Category Archives: Journeys by Whatever (Including Some Epic Trips)

More than one way to get there

On our way into the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club basin, we passed the sailboat who’d just vacated our intended spot on the dock. “Lots of bumpers!” they called across the water, shaking their heads. It was a tricky spot, not much room and way too many waves for comfort. On the dock, the cluster of people who had helped them get away from the dock waited to catch our lines — the harbormaster and three yachties from nearby boats. I heard murmurs of admiration for Jim’s expert boat handling.

Looking up at the massive — and fortunately vacant — cruise ship dock, I felt a little smug about arriving on such a small boat. I picked up the camera and headed into town with Barry. We had traveled for days and seen nothing larger than a small village, so this “big” city seemed both huge and remote.

Prince Rupert, population 12,000, feels like the end of the earth, but it’s really just the end of the road — for Canada.

We were walking by a grocery store when we saw a curious sight. A Unimog was parked in front, sporting a pair of exotic horns and an unrecognizable license plate. We walked over for a closer look. This was no streamlined RV, but a huge, high-clearance monster truck camper looking like something out of the movie “Road Warrior.”

The owners were loading groceries into a rear door, too busy to talk. I caught a glimpse of an interior decorated with African art, but the owner told us, crossly, not to take a photo of that side while he had the door open. We went around to the front, noting some of the countries painted on the side — I saw Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, while Barry noted European countries.

I was dying to know about the trip. What did the slogan “African Power” on the front mean? Had they come from Europe via Africa and South America? Where were they headed? What kind of horns were they?

We continued through town and ran across another busy couple at the gas station across from the next grocery. Their mode of transportation was motorcycles, two dusty bikes with extra high suspensions and lots of gear. A closer look showed Quebec license plates. They, too, were too busy provisioning to talk.

By the time we saw the bicyclist, I was feeling considerably less smug about our mode of transportation. After all, we’d had a comfortable bed, hot showers, and gourmet meals aboard Complexity. This fellow’s bicycle held loaded panniers, and the young blonde rider was studying a map in front of the visitors’ center.

“Hello!” I said. “Where did you ride from?”

He answered with a German accent, “Do you mean today?”

“No, I mean the beginning of your trip.”

“From Los Angeles,” he answered. “I plan to ride to Prudhoe Bay.” I was impressed: Prudhoe Bay is on the Arctic Circle.

He was busy with his map and not inclined to talk further, so we walked on.

I guess you have to be pretty driven to accomplish these remarkable travel feats: Thousands and thousands of miles without much in the way of creature comforts. I lost a little of my smugness that day, but not all of it. Sure, we’ll never be in the Guiness Book of Records. But on the other hand, we are hardly ever too busy to stop and talk.

My one photo of the African-themed Unimog:
African-themed Unimog

A candid shot of the motorcyclists:
Long-distance motorcyclists

The bicyclist, studying his map:
Bicyclist who rode from LA

Return to Sointula

By 1999, Barry and I had logged hundreds of hours on OPB’s (Other People’s Boats) in Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. From 28 to 44 feet, catamarans and multihulls, raceboats and cruisers, stayed and unstayed rigs, cutters and sloops and yawls, they all had one thing in common: Triangular Marconi sails. But we had fallen in love with the junk rig, with Chinese sails like butterflies. We dreamed of building a boat with a junk rig, and we mailed our membership check to the only group that catered to junk afficionadoes, the British-based Junk Rig Association, or JRA.

The JRA published a directory of members back then, and we were the only ones with a Puget Sound address. I pored over the list, hoping to find someone who would take us for a sail in a junk-rigged boat.

I e-mailed Canadian Jeff Ardron, who listed an address in British Columbia. After he wrote back, saying “Come on up!” I looked at the map. His home in Sointula was hundreds of miles away, on a tiny island off the north coast of Vancouver Island. It took us two days and several ferries to reach him on Malcolm Island, where he lived with his girlfriend, Anna.

Jeff had spent a number of years rebuilding an old wooden dory, scrounging materials and using a couple of periods of unemployment to complete the work. The Nootka Rose was super-stout, a little overbuilt, but at 28 feet, capable of handling anything Neptune could throw her way.

We stayed on the island for several days, pitching our tent at the Bere Point campground. Jeff took us out sailing each day, and I took copious notes on the rig, construction, handling, and all his boatbuilding tips. I was so intent on gathering information and photographs for reference, I hardly noticed the beautiful waters where we sailed.

Jeff confirmed that our dream of building our own junk-rigged boat was realistic, and we returned home with strengthened resolve. Over the years, friends have tried to sway us, unsuccessfully. “If junks are so great, how come nobody has one?” they’d say. “Why don’t you buy a used boat and fix it up?” We returned to Jeff’s words: “It would have been easier to start from scratch, with a pile of plywood, than to rebuild an old boat.”

We’ve lost touch with him over the years, eagerly asking our Alaska-bound friends if they saw Nootka Rose at the marina when they passed through Sointula.

Last week, we stopped there ourselves, on Complexity. We scanned the docks for Nootka Rose, but she was gone. Jeff and Anna’s little beach house is now a tiny health clinic.

“He left a couple of years ago,” said the harbormaster. “I think he went to live on one of the islands.” This made me smile, considering that we were standing on an island. It was no surprise that Jeff and Anna had split up, since she seemed to have little patience for sailing, and no love for the Nootka Rose. Her passion at the time was tennis.

We walked all over Sointula with Jim and Barbara, remembering the distinctive fences, the tennis courts, the rotting boatsheds, the two sailboats wrecked on the beach. The museum was still there, expanded, with a voluble volunteer who’d emigrated from Los Angeles.

At one boatshed, we stopped to admire a forest of wooden Easter Island-type sculptures. Ryan Pakkalen, a young sculptor, was at work in his studio, a drafty and ramshackle shed lined with poly tarps. In his great-grandfather’s boat shed next door, light filtered through the roof, a patchwork of missing shingles, onto dramatic carvings of fish and birds and sea urchins. His “house” was parked outside, an ancient white van with a pet parrot sitting on the steering wheel. Ryan’s recently put a life-sized sculpture of a crocodile up for sale on E-Bay, and I’ve no doubt it will find a buyer.

We all have our dreams. Ryan’s is his art, and the volunteer at the museum’s is community and clean living away from the city. Jeff’s dream was to build a sturdy little sailing boat, and that’s our dream, too. Wherever he is, I wish him happy sailing, and I want to thank him for encouraging our dream. The next time we stop in Sointula, it may be aboard our own boat, built with our own hands. It would be fitting, and perhaps it will encourage someone else to dream as well.

North – to Alaska

Today is June 5th. Last year this time, I was sweating in the deep south in shorts and a tank top, glopped up with sunscreen. Now I’m wearing longjohns, wool pants, fleece, and gloves. It’s 49 degrees.

We’re halfway to Alaska, cruising aboard Complexity in some of the most stunning waters on earth. Mountains rise straight up from the water, towering thousands of feet above us. Their lower green flanks are covered in trees, their blue tops capped with snow and ice. I haven’t seen a house for days, but I’ve seen dozens of eagles. We are in paradise.
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In February, Paul and Gayle of Indigo asked if we’d like to join them for part or all of their summer Alaska trip. “Yes!” we said, adding the caveat that we had to sell our house first. We decided to take the ferry up, a 3-day trip, and sail back with them for a month.

Then Jim and Barbara told us they were heading north, too, on their 36-foot Halberg Rassy, Complexity. When our house sold in 11 days, all the pieces fell into place.

One day after closing, Barry’s parents dropped us off at Kenmore, the north end of Lake Washington. A friendly pilot named John stowed us and our baggage aboard a 10-passenger Beaver seaplane.

Taking off in a seaplane is like riding in a powerboat. You throttle up and go faster and faster. The nose points up and you begin to plane. But in a seaplane, it just keeps pointing up until you are planing on air, and the next thing you know, there’s no wake and the water is far, far below.

With our noses pressed to the windows, we ticked off familiar landmarks. “Look! There’s Pete’s boat!” Our friend Pete has a boat that’s too deep for his slip, so he moors it distinctively outside the slip, with a spiderweb of lines to shore. We saw Camano Island State Park, Port Townsend, and the San Juans. Then into Canada, less familiar but no less interesting.

Canadian Customs in Nanaimo was easy — how much contraband could you carry with a 24-pound baggage limit? Our route now resembled a whistle-stop airline, dropping passengers at tiny coves like Eggmont and Minke Island. Finally, after one leg each in the copilot’s seat, Barry and I were dropped at Campbell River with a frame backpack each and The Box.

Two days before leaving Seattle, we’d gotten a terse satellite e-mail from Jim and Barbara. “Autopilot is acting up and making noises. Please bring a Raymarine drive unit with you.” He provided a part number, so we called around and found one in stock at the Offshore Store. The $1500 cost was no issue, but the added 20 pounds of baggage was a concern. We took turns carrying it from the floatplane dock to the boat, just over a mile, with Barry carrying it on his head some of the time.
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We’ve been cruising on Complexity for 10 days now, and it is the most pleasant boat I’ve ever sailed on. There’s no yelling, no harsh words, no swearing, even in the stickiest situations. Jim and Barbara treat each other with respect and patience. They are excellent sailing — and relationship — role models. This is how cruising should be: Fun and happy, but careful and responsible.

In a couple of weeks, we’ll leave Complexity in Juneau. They’ll travel on to Glacier Bay to meet up with their next crew, 6 year old Abby, 12 year old Alex, and Barbara’s aunt, Carol. Barry and I will take the backpacks and head north in a multi-modal trek: Ferry, train, bus, and foot. Our goal is to follow the route of the Yukon gold rush and make it to Dawson City, the boom town of 1897.

Then it will be our turn to head to Glacier Bay, where we’ll meet up with Gayle and Paul on Indigo. For folks sailing up from Seattle, Glacier Bay is supposed to be the highlight of the trip. But for us, there will be many highlights, and only ten days into this ten-week adventure, I can hardly imagine what’s in store.