Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Whidbey Island Circumnavigation

The Vancouver Expedition (1791–1795) was a four-and-a-half-year voyage of exploration and land acquisition (some may say piracy), commanded by Captain George Vancouver. The expedition circumnavigated the globe, touched five continents and changed the course of history for various indigenous nations and the burnishing British empire that subjugated them. The expedition at various times included between two and four vessels, and up to 153 men, all but six of whom returned home to aspiring careers.

In 1792, HMS Discovery's Ship's Master, Joseph Whidbey accompanied Lieutenant Peter Puget in small boats to explore what was later named Puget Sound. On June 2, the team discovered Deception Pass, establishing the insularity of the Sound's largest island which Vancouver named Whidbey Island.

Whidbey Island is approximately 55 miles (89 km) long (from the extreme north to extreme south, and varies between 1.5 to 12 miles (2.4 to 19.3 km) wide, comprising 168.67 square miles (436.9 km2).

My solo Whidbey Island circumnavigation came about because of the TSCA messabout at Hope Island near the northeast end of it's much larger neighbor, not far from Deception Pass.

This voyage began in Mystery Bay. The weather prediction was perfect for it, a convergence zone was due over the area, with southerlies on the Friday of departure, developing into northerlies for the rest of a week. I could ride the cool, rainy front north, expecting warmer, sunny weather to bring me back.

It sounds simple. Unfortunately for Doryman, the cool front moved through a full day early. Belle Starr was anxious to go, regardless. We headed south from Port Townsend with the developing high pressure behind us. All the way, through the "Cut" at the south end of Port Townsend Bay and across Admiralty Inlet, to the south end of Whidbey, it was downwind or a broad reach, with a push from a flood tide. Very pleasant. The wind shifted with us as we traveled west until the setting sun brought on a chill.

In a fit of complacency, I hoped the westerly would continue on the lee side of the island as we rounded north at Possession Point. To make this a comfortable three day trip, as planned, we still had at least ten miles to go. Twenty miles to a recognized anchorage. None of this was to be. The wind we found was directly on the nose of my worthy vessel, which was not up to the task of making much headway against a northeasterly growing in force. In the gloaming, two successive gusts struck Belle Starr to starboard, hard enough to bring waves over the cockpit coaming.

This had never happened to me before in my experience with the Stone Horse - Belle Starr being a very dry boat. She was floundering under the added weight, with scuppers underwater and no momentum or steerage. Flustered and tired, it took a few seconds to recognize the water was not draining and there was little else to do but try and bring the boat upright and disperse the intruding water. Most of the water escaped, but enough remained to dampen my enthusiasm. The last two paragraphs comprise four hours of man and boat against the sea, so exhausted and despite an exposed lee shore, we tacked in and set anchor for a restless night. The pile of wet gear in the cockpit would have to wait.

One lazarette had filled completely (something to put on the list...leaky lazarettes have sunk many boats.), thoroughly soaking sets of off-shore rain gear and boots. Although none of it absorbed water, anyone familiar with the Northwest climate will understand it took most of the next day, sailing with gear spread all over the cockpit, to dry everything enough to re-stow.

Well, sailing... figuratively. Saturday, with about fifty miles to reach Hope Island, the wind, still directly ahead, died to a whisper. I disdain the use of motors, as a principle and when I succumb to a rational argument with myself, it is with regret. Crank up the outboard and head for Oak Harbor to buy fuel, a great sin in the world of Doryman.
We reached the Hope Island messabout an hour before sundown. A quick transit around the island, looking for friends, revealed a lovely state park that is primarily a nature preserve. When I found the anchorage, I'd just missed a potluck supper on Night Bird, Claire and John's new Catalina 22, with Martin and his son Trevor, from Clover, Ed, his son and a friend who launched their Core Sound 17 at Coronet Bay, just east of Deception Pass. But I was just in time for an evening chat, watching a fresh new moon, attended by Venus and Jupiter, from the cockpit. Sublime.

Sunday dawned with that misty morning haze, the crown jewel of the summer maritime Pacific Northwest, when sea and sky blend together, like living inside an emerald. You know the day will be bright and warm. Inside the archipelago, the breezes will be light, but we were headed out into open water, with wind funneled directly off the ocean, through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Deception Pass is a narrow opening in the rock between Whidbey Island and Fidalgo Island and should be transited at slack tide. To meet an ebb in Rosario Strait, we needed to meet the high slack after daybreak coffee.

The entire day was blessed with a steady westerly on the starboard beam. A sailor's dream. The hours flowed by in simple contemplation of good fortune until the Point Wilson light and Port Townsend Bay came into view. Sailing about 150 challenging and beautiful nautical miles in 50 hours. It doesn't get better than that.

Hitch hikers to nowhere.

Bald eagles.

Aboard Night Bird.

Raft-up at twilight.

Clover's dingy.

Clover in early morning repose.

Looking west through Deception Pass. You can see how it got it's name.

A lot of water funnels through that little opening.

Running free. The old girl could use a new mainsail...

Point Wilson, Port Townsend Bay at the end of the day.

Whidbey Island, by Ron Kerrigan.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Durable Boats, Durable Men

That's doryman Joe's caption for this photo he sent me recently.

"Here is a current pic of my friend Don, beaching the boat he built in 1968, and has been using continuously since. Grumpy Don is approaching middle age at, I believe, 76 or 77 years old."

The Pacific Dory Fleet is alive and going strong.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Classic Mariners Regatta

Points for style
Belle Starr sailed west to view the Port Townsend Classic Mariners Regatta yesterday. This event is for wooden sailboats. Wooden motorboats are welcome to participate in the event as a spectator fleet. Wooden rowboats, dinghies and kayaks are encouraged to participate in Sunday morning’s informal race.

The regatta on Saturday was light to no wind. Regardless, the Race Committee managed to get off the advertised two "races".  Long distance photos are difficult to take when you are sailing, let alone when your subjects are also sailing.

The pick of the shots are available on Doryman's Flickr site. I hope this gives you a sense of the day.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

R2AK Pre-Race Ruckus

Down on the waterfront, the excitement is contagious. Tonight was a big party for the public to meet and greet the stalwart souls intent on winning the Race to Alaska, a 750 nautical mile voyage from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska.
The contestants will leave Port Townsend tomorrow morning at 5:00AM, PDT for the first stop in Victoria BC. After a send-off from the Canadians, the racers will be on their own.

Good Luck to All!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Circumnavigating Lopez Island

Over Memorial Day weekend we took Belle Starr for a circumnavigation of Lopez Island, the southern most island of the San Juan Island group in northwestern Washington State. Catching the last of the ebb, mid-day on Thursday before the weekend, we sailed east from Port Townsend and tacked in fair to light winds, north along the coast of Whidbey Island.

The plan was to sail to the northeast end of Lopez Island, but having spent most of the day coaxing Belle Starr on light airs, we optioned to cross Rosario Strait and enter the San Juans through Lopez Pass, at the southeast end of Lopez.

The San Juan Islands are notorious for contrary currents with migrating standing waves that challenge a sailor's skill. Standing waves resemble the water in a washing machine with no particular direction or design. This condition can occur whenever two tidal currents collide and/or a wind pattern opposes the tidal flow. It's curious to watch a tide rip move over a body of water and suddenly engulf you in what sounds like rapids on a river.


As we approached Lopez Pass, we negotiated a tide rip two miles wide and four miles long. With the worthy Stone Horse bucking hither and yon, the pass was difficult to separate from false openings in the islands. Once inside however, the rocky entrance opened into the beautiful and inviting Lopez Sound. Our chart showed there might be good anchorage to the southwest in either Mud Bay or Hunter Bay. As we approached, it became obvious that Hunter Bay was the best choice. We set anchor among several other boats and settled in for a comfortable night, as a full gale developed overhead. A high bluff offered ample protection from the prevailing westerlies.

Since we expected to catch the rising tide to push us north sometime around noon, late morning coffee found us absolutely alone in a bay lovely enough to entice a mariner to stay for a while.

Belle Starr is a thoroughbred however and as the tide turned and a breeze came up from the south, she chaffed at her anchor, ready to run. Under mainsail alone she made an easy four knots toward Spencer Spit, on the northeast side of Lopez Island. Washington State maintains a park at Spencer Spit with several buoys and a low sandy beach for access. Bounded to the east by Frost Island, this anchorage is pretty but the spit doesn't offer much for protection from prevailing winds. The boats we saw anchored there were pulling hard on their moorings so we crept around a headland to Swifts Bay. The tiny community of Port Stanley offered no public shore access, but Swifts Bay was a peaceful spot to spend our second night.

The next day we sailed around Upright Head and southwest through Upright Channel to Friday Harbor, on San Juan Island. The wind shifted from south to west which afforded a comfortable broad reach all day. Friday Harbor is a busy place, offering US customs, food, fuel and entertainment. You can imagine what it was like on a holiday. Tied up at the transient dock seemed threatening as boaters who take their craft out for one weekend a year floundered all around, jockeying for the highest profile. We picked up necessary stores and escaped to an anchorage out of the hustle and bustle. There we found our first wood boats of the trip.

Next morning found us sailing tight tacks into a rising southerly in San Juan Channel. It's a heavily used thoroughfare, so a small boat must be wary. The biggest threat to a gunkholer in the San Juan Islands is not the rocks or the weather, but large private motor boats who apparently determine right-of-way according to tonnage.

An ebb tide in the San Juan Channel flows mightily through Cattle Pass directly into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. With the wind on our nose and the current at our back, we battled our way through mostly submerged rocks and a high chop for two nautical miles before finding a steady breeze on the forward quarter which was to carry us all day, back to Port Townsend.

As a footnote, isn't that Junk interesting? Her skipper was busy, concentrating hard, so I didn't interrupt. But I'd like more information about her. If anyone recognizes this craft, please let me know.

I didn't even catch her name...