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.


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

Downstream from the city, the banks became heavily tree lined, and we made our way between small wooded islands and past the mouths of numerous back channels. A pair of bald eagles, perched high on a leafless tree, peered down on us. This was more like it, but what wasn’t more like it were the pleasure boats. It was Labor Day Sunday and they were out in force, enjoying the last weekend of summer. There were cruisers and houseboats, pontoon boats and jet skis, and even some I would call yachts. The one thing they had in common were motors and speed. Pulling with our oars at 3 mph, we felt we did not belong.


The 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 while being reasonably safe in the open ocean. It also had to be light enough to be trailered hundreds of miles, often over gravel roads, and light enough that the two of us could drag ashore on rocky landings. Then there was the biggest factor—we didn’t have a lot of money. Now, nearly 40 years later, I am still amazed that not only did we find the right boat for our expedition, but that the little craft later proved adaptable for any number of demanding projects and today is still ever ready for whatever task we might call for. It proved the maxim, simplicity pays, both on land and sea.

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.


Peter Knape was once stuck behind an office desk in a soulless building in the business district of Arnhem in Holland. Year after year, his demanding career had sapped both his time and energy. He longed for a quiet life with freedom, and independence. He realized his destiny was in his own hands, and that he only had to muster the courage to make a break.He took a vacation and traveled to northern Finland where he hired a small boat and set off on a long journey, one that took him far beyond the Arctic Circle to an area that’s almost uninhabited. Life aboard the boat was uncomplicated; it was exactly what he had been yearning for.

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