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Sidney, B.C.

From October through March, 'Sunstone' was in more or less the same place. This is the longest time we have spent in one area since we left England. We took the opportunity to do many of those things that are most easily accomplished when fairly stationary - in our case the four R's: refurbishing, running, riding (bikes) and racing. It sounds exhausting and, of course, it was. After three years of hard cruising since our major refit in Nelson, NZ, 'Sunstone' definitely needed some attention by the time we arrived in Sidney, particularly below decks. Though it is hard to be sentimental about a toilet, our attachment to our Baby Blake (when not seated on it) was mostly emotional rather than practical. At well over 40 years of age, few of its original parts remained, spares were becoming extremely expensive and frequent maintenance seemed to do little to improve its performance. It was time for retirement. At the risk of further ribaldry, we undertook extensive research into marine heads and eventually settled on a Raritan. In the meantime, Vicky undertook complete redecoration of our huge head's compartment (about 3' x 3') and the new throne was then installed in a space so white that it looked sterile even if it was not. Project #1 completed.

 

For the past five years we have lived with large numbers of plastic storage boxes full of books adorning our pilot berths. Though practical, these boxes were neither ideal aesthetically, nor from the point of view of safety. Since we no longer have weekend guests (aka racing crew) to use our pilot berths, we decided that the sacrifice of the mattresses would not be missed, replacing them with locker space the same shape as the mattress. As a result, the pilot berths look no different, keeping the feeling of breadth and space in our saloon. However, we have two large chart stowage areas, plus dedicated stowage for Vicky's hundreds of slides and a little left over besides. To tidy up the books we have also made four large book shelves which line the outboard edge of what were the pilot berths. Project #2 completed.

So that we could see these changes and the gloss from the new varnish and paint Vicky had daubed all about, we invested in new lighting. This doesn't sound like much, but the Alpenglow lights we installed have made a huge difference to the accommodation. Not only is the light brighter, it is 'warmer' and much less power-consumptive. The change is one of those about which you later say, "How did we manage before?" Though they are expensive, we would recommend these lights highly to anyone for use on board. Project #3 completed.

 

Having experienced really deep anchoring in Alaska, the more we contemplated our planned cruise in Chile, the more convinced we became that 'Sunstone's' days as a windlassless boat were numbered. We had heard from another cruiser of windlasses made by James Nilsson Ltd., in Auckland, New Zealand. Not only are these windlasses elegant in appearance, they are efficient and inexpensive. Though it was rather large for 'Sunstone' we ordered a 2200 model. Amazingly the combined cost of the windlass and the airfreight from NZ were only slightly more than half that of the available equivalent bought in North America. Even more remarkably, the windlass arrived less than a week after we placed our order. To keep up our reputation as intermittent racers, we decided to keep our chain locker and, therefore, the windlass aft, near the mast on the starboard sidedeck. At first we were worried that it would be too much of an obstacle, but, in fact, it hasn't been a problem. Unfortunately, now that a push button and the windlass are doing all the work, Tom now lacks his morning workout and is slidingly slothfully into nautical couch-potatodom. Project #4 completed.

 

 

 

In between these more major changes we got on with all the usual maintenance. Vicky varnished everywhere, including all the floorboards (always interesting while living aboard), painted the loo and the aft cabin. The engine received its usual attention and the fridge went away for warranty work. We rebuilt the engine battery box, replaced the aft lowers and all the sliders on the cruising main. And so on. All this would have been enough to keep us busy - but it wasn't enough.

As is Vicky's habit for any longer period spent in one place, she set herself a target, in this case to complete a half-marathon in 2 hours or under. The "First Half", held in Vancouver on 9 February was conveniently placed; far enough ahead to allow for proper training, but not late enough to interfere with spring sailing. There was also enough time to allow for the proper assembly and preparation of a support team. Bill and Jane McLaren, Joseph Paravia and Marci Baker all played crucial roles in Vicky's successful assault and in helping her achieve a result of 2 hours, 0 minutes and 27 seconds and 27th out of 92 in her age group. The 27 seconds were clearly either an inaccuracy in the watch or more likely the time it took her to reach the start line among the 2000 runners.

When we reached Sidney, our mountain bikes had been snugly stowed in the fore cabin for over six months. It was a delight to get on the road again and we were soon to be seen trundling all around the adjacent countryside, often laden with miscellaneous items of marine hardware. Despite determined procrastination, eventually we signed a blood pact with Joseph and Marci to ride the Galloping Goose Trail the 70 Kms. from Sidney to Sooke, on the south coast of Vancouver Island, west of Victoria. We had wonderful weather for this varied ride, which follows the abandoned road bed of a railway and is, therefore, mostly graded in keeping with the modest athleticism of middle aged bike riders (speaking here of course only of Tom & Joseph). The scenery is varied, from the deeply wooded and rural to the suburban. It was great - and the most wonderful thing about it was that you didn't have to pedal all the way back. Victoria's excellent public transport system allows you to catch a bus from Sooke to Victoria, with your two bikes, transfer to another, which takes you right back to Sidney, all for $2.50 Canadian each. What a deal! By the end of the ride it would have been worth five times that.

We have always found that one of the quickest way to get to meet local sailors is to go to the yacht club and sign up for some races. The Sidney North Saanich Yacht Club, its officers and members made us very welcome and through most of the winter allowed us to indulge in our addiction to racing - whether aboard 'Sunstone' or Daryl Homan's Beneteau 36.7, 'Evolution'. We particularly wanted to get to know local conditions in preparation for some longer spring and early summer races. Through the serendipity of racing we also got to know members of the McGruer family who turned 'Sunstone' from a set of lines into a reality. Colin McGruer first identified the boat's origins as we approached the start of our first SNSYC race and thereafter we met his father, Ewing, and Mother, Morag, who had left Scotland many years before. It was almost certainly Ewing's own father who had supervised the building of 'Sunstone'.

This year the other, and unusual, side of yacht racing for us was been spectating. Despite having spurned it in the past, we became moderately addicted to watching Louis Vuitton and America's Cup racing. This was mostly because we were wishfully hopeful that the Kiwis might retain the Cup despite the millions marshalled against them. Like so many others, we were sad that Team New Zealand did not put up a better showing at least. On the other hand, it did confirm our earlier view that sailing is really a participant sport and it probably isn't worth wasting time watching it.

For the first time in many years we flew back to New York City for a proper family Christmas. Vicky's sister, Fiona, also flew in from the Caribbean, having just completed the ARC rally across the Atlantic. Erika coped wonderfully with the influx, aided by her normal enthusiasm for Christmas and a fortuitous fall of snow, which left New York looking like a postcard - for about the first two hours until the snow turned gray and slushy. It was delightful to see family again and equally delightful to confirm how lucky we are not to have to live in a big city, no matter how varied and vibrant.

Through all of this rather 'normal' activity we were fortunate in two ways. Firstly, the choice of Sidney as a place to winter was excellent. It was big enough to have everything we needed on a day to day basis (including excellent second-hand book shops), both for us and for the boat, yet it was small enough to be welcoming, friendly and attractive - and because there are so many retirees, it made us feel pretty young by comparison! On those few occasions when we wanted the facilities or atmosphere of a larger city, Victoria was only an hour away by bus and Vancouver a couple of hours by ferry. Fortunately the attractions of Sidney, brought a second benefit, because other cruisers, including Aussies Peter and Lyndal of 'Illywhacker' and Dale, Liz and Jack of 'Cowrie Dancer', also congregated there for the winter. As a result, we consolidated friendships we had made previously and made many new ones, not only with cruisers but also with many locals. Sidney will rank right up with Nelson in NZ as a favorite spot for us.

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