Calm & Light
A day later we settled into the storm’s wake: the calm. Winds petered out to about 12 to 15 knots, just enough to move the boat along at about five or six knots. We made our right turn toward the east and jibed from a broad reach onto a slow run, with the meager winds essentially on our stern.
The good part of the trip was over. Waters had turned from blue to gray and temperatures dropped from the 70s/80s to the 50s/60s. But daylight lengthened and the night barely showed itself, and on my watches (4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and again 4 a.m. to 8 a.m.) I enjoyed the lingering twilight as I went off watch at night and the fullness of the moon and dawn as I returned for my morning session. Being at the helm is so much more enjoyable when you can see potential dangers on the sea…
One evening I noticed a growing glow on the horizon—really bright lights on the sea. I checked the charts for weather stations (this was way too much light for a ship) but found none. Confused and wary, I kept my eye out for any change. Very slowly, the lighted horizon crept by on my starboard side throughout my watch. When Hugh relived me, we discussed possibilities and agreed there was a floating fish processing plant several miles (15 or more) over the horizon. They must’ve had their work lights on full power because they really lit up the sky!
Each morning and evening, we were greeted by our albatross friend who Hugh had nicknamed “Old Man.” Old Man had joined us before the storm and seemed to hang with us each morning and evening, bringing us legendary luck on the seas. It was cool to watch him circle our boat several times before landing on the water to rest or taking off to hunt. There’s an enormous amount of wildlife at sea, and we watched porpoises play in the wake of the boat, darting under the bow, catching some air, just generally having fun. Nobody will ever convince me that God’s creatures are nothing more than evolved cells—they often convey the Creator’s character.
As we neared land—but still a couple hundred miles off—we began to encounter signs of civilization: flotsam in the form of small timber, grasses, and the like. Within another couple of days we started picking up a few fishing boats from time to time. It was necessary to be even more diligent during those nighttime watches, now that the moon was waning and night was dark once more. As we approached the northwest coast of Washington, boat traffic really increased and we had to make a few course adjustments as we sailed past temporary fishing communities.
Our final approach took us down the Straight of Juan de Fuca, with the State of Washington on our south and British Columbia, Canada on the north. We entered the Straight just as it was getting dark and foggy. Because this is a major shipping lane with lots of ship traffic, we cruised the last night under power with the radar constantly scanning for other vessels.
Celebrate Me Home
By morning we were finally in sight of Victoria Harbour. We rounded a cluster of islands in stiff breezes and sailed onward for another hour. As we neared the mouth of the inlet, we pulled down the sails for our final approach and motored up to the customs dock at about 7 a.m. Hugh’s wife, Joyce, and several family members and friends met us there with champagne and bagels. Since the customs office didn’t open until 9 a.m., we shared the celebration between the locked gate, feeling somewhat like outcasts in our own land (well, Hugh’s own land!). After an hour of “removed re-acquaintances” we decided to forego the formalities of customs at their dock and hoped they would agree to meet us at Hugh’s yacht club. So we hoisted the sails once again and sailed around the point another eight or ten miles to the yacht club where we finally doused the sails for the last time.
I’d had a great time the past 22 days—a full week shorter than expected—but it was great to be on dry land! First order of business: a 20 minute shower in the club’s locker room. Second order of business: a beer (or two!) in the club’s lounge. Third order of business: a bed in a good hotel room.
The Rest of the Story
The next morning my cell phone rang from its location on the armoire across the hotel room. I got up out of bed to answer it and fell flat on my ass. The room seemed to be swaying and spinning and my sea legs simply weren’t ready for solid ground! Over the next couple of days I adjusted and at least looked relatively sober to passersby.
Hugh & Joyce invited me to their home for a “Welcome Home” party the next day and we had a great time recounting our trip and Hugh’s other travels throughout the South Pacific. I had made some good friends, had a great time sailing, improved my nautical skills, learned to respect weather, reveled in the expanse of creation, and renewed my spirit. But I was ready to go home. Yet just as quick, I was ready to weigh anchor again…