Sailing the Wild West! SEA to BC for the Holidays

Part of wrapping up 2015 and before I kick in the mega-GYST2016 full throttle, just had to do one last thing. Sail. There was no way I could fully know what I was in for, but I didn’t care. I was ready to hit the seas with trusted Skipper Pajo Gazibara. Our vessel: an Ericson 35-2 named Cinderella, equipped with a cozy sleeping cabin, gas oven that rocks with the boat, and a diesel powered furnace to keep us nice and toasty!!! I was somewhat convinced and just had a few important conditions that I relayed to Pajo:

First, I requested he teach me to sail. I wanted to be able to hold my own if anything were to happen and how to support the captain if needed. I was to be, by default, the first mate. And oddly enough, no one else was down to join this magical journey in December, over the holidays in the Northwest. I had no experience in the art and technique of sailing. I felt it was a big deal and I had to be on my game.

Second, there needed to be a Christmas tree on board. I anticipated that being away from my family and friends for the holidays was going to be a little emotional for me so keeping the boat festive was important!

Third, if we made it up to the Desolation Sound, we would stop at Whaletown, translates to: “I WANNA SEE SOME FREAKIN WHALES!”
Honorable mention, a functional head.

Pajo agreed these were attainable conditions and set out to make the trip a reality.

Below I recount the details of our trip, from Lake Union to Hat Island to Victoria, the Gulf Islands, Vancouver and everything in between.

Dec. 20-21 // Seattle preparations

Preparations including grocery shopping, meal planning, provision procurement, cozying the cabin, building out the framework/flooring for the head, and engine repairs. After all the running around, scooping up a few engine parts, we were feeling ready for the SAIL!

Dec. 22 // Seattle to Hat Island & Everett

After a few stubborn attempts, the motor starts and sounds strong! Spirits are high as we set sail out of Lake Union. We have a super streamlined passage through Ballard and my first time at the Locks.

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Had solid winds and everything was going well as we round into Everett, but then… I took the helm as Pajo went to take the sails down, I noticed some gnarly smoke billowing out from the motor. I alerted Pajo and we immediately cut the ignition.

Shit.

We diverted over to Hat Island to anchor since navigating a narrow channel to port would have been a risky and tack-y process in the dark… next to a Naval station. Pajo thinks it’s best to anchor there to avoid that and assess the motor in the morning. We hunkered down around 7pm and got our shit totally rocked all night, rowdy waters and crazy winds felt like a storm. The chaos outside the boat was magnified inside the v-birth and made me super anxious and without sleep.

Pajo, sensing my uneasiness hugged me tightly and whispered “don’t worry, babe.” This helped, along with some extra curricular wave-like activities… As I lay there, tyring to tune out the forceful waves and wind, I kept visualizing the boat bobbing out of control and capsizing… or even uprooting the anchor and us drifting out to the channel. I said a little prayer to my grandma to look out for us. Super unlike me to ever pray but I felt like whatever was out there was way bigger than us.

We heard the jib flopping around on top of the boat and I convinced Pajo that we should go up and tie it down. It was dark and windy as all heck. My adrenaline levels running high as we wrastled the sail down and tidied the deck, bikes, kayak, ropes and sails. I felt better knowing that it wasn’t as gnarly as it seemed and was able to fall asleep in Pajo’s arms.

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Dec. 23rd // Everett

We wake up to calmer conditions and a hopeful glimpse at Everett across the way. An awesome egg scramble for breakfast and dropped the crab pots in hopes of a crabby breakfast. I get to chat with my sister in Brooklyn while Pajo calls for a tow from Boat US.

 

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The friendly Hat Island Ferry Captain Kurt came to our rescue in the vessel assist boat and we were towed safely back to Everett. Pajo paddled over to Ryan and Kathy’s boat to tow over a second kayak but, alas, our reason for coming to Everett was a bust. Turns out, it’s a great place to have your motor die.

Now to investigate the motor troubles. Pajo noticed the day before that water was leaking out of the elbow, pressure was building where it shouldn’t have. Pajo took the elbow off, we loaded the bike bag and went to have a little chat with the Harbor Marine guys.

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But first, a Porter and coconut prawn snack at Scuttlebutt Brewing Co.! We also picked up a 6-pack of the KEXP Transister IPA.
The Harbor Marine dudes were pretty great and helpful to our troubleshooting. We were even escorted back to their engine specialist in the back offices. Pajo had a lengthy back and forth with the stark fella, and they deduced that the motor was likely shot. Pajo stayed positive, as he does, and thought there were a few different things we ought to try. He purchased a new elbow and additional parts for the Yanmar. I absorb all the mechanical jargon, read their faces, then I start to feel reality setting in: maybe we won’t be heading to Canada afterall.

We certainly had some things to discuss… Pajo provides plan B options.
Like, go back and get the other boat in Leschi. That motor is strong, but that’s far and the trip would need to be more local…
Or, find a Yanmar tractor dealer in the neighborhood to build a franken-motor (apparently they are the same thing?!).

Either way, I was relieved that he considered my comfort level and asked for my input on moving the trip forward.

In the midst of all this, I asked if we can just sail on anyway, and we laughed, “this is a sailboat afterall!” Pajo’s concern was that he’s only sailed Cindy three times and wasn’t practiced on maneuvering motor-less docking.

Captain Kurt thought we were handling all of this pretty well considering. He also thought we were nuts.

“There are bold captains and there are old captains. Not a whole lotta both.” – Captain Kurt, Hat Island ferry

He offered us a tow the next day if we needed it and advised on the tide schedules.

Pajo discussed more with the Marine boys, one elder strongly urged us, “do not leave tonight, please! Just get a good night’s rest and leave in the morning.”

I sleep soundly thankful for my talkative, curious, thoughtful and knowledgeable sailing mate. That night I dreamt of the voyage to come and pushing for a Canadian Christmas!

Dec. 24 // Everett to Victoria, BC

Wake-up call 4am. Pajo raises the American flag and whips up a dank breakfast burrito. I’m totally crushing on this man as he unveils his experimental cooking side in our humble kitchen.
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We set out with the tide and watched the sunrise, spirits are high and bellies full. We learn that food and Dad-rock helps morale. We have to back track a bit down to Edmonds since without a motor, Deception Pass would be effing treacherous. Wind starts to fizzle as we sail through the Juan de Fuca strait and we contemplate heading down to Port Townsend or Port Angeles. Pajo had the spinnaker up for the first time so we could scoop up any and all gusts.

As we approached our turn off, we felt the wind shift up to around 7-8 knots. Pajo was blown away at the speed the boat could go. The wind would like us to carry on to Victoria. I made a Thai concoction with chicken and coconut rice with the oven that rocks with the boat, what a fun way to cook, bobbing around the cabin!
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We were making good speed as we rounded into the Victoria harbor, both sails up. Some re-con and Google maps led us to our customs doc to check into Canada. It was 11pm and we were a little exhausted and I was a bit irritable after our first super long day.

After tidying the boat and calling customs, we relaxed and realized, hey! It’s Christmas… in Canada! We held each other and snuggled down for an amazing sleep.

Dec. 25 // Christmas Day in Victoria, BC

The Customs dock was pretty weird, but since we got the okay to “Move freely about Canada, eh?” we decided that’s what we’ll do! After breakfast, Pajo made a call to the hotel that seemed to share the neighboring dock to find out we can post up there and whilst enjoying their lovely spa-like amenities: jacuzzi, sauna, pool, showers, plumbing. HECK YEAH SPA DAY!

Pajo kayaked to our post for the evening (about 60 feet from our dock) and we towed Cindy over to her parking spot. After a little dip in the rejuvenation chamber (sauna), I was feeling great! We set out to bike the city in search of sites and libations. Victoria has awesome capitol buildings and the architecture makes you feel like you’re in a European city. Everyone is friendly and there is a healthy transient community there of Brits and Kiwis.

We found an industrial part of town across the bridge on Government street with a few micro-breweries sprinkled in. All closed. I saw someone inside the Hoyne Brewing building and thought I’d try and catch ‘em. I knocked on the window and Mr. Hoyne himself came out to greet us. As he explained, in Canada, you need a separate permit to also serve at your brewery, this one did not have a tasting room. Hoyne was a helluva dude and gave us 3 bottles of beer as a Christmas gift!

We continued on, delighted with Victoria so far and thirsty for a beer. We got a hot tip that Swan’s was open so we rolled in for egg-nog and great convo with our chummy bar-tender from Manchester, UK / New Zealand. He was wearing the most festive shirt and hated Christmas. The pub was bustling and realized why he was in high spirits. We made a candy-cane garnish recommendation and continued on to Beacon Hill Park.

On the way, we passed through residential neighborhoods lined with cute houses, odd corner stores, families and dogs out walking in their oversized wool sweaters. There was a super cute little boat racing pond called Harrison Yacht Pond for R/C and model boats. Adorbs. We found a path to the water, peds only, walked our bikes to the edge and watched as the sun went down, we saw where we sailed in and reflected on our journey. We biked on in search of rumored pulled-pork poutine but everything else was closed. ALong the way we found a Polar bear and a First Nation Spirit Fountain in Centennial Square, part of Old Towne.
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We found another bar called The Sticky Wicket and adjacent bizzaro-world Big Bad John’s which was full of elders who were all drinking in silence. We had another egg-nog, this one extra boozy and tried to liven the place up a bit with the lovely bartender. Alas, that place was pretty dismal and so we tracked our next moves though and went home to have dinner and bake a Christmas cake to the tune of awesome Christmas songs. There certainly was lots of Christmas love in the air, we got very close that night as discussions went deep. Pajo made a Velveeta mac-n-cheese and brats creation as the Ghiradelli-covered rice flour cake baked. As we hunkered down to sleep, I whispered “ I will always remember this Christmas” and we drifted to sleep.
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Dec. 26 // Victoria to Fulford Harbor, Salt Spring Island, BC

Waves and winds at full force, we watched a yacht race rounding Discovery Island. These were easily the biggest waves we had ever seen aboard nearly ten feet! When we were in the trough we could no longer see the yachts racing. Unused to the waves, Pajo forgot to lash down the spinnaker and whisker pole. Poseidon’s treasures now. Good thing Cinderella came with 4 spinnakers…

We also saw the fastest speed we ever saw aboard Cinderella, we hit 12 kts briefly surfing down the waves with a poled out headsail.

Dec. 27 // Fulford Harbor to Ganges Harbor, Salt Spring Island, BC
Technology day! We took some time at a little cafe to connect with our world. I made sure my mom knew I was still alive out there and Pajo instgrams all of the photos.

Cafe snacks inclue an amazing almond chocolate bar, a sausage roll, cinnamon bun and all the coffee.

We quickly explore Fulford. What a cute little crunchy salty town. We do a little shopping for trinkets and FOOD. The best provisions yet: locally caught/smoked lox, creamy cream cheese, bread and Habenero mango jam that Pajo will talk about for years to come. Pajo chatted it up with the woman at the market (nothing new) and we set off for Ganges around 3pm.

It was a long trek around the island to it’s other port, the more industrious Ganges. A pathetic waft you might call a breeze turned a two mile sail into four wet, cold hours. We arrived in port around 7, super exhausted. Nap time. Although we had high aspirations for food and beers with locals, snuggling up under warm blankets took priority, let’s just nap for a couple hours… We overslept! Unfortunately, we missed any food service, but hey, we sure felt great in the morning.

Dec. 28 // Ganges Harbor

Well rested, we had a chance to explore the shops and sites in Ganges. The hardware store for bunjees and batteries, the bookstore for a sweet chart of the gulf islands and San Juans, and the grocery for yet more delicious snacks.
We even found a cute treehouse cafe with bomb bison chili and spicy boom boom shrimp. We love Canada.
Nothing puts a smile on Ava’s face quite like a Thrift store find, and boy did we score. Ava found a super cute dress for NYE in Vancouver and browsing the shops led us to meet some pretty rad older artist ladies (of course). Pajo snags some amazing shoes and two books “Just Cruising” and “Still Cruising…” about a family that circum-navs the world in a sailboat. Impeccable timing (and aptly named)  the start of Pajo’s year long campaign trail, but that’s another story…

Dec. 29 // …en route to Vancouver (a poem.)

crazy day.
no wind.
Seal island.
Isle o’ poo.
Land!
Kayak around the island and flirt with seals, bald eagles swoop and swirl.
Pajo naps.
Ava naps.

It was a wild last day of sailing from Salt Spring Island up through Porlier Pass. En route to the pass we sailed along several beautiful uninhabited islands. The wind became finicky and the current began to build against us. We were forced to row to an anchorage in a small, pristine bay. Seals were playing and barking around us, and Ava took the opportunity to kayak around the island, stopping ashore to use the… facilitrees.  Under sail the narrow gap between Valdez and Galliano Islands was a nail-biter. The wind remained fickle, it was very important that we entered the pass just as the current flipped. Too soon and we would be flushed out, too late and the current could put us on the rocks. Careful planning had us safely transitioning into the Salish Sea. Victory! Although we saw tons of wildlife at Seal Island in the December sun, the orcas were all hiding, but we could feel they were sneaking around.

The wind steadily grew as we crossed the Straight of Georgia, before long Cinderella was cruising along at 5-6 kts. As we barrelled through, we took shifts steering, cooking or heating up any warm liquids we could. We had keen eyes on rogue logs, a true sign we were sailing in the northwest!
Pajo took the opportunity to cook up a delicious pasta dinner, complete with appetizers. Ava was very pleased.

As the night drew on, we were crossing the Harrow Straight, and freighters kept us on edge. Rule of tonnage applies here, and we were over cautious. Pajo taught Ava how to heave-to, a skill she picked up all too well.

Dec. 30 // 3am arrival in Vancouver

Nearing our destination the winds continued to build. Although Cinderella does not have a functional anemometer, our guesstimate on wind-speed was 35+.  The sail was beginning to be a test of wills. First a reef, then a second, then we dropped the headsail, still Cinderella would not slow. The wind sounded like a freight train, the railing was well below the waterline, and all of the shrouds were whistling as we were bashing to windward under a double reefed main at a steady 7 kts. It was dark, and we were half-terrified half-exhilarated.

As quickly as the winds built, they ceased. It was as if someone flicked a light switch. As soon as we entered Vancouver Bay, no wind.

It was 1 in the morning, and all we wanted after that 12 hour roller coaster was sleep. No such luck. We still had to cross the bay that was scattered with giant oil tankers that blocked the little wind that there was. Two miles is a long way at 0 kts. Out again came the trusty kayak paddle. Ava wondered if she was absolutely insane for sailing with this guy after dating him for three months, in December. With no engine. She took out her stress on rowing the boat into port. Alas, a couple hours later we were exhausted, and safely at anchor.

Dec. 31 // NYE in Vancouver

After breakfast we realized that the sail the previous day had drained both of our batteries. We used what little battery we had left to call a Boat US for a tow into Vancouver. Again the wind was light, so rather than spend all day crossing a two mile bay, we decided to call for a tow. Are we glad we did! Rhys Davis of the Blue Flasher was a riot. Rhys was probably in his upper 60s and going strong. That man could tell a story. He had his boat, the Blue Flasher, built custom to his specs nearly 30 years prior. Even after being delivered safely to our dock, Rhys stuck around for another hour or so and we were rolling. The humor and stories of the boating community is something spectacular.

We were now safely in Vancouver, the madness was over… At least for Ava, I still had to sail back to Seattle! Fortunately I would take on fresh crew to handle the windless drift home.


“This trip has been amazing!!! Pajo and I worked really well as a team, I was confident in his abilities and gut feelings about making calls and keeping us safe. I learned a lot and definitely felt the immense power of the water and wind, what a FORCE. What we lacked in an engine and a proper toilet we made up for in a helluva fun trip and memories to last a lifetime.” – Ava

 

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