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Standing Watch, Lopez Island, and adventures in Wine
Friday, June 29, 2012
The start of another exciting day aboard the Schooner Zodiac was heralded by the chime of three bells at 7am sharp by Chef Ian, officially announcing the call for breakfast.
I had a great, refreshing sleep in my little bunk, which had just enough storage space for my backpack and soft-sided luggage. More importantly, I never banged my head on the bunk above me! But a word of advice to the light sleeper: bring earplugs or an iPod to drown out the various people noises at night.
My iPod, along with the soundtrack to Master and Commander, worked very nicely indeed. Forgot your earplugs? No worries – Zodiac’s dedicated crew usually carries extras.
Breakfast was a hearty affair with bacon, French toast and some delicious fried potatoes. Dieting? Don’t – you will need the protein for the sailing tasks that lie ahead, and with a stiff wind blowing down on us from the north, it wasn’t long before the call of “all hands on deck!” rang out just after 8:30AM. We were going sailing again!
On Chris’s orders (“Haul away peak! Haul away throat!”), it didn’t take long after raising the mainsail for us to get moving at a great clip – probably six or seven knots. The Zodiac heeled over to her starboard side, creating a list in the deck that seemed to only let our nimble schooner speed up.
But as quickly as the main sail came up, it also had to be brought down: a tear had developed in the brand-new sail, necessitating a quick take down. We were still able to continue sailing with two other sails fully up, but the racing-style list the deck had taken on gradually lessened without the presence of the mainsail.
With the mainsail safely stowed, it was my turn to participate in the ship’s rotation watch. While it’s optional, I relished the chance to take part in this important part of the experience onboard the Zodiac, and I noticed nearly every passenger took part as well.
I spent my first 30 minutes of watch duty in the Chart Room, learning about navigation and nautical maps and positioning from Brandy, who told me how to plot a course and read the navigation charts, including how to distinguish depth readings, buoy markings, and how to properly read and plot latitude and longitude coordinates. I’ve seen them on every single cruise I’ve ever taken, but have always been embarrassed that I couldn’t read them – until now.
Afterwards, at 10:30AM I rang the ship’s bell twice, twice more, then once to signal the current time before heading off to the stern to see Jacki for a lesson in steering this beautiful ship.
With her help and Captain Tim’s, I was able to navigate the Zodiac around tiny Towhead Island off to our port side, then bring her around the island in order to clear a navigational buoy. Zodiac was surprisingly responsive to helm commands, and I eventually got the hang of how long it took between the time I put the helm over and the time the ship’s bow would start to swing.
After 30 exhilarating minutes steering the Zodiac, I went all the way forward to the base of the ship’s bowsprit to act as the lookout.
This doesn’t necessarily include other vessels that are underway and crossing the ship’s path, but does include things like partially-submerged objects, disabled vessels, or anything that could affect the safe navigation of the ship.
While I saw nothing worthy of raising the alarm (via a brass pneumatic speaking-tube), it did give me a great view – and a new respect for a post that was, up until the advent of modern navigation equipment, de facto aboard ships of all kinds (though officers on the bridge of modern cruise ships regularly post extra lookouts at the wings whenever it is deemed appropriate.)
After my stint at the bow, I spent 30 minutes acting as a relay between the bow and the helm; listening for any whistles through the pneumatic speaking tube and monitoring the VHF radio for any mayday or pan-pan calls or calls directed to the Schooner Zodiac.
Following my two fantastic hours on watch rotation, it was time for another hearty meal served up by Chef Ian. Our delicious lunch consisted of clam chowder, sandwiches, and a tasty rice stirfry, and by the time we were done, we had arrived at our anchorage just off of Lopez Island, gateway to our tour of the Lopez Island Vineyards.
Owned by Brent Charnley and Maggie Nilan, this picturesque vineyard has been producing high-quality wines since 1987, on a six-acre plot of land and utilizing grapes that can be sustained in a similar growing climate, like those found in Northern Europe.
During our visit, Brent explained the different types of wine that are produced at the vineyard, along with stories of the winery’s founding and how its inception came about after a visit to France’s Loire valley spurned him to start his own vineyard on Lopez Island – a move that was made possible by offering stock in the vineyard to the local community in order to raise the needed capital.
While Brent had set out an entire tasting menu for us that spanned several varieties of wine and red wines, my two personal favorites were the Siegerrebe – a dry, aromatic white wine that would pair nicely with spicy dishes or Asian cuisine; and the stunning, organically-grown Blueberry fruit wine, which pairs excellently with chocolates, desserts, or can frankly be served on its own. I could have bought a case of these two wines. Heck, I should have bought a case. All the more reason to return.
The winery also produces a wide variety of wines that are made from grapes farmed in the Yakima Valley in mainland Washington State, including a mellow, dry Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot-Malbec blend that is aged two years in oak.
But the other reason to visit the Lopez Island Vineyards in person is for their extreme natural beauty: the gardens and property are immaculate, beautiful, and pleasant to stroll on a sunny day with a glass of Malbec in hand.
After an enjoyable afternoon enjoying Brent’s hospitality and wines, we returned to the Zodiac just before 5pm and set sail for our overnight anchorage, located between Frost Island andSpencer Spit.
Today was my first visit to a vineyard, and when we arrived at our overnight anchorage, another opportunity presented itself: kayaking.
I’ve always wanted to kayak but never really had the opportunity to do so. So when the Zodiac’s crew announced they were putting two kayaks and the small sailboat into the water for passengers to use, I jumped at the chance, securing a kayak to myself.
As I discovered, I have quite the aptitude for it – I can paddle and steer solo without any issue. So I took the opportunity to take some photographs of the Zodiac at anchor before venturing off to explore the sheer shoreline of Frost Island.
After 30 minutes of toodling around in the bay, I sailed my kayak back to the Zodiac and was welcomed aboard by Jacki, who had a refreshing glass of wine waiting for me as I ascended the ladder and stepped back on deck.
The sun shone brightly on deck over dinner, and the crew once again purchased a large case of wine from the Lopez Island Vineyards for us to enjoy. It was a perfect evening.
The passengers have gotten to know each other and the crew by now, and Chef Ian’s fantastic cooking is another chance for everyone to bond, relax, and enjoy themselves fully.
I am in my bunk as I write this, with just the dim light of my in-bunk light to see by. Lights out is in 30 minutes at 11pm, yet I can still hear music coming from the Chart Room where Seth, one of our sailing interns, has broken out the guitar and ukulele. A game of cribbage is in full swing in the dining lounge once again, and I can hear the gentle pitter-patter of rainwater running down the scuppers up on deck.
I cannot believe that this ship and its unique sailing experience have literally been in my own backyard and I never knew about it until now. I wish they could tack on a few more days to our itinerary – suddenly, three nights and four days seems all too short.
Some came here for the wine. Others came here for the scenery. I came for the ship.
No one has been disappointed!
Our Voyage Report from aboard the Schooner Zodiac continues tomorrow, as we sail for Roche Harbor and Friday Harbor on San Juan Island for a tour of a distillery and a winery!
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