Ship's Log
Thursday, July 6, 2000
Griffen Bay to Roche Harbor

Learning to respect the currents & Destiny

    After setting anchor last night, I set my depth sounder to sound an alarm when my depth dropped below 20 feet. However, the seals that were playing around and under my boat (you know the all-knowing creatures I spoke of yesterday) kept setting it off and waking me with a jolt about once per hour. At one point I got up and went out on deck to see the stars and I watched as the seals slapped their tails on the water and then splashed and dove out of site. They repeated this every couple of minutes throughout the bay. While I was up I took a reading with my leadline. A leadline is a piece of lead attached to a rope. The rope has markings on it so when you lower the lead to the bottom you can determine exactly how much water there is below. It confirmed my electronic dept-sounder reading of 36 feet. So I turned the sounder off and went to sleep.

The next morning I continued to make the vessel more livable and functional by creating tie-downs for my solar panel out of cine twine. I weighed anchor and road the tide out to the straits once again.

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The wind was coming from the southwest so I motored through the pass and out for about a mile past Salmon Bank before raising sail and heading northwest around the island. I let the auto-pilot take control and I set the sails. I got this old Navco 5000 wheel-pilot over the internet from a sailor in Ohio. I hadn’t even tried it yet. A couple of missing parts were still in the mail when I left, but I managed to rig it just fine. And now I don’t know what I would do without it.

When out cruising, you should keep your VHF radio tuned to channel 16. The Coast Guard monitors that channel and in some cases asks for help relaying a message or responding to someone in distress. I listened all day to people contacting the C.G. because they were out of gas and drifting toward rocks or that there was a fire on board. The protocol for hailing some one is that you say their vessel’s name three times and then yours. And all I could think of is if I ran into trouble sailors from Nanaimo to Seattle would get a chuckle when they heard, "Uh…Coast Guard, I am out of gas, I’m the Macho Burrito."

Just then a red inflatable boat with 12 passengers in big red survival suits rushed from the horizon right toward me. I thought is was the Coast Guard or Canadian customs or something. (I was only a few miles from Canadian waters.) I look through my binoculars but still couldn’t make out who they were. Then, without warning, from my stern a huge power cruiser raced by and sent my sails flapping in its wake. Then I saw why. A pod of Orcas was feeding just 50 feet away from me. Within two minutes the area was swarming with whale-watching boats with loud speakers announcing that they found "J" pod. As I sailed past the first red boat I could read printing on the side "Northwest Adventures". They had sped here from Victoria or Friday Harbor or something to see the whales. The whole thing made me a bit sad. Although I remember seeing a humpback whale on a whale watching tour out of Cape Cod and it really had an impact on me.

So many things in my life have struck me out of nowhere and stayed with me. I think that I have these foreshadowing events every so often that give me inspiration and point me in a direction. I remember visiting relatives in Florida when I was a child and standing on a dock overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The sun was setting and a boat was sailing by. I stood there paralyzed. I couldn’t look away. It was my destiny. My family finally had to retrieve me. And as I walked away I looked over the water and said, "I’ll be back." Don’t ask me how I remember that. I don’t remember much. I remember thinking it was odd at the time.

I grew up in Pittsburgh. I never stepped foot on a boat there. Then at college in upstate NY, I remember looking out over the endless Lake Ontario (which is small by great lake standards and much bigger than any body of water I will encounter on this voyage) and thinking how great it would be, if I could only somehow make all my troubles go away and just sail. I never stepped foot on a boat there either. And I never could explain my choice of décor for my adolescent bedroom. It was a nautical theme with schooner wallpaper, fishing nets and a brass porthole mirror. And here I am on my very own sailboat, sailing into that sunset and wondering what brought me to this very moment?

As I headed north around the island the wind mellowed so I decided I’d better change headsails from my jib to my Genoa if I wanted to make it to Roche Harbor by nightfall. I am beginning to realize the challenges of single-handed sailing. I had to drop the jib without getting any of it or myself in the water. Then fold, bag and stow it. Then send the up the Gennie with halyards and sheets flapping and the waves wpe1C.jpg (25906 bytes)making the motion complete.

By the time I returned to the safety of the cockpit, my hands were bleeding and sore. I did however increase our speed to 6 knots. But, after taking a bearing off of a lighthouse, I realized that although I was moving 6 knots through the water, the water was moving 7 knots in the opposite direction. The current table failed to mention the clockwise eddy that occurs along the eastern shore of Haro Strait. It is an odd feeling to be splashing through waves and seeing the water rush past you then looking at two bodies of land and seeing the one closer to you move ahead of the other. I changed coarse towards the center of Haro Strait and used the current to my advantage. After I was on coarse. skyward.jpg (75938 bytes)I noticed an older couple in a similar boat caught in the same dilemma. I watched them through my binoculars. They kept looking up then down. Finally, they dropped the sails and motored through it. They would have still been there if they hadn’t.

It is hard to imagine getting around using nothing but the wind. For a hundred years we have been fostering and perfecting the use of fossil fuels to get around and make energy. I hope I live to see the day when humans can get past the greed and invest in development of sustainable energy. The solar panel powers my auto-pilot, refrigerator, radio, and charges the batteries for this computer. It’s a pretty good feeling. I guess that’s why I don’t use my engine unless it’s a safety issue.

The problem with sailing "wherever the wind and tides take me" is that sometimes they take you to places you don’t want to be. I didn’t plan to be in Roche Harbor tonight. I was going to anchor in one of the many coves nearby. I didn’t study the chart as well as I should have. That will never happen again. I thought is was by the other buoy around that island, left of the rock by the clump of trees.

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Then I came around the corner and the wind that was light from my stern was suddenly strong in my face. The wind must have wrapped around the island to my surprise. It was as good a time as any to drop the sails. I started the engine and headed for the mast when a low hard thud vibrated through my spine. I looked down to see a log about 10 inches in diameter and 15 feet long beside the boat. The sails still flapping, I saw the other end roll and rise and realized it was still under the hull. I dove into the cockpit to take the engine out of gear. It would have surely bend or broken my propeller and shaft. The log slowly spun away and I ran to check the bilge. Fortunately I found no water flowing. I checked to make sure the automatic bilge pump was switched on. The I returned to tend to the flapping sails and realized I was in neutral and drifting directly toward the channel marker.

The wind and tides were moving so fast that the buoy was leaning downwind. It looked as if it was moving right for me. I quickly switched the transmission into gear but had to decide in that second…can I make it in front of the buoy or should I turn towards it and go behind it. If I would have turned away from it, the current would have pushed me into it for certain. I decided it was too late to turn at all so I gave it full throttle and my little two-cylinder atomic diesel pushed me past the buoy. Now I just had to figure out where I was and then get those sails under control. The sails weren’t having an affect on my maneuverability, but I couldn’t see very well in front of me, and there’s nothing like a few hundred square feet of plastic cloth flapping in your face to make any situation seem like an emergency. By the time the dust settled, I realized that I was exactly where I thought I was. And I was heading for the entrance for Roche Harbor Marina and Resort. I thought, "I think I’ll treat myself to a dock tonight." And here I sit next to a motoryacht the size of my parent’s house in a place I do not belong. And at $1.10 per foot per night, I decided to take advantage of the fresh water and electricity. My batteries are fully charged, my fridge is fridging, water tank is full and I even managed to give my cockpit a much-needed scrubbing before dark.

I will sleep well tonight, no seals to wake me, only the sound of the motoryacht’s dishwasher cleaning the champagne glasses for tomorrow. Mimosa anyone?


It's a small world after all. It's a small small world.

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