Liberation: the Maiden Voyage of the Moksha

A weekend sailing trip to the Sunshine Coast

The rain on my window was a slow drizzle when my alarm clock went off, and for once, I sort of wanted to sleep in instead of adventure. Disappointing, I know, but this weekend’s adventure did not involve hiking or tropical beaches, but rather, sitting on a sailboat for an unknown amount of hours, exposed to the rain and wind. And even hoping for wind at that, because wind makes everything exciting when you’re sailing. You can forget that you’re cold and wet when that wind picks up and the boat starts ripping! My only consolation as I packed my bag was that, growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I have a special place in my heart for misty shorelines and moody grey oceans spitting out rocky beaches, and there was guaranteed to be plenty of those.

The second surprise consolation I received, as I stood in the rain on the docks at the marina loading gear onto the boat, was that we had an extra crew-mate, Simon, an adventurous orange tabby, who would be joining us on his very first sailing trip. His frantic energy promised many hilarious diversions for the weekend.

Captain Simon, surveying his sturdy crew with approval.

This was to be the maiden voyage of the Moksha, newly renamed – a thirty-foot sailboat which was our home for two days. Moksha, I’m told, means ‘liberation’ in Sanskrit; a romantic name that perfectly fits the aesthetic of sailing. We didn’t observe as many of the ‘maiden voyage’ traditions as perhaps we should have, but luckily, we encountered no sea-monsters in the Strait of Georgia, and made it home alive to tell the tale.

A rainy Saturday morning at the Marina. I was looking with longing at the fireplace in the pub right about now…

The plan, once we had escaped the windless confines of the Fraser River, where Moksha was moored, was to sail north towards the Sunshine Coast, skirting Bowen Island through Howe Sound, and ending up in Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast. We’d spend the night moored there (and perhaps grab a beer or two at one of the breweries in Gibsons), then head out to the open waters and wind of the Strait of Georgia on the way home the next day.

Day one was rainy, misty, and cold! While the winds were gentle and we never picked up much speed, it presented a great opportunity for me to learn to manage the helm. As a novice sailor, I was run through the sailing basics – hilarious vocabulary from by-gone days, points of sail, the physics of fluid movement, the anatomy of boats – and had a chance to practice my skills as we tacked (zig-zagged) through the calm winds around Bowen and Keats Islands. A handful of other sailboats joined us in the Sound, or dotted the horizon, including a massive 50-foot boot with a team of eleven, with whom we chatted later that evening in the Gibsons marina (despite a slight resentment that they had been much faster than us…).

Simon beginning to regret what he’d gotten himself into.

The rain began to subside mid-way through the day, with a crack of blue opening above us and a weakly beating sun emerging. Poor Simon, who had suffered a bout of sea-sickness early in the journey and had been force-fed a piece of a Gravol tablet, was napping off his illness, and almost certainly plotting his revenge for being signed up for this trip. I’ve always heard that those big ships that crossed the Atlantic from Europe kept cats on board to kill the disease-carrying rats, so I guess I figured that house-cats would have some natural affinity for ocean travel. Not so with Simon. He did not enjoy the rocking waves and aggressive slant (heel) of the boat.

Steel grey ocean and cloudy coastlines.
View off the bow.
A sight of the aptly named Sunshine Coast.

As we pulled into the harbour of Gibsons, the sun emerged in full, as it somehow always does whenever I visit the Sunshine coast (no matter how rainy Vancouver is!). We left the boat off shore and took the dinghy to the dock, and took this opportunity to stretch our legs and walk around downtown Gibsons. Despite our attempt at being healthy and moving our legs, I somehow ended up with both an ice cream cone in my hand and a beer from Tapworks in front of me that evening. As the boat was well-stocked with junk-food (peanut butter bars, coconut clusters, caramel-chocolate pretzels) and liquor (beer, wine, bourbon), this was not a calorie-neutral weekend for me. The day ended with a gentle pink sunset and a barbecue dinner on the boat. We retired to the cabin to continue our celebration of the maiden voyage with wine, bourbon, and the game Taboo, and, when night fell, Simon seized his chance to enact his vengeance. You know that crazy energy that cats get when night falls? Previously, Simon had been scared to leave the safety of the cabin, but now, in a stationary boat under cover of darkness, all fear had left him, and he darted gleefully in and out all open ports and windows of the boat. My pillow was unfortunately positioned directly underneath one of these ports, from which a mischievous Simon leapt at about 2 am. After rejecting his use of my face as a pillow on a few occasions, he was shoved unceremoniously back through the port onto the deck of the boat above.

Blue skies and sailboats.
Mooring at Gibsons Landing.
Light pink sunset creeping in as we look back into Howe Sound.

Whether Simon settled down and slept or spent the night on the deck under the stars, I’m not sure, but morning soon dawned sunny and blue. We motored to shore again through a surreal mist to gather caffeine for the journey.

This gorgeous blue monochromatic scenery.
The Moksha at rest in this misty morning paradise.
Seriously contemplating boat ownership.

After breakfast on the boat, we plotted our course and set off home, excited for the whitecaps we could see in the Strait. The heat was already noticeable, even at 8 am on the water, so the day promised to reach summertime highs. Luckily we had the wind and shade of the sail to keep us cool. Raising the mainsail in the wind was exhilarating and intense, and set us off at a good pace, and when we got the headsail up, we were just racing.

With the sun high overhead, the wind surrounding us, and the constant attention required at the helm to maintain our course through the substantial waves, I could see why people fall in love with sailing. And when the more competitive people on board began eyeing a nearby sailboat to race, the excitement definitely swept me in. Running around to grab the sheets and constantly fine tune the sails, gybing (zig-zagging) aggressively through the waves, trying to assess if we had pulled ahead of our neighbour, all while trying to eat a ridiculously messy snack of chips and salsa, certainly got the adrenaline pumping! Sailing is a curious mix of sitting around and drinking beer, then random moments of full exertion, like trying to keep your balance while pulling as hard as you can on a sheet in tumultuous waves.

A view from our journey home.

As we neared the mouth of the Fraser, the wind began to die down, and we lowered the sails to motor up the river. The boat, and pace of the day, slowed down considerably; as we were fighting the current, we inched back to the marina. Fortunately, the heat of a sleepy afternoon had settled around us, and we dozed on the deck in the sun. Some deft piloting brought Moksha back safely to her parking stall in the marina, and we packed and unloaded the boat, and spent a considerable amount of time trying to coax Simon out of his impossible-to-access hiding spot. While I’m sure he was exceedingly relieved to have his paws back on dry land, I think we were all happy to substitute the constant motion of the boat for the static ground. As I pondered all the pros and cons of boat ownership on the drive home, I think that, with the amount of dedication and love required to keep a boat in top shape, I’m happy to stick to friends with sailboats for now, instead of indulging in the SS Emily!

Are you a salty sea-dog with some tales of ocean conquest? Or did you perhaps just really enjoy Pirates of the Caribbean? Let me hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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