Before beginning, Hello, Pam. Pam is that really nice lady at the Y. She is interested in our boat travels, and asked several times if I would be contributing cruise reports this year.

Pender Harbour, B.C., June 23. We’re finishing our second full day at the Seattle Yacht Club outstation in Garden Bay, at the back of Pender Harbour. Marilynn did four big loads of laundry yesterday, and we took the dinghy over to Madeira Park for shopping and outboard motor repair. That should take care of the last of the mechanical headaches to date. We hope so. For years, our instructions to the mechanic and others who help us care for the boat have been, “Failure is not an option.” And for years we’ve had next to no boat failures. The instructions were the same this year, but failure is sneaky and unrelenting. We had three and one-half hiccups in this, the first week of our cruise.

The weather, however, has been glorious: sunny and warm but not hot. The one rain spell came at night, when we were lulled by the patter of raindrops on the deck overhead. But just as no good deed goes unpunished, our good weather is not unblemished. It’s only mid-June, and the Coast Range mountains to the east are bare. Waterfalls usually are lusty this time of year. I’m told they are reduced to trickles. Fire is a genuine concern. In wintertime we are inconvenienced by foul weather, and complain when snowstorms close highways, schools and businesses. We forget that snow in the mountains is where God stores water for the summer, and this year, in June, the peaks are not snowy white but granite black.

Madeira Marine in Madeira Park fixed the 4-horsepower Johnson outboard yesterday. It took Rick King, the owner and chief mechanic, only 15 minutes to resolve nearly a week of our anxiety. I love that little 4-horse Johnson. It’s strong enough to power the dinghy around the bay, but lightweight enough (only 30 pounds) to load out of the cockpit and onto the dinghy. We did that last Thursday in Roche Harbor, at the north tip of San Juan Island. I wanted to watch at least some of the first day of the U.S. Open golf tournament, and hooked up the 4-horse to take us across the bay from the SYC Henry Island outstation to the Roche Harbor Marina and its bar, with its television.

Despite being serviced last winter, and despite all fresh fuel in the 6-gallon remote tank, the motor was hard to start. I pulled and pulled. I pulled with the choke lever out and I pulled with the choke lever pushed in. Finally, the motor sputtered and ran, then stopped. After a few more pulls it came to life and kept running. Marilynn and I set out and reached the marina without incident. I saw an hour or so of my golf tournament and watched Tiger Woods continue his fight with disaster.

Our own troubles followed. Headed back, the motor quit before we were away from the marina docks, and refused to start. A young staff member headed to Pearl Island in a Whaler offered a tow, and after a couple more pulls on the dead motor I accepted. I can’t remember the last time I was towed.

At least we have a backup motor. Or rather, a second motor, a smooth-running 8-horse Yamaha we use for more extensive running around in the dinghy. Once mounted, the Yamaha is great.

The problem is its 65-pound weight. There’s a big difference between lifting a 30-pound motor out of the cockpit, onto the dinghy and back again, and managing a 65-pound motor. And each summer in recent years the Yamaha has seems to be heavier and more awkward to lift and maneuver.

We got to Pender Harbour without needing an outboard, but it’s a long row from Garden Bay to Madeira Park, so I put the Yamaha on. It started on the second pull and idled smoothly. We loaded the Johnson in the dinghy and took it over to Madeira Marine. Check with us in a couple hours, they said. We checked in a couple hours and the Johnson was done. A 15-minute fix. Bad fuel, from last year. But it couldn’t be bad fuel. We’d put four gallons into an empty tank at a busy fuel dock less than a month earlier. The fuel line from the tank to the motor, Rick said. The Johnson uses so little fuel the line had held enough to get us to the Roche Harbor Marina before the motor couldn’t take it any longer. With good fuel and a good line in the shop, it ran perfectly. I paid the bill and bought a new fuel line.

Rick King’s suggestion: At the end of the season and with the outboard running, disconnect the fuel hose from the tank and suck all the fuel out of the hose. That way, no old fuel in the line next season.

I haven’t tried the Johnson yet, but it ran in the shop and the Yamaha runs perfectly on the fuel it shares with the Johnson. I have confidence.

Our other troubles began the first day of the cruise, when we discovered the Coastal Explorer navigation program didn’t work, and the mouse cursor jumped all over the screen. We had planned to leave in the afternoon, get through the Ballard Locks, and overnight at the Shilshole Bay Marina just around the corner. John Flaherty, our mechanic for more than 20 years, said he’d meet us at Shilshole. He diagnosed the problem as a conflict between the GPS and AIS input, and the mouse. We tried a couple workarounds and got everything working fine. But it was stressful for a few hours.

The next problem was more threatening—we had a leak. Or rather, the port engine’s dripless propeller shaft seal didn’t just drip, it sprayed. Fortunately, the shaft seal sprayed only when we ran fast, which we seldom do. We went to Friday Harbor, where we could find a mechanic. The marina manager suggested two good ones. We called the first, and he was on the boat at 9 o’clock the following morning. He was able to compress the shaft seal bellows a shy quarter-inch, but no more. We weren’t able to test at the moment, but when we departed the seal was dry at our usual 1500-rpm 8-knot cruise speed. With hearing-protection ear muffs on, I shined a light on the shaft seal and waved to Marilynn to add speed. Two thousand rpm: dry; 2200 rpm: dry; 2500 rpm: dry. We’ve been dry ever since. Next annual haulout, new shaft seals.

So it’s been a stressful first week of the cruise. I’m glad we didn’t have to stick to a schedule or keep appointments. I think it demonstrates that even when we try to prepare completely and not cut corners, things still happen. I hope they’re finished for now.

Oh, the one-half difficulty mentioned at the beginning. My favorite wristwatch started losing about seven minutes a day. Ha-ha! I had a backup wristwatch this year, a dressier model with a leather wrist band. I put it on, but when I tugged on the strap to take it off at night, the buckle broke free, changing the wristwatch into a pocket watch. The Radio Shack store in Anacortes replaced the first watch’s battery, although the original battery still tested good. Just too be safe I bought a rather bold $35 Casio they had in the case. It keeps time and hasn’t broken. The watch problem was annoying but not potentially catastrophic, and the fix took only the time to put Casio on my wrist.

We’ve had good news, too. Our dinner at the A-Town Bistro in Anacortes was splendid as always (closed Mondays), and at last, a couple days ago we had dinner at House Piccolo in Ganges—spendy, but excellent. Meals aboard will smooth out the feed bills. The Saturday market in Ganges was a treat. Every vendor must be a resident of Saltspring Island, and the goods must be grown or made on Saltspring Island. Some very talented people live on Saltspring Island. The Saturday market is famous for its quality, and it was packed with shoppers.

Wrapping up, we confirmed one element of crossing the Strait of Georgia. Which is, listen to the weather forecast, certainly, but pay close attention to the wind reports section. We like to wait for our opening at Silva Bay at the east tip of Gabriola Island, where we can get out on the strait quickly. When we got to Silva Bay the wind was northwest 18-20+ knots, seas 3-foot moderate, which isn’t moderate enough for us. Two hours later the wind had dropped below 10 knots, seas rippled. Our motto: When the window is open, go through. It was late afternoon and we wanted to reach Pender Harbour before sunset, so we kicked her up to 2300 rpm and ran across at about 15 knots, including a 1-knot push from a north-flowing flood tide. We got here just at suppertime. Our repaired propeller shaft seal was dry—not a drop of water.

There you are, Pam, Cruise Report No. 1 for you. Marilynn says hi.

—Bob Hale

Share this: