I fell in love with Tofino traffic…

IMG_20141117_154940We have new neighbours here in Sidney – a kid boat!!  YAY!!!  As we were hosting our new friends for some tea we all got to reflecting on why we’ve chosen this cruising path.  We’ve had to downsize a lot and sometimes forgo seemingly average luxuries like having a hanging closet, or instant hot water.

By most people’s measures we now live in a state of comfort that is far below average.  By most people’s standards we have less than they think is appropriate.  So what is the pull?  What is it that I find so satisfying?  The answer, I find, can best be articulated by an event from the summer of 2013, the time when I fell in love with Tofino traffic.

We were on the VICE with the Bluewater Cruising Association, returning from the offshore waypoint, maybe still 70 nautical miles from shore.  It was windy, maybe 20 knots from the northwest and we were beam reaching.  I was on watch at night, Pete was asleep.  I looked up and saw our radar reflector had broken off.  I don’t know, I mean it just wasn’t there anymore.  We were in the part of BC waters where many huge ships were converging either entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca or leaving it, heading back the other way across the Pacific Ocean.  We needed to be on our toes to avoid collisions.  I went down below to check the AIS (Automatic Identification System) to see what was coming our way.  The AIS is amazing, I can see lots of info on the approaching ship like it’s name, home port, destination, speed over the ground, course over the ground, etc.  We only have a receiver, not a transponder so they couldn’t see us.  There was a target the AIS calculated was on a collision course with us, CPA (closest point of approach) 10 ft!  Yikes!  That’s ok though, I thought.  I’d just call them on the radio to make sure they saw us and we wouldn’t have to change course.  We were the stand-on vessel.  No response.  I tried again.  Nothing.  Time was ticking, we were getting closer.

Airports have air traffic control towers.  Busy shipping areas have something similar, and in this part of the world it is called Tofino traffic.  They communicate on VHF channel 74.  I gave them a call:  “We are a little sailboat at position…. at a speed of…  We’ve lost our radar reflector and I think we’re on a collision course with ship “X” and they’re not responding.  Can you help us?”  Their response?  “Absolutely.  We’ll call them.”  And they did.  And then ship “X” called us and together we ensured that there would be no collision. But that’s not all.  Tofino traffic put us in their computer system to ensure that there would be no more close calls that they wouldn’t know about.  They requested that once we got to our destination we let them know so they could take us out of the system, which we did, and when we did so they said “Glad to hear you’ve had a safe journey.  Tofino traffic out.”

So much kindness.  So much concern for everyone’s safety.  So much courtesy.  And that’s when it hit me:  This is what I love about the sailing life.  Out there, 99% of the time, people aren’t the bad guys.  Out there, if in any way one is able to, people help each other.  The most threatening element is not another person, it is the weather, or the waves, or the sea, or a ship or rocks or the boat is sinking, or corrosion, equipment failure, or, or, or…  it’s not an other person though.  Other people are not to be feared out here.  Tofino traffic epitomized that for me at that time.  What a feeling!

Our new neighbours shared that their old neighbours in Vancouver sometimes wouldn’t even speak to them,, they would just drive into their garage and not try to connect at all.  For years.  I feel so heartbroken by that prospect.

But not out on the water.  Not here.  Thank you again, Tofino traffic, for helping us that night and also for helping us keep people in perspective.  Yes, the world can be a dangerous place sometimes, but we are so much safer backing each other up, knowing we can ask for help when we need it and knowing that help will come.  It seems to me that we could all enjoy some more connection in our lives, wherever we are.  Our connections with other people make us stronger, and our hearts warmer.