November 17, 2015   Catherine Dook

I am the first mate. It is my job to assist the Captain, respectfully offer advice and go about my duties with a minimum of fuss, sobbing and vomiting. In addition, it is my role to bring pertinent information to the attention of my superior officer.

We had spent two weeks meandering in the Gulf Islands, motoring our way where the English Royal Navy cartographers had explored 150 years earlier, perhaps anchoring where the Hecate and Beaver had anchored. This night we were parked in Bedwell Harbour in 43 feet of water, in front of a luxurious resort the likes of which Bedwell himself could never have imagined. (Unless he’d visited Bath in his home country of England and in fact probably did because he retired there with the rank of Commander. He probably also dined in the elegant Painted Hall at Greenwich – but I digress) Upon reflection, Poet’s Cove Resort probably could never compete with Christopher Wren, the designer of the Painted Hall, on point of architecture. Where Bedwell Harbour has England beat is in point of rainforest, which is breathtaking.

There is nothing as beautiful as South Pender Island.

I walked sharply uphill, leaving the man I love to drink coffee in luxury. When I was a child I lived in the Arctic above the treeline, and it has taken my whole adult life to accustom myself to the magnificent dripping colossi of British Columbia’s west coast. I have never seen such splendour. And so I wandered, enjoying myself except for the annoyance of the occasional fast-moving car streaking toward me on the twisting road. Gulf Island vehicle owners could all be stunt drivers. Gulf Island pedestrians are well-trained, cautious people who keep to the left and have beaten a footpath well off the pavement.

Bedwell, I remembered, was an artist as well as a sailor and cartographer. I wonder if he loved the beautiful harbour named after him for its scenery, though as a sailor he would have also appreciated the anchoring and protection.

I returned from my walk tired and happy. John and I rowed our small dinghy back to our vessel swinging at anchor.

It was a dark night, and a silent one, and in the small hours of the morning, as the moon hid her face behind a cloud, I heard water. A hissing, a trickle. I pulled a flashlight mounted on the starboard bulkhead in the main saloon, flicked it on and followed the sound of water to the engine room.

There, a pipe at the front. A significant trickle. Salt. I replaced the flashlight and climbed into the aft cabin berth. “What’s up?” John asked sleepily.

I didn’t want to tell him. As Shakespeare once said (Bedwell, being an officer and well-educated, would have read him), “MacBeth doth murder sleep,” and I was about to murder sleep with darn near as much efficient skill.

“Darling,” I said, “It’s like this…”

John sat abruptly upright. “I think our raw water system has a leak. We have five hours to go tomorrow to get to Genoa Bay, near home. If the pump fails we’ll melt the engine, and if the engine blows out the leak we’ll sink the boat.”

Wide awake now, John leaped out of bed and crouched at the engine room entrance with a flashlight. “I don’t like that leak,” he said. “It’s a steady trickle.” My stomach knotted like a double bowline. “I’ll give the engine a shot and see what happens.”

No!” I gasped.

John fired up the engine from the companionway, then turned the key off almost immediately and returned to the engine. “It’s pouring out now,” he said. “No!” I gasped again. My stomach was a triple bowline. “The only thing I can think of to do is turn off the raw water intake.”

We climbed back into the aft cabin berth with faces so pale they almost glowed in the dark. “Try to get some sleep,” John said, but the Crew had murdered sleep. That night we both lay rigid, each politely not wanting to disturb the other, who wasn’t sleeping either. We must have dropped off before morning, though, because by daylight the bedding was as twisted as if tormented souls had slept there.

John moved swiftly about the boat. He readied the dinghy, boiled hot water for tea, checked the tide tables, and toasted bread.

My contribution was less useful. “Diarrhea!” I gasped. “Stand aside!” and I ran for the head. “I may throw up.” Later, toast and tea having done nothing to calm my intestinal tract, I added, “I am very sorry, Darling, but I am not in a good way.” I was, in fact, paralyzed with fear.
A soft rain pattered on the hatch cover. “I’ll get the rain gear from the locker,” John said. I roused myself enough to consult the current charts. Reading is one of my go-to strategies for stress reduction. We agreed to leave at 0800 hours.

We struggled awkwardly into our gear. John started the engine and to my surprise, great spurts of water flew out of the exhaust. I ran for the engine room. “No drip!” I yelled to John. There was a clatter and a salt spray from one of the cockpit drains, but the raw water system seemed to be working.

The anchor came up smoothly.

We began the five-hour passage to Genoa Bay, fighting current, crawling along at two and a half knots. Able to move now, I checked the exhaust, temperature controls and drip location at 15-minute intervals. We clambered out of Bedwell Harbour, fought our way westward along the south coast of North Pender Island, then inched north and northwest until we could spot Russel Island. The engine sounded and smelled good. I wiped rainwater from the dodger windows, the cockpit seat I was sitting on, and my eyes. By the time we entered Genoa Bay, we were both exhausted, waves were rolling in giving a foot of chop, and the wind was up.

We anchored.

I strolled back from the bow. “Thirty feet of water, 200 feet of chain out, well caught, all secure,” I said. John kissed me. After the engine cooled, John turned off the raw water intake.

Genoa Bay. We were nearly home.

That night, I slept as soundly as Bedwell ever did. Better, because chances are good Bedwell never slept with the Captain.



Catherine Dook was born in the Arctic, a good training ground for what it takes to live onboard a boat. She has written four books about boating, the third of which is called ‘Darling Call the Coast Guard, the Neighbours are Squabbling!’