2011 Report #5 from Prideaux Haven to Seattle

August 12, 2011

About weather forecasts

Weather forecasts can be wrong. The forecast for the northern Strait of Georgia was for light winds, maybe 10 knots. And that’s what we found when we left Prideaux Haven, southbound to Pender Harbour. That’s what it was when we passed Lund, and Powell River/Westview, and even when we were halfway down Malaspina Strait, separating Texada Island from the mainland. At Texada Island’s Northwest Point conditions changed. The gentle northwesterly died, replaced a few moments later by a light southeasterly. The light southeasterly found legs and began to freshen. It continued to freshen until we were in close-packed 4-foot seas with whitecaps all around. Up the bow went, then down it crashed and buried itself in the next sea. Over and over again. It was a wet and crummy ride the rest of the way to Pender Harbour. Later, a revised forecast was issued, except it said nothing about the winds and seas we had just endured. In fairness, we’ve been through much worse. But this wasn’t fun.

Buying a boat from the outside in

The sea conditions discussed above led Marilynn and me to say, “Thank you, Ed Monk and Tolly Tollefson.” We could feel Ed Monk’s hull form take the seas without pounding, and Tolly’s strong construction keep the boat from oil-canning even when we were being slammed about. When we were considering the Tolly 37, Marilynn’s first question was, “How does it take a sea?” The answer, Tolly said, was the 37 was the best seakeeping boat he had built, with the 48 the second.

The problem is that seakeeping and interior room are at war with each other. To find more room, a boat must get wider and fuller. The fine bow sections needed to knife into a sea are sacrificed to create more space inside. Once a boat is at maximum width and maximum fullness forward, the only way to find more room is to go up. Amazing spaces can be created when you go up. Unfortunately, the center of gravity also goes up and the boat rolls more. In any kind of crosswind, all that height is a big sail. Maneuvering in a crosswind becomes a greater challenge. No, that’s too nice. Maneuvering is an exercise in damage control. No wonder wives get yelled at. The boat has a mind of its own and Dad is helpless.

We saw a few Maine lobster-style boats this summer. They’re low to the water, with fine bow sections that slice through the waves. To watch one motoring confidently along is to watch something close to poetry afloat. The price for this is less room inside.

Many boats are sold from the inside out. If Mom doesn’t like the boat, Dad can’t have it. So give Mom everything she wants. Which works fine at the dock or the boat show. The weakness doesn’t show up until the weather forecast doesn’t anticipate the 20-knot southeasterly in Malaspina Strait, with its accompanying seas. That’s when the inside-out approach results in a boat that fights with the conditions it’s experiencing. By contrast, the outside-in approach is why, when we got to Pender Harbour, we thanked Ed Monk and Tolly Tollefson for designing and building a sea boat. It’s why, when we look at boats, Marilynn says, “Let’s see the hull first.”

I blow an anchoring

It was in Montague Harbour, a big, beautiful and protected anchorage in the Gulf Islands. We got in around 6:00 p.m. after a long day, and we were ready to quit. We found what looked like a nice big “hole” among the anchored boats and put the hook down in 50 feet, with 150 feet of chain out. Somehow, when we were positioning ourselves to lower the anchor we slid away from just the right spot. When we settled down we looked to be a little close to the two boats rafted together off our stern. Maybe we’d ride forward on the anchor chain (wishful thinking). We’d keep a watch and have supper. After supper we gave it another look. We weren’t going to swing into the boats behind, but we were—let’s call it unneighborly close to them. We were still tired. Rather than move, we went to bed. Early the next morning we quietly brought in the anchor chain and anchor, started the engines and snuck away. It was not my proudest moment.

San Juans to Seattle in three days

All because of a new moon spring tide. Tides are largest at the times of new moon and full moon. High tides are higher, low tides are lower, and currents are stronger. Low tide was at noon, -2.1 feet. We wanted to go home by way of Cap Sante in Anacortes, where we would refill our increasingly airy fuel tanks and have supper aboard with Mark and Leslie Bunzel, the Waggoner’s new owners.

Blind Bay

Shaw Island’s lovely Blind Bay

First day

There was no hurry to get from our anchorage in Shaw Island’s lovely Blind Bay. Rosario Strait would be ebbing strongly all morning, and we’ve learned our lesson about crossing Rosario Strait from Thatcher Pass on an ebb. The water ebbing out of Bellingham Channel and Guemes Channel collides with the fast-moving ebb in Rosario Strait and creates terrible big seas. We planned to go through Thatcher Pass around 1:00 in the afternoon, after the flood had begun and any seas settled down.

Which we did. We got to Cap Sante Boat Haven by mid-afternoon, in time to run to the big Safeway nearby to buy fixings for supper aboard. There was also time to hose some of the salt off the boat. You know what it’s like when company is coming for dinner. A whole day can be spent, cleaning. We had only a couple hours.

Second day

The -2-foot low at LaConner would be at 12:34 p.m. The Swinomish Channel, never very deep, has been silting up and boats are going aground on low tides. We could have left at 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning, but the fuel dock wouldn’t be open. By the time we refueled and got going the depths in Swinomish Channel would be uncomfortably thin, and getting thinner. So (yawn) we had a lazy breakfast and finally shambled over to the fuel dock. No hurry. We couldn’t go through Swinomish Channel until late afternoon, when the water had come up. Leaving that late, we couldn’t get all the way to Seattle, so we overnighted at the Oak Harbor marina.

Third day

At last the tides and currents were with us. The current ebbs south on the east side of Whidbey Island. We’d ride the morning ebb, making 10-11 knots over the bottom instead of our flat-water 8.5 knots. At the south end of Whidbey Island we’d pick up the new flood, which would carry us to Seattle’s Shilshole Bay and Ballard Locks. That’s what happened. Everything was fine until we got to the locks, where we had to wait for an hour to get through. Sometimes we don’t have to wait at all; sometimes we have to wait. We got to our slip at 4:00 p.m.

Then came the hard part: moving off the boat. Cart after cart of food, clothes, bedding, charts, books, and goodness knows what else went down the dock and into the Dodge Grand Caravan. It’s always exhausting. But we were home.

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