My first close-up view of the Schooner Zodiac was on a perfect summer evening last year, when I was boarding the San Juan Cruises’ Victoria Star to partake of the Bellingham Bay BREWers Cruise. The Zodiac, moored opposite the Victoria Star, momentarily distracted me from the beery delights I was anticipating.
I took one look at her and said to myself, “Someday, you will be mine. Oh yes, you will be mine.” What I meant, of course, is that someday I would sail on this amazing work of art. And this week, on another perfect summer evening, I finally did, much to my complete delight. And it was on a wine dinner cruise, which made it even better!
If you’re a sailor like me, or a boat enthusiast of any ilk, the Zodiac is a beauty that grabs your heart and doesn’t let go. Built in 1924 for heirs of the Johnson & Johnson family, she has a long and storied history that you can read all about on the website. But here’s the gist: she’s the largest working tall ship on the West Coast, at 127 feet long on deck, 160 from bowsprit to stern and 25.5 feet across the beam. The main mast is 114 feet tall, while the fore mast is 93 feet tall. And with a mainsail that’s over 4,000 square feet, she is rigged to fly over the waves.
The schooner Zodiac has been officially named a U.S. National Historic Site and is considered a national maritime treasure. We are so fortunate to have her here in Bellingham as her homeport! While she’s been both a race boat and a pilot schooner, the Zodiac now offers a variety of learn-to-sail and educational programs for adults and kids, along with charters and short- and long-term cruises.
From a few hours to several days, anyone can reserve a spot on the Zodiac—and become a crewmember, too. I signed up for—what else—the Wine Dinner Cruise, featuring wines selected by Katie Bechkowiak of Vinostrology Wine Lounge in downtown Bellingham. After we pulled away from the dock and heard all about the lay of the boat, location of the life jackets and a briefing on what was expected of us, Katie was introduced. She got right to the point and announced, “We’ll be starting with rosé!” which was music to my ears.
You might be wondering what could possibly have been expected of we passengers, other than to drink wine, enjoy the scenery, feel the wind in our hair and eat delicious food. Oh, we did all of that—and more. You see, the rule on the Zodiac is that everybody who’s able and willing helps sail the boat. You know, raise the sails and whatnot. Trust me, with the size of the lines, booms and sails on the Zodiac, it truly takes “all hands on deck” to get her under way. So we stashed our wine glasses (after enjoying their contents, of course) lined up on either the port (left) or starboard (right) side, grabbed a section of line, and pulled, hand-over-hand, until we heard the order to stop and we got to rest a minute, hearts racing and a little breathless. Then the first mate called, “haul away, port!” and our group did it again. Eventually, the sail reached just the right point—short of the very top, since the evening’s strong winds would have heeled us over too much. Great for speed, but not so good for bottles and cups of wine—and we had our priorities.
Once we were completely under sail, the engine was cut and the wind took us away. It was a magnificent evening for a sail, with crisp winds and fluffy white clouds in the late summer sky. And to sweeten the scene, another wine was opened—this time, a Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend from France. We sipped as the Zodiac skimmed across Bellingham Bay. There is truly nothing that compares with seeing our beautiful city and its mountain backdrop from the Bay.
Eventually, we tacked to change direction, which was smooth as could be on this boat and with this crew. All the while, conversations were struck up on deck between strangers and Abby the cat scampered around. As the evening chill came on, I pulled on a jacket and of course, switched over to a red wine (a lovely French Cotes-du-Rhone blend) to keep warm. Soon enough, it was time for dinner, prepared by the ship’s cook, Miranda. A lovely spread of cheeses, crackers and bread, plus a salad with avocado, fennel and crab started things off. The main dish was pork tenderloin with currant sauce, whipped cauliflower and green beans. With it, I enjoyed the lovely Bordeaux Kate chose for us. Dessert was a dreamy rosemary custard with orange curd garnish—and it was to die for! Easily one of the best desserts I’ve had all summer, on land or sea. And the rest of the food was just as delicious.
While I focused on my food below deck, I had the feeling that the sun was setting above—and I was anxious to see it. Unfortunately, it was just about gone by the time I tore myself away from my dinner. Just another of this summer’s stellar sunsets on Bellingham Bay. Even post-sunset, Bellingham Bay was magical. As we headed back toward the dock, the crew dropped the sails and the engine roared back to life, while the passengers lamented that the evening passed far too quickly.
My obsession with the Schooner Zodiac has just begun. My husband and I are already planning our next trip—will it be a three-day or 12-day cruise to celebrate our anniversary? Can we squeeze in another afternoon or evening cruise, or should we try the island brewery or winery cruise next year? There is still plenty of time in 2014 to get out on the Zodiac before the cold weather sets in. Check out the sailing schedule and book quickly—they often sell out. As for me, next summer can’t get here fast enough. I can’t wait to sail on the Zodiac again!
The evening’s wines: 2013 Aubai Mema Casimir—Rosé of Syrah and Cabernet 2012 Château Pouchard Larquey Entre Deux Mers—Sauvignon blanc/Semillion 2010 Château de Montfaucon Côtes-du-Rhône—Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault, Counoise 2010 Château La Maroutine Bordeaux—Merlot/Cabernet