Coming Home

Above:  Mt. Baker from Victoria, B.C.

Scappoose, Oregon

August 28, 2008

Dear friends and family –

We made it home, sort of like rushing downhill, the final stretch, anxious to return but somewhat fearful of the realities of the urban world. We both lost a few pounds and gained in physical fitness and we know how easily those things go away!

I think I last wrote as we were leaving Desolation Sound, heading south to avoid some coming adverse weather. We made a long day of it and anchored that night in Secret Cove on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast. No doubt when Captain Vancouver (or whoever) named that place it was indeed secret, but now it’s no secret at all – filled with marinas, fuel docks, floating stores, yacht club outposts, summer cabins, condominiums and plenty of small boats putting and rowing around. It’s a fairly small bay, so it was a challenge finding a place to anchor. And indeed it was fairly strange, being on the anchor, and yet electric lights are shining in the windows from every direction.

 

The next day we crossed the Strait of Georgia to Nanaimo, hoping for a sail, but not finding enough wind (that seems to be the sub-story of this summer). Nanaimo has been a frequent call of ours in past years, and we’ve watched it change and grow. There’s a new harbormaster’s building, with new showers (yay!), a laundromat (yay!) and nearby espresso shop (yay!) On the down side, all those new facilities seem to have attracted a large contingent of homeless people. For the most part they try to be invisible, with their carts full of plastic bags or rolling luggage, but it’s somewhat shocking to see people collecting spent cigarette butts out of the sand-filled ashtrays. One fellow went up and down the docks, knocking on boats and asking for spare change.

There was a new flower-decked Mexican "palapa" on a barge down the dock from us – we could smell the garlic and herbs as we walked past, and when we tried it the food did live up to the promising fragrance. The downtown area, which used to have a lot of empty storefronts, now sports a brand new convention center, and all the older buildings seem full. We ate at a small new French restaurant which was authentic, delicious, not too expensive, and packed out. We looked up our friend Cheryl, who is spending the summer in Nanaimo. We caught up on recent events and tried to solve some of the confounding problems of life. Cheryl took us for breakfast to the "German bakery" as she calls it, actually called the Nanaimo Bakery, but full of German speaking clerks and patrons. It’s far from the marina – good thing, too, or we’d be there every time we hit town, and with no benefit to our waistlines!

Above:  Nanaimo Harbour sunset, approaching storm.

We stayed in Nanaimo longer than we’d planned, mostly because there was a storm threatening, which would have made going south unpleasant. It was the southern part of a very large storm system centered in the Gulf of Alaska – a winter storm in the middle of summer, they were saying on the radio (glad we weren’t still in Alaska, but worried about some friends who are there...) The storm seemed to slow down as it approached, and we stayed another night, waiting it out. We later talked to some people on a boat coming from Hawaii, they were at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the storm and experienced some very bad weather, including 50 knot winds. We were glad to be at the dock in Nanaimo.
We did finally leave Nanaimo, heading south through Dodd Narrows with a stream of boats aiming for the slack water there. We got as far south as Montague Harbour, where we met up with Peter and Margaret on their 50 foot trawler, Rubenesque. For those of you that don’t know, Peter and Margaret were my law partners 20 years ago, and we’ve mostly been out of touch since then. It was delightful to get together with them, and spend time on their boat, where they live most of the time.

The next day we made it to Victoria, coming into the very urban Inner Harbour, where we became part of the tourist scenery. Various tourists wandered by and peered in the windows. It was certainly a very different experience from some of the wild isolated harbors we’ve anchored in on this trip.

Left:  Margaret & Peter aboard M/V Rubenesque

 

We did some touristy things, hit the book store, the Royal BC Museum, and watched some of the street performers. Our friend, Joe (who crewed for us between New Zealand and Fiji) lives in Victoria, and he took us out to lunch at the Bengal Room in the Empress Hotel. A truly delightful place, very British Empire, gin and tonic in the gentlemen's club sort of atmosphere, with delectable Indian food. Afterwards Joe took us on a car tour of Victoria -- mostly big impressive houses, beautiful gardens, sandy coves and rocky points. We saw parts of two weddings.

Joe dropped us off at a grocery store, where we stocked up on various necessities, then walked back to the boat. The weather was beautiful, as it mostly seems to be, every time we visit Victoria.

Below, left:  Craig, Barbara & Joe in the Bengal Room, Empress Hotel (photo by Joe Carr)

Above: Barbara & Craig on the docks in front of the Empress Hotel, Victoria.  (Photo by Joe Carr)

Below right:  Wedding seen as we drove around the Victoria shoreline.

From there, we headed across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Port Angeles, cleared customs, found the local showers (at the swimming pool), the local Mexican restaurant, and spent the night on a very rocky dock. This dock (the "City Pier") seems to be the place for ragamuffin liveaboards. The boat next to us, a 65 foot sailboat, looked to be in pretty sad shape, with stray bits of string wound around its winches, a dinghy with its transom ripped off, an anchor dangling down off the bow, and a young fellow in charge who was talking about going to the South Pacific, but truly had no clue what he was in for. Other fairly disreputable boats were anchored in the small harbor. No doubt the cheap price ($10 for dock space, anchoring for free) close to the downtown facilities was the attraction.

Next stop: Neah Bay; we motored there in the rain. Again, no sailing for us, despite the weatherman’s promise. The coast guard warned on the radio that we should watch for canoe races in Neah Bay, but by the time we got there, docked, and walked over to the "Makah Days" festival, it was all over. Bad timing, I guess. The sea lions were patrolling between the docks, presumably looking for fishing boat leavings. They turned somersaults, breathing heavily and splashing. After we went to bed, they were out there honking and barking into the night.

It’s an overnight trip from Neah Bay to Astoria. We had hoped to have someone join us for that trip, but we had no takers. Craig and I scheduled alternating three hour watches, and during the day we each took long naps to prepare for the short night. We stoked up our midnight snack bags, and listened to old Prairie Home Companion episodes on the MP3 player. It’s always a challenge to stay awake and alert in the middle of the night. The weather was benign, again not enough wind to sail. We arrived, as planned, at slack water at the Columbia River bar. The exciting and challenging part of crossing the Columbia Bar was dodging the huge number of small fishing boats stationed right at Buoy 10 (it must be the limit of where they are allowed to fish.)

We anchored near Tongue Point (just east of Astoria), and yesterday (Wednesday) motored up the river to St. Helens. We were able to time it so that we had a flood tide most of the way. By the time we reached St. Helens, the river was standing still – no current either direction.

And here we are. Everything seems fresh and different. The plants in the garden are much bigger than when we left, and there are enough strawberries to make 20 quarts of jam, or feed strawberry shortcake to 50 of our closest friends. We’ve forgotten where the silverware drawer is, and how much soap to put in the washer. These things return quickly, though. We’ll spend the next week washing the mildewed linens and clothes from the boat, cleaning out the refrigerator and freezer, and otherwise making the boat ready for our next excursion (when? where?)

Best wishes to all!

Craig & Barbara Johnston

S/V Sequoia

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