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Vancouver Island Cruising Expedition offers Whidbey skipper and crew tough lessons

Water splashes above the deck of the Shekineah, a boat owned by Michele Bishai. - Photo courtesy of Michele Bishai
Water splashes above the deck of the Shekineah, a boat owned by Michele Bishai.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Michele Bishai

Shekineah crew finds adventure far off shore

Whidbey Island resident Michele Bishai had been a crew member on several sailboats that traveled far out onto the ocean.

But it wasn’t until she was the skipper on her own boat that ventured out into the deep blue sea for 10 days that she discovered how poorly planned those previous excursions had been.

“It was a revelation of how unprepared I was on the other boats,” Bishai, a Langley resident, said. There was little emergency planning and very little learning associated with the prior trips.

In an effort to become a better sailor, she recently led an excursion that would accomplish both. She took her boat, the Shekineah, a 36-foot ketch, and participated in the Vancouver Island Cruising Expedition with several other vessels, all desiring to get more experience sailing “off shore.”

Plans originally called for traveling 300 miles off shore. However, they didn’t make it nearly that far.

“There were gale warnings practically every night we were there,” Bishai said. She said the destination was merely a point on a map and most of the trip was spent allowing crew members to familiarize themselves with maneuvering the Shekineah on the deep ocean. The three other crew members, one from Bainbridge Island and the other two from Camas, Ore., learned the hard way about handling the boat in high winds and in ocean swells.

This was no joy cruise. Bishai said she wanted to make the trip as much of a training expedition as possible. In addition to piloting the boat, the crew learned about other aspects of sailing such as making a watch schedule, a cooking schedule and assuring that emergency equipment and procedures were always in place.

The toughest part of the trip happened close to home as the boat was sailing through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Bishai said. The waves hit the sailboat from all directions and the wind was at the ship’s bow throughout the voyage through the strait.

“It was fun, interesting, educational and challenging,” said Clarence Younker, who was a crew member on the boat. “I haven’t been off shore in three to four years and I forgot how miserable it was.”

He said the winds on the trip varied between semi-dead and increasing to 30 knots. Inevitably, some members of the crew became sea sick during the voyage.

Younker, a Bainbridge Island resident who has been sailing off-and-on for 54 years, said such a trip is good for anybody planning to try some serious sailing.

“I would recommend it for anybody sailing out amongst the wolves,” Younker said. He found out about this trip through an ad in a local sailing magazine.

It took Bishai approximately four months to prepare for the trip. She said there were approximately 45 people who expressed an interest in participating in the voyage. However, some people were reluctant to come because there wasn’t a fixed destination while others weren’t selected because they weren’t prepared for such an arduous voyage. Others weren’t chosen because their expectations didn’t jibe with her goals.

Bishai said she ended up with a balanced crew where two of the four people had off shore sailing experience.

She said there were other boats in the area lined up to participate in the excursion. But many had to drop out due to a variety of reasons: the skipper was too old, another was too inexperienced and another didn’t have appropriate radio equipment installed on the boat.

Despite the crewing challenges and the smaller-than-expected fleet, Bishai accomplished her goal and came back a better all-around sailor.

She is planning to put together a similar trip next year. She might change it to become more of a rally course. Bishai said she wants to get more people from the Puget Sound involved.

In the meantime, she is planning to develop a Web site detailing her experiences on her most recent voyage. Give her a google some time.

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