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It’s been a mixed up year for Rich and I so I’ve decided to scramble around the account of our annual trip on Tug Time, a 29-foot Ranger Tug, and focus on the highly memorable parts.

Ominous Beginnings

With forecasts predicting rain, cold, and general dreariness for much of our trip, neither one of us was particularly gung-ho about going. We packed at the bitter end, tossing in clothing, food, linens, boating gear, and other “stuff,” which was on our check-off list. We’d started this list years ago so it also included things like sunblock, bathing suits, and shorts. None of which we anticipated needing this trip.

With spirits dampened by the weather, we didn’t rush to get to Bellingham. We arrived less than an hour before the orientation for captains and crew. Rich being the former; me the latter. We half-heartedly listen, ate hotdogs and potatoes salad, provided by San Juan Yachting, and then dragged our stuff down to the boat.

After unpacking, we realized we’d forgotten to take our fleece jackets and pants. I was in a bit of panic because it’s nice to pull on my fleece after showering, or first thing in the morning when the boat is chilly. With Mount Vernon 30-minute away, Rich agreed to drive back and get the extra clothing.

When we returned, around 9 o’clock at night, we were prevented from getting on Tug Time… by a very agitated and vocal seal, which was sprawled across the dock. Last year, when we were pulling into the slip, at the end of our trip, a seal was also on the dock. It slithered into the water at the last minute, before I needed to step onto the dock to tie off the boat.

The seal we encountered the night before our departure, however, had no interest in moving. He’d found a nice place to sleep, a few feet from where we needed to step onto Tug Time. Hearing my reasoning with the seal – I couldn’t decide whether he was going to bite if I eased between him and Tug Time – several people arrived from other boats.

One man scolded me for thinking I could get close to a seal. They evidentially have no reservations about biting, and their saliva is full of bacteria. Their sharp teeth can easily tear human flesh, resulting in a terrible wound and infection.

The man then shooed the seal into the water, allowing us to safely board Tug Time.

The next morning, we had an uneventful voyage to Deception Pass. Originally, we planned on going from Bellingham to Deception Pass via the Swinomish Channel, which separates Fidalgo Island from the mainland. However, it was an ambition plan, and if we couldn’t make it through Deception Pass, we’d be stuck until the next slack (point of minimum current) tide. The current through Deception Pass can be 8 or 9 knots, which can rapidly sweep a boat against the rocks.

I’m glad Rich opted for the safer route because it gave us time to explore Deception Pass Park and learn about the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Established in 1923, the park now welcomes over 2 million visitors per year. It’s the most visited park in Washington. In the 1930’s the CCC built roads, trails, and sturdy stone and timber buildings, which are still in use today, including covered barbeque areas, restrooms, group shelters, cabins, and a conference center.

Two of the buildings are now part of an interpretive center, which has displays and a short movie on the CCC. It’s extraordinary (especially in light of today’s short-sited Republicans), the vision President Roosevelt had to put citizens to work on public projects, which not only gave them a sense of purpose, but significantly contributed to strengthening the country’s infrastructure (bridges, roads, dams, etc.) and recreational facilities (trails, parks, cabins, etc.).

I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Deception Pass Park, which previously, we’d only seen while zipping over the Deception Pass Bridge which connects Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands. And several times, we’ve walked in the vicinity of the bridge, venturing less than a quarter mile on either side. The park, however, is quite large with lots to see and do.

Oh Canada… You Treat Us So Well

The next morning, it was very overcast with less than a quarter mile visibility as we headed to Victoria, Canada. Rich and I both kept our eyes on the water, listening carefully to the VHF, and trying to make out shapes in the dense, gray blur.

As we were crossing the shipping lanes, which are like giant freeways for ships and commercial traffic, we got a call on the radio. The caller wanted to know if we were pulling a barge. It took us a while to figure out that he thought Tug Time was a commercial tugboat!

When surrounded by pea-soup-consistency fog, you need to constantly watch the radar

to spot ships before they appear, and then adjust your course accordingly. If a large ship is traveling 15-20 knots in a shipping lane, by the time they spot us, tugging at 8 knots per hour, it could be too late for either boat to avoid a collision.

It took us five hours to get to Victoria, with us passing many ship, but only seeing through the fog a couple of commercial whale watching vessels. These boats travel very fast and can switch course quickly so they often zip behind or in front of Tug Time on their way to drop-off and pick-up sightseers.

Happily, the rain held off until we finished going through customs. We then docked in a light drizzle, secured the boat, and briskly walked to Chinatown for dim sum. We were the only ones in the restaurant, but they graciously heated up left-over dim sum. It was a lovely, very late lunch.

We then walked around and darted into shops until the rain necessitated returning to the boat. We read for the rest of the afternoon, and watched a silly blue heron saunter on the dock, periodically poking his beak in the water, and then springing into action, seizing a small fish, tilting back his head, and gulping it down within seconds.

After dinner, the rain ceased, and we decided to venture out for a walk. The moon was bright and the air crisp. We had a very pleasant walk along the water, in front of the government building, through the Empress Hotel, and then back along the water where we saw a river otter dashing across the docks. On our way back to Tug Time, we started a conversation with two men who were sailing a 42-foot Hunter, named Perfect Excuse, to San Francisco. They’d been sidelined for several days in Victoria because of the weather, and were anxious to take off the following morning with forecasts of clear skies.

The owner of the boat was from Edmonton, Canada, where he works in the coal tar industry. We spent at least an hour chatting about natural and renewable energy, differences between Canada and the United States, politics, and the benefits of living in Mexico.

After arriving in San Francisco, the man was going to pick up members of his family, who would compete with him in Baja Ha-Ha, a sailboat race from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

The next morning greeted us with dazzling skies and a splendid drive to Sydney, at the top of Vancouver Island. Rich and I both love Sydney. It’s the perfect-sized town with everything a person could want, plus, it’s breathtakingly beautiful.

We spent the rest of day walking around, talking to a Canadian woman about her travels and life in Canada, drinking Americanos at Starbucks, checking out books on living in Mexico and Costa Rica, and enjoying the splendid weather.

Because we were both unemployed, and feeling very unemployable during this trip, we lapsed into thinking about packing up our lives and relocating to Mexico. We envisioned living in a cute house with a VW Bug parked up front, working at minimum wage jobs, eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and hanging out at the beach.

When we returned from our trip, I was convinced a great place to move, with affordable, newer houses walking distance to the water, is Barra de Navidad north of Manzanillo on the western coastline of Mexico. However neither one of us are the type to run-away. And after reflecting on what we really wanted – a house by the water with room for our “stuff,” the cats, garden, and opportunities to occasionally sail – we realized all we had to do was continue working for a years, and then move into our Coupeville house on Whidbey Island.

Back to America

We didn’t linger for long the next morning, knowing we had to drive for many hours from Sydney to Roche Harbor, check into American customs, and then zip over to Sucia Island for the night. Roche Harbor on San Juan Island, is one of my favorite marinas. It’s a treat to walk around and admire the historic Hotel de Haro, wander through the gardens, enjoy the other historical buildings, and meander through the sculpture park.

In the sculpture park, we hurried over to an easel with a polished mirror on it. Rich then pointed the camera at the mirror to snap the reflection of both of us. Check out the pictures to see how we look zoomed in-and-out. Last year, we had fun using this technique to snap our self-portraits.

I also wrote a wish and placed it in one of the prayer urns in the park, and then gave it good spin. One of the nicest aspects of the sculpture park is the ability to interact with the artwork, touching, spinning, opening, closing, and even using gongs to punctuate the silence with a pleasant peal.

We didn’t spend as much time in the park as usual because earlier I’d received an email asking me to write-up a document for a client… since I was the only person who had the knowledge. The challenge was remembering the details with nothing to refer to on my personal netbook. Once completed, I rushed to the café onshore, and sent the email with the completed document, and we were back on the water, heading to Sucia Island.

There are several places to moor at Sucia so we had no troubles getting a mooring ball. We then took our dingy ashore to walk around. It’s an interesting island, which in Spanish means “dirty” because of the jagged shores lined with hidden reefs and rocks that could do serious damage to a bottom of a boat.

The broken shorelines is from geologic folding of the earth’s crust, exposing not only fossils, but sharp, uneven rocks. Walking along the shores is fun because you can see layers of sediment along with imprints from sea critters caught hundreds of years ago in the mud. Plus, the island is irregular with several fingers and outlying islands, some of which you can be reach on foot at low-tide.

Because the island has many nooks and crannies to explore and protected bays, it’s attractive destinations for kayakers. Anchored in the bay were two ships with Un-Cruise Adventures, which offers expeditions through the San Juan Islands for adventurous guests who have access to the ships’ kayaks, paddle boards and inflatable skiffs to explore the islands, and go ashore to hike, bird watch, and wander through the towns where the ships stop.

For our second to last day, we went to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island to stretch our legs, leave our recyclable, empty trash, shower, and wander through a couple of stores. I was amused by one boat in the marina named “Bugsy Seagall.” People come up with clever names for their boats!

We spent the night anchored off Shaw Island, watching the ferries glide over the water, lit like giant ballrooms, and wandering if we’ll ever have the chance to once again charter Tug Time. We’ve enjoyed every moment on the boat!

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