I had just finished my first cruise as a skipper on a sailing boat to Corsica, where I faced strong winds throughout the entire period and unruly new crew members. I arrived in Vancouver just two days after I disembarked, ready to relax and recover from the challenging journey.
In order to avoid the recent air havoc and baggage loss, I brought just one carry-on. I packed three swimming suits, an oilskin top and bottom, pajamas, and basic toiletries. If I were sailing in the Mediterranean, I could have added some swimming toys and a sleeping bag to make the bag complete for beginning a cruise.
The summer heat in cities in Italy is oppressive, even though once you leave the dock, the heat isn’t a problem. Whether you sail or use an engine, there’s always a fresh wind on the move, and you can dive into the sea any time you want. When I arrived in Vancouver on August 1, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the city wasn’t hot. My friend, the captain of our boat, had anchored the boat in front of the downtown and was waiting for me. The location was convenient for purchasing necessary supplies and preparing the boat for departure.
When the sky brightened, I realized that the environment here was very different from what I was used to. I thought that I could wash myself in the sea, as I usually do to save water in the tank, and then rinse off with fresh water to remove the salt. But the water here was “brown”. At first I thought,
“Is it only like this to look at, but not really that dirty?”
But my local friends warned me that the seawater was a paradise for bacteria. I was shocked to hear that it was dangerous if the water gets into the eyes or mouth. Anyway, it was too cold to take a sea bath.
The feeling of the water surrounding me and the boat was “dirty” is unfamiliar. In the Mediterranean, the sea is like a playground. I would sail to stay closer to the sea, but here the sea felt dirty, dangerous, and not to be touched, like an object to be avoided.
The boat we would be sailing is a Tayana 37, which is quite popular among off-shore sailors. It looks like an old wooden boat, but it’s actually made of fiberglass and was built in 1980. By 1980, modern boats would have been already the norm, but the traditional style of this boat apparently appealed to the tastes of North American sailors, and a good number were built.
The boat has several features that are typically found on old boats, such as a long keel, double-ended hull, and the stay sail attached to the boom. I found the double anchors at the bow to be novel. Most of the other boats near us also have two anchors on their bows. (don’t they hold well?) My fear is that this preference for old hull designs is not just for aesthetics, but also because of their seaworthiness. This is the Pacific, and it might be different from the Mediterranean playground. I am also concerned about my lack of experience steering a long keel yacht and the old-fashioned deck fittings for sail adjustment.
Offshore vs Harbor-Hopping
My friend, the captain of the boat, has been preparing for this journey for a long time. We will be travelling from Vancouver to Baja California, with the western coast of the United States in between. This area is home to many Native American tribes in the north, and further down are big cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
Sailors who embark on this route have the choice between the offshore route, where they head about 100 miles offshore , and the harbr-hopping route, where they moor in a harbor or bay every night. Interestingly, most sailors choose the offshore route, despite the larger waves and lack of outside assistance. This trend could due to the marine environment in the Pacific region of North America.
Many harbors on the west coast of North America are located where rivers meet the ocean. A bar is formed when the flow of the river, the currents caused by the tides, the winds and waves crossing the Pacific, and the sudden drop in underwater depth near the harbor entrance all come together to block the entrance to the harbor. In order to reach the shore, sailors must perform a ‘bar-crossing’.
Even when the surface appears calm, the marine environment at the bar can be unstable, posing dangers for boats entering or leaving the harbor. Inexperienced sailors are often advised to avoid entering difficult harbors. Just hearing about it can be unsettling.
Along the harbor-hopping route from Vancouver to the south, there are some ‘difficult’ harbors. Some legs are too long to make in one day, and there is no possibility to anchor in the middle to avoid night sailing. Going offshore is also not an option for us. The reason will come later.
Coexisting with the homeless of Vancouver
The unveiled environment that awaits us in the Pacific is still a potential source of fear. Our immediate problem was living on the boat docked in the heart of Vancouver. One of the biggest challenges was not being able to use seawater. We couldn’t even use the boat’s water tank recklessly. There was only one water tank and no gauge, so we could not tell how much water was left. It’s not an easy decision to weigh anchor and head for a nearby gas station to fill up the water tank. Good anchoring spots are all taken, so it’ll be hard to find a new one.
We travelled to shore by tender to a nearby municipal sports center to take a shower, but our shower frequency gradually decreased and we became similar in appearance to the neighboring boat residents over time.
The nearby boats seem to not be sailing at all, with dirty hulls and various debris piled on their decks. These are the boats of the homeless. One day, our tender’s outboard motor stopped working and we started to drift.
“Do you need help?”
A kind stranger rowed his tender towards us. As we got closer and spoke, I noticed that the condition of his teeth was particularly poor. He was a kind homeless person.
In Canada, a country known for its advanced welfare system, it is said that boats are provided to the homeless to prevent them from living on the streets. It appears that living on a boat and using public facilities occasionally offers them a relatively stable and comfortable life.
Once I was alone on the boat and it was very windy. When I went up to the cockpit, I was startled to see a boat right in front of our bow! It was being pushed by the wind and was dragging its anchor.
“What are you doing now!!”
I shouted, and a pale blonde woman appeared.
“What is this? We have been anchoring here for a long time.”
“Please retrieve the anchor first. Otherwise, it can tangle up with our anchor chain.”
“My boyfriend is not here now, what should I do?”
As the woman spoke, I noticed that her teeth were abnormal. It was a homeless boat. I gave up arguing and pushed the boat hard until it narrowly escaped us.
Despite my request to warn other boats, the woman simply entered the boat and disappeared. Her boat continued to be pushed away and got tangled up with another boat in the end. It is like a drifting bomb. If the owner were a sailor, this would not have happened.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade
It is not easy to prepare the boat that had been left in the water at the dock for a year. Cleaning the boat, throwing away the rotten food, and getting rid of unnecessary items was a never-ending job. We also took out all the floorboards and opened all the cabinets inside. They were full of backup parts and equipment. Thankfully, a friend of the captain had advised him to create a list of the items in each compartment to make it easier to find everything later. We wouldn’t have made it without this list.
We inspected the boat as best as we could. We discovered some rust on the joint where the chainplate is attached to the hull. However, the overall rigging seemed to be in good condition. We didn’t have a way to check the keel bolts, but we were confident that our long keel boat would have fewer problems with them.
We discovered that one of the terminal screws of the lifeline was broken. This is a sign that the rest of it may not be healthy, so we should have replaced the entire lifeline. But finding a rigger during the holiday period would not be easy, and we wanted to set sail as soon as possible, since we had already been in Vancouver for a week. So we used our knowledge of knots and replaced the lifeline with a polyester line of the same diameter.
We went to a chandlery shop, but the prices were not a joke. I had never thought that Italian chandlery shops would be cheap, but the prices in Canada seemed to be much more expensive. As the lifeline was not strong, the jack line, a safety line secured to the deck, became more important. But an unbuckled simple jack line was over $100. Even a small American flag to be raised on entry to the United States was over $20.
The courtesy flag is a sign of compliance with the regulations of the country where the boat is going, or it is raised when there are people from other countries in the crew. It’s something like an etiquette. But it is said to be mandatory in the United States, as Americans are “flag people”. A boat without a courtesy flag is a misfortunate boat there.
We felt a bit unfair to buy both items at that price, so we left the shop. Instead, we looked for alternatives and were able to find suitable replacements at other shops. At the hardware store, we found a cargo polyester belt to use as jack line for $25, and a small American flag at a souvenir shop in downtown for $2. We also found a replacement for the broken port navigation light at an auto parts shop. If the green starboard light had gone out, we would have been out of luck, but the red port light was the same as a car taillight. It has over 1 mile of visibility and is even treated with silicone for waterproofing.
An unexpected curveball
It seemed that we were ready to set sail, but our plans were threatened by an unexpected problem: US visa. It may come as a surprise, but the problem was that we were going to cross the US boarder by private boat. Visa waivers are only for Koreans who arrive using transportation recognized by the US border office. Korean Air, Asiana Airlines, and other US airlines, or ferries departing from Vancouver, etc. Of course, our Tanya 37 is not on their list of approved transportation.
We are now in the process of trying to obtain a tourist visa. Unfortunately, the wait time for the interview is over 400 days. Will this be the end of our sailing adventure before it even begins, having just cleaned the boat?