Canadian boating stories: The Offshore Journey
Submitted by: Peers Pendlebury
Location : Vancouver Island to Hawaii
Occupation: Retired: Dad and daughter sailing journey
Boat: Subee, Alberg 30
A dream to sail to Hawaii
When I was a working stiff I had three goals that more or less obsessed me. Although I lived in the BC interior, one of my goals was to go on an offshore sailing journey and lose sight of land. I owned a Tanzer 26 on Kootenay Lake so had a taste for sailing but had no idea why I so wanted to go offshore. I retired early and my family and I moved to Vancouver Island to be nearer the ocean.
Vancouver Island to Hawaii
The closest destination that would satisfy my goal/obsession would be to sail to Hawaii, 3,000 miles away. I could sail to Hawaii but would need the right boat for such a journey. While I had enough income to retire early and live quite nicely, I did not have a huge chunk to purchase an offshore sailing vessel. A friend of mine suggested that I take a look at an Alberg 30 for sale in Vancouver. After some research I learned that the Alberg 30 had been designed as a coastal cruiser but was built so tough it was capable of an offshore journey. I purchased the 34 year old vessel, named Subee, a real sweetheart with classic lines. She was nice for sure but still a boat and so a money pit needing changes such as replacing the original vinyl upholstery, adding a wind vane auto pilot, interior teak re-finishing, new electronics, new offshore sails, new dodger and sail cover. The list goes on. By the time I had finished with Subee she was well equipped, pristine and ready.
In 2003 my wife, Mary, and I took Subee on a shakedown cruise circumnavigating Vancouver Island, a challenging journey of roughly 730 nautical miles. Subee proved herself capable of what I had in mind for her.
At that time my youngest daughter, Janie, was in her last year of university and would be graduating with a nursing degree in May, 2004. Janie and I had made a plan that after her graduation she would accompany me on the trip to Hawaii. Although Janie was not big into the mechanics of sailing, she enjoyed sailing and adventures. After a nice send-off party with friends and family, we departed Schooner Cove Marina. I was realizing my final goal and, come hell or high water, I was going to sail to Hawaii. A lot of people have the same dream and actually do depart to sail to Hawaii but for whatever reason, sea sickness, equipment failure or fear, they turn back once they experience the open water. This was not an option for Janie and me.
As soon as we exited the Juan De Fuca Strait Janie got sea sick. She had medication which she hated to take because it made her drowsy but after a couple of days she would start to feel better and get her sea legs. Unfortunately, that would only last until there was a change in wind direction resulting in a change in boat motion. Janie went through that four different times both on her way there and back but, at no time, would she have chosen not to be doing what she was doing.
On a long offshore journey, in our case 32 days one way, it is customary for the crew to take watch shifts of predetermined length. But Janie found herself unable to take any watches in the dark hours. It freaked her out too much and, in fact, she committed mutiny by refusing to do any dark hour shifts! I didn’t make her walk the plank. Instead, we arrived at a different solution: we would eat dinner at the normal time and I would go to bed for a few hours until darkness fell. Janie would wake me up at dark and go to bed herself. When it came light I would wake her up and we would have breakfast. After that I would go back to bed until lunch. We would spend the afternoons awake and enjoying the ocean as it rolled by.
Bear in mind, Subee was steering herself with the wind vane and only needed adjustment once in a while. When we got into the trade winds we tried some fishing. We found that if we dragged a buck tail fly at speeds of five knots, or better, we could catch some really nice dorado or tuna. There were always birds to watch, swooping in between the high rolling waves and sometimes dolphins would home in on Subee. They would swim from all different directions and then go crazy swimming around and under us and leaping out in coordination two or three at a time. We also saw flying fish and sometimes they would be flying over Subee and hit a sail and end up on the deck. We also saw huge schools of tuna all leaping out like flying fish because they were being hunted by dolphins and had nowhere else to go but up!
Normally we would sail with the companionway hatch open and that suited Janie just fine because in the darkness, if she woke up, she could see me keeping watch and feel reassured. One night out at sea waves were crashing over the boat. It was windy and spray was getting blown inside through the open hatch, so I closed it. Janie ordered me to open the hatch as she had to be able to see me, reassuring she was not alone. Nothing would convince me to allow water to get inside the boat. So, the ingenious Janie got a ball of string and tied one end around my wrist, then threaded the string through a small gap in the hatch to where she was sleeping so that she could tug on the string and feel reassured when I tugged back.
Is it a ghost ship?
One evening, it was dusk with no wind and flat calm. I made a decision that we could both get some sleep. Janie, although a little hesitant about me not keeping the night watch as usual, agreed. I went below while Janie said she would stay on deck for a little while longer and then join me. A short time later Janie woke me up and advised that there was another boat alongside us. I looked at the clock, less than ten minutes had passed since I went below. I was quite groggy, and somewhat owly at being awakened so soon. So Janie says, in a very indignant tone, “well come on up here and take a look for yourself!” I raked myself out of bed and went up into the cockpit. I went into a state of shock I am sure. There, just as Janie had said, was a boat laying alongside us just a few feet away. It was eerie, there was no one on it. All kinds of things went through my mind. Should we board it, should we put a tow line on it? As I stared at the boat more closely it further shocked me to realize that it was Subee we were looking at. At least a replica of Subee. Every detail was exactly the same except for one, the boat we were looking at was adrift and did not have any visible crew on board. One might think it was some kind of reflection we were seeing, but how? The sky was clear, the horizon was visible in the far distance and Janie and I were missing out of the picture. Janie went to get a flashlight to shine on the boat but on aiming the light the boat immediately disappeared, never to return again.
I could not explain what happened then, and I still cannot. It was not a scary experience, it was actually very interesting. After our return home I contacted the CBC radio show, Quirks and Quarks, to ask the host Bob McDonald if there was a possible scientific explanation as to what we saw. My query was acknowledged but I received no other response.
I will conclude by saying that it was the trip of a lifetime for Janie and I, something that was destined to happen. We sailed into Nawiliwili harbour on Kauai, met Mary who had flown over, did the tourist thing for two weeks and then sailed back to Schooner Cove. It was an epic journey for us and completed my goal/ obsession list.
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