Charter a BIG Boat?










To celebrate their 25th Wedding Anniversary, David and Susan Winningham invited family and friends to join them on the 44-foot cruiser they'd chartered for a one-week cruise through the Canadian Gulf Islands off the west coast of British Columbia. Their quirky sense of humour led them to christen this the "Hog Heaven" cruise - they are the Winning-HAMS. Get it? One of the crew-members, incapacitated by recent ankle surgery, thus uselss for any of the real work involved, was charged with keeping a journal of life on the Good Ship R-Escape.


R-Escape  boat  with Mount Baker in the background

The R-Escape

Captain Dave and First Mate Susan

The Anchor Crew: First Swabee Matt, Third Swabee Linda, and Chief Steve

Second Swabee Kendra

Grace and Favour Passenger: Carolyn

Saturday, August 19, 2006
Vancouver, BC to Anacortes, Washington

Pulled onto the asphalt and away from Vancouver, into a mystical August sunrise ...low-lying ground fog wisping through the bog flora ...early morning pink melting into summer day blues as the sun rose into the sky – a weather-perfect start to the Hog Heaven Gulf Island Cruise.

Grim-faced border guards held us up for twenty minutes. Wouldn’t friendliness be more disarming? I always wonder.

Breakfast near Bellingham – international travel has taught us the true value of Denny’s $4.99 Grand Slam. After too many months off the continent, the sight of that big yellow sign always inspires a spontaneous, but genuinely heartfelt rendition of America the Beautiful. That and plumbing. Americans get plumbing right. And highways. They do highways awfully well too.

On to Anacortes, arriving at 8:37 ....first of the crew to report. That’s Canadians – Crew takes the R-Escape through its shake downprompt and polite. David and Susan arrive at 9 ....Matt, Kendra, and Linda shortly after.

Captain Dave and his crew take the 44-foot R-Escape through check-out. Fortunately we had a trial run in May because there is LOTS to learn about operating one of these big boats. I’m in awe of the crew. From a motley collection of friends and family Dave (a retired Navy Commander) is moulding a fighting force of ...fine weather cruisers. They’ll do just fine ...I think.

Cruising out of AnacortesI’m what’s known as a grace-and-favour passenger. My newly-fused ankle is still in the BIG BOOT so I sit in the stern and yell if we get too close to something but the racing around and hopping on/off will be done by others. The crew takes the boat on a short in-out shakedown cruise. No problems, slick operation. We are signed off and cleared to load.

LOTS of stuff to load. Living aboard a 44-foot boat with seven other people requires one to be both minimalist in what they bring aboard ...and tolerant of stuff lying about. Controlled chaos is how I would come to view it. But even minimalist packing requires sufficient quantities of food and marine grade toilet paper to last seven people for seven days so there is a LOT of stuff to load.

The cabins are such ....Honeymoon Cabin in the stern with a massive, queen-sized bed and private ensuite. This is their 25th Anniversary, Second Honeymoon cruise, but even so, David and Susan were insisting we take this cabin. Master Suite on the R-Escape

But we are just as determined to maintain our adventurous rep by staying in the chain-locker bow cabin. The V-shaped berth has an insert making it into a double bed. But I cannot fathom out how to insert the V, make the bed, close the door, and still get back out to the loo in the night. We opt for the brother/sister sleeping arrangement and get busy stowing our personal gear.

The third sleeping option is the bunk room which opens into the engine room at one end. Fortunately the girls are skinny because as Linda states, once she is up there, this bunk is a scant 18 inches wide. We all wait for the bump in the night when Linda hits the deck. Fortunately, it never comes, but the arrangement is a tad claustrophobic and as time reveals, smelly.

The bunkroom proves to be a less-than-satisfactory cabin choice so after the first night the ladies take their sleeping bags upstairs to the flying bridge. After a few nights this proves too cold. For the remainder of the cruise our baby bears bunk in with Matt ...albeit on the floor.

Matt is sleeping in the lounge. The table and bench seating folds down into a bed. This looks comfortable and is certainly the widest of the bunks ...but requires him to exhibit extraordinary politeness while we night hawks sit around chatting. He solves it Off to explore Sucia Islandby falling asleep in front of us. We get the message.

By late afternoon of the first day we arrived in Echo Bay at Sucia Island. Matt, Steve, Dave, Kendra, and Linda all hopped in the zodiac and headed out to the island for a look around. They returned with exceedingly muddy feet ...and a report that they had seen LOTS of outhouses.

Interesting to note that the shale and sandstone layered down there was done so by Matt exploring Sucia Islandthe ocean 65 million years ago.

Sunset at Sucia was magical. The bay was dotted with boats of all description ...bobbing in the water as the sun snuck away behind the trees and silence settled over our world.

Dinner was that great American standard, baked potatoes with all the fixings, smothered with chilli. Never had that before and it was excellent.

Earlier in the day, I’d crawled into my bunk as we cruised towards Sucia Island and been instantly rocked to sleep by the motion of the boat. I’d hoped for a similar experience that night ...alas, our anchorage in Echo Bay was too placid. Very little rocking to be had ...but fell soundly asleep nonetheless. Awoke during the night to gaze through the porthole at a starry starry sky witMorning in the islandsh a slice of silver moon.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Up this morning to a blue sky day ...no surface fog as we had expected, this being August after all. Coffee and banana bread on deck ....slow and easy start to day. Got going about 10, heading for the Canada Customs check-in at Poet’s Cove in Bedwell Harbour on Pender Island.

That is quite an experience. The boats do a queuing dance, skirting around each other while they jockey for a berth at the Customs dock. There is a line-up for sure ...but once you get into spitting distance it becomes obvious that between the big boats there is room for smaller ones, so they are scooting in there ...and some of the bigger boats have been there before and are impatient to see whether there might be some room on the “other side” that newbies are not aware of. So it’s an interesting dance as the big boats manoeuvre back, forth, around ...always trying to be polite ...but obviously unwilling to hang out burning fuel for no good reason either.

Once Captain Dave had marched our passports up to Canada Customs, Linda and Susan hopped off to get more ice. Keeping the “beer cold” is a major preoccupation of the young’uns and they do a fine job indeed.

It would have been possible Kayaking in the Gulf Islandsto use the public showers here to hose down but we’ve convinced Susan that in the “camping spirit” of this casual cruise, it may not be absolutely necessary to shower every day. She is dubious about this. She’s a self-described “Westin camper.”

Cruised on out to Prevost Island, an idyllic paradise that was used for agricultural purposes in the past. These days it’s gentle waters are renowned as a kayaker’s paradise. Linda and Kendra set off in the boat’s two kayaks to explore.Dinner Preparations

Dinner tonight was courtesy of Steve and Kendra ...with Steve doing a lot of whingeing about the terrible, uncontrollable barbeque. But the burgers and bocas turned out okay. No reported food poisoning anyway.

A spectacular, cSunset in the islandsloud streaked sunset unfolded directly in front of us tonight ...shades of pink, purple and rust melting into each other, deepening as the night crept in.

We pulled out Kendra’s Apples-to-Apples game. Linda proved the resounding champion, capturing the most wins and the most loot in the form of priceless Canadiana – rain cape, fridge magnet, pens, etceteras. Oh, did I mention the stunning Canadian ball caps presented by the Canucks? To be worn in Canadian waters as appropriate accessorization for the bright red crew windbreakers (and yes, for Kendra, a shirt) courtesy of the Captain and First Mate.

Monday, August 21, 2006

After Linda’s scrambled eggs and Steve’s toasted muffins we set off for Pirate’s Cove on De Sourcy Island.Boys in the Bilge

Lovely cruise up the passage broken by numerous attempts to clear the holding tanks of effluent. However, even the best male minds on the west coast failed to get more than a smelly burp out of the machinery so we’ll have to see what that portends. We may have to quit feeding this crew so they quit posting contributions.

I also enjoyed learning how to steer the boat today. It’s not quite as easy as one would think, with competing currents and lots of traffic to contend with. Obviously there is much to learn about the science and art of the steer.

Pirate’s Cove proved to be too shallow a port so after nosing in and sniffing the air, we continued back to Herring Bay at Ruxton Island, a sweet spot indeed.

Set lunch out ...after which everyone promptly retired to their cabins and floors to rest or read. I was feeling bad about being such an old lady that I fell asleep ...but on a trip to the head noticed both Matt and Kendra flaked out on the floor of the lounge, dead to the world.

Matt and Carolyn cooked pasta salad, chicken, Portobello mushrooms, and garlic bread for dinner tonight. Not bad if I say so myself. And I will.

Watching for floatiesBoys decided the problem with the poop pump was the macerator. They finally realized it was a burned-out fuse. Once found and replaced, success was declared as everyone lined up at the side of the boat watching for floaters to prove the poop was moving.

Can we spell R-E-L-I-E-F?

The captain unlocked the doors to the heads and we savoured the meal, knowing we wouldn’t have to hold it till Friday.

Tonight we ALSO celebrated Dave and Susan’s 25th Wedding Anniversary by drinking the leftover party champers out of blue plastic tumblers and playing Yahtzee The Winning-HAMS celebrate 25 years.until we started falling asleep between turns. Hope they had more fun in the Honeymoon Cabin!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Slow morning with Linda and Kendra doing their yoga tape on the back deck ....everyone else confined below decks until they are finished!

Weighed anchor and set off. The crew is impressive, working as an extremely compatible team ...no tensions evident at all, everyone doing their job and helping each other.

Set a course for Montague Harbour on Galiano Island.

Montague Harbour offers a picturesque entry ...smooth sand beaches. We have a reserved moorage here for the night and plan to eat dinner “out.”

Weather is much brisker ...read colder ...more of a wind, a chop ...bumpier crossing.

Cell phone coverage is better here, was able to get messages and return a call before the bars petered out once again. It’s real hit and miss with the coverage out here in the islands. Bus to Hummingbird Pub

Walked up the dock to the Montague Harbour for ice cream cones. Also a nice souvenir shop here with many local artists represented – reasonable prices.

At 5:55 we walked up to the road and caught the bus to the Hummingbird Pub. This was quite the adventure as it was an old-old-old school / river rafting kind of bus ...the fellow driving it welcomed everyone then slipped a CD of rock ’n roll standards into the player and we rocked on across the island ...up, down, ‘n around ...passengers in fine voice and exhibiting all the bonhomie usually not in evidence until the end of a pub tour.

Great dinner at the pub ...clams and fish and chips, prawns, veggie burgers, steak and kidney washed down with big pitchers of Sleeman’s beer. When it came time to leave ...we decided not to and ordered up dessert. Much thanks to Matt and Kendra for treating.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Set course for Winter Cove off Saturna Island this morning. Cruising was roughest yet, with Carolyn and Linda sliding clear across the deck in their chairs.

Winter Cove is a beautiful, beautiful place, a small and completely protected little bowl of a bay. Steve went kayaking ...as Matt did later. The rest hit the park / beach on the zodiac.

But to back up a bit, the morning began with another big drama on vis-a-vis the back Captain Dave sorting out the sewage.head ...it was stuffed up. So the first couple hours of the morning were spent trying to sort that out. Boys in the bilge again. Gotta love sexual stereotyping. When it comes to plumbing and poop pumping, it’s all about having the right equipment, er qualifications for the job and boobs aren’t on the list.

At one point the ladies tried to be helpful and sent a plastic-lined garbage can downstairs so Dave could empty the lines into it. Fortunately that was not necessary because we don’t know what we would have done with “the bag.“

Garbage has turned into a big issue on this trip. There is no where to dump it ...no island wants it. In desperation Susan and I did what we should have done all along and sorted it out ...removing bottles and cans and paper ...so that we were down to two small bags of actual garbage. These cost us $2 each to dump at ...Montague Harbour where they are trucked to the mainland.

It’s a different world out here ...with the islanders hostile to the notion that rich yachties would dump their garbage and commandeer their scarce water supplies. Boaters are expected to carry their own water and keep their own garbage under control. We learned a lot.

Dinner tonight was green salad, tacos with cheese, chicken, garlic toast, ....brownies later. This is not the Weight Watchers cruise :)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Underway by 9:30 for Roche Harbour. Arrived about noon. A huge yacht, the Mary Anne, really crowded us but Dave did a magnificent job of parking us. The Mary Anne was amazing though too ...with its side thrusters it just slid into its space while the captain manoeuRoche Harbourvred it with one hand in his pocket. Show off.

Enjoyed walking around Roche Harbour. There is a nice little market ...amazing jewellery at reasonable prices ...quite the temptation. Sat on a little bench, up on the hill and watched the boats come and go. Lots of big money yachts here. You can tell who’s sold their soul to own one. They all wear the uniform ...white pants, blue and white striped t-shirts, milk-chocolate tan.

Should anyone get too uppity, along MV Phecal Phreakcomes the MV Phecal Phreak a small boat with a BIG tank and the logo ”We take crap from anyone.” Nothing like a visit from the Phecal Phreak to take the starch out of the shorts.

Matt and Kendra were thrilled to make significant contact with their significant others ...christened the “Mrs” and “Skippy.” God bless America. The phones work.

Left Roche Harbour at 2:30, headed for Prevost Harbour on Stuart Island.

Linda and Kendra went off kayaking ...Matt took the zodiac over to beach for a look around. ...Steve fished, to no effect. First day out he managed to snare two bullheads which he didn’t even haGulf Islandsve the heart to chop up for bait. Catch and release. Poor investment, that $38 fishing license!

Rest of us just chilled on deck in the sun ...end of another perfect day in paradise. We are tired but enjoying the most relaxing of holidays.

Dinner was lasagne, garlic bread, salad ....coffee, liquorice, popcorn, cookies.

We have pretty much finished the food ...time to go home.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Up early and making our way back to home port, Anacortes. God gives us a final blue Cruising through the Gulf Islandssky day as we motor down through the islands.

Back at Anacortes we cosy up to the dock for fuel ...over $400. Eeeeeekkkkk.

Then the unloading begins. Fortunately, on this trip there were precious few places to shop and we ate everything on board, so there was considerably less to unload and take home then we came with.


Captain Dave

Captain Dave, who was THRILLED to get the boat back to home port in one piece, says he most enjoyed “seeing everyone learning and pitching in. Seeing them progress to where they didn’t need direction ...in fact they are giving me direction now.”

First Mate Susan was asked what most surprised her. “Other than the daily mechanical challenges, I was really surprised by how well everyone got along together. This is a really good mix of people.”

In fact, Third Swabee Linda’s greatest fear was: “I was worried about being a non-family part of a family cruise but I was warmly welcomed and put to work. I was also worried about bad weather and being confined to the boat. It didn't prove to be a problem and at the conclusion of the trip I knew it would have been just as fun and pleasurable either way because of a fun group of people and a beautiful setting.”

The best part of the trip for Second Swabee Kendra was “sunsets, kayaking, time Second Swabee Kendratogether.”

Chief Steve was asked what he’d learned. “I learned a lot about cruising, motoring. I most enjoyed the camaraderie and friendship and people.”

What would First Swabee Matt change about the trip? “My sleeping arrangement. It was just a piece of foam. But even the honeymooners had a tough go in the bed department. Their air mattress deflated every night.”

What would I, Carolyn, the Grace and Favour Passenger do differently? “Nothing. I liked the bunks in the chain locker. The V-berth was a bit tight at the bottom end. Every time my BIG BOOT banged against the hull I was sure Susan would think the killer Orca’s were coming to get us, but the foam itself was better than many beds I’ve slept on in the past year. And I’m trying to keep my edge in that department if I’m going to be spending three months in China, a different bed every night, not a Westin among them.

But seriously, Steve and I usually charge around like bats out of hell on our ‘holidays’. We leave no stone unturned and if it had been up to us we would have motored up to Alaska and back in a week. Fortunately, it was NOT up to us, so we enjoyed the most relaxing holiday we’ve had in years and years. Thanks so very much.”

Carolyn Usher

Most photos by Susan Winningham

Inspired to charter your own big boat? Read on for an interview with Captain Dave and First Mate Susan about what you'll need to make it happen.