The Adventure Begins

Covid seems to be affecting everyone’s life in different ways. For me, lucky enough to have a stable, “essential” job in Dryden, Ontario, nothing really seemed to change for most of 2020 until I applied for the 2021 Race to Alaska. The Race to Alaska, or R2AK, is a 1000+ km race from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska, that has been running since 2015 for a first prize of 10,000 and a second prize of…. steak knives. You’re not allowed motors or outside assistance and the race culture really slants towards independence and self-sufficiency. If you complete the race at all, you’re a winner – it’s never easy.

            So, late in the winter of 2020, at 1AM on night shift at my high paying but unsatisfying job I sent in a quickly thrown together application to R2AK headquarter – and got accepted. Accepted, even though I didn’t have a boat yet (they made sure to let me know I shouldn’t choose an El Toro!), not a ton of coastal sailing experience, and was planning on mounting a solo attempt.

            So, I put in my notice at work, started to prep, and a month later the race was cancelled due to Covid. Real bummer but compared to what a lot of other people have been going through for the last year, not really anything I can complain about!

            But with notice in at both my job and my apartment, there wasn’t any reason not to stick around. On March 1st I left for BC with everything I thought I could stuff in a small sailboat packed into the back of the adventuremobile, bound for Victoria, British Columbia to look at a old Pearson Triton 28 that had been for sale for 4 months at that time. Unfortunately, I’m not the only one trying to get out on the water right now. All over Canada, it seems that all the people who usually vacation internationally are buying up boats, canoes, kayaks, bikes…. so, I missed out on the Pearson Triton by 20 minutes and spent the next 5 days sleeping in tents and borrowed lodging while I missed out on a San Juan 24, an Alberg 30, and a few other boats. Sleeping in my hammock or tent and getting dirtier and dirtier wasn’t exactly what I had planned for, and I’d had my fill of being homeless in years past, so I was starting to get desperate, so I was looking around frantically for anything at all that would hold me and my few possessions.

            Finally, I managed to message someone who posted a listing for a 1972 Ranger 29 before anyone else did, told them my tale of distress, and long story short “Easy Rider” is my new home and mode of adventure! She is a fin keel, skeg rudder boat with a fairly narrow beam and solid construction, an inboard Atomic 4 motor, an interior that’s quite DIY/spartan, and a very small woodstove for heat.

 The last owners had used her as a liveaboard but hadn’t sailed it for a winter. She had a seized hatch that had an opening cut for it but not installed, a dodger that was starting to tear and wear through, and a whole lot of spare parts and cleaning that needed to be done. The last owners had been sleeping on the settee next to the fireplace, partly because the v-berth and quarter berth were both filled with supplies and spare parts and about 5 Rubbermaid totes of 2×4 ends to feed the woodstove.

So, I spent the next month working on getting “Easy Rider” back to shipshape. The Hatch was installed and waterproofed, the old dodger removed, in fact quite a lot was removed. With the solar panels that used to be directly underneath the boom repositioned to the back of the stern pushpit, new (very rough) fiddles on the galley kitchen surfaces, and tiedowns for everything that could fly loose in a seaway installed, she’s almost ready to go to sea.

I’ve had no end of trouble with the inboard Atomic 4. It appears to be a refurbished model, only installed 5 years ago, but there’s been a persistent exhaust leak since I first bought it, which has proved very difficult to pin down. The gasket from the exhaust manifold to the riser is held on by a metal flange, and that seemed to be where to the leak was coming from. So, thus started a two-week adventure trying to fix it. The flange is only accessible from behind the motor, headfirst down the cockpit locker. After getting the old bolts off and replacing the gasket, I realized that one of the two threaded holes in the block was stripped out and that was the original cause of the leak. Drilled out and replaced the threads with a helicoil and stud but got it in slightly crooked. Bent and hammed the stud into place and destroyed the threads. Finally managed to use a die and rethread the studs and get everything into place with a third new gasket. After all that…. There’s still exhaust coming from somewhere in the system. I’ve all but given up trying to find the source of the leak at this point, I’ll just have to take extra care not to poison myself.

However, all the preparations were interrupted by something I didn’t think was going to happen… My girlfriend Alyssa was able to visit! Her job was also interrupted by covid, so we decided to make the most of the time off. I met her in Calgary, and we spent two weeks visiting and seeing as much of BC as we could. Hiked tunnel mountain in Banff, went to the hot springs in Radium, took an unexpected dip in the marina, did a lot of hiking, and had a fantastic first real sail with her to a provincial park on Texada Island, where we saw the coolest school of fish in the nighttime phosphorescence. You could see the small fish at the surface as little firefly-like flashes of light near the surface, and the larger fish below showed up as larger, dimmer steaks below the surface as they’d dart at the small ones and light up the depths. And a few times as we sat watching the stars above and the little fish below, there was a huge area of the water that brightened as something massive swam below. All the rest of the fish would go still, and then slowly the little splashes could be heard returning as they went back to their cat-and-mouse game.

After a little bit of excellent advice from a friend, I ended up driving back to Ontario with Alyssa to spend some time with her.

And so, for now I’m back where I started, enjoying some good quality time with her. I have a flight back to BC May 10th, and I think I’m almost ready to head north to start my sail to Alaska. Race be damned, I want to make it there even without other competitors and $10,000 on the line (never was much of a chance anyhow)! Still must figure out how to use the tiller autopilot now that I’ve lost my first mate, stock up on food and water, and then I’m off northwards to parts unknown.