The Shakedown

Our plan, upon exiting the yard, was to embark on a shakedown cruise.  The idea behind a shakedown is to test the boat in as many conditions as possible and see what breaks – basically shake it to see what falls off.  In addition, we wanted to gain some experience of sailing on the ocean swell.  These two ambitions combined with stories we’d heard of the beauty around Desolation Sound and Northern Vancouver Island decided us on circumnavigating the island.

We picked up Fiona’s dad in Silva Bay and headed up to Courtenay.  Before leaving Silva Bay we first had to refuel.  The fuel dock is located across the bay and situated between two fingers of the marina.  The wind was blowing 20+ kn and I had reservations about docking there, but there was nothing for it as we needed fuel and we weren’t sure where we would next come across it.

Skipper Ian McGlynn

As we pulled up to the dock Fiona stood ready with a spring line to jump off and secure us.  Due to the wind and my lack of experience I couldn’t get close enough for her to jump.  We really only had one chance to dock and if we missed it there would be trouble.  We missed it.

As we approached the fuel dock, we started getting blown towards the expensive boats on the adjacent finger of the marina, about fifteen feet away.  Going farther forward was not an option so I threw the boat hard into reverse.  The offset of our propeller, which allowed us to easily remove the prop shaft…twice (see previous post), now caused us to turn sharply to starboard.  The sharp turn swung the bow out even closer to the expensive, white, shining yachts.  Our only hope was to use the corner of the dock as a pivot point to bring the boat around and pray we didn’t take too much damage in so doing.  There was a loud and prolonged groaning, like the opening of a massive wooden door on ancient rusty hinges, as the hull made contact with the dock and then slid along it.  Fiona jumped off to secure us, but our momentum was too great and she had to abandon the effort.

We scraped along the dock for what seemed like an eternity until our stern projected past the end of it and we were able to turn out into the bay.  Fiona was still holding onto the spring line like a child who has lost her dog, letting it slip through her fingers, as her father and I drifted away.

The second attempt fared better as a sort of fatalism took hold.  Many such instances simply require confidence, or if lacking confidence, a kind of recklessness.  We have so many control mechanisms in our psyches to protect ourselves from harm that they can sometimes produce that which we are trying to avoid.  If I had approached the dock more aggressively the first time we likely would have been fine, but my caution and hesitancy produced a long scrape in our newly polished hull.

Silva Bay Marinas, Gabriola Island, BC. Aerial photographs of the Southern Gulf Islands. British Columbia, Canada.
Silva Bay

When we were secured, Fiona gave me a hug and genuinely said, “great job, sweetie, that was a stressful situation.”  It was not a great job and I knew it.  Fiona had spent two long days polishing the hull; standing on scaffolding holding a 10 pound polishing tool during the hottest days of the summer.  Only one week out of the yard and we had already marred its shiny surface.  Instead of being angry, or frustrated or accusatory, Fiona was chipper and supportive and chalked it up to learning.  What a difference that attitude makes!  All we have in the world is our reaction to our surroundings.  A happy life is a happy response, not happy stimuli.

The wind did not abate as we left the bay, except now it was on our nose.  The waves that had intimidated us in the dinghy on a little fishing foray, were larger and very choppy.  We slammed through them for an hour, making little headway.  It was thrilling if uncomfortable.  When we cleared the headland we thought about raising the mainsail to stabilize us and provide some forward power.  Looking up we noticed that in all the tossing around the main halyard had become tangled in the mast rigging, around our radar reflector.  I clipped on my harness, eager for the first opportunity to use it, and set out to free the halyard.  After a lot of tugging, the halyard came free and I winched it tight to prevent further problems.  As I put the winch handle back in its pocket on the mast, I noticed a long black shape flapping alongside the hull.  At first I couldn’t understand what it might be, then I realised it was the aluminum rub rail that protects the joint between the hull and deck.  It was peeling off.  The force of the waves had popped some rivets and each successive crash was loosening the remaining rivets.  It was a miracle it was still on at all.

Fiona angled the bow into the waves such that the rub rail was receiving as little impact as possible. I headed up to the heaving bow with 15′ of polypropylene line and attempted to lash the rub rail back on the deck.  It took about 10 minutes to get it all figured out.  In that time a few waves crashed over me and the deck was very pitchy and rolly.  In the tumult and close attention to tying knots I didn’t notice that I was starting to get quite seasick.  We had two seasickness medications on board, one called Stugeron, which is responsible for 80% of the drug induced Parkinsonism cases in the world and is outlawed in Canada, and gravol.  The only problem was that the gravol was in suppository form.

The last time I even remember seeing a suppository was when I was about four years old, running in terror from my mother.  We called them the ‘poop finders’ at the time and, while they were effective, their deployment was always met with a fair amount of crying and shame.  I didn’t want to be out of commission on the trip due to seasickness in case any more badness happened, so I went below and hardheartedly dropped my pants.  It was more difficult than I anticipated and I had to return below a couple of times to ‘reset.’  I didn’t mention any of this to Fiona and her father, but suffered in abject silence.  Fiona and her dad were perfectly fine and having a great time.  Nothing fazes those two.

Fiona and her dad, happy as larks. Robin…clenching.

The nausea began to subside and I became very sleepy.  We hoisted the mainsail and almost as soon as we did the motion of the boat became much easier.  Lesson learned: sailboats are sailboats, not motorboats, and they are designed as such.  We arrived in Courtenay on the evening of the next day, intending to spend overnight and instead ended up spending a week.

Nearing Courtenay


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  1. Carolyn
    September 29, 2015

    After this post full of WAY too much sharing, I am certainly looking forward to the rest of your journey!! Great writing, Robin! Happy travels to the two of you.

    • admin
      October 2, 2015

      Thanks Carolyn! We’ll keep the sharing coming 🙂

  2. October 8, 2015

    Great writing, Robin. You’re freaking me out with the Stugeron thing.

    Tip on the seasickness thing: Chewable gravol in your pocket at all times! That way you don’t need to go below and get even sicker trying to fix your sickness.

    And a tip on Fiona trying to stop a multi-ton boat: Take a quick turn around a cleat, rail, bollard, or whatever and all of a sudden, she can stop a ferry. It’s called “snubbing” the line.

    • admin
      October 12, 2015

      Chewable gravol! Great idea. Since the suppository episode, I’ve found half a patch of transderm V is good for the first couple of days after which the seasickness has subsided and gravol gets used as a spot treatment. thanks for the tips

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