Adventures at the Friday Harbor Film Festival
Leaving the Anacortes dock at 3PM, I motored with a flood tide through Thatcher Pass and pulled into Friday Harbor just after dusk at 5:30. It was a gorgeous trip chasing the sun. The engine consumed about three gallons of fuel and I traveled about 20 miles. That makes 6.7 miles per gallon – a lot cheaper than a ferry ticket.
I left Anacortes planning to anchor instead of moor, as the movie tickets would be expensive and I’m trying to save money. Through a network of boating friends, I was able to line up the use of an unused dock slip, and thus obtain free moorage for the weekend. Another friend who lived in Friday Harbor had obtained free tickets, which Stormy and Emily traded us for all-access passes. Free moorage and free all-access passes, how serendipitous. Synchronicity at work?It was great catching up with Stormy and meeting Emily. We shared the elk steak I brought with me and a few bottles of wine. We gladly willowed away the night hours discussing every sailor’s favorite subject: boats.
After an enthusiastic night of celebrating my arrival, I spent the next morning planning my escape. As I drank coffee, I studied the weather and tides. Sunday morning I would catch the ebb tide out of Cattle Pass between San Juan and Lopez Islands. I would then sail east to Anacortes along the south end of Lopez.
The main film I wanted to see more than any other was a documentary on the Barefoot Bandit. The legendary pursuit of the Bandit reached a crescendo of sorts while I lived on Orcas Island. My personal interest in his story peeked when I was hiking down Turtleback Mountain one afternoon. I had taken notice of a low-flying helicopter that was circling over and over. I learned later that it was an FBI helicopter. While evading feds, the Bandit ran across the mountain. Had he made a right instead of a left, he would have run right past me.
Everyone on Orcas knew he was in the area, but he had the reputation of being a very non-violent, and even conscientious, burglar. No one was afraid of him. On Orcas Island, only one out of every three homes is occupied, but police were going door-to-door searching for him. I learned from the documentary that while the fruitless manhunt was underway, he was living in a cubby hole at the airport building, right near downtown. A building that I visited daily to ship packages for my online business. Every day, I stood only feet away from his little cave without knowing it.On Sunday morning, after catching one last show, I headed back. Traveling south from Friday Harbor, through Cattle Pass and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, it was like watching my own personal documentary unfold. Floating mats of Bull Kelp drifted by my hull as diving birds popped under the surface. Steller Sea Lions barked as I passed Goose Island.
The sail was beautiful. As I closed the distance between the southeastern end of Lopez Island, I reefed my main and tuned the jib. The wind tends to get gusty where Rosario Strait meets the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and my boat balances out the best with this setup. To my surprise, the wind was calm and steady. It began to die as I continued my route east. With hardly any wind, I un-reefed my main and replaced the jib with my genoa.
All was copacetic until I got two thirds of the way across Rosario Strait. Suddenly, within the course of about two minutes, the wind went from nearly dead to sustained 20 mph winds. Solace heeled way over under the full sheet of the genoa and main. I popped the down-haul on the main sheet and dumped as much wind as I could. That sucked the main sheet into the genoa so that it laid flat against it. Now the boat wasn’t heeled over so badly, but I was screaming forward under the straining genoa.
Already wearing my life jacket, I quickly snapped on my harness and secured myself to the mast. Laying with my back on the forward deck, I balanced each foot on a lifeline as I wrestled the genoa down inch by inch, trying to get the boat under control. As I got the genny half way down, I ran back and reset the main sheet so as not to lose my forward momentum. The sea had grown boxy with four foot waves spaced every thirty feet. As I laid back down on the foredeck and continued to grapple with the oversized jib, the end of a telephone-pole sized log smacked the hull just inches from my head. I paused in my work to watch it bounce along the side of the hull and just narrowly avoid tangling itself between the rudder and outboard.I finished wrestling the sheet into forward hatch and then climbed back into the cockpit. The autopilot was going crazy trying to cope with the boxy seas. I disconnected it and took over the tiller manually. The wind was steady and allowed me to sail under just the main fairly well. Every once in a while a big gust would hit and I’d pop the downhaul to dump wind. Cushions, dishware, and everything else in the cabin lay in a pile of total disarray. Under main sail alone, I sailed my way at hull speed into Flounder Bay and home to my marina.
After docking, I set about picking through the wreckage and putting things back to order. The carnage tallied, a roll of toilet paper was the only casualty.
For the next two days, I wrestled with an exhaustion that was deeper than that caused by the crossing of Rosario Strait. It is the unexpected. The unplanned. The ‘Wow, I didn’t see that coming’ feeling that tired me out.
On the one hand, I felt reasonably safe and handled the situation well, but it is a reminder that any trip on the boat can have unexpected, and potentially perilous, interludes. I plan to get lost this summer. To totally give over my fate to the wildness of the British Columbia coast and my skills as a sailor. I will risk my life, and I am prepared as I can be. I accept the potential danger because I know that synchronicity will give me joyful experiences that more than make up for the risk. But being shaken and surprised by the water’s tempestuous moods is spiritually exhausting. The in-your-face reminder of the Absurdity to the universe inspires lethargy, and stands in stark contrast to its synchronicity; an existential dichotomy.