Make a New Sail Plan Stan

TartanSanJuans

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

 

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.

Fogust

Fogust

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!

ARGGH

ARGGH