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.


Mark Romero said...

Thanks for sharing

Sara and Jack's Great Loop Blog said...

We are sitting in Morehead City NC with rain and gale winds blowing. You make our Easter weekend sound good. Glad you are ok. Sara & Jack

Unknown said...

Been there done that. So pleased that you went through safely and were able to relax after all that with a glass of nectar
With love

Kathy said...

This is one of the more thrilling post to come through my Three Sheets NW feed. I can relate having interesting times myself at Cap Sante. If I would've connected you with your blog at the women's forum today, I might have requested a discussion about safety. I like your tip on fenders on both sides of the boat and a walking fender. Nice to meet you today. I am enjoying following your story.