Downriver

n a clearing rain and soft mist LITTLE JOY slid through calm water to the middle of the Mississippi River, about 2 miles below Lock and Dam #1 in Minneapolis, the highest navigable on the Mississippi River. The river, here at Hidden Falls, is only 100 yards wide, clear and cold, with a gentle but . . .

A Superior Circumnavigation

By 6 a.m. we were slipping across exceptionally glassy water, paddling in silence. The water felt frictionless. The shore was lined with cliffs, with homes perched on the ledges high above the water. At this hour, yards and decks were quiet, and there was no one to be seen. After an hour an intermittent breeze dragged dark patches across the silvery water. Soph and I were reluctant to break the silence, and kept to our routine of paddling fastest before taking our first snack break.

Missouri Breaks

NEWT would have made an odd sight—if there had been anyone to see—as I backed the trailer down the slippery ramp. My daughter and I had built the hull several years ago year, a Chester Yawl kit from Chesapeake Light Craft. In preparation for my Puget Sound trip, I had modified it with arched decks fore and aft, leaving space for a small cockpit in the middle. The decks are covered with high-efficiency solar cells that can generate 400 watts, enough electricity for a customized trolling motor to drive the boat indefinitely at about 5 mph on sunny days. Lithium phosphate batteries provide about 4 hours cruising in reserve for cloudy days and early mornings. A small tent covers the cockpit to provide a small but cozy sleeping area.

River People

Our re-creation of a historic shantyboat was similar to those that used to dot the banks in every river town on the continent through the early 20th century, the kind of houseboat built by workers and vagabonds who needed to live on the cheap. In that tradition, we built our shantyboat by hand, from the wooden skegs to the gable roof, using mostly reclaimed materials. Redwood from a 100-year-old chicken coop, corrugated tin from an old outhouse, and single-pane windows pulled out of old houses contribute to a houseboat that looks like it floated out of a history book.

Sea Trial

The 4-mile row to the north end of Calvert Island brought me to Hakai Pass, its waters rising and falling with the ocean swell as gently as the chest of someone still asleep. I made the crossing in about an hour and entered Ward Channel, a 1-1/2-mile-long alley just a few hundred yards wide. The swell diminished and the black water along the shore mirrored the band of gray rock beneath the trees; the closer to shore I rowed, the harder it was to distinguish the presence of water from emptiness. A raven flew by dozens of yards away; I could hear the faint crinoline rustle of its feathers.

Sea Trial

When I set out from Mukilteo, Washington, late in July of 1980, the wind was light, barely ruffling the silvery expanse of Possession Sound.  I set all sail—the sprit-rigged main, the jib and flying jib, topsail and jib-topsail—but wouldn’t think of GAMINE as a topsail cutter. She was just a 14’ dory skiff, the first wooden boat I had ever built. Aside from her broad plywood garboards, she was traditionally built with western red cedar planks on both sawn and steam-bent white oak frames. While I’d been day-sailing her for about a year and adding sails one by one until there was no room for more, I’d never done an overnight cruise with her or any small boat.  Now I was headed north to sail the Inside Passage with no particular destination in mind. There was no telling how far I’d get.

Fogbound

The east side of the Bustard Islands was all shoals and breakers, with a broad band of granite shelves and outcroppings stretching half a mile or more offshore. Typical for Georgian Bay, I knew, where the safest routes run well outside to avoid the rocks, or follow the well-buoyed passages of the charted small-craft route that traverses Georgian Bay’s eastern shoreline.

The Voyage of the MARY SAVAGE

t was the spring of 1988, the year I turned seven, and Dad was restless. Mom was happy on our little homestead. Dad had built a log cabin for us on the hill at the north end of the family property, as well as a blacksmith shop, a sawmill, a henhouse, goat barn, horse barn, . . .

TORNGAT

When you catch a big fish, you take a photo. When you pass a grounded iceberg, you do the same. The notorious Iceberg Alley passes down the Labrador coast just a few miles offshore; ’bergs often drift from the current and go aground on Labrador shallows. Geof and TORNGAT check one out.

he year was 1979. My friend Geof Heath and I needed a special boat for a special project—a climbing expedition along the wild and mountainous coast of Labrador. The boat had to meet conflicting requirements: it had to be large enough to carry us, our food supplies, extra fuel, and climbing and camping gear, all . . .

The Canoes of Guna Yala

Justino blew a whistle, and the race was on. The ulu crews hurried to clear the docks, paddling to turn the boats, then easing the sheets to catch the tailwinds down to Ubicandup (Isla Nellie), the first marker of the course. Kate and I joined the ALLIANCE crew on their outboard-powered tender to follow the race. By the time we were all aboard and left the dock, the ulus were surprisingly far ahead of us. The shallow-draft canoes glided over coral heads and sandbanks as their crews picked the most direct course. We had to weave through unfamiliar reefs, reducing speed and lifting the outboard over obstructions. We eventually got back into the action, just in time to see the ulus go around the first marker. Each helmsmen maneuvered using a large paddle, or cammi, and trimmed the mainsail. The single crewman aboard each ulu bailed, tended the jibsheets, and hiked out, standing on the gunwale and pulling a line tied high on the mast. At every tack, each helmsman paddled the ulus through the turns until the bow crossed the wind and settled on the new course.

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