From the October, 2020 issue of 48° North

Will and I met at the Marina Cafe, a spot known for its homemade pastries and strong cups of coffee. I had been talking with him about buying his boat for some time and had even gone through some close calls. Finally though, he was replacing his boat and a decision had to be made. Over coffee, he described all the reasons to love the Hutchins Com-Pac 19 and when finished, the deal was done. Decision made.

Then, two days later, the mandate went out to stay safe, stay home.

Owning a boat at a time when recreational boating is discouraged presented some problems. It also created some opportunities. We had plenty of time to get the boat ready, learn its systems and clean it up. In my head, I started building the list of boat projects that all small boat owners seem to be constantly compiling. While we were not supposed to sail, there was no prohibition against being aboard at the dock so the kids and I took to the process with enthusiasm.

Finally, our preparation and the easing of restrictions came together and we were able to take the boat out sailing. Having two daughters as crew made learning to sail the Com-Pac easy and enjoyable. It also provided a way to get outside while maintaining the social distancing that has become part of our current reality.

We started out with day sails around Port Townsend Bay. It was on one of these trips that my family decided the boat should be called Elakha, the Chinook word for sea otter.

Two daughters made great crew members and learning partners.

Friends sailed with us to Mystery Bay to help learn the circuitous course into Kilisut Harbor. A circumnavigation of Marrowstone Island gave us a chance to test our knowledge of tides and currents. Years of sea kayaking provided an awareness of these forces that proved equally applicable to a 19-foot sailboat.

The next adventure brought us sailing down to Port Hadlock for cheeseburgers at the Ajax Cafe Boat Shack. Winds were light and we ghosted along, sometimes wondering if we were making any headway.  As Carly Simon and Heinz Ketchup told us, anticipation was a fantastic sauce. The Ajax Boat Shack makes outstanding meals, but rarely has a cheeseburger tasted as delicious as it did after a slow trip on a warm summer day across Port Townsend Bay.

As our comfort level increased, we started making overnight trips farther afield. When compared to our nights in backpacking tents, the cabin of the Com-Pac 19 provides spacious and robust accommodation for two adults and two children. A hearty dinner and a glass of wine certainly make sleeping quarters that much more inviting.

My next step is learning to anchor. A friend said that during my first night at anchor, I should expect to get no sleep. That remains to be seen, but I am looking forward to trying and building that experience.

A Com-Pac 19 is not going to win any races or out-maneuver most other boats, nor would many cruisers classify its interior as luxurious. As a family learning to sail, however, the Com-Pac 19 has been a fantastic boat for us. It is forgiving for beginners; but more importantly, it opens the entire Salish Sea for our cruising exploration and enjoyment.

It also provides a way to get out on the water while staying safe during the pandemic. When we get on the other side of Covid-19 and look back, we will not remember it as the summer we lived through a pandemic, but as the summer we learned to sail in our Com-Pac 19.