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Old 10-14-2000
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Liza Copeland is on a distinguished road
A Cruising Sabbatical

Not pictured here are the many project lists which make the view possible.

The departure date for our one-year cruising sabbatical from British Columbia was set for August 1, at 12 p.m. from the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club dock. Friends were moving into our house that same day and our crew to San Francisco had booked his flight from Englandso there was no delaying!

The six-month countdown had flown by. Our Beneteau 38', Bagheera, in which we had previously completed a six-year circumnavigation, was now 13 years old and had needed a thorough overhaul. Since no young crew would be along for the journey, our aging muscles meant new systems and gear were a necessity. The house was prepared for renting, formerly ignored jobs were completed, drawers and cupboards packed away, some furniture stored, and the basement made self-sufficient for our sons. We had to organize two businesses to be left behind, obtain insurance policies for the boat, medical shots for Central America, supplies for the medical chest, provisions, spares, charts, cruising guides, etc. The list seemed endless as regular life and work continued, and our moods swung from elation to despair as chores were completed, then new ones added as the list grew in length. With our children remaining behind communications took on a new priority. Being able to send e-mail from the boat was a wonderful bonus of modern technologywhen we finally got it working!

To our amazement we were ready to greet family and friends on the dock at 10 a.m. as planned. Champagne flowed, and there was a cheer of anticipation when the last cork soared to the spreaders and Andy started the engine. We cast off the lines right on schedule and excitedly waved farewell.

As the marina faded astern, I was suddenly struck by a pang of emotion, familiar from our previous days of long-distance voyaging. One of the down sides of cruising is the wrench of saying good-bye to one’s secure and comfortable world. Did I really want to leave my children, home, and friends for a year and start on an ocean passage down the Oregon coast renowned for its storms?

I might have succumbed to such dismal thoughts were it not for the fact that this was only a temporary parting since we were leaving the boat in San Francisco and returning to Vancouver for the month of September. It was also hard to be gloomy on such a spectacular day, with friends jubilantly escorting us out. I reminded myself that this first 750-mile offshore voyage should be easy with four on board and it would be great to catch up on sleep. My spirits returned. After all, this was the start of another grand cruising adventure that was to include 10 countries, five of which we’d never explored before.

Going cruising is equal parts leaving things behind and creating space for new experience.

As Bagheera sped past Spanish Banks and out to the bell buoy, Richard, Andy’s cousin from England, was overwhelmed by the physical beauty and grandeur of Vancouver in its remarkable setting of mountains, lush vegetation and blue ocean. "It’s all so amazing," he continued as we entered the Straits of Georgia. "And now there are islands in every direction."

"This is one of the most stunning areas in the world for cruising," Andy told him. "It extents for thousands of miles with thousands of islands in mostly protected waters."

In all of our travels to over one hundred countries not many areas have rivaled the Pacific Northwest for dramatic scenic vistas and extensive comfortable sailing. Few who cruise the San Juan Islands, the Gulf Islands, Desolation Sound, the Queen Charlotte Islands, the Inside Passage to Alaska and, for the intrepid, the outside passage of Alaska to Prince William Sound and the Aleutian Islands are disappointed .

The cruising community is a tight-knit bunch. Somewhere down there friends are waiting.

The three-hour reach across the Straits of Georgia flew by as we recounted some our local cruising adventures to Richard. Then, after surging through the whirlpools at Porlier Pass, we gave him a taste of Gulf Island cruising before stopping for the night at the yacht club outstation on Saltspring. It was a long weekend and the marina was bursting with cruising families. Kids lined the docks with their fishing lines, buckets, and bait; the water was alive with tiny fish; deep purple starfish and occasional huge orange sunstars gleamed vividly from the ocean bed below. Buckets of clams already hung from boats, slung low in the water for the mollusks to purge themselves of sand. As we chatted to numerous friends it was hard to believe we weren’t part of this familiar scene but were heading offshore instead !

Next day we continued to Victoria at the southern end of Vancouver Island and entered the downtown inner harbor. It was bustling with ferry and seaplane traffic; whale-watching inflatables, laden with red-suited tourists, were departing in search of our familiar killer whales, and entertaining buskers had collected crowds along the wharf. Victoria is an attractive city with its old stone and brick buildings. Not only has it maintained its genteel character, it is said to be more English than England itself, with afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel being an institution.

Peter, a friend from previous offshore cruising, was waving to us from the dock.

"I’ve found you a berth," he called out, giving us directions.

"Thank you so much. I called on the radio but everything seemed full, " I said to him after we had tied our lines.

"It’s the Symphony Splash tomorrow night, "he informed us. "The Victoria Symphony Orchestra plays on a barge in the middle of the harbor. Good timing; it’s a great event."

We had a wonderful dinner with Peter and Lydia and reminisced into the night about our cruising days together. We had first met in Malta, when they were on their Prout catamaran Blyss II; we had frequently cruised together in the Med, crossed the Atlantic in the first Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, then sailed through the Caribbean. Their children, Anya and Ryan, are close to Jamie in age and were his cruising playmates.

"We always watch the Symphony from our canoe," Lydia told us.

"Great, we can go in our dinghy. Can you launch the canoe by Bagheera and come for a sundowner first?"

We joined the mass of small boats by the barge in front of the picturesque, floodlit Empress Hotel and Parliament buildings. As Peter fed us delicious hors d’oeuvres and superb homemade wine from juice bottles, we began to feel quite into the ‘cruising’ mode. It was a lively performance of popular music and a great atmosphere with the many boats, muted lights, and appreciative crowds around the harbor.

Meanwhile our eldest son Duncan had arrived and later took Richard ‘out on the town’ with some friends from University. "Don’t forget we are having a safety check at 9.00 a.m.," Andy reminded them.

"We were all quite relieved that a full gale in the Straits of Juan de Fuca necessitated spending the rest of the day firmly attached to the dock!"

Bagheera’s crew were up but not a lively bunch the next morning. It took over an hour to check out the life harnesses, equipment, and man-overboard procedures and we were all quite relieved that a full gale in the Straits of Juan de Fuca necessitated spending the rest of the day firmly attached to the dock! A good party the previous night is not prudent for those who are prone to seasickness and as yet this was an unknown for Richard. It gave us time to say more good-byes, sightsee, refresh our memories of provincial heritage at the Royal British Columbia Museum, and connect with the ocean with whale watching movies at the IMAX theatre. Richard also treated us to a magnificent tour of Victoria and the Saanich Peninsula by floatplane.

It's not always an option, but waiting out the weather on the hook is the preferred strategy.

Battling strong head winds up the Juan de Fuca Strait and clawing our way past Race Rocks, we decided to pull into Becher Bay east of the less accessible Sooke, hoping that the winds would follow their usual pattern of easing during the night. It was gusting 34 knots, wind against current. By midnight it was down to a steady 12-knot westerly and we set off motor-sailing for Cape Flattery. If the weather deteriorated again we could always pull into Neah Bay. By 7 a.m. the steep 115-foot cliff of Cape Flattery was in sight, its large radar dome prominent above the low cloud. Yatoosh Island and several dramatic rocks soared from the ocean to seaward. The winds were calm as we passed them by, but Bagheera was pounding through short, steep waves.

Looking west Richard voiced with awe, " Four thousand miles of Pacific Ocean before land." Visibility was poor as we eased sheets and the big ocean swells lifted the hull. We took a deep breath filled with both reverence and exhilaration.  We were now embarked on another voyage on this, the largest of oceans. 

Suggested Reading List

  1. Anchoring Control by Liza Copeland
  2. Where Are You Headed by Sue & Larry
  3. Keeping It Simple by Doreen Gounard
  4. Lessons Learned from 10,000 Miles by Beth Leonard
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