Home Again

En route to SS3 through the rain  

September 27, 2004

Hillsboro, Oregon 

Dear friends and family: 

We have felt as though we were in a state of limbo – with split personalities – for the last month.  Sequoia has been aboard the Super Servant 3 (“SS3"), which finally offloaded in Vancouver, B.C. two weeks ago.  We thought we’d bring her back to Portland right away, but the weather was not cooperative.  As it happens we finally came up the Columbia River two days ago, and now I feel that I can write this final chapter to our South Pacific saga. 

As was the case in Brisbane, the SS3 was running substantially behind schedule.  It turned out that was a good thing, because we didn’t have to reschedule around some other events that would have conflicted with the first date.  We finally received an email advising that the SS3 would unload in Indian Arm, near Vancouver on September 13.  We booked flights to Vancouver and a hotel room for the night before the unloading.

We showed up, as instructed, with minimal carry-on items, at Coal Harbor in Vancouver.  They loaded us into vans and shuttled us to Deep Cove north of Vancouver, where we climbed aboard a small motor launch in what was now fairly steady rain (welcome back to the Pacific Northwest!)  We greeted old friends who had waited with us in Brisbane, and who were now retrieving their own boats from the SS3.  Fortunately the weather was fairly calm, so it wasn’t difficult to alight from the launch onto the SS3

All the yachts were still high and dry – the ship hadn’t yet begun the lowering  process.  We climbed three very steep flights of steps to the “lounge” where we were to retrieve our papers, the keys, and sign a receipt saying we had received the boat in good order (actually a bit premature when you think about it).  There were about 50 of us (and our minimal carry ons) packed into a room that was perhaps 10 by 15 feet, while the shipping agent checked and xeroxed our IDs and handed out papers and keys. 

We exchanged tales and plans with our friends, and looked out the one window at the deck of the ship, confirming that yes, indeed, Sequoia was still there.  The videotapes and books on the shelves of the lounge were all in Russian, which was strange indeed, considering that all the officers seemed to be Dutch, and all the deck crew seemed to be Filipinos.

Above:  The deck of the SS3 as seen from the ship's lounge.  The view of Sequoia is mostly obscured by the white shrink-wrapped motor yacht in the center.


Finally they let us go to our boats through the drippy northwest rain.  We found a crew member who arranged a ladder for us to climb up to the boat.  You can imagine that by the time we were on Sequoia we were thoroughly wet.  And yet it was wonderful to be there, back on our boat, with all our possessions inside.  It was like being back home – particularly after our itinerant existence over the previous five weeks in Australia and up and down the West Coast of the United States.   
We then began a long wait.  The ship began the lowering or sinking process, and divers were in the water checking the status of the boats as each began to float.  They kicked over the supports between our hull and the deck so that we could all motor out without running them.  While we waited, we raised and then furled our two jibs, and had interesting conversations with those around us.

 Rich of Windarra contemplates activity on surrounding boats


Just forward of us was a big motor yacht which had every inch covered in shrink wrap.  It must have been more than 80 feet, because a 3 person crew was aboard, and had ridden from Auckland where it loaded on the SS3.  (Dockwise doesn’t permit riders unless a boat is at least 80 feet).  The shrink-wrap crew told us that the loading process in Auckland had been pretty rough because of all the passing ship traffic.  To get the shrink-wrap boat in, 6 or 7 boats (including Sequoia) had to be towed out, and then repositioned.  That explains a couple of minor dings we found on the stern of Sequoia, and some minor dings we also saw on Star 7 (with whose owner we had been exchanging emails and photos).  The shrink wrap crew also told us that the Canadian customs agents had been aboard their boat the previous evening and left muddy, rusty footprints on their brand new (probably white) carpet.  We looked for any evidence that the customs agents had been aboard Sequoia, but found none.  We were among the smallest of the boats aboard the SS3 (although there were many about our size) – and perhaps they didn’t figure we could smuggle much aboard such a “small” boat – who knows!
That's the narrow slot we just backed out of!  
Boats just unloaded from SS3 approach Vancouver under the Second Narrows Bridge Finally the boats were all floating and the crew gave us the word that it was our turn to back out the impossibly narrow space between Star 7 and another boat – we made it without mishap, and we were on our way back to downtown Vancouver.

We stayed the night in Coal Harbor, and then set out the next day for Port Townsend.  We got a late start, and it proved to be a bit further than we had thought, so we ended up staying the night in Bedwell Harbour (at the southern end of the Canadian Gulf Islands).  The resort at Bedwell has been completely rebuilt and renamed “Poet’s Cove.”  There was a big article in yesterday’s Sunday Oregonian touting the luxury quality of the resort, and the wonderfulness of the spa facilities.  But when we were there – admittedly midweek, in rainy weather – it looked pretty vacant.   

We had planned a day or two stopover in Port Townsend so that our sailmaker, Carol Hasse, could look over our sails and make any necessary repairs.  As it turned out, the needed repairs were more extensive than we thought, and the weather was not good for going the rest of the way down the coast.  So we made plans to get from Port Townsend back to Hillsboro.  It involved 7 different conveyances: Jefferson County Transit to Poulsbo; Kitsap County Transit to Winslow, Washington State Ferries to Seattle, walk to the train station, Amtrak to Portland, local bus to the Max train in downtown Portland, Max to Hillsboro, and finally a taxi back to our rental house.  Whew – all that took only 12 hours. 

When we went back to Port Townsend last Wednesday, we had the luxury of being transported by Sid and Julie Blachford – long time friends who sail on their catamaran Classicat in the Carribean during the winter.  Sid volunteered to crew for us down the coast and Julie volunteered to do transportation.  Thank you, Sid & Julie!

Hasse and Company were in a race to see if they could finish the essential repairs to the sails before we had to leave (due to tide and daylight considerations).  They made the deadline, and we were off to Neah Bay.  There’s a nice new marina at Neah Bay, but this time of year it has only fishing boats and a few transient yachts making the same trip as us.  The marina is in the Indian reservation, and the only local industry appears to be salmon fishing and a bit of down-at-the ears tourism.  Last time we were there we watched a crew of young men practicing rowing, but there was no evidence of that sort of activity this time.

We left early the next morning for the approximately 24 hour passage to the mouth of the Columbia River.  We had to time it fairly precisely because we didn’t want to arrive in the dark, nor did we want to arrive before slack water.  At the same time, we had to get Sid to the Astoria dock by 9:00 a.m. because he and Julie had theater tickets for that afternoon.  As it happens, the weather was so calm we motored the whole way, and we were able to calibrate the arrival at the Astoria marina for exactly 9:00 a.m. 

We continued on up the river, thinking we’d go as far as was comfortable and then anchor for the night.  As it happens the tide seemed to be flooding the whole day, so we had a push from the current, even though we were going UP the river.  We realized we could make it to Sand Island opposite St. Helens before dark.  About 5 miles before we reached St. Helens, some folks in a sailboat came close to us and yelled, “Welcome Back!”  We didn’t at first realize who they were, but obviously they knew us – maybe we’re famous!  It turned out to be Ted and Cindy, who were neighbors of ours when we were moored at the St. Helens Marina back in 2003.  As we approached Sand Island, a woman in a dinghy yelled the same thing at us, “Welcome Back!”  Libby (who was in the dinghy) and Jim were on their boat at Sand Island, and we were able to spend a good amount of time with them before pushing on to our final destination in Scappoose.

St. Helens, as seen from Sand Island shore  

What a wonderful welcome back!  Craig observed that one advantage of only going away for 18 months is that there’s someone to remember you when you come back – if we’d been gone 12 years (as some cruisers have done) there would be no one except immediate family who would recognize us... 

So here we are, somewhat more complete, with our boat resting not too far away.  Cruising was a real adventure, among other things leading us to appreciate a slower and simpler lifestyle.  People keep asking us whether we’re home for good – who can say?  We’re home for awhile, and we’re glad to be back in the music-making business.  But part of us will always be wanting to head out to sea again – back to the palm trees, friendly people, and the clear, warm blue water of the tropics.  I’m sure we’ll find a way to do it again.  The world is large, and there are many places yet to see. 

Best wishes to you all! 

Craig & Barbara Johnston

S/V Sequoia

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Craig, walking along the shore of Sand Island