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Marion wrote: I am a sea lover. Seems to be an interesting cruise. david martin Abrahams would love to travel on it.


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Wooden Ship on the Waters
An historic vessel sets the tone for cruising Canada?s culturally rich Gulf Islands

Our final guest flew out of Richmond, just south of Vancouver, to Bedwell, on South Pender Island, a 20-minute jaunt. Capt. Colin picked him up in the power boat and 15 minutes late, he was having his morning coffee on the aft deck. After a discussion of the various activities available that day, we broke into two groups. Some of us opted to visit a Saturna Island vineyard with “wicked” wines, while others chose a bike ride along Saturna’s scenic coast.

I opted to join those going to the vineyard. The captain dropped us off at the public dock. After a short stroll, we came upon Saturna Island Vineyards, situated on a hill sloping southeast toward Plumper Sound. Full southern exposure and protective cliffs behind provide perfect conditions for the 62-acre vineyard. Each row of vines is capped with a lush, perfumed rose bush, carefully planted to attract bees. At the top of the slope, the wine shop and tasting room are surrounded by fragrant lavender and chamomile. There’s even a small cafe with offerings such as “salad of the moment.” You can sip your wine under one of the colorful umbrellas and gaze across to South Pender Island. Sheep and feral goats cavort on the mountains behind, and you may spot a peregrine falcon or two.

The cool-climate vineyard is achieving numerous recognitions with its eight different offerings. Currently, two are estate-grown, with the aim being to grow them all. Their best-seller is their estate-grown chardonnay. Even the label that graces the bottle conveys the Gulf Island feel; it was designed by an ex-firefighter from Vancouver who moved out to the island to paint.

After a couple of hours, Capt. Colin picked us up – with our selections – and we headed back to the boat to meet the others.

As we made our way back, we marveled at the beauty of the snow-covered Cascades in the distance. Then, as we navigated through thick beds of kelp, we spotted dozens of harbor seals on the rocks ahead. Grey, tan, black, and spotted, they caroused on the rocks, seemingly just for our enjoyment.

Our lunch that day looked much more appetizing than theirs, though both featured salmon; ours was smoked, and extremely tasty. It was accompanied by wild rice and sundried apricot salad; fennel and apple salad with organic greens and enoki mushrooms; and raisin-pecan bread. Needless to say, we were soon ready for a nap – and then a hike to work it off!

Late in the afternoon, we headed over to Galiano Island and Montague Harbor, which Capt. Colin said is one of the safest harbors in the Gulf Islands, protected from winds on all sides. We followed Grey Point Trail around the shoreline, stopping every few feet to take in another fantastic view of the shimmering water and the rugged, hilly terrain. We all slept well that night.

We started the next day kayaking on Montague Sound, with the captain and first mate following closely behind should we need any guidance or assistance. The water was crystal clear and we were thrilled to spot purple stars, ochre stars, sunflower stars, blood stars, morning sun stars – I never knew so many types of sea stars existed! It was a great way to bask in the warmth of a fine Indian summer morning before heading west through the Trincomali Channel to Saltspring Island, the largest of the Gulf Islands.

We arrived in picturesque Ganges Harbor and walked to the nearby market filled with handmade local crafts: pottery, jewelry, woodenware, knitted goods, lavender, baked goods, and cheeses. Captain Colin told us that there are more than 350 varieties of organic apples grown on the island and 75 kinds of lavender. Interesting, too, he said, is that there are more PhDs per capita on Saltspring than anywhere in North America.

I awoke the next day in the still harbor, gazing out at the few surrounding sailboats reflecting in the crystal clear water. I sadly realized we’d be heading to Vancouver, on the last leg of our journey. After breakfast we joined Capt. Colin in the wheelhouse as he stood before the unusually large teak helm. Cruising at about 10knots, we were entering the Strait of Georgia, with the snow-covered Cascades in the distance. A light fog was lifting and flocks of Bonaparte’s gulls were fishing and flying over. Passing seals occasionally showed their sleek heads portside.

After a couple of hours, the beautiful Vancouver skyline emerged, backed by the Coastal Mountains. Seaplanes now shared the harbor with giant cargo barges from Asia. As we sipped our last espressos on the port passageway, we were starting to think about our flights home. Sure enough, several of us found ourselves asking the captain, “What day is it?”


SIDEBAR:
A Taste of Old Canada

A stay at the magnificent Empress hotel in Victoria, British Columbia, is the ideal way to acclimate yourself to the grandeur of the Pacific Northwest before boarding your charter yacht at one of Vancouver Island’s many harbors.

At the turn of the 20th century, travelers who landed at the Canadian-Pacific Steamship Terminal in Victoria’s Inner Harbor piled their luggage on waiting wagons and made their way across the street to the imposing Empress hotel. Today, The Empress continues to provide visitors to the Pacific Northwest with a truly memorable experience.

Start with high tea, British style. A custom Empress blend will be served in an exclusive pattern of Royal Doulton china, originally designed for Queen Victoria. Your gracious server will place a sugar cube or two and just the right amount of milk in your cup, before pouring. To whet your appetite, your first cup of tea will be accompanied by plump strawberries and Chantilly cream, topped with an orangy-colored native gooseberry.

A tea-tier will then be set before you, laden with three levels of delectables. Start at the bottom layer with a variety of crustless sandwiches, including cucumber; smoked salmon and cream cheese; egg salad; and carrot, ginger, and cream cheese (my favorite). Move up to the second level, pinkies up, for delectable raisin scones spread with jam and local double-thick Jersey cream. Now it’s time to test your willpower. The third tier displays shortbread cookies, a fruit tart, an almond paste tart topped with chocolate, and a lemon eclair.

Take your time and enjoy the views of Victoria Harbor and of the Tea Lobby where royals and dignitaries have indulged in the same tradition since 1908. Queen Elizabeth II last visited in 2002; FDR, Rudyard Kipling, and John Wayne were also frequent guests. Except for possibly the Queen, they most likely did not dine alone. The Empress serves an average of 800 teas a day in summertime.

Victoria is a walking city, which is fortunate, for it will help you work up an appetite for a dinner that should not be missed – in the hotel’s Empress Room. According to Amber Fiddler, manager, marketing and public relations for The Fairmont Empress, it’s the only restaurant in Canada to win Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence in 2004.“There’s no dining room like this anywhere else in Canada,” she says proudly.

The stately oak-paneled dining room features 20ft high tapestry-covered walls and an immense ceiling with beams and medallions made of horsehair covered with molded plaster. Soft lighting cast by chandeliers and sconces, comfortable wing and side chairs, and a classical harpist set the mood, which is augmented in winter by a roaring blaze in an enormous fireplace. Friendly but professional tuxedoed waiters provide silver service, and three restaurant sommeliers are on hand to offer tableside advice for selecting one of the cellar’s 800 bottles of imported and domestic wines, many from the highly acclaimed Venturi-Schultz Winery in BC.

Chef Rob Cleland’s menu features many local ingredients and is seasonal, changing four times a year. During a visit in early fall, I was served a complimentary starter: a light patty of sablefish roulade, with homemade potato chips on top. It wasn’t easy to select an entree from the tantalizing menu, but I eventually settled on Fire-Roasted Vegetables and Fresh Cheese Tamales/Poblano Chili Rellenos, and Southwestern Vegetable Ragout, with jump-fried corn, charred tomato, and black bean salsa. (My other top choices included the West Coast Seafood Hot Pot with Thai Coconut and Lemon Grass Broth and Grilled Wild BC?Salmon with Saffron Roulie. Decisions, decisions.) A refreshing palette cleanser of white wine/pink grapefruit sorbet gave me a little breathing room before a dessert to remember: Tarte Tatin with a Spun Sugar Basket filled with strawberries and homemade cinnamon ice cream with a hint of lavender, topped with the signature gooseberry, of course. It was the perfect ending to a day of dining heaven.

If I hadn’t been departing for my eagerly awaited trip on Pacific Yellowfin the next day, I surely would have pampered myself with one of The Empress’s West Coast Spa Experiences. The Island Senses treatment was designed as a metaphor for Vancouver Island. It starts with a salt-of-the-sea scrub (sea); followed by a detoxifying mud wrap (hiking trails); then a pine hydrotherapy bath (pine forests); and concluding with a lavender oil massage (with local lavender, harvested by the spa director).

Truly fit for a queen, The Empress is a highlight for anyone visiting Victoria. – J.M.
www.fairmont.com/empress /1-888-705-2500



About Jamie Matusow
Jamie Matusow is a freelance writer based in New York. She was the long time managing editor of legendary Yacht Vacations & Charters Magazine. Jamie traveled extensively throughout Mediterranean, Caribean, and the Bahamas where she filed many of her charter stories.

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