An October Day and a Boat
By Howard Eskildsen
The Fairy Boat rocked lightly in the wake of a vessel traversing Deception Pass. Autumn’s gentle dawn over Coronet Bay slowly pushed back the curtains of sleep and ushered in a day of wandering alone on the water. I was hoping to see a whale or two and later explore Garrison Bay, so it was time to get moving. The bilge blower hummed softly while I wiped off the heavy dew on the inside and outside of the windows. Rays from the sunrise pierced through breaks in the low, thin clouds as the engine roared to life.
Beginnings of a flood current stirred the water under the green span of the Deception Pass Bridge as the Fairy Boat rose onto plane and ran through the rocky gap. The bow pointed towards the broad expanse of barely rippled water of the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, and she ran straight and true over gray water with he motor purring steadily. I took my hands off the wheel and the boat held the heading until we crossed a shearline, and a gentle touch of the wheel put her back on course.
The south end of Lopez Island passed to starboard and the Salmon Bank buoy soon appeared. Cormorants warily watched from their floating perch and stoically endured loud clangs of the bell as the buoy rocked in the wake. Past the bank, tide rips from the growing flood current began to rock the boat. By Limekiln Lighthouse, I stopped and prepared breakfast while keeping an eye out for orcas. The boat immediately turned beam to the rips and rocked to the rhythm of the tide. I could not help laughing aloud as it tipped back and forth. Noises below, however, warned of a bowl on the table about to crash to the floor, so I motored into the eddies by shore, where the water was flat, and finished breakfast. Fishing boats passing through the rips seemed to fly by as we drifted the opposite direction in the countercurrent.
No whales appeared during breakfast, so I continued on to Garrison Bay to spend the rest of the day exploring. I followed the meandering course through the markers of Mosquito Pass to the entrance to Mitchell Bay. Then I turned and entered along the north side of the passage, clear of the reef to the south. Around the corner, Garrison Bay appeared along with three other boats at anchor.
I idled close to Guss Island and dropped the anchor while another boat hoisted its anchor and departed under sail. The sun grinned down from a cloudless sky and made the white buildings of British Camp gleam beneath the orange maples at the foot of Young Hill. I took Tink to the nearby dock where another inflatable dinghy and an old blue, lapstrake dinghy were tied. As I slowly ambled along the wooded trail to Bell Point, a gray-haired gentleman rowed by in the old blue dinghy with short, arthritic stokes and skillfully came alongside a sailboat at anchor. I continued on the trail as it looped back towards British Camp and the dock. Orange maple leaves stood in contrast to the evergreens while silky webs with fat, rust-colored spiders screened the late-morning sun.
After lunch on the boat, I took pictures of the blockhouse on the margin of the bay and then hiked up Young Hill to photograph the waters and distant islands. Polished granite on the crest of the mountain, over 600 feet above sea level, bore grooves of ancient glaciers. One of the grooves formed a perfect backrest and I reclined in the warm sunshine until chased away by the chill of a wandering shadow.
On the way back down the hill, sunlight through the canopy of autumn leaves painted the path golden. Half way down I met a small, slender lady with sliver hair and a leathery face that was wrinkled into a permanent smile. She plodded steadily up the steep grade with a grace that belied her years and carried a walking stick that was half again her height. Walk softly and carry a big stick, I thought to myself, but all I managed to say was, hi.
Back at British Camp, the sun set autumn maples ablaze while a gentleman with a large format camera took photos of the trees from the formal garden. Inspired, I also took some pictures from the small rise above the garden and then returned to the boat.
The sun sank lower as I ate supper and attended to the usual chores on board. Before long, the crescent moon and Mars taunted each other in the western twilight sky. Later, Jupiter and Saturn made their appearance followed by the dim constellation Cetus. The whale I had sought finally made its appearance, not in the water, but in the sky. Ordinarily I paid little attention to the constellation, but this time an unusual star winked to the right of the head of the whale. Mira, “the Wonderful,” was an irregular variable star that more often than not was invisible without a telescope. That evening, however, it shone brighter than it had in years and rivaled the stars of the Big Dipper. Like the rest of the scenes of the day, it had reserved its beauty for those who knew when and where to look.
After slowly scanning the sky one last time, I burrowed into the covers and marveled at the day that had just past. Like the winking star in Cetus, it had been wonderful. Had the boat’s namesake had been there to share it with me, the day would have been perfect.
© Eskildoodle 2021