Monday, September 7, 2009

Comox-Desolation Sound-Comox: What a week!

A prelude:

I'm sitting in a cozy leather chair near the fireplace in my lovely home with dry clothes and clean dry skin and nice moisturizer on my hands and the big speakers playing nice music and my stomach filled with large amounts of food and my hands still looking around for hand holds...

Anyone who has returned from a sailing cruise, especially one with some exposure to rough seas, can relate to what I say above. My wife and I woke this morning with all the disorientation of being home after a week aboard Aeolus. We have residual impulses to grab for handholds in our kitchen and Amy even said she was worried about running out of water while she was letting the sink run this morning doing dishes.

Oh, the greatness and oddity of being at home on land.

This time yesterday. That's bizarre and somehow wrong to say. "This time yesterday" we were passing Harwood Island and heading toward Texada in a gale warning and 25-35 knot SE winds. Heavy downpours all around, visibility about .5 miles, ferocious clouds. Steel gray seas. We left from Lund on the Malaspina Peninsual at 8am. Reefed main only, motoring, close reaching to on the nose wind angle, seas white capped and 2-3 foot chop in that spot due to a fairly limited fetch.

Just a little later from that, yesterday, at 10:30 am, we had reached Crescent Bay on the western shore of Texada. About 15 miles from Lund. Winds E, to SE, to S and blowing hard. Visibility .25 miles. Squall line approaching, getting nearer, I tighten my jacket hood, and it hits. I'm getting slammed by hail and torrential heavy drops of rain and just start to laugh. I couldn't steer from the inside pilothouse station because the visibility was jut too poor to look out the windows. The rain was so intense it was absurd and beautiful. The ocean was heaving from the rain; it was exploding with percussions of impact. I have always felt a giddy joy in extreme weather, so long as my safety is not seriously threatened. That's how I felt, joyful. As I was laughing and licking the water off my lips, I could see my wife and our friends looking at me from inside the cabin with concerned expressions. I think they thought I'd gone mad. In a way I had and it was beautiful.

We were somewhat sheltered from the fetch and in the lee of Texada, so it was not dangerous, and it allowed us to wait out the squall and hope beyond hope for a little clearing behind the front.

The forecast called for the gale warning to dissipate to 15-20 knots in the afternoon...but would it? We hovered around Crescent Bay peering into the silver void and pondering our choices. For me, it was a question of how much suffering I was willing to subject people to. Anything less than breaking 10 foot seas and Aeolus is going to survive just fine, but we might prefer death at that point. A lifetime of wilderness experience prepares one for making these judgments that are as much emotional as intellectual. As much inarticulate certainties as conscious choices. You weigh the available information against what you see with your eyes, smell with your nose, and sense with your skin. Then, you choose...We decided to...

A flashback to the day before: About this same time on the previous day we had come to nearly this point and had to turn around with our tail between our legs and return to Lund because the 20knot SE forecast of the night before was revised to 25knot SE at the 4am forecast and then to 35 knots in a special update while we were approaching Harwood Island in just miserable conditions. Furious rain, howling wind, and no visibility. I said, forget it folks. Captain's call. If they can revise their forecast from 20 knots SE to 35 knots SE in less than 8 hours, I have no confidence in their forecasts and don't want to get out into the Straits of Georgia returning to Comox if they decide it will now be 45 knots and survival conditions. We headed out at 7:30 am that day thinking we might see a fast bouncy ride back to Comox in 25 knot SE winds and beam run from Texada across, but I've seen what 40 knots of wind can do to the ocean and was not going to subject my family and friends to that suffering. We headed back and spent the day on land in Lund and tied up to the breakwater again.

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The rest of the story:

We decided to head across Georgia Strait to Comox on that day, into the teeth of a very large early September storm. It was a group decision, with all in. Yes, we are now all safely at home.

We began this trip a week earlier by meeting in Comox on a Friday and then leaving Saturday morning for the trip across the Straits to Desolation Sound. Like all of our previous trips across the Straits here, it was nearly dead calm. Our friends Kevin and Liz (3 months pregnant!)and their son Jackson were our guests for the week. They are both very experienced wilderness guides and know a great deal about the joys and hazards of trips into remote places, but they are both fairly neophyte sailors.

We were able to sail just a little when the wind rose to maybe 10 knots, but otherwise motored our way all the way to Tenedos Bay in Desolation Sound. This is a good half day in a 32 foot sailboat doing 6 knots. It was a beautiful sunny day, just perfect.

Passing through the inside of the Copeland Islands is a real treat and an appropriate prelude to the wonders of Desolation Sound. Turning the corner at Sarah Point, is well, overwhelming. You round the Malaspina Peninsula and there is a range of high BC mountains that tower above the waters. It is exquisite. We've been there enough now to also feel a sense of homecoming, like an old friend you've been away from.

Kevin and Liz were gasping in recognition of the beauty, as anyone would.

Tenedos Bay is a really lovely spot. Stern tieing is almost required unless you like putting out 200 feet of chain. We like to be right near the trail to Unwin Lake and were lucky to find a great spot along the shore.

The theme of this trip was swimming. We swam nearly every day, and for the first few days we had a trend of swimming in two different freshwater lakes every day! This on top of jumping into the warm 70 degree ocean water at every stop.

We swam around the boat that first day at Tenedos and saved the lake for the next morning. We got up Sunday and took off for Unwin and had an incredible time. Elliott and I found a playground of rocks to jump off along the northern shore. First we jumped off a rock about 10 or so feet high, as a warm up. Elliott has no hesitation at all, and loves it! Then we worked our way along the shore and found a truly amazing jumping spot. We climbed out of the lake after a long ascent, we got to a cliff top that was a solid 25-30 feet above the lake. It was so high, that when I got there first I thought I might not do it.

Believe it or not, I hesitated, and Elliott didn't. I checked and was certain it was safe and deep water, but still had that gag of "Jesus that is a long way to fall". Elliott saw that I was uncertain and said, "Dad, I want to jump". He asked if it was safe and said Yes. He then stood back a few steps, said "Here goes nothing..." and ran off the edge. That little 8 year old bastard shot like a missile down to the water and came up happy.

This is significant for two reasons. One, is that it officially marked the first time in my fatherhood when one of my boys physically challenged me. My supremacy is doomed. The other is that Elliott is the same boy who two months ago on July 4th would not jump off an 8 foot rock despite MANY DAYS of cajoling and patient prodding. A switch has flipped in his mind, and now he is cautious, but fearless. Not kamakaze, but bold.

Needless to say, I stood up and jumped off that damn cliff and loved it.

Amy and Owen played happily along the shore and our friends did their own thing elsewhere around Tenedos Bay. I think they found a place to lay in the sun.

That same day we left for West Redonda Island and Teakerne Arm/Cassel Lake. We made a quick top at Refuge Cove just for fun and some sundries. What another incredible spot. The anchoring is tricky in that the bottom slopes very steeply, like 200 feet depths to 40 feet depth in maybe 50 horizontal feet. You cannot swing at anchor here or your anchor would simply pull off the cliff it is laying against. But with a stern tie, you are pretty bomber, because there is no way for the anchor to pull up that slope or to pull you forward. We were right near the dinghy dock and immediately went up to explore Cassel lake.

It is an incredible swimming spot, and perhaps the warmest of the three lakes we visited. There are some perfect logs in the water and the rocky slopes are ideal for lounging. We swam this day and the next morning.

The most significant thing to happen this day was with Owen, our 4 year old. Up to this point, he had been very fussy and unwilling to get in the water. He wanted to, but would have one million excuses for why he couldn't. It was tiring. He was in his life jacket as he is only a beginning swimmer. At Cassel lake he started up again with whining and complaining about wanting to get in but then finding excuses for why he couldn't. I made a critical decision. I decided to toss him in. I knew it might backfire, and that he might forever distrust me for it, but something had to change, and nothing we wer doing was working.

I casually got out of the lake, not looking at him, and he sort of instinctively moved away from me, but not far enough. I just sauntered over to near him and then suddenly and without hesitation I picked him up by the lifejacket and chucked him. We were about four feet high off the water.

What happened next is one of the most amazing and beautiful and important things I've ever experienced with Owen. He hit the water and came up angry and horrified. His face was contorted into exactly the face you would expect for a kid that was just tossed into the water against his will. But then, as I watched his face fearing the worst, it absolutely suddenly transformed into a big smile and laughter. This transformation happened in the course of one second. Literally. Once he started to laugh, he stayed so happy and spent a long time swimming around the lake. He loved it so much, he was the last one out!

More later...

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