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Sailing the San Juan Islands onboard the Schooner Zodiac
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Tonight, I am preparing to spend the first night onboard one of the most fascinating ships I had the opportunity to sail last year, the 1924-built Schooner Zodiac. Unlike the wine-theme that prevailed last year, I have travelled to Bellingham, Washington to take part a three-night Brew Cruise that will take us to Orcas Island, Friday Harbor, and Port Townsend before arriving Sunday afternoon in Seattle’s South Lake Union.
To step aboard this piece of living maritime history is to step back into time. I am writing this entry on pen and paper from Berth 30/31, one of the small private staterooms onboard.
Last year I had Berth 35, situated all the way aft in the main lounge on the port side – and I learned where the term “berth” came from. But these berths are cozy, comfortable and wonderfully nautical. So, too, is my little stateroom, which I watched being constructed on my sailing last year.
There are two berths in my cozy stateroom, placed about a food apart in height. The ship’s hull actually forms the bulkhead in this stateroom, and the planks are wonderfully cool to the touch. Each berth has a reading light, and my little stateroom has a small overhead light controlled by a large circular metallic switch that makes a fantastic “clunk!” sound as it is activated. In fact, I am using the reading light at this moment to write today’s report.
Tonight, we are tied up at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal with about 12 guests – including myself – who opted to spend an additional night pre-cruise onboard the Zodiac.
I already see familiar faces among both passengers and crew here tonight, and everyone is excited about setting sail on our three-night “Brewery Cruise” that promises to be as much of a highlight of the San Juan Islands as it is about the stunning Zodiac herself.
Even on this informal pre-boarding evening, Bellingham’s Boundary Bay Brewing Company has provided growlers (large jugs) of nearly a dozen different kinds of brews, ranging from India Pale Ales to Stouts and back again.
I already know what lies ahead – fun, adventure and sailing bliss. I am most excited, though, for those who have yet to experience this magnificent sailing vessel, which was originally constructed for the Johnson & Johnson family.
They have no idea what sort of life-changing adventure awaits them.
Thursday, June 27, 2013
I awoke just before 7am this morning aboard the Schooner Zodiac, the brilliant sunshine that we had last night having been replaced by a steady stream of light rain, faintly audible from my berth as it runs down the scuppers on deck.
My sleep last night was what you might call a soundless one in my two-berth Stateroom 30-31. So how can I go from a suite that’s larger than my entire condo on a luxury liner to a stateroom that barely measures 20 square feet? Simple: it’s all about the experience!
Anyone who has sailed aboard the “Z”, as she is affectionately known, will tell you that the experience aboard this intimate and historic gaff-rigged schooner is second to none – and that applies to the nautical and traditionally-themed sleeping quarters. Trust me: once everyone gets that first evening behind them – and worries about snoring and bodily sounds – the most commonly heard phrase in the morning hours is, “I can’t believe what a great sleep I had!”
Port Captain Chris Wallace and Captain Tim Mehrer welcomed the remaining guests onboard at 9:30am sharp and introduced the crew for our voyage: Jacki, Jeff, Megan, Amanda, Sam, Kris, Juliet, and of course, the fantastic Ian Relay, who’s food I remember fondly from my voyage last year.
Shortly after 10am, we steamed into the harbour and set a course for Orcas Island.
Onboard the Zodiac, guests can actively participate in the actual operation of this lovely vessel, from raising sails to swabbing the decks. If it sounds like hard work, it is – but it’s the fun, wonderful kind of work. Anyone can opt out, but few do! Being able to contribute to sailing this head-turning schooner is one of the key highlights of any voyage.
My assigned station was working the jib under direction of Jacki, whom I met onboard the Zodiac last year. Actually, I came onboard already knowing a good number of the crew, including Chris, Jacki, Tim, Jeff and Ian. Being able to see familiar faces and friends that greet you warmly really makes the experience more like a big family reunion than a vacation; in fact, it’s the next best thing to becoming a millionaire, chartering and crewing your own ship, and getting your friends onboard!
At the jib station, I learned two things: I am not in the kind of shape I’d like to be in, and I still have difficulty tying off the lines (there’s no ropes on a sailing ship) with the correct knots. But I am learning, and I love the opportunity to soak up as much of knowledge and experience here as possible.
Guests can also participate in a watch rotation that consists of 30 minutes spent learning about charts in the chart room, standing bow watch, acting as messenger for the VHF radio and the pneumatic speaking tube, and actually steering the ship. Naturally, I tried to stand on watch as much as possible – it’s a fantastic way to pass the time and to get a feel for the ship!
After a few hours under sail and a hearty lunch prepared by Ian and consisting of some superb tomato soup, Tomale Cassarole, and a Reuben Sandwich, we took down the sails and dropped anchor off our first port of call, Eastsound on Orcas Island.
Ironically, the wind that had eluded us for the better part of the morning picked up in full force once we dropped anchor, producing large waves that battered our inflatable Zodiac rafts as we headed ashore but which had little effect on the larger Zodiac with her 16-foot draft.
Anchored off Eastsound, the Zodiac is in her glory. If I forget about the cellphone in my pocket and the DSLR at my side, it could very well be 1924 again. It’s no easy task to work a sailing ship, and it gives you a great sense of appreciation to see her at anchor, shimmering in the sunlight and knowing she’s the talk of the sleepy little village we were descending upon.
At 4pm, we arrived ashore and boarded the most interesting bus I’ve ever seen – a 1970’s cabover-style Blue Bird bus that had undergone some major reconstructive surgery from its owner that included raising the top and placing a new raised partition to allow for couches, chairs, tables, and two king-sized beds, not to mention some cool bumper stickers and plaques placed strategically on the metal frame. Everyone’s still talking about it tonight, and it whisked us to the Island Hoppin’ Brewery.
Only in operation since last September, the crew of the Zodiac actually bought the very first keg ever produced by Island Hoppin’ Brewery last fall. Since then, the brewery has grown substantially, producing numerous beers that span IPA, Brown, Stout and Lager. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is one of the most popular breweries on Orcas Island!
Things I discovered: I really don’t like IPA’s, but I loved the Island Hoppin’ Brewery’s Stout, which was rich and smooth in both taste and texture. The “Brown”, aptly-named because of its colour, was a hit amongst all the guests of the Zodiac, and several growlers were purchased in quick order for our enjoyment tonight onboard at anchor.
Secluded in our little inlet off Eastsound tonight, I watched the Zodiac first-timers turn into converts over the course of dinner and beer as the final rays of sunlight turned burnt amber and enveloped our anchorage in the cyan hues of pending darkness as the sun set forever on the day that was Thursday, June 27, 2013.
Now, by the glow of the light in my bunk, I am left to reflect on my day of sailing adventures aboard the Schooner Zodiac – and what a day it was!
Our Live Voyage Report continues tomorrow aboard the Schooner Zodiac as we set sail for Friday Harbor and more hoppy adventure! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.
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