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Rosario Rendezvous on Orcas Island results in Mt Constitution Thrill Ride

Rosario Rendezvous 2010
        The best cruise yet!  I'm sitting in my home gazing out the window at my land locked nautical variation of a  RV camper, (my boat on a trailer) I drift off and begin day dreaming again.  This must be the 100th time since New Years that I have imagined our upcoming summer cruise.  The trip is planned for July right after the fourth and we are going to cruise the Washington San Juan Islands again. This trip our focus will be whale watching, (the last trip was whale watching too), but we were sidetracked meeting up with our daughter at Rosario Resort on Orcas Island.  As I remember we supplied the trailerable yacht, cheese and wine, she supplied the car that seats four, and two friends. It turns out we had no cell phone service so we were glad we had earlier made plans to meet this afternoon. The weather was pleasant, and balmy with hardly a breeze in the air.  It’s just about sundown when they wave to us from the parking lot at Rosario.

Boat camping at Jones Island Marine Park in the San Juan Islands

Rosario marina and gas dock - anchor area to right out of picture
           We leave “Sunshine” our  25 foot sailboat, tied to an anchor buoy.  The three of us  quickly paddle the dinghy ashore.  Soon we are six in a Subaru that seats four.  I’m a happy camper I get a front seat, we are heading for the top of Mt Constitution, the highest point in the San Juan Islands. At about 2400 feet I expect to have a fantastic view and see a gorgeous sunset.  But, like whale watching, it was not meant to be. When we arrive at the summit, the sun has been blocked and was settling into a thick blanket of fog that seemed to cover the western half of the world, the temperature felt like it had dropped to minus 50 and the wind was a howling gale the likes of which only arctic explorers are capable of surviving.  I was glad we didn’t walk from the boat as I had once planned, if the seven miles of winding uphill switchbacks didn’t kill me, I’m sure the elements would’ve done me in just the same. We quickly scan the fog free remaining eastern views to spot Anacortes, Bellingham, Mt Baker, and  Lummi Island.  Ocean freighters and Ferries far below look like toys. The swirling currents of Rosario Strait are clearly visible.  South of us we can see the Strait of Juan De Fuca and one edge of the fog bank. The frigid cold wind is biting into us. It had never occurred to me to bring a coat. We soon leave Mt Constitution to the only other people around, two lonely cold but hardy tourists.  Climbing back into the Subaru is the beginning of a fast and scary bobsled ride back to sea level. Coming down I don’t remember near so many switchbacks or how steep the road is.  In minutes we are back at Rosario.  I invite everyone out to the boat for wine and snacks.  It takes three dinghy trips to get the six of us on board, and it’s just about dark when we hang a dim flashlight from the backstay and break out a cheese and cracker assortment, along with a 1.5 liter bottle of fine (read cheap) Merlot.   Before long, we are lost in conversation and story telling. Jaiden enjoys being Sunshine’s wine and cracker steward.  A second bottle of something just as red but decidedly different appears and the night is fast upon us.  The darkness is almost total without the moon. even though the dock is only a short distance away, it can’t be seen, nor can the half dozen or so other boats anchored nearby. Eventually our daughter and her friends decide it’s time to leave and that our dinghy for three can take four of them in one trip. After all, the water is flat calm and its not far to the dock, even if you can’t see it. Why not give it a try.

Dinghy ride at Rosario resort
Freeboard is a relative term.

           They carefully cast off and paddle in the direction of the dock; the silence is complete as we listen for problems.  A few minutes later, our son reappears without his passengers.  Linda and I are both relieved, even though we know they are quite capable, it’s still unnerving having your children paddle off into the darkness in a boat overloaded and only a few inches above the water.  That night I slept very well indeed, I always do on board. . In the morning we go ashore to stretch our legs and check out the new sites.  In earlier years we have toured Rosario, so we skipped the mansion tour, didn’t play outdoor shuffle board, skipped the swimming pool, ignored the gardens where they hold weddings, but we did read the new CafĂ©'s menu and decided we couldn’t afford to eat out.  In the little store, we noted the inflated price for a bottle of propane and felt we shouldn’t be cooking either.  In the tourist souvenir section I try really hard to find something I want enough to be willing to pay a premium for it, and finally settle on some post cards. Post cards are a good way of assuring I get  quality pictures.  In good time we step back into the warm morning sunshine and stroll the manicured Rosario lawns just in time to watch Jaiden petting a deer and scratch its head. After awhile I’m sure I must have said “it’s time to go” but it really wasn’t, it was time to stay.

Playing Chicken with a Canadian Ferry

Ferry boat
This is not a Canadian ferry

When Ferry Boats Attack!

Far off in the distance, I can barely make out a small town named Crofton. The town holds no particular interest to us, but the Canadian Ferry that runs from Crofton to Salt Spring Island is on the move. The sun is high, the water smooth, and visibility is unlimited. The ferry is still many miles away, just a speck on the horizon, hardly a cause for concern, or so I think. However, today my assumptions are wrong. We will cross paths with the ferry, that much is certain, but where, when, and how close will we be? Will the ferry cross in front of us, or will we cross in front of the ferry? We are on an intersecting course, so avoiding a collision is a top priority.

Quintin is at the helm of "Quartet," our rented forty-foot trawler, as we return from the Gulf Islands in the north. Tomorrow, we will dock at San Juan Island to clear customs. Quartet plods along at a slow and steady fuel-saving four mph, right down the middle of the wide waterway that separates the two islands. The day is characterized by clear blue skies and motionless inky seas. No other boats are in sight, and except for the occasional seal popping its head up, we are alone. The ferry becomes more visible as it moves swiftly off to the side, demanding our close attention in search of clues about its course or the captain's intentions. As the distance between us shrinks, our concerns grow.

This inter-island ferry is double-ended, with a high pilothouse at each end, enabling it to move forward or backward with equal ease. With propellers and rudders at both ends, and rounded features instead of a bow or stern, it is challenging to discern the exact direction this marine monster is pointed in or where it is heading. But today, it seems to be pointed straight at us.

The discussion in Quartet's wheelhouse is straightforward: Where is the ferry headed, and what should we do? The ferry is moving at considerable speed, rapidly closing the gap between us. We continue straight on our course, and I ponder what to do because something is about to happen, and soon. I have several choices. We are already going slow, so we could simply stop dead in the water and let the ferry run over us, but that's not a good option. We could turn away and try to outrun the ferry, but that's not even possible. We could turn directly at it, hoping it will back off to avoid damaging its paint job, but that seems like a foolish move as well. I yell over to Quintin, whose hands grip the throttle and steering wheel with tension.

"Why don't you speed up a little?" I suggest. Quintin is relieved to have something to do, anything to avoid being a sitting duck in front of an onrushing ferry. He pushes the throttle forward, and Quartet surges ahead, doubling its speed. Our once fuel-saving, wake-free path now generates a three-foot curl of water. If there are any small boats nearby, they will undoubtedly give us a big, friendly thank-you wave for sending them a boat-swamping wake. The ferry gradually changes its course, following us while still heading directly at us. I contemplate calling him on the radio, wanting to ask, "What the hell do you want us to do, you big bully? Leave us alone!" The distance between us dwindles to about half a mile, with Quartet directly in front of the ferry, and it seems we are about to be run down. Perhaps the ferry is on autopilot, and nobody sees us. Maybe no one is even paying attention. Once again, I urge Quintin to speed up. Quartet responds, billowing a huge plume of black smoke as Quintin willingly pours on the coal. Our fleeing wake is now fit for surfing. The big diesel motor is guzzling fuel at an astonishing rate. The ferry is no longer bearing down on us; they will pass well behind us unless they change course again. We pull away from certain death, and the ferry lets us go. Quintin throttles back, returning to our earlier leisurely pace.

We breathe sighs of relief and start to relax once again in the wheelhouse when suddenly the VHF marine radio crackles to life, startling us all.

"This is the Canadian Ferry calling the American motor yacht Quartet," a voice announces. I glance over at Quintin and motion for him to respond since the microphone is hanging right next to him. His response to me is, "I didn't do anything. It's not my fault. I'm not driving," and he walks out the door, leaving me alone with no one steering the boat and a ferry captain likely wanting to discuss the incident. I walk over to the helmsman's seat and make myself comfortable. I am quite certain the ferry captain thinks we got in his way, so to avoid causing an international incident while we are in foreign waters, I speak into the microphone and simply say, "This is Quartet; I apologize for getting in your way!" There is no response from the ferry, and there are no further radio communications. Quartet continues on a steady course straight down the middle, and once again, we are alone.

The End

Note: This is a true story, and if the ferry skipper reads it, I'm sure he will have something to say.