Make a New Plan Stan


Tartan Crew

A few years ago (about 8 now) I charted a 35’ Tartan for a week in April and took 5 girlfriends to the San Juan Islands. It would be my first time crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca without a flotilla of boats, and I was nervous. I was going to be responsible for 5 good friends and a boat for a week and I had only been sailing for 3 years. I handled this unease by meticulous planning. By meticulous, I mean I had a 9 page printed sail plan with two alternate destinations for each night depending on the weather, enlargements of entrances and anchorages, tides, currents, sunset and sunrise times. Some may consider that overboard, and admittedly I do now, but I wanted contingencies and I wasn’t taking any chances.

We left on a spring tide and rode the ebb north at a screaming pace. The goal was to get from Shilshole to Stuart Island on the first day. About half way across the Strait of Juan de Fuca (PUCA), a strong west wind started to blow and building waves on our beam started to make the skipper and crew a little green-faced. It also slowed us down and it was clear that an alternate destination was needed. One of my alternates for that day was MacKaye Harbor on the south end of Lopez Island, and we made a bee-line for it, anxious to get out of the wind and chop.

Micah Rescues the Boat Hook

Micah Rescues the Boat Hook

We tried to set an anchor several times, but only managed to harvest kelp. We were running out of daylight, tired, and seasick, so we decided to grab a mooring ball despite knowing that they were all private. We would beg forgiveness tomorrow and offer a fee.

Because of the spring tide, we were at a higher high tide that day. We approached the mooring ball, and grabbed it with a boat hook, but the ball was at the top of it’s available chain, and there was nothing left to pull. Both Megan and Micah grabbed the boat hook, but because of the wind I couldn’t keep the boat stopped, so rather than pulling the ring to us, the ring pulled the boat hook to it. That wasn’t on the sail plan.

We needed that hook and we also didn’t want to pay for it. We tried a couple of passes to pick it up, but the wind was still building and we weren’t able to grab it. Our brilliant spur of the moment plan was to put Micah in the dinghy and life-sling her around the mooring ball until she got close enough to retrieve it.

After getting both Micah and the boat hook back on board, seasickness, hunger and lethargy won and we finally landed on a private, seagull excrement encrusted, floating dock for the night. We decided we would gladly take whatever admonishment that was handed out when we were caught, and would plead for mercy. It was still pretty windy and rolly within the harbor, but we managed a nice dinner, had some libations, and celebrated two birthdays and a relatively successful first day. We also scooted away undetected the following morning, rested, and grateful.

Safe on the Dock, Mackaye Harbor, Lopez Island Photo Credit Rebecca Sherwood

Safe on the Dock, Mackaye Harbor, Lopez Island
Photo Credit Rebecca Sherwood

The plan for day 2 had been Patos Island, so we headed that direction. In San Juan Channel a bald eagle dove just a few feet in front of us and snatched up his dinner. It was amazing to see but our steerage suffered a bit from eagle watching. We made it Patos with about an hour of sunlight to spare, but both mooring balls were taken. The guide book said that the anchoring wasn’t great, but we tried anyway.  We can concur with the reported results. It was only day 2 and we had to make an alternate choice again. Since we didn’t have much light, Sucia Island was the best option, but it wasn’t in my 9 page sail plan! As someone else took the helm, I studied the chart and the cruising guide. We chose a mooring ball in Ewing Bay on the northeast side. It worked out, quite well.

Mimosas in Ewing Bay, Sucia Island

Mimosas in Ewing Bay, Sucia Island

More good food and drink was had, and the following day we enjoyed mimosas under the morning sun – it just couldn’t get any better. After a short hike on Sucia Island, we headed to Matia Island which WAS in the plan. We played in Boundary Pass for awhile, then arrived in time for dinghy diversions and a silent moment at sunset.

Only once more did we have to detour from the master plan and that’s when we decided that, despite our planning, the entrance to Fisherman’s Bay with 6′ of draft just wasn’t in our comfort zone so we anchored outside of Friday Harbor.

Ultimately, I am glad I made that crazy sail plan even though we only followed it half the time. Just the act of putting it together made me more familiar with my cruising ground, and I had become faster at deciphering  the chart and tide tables. Each evening I would listen to the weather and pull out the chart and discuss with the crew which anchorages appeared safe under different weather conditions.  Being flexible is one of the most important skills of being a good sailor, and for some of us, takes a lot of practice.

Sunset in the San Juans Photo Credit Rebecca Sherwood

Sunset in the San Juans
Photo Credit Rebecca Sherwood


August or Fogest?

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.

17th Annual Pacific Northwest Cruisers Party

17th Annual Pacific Northwest Cruisers Party

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.

Uncomfortable Tow Through Cattle Pass

Uncomfortable Tow Through Cattle Pass

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!



Down The Sound Underdog Race

Sometimes you just have to be the underdog.

But we were used to that.

I emailed Micah, “Want to do Down The Sound? It’s a double hander.  All I can do is rent a Capri 22 through the club”.

She says something similar to “Hells yes! Do we have a spinnaker?”

“Um, no, (thank goodness) and we are totally the underdog and guaranteed to fail.”

“OK, I’m in”.

And this is why we are friends. IMGP0426


Friday night was the skippers meeting where we were to get all the details.  We had also arranged to get the keys to the boat that night so we could stow our gear because our start time was 9:13a.  Micah had car trouble and she wasn’t able to make the meeting, but it’s a simple race, with relatively simple instructions, so she entrusted to it me.

After limping her car to the marina that evening, we hauled our gear to the boat only to find no key had been left. This was a bit of a problem because the office didn’t open again until 9a. We managed to get covert after hours help and were able to stow our gear.

We arrived at the boat at 8am, more than an hour before our start time and ready to go.  We were ready –but our outboard wasn’t. We tried every trick we knew–check gas, check connections, choke in, choke out, let someone else try, double check the vent, kick it, cuss it…no dice. Our start time was quickly approaching and dock staff arrived at 9a.  They were on it. Since neither of them could start it either, we felt a little vindicated.

A different outboard was hauled onto the boat, latched on, and off we went –20 minutes or so behind our start time, but still determined even if we were DNS.  About three fairways down, I thought the outboard handle felt weird.  I turned around to see that it was vibrating off the mount toward starboard and almost ready to tip over!

I throttled down and hollered (screamed, whatever you want to call it) to Micah who had been busy putting all of our fenders and docking lines away- efficient as always. I wish I had time to take a photo of her expression since all I could do was point. She rushed back and basically hugged the outboard into submission as I glided to a random end dock with no fenders or lines on the boat. We grabbed a jib sheet, wrapped it around a self tailing winch and it became our only docking line. It’s all we had in the moment.

We needed to make the outboard mounts tight on a boat we’d known for 15 minutes, and we were very late for our start.  The Leatherman I hadn’t used in a decade came through with a set of pliers and we tightened the mounts until they groaned and our knuckles were white, taking turns, just in case. We had a race to start.

We were at least 30 minutes late for our start under main alone because that’s all we could get out before crossing the line, but the committee boat let us go.  Our troubles were behind us and we had a long 30 mile trek south to Gig Harbor ahead of us. As Micah grabbed the jib sheet out of the sail bag in a rush to get all our sails in play, her iPhone flew out of the bag. I saw it out of the corner of my eye, and I definitely heard the splash.

“What was that?”

“My phone.”

“Are we done yet, because that has to be three. We need to be done.”

“God I hope so.”

The fast boats and those with spinnakers flew past us as we knew they would. This was going to be a long day. We pinky swore to not use the portapotty. We had Go Girl and Lady J to help us keep that promise. Neither of us wanted PP emptying duty (because it will be me).

It's Going to Be A Long Day

It’s Going to Be A Long Day

Just a few miles south, I looked behind us. The Farr 30’s had started at 11a and were all identical with their white spinnakers. Spread three across they were an eerie sight, bearing down on us like a ghost armada. I suggested Micah turn around for a look, and I can’t repeat the words that came next. It looked eerily similar to the cover of AWOLNATION’s latest album.

The Farr's Approaching

The Farr’s Approaching

OK, More Like This

OK, More Like This

The Farr’s blew past us not too long after, and we were alone with one boat with a blue spinnaker with white stars ahead of us.

It was, as predicted, a long day. As we approached the committee boat we let our commodore MB know he could button things up because no one was behind us- it wasn’t the first time we had sent this message on a race. Jovial as ever, he offered to give us the shotgun (in the air I assumed and hoped).

I replied, “With our day, a flock of doves would be nice.”

“I’ll try to hit some seagulls.”

“Anything is appreciated!”

Not one, but two shot gun blasts happened. That was nice.

We arrived, docked, dined, drank, and found out we actually corrected next to last! An improvement! Apparently at the very end the wind had died, and the current had taken some boats astray, messing with everyone’s times.



The next morning was a rough start–a no wind, slightly if not mostly hungover start. A stray eddy turned us 360 degrees and I could do nothing about it. I saw it on Tide Prints…I just couldn’t get away. We were now facing all the boats behind us….this was ranking up there with top embarrassments. It would have been a good time for photos of the other boats, but all the sails were limp and sad.

A Floater

A Floater, My View From Bow

“Starboard! Starboard! We want to go that way!”

“Do you SEE the tiller? Fine, you drive.”

“Oh shit! Why won’t it turn?!”

“Would you like to start drinking now, or later?”

“Now is good.”

“I’ll be right back”.

This is what when jokingly call our brief sailing divorce.

We actually had a nice sail up Colvos Passage after the wind filled in, and we were in a midst of a bunch of boats elegantly tacking back and forth until the Sound opened up; then we were alone again. We made it back within the time limit, although the committee boat had disappeared.  We were last again, but other than the loss of the phone, we can laugh about it all, and we still do.




Laundry is a Battlefield

It was laundry day. Actually it was way past laundry day.  There was a month’s worth of laundry in bags in my car. It was Thanksgiving day and I thought it would be deserted in the laundromat.  Text from my mom, “I have never heard of anyone using their car as a laundry hamper”. My response, “you dont live in 150 square feet”.  Her reply, “That is true.”

Gone are those days I could throw my clothes in the washer and go about my day, getting them out when I damn well pleased or before they smelled weird. I could throw them in the dryer and let them stay there until I needed them–just needing a little fluff dry before I wore them.

These days, it’s done at a laundromat at the marina, and it’s a battlefield. There are currently about 300 live aboard slips (with 50 more being added), some with singles like myself, and some with families of four and young children. So on average, let us say that at least 500-600 people need to do laundry each week. There are six washers and nine dryers.

For the smart soldiers, there is an app for your phone or laptop that shows you how many machines are open, taken, or idle (cycle finished but door hasn’t been opened).   It is far more high tech than the last time I used a laundromat in college (20y ago).

Laundry App

Laundry App

I can have a text sent to me when my machine has finished.  I can also look at the statistics of usage times over the last week to further polish my plan of attack. For soldiers that dislike technology, laundry day is a crap shoot.  I like technology, but I got lazy.

Plan of Attack

So on Thanksgiving day I thought “who would be doing laundry today?”.  Everyone will be busy cooking or traveling. Apparently that was not a novel thought. My laundry was in the car- a whole month’s worth – perhaps more since I had last recall doing it in Ganges on Saltspring Island at the end of September. So, I didn’t check the app which was a mistake. There were about a dozen other people that also decided that no one else would be there either.

The machines were mostly full and I was only able to start part of the load. I did a stake out rather than leaving and returning like the others so I could grab machines as they became available. I watched as people hauled in heavily laden bags, only to feel the agony of defeat, leave, and throw it all back in their car. Fortunately for my stake out, the laundry room is also the unofficial free library, so I had reading material.  It was touch and go at one point when the pay machine went offline and I had a load of wet clothes to go in the dryer and no quarters. A friendly old salt loaned me a dollar and I was back in business!

I had learned my lesson. On New Years Day I awoke and checked the app. All the washers were available and I had another month’s  worth of laundry. I dressed hastily and half ran up the dock.  It had only been 15 minutes, but two of the six washers were taken. I took three more. It had been pretty cold and when I tried to pour detergent in, nothing came out. I squeezed the jug, and detergent came sliding out in a frosty tubular shape.  I hacked off a chunk with the lid and hoped it would melt quickly. I settled in with another book from the shelf

Again there was a parade of people with heavy loads that were out of luck and would have to come back another time. Technology was my friend this day, and I actually coached an older man on how to use the app next time.

Some changes have been proposed at the marina, and hopefully the facilities will be expanding. I am appreciative that I can check the status of my machine online, and pay with a debit card and not have to carry cash (although cash is cheaper).  I will be thrilled if they do the same thing with the showers.  Yes, this is one more thing that is a little harder about living on a boat, but it is the best view I have ever had while washing clothes!