Monday, June 24, 2013

Chatterbox
By Michael
PORT HARVEY, BC


This is where we sat anchored for two
nights. It was pretty damn nice, a place
and time Windy and I won't forget.
We'd have stayed there until we ran
out of food, but the clock is ticking
on our trip north to Alaska.
I keyed the VHF mic: “Securite, securite, securite. This is Del Viento, a 40-foot sloop, inbound Malibu Rapids. Any opposing traffic, please come back on 16, over.”

We were 100 yards from the entrance to the narrow, winding pass, copying the protocol we’d observed over the past thirty minutes as slack tide approached. Currents are critical to navigation up here, especially in narrow passages like this where a deep-keeled, cruising sailboat under power can be overwhelmed by the whirlpools, overfalls, and rapids they can produce.

Malibu Rapids is the entrance to the Princess Louisa Inlet, our destination nearly 40 miles inland from the Strait of Georgia. This trip up Princess Louisa Inlet is a detour from our dash north to Alaska, but well worth it, we were assured.
I advanced the throttle and began our transit.

About Malibu Rapids, the guidebooks use hyperbole to emphasize the hazards of approaching when the 9-knot current is running. We were careful to time our arrival for slack tide. The guidebooks also say that upon approach, we may hear crowds screaming from the Malibu Club,* but that we shouldn’t worry, they are just spectators watching and applauding the yacht transiting ahead of us. But today there would be no screams, it was too early in the season for that and only a few boats were waiting to make the pass. And because of our timing, our transit was uneventful, just me steering our boat through a couple of tight, boulder-bordered S-turns, like driving a semi through a drive-thru. (We’ve been through other rapids since, about a half-hour before or after slack tide and the currents have made it turbulent, Del Viento yawing back and forth, even being quickly swung 90-degrees before sliding sideways into the next contrary flow, the helm and throttle ineffective.)
This is me in the dinghy with the girls,
exploring one of the minor falls. They
are small only relative to Chatterbox,
this one stretched twice again as high
as the camera lens was able to capture.
This was nearly the end to a day-long passage, most of which we spent either slack-jawed or smiling. We started off in the Malaspina Strait before heading northeast up the glacial cut Agamemnon Channel to Prince of Whales Reach to Jervis Inlet and finally Queens Reach, off of which was Malibu Rapids and the entrance to Princess Louisa Inlet. For nearly the entire day, Windy and I agreed it seemed just like we were motoring up the valley floor of California’s Yosemite National Park—there was even a granite wall of a mountain that resembled Half Dome. It was big and dramatic. Five-hundred to a thousand feet up on the lush, densely forested slopes, raging waterfalls appeared as streaks of white, run-off from the still-snow-capped peaks. The scars of massive rockslides were dwarfed by the enormous scale of everything around us.

And now through the Rapids, the mountains on either side of Princess Louisa Inlet closed in dramatically and rose near-vertically. We poked our heads out from under the bimini just to look straight up past the trees to the narrow band of blue sky above. We glided along for about 30 minutes before the channel turned an revealed Chatterbox Falls, about a mile ahead.
It raged at the head of the Inlet, with several minor falls on either side as we approached. Even 500 yards away, we could hear the roar of rushing water over our Yanmar.

The prime anchorage spot is directly in front of the falls, where we dropped the hook in 40 feet. The local current from the falls is swift, about 2 knots, and so there we stayed, rock solid for two nights despite contrary winds and tides.
The next morning we set about exploring, soon coming across a sign at the head of a trail that practically begged us to not continue to the abandoned trapper’s cabin.

"Abandoned trapper's cabin? How cool does that sound?"

"Cool, yes, but that sign's like the one over the gate to hell in Dante's Inferno."

“Let’s just see what it’s like, how far we can get—we can always turn around.” I said.
Windy nodded and with the girls in tow, our little family headed up the trail.

--MR
* The Malibu Club was once a swank resort built in 1945 by Hamilton, the name behind the variable pitch aircraft propeller. He was introduced to the property by Mr. Boeing and his remote resort was popular with the likes of John Wayne, the Kennedys, Bing Crosby, and Bob Hope. But five years after it opened, it was shut down and abandoned one rainy night. Then, in 1953, an organization called Young Life bought it for $300K. Since that time, they’ve hosted teenagers here from around the world, offering spiritual guidance and passing yachts to scream at.

This is our entrance to the Malibu Rapids, Malibu Club overlooking.
If any of you can help me convince Windy that we don't need a
bike on deck, I would be grateful.

This is what our entrance to Princess Louisa Inlet looked like. A picture
just doesn't do it justice. And look at Windy in short sleeves and
sun hat--we couldn't have had nicer weather.

Our trusty Pudgy and kayak, tied up on a beach near another
of the several minor falls we went to explore. 
We're only doing about 3 knots, but that didn't diminish
the girls' enthusiasm for the ride.


Monday, June 17, 2013

You Heard It Here First
By Michael
LASQUETI ISLAND, BC


It's good, it's healthy.
Do you remember when not a single grocery store in America sold pomegranate juice? When you first heard of acai berries? When tofu was hard to find? Before hemp milk, goji berries, and tempeh?
Well, I’m glad you’re here. I’m about to announce The Next Big Thing.

Are you ready?
No—wait—first, some background.

Just nights before we left Victoria, our friends Jim and Tricia aboard Falcon VII gave us a briefing, pictures and stories and need-to-know info from their multiple trips north to Alaska. We hung on every word and studied every image.
Then they told us a secret.

They said we’d find it just at the high-tide line. They said to pick only the tender ends. They said we could eat it raw or sauté it. They said it is salty, delicious, and nutritious. They called it…sea asparagus.
We tucked the info in the back of our minds and then bid Victoria a warm farewell. Neither of us gave sea asparagus a second thought.

Then, a week later, anchored off Galiano Island, in a little cove near Montague Harbor, we sat quietly in the cockpit and listened to a clear, authoritative voice coming from a large group ashore. An interpreter was lecturing a bunch of city kids ferried over from a Vancouver school. Maybe we would learn something…
“And here, just above the high-tide line, is…does anyone know what this is called? No? It’s sea asparagus—everyone pick off a bit and try it.”

Ten minutes later, Windy, the girls, and I were ashore, poking around the area where the sea-asparagus-eating group had been.
“I think this is it,” Windy said, nibbling on a tender green shoot. “Funny, I always thought this plant was called pickleweed.”

We harvested a bunch and rowed back to Del Viento to make dinner—a sea asparagus-inspired Asian stirfry over brown rice. It was very good.
Along with the clear water and blue sky,
this looks like we've landed in the Sea of
Cortez or the Bahamas. But that's not white
sand, it's ground shells. The beach itself
is called a midden and it's a small,
concentrated area where First Nations
people (Canadians' term for Native
Americans) deposited their waste
shells for hundreds of years.
And then I learned more about this stuff. It is amazing. It doesn’t need fresh water to grow, it’s high in protein, rich in polyunsaturates, and it’s hyper-photosynthetic (meaning it sucks carbon dioxide out of the air really fast compared to other plants).

And that’s not all. A company in Mexico is apparently farming this stuff on the banks of the Sea of Cortez, in Bahia Kino (where they filmed most of Catch-22, by the way) to turn it into biodiesel. In England, they call it samphire and they’re already eating it with butter or olive oil. In other parts of the world, they call it umari keerai and grow it for livestock feed. The Sri Lankans feed it to donkeys.
And Windy was right, pickleweed is a San Francisco name for this stuff. Botanists call it Salicornia.

Mark my words: It’s only a matter of time before some clever entrepreneur partners with an M.D. to claim sea asparagus contains the specific micronutrients you need to boost your memory, strengthen your immune system, and prevent cancer. Next thing you know, sea asparagus (or maybe the marketing folks will opt for umari keerai) will make the list of Ten Superfoods You Should Be Eating Every Day. Then, the next time you’re in the produce section of your local grocery store, it will be right there, packaged in neat little bundles and wrapped in cellophane, next to the collection of fancy mushrooms, like it’s been there forever, and priced exorbitantly.
But for now, we’ll keep munching away for free—it is supposed to be even more prolific in Southeast Alaska, where our bow is pointed.

Bon appetite!
--MR


Eleanor harvesting sea asparagus on a Strait of Georgia shore.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Del Viento Genealogy
By Michael
South Pender Island, BC

Second Wind looking good 35 years ago.
Our job is to keep her seaworthy and
attractive for future cruising generations.
That picture to the right is Del Viento under sail in the Strait of Georgia—just about where we are now—when I was 10-years-old. It was 1978 and the guy at the helm is then-owner Mark Miller, who bought Del Viento new from a Puget Sound dealer shortly after she was shipped over from Japan. Of course, she wasn’t Del Viento then; for the 9 years or so that Mark owned her, she was Second Wind.
 
Unfortunately, Mark passed away in 2010, only months after we bought Del Viento. We never had a chance to meet. The picture is actually a picture of a picture that Mark’s widow, Judy, shared with us. She lives in the San Juans and we visited with her the other day. She brought several pictures and stories from that first chapter in Del Viento’s history. It was fun having her aboard and letting her touch and see the boat she once sailed a lot—about 30 years ago. “I talked to one of my sons yesterday, told him you’d contacted me. ‘You’re going to see the Fuji?!’ he said. All of my kids had good times on this boat.”
Judy at the helm of
Del Viento, 2013.
I found a bunch of old papers aboard after we bought Del Viento and started piecing names and dates together. On an expired documentation certificate, I found the names of the second owners, David and Dona Martinson. Online, I found a phone number for a hospital in Hawaii where Dona maybe worked. I left a message. About a week later, David called me and told me everything he knew about the boat. He said they owned Second Wind for about eight years, that they bought her from someone named Miller. He thought Miller may have been a Boeing executive.

I later googled MILLER BOEING SAILING and found the obituary for Mark Miller, former president of Boeing Aerospace. It said he loved sailing. From this I found an address for Judy and sent her a letter. She got back to me via email.
David also told me they sold Second Wind in December 1994 to a couple from Texas. This matched up with the paperwork I found that showed our boat was Texas Swan for a spell. But Robert and Michaela Swan only owned Texas Swan for 13 months, never moved her from the Pacific Northwest, never even physically changed the name on her hull.

So she was still Second Wind when Merritt and Jennifer Fallis bought her in January 1996 (the year Windy and I took off on our first voyage, aboard the first Del Viento). They cruised her extensively throughout the PNW with their daughter Tori. They renamed her Dream Catcher. About seven years after they bought her, they pointed Dream Catcher’s bow south for the first time and sailed her down to Mexico. And when their cruising time was over, they left her on the hard in San Carlos, at the top of the Sea of Cortez. It’s a dry, desert place—a good spot for leaving anything.
In 2008, Merritt’s brother Terry and his wife, Terry, drove down to San Carlos, launched Dream Catcher, and cruised her for over a year. By the end of 2009, they were done and everyone agreed it was time to sell. They listed Dream Catcher with a Puerto Vallarta broker.

By early summer 2010, she was ours. We named her Del Viento and slowly brought her north to the Strait of Georgia.
--MR

* My friend, Diane Selkirk of Ceilydh, wrote an article featuring much of this story. It appeared in Pacific Yachting a couple months back.

In the two years we've been actively cruising her, we've been
also refitting her. She's better than new in a lot of ways, and
getting better every day.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Welcome Home
By Michael
BELLINGHAM, WA


Windy's always been our mast ascender,
this was my first time up on this boat.
I did a final rigging check, fixed our
ProFurl halyard wrap stop, and
installed two dozen stand-offs I
made to attach our SSB antennae
to the back stay.
We left Victoria this past Saturday, in the wee hours (that’s 8:00 a.m. in Del Viento-speak) and headed to Friday Harbor, a U.S. port in the San Juan Islands. We tied up to the customs dock and I grabbed our folder of documentation and passports. Nobody was in the small office on the dock. I picked up the yellow courtesy phone.
“U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.”

“Hi there, this is Del Viento. We just arrived here in Friday Harbor.”
There was a long pause. “What role does the person in the red pants play?”

“I’m sorry?”
“Aboard your vessel, who is the person in the red pants?”

I turned around and glanced back at the boat, Windy was sitting on the coaming in her red foul weather bottoms. “Oh, that’s my wife, Windy—I guess she’s the skipper on this leg, she helmed the boat over from Victoria; I slept much of the way.”
“Why did she run up and down the docks when you arrived?”

Run up and down the docks? I thought back: she drove us in, I hopped off with the stern line, she jumped off after she stopped the boat and then we both adjusted the lines… “I’m not sure what you mean; she didn’t run up and down the docks when we arrived.”
“We have cameras that cover the dock from one end to another. Your crew member in the red pants left the vessel and walked outside our camera range—I want to know what she was doing.”

“Uh, respectfully, she did nothing more than walk between the bow and stern lines, securing the boat.”
“Do you have any fruit or vegetables aboard?”

“Yeah, we have garlic, a couple apples, a few bananas, some mangoes…” I was mid-sentence when he interrupted me.
“Please get back aboard your vessel and wait for me to come down there.”

I told Windy about my phone call and the camera survelliance--our voices hushed in case there were hidden mikes too. After about ten minutes, Mr. Officious came walking towards us. We tried to crack his demeanor with our smiles and hellos as he approached, but he was having none of it.
"Passports please." He focused sternly on our happy family sitting on the rail. “Frances, please raise your hand.” She complied. “Where’s your mom?” he continued.

Now Frances is a sharp little boat schooler, but a bit shy around strangers, and feeling pressured. I took a deep breath before she finally smiled and pointed at Windy.
Mr. Officious barely nodded before training his glare at my wife. “You left the boat and walked this way,” he said, sweeping his arm dramatically towards the bow, “outside of our camera range.”

“You mean to that bow cleat? I was securing the boat…” Windy and she wasn’t amused.
“Do you have any weapons or explosives aboard?”

We did a bit of provisioning in Friday Harbor.
Eleanor (sporting her new short doo) is finally
strong enough to lug beer, bless her heart.
“No, nothing.” I said.
“Did you allow anyone aboard your vessel in Canada?’

“Of course, several times, we were there for quite a while, made a lot of friends.”
“Did you buy anything in Canada?”

“Uh, yeah, lots of stuff, mostly food and sundries.”
“But you’re telling me that everything aboard this vessel—everything—belongs to you and you know what’s aboard.”

“Yep.” I thought for sure this was the question before the search. In San Diego last year, coming into the U.S. from Mexico, we were all four made to sit on the cabin top under the watchful eye of two customs officials while a third spent fifteen minutes looking through our stuff down below.
“You have nothing aboard you plan to sell?”

I wanted to explain to him that everything’s more expensive in Victoria, even Canadian maple syrup. I’d be a fool to try and import anything. “We have nothing to sell.”
“You’re checked in. Here’s your clearance number.” He handed me a slip of paper, turned, and began to walk away and stopped. “Oh, the mangoes you have aboard—please get them for me.”

Windy brought up three glorious, perfect mangoes. We’d already enjoyed a couple and were foolish not to have eaten these before we arrived. Windy dumped them into the plastic bag he held at the end of his outstretched arms.*
And without a word, he turned again and walked away.

Now, I know the drill. Years ago I sat through a grueling three-hour CIA polygraph exam. Mr. Officious is trained to unsettle us, rattle us, and intimidate us. Like a polygraph examiner, his job is to induce stress and ferret out inconsistencies and otherwise make us feel like criminals when we’ve committed no crime. It’s a game and I’m happy to play.
But the game was over, he’d cleared us back in. He’d cleared us right out of his narrow jurisdiction and we were now as free and innocent as my grandma sitting in her Nebraska living room.

I called after him, just 20 feet away, heading down the 350-foot long empty Customs dock, not another boat in sight. “Is it okay if we stay here for just 10 minutes, to make a phone call, before we untie?”
He stopped and turned and paused, “No, you can’t.”

--MR
* Can you imagine how great it would be if there had really been five mangoes aboard, if Windy had mistakenly grabbed and surrendered only the three she first saw, if Frances happened to discover two more later at the bottom of the hammock and we enjoyed them immensely? Can you imagine?

Del Viento on the transient dock in Friday Harbor. The weather was beautiful and
we untied and headed over to a quiet cove for the night, on Shaw Island,
visible across the water on the left side of the picture.

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