It was perhaps overly optimistic for our first attempt at ocean sailing; my husband and I committed to eight days navigating the Gulf Islands with our two teenagers as a family summer vacation.
Jean-François and I became interested in sailing in 2018, following a sail on a friend’s boat on the West Arm of Kootenay Lake in interior British Columbia where we live. We are rock climbers, skiers, and trail runners, and were delighted by the raw physicality of harnessing wind with sheets and sails.
We’ve devoted two summers now to learning the sport on a fixer-upper 1981 US Yacht 25 we bought for the cost of a kayak. In July 2020, when we attained Sail Canada’s Basic Cruising certification, we felt ready to go beyond the confines of our inland lake.
Naturally, we chose the wildness of Canada’s West Coast to test our open water abilities.
Jean-François, with his engineering-oriented mind, had taken easily to sailing; he seemed to intuitively grasp the physics behind it. I had to work harder at understanding when a close haul was too close, or which way to push the tiller when heaving-to. I wasn’t sure how I’d do sailing on the ocean, where the equation factors in not only wind, but also tide and current.
Still, I was stoked to try. And my writer’s imagination soared: Oh the places we would go!
In August, we road-tripped and ferried our way across southern BC to Vancouver Island, where we met our charter boat Sommelier. She was five feet longer and three feet wider than our lake boat.
The kids oohed and aahed. ‘We can stand up inside! We can all fit around the table! There’s a stove!’ I felt buoyed by the creature comforts of a cruising vessel; Sommy even had wine glasses.
We spent the first night at dock. Everyone slept well in the deeply sheltered waters of Stones Marina.
The next morning, we decided on the more adventurous sail plan. Instead of sailing through the narrow industrial channel between Nanaimo and Gabriola Island to Dodd Narrows, we’d go the long way around Gabriola, sailing in the Strait of Georgia. It would be more scenic, but less protected. I was okay with that. Sommy seemed so big and sturdy compared to the boat I was used to. How bad could it be?
A half hour later, with a reef in the main and the lee rail flirting with Neptune, Sophie, our 19-year-old, and I had each assumed the fetal position on opposite sides of the cockpit, overcome with nausea. Apparently, 15-knot winds gusting to 20 with 3-foot chop was all it took to put us out of commission. Jean-François and Felix, our 17-year-old, were thankfully unaffected. They sailed us around Gabriola Island to our first night’s anchorage off an uninhabited islet.
The seasickness was a less-than-optimal start for me. But, thankfully, it didn’t last.
The islet, Kendrick Island, was a sublime rocky sliver lodged between sea and sky. At low tide, the four of us took the dinghy over to explore the striated and fluted bedrock, tattoos from the glaciers that once churned through this place. Besides a curious seal or two popping a head above water, the ocean was still. The shift, in both my internal state and the external environment, was my first clue to a basic tenant of life on the ocean: nothing lasts.
Everything was constantly turning over, like a wave. Over the course of our trip, whether an experience was positive or negative stopped mattering so much to me because nothing was ever solid— it was always changing. I began to take life more moment by moment. And if I didn’t like the moment, all I had to do was wait for it to dissolve into the next.
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Back in my home office a couple days after the trip, I find myself daydreaming about ocean sailing. My three-bedroom house somehow feels too small, too cut off from the elements and the fluidity inherent outside its walls.
I think back to a couple from Alberta we’d met while anchored off a provincial park on Galiano Island. Their two kids had recently fledged and they’d been living aboard their sailboat in the Gulf Islands for the past two years. “I don’t miss the house one bit,” the woman had told me.
At the time, I hadn’t thought twice about her comment. She was in a different stage of her life than I was.
Or was she? I begin to wonder what else life on the ocean has shifted in me.
Jayme Moye writes about travel, mountain sports and culture, and pushing the limits of human potential. Her award-winning freelance work appears in National Geographic, Outside Magazine, Adventure Journal, and Travel + Leisure, among others.Read more of her stories over on the Captain's Blog