The Outer Shores Adventure Begins
“We’ve got nowhere to go and all day to get there.” That’s how Outer Shores Expeditions Captain Matt Lemay explained our next four days aboard the elegant 74-foot long schooner, Passing Cloud, to us. There are a total of three crew and six guests on this quick sailing through British Columbia’s Gulf Islands on the West Coast of Canada; a decidedly intimate mix that’s perfect for exploring just a handful of the over 200 islands that make up the Gulf Islands region.
Captain Matt is right: the beauty of a sailing adventure like this is not having to be constrained to schedules, transit times, and pre-arranged ports of call. Instead, the guests of the Passing Cloud will be treated to four days of lazy rambling around one of the most scenic areas of British Columbia.
My adventure began at 10am at the Port Sidney Marina, just a two-minute stroll down from the Sidney Pier Hotel & Spa where I spent the last night. Met by First Mate Liam and Captain Matt, we were led from the marina entrance to the beautiful Passing Cloud, which was obscured at her Pier F berth by the hundreds of other boats that have berthed in the harbour for the winter.
Our welcome onboard was casual and relaxed. Chef Graham had coffee cake and freshly-brewed coffee and tea waiting for us in the ship’s cozy lounge upon arrival, and guests were shown to their staterooms and given a quick briefing on how to use the ship’s toilet and shower. All the facilities you’d expect at home or in a nice hotel are here, albeit in their maritime versions: the toilet is an easy-to-use electric one with a two-step flush and fill system, and the shower is equipped with fine soap and body wash; all crew ask is that guests use the shower sparingly to conserve fresh water onboard.
Afterwards, Captain Matt explained the philosophy behind Outer Shores Expeditions and the history of its founder, Russell Markel. This was followed by a quick safety briefing and some introductions by Matt, Liam and Graham.
A few neat changes have been made since I sailed aboard Passing Cloud two years ago. Firstly, the ship’s complement has been limited from eight to just six guests to increase the already-intimate atmosphere onboard.
The second change is that there is no longer an all-season chef onboard. Outer Shores prefers to hire local chefs from Vancouver and Vancouver Island restaurants and bring them on a for a few runs at a time. This allows the company to seriously increase the quality of the food served onboard, which utilises locally-sourced ingredients and seriously approaches ‘gourmet’ quality.
A few things that impress me about my fellow guests, who hail from Canada and the United States. One couple in California booked passage on Passing Cloud because of an advertisement they saw in Sunset magazine while they waited at the dentist’s office. Another couple had heard about it through someone else, and another lady is on her third run with Outer Shores in nearly as many years.
Since this is my second trip with the company, I like that word is slowly but surely getting out about what an exceptional sailing experience this is. Within minutes of stepping onboard, I felt immediately at home – again. I’ve sailed on ships that cost hundreds of millions of Euros to construct that don’t have this kind of innate coziness right out of the gate. It’s a testament to what Russell Markel and his dedicated crew have been able to achieve in just a few short years.
The pitter-patter of rain on the glass skylight above Passing Cloud’s lounge let us know that the weather up top had changed. I changed into my waterproof jacket and pants (essential on expeditions like this) and headed topside to enjoy our departure from Sidney.
With the skies opening up above us, the adventure began. Two whales were spotted off our port bow as we motored out of Sidney’s marina and raised our sails. A bright-red whale-watching boat was in hot pursuit, zipping around in the water around us with frantic abandon. If you ever want to spot whales, look for the chase boat. It will make you seem really smart, particularly if the whales are a long way off.
The whales eventually crossed over to our starboard side and ran with us for about half an hour, having had the decency to disappear from view just as lunch was served in the lounge.
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