Imagine gliding smoothly over the deep blue waters of the Salish Sea on a wide wooden deck with an enormous canvas sail billowing overhead. This was the setting for my four-day wine cruise two summers ago, from island to tree-clad island, aboard the gorgeous schooner Zodiac. By day, we strolled through pretty harbor towns like San Juan Island’s Friday Harbor, then visited boutique wineries where we met the vintners for an introduction to their crisp, fruity Chardonnays and Rieslings and distinctive, full-bodied Merlots and Syrahs. On Lummi Island, we sat on deck-chairs under bright red sun umbrellas — with snow-capped Mount Baker looming in the background — eating delicious canapés and hors d’oeuvres while sampling handcrafted wines. In the evenings, we anchored in quiet, secluded coves, sitting under a shady canvas awning, tasting wines provided by our two onboard guest winemakers. No cell phones, no e-mails, no rush hour traffic; just the gentle lapping of the waves on our historic 126-foot schooner. Bliss! At twilight, we quietly descended into the ship’s galley to fill our plates with gourmet Pacific Northwest seafood meals, including freshly caught crabs, oysters, mussels, paella, and barbecued salmon, and then talked and played cards until late at night. Such are the perks of travel writers. How did I land this plum assignment? After I wrote an article about the schooner Zodiac for a sailing magazine some time ago, the first mate — who handled the schooner’s PR — invited me on their upcoming wine cruise. He knows I’ve built up a solid reputation as a travel writer who always delivers an article or two about the places I visit. I also pitched an article idea about the trip to a regional wine magazine, which cemented my complimentary stay. If we’d paid for the trip (my wife was invited, too), it would have cost us $1,600. But instead, the trip was free AND I was paid for my article! After the cruise, I was so relaxed you could have poured me into a bucket.