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Sailing into a Sunset to Remember
Saturday, June 30, 2012
Passengers and crew aboard the Schooner Zodiac awoke to thick fog blanketing the sea and a light drizzle hanging in the air. The Washington State Ferries that have criss-crossed near our anchorage off of Frost Island could only be heard and not seen as the lonely wail of their whistles echoed through the mist.
After another hearty breakfast, First Mate Chris outlined our new plan for the day: we would stay put at our anchorage for a while longer to allow repairs to the mainsail to be completed, then we would motor through the fog to Roche Harbor on San Juan Island.
In preparation for getting underway, I assisted the crew in hosing off the decks. Unlike modern steel-constructed cruise ships, freshwater is the enemy here and the wooden decking must be scrubbed and washed down with salt water in order to preserve it.
Once that was completed, Zodiac’s port anchor was raised and hosed off, dropping huge chunks of mud and silt back into the water. Up and secured, we then began to make our way slowly out of our sheltered anchorage and into the white unknown.
It’s easy to understand why early explorers like the Vikings were terrified of the fog. Your bearings and sense of direction completely vanish in heavy fog, and a still sea and little wind hamper traditional sailing.
Although modern navigation equipment told us a large Washington State ferry would cross our bow well ahead of us, seeing it suddenly materialize faintly through the fog was a heart-stopping experience.
Still, the experienced Captain Tim and the crew of the Zodiac were consummate pros, doubling lookouts in the bow and placing a lookout – the ever-witty Al – up in the mast rigging for a bird’s eye view.
After 30 minutes, the air suddenly became noticeably cooler, forcing me belowdecks to grab a second fleece pullover to add to my already-layered clothing. It was a far cry from yesterday, when I was avoiding sunburn. But despite the chill, I could not bring myself to leave the upper decks; the beauty of the Zodiac as she cut through the fog and the thrill of the unknown kept me rooted to the outer decks throughout the morning.
Around 11am, we abruptly sailed out of the fog and into the makings of a pleasantly-warm day. The engine was cut, and Chris’s familiar call of, “All hands on deck!” rang out across the ship.
Raising sails is still tough business. The weight of the throat against the line’s I am in charge of still makes my arms scream after a short time and my hands are sore and blistered from the friction of the lines. But I refuse to wear gloves or show the slightest sign of complaint, not because I want to impress the crew but because I want to prove to myself that I can, and could have, “cut it” as a sailor. And I’d like to hope I would have done okay.
Once we arrived in Roche Harbor about 90 minutes later, I also “helped” Brandy with the taking down and securing of the foresail. This involved scurrying out across the stem of the ship and stepping down onto the mesh rigging secured beneath Zodiac’s bowsprit.
So there I am, 20-some feet above the ocean while the ship is moving at speed, struggling to get this sail folded up onto itself and wrapped around the bowsprit correctly, then tied off.
As for standing out on the bowsprit netting – no problem. As for helping Brandy – well, I probably shouldn’t quit my day job. My knots are awful, my wrapping skills are poor and I likely did more harm than good. But it was still fun!
Ashore in Roche Harbor, we enjoyed a leisurely walk through the beautiful forest to the San Juan Island Distillery, where we were invited to sample some of their unique, locally-made ciders, gins and brandies.
Having developed an appreciation for gin, I can say theirs was one of the better ones I’ve had the opportunity to sample. Their cider, particularly their driest, unsweetened variety was one of the most impressive and surprising finds, boasting a taste akin to fine champagne.
Afterwards, a trio of taxis whisked guests and crew alike to the San Juan Vineyards for a tour of their facilities and a complete tasting menu, taken within view of a lovingly-preserved former schoolhouse on the site.
Spanning 30 acres in size, the vineyard has been operating since 1999 and actively grows Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrebe, along with roughly an acre of Pinot Noir. The vineyard has also introduced a unique “wine club” concept, whereby four bottles of wine are shipped three times a year to your home, for a 20% discount. If you love wine, it’s a heck of an easy way to get the latest and greatest from the vineyard.
Following our delicious tasting, we were left with roughly an hour to explore the town of Friday Harbor at our leisure. A quaint, almost Bar Harbor-esque town, I can’t get the name out of my mind – it sounds like the perfect place for a Stephen King novel.
The real highlight of the evening occurred back onboard the Zodiac at our overnight anchorage in Parks Bay, just north of Friday Harbor.
While bottles of merlot, Pinot Noir and Siegerrebe were poured and glasses clinked, Chef Ian set about creating what may have been his culinary masterpiece: an amazing Paella featuring jumbo prawns, clams, oysters and more cooked up on deck using the largest skillet I’ve ever seen.
As he cooked, Zodiac’s sailboat and kayaks returned to the water and I seized the opportunity to go sailing in the sailboat – another first for yours truly. To putter around Parks Bay in the sailboat, with the wind occasionally catching the sail and propelling the small, nimble craft forward, was about as close to heaven on Earth as I suspect you can get.
The crew of the Zodiac raved about Ian’s paella, and true to their word, it was magnificent. Along with the excellent, free-flowing wine and jovial conversation, the evening was punctuated by one of the most spectacular and prolonged sunsets I have ever seen. It held all of us in its rapture until well after the last light had faded from view, and our bottles had run dry.
We met as strangers on Thursday. Thanks to the Zodiac, we have become friends by Saturday. And that is something worth treasuring.
Our Voyage Report from aboard the Schooner Zodiac continues tomorrow, as our wine cruise sadly comes to a close with a scenic sail-back to Bellingham, Washington.
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