33. CANADIAN CRUISE 1967
My anticipation built over the next couple months until school let out and summer got going. We’d go to the marina where Roy would show me the particulars about outfitting the boat for the voyage. He said he was looking forward to playing pool on the larger snooker tables and getting some Canadian tobacco. Their cabin cruiser, The Caravelle, had a tall flying bridge and lower steerage too. Roy and I’d sleep on either side of the bow and the other bed folded down from the wall. I helped where I could and learned as much as possible.
We set out through the Chittenden Locks and into Puget Sound on a bright blue day. Roy’s Dad was ever the skipper having us belay lines and reefing bumpers. The twelve-foot skiff that we were towing was our personal craft and we’d take it all over and explore the waterways where we’d lay up for the night. There was a bit of chop as we got out into more open water but neither of us felt ill and were digging elemental nature at its source.
We made it as far as Orcas Island the first night and pulled into Rosario Harbor around dusk. Once we were secure, Roy’s Dad, Gordon, went to see if any of his friends had arrived yet. Roy and I went up to the old historic hotel above the marina and ordered iced tea in the opulent lounge. Roy said, “They’ve got an indoor pool here, we can go swimming later.” I stretched out on the long sofa. I could get used to this.
“Hey, check her out!” I said to Roy, as we walked down the gangway towards the boat. This gorgeous girl with long brown hair was carrying some grocery sacks down one of the piers. She looked to be two or three years older than us. “Can I give you a hand with those?” I said with my most confident voice as she came by us. “No, thanks, I’m just here”, she replied and stepped over to her boat, a small cabin cruiser. I noted the name, “The Caprice”. We waved as we continued down the pier and back to Roy’s ship.
“Looks like everyone’s here”, declared Gordon, lifting his glass of Ruffino to Jules, who sat across from him in the cabin. “Looks like we’ll be fine at least to Nanaimo”, Jules said, studying the charts spread out between them. “We’re gonna explore the harbor in the speedboat, okay, Pop?” Roy said. “Sure, be back before it gets dark. We’re having shrimp later.”
Roy got the engine going and I stood by with the line. “Shove off, mate!” said Roy in his best imitation of an old salt. We puttered away from the dock until we were sure we wouldn’t kick up any wake and then Roy opened up the throttle. We tore up the outer harbor and buzzed the coastline. Roy pointed up into the trees where he had spotted a white crested eagle. We slowed down to inspect a secluded cove with a small waterfall trickling from somewhere high above in the forest. “How about a smoke? Just be careful of the gas tank ”, said Roy, fishing into his jacket pocket for some cigarettes. Feeling very grown up, we put our feet up on the dash and slowly motored along the cove’s shore. “I think I hear Dzunukwa in the trees”, I said menacingly.
We settled into our berths after dinner and conversation, having met several of the boat owners in our clutch. There looked to be five crafts in all and we planned to all tie up together at anchorage each night for stability and ease of visiting.
I looked over to where The Caprice had been moored in the morning and saw that it had already pulled out. Roy and his Dad were cleaning up after breakfast and I hustled the trash out to the marina garbage cans. “All set? Let’s be off!” cried Gordon as he saluted a couple boats of our party sailing out ahead of us. It was a carbon copy of the preceding day; blue sky reflecting on the light sea, gulls calling back and forth and the salt air smell blending with the engine’s exhaust.
We were towing the speedboat about fifty feet behind us and made sure to glance back periodically to check that it was riding all right. Roy got a chance to steer the Caravelle and I was thrilled to sit in a coil of rope on the bow and watch the water separate under us, cleaved by the hull. I used up most of my film and would need to get a couple more rolls in Nanaimo.
Once we crossed the Strait of Juan de Fuca we entered Canadian Territory and were obligated to check in with customs as soon as we docked in Nanaimo. The crossing had been easier than expected with lots of clouds but only slight turbulence. Still, we were glad to set feet on firm ground and helped Gordon refill the fuel tanks and take on water.
“C’mon, I’ll show you a pool hall I know of”, said Roy. We climbed a steep gangway and walked into downtown Nanaimo. British influence was all around and I felt like I was in Liverpool or something. An enormous wood and paper mill was at one end of town and a series of fish canneries was at the other. There were Player Cigarette and Molson Beer advertisements in the windows and people tipping their hats to each other. We turned down High Street and went into a pub with a red light illuminated on the floor above. “As long as we don’t try to order alcohol, they’ll let us play pool on their table”, Roy explained, reaching for his cigarettes.
He beat me two out of three games on the extra long snooker table. Rain was starting to fall as we exited the pub and was pouring by the time we were halfway back to the boat. “Look what the cat dragged in”, said an unsympathetic Gordon as we stood there dripping on the fantail. “We may need to lay over an extra day”, he explained. “Weather report isn’t good”. He threw us towels and ushered us into the warm, dry cabin. I didn’t mind. I liked Nanaimo and was looking forward to investigating more of the town.
By morning the rain had stopped but it was still fairly windy. “What d’ye think?” said Gordon over the radio to the others. There were differing opinions until Jules piped in, “If the harbor master gives the okay, I say let’s cross over. We’ve handled higher seas than these”. I looked out to the horizon and saw whitecaps far off in the distance. “I know we can make it fine”, said Gordon, “But I’m afraid the smaller boats might have a rough time”. “Either way’s fine with me”, replied Jules. “Nobody’s looking forward to paying another night’s moorage though”.
At 11:00 am the hourly harbor report came in and gave the go ahead for craft our size to cross the Straits of Georgia. There was apprehension from some of the boats but after further discussion and plans to stay in close radio contact during the crossing it was determined that we better go now because another weather front was heading our way and we could get socked in for yet another day. “Throw off those lines”, snapped Gordon and Roy and I tied up the skiff and we started out of the protected harbor.
Almost immediately after entering open water we pitched to one side and Gordon altered his tack to compensate for the stiff wind. We played out the line and soon the skiff was forty feet behind us. Since we’d waited so long to shove off we had to hustle in order to cross the strait before dark and it seemed we weren’t making much headway. We could see the distant mainland and Gordon was checking in with the other boats every few minutes. They had hoped to cross in a northerly direction and get to Powell River but it soon became clear that everyone would head strait across and rendezvous in Horseshoe Bay north of Vancouver.
There was quite a battle of elements versus horsepower as Gordon gritted his unlit cigar and held the wheel with determination. We rode up a crest of a wave and plunged down the other side, white foam crashing over the bow. Now I was feeling seasick and thought I was going to lose my lunch. “Get some fresh air topside and you’ll be… Holy Shit!” Roy shrieked. “Dad, we’ve lost the skiff!” We both jumped out of the cabin and Roy pointed to a speck in the water a quarter mile away. “We’ve gotta go back for it”, said Gordon calmly and started turning the craft around. I momentarily forgot about my seasickness and held on to the sides of the boat as we churned through the swells and started gaining on the skiff. Roy had a grappling hook on a rope ready but Gordon had a better idea. “It looks like the bow line’s still attached. We’ll came around on the far side and catch it coming back to us. Stand by with the gaff pole”.
Roy climbed over the back railing and stood on the heaving fantail. Everyone was wearing lifejackets but I didn’t think they’d be much good if we got thrown into the icy water. Gordon managed to get close enough and steadied the boat so Roy could reach the line. “Got it! he shouted triumphantly, and tied it off to a nearby cleat. “Man, that was close”, he said after we’d turned and returned to course.
We were the last ones to pull into Horseshoe Bay and had a whale of a story to tell the others in our party over drinks that night.
It was misty the next morning and the low clouds filtering through the forests gave off an eerie impression. The water was quite calm and the leisurely cruise North along the coastline was a welcome contrast to the harrowing events of the day before. Jellyfish bobbed lazily under us and ravens signaled to each other their plaintive calls. Roy and I were looking forward to fishing from the skiff once we anchored for the night.
Roy was the first to spot her again once we had docked in Powell River. “Look! There she is!” he nudged me with his elbow. Glancing in a window of the Caprice, I could see the beautiful girl we’d seen a couple days ago. She was sitting in the boat’s galley reading a book while an older couple, who I assumed were her parents, busied themselves with groceries. “Man! We’ve gotta figure out a way to meet her”, I said boldly. Just then, she looked up and recognized us with a wave of her hand. I gulped as I saw her stand and come out on deck. “Are you gentlemen following me?” she said with a laugh. “It looks that way”, offered Roy.
“We were going up to the snack bar for a treat”, I said as casually as I could. Would you like to join us?” “Okay”, she said without hesitation. “Just let me tell my folks”. Now it was my turn to nudge Roy as we waited for her. “We’re eating dinner in a while, so I’ll need to get back before long”, she said, putting on a turtleneck sweater over her thin tee shirt and stepping onto the dock.
We learned that her name was Linda and that she would be entering college in the fall. Her parents wanted her to enjoy a final fling for the summer before heading east to pursue her nursing studies. Roy and I each added a couple years to our true ages when she asked how old we were. We all shared a small table in the corner of the snack bar looking out over the marina and got acquainted over soda pop and pretzels. She lived in Tacoma, south of Seattle, was an only child and could hardly wait to get out in the world. “I’ve never even been east of Spokane”, she admitted. “My folks are a bit nervous that I’ll be wild once I get away from home”. “Getting a little wild can’t hurt anybody”, I supposed. “That’s exactly what I told them”, she said, with a sparkle in her eye. “It’s not like I’ve never been in any kind of trouble but nobody’s ever gotten hurt”. “You can trust us”, said Roy facetiously.
We compared itineraries and they were identical; north along the coast towards Campbell River and lying over in island coves along the way. “Since you’re traveling on your own, maybe you’d like to join our little flotilla”, said Roy, knowing that Gordon and the others wouldn’t mind. “I’d like that, I’ll ask my parents later”, she replied. I walked a little closer to her as we returned down the dock and showed her the Caravelle and introduced her to Roy’s dad. As expected, “Yes, of course! The more the merrier”, exclaimed Gordon when Roy mentioned that maybe Linda’s boat could join us.
“She’s awfully cute”, Gordon said after Linda had said goodbye and returned to her boat for supper. “She sure is!” we both said together. ‘Just don’t go fighting each other over her”, he joked.
Early the next morning, Linda and her parents came and met everyone and expressed appreciation at the invitation to sail together. “Glad to have ya’”, said Jules, raising his coffee cup in salute. They went over the map and the general course everyone was heading and set the rendezvous point for the evening; a protected inlet between islands where high cliffs gave protection if the wind whipped up.
Roy and I shared a conspiratorial wink and finished up breakfast and got ready to sail. Before long the six boats in our convoy were spread out and navigating the Canadian channels under exquisite summer skies. We baited the hooks and were trawling behind the Caravelle and soon had a big lingcod on the line. Gordon eased back on the throttle and Roy pulled the pole from its mooring and gripped the reel handle and started cranking. “Let off some line and play him until he’s tired”, Gordon advised. Roy hoped Linda might see him but the Caprice was too far away on the port side.
“Nice fish”, I congratulated Roy when he finally got it aboard. “Thanks”, he said. “Now that I’ve done the hard part, you can do the easy part and clean it so we can have it for dinner”. “Here, I’ll do it”, laughed Gordon and let Roy take the wheel.
There were other ships in the cove by the late afternoon and Roy pointed one out. “That’s the Foss yacht”, he said, gesturing at a huge white and green ship lying at anchor by itself. It had a crane and two skiffs riding on the top deck and what looked like a helicopter pad. A couple of our small fleet came into the cove and tied up next to us. We helped Gordon get some things together for supper later on and then declared that we were going out in the skiff. We waited until we were around the island’s edge before opening up the throttle and feeling the exhilaration of speed lashing through our hair. In the distance we could make out Linda’s boat and we motored over to escort them to the others. Linda waved and flashed a smile.
Once they were tied on to the other boats, Roy invited Linda along in the skiff and I let her sit up front in my seat while I was turned around in back. “Now that we’ve got a spotter, do you wanna try waterskiing?” Roy called back to me. I knew he was trying to get some alone time with Linda and I was torn between looking like a champ if I could get up on the water or a loser if I failed. “No thanks, I wouldn’t mind going swimming though”, I said, thinking how fun it’d be to jump off the surrounding cliffs into the water.
“Wait, I’ll get my camera and catch you in midflight”, said Roy when I told him I wanted to leap off a thirty foot cliff adjacent to where our boats were at anchor. He and Linda deposited me on the shore and I started scrambling up the loose path that climbed the hillside. We’d scoped out the water’s edge and determined that it was a straight drop off and there wasn’t any submerged driftwood or anything. “Come watch”, cried Linda to the others who stopped and turned to see my leap.
In my bare feet, I’d made it to the top and was peering over the ledge trying to gauge how far out I’d need to jump to clear the rocks. “Not yet!” shouted Roy. “There’s a dinghy rowing past”. I reached up for a tree branch to get a better look and it instantly broke off in my hands. The moss and loose gravel under my feet started to give way and I reached out and tried to grab ahold of something to keep from going over the edge. “Whoa!” I cried out as I landed on my rear and skidded off the bank and went over in a storm of branches, rocks and weeds. “Look out!” Roy called to the dinghy. I was getting skinned all over on the way down and splashed water all over the hapless rower whose boat I missed by inches.
I was fine physically, beyond some scratches and splinters but my ego was bruised and I felt rather diminished in Linda’s eyes. I swam to the fantail of the Caravelle and pulled myself up. “Nice going”, said Jules. “That was impressive!” “Are you sure you’re all right?” said a concerned Linda handing me a glass of water and putting her hand on my neck. Roy was glad I wasn’t hurt but was annoyed that I was getting all of Linda’s sympathy.
The next week went by too fast. We fished, played card games, hiked around small towns along the way and cruised around in the skiff. Roy and I stopped competing for Linda’s attention and simply enjoyed each other’s company. I’d made a couple half-hearted attempts to be alone with her but the occasion hadn’t come up. Once we had all crossed back over the strait and were safely moored in Nanaimo, I was sneaking a cigarette behind the snack bar while Roy was refueling the skiff’s tanks. Linda surprised me and asked if I’d like to take a walk together. “Absolutely!” I’d replied and crushed my smoke underfoot.
We followed the trail out of the marina and into a wooded park above. “I’ve really enjoyed being with you guys.” she said softly. “We’ll be heading out on our own tomorrow and I wanted to say goodbye with a kiss”. I automatically raised an eyebrow and stepped closer. She slid her hands around my waist and I let her draw me to her and closed my eyes as our lips came together. I lingered in a dream world of bliss for as long as I could and held her with gentle tenderness. “Mmm, nice”, she whispered.
We held hands and retreated back towards the marina and gave each other big hugs and promised to stay in touch. I went back to the boat light-headed and didn’t see Roy or Gordon around so I took to my bunk and laced my fingers behind my head and relived Linda’s embrace. Gordon came aboard carrying a drink of something on the rocks. “Where’s Roy”, he asked. “I guess he must still be filling up the skiff’s tanks”, I responded. “Nope, the skiff’s here and the tanks are all aboard”, he said taking a sip. “Well, I hope he turns up soon”, he continued. “We’re having our last dinner up in town tonight”.
I got out the one dress shirt I had and started getting ready for dinner. Roy showed up with the same dreamy stare that I had some moments before. “I just said goodbye to Linda”, he said, and I knew exactly what he was talking about.