June 14, 2010 – Neah Bay, Washington
By Herb McCormick
We’ve seen our fair share of capes and points on this voyage Around the Americas: At the tippy-top of North America we gazed upon a glorified sand spit called Zenith Point, and at the very end of South America we took in true glory in all its wild majesty at wild Cape Horn. For heaven’s sake, along the eastern seaboard alone we negotiated Cape Cod, Cape May, Cape Hatteras, Cape Lookout and Cape Canaveral. It took us forever and a day to get past Punta Calcanhar on the east coast of Brazil, and on the other side of the Americas, we got our hats handed to us soon after losing sight of, first, Cabo San Lucas, and later, Point Conception.
But today on Ocean Watch, we rounded perhaps the most momentous cape of all. That’s because it was the last one.
The late, great Johnny Cash once observed, “I’ve been everywhere, man, I’ve been everywhere.” Now we know what he meant. For at just a little after four this afternoon Pacific time, the 64-foot steel cutter that’s taken us just about everywhere rounded Cape Flattery at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca – entering the newly designated Salish Sea, so named in honor of the “First Nation” Americans of this wondrous coast – and in the process exited once and for all the big, beautiful Pacific Ocean on this long, strange trip around the continents. At last, we’d entered the relatively protected, tree-lined corridors of the Pacific Northwest.
For skipper Mark Schrader, mate Dave Logan and oceanographer Michael Reynolds, these were home waters, too. Let’s air out a few more clichés: Ocean Watch is on the back nine, headed down the stretch and smelling the barn. Yes, the great, big boat that has taken us all on the greatest, biggest adventure of all our lives, is around the corner and on the way home.
Home sweet home.
Of course, because we never do anything the easy way, getting around that corner – the lighthouse at Tatoosh Island off Cape Flattery – on the final day offshore, almost put us all around the bloody bend. Since I’ve employed all the adjectives already, on countless occasions, I’ll spare everyone the platitudes of misery. Let’s put it this way: It was rough, we were tired and our reservoir of patience for such things was a dry gulch. A happy crew we were not.
Luckily, conditions did moderate slightly during the night, and we even witnessed the world’s quickest sunrise during the dawn watch. Imagine yourself in a dark bedroom on the second floor of a two-story house, with the window cracked ever so slightly, just emitting a horizontal patch of light. Now pretend a kid on the street just threw a basketball to his pal on the roof. That orange sphere, between the slate-gray sea and a low, dank horizon, was pretty much indicative of the extent of sunrise this morning.
I snapped a couple quick pictures, to which Logan said, “Congratulations, you now have one of the extremely rare photographs of the sun rising over the coast of Washington.”
Then it was just gray.
Even so, the coastline was beautiful, and sailmaker Carol Hasse, who’s ranged along these watery parts for many moons, was an excellent tour guide for a guy like me who’d never seen it before. The first American to circumnavigate, a Bostonian fur trader called Captain Robert Gray, was the man who named both the Columbia River and, just a little farther north, Gray’s Harbor. Then there were the sea stacks known as the Needles and Cape Alava along the rustic coast of the Olympic National Parks wilderness beach. If had been a clear day, we would’ve seen Mount Olympus, the rainforest that receives more moisture on an annual basis than anyplace else in the continental United States, which of course is why we couldn’t see it.
And then, finally, there was Cape Flattery and the lighthouse on Tatoosh Island, the home of the Makah Nation, the great Native American whalers and craftsmen of the Pacific Northwest.
The Corner: We were at the corner.
Like Cape Horn, the emotion of it caught us a bit by surprise. We took a hundred pictures. We hugged and laughed. We turned the boat, dropped the sails and motored into the little fishing village of Neah Bay. It was cold. We were in desperate need of hot showers and vats of shampoo. We couldn’t have been more pleased with any of it.
After all, in many more ways than one, we’d turned the corner. We’ve almost been everywhere, man. We’ve almost been everywhere.
-Herb McCormick with photographs by David Thoreson
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