From Father to Son

CURLEW began as I was making the transition from teaching school to becoming a musician and caretaker for the family land here just north of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The large tract of land has been in the family since my great-great-grandfather, Benson Blake, settled here in the 1830s. Once a grand sweep of woods and farmland, it is much reduced, but six generations later, we Blakes are still here.

From the Channel to the Med

When my husband Mat and I set off from Sidmouth, England, our destination was the Mediterranean, roughly 870 miles (1,400km) south. We planned to reach it through the inland waterways of France. We had two months off work and arranged for friends to meet us with the boat trailer in the port of Sète on August 5, 2017, to bring us home. We estimated we’d need to row at least six hours every day to make it. With just weeks to go before we planned to depart, Mat finished our boat, DUNLIN. The lapstrake dinghy, 13′ 7″ long with a 4′ 6″ beam, was the first boat he’d built and is based on a traditional workboat designed for both rowing and sailing with a gaff sloop rig.

Uncertain Ground

At low tide BONZO came to rest on the sand close to the line of shipwrecks. I didn't get to do as much exploring as I'd hoped—the mud surrounding the sand bars was far too sticky.

I sailed along the edge of Possession Sound toward a breakwater made of six wrecked ships set bow-to-stern in an orderly line one-third of a mile long. With the tide up, only the ragged ends of frames and some of the diagonal planking were visible, blackened with age and bristled with the iron rods that once held the ships together. About 50′ from the line of wrecks I dropped the anchor, dragging it along under sail until the flukes set and brought BONZO to a stop.

A Boat for the Summer

We had to wait for the tide to rise for us to cross a shallow spot in Cramer Passage at Broughton Island, so Koen passed the time doing some solo sailing.

The following week, we crept along the Sunshine Coast and got acquainted with the scale of the British Columbia landscape, a tidal range approaching 16’, and an abundance of drifting logs and deadheads. We made an overnight stop at Wilson Creek and raided the supermarket the next morning, stocking up on flour, oats, nuts, raisins, and powdered milk. Although our supplies were as simple as the boat itself, Koen saw to it that we would have a culinary high point every day. He had brought his sourdough starter; it was so dear to him that it even had a name: Jesaja. In the morning, the sweet smell of fresh bread filled the air; Koen was beaming at what he had created in our two frying pans.

Wolf Rock Light

Will’s madcap plan was to sail around every offshore lighthouse in Britain. The project began in March 2012 when he and his wife Sara sailed around the Eddystone Lighthouse, 13 miles south of Plymouth, in a 14′ open dinghy. The couple did that trip to raise money for WaterAid, a global nonprofit devoted to bringing clean drinking water and hygiene education to disadvantaged communities, and the idea grew from there. Will’s scheme is an ambitious one, not least because of the sheer number of offshore lighthouses—at least 50—but also the remoteness of some, for example, Sule Skerry is 35 miles north of Scotland. But Will isn’t in any hurry, and regards it as a lifetime project.

Back Door to Georgian Bay

The morning was clear and cool; the sky had washed itself clean of the thick gray clouds I’d encountered on yesterday’s 10-mile passage from my launching point in Spanish, Ontario. I’d never come to the North Channel so late in the year before. The sun hung low in the sky, casting long shadows across the beach and promising shorter days. A stand of yellow-leafed birches at the edge of the beach shifted slowly in a slight breeze, and an osprey flew past with a faint flumph of wings. A dozen small islands and granite outcroppings rose from the water just offshore, and beyond them was the chain of pink rocks named the Sow and Pigs. Otherwise, nothing. There were no other boats in sight—and this at South Benjamin Island, one of the most popular cruising destinations in the North Channel.

A Faering for New Zealand

The boatbuilders I’d known back in my home on Cape Cod worked with electric planes, drills, and band saws, but Ulf shaped sheerstrakes by eye with a Sami knife [explain in text or caption what kind of knife?] and scarfed planks with an axe. I’d never seen precision like it in my life, and I occasionally stood in the middle of a floor carpeted by fresh wood shavings contemplating what I ever had to show for myself after a day’s work back in my office: never anything so substantial nor so fragrant. “I’m not exaggerating when I say that nine out of ten visitors who stick their noses into my boatyard take a deep breath, smile and exclaim, ‘It sure smells good in here.’” It was time to toss in the towel, learn to speak Norwegian, and become an apprentice boatbuilder.

The Texas 200

The chop stirred up the bottom across miles of shallows, turning the water gold under the midday sun. I closed on the windward shore until I was in calmer water, where waving swaths of dark brown sea grass waved across the bottom. Water had almost filled the forward part of the cockpit, and instead of turning to parallel the shoreline and sponging out as I sailed, I beached the boat and took a break. I pushed the button on my satellite tracker to send Victoria the preprogrammed message that I wasn’t on my planned route, but everything was OK. I bailed out the boat and tucked my last reef.

Drawn to the Islands

I slid ROW BIRD, my 18’ Iain Oughtred Arctic Tern, into the waters bordering the town of Sidney on Vancouver Island. I was launching very late in the day—I’d just finished a 200-mile drive from my home in Portland, Oregon, followed by the two-hour ferry ride—but I didn’t mind. Ahead of me I had a week to cruise among the islands I had drawn from the heights of Mount Maxwell,now visible, eight miles to the north and looming over Sydney’s shore. The southern Gulf Islands, scattered to the east, promised an ever-changing horizon and the pleasures and challenges of new anchorages.

Rowing the North Sea

In the autumn of 2011 Erik Schouw-Hansen and I were discussing our next adventure. In 2010 we had sailed together to the Shetlands—Erik crewed aboard my 31′ sloop on the first leg of a voyage from Norway to the Caribbean and back. We were both born and raised on the west coast of Norway, so for our next trip it was natural to look westward across the North Sea to the Shetland Islands. We wanted to try something new and settled upon rowing a small, open boat across the North Sea the following summer. We set mid-June as our deadline to be ready for departure, and from that point we would wait for favorable weather conditions.

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