hunter.
Jim and Kelly have spent years gunk holing around the San Juans and up into Desolation Sound. And like us, they have their favorite places that they return to time and again; it’s a ritual of remembrance and new memory making each season. We readily agreed to spend two nights attached to mooring balls in Echo Bay at Sucia Island Marine State Park. We left Bellingham Bay early afternoon for what turned out to be a leisurely, but largely solo sail. Sailing with friends is fun, but sailing with friends, each on your own boat, is ideal. Why? Simple. You can enjoy a shared adventure, but at your own pace. It doesn’t matter if one boat is faster, and for the record, Jim and Kelly were always faster than us. If separated, you simply meet up at the agreed upon rendezvous point. Once both vessels are safely swinging on the hook, it’s time to dingy over for drinks and a shared dinner. Or, if early enough, the guys stay aboard for an afternoon siesta while the women inflate kayaks and spend some quality time pondering the mysteries of life while paddling amonst the seals. Sublime.
But our two week window was catching up with us, and too soon, it was time to turn South once again. We set off early in the morning for Friday Harbor, another favorite stopping over place. The weather had changed; a grey, cloudy sky had us pulling on jackets and letting out the sails. As we headed down President’s Channel, the current and winds were in our favor; Journey skimmed along the surface at a quick 9.5 knots, showing off her true colors as a blue-water boat with the capacity to go anywhere in the world her crew is willing to take her.
And where would we eventually like to go? A long summer cruise up into Desolation Sound and beyond to the cold waters of South East Alaska is at the top of the list. We’ve also talked of an extended cruise down the West Coast to Mexico for a winter spent exploring the warm waters and tacos of Baja. From there it depends. If we had the time, we could go further to the Marquesas and New Zealand for another winter, then make our way to Hawaii, up and over to Alaska, then back down to our home port of Olympia. That itinerary is a two-year investment and a trip of a lifetime. If we only had one year, we’d head straight to Hawaii from Mexico, omitting exploration of the South Pacific. Time will tell, because that’s what it’s all about; time and finances. For now, we content ourselves with our current time constraints and enjoy what we can.
After a walk around town, an obligatory stop at West Marine, and an early dinner, Jim and Kelly left us for our overnight in Friday Harbor. They were on the hunt for their favorite cinnamon rolls on a neighboring island. The next morning we got up early and set off to cross the Straits of Juan de Fuca (cue ominous music).
But the weather gods were smiling. We motored out of Friday Harbor and down San Juan Channel through Griffin Bay and out past Cattle Pass into the Straits. The water was glassy and the sky an idyllic, halcyon blue; we let out the sails shortly after passing the light house perched on the tip of Cattle Point. The wind was light, barely pushing Journey along at three knots. We lazily tacked back and forth, dallying away an hour or two enjoying the sun and the water and each other. But like all omnipresent dieties, the weather god is a mercurial creature- the afternoon forecast big wind and small craft advisories, so we prudently dropped sails and ran the engine, determined to scoot across the Straits lest we get caught out in the open. We motored on until we reached our stopping point for the night, Port Townsend.
Another favored destination, Port Townsend is a perfect blend of authentic, working class docks softened by the polish of a Victorian downtown repurposed as a popular tourist destination. Fine eateries, ice cream shops, antique stores and high end clothing boutiques draw Seattleites bent on escaping the big city for an arguable quieter, but still familiar downtown. And like the town itself, there are two very different moorage options when visiting PT; Point Husdon which is located in the heart of downtown and Boat Haven which is a good twenty or thirty minute walk out of town. The latter is our preferred destination; we appreciate the salty undertones that can only be found on a working dock, to the more polished veneer of downtown. The PT dock is brimming with local color; salty characters scrape and paint boat bottoms and reel in the day’s catch. Some live aboard small, derelict boats that have seen better days, much like their owners, but add a vibrancy and tone that’s hard to replicate. The dock and immediately surrounding area is well stocked with local eateries and what these establishments may lack in glamour, they more than make up for in taste. You can start your morning with the paper, and a coffee and blueberry muffin at a small, but cheery cafe tucked between supply shops a few steps up from the ramp. On your walk across the boat yard to pick up supplies at Safeway, you can stop at the fish shack for a bowl of clam chowder or Dungeness bisque. Dinner is a short stroll the opposite direction past the boat ramp where a greasy spoon features the day’s fresh catch one way; battered and fried, then served in a red plastic basket lined with paper and heaped high with french fries. The bottle of ketchup and malt vinegar are as greasy as the fish, but no one seems to care. The food on the docks is a direct reflection of the working class patrons that both supply and consume it; straight forward, honest and hearty, lacking in the artifice of downtown.
Despite PT being a favored stopping over point, we stayed for less than 24 hours as our deadline to be back in Olympia was rapidly approaching. And true to most passages where timing is critical in order to catch the tide and currents just right, the next morning found us scrambling over and within Journey like ants prepping for war. Our pre departure check list includes securing the deck chairs and cooler to the life lines and ensuring dishes and breakables are put away down below. We bring armloads of charts, binoculars, and the anemometer up from below. Greg checks the oil pressure and fuel, and we start the engine to warm. We’ve already listened to the weather report, mentally noting any changes that have occurred since the previous night. We don life jackets over layers of hoodies and wind breakers, smear sun screen on our exposed parts and pull hats over our heads. Depending upon whether we’re tied at a dock, on a mooring ball, or have dropped anchor, we talk through the mechanics of our departure plan- like a good marriage, communication is critical on a boat. Finally ready, we backed out of our slip and slowly made our way out of the marina and into Admiralty Inlet on our way to the Puget Sound; we had officially left our San Juan adventures behind.
But wait, what about breakfast? Once safely underway, I can turn my attention to food which ranks as one of my favorite, and most important, aspects of cruising. Breakfast on-the-go demands equal measures of balance and creativity; I have to simultaneously brace myself against the swells while digging into the dark recesses of the refrigerator. I’m lucky; Journey has a large capacity (large for a sailboat) fridge and a separate freezer of the same size. The only tricky part is that the ‘lid’ is also the counter top and incredibly heavy. Normally, a line that secures the lid to the bulkhead is solid enough to keep me feeling confident that the heavy countertop won’t come crashing down on the back of my spine as I’m deep inside digging around. But with the work that we’re having done on Journey, the jury-rigged temporary tether leaves me feeling less than sure. So, I hook the line and alsohold the heavy door up with one hand, while pulling items out with the other. It’s slow going, but we manage hearty, healthy and entirely from scratch meals that fend off the cold and long hours. I’m always ravenous when we’re sailing, hence the yoga and long runs.
Soon, Seattle’s skyline appeared on the horizon. A quick stop for fuel at Shilshole Marina, Journey’s previous home before Greg found her, and we were underway once more. Down through the Tacoma Narrows where the wind and current swept us along at a wild and wet 11 knots. Chilled and battered, we finally arrived at Penrose State Park at dusk. We grabbed the last remaining mooring buoy in Mayo Cove, exhausted from a twelve hour day. I made a quick dinner and we went to bed; we had another early morning departure. Like most of our trip, a strong wind came up during the night as we settled in. Howling an eerie sigh through our lines, the wind rocked Journey, and us, to sleep. It was our last night out before making the final leg home.
We awoke the next morning to a calm and quiet setting. A Harbor Seal slowly patrolled the cove, occasionally submerging to disguise a stealthy underwater approach that led him closer to Journey. Each time I was sure he had tired of us and moved on, he would suddenly pop-up off our port or starboard side, quietly exhaling. Eventually he wandered off, but we lingered a few minutes more, holding hands while breathing in all that would soon be missing from our daily lives. Once back, we would return to Lagos in less than a week to start another school year. Not exactly satisfied but knowing it was time to go, we turned the engine on, unhooked from the mooring ball and made our way home.
What do I enjoy about sailing? Everything and nothing, because it’s not the actual sailing that hooked me, it was the cruising lifestyle. I love cruising because there are no deadlines other than the self-imposed, and these are negotiated to catch the wind or the current or the tides just right. We can choose to stay at an anchorage for as long or as short as we like. We can create an ambitious itinerary assembled over months of careful planning from our flat in Lagos, that we quickly agree to toss out the window once we’re actually cruising. Why? Because we have a sudden hankering for a raspberry muffin at that little place in Port Townsend, or we’re dreaming of Vivi’s tacos at the Anacortes Farmer’s Market, or I want to go for a long run on one of my favorite San Juan islands. And who could blame us? For ten and a half months out of the year, we’re working and living in West Africa, dealing with all that entails. At 44′, Journey is safe, comfortable and equipped with all the conveniences of our terrestrial home. When we’re cruising, we can go all day, tuck into a cove, drop anchor and voilà, we’re home-home, because home is with us.
So why cruise? Because somehow when I’m on the water, my connection to nature, to my inner self and to Greg is deeper and more meaningful, and that connection is an experience that I cannot replicate anywhere else but out there.