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August 15, 2001

Sunday, August 5, 01: Clam Bay, North Gulf Islands, Canada: 48° 58.9' N and 123° 38.9' W

Wind calm at times, then 10k gusting to 15k, overcast, raining for four days.

"Love of Liberty" is underway to Clam Bay. We are powering through swirling mist and rain with gloom, damp jeans, and wet feet. Sailing would be nice, but the wind is too light. At what seems a snail's pace, we move through this drizzle. Everything that is outside of the boat is wet except the chart which is kept in a zip lock bag. Slowing the boat a little more, we edge our way between a shallow sandy spit and a rocky reef passing down an unmarked channel for a quarter mile. At first, this course looked like a short cut to me, but considering the worry about grounding, I don't think it was worth it. Turning westerly and avoiding yet another reef marked only by a kelp bed floating above it, we enter Clam Bay and drop the hook. The Canadian Weather Service says, "This is an unseasonable frontal passage." In Victoria last winter, I was convinced that another unseasonable weather event, the next ice age, was underway. Everyone there said, "Just wait 'till the beautiful long days of summer. August is the best." Well, it is now August. I've waited. Let the good times begin. The Canadian Broadcasting Company then reported that on the East Coast of the U.S., the first seasonal tropical storm, "Barry," is winding up with some strong winds and may come ashore. For some unknown reason, I am not THERE for this one. All things considered, the Northwest is a paradise even with the overcast, rain, and potential of an earthquake. I admire these sparsely populated, jagged, dark green islands. In Clam Bay, we dry out and spend the remainder of the day below decks planning a fine smoked salmon and pasta dinner to go with our not expensive jug wine, a Jackson-Triggs burgundy, 1.5 liter.

Tuesday, August 7, 01: Clam Bay, North Gulf Islands, Canada: 48° 58.9' N and 123° 38.9' W

Wind 10k, sunny, 85° F

After five days of what seemed interminable lousy weather, the rain has stopped. Spirits are up. Last evening, two of the Penelakut Native Indian tribe appeared and canoed out to trade with us. We're anchored a hundred yards off shore from their reservation on Kuper Island. Warm clothes, dry feet, a rich sunset, a rainbow and calm water has changed our attitude. Tomorrow we head north, through Dodd Narrows to Newcastle Island, near Nanaimo.

Wednesday, August 8, 01: Newcastle Provincial Park, near Nanaimo, North Gulf Islands, Canada: 49° 10.6' N and 123° 55.7'W

Wind 15k, to increase to 25k late tonight, sunny, 85° F

On the way to Nanaimo, boats must transit Dodd Narrows, a tight, 150-foot wide channel worn through the rock between Vancouver Island and Mudge Island. Currents can run 5 to 8 knots here with large swirls and eddies at the constriction. We read the 'book' and transited exactly at slack water ... with about 25 other boaters. Before slack current, everyone idles around a quarter mile from the entrance where the channel tapers down to the narrows. Exactly at slack water, they go through usually in single file except for some brainless 'cowboys' who seem to go at full throttle anytime within a half hour of slack water or some dim-witted sailboater who tries to take a favorable wind and sail through. Tugs, barges and log booms also squeeeeze through. They're a big problem because you can't see them coming when you're at the opposite entrance. Landlubber gawkers stand on the rocks at the narrowest part of the cut, have a beer and watch for a potential debacle. They were disappointed this time even though there was still some strong current movement. Outside the narrows we powered into 25k headwinds and choppy seas for an hour and at last, entered Nanaimo Channel. At that point I could see the Straight of Georgia over the stern, and I could look across the 25 mile stretch of water to the steep snowcapped peaks of Vancouver, our next leg.

Crowded is the only way to describe Mark Bay, the anchorage in Nanaimo's "Provincial Park. Everybody shortens their anchor rode so they won't swing into neighboring boats, but they do so at the expense of their anchor's holding power. We're swinging on our anchor chain just 40 feet from the next boat. I'm concerned. I cross check our position often as our boat 'hunts' back and forth in the wind pulling against the chain. The Dinghy Dock Pub is just 100 yards off the stern and, unbelievably, the pub holds a Wednesday night sailboat race with the starting line INSIDE the crowded harbor perimeter. For a half an hour some fast looking boats sprint in, out and around us in the fresh breeze jockeying for a good race start. These plucky sailors were providing entertainment for those who, probably drinking warm Guinness, cheered the crews with shouts of 'bully,' 'aye' and 'bloody good' from the outdoor pub tables. If they completed the race course, all race crews were awarded a free beer at the Dinghy Dock Pub, a barely adequate reward considering there were no collisions.

Late tonight the wind is predicted to increase to 25k. Under these conditions, we were warned that some boats drag anchor and slip through the harbor. I consult with a nearby Canadian fishing boat, and he says the harbor bottom is mud (good) AND smooth rock (bad). There's no reliable way to know the bottom when you drop the hook. I've let out extra chain on our 'special-high-rated,' Tunisian made, Spade anchor, and when I reverse the engine, it seems to hold well. I repeatedly remind myself that tests show it's supposed to have superb holding power - double that of the pervasive Scottish made CQR. Right! I hope I get a full night's sleep.

 

The venerable dinghy still looms prominent in our cruising experiences. I so vividly recall our trips in the 'sinking dinghy,' tender to the schooner "Silver Heels" back in Maine. On the water in that little boat, it was forward fifty feet and down one foot. That was the only boat that I knew of that had a calculated "sink rate." Now the little nemesis belongs to some other man, the new owner of "Silver Heels."

I really like 'Sam', the dinghy I recently built. She's very light, she rows beautifully, and "Love of Liberty" has stern davits to hold her up and out of the water when we sail. Still, all dinghies are a necessary evil, essential as they are for carrying you, your guests and your supplies to shore and back. The problem is they are in the way when you're not using them. From the designers of sailboats in the 1930's to those who shape present day plastic craft, no sailboat designer has a workable plan for what you do with the dinghy when you don't need it.

On some boats, the plan is to lift the dinghy out of the water with a halyard, roll it over and store it, inverted, on the deck up forward. Yes, that's good, but it takes considerable effort and strength to lift the darlin' aboard without scraping the varnish and without you, yourself, being knocked overboard by her momentum as she swings in the halyard. All of this is after you have removed and stowed the outboard motor, the bailer, the cushions and the oars. Given that the dink is small, when it's lashed down on the foredeck, the helmsperson still can't see over the bow. In order to use the dink again, one must unlash it, right it, lift it with the halyard, push it overboard, lower it and equip it with its gear. It is a complicated procedure.

Some sailors, after off-loading all the dink's stuff, deflate the dinghy (if it's a rubber raft), and then lift that on deck. Lifting those inflatable boats, although simpler, is still a chore. The mound of dinghy rubber doesn't make for a tidy look on deck, and to further the problem, the rubber dinghy must be re-inflated and 're-commissioned' when you wish to float it again.

You can lift the dinghy out of the water on special derrick structures (davits) that are usually mounted on the big boat's stern. That's workable, but it requires rigging a rope sling and attaching two or more lifting lines while you are still in the dinghy, bobbing in the waves beneath the davits. Next, you, yourself, must clear the dinghy by climbing up a rope ladder over the big boat's stern which itself may be pitching and rolling in the seaway. Once on deck, you must, of course, simultaneously pull both lifting lines at the same rate, as you raise the dink's bow and stern evenly upward on the davits. Dicey at times, it's not a bad solution except the loss of view over the stern once she's in place. The overhanging davits and dinghy extend the length of the big boat, adding to the cost of a marina berth, and swinging off the end of the boat, the dink is very vulnerable - easily skewered by passing craft.

Some very large yachts have a water level ramp and a trap door opening to a dinghy-space inside the boat's transom. They slide the dinghy onto the lowered ramp, move the dinghy into the "boat's garage," lift the ramp with hydraulic motors and close the doors up tight ­ with hydraulic motors. A very fine solution! However, those boats also have helicopter platforms, satellite phone systems, paid crews, paid captains, polished brass, Waterford crystal and a lot of other things I can't afford.

You CAN just leave the dinghy in the water and tow it behind from bay to cove to harbor. That's a fairly simple answer. But realize, should the tow line break while underway, and should you fail to notice that she's 'slipped away', you now can spend a day searching the horizon with binoculars.** During daytime, underway in good conditions with a substantial towline, the dink does follow un-noticeably, a safe distance behind the boat. When at anchor, she's there, faithfully waiting the chance to ferry the crew and gear to shore. At night, the dink floats idly at the end of its tether, still afloat and waiting, ready "out there" should a need arise. Never being completely idle, the dink also waits for the slightest wind shift or current change, which usually occurs at 3:30 AM. For some nocturnal reason, the current, the wind and the dinghy now join forces. Becoming hostile for some other reason, the dink drifts, builds momentum and - as if commanded by Captain Nemo - heads on a collision course for the big boat. The soft canvas cushion on the dinghy gunwale makes no difference. In the quiet of the night the collision occurs and feels like a direct hit above your bunk with a 14" Whitehead torpedo. You must jump from your berth, rush on deck, hoping that you've been holed ABOVE the waterline. Noticing that it's just a little "nuzzle" from the 'drifting' dink, you're relieved. You tease her over with her tether and move her to the other side. You lengthen the line a little and push her away into the night. She idles softly out there in the moonlight, harmless and quiet. Back in your bunk, you fall asleep assured that she's now no problem, being a greater distance away. The only truth is that she's now able to build up a better head of steam. One hour later, pointing directly at the boat, aided by wind and current, the dink develops a little bow wave AND SHE RETURNS. There is no resolution to this problem.

 

**As I write this there is a man in the harbor hand paddling in a child's circular float tube, 'chasing' an errant dinghy.

With best regards to all, Terry and Ellen

 

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