Sailing Adventures

Eulogy to a Friend and Mentor

Rick Zeman, 1942 - 2014

In March, 2007, I sailed our first big trawler, the Ursa Major, into our homeport of Newport, Oregon after a long slog up the coast from San Diego. I was pretty intimidated by the whole affair. A 50' power vessel is a lot different from the small one-design sailboats that I had raced in earlier years. It was full of equipment I wasn't familiar with. After years of as a desk jockey, my mechanical skills were pretty rusty. I didn't even know what I didn't know.

The first morning at our new marina a fellow came walking down the dock and introduced himself. Rick Zeman and his beautiful wife Pagene had "Rapid Transit", a big semi-displacement trawler at the head of the dock. We chatted a bit about my trip up the coast and plans for the future.

A couple of days later I was headed down the dock, planning to figure out why the diesel heater on the boat wasn't working. I knew the name of the beast - Webasto. I even knew where it sat in the engine room. Beyond that I didn't have a clue. Gratefully, Rick stepped out of his boat and asked what I was up to. I told him my problem. Sight unseen, Rick was able to diagnose the likely cause of the problem and suggest some approaches to fixing it. I went on down the dock feeling much more confident about my project.

It didn't take long for my confidence to wane. I'd never worked on a Webasto and wasn't at all sure what I was looking at. But an hour later, Rick just happened to drop by to see how things were going. With his tutelage it didn't take long for the fog to clear. I learned how the bloody thing worked - and why it wasn't working right now.

Rick was like that. He had vast experience in marine systems and was happy to share his knowledge with anyone he could help. He didn't appreciate someone who threw their hands up and expected him to fix it. But as long as I was the one wielding the wrench, he was happy to pitch in, share his knowledge, and get his hands dirty.

Visits with the unofficial "Mayor of B Dock" soon became an important part of my days. Over a drink we would hash over the latest puzzle in boat management, how to read the weather, strategies for safely crossing the entrance bar, what VHF channels to monitor, and much more. As Gerry and I began planning our summer in the San Juan Islands on our new boat, Rick and Page introduced us to the best resources for information, beginning with their own experiences and log books.

Their favorite cruising ground was Barkley Sound on the southwest side of Vancouver Island. Barkley isn't visited by many boats as it's is on the exposed Pacific side of the Island. Most mariners prefer the protected waters of the Puget Sound, the San Juan and Gulf Islands, and the Inside Passage to Alaska. Many are hesitant to take on the challenge of the Straits of Juan de Fuca that separate the Washington State and British Columbia, Canada. It is a long haul from Seattle. The tidal currents are strong and there is a lot of heavy shipping to contend with.

However, for Oregon boaters coming up the Washington Coast, Barkley is a wonderful option. Instead of heading East up the Straits, they simply stay far enough offshore to avoid the tidal rips at the mouth of the Straits and continue north to clear customs at the little fishing village of Ucluelet, British Columbia. From there, the islands and passages of Barkley Sound open up like a treasure box of gems. And Rick and Page knew them all.
The first time we sailed into Barkley to meet Rapid Transit, I naively asked Rick to tell me his GPS coordinates so I could find him. He laughed and said, "Sure, here they are but they won't help you much. Grab a pencil and I'll tell you how to get here." We wended our way through narrow passages around tiny islands, past a few fishing shacks and an occasional boat. Eventually we came around a corner and there lay the big Ocean Alexander tied stern to onto an old logging eye sunk into a rock in a tiny cove barely big enough for a dinghy. "Not to worry," said Rick, "there is plenty of room for you to anchor right over there and run a stern line to a tree on that little island over there."

Another time we could see Rapid Transit from a long distance away. The only problem was a plethora of tiny low islands in between us and them. Again, Rick gave us inch by inch instructions on how to wend our way around the obstacles into a charming little cove where a family of bears came out each afternoon to entertain us. Over time he led us on dinghy tours of secret coves, a nearby float home village, the best place to catch prawns, pick blue point oysters, and how to find a hidden waterfall. Everything he knew, he shared with those who were interested.

Rick died suddenly on July 24, 2014. May he rest in peace on a lovely yacht in Paradise, surrounded by eagles, dolphins, flashing salmon, and good friends. He will be sorely missed by those of us on this side of the great Ocean.

Rick and Page Zeman, full of the zest for life

Rapid Transit, an Ocean Alexander 48

Rick in his natural environment in Barkley Sound B.C.

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