The tropical feel of my playlist, filled with sounds from Cuba, Brazil and Portugal, was in sharp contrast to the loud, foreboding tone of the fog horn every two minutes. I like that playlist, I call it Tapas. I don’t like the fog.
Rather than basking in the August sun of a Pacific Northwest Summer, I strained to see the two other boats in our group about 25 yards away. We had already lost one day of our individual trips, partially due to fog and partially due to too much pirate party the evening before.
This time everyone had turned in early and agreed to be leaving Port Townsend at 8 a.m. to take advantage of the last couple of hours of the ebb tide and a bit of slack before the flood poured in again. Between the three of us, we had one boat with broadcasting AIS, radar, an automatic foghorn that could rival boats 5 times the size, and a bubble maker, one with radar she doesn’t totally know how to use, and one with the largest cooler of Rainier I have ever seen.
The Strait of Juan de Fuca is 102 miles long from the east entrance to where it connects with the Pacific Ocean on the west. It’s about 18-20 miles from Port Townsend to the beginning of the San Juan Islands which is where we were headed. Usually the water is relatively flat in the fog, and it’s nice to not have to battle visibility and large waves simultaneously. Reports from vessel traffic said that the fog was lifting about halfway across, so we were hopeful we would have good visibility in a few hours. I queried if this was normal for August and was asked if I had heard the term Fogust. I hadn’t. I will never forget it.
The fog did indeed lift enough so that the fog horn was silenced, but at the same time the waves started to build. That 102 mile fetch can create some angry waves when the wind is from the west and that is what we were now running into, and what I like to call the Strait of Juan de Puka. We bounced and rolled and were somewhat forced to head more northwest than we wanted to lessen the effect of the waves on the boats. RollyPolly
We had been staying in a relatively close formation when I noticed that Boo’s boat had stopped and he was on deck in the rough waves. I hailed Captain Bubbles about it as I turned back to see what was happening. Their diesel engine was no longer working and he was raising the sails to continue on. Once he was sailing, he was almost as fast as I was motoring, so I pulled out my jib (I was solo and had no desire to go on deck to raise the main in those waves, but I would have been better off with the main up from the start) and Capt. Bubbles came back to us and raised his sails as well. About a mile and a half from Cattle Pass the wind died and Boo could no longer make much progress. I was closer, but Bubbles had the much larger boat (and towing experience) so he dropped sails and came back to set up a tow while I became the escort. That was a rough ride.
Our untintended timing had landed us in Cattle Pass at max flood, which is not many sailors’ favorite time to cross. The waves are steep and confused, powerful eddies everywhere. Even with a slow tow in progress, the boats were doing 8-9 knots over ground through the pass. Once through, Bubbles found the closest place to anchor and troubleshoot Boo’s engine.
The theory was that it was a clogged fuel filter due to debris getting tossed around from the waves we were in. A new filter was put on and the engine started. Since that was the back-up, Boo made a VERY long dinghy run to Friday Harbor but was unable to find the type that he needed. We had a variety of other friends meeting us in the San Juans, so possible filters would be flowing in the next day.
We settled in for the night at anchor, grilled pork chops, asparagus and apples with cinnamon for dessert, and started looking at the charts and going over our plans for the next few days. I was making a break for Canada in 2 days time to pick up crew while the others were going to stay in the San Juan Islands a bit longer.
The next morning our bay was crystal clear with flat, reflective water, but I could see the fog in the pass and beyond, with some of it creeping into San Juan Channel. I only recall this much fog one other August in the 9 years that I’ve been here, so perhaps I’ve been lucky with Fogust. The good news was that Boo’s engine purred to life the next morning as if nothing had happened, and I got a mini-lesson on some of the features of my radar from Capt. Bubbles. I got lucky again and rafted with Boo on the transient dock in Friday Harbor. They saw me coming and hailed me on the VHF to say there was no other space. We all got showers and ran errands, and we all ended up in Reid Harbor that evening in different spots, but to me, we were all together. Paddle board and dinghy visits…we are a rag tag family.
Life and sailing are always adventures, and I’m glad to have been with a group of boats and friends this time around rather than on my own. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that we’ve paid our fog dues this year and are done with it!