A thirst for adventure, a boat of her own, and the Salish Sea as her playground.
There’s no real place to start this story of sailing. I never would have predicted that I would be writing this version. When I moved to the Comox Valley with my young daughters 20 years ago, I had chosen it as our home. Here, I thought, we could ski and sail in the same day—the ultimate bragging rights of a Valley resident. Well, busy lives and over-packed schedules put that idea on the back burner for a number of years until, finally, after joining the Comox Bay Sailing Club (CBSC) in 2012, and crewing in keelboat races on the weekends, the idea of owning my own boat surfaced.
I didn’t get to this point overnight. As a young teen, I taught myself the rudiments of dinghy sailing in a Laser among the Thousand Islands of the St. Lawrence River. There, the current and the winds flow kindly from the west, creating a favourable training ground for a wannabe sailor. In my little dinghy, I would race the yachts as they sailed and disappeared upriver to Kingston and destinations beyond. The dream was launched.
Six years ago, I fell in love with my first boat. S/V Narnia was a steal, a 26-foot Kirby 8M created by Bruce Kirby—the legendary designer of my childhood Laser. The faded For Sale sign was an indication of her time on the market, and the electrical work and the new outboard motor she required soon doubled my cost. But still, Narnia was my dream come true. Aboard her, I put my long-ago dinghy experience and more recent Power Squadron courses to good use. I learned the importance of reefing a sail early, how to read the clouds and the ripples on the water, and when to follow and copy a boat that is sailing better—and when not to.
My thirst for adventure soon led me to what could be my last boat. An ex-Montrealer like myself, my new-to-me Mirage 35 has already been my live-aboard home during a snowy winter in Victoria, my cabin to escape to, and my cruiser to host girlfriends on epic adventures to Vancouver. Aboard the White Pearl, I’ve navigated the tidal channels of the Southern Gulf Islands, travelled north to the Discovery Islands, and plunged deep into the warm waters of Desolation Sound. The Salish Sea has been my playground.
I have learned my secrets to safety on the water. I surround myself with people who know more than I do, and I do my safety checks—twice—to allay any fear and anxiety I may have. There are the unpredicted winds that thwart my expectation of a peaceful crossing, leaving me white-knuckled and exhausted. There are also the winds that play with the trim of the sail and, just as soon as I think I have it right, the winds shift again, leaving me stalled in the water. There are also the assumptions that, because I am female, I am not the captain of my own ship.
But just as there are bad days, there is also the magic of a secluded anchorage where birdsong echoes across a hidden bay; the companionship of a harbour porpoise accompanying me on a quiet solo sail; a private show put on by a playful whale offering the perfect excuse to detour, drop the sails, and watch in awe.
In this heightened time of climate concern and alarm at the state of our oceans, it is a blissful feeling to sail silently through deep green waters and have a humpback whale breach off portside, knowing that one’s presence did little to disturb the area’s greatest marine animal.
Above all, the metaphor for life is found in so many places on a sailboat. Surround yourself with people who support you. Be patient and the storm will pass. Continue to challenge the limits you set for yourself; the payoff is worth it. Never stop learning.
I am forever grateful for my non-sailing friends who put their faith in me on our adventures. To the young coaches of the CBSC and Compass Adventures who, over the years, have combined play and learning on the water for generations young and old. To the women much older and braver than me, who model what it is like to sail well beyond the age I am now. One day, maybe I, too, can inspire others to follow their dream.
But for now, I’m doing what we’re all trying to do: to find joy in where the winds will take us.