On to West Sound, the middle inlet in the crab shaped Orcas Island in the faerie land of the San Juan Islands. A faerie land because the days have settled into the rhythm of cruising. We have shaken off the city and the routines of the 9 to 5, left the cars and trucks, the constant industrial and electrical dull roar of urban life, to the south. A dull roar you often forget you are experiencing until you try to sit quietly in peace or in the present case, achieve escape velocity into the cruising life. I am still left with the contemplation that without this drudgery I may not be having this voyage, but that is too defeatist to dwell on, as I consider the 17 days ahead and the unknown adventures I will have.
I awoke at my leisure and lit the propane burner for breakfast. I still have fresh milk for the hot tea and grapes for the oatmeal as my half-gallon milk jug ice blocks were faring well in the ice chest. Amusingly, I am reminded of the urban dull roar as I reflect on the walk-in freezer at the 9 to 5 which allowed me this luxury. This too shall pass, as ice melts as sure as the sun shines and my historic inclination to restock has never been strong. My diet and desires will change with the cruise, and what some will consider uncivilized suffering, I will consider simply as animal adaptation.
A review of the forecast on the VHF weather channel called for a light NW wind overnight, so West Sound would suit me fine. I prep for sailing in the usual way. I remove the sail covers, then the boom preventer which keeps the boom from wobbling around at anchor on my gallow free boat. I unhitched the straps which keep the halyards from slapping the mast, which keeps the peace at night, and make sure all of the halyards and sheets are clear to run. Since my distances are short and in protected waters, I keep the kayak inflated and will tow it from the starboard aft cleat, so I check that it is secure and the painter is short. Once under way I will lengthen the tow line if under sail, or keep it short if I am under motor. While the polypropylene painter will float, the danger of it getting wrapped around the propeller is still very real and diligence is always necessary to avoid this unfortunate, inconvenient and potentially hazardous predicament. I reset the portable GPS unit, a handheld Garmin device, so I can keep the days’ stats and I start a new entry in the log book. I don my life vest and after a moment of pause, checking the wind, which is light and from the south, and my surroundings; no strong currents, no nearby rocks and the other anchored boats are an adequate distance away, I decide with confidence that I will sail out of the anchorage. I uncleat the main sheet and hoist the main sail. I grab my gloves, move to the bow and pull off the two pieces of hose I have spiraled on the anchor rode for chafe protection. I pull in the line hand over hand and feed it into the hawser hole, removing any weed and mud and checking the line for wear as I go. I know my progress automatically as the rode markers pass by and I can feel the chain and then the anchor come off the bottom. When the chain leaves the sea floor I know to move with intent as we will be untethered soon and the boat adrift. There is no need to rush, but distraction and daydreaming is to be avoided and once the anchor is up on the bow platform, the business of securing it with the pin and then with a piece of small stuff to keep it from wobbling, is done with efficiency. Then it’s back to the cockpit to sheet in the main, haul up and trim the jib and set our course.
A light NE wind is present and it will get me from point A to point B without having to start the engine for a second day in a row. In leaving (and in entering) Blind Bay, I keep Blind Island to the west of me. There is a reef on the other side which is submerged at half tide and it is one of the ten most hit reefs in the San Juan Islands. Progress is slow for the first couple hours but the wind fills in as we get to the head of the sound. I sailed into White Beach Bay to reconnoiter the anchorage. There is a marina with fuel, The Orcas Island Yacht Club dock which if you have reciprocal moorage, I can highly recommend. I do not have such privileges on this visit but I stayed there two years ago. There is no fee, no electricity on the dock and no security but these are all easy to do without in this out-of-the-way hamlet. The OIYC has a clubhouse across the street, also with low security and showers and restrooms for guests. To boot, there is a county dock with free daytime moorage right next door to the OIYC, but there is no overnight moorage at this county dock. I opted for a night on the hook as that was a MO for this trip, settling in 40 ft of water with 160ft of scope.
As I sailed up West Sound, I saw a mountain looming above the bay. I decided that if it was possible I would like to hike to the top. Is it private land? Is is a park? I stopped by the West Sound Cafe which is just off the county dock and inquired. The host was very helpful and they had trail maps on hand. It turns out there is a “butt buster” of a trail, as she put it, which is accessible about 1.5 miles down the road. “This is a hitch friendly island” she said, but I was set on the exercise. The two lane highway to the trailhead has no shoulder and is well-traveled but I managed to survive both coming and going. The trailhead was easy to locate and the number of fearless deer I encountered was astounding. She wasn’t kidding about the “butt buster” trail and it was exactly what I had hoped for. My hike lasted 2-3 hours with great views from Overlook Peak and Ship Peak. You could view the San Juan Archipelago and beyond to the Olympic Peninsula in the States and Vancouver Island in Canada. On my return, I stopped by the West Sound Cafe to thank the host for the incredible recommendation, did some stretches on the dock as the sun set and headed back to the boat to settle in for the evening, glowing from a very satisfying shore excursion.
Overlook and Ship Peak from out on West Sound
Looking West to the San Juans and Vancouver Island in the distance.
A view South down West Sound. In the foreground, to the right, just visible above the trees, Sampaguita lies to anchor. Blind Bay can be seen in the center left with several boats moored in it.
To the Southwest, West Sound in the foreground, the Port of Friday Harbor in the middle and clouds over the Olympic Mountains in the distance.
Stats – TO – 4.50NM, MS – 4.4kt, MA – 1.5kt, TT – 3hr 28min, AD – 40ft, AS – 160ft
Misc. – calm night, boat chores, good protection from a N wind, watch for seaweed on the bow roller as it may de-zinc the bronze
Day 5 began by doing the chores I meant to do in Port Townsend, such as gathering water, emptying the garbage, various boat tasks and exploring a bit. No Safeway, fuel, electricity or beer though, but they’re all overrated. It turns out Spencer Spit is one of the more popular marine parks. It was a Saturday and several boats came and went. There are several mooring buoys and also a slew of land based camping spots. Also, kayak rentals and guided tours.
I kept myself busy here until the mid-afternoon and then decided I would head over to Blind Bay, which is on the north side of Shaw Island. A moderate S wind had been blowing all day, but wouldn’t you know it, it let up once I was underway. I drifted and sailed in light wind until Harney Channel when the breeze filled in again. Then it was great sailing on a beam reach.
The rig was balanced, so there was no need to helm, and I was able to stand up on the cockpit seat with the breeze in my face. It was pretty awesome. This is what I am always striving for, but it requires consistent wind which is usually pretty rare. It gives me some relief from the helm and it’s fun in a physics geek sort of way. It is also difficult to achieve in anything from a broad reach to running point of sail. Some would say that a rig this balanced might be considered dangerous or inefficient. What if I fell overboard? Would it keep on sailing? Why don’t you use an autopilot? What about a windvane? Is the rudder working most efficiently and creating lift? Much of what helps this boat track well, is the full keel beneath her and the barn door rudder behind. The rest is good rig design. Good sail trim, which is on me, helps, but sloppy sail trim can be balanced too. To answer the questions:
- If I fell overboard, let’s remember that my boat is small. While I have been watching my weight with diet and exercise, I can still throw it around and use it to trim and steer the boat. If I fall overboard (because I’m standing on the cockpit seat with the wind in my face,) the boat will no longer be balanced and should round up into the wind and stall out….in theory. Let’s call that a small boat advantage.
- I don’t use an autopilot because a) if I fall overboard it won’t round up into the wind as previously mentioned and b) it takes electricity which I do not have an abundance of on the boat. I go from being a slave to the helm, to a slave of electricity. The first is simpler and cheaper, the second goes down a road of complication and expense.
- I have been studying windvane steering and it looks like the trim tab set up would be best for my boat. This will likely be a self built or custom built set up and we are not there yet. There is also some impracticality to using it for short stretches such as in Harney Channel. If we were on an ocean passage….bring it on. Oh yeah, this system will also leave me behind if I fall overboard.
- Coincidently, the large rudder sags a bit under its own weight when the boat heels over. Just about the 3 degrees you might want to create a little lift from the curve.
In the approach to Blind Bay, there are some rocks and an island that need to be negotiated and some tacking was in order as I was going straight into the wind. We lived to tell about it and I picked my spot and set the anchor. There were several boats on buoys as well as several at anchor, but it is quite spacious and well protected from the predicted south wind. I had been choosing my destinations and anchorages as per the weather forecast for the whole trip, letting that decide where I should be rather than a set agenda. A great aspect of today was that I did not need to start the motor at all. Sail it out, sail it in.
It was early evening when I arrived and below is an unchoreographed and candid photo of the “veranda.” Homemade blackberry wine, Josefina’s corn chips, hummus, carrots, grapes and other items I’ll let you guess about. The string hanging down is attached to the camera and I didn’t realize that was there when I took the photo. I never claimed to be good with a camera.
And below, a photo from the “veranda.” I thought I heard a live band playing when I was eating so afterwards I paddled the kayak out of the bay and across Harney Channel to the town of Orcas on Orcas Island. By the time I arrived, there was no band, it was dark and a much like a ghost town. Small town island living. I took a stroll and then paddled back with an incredible, rising full moon.
TO – 7.54NM, MS – 5.4kt, MA – 2.1kt, TT – 4hr, 3min, AD~30ft, AS – 130ft
Misc. – scrubbed rudder zinc, checked oil, exercised, sussed anchor line chafe
I woke up with the intentions of going ashore, provisioning at the Safeway, getting some fuel, charging some electronics(phone, computer, camera, VHF) and buying Bob some beer. But as I made tea, ate some breakfast, and did the dishes, the wind started to build from the South. Port Townsend seems to have its own microclimate which doesn’t correlate with any of the area weather forecasts, so especially as a non-local, it is difficult to predict what the conditions will be. A South wind puts you on a lee shore in a marginal, unprotected anchorage. A great town, a crappy anchorage. The wind was maybe 15-20kts which by itself is not a concern, however there is enough fetch to get significant wave action and a disadvantage of a small boat is these waves have a negative effect on your comfort, realized by a pitching motion. I could see some larger boats anchored nearby that clearly had a steadier motion. My anchor rode was taunt but the anchor was holding fine. I wasn’t sure if conditions would worsen, so I was hesitant to leave the boat and go ashore.
I stuck it out for a couple of hours, before I was fed up with the motion and decided I was “outta here.” I figured if I started the outboard in these conditions, it would ventilate in the wave motion until I could get the boat moving, however, an advantage of a small boat is that I find it pretty easy and safe to sail the boat in and out of anchorages. So, sail out of the anchorage is what I did, which is something I know owners of bigger boats would be hesitant to do. I relish it. Now the race was on to make it around Point Wilson before the ebb turned to flood. If I missed that window, I might have to retreat to Port Townsend. This is the entrance of Admiralty Inlet and most of the water that floods into Puget Sound comes through this entrance and the currents can be enough to halt a small boats’ progress. Comparing the advantages and disadvantages of small boats to big boats was a common subject of ponderance on this trip. Its cliche, but every boat is a compromise.
I sailed out with one reef in the main and the working jib. Once confidently underway, I put a second reef in, only to be shaking it out by the time I was a couple miles out. That damn microclimate. Once I reached Point Wilson, the wind was essentially non-existent and I had to motor up as the tide was just turning. In fact, the Straight of Juan De Fuca was calm and I motor sailed the rest of the way to Spencer Spit. Some boaters would say that it was ideal Juan De Fuca crossing weather. I prefer some wind.
Here is a picture of Bird Rocks which are in the middle of Rosario Straight. These rocks have significance for me because one of the scariest moments of my boating career…so far… involved nearly hitting these rocks. To boot, my friend Kim was on board so I had the responsibility of someone else’s safety weighing on me.
It was 4 years ago and my first time crossing Rosario Straight and my first extended trip in Sampaguita. I didn’t expect the currents to be as strong as they were and due to this, my piloting was faulty. It was a windy day so I had the sails up, but also had the motor running to make the unknown crossing. The currents swept us down towards these rocks and I kept increasing the throttle on the engine, yet I could not seem to get the forward motion on the boat I needed. I also recall almost changing course at the last moment, as it was feeling desperate, which in hindsight, I think would have been a terrible idea. Ultimately, I believe what saved us was that the water current was forced around the rocks and carried us with it. I remember reaching back to ease off the throttle afterwards and realized it had been on full. We were all in. It’s also possible danger was not as close as it felt, but the experience and these rocks are firmly printed on my memory.
I arrived at Spencer Spit, a Washington State Marine Park, via Thatcher Pass that evening. Spencer Spit is on Lopez Island and I had reached the San Juan Archipelogo. I very much like that word. Rather than pick up a buoy, I opted to anchor. I chose the North side as the wind was predicted from the South. I have included a picture of the many sunsets I was to see as well as a picture of Sampaguita at anchor and a Washington State Ferry passing by.
TO – 31.89NM, MS – 8.1kts, MA – 4.2kts, TT – 7hr, 38min, AD?, Scope – ?
Misc. – 377min of motoring – ugh, – I now know I can pull the anchor up(no winch) by hand in 15-17kts of wind with a pitching boat, – Sailed in and out of PT anchorage
On Day 3, I went from Mats Mats to Port Townsend via the Port Townsend Canal and Port Hadlock. I originally planned to take my time in leaving, but upon checking the current chart for the Port Townsend Canal, I realized it would change to a flood earlier than I originally expected. The VHF weather forecast also said it would be blowing 20-25 knots from the South which would have these two elements opposing. A strong wind blowing against a strong current means short and steep waves. I was also recalling a dock mate telling me his experience in these conditions in this canal. It was a story of anxiety, so I quickly got ready and weighed anchor in a race to make it through before the current changed.
Sure enough, the wind was blowing as predicted which put us into Small Craft Advisory territory. Technically, my 20ft boat is considered a small craft, but it is built well, so it’s the inexperienced mariner part that applies most. I do not have an anemometer on board, so I have learned to guess the wind strength by the feel of the boat and the sail I can carry. I decided I would go straight to the second reef in the main sail, so I motored clear of the land, pointed into the wind, raised the sail, applied the reef points and then turned for the downwind sail. The seas were running and my little boat will roll and yaw quite a bit, so just when I had the boat pointed in the right direction, BAM!, the boom unexpectedly jibed across. I had not yet had a chance to rig the preventer or adjust the topping lift. The reefed sail area is quite small, so the force was not so great and the boom missed my head on the way across. What got me was the slack line for the first reef point which hadn’t been applied because I went straight to the second reef. It draped down below the boom in a loop and this went right across my face. I thought, “that’s going to leave a mark” but was most thankful it didn’t pull my eyewear off and send it overboard. With all this action, there is no time to check for beauty so I rigged the preventer, lowered the topping lift, tidied up the lines, raised the motor and got the boat settled in for the run.
My efforts to beat the flood to the canal were in vain. I could see the standing waves but was committed by this point. I said, “I can do this, in fact, the wind is strong enough, I think I can even sail through this.” I did lower the outboard and start it for ‘just in case,’ aimed for the center of the channel and sailed into the canal. Our forward progress was pretty slow, oscillating between .5 and 2 knots, but the south entrance was where the big waves were and once through that, my confidence level increased.
The wind was still blowing in Port Hadlock and I did not want to be in the anchorage off of Port Townsend if the South wind was also there. I decided to anchor in the lee of Irondale as it looked like there was a little protection there and wait it out. I got the idea from another boat that I saw do this. Here I cooked some lunch and tidied up the boat from the mornings rush. After a bit, I weighed anchor and sailed to Port Townsend. The wind direction had changed to the North, so it was a beat to windward to get there, however this is a favorable wind direction for anchoring in PT, where I planted the boat between the Boat Haven Marina and the Ferry Dock. I inflated the kayak with intentions of going ashore, but instead entertained guests whom came to me. First was my friend Bob from Admiralty Ship Supply, who brought his skiff out with some libations, and then Thomas the Pirate who was in town as a spectator for the start of the R2AK, which coincidentally was earlier that day.
TO – 15.91NM, MS – 6.4kts, MA – 2.9kts, TT – 6hr, 21min, AD – ~40ft, AS – 160ft
Misc. – Sailed in and out of anchorage at Irondale and into anchorage in PT.
Mats Mats Bay
Day 2 took me from Port Madison to Mats Mats Bay. This was my second time to this enclosed bay surrounded by hills. If you can avoid the rocks outside and follow the range markers through the narrow, doglegged channel, you will find a very protected anchorage inside. Don’t worry, it gets a little less scary after the first time. First image below.
I got a 5am start in an attempt to catch the full flush of the ebb. However, my plan required some wind, which didn’t show up. Most folks would turn on the engine, but I held out. Did it pay off? I would say yes, but not by getting me to my destination quickly. I’ll explain. At Apple Cove Point, the ebb turned to flood and the very light north wind had me slowly zig-zagging back and forth with very little forward progress. Second image below. Then I saw a whale surface in the distance. Ok, cool, it will need to resurface at some time, right? Sure enough, it surfaced about 100 years behind me, startling me quite a bit. It was a humpback whale and when they exhale through their blowhole, it is quite loud. This whale continued to dive in the riptide off of Apple Cove Point for about 45 minutes while I went nowhere fast. I tried to get a good picture of the fluke, but alas, this was the best I came up with. Third image. So the whale watching was the pay off. Unfortunately, the sailing and the picture taking were not the finest.
Eventually the north wind picked up and I was able to get up around Point No Point, but the breeze was not found all that long. As I realized I was going to run out of daylight, I “motored up” to make sure I got into Mats Mats Bay before dark.
Before I left on my June trip, I set up some chafe gear on the bowsprit and on the bobstay. Practice had shown me that the anchor rode and anchor can rub on these places and the chafe gear is an effort to preserve both the line and the sprit. Through my trip, I found this to work successfully. However, one drawback of Mats Mats Bay is that it is an old logging bay. This is actually true of many bays in the northwest. You are never really sure if there isn’t 100 year old logs or logging gear abandoned at the bottom of the bay to foul your anchor and chafe your anchor rode. When I pulled up the anchor the next morning, I discovered that I had likely found some of this debris. The bottom 30ft of my anchor rode had some evidence of chafe. This is a good reason to have an all-chain rode. One drawback of having such a small boat is that having 300ft of anchor chain is too much weight to carry that far forward in the bow. I have compromised with 30ft of chain and 270ft of 5/8″ nylon line. The line is a bit oversized to give an extra safety factor which worked in this case. The chafe is not too bad so it is not a worry at this time and because it is on the end, I could always trim it off if I needed to. I had no further issues on the trip, but duly noted. Chafe is your enemy.
Stats: TO – 29.53NM, MS – 5.4kt, MA – 2.1kt, TT- 16hr, 2min, AD ~ 18ft, 100ft of scope.
Misc. – Ran the Spinnaker lines for faster spinnaker set up, practiced light air sailing with success by adjusting the genoa twist with the car placement and the mainsail twist with the traveler placement. Spent a long, slow day in the sun.
Day 1 got me off the dock and out the locks. There’s rarely an early get away with the last minute prep and exiting the canal. This is not a problem though, as I find it nice to get clear of the dock and the city and get settled into the boat at a nearby spot. You wake up the next day and don’t have any of both the mental and physical shore ties to escape from. It’s just go time. Traditionally I have done this in Kingston, but the anchorage in Port Madison has become a favorite over the past couple of years. It’s close, quiet, well protected and since one of my focuses was going to be anchoring on this trip, it was a very appropriate first stop.
I shared the anchorage with the elegant boat pictured below, Irene. Notice how calm the waters are in this anchorage. I didn’t bother inflating the kayak that day and just stayed on the boat. This turned out to be a trend over the next few days on the way to Port Townsend and suited me fine.
Here’s another view from the “front porch” with Irene, straight ahead. I did a few chores and had a nice meal and settled into one of the stack of library books I had checked out for the trip. Most of these were guide books, but a big read for me on this trip was One Island, One Ocean. It has some great photos in it and was easy to read in small segments before going asleep. It’s geared more for the non-sailor and they were definitely pitching a message, yet I sill found it quite interesting.
Stats: Trip Odometer(TO) – 8.6NM, Maximum Speed(MS) – 5.7kt, Moving Average(MA) – 3.1kt, Total Time(TT) – 4hr, 01min, Anchor Depth(AD)~22ft, 90ft of scope.
Misc.: Lubed the sail tracks, put tell tales on the leech of the main.
This weekend is the Swiftsure Race from Victoria, BC to Cape Flattery and back. The distance is 101 NM and will likely take us about 24 hours. I will be on a Catalina 37 called “Image.”
Here are some links if your curiosity gets the best of you.
While Port Madison is close to Seattle, it feels like a world away when your tucked into Inner Harbor which provides good shelter and shallow anchoring depths. The most striking part is how loud the birds seem. I say seem, because if I marvel at it too closely, I can hear in the distance the traffic on Agate Pass Bridge and the train going up the mainland coast, and the not so distant sound of landscaping and construction. Still, it is impressive that I have traveled only 7.76 NM from my slip and it is difficult to tell an urban center such as Seattle is so close.
I will be presenting “A Flicka to Windward” on Friday, February 17 @ 7pm @ the CYC Clubhouse at Shilshole Marina. Click on the line for more details. Thanks.