People of the Point


I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.   


The year 2021 marks 20 years of life in Point Roberts for Chuck and Shirley Cannon. Their paths to this point have been marked by the call of adventure and the courage to take risks.

Chuck is a man determined to wrest everything from his love of the seas. He met his match in Shirley and it is she I sit down with to talk about their journey.

Thirty-six years ago, their two boats were docked next to each other in Lahaina, Hawaii. Shirley was crewing on one, while running a successful business. Chuck was high in the rigging of the other, a heritage tall ship he was maintaining. She asked if he needed help.

“If you can climb 90 feet up the ropes, yes,” Chuck answered. She could and she did. Three days later they decided to get married.

Love at first sight, people thought. “Na, na, na,” Shirley smiles. “We both saw something we wanted and we made it work. He wanted a woman who would sail the seas and I wanted adventure.” Their first five years together were spent on the oceans or at anchor, easing their own sea fever, oftentimes navigating other people’s boats across the Pacific.

Chuck was born in Los Angeles, and ever a sailor – he bought his first boat when he was 15 – living on or near the sea has been the guiding principle in his life. Out of high school, he attended the California Marine Academy, graduating in 1966. He joined the navy, and still in his 20s, served as head navigator, crossing from California to Japan without the navigational tools of today. His third mate’s license meant he could serve on any gross tonnage ship on any ocean.

“It’s always the sea,” Shirley says. “He has to go look at the sea and the sky, the stars. He navigates with a sextant.”

Shirley was born in Wyoming and, at 13, got a job with a dance troupe, touring every summer on the State Fair circuit. Her talent led to international touring as a high-wire artist. “All I ever did was say yes to adventure.” Saying yes led to learning to sail, building her own business, and thanks to her high-wire career, climbing the rigging and meeting Chuck.

As well as their love of the seas, they share a love of the church. Born into a family of fifth generation Mormons, Chuck found his calling in the Episcopal church when he left the navy. He and Shirley spent seven years serving at Holy Innocents Church in Lahaina before coming to Point Roberts.

“I was intrigued by the oddness of Point Roberts,” Shirley says. “A rectangle with a line through it.” They decided to explore this peninsula and have been here longer than anywhere else. Because, of course, we are surrounded by the sea. They became church members, and before long, Shirley recalls, “Ernie Loreen made sure Chuck was asked to supply preach.”

In 2003, Chuck built his 14-foot rowboat, Cosign, the only all wooden boat in the marina. For nine summers he rowed the 13 miles to Patos Island, camping overnight and rowing back. And for these past 17 years – when conditions permit – he follows the call of the sea, rowing his boat out of the marina, steadily pulling on the nine-foot oars as he rounds the curve into the open waves.

“They may not know Chuck’s name, but people recognize his Tilley hat,” Shirley says. “In the Marketplace we’ll hear, ‘I know that guy, I’ve seen him in his rowboat.’ There’s a rhythm to his rowing, a continuity people recognize.” People such as Noel Newbolt, who sees him hove into view in front of her marina home and concludes, “Everything will be okay.”

Chuck Cannon is in his element and it’s a comfort in these times.


I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied.    

John Masefield


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