Beam Reach is a program that provides extensive learning opportunities and self discovery for every participating individual. Each person has their own personal experience, however different from another, and helps to broaden minds and mold a more rounded individual. Among the many educational opportunities students were educated in sailing around Haro Strait was one of the most enjoyable. The captain of the beautiful Gato Verde, Todd Shuster taught us the in’s and out’s of sailing. To understand how “easy” Beam Reachers had it with only 3 sails (screecher, jib, and main sail) we watched an educational video on sailing “Around Cape Horn” made and narrated by Irving Johnson, which inspired the following video. Once the basics were taught we put our knowledge to the test…
42' catamaran - Gato Verde
On October 10, 2011 each student had a round at being the helmsperson at the Gato Verde. The helmsperson practiced calling jibes and crashing through the stormy waters off the coast of Kellett Bluff. Students not driving the catamaran had to focus their concentration on helping the boat jibe. One student on port and another on starboard when the helmsperson yelled “READY TO JIBE?” they respond “READY”. The helmsperson, knowing the students were ready yelled “JIBING” and one student would release the jib sheet while the other would pull in the slack on the opposite side of the catamaran. After jibing the Gato the working crew got to relax and enjoy the experience of sailing around “Cape Kellett Bluff”. It was safe to say the 30 knot wind gusts made for an eventful and wet sailing experience. Although the crew was chilled and soaked to the bone, the cargo did arrive safe and dry into Garrison Bay!
I have been waiting to return to San Juan Island for 5 years. The first time I came to Friday Harbor, I was 15 years old. I arrived in Washington with the hopes of seeing a wild orca, and I began my hunt on the ferry to the island. I stood on the chilling bow, wind-whipped and shivering in 4 layers of clothing, scanning the horizon for black dorsal fins and telltale plumes of mist suspended in the air. I knew the chances of seeing whales before I had even reached San Juan Island were slim, but I simply could not contain my excitement. About halfway through the ferry ride, I noticed a zodiac idling a mile or so away. The people on the boat were obviously looking at something, and I squinted my eyes to get a better look. Moments later, a black shape rose out of the water, and my heart skipped a beat – orcas. Somehow my father managed to snap a photo of me at this exact moment, and I can only describe the expression on my face as one of pure, unadulterated joy. In suburban Ohio where I grew up, the closest thing to wild orcas are captive animals who lead sad half-lives at Sea World; it was an absolute thrill to see these animals swimming freely in the Salish Sea. This unexpected encounter set the trend for the remainder of my trip – I saw orcas nearly every day. I watched whales cruise by the lighthouse at Lime Kiln State Park and I followed them through the fog on a whale watch. The only way I managed to leave the island without dissolving into tears was to promise myself that I would return someday.
As I boarded the Anacortes ferry one week ago, I was overcome with the same child-like excitement I felt during my first ferry ride. I had waited so long to be reunited with this thick, fragrant air, the ethereal cathedrals of tall, leaning trees, and, most of all, the whales. After seven days on the island, I have still yet to see an orca, but my disappointment has been tempered by a multitude of other wildlife experiences. Friday Harbor Labs is situated within a biological preserve, and the area is bursting with life. I have had close encounters with deer, sea lions, slugs, foxes, and river otters, temporarily satiating my desire for animal contact. I have started to use our Sibley’s bird guide to identify the birds around our duplex (including a Red-Shafted Northern Flicker that has been drilling noisily on a metal lamp outside our window for the past few days) in an effort to hone my observational skills. While these experiences have been fulfilling, there is still part of me impatient to get out on the water – I listen to the hydrophone network daily, ears tweaked for sweeping killer whale calls, and even though I know they don’t frequent the east side of the island, I keep an ear out for the gunshot ring of whales coming up for air. We’ll be out at sea in two short weeks; in the meantime I will enjoy the company of other creatures and bask in the knowledge that I am finally back in this wonderful place.