2016 Cruise Report
Ganges Harbour, Saltspring Island, June 21. It’s just after noon and the summer sky is blue, with white fluffy clouds. But the damned wind is blowing, and not just a little. The flags are standing out stiff. The docks are heaving from waves rolling under them. It looks like we’ll be here a day longer than planned.
Though brisk, this isn’t a storm wind. We aren’t doubling the mooring lines. It’s nothing like the tale friend Dave Boisseau tells of a storm in Dutch Harbor when he and another man tried to talk. The wind that day was so strong it blew the words out of their mouths and onto the beach at the head of the cove. Next morning they took the skiff down and collected the conversation in black garbage bags, to see what they said.
Today’s little breeze excepted, we like Ganges, our first stop in Canada. We shopped at Thrifty for potatoes, corn, apples and other produce we can’t bring in, and we restocked the nearly empty spirits locker. Equally important, we got Marilynn her first supply of Nanaimo bars, a sweet crust with coconut in it, a layer of custard, topped with dark chocolate. Marilynn is just plain foolish about Nanaimo bars.
We also needed a repair. The day before, the port engine tachometer stopped working, taking with it the automatic synchronizer that keeps both engines at the same rpm. I got on the phone with John Flaherty, the mechanical and electrical wizard who had taken care of us for at least 25 years, trying to find a cause of the failure. Trouble shooting by phone went to levels above me, however, and I realized I’d need a local boat mechanic.
Fortunately, Harbour’s End Marine, the only boat repair shop on Saltspring Island, is at Saltspring Marina, where we’re tied. Deb Isaacs, the Harbour’s End Marine manager, said they were busy to capacity and backlogged, but she had subcontractors who were good. A short time later she called to say that Bob Fielder, who has lots of experience, would be down in a couple hours.
Bob, 64 years old with a shock of white hair, showed up right on time, tools in hand. He sure looked like a boat mechanic: medium height, wiry build, long arms and strong hands, the right configuration for working in a tight engine room. I explained everything I could about the problem and what John Flaherty and I had worked through. Bob nodded and dropped into the engine room, test gauge in hand, and bent double to get where he needed to be. “Start the engine,” he said. “Um-hmm, good, you have a signal here.” A test at a time, Bob traced the signal up to the control panel, where the signal stopped. Bob worked steadily, testing this, testing that, checking this, checking that, until the fault was found—a bad connection at the tachometer. The tach now works.
EXCITEMENT INTERRUPT: A neglected-appearing 30-foot sailboat has dragged anchor in this wind, and now is standing very near Saltspring Marina’s outer dock, where the anchor seems to be holding. A short time ago the owner came out in a dinghy and got aboard, but as a single-hander he can’t pull up the anchor at the bow and run the throttle and rudder from the cockpit at the same time, and once the anchor is free of the bottom the wind will drive the boat into the dock. He’ll need to wait until he has an on-board helper or the wind dies away to calm, or both. The waterfront is a place of misfortune waiting its chance to inflict itself. Update: The owner has left the boat—in search of a helper, I hope. The marina doesn’t want the boat at its dock: too often such boats are derelicts with unreliable owners—if owners can be found—and the boats can’t be gotten rid of.
On a warmer note, let me tell you about the schooner Alice, tied up a couple docks away. Alice is not very long for a schooner, just 34 feet on deck, but her 5-foot bowsprit stretches out the length. Alice is low, very low, and narrow, and painted black. Her builder-owner is a pleasant man named William McDonnell, who built the boat in a shed on Thormanby Island, on the east side of the Strait of Georgia, from plans in Howard Chappelle’s book, Boatbuilding. Alice is a traditional east coast design from the 1800s, with a centerboard instead of a deep keel, for the shallow waters of Chesapeake Bay and the Intracoastal Waterway (the ICW). Board up, Alice draws just 2½ feet. The two masts are trees they cut down, and standing rigging is period-specific.
McDonnell is also a take-action kind of guy. The owner of the dragging sailboat returned without a helper and began bringing up the anchor from the bow. Predictably, once the anchor broke free the wind drove the boat directly for the dock. McDonnell had been watching the whole thing, and at some risk to himself fended the sailboat off and helped tie it safely.
The sailboat owner turned out to be a decent sort, just uninformed about how boats work, what kind of gear they need, and elements of basic seamanship. After things were settled down a discussion of anchor styles, anchor sizing, and anchoring techniques ensued. I’m not sure how much stuck. The wind had died by the next morning and as we headed out I saw the sailboat’s owner apparently moving his boat to a new anchorage.
William McDonnell and some friends are out cruising in Alice. William hopes to get as far as Cortes Island this summer, at the south end of the Desolation Sound cruising grounds. For myself, I love looking at Alice and learning about her, but I’ve grown too accustomed to our more spacious (and furnace-heated, refrigerator-freezered, hot and cold pressure watered, and autopiloted) quarters to cherish spending a few weeks aboard a boat with only four feet of headroom. That’s not the point, though. The point is the passion and zeal it took to even think of building and sailing Alice, and the joy she brings to her owner. These stories are the reason I like to walk the docks and admire the boats I find there. They’re the embodiment of personality, caring, and commitment, and sometimes abandonment. They’re the real deal.
Read Cruise Report # 2