Sailing the Gulf Islands, Part 1

I had limited time to post this at a Cafe on Ganges Island. I’ll post more pictures. For now, enjoy this time lapse I took sailing from Sucia Island to Tumbo Island:

Day 0

Dry Goods

I have a months of dry goods stowed for the trip.

The anticipation this morning was palpable. It was literally almost too much to take. At one point I looked at the clock and it said 11 AM. FOUR HOURS TO GO?! WHAT?! Time crawled on like an ant with a broken leg, hobbling it’s way to 3 o’clock. But finally, I was free. The boat was ready to go and all I had to do was fire up the engine and cut the dock lines.

Once I get out in the middle of Rosario Strait and experience the panorama of all the water and islands, it feels a bit like the first time, every time. Every time I go out, I see something absolutely awesome! And on a trip of this length, I knew I could count on seeing several awesome things. The islands are an ever renewing canvas of beauty.

But just as new experiences are likely, so experience is no guarantee of safe return. Almost sinking my boat a few weeks ago, despite my close proximity to the marina, showed me just how quickly and easily boating life can go from copacetic to hazardous. Travels in the Inside Passage pose different (and arguably less) dangers than blue water passage making, but the risks to losing my floating home is very real.

My parents on their boat in Echo Bay of Sucia Island

My parents on their boat in Echo Bay of Sucia Island

After setting off from Anacortes, I had planned to rendezvous with my parents and my friend Andy in Hermit Cove of Matia Island. My parents got there first and were uncomfortable with the tight quarters in that bay. Over the radio we changed plans to head to Echo Bay on Sucia Island instead.


Day 1

We got an anchoring lesson that first night. With Andy and I rafted to either side of my parents boat, we formed a kinetic pinball machine. It was just like the small desk-top models, where one steel ball hits a series of steel balls and sends the one on the opposing end flying while the ones in the center stay fixed in place. Every wave that hit Andy passed through the lineup to shove me one direction and every wave hitting me did the same to him.

The conditions were calm, but the shoving and pulling made sleep fleeting. After 3AM, I was up every twenty minutes to adjust lines in a frustrated attempt to help alleviate the situation. This time spent under the stars also allowed me to admire the milky way above and the bioluminescence in the water below. The water was teeming with glowing plankton. Looking down into the depths was almost like watching one of those old-school TV’s that would show ‘snow’ on the screen when not receiving a signal. Any slight movement of the water would coalesce into a pattern of light.

Sunset at Echo Bay off Sucia Island

Sunset at Echo Bay off Sucia Island.

I kind of like getting these little anchoring mistakes out of the way early. Not only can I deal with them while I’m fresh, the sleepless night is like a deep scratch on the vinyl record of life according to an alarm clock. My pace out here is not set arbitrarily. I have to be careful to not get too exhausted. I have to be prepared at all times to spend a sleepless night dealing with unexpected weather, unexpected tides, or dragging anchors. It’s all part of the adventure!

My next lesson of the trip was quick to follow. The sail from Sucia Island to Tumbo Island was exhausting. I left Echo Bay around 9 am heading north, alternating between sailing and motor sailing as I chased fluky, light winds into the main shipping channel. I think I averaged about one mile per hour. I kept telling myself I was going the ‘perfect’ trolling speed and drug a diving lure behind me, hopeful for salmon. I expected the winds to pick up and steady out once I got away from the land masses, but my steady winds never appeared.

By 2 PM, with the water not showing so much as a ripple of wind, I dropped the genoa, carefully stowed it away, and fired the engine to half throttle. Ten minutes later, a sweet little breeze arose from the north, definitely worth pursuing. It always seems like the sweetest wind appears from nowhere, as soon as I drop the sails and pack them up.

Sailing Past a Freighter.

Getting passed by a freighter while sailing north through Boundry Pass.

I hauled up the genoa again and beat into the northern wind on a close reach. Because I was sailing into the wind, progress was slow, but I was still sailing faster than I had all day, at about 3.5 miles per hour. I was on a pretty solid tack to my destination and the auto pilot was holding the position easily, so I decided to do some sanding on the foredeck. As I worked, I kept an eye on the water around me, but the genoa left me with a big blind spot. At some point I realized that I hadn’t checked on a distant freighter in while because it was obscured by the sail. It was now much closer and was on a course to pass closely in front of me. Very close. Worse, I saw that another freighter was approaching from the other direction, to pass closely aft of me.

Sailing Rosario Strait

Sailing up Rosario Strait, passing a ferry.

I let the tension out of my jib lines and let the sheet flap, slowing me to a crawl in order to let the freighter pass in front of me with a little more distance. As I waited for it to pass, the wind suddenly shifted ninety degrees, coming from the northwest instead of the northeast. After madly scrambling to cope with this new tack, it forced me to now sail on a parallel path to the freighter that was trying to pass aft of me. He kept a respectful distance, and passed me as I continued to beat my way toward my destination. Still, all the technical sailing was exhausting and frustrating.

I finally pulled into my anchorage between Tumbo and Cabbage Islands around 5 PM. Another valuable lesson learned: You can’t wish wind into existence. For a trip as long as this one, I need to pace myself. I should have motored in the morning so that I was fresher and ready for the wind when it found me. Also, if the pattern of the last two days holds, the best sailing wind is in the evening. I’ll plan accordingly.

Related posts:

Journey to Alaska
Dragging Anchor
Voyaging Challenges
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