Cocaine & Waves

  • Sometime in the summer of 2015  –

Tim, the fellow liveaboard sailor who had sold me my little 25’ Coronado sailboat, Seileaster, knocked on my hull one Friday afternoon as I sat napping below: “Ahoy! There’s a bunch of guys heading up to Halkett Bay for a get together, if you want to join.  I’d go but it’s the missus’s birthday tomorrow, and my friend Alex can get a little wild”.

I was down for a change of scenery, even without knowing anyone who would be there: I hadn’t been doing much except lounge that day, and I had no shifts at the Jericho Beach restaurant that weekend.  By 3 pm I was anchored in the little bay on Gambier Island, away from the little flotilla of rafted up boats, as I was still scared to put my sailboat home into any harm’s way. I trusted the massively oversized Danforth anchor I had much more than rafting up to someone else’s unknown system, and I had a feeling that the party was going to be a wild one anyhow.

People started to raft up and congregate on Alex’s boat, a 39 foot steel ketch. Most of us were aboard smaller boats, none of us could afford anything to large, or new, or fancy, but this was a different breed. The biggest boat by far, solidly built, with a gorgeous wood interior and more space than all the rest of our boats put together. Built in Hong Kong, Alex still proudly showed off his charts showing the vessel’s circumnavigation by the last owner.  It seemed like I was the only one interested in poring over the worn paper still showing the twisting passage of the boat, though. The others had started drinking already.

Several hours later, I was curled up in a little pilot berth that Alex’s girlfriend had tucked me into after a few drinks had sent me into a sleepy mood. The other guys had started to call for more lines of coke, and Alex was happy to oblige. This was not my scene at all, but I was happy enough to feel the gentle rocking of the and listen to the music thumping through the boat’s tricked-out sound system. As I wondered if the massive speakers were installed before or after the boat’s circumnavigation, Alex could be heard over the Bass, yelling into his phone “Yeah, okay, we’ll be there. 45 minutes! Yeah, down at the marina”. His friend wanted in on the fun, or maybe he was bringing more drugs; it was hard to tell with the booze in me and the tunes continuing to pound overhead.

This party was on the move, headed to Sunset Marina across Howe Sound on the mainland. As we slowly motored our way across the sound in the dark, we could feel the near calm of the late afternoon start to blow from the north, and slowly build. 10 knots, 15, 20… Nobody paid too much attention to the wind funneling down towards us, though. I think by that point nobody but Alex and I would have noticed a hurricane barreling down on us. We anchored the boat just off the unprotected shore, not wanting to duck inside the marina at night, without any light to guide us. Alex and I left the others gently rolling in the boat, and hopped into his little inflatable dinghy with the 4hp on the back and set off to find his friend.  5 minutes later we were standing under the halogen street lights in the Marina yard, him in his flip flops and me barefoot on the concrete, yelling “Thomas” into the night, the rows and rows of empty boats sitting on their stands looming over us. The wind was continuing to pick up, and Alex was furious. Seems that yes, Thomas was supposed to be bringing the goods, and he was smart enough to not want to show up at a random Marina at 10 at night. We stood there for 20 minutes, listening to the halyards clanking in the boatyard faster and faster.

Finally, Alex had enough, and stalked back to the dinghy at the water’s edge.  We motored back to the boat to find one of the others puking over the side of the boat (upwind… it looked messy), and dragged ourselves back aboard. The waves were growing now, with the wind funneling down towards us still picking up speed.  We set off back into the night to return to the bay, the darkness now encompassing us almost completely. The stars visible earlier weren’t peeking through the grey layer of cloud that now you couldn’t see, but you could almost feel overhead. 

Alex went below to find another drink, and yelled up from the companionway as he headed below “She’s all yours, Liam”.

And she was all mine, for a little while. I felt oddly proud to be the only one not stumbling drunk or dead to the world, sitting in the cockpit behind the wheel, peering at the chartplotter and heading us back towards the entrance of Halkett and safety again. I couldn’t understand what I was seeing, though, the boat was definitely heading just south of the light that marked the end of the bay, buy the GPS showed us slipping farther and farther south. I figured that there must be some error or drift, the wind wasn’t that strong, right? I poked my head out of the enclosed dodger/bimini to check and yes, it most certainly was that strong. I adjusted course  a little north and the big steel boat surged through the building waves with a steady, confident feel to her: this was a boat I could imagine circling the globe in.

We made it back to the bay, and I handed over the wheel  to Alex, happy to be back where I could see my little sloop, Seileaster, again. As we dropped anchor near the raft of other boats and the few solo anchored around, one of the people crammed below decks looked out and started to ask if anyone could see his little 24’ fiberglass boat. Nobody could, and soon we all guessed that the rising wind had torn his anchor loose. I rowed over to my little pale blue boat as Alex, his friend, and his steel boat tore south in the dark and wind, looking for the sailboat.

I turned in below, and slept soundly till dawn, waking to find Alex returned with the lost boat in tow.  Before any of the others were awake, I weighed anchor and headed south back to English Bay in Vancouver, Seileaster happy in the leftover waves from the night before.

(The boat was caught 4 miles southeast, heading for Keats Island. Alex told me later that if we had returned 20 minutes later, it would have been lost, aground and smashed on the rocks.)