Sailing Without Wind…

Sailing Without Wind…

I’m a solid ground kind of girl. I love the feel of rocks beneath my hands and feet, the smell of earth, and the sight of mountains and valleys. When I moved to Florida there were no mountains. I spent my first sunset there on the beach. I faced the gulf and looked over the water and something clicked. I could make it in my new home. Ever since that sunset, water has been calming to me. While I’m still a solid ground kind of girl, I love the water.

I love the water, and I love boats.

Last week I took my newly 30-something man-friend out to Orcas Island in the San Juans for his birthday weekend. Sailing is one thing we both enjoy, and from what I’d researched, it’s also the best way to explore the islands. I researched chartered day sailing on the island until I found “Classic Day Sailing” with this guy and his boat, the Aura.

Ben driving the boat while Ward relaxes

Ward is the owner and Captain of the Aura, having sailed since he was 14 years old.

“I asked my Dad to buy us a sailing dinghy.  When we stayed at my grandmothers place on the beach  south of Fletcher’s Bay on Bainbridge Island, I saw the neighbors take out a little dinghy, like a Ranger Minto, and it looked like fun. Dad had been skipper of my grandfather’s 63 foot motor yacht, which they sold when I was a toddler, so he was glad to see me become interested in something.  We went to the Seattle Boat Show, must have been around 1966, and purchased an 11 foot Sea-Mate, a tubby but very seaworthy  design by Monk Jr.  I didn’t take any classes, but just read about close-reaching, beam reaching, broad reaching, and running in a book and took the boat out.”

He bought the Aura 17 years ago, after having owned and lived on a 26 foot Thunderbird for the better part of 13 years.

I asked him how long he’s been sailing the Aura in the San Juans:

“While taking a class to get my  Captain’s license I heard from Ben Booth of Orcas Island Sailing that the Deer Harbor Marina was looking for someone to take people sailing from there… That was ten blissful summers ago. Orcas Island is a more interesting place to live because of its mountains and plentiful shoreline, and the little islands around Deer Harbor are interesting to sail among and around. Plus the people are nice. Orcas doesn’t revolve around the hustle for the tourist dollar as much as San Juan.”

On our way out of the harbor

This past year Ward and the Aura took first place in class B of the Classic Mariner’s Regatta in Port Townsend after five seconds and two thirds in fifteen years of trying. We were on a boat with a master sailer.

Ward was a great host. He let me “drive” the boat out of the harbor, and took the time to explain things like tacking, optimal wind direction, and ways to read the terrain under water.

We left the harbor, ready for the wind at our back (well, side is better, but it doesn’t sound as good) and the sun overhead. One problem: No wind. Dreams of skimming the waves, tipped so far to the side you can dip your feet in the water, were dashed against the rocky Orcas shoreline.


No matter. Instead we learned how to finesse what wind there was, which islands were good for camping, and about the flora/fauna of the islands. Sailing without wind isn’t the most exciting, but it happens, and there are plenty of other things to enjoy while on the boat.

(Can you feel a life lesson coming? I can…)

Things don’t always happen the way you plan. But like a friend told me, there is no such thing as failure – just re-planning. *Add something cheesy here about having a good captain and good company…

We docked late in the day after an amazing afternoon exploring tiny islands, fueled by occasional wind and gasoline. (Sailboats get great MPG.) For a solid ground kind of girl, a day on the water felt amazing.

**It came to my attention that the designer of the Aura, William Garden, passed away this April at the age of 92. By age 24 he had designed 51 boats. From what I’ve read, Mr. Garden was a gifted and passionate boat designer. I’m honored to have been able to see his work in person and get a small glimpse of the work he loved so much.

“I love to design boats. Rather design boats than eat. Often do.” – William Garden

Aleya Littleton

Aleya Littleton is a self-diagnosed gear addict and migrant teacher specializing in science, climbing, and moving at the drop of a hat. She spent three years at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and this spring packed her car and drove to Colorado. She moved to merge her passion for teaching with her love of the great outdoors through writing and adventure therapy. In the past year she began leading trad, climbed Devils Tower, won $10,000 and then gave it all away. She tweets as @AleyaJean and blogs at Rock and Sky

1 Comment

  1. September 27, 2011, 3:48 am

    It’s great to read something that’s both enjoyable and prvoieds pragmatisdc solutions.

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