That was quite a night. Psychologically there were moments that were quite challenging, mostly because life has been very stressful lately, and I’m worn down to a nub. While this was an amazing experience, it was stressful, and not least because I felt ready for bed by 9, and that’s when I left Sooke inlet!
Although you literally cannot see where you are going, rigorous watching of radar and chartplotter is required, along with constant alertness. I’ve often driven road trips all night, and that is much, much easier, which is surprising in that the margin for error while driving is orders of magnitude smaller.
Interestingly, there was actually a fair bit of light out there, reflected from clouds from both Sooke and Victoria. Not enough to see anything in the water, but not the deep black I expected.
The further along the Strait I went the brighter the phosphorescence; by Point No Point, it appeared as if Fainleog carried brilliant sparkling wings, the way the bow wake peeled from her hull. Eventually the lights of civilisation were left behind and there was only the occasional fitful mote winked at me from distant shorelines. As the night deepened, the sky bloomed overhead, my masthead stirring the milky way, which seemed caught up there as it rotated across the hours. Twice my radar alarm picked up freighters passing by; hearing their engines was impossible over the drone of my diesel.
I wish I had been able to sail. What breeze there was was light and mostly foul. There were a couple of times when it veered south, and I cautiously hoisted sail (I always tether myself to the boat whenever I leave the cockpit on a solo sail). The first time the breeze failed as quickly as my sails were set, but by the second time I was ready, and it was sheer joy to turn off that damned engine and let the wind take me.
At that moment I understood the joy of night sailing; the hush of water running along the hull, the glory of deep stars overhead, moving through the darkness as through time itself. It was sublime.
It was also short lived, and after perhaps 20 minutes the breeze turned foul and that was it for the night. 6 ½ hours of motoring, and the combination of lack of sleep, the engine noise, the constant vigilance, and I ended up with a rather upset stomach. It might also been influenced by lack of horizon; there was a swell running on the nose and without being able to see the water, it was very much like being below, which is always hard on the stomach when the boat is being knocked around.
The Dreamspeaker guide recommends anchoring at Thrasher cove in Port San Juan, which is not a cove at all but a small bight, so it was exposed to the swell, making for a very unsettled sleep. There were a couple of small lights visible in the cove, and it wasn’t until I was almost on top of them before I realised they were anchoring lights from a pair of sailboats. I’m sure they were wondering what the hell was going on when I showed up beside them at 4 in the morning, and it demonstrates how important anchor lights are; the boats were essentially invisible. When I woke at 11, both were gone.
I wanted to go ashore at Port Renfrew to let people know I made it, and that turned into a dog’s breakfast. Although it was only blowing a couple of knots out in the Strait, rising warm air inland channels strong winds up the inlet. It must have been blowing 20 knots in Snuggery Cove, and the bottom there is covered in a thick mat of dead kelp. Contrary to the Dreamspeaker guide, holding is actually quite poor, and I dragged twice. Eventually I got the third set to hold, but I didn’t trust it so I was forced to haul out and drop my second anchor from the dinghy. I didn’t want to have to worry about the big rocks on my lee when I went to bed.
One important thing that I discovered during that night was the difference between “being grounded” and The Buddhist notion of “being present”. Alone in a boat in the dark, with everything that must be done, means that your world shrinks dramatically. Everything occupying your attention is located in the few square metres around you; nothing else exists. I was fully and completely embodied.
What was lacking was a sense of detachment, of serenity. As I understand it, the goal is to be fully present, but as an observer, watching yourself, detached from the outcome of what you are doing and experiencing.
But that night what I was experiencing I took very seriously. I believed in the significance of what I was doing, the importance of being alert and watchful, as if my survival, my need to stay on top of the situation was actually significant. The Buddhist approach teaches us that it’s not. The best I was able to do was notice how seriously I was taking my situation, and a small part had a laugh at that. I didn’t judge it as wrong, but as information that under stress it’s hard for me to remain detached.