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Greater Victoria’s sailing family survives stormy seas off California coast on epic voyage

Coles family heads for Mexico to grant birthday wish

Bentley Coles has his fingers crossed for a sandy beach in Mexico for his eighth birthday.

Bentley is the youngest crew member aboard the Meraki and sailing the globe with older brother Thomas and parents Mick and Kate.

The family set out on the 45-foot sailboat from Greater Victoria earlier this fall, with grandparents Kevin and Shawna Walker also onboard. The destination is Australia, where Mick was born and raised, then to sail the rest of the globe, exploring off the beaten path for two or three years.

The former Saanich Peninsula couple is working with mentors who have been sailing the world with their kids for a decade or more. The mentors help with routing and such, and recommend leaving kids home with the grandparents for the intense leg from Port Angeles, Wash. to San Francisco, Calif.

RELATED: 3 generations of Greater Victoria family set to sail the world

Meraki had both kids and grandparents on board. The extra hands on deck with experience on the water proved an asset as things started to go sideways during the second night passage of the family voyage. A thick fog blanketed the boat, the kids got seasick, the engine started smoking and the autopilot stopped working.

Experience and handiness prevailed and they continued on, cruising to San Francisco where Alcatraz provided a teaching moment and the Golden Gate Bridge drew awe.

Kate’s parents hoped to buy their own boat in California, but with no deal they returned to Greater Victoria to pursue a new line on a vessel. They plan to rejoin the trip.

“They’re really motivated, it’s just a matter of finding that right boat and it’s not an easy task,” Kate said.

There have been other rough patches along the way.

Mick saw the windstorm that hit Oct. 12 coming and the crew set off from Monterey, Calif. for a smaller, more sheltered place. The sanctuary he found afforded only shelter from the waves and not the gale-force wind. As currents surged and skewed, boats engaged in an impromptu game of bumper boats. Meraki escaped with only a few paint wounds.

“We got a few battle scars but we’re OK now,” Mick told Black Press Media the next day.

Many vessels were moved to city mooring that night and the family aboard Meraki took a deep breath and the smiles returned.

With no plans or desire to sail in the 18-foot swells predicted for the next couple days, Mick figured they would wait out setting off again. A few days were spent in Morro Bay, Calif., a community that reminds Kate of Tofino, though larger.

Then it’s time to sail off toward Mexico in a bid to grant Bentley’s one birthday wish – a warm, sandy beach.

Bentley turns 8 on Nov. 10. Follow the family adventure with Cruising Meraki on YouTube.


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Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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