Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

Sailing in the Big Blue Yonder

August 24th, 2018
Desolation Sound, British Columbia

I can’t say I wasn’t warned. About a year ago my friend Jessica told me that she thought the toilets could be a stumbling block.

Have you ever pumped one?’ She asked.

I’ve pumped a bike tire.

Not the same. I am not sure this trip is for you. Especially with men on board. They have no shame – no inhibitions at all, doesn’t matter how small the quarters are. You’ll probably be constipated for a week.’

We were talking about a potential group sailing trip in western Canada with Jessica and her family on one boat, Stretch, his father John  and me on another plus assorted boats in our regatta where Jessica, who is originally from Seattle, was friends with the people on board. We would be somewhere north of Vancouver in a place called Desolation Sound.

Jessica was giving it to me straight. The pros – stunning nature, warmer water than one expects in British Columbia, good people. The cons – the bathroom situation. And I wasn’t loving the name. Serene Sound, Soothing Sound, even Simple Sound, I’d take. But Desolation Sound? Made me think of the Donner Party. And that didn’t end well.

Somehow I signed up for this adventure. It seemed so far away at the time. As July drew closer and I was looking for reassurance that all would be well from Stretch, he adopted a comforting mantra:

This trip was your idea.

Okie doke – time to be a big girl, channel my inner Laura Ingalls Wilder, Jane Goodall, Ellen MacArthur – all those people I admired but never wanted to be.

Day one started out well in Seattle. I had my final bath in the hotel, donned my seasickness bracelet and handy wipes – you never know – grabbed my rustic duffel and headed to Kenmore Air’s seaplane airport on Lake Washington.

The two hour flight to Gorges Harbour was stunning…

And things didn’t look so bad upon landing…

I signed up immediately – for what could be my last massage. Ever. (Moby Dick’s great-grandson could still be lurking around)

Eventually, Stretch and John arrived from Vancouver (they sailed the boat, while I had opted for the seaplane route)

The moment of truth had come. It was time to get sailing…

and pumping

I liked the sailing a whole lot more than the pumping – Land stops like these got me excited:

I tried to view the pumping as a form of personal training – working on those bat wings – alternating arms key. Going to bed was a whole other exercise. Here’s Stretch demonstrating – and remember two people, not just one – had to squeeze into these snug premises…

Apart from these jolts to my previously pampered self, I was awestruck by the beauty of Desolation Sound. One particular swim in Unwin Lake at Tenedos was the highpoint of my summer. No people, no Moby Dick descendants, just us surrounded by clear, clean warm water and pine trees. As Jessica’s husband Maurice said,

This swim alone is worth the flight from London. The best places are the hardest to get to.

Below is part of Jessica’s gang towelling off…

Another highpoint was hanging out with Jessica, a 30-year friendship. We lost our tender on day one so she became my official gondolier…

I learned a bit about sailing too – terms like ‘rail candy’ (a bikini’d blonde on the bow), ‘here comes a puff’ (something about oncoming currents gathering steam- very exciting to sailors), and those famous last words, “we’re almost there’ (add another few hours).

Here’s me doing a lot of easing and releasing, I think. My total concentration is due to the fact that Captain John lost part of his thumb years ago not being focused…

I became so into sailing that ominous signs like this on our boat’s broken navigation system didn’t terrify me (plus I could swim to Jessica’s boat if needed)

I stopped looking in the mirror (there barely was one anyway) as Feral Elena has never been my best look. Style went out the window too. It was oddly freeing.

And when our last supper supplies ran short

I didn’t cry. Laura Ingalls Wilder thoughts kept me strong.

We had no wi-fi, no tender, a broken navigation system, no coiffeur on board, and somehow it was the trip of a lifetime – in a good way. I was surrounded by more natural beauty than I can remember with people that I love. Everyone was happy as this really was a total escape with zero pressure to look good or cook the perfect meal. We swam a lot, hiked when we could, made do and laughed a lot in the doing. The wind on our sails, the sun beaming down on us – who knows maybe a sailor was born?

Not to mention, the bat wings -Definitely flapping less.

Here’s a map to help you figure out where we were –

Bon Voyage

August, 2018