Socked in

By Erik Dolson

The two-cycle Yamaha outboard on the dinghy used to start on first pull, but had recently become balky. Of course, this morning it did not start despite careful attention to our ritual: key, choke, throttle, pull.

That meant it might take five pulls, or 20, or that I would have to wait for a few minutes for the combustion chamber to clear, the spark plug to dry. The motor had acquired an attitude, possibly bad intent. Timing seemed malevolent. It was a little after 7 a.m., and I had a ferry to catch.

Fog lay close to the water, too. I couldn’t see more than a couple hundred feet. I’d need to take special care when crossing the ferry route from my sailboat to the dock where I get off the dinghy to walk to the ferry terminal.

The Yamaha came to life on about the tenth pull, then ran without a sputter just like there was no problem at all, like it had just been waiting for me to ask.

“Bastard,” I said, then realizing my ongoing dependence quickly added, “Just kidding!”

I wanted to crank the throttle wide open and scoot across the channel, but the water was glassy smooth and full of sticks and seaweed at a minus low tide. I imagined what it would be like to hit something, kill the motor or worse, have to limber the oars and row across with a ferry bearing down in the fog.

I resisted the temptation and motored carefully across. The early start meant there was still plenty of time.

More than I knew.

After getting coffee and slice of “egg pie” with ham, bacon, and cheese from The Bean, my favorite café (unasked, Holly reheated the quiche when I told her I needed it to go), I wandered down to the ferry dock. Between bites, I tracked the ferry online. It was late.

Of course it was late.  The ferry wasn’t going to steam at full speed, possibly running over inattentive boaters, some without radar or tracking devices of their own, or those in a dinghy recklessly thinking they could cross in front of a ferry hidden in the fog. The Samish blew its horn from the other side of Brown Island, warning boaters of its presence before easing into the harbor.

This is August in the San Juan Islands. Warmish moist air settles down onto 55 degree water, causing fog. The month is nicknamed “Fogust” by locals.

The ferry bellowed about every 20 or 30 seconds. It’s a huge sound, felt as much as heard. Normally you see the ferry approach, becoming larger as it comes closer. But this morning the Samish suddenly appeared out of the fog, already huge, towering and heavy, and slid into its berth.

We loaded and departed, 40 minutes late. Fog clung to the water for the entire trip over to Anacortes. The Samish bellowed to alert those who cannot see, who cannot be seen.

Owning our own time

By Erik Dolson

Just now on channel 16  a man said, “White sailboat with blue stripe near the entrance to Roche Harbor, you are approaching a pod of orca. Stop your boat.”

After about 20 seconds, a woman came on the radio and said, “Thank you for the alert. Our engines are off.” Or something similar. It’s nice hearing sailors (power or sail) sharing respect for these truly magical creatures.

Since I left the entrance to Roche Harbor about four hours ago, I was disappointed not to have been there to see the orca. But I’ve seen them up close in Alaska and will treasure that memory until I create another.

Arrived in Blind Bay about noon or so, I really don’t keep track of time when on the boat. Okay, I don’t really keep track of time at all, anymore. There’s a certain timelessness at this age I didn’t have for most of my life. I was born impatient. Glad I’ve mostly recovered.

Jimmy told me once, when we were on his boat in Panama, that one of the things he treasured most about cruising with Leslee on their boat was that “I own my own time.”

Incredibly able and creative, he may have been the only person I ever knew who was born even more impatient than me. He hid it better though, behind a habit of being just a little late for whatever was most important on his schedule. I named  the inevitable chaos that resulted after them, which I don’t think he appreciated partly because it was so spot on.

Leslee said we were brothers of different mothers. I miss him every day. There’s a certain timelessness to that, too.

There’s no reason to put down the crab pot. The season won’t open again until Thursday, when I’ll be back in the truck heading south to Oregon, to tasks and paperwork, clocks and calendars, and smoke from forest fires.

Maybe I should drop the dinghy back into the water regardless, but I don’t know that I’ll need to go anywhere. That depends on what Karen and Joe want to do when they get here in their wonderful Swedish boat, Zephyr.

I have fresh mussels and clams to steam up for appetizers. regardless. I hope they have butter. Maybe I should drop the dinghy and motor over to the tiny store at the ferry landing on Shaw Island. I could get a bottle of Talking Rain while I’m there.

Ah, I have to drop the dinghy in any case, it blocks the only easy way to get on board. As good as reason as any. Maybe I’ll motor over to see that catamaran a couple hundred yards away.