Tag Archives: sailing

Setting My Course and Sticking to It

The Baths on Virgin Gorda in the BVI [Nikki Tate]

Several years ago now (how time flies!), I joined my family down in the Virgin Islands for a sailing trip. I have been meaning to write about that in more detail ever since, but haven’t got around to it — until now!

Here’s a link to a post I wrote over on Medium (which is where I’m doing most of my blogging these days). It’s about a rather more-exciting-than-planned crossing from the BVI to Saba in the Lesser Antilles.

Over the coming months I’m hoping to be writing more about sailing adventures and destinations because I’m hoping to be doing a bit more sailing myself. I’ll try to remember to cross-post links here, but if you don’t want to miss out, you’ll be able to find all the stories over on Medium.

[Don’t know about Medium yet? It’s a blogging platform which is member-driven and supported. You can read three stories a month without becoming a member, but it’s not a bad idea if you’d like a way to support your favourite writers. It’s pretty cheap – only $5/month – and when you read and respond to articles, your membership fee is distributed among the authors you’ve read. If you’re a writer, you should definitely check it out.]

Smooth Sailing


Days like this are great if you want to photograph masts reflecting in glassy water, but not so good for doing anything remotely like sailing…

Having just returned from a day on the water it seems like a good time to do a bit of an update on the sailing front. Despite the fact we don’t have a boat (yet), I have marked November 1st as the date we will head for Europe (Greece? Montenegro? Croatia? Italy) for a sailing trip. We still haven’t pinned down destination or duration of the trip, but one way or the other I am bound and determined to be aboard a boat of some sort, for a while, heading somewhere.

While the details of the trip are still somewhat fuzzy, what is absolutely clear is that there is no time to be lost between now and then when it comes to getting myself prepared to take the helm and cast off the lines. Given that one now needs to have an ICC (International Certificate of Competence) in order to sail in most European waters, I signed up for a five-day sailing course through Sea to Sky Sailing. My original dates were to be at the end of March on one of the company’s boats, but then Dani and Toryn decided they would hire a Sea to Sky instructor to come over here to the island to teach them on their boat, Easy Rider. Because they had an extra berth, they invited me to join them, which makes a lot of sense given that a) we’re practicing on a boat we will sail on in the future and b) we’ll be sailing together in the future so it makes sense we’ll all be learning the same way to do things.


Katabatic winds? My study notes are serving two purposes. First, they are supposed to be helping me retain info needed for the ICC written test (my aging brain no longer holds onto details the way it used to). Second, in keeping with one of my 2017 resolutions, I’m trying to add more visual elements to my notes and journals. This has been an interesting process for someone who has never tried to draw anything. If I feel brave, I might post more sketchy efforts here at some point.

On the down side, the dates of the new training session are March 11-15, which has thrown me into a bit of a panic. Before then, I need to have completed the theory part of the course and get my VHF license plus get in a bit of sailing practice. My studies are well under way, but the clock is ticking now and I’m starting to have dreams eerily like those that tortured me throughout high school and university. In those dreams I show up for an exam and find I have studied for the wrong course or I try to get into the examination room and the doors are locked, or I’ve missed the exam date by a week or I open the exam booklet and discover I can’t read the language written on the page.

On the practical side, though I’ve sailed on and off for decades, my experiences have always been as crew. It’s quite a different thing altogether to be in charge of the boat. So, for the past several weekends, we (Dani, Toryn and I) have been trying to get out on the water before we are thrown into the deep end (not literally, I hope). Our first expedition was a bit hairy as the winds kicked up and we were all very rusty (fouled the jib quite handily and rattled ourselves quite thoroughly). Sailing brother, Sascha, popped over from Vancouver the next weekend and put us through our paces in very light airs in a fun expedition to Sidney Spit, a picturesque spot within spitting distance of Sidney.

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Up goes the mainsail…

That trip went pretty smoothly and included practicing picking up a mooring ball. At the end of it, we felt a bit more confident that we had not actually forgotten everything we had ever known about sailing. After enjoying a tasty barbecue in the cockpit, we also remembered how much fun it is to sail somewhere and then share a meal!


Today we took Easy Rider out again, looking forward to sailing in light winds so we could do a bit more tacking practice. Sadly, the forecast 5 knots of wind wound up being 0-1 knots. Flat calm. It was easy enough to hoist the sails, but from that point on we bobbed around in the millpond with two gigantic limp hankies decorating the boat. What forward movement we actually managed to accomplish was more the result of the current pushing us than any impact from the non-existent wind. The fact there was not a single sailboat (other than us) out there should have been a hint that perhaps today was not a good day for sailing.


We may not have buried the rail today, but it was mighty pleasant lounging around on the foredeck as we puttered back toward the marina.

Undeterred, we floated around for a couple of hours before dropping the sails and motoring back to the dock. While uneventful sailing trips are generally a good thing, today’s journey to nowhere gives mellow a whole new meaning.

Wildlife count: 2 seals swimming, 2 seals perched on rocks, 2 dolphins and a bunch of sea birds. Note to self: Take a bird identification book to the boat.


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Can You Hear Me?

Yes, I know – things have been quiet here on the blog for some time now. This is what happens when life gets even busier than usual. Rather than provide a VERY long list of all that’s been going on, let me jump right to what I am doing at this very moment: boning up on VHF radio know-how (well, technically, taking a short break from boning up on VHF radio know-how in order to write this post).


If you’ve been following the blog for a while you will know I’m bound and determined to do some serious sailing in the foreseeable future. And when I say sailing, I don’t mean a dingy on the reservoir, I mean a cruising sailboat circumnavigating the planet (hey, we all need dreams, right?). It turns out that more and more places in the world are adopting actual standards for skippers and crew of vessels heading off into the wild blue yonder. This, of course, is a good thing. I remember a couple of hairy incidents maneuvering our Columbia 24 in and out of tight Florida marinas back when I knew pretty much nothing about sailing. Back then (we are talking the 80’s) there were no standards – you took the helm and took off. And, yes, if this sounds a tad dangerous and somewhat foolish, it was not the best way to get your proverbial sailing feet wet.


Fabio on his maiden voyage – Finlayson Arm – Progress is being made on the sailing front. At least Fabio has now been out on the water… There’s another blog post in the works to fill you in on the details of our sailing lesson.

With this in mind (and very much aware of how much I still do not know about sailing), I’ve been getting ready to get my ICC (International Certificate of Competency). This isn’t a straightforward online test like the Pleasure Craft Operator Card handed out by the Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons – CPS (though, said card is now mandatory if you wish to be at the helm of a boat in this country). [Need your PCOC? Here’s the link: PCOC at CPS)]

The ICC actually requires you to be able to handle a boat under sail, dock and undock, and prove you know what you are doing in terms of basic navigation. And, you need to have your ROC(M) – Restricted Operator’s Certificate (Marine) – basically a license to operate a VHF radio. I’m working my way through self-study material for VHF operators provided by CPS (beyond boring, someone should update the course material!) so I know how to send out a Mayday call (heaven forbid!), should that ever be necessary.

In the course of learning about VHF radios I discovered that the new generation of radios have built-in GPS systems that allow users to push a button and fire off a distress signal that alerts the coast guard to your exact location. These Digital Selective Calling (DSC) – Capable radios may make the rest of what I’m learning about sending out an actual message quite obsolete.

I’ve also learned that in order to use this feature I will need to get something called an MMSI (Marine Mobile Service Identity) which is issued from the government of Canada and which is unique to your boat, not your radio. (If you need to apply for one, here’s the link.)

While I was looking around for how much one of these radios is going to cost (Christmas is coming, after all), I stumbled on this presentation posted online by Boat US which, if you are now as obsessed with VHF radios as I am, is definitely worth checking out: BOAT US DSC Radio Presentation


These days you don’t need to know Morse Code to get your VHF license. Whew!


N is for Never too Late

I know I started the alphabet challenge waaaaaaay back in, what, April? May? And then I was spirited off to Hawaii and got swamped with work and blah blah blah – the next thing I know it’s the middle of summer and I still haven’t passed the letter ‘N’!

Return to Newcastle Island

I wrote about our first trip to Newcastle Island here. I had so much fun on that trip that I returned to Newcastle the following week to re-join Rosario and Denis aboard their Whitby 42, Counting Stars. 


This is not Counting Stars. But it is a good example of how not to leave Nanaimo… These guys were all fine – they waited for the tide to return and then floated off… A tad embarrassing, though. This spot traps sailors in full view of Nanaimo Harbour, the cruise ship dock, and Newcastle Island. 

We sailed from Newcastle Island down to Clam Bay (between Kuper and Thetis Islands), where we anchored for the evening.

spinnaker practice counting stars

A light breeze meant we were able to practice flying the spinnaker. 


There’s nothing quite like the special calm that descends on a peaceful anchorage in the evening. This is Clam Bay in the Gulf Islands of BC. 

The Sylvester family lives nearby and Craig (Greg?) paddled out to the boat with a selection of carvings, including a hummingbird by his sister, Tamila (I’m not sure if I’ve spelled the names right and some googling is not turning up any further information… If you happen to know the Sylvesters and the location of a website, please let me know…).


The next morning we continued down to Poets Cove on Pender Island to take part in the Bluewater Cruising Association Rendezvous. Just off Galliano Island we spotted three killer whales moseying along, too far away for photos with my phone, unfortunately.

The rendezvous itself was great fun, with quite a collection of boats showing up from all over the south coast (actually, from as far away as Mexico!) to gather for food, drink, and sea shanty singing.

Here’s our team practicing our sea shanty…

I had a flight booked back to the mountains, so had to leave part way through the weekend, which was a shame because I was having a LOT of fun singing, feasting, and meeting lots of sailors. Alas, much work awaited me…

New Books

Deadlines are deadlines and Dani and I were busy putting the finishing touches on two new books in the Orca Origins Series. Happy Birthday: Beyond Cake and Ice Cream should be out in the fall of this year. Christmas: From Solstice to Santa will be out in the Spring of 2018. Deadpoint, the climbing novel which will be part of the Orca Sports series should be out early in January of 2017. Perhaps the best part of writing these new books has been the research. From digging through family photos to interviewing various people to climbing mountains, reading some very cool books, and stumbling across some nifty corners of the internet, at every turn we learned lots and had fun while doing so.

old christmas photo

Forgive the terrible quality of this photo of a photo – this is my mother and her brothers and sister (and a cousin?) in Germany. Note those are real candles on the Christmas tree! No fire hazard there, I’m sure. 

Hard on the heels of those books are three more, currently in the research and writing stage. One is a biography for kids about Elizabeth May (more on that soon), a handbook for young activists (which will also feature profiles about some pretty amazing kids who are making real changes in the world), and a picture book about climbing. Oh, and then there’s another in the Orca Footprints series which, at its heart, is about love, community, and cooperation. It’s been interesting starting to research this one – my reading has taken me to distant places like the Congo where researchers are studying bonobos in order to learn more about what it means to be human. More, too, on this in a future post.

Also in the works (I may be done with text edits?) is a picture book that’s been picked up by Holiday House in New York. Subject matter? Bricklaying and baseball. And feminism. At the moment the search for an illustrator is on – I’m very curious to see who is selected and how he or she will tackle the artwork. Stay tuned…

I think that’s it for the children’s book projects. Whenever I can, I’m also working away on an adult memoir/popular science/medicine manuscript tentatively titled, The Dissolution of HW, which is about the nature of personality and my mother’s struggle with Pick’s Disease.

In the ‘waiting to see how it all turned out’ department, there’s Scylla and Charybdis, which may be out before the end of the year with Pearson. A retelling of part of The Odyssey, it was both challenging and fascinating to find a way to stay true to Homer’s story but still be accessible to a contemporary audience. Very much looking forward to seeing this when it comes out.

Never too Late

And, finally, in the ‘it’s never too late’ department, it’s never too late to set some crazy goals. I will mention ‘Navigate around the world’ again here just so you know I haven’t forgotten about this project.

leading 5.11a sunshine slabs

Approaching the crux on a pumpy 5.11a at Sunshine Slabs. Missed the clip right at the crux near the top and came flying off, but I will be back! (And by flying off, I mean, I fell as far as the previous clipped bolt… and, because this is a pretty steep, overhanging kind of climb, I didn’t really hit anything – just dangled for a bit until I gathered my thoughts and tried again. Never did make it all the way up on this particular afternoon, though I climbed it on toprope a few days later, which means I can get up there. So, leading this one is definitely within reach… And if I can lead a 5.11a, could 5.12 be far behind?)

And, I’m going to state publicly that before I die I am going to Nail a 5.12 climbing route. 5.12 is a grade of climb that’s decently challenging and which, though I sort of had this as a streeeeeeeeetch goal, I really doubted I could accomplish it until very recently. Two things changed my mind. First, I’ve been going to a physiotherapist and a personal trainer who are working together to develop a program for me to deal with my ongoing shoulder (torn labrum) and elbow (after effects of the dislocation/ligament shredding) issues. The results have been amazing and I’ve been seconding routes of various types in the 11s without suffering any terrible after effects. I’ve also made huge strides recently in the leading department and just last week successfully led my first 10d. Suddenly, it looks like I might get to 5.12 before old age and infirmity get to me. So there you go, I’ve gone and made a public declaration of my intentions! That’s the first step, right?

Gone Sailing

A pause in the climbing-themed blogging as I take a moment (well, a couple of weekends) for a sailing interlude… I will resume my climb through the alphabet soon, but at the moment, my world has taken a decidedly watery turn.


The docks at Newcastle Island. Oh, we do live in paradise.

Not long ago I joined the Bluewater Cruising Association, a group of offshore sailors who have either been-there, done-that or who are planning to go-there, do-that. I am in the latter category, obviously – my open water crossings between the BVI and the Dutch West Indies hardly qualify me as a blue water sailor even though the crossing to Saba was decidedly awful (probably deserves a blog post all its own at some point).

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Storm clouds gather last year in the Caribbean…

Despite my recent land-based exploits, I have never stopped hankering after a long sailing expedition – and, by long, I mean a circumnavigation. I have no idea if I’ll ever actually get all the way around the globe, but I certainly would like to get on a boat and go somewhere far away….

With this in mind, I figured it would be a good idea to re-join the Power Squadron, take some navigation courses, and try to connect with some legitimate sailing types (as in, people who currently have boats). The Bluewater Cruising Association turns out to be a treasure trove of boats of all shapes and sizes (and their crews, who come in all shapes and sizes, too).


On the dock at Newcastle Island watching as participants practiced mast-climbing…

Last weekend Fabio and I joined the group on Newcastle Island (in Nanaimo’s harbour) for a weekend of learning about on-board safety. We joined Denis and Rosario aboard their boat Counting Stars, a Whitby 42 ketch.


Fabio following his speedy escape through a hatch after putting out a fire below (while blindfolded).  Oh, what fun and games we had at MIST (Mid-Island Sail Training).

We practiced fire drills (blindfolded, we took turns simulating putting out an engine fire and then exiting the vessel via a hatch), pumped out the bilge by hand, and prepared to abandon ship. Each drill underscored the need to have a plan, be prepared, and not panic. There was lots of laughter as we learned some pretty serious lessons about the importance of knowing how to get off the boat in a hurry but also realizing that in most cases staying aboard was actually the safest place to be.

After our dockside exploits, we set off on a blind navigation exercise in which we had to locate a buoy a few nautical miles away without using our electronic navigation systems. We’ve all become very dependent on iPads and chart plotters to find our way around, so it was pretty cool to see our ‘blind’ navigator, Rosario finding her way to the buoy even in a simulated thick fog without the benefit of radar or other hi-tech gadgetry.


Chart plotting the analog way…

We had so much fun on that weekend (I wrote a bit more about it in an article over on the Bluewater Cruising website – I’ll add the link once that’s been posted) that I decided I really didn’t want to miss out on the following weekend’s fun at the group’s rendezvous to be held on Pender Island over the May long weekend.

Which is why I’m sitting aboard Counting Stars once again, typing this as I await our boat ride over to Nanaimo to pick up a few provisions for our trip down to Pender.


Last weekend – Rosario, Denis and Fabio aboard Counting Stars. Can you blame me for wanting to come back for more?

Happy, happy, happy is how I’d describe my mood at the moment, despite the fact it’s chilly and the rain is pouring down outside. There’s something sort of cozy and reassuring about the sound of rain pattering down on the canvas dodger over the cockpit, the main companionway hatch open to let in the fresh morning air. Not that I’m happy about the rain, more like I’m so happy to be on a boat not even the rain can dampen my mood. This may change by the time we’ve spent the day sailing (or motoring, there’s no wind… of course), but for the moment I am thoroughly enjoying all the familiar smells of diesel and salt air, fresh coffee and seaweed.


Can’t beat that view from my hatch!!

It’s also a lot of fun to be reminded of all those things about living on the boat that one forgets about until it’s time to find something in the very bottom of the fridge (fishing out the milk for this morning’s coffee caused an avalanche of smaller items that slithered into the hole left by the jug), flush the head (or walk up the hill to the on-shore facilities), or move piles of life jackets aside to find a place to sit.

And, there are all the wonderful aspects of life aboard, including good company and the extra good taste of coffee when accompanied by the background music of shorebirds greeting the day!