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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


Tor Johnson photo


My next ride was the kind of coincidence that happens in the San Juan Islands: a young mother named LJ with her four kids in a new SUV. When I mentioned my broken rudder assembly, LJ asked exactly what had broken. She wanted all of the details. I began to realize that I was talking to a fellow sailor, in fact, a particularly smart one. LJ is a hydrologist by training, and grew up sailing the world with her parents, just as I had. Now she and her husband Mike, a philosophy major turned particle physicist teacher turned investor in new decarbonizing technologies, were just about to set out with their two sets of twins Forrest and Sierra, age 9, and 6-year-old Aurora and Coral on an epic voyage to the South Pacific on their gorgeous Outremer 49 catamaran, Epsilon Lyrae, appropriately named after the constellation of double twin stars. 

The swim platform also doubles as an excellent dog perch.
Tor Johnson photo 
Mike was prepping to set sail on their first big leg down the coast to San Francisco the next day, so he invited me to come along while he refueled the boat for the long voyage ahead in the West Sound, the next bay along the coast. He said he would introduce me to his friend Bill, a local boatbuilder, after refueling.

Despite the stress of getting under way on their first major voyage, Mike somehow found the time to drive me to their neighborhood boatbuilder Bill Koral’s shop, where we drilled and bolted our broken collar back together, a makeshift repair that would get our Kāholo safely back to her slip. Apparently the cruisers’ ethic, and indeed the law of the sea, that requires us to render assistance to another boat in peril, still runs strong here among the islanders of the San Juans.

I was impressed by how well prepared Mike and LJ were, and how well they communicated with their kids, who seemed to love being aboard the boat. LJ had even done some beautifully spliced Dyneema synthetic lines for the rig and safety systems. They were ready for the sea.

It was a pleasure to see a young family like this, just at the beginning of their journey, starting out on the voyage of a lifetime. I realized we were a generation apart. But like us they’d be facing new challenges and adventures together, as a family, and just like us, they’d be creating memories, bonds, and friendships that will stay with them forever. 

Cruising as a family is like that. 

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