Monday, September 29, 2014

The Great Escape: How I spent my summer vacay

Patty here

I’ve been off the grid, bare-boat cruising in the San Juan and Gulf Islands off the coast of Washington and British Columbia. Bare-boat cruising means chartering a boat without a professional captain, and that means hopefully somebody onboard knows what they’re doing or you might end up on Gilligan’s Island. There were four people on our 43-foot Ocean Alexander powerboat, Great Escape. Three were experienced boaters (including me), so we were covered. We were traveling on the same itinerary with a flotilla of about 15 boats.

Anacortes, Washington: We picked up our vessel in Anacortes marina. One of my jobs was to jump off the boat dockside and tie the lines to the cleats. But the distance between boat and dock looked like an Olympic event. I wasn’t going to be able to safely jump that distance even with my Air Nike's. Plan B: I found a portable ladder to hang off the side of the boat.

The Vessel Great Escape
Hunter Bay, Lopez Island, Washington: The first night we anchored in Hunter Bay, just off Lopez Island in the San Juans. It looks peaceful, but that night we dinghy-ed over to a killer dinner party with 56 of our closest friends. The salmon was flowing and the wine was barbequed to perfection…no, the wine was flowing…oh, nevermind. The details escape me except that the two party boats were MUCH bigger than the one I was on.

Hunter Bay, Lopez Island, Washington: the calm before the party

Friday Harbor on San Juan Island: More eating, drinking and yucking it up.

Friday Harbor Marina

Victoria, B.C.: We cleared Canadian customs in Victoria, B.C. I fought against the notion that I had to show my passport. Canada is a foreign country? What’s that all aboot? Back when I lived in Seattle, my friends and I drove to Vancouver, B.C. all the time. The city had great restaurants, Whistler Mountain ski area and a nightclub called the Cave where I once saw Ike and Tina Turner perform so up-close-and-personal I could almost see the cocaine-induced hole in Ike's nasal septum. Crossing the border was easy back then. You flashed your driver’s license, got a tip of the hat from a border agent and went on your merry way. British Columbia accepted U.S. dollars at the shops (they still do) and Washington State vending machines accepted Canadian coins (kiss that goodbye).

When I first moved to Los Angeles fresh from the Pacific Northwest, I used a Canadian quarter for a purchase in a grocery store.

Clerk: What’s this?
Me: A quarter.
Clerk: I can’t accept this. It’s foreign currency.
Me: What? Canada’s a foreign country?
Clerk: Security!

We were cautioned beforehand that Canada allowed no fresh fruit or vegetables or meat into the country (Really? Even Canadian bacon? Doesn't that have dual citizenship?). Liquor was limited to 2 bottles of wine per person or 1 bottle of hard liquor or a case of beer. I always follow directions (har, har), so before arriving in Victoria, I threw out all contraband food (including four perfectly good wieners) and made a list of everything left in the galley (that’s kitchen for the uninitiated) in my neatest handwriting on a yellow legal pad, in case customs officials interrogated me under a bare light-bulb.

Canadian Customs. That's the phone booth on the left.

After all that hoopla, we almost missed seeing the customs dock, which was about the size of a WASA cracker. And there were no uniformed customs officials in Yukon couture. In fact, there were no customs officials anywhere to be seen, just a telephone and written instructions on how to call for assistance. That was disappointing. I began to regret ditching all those wieners.

Clearing customs was quick and dirty, but I felt a little let down that somebody didn’t board our boat and search the refrigerator. I’d show them my galley list and they’d say, “This is awesome. You must be a writer.”

We had to dodge incoming and outgoing seaplanes.

Look! There's one taking off!

But finally docked in front of the stately Empress Hotel. It was smaller than I remembered from my youth (isn’t everything?) but still stately.

The Empress

That night we ate at an atmospheric and delish Italian restaurant called Il Terrazzo Ristorante on Johnson Street off Waddington Alley (Who can resist eating food off an alley?)

Ganges Harbor, Saltspring Island, British Columbia: I could have spent more time in this boo-tee-ful place. My fellow mariners and I attended a wine and cheese party at the charming Hasting’s House, where I could have stayed for dinner for a around 200 per person (that’s Canadian dollars, people! 223.056 CAD) Instead, I ate at a lovely place called Auntie Pestos, which left me enough scratch (that's hip talk for money) to replace those wieners I ditched.

View of Ganges Harbor from the Hasting's House

Roche Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington: Great Escape left the group the next day in order to get back to Seattle and the flight home. We cleared U.S. customs in Roche Harbor. I was warned I would have to declare our garbage and dump it in a special foreign garbage “burn” container. I tried to jettison the bag in Canada but the marina wanted five bucks (and that’s Canadian bucks, my friends, 5.57640 CAD), so I decided to throw myself on the mercy of U.S. customs. Again. Disappointed. They didn’t even ask about my garbage. And there were foreign peach pits in that bag and half an onion!

Roche Harbor has a general store, a few shops and restaurants, some condos and cottages and oodles of charm. At sundown, marina officials had a flag-lowering ceremony that included a cannon blast and canned renditions of various national anthems (God Save the Queen anyone?). When they lowered the U.S. flag, they played Taps (Can anybody listen to that without choking up?).

Roche Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington

The next day we returned to Anacortes, where no visit would be complete without a breakfast at Dad’s (They smoke their own bacon. Yowza!).

What the sign says...

But all good things must come to an end (Wait a minute. Who came up with that lame cliche? I say, Party on!)



  1. from Jacqueline: Excellent trip, Patty - I just wonder why I wasn't invited! Oh yeah, that thing called work. I was in Canada a couple of weeks ago - but the other coast. I remember my first visit to Vancouver when I was twenty-one (another Travels With Corinne adventure). I sent a postcard to my parents - Stanley Park, I think it was - and my mother always said she was amazed I came home again, because I'd loved my time in BC so much. The only trouble I ever had was with the US customs coming in from Canada - jeez, those guys!

    1. Vancouver, BC is lovely, made more so by sharing the experience with the intrepid Corinne. I trust you're working your magic on the next Maisie novel. And as you know, you're welcome aboard at any time.

  2. We were up there years ago on our only vacation in 28 years and loved it, too. It is always nice to see beautiful places, even if it's just a picture and a first class description.

    1. Thanks, Gayle. I'm a native Washingtonian but I'd never been through the areas on a private boat, only a ferry.

  3. Great photos! Such a lovely place. Decades ago I was in BC with a touring drama group and I'd love to go back (without the troupe). Next time you travel, take along the SinC/LA members and we'll call it "research for our writing." All I did this summer was to stay home and write a book.

    1. Deal, Sally! And I should have stayed home and written a book.

  4. You should be a travel writer! Delightful!

    1. Thanks, Paulie and happy six months anniversary.

  5. James O. Born9/29/2014 2:43 PM

    Holy Cow, Patty. This is great. I went to a boat show and I was worn out.

    1. You're a great sailor, James O. Don't be so modest.