Saturday, April 26, 2014

Cruising With Friends in The San Juan Islands: A Sampler

Last weekend, the day after our harrowing docking experience in Anacortes, friends Doug and Jill with their German Shepherd Lua came aboard to cruise the San Juan islands with us for the week. We first met Doug, Jill and Lua early in 2009 while RV-ing in Baja, Mexico for 3 months, saw them in Baja two more winters, and traveled with them most of our third winter there in early 2011. They're Canadian, and we've seen each other infrequently, as we live 8 hours apart.

The short version of our week is this:

Night 1 -- Anacortes, Cap Sante Marina
Night 2 -- Sucia Island at the State Park dock
Night 3 -- Friday Harbor marina on San Juan island
Nights 4 and 5 -- Fisherman's Bay, Lopez Island

On day 6 we returned to Anacortes, dropped them off at Cap Sante marina, and we continued to Oak Harbor for the night.

Doug, Jill, Cathryn and Bob on a 6-mile hike, exploring Sucia Island

Lua, the world's best "boat dog", a black German Shepherd, exploring Sucia Island.

Doug and Jill each happily took turns at the helm, and were great deckhands as well.

The view up Fossil Bay on Sucia Island is always lovely.

It rained almost every night, but most days had partial to full sun, with afternoon temps in the 50s.

This is the first time we've been to the San Juans by boat in any season other than summer, and Friday Harbor was incredibly quiet and un-crowded. We enjoyed the shops and galleries anyway.

The spring weather yielded some great cloud formations and only one thunder clap.

As always, we walked the docks looking for pretty boats and had no trouble finding them.

We even managed to store 4 bicycles on board, so went for a ride on Lopez Island to Shark Reef Point.

There were fewer seals hauled out at Shark Reef Point than usual, but a couple eagles were on the rocks too. And we enjoyed a fabulous dinner, as always, at "Bay Cafe" in Fisherman's Village on Lopez.

We have a Canadian courtesy flag, which always flown when in Canadian waters of course, but we flew it this week in honor of our wonderful Canadian guests too.

We never get  bored with the San Juan islands and enjoyed our first Spring trip there by boat. And plans are in the works to see Doug, Jill and Lua again at their Okanogan mountain cabin in Canada in July.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

May You Be Cursed With Interesting Times

Distance traveled:  44.8 miles
Travel time:  5 hours, 27 minutes

Even Wikipedia won't tell us who authored that quote, but he or she was surely thinking of a day like today! Having already decided the unsettled weather meant we didn't want to cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca, we took the inside of Whidbey Island to Hat Island yesterday so we'd be going north via the very protected Swinomish Chanel instead. We traveled this same route on our March trip to Victoria, Canada. This morning we left Hat Island at 7:00 am under benign conditions.

We checked NOAA and multiple other online weather sources as always, and as usual, our biggest point of concern was wind velocity and wave height. We don't care about temperature or rain. The "Wind Alert" app said the morning would be comfortable, with winds rising from 8 mph to 20 mph between 11am and 2pm. That's what lead us to get an early start, planning to arrive in Anacortes before the wind came up.

Today we met Euronotus, the Greek God of the South East Wind. He is not a favorable God.

We have no more photos for the day, unable to manage a camera. As we departed the town of LaConnor at 11 am, we called the Cap Sante Marina 90 minutes away to inquire about availability of a  reciprocal slip for the night, and check the sea and weather conditions. We were told it was blowing 10-12 mph with the highest gust at 21 mph and no whitecaps. So off we went.

The next 40 minutes were pleasant. But as we rounded the corner from the Swinomish Channel into the Guemes Channel, we were hit by an unexpected wall of wind on our beam, clearly much higher than 20 mph, that kept us rocking hard.

Thirty minutes later with considerable tension aboard, we entered the breakwater of the Cap Sante Marina expecting the wind to die down in the protected water. Nope, not happening. The waves disappeared, but the wind seemed to be channeled even more forcefully between Cap Sante (land mass) and the town of Anacortes, blowing directly down the marina fairway we had to enter to get to our assigned slip.

The next 5-10 minutes (felt like hours!) was among the top two most tense times in our boating life! As we entered the fairway, careening between 50 boats ranging from 40-50 feet in length, the wind repeatedly caught the boat as if it were a billboard and slung it 90 degrees sideways, and we were unable to straighten it with our single engine and revved up throttles, transitioning rapidly from forward to reverse gear to keep from hitting boats only 1-3 feet off both our bow and stern. Blowing into the dead-end of the fairway and worrying we'd smash into it, unable to stop, two men came racing down the dock to grab our lines and help us dock. Saints these men were! Disaster was averted, but Cathryn was in tears and Bob was badly rattled.

After tying up and walking to the Harbormaster's Office to register and tell them we'd missed our assigned slip and ended up in the last one on the fairway, we were told the wind was blowing 30-35 mph with gusts to 42 or 50, depending on who you believe. And we spent the next 2 hours listening to Channel 16 on the VHF radio where the Coast Guard was assisting with 3 disasters in the immediate vicinity: one sailboat that capsized and left a person in the water who was later rescued by helicopter; one boat that grounded just outside the Cap Sante Marina and was able to re-float themselves just before crashing onto the rocks (they continued back to the safety of La Connor and the Swinomish Channel, undamaged), and a dis-masted sailboat, the outcome of which we didn't hear.

It took awhile to de-brief this tough experience and try to divine the "take-away lessons", but our equanimity returned after dinner and a glass of wine. Later the Security Guard at the marina helped us handle lines to walk the boat around and move it to the slip we'd been assigned to, after the wind calmed, so whenever we leave here we'll be pointed in the right direction, not requiring a 180-degree turn under almost impossibly tight conditions.

We won't go into all the details of also learning our hot water heater is dead, and having the nicest man in the world, Jeff, a live-aboard here, volunteer to disconnect it from the rest of our pressurized water system so we can at least continue to use cold water on board until we get home. Hot water heaters have to be ordered, so we we'll be showering in shoreside facilities for the duration of this trip.

We're hoping for sweet dreams tonight, not nightmares of what could have been.

Friday, April 18, 2014

On The Way to The San Juans, Tonight Hat Island

Bremerton Yacht Club to Hat (Gedney) Island

Distance traveled: 41.8 miles
Travel time:  5 hours

Yesterday in Olalla it rained cats and dogs, and the NOAA forecast for the next two days was "unsettled", leaving us uncertain whether we could make it to Anacortes in one day to meet up with friends who are joining us for a week in the San Juan Islands. So this morning we slipped our lines at 10am and headed north. What a great decision!

The water was flat, the sky was mostly sunny, and the solar heat through the windows on the flybridge left us driving the boat in short sleeves. Climate change may be a bad thing in many ways, but for boating in 2013 and 2014, it's been wonderful! We've had more dry, sunny weather than normal, while the rest of the country shivered and shoveled snow for the past 6 months.

When we bought this boat, the auto-pilot was more or less functional, but its' performance has deteriorated since then. We tested it today to see if we could live with it rather than replace it, and as it hunted for a proper heading, it swung through 70-degree shifts leaving the track below. We finally gave up and went back to hand-steering. New auto-pilot will be on the list of upgrades before this summer's six-week trip into Canadian waters.

We were astonished when the osprey below, with a fish in it's talons, flew within 5 feet of our flybridge windshield, circled around again with a gull in pursuit, then flew away. Spectacular!

As usual, there were large tow boats and some other traffic out, but clearly the summer boating season has not yet begun, despite the wonderful weather. We mostly had the water to ourselves.

We'd planned to spend the night in Kingston or Edmonds, but were getting such a boost from the out-going tide (hitting 12.9 mph briefly as we traveled Agate Pass; normal speed is approximately 8 mph), so we continued on to Hat (also called Gedney) Island west of Everett. We first came to Hat Island 13 years ago when a neighbor offered us a stay at their summer/weekend home on the island. We were enchanted then, and enchanted again today. The island is 1 mile by 1/2 mile, all privately owned, with a newly-rebuilt marina, 9-hole golf course, yacht/golf club, and private ferry.

We walked the shoreline adjacent to the marina and found this stump/trunk in which someone took the time to carve an eagle, baby bear, and Pooh-bear-like hind end! This is not a totem pole; rather a real tree stump!

While there are 200 homes on Hat Island, very few people live here full-time, and almost no roads are paved. The only access is by private ferry (foot traffic only), so if you want a car to travel from the marina to your home, you barge it over and leave it parked in the parking lot at the marina (with keys in the ignition, we're told). Not that anyone would want to steal these cars. Most of them are rusty and green with algae, looking like they've been sitting here, only occasionally used, for years. 

The afternoon was warm, so after tying up the boat, we sat on the bow in the sunshine for awhile. Later we had a glass of wine on the flybridge, admiring the distant mountains and flat water. We're told we somehow missed seeing the whales as we came into the marina this afternoon.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Road Trip

We have 3 adult children, and all of them moved within the last year. Ryan and Jaime (newlyweds New Years Eve) bought a larger condo in downtown Seattle. August newlyweds Adrienne and Justin bought their first home in Denver. And long-time marrieds (6 years) Mackenzie and Matt moved to Marina del Rey (LA) for new jobs two weeks ago. So for the second time in less than 6 months, we drove a truck from Seattle to deliver furniture and boxes, this time to LA.

We covered the 1,100+ miles in 2 days and arrived at Mackenzie and Matt's new place a block off the beach, with sunshine and temps in the high 60s. They'd already completed the move except for the items we brought, so most of the weekend was spent playing.

We went to a great Italian place in Venice where we sat in an outside courtyard for dinner Friday night. The rest of the weekend included a bike ride to Santa Monica,

 a brief stop at the Santa Monica pier,

and breakfast at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market where we picked up some veggies for later,

a picnic lunch and tour of the J Paul Getty museum and gardens,

and from which we could see Matt's new office tower in Century City,

After a whirlwind weekend, we went for a jog along the beach Monday morning, then headed north at a more leisurely pace than the southbound trip. After wandering through Malibu, we stopped in one of our all-time favorite cities, Santa Barbara, for lunch. Squished between the Pacific Ocean and the mountains, with palm trees everywhere and houses spread out on the hills with views of the ocean, this place has it all! Including great clam chowder at a harbor-front restaurant where we walked the docks ogling pretty boats.

After spending the night in Morro Bay, we headed north again, stopping just north of San Simeon (where Hearst Castle resides, though we didn't take that tour, same as the last two times we traveled Big Sur) to look at the always-hilarious Elephant Seals who haul out by the hundreds (or thousands?) on the beach. They snort, growl at each other, waddle in or out of the water (graceful in the water, but AWKWARD on land) and sleep in piles on top of each other. Fascinating!

We've driven the Big Sur stretch twice before, both times southbound, so this was our first northbound journey. The weather was gorgeous most of the way, though it began raining toward the end. This is really spectacular country, though very remote and windy, so doesn't appeal to us as a place to live. But it sure is worth seeing, including the slow travel speeds around all the curves.

Tonight we're at Point Reyes Preserve, a little north of San Francisco, and the weather forecast calls for sunshine tomorrow, so we have no plan from here.