Sunday, September 6, 2009

TILLIKUM: Watch for me by moonlight. A circumnavigation of Saltspring Island. #1. Dawn Departure.

Out past the familiar. Leaving Fulford Harbour.

In the black of early morning it is hard to roll out of bed and begin the day`s activity - rowing around our island shores - but soon Heather is helping me carry my gear down the wharf in the semi dark. Sails, oars, water, sandwiches, two-way radio, flashlight, flares, charts.... a considerable list for a one day adventure. I push off into first light.

Fulford Harbour is my familiar rowing and sailing area but this is my first dawn here in Tillikum. I watch the rapid lightening of the sky and the first rays of sunlight touching the hilltops. There is a light breeze helping to hurry me out of the bay but not enough to encourage me to stop and raise sail: I have a long way to go, some fifty miles, and must maintain maximum speed. The tide is low this morning but already beginning to rise. The tidal current will be flooding north for the next six hours and I plan to catch a ride on it`s back as I head for Southey Point, the northernmost point of Saltspring Island.

Russell Island. Dawn.

It`s chilly this morning and I`m rowing with my jacket on beneath the life jacket. I savour this moment because the forecast is for 25 C. for later today. Over beside Russell Island the anchored yachts are picked out in first light against the still shadowed shores, and the drift logs and rock tops of the Indian Reserve point are rimmed in gold. I am still rowing at a rapid pace as I turn the point and aim for the headland where Ruckle Park is situated. An hour into my journey I check my hands and find the beginnings of a blister. I reach for the leather gloves I grabbed as I went out of the house this morning. It feels awkward rowing with work gloves on but the alternative of badly blistered hands does not appeal. The morning`s preparations are already fading back into the past as I become part of the voyage. Seals pop up in the wake to have a look and I call out “Good morning Bobby!” to those that just bob up for a quick look, and have alternate names for those that swim behind or disappear with a splash.

The campers are a lazy lot I decide as Tillikum sweeps past the rows of tents in the park. “Here I`ve been up for hours and those lazy bones are still fast asleep.”, I think virtuously, already forgetting my recent wish to cancel the whole operation rather than rise in the dark. A lone watcher sits on the final point as I turn the corner and begin the long crossing of Ganges Harbour. Nose Point seems a long way off from my vantage point and the wind is blowing out of this long bay and slowing me down. As I approach the Channel Islands I remember the thermos of coffee under the seat and decide that my headache is due to morning deprivation. Tillikum slows down as I carefully thread my way among the rocks and past a flock of shore birds to a small shell beach. Today is our wedding anniversary and forty three years ago Heather and I stopped here for lunch while circumnavigating Saltspring in a homemade sailing skiff on our honeymoon. Ah. but that coffee tastes GOOD!

A coffee break at the Channel Islands.

As I head back out, a big yellow rescue helicopter thunders overhead and heads up harbour. Soon it is back with a coast guard cutter and they begin a recovery practice. Presumably someone has been dropped from the cutter and is now being ‘rescued’ by the helicopter. This is so fascinating that it is difficult to keep an eye out for the line of motor yachts that are beginning to exit the harbour. I do watch out for a collision course, but mostly I keep watch for the sharp ridges of their wakes so that I can turn, slow down and ride them in safety. Near the northern shore I decide to take a short cut between two islands; I turn Tillikum slightly so I can glance ahead over my shoulder, and carry on. Suddenly out of the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of a reef. Full astern with the oars and I stop just short of the rocks. A full speed crash would not only poke a hole in Tillikum`s bows but would have catapulted me backwards against the mainmast and centerboard. At the very least, that would have hurt!


I glance from side to side. Did anyone see me do this silly thing? More carefully now I head out into Captains passage and round Nose Point. The long straight shore of Saltspring stretches into the distance up Trincomali Channel. I am already running late.

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