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


Percy and The Anemones

Percy the Spotted Shrimp

Percy the Spotted Shrimp and one of the Anemones

It’s the day before I leave Friday Harbor, WA to head back to my home base of Shilshole Bay Marina in Seattle. There are lists of things crowding my brain that I have to do before I leave (fill water tanks, water bottles, diesel tank, check oil, check strainer, take out trash and recycling, oh yeah, take a shower) and the lists make it a challenge to reminisce, so I thought I’d take a time out and write a few things down that I didn’t want to forget. Things like Percy and the Anemones.

Percy happens to be the cutest little spotted shrimp you’ve ever seen, and he lives on the pylon of G26 in Friday Harbor. There are lots of other shrimp on G28’s pylon, but Percy, he likes his space, so he hangs with The Challenger and Daisy the Dinghy, and lives in a magical wonderland of Giant White Plumed Anemones. It sounds like it should be either a Greek Tragedy or an early 60’s R&B group, but I imagine it’s the Pacific Northwest’s version of the Wizard of Oz.  Although the Anemones are alabaster white, they appear pale green in the cold salt water and tower around Percy like the Giant Redwoods soar above us.  Percy has been there every time I’ve checked in on him to say hello, and the anemones certainly aren’t going anywhere.


Giant White Plumed Anemones

I try to imagine things from Percy’s point of view and wonder what he thinks of this clumsy sailboat careening into his dock space and coming perilously close to his beloved pylon. He has seen the decent, the unfortunate, and hush hush dockings of the Challenger, but never uttered a word of criticism. He has seen friends visit and new friends made.  Percy has watched some experiments, watched me wash clothes in a bucket, and hang them to dry on the lifelines. I’m sure he has heard a variety of music through the hull and I wonder what he prefers. Both Percy and the Anemones have also patiently let me photograph them until my fingers turned blue under the water.  All in all these guys have been great neighbors.



My little trip down memory lane wouldn’t be complete without a couple of appearances from Popeye the resident seal.  She’s rather disgusted with me since I never have fish to share, and I can tell you unequivocally that she thinks potato chips are not fit for marine mammal consumption. She likes to sneak up on your while you sit in your cockpit and make her arrival known with a huge splash, then stare at you with her one good eye until you cave and share your food.  If you want to see her every day, you should probably stock up on canned Salmon. She’s pretty cute.