Chasing the Wind and Catching My Dreams
Long Harbor on Saltspring Island to the right.
Ganges Harbor to the left.
The year was 2003.
I had sailed a total of three times on prairie lakes but that was nothing like the ocean with its formidable tides and currents. I arrived on the west coast on my motorcycle to look for a job and chase my dreams. I made a pit stop in Cranbrook, B.C., and checked my phone messages. There was a message from a friend on Vancouver Island telling me not to go to Victoria, instead catch the Horseshoe Bay ferry from Vancouver to Nanaimo, “because we’re going sailing.”
Dusk was falling as I navigated through Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay. The ferry left the landing after dark, I stood on the stern deck and watched the lights of the city disappear. I went to the bow, vibrating with anticipation of what was waiting on the other side. One hour and twenty minutes later, the ferry approached Nanaimo. The lights of the city reflecting on the black ocean were dazzling.
A brisk wind hitting my face filled my senses with salt air mixed with pine and cedar forests, it was intoxicating. The chill of the night made my eyes water and tears streamed across my cheeks. I leaned over the rail to watch the ferry come into the berth, dark water swirling as the thrusters of the vessel pushed its way into the landing. The ferry workers secured the lines and prepared for the vehicles and passengers to disembark.
I’d been riding motorcycle most of my adult life, taking breaks when I was pregnant and my kids were little. As soon as I could get back out there I took long solo trips to Vancouver Island and the Southern States. I couldn’t get enough of the open road.
Motorcycles are first on and first off, so I started the engine and drove up the gangway then down the ramp to exit the ferry landing. My friend was waiting for me on his bike in the parking lot. We dismounted our bikes for a quick hello, then I followed him to the Boat Basin in Nanaimo Harbor. We walked down the ramp to the docks, between fishing boats and other sailboats to meet Orville, the captain of the Barefoot Contessa, a 36-foot motorsailer. “Permission to come aboard” we called out, knocking on the hull. Orv called back, “come aboard” and we stepped over the gunnel to the cockpit. The warm light from the cabin was inviting as the Captain opened the door to greet us, the smell of pipe tobacco wafted on the air along with some blues playing in the background. The heated cabin was a welcome contrast to the chilly night air. Orv offered me a bunk for the night and told me that we would be off the dock first thing in the morning to catch slack tide at Dodd Narrows, whatever that meant. It seemed like I didn’t sleep a wink, too excited about the adventure that was waiting the next day.
After what felt like twenty minutes, Orville was up making coffee and breakfast while we waited for daylight to arrive. On board, we tried to help the captain prepare for departure, but we didn’t have a clue about how to help, so we stayed out of the way and watched Orv untie the lines and leave the dock. Transiting Dodd Narrows, a narrow passage between Vancouver Island and Mudge Island, was exciting for this prairie girl. The walls of rock and trees closed in as Orv wound his way through the bends and currents of the passage. At the end of Dodd Narrows we were pushed into the the calm waters of the Southern Gulf Islands. A warm, cloudless day without a lick of wind welcomed us. Our destination was Long Harbor on Saltspring Island. We motored south on the glassy water of Trincomali Channel.
I was sitting on the bow in the warm sunshine watching the sparkles on the water when Orville appeared with a towel draped over one arm, holding a glass and a chilled bottle of wine. “I’ve entrusted the boat to Fernando, my trusty auto-pilot, and would be happy to pour you some wine.” I was in heaven. I sipped my wine and watched the islands slipping past. The beauty was breath-taking, I felt like I was in another country. I fell in love with the ocean, boats, and being in this wonderful place.
We entered the channel into Long Harbor between Nose Point and Scott Point. The islands all blend together to the inexperienced eye, and I couldn’t see the entrance until we were between the points. We passed by the out station of the Vancouver Yacht Club and then the Long Harbor Ferry landing. The harbor is long and narrow, lined with trees dotted with cottages. An eagle flew past and perched high on a naked branch, searching for its prey in the water. Seagulls squawked and dipped into a small whirlpool behind a lighthouse marking a reef that divided the channel.
The harbor has a dog-leg which bends to the west where the mooring was. Orv had another boat tied to his mooring, so we rafted up to Nomad, his 27-foot sailboat. A dozen other boats on moorings, danced in unison as the tide turned. A private marina sat on the shore on the east side of the bay, and an out station from Victoria Yacht Club had four mooring buoys and a dock on the west side, protected and serene. The setting sun warmed the cockpit and cast long shadows of the surrounding forest onto the still waters of the bay. Orv fired up the barbeque, cooked some burgers, and poured more wine. We were pleasantly entertained to hear the story of Nomad.
“Crazy Michelle” had owned her. She lived onboard and grew herbs and vegetables in boxes on deck, a lot of plants in alot of boxes. However, this did not deter Michelle from taking Nomad out sailing. On one excursion she was caught out in a gale, unprepared to deal with the building wind and waves. Nomad began to take on water so Michelle maneuvered her close to shore and abandoned ship. Nomad half sunk. She was salvaged and came up for sale at auction. Orv got her for a song and brought her back to life. He sailed her for six years with a woman he loved. He told us about trips they made together, longingly looking over at Nomad, the memories stirring up his emotions. When the woman left him, he couldn’t bear to sell her, or sail her, even though he bought a new, bigger boat. Nomad looked forlorn, she needed some lovin’. She was mossy and smelly, covered with seashells and bird poop.
The feeling of freedom on a sailboat was teasing my senses. It felt akin to the freedom I felt riding across the wide open spaces of the prairies. The expansive views of the skies meeting the ocean thrilled me. I can’t explain how strong the pull was. The essence of drifting across the ocean, leaving my troubles behind was a sweet seduction.
Like a bright neon moon rules the tides, my spirit was reaching out with open arms to the shifting times. The wind of change was crashing around me, like the fiery sun when it slips into the sea. There was a raging storm brewing in my soul. Like reflections in the water, I looked at my past and what had been and looked across to the lighthouse, to the future and what could be.