Make a New Sail Plan Stan


Tartan Crew

A couple of years after I began sailing, I charted a 35’ Tartan for a week in April and took 5 girlfriends to the San Juan Islands. Crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca without a flotilla of boats was a first for me, and I was nervous. 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. The alternates included exceptions for weather changes, distances, enlargements of entrances and anchorages, tides, currents, sunset and sunrise times. Sure, it was overboard  cruise planning, but I wanted contingencies and I wasn’t taking any chances.  Better to plan to much than not enough.

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 considerably 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. Daylight was waning, and the group was tired and seasick, so The group decision was to  grab a mooring ball. They were all private but forgiveness could be begged tomorrow.

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.

Once Micah and the boat hook were back on board, tied up to an empty, private, seagull excrement encrusted, floating dock for the night. If admonished, we would all gladly pay a moorage fee. Despite the windy, rolly harbor, we managed a nice dinner, libations, and celebrated two birthdays and a relatively successful first day. We sailed away 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 was Patos Island, so we headed that direction. The weather was great. In San Juan Channel a bald eagle dove just a few feet in front of us and snatched up his dinner, startling and amazing us.  When we arrived at Patos Island there was an hour of sunlight to spare, but both mooring balls were taken. We made a few attempts to anchor despite the guidebook’s hint that it was poor. They were correct.  It was only day 2 and we had to make an alternate choice again. Daylight was fading and Sucia Island was the best option, although NOT in my 9 page sail plan! A mooring ball awaited us in Ewing Bay, the northwestern most bay. It worked out quite well.

Mimosas in Ewing Bay, Sucia Island

Mimosas in Ewing Bay, Sucia Island

Dinner and drinks, morning mimosas in the sun. What could be 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.

The last detour from the plan was opting away from Fisherman’s Bay and anchoring outside Friday Harbor instead.  The narrow, shallow entrance, even at high tide, challenged my comfort level with 6′ of draft.

Ultimately, I am glad I made that crazy sail plan even though we only followed it half the time. Just the act of putting the plan together made me more familiar with my cruising ground.  I became faster at deciphering the chart and tide tables. Each evening I listened to the weather, pulled out the charts and discussed which anchorages appeared safe under upcoming conditions.  We all learned crucial cruising building blocks. Flexibility 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


Review of the Bad Elf GPS Pro Bluetooth GPS Reciever

Bad Elf GPS Pro

Bad Elf GPS Pro

I love paper charts- the look, the feel, marking where I’ve been, practicing dead reckoning, all of it. I was planning my Gulf Islands and Princess Louisa trip which was already requiring the San Juan Islands, Gulf Islands and Desolation Sound chart books, as well as the 3311 chart set for the Sunshine Coast. To also purchase large scale charts for all the nooks and crannies I wanted to visit would have cost hundreds more dollars. I have a handheld Garmin GPS, but last year in Canada I found I preferred the Navionics US and Canada App which was easier to read and operate on my phone or iPad than the Garmin, and in some instances was more accurate.  I knew I would be in locations with no cell reception, so the accuracy of the Navionics would be lower, and buying a fancy chart plotter was out of the question. My solution was the Bad Elf GPS Pro which is a satellite GPS receiver that will Bluetooth to other devices and allow me to turn my iPhone, iPad or iPod into chart plotters.

Bad Elf App Map and Display

Bad Elf App Map and Display

Bad Elf has several different versions of the GPS with different features and capabilities. The Pro model cost me $149.99 through Amazon and it provides latitude, longitude, altitude, speed, time, a downloadable track and can be paired with up to 5 devices at a time.  There are higher grade models provide that barometric pressure readings and more precise location services for surveying applications. There is no monthly subscription fee. I paired it with my iPad for a bigger picture display, but also my phone for when the sun made the iPad hard to see or I needed to enlarge something quickly without moving from behind the wheel to reach the iPad. They can be used for aviation, vehicle navigation, biking, hiking, geocaching, cycling – pretty much anything you can imagine where you might use a GPS.  You can use the simple map that comes with the app, or use other apps such as Navionics, Google Maps, etc.  The accuracy is reported to be as good as 8 ft, although mine usually read about 15 ft. It’s also water resistant, although not waterproof.  Mine took a little spray and a few sprinkles, but it’s not meant to be submerged.  A small zip lock bag would take care of any worries in the rain.

At the moment they are only compatible with iOS devices.  The website says you can use them on some of the apps that Android supports, but you still need an iOS device to do your initial set up or to download your trips.  The website lists an incredible number of apps that it is compatible with for various activities.  There are 18 marine based apps (you should check first if you are considering a purchase), including one for an anchor alarm that I hope to try out soon.

Bluetooth Display

Bluetooth Display

I’ve had no problems bluetoothing to my iPhone, iPad or iPod (I plan to try one of the compatible hiking/walking apps), and I’ve been very happy with the battery life.  I’ve been able to use it through three full cruising days without recharging, and it recharges very quickly – I’m estimating about an hour. A 12V adapter comes in the box, so I could leave it charging the entire time I’m traveling, but I like being able to scroll through and look at my latidtude/longitude, heading, time, etc.  If I were going to leave it charging, I would probably want it mounted to a window in case that affects satellite tracking.

Position Display

Position Display

You are able to change how you want the latitude and longitude to be displayed, and I breezed through this part during the setup which was a mistake. When I was trying to mark my position on the paper chart, I discovered that I had gone with the digital format which completely confused me.  It took me a few tries and an internet search to figure out I needed to go into the app on my phone to change how lat/long were displayed.

App Display Screen

App Display Screen

Being able to download and share your tracks is a nice feature and it will record up to 100 hours of trip data before you have to download the trips onto one of your devices.  Once you’ve turned the Bad Elf on and paired it to your device, simply press and hold the GPS button until it says GPS LOGGER STARTED. If you repeat this process yo have an option to record a POI (point of interest) or to turn off the logger.  Once you are finished with your trip, go to the Bad Elf app on your device and it will tell you how many trips are available for you to download.  Once they are downloaded on your device they will be cleared from the Bad Elf to free up more trip memory. There will then be another bar on the App telling you how many trips have been downloaded to your iPhone or iPad. Tap this tab to view and name the trips – there will be a default name like “Monday Morning Walk” so you will want to keep up on the renaming.  As you can see from the photo, I had to rename 18 trips at once. With the Navionics app you can view the trip either as as standard map or as a satellite image.

Standard Display

Standard Display of a Saved Track

Satellite Display

Satellite Display (Before Renaming) of Saved Track











Once this is done you can share the trips as a GPX file, KML file, Twitter, Facebook or via email.  I emailed a trip to myself to see what it would look like, and it actually gives you all of the trip data as well as a screenshot and the two file versions.

Email Sharing

Email Sharing

What could they do better?  The compass only reads in true, not magnetic.  It took a little research to figure out why it wasn’t agreeing with my autopilot or the compass on my binnacle.  I would prefer to be able to switch it over to magnetic, although technically I’m able to navigate in true with my charts and a little math.  However I think for most things I would want it for, magnetic would be my preference. For those people with a proper navigation station, being able to view it on the actual Mac so that those below could see as well as those above would be a convenient addition. Apparently the high end survey model is able to display on Mac or PC with a USB cable.  All of the versions I searched were splash resistant, but not water resistant.  This isn’t a deal breaker since it’s small enough to put into the tiniest of dry bags, but would be a great feature. Lastly, adding functionality for Android users would be a nice touch as well.

In general I was very happy with the Bad Elf GPS Pro for this trip and I’m looking forward to trying it out with SafeAnchor and the Navionics Hike and Bike apps in the near future.

Strait of Georgia

Strait of Georgia

Crossing Strait of Georgia

Strait of Georgia (Navionics)


Oh Canada!


We’ve been together for a year, and Rubi and I are on our first international trip.

Day 1-2

We left Friday Harbor a bit later than planned due to a pile of errands that….well, piled up. There was no wind, so we motored up San Juan Channel then through Spieden Channel to take advantage of the current. Just outside Friday Harbor there was a debris field that seemed to be everywhere. There were logs, planks, and what looked like someone’s door. Despite a close look out, I had a minor collision or two with something unseen, so I was on high alert. It wasn’t quite the vision I had in mind.

There are a couple of markers between Roche and the west end of Spieden that you would do well to heed. The chart shows kelp, and Holy Moly was there kelp! I’m not a good distance guesser, but I would say at least a football field of kelp extended from the marker toward Spieden. After that it was a pretty easy course to the west end of Stuart Island, round Turn Point Light House, then north to South Pender.

I had prepared myself thoroughly for my first boating customs stop, and was a bit nervous. As I came into Bedwell Harbor I was a bit confused about the customs dock. There was a large sign pointing to the customs dock, but a smaller sign on the end saying not to dock on the inside of that dock. The other dock had red and white paint which said STAY AWAY to me (it was the float plane dock). I was rigged for starboard, and the ‘outside’ of the dock would have required a U-Turn very, very close to shore. Against my better judgement, I went to the inside of the dock and discovered why you shouldn’t dock there. There is nothing to tie to…nothing! Nada! No cleat, no bar, nothing!  I kicked the bow off and jumped back aboard with my lines and did a slow doughnut to reassess, grateful there wasn’t a wind issue.

About that time,  my friends who had taken the ferry to North Pender and hitch hiked down to Bedwell Harbour, showed up at the dock and waved. Wanting to avoid an international incident, they stayed out of the customs area. Yes, I went to the red and white area on the other side behind a power boat and hoped for the best. I went to the phones as directed and it was the easiest customs check in of my life. OK, it was my first boat customs, but I have been to a few places. The phone rang to some distant place and a polite but bored customs agent answered. I was prepared to declare my extra alcohol and she stopped me saying “is it just boat bar stuff?”. Um, yes. Then I had to declare Logan and asked if she needed his rabies tag number. “No, just have it with you, are you ready to write down your clearance number?” Um, yes. Thank you.

My friends hopped aboard and we went to our assigned slip in Poet’s Cove Marina and I prescribed the pub STAT. Backpacks were stowed and Logan was fed and watered. John, Lisa and I were then also fed and watered, then headed back to the boat. The plan was to sail them up to Otter Bay to catch the ferry the next day. That evening the wind arrived in spades.

The radio was predicting gale force winds in the Strait of Juan de Fuca south of us, and in the Strait of Georgia to the east of us. Halyards were clanging in the protected marina. I made the decision not to go, and it appeared I was not alone because very few boats left.  Our plight wasn’t too terrible because we took advantage of the pool and hot tub. My fate was even better, because after my friends took the shuttle to the ferry, I had a massage, some time in the steam cave and another hot tub visit. An early birthday present to myself!

Poet’s Cove resort shuts down for the most part September 30. The marina is still open, and the spa will take advanced appointments, but don’t expect much else. There are two pools and hot tubs for guests, and the steam cave and another hot tub for spa customers. There are laundry and showers as well. The marina has water, electric and fuel. There is no boat washing here in the islands in general because of limited resources, but Rubi and I are used to going awhile between showers.

We’ll be back!


“Your Boat Position Looked Awkward”

As seen in ThreeSheetsNW – see their site for the photos.

Consistent with my middle name of Gale (ok, Gail..but it’s still the same meaning!), the suggestion by a dock manager that I be called Small Craft instead of Tiny Skipper, and a friend’s theory that you didn’t need to watch the weather, you only needed to know when I was planning a cruise, I led a cruising event to Port Orchard, WA despite a gale warning.  It was predicted to start late evening and end by the morning and with a 13 mile trip we’d all be safely in the marina during that time. It was January in the Pacific Northwest…weather reports, including NOAA aren’t always spot on…right?

If you haven’t heard that Seattle is one of the most difficult places to prognosticate…it is. Winter cruises are kept short for the eight hour days and the unpredictability. At the time I had owned my first sailboat for six months and was just starting to solo sail.  Going from a crew of 4-5 people to zero is a big adjustment and I had been doing things little bits at at time. The trip from Seattle to Port Orchard was quite easy logisticaly, just 13 miles through a pass that wasn’t going to be a problem that day at that time. The weather wasn’t coming until later.  I sailed 60% of the way and motor sailed the rest due to lack of wind through Rich Passage, and docking was uneventful (always an opportunity for gratitude).

The other five boats rolled in soon after and the festivities began shortly thereafter, including great food and drinks hosted on S/V Cambria. I was elated that so many other boats braved the prediction, and it was an amazing turn out from Sloop Tavern Yacht Club, Corinthian and Seattle Yacht Clubs, Windworks Sailing Club, and Pacific Northwest Sailing Group. Did I mention we were sailing in January?  No fair weather sailors were among this group!

I was exhausted and did hit the hay quite early in the evening.  I’ve learned so far that going solo often means a very early bedtime for me, even in good conditions, and I believe I crashed around 8 or 9pm. When the adrenaline goes up, it comes down, and sometimes it comes down very quickly.  I am fortunate to have friends that understand and were kind enough to tidy my spring lines and sail ties before the storm hit because I was out cold.

Later in the evening things changed. The night was rough, and unrestful for all but the soundest of sleepers or the blissfully unaware. I was neither. The predicted gale pummeled us with gusts over 40 kts and jerked the boats side to side in our slips. This marina has a pier, but not a solid breakwater, so wave action was a problem. My First Mate Logan was supremely unhappy and yowled through part of the night. Everyone was a bit weary in the morning, including myself, and I had gotten to bed earliest.

The storm was due to subside before noon, so I bided my time to leave.  Skippers asked if I needed help, and in my premature self confidence (this was my third time alone after all!) I said “no thank you”.  All but one of the other boats left between 10 and 11am and the wind had calmed and the blue sky appeared. S/V Cambria and her skipper Mark had elected to stay another night and spend the afternoon watching the Seahawk’s Superbowl playoff game.  He offered to help me off the dock, as had the other boats before they left, but it was calming down and looking great, so I thanked him, but declined. I would do this alone.  So I donned my Frosty The Snowman hat and got ready.

This is about the time the music changes in the movie. Not quite the ‘knife approaching shower curtain’ change, but more of the ‘you said something that’s going to bite you in the keister’ type of music.  This will be difficult to describe without a photo, but I will try.

If you aren’t familiar with our typical dock setup, imagine an upside down squared off U shape which is the dock and the finger piers. I am along the southwest (left hand) side of that dock, and all night the winds had been coming from the south/southwest and pushing me away from the dock.  I needed to get all the lines off and still get on the boat so it was important that I pick the lines to take off in the correct order. I chose incorrectly.

The wind had died down to about 9 knots in the marina, and I was going to be pushed off the dock with no one beside me….easy. I had released the aft spring (which keeps me from going forwards) which was slack, and the bowline appeared slack as well, so it wasn’t under load. The plan was start at the front and work my way back starting with the bowline, then the forward spring (keeping me from being blown backwards), then the stern line once I was aboard.

As soon as I released the bowline to work my way back, a very meaningful gust of wind and a line of rain hit me from behind and the windage on an 11000 pound boat in a 25kt gust is no match for a 5’1” person with six inches of line left in her hand. I had neglected to look behind me at the weather.

My boat was sideways in the slip in about 5 seconds, maybe less; time seems so long when you are watching a disaster in slow motion. The remaining forward spring and stern line kept the aft end of the boat tethered to the dock and prevented it from completely doing a 180 as it pivoted through the slip. I ran around to the other finger pier and grabbed the line that had been stripped from my hands, but it wouldn’t reach a cleat.  I hung desperately to the anchor for a minute, trying to think of a plan.

As if by magic, the boat stayed about 2-4 inches from the dock, forward and aft before I had gotten to the line. The Challenger wasn’t going to let me fail, but she wanted me to figure it out.  When the gust passed I was able to get the bowline to the mid dock cleat so the boat wouldn’t keep turning; it was clear my pulpit would not clear the pylon at the end of the dock.   I thought I had a plan, but I now needed to get ON the boat.

The engine was running, there was a cat on board, and there I was on the dock, not quite able to get on the boat, but not able to manhandle it back to where it belonged. There was no one around, so I was truly solo, which is what I had wanted, right?  What’s the worst case?  My mind ran through an array of possibilities. I run out of diesel in three days while I have a diabetic cat on board with no insulin.  Yep, that is a worst case. Time to do something.

The bow was tied now, so the pulpit couldn’t swing and hit the pylon. I looked like an ass, but I was safe for now. I only had access to the corner of the transom, and I could not get aboard there without steps.  My only option was to tiptoe onto a metal ring around the pylon at the end of the finger pier in the rain and try to reach and get the swim ladder down. (Note to self, get a better system to get the swim ladder down if I am overboard). After several minutes, I was able to get onto the boat, but it was precarious, a lot of effort in full rain gear and PFD, and I was exhausted.

I took a longer line to the bow cleat and threw the line onto the dock in preparation to slowly work the bow around one cleat at at time to the original position.  Somewhere during that time my Frosty hat had blown off and was floating across the fairway looking very sad indeed.  I mentally gifted it to Neptune because I had a job to do.

After getting back off the boat to get the newly rigged bowline and start working it around, I was delighted to see Mark walking down the deserted dock.  He had just purchased China plates from the antique store and was quite pleased, so despite the clearly abnormal appearance of my situation, he did not seem alarmed, or even rushed. He calmly deposited his China next to Cambria after my call for help, and walked over to take the new line and nonchalantly walked it back to the proper side of the dock. The gust had dissipated and he did this with ease.  Later, Mark was quite benevolent in his blog by calling my boat position ‘awkward’ as he approached.

In about 2 minutes the boat was back where she needed to be with what seemed to be much less effort than I had anticipated.  The 25kt gust that disheveled me and my boat had dissipated, but I was a soggy, panting, hot mess.  My arms and legs were noodles.  The adrenaline sink was happening. How long had the whole thing taken?  It might have been 15 minutes.  It seemed like hours.

Post Apocalypse Port Orchard photo credit Mark Aberle

Post Apocalypse Port Orchard
photo credit Mark Aberle

Despite the offer to watch the game aboard Cambria, I prescribed a nap STAT. That seems to be my solution post-crisis. Three hours later I emerged to gaze at a miraculously unscathed boat, and to join my last minute helper for the end of a football game which had just gone into overtime.  Mark had managed to walk to the other side of the marina and gather Frosty from the cold salt water while I was overanalyzing my spring lines and passing out.  Frosty had been rinsed and was drying by the diesel heater, the boat was safe, and the Seahawks won. It felt amazing and surreal.

Is there a cohesive theme here? Not really. I have had problems with having my bow blown off before I got to the cockpit, and I am working on it, and have several new strategies I am trying. In stormy weather, always look around for squalls before you release lines. Did I do OK in managing the crisis? I think I did. Was I lucky?  Yes! Was I happy to have help? Absolutely!!! Getting my hat back was a bonus.

Thanks again to ThreeSheetsNW for publishing my fiascos – who wants to hear a story of everything going perfectly anyway?