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 no one would 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 in any small boat. Now I was headed north to sail the Inside Passage with no particular destination. There was no telling how far I’d get.

Moments before setting out from Mukilteo, GAMINE sits ready with all sails ready to catch what little breeze there was.photographs by the author and from his collection

Moments before setting out from Mukilteo, GAMINE sits ready with all sails ready to catch what little breeze there was.

Stepping aboard, I kicked aside the tangled tail ends of sheets and halyards, and jammed my boots between the gear-filled 5-gallon plastic paint buckets that took up most of the space in the cockpit. I bore away on starboard tack and set the bowsprit over the low, thickly wooded shores of Whidbey Island.  Halfway across Possession Sound I began to wonder how I was going to come about. There were seven sheets to tend to and too much clutter in the way to shift my weight across the crowded cockpit. I gave up on the idea and just held my course until I’d run the dory up on Whidbey’s gravelly eastern flank. I brought the topmast down, and with it the topsail and jib topsail, made some more room for myself in the cockpit, and pushed off on port tack. After a two-mile crossing to Hat Island, I took an afternoon break on a beach fronting a row of single-story summer homes. The wind had been building, so I set out with just the main and jib, and beat across to Whidbey again, came about, and sailed for the south end of Camano Island, two miles to the northeast. I was soon on a beach beneath the headland's steep, 300′-high bluff. I would have been content to call it a day there, but because the high tide line was right up against the slope there’d be no room to camp. I’d have to make the crossing back to Whidbey. The last tack took me through the wind funneling between the two islands.  Spray flew up from the bow, and as GAMINE heeled sharply with the puffs, water poured in over the lee rail. The topmast got loose and was dragged half overboard. I tucked into the lee of the marina at Langley, relieved to be out of the wind and off the water.

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