For the last three days I’d been planning my trip. The weather called for steady 15 mph winds from the NE and slack tide right after work. These would be perfect conditions to sail due west, through Lopez Pass, and into Lopez Sound. I figured I could duck in behind a cliff on Decatur Island, to a protected spot I’ve stayed at many times before.
Spring is a treacherous time for sailing these waters. The weather forecast is sketchy at best and local conditions can greatly exaggerate the general weather forecast. Today was such a day.
By Friday, the original 15 mph winds had climbed to 19 mph and then expected to decline to 13 mph towards sunset. Driving by Rosario Strait I could see that the north-moving, flood tides had been fighting the wind all day. The strait was full of whitecaps, boxy waves, and froth. Most people would have axed their plans right there, but three days of commitment and preparation is hard to give up on. I figured I’d at least stick my nose out, play around, and come back in.
Two hundred yards away from the marine wall, the wind picked up the dingy I was towing, spun it like a wind chime, and deposited it upside down. That pretty much set the pace right there.
After pulling it in and righting the dingy, I considered deflating it and throwing it into the cabin. I found a sheltered spot and struggled to raise the main sail, at which point the wind picked up the dingy again and balanced it perfectly on top of my outboard. It actually looked like a pretty nice dingy mount! (If I didn’t need to use the outboard).
I’ve learned that when multiple things go wrong, it’s important to take your time, focus on one task at a time, and always stay abreast of your environment. After I finished securing the main sail, I hove-to, retrieved the dingy, deflated it, and threw it into cabin. One less thing to worry about! …but now I didn’t have an emergency craft either.
The winds in Burrows Channel picked up gradually, but at one point the wind picked up suddenly and the waves grew, and grew, and grew to five feet between trough and peek as I slowly got farther from land. The boat, amazingly, cut through this chaos as if born to it. That was the only reason for not turning back immediately. I felt very secure.
This is a beautiful feeling that I want to capture for you, if you’re not a sailor. I think most sailors have experienced that feeling of balancing perfectly on the end of a knife blade. Looking around at harsh conditions that you know would kill you, and yet your craft is behaving in such a steady manner, that you feel secure. As an engineer, I’ve learned to listen to machines. It’s a big part of my job. I imagine the diagnostic steps that I go through are similar to those of a veterinarian when assessing an animal. What I felt when I entered the confusion that was Rosario Strait was the assurance of a well oiled machine. Solace felt happy, and confident.
I continued to push forward with just the main sail up, and a storm jib ready to hoist. When I looked down at my GPS, it recorded 7 miles per hour – perfect hull speed. That was fortunate because in these conditions, I did not want to go forward to raise the jib, I didn’t think I’d be able to reef the main, and my outboard couldn’t do more than quarter throttle without cavitating. And so, I stayed in the cockpit, held on, and let Solace do her thing.
I had planned my destination well. It was a strait shot from Burrows Channel to Lopez Pass. I didn’t have to tack once. The only scary part was when really big gusts would come by. The boat didn’t feel in danger of capsizing, but as it reached a certain angle, she should turn hard into the wind. I would have to bring the tiller all the way to windward, and fight her as hard as I could, just to get her to maintain course at these moments. I would really like someone to explain the physics of this to me. I would like to understand what pointed her to windward so forcefully and what the proper behavior on my part should have been. Was fighting her the right thing? Was I in any danger of a knock down? Should I have turned into the wind?
Thanks to the serious gear test in the Olympics, I was well equipped for the winds and water coming over the bow. I only started to get cold right as I entered Lopez Pass and shelter was at hand; although that could have also been from the adrenalin dissipating from my blood stream.
My originally planned anchorage did not provide as much shelter as I had hoped. Luckily I knew a nearby cliff that would provide great protection from the NE wind. I set anchor just as it was getting too dark to see without a headlamp.
I tucked up close to the cliff, used my outboard to firmly set the anchor, disconnected the brake from the wind turbine, and snuggled in for the night. The reduced wind hitting the turbine was still enough to power my furnace fan, DVD player, and all my lights that night. I woke up in the morning with the batteries completely charged.
The Return TripThe return trip, while not as crazy, was not without its unplanned adventure. Ken and Sherrie rendezvoused with me, but were having engine troubles. They headed back across Rosario Strait on Sunday with the dingy pushing their boat, while flying full sails.
Hurrying to catch up with them, I got out of the mouth of Lopez Pass and hoisted the main sail only to realize after two good tugs that the main sheet wasn’t going anywhere. I looked up to see my main halyard dangling uselessly half way up the mast! The clasp had come undone, and the only way to retrieve the halyard was to climb the mast – certainly not something I wanted to try in the middle of Rosario Strait.
Luckily I had my storm jib at hand and ready to haul. I quickly raised it, but the light winds and small sail area wasn’t doing much for me. Fortunately I was sailing into the wind and the extra push from my outboard increased the apparent-wind hitting the jib, increasing its effectiveness.
I crossed Rosario almost exclusively on engine power, but the jib provided the ballast needed to move through the water at a steady clip and glide confidently through the small chop. I had to play leap-frog with two freighters and a tug as I crossed Rosario, making the crossing even more technical than it otherwise would have been.
A Kickstarter Campaign?
During my initial outing, I reached Lopez Pass right at sunset, but winds and water battled me right up the point I got through the pass. It was a glorious picture. My hair-raising sail would have looked epic if caught on video, but as a single-hander I don’t have the luxury to do any serious camera work. I’m toying with the idea of starting a small Kickstarter campaign to raise money for two Go-Pro cameras. If I mounted one on the bow and one on the stern, I’d be able to capture these awesome adventures on video and share them with you.
What do you think?
If you’ve never heard of GoPro, they are ruggedized, high definition, solid state video cameras. Here is an awesome documentary on lions and hyenas shot with them:
If you’ve never heard of Kickstarter, it’s a new, effective way of raising money for a collective goal. Here is a great page that explains what Kickstarter is.
I would give prizes for certain dollar amounts donated. Two things that set Kickstarter apart is that it’s expected to give gifts to those who donate. Also, no money will be donated unless I can raise the full amount. Some of the gifts I was brainstorming was like if you donated a dollar, I would send you a thank you email. If you donated $25, I’d send you a personalized adventure video shot with the equipment. If you donated $250, I might take you out on the boat with me for a weekend. I would need to raise $500 for two GoPro cameras.
What do you think? Is this even worth the effort? Would you like to see more action sailing videos on this blog?