Sailing Days

We have been wandering around Vancouver Island for two weeks now and it is hard not to look back on the days we sailed here. Ten years ago John and I spent a year and a half sailing around the Gulf Islands and Desolation Sound on a 26-foot sailboat (and living on).

We were, and still are, impetuous. Reckless.

That’s how we ended up in Victoria, BC in early June, purchasing a sailboat when our plans had been to spend the month backpacking in Kluane National Park. Instead of wandering mountains we quite suddenly were the proud owners of a 1975 Contessa 26.

It was an enormous learning curve. Living and adventuring in the Yukon we are at ease in the backcountry hiking, paddling, skiing. We are confident and capable there.

But sailing?

It was difficult to see beyond the basic fact that I’m terrified of the water and John can’t swim.

Oh, and yes, we didn’t really know how to sail.

I knew to mind the big rocks. That little piece of wisdom and my enthusiasm for our new adventure were all I could offer. John at least had done some sailing. It had been more than a decade but he approached sailing like someone getting back on a bicycle after a decade’s hiatus: you don’t forget.

For two years we discussed the idea of buying and living on a sailboat. We read books idealizing the lifestyle. Sailing friends told us to just go and do it; we’d learn to sail.

Those early days on the boat we took on delirious personalities, alternating with the giddy explaims of “We own a boat!” with lip-quivering, “What have we just done?!”

For the first six weeks we had the modest goal of sailing around southern British Columbia, cove hopping. Short sails. Once we gained our sea legs we then sailed further to the northern Gulf Islands, visiting the numerous provincial marine parks protecting sandy beaches, old-growth forest and eel-grass beds.

It wasn’t all about the sailing, however. We bought a sailboat because we wanted explore the islands. Our favourite island was the one with the sordid history. Pirates Cove on De’Courcy Island is know for the greedy cult leader Brother XII and his whip-wielding mistress, Madame Zee who cheated their followers out of life savings in the 1920s and 30s. Instead of whips and treasure chests we discovered an idyllic island with windswept headlands to clamber over, arbutus forests to seek shade under and to envy the quaint little farms where chickens and sheep grazed beneath apple trees bursting with fruit.

On all the islands I ran the winding trails. We hiked mountains and lounged on beaches, watched river otters and pigeon guillemots. We visited farmer’s markets bursting with fruits and vegetables and goat cheeses. We sailed alongside Pacific white-sided dolphins and curious harbour seals. We whiled away the days too windy for sailing by peering into tidal pools looking at the feathery tongues of barnacles or watching hermit crabs. We strolled white shell beaches and trail trails alongside playful mink. Pileated woodpeckers called deep within the rain coast forest while ospreys and great blue herons fished the shoreline. We snacked on salt crackers and pickles in the cockpit while on the radio Stan Rogers sang about the rise of the Marry Ellen Carter.

We sold our sailboat at the end of our second summer of sailing, the Yukon wilderness calling us home again. Looking back on those days of sailing, we fumbled. We scared ourselves. We laughed. We drank like seafarers. Though we returned to the Yukon, to resume our adventuring in the Canadian North, we learned that every now and again it is important to step outside of our familiar world, to challenge ourselves and chase the dream, even if it seems too big.

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