The leaving part is never easy. By the time you’re untying the lines, you’ve concisely described the anticipated journey so many times and answered so many questions, that it no longer feels real, but just a story you tell. There are still a thousand details running through your head; should we make one more run to the marine store? Did we buy enough peanut butter? Where is my phone charger?
But then you crank over the engine, shoo your friends off the deck, untie the lines and wave as you motor out of the marina and around the corner. And that’s when it feels real. The emotions come trundling down on you like a calving iceberg off a glacier: excitement, fear, elation, sorrow, anticipation, anxiety, joy.
As you’re managing all of these emotions, about as well as a teenage girl might, laughing and crying all at once, you peak behind you and see a joyous sight – three more boats, full of people you love, trailing you across the bay!
While we said many goodbyes in Seattle and Port Townsend, we didn’t have to say them all. In fact, we had a veritable menagerie of loved ones with us as we crossed the Strait of Juan de Fuca and into the San Juan Islands. Our little flotilla allowed us all to organically roll out our goodbyes over the first few weeks.
There was DogBark! leading the pack, of course, with 6 people and 3 generations on board: Graeme and Janna, Talia and Savai, and Jon and Vickie (Graeme’s parents and Talia and Savai’s grandparents). Many years ago, Jon and Vickie were commercial fisherman and plied these waters annually. So for this first leg, from Seattle to Sitka, they get to share their long ago stories from this coast with their granddaughters.
Following DogBark! was Irish Gypsy, a 1987 36’ Island Gypsy carrying Tom and Marie, who claim the illustrious title of Janna’s parents (and Talia and Savai’s second set of grandparents), along with their chattering parakeet, PT. Irish Gypsy joined the frenzy as far as Silva Bay, at the top of the Gulf Islands, before saying their teary goodbye and turning back towards home.
Next in line was Hula Girl, a 40’ 1980 Sea Ranger trawler, carrying Shelli (the owner), Stella (the dog), Dinky (the cat) and John and I (the captains). Hula Girl is traveling with the flotilla as far as Sitka, at which point Jon and Vickie (Graeme’s parents) fly south and so John and I shift our belongings and ourselves onto DogBark!. Hula Girl will then head south, relieved, perhaps, to lighten her load of commotion.
And finally, the grand Mary H, a 55′ 1992 Florida Bay Coaster, met us in the San Juan Islands for a few nights. On board is Al, his wife Lou, his 92-year old mother Mary, and Betty, the dog. Al owns the Mary H, and also owned DogBark!, until last summer, when this whole scheme originated with an idea and Al’s old stout boat. Years before selling DogBark! to Graeme, Al raced her to Hawaii single-handedly in the transpacific race and won (twice). Then we all raced together (Al, Graeme, John and I) in the Puget Sound aboard Graeme’s last boat, Kotuku. So really, it’s all in the family. In fact, we make such a funny little family made of people and boats and dogs and generations that I drew our quirky family tree for you.
Our wayward flotilla of 4 boats, 14 people, 3 generations, 2 dogs, a cat and a parakeet bobbed through the San Juan Islands and the Canadian Gulf Islands, sharing anchorages and food and stories and laughter. We made quite a sight, parading into each anchorage. Our dinghies zipped from boat to boat, mobilizing for hikes and beach picnics and cocktails. And as the parade participants dropped back, one by one, the goodbyes felt more natural and less frenetic. All the way through the islands our quirky little family reinforced the love and support we have on this crazy adventure. These organic rambling goodbyes made the adventure feel genuine, validated, real.
I can think of no better way to jumpstart this big exciting ambitious thing we’re doing than with a flotilla full of family.