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Karma's first voyage

Updated: Jan 10, 2022

Rochelle and I needed a vacation! But you really still can't go anywhere without Covid restrictions ruining all the fun. We decided to take a short 7-day cruise on Karma and since Karma is still relatively new to us, we opted to invite our close friend Mark to join us. One of the more difficult things about Karma is having to dock her. She is a full-keel boat that loves to go straight; she will turn eventually, and really has no idea how to go backwards. Docking with three people seems quite doable, but I'm not sure just the two of us are ready for that challenge. With her bad backing technique, we thought this would make departing difficult, but it turned out not to be all that bad. It is the docking part that is crazy scary in my book. Hitting the dock is bad, but that generally only affects us; but hitting someone else's boat - that can be downright nasty. Not a good way to treat your new neighbors.

I tend to be at the helm during docking, Rochelle and our first mate is handling lines. If we are lucky, the marina will sometimes send someone down to help - they tend to be more helpful when they realize their boat is next to our slip. One factor that we all seem to disregard is the power that the current and wind have over the boat, even when the sails are not up.

Mark agreed to go sailing with us. He is a land person; he talks about someday owning a fishing boat, but deep down we know he is a sailor at heart. Mark is a good man; I met him around 2006. His ex-wife was my ex-wife's friend from work. The ex-wives are no longer friends, but we are good friends. He is also an IT guy, so we have that in common, although he works the hardware side and I, the software side.

The idea for the trip was just to get practice with Karma. Lots of docking, maybe some anchoring, experience some issues that would obviously creep up and scare the crap out of us, gain sailing experience, enjoy long arduous tacks against the currents, and see some new places. Originally, the idea was to go to the San Juan Islands.

Day 1: Bon Voyage! A full moon occurred just a few days before so our tides and currents were extreme. I believe at high tide we had +10 feet and at low tide, just 6 hours later, we had a -1 feet. That is 11 feet moving out in only 6 hours. Since we were going that way, we wanted to be only the water when it hit high tide at a brisk 6am in the morning of August 24th. There was not much wind when we got out, but the sunrise was magnificent! We raised the mainsail and used it to keep us from rocking too much. Much of the day we motored straight up the Hood Canal, past the Bangor Naval base to the Hood Canal bridge. We did manage to get some sailing in just past the base (3), when surprisingly the wind changed direction and tacked on 12 knots to the current wind speed. We actually opted to put a reef into the main just to be safe. Eventually we arrived at the Hood Canal bridge and had all that traffic stopped so that our tiny boat could traverse it. Apparently, there is a maritime law from centuries ago that make maritime travel the primary mode of travel, nothing is allowed to block maritime travel... including bridges. The Hood Canal bridge requires a 1-hour notification, so that they can get the proper people to their stations in order to open the bridge. Obviously, the vehicle drivers are none-to-appreciative of this law. Thanks go out to the bridge tenders, they were and have always been very courteous to us as we pass through. Our first night was spent at Port Ludlow Marina.

Arriving at the marina was not the end of the day for us; oh no, the surprises began. I guess we should have assumed it would happen on vacation - but we did experience our first head issue. The tank was over-full. What normally fills in over maybe five days with two people, now fills in less than three days with three people. Let's just say there was a bit of a spill - twice. But luckily it was retained in the compartment that holds the tank. Docking was also a challenge, as the wind was pushing us into the dock. Very little room for maneuvering. A really nice Mexican restaurant called Molcajete was recommended to us and so we hiked a mile each way and got some great Mexican food and what turned out to be very strong drinks.

The rest of the day was a blur...

Day 2: Great Sailing! We slept in because we knew that the winds would be better around 10am. Port Ludlow is right off Admiralty Inlet, which in that area is close to 5 miles wide in places. So we could get some quality sailing in without having to constantly tack back and forth, like we do in the Hood Canal. Today the winds were at a brisk 10-12 knots from the north which allowed us lots of sailing back and forth across Admiralty Inlet. The seas were relatively calm, less than a foot. We still had our first reef set in the mainsail from the day before; although we did clean up our reef a bit. We also pulled out the whole genoa, which I believe is a 100 or 110. Right out of Port Ludlow we sailed east, then west, then east, then... hey why are we going backwards? Then west, and that is when we realized we sailed too long and now have a nasty current pushing us away from where we planned to go for the night. The flood current was strong, it was just a few days since the last full moon (more lessons learned), from the point where we stopped sailing and switched to motor-sailing (waypoint 5) to the north tip of Marrowstone Island, approximately 6 miles, took us about three hours traveling at "6" knots. In fact, at the strongest current, we sat east of Fort Flagler for about 90 minutes. Up at Fort Flagler, the current was upwards of 4 knots against us. We had left the reefed mainsail up as it helps keeping the boat level - less bumpy. The winds had picked up as we got closer the the Juan de Fuca Strait, throwing at us 20-25 knot sustained winds. At that time, we took the mainsail down and motored the rest of the way to Port Hudson Marina in Port Townsend.

Our experience at Port Hudson was not great. When we arrived, about 15 minutes before they closed, nobody was answering the radio on channel 09... so no docking assist in these heavy winds. What I had always assumed was that the large walls they have acting as protection are actually just posts and they provide very minimal resistance to currents and wave action. Our slip was right close to the breakwater so we felt every wave from passing boats and ferries. Now we like Port Townsend, but I had a little bit of buyers remorse on my Port Hudson dock slip. First off, this is the most expensive dock slip I have ever rented for the night - as I remember it was close to $100. And for that we received: no line help, no check in, no wave protection, and to top it off... Showers cost extra! A quarter for a 2 minute shower. If that wasn't bad enough; there were no change machines! The showers were spotless, probably because no one used them. You would think that a $100 slip fee would include free showers... Most other marinas in $60 range offer clean free showers.

Day 2: Decisions, Decisions. The plan was to go to the San Juan Islands and the next day would be our first time around Point Wilson. It is where the Juan de Fuca Strait meets Admiralty Inlet. This is a very dangerous place, many a fool have sunk their boats here. I had initially thought, this was going to be an ebb tide in the morning with a strong 5 knot current and we would just flow right through heading north... but I would have been wrong. Ebb currents are indeed what makes this passage dangerous and as I read more from local knowledge, I realized I do not have the experience needed for that passage as a first timer. We opted to change course and go someplace else.

Day 3: Long Journey to Langley. We decided the night before to go to the quaint town of Langley on Whidbey Island. It would be a long day and very little in the way of wind for most of it. Though, at least the currents were with us most of the way. Most of the day we motored at about 5 knots, we got a very small amount of sailing around waypoint 2. But, as in sailing, the wind always seems to be at your nose. No matter that we pounded into the strong winds towards Port Townsend the night before, this morning the wind knew we would be going south and decided to do a 180 and hit us from the southeast.

Langley, Washington is a cute little town. We opted to stay at the marina here for two nights, that would give us a whole day enjoying the town and relaxing. The marina staff were real friendly and helpful. The marina was actually quite small, we were lucky to have gotten a spot. Perhaps one of the trickier docks I had to get into as it was a port tie and required me to spin our 30,000 pound boat in a tight area. But, luckily there was only light wind and a slack tide. Docked it like I knew what I was doing... LOL! We relaxed the rest of the day. Mark took us out for dinner at a nice Asian restaurant called Ultra House where we all had Ramen.

Day 4: Crabs! Crabs! Crabs! We woke up to a beautiful day and immediately got to the important task of the day; put out the crab pot! No sailing today. We wanted to have a rest day so we could recuperate from all our travels and it turned out to be a beautiful day to just sonder around town and relax on the boat. We managed to put the crab pot out three times today and our first pull provided dinner for us: two Dungeness crabs and three rock crabs. That evening we also pulled one more Dungeness from the waters, an absolute monster 8" shell which we saved for crab omelets two days later. Langley is a small homey community. No fast food here, no franchises at all. We found a wonderful little coffee shop called Ulysses here and had the best latte of my life there. Many of the shops were closed and even some of the restaurants. They had a lack of breakfast joints in town. The one place we went for breakfast was more of a takeout restaurant with outdoor seating. It was called Langley Kitchen, the food was excellent, we had quiches and baked goods, but we had hoped for something more substantial. After our breakfast we wandered through the town seeing its sights, smelling the numerous types of flowers, and pondering why there are so many bunnies in town and why are they so friendly?

Day 5: Mark WANTS a crepe! Ever since we changed course to Langley, Mark has gone on and on about a crepe shop in Kingston. So we charted a course for Kingston and hoped we could find a dock. Departing from Langley at a perfect time so that we could flow with the current down Possession Sound, we once again found ourselves dead into the wind. This seems a common theme sailing in the Puget Sound. I think it must be because the skinny channels, steep bluffs and tall trees channel the winds irrelevant of what the forecast is. The wind may indeed be coming from the northwest 1000' up; but at water level it seems to either be coming from our point of departure or our destination. We noticed that when we hit large sections of open water, the wind magically starts blowing in the forecasted direction. This is what happened in Admiralty Inlet outside of Port Ludlow. I thought that this would happen once we exited Possession Sound. I was incorrect. All the way down Possession Sound we were dead into the wind, and when we exited and turned towards Kingston, the wind follow suit. But there was wind, lots of it, so we played a bit, tacking back and forth until we realized that the current had shifted and was now taking us back into Possession Sound. We furled the jib and headed straight to Kingston close... close.. close hauled, ever so slightly off the wind to keep the mainsail filled. Kingston Marina is very nice, modern, right in town, restaurants, parks, bars all within a block. Restrooms spotless, "free" showers, and a huge stage where musical groups play. Elvis was visiting that day. Farmers market was the following day. Mark hurried us off the boat and to his favorite crepe place, J'aime Les Crêpes. Mark wanted sweet, but it was afternoon so we all got savory, and they were absolutely delicious! I can't say that I had ever had a savory crepe before so this was a good experience.

That night, we noticed something new to us. Our bilge was going off a lot more than normal. Typically, the bilge will run once every few days and it will empty what appears to be about a gallon of water. This water can come from pretty much anything; drips from the anchor chain as its hauled in, hard rain, or just through condensation... None of which was occurring on our trip. We frantically raced to all the seacocks to insure that they were not leaking. They were not. "What the hell! Where is this water coming from?" Then I remembered that there are two more holes that we didn't think to inspect, the shaft and the rudder. Since we had been motoring quite a bit on this trip, I quickly assumed that was likely the issue. Karma was pretty much unused in the year prior to us buying her, and perhaps things had loosened up a bit when we started working her again. I first looked to the propeller shaft stuffing box, as I knew where that was. It is a very tight, not for the claustrophobic, type location. First, one must squirm down to the foot of the quarter berth where there is a 2'x2' covered hole. After opening that, you must then bend 90 degrees, keeping on the horizontal plane. Then you push yourself through the hole up to about your chest allowing your back and side muscles to support you as you hang over what feels like a three foot chasm. Reaching down through all the hot and cold water piping, electrical wires and exhaust tubing; you finally reach your destination, the shaft and stuffing box. The stuffing box is made of two clamps with a gooey gauze in between. This compressed gauze is all that keeps water from entering your boat from around the propeller shaft. You would think that after a century someone would have thought of a better mechanism. Typically, you will get one drop per minute entering the boat, this allows it to keep from drying out (a whole set of other problems). The Coast Guard says that if this is showing three drops per minute, they define that as "vessel is taking on water". Just as estimate here, as I lost count after a few seconds while also suspending my "larger than life" self over this vast chasm; we had 16 drops in 5 seconds. "Holy crap! We are technically sinking!" Stress level just skyrocketed. I needed an expert and we just happened to know a few experts on "H" dock at my marina. "Do you still have John's number from the Merrie Ellen", I asked Rochelle. John answered the phone right quick and I reminded him of who I was. I asked him what I should do. He said, "First, take a breath". Then, ask yourself is the bilge keeping up? And finally, "What's for dinner?" He said he would show me how to adjust it when we return from our trip. Okay breathe...

Day 6: The journey home. We had two days left on this trip. Our plan was to go anchor out at Port Gamble near the Hood Canal bridge, to make for an easy last day. But, with the new information we had regarding the stuffing box, we thought it might be wiser to stay at a marina. So we prepared to return to Port Ludlow. Okay, are we ready to depart? Wait, where is Mark? "Oh, he went to go get a crepe", states Rochelle. Eventually, we departed, and Mark had his 'sweet' crepe. Amazingly, we found ourselves headed straight into the wind... again. SHOCKER! But, it was a beautiful day! Wind was shooting down from the northwest and we had current with us, so there was a bit of chop. The best thing, was the dozens on sailboats, all sizes, on a run downwind with their spinnakers and other massive colorful foresails up. As we neared Admiralty Inlet (waypoint 3), the wind shifted from the north and we started sailing on a close reach, really sailing, gunwales in the water, kicking it at 8.4 knots speed over ground (SOG)! It was incredible! A nice finish to a long day.

Back at Port Ludlow, what is there to do... oh, yea there is a great Mexican restaurant a mile up the road. We put our walking shoes on and hit the road. This time Rochelle came with us.

Day 7: The last day. We got off around 9 am hoping to get to the Hood canal bridge by noon. Unfortunately, there was zero wind. The water was like glass, not even a ripple. We turned the engines on and headed off south back to Pleasant Harbor. We had the pleasure of passing through the Hood Canal bridge with another sailboat and motoring all the way to Dabob Bay together. A very uneventful day.

We called ahead to Pleasant Harbor for some line assist and when we arrived there was a welcome party; no chance we would hit the dock with so many people helping! Parked Karma like a champ! Will, one of our neighbors that lives aboard his boat was there. I asked him a few questions regarding the stuffing box and he offered to assist with his expertise while I made the adjustments to the stuffing box. It seemed to have worked, drips are no longer noticeable. I do look down there every weekend and it still looks damp so I hope that means it is still dripping its one drop per minute. We ran the engine in reverse for five minutes and then grabbed the temperature of the shaft and it seemed okay. I'm going to go with that for now. It was a good trip. We got a lot of experience, had a lot of fun, had several stress moments, and saved the boat from sinking. What more could you expect from such a short trip?

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