DREAMSCAPES Fall 2017
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SAILING THE SALISH SEA
 
(2017 - Fall Issue)

Writer: JED VAUGHN



Schooner Zodiac is a majestic historical vessel purchased in 1924 for the Johnson & Johnson brothers. Constructed from mahogany, brass, teak and fir, it has 26 berths, eight staterooms, a large galley and a deck that spans 38.74 metres. It accommodates 49 daytrip passengers and 26 for overnight excursions.

Two hours had passed since departing the Port of Bellingham and it was a peaceful day in the San Juan Islands. Heading west under engine power, Lummi Island was just off our starboard side. The water was flat as glass, and so far, the wind had been quiet.

DAY ONE

Suddenly, the first mate called out to everyone aboard the tall ship. All hands on deck! Every passenger had opted-in for assisting the crew in the ship’s duties and the captain had ordered the raising of the sails. Excitement built as each crewmember began assigning duties with their team and everyone was scrambling to a workstation. The main mast reaches 39 metres into the air and the mainsail is the tallest on the west coast. The total area of all four sails (main, stay, fore and jib) is more than 650 square metres.

“Haul away beam, haul away peak,” yelled the first mate. At least 15 sets of hands joined in by pulling the lines that lift the gigantic beam and sail to the top of the mast. As the sail grew larger, it began to catch the light breeze. With all sails raised, we were being pushed along by the wind and the ship’s passengers were now sailing the vessel under the watchful eyes of the crew. Bow watch, messenger, helm and chart room duties were fulfilled by all under a system that rotated every half-hour.

Today’s sail through the islands revealed breathtaking views of the Cascade Mountains, Mount Baker, the Olympic Mountains and Canadian snow-capped peaks in the distance.

In the late afternoon, we anchored in Echo Bay at Sucia Island near the U.S./Canadian border. Motorized rafts carried us ashore where we hiked through a beautiful state park with limestone rock formations, old-growth timber, and small rock outcroppings dotted with red, purple, yellow and white wildflowers. At the end of a day like this in the fresh sea air, sleep comes easy. Especially after a hearty homemade meal prepared by the two chefs aboard the Schooner Zodiac.

DAY TWO

Morning began with coffee, French toast and fresh fruit. We left harbour heading north and soon arrived at Patos Island. Again, we rafted ashore for a lighthouse viewing and a stroll about the small island. Trees called madrones (known as arbutus trees on Canada's west coast), which shed their bark in the summer, were peppered about. They really stood out in contrast to the fir and cedar that dominated the tree growth. It was another magnificent day and the sun was shining. The San Juan Islands are so peaceful and the 360-degree panoramas are inspiring and diverse.

Rounding the corner at Turn Point Lighthouse, whale-watching boats came into view. Captain Mehrer, the Seven Sails award-winner guiding our vessel, cut the engine as a large pod of orca whales headed straight for the Schooner Zodiac. All aboard were simply beside themselves as this large family of black and white killer whales slowly approached, swam within three metres of our portside, and disappeared into the depths. Truly a highlight aboard this incredible four-day, three-night excursion.

Cruising on, we arrived and anchored at Roche Harbor. A few of us went ashore and visited the John S. McMillin family mausoleum and historic hotel there. McMillin developed a community on the island and was a leader in the lime production industry. After the shore outing, the schooner set a course to Stuart Island and anchored for the night in Reid Harbor. With deck duties complete, we all relaxed with dinner while viewing bald eagles and a magnificent sunset.

DAY THREE

After morning rituals, we left Reid Harbor under engine power and set a due south heading through the Haro Strait. Cruising past San Juan Island and the Lime Kiln Lighthouse, we then rounded the corner at Victoria, B.C., into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. From there, we sailed west past Discovery Island, continuing to the Trial Island Lighthouse.

The winds were picking up and the captain made the decision to set sails. Again, the first mate called for all hands on deck. Apart from the first day’s sail hoisting, only one or two passengers had experience with sailing. Training on the fly made for an interesting half hour of line and pulley rigging in much stronger wind than previously encountered.

The wind continued to increase in the open waters of the Juan de Fuca Strait. Large swells rocked the 48.8-metre schooner side to side. Soon the wind had reached 40 knots and the captain was getting concerned. These huge sails catch a lot of air and the high winds became troublesome. Captain Mehrer made the decision to drop sails just a short while after we had hoisted them. Everyone could sense the immediate need to bring the gigantic mainsail down.

Tensions were rising with the crew as efforts to quickly accomplish the task became more challenging with fierce rain accompanying high winds. The feeling was exhilarating and the excitement permeated everyone aboard. After some scrambling and quick manoeuvring of lines and pulleys, the mainsail was safely down. An hour later we anchored in ­­­­Parks Bay at Shaw Island for the night where we all revelled in the day’s adventure over a meal and another dramatic sunset.

JOURNEY’S END

Departing Parks Bay, we enjoyed a relaxing cruise through Thatcher Pass while viewing Lopez, Orcas, James and Burrows Islands. Lastly, we aimed north through the Bellingham Strait on our return to port. It was truly an exhilarating bucket-list moment to be aboard the schooner in the Salish Sea. If you enjoy sailing, an outing on the Schooner Zodiac is sure to provide an unforgettable experience!

Travel Planner

For more information, visit:

Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism: bellingham.org

Chrysalis Inn & Spa/Port of Bellingham: thechrysalisinn.com

San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau: visitsanjuans.com

Schooner Zodiac Cruises: schoonerzodiac.com

Washington Tourism Alliance: ExperienceWA.com

 
 
 
 
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