Sunday, September 25, 2011


We did it before hearing the word spoken. We lived it before we knew there was such a word. We experienced it before we knew the definition. 

Gunkholing. Racks of books by several authors exist about it along with a plethora of blogs and forums devoted to the subject. Who knew? It was waiting right outside our back door all this time, but we had to step off the porch and onto the deck of a boat to experience it. 

For years we have explored our San Juan Islands by ferries carrying us in our car to favorite spots. We take a map and pack a picnic basket. Once a year we honeymoon on Orcas Island. We have seen the wonders of the Puget Sound and gloried in the fact that there isn't a Sea World fee bracelet to wear. Nor are there hot lines of disgruntled people pushing and shoving bruises into our flesh as we ooh and aah over the salty treasures presenting themselves for our pleasure. 

We were content with our explorations until gunkholing last week. I'm afraid it has ruined us. There are islands public and private that aren't accessible by ferry. Gunkholing is the answer. Gunkholing on a sailboat is memorable, although the deep keel on a sailboat presents a challenge for the navigator. A map of the Puget Sound faced us as we sat on the toilet each time we visited the head. One more chance for the red marks warning of dangerous rocks to become engraved in our minds waking and sleeping. 

Gunkholing: Find a little cove to head toward after an afternoon of sailing. Hitch up to a mooring ball, or anchor in the mud and gravel that holds well. Untie the dinghy. Row to the nearest beach. Tie it fast. Follow the trails to myriad discoveries. Sunken ships. Lighthouses. An old one room school. Lime kilns. Historic Company Towns. Seal rookeries. A safari island with exotic animals transplanted to our rainy PNW. The water is too shallow and the coves are too small for the big boys. One night we had a cove all to ourselves. The quiet attached itself to our pores, breathing with us, inviting us to disturb the sacred.

The oven/stove in the galley was gimballed. It swivelled as the boat rolled. I learned to brace my feet and sway while making coffee or hot chocolate. A few times we pulled a meal together while under way with a topsy turvy galley, a few bruises, and creative second and third options considered. I reveled in the challenge of preparing tasty food under difficult circumstances. No spills. No mop ups. 

The first time all three sails were up and full, my throat swelled with gladness as I looked up. It reminded me of when I sat under the music of a massive pipe organ for the first time. I felt the vibrations through the wooden pew, wooden floor, and all along the wood paneling on the walls. When the sucking wind heeled the boat on its side it looked like water would rush the deck. It recovered and righted itself each time. I got the rush instead. 

The Kookaburra effortlessly did what she was made to do. Catch wind and fly in its laughing face while porpoises raced along side. 


  1. This is the link for San Juan Sailing Charters in Bellingham, WA.

  2. Great write-up, Kathleen! It almost makes me wish I knew how to swim.

    You do have the most incredible adventures.

  3. Ahhhh...... I can almost imagine the experience. I think I'll get Glynn excited about owning a wooden boat again.

  4. There will be a lasting regret. These little coves had phosphorescent water. We only talked of swimming in it, never getting brave enough. It would have been WILD. It was mesmerizing and magical. Sparkly mermaid hair.....I passed it up.

  5. Oh how fun that sounds. Such a wonderful experience. :)

  6. spectacular experiences to be had, and you are having them!

  7. Kathleen, next time, can I come? Also, seriously consider renting (or buying second hand) a wetsuit. You can swim in PNW waters and feel INVINCIBLE! A great pairing to go with phosphorescent water!

  8. .... call Mike .... or buy a kayak! :)

  9. Kathleen your writing just put me back at the helm of the Island Escape, another boat in the fleet at San Juan Charters. We found that it has brought are family the fondest memories that are etched in are minds forever.

    Thanks Mike McAuliffe

  10. Thanks to the Eichers for getting their sailing certificate and inviting us to join them. They were a great team-skipper and navigator. And pleasant company in a confined space for a week. We knew next to nothing when we started out. A love of the water, adventure, and each other the only common thread...


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