Landlubber poet

Poet-landlubber Cate Gable poses in her new Xtratufs.

A couple weeks ago, a friend and I were notified that the cruise ship had room for us. We’d signed up on a kind of standby basis and had nearly forgotten about it. But, sure ‘nuf, there was the email. Our reaction was a combination of shock and awe.

The shock: who’s going to take care of mom, who’s going to keep Jackson for two weeks, how am I going to write my column while I’m gone, and do I have enough underwear? Then right behind that was the awe — a trip up the Northwest Inner Passage, visits to a Haida Gwaii Village, kayaking to the foot of a glacier, on a boat for two weeks! (This last comment was delivered by someone who nearly gets carsick sitting in the back seat of a stationary automobile; who once spent an entire salmon fishing trip barfing over the side; and who absolutely cannot ride any whirly-gig carnival rides, not even the merry-go-’round, i.e. me.)

The Curve of Time

“Well,” I said to myself, “be brave in the face of a gift from the gods.” This trip is a chance to ride the wind and waves with friends and see in living color an amazing part of what makes our Pacific Northwest so special. Maybe the trip of a lifetime. On the recommendation of a friend, who will be a naturalist on the boat, I immediately started rereading “The Curve of Time,” by M. Wylie “Capi” Blanchet. It’s the story of a widowed seafaring mom who crams her five kids (including one barely walking) into a 25 foot sloop (? — I’m trying to learn boaty-language here) and takes off for a summer of cruising in relatively the same waters we’d be taking.

I remember reading the book decades ago, but now it had a totally different relevance. I’d forgotten how romanticized her journey was (or maybe I was too young to realize it at the time) and how hair-raising it must have been for all concerned. It’s not that Blanchet was an amateur boater: she and her husband (he died quite young after taking a swim off their boat) were long-time explorers by water; but she tends to gloss over the scrapes and dicey misadventures she and the kids get into with a phrase composed to keep the children from panicking: “Weren’t we sillies!”

Some of the questionable activities included leaving her youngsters on a beach frequented by grizzlies during baby bear season; leaving her dog onshore alone all night with a cougar at large; running slack water through rough straits, sometimes in the fog; mountain hiking with minimally-appropriate snow gear; and leaning on the kids to help crew. It all worked out for them by some minor miracle. No limbs or children were lost.


My trip is unlikely to be as life threatening — even we adults will have “tenders” all day keeping us in line — but “The Curve of Time” was full of off-shore breezes, westerlies, reefs, hatch covers, pike poles, gulfs, wheelhouses, hand-hewn planks, painters, charts, and whirlpools: all of which I’ll no doubt be facing on this trip. It sounds fine and dandy on the page — how will it be in real life?

The thing about the ocean is…there’s so much of it! Granted, “inside passage” sounds almost comforting, maybe like being in a nice warm birth canal (though — look out! — trouble ahead) or a zippy black hole that sucks you in one end and gently spits you out somewhere else. Instead what I’ve been reading about here is uncertain tidal flows, unpredictable anchorages, and lots of wave action between all the various mountainous islands.

You can be sure I will report back on the details if I return alive. But in the meantime, our task is what and how to pack for a two-week trip on water with no internet (gasp), intermittent cell phone coverage (double gasp) and no laundry facilities (OK, I can cope with that).

As for no washing machine, there was the simple question of counting one’s underwear, tossing in a couple extras, and calling that good. T-shirts? We had been advised that good old-fashioned cotton was the go-to fabric. None of this newfangled wicking breathable synthetic stuff. Our guru said, “When you get sweaty in a cotton tee, you just hang it up in your cabin and it’s good to go the next day — the smell goes away.” I took an afternoon to pile up the possibilities and read labels.


We’d also been told Xtratufs was a must, 15 inch just-below-the-knee rubber boots. This is the point in my story where I confess an obvious failing — I had never been to Englund Marine and Industrial Supply in Astoria. In fact I didn’t even know it existed. OK, did I mention I get seasick? My minimal marine needs have been nicely taken care of by Jack’s Country Store or Dennis Company. My clam shovel is probably 40 years old and my clam boots, maybe 15.

And why the heck do we need Xtratufs anyway? Again, advice from our trip supervisor, “Xtratufs are like ‘Alaska tennis shoes’ — you jump into them in the morning and you take them off at night. You even wear them in your kayak.”

Obviously some shopping was in order. The guys at Englund Marine were swell. They pulled Xtratufs out of their boxes, wiped off the mineral oil (“Keeps them from drying out in the sun.” Sun?); they let me try on several different men’s and women’s sizes and walk all around the store. I decided on a pair of spiffy women’s boots in the “Salmon Sisters” line. They have a very cool inside design of fish swimming against a light blue-green background. “Roll ‘em down,” said my shoe guy, “show off your stuff!” Who knew — love it.

So, I’ve got two pairs of borrowed rain pants — one too big and one too small; one of my sister’s snappy windbreakers; my mom’s L.L. Bean yellow slicker; and enough cotton T-shirts to beat the band. I’ve just started to mash everything into a borrowed rolly-bag duffle and a ginormous suitcase I bought at the Goodwill.

And, though I may be a total landlubber, my new boots are way cool!

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