Heavy Weather

The sun is not rising until about 7 am these days so we had a leisurely rise and shine, got off a couple of emails, and listened to NOAA: 15 to 20 knots with some rain in the afternoon. It was very low tide just after dawn when we pulled out. Just as well as going under the Indian Island Bridge is always terrifying for me; my lousy depth perception says the mast will hit and we’ll be destroyed, even when low tides gives us another 9 vertical feet to fool around with. Jack the Skipper plowed ahead unfazed. Raised sails out of the channel, opting for one reef and the staysail.

NOAA got it wrong again: by the time we off Foulweather Bluff on Kitsap Peninsula (opposite Mutiny Bay on Whidbey Island), the only boat under sail save one hugging the shore into Hood Fjord aka Canal, it was blowing from the south against a flood, i.e. very choppy. At Point No Point (opposite Useless Bay) it was worse, with the wind unimpeded across the vast fetch of Admiralty Inlet. So we were dismayed and encouraged to see about fifty racing boats of all lengths rollicking toward us, spinnakers unfurled, often dipping in the water, pushing the limits, safe in their numbers and large crews. It should have gotten better at slack tide, but no. At one point when Jack was pinching we hit 48 knots apparent wind, which had to be 42 true! Aurora handled it with cool aplomb. For the first time, we installed the drop boards and tethered ourselves in the cockpit, thankful for all lines leading back.

I downed a couple flax muffins to settle my stomach as we tacked back and forth for a couple of hours criss crossing the path of a tug and tow whose forward motion was much slower than our speedy zigzags but velocity made good identical. (In the picture you can see the tiny tug between the staysail and main.)
Every twentieth wave reached us in the cockpit so we were drenched by the time we pulled into Kingston, having aborted our cruise to Blake Island. After tying up in an empty double but too short guest slip with tremendous difficulty, I found a 40 foot slip and got some reinforcement for our tie up. Passing on the good deed received, I spent the next 30 minutes helping a gorgeous Hans Christian dock against impossible stiff winds in the Port of Kingston.

After a good night’s sleep, I awoke to a brightening sky, Jack’s coffee, and the maritime forecast from NOAA. There was a small craft warning with breezes expected to reach 25 knots and reports of rain all day, which usually means there will be insufficient wind to blow the clouds away. So with huge spots patches of blue sky to the west and north we set out. As we lifted the main with the leftover single reef and opted for the staysail, a rainbow dropped down to light up Point No Point. We switched off the engine to enjoy the south wind, the broad reach, and the the sound of the boat surfing over the following seas. What a morning!

Our initial starboard tack would take us into the middle of Admiralty Inlet and a second, port tack would bring us home. After yesterday’s zigzags this was refreshing. But winds steadily mounted well beyond 25 knots as we flew north. Jack managed the helm with his usual aplomb even when the wind gusted to 53 knots on the gauge and on another occasion when Aurora cut through the froth registering 9.3 knots, the fastest we’ve ever done.

We heard a coffee mug from breakfast jump from the sink to the cabin floor while the fire rings flew off the stove. We’d not thought it necessary to lay a jack line along the deck nor to bring up the drop boards to close the hatch. Lesson learned: these things must be done early in the game, before it’s too dangerous to go below. We tethered ourselves in the cockpit and enjoyed the ride despite it all. No traffic problems. An 82 ft ocean-going yacht the AIS identified as “Sans Souci” hugged the shore and the super rapid Victoria Clipper, a catamaran ferry, raced across our bow, both northbound. An hour later, we encountered a 800 ft tanker coming south and went onto a fairly uncomfortable beam reach to let it pass. The captain, however, made a early sharp turn toward us, a clear signal that we could go back to a broad reach and safely cross the shipping lane perpendicular to his route. These are the kinds of signals that pleasure craft make in crowded waters but such a gesture from a large commercial vessel would be rare. This captain must have known a thing or two about sailing; we felt well taken care of.

By the time we reached Oak Bay there was still 40 knots of wind. We realized that we’d gone the entire trip – on a Sunday in early October – and not seen a single sail boat or pleasure craft of any kind. At that moment, there appeared a lone windsurfer, wetsuited black against a black and white sea.

We brought the engine to life with a turn of the key but ran it at a slow idle to let the waves push us into the cut between Quimper Peninsula and Indian Island…at over 5 knots. As we approached the ever terrifying bridge, Jack told me to sit down and close my eyes. Next thing I knew it was “Okay!” and we were floating in the bathtub of south Port Townsend Bay, several hundred feet from our slip.


1 Response to “Heavy Weather”

  1. 1 hrippey October 8, 2007 at 6:12 am

    WOW Skipper Jack and Baggywrinkles! What an exciting tale of adventure on the hig seas. Totally captivating, scary and exciting! I know we will take you up on your invite to sail with you.

    See you back in Port-land.

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