Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Urban Sailing

We followed our past few days in peaceful anchorages with an urban blitz so that Grandpa could experience both. We eased ourselves back into civilization at Cowichan. As we pulled into the harbor I handed Grandpa the bow line and pointed out the gigantic fishing boat, appropriately named Double Decker, we would be rafting up to. Grandpa looked at me and replied, "you've got be kidding me." Nope. This was Grandpa's first experience rafting up and it was a bit strange to be lashing our boat to that big hunk of steel. It was the polar opposite of the beautiful anchorage we stayed the last few nights. Once we were properly tied up we all hauled ourselves up onto Double Decker, crossed her cluttered decks and hopped down onto the dock. Cowichan is home to True Grain Bread, our favorite bakery in the islands, as well as a cheese store and fish market so we spent the afternoon gathering and consuming delicious food. The following morning we set sail for Sidney where we perused bookstores and the evening street market. The next day we enjoyed a great sail down to Victoria where we would drop Grandpa off to meet his seaplane. I have to say that Victoria is a pretty busy harbor, especially since we just happened to be there the same weekend as the Swiftsure International Sailing Race. We arrived at dinner time and were starving (a common theme in our lives) so we headed straight to the docks and our favorite fish and chips place, Red Fish Blue Fish. We had forgotten that the pieces of fish are huge and we ordered way too much food. After we stuffed ourselves to an uncomfortable capacity we walked the docks and checked out all of the race boats. The energy and excitement was running high under the flapping of hundreds of colorful flags. We walked back to our marina as the sun set eagerly discussing all the race boats we'd seen. The next morning we watched as the race boats motored out of the harbor to the starting line. A short while later a man approached me from the dock and asked if I happened to have any motor oil he could buy from me. He was entered in the race and had a bit of engine trouble and race start was only fifteen minutes away. Luckily we had an extra quart so we handed it over to him. He tried to pay us but we insisted it was no big deal and he should just get going. He ran back to his boat and then came back to take down our email address so he could send us something. Canadians are so nice! He made it to his start in time and we saw that his boat finished the race with no problems. Hurray. We spent the rest of the morning showing Grandpa downtown Victoria which included a visit to the Empress, several cups of tea from various shops and lunch at a Tibetan restaurant. We then moseyed back to the marina, watching seaplane after seaplane after seaplane take off and land. Grandpa gathered his stuff, we hugged good-bye and watched him ride away in a shuttle to his catch his seaplane, sad to see him go. Thanks for joining us again this year. We're already looking forward to next year.

Click here for photos.

Click here for a video.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Gulf Islands with Grandpa

We love having Grandpa join us on the boat. He has been from Seattle to Stuart Island with us already so we decided to have him visit for some sailing in the Gulf Islands. We sailed from Sucia to Poet's Cove where we anxiously awaited his seaplane. We watched as a seaplane landed just about on time and we all hustled down to the end of the dock to greet him. We watched a few people climb out but none of them were Grandpa. Hmmmm...what to do? We were all starving so we sat down at the restaurant for lunch and waited some more. Eventually his plane arrived and I rushed down to meet him while the others awaited our food. After hugs all around and lunch we headed over to Bedwell Harbor where we picked up the last mooring ball. Not taking into account that Grandpa had been awake since 4am and that he had spent the whole morning on airplanes, we decided to death march him up Mount Norman. In our defense we had forgotten how steep this hike is....poor Grandpa. He was a trooper. The next day we had a great sail to Ganges to get some groceries as we were all out of veggies on account of crossing the Canadian border. This shopping trip was supposed to be easy and relaxing. We would tie up to the dock for a couple hours, grab a coffee, peruse a bookstore, get some groceries and head out of town to Montague. Not-so-much. Apparently it was time for a Canadian three-day weekend, Victoria Day, as well as a race around Saltspring Island, so all the dock space was full and the harbor was also full of anchored boats bobbing up and down in the white-capping waves. But what could we do? We needed food so we anchored just barely out of the seaplane path and Grandpa and I eased ourselves into the bucking kayak to go get as many groceries as we could. It was a choppy paddle in as we surfed down the waves into the incredibly crowded dinghy dock. Luckily a kayak is easier to tie up than a big dinghy and we managed to squeeze in. At this point I had serious doubts about kayaking back to the boat without drowning. We worked our way through the crowded grocery store gathering as many food-stuffs as we dared. As we checked out, the cashiers found out that we were in a kayak and then informed us, "you know there are white-caps out there." Yep. We are fully aware of the situation, lady. Back at the dinghy dock I had to climb through someone else's boat to load our kayak and then we were on our way back to the boat with comments like, "it's a bit lumpy out there, eh!" and "I hope your chips don't get wet *snicker*" coming from shirtless, sunbathing Canadians. Very funny. Contrary to my belief that we were certain to capsize with groceries sinking to the bottom of the ocean, we bashed through the waves (I tricked Grandpa into taking the front seat) and arrived safely (and a little wet, ok, maybe Grandpa was soaked) back at the boat. Mission accomplished. After squirreling away our food, I raised the anchor and we set sail for Montague but along the way a lovely, empty anchorage at Prevost Island called our names so we anchored there instead. I cooked up some newly purchased fresh salmon and it bordered on divine. We sat in the cockpit and enjoyed delicious food while we watched stragglers from the sailboat race inching their way along through the sunset.

The next morning we climbed into the kayaks for a much mellower hike from James Bay out to the lighthouse point. Along the way we meandered through a picturesque old orchard with every tree covered in white blossoms. We were told there are sheep that roam the island. We found tufts of the wool along the trail but never laid eyes on them. At the lighthouse we ate lunch and lazed around in the sun before heading back towards the boat. We hit the beach at low tide so we took our time to check out the tide pools on our way to the kayaks. When we got back to the boat we headed for Montague Harbor. We arrived just in time to kayak in to shore, take a few turns on a beach swing and then catch the first Hummingbird Pub Bus of the evening. Wowee! This was quite the experience. When the bus pulled up, loud music was blaring from within. We were greeted by our drum-playing driver for the evening. Above the driver were a set of symbols and to his right a set of drums. As we rolled down the road he shook a tambourine with the music as he tried to pawn it off onto the people behind him. He finally had to tell the guy behind him to "take the tambourine, man, I'm trying to drive here," as he swerved all over the road. Thus it continued until almost everyone on the bus had a noise-making device of some sort or other. We're lucky our ears weren't bleeding when we exited the bus. It has definitely been named one of the highlights of the trip so far. After dinner and a return ride on the pub bus, the boys threw rocks to their heart's content as the sun set.

The following day we sailed to Portland Island where we hoped to anchor in Royal Cove but it was full. We figured the same would be true for Princess Cove too so we opted to anchor just on the other side of the reef from Royal Cove in what I will call Roll-y Bay where BC ferries passed by every half hour or more. We paddled in and took a short hike to Arbutus Point where we explored more tide pools before heading back to the boat. The next day the boys and I left poor Jason behind while he worked (and Grandpa rested). We hiked across the island to Princess Cove and then to the white shell beach where we explored, threw rocks, whittled sticks and watched humming birds and owls, all in the glorious sunshine. Jason and Grandpa eventually joined us and we all paddled back to the boat together where we enjoyed another lovely sunset.

Click here for photos.

Click here for a video of our sail to Poet's Cove.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Matia & Sucia

We awoke to another glorious day. I am stunned at how the weather gods have smiled on us. Originally our destination for the day was Sucia Island where we planned to spend two nights but as we passed tiny, picturesque Rolfe Cove at Matia Island we spotted an empty mooring ball so we decided to snare it and call it a day. We had just been talking about Matia and how tiny the anchorage is so we took advantage of this opportunity and considered ourselves lucky. Matia has an interesting history. In the late 1800's the fugitive Skookum Jim hid out on the island and evaded the law for many years. Later, in the early 1900's a hermit lived on the island. He raised animals and cultivated the land. Once a week he would row across the channel to Orcas Island to socialize and gather supplies. One particular stormy winter, when he was in his 80's, he hadn't been seen for months so his friends crossed the channel to check on him. All winter the weather had been too rough for him to make the trip and his friends found him emaciated and near starvation. They brought him back to Orcas, nursed him back to health and convinced him to build a cabin there. It was decided that he would build in the spring and until then would return to Matia with an elderly friend to live out the remainder of the winter. So they loaded his boat down with supplies and headed across the channel. It was the last time the two old friends were seen and they were presumed drowned. Months later, in the spring, half of his boat was found up north in Canada but no trace of the old hermit. The other interesting thing about Matia is that it has somehow managed to evade the swing of the ax and the island is still covered in old growth forest. Today it is a national wildlife preserve, dedicated to bird preservation, with a mile-long trail that meanders through the towering trees. After afternoon tea on the foredeck we dropped the kayaks into the water and paddled to shore. As we hiked in the deep woods among the gigantic trees stories played in our heads and we kept an eye out for where we thought the hermit's cabin might have been.

The next day, after Jason finished work and the boys finished school, we headed across the channel to Sucia. We hopped into the kayaks for a hike among the surreal sandstone formations that Sucia is famous for. We explored the China Cave area where Canadian smugglers hid their illegal cargo of Chinese laborers during the late 1800's. It didn't take long before we succumbed to hunger and paddled back to the boat for dinner and a lovely sunset.

Click here for photos.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Watmough to Rosario

We had the strangest experience as we motored between Watmough and Spencer Spit. As we entered Rosario Strait we noticed that the opposite shoreline looked way freaky. Anacortes and the surrounding shoreline looked super distorted. The shoreline had been vertically stretched and looked like a band of white cliffs. As we continued, the shapes of houses shifted shapes and elongated. Islands extended beyond their boundaries and reflected over the water. Water boundaries smeared across land. It was crazy. We started to wonder if we had gone mad or if their had been a glitch in the matrix. We stared through the binoculars and eventually deciphered a hypothesis. To us it looked like a convex atmospheric layer had distorted everything like a carnival house of mirrors. Check out the photos. Any other ideas out there? Please leave a comment if you happen to know what's going on.

After a half hour or so of trying to wrap our brains around what we were seeing we continued on our way. We spent the night at Spencer Spit and enjoyed doing our normal Spencer Spit things before moving on to Rosario. At Rosario we took a dip in their early-1900's era pool and ate a delicious dinner in the mansion. The following morning we took a quick hike around Cascade Lake before setting sail for Matia Island.

Click here for photos.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Best. Mother's Day. Ever.

I never thought I'd say this but....we awoke Mother's Day after a dreamy night of sleep in Watmough Bay. Safely tied to a mooring ball, we didn't experience a single episode of panic during the night. We spent a lazy morning sipping tea in the sunshine in the cockpit as we watched all kinds of crazy bird action. We watched bald eagles defending their catch from vultures and sea gulls. We witnessed a peregrine falcon attack a bald eagle to defend her nest and watched them fight and barrel roll through the anchorage before the falcon backed off. Eventually we kayaked to shore. After some rock-throwing on the beach we headed out for a hike. First we hiked to spectacular views from Watmough Head where we ate a picnic lunch of what we called "mangle-wiches" (Jason had kindly took charge of making lunch for me as it was, after all, Mother's Day, which, by the way, I greatly appreciated). We then enjoyed an extreme bout of laziness as we laid around in the grass and soaked up the sunshine and some of us (not naming any names) took a nap. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this. I have decided that this is something we don't do enough of and I hope to incorporate it into more hikes in the future. Maybe every hike. After extreme effort we finally roused ourselves and continued on our hike. We decided to search out a new route up Chadwick Hill and the swing of doom. After some searching, we had success and followed a nice path through the lush forest to the top of the hill where the boys took turns on the swing. Six happy hours after leaving our kayaks, we returned to the beach and paddled back to Marinero. Jason and I immediately hit the foredeck where we enjoyed yummy cheese and crackers and drank wine in the fading sunshine. I sat back and relaxed while Jason broiled some brats for dinner. After dinner in the cockpit we all headed below to play a board game together. We couldn't have asked for a more glorious day to romp around together as a family.

Click here for photos.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

MT to Watmough Bay

Two weeks after Easter I packed up the car and we headed back out to Seattle and Marinero. After a whirlwind week of prepping for our upcoming two month journey, we are back in the islands and happy. The winds have been uncharacteristically cooperative and we managed to sail downwind from Seattle to Port Townsend. We are almost always beating into the wind so as a result we have so little downwind experience that its a bit of a mystery to us as to how to set the sails properly but it was a very welcome change. The weather, however, was a little unsettled. We encountered a strange hail/thunder storm that rumbled a bit and gave us second thoughts about being on the water but luckily we only saw one lightning bolt and the boys and I were below for the vicious hail (poor Jason). The winds smiled on us again on our trip from Port Townsend across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Watmough Bay. Though the waves were choppy and varying anywhere from three to six feet (and we were all a bit green), we sailed a perfect beam reach the entire way on a single tack averaging a speed between eight and nine knots. Watmough has three new mooring balls so we snagged one before devouring a late lunch. We have spent many a sleepless night in Watmough with winds pummeling us and shaking the rigging. I have spent many sleepless hours listening and waiting for the anchor to drag and for our boat to smash into the nearby cliffs. The thought of spending the night on a mooring ball was delightful. Aaron was sick so instead of kayaking into shore for a hike, we snuggled around the table and played a board game. We all chuckled at the thought of how we spent two days of sailing to sit in the boat for the afternoon playing a board game.

Click here for photos.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Easter 2014

After we got home from the desert we picked up Sylvia from the mechanic and she was running like a dream. Easter weekend brought with it gorgeous weather so I packed her up and we headed out to the nearest dry climbing crag. We spent a beautiful afternoon climbing and soaking up the sun. Afterwards we found a campsite on the Yellowstone river where we roasted sausages over a campfire and enjoyed camping in Sylvia again. Sigh. The Easter bunny once again found us in our remote location and managed to deposit candy and Easter eggs both inside the camper van and out. After we found all of the eggs we hid them again and started the hunt all over. You really can't ask for a more pristine and fun setting for an Easter egg hunt. We're hoping for gorgeous weather again next year so we can have a repeat.

Click here for photos.

Monday, May 5, 2014

St. George, UT

We spent our first day back in St. George at Chuckwalla where we climbed climbs with jugs so big, fun and addictive we deemed them "the junk food of climbing." Isaac has been practicing lead-climbing in the climbing gym and here he got his chance to lead his first outdoor climbs! First he led a 5.9 followed by a 5.10a and then a 5.10c! He was so calm, cool and collected, he made it look easy. We are so proud of him. We headed back to St. George for dinner and to explore a bit. We came across a splash park which was exactly what I had hoped for since we hadn't had showers in almost two weeks. I talked Aaron into joining me in the water. It didn't take long before we were both completely soaked and giggly. Isaac and Jason kept their distance and pretended like they didn't know us. I always have mixed feelings about showers when we are on the road....on the one hand, after a certain point, I desperately want one (and I think everyone I encounter desperately wants me to have one), and on the other hand I don't want to take time out from exploration and fun to take this was the perfect compromise....although I may have gotten more than one look of disapproval from the moms in this little Utah town. After dinner we spent the evening relaxing in our campsite as we played a board game on the iPad together while scrub jays bounced around in the branches overhead. The following morning we hiked. Aaron was the leader as he led us up one steep slick-rock pinnacle after another until we were so hot, thirsty and tired we couldn't take it anymore. We rejuvenated ourselves at a Hawaiian poke bowl joint where we gobbled down way too much raw tuna dressed in delicious sauces over rice. With full bellies we took some time to digest, relax and read in the shady grass of a city park. We then headed out in search of the St. George narrows through a cool desert-y city park. After some locals pointed us in the general direction we finally located it. They aren't kidding when they call this narrow. It was hardly wide enough for us to fit in sideways. I almost declined because I have claustrophobia issues. In the end I couldn't wimp out just because I might have a panic attack once inside. So after the boys and Jason squeaked their way in, I, with chihuahua in one arm and my camera in the other, squeezed in. At times it was so narrow that if I took a deep breath my back touched on one side and my chest touched the other. It was best for me not to think about this. It was perfect size for Pika though. We all emerged into the sunshine on the other side without anyone getting stuck so we climbed back down into the tiny crevice we had crawled out of to retrace our steps. The following morning we amused ourselves once again at Chuckwalla. After a few warm-up climbs, Jason led a 5.11c which we then took turns doing laps on. Isaac was inspired and gave it an attempt. He declared beforehand that he probably wouldn't make it but he just wanted to give it a try. I am so proud to say that he managed to "pink point" it which means that he climbed the entire climb without a fall on his first try. All I have to say is "Whoa!" At this point we ran out of time and had to head back to the-armpit-of-the-world, Vegas, to return the camper van and pick up my car. As I unpacked the van and re-packed my car, on the shiny black pavement that smelled of human urine, I sweated up a storm. When we started my car we discovered that it was 96 degrees which would explain why it felt so hot. We checked into our hotel where Aaron entered a deep depression due to being in a hotel room in Vegas and the thought of leaving the desert. On the bright side of things we all got to take a shower. We then tried to decide what to do about dinner. It is a universally held opinion in our family that we all despise Vegas and the boys were dead-set against leaving the hotel for dinner. In the end there were no dinner options available in the hotel so we had to go elsewhere. Luckily we survived the half mile walk to and from the hotel and the horrible food we ingested. The next morning we bid this God-forsaken town good-bye, high-tailed it out as soon as we could and made it as far as Salt Lake City where we stayed a night in a quirky hotel. The following day we arrived home to beautiful spring weather.

Click here for photos.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Zion National Park

We had a slow start to our first morning in Zion. While Aaron and his cousin played and looked for birds around the campsite we all relaxed and enjoyed the gorgeous scenery that surrounded us. Zion is one of my favorite national parks so I relished being back among the massive towering cliffs of red sandstone. Eventually we packed up and drove the winding road through the park to the mile long tunnel burrowed through a sandstone cliff and emerged on the other side at the Canyon Overlook trail. Miraculously we managed to snag two spots in the tiny parking lot and, after some snacking and sunning ourselves on the rocks, we headed out on a one mile hike to a spectacular overlook. While everyone else enjoyed the view, Aaron and I followed the calls of canyon wrens. We managed to find two and watched as they scampered around the cliff, diving in and out of cracks in the rock. They are really, really cute. Next we drove back down to the visitor center and hopped on a shuttle which runs through the park. We got off at the lodge stop and headed for the Emerald Pools trail. It was so fun to watch Aaron and his cousin run down the trail together. Afterwards we hopped back onto a shuttle which delivered us to our campers. At this point it was dinner time and the San Diego Taylors had to hit the road soon so we headed to Oscar's Cafe for some tasty Mexican food. Afterwards, with seriously full bellies, we hugged goodbye and watched as they drove off into the sunset, sad to see them go. It was so fun to have them visit us for a few action-packed days. Thanks for joining us!

The following day Jason had meetings in the morning so the boys and I walked to the other campground to snag a campsite for the night. We found a sweet site that had house wrens who were in the process of building a nest in an abandoned woodpecker hole. We hung out as we watched them and relaxed in the sunshine while we waited for Jason. After lunch we headed up to the plateau where we hiked up uber-steep slick rock until it was so steep we couldn't hike anymore. Then we hiked a draw where we stumbled upon petroglyphs. Tired, sun-soaked and happy we headed into town for dinner at our favorite restaurant before we settled back into our campsite to relax and watch the sun set over the cliffs.

The next day we hopped on a shuttle and headed to the Narrows. The Narrows is a hike into the narrowest section of the Virgin River where it winds through 2,000 foot tall sandstone cliffs and squeezes down to twenty feet wide. It has been closed the last couple of times we've been there due to high water and we hoped to wade our way up the river a bit on this trip. When we waded into the water it was icy and it didn't take long for our feet to freeze so we only made it about quarter of a mile in. The people in insulated waders should have given us a clue that maybe we were under-equipped. We then ate lunch in a sunny spot along the river in hopes that our feet would thaw in the process. All the while the well-fed, uber-aggressive, super-cute squirrels harassed us for a snack and tried to climb into Jason's lap. Next we hiked the Watchman Trail where we enjoyed gorgeous views before we drove back to St. George.

Click here for photos.