Friday, February 12, 2010

My Escape Pod

The night is black and wet and blue green on Saratoga Passage. Cool, still and damp. I pull from the half empty Sailor Jerry's Spiced Rum bottle and spread the sail cover across the deck. I am thankful that I made the trip without too many problems. Zuby watches curiously as I raise the bottle and nod toward the heavens. I didn't get the name off the hull. I didn't do the de-naming ceremony. I know I am pushing my superstitious luck, so I toss a splash of rum on the anchor and decide not to push it any further. We're hanging off an unknown mooring, and though the predictions say it will be calm, one never knows; methinks I've had enough grog for one night.

Zuby shadows me as I ramble back to the cockpit. I pause in the companionway struck by the contrast of colors and sensations. Outside it is huge and dark and very, very quiet. Below it is small and glows warm and woody. The red cushions that I couldn't decide if I liked are now inviting and womb-like. The oil lamp flickers and the kerosene stove hisses. My copper tea kettle steams. I could be anywhere. It could be any time. I go below and pour a thermos of Korean corn tea then fill my fleece-covered water bottle. What a simple comfort! A must for a chilly boat.

Back on the deck I listen to dogs barking in the distance as I gaze at the stars. I know so very little about the stars. I resolve to learn more and perhaps someday know how to navigate by them. I check the line tied off to the buoy before lying back to contemplate the vast emptiness. I sip my tea. The rum kicks in. I laugh at myself. What good fortune I have created. This definitely does not suck. In fact, it is better than I ever anticipated. Aesthetically it is intoxicating, and the sense of freedom humbles me.

As I sip my tea and snuggle with my pup, I wonder at it all. Images from the past three days--the first three days aboard
Dervish - dance across my mind's eye. My Canon S2 camera died recently leaving me to rely mostly on memory. The few photos I have from the 120 mile delivery from Olympia to Oak Harbor trip were taken on Steve's camera. He traveled the whole way to Camano with me and served as Chief Engineer, Human Whiskerpole, Bartender, Helmsman and Lover. I couldn't have made the trip without him, nor would I have wanted to. But now, he is back at the homestead, and I am here aboard my very own boat, alone and very much alive. I am pregnant with the possibilities, the dangers, and the incredibly exciting and unpredictable future that I am stepping into.

Only three days ago I left Olympia. I was excited but nervous and somewhat tentative at the helm. That first day I made the short trip north to Boston Harbor with my partner, Steve Roberts and Cathy Starck Nemeth aboard as crew. It was a gorgeous south sound evening.

We arrived at Boston Harbor just before six pm. I really love the hometown culture and the wonderful characters who people that little marina. They even have a resident seal who escorts visitors down the docks. There are also eight or so local dogs that visit and roam the marina store at different times. They remind me of my little Corgi Lily who was well known at this marina. When Zuby was bitten by a local Golden, I had three different people offering their phone numbers and accepting responsibility for any damage. Luckily, Zuben was bruised but otherwise unharmed, but that is just the way people are around there. Wonderful and decent.

The dog fight did add to the general chaos of our arrival though. We had many logistical problems to work out including car transport, lost keys and mis-communications with our dinner hosts. After a lot of finagling - including being coached by a ten year old girl on the finer points of using a coat hanger to jimmy in through the window of my car - I managed to find my keys and deliver my very patient friend back to her boat at West Bay.

The rest of night, however, was delightful. We had a huge meal of fresh steelhead from the BH Marina store
with our good friend Suzanne and her date, Al. Then we retreated to Dervish for a good night's sleep before the real journey began.

Next day we got off at about 10:30 with the goal of hitting the Tacoma Narrows at peak current and stopping at Gig Harbor for the night, both of which we eventually did, but not before we had just a wee bit of excitement. Motoring through Balch Passage we smelled some smoke in the cabin (oh god!) but it turned out to be exhaust. When Steve, acting as Chief Engineer, went to investigate he discovered water gushing into the engine compartment. A hose clamp had failed on the line feeding the engine raw water. He hollered up for me to cut the motor so he could replace it. I could still see water sputtering out the exhaust and looked around at our position just off the McNeil Island penitentiary docks. I put the motor in neutral. We started drifting toward the prison. I had to motor away. They might send out gun boats or something crazy. Steve did the miraculous and wrestled a new clamp on while we were underway. His hands shook like crazy, he burned his fingers, and he got a bit wet, but he did it. We were soon back on track.

We hit ten knots under the Narrows bridge and made Gig Harbor well before sunset. I called ahead and secured a slip at Arabella's Landing for the night. What a sweet little private marina! You can't beat the unlimited showering and friendly staff. After a walk through town for provisions, I made dinner aboard as Steve rigged a sweet little blue tarp boom tent (a dodger is high on the list of immediate projects!) and we settled in for the night.

And most importantly, we indulged in something I have longed to try for decades: Absinthe, the famed drink of artists and writers of Paris around the turn of the century. A drink shrouded in mystery and brimming with history. It was legalized in the US only a couple of years ago. This was my first experience with the strong sweet, anise-flavored, wormwood spirits. Let me simply confirm that "chasing the green fairy" as it is sometimes called, led to some luscious conversations and inventive lovemaking. I highly recommend it! Here I am pouring ice water over a sugar cube into a shot of the green elixir.

Next day we woke early without a trace of a hangover and went into town for breakfast before motoring up Colvos Passage. As we passed Blake Island, the wind blew light and southerly so we put up the sails and headed across the channel. Once we cleared the shipping lanes we turned dead downwind and ran wing and wing all the way to Shilshole Marina. Steve became the wondrous human whisker pole by holding the genny out with a boat hook. Honestly, it isn't as easy as he makes it look.

It felt like we were hardly moving but one look at the little dinghy, Hamster and it was clear from the wake that we were making good time. In fact, Dervish averaged about 3.5 knots and held her course quite well.

Zuby was getting used to boat travel by now and thoroughly enjoyed himself even when the wind was enough to make him squint as we raced along.

Shilshole was surprisingly quiet. We butt sniffed about (for the uninitiated, that means walking the docks checking out boats and peering around at their sterns for names) met some nice folks, and continued with the absinthe rituals. Uh-huh!

Next day we motored up past Gedney Island and along south Camano in what is known to the locals as The Mighty Saratoga Passage. The wind kicked up from the north as it often does there, and we did some close-hauled sailing for awhile. I was amazed to find that we could set Dervish on her course, straighten the rudder and just let her go. She didn't round up at all and actually gained a couple tenths of a knot without human interference. I am not sure what that says about me as a helmsman, but surely it proves I've got a sweet little sailing vessel.

When we finally gave up on beating our way into the wind, we powered up and chugged along to Indian Beach off a friend's house on the west side of Camano. We made three attempts to set anchor, but it just wouldn't grab. I think there is a lot of eel grass there, or perhaps I am simply incompetent. Either way, it was getting dark, I was exhausted, and Steve was eager to get home - now only half a mile inland. I didn't feel confident about heading on to Oak Harbor alone in the dark, so we grabbed a buoy and hoped for the best. We hauled ourselves into Hamster, rowed to shore and continued home with loads of stuff. I returned to Dervish a few hours later to spend the night alone. It turned out to be a magical night and a very important experience for me. The depth of feeling that came with the realization that I finally have my own boat, that I am the skipper, and that I am free to move about the planet made my heart swell and my imagination leap. I am about to embark on a journey both of spirit and in the flesh that will surely change me. It already has.

I made it through the night and single handed it over to Oak Harbor the next day without incident. Dervish is home now, and so am I. Once we get the homestead rented, the next phase of our journey will begin. Our flotilla is forming and the Dramanauts and Traveling Circuits are about to be born. My escape pod awaits me, bobbing happily at the dock.