Over the years I lived aboard, most of my passages were unremarkable. Some were quite magical. The SV Luna Mare sailed some ‘fat’ water, but I remember only two very scary storms. I’d hook my harness to the backstay, stand on the cockpit seats (so I could see the waves better), and ride the boat like a bucking bronco.
The dog & cat would slide around in the cockpit well, glaring balefully up at me. One time, when the tops of some following seas were breaking into the cockpit, the cat had finally had enough. “Abandon ship!!” she cried, and leapt overboard. I snagged her mid-leap (I’d never have been able to retrieve her in those seas), threw her below and locked her in.
Most of the time, she stayed with the vessel; it was her home. Once I was powering away from a dock, when I heard a high, “Meeee!” She’d been left behind. We circled back and she jumped aboard.
One moonless night she joined the dog & me in the kayak (tender). We went ashore briefly, then, as we approached Luna Mare, she wanted to be first to get back aboard. She went out to the tip of the fibreglass kayak bow, leapt, slipped, went ‘plunk’ into the water, and . . . disappeared! I thought, “Oh no! I’ve killed my cat!” Finally, after a very, very long minute, I heard a “Hfff, Hfff, Hfff, Hfff…” It was the cat, panting and “swimming” (I swear she was vertical in the water). She’d swum all the way around the hull, and come back to where we waited in the kayak. I tossed her up on deck. “You’re all wet; DON’T go on the chart table!” When the dog and I went below, she was grooming herself, sitting in a puddle on the chart table.
Belatedly, I should introduce the crew:
Pepper (mixed breed), and later, Solo (black lab): First Mate
Frivolous the Cat Star (get it?*): Navigator-by-default. She loved to curl up on the chart. “Excuse me”, I’d say, “could you move your tail? I’m trying to get a bearing on that lighthouse.”
And latterly, I bought an auto-helm I called, Lt. Saavik.
Lt. Saavik earned some demerits one day. We were on route somewhere, Lt. Saavik was on the helm, and I was reading a book. A Star Trek book, as it happens. I was near the end (“Will Kirk & Spock survive?!”), when I heard water rushing somewhere. I looked up in time to see the current sweep us past a massive metal nav aid with only 3″ clearance! “Saavik!”, I cried, “You’re on report!”
The currents around the South Island can be faster than our top speed. We once set out heading south to Port Townsend on a flood tide. The tide decided we were going east, instead, to Lopez Island. Perforce, we went to Lopez and anchored in a quiet bay. I swam in phosphorescence, and watched the most stunning aurora show I’ve seen this side of Winnipeg.
Then there was the Coast Guard Incident. We were crossing Georgia Strait during a Small Craft Warning. It was dead calm. I set up the auto-pilot. “Lt. Saavik, you have the con,” I said. “Aye aye, Captain!” she replied. (OK, she didn’t, but it sounds good, eh?) I went forward to sit on the taffrail, to watch my reflection in the mirror-like water (Small Craft Warning, indeed!), and to wait for the wash from a ferry or freighter. (“Wheee!”)
Eventually, I relieved Lt. Saavik, and was standing in the cockpit when suddenly, beneath my feet: “BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!….” Yow!!! I shut down the Yanmar and leapt below in a river of adrenaline to check the bilge. Dry. Whew! I climbed over the transom and hung off the stern ladder, but couldn’t see anything wrong. “Maybe I hit a chunk of wood or something.” I gently cranked up and put it in gear. “BANG! BANG!” I shut down. We drifted north on a flood tide. Slowly. Finally opened Vancouver Harbour at sunset. A tiny breeze came up. Off shore (of course). I set sail and began tacking. As we wafted along at an angle to our goal, I figured I’d be close enough to maybe anchor at Spanish Banks at around, oh, 3AM. It was a challenge because I couldn’t see anything but city lights.
Hours later, a small Coast Guard cutter passed me, heading in. I called on the radio: “Coast Guard vessel entering Vancouver Harbour, this is Luna Mare, the sailboat you just passed. Over.” They turned back and came alongside. “I can’t use my engine, can you tow me in?”
“We don’t want to be towing, in case we get an emergency call. By law we’d have to deliver you to port before we could cast you off. Keep sailing; we’ll follow you in.”
And so we set off, more or less toward our goal, at maybe two knots. Maybe. Eventually, we got close enough to where I thought Spanish Banks might be (couldn’t see nav aids against the city lights), and I tacked. The CG came alongside.
“Are you heading to First Narrows? We thought you were going to False Creek!”
“The wind, such as it is, is in my face.” I moved my hand like a fish. “I have to zig-zag to get to where we’re going.”
The CG boys huddled, while I stood amazed that the Coast Guard – the Coast Guard! – didn’t seem to understand the basic physics of sail. The huddle broke up.
“Secure this line and monitor 68.”
We headed to port. The CG boys probably thought we were going slow, but I thought, “Wow! This is great! We’re going so fast!”
kkkkkk “Luna Mare, how are you doing back there? Over.”
kkkkkk “Great, but we’re going 8 knots and my hull speed is 6.5. The transom is, um, burying itself. Over.”
We slowed a bit, but still! Nice ride! They put us at the dock perfect as you please, and before I could even jump ashore with a line, a couple of hunky lads had secured us. They fed me pizza, let me use the shower, and fed treats to the First Mate. (The Navigator had the first watch.)
The next day, I paid a guy to haul Luna Mare and replace the cutlass bearing.
I spent many wonderful summers sailing around, tuning the odd piano and playing the odd gig. I had my semi-acoustic guitar and a small amp. Sometimes, in a quiet anchorage, I’d sit in lamplight, with the Navigator at my shoulder and the First Mate snoring by my side, while I strummed jazz chords and sang quietly.
* For those still wondering: Sirius is called “the Dog Star”