Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Pacific Northwest Winter - Chapter One

A rather belated catch-me-up blog... Where, you’ve probably been wondering, has Rikki-tikki and his crew been all winter long? Here it is officially, by the calendar, summer, and you’ve seen hide nor hair of the little mongoose on the blog since November. So here we go, trying to catch up to that curious creature from where we last left him. It was a long winter– Rikki-tikki’s first in The Pacific Northwest. As you remember, we found a dock at Montague Harbour for Rikki to go into hibernation while we returned to a life on land for a little while. We slid easily into routine in the cozy house perched above the harbor on Galiano Island. One TV channel with nothing worth watching, and only a couple of movies on the shelf that we hadn’t seen, kept us from sinking into complete stupification during the dull, gray days that dominated the next few weeks. Instead we found other things to keep us busy. Clark attacked the repair jobs in the house that begged his attention, while Nina cleaned and organized. I called one day from the spider-inhabited pay phone down at the marina to my son, Michael, who broke the big news that I would become a grandma. He sounded so excited! What wonderful news. He and his love, Samantha, wanted me to paint the nursery in a Winnie-the-Pooh theme. We were coming “home” for the holidays, weren’t we? Of course, we made plans to drive to California for the month of December. The things aboard Rikki that could be damaged by the dampness and cold were moved to the house where we went through everything with our list in hand. What to take back to California? What to bring back with us that we’d left behind? Some things were obvious. Our parachute sea anchor would be useless to us in the small waters of British Columbia, so it began the pile labeled “Sacto”. It was joined by our bright orange “Gumby” survival suits. We decided to replace them with our Harvey’s drysuits, which would be useful when we cleaned the bottom and were more comfortable to wear. “Fishing gear” began the list of items to retrieve. We hoped we would be catching fish in 2006, though we feared what we had in Sacramento wouldn’t pass Dave’s keen inspection as being appropriate. Dollar signs whirled through my head at night thinking about the lures he’d want Clark to purchase. We ordered a Honda generator to augment the power bank on RTT. We found that a week of overcast in an anchorage frustrated our need for amps when we wanted to be working on the computer or doing other power-hungry jobs. We also ordered an 80-amp Balmar alternator, which Clark installed while in Montague after Becky and Brian delivered it to us. Our lists grew. The idea of doing some exploring and buying groceries at Vancouver Island’s supermarkets and at Costco spurred us to buy a book of ferry rides to Swartz Bay. BC Ferries has it figured out- it’s free to leave Galiano, and any of the other Gulf Islands, and go to Vancouver Island. Tolls are collected only on the return trip. Good plan! Most people want to go back home, but buying a book of ten trips saved quite a bit of money, and we already know where the Costco is, right? It’s way over past Victoria in Langford, so provisioning would consume an entire day on ferries and driving. We ended up only doing this twice and didn’t get in any exploring at all. On Galiano, we found that the small natural food store had the very best heavy cream we’d ever tasted! Packed into thick glass bottles, it was also the least expensive we’d ever found- only $2 Canadian, plus a one-time $1 deposit on the bottle that we’d bring back in exchange. Their selection of veggies was excellent and they carried my favorite moisturizer, Kiss My Face “Filthy Rich”. It is one of my trusted remedies for seasickness, used as aromatherapy. Every time I go below to use the head while underway, I come back with another dollop to spread on my hands. It has a nice lemony verbena perk-me-up scent. Internet access is one of our most sought-after items. The BC government provides public internet access on Galiano at the local school. There were hours available every day, mostly in the evenings. Our iBook was regularly plugged into the ethernet hub with two old iMacs and three ancient IBM machines as we kept in touch with family and friends. Our phone, a pay-as-you-go affair, doesn’t “go” in Canada. Are you getting the picture? No phone, no TV, no newspaper, no shopping, no movie theater– not much of anything but peace and quiet. All we had was email down at the school and the pay phone at the harbor to contact the “outside world”. We had another visitor to our little abode on the island- Ira from “Small Fry” came to Galiano. You remember the fellow who spent the night aboard in Port Angeles? He sailed his Columbia 26 (actually he motored in pea-soup fog) from Tsehum Harbor to tie up at the Montague Marine Park dock. We enjoyed a wonderful steak dinner while listening to Ira’s stories. Ira is a great storyteller! He’d brought his movie camera with fantastic footage of the Tall Ship Festival in Victoria. We watched as “Small Fry” buzzed around the impressive ships as they waited to enter the harbor, punctuated by Ira's exited monologue. It was truly awesome to see the crews in full dress uniforms lined up on the yardarms. Wish we’d been there! Back in August at French Creek, we’d missed seeing Captain Stan, so we emailed him to set up a visit. We took the BC Ferry to Vancouver Island for the long drive “up-island” to Parksville. Captain Stan and his lovely wife, Rose, treated us to dinner, bed and breakfast. Stan entertained us with stories of his adventures aboard various boats, both his own and those on which he was a delivery skipper. Rose, whose finely crafted baskets and paintings decorate their home, told us all about the active arts guild in the area. Thank you, Rose and Stan! On the few days when the sun made an appearance, we explored Galiano, driving to its far south end and the overlook at Active Pass. We were lucky to be there when two ferries passed in the narrow channel between Galiano and Mayne Islands. But mostly it just rained. It rained for days and days. There were a couple of memorable evenings when the sky opened just enough low in the west for colorful sunset across Trincomali, making for a great view from the windows of the house. But mostly it just rained. We started parking our car at the top of the winding, 1/4-mile long, forest duff driveway and walking down to the house from the road. It was too steep to drive up, the ground was so saturated, we just spun the wheels. Islanders started complaining about all the rain. Fantastically, Galiano is advertised as the driest of the Gulf Islands, even claiming to have a Mediterranean climate. We are skeptical that the Med grows mosses and ferns with the density and variety that we found on Galiano. On our departure day, we awoke to snow. As we got ready to leave for California, Clark loaded the car in the rain, making numerous strenuous treks up the hill to the car. Then it started to snow. Very pretty, but we were concerned. Would we be able to get down to the Sturdies Bay terminal to catch the first ferry to Tsawwassen? We were pretty sure that the roads are not plowed on Galiano. At our predawn departure, we gingerly drove down the hill to the marina to make one last check on Rikki out at the end of the dock. Clark found the snow on deck and in the cockpit littered with the paw prints of curious raccoons. We made it to the ferry terminal without skidding and drove onto the Queen of Nanaimo, newly refurbished and just put back into service. We were the first aboard. The renewed ferry was very snazzy with its just-stocked gift shop, new seats and carpeting, fancy restrooms. The gift shop was overflowing with new merchandise. We bought a book on BC Marine Parks. The decks were clear- it was cold! It was snowing on the Mainland when we drove off the big ferry and it was very, very cold! We stopped at a Costco to return some items and found a tiny military surplus store just up the street. We garnered a spot to park between the piles of snow and went in, hoping to find some heavy wool pants. Another couple was perusing the very small selection in the far back corner. We hung back waiting for them to take their choices to the dressing closet. I went through every single pair and found one almost small enough for Clark. It had a couple of small holes in the back of one leg, but I figured I could repair it when I took in the waist to fit. The leg length was perfect. I found another pair that looked like it might fit me- scratchier wool and darker green. That pair didn’t have any holes but the waist was too big. We bought both- $30 each. They’ll wear like iron and be water resistant and warm for up north. When we joined the queue at the US border, the Canadian Customs officials were building a snowman in front of the Peace Arch. We were welcomed back to the US and made a beeline to Seattle to find Seattle Fabrics for some polar fleece and neoprene, with a quick stop at Fisheries Supply thrown in. At rush hour, we got onto the freeway to drive to Clark’s cousin Betty’s house in Olympia by 7 PM. We dawdled, not wanting to arrive before she got home from work. Betty had been home all day not feeling well and had prepared for us a fabulous roasted turkey and vegetables dinner. We watched some really weird reality stuff on TV- something about a white British guy who goes to live with a couple of tribes of natives, one in the Amazon jungle, one on the African savannah. He trains for stick-fighting, gets pierced, gets “fitted” for an elaborate codpiece. Some parts were painful to watch, but incredibly interesting. Next day, the amount of snow remaining on the ground was amazing. It was a true cold snap. We visited Olympia’s famous Farmers Market, sauntered through a couple of art galleries, and enjoyed a tasty meal on the wharf. Back at Betty’s cozy home, which is literally packed to the gills with the artifacts of all the places she’s traveled and lived, her art and that of artist friends, and lots of spherical rocks of all sizes arranged cleverly in every room, Betty taught us to play a rummy card game. What a great time we had. There is a great view of Mount Shasta across I-5. The drive to Sacramento was uneventful but we were tired. We had a long list of tasks to do; things to find online, order and buy; a computer part to order and install; people to visit; the Pooh Room to paint. There was also Christmas with its family get-togethers, gifts to assemble, food to cook. Then I got sick. I am sure it was the guy at the gas station in Grants Pass who declared with some glee, while leaning into the car window to hand back our credit card and receipt, that it was his first day back from being flat on his back in bed for three weeks with a nasty flu! I had been ill the last time I came back to California and was determined not to repeat that, but Purell and every other precaution failed. The Pooh Room was delayed. I couldn’t risk infecting my pregnant daughter-in-law. We went through all Rikki-tikki’s photos and chose some special ones to frame for holiday gifts. Two dozen nice plain frames at a good price were waiting for us at Joanne’s Fabrics. Costco’s quality of digital prints (and low price) brought it all together for us. We ticked items off our lists slowly, enduring the California traffic as best we could. Doggedly we worked at locating some hard-to-find products like dried coconut milk and large containers of coconut oil. What would we do without the internet and UPS? If only we could have internet aboard the boat while we traveled... sigh. Finally I felt well enough to start the Pooh Room. My son, Michael, has chronicled it all on his blog ( Clark and I enjoyed painting the characters and they are very cute, but they ended up being the cartoon versions rather than the original A. A. Milne drawings. Back at our little studio apartment behind Mom’s, we’d built piles of all the things we wanted to take back to the boat. Clark began loading the car for the journey back to Rikki-tikki and quickly ran out of room! The Honda EU2000i generator we’d ordered, the drysuits, this and that.... filled up the available space right away. We had to start thinning what we’d hoped to take. Reluctantly we put the case of assorted wines back into the cupboard– we had too much to bring into Canada anyway- only 40 ounces per person is allowed. When we left for Canada, the rear of the Honda dragged over the sidewalk, we were stuffed so full. Nina with her mom at a family holiday gathering. Photo by Peter Ban-Weiss. Christmas and the Pooh Room complete, we found the weather on the return trip considerably nastier than the pleasant conditions early in December. The rain turned to snow briefly over the mountain passes into Ashland where we stayed at The Palms, a lovely little cottage-style motel with fresh flowers in every corner, a kitchenette and wi-fi. We used our new VOIP SkypeOut on the iBook to call Mom and let her know we’d made it okay. We even talked over the computer with three family members at once. Skype is very cool. Never having been to Ashland, we explored a bit downtown before we got back on the road. Ashland is a college town, reportedly has good restaurants, lots of art activity and plays (The Shakespeare Festival annually), it’s not too big, has lovely old neighborhoods, pleasant natural surroundings- a nice place to live, we suspect. I found a well-stocked yarn shop and it occurred to me that I could easily crochet baby things and other projects on the boat. Yarn and hooks weigh next to nothing and don’t take up much space. Though I’ve never had much luck finding good-looking crochet patterns because knitting is so much more popular, at this shop, I found two books of patterns for very creative baby clothes. Continuing north on I-5, the torrential rains all across Oregon caused us to be late getting to my aunt and uncle’s home in Estacada. It was wonderful to spend time with them, sharing meals and conversation. Next stop, cousin Betty’s in Olympia again where Scott Lake was threatening to spread far enough to reach her home. A few weeks later, it did, and she had a nasty time of it. As we drove up to the border entry gate at Canada Customs, we were hoping that our jam-packed car with its California plates wouldn’t get searched. It being January 1st, we wished the agent a Happy New Year. Customs always wants to know where you’re going, who you’re visiting. When we told him we were on our way to spend a few days in Vancouver with my Aunt Betty, he asked as he looked into the overflowing back seat, “Are you visiting or moving?” Of course we told him it was boat stuff and that our boat was on Galiano Island, that we would be taking it out of Canada in a couple of weeks. He waved us through, wishing us a nice visit. We were late getting to Aunt Betty’s too. Though glad to see us, cousin Ken and his mom looked very hungry- dinner had been ready for an hour. Cousin Kelly, Bruno and the kids came for dessert and a quick visit. Next day we drove into Vancouver to see Ken’s high-rise condo, walk the promenade around False Creek and have lunch at the pub. We had a great time just ambling along, gawking and chatting. On the way back to Delta, Betty took us by the Richmond Costco where we stocked up for the next few weeks on Galiano. Where in the Honda would we put it all? Clark managed to stuff it in somewhere, along with our diesel heater that had been repaired in Vancouver. We’d surely need that! Back on Galiano, I made a Sunbrella cover for the generator. I altered Clark’s “new” wool pants. (I still have to alter my pair, but Clark’s now fit him great!) I cleaned the tub, which was extensively stained rust-red by the water on the island. I’d brought along Barkeeper’s Friend expressly for the purpose and left the can under the sink for Aunt Betty. The right product for the job can work miracles, with no scrubbing necessary! The tub looked almost new. We also took a side trip to Van Isle to see the holiday light show at The Butchart Gardens. The last day for the display was January 6 and we took the opportunity to visit Costco one more time before arriving at The Gardens just before dusk. We wandered twice around but had to leave before the carollers and entertainment began at dark in order to catch the last ferry back to Galiano. I managed a couple of shots... Life-size marionettes play in the courtyard. These "Twelve Days of Christmas" maids stand ready to milk a glowing cow. Clark donned his wetsuit and changed the zinc anodes on the boat. He was blue with cold. He reinstalled the diesel heater. We loaded all the stuff we’d removed from the boat for the winter, readying Rikki for entry into the USA and us for life afloat again. It was still raining on Galiano, so we made runs down to the boat with everything wrapped in plastic, including us! On January 15th, we moved back onto the boat. The little house up on the cliff was clean and put back together after serving as a spot for all our boat projects. Three days later, we drove our Honda back across the border to Mount Vernon, WA, where friends would store it for us. We planned to take the Washington State Ferry from Anacortes to Sidney, hop a bus to the Swartz Bay terminal and the Southern Gulf Islands BC Ferry back to Galiano, carrying all our stuff. Then we’d walk the 5+ miles to the marina. We were hoping it wouldn’t be raining. We packed our rain gear. As soon as we arrived at Dick and Sharon’s, they informed us that the Anacortes-Sidney BC Ferry didn’t run in winter! Oh no! We were surprised and chagrined. They generously said, “Don’t worry. It’s no problem.” They would drive us all the way back into Canada to drop us off at the Tsawwassen ferry landing. Oh my. We had a great visit, though it was peppered with a multitude of apologies for the imposition. Clark cooked a terrific salmon dinner and we took a very long walk up the hill behind their home to see all the new houses. On the way back to Canada, an unusual thing happened- the sun came out! We waved good-bye to Dick and Sharon and walked into the terminal to bask in the sun streaming through the windows while waiting for the Queen of Nanaimo to arrive. The unusually wet (isn’t it normal for ferns and moss to grow where it’s wet?) weather pattern had finally ended. It was January 20th, my birthday, and it had been raining for 28 days straight. Waiting for the Queen of Nanaimo at the Tsawassen BC Ferry terminal on January 20. We watch as cars drive onto the ferry. Even though it wasn't raining, we were hoping one of them would give us a ride when we got to Galiano. We stuck out our thumbs as soon as we hit the pavement on Galiano, Sturdies Bay. It was my first time hitchhiking so I was a bit shy about it, but the sun was out and the folks on Galiano were all smiling. A little car pulled ahead of us and stopped. We joined a gal who gave us a ride to the natural foods store. Her parents own the island at Retreat Cove and built the wood schooner we saw when Becky and Brian visited. Boat people. We started walking again, enjoying the sunshine. Soon a BMW stopped and let us in. The talkative driver turned out to be manager of Eagle’s Nest Inn, which is owned by a friendly cruising couple (more boat people) who we met on the dock next to Rikki-tikki. Their boat is in Mexico where they enjoy time in that warm climate during winter when the inn is not busy. Barbara is such a dynamo though, we bet they continue on to the South Pacific leaving her in charge. She drove us all the way to the marina. Thanks for the rides, it was great to meet you all. This is the view from Rikki-tikki's stern window on our last evening at Montague. What a lovely sunny day it was. We made final preparations for leaving and just relaxed, recuperating from all our running around. Next day we motored to Winter Cove at Saturna Island, just beating the arrival of some more wet, windy weather. As a celebration for my birthday and being back at home on Rikki-tikki-tavi, we opened a gift that Clark’s Aunt Mary had made given us at Christmas. She’d asked us to wait until a special time at anchor in a secluded, beautiful place to open it. It was perfect! Our evening was made festive by a string of tiny lights operated by batteries and three votive “candles”, each also on a battery, packaged with a personal note. The candles even flickered like real candles, with no flames to worry. We stayed at anchor for two nights. The sky didn’t look like it was going to to go back to sun any time soon, so we upped the anchor and motored around Saturna into Boundary Pass, loping over the waves into the cold, stiff breeze on Rikki’s nose. We crossed into the US at 2113 UTC on January 23rd. The lady Customs officer at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island viewed us on the surveillance camera and Clark went up to the office to pay the $25 Entry Fee that is charged to US boaters when they come back to their own country. US citizens crossing the border on land don’t have to pay a fee to return, but boaters do! Welcome back to the USA. Pulling away from the customs dock, we anchored in North Cove for a quiet night. Clark checking us into the Customs Dock at Friday Harbor using their phone as the cameras watch. The North Cove at Friday Harbor was quiet after our boisterous crossing of Boundary Pass from Saturna Island. The next morning, the sun greeted us and we launched the dinghy for a row into the town for provisions. We called our friends, Rod and Barbara, from the store. Turns out, their home was only two blocks away, so Rod came to pick us up. He'd made arrangements for us to move Rikki into Hong Kong Harbor, the enclave of local color shoreside of the Port of Friday Harbor marina. As the sun sank low on the horizon, we motored in to tie up alongside a "barge". And so we began our two-week visit to San Juan Island. May your winters always be mild


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