Deckhands / by Caroline Van Hemert

While Pat and I are distracted by other tasks—steering the boat, hoisting sails, attempting to keep this hungry crew fed—Huxley and Dawson are busy making their own contributions to our northward progress. Everywhere, there is evidence of their work. Go to pull the staysail line and you might find a series of meticulously tied knots. Close the companionway hatch and down come a waterfall of clothespins. Look for a life jacket in the on-deck sleeve and instead encounter a collection of shovels. It’s not an easy job for these boys to continuously rearrange our attempts at order. In fact, each time we insist that the boots don’t go in the sink or the knots can’t be tied in every available on-deck line, there is usually severe protest. We are clearly messing up their systems. It’s a wonder they keep us at all. 

After several indulgent summer days on Hornsby Island, reveling in hot weather and swimming, the winds switched and we continued our passage north. We’re now most of the way through Johnstone Strait, which is known for its orca whales and strong northwesterlies in summer.  Currents in this area are impressive, in some places exceeding 14 knots. This means that getting our timing wrong is not an option as many of the narrows have rapids and whirlpools if attempting to transit at their peak flow. We went through Seymour Narrows and Current Passage yesterday without any trouble, and managed to sail most of the day with decent southeast winds. The wind switched abruptly in the evening, suddenly gusting hard from the northwest. We took down the sails, pounded into the waves for an hour and a half, and tucked into Port Neville on the eastern side of Johnstone. This time, I was wise enough to insist that we all get on deck as Chaika started to rock, well before the funny taste appeared in anyone’s mouth.

We also recently passed some of our old “cruising grounds,” where we had our first sailing adventure, of a very different nature than the current one. Fourteen years ago, we took a 27’ sailboat (Sirocco) up Bute Inlet to climb Mt. Waddington from the coast. This summer, such a plan seems like something from a different life entirely, though it’s hard to imagine that more than a decade has gone by.

The forecast is for more northwesterlies, so we’ll probably spend a few days exploring the surrounding area, including the Broughton Archipelago. We’ve been fortunate to find decent hiking and running options along the way, for Pat and me to nurse our sanity and maintain some semblance of fitness (beyond hoisting 30- and 40-lb boys over the lifelines). However, as we head north into wilder areas, with fewer trails and more cougars and bears to keep an eye out for, we will need to find more creative solutions. Packrafting, beach combing, and push-ups may be in our future.


Summertime fun.


Our sometimes cautious child has taken to the sailing life with gusto!


Dinghy exploration of a “secret” cove.


Lots of bald eagles, great blue herons, and belted kingfishers in the Gulf Islands.


Scenic trail running on Hornsby Island.




One of Huxley’s main birthday requests: climb the mast!


Father’s Day sunset.


All seriousness on this boat.


Canopy views.


Where old growth still stands, it is the land of big trees.