It Finally Happened…

… and it happened “out there”, just as Captain Ron always said it would.

Before I go further, I should make it clear that this is not one of those “I was almost run down by a supertanker 30-foot seas while I was bailing furiously to keep my boat from sinking” stories. I read and enjoy those; there’s always something to learn from disaster or virtual disaster stories. This is more of a story about what (mostly) went right. As a result, it’s a bit nerdy at the beginning. The emotional part of the story comes later. Now that you know whether to continue reading, I’ll begin.

Two years ago, our auxiliary engine, a Yanmar 3YM30, reached its 1,000 hour mark. That signals a host of changes and replacements, one of which is replacing the impeller. (For those readers who do not regularly depend upon a marine Diesel engine, the impeller is a rubber wheel with water vanes, much like a water wheel, which pushes seawater into the engine in order to cool it. These vanes go through major flexing and eventually break down with use.) The impeller and the belts that drive the water pump and alternator are the Achilles heels of the marine Diesel engine. Selah carries spares for those items at all times.

Our 2009 Hunter 36 sailboat presents some design challenges to replacing the impeller, which is an interior part of the water pump. While the cover to the impeller is at the front of the engine, direct access is prevented by the last step of the companionway. (Oddly, earlier iterations of this boat design do allow for direct access.) The result is that one is forced to work vertically on something that is designed to work horizontally.

The modified engine access made it possible to easily change the impeller.

I had regularly checked the impeller visually during the engine’s first 1,000 hours, using a flashlight and an automotive mechanic’s mirror. It’s what the Yanmar manual recommends. A good friend of mine, a boat dealer of some considerable experience, told me that impellers should last about 1,000 hours. My visual inspection at 1,000 hours showed an intact impeller. But I wanted to ensure that it would not break down in a seaway, so I scheduled an impeller change.

My go-to when I am about to do something on the boat that I have never attempted is to enlist someone who has done the task to help me do it on my boat. Two years ago, when I was at the 1,000 hour mark, I asked David Weale, a fellow sailor who is a member of the Hunter Association of Puget Sound, to help me. Dave is an engineer who owns a similar Hunter; he changes his boat’s impeller every year. The first thing he said when he saw what we had to do, was “Well, you’re going to want to get that access re-done, for a start.”

I damaged the old impeller when Dave and I removed it, and just managed to get the new one in there with the four hands we had. Over a year later, after my entire water pump broke down, a diesel mechanic and I took the better part of an hour tearing out the bottom panel on that same bottom step to replace the pump. Afterwards, I called in a ship’s carpenter from Miller & Miller boatyard, and he found a solution, a deceptively simple one, he assured me, which would both keep the integrity and functionality of the step, and enabled it to be removed and replaced via six screws. Done.

Fast forward about six months, to a sunny, warm Saturday afternoon. The engine now has 1400 hours on it. Linda and I are on Selah, heading out of Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island, with our granddaughter Edie and our dog Sofia aboard. We are headed back to Elliott Bay Marina in Seattle. Calm conditions, with 2 knots of wind coming from whichever direction it decided to puff. Not enough to sail, so we are motoring. About 30 minutes into the 75-minute trip, Linda notices that our engine exhaust is billowing grey smoke.

Not a good sign. That color usually means that one has a cooling problem, and the engine is about to overheat. I went below to check the engine: plenty of coolant, and the water pump belt was intact. I carry a laser-guided temperature gun aboard, and I took a reading from two places: the engine temperature was about 30 degrees F higher than normal. Not good. Above me, the cockpit overheat alarm went off, a piercing shriek, and Linda should down the engine.

The impeller was the next likely suspect. The first thing I did was ask Linda to obtain our position. The charts showed us in the middle of the Traffic Separation zone, with North- and South-bound commercial traffic lanes behind us and in front of us, and –since we were dead in the water–no way to navigate.

I asked Linda to take over boat communications from the helm while I worked on replacing the impeller. Our first call was NOT to the Coast Guard. The Traffic Separation scheme that stretches from the north of the Georgia Strait to Olympia, WA is overseen by an international set of four offices, each with their own radius frequency. I asked Linda to call Seattle Traffic, to inform them that we were stranded in the middle of their commercial lane system, and report our position in terms of latitude and longitude.

As soon as she did that, Seattle Traffic began looking at the commercial traffic. A Seattle-bound ferry monitoring the channel responded that they had a visual on us and were altering course to avoid us. Seattle station reported no other commercial traffic, and requested that Linda contact the Coast Guard on channel 16.

In the meantime, I have closed the engine raw water through hull valve, and am (gratefully) backing out six screws from the now removable bottom panel. I unscrew the cover, and there is my 400-hour impeller, minus one of its rubber vanes. Even better: once I have pulled it out, I also see the broken vane. This means that the vane is not currently floating through our cooling system, about to cause a blockage that is hard to repair at sea.

The removed impeller with its broken vane: 400 hours after installation.

I relay both these pieces of information to Linda at the helm, so that she knows what’s going on, and how much time it might take for me to rectify the problem.

Linda’s hours of listening to other distress calls has clearly helped. As I am working below decks, I hear her anticipating the usual questions: three people and a dog on board, all have their life jackets, we are currently without propulsion but actively working on the problem and– yes we have an anchor and 300 feet of chain that we could suspend over the +500ft depths below us, should they deem that necessary/advisable. Mobile phone number? Here’s the skipper’s.

My phone rings almost immediately. Given that my hands are currently occupied, I don’t answer until the third time they try it. My first indication that I am in adrenaline overload is when I finish a response with “Over.” The nice captain chuckles as he reminds me that I’m on a cell phone. Would I please call back once we are underway?

My second indication is my inability to find the cover for the impeller housing. Nothing is repaired if I don’t find it. The six screws I removed from the panel and the knurled knobs that hold on the impeller cover are in the plastic parts bin I use whenever I’m working on board. I revisit that three times to make sure that I have not missed the much larger impeller cover, which turns out to be……. where I left it, next to the storage location for engine replacement parts, and out of my line of sight.

I install the cover, open the through hull, and Linda starts the engine. No alarm, and the temperature reads normal. As instructed, I call the Coast Guard to let them know we are underway.

So here are my takeaways:

What We Did Right

Linda alerted me to the potential problem as soon as she saw it.

As soon as we agreed that it WAS a problem, we began the diagnosis.

We divided up duties quickly and effectively: Linda maintained and communicated our situational awareness, as well as kept an active watch on the boat and crew, while I worked on diagnosis and repair.

Linda was prepared to communicate clearly and efficiently.

We communicated with specific authorities, in order of navigational safety. (If we had not been in a commercial shipping lane, we would have called the Coast Guard first, and let them deal with any necessary announcements to other vessels in the area.)

I kept Linda informed of my progress.

Linda maintained an active watch during my work.

We had the necessary spares on board, and had anticipated having to replace them efficiently.

What We’ll Do Better Next Time:

A better job of agreeing on whether we have a problem to investigate. We probably ran the engine 10 minutes longer than we needed to, while we discussed when the smoke began, and what it might mean. I now know that 30F degrees above normal is too high. On the other other hand, we might also have found ourselves stranded in the southerly traffic lane, as opposed to the (relatively safer) Traffic Separation Zone.

I was rushed in my replacement task, and as a result, failed to lubricate the impeller with glycerine and replace the seal for the cover, both of which are recommended to avoid premature failure of the replacement. I did that after we returned to port. My new protocol is to create replacement KITS, with all of the necessary items in one plastic bag. A checklist in that bag would also be helpful.

Every removed part goes in the same plastic bin, so it can be easily located as needed.

How to Avoid Hitting a Ferry

Ask Bill Michael what he does for a living, and he’ll tell you that he hires and fires ferry captains for Washington State Ferries. Ask him what his meeting with a recent group of recreational sailors was all about and he’ll say this.

It was all about channel 16.

Michael, whose official duties as Port Captain include much more than personnel, was meeting with the Eagle Harbor Yacht Club, on Bainbridge Island.  While other topics certainly came up, the one everyone wanted him to explain was why WSF never answers when you call them on 16.

If you have sailed these waters, or any waters, for that matter, you know that VHF channel 16 is the international hailing and distress frequency. Most recreational boaters know to monitor channel 16 while they are underway. But when you see a ferry bearing down on you and you’re not able to get out of the way for some reason, don’t call them on channel 16. They’re unlikely to hear you.

Michael revealed that WSF vessels have only just started carrying handheld VHF units that monitor channel 16. And those radios, he noted, may not be near the helmsperson. “If you called and no one answered, it’s because we didn’t hear you.”

Ferries do monitor two other VHF channels closely and continuously: 13, which is the “bridge to bridge” or inter-ship channel, and channel 14, which is the channel used by and devoted to Seattle’s Vessel Traffice Services (VTS). Seattle VTS controls and coordinates commercial traffic in Puget Sound. south of the strait of Juan da Fuca. (North of there, in US waters, it’s VHF 05.)

You can reach that Puget Sound ferry on channel 13 or channel 14, and they will respond. It also follows that, if they end up sneaking up on you unawares, and blowing that dreaded five blast “immanent danger” horn, they likely tried to contact you on 13 or 14 and failed to do so.

The moral of the story is simple: When you are in Puget Sound waters, make sure that your onboard VHF scans channels 13 and 14, as well as 16.

The crowd in attendance was taken aback. Not a few found this a sorry state of affairs, and wanted to know why it could not be remedied. The short answer was money, and the lack therof.

The crowd’s surprise makes sense. As recreational boaters, we have grown used to calling our friends up on channel 16. Most of us then switch to a working channel for a conversation. Those of us who neglect to do so are informed by the Coast Guard (or some wiseacre on another recreational vessel) that they should take their conversation elsewhere. It seems natural that we would hail any other vessel on 16 first.

But commercial traffic needs to operate differently. The masters and pilots of those vessels use 13 and 14 only for  quick conversations about the safe passage of their vessel. Channel 14 is also recorded by VTS. A collision of commercial traffic is likely to be reviewed very closely by any number of interested parties in the ensuing legal fracas.

Michael fielded a number of follow-up questions, some of them colored by a range of peeved to outraged tonalities, until one questioner asked why those bicycles always unloaded first, given that they slowed down the car traffic after them. He hesitated, surveyed the crowd on how many bicyclists were in the audience, and, finding very few, responded:

“So, the thing about channel 16 is–“

Sofia the Seafarer

It was my wife Linda’s idea, getting a dog. At that point, we had almost completed 2 years of full-time cruising and living aboard our Hunter 36, and were pretty much adjusted to the major reduction in space that comes with downsizing from a comfortable two-bedroom townhouse to a 36-foot sailboat and 10×8 storage unit.

Linda’s argument boiled down to three main points:

1. A dog would provide more on-land opportunities to exercise and meet others.

2. A dog would broaden our companionship opportunities on sea and on land.

3. We both like being around dogs.

We had never owned a dog as a couple. The last leg of the argument became possible when our eldest daughter’s family acquired an 8-week-old Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy ahead of their schedule to do so, and needed to go out of town for four days. We became the puppy-sitters of choice, and discovered that both of us enjoyed the experience. We volunteered to do it again, and when the need no longer arose, found ourselves inventing excuses to visit so that we could play with the dog. If the grandchildren were around, it was a bonus.

But we both live on 36 feet of sailboat, which is 11.5′ at its widest measurement. Neither of us wanted what we had derisively called a “reticule dog”, the kind that you can fit into a purse. Very popular here in Seattle, where square footage costs more than most cities in the US, and where we have more dogs than children. Thirty-six feet seems small, when you are contemplating adding a third being on full-time cruise.

I won’t bore you with the ins and outs of how we decided to get a bred puppy, or settled on a Portuguese Water Dog as a breed, except to say that it had nothing to do with the Obama’s or the Kennedy’s, neither of whom are fishing folk by trade; that being the breed’s origin as working dogs. Nor will I give you the blow-by-blow and heartache of Linda’s final conversation with one Washington breeder who flat-out questioned our ability to care for one of her precious ones, all of whom were apparently born with a golden bone in their regal mouths.

I will say that when we acquired our dog, we did so from Donna Gottdenker, an excellent and caring breeder at Claircreek Portuguese Water Dogs in Ontario, Canada, about 20 minutes’ drive from where we lived for 18 years. Donna, who breeds and shows champion dogs, understood what we were doing on a boat, and agreed that “Purple,” the 14-week-old bitch with excellent lineage that she had decided against breeding, would make a perfect boat dog. She flew the dog to Vancouver, Canada, where we picked her up. We renamed the dog Sofia, and Donna registered her as “Claircreek Sofia the Seafarer.”

Donna counseled us to move slowly in getting Sofia adapted to boat and cruising life. “Porties,” as they are called, are smart working dogs, and they remember bad experiences. They are fiercely loyal. The best way to proceed, she counseled, was to train her to sea life as we would train her to anything: slowly, methodically. We changed our cruising plans, and now plan to stay close to our home slip in Seattle for the first half of the season.

If you’ve ever housebroken a dog in a large apartment building, you have a fair idea of what it takes to convince a puppy to get off a boat, travel a dock and go to land to do their business. Because we prefer anchoring out to being at dock, we added: get in the dinghy and travel to land to do your business. It took Sofia two days of in-harbor work to decide that the dinghy was a safe method of transportation. Now she jumps in as soon as the dinghy hits the water. We have to convince her to wait onboard while we rig the dinghy for travel.

Entering Eagle Harbor

The dog at sea part came more easily. We started with a slow motor outside of the marina, moved on to a jib-only sail outing of an hour, and followed up with a 90-minute fully-rigged sailing trip to Bainbridge Island in light winds, adding our 11-year-old granddaughter Edie as a guest, in case we needed an extra hand to mind Sofia. We anchored in Eagle Harbor, spent the better part of the day ashore, and returned to the boat mid-afternoon. We ended up motoring home in a dying breeze.

Sofia took it all in stride. She now associates her personal floatation device with adventure on the water, and gets excited whenever we put it on her. We currently tether her in the cockpit, with enough lead to get to the coaming but not the deck. Eventually, we should only need that occasionally: rough passages, busy cockpit. But she already knows to get out of the way when lines are being run in and out. I spent a few days adding netting to our forward lifelines, to keep her on the boat if she slips on deck. Your bare human foot is more deck-friendly than a water dog’s paw. (Their paw is a better swimming appendage than your foot.)

Porties are bright working dogs. Sofia eagerly observes and absorbs what we do as we exit and enter port, is relaxed enough to fall asleep in the cockpit during a passage, and eagerly wakes up to smell the possibilities as we enter a new anchorage. After we tied up to the dinghy dock in Winslow, Sofia exhibited all of the anticipation and actions of a sailor home from the sea: the swagger up to town with her companions, the immediate obtaining of the necessary creature comforts, the nosing out of all the entertainment possibilities.

All she needs now is a set of sunglasses and a hat embroidered with her boat’s name.

Next week, we’re sailing with her to a rendezvous: 3-hour passage, lots of on-dock and on-deck socializing.

The forecast looks good.

Explaining a tack vs. a gybe

The Last Nine Days….

5 & 6 June– Pender Harbour

We have come to love Pender: lots of small bays, a great set of provisioning stores and a chandler’s that’s really a small marine repair shop. We needed to get a small propane tank refilled– that, plus the stories that came with it, took most of the morning.

7 & 8 June– Westview Marina, Powell River

There are only two stops up the Malaspina Strait before one gets into resort territory, and its accordant pricing on supplies and provisions. Last year, we stopped at one of them, Lund, which is already more of a tourist/cruiser destination: cute and busy bakery, art gallery/stores.

Powell River is the OTHER one. It’s not as far north, but our Canadian cruiser friends Jeff and Carolyn assured us that it’s the better stop of the two. They were right. The marina is a working  proposition: most of the dockage is given over to the commercial fishing fleet and its needs. When we called in for a slip, Dave was out to lunch, but monitoring his radio. There’s only one marina position funded in the off season, and Dave, who commutes from nearby Texada Island, is it. He asked us to circle for a bit outside the marina, until he could drive back down and find a spot. He did that for the boat behind us, as well.

When Dave arrived, he quickly sorted us out, and helped us on to the dock. We stayed two nights because the forecast turned nasty: 20 knots of wind and pouring rain. Powell River has a blue collar reputation, but one can see the town making a huge effort to create welcoming spaces for visitors: lots of small pubs, bespoke pizza, two Thai restaurants and — surprisingly, Genki, a Japanese restaurant, whose co-owner commutes from Comox, where she and her husband own the first restauarant they opened. A vigorous fifteen minute uphill walk gets one to “Town Centre” shopping area, with a small mall, two supermarkets, a Canadian Tire store, the inevitable Starbucks, a stubborn Tim Horton’s and the rest.

The chandler, Marine Traders, is two blocks from the marina, and has just about everything you’d need. As we were preparing to leave, our water fill hose broke irreparably. Ten minutes later, I was using its new replacement.

9 & 10 June– Squirrel Cove

Big Desolation Sound destination, in many senses of the word. There is an inner and an outer harbour, with varying degrees of protection from s”settled conditions” to “all weather.” On the second day, (Sunday) I counted 24 boats in the inner harbour alone, with room for about 30 more. Pre-season, Squirrel was not crowded. We initiated two new pieces of equipment: The deck shower, which was conceived of as a hot water shower source for the days we are at anchor, and the inflatable kayaks. The shower worked well.

By far the more interesting trial was the kayak trip, and those who have been to Squirrel Cove already know that this means that we explored the tidal salt lagoon. There is a narrow and shallow feed from the inner harbour. The lagoon is large enough to make this  a navigation issue. The ebb tide was long past, but when we attempted to enter at 5PM, there was too much outflow for us. We nosed around the harbour for a while, came back forty minutes later to take a look, and got in easily on a small flood flow.

Mindful of how we came in, we did a curtailed bit of sightseeing in the lagoon, which sports some small islands and interesting marine growth, and returned to find the current raging through the opening; passage was clearly not possible. . We spent a good deal of that time deciding what supplies we would pack the next time we ventured forth on a simple, local kayak tour (food, a second warm layer of clothes, maybe a flashlight). We spent most of the time sitting in a back eddy of the inlet, observing. A broken canoe paddle on the shore next to us spoke volumes, but too late to assist us.  The stream grew both fast and deep. A couple passed by in their dinghy. “Do we need to tow you out on our the way back?,” one of them asked. “No, dammit,” came Linda’s reply, “We are getting out of this ourselves!” As they putted by, they cheerfully added: “We did the same thing last year!”  We sat in our small craft assessing the situation and suggesting alternative routes and methods to each other, I was reminded of rafting river guides, assessing the rapids below them before pushing off with their charges.

Three and half hours later, as the sun set over the trees and the lagoon grew colder, we each made a successful attempt (The fifth– we counted) paddling up against a weakening flood stream.

 We were, at the time, both guides and paddlers.

11 June– Isabel Cove

This lovely cove is down the Malaspina Inlet and up the Lancelot Inlet. This was unfinished business from last year, since Isabel was too crowded for us last year. As early as it was this time around, we were surprised to find a power boat safely squatting on the inner portion of the cove (room for one boat only). As we moseyed out to explore our options, another power boat came nosing in. We decided on a stern time solution, using Stuart’s patented quick release webbing module, and spent about an hour getting the boat and the line situated. (Stuart’s still working on a “quick setting” solution. That one will be the money maker.) 

Stern tie– every time, a new challenge

Three hours later, we watched the webbing disappear below the water, as the rock which Stuart had clambered high to personally select for a line anchor was engulfed by the flood tide.

Buh bye stern tie

12 & 13 June– Melanie Cove

A view from the Homfray Channel, as we turn into Prideaux Haven, site of Melanie Cove

This spot was the inspiration for a blog from last year (see: “Moon Over Melanie”). The moon was not as spectacular, but the place is deservedly enchanted, all the more for the relative solitude of a four boat load on the cove. We kayaked here as well, and made plans to sail to the Toba Wildernest Marina at the foot of Toba Inlet to water the boat. We’d never been to Toba Inlet, and were looking forward to it…

14 & 15 June– Gorge Harbour Marina, Cortes Island

….until we listened to the weather forecast. We had no idea what gale force southerlies would be like on Toba’s  south facing dock, but wwe didn’t want to find out, especially if the strong winds brought rain and weather that would obscure the charms of the inlet itself. So we re-did our planning, and headed for Gorge Harbour, 15 miles away, where there are both water and laundry facilities.

That proved to be a bit of an adventure as well. The winds started off light, but by the time we had approached the top of the Strait of Georgia, we were experiencing significant swell. We spread the jib to both take advantage of the 10 knots of southerly wind and stabilize Selah, and the wind climbed the double digits to 20+ knots as the waves climbed to five feet and moved closer together. Turning north to sail the 3-odd miles to the Gorge Harbour entrance proved interesting, since we decided to take down sail and motor through the waves, rather than gybe in that sea state. At this point, the ebb tide was pushing the  full 150 miles of the Strait of Georgia onto our stern. Given that we were headed directly downwind (not an angle for which our rig is best suited), it was the best decision, and with Linda at the helm (“Why does this always happen on my watch?”), and Stuart calling out the big waves as they approached and slid under us, we made it into harbour.

And that was before the gale. We declared today a laundry day– there are good facilities for that here, even the locals use them– and as of this writing, the buoys outside the harbor are now registering steady winds of 30+ knots and gusts of 49, and it is raining. The “weather guessers,” as one of our cruising friends calls them, are calling for calmer conditions tomorrow morning.

At which point, we shall venture forth again, clean and cleanly clothed.

Southern Gulf Islands to Bowen Island

4 June 2017

49deg 22.706′

123deg 20.013′

Cruising now means taking the turn that present themselves. We stopped by Parker Island to visit friends Karen and Herb Berry, who now have two beautiful lots of land with plenty of room for children and grandchildren. Parker is what helps to form Montague Harbor. Karen had invited us to visit, so we did, and had a delightful time. 

Linda heads up to “Whyte Strand,” to visit with Karen and Herb Berry

We then went a short distance to Clam Bay, and took the dinghy through the “Cut” to Telegraph Harbor Marina, where a number of our Hunter owner friends were attending a Canadian Hunter rendezvous, one that we had ourselves attended last year. During our time there, one of our Vancouver area Hunter owner friends heard of our plans and suggested that we take advantage of the SE winds and cross the Georgia Strait through Porlier Pass, stay in Howe Sound, and then book up the coast towards Desolation Sound with the wind at our back.

We took his suggestion.

Vancouver to starboard

Tonight, we are in the Union Steamship Marina, in Snug Cove. 

Entering Howe Sound

Anniversary tapas dinner at “Barcelona” on Bowen Island

Tomorrow, we plan to take advantage of the flood tide (The SE winds have pooped out, and become light and variable), and go northeast to Secret Cove, at the base of the Malaspina Strait. From there, we’ll go to Powell River and then Desolation Sound.

We also stopped at Ladysmith Marine Society, in Ladysmith, one of our favorite marinas. And Stuart went for Timbits and coffee. And took this picture. We don’t know why.

Deer Harbor

48deg 37.126′ N

123 deg 00.174 W

Log- 25 May

Port Ludlow to the San Juan Islands turned out to be a 46 mile day, largely because once we got through Lopez Pass, we saw that Spencer Spit was empty of boats, turned north and made wake to get a mooring ball. WE were quite surprised to find it so empty. One factor that we noted about our delayed crossing of the Strait was that we would end up ion the San Juan’s over Memorial Day weekend, and that meant an expected crowd of boats. There was no wind to speak of on the crossing, but the ebb tide gave us a good lift up to and through Admiralty Inlet and across a good deal of a very calm Strait of Juan da Fuca. Linda and I take short watches when we are doing daytime motoring like that– 90 minutes is normal– so the 7-hour day went by fairly quickly, and sunset at Spencer Spit was a lovely way to end that day. We actually found ourselves energized from the day, and didn’t get to sleep until 11pm.

Log-26 May

Our planning takes various forms on long cruises such as these. We try to not to HAVE to be anywhere, but the limitations of the way we have set up the boat do present us with necessities. At Spencer Spit, we doled out the last of the coffee over breakfast, and ran out of milk. Brakfast things aside, our major restriction right now is the boat’s  fresh water supply, which will last four days with showers, six to seven with “racing showers” (antiseptic wipes). Another is the need to offload garbage. So we decided to stop by Friday Harbor, which has always been accomodating to boaters needing to take on water, and did a little grocery shopping and offloaded some of the scraps of our onboard existence. Friday Harbor is a very busy harbor in the summer– the ferry and seaplane traffic is constant, and the Victoria Clipper also has a few Seattle-Friday Harbor runs. Imagine our surprise when we asked for a temporary berth to take care of our necessities, and were directed  into slip located in a largely vacant guest dock area. On our walk around town, we asked a local where the crowds were and he told us “just wait ’til the Friday evening ferry. They’ll all start coming in then.”

We seem to be staying about four hours ahead of the crowd at this point. We’ll see if that lasts.

A little after 1PM (that’s 1300 to you, matey), we headed out of Friday Harbor to anchor in Deer Harbor, and once there, decided to assemble and launch our new inflatable kayaks. It bears noting that the anticipated purchase and consumption of Lopez island ice cream was somewhat of an incentive here. Which, no doubt, had something to do with the remarkable good nature of the crew, both of whom found themselves having to improvise various awkward contortions in order to wrestle the kayaks aft, launch them and enter them without mishap. We have yet to debrief and discuss, but whatever we did will need to be improved upon. Linda is pleased that no one went overboard. We understand that this was a strong possibility.

 It’s one of those things that we kept putting off before we left. Stuart had gone though the inflation, assembly, deflation and stowing procedure, and we had launched them from the dock in order to try them out, but never from the stern of the anchored boat. Stuart has two maxims about new equipment and repairs: until they have endured a sea trial, they are not be relied upon. In any case, the kayaks were fun on the water, and provided the right amount of exercise.

24 May 2017

Port Ludlow
47 deg 55.147′ N, 122 deg 41.549′ W  

This is our third night in Port Ludlow. As we set out from Seattle, we saw a forecast develop that predicted a northwesterly gale in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We had a choice: There was a window of time that we could grab to cross the strait into the San Juans or the Southern Gulf Islands before the gale hit, or, we could decide to stay south and wait for it too blow through.

In earlier cruising years, Stuart would have argued for the former: time on the water was limited, and the island adventures would not wait. Now that we live aboard, time has changed: it’s more of an environment than a scarce commodity. So we agreed on staying just south of the Strait, as did a number of vessels. We watched the whole thing go through last night on the NOAA observations charts, with peak winds of 56 mph, and it was still blowing itself out this morning.

We spent yesterday at dock, making some on board repairs that we had been unable to get to before we left. The old cruiser definition of cruising is: “repairing one’s boat in exotic locations.” In the past year of living aboard, the repairs and maintenance on this eight-year-old boat have been pretty constant. We always have a list going. I’ve heard full-time farmers say the same thing– there’s always something that need fixing or maintaining, and the weather takes its toll. The combination of the marine environment and the fact that one’s home is also one’s transportation means that one not only needs to stay alert to the necessary repairs, but that one is acutely aware of them: one’s roof is also one’s deck, for instance. Before we lived aboard, a deck leak was an occasional inconvenience, and there was a lot that we just did not notice, because we weren’t present to do so. Now, everything becomes apparent quickly.

Cruising blogs often highlight the equipment emergencies. And other cruisers read them, as cautionary tales and reminders to maintain their gear. The alternative story (“changed the raw water impeller today”) makes for boring reading. But if we’re good at doing what we do, preventative maintenance helps us avoid most equipment failures in the first place. Yesterday, that meant hand-stitching our canvas enclosure where the ultraviolet light had broken down the original stitching. To do that, there was some contortion of bodies required (that’s the part of boat repairs that few people speak about), and there were some aches and pains as we stirred for coffee this morning.

We were at dock for two nights here, and decided to stay one more night at anchor in the bay. Stuart is of the opinion that boats do not like land. They are not constructed for it, and rubbing up against even a floating dock produces protest. We could hear it in the creaking fenders last night as the tide came and went, and the fringe of the gale blew through. But being at dock does have some perks. Before we departed to anchor, we went up to the marina store before lunch for one last ice cream sandwich. Our tiny onboard freezer has enough to do without bearing the strain of keeping the dessert treats pristine.

Tomorrow we head for the San Juan Islands. It’s a 36-mile day, which on our boat is a good stretch, especially if most of it requires using the motor. Selah does well under power, but we do better and she does best under sail. Here in the Pacific Northwest, timing is everything: the tides and currents rule. And we’ve discovered that cooperating with them, as the original inhabitants did, is better for all concerned. So we’ve consulted our tables and charts, made our plans, and know what time we need to be where.

We’ll improvise on that tomorrow.

Moon Over Melanie

We were not supposed to be there.

A chance dockside encounter with a charter captain in Garden Bay warned us against it. “Heading up to Desolation Sound for the first time,” Rick mused, in his trim New Zealand accent. “Care for some advice?” We did.

“Most people head for Prideaux Harbor first thing,” he continued, “but it’s a hotel, this time of year: wall-to-wall yachts. You won’t have a moment’s peace. Got a chart? Brilliant. Look here: turn to starboard as soon as you fetch Susan Point….” We highlighted our chart with his offbeat anchorage suggestions, and headed north, filled with anticipation and sworn to secrecy.

But this was August, and it seemed that most of Rick’s secrets were everyone else’s as well. Eventually, we did end up sailing through the narrow entrance into Prideaux Harbor, just to see what the fuss was about, and poked Selah’s bow into Melanie Cove.

Melanie Cove- above

Melanie Cove by Day

Melanie has the reputation of being the quiet refuge of small boat sailors, whose idea of a good time is to rig a hammock and read. It’s mostly a stern-tie affair, with the occasional small power boat taking a mid-cove position on a single hook. We found a recently-vacated stern tie position, and settled in for our own quiet time.

At 4am, I woke. Moonlight was pouring through the hatches into the boat. Clothed in silence, I made my way on deck, with the expectation of viewing the heavenly beauty we had seen rise earlier that evening. I was blinded instead: my eyes could not look directly at the Source, a full moon in an unfiltered sky.

The moon was a bartender, deftly filling a double shot glass to the brim, and settling it unspilled on the polished surface of the still water. No sound came from the surrounding forest. No bird movements or song, no soft stirring of underbrush. An occasional fish slapped, as if to remind us that every surface contains depths. The entire cove had drunk deeply of the same spirit, and at this hour, now sat in mute appreciation of its power.

Drunk on this light myself, perceptions altered. All of us seemed caught in this cool, continuous flash: defined clearly, yet undocumented. Without the detail of daylight, edges blurred, and yet the essence was distinct. We were arrested in our being.

The light itself was all, in silent glory. Our resonance was equally mute. Bathed in such purity, we could only reflect. And seeing others thus bathed, we could only reflect upon their being—devoid of purpose, devoid of meaning. I stayed on deck in wonder.

We had other adventures– and mis-adventures– in Melanie Cove, and on the rest of our first trip through Desolation Sound.

But this one, the one we were not supposed to have, opened my soul.

Murder in Langley

Every February, someone gets murdered in Langley, WA.

And—every February– the good people of this Whidbey Island village put out the call for help in solving the murder.

They’ve been doing this for 33 years. According to mayor Tim Callison, the Langley Murder Mystery Weekend is the largest community-based murder mystery project in the United States.

On February 25-26, over 2,500 people registered to become amateur detectives and solve the crime.

This year, The Admiral (“Are you going to keep calling me that? And if so, do I get a hat?”) and I decided to sail up to the Port of South Whidbey, agreeably situated on the shore below Langley, and join them. Our good friends John and Kerstin Hilton came up from Portland to explore the weekend with us.

The event is scripted by one person and organized by many. While the Chamber of Commerce sponsors the event, and virtually all of the shops and many of the organizations in the village participate, there are also 34 players from the community who agree to take on roles for the weekend. It’s not small crime, let’s put it that way.

We had made a reservation at the marina in anticipation of the crowd, but found that the cruising crowd hasn’t quite caught on. There was plenty of available space. Once we settled our moorage, the Dockmaster handed us a clue in advance.

In order to play, one registers at the Chamber of Commerce. We had been encouraged to do so online “to avoid the crowds” and ensure that we could get one of the limited supply of custom printed T-shirts or hoodies. As we approached the Chamber, we found that the “will call” queue was longer and slower than the one for initial purchase. We took delivery of our materials (The “Langley Gazette,” a four-page newspaper detailing the crime stories, and a game guide map and ballot), and headed off for the fun.

“The fun,” as it turned out would come later. The first thing one had to do was navigate the crowds going in and out of small shops that were handing out clues—39 in all, including the one we snagged in advance on our way out of the marina. There was also a crime site that needed to be visited, and a Coroner’s Report, delivered live on Saturday noontime. and available later as a printed statement from “Murder Mystery HQ,” a/k/a the Chamber of Commerce.

It was a very busy Saturday. In addition to the need to negotiate the crowds lining up for purchases, lunch, and/or clues, one navigates around the 34 characters in the crime, who make themselves available for interviews. Eavesdropping on or participating in that activity is part of the fun (“How did you feel, Al, when you heard that your girlfriend Natalie was seen kissing your boss?”).

The fun appeared over drinks and dinner on our boat Saturday night, as we pooled our information and theories, debunked one another’s opinions, and formed new ideas.

We found out later, from one local, that the murder mystery always includes or paraphrases some actual events from Langley’s recent history. A theme in this years’ mystery for instance, pitted a “save the Sasquatch” organization against several hunters who were seeking licenses to kill or capture the beast. According to our source, this was referencing an actual controversy about how to handle a lone elk that had found its way onto Whidbey, and was heedlessly going about ruining people’s fences and gardens as it presumably sought its putative herd.

Our friends said their goodbyes after dinner, and handed us their filled-in ballots. We stayed for the second day of play and the final reveal on Sunday night.

When we woke Sunday morning, we decided that we had NOT solved the crime Saturday night, and needed more information. We made a list of characters to interview, and set about doing so after breakfast.

Sunday has the advantage of being less crowded: it’s easier to get to the shops, and the characters are more accessible for interviewing. One interview clinched it for us. We filled in our ballots and turned them in, with the better part of the day ahead for shopping and enjoying Langley hospitality.

Late Sunday afternoon, we walked up to the Langley Middle School, where we found a packed auditorium awaiting the results. Mayor Callison– unaccountably dressed in white evening wear– emceed the evening, announcing that the unofficial count of 2,800 registrants made this the largest group of murder mystery guests that Langley had hosted so far. From the requested show of hands, it was clear that people return to this event every year, and that there are a good number of newcomers every year.

The red curtain opened to reveal the full cast of characters. I.B Fuzz, the “Chief of Police” who was billed as the shortest ex-Texas Ranger, took the podium, and announced the solution. (“After ruling out our local suspects, it was pretty clear that one of our visitors did it, so…”) It turned out that our solution had been one of the 171 correct answers.

There are prizes for getting it right, of course: Every correct answer is eligible for a prize draw. After the first three prizes are awarded, the rest of the prizes are drawn from all of the ballots, so there are consolation prizes as well.

We didn’t win a prize, so we gave ourselves one: dinner at Prima Bistro. The small award-wining restaurant was awash with families and couples enjoying themselves and the French-inspired comfort food. The mayor and his wife were among the diners, so we complimented them on a job well-done. When he heard that we were boaters, he urged: “Come back when it’s warm and sunny.” There was nothing to gain by pointing out that, as full-time cruisers, the weather wasn’t as important as the passage and the destination.

When we returned to our boat, we were the only denizens of the outer dock, and a cold wind had picked up. On Monday, we set sail for home, secure in the knowledge that we had solved the crime and scored a great weekend with friends. Langley is safe.

For now.