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First Experiences

October 18, 2019

The second half of our fall cruise, from our turnaround point in Nanaimo back to Port Townsend, featured several firsts: some good, some less desirable, but all part of the adventure.

First, we found a small fuel leak in the engine compartment as we were preparing to leave Nanaimo. After the short crossing of Fairway Channel to Gabriola’s Taylor Bay, it was clear a picnic stop was in order to ensure we were good to venture out into the Strait of Georgia. George works his magic and we were soon all sealed up and ready to motor on—and were immediately sidetracked by a couple of high-speed whale-watching boats heading into the strait. We followed at our top speed of 6 knots. The whales had moved on by the time we caught up, but it was a great excuse to return to Taylor Bay and take a sunset paddle along the gorgeous Malaspina Galleries.

We next planned to stop in Degnen Bay, where we’d heard a series of petroglyphs had been protected in a churchyard. But despite our fall midweek arrival, the public dock was completely full with local boats, and the shingle bottom of the bay made it impossible to set a hook. We instead dropped the hook across the passage in Wakes Cove, which was such a lovely spot with playful otters and fishing herons and bald eagles that we decided to stay the night. We paddled across to the bay and walked to the petroglyph site, only to realize our inexperience as archeologists or lack of maintenance kept most of the images hidden from view. We were excited when we found one clear drawing that we could clearly say had not been created by weather and time.

Still, plenty of kookie sights, friendly locals, and grazing sheep kept us entertained along our walk. But our real discovery was that cormorants roost in trees—by the hundreds. We watched from the water as they jockeyed for position on tree limbs with their webbed feet, wanting to be close but not too close to one another. I never thought it possible, but they made our roosting wild turkeys look almost graceful.

We traveled through many new areas on our way back into the United States, and had some fabulous wind that let us put our first reef in Eight Bell’s mainsail. We also made several favorite stops. We couldn’t resist another gorgeous night at Wallace Island, and we timed our U.S. return so that we could clear customs at Roche Harbor and overnight in Garrison Bay, ready to paddle to the nearby Westcott Bay Shellfish Co. for oysters as soon as it opened the next day. We spent our final island night on a mooring ball at Doe Bay Resort, taking advantage of the soaking tubs and delicious food.

The breakfast squash tower at the Doe Bay Cafe

The breakfast squash tower at the Doe Bay Cafe

Our final crossing took us to a new destination: Deception Pass. We had a nice downwind breeze that let us make the boat’s first spinnaker run. George couldn’t have been more excited.

Inaugural spinnaker run!

Inaugural spinnaker run!

We decided to stay on the strait side of the pass in Bowman Bay so that we wouldn’t have to make an early start. But our triple-person sit-on-top kayak, the Sea Goat made the passage with ease. It was a lovely end to another amazing trip.

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Extending Our Reach

October 6, 2019

We’re back on the coast for another fall sailing adventure. We’re also back on Eight Bells, the Santa Cruz 33 we borrowed last spring. So our adventures started in Port Townsend, Washington. This trip, we planned to pass quickly from there, through the San Juan Islands, and into the Gulf Islands to see whether we could push farther north along Vancouver Island than we did on our last Canada trip.

On our first day, we lucked into good weather and, once we crossed into moving with the current, a sailing breeze. We also lucked into our first whale sighting: a humpback feeding just southwest of San Juan Island and Cattle Pass. He attracted a lot of attention from the area’s birds as he chased schools of fish back and forth.

We spent our first night in the San Juans in the lovely Parks Bay, just across from Friday Harbor, intending to cross into Canada the following day. But we were sidetracked again by whales–this time a small pod of Orcas cruising in the opposite direction while we were traveling north. These ones attracted the attention of the whale-watching boats. We turned around and followed the parade back south, trailing the four whales–which appeared to be mom, two smaller yearlings, and big brother–past our prior anchorage until they sped away toward Cattle Pass.

We happily changed course for the afternoon, popping into Friday Harbor for a refuel and tying up to the dock at Jones Island for the night. Despite a windy forecast, we had a fairly peaceful sleep. It was disturbed only by predawn raccoons who decided to drop in for a visit; George scared them off the boat with an “Ooga Booga!” Bad raccoons!The next day, we crossed into Canada, checking in easily at Bedwell Harbour on South Pender Island before cruising around the outside of Saturna Island into the Strait of Georgia. We arrived at Reef Harbour in the Cabbage and Tumbo Island Marine Parks to find we had the place to ourselves. We had plenty of nonhuman company as we explored the area: raccoons and deer, otters and harbor seals, starfish and jellyfish, herons and teals.

The birds were a sign of things to come: we’ve seen more birds, in number and type, on this trip than any of our prior adventures. Besides those in the photos, we’ve spotted mallards, red-necked and western grebes, pigeon guillemots in their duller nonbreeding plumage, various cormorants, and several varieties of gulls. We’ve also encountered many friends from home, including bald eagles, Canada geese, northern flickers, pileated woodpeckers, mourning doves, black-capped chickadees, and red-breasted nuthatches.

From Tumbo, we crossed back into the inner islands through the narrow and beautiful Georgeson Passage. After spending a night in a favorite stop from our last visit, Prevost’s Glenthorne Passage, we headed to Salt Spring Island for a town day and stockup at the delectible Ganges farmer’s market. Our next nights put us in Galiano’s Montague Harbour Marine Park and Ruxton’s Herring Bay. Before we knew it, we were extending our reach farther north through Dodd Narrows, across the industrial Northumberland Channel, and into Nanaimo.

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Spring Island Hopping

June 28, 2019

When you last heard from us on Ditch the Dog, we were returning from a fall cruise in Canada’s Southern Gulf Islands, preparing to tuck the Blue Mule away for the winter. I tucked this blog away as well, focusing on Twice as Tasty—which just completed its third year—while George focused on acquiring several new instructor certifications through the American Sailing Association (ASA).

We were so busy leading up to our spring trip that I took a break from blogging while we were on the water. Now that we’ve returned and finally sorted through photos, we have so much to share.

Eight Bells at anchor in Matia’s Rolf Cove

This spring, we were lucky enough to take out a boat that was already on the coast for our opening cruise of the season. Eight Bells, a Santa Cruz 33 owned by friends in Montana, has her berth in Port Townsend, WA, and was just waiting for someone to take her out of the slip. We spent the first 2 weeks of June doing just that.

Sunset from Matia’s Rolf Cove

Our 2-week trip was wrapped around George’s latest project: teaching for San Juan Sailing out of Bellingham. He spent the winter and spring adding to his ASA certifications and is now teaching everything from basic sailing to bareboat charter certification and coastal navigation.

So we stayed within the San Juan Islands this trip, zigzagging through the inner channels on calm days and looping around the outer straits on windy ones. We hit many of our favorite stops, including Sucia’s Echo Bay and San Juan’s Westcott Bay (with a delicious stop at the oyster farm). But we also explored new anchorages on previously visited islands, choosing the opposing bays on Stuart, Jones, and James Islands. New favorite locations that we’ll surely be visiting in the future include Matia’s Rolfe Cove, Sucia’s Ewing Cove, Shaw’s Parks Bay, and Decatur’s Kimball Preserve.

As usual, we found plenty of wildlife to keep us entertained. Herons dominated this trip—it seemed one was fishing on every beach. But the big find was whales! After a brief glimpse of a humpback in the Strait of Georgia, we finally found orcas in the swirling waters of Cattle Pass between San Juan and Lopez Islands. We followed this transient pod—featuring a big poppa, a young calf, and several females—for about 3 hours, trailing them straight into our planned anchorage for the night in Garrison Bay.

We had large tide swings this trip, which kept us a little wary of pulling too close to shore with a fixed keel but revealed plenty of opportunities for exploring tidepools and coves with the Sea Goat. Minus tides brought out not just herons but playful otters, parenting geese, mating guillemots, fishing eagles and racoons, and sunbathing harbor seals.

Now we’re back in the Flathead, busy cruising and racing aboard the Blue Mule and other sailboats. We plan to return for more coastal adventures this fall. George is teaching in Montana all summer through Flathead Lake Sailing School and will be certifying sailors in the San Juan Islands for bareboat charter in September, so get in touch if he can help you make a dream reality.

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Final Days

October 21, 2018

It’s always hard to head for port knowing the boat will soon be out of the water and tucked away for another season. But it helps to have sunny days, a bit of wind, and cosy stops planned on your way out. This time, we crossed from Canada with not enough wind to sail but gorgeous skies and made for Friday Harbor to check back into the US–our first time in this busy San Juan hub.

We found tasty food and brews upon arrival and took some time the next day to poke in bookshops, marine stores, and the small but well-designed and interesting Whale Museum. We learned there that elephant seals had been spotted near Doe Bay–our final island stop–just a couple of days ahead of us, and we were eager to see if we would catch a glimpse of them.

We had no luck for those seals, but when we paddled ashore from our mooring ball to Doe Bay Resort, we found one of the landing beaches had been closed: A harbor seal pup had been coming ashore and trying to climb the ramp to the main resort area. Apparently he was curious but molting and a bit grumpy.

We’ve been making a habit of stopping at Orcas Island’s Doe Bay for our last night before returning to Bellingham and pulling the boat. We discovered the resort and its toasty soaking tubs, tasty food, and welcoming staff on our first adventure in the islands, and it’s the perfect place to soak off some of the traveling and prepare for a return to reality.

We missed the seal pup when we arrived, but there were plenty of adult harbor seals, herons, and other birds to keep the camera in hand, along with a beautiful sunset and sunrise. That morning, after we returned from a final soak and brunch and prepared to pull our lines and take off, we spotted him cavorting in a small corner of the cove. We immediately hopped back into the kayak so that George could ferry me near the cove for some photos, capturing not just the young seal but also a fishing mink as we floated back toward the Blue Mule.

Harbor seal pup, showing off.

It was an ideal end to our brief, relaxing time in Doe Bay, especially because we had our best sailing day of the trip returning from there to Bellingham, with big, steady wind that kept us heeled over the entire way. Mt. Baker was a clear as we’d ever seen, and the breeze died down just as we were heading into the marina. One final harbor seal popping up to check out the Blue Mule as we were loading her on the trailer. Perhaps he was welcoming us back. Or perhaps he was reminding us to return–whcih we surely will.

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Foraging at Sea and on Land

October 12, 2018

You knew I wouldn’t be able to resist writing about food, right? We’ve been eating well as usual aboard the Blue Mule. But more rain and less wind on this trip means more adventures ashore in the Sea Goat to forage at the water’s edge and on land.

George hunting for crab from the Sea Goat

On our first rainy passage, from Vancouver to Prevost, we saw proof that we weren’t the only sea foragers: a harbor seal caught a salmon and hurried to ingest it while fending off hungry seagulls.

We’ve seen several feeding seals since. George has become pretty good at spotting the signs: a bit of splashing and thrashing around with a seagull stationed nearby.

Seal: “Fish? What fish?” Gull: “Gimme.”

Some of our first foraging was at the Ganges Farmers’ Market. We returned to the Blue Mule with oyster mushrooms, strawberries, arugula, and other goodies from the Salt Spring purveyors. The original plan was grilled Thin-Crust Pizza, but we were sidetracked by the fisherman selling wild prawns straight from his boat. That night, we feasted on grilled prawns and oyster mushroom bruschetta instead.

We put off pizza one more night after we discovered safe clam digging and oyster harvesting waters on the edge of James Bay. The parkland, like many in the San Juan and Gulf Islands, featured old orchards from its prior life as a homestead. We grabbed apples, pears, and chestnuts. We weren’t the only ones: black-tailed deer and a piliated woodpecker were busy harvesting as well. Our bounty led to another impromtu feast, this time featuring an improvised clam chowder.

We found even better clam digging at Walker Hook, where the soft sand yielded up handfuls of clams in the first shovelful and a hole that could be widened just with our hands. Ripe pears were ready in the old orchard, and I collected a pocketful of wild rose hips. But George made the real find: a patch of Shaggy Mane mushrooms. We went to bed with bellies full of beer broth-steamed clams, sauted mushrooms, and grilled sourdough flatbread. Not bad for a foraged meal cooked in the open cockpit of a Venture 25.

Rain Likely, Chance of Sun

October 12, 2018

Our prior fall and spring sailing trips in the San Juans and Gulf Islands were driven by a surprising amount of wind and sunny skies. We’ve swung into wetter weather this trip. So there’s been plenty of cozy time in the Blue Mule and wetter trips in the Sea Goat, our kayak tender, to forage on shore–with Julie doing more of the former and George more of the latter.

After the bit of rain mentioned in our last post, we made a quick run from Tsehum to Sidney, to pick up a shellfish license, and then had our first rainy crossing from Sidney to Prevost Island. We anchored quietly for the night behind Owl and Secret Islands, which protect Glenthorne Passage. As the weather bounced between rain and sun, we countinued bouncing between quiet anchorages and quick town stops: from Glenthorne to Ganges on Salt Spring for provisions and then back to Prevost for the night, this time in James Bay; from there to Montague Bay on Galiano; on to Wallace Island’s Conover Cove; and then up to the town of Chemainus for a quick cleanup. From there, we continued to our northernmost point and spent the night tucked behind the Dunsmuir Islands in Ladysmith Harbor.

The wet weather settled in between James Bay and Conover Cove, keeping the wind out of our sails but giving plenty of chances to watch birds, seals, and sea lions make the most of the freshwater showers. As the weather cleared, the sun brought some wind with it, giving us a break from the motor. By evening, it tended to die down again, making for gorgeous sunsets and mornings and calm nights.

We’ve turned south now, making some longer passages to return to Bellingham on schedule–although we couldn’t resist poking into Walker Hook to dig a pot of clams. Prevost seems to be our favorite destination: Every anchorage has been beautiful and quiet, with only a couple, if any, other boats. We’re back at the island for our third night, this time on the southern end in Divers Bay. Our cruise in and an evening paddle took us passed cormorants catching the last rays of sun and curious harbor seals while showing us some additional anchorages we may explore on a future trip. The ferries pass by regularly, but the deep bay means we’re just gently rocked to sleep by the boats’ wash.

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Daring Deer and Big Boats

October 5, 2018

We’re on our third Salish Sea adventure with the Blue Mule and unexpectedly found WiFi just a couple of days into our trip. So you get an early glimpse of our adventures.

We got a slow start on our launch day, so we immediately changed our plans. We spent our first night in Inati Bay on Lummi Island, still looking back into Bellingham Bay but at least on the water. Then we pushed on all the way to Jones Island, a marine state park, coming over the top of Orcas Island with plenty of wind and just a bit of contrary current.

It was a windy but gray day, so I left my camera on the boat when we went ashore for a quick walk to warm up our feet. That turned out to be a mistake: We encountered not just friendly black-tail deer, as noted in our cruising guides and on all the park signs, but also spotted a piebald one. (He seems to be elusive enough that I couldn’t even find a photo on someone else’s website.) Given the grayness of the day, we also didn’t expect a sunset–and couldn’t have been more wrong.

My camera was in hand the next morning, as I alternated yoga with watching otters and herons.

We went ashore again so that I could search for the piebald deer. I didn’t have any luck, but the friendly buck who claims the old orchard as his territory was thrilled to have George whack apples down from the highest branches.

From Jones Island, we made our crossing into Canada, with less wind than we had hoped but plenty of opportunities to watch big boats.

We arrived too late in the day to pick up a shellfish license, so we’re tucked into a corner of a marina in Tsehum Harbor–clearly still in the land of big boats.

For those who’ve joined us here from Twice as Tasty or are just curious, here’s just a taste of what we’ve been eating:

I’m pretty sure that boat is looming over George’s shoulder because it’s envious.

The Blue Mule’s Big Adventures

September 29, 2018

The Blue Mule is on her trailer, and we’re bound for the West Coast today on our third launch into coastal waters. Ever since our return from Australia, we’ve been sailing the Blue Mule regularly on Flathead Lake—so regularly that we joined the North Flathead Yacht Club and have been keeping her in the water all summer. But last fall we decided she was ready for a bigger journey: out to the coast of Washington and beyond. It was the first time she’d been in saltwater since she was moved to Montana nearly 40 years ago. And she handled it beautifully.

Julie’s family is now all in Bellingham, making that an easy launch point for our saltwater adventures. Last fall, we spent a long week sailing in the San Juan Islands, working our way around Orcas Island and visiting some of the islands on its perimeter. We were blessed with gorgeous weather and a surprising amount of wind. You can check out photos from that trip here.

We had such a good time that we returned in the spring for a 2-week cruise. This time, we spent just a couple of nights at Lopez Island before making the crossing to Canada. We spent most of our time around Vancouver Island, with a good mix of city time, tourist time, and boat-only access. We just happened to be in Victoria for Victoria Day, adding boat parades, marching bands, and other festivities to our experience. We also continued what’s becoming a tradition of sailing to concerts, started with our friends Ben and Rachel when they invited us to sail on Soterion to hear the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in the U.S. Virgin Islands; this time, we sailed to hear Rufus Wainwright.

While in Victoria, we had a chance to visit friends, and Julie taught her first international Twice as Tasty workshop. As you can imagine, we ate well, both on land and on the water; George caught his first crab in Canadian waters, and one evening we had an oyster feast thanks to Westcott Bay Shellfish Co., tying up the Sea Goat (our three-seat kayak tender) to her working dock and grabbing a bucketload of beauties to shuck on the Blue Mule. We discovered that Butchart Gardens has free moorage for visitors, so we arrived one evening, grabbed a ball, and scooted across to the back gate when the gardens opened in the morning. We rounded out the trip, as we did in the spring, with a soak at Doe Bay Resort.

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As we roll out of Montana today, our goal is to cross again into Canadian waters, this time heading to some less accessible Southern Gulf Islands and working our way up Trincomali Channel, perhaps as far as Nanaimo. We’ll be almost 2 weeks on the water, and we’re hoping for a repeat of last fall’s gorgeous weather—keep your fingers crossed for us!

Girls Only Sail

September 28, 2018

Earlier this month, I sailed the Blue Mule for the first time without George—an overnighter with friend and fellow sailor Alanna Strong to Wild Horse Island in Flathead Lake. We captured more of the amazing wildlife we saw on the island than the sailing itself, but we had a lovely calm night camping on the boat and a beautiful day of sailing.

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Reviving the Dog

September 27, 2018

Ditch the Dog is back! I’ve been struggling to not just take but actually share photos of our latest sailing adventures, so it seems time to revive this space. I don’t really need another blog project, so expect things to end up sporadically on these pages. But we do hope you’ll follow along.

The blog may have been on a hiatus, but we’ve been busy on the water and off. Here’s a brief overview of some of our adventures.

Catching Up

After our return from our blue-water and Australia adventures, we focused on sailing closer to home—on Flathead Lake. We’ve joined the North Flathead Yacht Club and are keeping the Blue Mule in the water all summer, taking her out at least once a week with friends old and new. And we’re still crewing on other people’s boats for race nights and long-distance races.

George has really stepped up his sailing time. He spent 2 years as vice commodore of NFYC, running the racing program and organizing the annual Montana Cup regatta. He’s on the water almost daily in the summer: cruising, racing, and now teaching. George earned both his American Sailing Association instructor certification and his U.S. Coast Guard captain’s license. For the last 2 years, he’s been teaching through Flathead Lake Sailing School and offering a first-sail course through Flathead Valley Community College.

Julie is still sailing often, but much of her summer time is spent in the garden and kitchen, making good food and teaching others to do the same through her food blog, Twice as Tasty. She recently launched a new phase of the project, offering her services as a private chef for house concerts, dinners, and other events through Twice as Tasty Live. She’s continuing to share new recipes on the blog weekly and to teach workshops locally and elsewhere in the United States and Canada. And makes really good food on the Blue Mule.

Porter Dog is with us no longer. The dog being ditched as we traveled the world has ditched us; he passed on a couple of summers ago. He was a true pirate: stealing the best hunk of cheese, liberating dog toys, and engaging in debauchery with any untended dog bed or blanket. It seems fitting that we keep the blog’s name in his memory.

On the Water

Our sailing adventures are increasingly taking us beyond Flathead Lake. We’ve ventured a bit into warm waters, including the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Our latest adventures have taken us to the Washington Coast and beyond. Last fall, the Blue Mule had her first saltwater launch since she arrived in Montana nearly 40 years ago, and we spent a long week cruising the San Juan Islands. It was such a fabulous trip that we hauled her out again last spring for 2 weeks around Vancouver Island; I’ll be sharing those photos here soon. And we’re heading back to the coast again next week, this time for 2 weeks in the Southern Gulf Islands. We’ll be sharing that adventure here!