Here I am, the voice of western waters. I sometimes call myself the Scribe at Sea, although some may paste the word “lost” somewhere in that self-inscribed honorific.
From time to time in this space I hope to report and comment on boats, boaters and boating issues in the cruising paradise that stretches from Seattle to Glacier Bay – and beyond. I don’t know it all, and won’t pretend I do.
My boating life began in high school (a time long past when no one wore jeans and girl students came to class in long pleated skirts and prim white blouses). I joined the Sea Scouts at Snohomish High School and learned to navigate with paper charts and a compass, to send a little Morse code, to tie a few knots and to steer a course. (I can still do it all – except for working the key.)
Our Sea Scout boat was a 50-footer built on Seattle’s Lake Washington for the Coast Guard but declared surplus before she was launched. She was powered by gas Chryslers and, with guidance, we kids rebuilt one engine in the boat Saturday mornings because someone used toilet paper for an oil filter.
SO MUCH FOR BIOLOGY
Our skipper was a high school biology teacher and he had us eating raw oysters pulled from Canadian rocks. He didn’t know about red tide, but we survived. Many years later I harvested and ate sea asparagus from similar beaches and enjoyed it even more than the slimeys the skipper served on a spoon.
A dry period ashore followed but eventually – after getting a small raise early in my 32-year career with the Seattle Times – my wife and I and our two little kids bought a 16-foot Poulsbo, a wood boat built in the town of the same name for small-time commercial hand fishing. Some previous owner added a nice cuddy cabin and installed an ugly but reliable Wisconsin air-cooled engine likely built for a garden tractor. I replaced it with a 5hp single cylinder Kermath Sea Pup marine engine that jetted cooling water over the side. I didn’t understand just how good the Poulsbo boat was until years later. It was a charming classic.
Next was a 20-foot Bayliner and it was a blast for water skiing, fishing, a little overnight cruising and skimming through Deception Pass against a ripping current. I also missed the classic design of our third boat until after we sold it: A wood 32-foot pilothouse cruiser designed by Bill Garden and built in Bremerton in the late 1950s by someone who used screws of dissimilar metals to attach the transom planking. An earlier owner who was a jeweler gave her an appropriate name: Charm. She still is a beauty; I saw her in Friday Harbor a couple of years ago. My rather expensive transom repair held up well.
Another fine craft followed, a wood 36-foot Grand Banks classic built in 1969 but burdened by a really weird diesel engine, a GM V6 with twin turbos. The boat was deemed too small for family and guests and my ability to maintain all that marine plywood, teak and mahogany rightfully
was in question. (It’s still around, with a new engine and other improvements.) Finally, we fell for the first fiberglass 42 Europa built by GB in Singapore way back in '79 and bought it in the spring of 1990. Nearly twenty-four years later, she’s still mine. I’ve never owned anything that long, ever.
My wife, Polly, and I took the GB we named Quadra (that’s another story) to Southeast Alaska three times; we made countless cruises through our next-door San Juan Islands and into distant B.C. waters over several decades. I made a fourth trip to Southeast in 2010 with a pick-up crew of family members and a friend. (Polly died of cancer in 2007.)
I’ve cruised Prince William Sound on a chartered Nordhavn and served as guest crew on an 80-footer bound for Alaska and on a 65 Malahide in Alaska and the Sea of Cortes. One dull winter I studied for and earned a USCG 50-ton license but seldom used it. The certificate itself is impressive in a frame on the wall.
I connected with Bill and Laurene Parlatore in late 1995 (after accepting an early retirement offer from The Times) as they were preparing to launch PassageMaker magazine. My first article, published in 1996, was about cruising to Southeast Alaska.
I’ve recruited friends and friends of friends as crew for cruising along the central British Columbia coast in recent years. A stay-at-home friend calls it Bob’s Boating Camp. More here about that later.
Quadra and I, with campers, last summer spent six weeks “up north,” as yachters hereabout describe BC coastal cruising. Generally, we traveled to an area commonly called “the Broughtons.” It’s far more and better than those two islands: On a big planning map I measure 1,500 square miles of islands and channels for exploring and count about 50 anchorages, as well as half a dozen marinas and one large community with two grocery stores, restaurants and booze shops. This cruising wonderland is about 300 one-way miles from my moorage in Anacortes and by the time Quadra slipped into her moorage at voyage end she had clocked 800 miles thanks to pleasant meandering along the way.
Boaters keep going back to “the Broughtons” partly because they always can find someplace new to visit. I explored three such anchorages last summer (thanks to a friend’s recommendation) and two provoked questions about the history of the region’s original population (before the Europeans arrived in their square rigged ships) that likely will draw me back some day. I also revisited two anchorages I may never name because I’m reluctant to share their exceptional beauty and solitude with even one more boater.
But we also go back because the heartbeat of the Broughtons doesn’t change much. We look for constant friends in favorite anchorages and, occasionally, in popular marinas. We yearn to see forested, snow-tipped hills rising from water’s edge in early summer. The wilderness silence that comes at nightfall is to be cherished.
Also, the West Coast, from my home port and all the way to Ketchikan - and beyond - is a photographic wonderland. Whales, bears and eagles don’t exactly pose for the camera, but waterfalls, snowy peaks, ribbons of fog along the water and a “fish on” are easy targets for the lens.
I’m also drawn (perversely?) by the challenges of navigating successfully through a series of tidal rapids and finding the weather windows that let us scoot safely across often-dangerous channels open to the Pacific Ocean.
That’s enough: Watch for a PassageMaker Magazine article about the Broughton area in early 2014.
Cruising 2014?? No plans yet. But it’s time to get ready.
This off-season list of things to do: bottom paint, check cutlass bearings and props, clean through-hull fittings, repair the paddle wheel water speed device, service the cooling systems, find a really good Ford Lehman technician who can critique my maintenance of those venerable, wonderful engines, do some touch up on interior varnish and . . .
Now I’ve got to go and prepare for a couple of long boating weekends in the San Juan Islands with a bunch of yacht club friends. But I’ll be back.
(Stay tuned for Bob Lane’s take on a host of personal, regional and national boating topics.)