Monday, May 23, 2011

Night of Terror

Mom, if you are reading this, stop now.

After being set free to sail the San Juan Islands as we saw fit, we immediately set sail and successfully navigated to Watmough Bay, one of our favorite anchorages when we were onboard the Martha under the command and safety of Captain Robert. Watmough is a magically beautiful, secluded bay flanked on our starboard side by steep rocky cliffs, jagged rocks on our port side, a shallow sand bar between our bow and the shore, and a shipping lane in the distance to our stern, and we had her all to ourselves. Montana Sapphire's keel reaches 6 1/2 feet below us and we decided to anchor at a depth of about 20 feet. The anchoring system was new to us and Jason was yelling instructions to me from the helm at the stern of the boat on how to drop the anchor according to what he remembered Mark saying. Unfortunately, things were not progressing smoothly on my end and Jason kept having to run to the bow to help me with stuck chains and the like, which allowed the boat to drift more than he wanted. After a stressful, not-so-great process, the anchor was holding and we headed below deck. I may not be good at dropping an anchor with an unfamiliar system for the first time, but  I have to say that I excelled at cooking in a sailboat galley for the first time, though I think that it probably has something to with the amazingly fresh, local salmon (did I say amazingly fresh?) and veggies that I slathered in butter, cream and parmesan over the decidant Pike-Street-made-basil-garlic pasta. I love fresh food. Anyway. With happy, full tummies we settled into our bunks after Jason, again, checked the anchor and made sure that we hadn't moved anywhere. All was well. The boys snuggled into their cabin and fell asleep almost instantly. As Jason and I waited for sleep to come we talked about the craziness of the day and how we were in disbelief that they had actually let us take the boat. Sleep was eluding me as I still had some anxiety about the insanity of what we were doing and I laid there listening to the fish swim around our boat. Very peaceful. After what seemed like hours, I was getting close to sleep, when, the boat started rocking. A lot. Way more than she had all night. What on earth could be happening? Had the anchor broken loose? Jason and I nervously jumped out of bed, with doors and anything not secured banging, and went on deck to check things out. We were, in fact, in the same spot, and the anchor was still holding. The boys groggly asked what was happening as Jason set the anchor watch on the GPS and we headed back to bed where sleep was even more elusive as I lay there in terror. What if the anchor breaks loose? What if we smash into the cliff? How do we get onto the dinghy then? I don't even know how to get onto the dinghy! We are here all alone. Will we freeze to death before we can swim to shore? We are anchored in only 16 feet of water what if Jason was wrong about the low tide? What if we bottom out while we are sleeping? Jason had similar thoughts of panic circulating through his brain like what if we drift into the shipping lane and get run over by a cargo ship? Suddenly, the anchor watch alarm started beeping! Oh sweet mother of all that is holy.... We hopped out of bed to check out where we were. The GPS had our location at the top of the mountain next to the bay. Stupid technology. Jason again checked the anchor and it was still secure. Again, we headed below to see if we could get some sleep. As I lay there, still scared, still not sleeping, I could hear the blub, blub, blub, of the air bubbles released by a seal or a sea otter swimming around us. Just think of all the wonderful noises I would have missed out on if I had actually been sleeping! Finally, around 4am, we had just fallen asleep, when the anchor watch alarm went off again. This time I stayed in bed while Jason went to check things out. Just another GPS error. Sleep finally came to us just before dawn. I think we may have gotten about two hours in all. Isaac was the first to rise in the morning and sat out in the saloon quietly so as to not wake us because he knew we were on anchor watch until 4am. He was so sweet to be so thoughtful. Though we were never in any physical danger, it is truly amazing the terror that your brain can whip up, especially with your children along, when you are in an unfamiliar situation. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The moment of truth

Anacortes is an hour and half north of Seattle and directly across the water from the San Juan Islands. Packing the three large bags of food into the already tightly-packed car took more time and skill than anticipated, resulting in a much later arrival in Anacortes than we had hoped and raising my anxiety level a little, knowing that the check-out process would be at least two hours and we wanted to hit the water as soon as possible so that we could plenty of buffer time to anchor before it was too late. Breathe. We arrived around 10:30 and I was in a rush to get started. The nice woman at the office, to my silent dismay, took her time explaining the paperwork and the check-out process. Inside, I was bouncing up and down with impatience. What I didn't realize at this point was that the engine of Montana Sapphire was currently being worked on as we leisurely spoke. Should we be worried about this? The owner of the charter company, Mark, then showed up and announced to us that he was going to the parts store and would be back in a while. So much for a timely departure, I guess I could relax. Part of our job during checkout was to locate all the items on a list provided and check them off. If we couldn't find something, let them know and they would show us where it was. Easy enough. Jason, carefully picked his way past the open engine compartment and the mechanic, going through the boat, checking items off as he went. When Mark returned, Jason asked him about the items he couldn't find. Most of the time Mark did not know where they were either, as this was the first time that Montana Sapphire had been chartered, gulp, and they would have to search for it together. I, meanwhile, over-packed the boat with way too many clothes, as I pictured us soaked to the bone and frozen every day and thought it would be nice to have dry clothes each day, and delicious food that I had carefully picked out at Pike Street Market, which, by the way, was something I had always wanted to do. At the same time, the boys unpacked their stuffies and made themselves at home, displaying an inordinate amount of patience as we prepared the boat for our sailing adventure. Thank you. After a very lengthy scavenger hunt, with Mark occasionally calling the owner of the boat in Polson to ask him questions, it was finally time for Mark to check out our boating prowess. Yikes. This was the moment of truth. Was he going to let us take out the boat or make the land-lubbery yahoos from Montana unpack the boat and head home to the mountains? Luckily, he backed us out of the slip, as our previous captain, Captain Bob, had told us that we didn't really need to know how to dock the boat or put it into a slip because any charter company would do it for us which was a big relief to us because we didn't know how to do either at this stage of the game. Jason then drove the boat out of the marina and into the mostly windless bay where we raised sails and I fumbled my way through one measly tack, at which point, to my surprise, he said we could lower the sails. I cannot say that this performance should inspire confidence in anyone about our sailing abilities. He instructed Jason to head back into the marina where he had him perform several tight turning exercises followed by a white knuckle backwards drive down a narrow passageway flanked by expensive boats. Oink! I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Jason, to everyone's amazement, drove the boat backwards around a corner and about 60 feet down this corridor, something Mark said he wasn't sure the boat was actually capable of doing. The final test was putting the boat back into the slip. A terror-stricken Jason, with much whitening of hair and knuckles, followed Mark's yellings of starboard! starboard! starboard! and successfully parked the boat into the slip. After his second try. Though I am very proud of Jason for accomplishing what I thought was impossible given our skills, neither one of else felt like we had put on a very awe-inspiring, knowledgable-sailor show. At around 4:00, Mark exited the boat, saying, "see you in a few days, have fun." Really? He's going to let us take the boat? Alone?

Click here for photos.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Let the Freezing-Cold-Icy-Water Sailing Adventure Begin. Gulp.

We like variety. As a newly-certified skipper, Jason immediately started researching charter companies around the much-travelled-to-city-of-Seattle with hopes of chartering a boat through the San Juan Islands. He came across a company that has a Hans Christian boat in its fleet. When we were in the BVI's, everyone sails your standard, white, fiberglass boats, which makes sense because maintanance is a lot lower, but they lack the soul of wooden boats. So when we came across the path of a Hans Christian there, our hearts soared to see a wooden boat among the monotony of faceless fiberglass boats, reaffirming our love of the classic style of sailboat. Upon further research, we learned that the Hans Christian is really a fiberglass boat in disguise as a classical wooden boat. Could it be the perfect boat? I digress. As work schedule would have it, we needed to head out to Seattle two weeks after we got home from the Virgin Islands and the Hans Christian, coincidentally named the Montana Sapphire, was, of course, available, as most people aren't crazy enough to be sailing this time of year. After much delaying and checking of weather, we finally decided on Wednesday that we would book the boat for Friday through Monday, even though the weather looked quite rainy (if we waited for nice weather in the Pacific Northwest, it would never happen). We really wanted to solidify our newly-learned skills before they faded into the murky depths of our foggy brains so we figured it was now or never, even though secretly, or maybe not-so-secretly, I was terrified. So after spending a fun-filled week in Seattle (a hike up Little Si mountain, zoo, aquarium, Pike Street, dinners with friends and co-workers, a visit to Tacoma to meet my three-week old nephew, and, of course, yummy food), we headed up to Anacortes to meet Montana Sapphire.