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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

I think we’ve lost steering,” my brother Alex said in a calm, matter-of-fact voice, his tone out of place in light of our situation.

Kyoko and four-legged family members buzz back to the boat after a break ashore.
Tor Johnson photo 
Alex was at the helm of our Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 509 under full sail at 9 knots, bombing down East Sound, a narrow channel just now funneling a northerly wind right down the middle of
Orcas Island, in Washington’s San Juan Islands. What was a spirited broad reach from historic Rosario Resort in 25 knots of wind, had suddenly turned into a crashing downwind jibe.

We grew up sailing the world with our family, and I’ve always looked up to my older brother Alex. As a kid I followed him around, learning about photography, surfing, sailing, diving. Whatever Alex did, he did well. I tagged along. Together we experienced places and things only a cruising family could. Alex and I even ended up crewing on a commercial boat north of Guam during typhoon season. Predictably, there was a typhoon. The boat was lost, but the crew was safe ashore. Alex proved himself a true waterman, unflappable in a crisis, and nearly saved the vessel by securing it to some old mooring blocks using surplus cables, all while free diving. Of course the whole thing was dangerous. But we were young, so we didn’t notice.

We were now sailing with two of Alex’s three grown kids: Logan, 25, a navy veteran who has sailed with me on an ocean crossing from Fiji to New Zealand, and Brock, 18, now on his first sailing adventure. 

The crew enjoys a rousing sail past Rosario Resort on Orcas Island, Washington, shortly before their steering failed.
Tor Johnson photo


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