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Typical Gulf Island cliff scenery.

I’m fortunate to live close to Kalamalka Lake – a gorgeous marl lake – which takes on a stunning turquoise hue during the summer months. It is 16 km long and surrounded by mountains clad in ponderosa pine. It is located a few kilometers south of the City of Vernon in the BC Okanagan. My girlfriend Karen and I keep our kayaks on a light utility trailer that we hitch to her Jeep for the five-minute trip to the nearest boat launch. Being so close we can paddle often during the summer months. The Okanagan summers are hot and dry with temperatures peaking in the high 30s Celsius so the water is warm and great for practicing wet exits and solo and assisted re-entries.

Despite having this piece of paradise in our back yards, the lure of the open ocean is always there. I have been missing it badly since selling Rainbird in 2014. The West Coast (Vancouver) is a six hour drive away. The coast is normally at least a refreshing 10 Celsius cooler. This summer Karen and I decided we were ready for our first ocean trip and a great opportunity to see how our boats perform when loaded up. Karen has a carbon fiber Necky Eliza – a serious touring kayak designed with women in mind. It measures 15.5’ overall with a 21.5” beam and has a retractable skeg. Last year she made a solo overnight camping trip, paddling 27km down Okanagan Lake in plus 30 Celsius heat, before making a 15km crossing back to Vernon the following morning. I admired her greatly for such a feat of endurance but I’m not a lover of heat and had no desire to repeat it!

We put the kayaks on the roof of her Jeep for the long drive and short ferry ride to the BC Gulf Islands. Our destination was Montague Harbour on Galiano Island. It’s a great launching point for novice ocean paddlers, with plenty of trip options in sheltered water. There are many islands to visit, with relatively short crossings, and although tidal currents can almost reach double digits in places these areas can be avoided or navigated at slack water. The other main hazards come from the big ferries that cross from Vancouver to Vancouver Island and commercial and recreational traffic that can be heavy in the summer months. The islands are blessed with a dry microclimate and don’t get much fog, especially during the summer.

We departed early afternoon on a warm, cloudless July day. This was the first time I had loaded up the Storm LT. I had taken care to pack heavy items as low down and close to the cockpit as possible. This made her feel reassuringly stable. We were planning on 2 or 3 days paddling but Wallace Island, our first destination, has no drinking water so we were carrying several days supply. I had a couple of gallon jugs in my boat and Karen had a 5 litre bladder and some bottles. It was an easy 14km paddle and we averaged 4.5km/hr with a little help from a flood tide. The Gulf Islands are formed from soft sandstones that erode in weird and wonderful ways making for a fascinating trip off Galiano’s cliffs.

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All the gear – and there was a little room to spare!

After a couple of brief stops we reached Wallace Island in the late afternoon. We hauled our kayaks and gear across a rocky bay and into a small, grassy meadow where we set up camp. There were 3 or 4 other tents and several boats moored in nearby Conover Cove. We were soon visited by inquisitive raccoons and deer and I realised we would be wise to use the metal food storage lockers available on the site. The deer munched their way around the campsite during the night, crashing through the trees and in my dreams they morphed into bears, making for an uneasy and restless night! We had planned to venture further north before heading back to Montague Harbour but the forecast wasn’t encouraging, with strong winds expected in the days ahead. The possibility of being marooned on a small island for several days, with winds of more than 15 knots, wasn’t appealing. We lacked the knowledge and experience to be out there in those conditions so we decided to head back.

The return trip was uneventful but hot and by the time we dragged our boats onto the beach in Montague Harbour we were tired and in need of a refreshing shower and a meal. Like most of the campsites in the Gulf Islands, the only facilities are pit toilets and a few taps strictly for drinking water. These islands are very dry and water is in very short supply. So we took the Jeep to Sturdies Bay and made use of the Island’s only public shower located in the launderette and ate out at one of the Island’s few restaurants.

Over dinner, Karen summed up the novel ocean kayaking experience as, “Incredibly satisfying, physically demanding and it put a smile on my face all the time! I just love how peaceful it is.” I couldn’t agree more. Kayaking is a much more intimate experience than sailing but it is physically more demanding not only because of the paddling but all the work of packing and launching and pitching tents and carrying water. It has a beautiful simplicity and one cannot escape this fact when crawling around troublesome diesel engines in dirty bilges or scraping off acres of barnacles under a 30’ hull!

I can only describe the Gulf Islands as sublime. Visitors are rewarded with rich wild life including frequent orca and dolphin sightings, seals, sea lions, otters and, of course, bald eagles. The islands have a great sense of community and operate at a pace dictated by the vagaries of wind, tide and ferry schedules. They are the perfect antidote to the frantic hubbub of Greater Vancouver.

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Karen pauses beneath some fascinating cliff erosion on the east side of Galiano Island.

The wind was not quite as strong as forecast but it did give us an opportunity to get out for day trips. We soon learnt how physically and mentally challenging wind and tide can be. At one point, whilst circumnavigating a small island, we were paddling like crazy, hugging a rugged, inhospitable shoreline against a strong breeze and an adverse current, perhaps making no more than 1.5 km/hr, and knowing that we really couldn’t turn around and be sucked through the tidal overfalls that we had just left behind. Somehow we found the energy to push ahead at this pace for nearly an hour before escaping onto a sandy beach protected by rocks for a well-earned break.

The Storm LT and the Eliza handled the conditions very well but the following day conditions became marginal for us while experiencing 15-20 knot gusts on sheltered water. It became obvious that the Storm’s rudder won out over the Eliza’s skeg. Karen is a strong and experienced paddler but she couldn’t stop the Eliza from lee cocking. This is a very unsafe condition and she is determined to get out on the lake on a windy day to figure out how to tame it. A kayak should have slight tendency to weather cock into a strong wind but this tendency is sensitive to boat trim, deck gear and skeg position.

Overall, I am very happy with the Storm LT. I have invested 400 hours in her construction and I can say it was time well spent!

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Sunset from Montague Harbour, Galiano Island.

 

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The swept bow and stern creates clamping challenges but splitting the strips over the curved portion with a utility knife is a great help.

The swept bow and stern creates clamping challenges but splitting the strips over the curved portion with a utility knife is a great help.

The hull is progressing well with few problems. I haven’t used the traditional bead and cove method but instead used plain strips and beveled one edge of each strip to achieve a good fit. I used polyurethane glue rather than white glue making final clean up very easy.

You might think that beveling one edge of each strip is difficult and time consuming. In fact it isn’t. Although the angle constantly changes with the form of the hull I found a simple method to get a reasonable fit.

  1. Hold the new strip in place and check the gap along the outer edge of the plank. The bigger the gap the bigger the bevel that needs planing.
  2. Estimate the size of the gap; I used an arbitary scale of zero to three, zero for no gap and three for the big gaps that occur as the planks bend at the soft chines. I marked the numbers on the plank as I worked along it.
  3. Transfer the plank to a vice and start planning the bevel. I did it purely by eye, changing the angle according to the adjacent number and making sure the bevel transitions smoothly along the plank. I found it takes about five minutes to do an eight-foot strip.
  4. Refit and adjust if necessary.

It really is that easy and perfection isn’t necessary as the real strength in the structure will come from the glass cloth. Strips are less fragile and easier to handle this way. I haven’t used bead and cove on this small scale so I can’t comment on overall speed.

These light weight bar-clamps cost just a few bucks and are ideal for holding strips between stations.

These light weight bar-clamps cost just a few bucks and are ideal for holding strips between stations.

My strips were ¼” thick and ¾” wide except those that made a tighter turn at the chines where I used strips a little over ½” wide.

To handle the upswept bow and stern, I cut the strips down the middle, length ways with a utility knife – effectively laminating using narrower strips.

The compound curvature at the stern was challenging but I found that careful use of a heat gun would allow me to set some twist and bend in the strips making the final gluing, clamping and stapling easier.

Staples would secure most strips but I needed clamps at the bow and stern too. I used a maple keel and mahogany sheer strip – great for bracing clamps as red cedar is just too soft for repeated clamping.

Here the clamps are reversed to push against the maple keel.

Here the clamps are reversed to push against the maple keel.

You might think leaving a wooden boat without an automatic bilge pump for almost five months is asking for trouble and I will admit I have never been comfortable with the concept. But I have spent a lot of time aboard Rainbird dealing with potential sources of fresh water leaks, which, of course, is deadlier than salt water in a wooden boat. In fact, when I repainted the decks a couple of years ago I re-caulked almost everything.

The previous owner warned me to keep the bilges dry. The builder left a lot of the interior cedar planking untreated – even in the bilges. It’s been like that for 35 years and appears absolutely fine but if water ever accumulated things could change very quickly. Maybe he thought untreated cedar breathes and in the daily heating and cooling cycles, condensation never forms. I lined the hulls of my Tiki 26 catamaran with quarter-inch thick cork tiles for this reason. They gave great insulation and their porous surface never allowed condensation even in bunk areas.

Surprisingly, with just the hatches cracked open for ventilation and no internal heat, Rainbird wintered very well. When I left in the fall I pulled up some of the cabin sole and left drawers and lockers partly open. I think solar heating through her pilot house windows allows a certain amount of air moment and drying. She smelt a tad musty when I arrived in early March but within a few hours that had gone.

An automatic electric bilge pump would be a good safety feature. Although Rainbird has a large manual pump stowed in a locker it could take valuable seconds to get it set up and working.

Before heading offshore I need to figure out a different system, perhaps with the manual pump mounted in the cockpit (but not using the cockpit drains). Being a “belt and braces” type I am also considering a Y valve on the engine’s raw water intake to pump bilge water in an emergency.

No matter how sound she may be right now, a rock, dead-head or some tsunami debris could change that very quickly. And I have been warned; while single-handing through the Gulf Islands a couple of years ago I hit a reef while entering a tight anchorage. Even though I was only doing a couple of knots under power I scared myself enough to have the cabins soles up within 20 seconds from impact! Thankfully not a drop of water where it shouldn’t have been. When I next hauled her out I wasn’t surprised to find a few inches missing from the front of her lead fin-keel and further examination revealed a previous repair. Stuff happens when navigating these rocky shores.

The bottom of Rainbird's keel was damaged when she hit a reef. After grinding the damaged back a previous repair was revealed. I used multiple layers of epoxy and micro-spheres to fill the damaged area then finished the job with a grinder and a coarse file.

The bottom of Rainbird’s keel was damaged when she hit a reef. A previous repair was revealed after grinding the damage back. I used multiple layers of epoxy and micro-spheres to fill the damaged area. Not too much at once as it gets hot and sags. I finished the job with a grinder and a coarse file.

The finished repair, ready for paint.

The finished repair, ready for paint.

Reflections of a Live Aboard

By David Skelhon

I have just spent over a year living aboard Rainbird and 20 years ago lived aboard a boat in the UK where I was born and raised. The boats are radically different and these two experiences have little in common, except perhaps, both were aboard wooden boats and both required the simplicity that living with less entails. The world has changed immensely in that time, and undoubtedly I have too, but it is fun to look back and compare the two experiences and see what can be learned.

My first “big” boat, a James Wharram, Tiki 26 catamaran, is not the sort of vessel that comes to mind as a “live aboard.” The Tiki 26 is an very sea worthy, moderately fast, open-deck trailer-sailor with many ocean crossings to its credit. In fact, Rory McDougall’s Tiki 21, Cooking Fat, (essentially a small 26) circumnavigated in the ‘90s and is the smallest catamaran to ever to do so. The 21, seems tiny in comparison with the 26 and I can’t help but admire McDougall’s push-the-limits minimalist approach. But even with the relatively spacious hulls of the Tiki 26, supplemented in my case with a heavy duty PVC deck-tent, living aboard Suilven II was more akin to camping than what the average West Coast sailor would consider as “civilized” comfort. Thankfully an old 13 foot travel trailer (“caravan” in Brit speak) parked in a nearby boat yard served as an office and galley whilst living aboard. Oh yes, I should add that I was younger and fitter back then!

The Tiki 26 was built in the attic of an old barn, in the middle of rural Oxfordshire, which is just about as far from the ocean you can get in the UK. It was the mid ‘80s and with the help of my partner at that time, we decided that the epoxy/glass/plywood Tiki – a relatively new and innovative design, with its distinctive soft wing-sail – would give us the “best bang for our buck.” Actually, we had never considered living aboard such a small boat except for short trips or expeditions, but economics soon dictated otherwise!

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A GRP Tiki 26 (right) and Suilven II, our epoxy/glass/ply Tiki 26, sailing in the Tamar Estuary near Plymouth, UK, in the late ’80s.

Once finished, we moved the boat and ourselves to the rural backwater of Foss Quay, Millbrook, in south east Cornwall which put us among multihull designers, builders and sailors. I found work building and repairing plywood multihulls and writing technical articles for sailing magazines such as Practical Boat Owner. With no expensive rent or mortgage to pay we had the time and funds to go sailing – culminating in a 3 month trip around the west coast of Britain, which had been the inspiration for building the Tiki 26 in the first place.

Without doubt, this was probably the most formative and exciting period of my life. I had left a science and engineering career and sold my house to follow a dream. In Cornwall I was rubbing shoulders with the likes of James Wharram, Richard and Lillian Woods, Pat Patterson and Darren Newton – all well known icons of multihull design and accomplished sailors. I also met some extraordinary young sailors (including Rory McDougall) who embarked on some remarkable voyages.

At this time I also had the privilege of editing Sea People/Sailorman the journal of the Polynesian Catamaran Association, and this, I must say, was one of the most enjoyable jobs I have ever undertaken. I received some incredibly exciting and inspiring stories from around the world which would turn up in dog-eared, salt stained envelopes with exotic looking postage stamps. These would almost certainly be hand written, full of jaw dropping tales of coral atolls, typhoons and ocean crossings in amateur built, plywood Wharram catamarans. This 30 page bi-annual magazine was put together using one of the first laptop computers (space was at a real premium!) running desk-top publishing software – we are talking late ‘80s here! Seventy-five back editions are currently available on line.

The Wharram community was truly amazing, and we spent many vacations cruising in company with other catamarans. The 26 drew less than 2 feet fully loaded and was just as happy sitting on a beach or at anchor. The deck space, stability and sense of security were fantastic and the elegant simplicity of the design made it a supremely practical sailing vessel. After all, Wharrams have their roots in boats that colonized the vast expanse of the Pacific.

Undoubtedly, the most memorable aspect of the seven years I spent in Cornwall was the amazing souls I met, the sincere friendships that were formed, and the strong sense of community. We were all operating on shoe-strings but help was always close at hand. If you needed help launching a boat or stepping a mast you would put the word out, stick the kettle on and folks would turn up. This was how we got things done – though big jobs like turning over a hull might just cost you a case of beer!

This ethos was always present when cruising. During my 3 month western Britain voyage, people were always willing to help in whatever way they could. Harbour masters always seemed interested in my exploits and often waived fees. Local sailors came for rides and were wonderfully generous, feeding me in their homes and taking me on local sight-seeing trips.

At the time, I lived and breathed sailing and could not imagine myself doing anything else; multihulls were my world and I could not imagine myself in a monohull.

***

I moved to British Columbia in 1996. After a frustrating few years up-to-my-arm-pits in glass-fibre dust, building “mega” yachts, I changed course completely and became a commercial pilot, flying instructor, aerial photographer, aircraft builder and test pilot and bush pilot. This was exciting and challenging but financially insecure and by the time the recession started to bite, making a living was becoming as precarious as it was dangerous. A change was needed.

I had never lost the urge to go back to sea and at one point in the late ‘90s I did put down a deposit on a part-finished, 37’ steel monohull. The hull and deck were built and the engine installed. At $4,000 it was a steal but this boat was built to break ice and just about as heavy as they come. When I looked at the spars and equipment needed to complete it I realized I would need my own boatyard and crane to do it. I’m no Arnold Schwarzenegger and I realized that without a strong, capable crew, I wouldn’t be going far in this boat even if my back held out long enough to complete the fit-out.

Fast forward another 10 years. I just happened to be looking at boats on Kijiji when I came across a Bill Garden 33’ pilot house sloop, cold-molded cedar and built 35 years ago as a live aboard. “Take a look at this – looks like a good deal,” I said to my wife rather innocently.

Rainbird on the ways at the Cowichan Wooden Boat Society for her annual haul out.

A few weeks went by and I started noticing sailing magazines laying around in the kitchen and living room and a sudden interest in sailing coming from my wife. This spurred me on and I started looking at designs with building in mind and one day I announced to her that I was going to send for some study plans for a 30’ cutter I had taken a liking to.

She suddenly looked relieved and terrified at the same time and blurted out that I shouldn’t do that as we already had a boat…

“What do you mean – we already have a boat?”

“Do you remember that cute Bill Garden you found on-line a few weeks ago?”

I had to think hard, but it started to come back. You could have knocked me over with a feather!

When the story finally tumbled out, she had sent the details to one of my Foss Quay friends who had finally thrown down the hook in New Zealand and asked for his opinion, which turned out to be very encouraging. She was going to keep the surprise until Christmas! What a woman!

Of course, my wife, being far more sensible and realistic than me, knew that I found it difficult to find the time to fix a leaking kitchen tap let alone find the time to build a 30’ boat. Besides, the cost of materials and equipment to build a similar boat would be more than she paid for Rainbird.

As far as I can determine, Rainbird’s lines were replicated in the Truant 33 and the Saturna 33, two popular and capable West Coast boats. Rainbird is exactly the live aboard Suilven II wasn’t – she has interior space and it is well laid out and very functional and comfortable. With her tall rig she also sails well and with a 30 HP Perkins diesel she has the power to make headway when the going gets tough.

In fact, Rainbird has proven to be a great choice for West Coast – much better than even a large Wharram would have been for these waters. One hull is easier to heat and keep dry than two. Finding live aboard moorage at a reasonable rate would be darn nearly impossible for a large catamaran in these crowded waters – it was tough enough finding moorage for Rainbird.

Living aboard, even in mid winter, is cozy thanks to a Dickinson Pacific stove (also a delight to cook with when you get the hang of it) and shore-side 110V power. I was working for the Cowichan Wooden Boat Society last winter and my commute was a one minute stroll down the dock. Doesn’t get better than that! No oozing, black, Foss Quay mud to wade through at low tide and in Cowichan Bay I could head down the street for coffee and fresh croissants. All very civilized but the flip side was that with the community lights I never got to see the stars and other than the occasional motion from a south easterly gale I hardly knew I was afloat!

With narrow channels, strong tides and fickle winds, reliable power – and preferably lots of it – is important in these waters. Wharrams generally rely on outboards which don’t always work well in a chop and windage and maneuverability can be challenging in blustery conditions. Some of the bigger Wharrams use twin outboards for this reason.

For live aboard comfort and cruising in the Pacific North West, a monohull like Rainbird is probably going to more comfortable than a Wharram. However, for extended, economical, blue water cruising in warmer climates I would definitely go for the Wharram. The deck space is liberating, and I enjoy being able to anchor in shallow water in busy anchorages, or even run up on a beach. Indeed, I suspect that there is a very good, underlying reason that multihulls evolved in the warm Pacific waters!

Of course, this is just my opinion, and as we know, we sailors can be quite opinionated when it comes to our boats! But an open mind and a sense of adventure are probably more important than the choice of boat when it comes to life afloat. Some people do amazing things with very little.

As for the sailing community, well, I haven’t quite found another “Foss Quay” yet. It is a fond memory but I occasionally have to remind myself we weren’t always happy campers – the sailing community has its infighting just like any other! But now as a member of the Cowichan Wooden Boat Society, I now have access to their workshop and ways and help is close at hand. For those of us sailing on a budget, the Society is a valuable resource. I am also a member of the Center For Wooden Boats in Port Townsend, as I believe it is important to keep the knowledge and skills of wooden boat building alive.

Piggy is a large “Classic” Wharram – a 45′ “Ariki”designed for ocean racing. She was photographed at the Ladysmith Maritime Society this summer. She was launched thirty-nine years ago and has made a circumnavigation. Her owner is currently getting her ready for a second.

Here are several spectacular wooden boats that caught our eyes as we sailed between the Gulf Islands and Desolation Sound this summer.

“Native Girl” was designed and built by West Coast legend Allen Farrell. She is 48′ overall, with a beam of 10′ 6″ and a draft of 5′ 6″. She was launched in 1965. For more information on artist and boat builder Allen Farrell and his wife Sharie go to http://allenfarrell.com/

“Native Girl”, built and designed by Allen Farrell, seen here in Silva Bay. Note the yard-arm for the square sail.

I couldn’t resist including this photograph of Allen’s last boat, which I came across in Pedder Bay in 2009. The story of Allen and Sharie Farrell is fascinating and documented in “Salt on the Wind” by Dan Rubin and “Sailing Back In Time” by Maria Coffey. Both “Native Girl” and “China Cloud” are breath-taking designs!

Wonderfully elegant “China Cloud”.

Normally at home in Thetis Island, “Grail Dancer” made a short visit to the Cowichan Bay Maritime Society in August. This beautiful 61′ (L.O.A.) schooner, is based on the lines of a 19th century Noank Well Smack. For more information – http://sunrisegrail.com/?action=GR-gallery

She was built by Maureen and Wayne Loiselle and was launched off a beach in 2000.

Magnificent “Grail Dancer” at the Cowichan Bay Maritime Centre.

“Grail Dancer”

“Taihoa” is 48′ (L.O.A.), design by George Band, launched in Vancouver in 1947. She is seen here during a haul-out on the newly refurbished ways at the Cowichan Bay Maritime Centre.

“Taihoa” – a Colin Archer style, heavy displacement cutter.

Finally, we came across this attractive Aitkin designed cutter in Squitty Cove on Lasqueti Island.

“Josey”, a small Aitkin designed cutter.

Don’t expect secluded anchorages in Desolation Sound – this is Prideaux Haven in early August.

I had heard that Desolation Sound was “one” of the “Holy Grails” of the cruising world – a must see. Here the salt chuck is warm enough to languish in it for hours without a wetsuit. The summer days are long and balmy and rugged peaks thrust skywards amongst deep channels and cosy anchorages.

After a brief visit this summer I can attest that these facts are true. What is missing from this description of a cruising paradise is the fact that Desolation Sound can hardly be considered desolate when it comes to human visitation.

I’ll admit to being very naïve when I visualised sheltered, secluded anchorages. I hadn’t realised that it is probably one of the busiest yachting playgrounds in the world. The sheer numbers of boats, mainly US registered, and the numbers of very large boats (60′ plus), boggles the mind.

Well, it was August, and a long weekend, but I would guess that the majority of boaters here don’t have to organise their vacations around long weekends.

The sun scorched and the heat and humidity seemed tropical. Thankfully we found relief in the refreshing waters of Melanie Cove by swimming for half an hour while Rainbird was at anchor with a stern line ashore – the standard procedure in these waters to cram as many boats as possible into the tight space.

Power boats outnumbered sailboats by at least 5 to 1 and at one time I saw a raft of 4 substantial power boats being “driven” around the cove in what could have become an insurance assessors nightmare!

Boats came in various shapes and sizes too. A high performance 30 something foot power boat, all engine and very little cabin, anchored beside us. Without a dinghy the stern tie was achieved by backing up carefully to the steep shore and dropping off one of the kids with a rope. Later, dad hung over the stern barbequing supper – where they all slept I have no idea but it was an adventure they will no doubt remember for a long time.

Despite the crowds everyone seemed in good humour, although at times my patience was challenged. Like the time in Refuge Cove where we motored in lazy circles for 45 minutes waiting for dock space that never materialised. We needed some basic supplies and in the end gave up and headed across to Squirrel Cove on Cortes Island. More luck there although I had a last minute fight with a nimble power boat that tried to squeeze in ahead of me just as I was about to step ashore with my lines. Only a quick application of reverse saved the day.

“I have to find a mechanic to fix my boat,” was the excuse provided by the skipper. I very nearly suggested that he should also find himself a fibre-glass technician as he was obviously going to need one if his impatience continued. I pointed to a more than adequate space on the other side of the dock and he zoomed off to take it, leaving me space to take a second run at it.

We got all we needed from the Squirrel Cove Store and by the time our laundry was dry I decided to stay the night on the dock. Good choice, as early the following morning, “Song of Joy”, a very substantial sloop, adeptly squeezed into the space ahead of us. A rather weary skipper explained that it was blowing very hard in the cove during the night and a power boat dragged into them and their anchor rodes became entangled, requiring him to cut his chain to get free.

The power boat was still fouled up and I later saw the skipper flying across the bay in his 30hp centre-console tender to pick up a diver. I don’t know the final outcome but we did spend the following night in the inner cove despite the warning. My wife counted 100 boats before giving up and I saw one raft of 11 boats. That evening, I heard the tannoy of a very large boat, sufficiently loud to alert the whole cove, hail the skipper of a smaller boat in the process of anchoring; “We have 100′ of rode out and when we swing in the night you are the prime target!”

Desolation Sound has become a high-tech playground.

Twenty years ago when I cruised the west coast of Britain in an open-deck Wharram catamaran, I probably saw as many recreational boats in 3 months than I did in a day in Desolation Sound.

The experience has made me question my somewhat romantic notions of cruising. For many, climbing aboard a boat is now like climbing into any recreational vehicle. Engines are fundamentally reliable, the state of the tide can be found on the screen of an iPhone, and with chart plotters and radar, being lost is almost inexcusable. Radar antennas twirl relentlessly and GPS alarms beep and it’s possible to get from Seattle to Juneau without ever donning oil skins or getting a foot wet.

Two or three times daily I rowed our little dinghy ashore so that our Portuguese Water Dog could do what dogs need to do. I only saw two other tenders actually being rowed during the whole two-week trip – the internal combustion engine reigns supreme even when a pair of oars would be perfectly adequate.

In the cold winter months I will ruminate on this experience. In the end I will just probably conclude that the Slocums, Hiscocks and Smeetons of this world are long gone and with them a golden age of cruising. My romantic notions, seeded 25 years ago, are now probably a nonsense.

So do we want to head back up there? The answer is a conditional “yes”. We would do it out of season, when we could drop the hook where seamanship dictated and not where I had to squeeze into a space amongst other boats and would then spend the night worrying where I was swinging. But there is still the lure of the North. The Broughtons beckon – thousands of islands and surely less boats. Failing that, Patagonia perhaps?

Copyright David Skelhon, 2012

Rainbird at anchor in Squirrel Cove, Cortes Island…..just one of more than 100 boats in the cove.

Jilly and our Portuguese Water Dog, Maio, aboard Rainbird in Montague Harbour, BC.

by David Skelhon

Three years ago, my wife, Jilly, bought a 33′ Bill Garden designed, pilot house sloop Rainbird. As far as we can determine, she was built in Canoe Cove on Vancouver Island in the late ’70s by Gerry Anderson. She is cold moulded using red cedar, with fir-ply bulkheads, decks and cabin sides. Her interior is highly functional with ample storage – nothing fancy but built with thought and care as a live-aboard vessel. A Dickinson Pacific stove is the cosy centre-piece, making this an ideal boat for the Pacific North West. Gerry Anderson carried out Bill Garden’s vision to perfection.

Having built several wooden boats and repaired and refitted many others, I am struck with the care, perseverance and passion that builders lavish on their projects. Many are undoubtedly works of art. No two will ever be the same – even when from the same stock design – as each will be imbued with the essence of its builder.

Flip open the latest edition of Cruising World (July 2012) and you will find an inspiring article written by Thies Matzen, about 30 years of adventure aboard Wanderer III. As any sailor worth their salt will of course know, this traditional wooden boat belonged to that most famous cruising couple, Eric and Susan Hiscock. The Hiscocks had this 30′ Laurent Giles design built for them and launched in 1952 and subsequently made two leisurely circumnavigations and wrote the classic sailor’s bible, Cruising Under Sail.

Matzen and his partner Kicki Ericson have since sailed their humble boat both to the tropics and the stormy temperate climes, including a two month trip to Antarctica. Matzen sums up his reasoning for living with this small but capable boat for so long: “As a traditional builder of wooden boats, I like to show such craft aren’t just pretty to look at. They are made to sail too. They are not just romantic but astonishingly functional. Something as basic as Wanderer III, after 60 years and 290,000 miles under sail, is still up for anything.”

Like Wanderer III, Rainbird is astonishingly functional, having been lived aboard for 30 years and cruised extensively in the Pacific North West. I often wonder about the original builder. Putting together a boat like this requires extraordinary vision, dedication, skill, perseverance, understanding from loved ones and of course a big chunk of cash. Had he spent years saving and planning? Was he building full time? Was this the first boat he built or indeed the last? Does he ever wonder where she is or how well she is cared for?

Taking on Rainbird is like being being handed a torch kindled by the designer and brought fully into flame by the builder. As current custodians we have to nurture the flame to illuminate our future voyages of awe and adventure.

Rest assured Gerry Anderson, wherever you are, Rainbird is still loved and well looked after. You did a fine job and it’s appreciated. And, like Wanderer III, she is, “still up for anything.”