South Sound Sailing
Rochelle and I had talked about spending the summer of 2022 getting lots of experience sailing and just getting used to everyday life of "What is Karma". Our plan to finish up our jobs and sell our farm property has all come to fruition. Our home sold on July 6th, to a nice couple from Portland, Oregon. On July 19th, I had lunch with my supervisor and good friend Urbano Eijan to say my goodbyes to the job. Of course, this won't be the last time I see him; he has become a good friend and kindred spirit. Urbano and his wife took some queues from what Rochelle and I are doing, and decided to buy an RV and truck well before his actual retirement; why wait? A sound investment in one's future. Rochelle still technically has a month left until her official retirement, so while she winds down the last of her paid vacation days, and she is eager for her first official day as a retiree on September 1.
Part of our retire early plan is that we can have no debt tying us down. This was all planned at least a year ago when we realized this dream. We have sold or donated just about everything. Unless it has family significance, it has moved on to a new family... with exception to the fancy dining room table which apparently no one has a need for anymore. Change in societal needs, I guess. People just as soon dine at an IKEA table that can be tossed when its old, compared to a hand carved solid mahogany table that seats twelve that realistically would be passed down to family through generations. with the house sold, we paid off our two vehicles and Karma. We will keep the vehicles until we leave on the CoHoHoHo Rally. And paying off Karma...well that was the biggest personal check we've ever written. Proceeds from our house allowed us to head out on our adventure debt free.
Since 2012, I have been adamant on not carrying ANY sort of revolving debt. The whole credit system is designed to keep us in debt and thus under the controlling thumb of another. I've made my mistakes too, in my youth and early adulthood. Understanding the differences between revolving credit and installment credit is very important. Both help your "credit score", but you can go without revolving credit (i.e., credit card) and still survive. Credit cards only allow you to buy things you can't afford. Think about that. It's very much like a legal drug-dealer. Installment credit gives you a start and finish point at a price you can afford (the banks calculate that before giving you the loan). When I became enlightened to this scheme, I worked hard to pay off that revolving credit and limited installment credit to a vehicle and mortgage. All the advice telling me the contrary did not come true; I paid all my bills on time and my credit still climbed to 800+. If you want to get into financial security, look into the Dave Ramsey Snowball effect and F.I.R.E. And here you thought you were coming to read a sailing blog... okay, I'll trying to circle back around on this and bring it together.
So here we are August 4th, Rochelle and I just finished our first big trip to... wait for it! OLYMPIA! How did we get here and why? Let me tell you a story...
It all started back in the second week of April, when we invited world circumnavigator Nancy Erley to sail (motor) with us. She recommended that we also work with cruising couple, the Giffords, through their business, Sailing Totem. Jamie and Behan meet with clients and advise them on how to achieve the cruising lifestyle. They set off on their own journey in 2008 when they sold everything, bought a 47' Stevens sailboat and left Bainbridge Island, Washington, to sail the world with their three children. We signed up for their 3-month introductory to see if we liked what they offered and we have been delighted to work with them. Not only have they zoomed with us for two solid hours in the last month, but they also answer our texts and phone calls with all the questions that nervous new sailors ask. We will be signing up for the year plan, and expect to work with them throughout our cruising career, as they are a wealth of knowledge for everying from mechanical issues to weather routing . In our first zoom meeting, we talked about going to the San Juans and they said that perhaps we should go south first. A nice long trip to Olympia, stopping along the way to visit places we have only driven to, as well as state parks that can only be accessed by boat. We accepted the challenge and began to plan our extravagant voyage to the capital of Washington. Oh the excitement!
The main goal of the trip was to learn how to live on the boat as if it was a home and to go places that are not tied to power. We only stayed at a marina in Olympia; the rest of the trip was spent either at a mooring ball in a state park or "on-the-hook", another term for anchoring. The trip was 13 days long and some of the real learning experiences we had were timing certain passages through fast currents, such as the Tacoma Narrows and Dana Passage. Our itinerary changed a couple times due to an untimely issue with stuffing box, an antiquated device meant to keep water out of the boat. The total trip distance was 223 nautical miles, our itinerary turned out to be as follows.
Admiralty Current against @2:30pm
Corvus Pass current lighter after 1pm
ag Gig Harbor
Jarrell's Cove State Park
Need to go through Narrows 10am - noon
Jarrell's Cove State Park
Dana Passage 12:30pm - 2:30pm
Hauled out for emergency repair
Tacoma Narrows at 6:30am. Hot! Hot! Day! But nice breeze kept it cool!
Swim in Puget Sound... Brrr!
Finally came here:)
Our friend Mark joined us on the first part of the trip from Pleasant Harbor to Olympia, where he then disembarked in order to run home to his air conditioner. I don't blame him; it was bloody hot out and Karma is naturally air-cooled. The first day was to be our longest--approximately 46 nautical miles from Pleasant Harbor to Port Madison. We would have to wait for the Hood Canal bridge to open for us as we are too tall to go under. Once out in Admiralty Inlet the winds kicked up and we were able to actually sail in Puget Sound. It was a beautiful day!
Port Madison is a cute little inlet, very shallow, very narrow surrounded by homes that no normal person could ever afford. Fifty years ago, a few people grabbed cheap land no one wanted for their fishing cabin, and now you can't touch those cabins for less than seven figures, and many have been torn down and replaced with extravagant homes. If you don't run aground in here, it makes a great place to hole up during a storm.
Off to Gig Harbor for a two-night stay in this fun, marine town. When we arrived at Gig Harbor, I was less than pleased. "No Wake Zone" doesn't mean much in this bay. We had million-dollar motorboats flying by us with what seemed like hundreds of paddleboarders and kayakers, entry-level at best all converging in the same place. We needed two things to happen and we only managed to get one. First, we needed to pump out our black water tank; obviously the most fun duty a sailor can have. Docking at the only pump out deep enough for a sailboat was a madhouse. Docking in itself is hard enough, but when the docks are full of non-boaters and tourists and the seemingly blind, entry-level kayakers are fumbling around in their boats, bumping into our 30,000-pound vessel; it was just nuts! On our first attempt, we saw someone on the dock that looked somewhat competent and seemed interested in assisting, though he was hold a baby. We threw him the line, he caught it and just stood there, completely befuddled. Okay, attempt number two worked out better, we got Karma's stern close enough to the dock so that Mark was able to wrap a line around a cleat and pull us in. We are grateful to Mark for being such excellent crew. I managed the bow with our bow thrusters... a truly miraculous piece of equipment. From what we could tell the pump out machine was not working all that great, so we would have to do that again at our next stop. Next stop... potable water, which apparently is not available to anyone that is not staying at a marina. Disappointed.
We found a nice spot out in the bay to anchor; we were planning on staying here for two nights so we could get more used to battery power management and using our dinghy to travel around the harbor. We also went to some fun and delicious restaurants as well as visiting the West Marine store for an emergency bilge system; something more robust than what is currently on the boat. The stuffing box had started to leak again, and this always causes great worry in me. The stuffing box is a device that keeps water from entering the boat via the propeller shaft. It is very simple in design, but failure is catastrophic--your boat can sink. It is made up of two plates (blue in color in the next image) with a waxy gauze compressed between the plates. This gauze stops water from coming in from around the shaft. Over time the gauze deteriorates and can fail, and ours was nearing that point. I had tightened the plates as tight as they could go but water was still coming in. Another challenge is that the stuffing box is located in a VERY tight spot, near the bottom of the boat, one of the hardest places for me to access. I can tighten it but changing it out would require someone much smaller in stature. A plan was set in motion.
Over those two days we ate at several different restaurants, they were El Pueblito, Tides Tavern, and the Devoted Kiss Cafe. All were excellent! I especially enjoyed the "Gig Harborita" at the Tides Tavern. The Devoted Kiss Cafe was most excellent for breakfast, best omelet ever!
We were finally ready to scoot under the Tacoma Narrows bridge. The currents are very fast through this narrow channel plus you have to deal with the occasional cargo ship, which always has the right-of-way. These channels are best taken at a slack or near-slack current. The Tacoma Narrows can get currents up to 6 knots going in one direction! I know, that doesn't sound like anything, but it is when your maximum hull speed is 8 knots and now you are moving at 14 knots. When you go over your hull speed, the boat becomes more and more uncontrollable. In addition, underwater there are currents going in all sorts of directions. If you have ever been whitewater rafting, these tide walls could be compared to eddies. The tide walls also knock you around a lot and are much stronger as the current increases. Boaters, at least those with displacement hulls such as ours, try to navigate these channels during slack, when the current is changing from flooding to ebbing. Flooding occurs when the ocean fills the Puget Sound and ebbing is when the waters flow back to the ocean. This switch happens about every 6 hours. We managed to catch the end of a flood current down the edge of the channel until we turned the bend and ended up mid-channel where the ebb-current was already kickin' against us. On the flood, we were traveling at 7 knots and when we turned the corner that became a bumpy 3.3 knots. It was slow going, but luckily no ships were sharing the channel with us. More firsts... First time through a fast channel; first time under the Tacoma Narrows bridge.
Once through the Narrows we headed south down past Nisqually and then north to a state park on the north end of Harstine Island, called Jarrell Cove. It was a quaint little side inlet where the water stood still, and it was HOT! No breezes could be found, this was the first day of the "heat dome" that was to hit the Pacific Northwest. Just after anchoring and deploying the dinghy (we still need a good name for the dinghy), we all were covered head to toe in sweat. No bueno! But, to our surprise a small nearby marina had a shaved ice stand. We boarded our nameless dinghy and scooted our way over to that marina for a shaved ice. All three of us opted for their specialty, the Pina Colada! It was okay, the best part is that it was freezing cold, and we managed to just get back to normal. But, that was not enough, back to the shaved ice dealer for seconds, and to buy a few bags of ice for our cooler. They really have cornered the market up there. We returned to Karma, briefly contemplated going for a swim in the murky, still waters of Jarrell Cove, quickly abandoned that idea, and then tried to get some sleep for our next day, sailing (motoring) to Olympia.
Just north of Budd Inlet is Dana Passage, another tight channel with current that has to be mitigated. This passage is not nearly as strong as the Tacoma Narrows, but you sure don't want to hit it when its ebbing. We hit it as it began to flood and zoomed through at about 8 knots. With these speeds who needs roller coasters? We arrived at Swantown Marina in Olympia around noon. It is a nice marina but the staff running the registration were either new or incompetent. We had reservations for three nights, but we had this little stuffing box problem that needed to be fixed. We miraculously were able to get a haul out set up for the next day and a launch the following day and we even found someone small to repack the stuffing box... But Swantown would not refund our money for those days we would be "on the hard". Part of staying at the marina allowed us to fill our water tanks with potable water "finally". It also gave us access to restrooms and showers, except the staff person somehow failed to set it up correctly in the system and our code never worked. Luckily a fellow boater allowed us to use their code. We cannot say enough about the camaraderie of fellow-boaters. People are friendly, welcoming, and helpful wherever we go. As for the staff at Swantown Marina, we emailed multiple timbout th defunct washroom code and were ignored. We will NEVER return to Swantown Marinam, though that cannot be said about Swantown Boatworks, who were AWESOME! Rognlin Marine was also extremely helpful in providing a specialist (Jesse) to repack the stuffing box. Thanks to Rochelle's friend, Tim Lang, a fellow sailor, for his many ideas about resources.
As we left Olympia, it was our first time sailing with just Captain and First Mate aboard. Mark had returned to his climate-controlled abode on land, while the two adventurers set off on our first, completely independent cruise back to Pleasant Harbor. The trip back had some challenges--the first one being Tacoma Narrows, with current that was not good for us at all. The best we could do was at 6:30 am, which meant we needed to anchor somewhere nearby. We found a cool little inlet called Wollochet Bay right around the corner from the Narrows. We promptly anchored Karma dead center of a multi-million-dollar home's view. Oh the irony! The bay was wonderful most of the day until about 7pm when, I guess, dinner was over and everyone's kids jumped in their speedboats and started zooming around the bay causing all sorts of wavy ruckus. Luckily, Washington law requires children be off the water at sundown so that quieted the bay down quite a bit.
Morning came and we were presented with our worst fear... fog. We got up bright and early at 5:30 am to meet our channel timeframe only to see a thick layer of fog blocking our way. Thankfully, Karma has radar. We waited until about 6:30 am to see if it lifted and then headed out. It stayed foggy most of the way to the Narrows but cleared up as soon as we entered. The biggest challenge with fog is that you just can't see anything. There were a lot of fishing boats out which I could not see in the fog but did show up on radar. Without radar, in fog, you should never leave the dock, but these fishing boats sure did. Crazy!
Today was to be the hottest day of the bunch, supposedly 97 degrees in Gig Harbor. We had planned on going further north to Blake Island State Park for a two-night stay but changed our minds and decided to stay in Gig Harbor for that hot day. We anchored at the head of the bay and to our surprise all the wind channeled right through to us, keeping the temperature in our boat at a modest 73 degrees, though it was still 95+ outside. In the morning we dropped the dinghy and headed out to our new favorite breakfast joint, the Devoted Kiss Cafe. After finishing breakfast, we headed back to Karma and prepared to weigh anchor. Either Blake Island State Park or Blakely Harbor was to be our destination. As we passed Blake Island, we noticed it had very little protection from the ferry waves, so we opted to continue on to Blakely Harbor.
Blakely Harbor is on the southern tip of Bainbridge Island. It is a quiet cove where apparently boats from Seattle frequent. There is a little park with a hiking trail and a public beach. We dropped the dinghy, donned our swimsuits and headed over to the beach where many adults and kids were swimming and having a great time. This of course, convinced us that the water was warm and inviting. HA! NOT! We took the challenge, submerged ourselves, and acclimated to the bone chilling cold. After a few minutes of laughing and shivering we got out and reminded ourselves that that is what you will feel if you fall overboard in the Puget Sound. Dually noted. As Rochelle and I reflected on all that we had experienced and learned on this trip, she expressed that she could anchor like a boss now. As they say, pride cometh before the fall.
In the morning we headed north once again. We were going to a place that we have skipped so many times before; it is called Port Gamble and is located just north of the Hood Canal Bridge. It was a long journey and relatively uneventful aside from some opposing winds and current just off of Foul Weather Bluff. This caused it to be a rather rough ride for us as we were pointed straight into the waves. Up.. Down.. Splash.. Repeat. Port Gamble was nice, but we did experience something new here. During the night, at 3:15 am we dragged anchor. This is very scary, it is much attuned to leaving your car in neutral atop a hill. So, our boat was moving, the alarm was sounding, and it was pitch black outside, which made getting our bearings extremely difficult. There were other boats anchored around us but all we could see was their single white anchor light and that really didn't help us tell their distance. Rochelle does not do well being awakened in the night; she just wants to do whatever she must to get back to bed as quickly as possible, so dragging anchor in the middle of the night is not something that she, who had been gloating less than 48 hours previously about anchoring like a boss, was happy to deal with. Necessity is the mother of invention, so she came up with a great idea... Turn on the radar, which we did, so that I could see if we were going to hit anything and she could go back to bed. First, we let out some more chain to a total of 175 feet and dragged down on it once again. I sat and watched radar for a bit to verify we weren't still moving. It was an uncomfortable few hours until the morning light showed what we could not see.
The last day started raw. We were short on sleep, fog had rolled in, and divers were anchored in the channel. We weighed anchor and started off after turning on the radar. Rochelle staffed the radar while I was at the helm. As we exited Port Gamble we were blocked by eight dive boats all with the dive flags out. The rule is you can't go within 100 yards of a dive boat, but these eight dive boats obviously didn't know (or care) that it is illegal to anchor in a charted channel. We are a sailboat that has a deeper draft; I was unfamiliar with the surrounding shoals, so there was no way I was going to leave that channel. They yelled and screamed but did not report anything because they would have had to explain why they were blocking the channel. Once out, the nice folks at the Hood Canal Bridge opened for us and we began our long arduous passage down Hood Canal in pea soup fog. Only one other vessel was out that day, Scorpio, a military operations boat that guards the waterfront of the Bangor Naval Submarine Base. Scorpio is a fast boat, if you get too close to the yellow buoys, they tear you a new one. If you pass the buoy line, as their huge billboard-sized warning sign states, there are no warning shots. Just past the base, Dabob Bay opens up into this huge deep area. Just across Dabob Bay is home, only 4 nautical miles to go! Wait what is that large flashing orange light?
Large flashing orange light means naval training operations are in progress and to stay alert. If it turns to red, that means that live weapons (torpedoes) are being used, and all boaters much stop and turn off their engines and wait until the live fire tests are complete. Thankfully, the red light never lit up and we were back in the marina 45 minutes later.
We motored to the fuel dock to replenish our fuel and to get a final pump out. Then back to the dock were we literally crashed, as in nap time at noon. Vacations really do wear you out. Once rest time was over, we were back to planning for our next trip, August 16th to September 1st, to the San Juan Islands. Nancy Erley will be joining us for the first couple days to go over some more sailing education and to help us negotiate Point Wilson. Stay tuned!