Monday, September 8, 2014

Horses and Barns, Weather Reports, Work Boats and Currents

Distance traveled:  79.2 miles

Travel time:  8 hrs. 30 mins

We woke late this morning, planning to go for a jog on Shaw Island, then travel 15 miles to Hunter Bay on the southeast end of Lopez Island for our last San Juan Island anchorage before heading home. After coffee, the Horse-Back-to-the-Barn-Syndrome set in, as it ALWAYS does (and friend Hobie predicted in a phone conversation last night) when we go on long boat trips or road (car) trips, and we decided instead to head to LaConner on the Swinomish Channel, since the NOAA weather forecast called for wind and wave heights above what we prefer on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.


We headed east across Rosario Strait toward Anacortes and the Swinomish Channel. Once in Rosario Strait, the sometimes fearsome Strait of Juan de Fuca is visible, and we peered south to see how it looked. Hmmm . . . . looked calm! Cathryn took the helm and Bob got on the iPad to check various internet sources about wind and wave conditions on the Strait. Soon he declared “Turn south! Looks great, so let’s get across the Strait today and save ourselves lots of miles and time!”  So turn south we did.


Contrary to the NOAA forecast, the winds were less than 10mph and the swells were 2-4 feet with waves 2-3 feet occasionally, but mostly less. The wind was on our nose, not the beam, making for more comfortable travel, so we stayed on the flybridge for the whole 24-mile crossing. We even both took naps (separately, of course) lying on the seat cushions placed on the flybridge floor. We’re becoming fans of the “Hank and Carolyn School of Forecasting” which says: “Ignore the official forecasts! Stick your nose out there and see what the conditions are REALLY like, then make your decision”!  Thank you Nancy and Kelly for the introduction to Hank and Carolyn.

Serendipity meant we traveled WITH the current almost the entire day, achieving speeds as high as 14mph, but mostly in the 10-12 mph range, as opposed to our normal speed of 8mph.

This 120-foot boat (confirmed by AIS as a “fishing vessel” raised some questions regarding the accuracy of AIS data) was sitting in the bay north of Bainbridge Island … doing nothing and going nowhere.


We’ve had lots of conversations about anchoring on this trip. Faced with deeper water than we’ve anchored in before, we’ve questioned our technique and ground tackle. Fortunately friends Robin and Jim on “Adventures” who are spending several years in Alaska on their 49-foot DeFever, stay in touch with us regularly, and  they’re fabulous about sharing their knowledge. They’ve now anchored in 110 feet of water, with 300 feet of all-chain rode, so less than 3:1 scope, which would be absolutely unheard of back on the east coast, and astounds us. We also have 300’ of all-chain rode, so are working to get more comfortable pushing our previous limits.  We’re in the market for a “bigger and better” anchor too.

This Coast Guard vessel passed us under the Agate Pass bridge.


So we by-passed La Connor and the Swinomish Channel, then bypassed Port Ludlow (our next agreed upon overnight destination) and headed to Kingston (which we also by-passed) and headed to Port Madison on Bainbridge Island where we planned to anchor for the night. Upon arrival, we (belatedly) looked at the Tide Charts for tonight (one day shy of Full Moon) and learned that during the night the water would drop from 20 feet to 6 feet, leaving us too uncomfortable to stay there with our 4-foot draft. So we continued south.

This property in the photo below has had some “issues”: note the landslide and the damaged sailboat onshore.


Finally nearing 6pm and very tired, we pulled into Manzanita Bay on Bainbridge Island and dropped the anchor. It’s vastly different from anchorages in The Broughton Islands, Octopus Islands and Desolation Sound, as it’s narrow and lined with high-end but not ostentatious homes, including a marker that posts the area as “local water-ski area”, an obvious attempt to discourage boaters from anchoring in front of their homes. Oh well . . .

So one day shy of six weeks, and 1002 miles later, we’ll arrive home tomorrow and resume our “life on dirt”. We’ve gained some new knowledge and skills, had loads of fun by ourselves and with friends, and seen gorgeous scenery. And “Next To Me’' has proven she’s nearly in the condition we want her to be to make longer and more challenging journeys. We’re less than 20 miles from home. What a great trip it’s been!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Just Another Beautiful Day with Beautiful Boats

Distance traveled:  23.2 miles

Travel time: 3 hrs, 38 mins

A pretty boat at Roche Harbor, visible from our slip. Ryan and Jaime enjoyed coffee on the aft deck in the warm sun.


A parade of Ranger Tugs left the marina all morning, ending their weekend rendezvous.


We took two trips today: the first from Roche Harbor back to Friday Harbor where we tied up at the courtesy dock for two hours to eat lunch and say good-bye to Ryan and Jaime as they headed back to Seattle and the “real” world by ferry.


And ended the day traveling from Friday Harbor to an anchorage in Blind Bay on Shaw Island. This is the first year we’ve owned a boat in the Pacific Northwest in which we’re comfortable anchoring overnight, so there are lots of destinations we’ve missed in the past, always staying on State Park docks or mooring balls, or else in marinas.


Our short trips were enlivened by the many pretty boats out enjoying the late-summer sunshine.


And the wind was so nice there were lots of sailboats sailing instead of motoring.


We didn’t see any whales today, but great to catch a sailboat, seaplane and Mt. Baker all in one photo.


And Mt. Baker (10,781 feet) with a Washington State ferry and more boats.


We’ve developed a minor problem with the dinghy/davit system that can’t be fixed until we get home and means we can’t use it, so we may skip some anchorages we’d planned and arrive home a few days earlier. But Blind Bay is a pretty anchorage with views of both Shaw Island and Orcas Island and both ferry landings. It’s sunny, calm and 74 degrees at 6pm, so what’s not to like? Think we’ll drop the kayaks and go for a jog in the morning.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Perfect Day in the San Juan Islands

Distance traveled: 20.1 miles

Travel time: 3 hrs, 6 mins

Son Ryan and daughter-in-law Jaime arrived by ferry in Friday Harbor. We had the luckiest of days by every measure, beginning with perfect weather: sunny, warm and calm. Mt. Baker was visible from Friday Harbor and most of the way north.


Ryan took the helm for most of the journey north, relaxed and comfortable at the wheel. Lots of boats were on the water, and shortly after leaving Friday Harbor Ryan spotted an eagle, and then dolphins just in front of our bow. Speiden Island looking the way it always looks.


Close to Roche Harbor, we were having such a great ride that the decision was made to continue around the north end of the island, round Henry Island and approach through Mosquito Pass. WOW!  Over the next hour Ryan kept the boat mostly in idle or neutral as we watched Orca whales passing through. About a dozen, in 3 different directions, so repeated calls of “Orca at 3:00” or “Orca at 6:00” kept each other spinning to see them all.


We were just off Kellett Point on Henry Island when the closest whales passed among half a dozen smaller fishing boats, and Bob and Cathryn were wildly snapping photo after photo.


The males have huge dorsal fins.


Roche Harbour was hosting at least 100 Ranger Tugs attending a weekend rendezvous, so all their guest slips were full. They asked us to “Med tie” (stern in on a face dock, with other boats tied directly to your boat on either side), but we declined based on having a single engine boat and dinghy on the swim step at the stern, so we wouldn’t be able to get on/off the boat. So they found us a great side-tie on the main promenade leaving us with a nice open water view and no immediate neighbors. Lucky again.

Belatedly we celebrated both Ryan and Jaime’s August birthdays with dinner at McMillan’s. Food, scenery and company were good, and we sat on the aft deck with a glass of wine until 10pm. Boating at its’ best!


Friday, September 5, 2014

Sucia Island to San Juan Island

Distance traveled:  19.2 miles

Travel time: 2 hrs, 48 mins

Cathryn was a sleepy-head this morning, and it was almost 7am when Bob woke her (he’s usually up by 5:30, she at 6 or 6:30; we go to bed at “Baja Midnight” or “Looper Midnight”, recall, which is anytime between 9 and 10 pm). Bob knows she prefers to move slowly for an hour or two after waking, so it was 9 before we waved goodbye to Rush and Cheri and headed southwest.

The sun was out, and the water calm until we got to the current’s convergence zone near Waldron Island where waves and whitecaps and strong current with beam seas slowed our travel and rocked us pretty hard for an hour.


Approaching Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, we saw “Spike Africa” in the distance, a pretty 1977 wooden sailboat built by Bob Sloan of California. She now operates half-day, multi-day and evening sunset cruise “adventure trips” out of Friday Harbor.


The approach to Friday Harbor is ALWAYS busy, as it’s an enormous marina with lots of boat traffic coming and going in addition to seaplanes landing and taking off, plus the very busy ferry terminal next door to the marina. We had the misfortune to be assigned a slip that, upon arrival far down the fairway, we learned already had a boat in it. So we had to call the marina office back on the VHF, await a new slip assignment, then turn the boat and move elsewhere in the marina. Though we’re getting pretty comfortable docking this single engine boat now, Cathryn was still feeling frazzled when we pulled into the second slip assignment and there were SIX men standing around the slip watching her bring it in and ready to catch our lines (that was the nice part). The old phrase we were taught back in Florida: “Sometimes you watch the show, sometimes you ARE the show!” came to mind. Fortunately it went smoothly.


We have a slip with a great view of the ferry traffic and Mt. Baker (over 12,000 feet) in the distance. We spent the afternoon grocery shopping, doing laundry, watering up and cleaning the boat, but 5:00 brought an end to all that.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Repairs Easier When Done Third Time

Distance traveled:  18.3 miles

Travel Time: 2 hrs, 35 mins

We woke to blue skies and prepared to leave Stuart Island, only to find the switch on the windlass had failed again. We were only in 28 feet of water, so Bob pulled the 110 feet of chain by hand, then initiated the repair after we waved goodbye to Aaron and Julie on “Eight Bells” and took off. He’s decided it’s time to replace the switch when we get home, as this third cleaning and re-connecting project is getting old, though he’s very good at it now that he’s done it three times. (Comment from Bob: Although there may be an element of “quality” surrounding the repair, I did seal the switch to make it water-tight this time; we’ll see if that helps.)


As always, there were rip tides north of Waldron Island (one or two waves big enough to support a surfer), but the journey was placid and easy. We headed to Sucia Island, a perennial favorite. We were here back in April with  Canadian friends Doug and Jill aboard (and German Shepherd, Lua), and this time were scheduled to meet up with Rush and Cheri, friends we met taking classes at the Bremerton Sail and Power Squadron, in 2010-11 while preparing for our Great Loop trip.


We’d planned to anchor in Shallow Bay on the north side of Sucia, a new location for us, but agreed by text message with Rush that the forecast for winds out of the north, to which Shallow Bay is completely exposed, suggested we should go to Fossil Bay on the south side of the island instead.


Mid-day we settled into Fossil Bay, and 3-4 hours later “Cheri Lynn” arrived. Rush and Cheri are full-time live-aboards on this 45’ boat, and July 3 fireworks anchored in Liberty Bay at Poulsbo is the only other time we’ve boated together.


We wanted to finish off the last of that 10-pound salmon given to us at Sullivan Bay in the Broughton Islands, so Rush and Cheri came aboard by dinghy for dinner, bringing wine, sweet potatoes and cookies to add to our fish, rice and salad. Boaters do a great job of spontaneously throwing together shared dinners.


Sunset was beautiful, and Rush and Cheri returned to their boat well after dark, using a flashlight from the dinghy to guide the way.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Short Trips (Including a Beer Run)

Distance traveled:  10 miles by dinghy, 6 miles hiking

After 5 days of gloomy weather or rain, we woke to spectacular blue skies this morning in Reid Harbor at Stuart Island. We used up almost all our beer and wine before crossing the border back into the U.S. as there are limits about what can be taken without paying additional duty. But in Ganges on Saltspring Island 2 days ago, the Liquor Store was closed due to the Labor Day holiday (we didn’t know Canada celebrates that too). Beer and wine aren’t sold at grocery stores like they are where we live. So last night with our 4 dinner guests aboard, we ran out of wine.

So this morning we dropped the dinghy and crossed Speiden Channel 4.5 miles to Roche Harbour. They always have a great beer and wine selection, as well as a large quantity of great fresh produce which we also needed.


Speiden Island as back-drop to a ferry.


Roche Harbor always has an incredible variety of boats, from small runabouts and sailboats to incredibly fancy 100+ foot yachts. we had to dodge a few huge ones as we came in by dinghy.


We’ve attended a neighbor’s lovely wedding here at Roche Harbor, and we have dinner reservations here this weekend when son Ryan and daughter-in-law Jaime come aboard for the weekend.


So . . . if you had your choice, which of these two boats would you want?  Easy decision for us! We’ve never seen such an odd-looking boat as the blue and red one on the left whose transom says it hails from San Francisco.

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The water was dead calm the whole 9.5-mile dinghy trip, and we were happy to have replenished supplies. Uninhabited Speiden Island on the left below.


After lunch we rode the dinghy 1/2 mile to the State Park dock and took a hike to Turning Point Lighthouse.


It’s 6.2 miles round trip, and 500 feet of elevation gain in each direction, the first exercise we’ve had in a while. On the left is the Stuart Island School, still in use today. On the right is the historic old school house.

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And here are the rules that were in force back when the old school was built more than 100 years ago. My, things have changed (thank goodness!)  Of course all teachers were women.


We passed this beautiful farmstead when we went into Prevost Harbour yesterday, and again today on the hike.


The Turning Point Lighthouse is now an automated light, un-manned, but there’s a small museum on site with lots of stories of the first 100 years when various men, and usually their families too, lived here. It’s a spectacular location.P1050730

This rocky promontory is called Suicide Bluff, and a 10-year-old son of a Lighthouse Keeper once fell off of it into the water, and survived to tell about it because his 3 siblings ran to get Dad to save him while he clung to a log.


We had a last supper with Aaron and Julie on “Eight Bells”, enjoyable as always. They leave to head south to home and work tomorrow.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Dash to Avoid 30 Knot Winds: Ganges to Stuart Island

Distance Traveled (both trips combined): 25.4 miles

Travel time: 3 hrs, 37 mins (both trips combined)

After a good night’s sleep, we woke to a forecasted calm morning with winds rising throughout the day and into the night. Not wanting to be stuck in Ganges, though it’s a nice little town, we headed south. If you look to the top right corner of the photo below, the body of water you see there is the Strait of Georgia. That and the Strait of Juan de Fuca sometimes combine to make Haro Strait, the body of water to the west and north of where we are now, pretty ferocious in high winds.


The forecast called for late afternoon winds in the mid-teens, not bad, but gusts 27-32, and our fully enclosed flybridge means we have a lot of “windage” so get batted around easily.


Environment Canada was predicting even higher winds, but we’re guardedly skeptical of almost all their forecasts.


This photo looks nicer than it really was, since it rained almost the entire trip, but the water was fine. So much for Environment Canada forecasts! “Poking our nose out in the bigger water to see for ourselves” seems to be about the best forecasting tool available sometimes. No shame in turning back if conditions aren’t to our liking.


Just after crossing the U.S.-Canada border, we called U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, and in 5 minutes had our clearance number and were told we didn’t need to report anywhere in person to clear Customs. Woo hoo, we love our NEXUS and Small Boat Reporting System numbers, making it all so easy.

We pulled into bucolic Stuart Island and dropped anchor not far from the State Park dock. And then a text message conversation began with Aaron and Julie on “Eight Bells”, friends we spent time with in the Octopus Islands late last month. Turns out they were on the south side of Stuart Island in Reid Harbor, while we were on the north side of the same island in Prevost Harbor.


Though the two anchorages are less than 1/4 mile apart by land, with an easy-to-walk trail connecting them, it was raining hard. So we left and traveled another 6 miles to the south side of the island.


We dropped anchor 100 feet from “Eight Bells” and got a call on the VHF radio inviting us for soup for lunch. Perfect rainy day activity! Aaron and Julie’s friends (former marina mates in Port Orchard) Doug and Miriam were also aboard for soup, and we met them for the first time. They’re traveling in the sailboat to the right, in the background behind “Eight Bells”.


The soup was delicious, and the six of us had an enjoyable visit, so we invited everyone to come to our boat for dinner, lasagna (coincidentally already made while we were underway earlier in the morning, an attempt to use up all the veggies aboard before crossing the U.S. border). Everyone accepted, and Julie said she’d bring Caesar salad, while Doug and Miriam said they’d rush back to their boat and make chocolate mousse. How could we resist? No top ramen or canned clam chowder for this crowd!


Stuart Island is pretty, displaying the seemingly unique-to-the-San Juans yellow dry grasses as the predominant undergrowth, rocks and evergreen trees. Late in the afternoon the rain quit and the sun came out, partially anyway.


A couple dozen boats were anchored around this large harbor. As we gathered for a glass of wine before dinner, a double rainbow appeared.


Doug, Julie, Aaron, Miriam and Bob, with Cathryn’s now-scraggly basil plant just aboce Julie’s head. That plant provided a lot of fresh stuff over the past five weeks!


Well after dinner, a gorgeous sunset finally made an appearance.



At 9:15, Julie sagely announced “It’s time to go Aaron. It’s Bob and Cathryn’s bedtime!” Sometimes even relatively new friends get to know us well, quickly.