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Cruising connection

2024 March 1

Sailing the San Juan Islands brings both joy and challenges to an extended family that finds kindred spirits along the way

The author’s lens captures a fellow cruiser peeking through the foliage.
Tor Johnson photo


I removed the collar from the steering post. It had sheered into two pieces, probably due to corrosion. I called Lewmar, who politely informed me that they couldn’t supply the collar alone. I’d need to order an entire replacement quadrant, custom made in their factory in England. It would be expensive and it would take months. 

Hoping to get our steering at least temporarily fixed, to get back to our slip on the mainland where we could make a permanent repair, I decided to visit a local boatyard and see if we could rebuild the part. Since they were on the other side of the island, and the only two taxis were booked, I decided to hitchhike across the island with my broken part, a castaway with a damaged quadrant collar. 

The younger crewmembers take Guinness for a ride.
Tor Johnson photo 
The San Juans are small islands, where people still wave when they pass on the roads. There’s a sense of community and strong counter-culture roots. There’s little crime, and the pace of life is slow. All of this means it’s easy to hitch a ride, although it may not be the ride you wanted.

The first car to pick me up was a weathered SUV driven by a heavily tattooed young guy with straggly hair and no shirt. He produced a huge joint and began smoking the entire thing. I became increasingly nervous, we passed through gorgeous countryside, farms with ancient barns, and rolling fields with crops and grazing cattle. Then my driver unexpectedly turned off onto a small wooded lane. I’d been navigating with my phone, so I knew we were off course. My driver seemed harmless, but I wasn’t completely sure. I hoped he was just extremely stoned.

“You’re actually going the wrong way,” I told him, as politely as I could, not wanting to harsh his buzz.

“Are you in a hurry? Let’s see where this takes us!” he insisted.

“Yes, I am actually in a rush!” I replied, a little too loudly.

He relented, and took me back to the main road, where I was relieved to get out of the car.

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