"Always scan well ahead of the bow,” cautions Peter Vermeulen as I take the helm of his Protector Hauraki 40. Despite having sailed extensively, I have zero experience driving anything like Vermeulen’s 550-horsepower rocket ship. I ease the throttles forward and concentrate on finding a smooth line. The Protector (see the complete photo gallery) makes neat work of the chop that’s roiling Johnstone Strait, instigated by the fast-moving currents, epic tidal swings and ricocheting winds that define cruising off Vancouver Island.
“Port bow, half-mile out,” says Vermeulen. I bank to starboard before spotting the floating menace, no doubt spillage from the logging industry. The Protector rolls comfortably to starboard, her inflatable tube acting like a ski edge carving through chalky snow. We blow past the partially submerged log and I resume course, smiling because, while these waters aren’t exactly benign, we have the perfect log-dodging tool.
Provided, of course, that our eyes stay sharp.
The idea was simple: four men, four days, one Protector Hauraki 40 and the objective of seeing how far north we could cruise in a tight round trip out of Seattle. Despite day one’s relaxed late-morning departure — a luxury specific to cruising on fast boats near the summer solstice — we reached Port Townsend, Washington, before noon, including a stop to watch a gray whale frolic. Vermeulen and I live in Seattle and are accustomed to seeing whales, but this is new stuff for Olin Silverman, 7, of Lake Tahoe. After the leviathan submerged, Olin enthusiastically recorded his encounter on a list that Ralph Silverman — Olin’s dad and our fourth companion — helps him organize.
Our bow soon points across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, an area notorious for lumpy waters. As expected, our horizon is strewn with confused swells of four to eight feet. I brace myself for our first big hit, but the boat’s tubes absorb the energy impressively. We cruise through San Juan Channel’s protected waters before clearing Canadian customs in Bedwell Harbor, British Columbia. After a brief fuel stop in Nanaimo, we punch north to Campbell River for the night, some 214 miles as the eagle soars from Seattle. While a trawler might take five days to make this passage, our props have spun for only six hours.
The water’s surface starts changing before we even enter Seymour Narrows the next morning. Container ships calculate their passage through here to coincide with slack waters; even whales wait for favorable tides. Not us: Vermeulen enters Seymour Narrows doing a casual 30-plus knots.