1430 Local time, 48 44 North 123 13 West
The only sounds are the waves lapping against the side of the hull and occasional distant hum of an outboard motor. The hatches are open and the lightest of breezes fills Aretha with the scent of the nearby pine trees. Jani and Pete are both on deck reading whilst I sit at the saloon table writing.
We are at anchor in the most peaceful idyllic bay. It’s called Poets Cove nestled in between North and South Pender Island in British Columbia. We arrived here 24 hours ago and after nine days of intensity in many forms, its truly relaxing to be stopped in one place.
We have learnt much as a team over that time and have created many memories. Tomorrow I will sadly wave goodbye to my current crew and in the evening couldn’t be more excited to welcome my family crew back onto Team Aretha. More of that shortly.
In my last blog, we were off the Oregon Coast and motoring North. Bouncy Tigger Ellis was threatening to scale the mast, our tough Hungarian was treating us to the finest tuna dishes and our Wayward Seaman Pete was entertaining us with his dry sense of humour.
The final four days of the passage were filled with laughter. There was much to laugh about.
Some of it was aimed at the blocked heads (the sailing word for toilets). Not just one head, but two heads. The looming prospect of the bucket and chuck it system provided sufficient motivation for three of the crew to get their hands dirty. Firstly bailing out very full and stinky heads and then dismantling and blowing through pipes to clear it. This sailing stuff - its all glamour and gin and tonics on deck right? Who mentioned this pipe clearing nonsense. Special resilience award to Jani who went beyond the call of duty to clear the pipes.
The schoolboy humour continued. When our Media Industry Captain went for a shower, the rest of the crew thought it would be funny to switch the water pumps off and throw buckets of cold water in through the deck hatch. I have no idea what the Scottish expletives meant but I don’t think he was very happy! Three crew on the other hand were laughing so hard they only partially videoed the naked Scotsman fully lathered up.
You get the picture. It’s been a proper boys sailing trip.
The days and nights cantered through. Stunning orange and purple sunrises and sunsets. Calm seas with barely a whisper of wind as Aretha motored steadily Northwards. The fog around San Francisco gave way to sunshine as we stayed some 20 miles off the coast. The weather gods continued to smile us on giving us unusually benign conditions.
The fishing fleets after Halibut, Red Snapper, Cod and Salmon along this coast were out in full. Easier to spot by night being lit up like Christmas trees as very few fishing vessels out here carry AIS to emit a digital signal letting you know of their presence. I’m sorry to say that we did actually snag two different sets of fishing gear with our propeller by night. The tell tale was the clonk of the floats which I could feel under my bunk in the stern quarters. Thankfully both were dealt with by stopping the engine and going into reverse and the rope cutter by the propeller did its job.
Many deep and engaging conversations flowed on deck - by day under the sun and by night under the starry skies of the North Pacific.
This trip was called the North Pacific Orca Adventure for a specific reason and expectations for Orca’s were high. So much so that what we know now as Dall’s Porpoises (with a distinct white underbelly) were called out as Orca’s. Admiral Pete scoffed. They’re not Orca’s. They’re dolphins.
One day later our patience was rewarded. As three huge fins came cutting towards us at high speed, the shout from on deck was clear “Whales”. Admiral Pete left us in doubt “now that’s an Orca”. Huge. Powerful. Fast. Coming clear of the water and letting us know who was the boss. Wow. Just wow. They weren’t so keen on posing for the camera’s so here’s to the next crew getting better snaps of them.
In the early hours of the sixth day, the flashing lights off Cape Flattery were spotted. Two flashes every twenty seconds. Unmistakeable. The current helped accelerate us towards the headland giving us at around 8 knots over the ground. The chart plotter was now filling with commercial vessels and the upcoming Traffic Separation Scheme as vessels coming into Vancouver and Seattle and then heading out around the world ply this channel. It also happens to be the location for one of the US Navy’s largest shipyards.
We entered the Straits of Juan de Fuca around 3am and as the light started to rise after 6am the sides of the channel were shrouded in fog. We still had some 60 miles to go to reach Victoria and for the first 5 hours with current against us, we were barely making 4 knots. When the current turned, 4 knots turned into 9 knots. As the sun burnt through the fog, the spectacular treelined coasts became visible and the rising sense of excitement and anticipation across the crew was palpable.
For the final 10 miles, we were treated to more Orca’s and we think humpbacked whales too. This place is a nature lovers paradise.
The breeze picked up and with sails up we closed the final miles to Victoria at 10 knots in flat water.
Sails down. Mooring lines and fenders out.
A buzzing sound reminded us of what we had read in the Pilot books. The harbour as well being the shipping entrance is also the runway for the seaplanes that regularly take off and land here. This is a new experience watching the air as well as the sea. We debate who has right of way and then get over the side out of the way whilst one lands right in front of us. Best not to argue with a plane!
We clear into Customs Canadian style. That’s self service. Pull up to the customs dock. Call on the telephone. Give them your details. You get a clearance number and you’re in. That’s it. Canadian efficiency. Love it. Huge contrast to flying into San Francisco last time and spending 3-4 hours waiting to pass through customs.
We refuelled and then briefly docked on the fishing dock before a celebratory beer and heading into town.
As luck would have it, the following day, the Sunday was one of the biggest events of the year in Victoria, the Symphony Splash. A live orchestra playing from a barge moored in the inner harbour and watched by some 40,000 people and live streamed over the web and on TV. Our timing could not have been better.
We wandered to the inner harbour and inquired as to the chances of a berth. It wasn't looking likely. Someone however was smiling on us that day and we were offered a berth right next to the stage. We couldn’t believe our luck. Without wasting a minute we ferried back to Aretha in the small harbour ferries that look like something out of Disney and guided Aretha into the tiniest of spots. Our neighbours told us they have been waiting to get a berth here for the last 20 years during the Symphony Splash.
The next 24 hours flew by - drinks, food, a polish up for us and Aretha and flying Aretha’s dress flags. We met so many welcoming people who exuded warmth and generosity to include us. The CEO of the Symphony looked after us and I got the pleasure of going back stage to meet the Conductor, Christian Kluxen and the 8 year old Chinese child prodigy, Felipe Jiang who played piano. The setting was spectacular - a water based amphitheatre with people lining the walls and the water filled with kayaks and paddle boarders all nudging close to the action.
As we shared glasses of wine on deck with our neighbours and enjoyed the music and fireworks to the 1812 overture, andthe bagpipers playing Amazing Grace, the memory of broken boat parts and ocean sailing felt a million miles away.
Ellis finally got to scale the mast (it was too rolling at sea) and watched the last 30 minutes from the first spreaders and captured the beauty of the moment on camera.
My team on Aretha for the first part of the Great North Pacific Orca adventure has been absolutely first class. The way the whole team has come together with humour, with energy and pride has been the strongest memory.
This team now head home - Ellis had a call to return to business at short notice yesterday and Pete and Jani fly home tomorrow.
My next team - my wife Nichola, Bluebell (12), Columbus (10) and Willow (5) fly into Vancouver tomorrow with my younger sister Jess. I couldn’t be more excited as I’ve not seen them for three weeks. It will be a very different team and we have many more adventures ahead of us.
Team Aretha in British Columbia, Out.