Bookclub, this month, was scheduled on a tempestuous Sunday. The wind was tipping 30 mph and the seas, though NOT particularly high, were choppy, nasty and confused. It was going to be a bit of a slog to go the almost ten miles from our place to the host cabin on the other island. And, worse, the trip required going through one of the worst passes on the coast. With the tide running, the wind blowing and the constriction of the waters through the pass, several book club members decided to give the day a pass. Instead of the usual flotilla, there were only three boats intending to go that day from our region.
Because Sally expected a couple of city guests to accompany her this time, and with two months notice, she had asked two local women regulars to find alternative rides. Ride sharing is common out here but everyone has a boat B and C in mind when Boat A is otherwise occupied. As it turned out, the city guests didn’t show and Sal only had one passenger instead of three
That, as it turned out, was a good thing.
Sal started out alone at 11:00 ish, anticipating a noon-ish arrival at the host cabin. She headed over to the neighbouring island and picked up her passenger and did so with whale accompaniment. A small pod of Orcas were surrounding her boat as she pulled up. Sal took it as a good omen.
She and her passenger then proceeded back to a spot further north on our island to form a convoy with the two other boats, one with two occupants, one with three. They all headed from there to the pass.
The wind was up and that provided an exhilarating ride but the area of the ocean in which they gathered was somewhat surrounded by local islands and the seas were very manageable there. That was not a good thing. It suggested an easier trip than it turned out to be.
Because Sal was more knowledgeable of the pass and the destination, she took the lead. The other two boats fell back a respectable distance but followed her through the pass that so often causes grief to the unfamiliar. Every year sees at least two boats hit the rock clearly marked on the chart. Some are damaged severely. People have been injured. Sal knew to keep the route to port and well away from that danger. The other boats knew to follow Sal.
But the other side of the pass was a maelstrom. The seas were boiling. This was because the strong winds were coming from the west and had several miles of fetch with which to mess with the waters, the tide was receding towards the west adding to the conflict and the pass made the whole area ‘congested’ with those natural but extreme-that-day forces.
This area of marine confusion separated the boats somewhat more. They could see each other occasionally as one or the other crested a wave and they would alternatively disappear as they descended into the troughs between the waves. They did not have radios.
In theory, it became every woman for herself rather quickly but, in reality, Sally and her guest had been accompanied by the whales (who had taken another route to get there) and, as they bobbed and weaved through the waves, they were entertained and fully occupied by breaching Orcas and, of course, the business of navigating the confusing seas. The other two boats had remained more closely together and, when one boat headed for shore, the other logically followed.
The waves had been too severe for one of the members and, with the constant pounding, her back went into spasm. The pain was so great, the captain of that boat went to the nearest protected waters. The third boat was helmed by someone unfamiliar with the area and that was further complicated by having a new boat under her. And these were unusually bad conditions. She wisely chose to follow the other boat to the same safe place.
As it turned out, there was a large sailboat in the same anchorage and they took the injured woman aboard and, since they were leaving and heading back the way our crew had come, they took her home. The others felt that the seas were simply not welcoming enough to carry on and so they followed the big sailboat. Two of the original three boats turned back.
Sal eventually made her way to her destination, went ashore, enjoyed bookclub with her passenger and others and then, when it was time to leave, took the boat back into the fomented marine environment again. The seas were better. The tide had turned during the afternoon and the conflicting forces had turned to the same direction. That was a good thing. Sal simply rode the waves and almost surfed home.
This was one of those times where experience (and accompanying whales) made an otherwise difficult situation quite doable for Sally. The others, without the unfortunate injury, would have also succeeded but the experience for them would have been more extreme and less pleasant. It would have been a good experience for them because it would have added perspective instead of just difficult challenge. But, even turning back added a lesson in wisdom and limits. They did the right thing.
The main difference in this case was simply Sally’s experience and, perhaps a bit of a difference in boat handling skills. Sal has been on the water for decades. She is more familiar and comfortable in a broader range of conditions. She is good at what she does and she does it often.
And sometimes she may be a bit too confident…………..
Me? I worry anyway.