A Chance Encounter with a Prairie Chicken

During the summer of 2003, we were visiting the book exchange at Lagoon Cove in the Broughton Archipegalo when we struck up a conversation with an older woman. She too was anchored in her modest sailboat while luxury yachts were tied to the marina docks anticipating the arrival of the happy hour celebrations that the marina is known for. Frankly, it is  lost on us why these big yachts with every convenience imagined needed to be tied up to a marina to participate in a rustic happy hour.  But, I suppose different people are seeking different experiences when they hit the water.  We found ourselves more aligned with this friendly woman who we now knew as Margo.

Margo told us that she was going to explore Knights Inlet which is known to have very few protected anchorages.  Margo had been swapping tales with some local commercial fishermen and they marked little “x”s all over her Knights Inlet chart indicating small “hidey-holes” that they used whenever the outflow winds increased to a gale.

Sharing such coveted local information was a testament to this fiesty, solo female sailor who has told us that she was Margo Woods of Charlie’s Charts. Wow! We were in the presence of a legend.  Margo and her now deceased husband, Charlie have charted and written cruising guides for the coast of western North America, Mexico and beyond.

If you want to know more about Margo, she chronicled her transformation from a scared prairie girl to adventurous sailor in her book, “A Prairie Chicken Goes to Sea”.  A fun read but also a testimony to the difficult path this woman has taken.

With no hint of arrogance or boasting of the thousands of nautical miles under her bottom, Margo continued by giving us a little weather lesson. She told us that she wouldn’t be starting up Knights Inlet the following day because of the pronounced mares’ tails in the late afternoon sky. These clouds are harbingers of strong winds and staying put in a smug anchorage was her plan. Since we were on our first extended cruise and did not know the area, we decided to stay put too.

We said our farewells and decided to move across Chatham Channel to a quieter anchorage called Cutter Cove. Shortly after setting the anchor, the winds began and continued to strengthen throughout the night. Whitecaps in the “protected” anchorage made for a rocky and noisy evening. It was so rough the following morning that we could not bring our dog ashore for her morning pee. Margo and her mares’ tails were right.

I was so impressed with this chance encounter with Mrs. Charlie’s Charts that I decided that I wanted to learn how to forecast weather by looking into the sky. I finally tracked down a couple of books recommended by Lin and Larry Pardey in Storm Tactics.  The books are called Instant Wind Forecasting and Instant Weather Forecasting by Allan Watts. The author explains the information in easy-to-read charts with lots of photos. These books are a good addition to your boating library.

We have taken an additional weather course offered through the Bluewater Cruising Association that taught the basics of weather forecasting but when I look up and see the familiar pattern of mares’ tails in the sky, I always think fondly of the adventurous prairie chicken that I met in the middle of the Broughtons.

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