The Olympics, from the water

by on 16/02/10 at 7:26 pm

One of the primary benefits of cruising is going interesting places and doing fun things there, and there may be no place that is at once as interesting and fun as a hosting city during the Olympic games.

Vancouver is alive with the buzz of fans and athletes, a special place at a special moment in its history. As a child, I was here for Expo ’86, and though I don’t remember much, in some parts of my mind this has all taken on the aspect of some long-term extension of that experience, with everything new and exciting also seeming somehow familiar and reassuring.

There’s also a certain sense of satisfaction involved; it’s been a difficult year, and getting here by boat in the amount of time we found available was by no means a sure thing. Long days, cold nights, and some rough patches of water stood in the way of our getting here in time to get to the event we had tickets for; that event itself, the men’s luge, seemed on the verge of cancellation the night before we got here, the consequence of a tragic death in practice.

But the cards all fell into place, the stars aligned, and we made it!

Saturday was, however, a very long day. We were up at 0430, picking our way by spotlight out of crowded Silva Bay, into a choppy and confused Strait of Georgia by night. The wind had abated to around 20 knots from the whipping 35-40 range of the night before but the waters hadn’t calmed yet. Raising the main with a reef in it in the dark on a pitching deck helped warm us up, though, and soon enough we were bashing through the waves on a close reach bound for English Bay. The Strait was empty but for a single tug pushing a barge, which in the immutable law of the sea, was crossing us on a collision course. I altered to pass behind him and he flashed his deck lights in acknowledgment once we were clear.

As the sky grew brighter beyond the vail of grey overcast, the wind backed, and we were soon sailing close-hauled, but unable to point close enough to our destination. Mandy took over the helm about halfway across, and by the time she had us across, we were closer to Bowen Island than to Point Grey, and faced with a lot of tacking to get us into False Creek.

Before that, though, we had to contend with the security cordon; a Canadian corvette quickly closed with and hailed us, asking some pointed (but polite!) questions about our origin and destination before letting us past. Further in, an RCMP patrol boat repeated the routine as we were picking our way past the half-dozen freighters at anchor in English Bay.

Time was getting short and as soon as we got in close enough to shore for the chop to die down, we dropped sail, fired up the engine, and headed straight in. Some combination of bashing around and revving up popped a cooling hose off; water sprayed out the engine compartment and into the cabin before I got Mandy to throttle back and found a screwdriver to tighten the hose clamp that had worked loose.

We got into False Creek about an hour later than planned, and had to go through the usual song and dance to get hold of the harbourmaster at the Harbour Authority (if they regularly monitor a radio channel, we haven’t found it yet). We called them on a cell phone finally and quickly got sorted out in our slip on B dock. I changed quickly out of my foulies, grabbed the ticket confirmations, and we headed off to the will-call office.

The only problem was, I didn’t actually know where the office was at; I’d left the directions behind somewhere. A very fuzzy phone call and some hazy recollections later got us into the right neighborhood, and then we just followed the crowd and looked for signs.

One of the cool things about the tickets is that they also serve as all-day transit passes on any public transportation in Vancouver. So once out of the will-call office, we hopped the next bus we saw headed for Coal Harbour, and were at the Sea Bus terminal in no time. All the public transportation here has been incredibly effective; there are buses or light rail trains every few minutes, Sea Bus water taxis every ten minutes, and if you’re on False Creek, the ubiquitous harbour taxis flit about like a cloud of gnats… you could almost step from taxi to taxi to get across, instead of just sitting inside one and waiting for it to get there.

The Sea Bus took us to Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver, which also happened to be the boarding point for the restricted spectator buses up to the mountain venues of Whistler and Cypress. And it took us there an hour early. We stood in the rain and took the opportunity to gulp down some food while we waited.

The trip up the mountain was two hours, during which I slept, hoping to stay awake for the event itself. The Sea to Sky Highway is beautiful, winding along Howe Sound and presenting spectacular vistas of what looks to be world-class cruising territory on par with the San Juans or Gulf Islands. We made plans to come back and explore it by water, in warmer weather.

The highway is restricted right now to Olympic traffic and we had it pretty much to ourselves, other than a mystery motorcade that passed us going the other direction about halfway up. Joe Biden was in town; we heard one of the volunteers talking about leading members of the royal family around some of the venues later; could it have been one of them? It didn’t matter, it just added to the gravity of the event.

After having been cold and wet for so long already, it was a bit of surprise that we could get colder and even more wet up on the mountain. But it was further up, and quite a bit colder, and the rain came down even harder as we went through security.

We got through without hassle; everyone, from volunteers, to spectators, to the security personnel, were in good spirits. Whether they’ll still be smiling at the end of two weeks of it all is an open question, but here at the beginning, the pride and happiness are both shining through, and we bobbed our way up the trail to the luge track with a buoyant crowd.

The event itself was exciting, but to be honest we saw more on the big screen, the same view you would get at home, than in person. We picked a good spot in the final turn (the deadly one, although that wasn’t why we picked it) to catch a glimpse of the racers going past right at the finish. Although there is a good long stretch of track visible (since you’re standing in the middle of the curve), I timed a few of them through it, and we had a view for all of about two and a half seconds.

I wouldn’t have traded those two and a half seconds for all the warm couches in the world, though.

The trip back was just as long, and a bit more frustrating, and we were beat by the time we made it back to the boat. But our enthusiasm for the Games, and the excitement here in the city, was undiminished.

The experiences we are having in Vancouver right now during the 2010 Winter Olympics are exactly the sorts of things we hoped for when we decided to move aboard and spend as much time as possible sailing, and it’s proved, at least to me, that you don’t have to be out voyaging around the world to have terrific, memorable, unique experiences from afloat. This is the sort of life I want; whether or not we can maintain it will be a question for the future. For now, we’re basking in the glow of a city in celebration, and we’re celebrating a bit ourselves (and not just over the two US hockey victories today, although as a hockey fan, that doesn’t displease me in any way).

6 Responses to “The Olympics, from the water”

  1. Deborah

    Feb 18th, 2010

    Awesome post, Scot!!! It’s exciting just to be at the Olympics, but to arrive there by boat – does it get any better than that?!

    Your story made me homesick for my hometown. I used to work at Lonsdale Quay, way back when, and worked downtown during Expor 86. Good times!

    I look forward to hearing more about your time in Vancouver.

    Cheers!
    Deborah

  2. Profile photo of Scott Wilson

    Scott Wilson

    Feb 18th, 2010

    If you happened to work at the shop that makes the heretofore unknown to me, but altogether welcome addition to my universe, “breakfast calzone” then my hat is off to you. There is no greater accomplishment, either culinary or nautical, with which you might astound me. Should you open a franchise in Seattle, I will be the first and greatest customer. And, though I am sure Three Sheets is destined for great things, it would become merely a hobby site, as your riches from breakfast calzone franchises would grow beyond calculation.

    Otherwise, I’m heading back up to Vancouver as soon as possible for more. You’ll get tired of hearing about Lonsdale Quay, because that’s the only place I’ll be hanging out (breakfast calzones, being neither wholly breakfast, nor wholly calzone, are of course served all day long).

  3. Boyd Godfrey

    Mar 2nd, 2010

    Glad you enjoyed yourselves at the games!
    You passed right through our little town of Squamish en route to Whistler.
    Although you’ll certainly be welcome here and the scenery is spectacular, the cruising in Howe Sound ( the body of water that parallels the Sea to Sky Highway ) isn’t the greatest; very deep water with virtually no anchorage, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to have the wind right on your bow or stern depending on the time of day.
    Just found 3 Sheets a few weeks ago…really enjoying it! – Boyd

  4. Profile photo of Scott Wilson

    Scott Wilson

    Mar 3rd, 2010

    “…guaranteed to have the wind right on your bow or stern…”

    We’re used to it! You could just as well be describing Puget Sound!

    It’s a shame about the dearth of anchorages but it was so pretty I’m sure we’ll swing through for a day trip at least.

    We certainly did pass through Squamish, but I am ashamed to say that I was asleep at the time. We’ll have to stop and see the sights there this summer. I imagine all the Olympic traffic (and the construction that preceded it) was quite an inconvenience to residents, but as one of the beneficiaries of all that hassle, I want to thank you for enduring it. Our memories of it all will last a lifetime… and you are guaranteed to keep seeing our tourist dollars rolling in as long as we are cruising in this part of the world.

    We’re glad you like the site, thanks for letting us know!

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