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Rising to the Challenge, Part 1

Rochelle and I wanted to get in one last trip before we haul out Karma in mid-September for her ocean-going re-rig. For this trip we had planned an 18-day journey from Pleasant Harbor to the San Juan Islands and back. We would be challenged on a lot of different aspects during this trip, and we would accomplish a few firsts as "just us" - no extra crew. We also would have Nancy Erley back aboard for the first few days to train and test us in two ISPA certifications.

Our plan was to meet Nancy in Port Townsend on August 17th. The trip from Pleasant Harbor out through the Hood Canal Bridge is always what we call a slog. If there is wind, it is almost always on your nose, and since no boat can sail directly into the wind, we usually have to motor all the way to Admiralty Inlet, a solid 24 nautical miles. And of course, we have to wait for the Hood Canal Bridge to open, which is a process, but admittedly one of the smoother government-run processes in the State. Combining that trip with another 20 nautical miles up to Port Townsend is a LONG day, so we opt to anchor at Port Ludlow for a breather.

We started off on August 15th, so that we would get there in plenty of time to meet Nancy on the 17th at 10 am at Boat Haven. The trip to Port Ludlow is non-eventful. The best part is passing by Bangor Naval Station and scoping to see if there are any big submarines docked. There is always some excitement when a boater isn't paying attention and comes too close to the yellow buoys, and the fast boat with a mini-gun on its bow goes to intercept. The base has several huge signs stating the warning "US Naval Base Caution - Use of Force Authorized". We visited with a guy just last night that came down for the weekend to Pleasant Harbor; he told us a story about how his navigation system automatically routed him straight through the base. He was quick to notice it when flying down Hood Canal at 32 knots in his swanky new boat. Trust the equipment, but always double check it for accuracy!

Our first night was at Port Ludlow, a wonderfully protected bay with thick mud on its bottom, ripe with holding power. If we had hurricanes up in the PNW, this is where you would want your boat anchored. As First Mate, Rochelle handles our anchor, and she has renamed this "Port Mudlow" for all the mud she has to wash off the anchor when she brings it up. That night, Rochelle texted Nancy to get everything ready for pickup only to find out that we had the dates wrong. Nancy wasn't to start until the 18th. Whoops! Well, that gave us an extra day to prepare for our crossing of the strait. On the 17th, we weighed anchor and headed up to Port Townsend. The trip goes through Admiralty Inlet, which can have significant currents which need to be timed. I decided on a time of 9 am to depart Port Ludlow and head up. We would start with a slight current against us but over the course it would turn into a 2-knot current with us. As we left Port Ludlow, it was good to see three other sailboats leaving at the same time. My novice planning skills were improving!

It was smooth motoring up to Port Townsend, occasionally surpassing the 9-knot mark with the currents, much faster than our hull speed. The further past your hull speed, the more squirrely your boat gets. Admiralty Inlet can see 5 and 6-knot currents on a spring tide. Luckily, the inlet is wide, so "losing control" doesn't mean something detrimental like running into land, whereas a poorly timed crossing of Deception Pass very well could have an awful ending.

The trip was only about three hours, so we managed to get some errands done around Port Townsend to prepare for our trip north. Later in September we plan to haul out at Boat Haven for some re-fit. We plan on doing most of the work ourselves, but there are some things we want an expert to do, such as fiber glassing over unused through-hulls. We arranged to meet with Grant that afternoon at Haven Boatworks to see if his team could assist us. I think they will be a good match for us. We also walked over to the Safeway to those few items we forgot to get back in Pleasant Harbor, mainly eggs. The rest of the day was spent refilling tanks and studying our certification coursework and getting a "power" shower up at the Boat Haven Marina bath house, where the water pressure could easily peel paint.

Nancy arrived promptly at 10 am, we got her situated in the quarter berth and began to plan our day across the Strait of Juan De Fuca. The strait is open water sourced from the Pacific Ocean. Westerly winds and waves funnel down through the strait from the Pacific which can make it a bit on the rough side. Another phenomenon called "wind over current" creates waves that can be uncomfortable to navigate. Wind over current waves are very close together (wave period of less than 8 seconds) which means for every wave your boat floats over, it will go through the next one. Boats can flip, roll, lose crew overboard, and sink in these waves that are created when the wind flows in the opposite direction of the current, exacerbated by relatively shallow waters found around a point or on a bar. Point Wilson is known as one of those places. The wind flows from the northwest, past Point Wilson and down into Admiralty Inlet. The flow of the inlet current switches approximately every 6 hours, flooding to land and then ebbing toward the ocean, which creates the wind over waves condition. On a 5 knot windspeed day with an ebb current of 1 knot, the Point is likely going to be flat as a mirror. But if the strait is kicking up 15 knot winds over 5 knot opposing current, you're likely going to experience a "sporty" event. I had been dreading this passage for a very long time. Luckily for us, there was minimal wind and had just a slight ebb current taking us out to the strait. It was a pretty smooth day overall.

On the way across the strait, we stopped off at Smith Island which is at about the halfway point across. It is a well-known place to look for wildlife. We were hoping for whales, but what we got was a whole lot of seagulls and cormorants encircling an island covered in a lot of bird poop. The island used to have a lighthouse, but the strait is slowing reclaiming its property. Smith Island has a low bar in between two knobs that does cover with water at high tide. You could anchor here for short periods, maybe for lunch, but there is absolutely no protection from the wind and waves. Maybe next time we will see the whales we were hoping to see.

We finished crossing the strait and headed towards Lopez Pass, a narrow fast-flowing passage between Lopez and Decatur Islands. Just as we entered Rosario Strait, Nancy said she wanted to go see a little side bay called Watmough Bay. She said this would be a great place to slide into if the strait was nastier than the reports were saying. It has great protection from the south, west, and east, but not from the north wind and the waves of Rosario Strait. The bay had room for about 10 large (less than 45') boats, and it was deep. There were boats tied to the stone cliff walls surrounding the bay. We left there and headed north passing the barely submerged Kellett Ledge and entered Lopez Pass with a helpful current of 2 knots. The pass is only maybe 500 feet wide which sounds like a lot, but it isn't. At 10 knots you only have about 17 seconds of screwing up before you have run into the shore. We breezed through the pass easily and headed over to Hunter Bay. Hunter Bay is extremely protected as well as providing a nice shallow mud bottom. We only put out 100' of chain to hold us in 16' of water (plus 10' tides); it held us there securely for two nights while we worked on the book knowledge of our certifications.

Our next day would be a short one. We woke once again to no wind, so we decided that today would be a perfect day to explore and practice our man overboard (MOB) drills. What we have learned through our ISPA certification training is that if you fall overboard in the PNW, you will probably be dead. If you somehow are rescued in the first 7 minutes of falling overboard, then as your body warms aboard, cold blood will flow from your extremities to your heart and kill you. The moral of the story is don't fall overboard in the Pacific Northwest. We constructed our victim out of a fender and an empty coconut oil container. Rochelle named her "Minnie" (as in "Minnie Over Board"--MOB) and sent her overboard while under way. Under motor, we practiced the "Anderson Turn", essentially a big 360-degree turn to return you to the swimmer, while staying upwind of them, which allows the boat to float toward them instead of away from them. Getting to the MOB is actually the easy part, in calm seas. Extracting them from the water is much harder. Though Minnie only weighed about 20 pounds, most humans are going to be significantly more than that, especially when accounting for all the wet clothing they would be wearing. If you are lucky, the MOB is still conscious and can climb onto the boat via the ladder; however, in the cold waters of the PNW, this is highly unlikely. It is more likely that once you get the boat back to the MOB, you must stop the engine, wrangle the MOB, attach the MOB to the boat, loosen the halyard (the rope that goes to the top of the mast), get the block and tackle out, tie one end of the tackle to the halyard, tie the other end to the MOB, take the bitter end around a winch and start winching the MOB back aboard. We practiced this with two people aboard and imagined how hard it would be if there were only one aboard and the one in the water was a loved one. Once again, moral of the story: Do not fall overboard!

After practicing for an hour or so, we explored the area a bit and then headed off to Spencer Spit State Park where we would spend the night. Spencer Spit is a skinny beach that sticks out from Lopez Island on the east side, almost touching Frost Island. There is an 80' wide channel that cuts between the Spit and Frost Island and many boaters go through it as a challenge. It may be cool; maybe we can try it using someone else's boat. You can anchor at Spenser Spit, but we chose to use one of the State Parks mooring balls, which we had bought an annual pass to use. On the mooring ball was a spot location number and a phone number to call to let them know it is occupied. We called, gave them my already purchased permit number and they said, "Thank you, that will be $4.25". Umm? But I already paid hundreds of dollars for this yearly pass? Apparently, the state parks contract out the phone service to take the reservations, and you also need to pay the phone call fee. Typical government service: next year we will not support the State Parks with our $275 pass and just anchor for free. No need to get permission, no need to pay fees on top of fees. Such a disappointment! But Spenser Spit is very nice. Beautiful sandy beach, some facilities, campgrounds and protection from the current and waves depending on which side you anchor/moor at. It was a quiet night.

When got up early the next day, there was much exploring to do, as well as a strong potential for wind later in the day. After breakfast, we detached from our mooring ball and motored north towards Peavine Pass and Obstruction Pass. These two passes go around Obstruction Island. Nancy felt we needed more experience maneuvering Karma through some tight, fast-water areas. After completing that task, we motored west to Blind Bay, north of Shaw Island. Nancy says this is a well-protected hidey hole in case of an unexpected storm, open only to a rare north wind. She also mentioned that the Shaw General Store nearby, a store that has been open since 1898, a place that is not to be missed, but since we had lots of learning to do, we kept on going west and a little south through another tight, fast-water pass called Wasp Pass. This pass is maybe 200' wide, but the big difference here is that you also get some ferry traffic... Yikes! No ferries came through when we were going through it, but there were a few seemingly drunk motor boaters. Similar to rules to the road for cars, some boats have right of way while others don't. It amazes me that for the most part, power boaters don't seem to care or are just ignorant of these rules. On the water, boats are moving anywhere from an eighth to half the speed of a car, in a vast area with no lanes, and yet somehow, we all manage to come into close quarters with each other. I've almost been hit by motorboats because the skipper was not even watching where he was driving. I've been under full sail, only to have another sailboat under power, perpendicular to me on my port side force me to dump the wind and stop sailing in order not to hit him, likely another case of boat on autopilot with no watch.

We headed for Presidents Channel, just east of Spieden Island. Wouldn't you know it, there was wind! We put out the mainsail and then pulled out the jib and began sailing up Presidents Channel. The wind was not strong, but good enough to practice sailing our figure-8's and heave-to's. We also spent some time going over how to return to a MOB if we were under sail. Heaving-to is a state of sail that effectively stops your boat in place without having to drop any sail. It is useful for retrieving MOBs and keeping you relatively safe in death-defying storms. As it got later in the day, we decided to head into Friday Harbor where we were to stay that night. Rochelle was at the helm and sailed all the way back to Friday Harbor. We were thrilled to have had seven solid hours of sailing that day!

Friday Harbor on San Juan Island is the largest city in the San Juans. Pleasure crafts of all sizes are here, even some 200 footers, small cruise ships, ferries, float planes, dinghies, kayaks, and paddleboards. The town is bustling, especially when the ferries arrive, and another thousand landlubbers disembark. We would be staying here for two nights. This was Nancy's last night onboard with us, so we had a celebratory dinner at Downriggers, overlooking the harbor. In the morning, everyone rushed up to the marina for their 'fancy' shower, ate breakfast, received our ISPA certifications in Competent Crew and Day Skipper and got Nancy to her ferry ride home.

Now we were 147 miles from home--just Rochelle and me. The day was spent mostly doing resupply on Karma: filling the water tanks, pumping the black water tank, and buying food for the rest of the trip that would, for the first time, be just the two of us. Stay tuned for details of the second half of our journey...including seeing some special wildlife while underway on Rochelle's birthday.

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