Voyages North

22 September 2017 | Posted in Seattle
08 September 2017 | Posted at Spencer Spit, San Juan Islands
08 September 2017 | Posted at Spencer Spit, San Juan Islands
17 August 2017 | Olympia
22 August 2016 | posted at Prideaux Haven, Desolation Sound
29 July 2016 | Posted at Hakkai, Fitz Hugh Sound
29 July 2016 | Posted at Hakkai, Fitz Hugh Sound
29 July 2016 | Posted at Hakkai, Fitz Hugh Sound
08 July 2016 | Posted at Ucluelet
08 July 2016 | Posted at Ucluelet

Alaskan Cruisers in the San Juan Islands

15 October 2017
Photo: Osprey anchored in Reid Harbor, Stuart Island

"There is one word of advice and caution to be given to those intending to visit Alaska for pleasure, for sightseeing. If you are old, go by all means, but if you are young, wait. The scenery of Alaska is much grander than anything else of the kind in the world, and it is not well to dull one's capacity for enjoyment by seeing the finest first." - Henry Gannett, member of the 1899 Harriman Alaska Expedition.

After six trips to SE Alaska and back, I'm tempted to agree with Gannett's sentiment. Alaska is on a different scale than anything else I have seen: miles of old-growth forests, mountains so steep and so close to the water that they make the Cascades look tame, glaciers that inspire awe, brown bears that inspire fear and totem poles that inspire appreciation for another culture. And our re-entries to the Salish Sea have sometimes been jarring as we adjusted to crowded anchorages and constant chatter on VHF radio channels. So when Steve and I decided to spend two weeks cruising in the San Juans after Labor Day, I wondered how those Alaskan trips would affect our enjoyment of this much vaunted cruising ground.

Normally we experience the San Juans as stops along the way to or from Alaska or northern British Columbia, not destinations in themselves. A cruise to the San Juans would be an opportunity to see more of the islands.

Going after Labor Day turned out to be a good decision. Crowds were down, but seasonal attractions were still open. Almost every State Park we visited had mooring buoys available, and other places had space to anchor. The weather was warm but not so hot we needed our awning.

Here are some other things I appreciated about the San Juans:

Short distances between destinations. Even if we left an anchorage at noon, we were always at our next destination in time to enjoy it that afternoon. And the destinations are numerous. A two-week trip left places to visit on our next trip.

Convenient Provisioning Stops. At the small stores of Shaw Island, Roche Harbor and Deer Harbor, we found fresh produce that wasn't wilted. Perhaps only someone who's spent time cruising in the isolated areas of British Columbia and Alaska can truly appreciate that.

Blind Bay Market, Shaw Island
Photo: Interior of Shaw Island General Store

And then of course there's Friday Harbor on San Juan Island with its banks, post office, restaurants and other stores. It even has a good independent bookstore: Griffin Bay Books. The town is centrally located and just a short trip away from almost everywhere in the San Juans.

Scenery. Just as South Sound has Mt. Rainier on its east, the San Juan Islands have Mt. Baker to their east. It can be jaw-dropping beautiful at sunset or on a clear day when the mountain peeks over a rock to surprise you as you sail by.

Mt Baker
Photo: Mt Baker

Interpretive signs in parks. This may seem like an odd thing to praise but in the wilderness of B.C. and Alaska we have to do our own research. We spent two nights at Garrison Bay, part of the San Juan National Historic Park that commemorates the Pig War of 1859 and the joint occupation of San Juan Island by Great Britain and the U.S. from 1860-1872. I was impressed with the quality of the interpretive signs and the videos. The main message -- that by staying calm and following established policies, it's possible to avoid war -- seemed perfectly tailored for today.
English Camp at Garrison Bay
Photo: The English Camp at Garrison Bay, San Juan National Historic Park

Another place where I appreciated the interpretive signs was on the trails of Obstruction Pass State Park. Their messages about glaciers sculpting the land reminded me that the processes we saw in action in SE Alaska were the same ones that formed Puget Sound many years ago. The San Juans aren't that far from glaciers.

Hiking Trails. Compared to bush whacking through swamps and climbing over windfall as we have in BC and Alaska, hiking San Juan trails were a pleasure. For Steve who jokes he's working up to 2 knots they made walking possible. And we didn't need to watch out for bears.

Hiking Trail in Stuart Island State Park
Photo: Hiking trail on Stuart Island

On Stuart Island we hiked to the old schoolhouse and browsed in the tiny museum. At Garrison Bay we hiked up to the English cemetery and admired the rare Garry Oaks. At Sucia Island we walked to the china caves -- sandstone "sculptures" formed by water and wind located just a short distance from our anchorage in Echo Bay.

China Caves
Photo: China Caves on Sucia Island.

Fishing and Crabbing. We didn't get Washington State Fishing Licenses or bring our pots and poles because we would only be out for two weeks. But in Garrison Bay we spent an evening with six other boaters feasting on crabs they had caught that day.

Rural Setting. We found just enough funkiness to remind us that we were in a rural area: bags of goat feed on the porch of the Shaw Island General Store and the quirky Boundary Pass Traders shop just off the trail on Stuart Island. It's just an old wooden bureau next to the trail near the schoolhouse. You pick out a shirt from the trunk, trying on the samples hanging from the clothesline for size, and mail your payment when you get back to civilization. We both bought long-sleeve T-shirts with dramatic pictures of flying ospreys on the front.

Shopping on Stuart Island
Photo: Boaters shopping at Boundary Pass Traders

Two weeks in the San Juans were just what we needed after a summer of frustrating medical appointments. Puget Sound boaters are fortunate to have the islands so close. The tree-covered islands with their multiple state parks and protected harbors are a great short-term destination. If we have another chance to go back to the San Juans during a "shoulder season," we'll take it. But we hope to be back in SE Alaska, or at least on the northern British Columbia coast, next summer.

Deception Pass. September 16, 2017.

22 September 2017 | Posted in Seattle
Elsie Hulsizer
Photo: Deception Pass bridge from the west

We could see the Deception Pass Bridge from a long way out in Rosario Strait. A muted sun shone through smoky clouds and the sea was glassy smooth. Today was forecast to be the last of good weather for a while. As a result we had decided to take the inside, more protected route through Deception Pass then south down Skagit Bay, Saratoga Passage and Possession Sound instead of our usual route across the Strait of Juan de Fuca and south through Puget Sound.

We had left Friday Harbor at 9:00 am that morning, a time we had calculated would allow us to get to Deception Pass a half hour before the slack-before-ebb at 1:43 pm.

I was uneasy about transiting Deception Pass. I grew up believing Deception Pass can be dangerous, with fast currents and whirlpools capable of dashing boats to pieces on the rocks. The only way to be safe, I believed, was to go through close to slack water. Steve was less concerned. He reminded me that we had had easy transits of Seymour Narrows, where the currents flow at 12 knots compared to 8 knots in Deception Pass, even when we'd gone through an hour away from slack water.

We compromised on a half hour before slack: early enough to ride through while the current was still flooding, but late enough to avoid the swiftest currents.

The first thing that struck me as we approached the Pass was how impressive it was. Tall rock cliffs rose on both sides. The spans of the bridge soared across the pass.

As we approached the entrance, my confidence rose. The water looked flat, and I could see other boats going through ahead of us. We left Deception Island to port and then started through. Soon we were racing by the shore, earlier than planned by 15 minutes.

To starboard a stream of people walked along the beach. Others lined the bridge watching from above. Deception Pass is a major park with campgrounds, parking lots and launch ramps.

As we passed under the bridge, the currents picked up and started swirling -- not whirlpools but strong enough so that Steve had to struggle with the wheel to keep us on course and on the right side of the channel.

I was trying to photograph turbulence meeting smooth water when I heard Steve swear. I looked ahead to see another sailboat motoring directly towards us -- against the current in the center of the channel. Steve moved to starboard to keep as far away from the boat as he could. I gasped to see a wall of black rocks uncomfortably close to starboard.

What was the boat's captain thinking, I wondered, to go against the tide? It was a small boat, powered only by an outboard, not the sort of boat to fight strong currents.

The currents grabbed us and swung us to port, toward the oncoming sailboat. Only one person was on deck, a tanned looking man probably in his 40s wearing a baseball cap squinting into the sun as he steered. I expected him to turn to starboard to avoid us but he kept on straight. Steve struggled with the wheel, and at the last second Osprey straightened, out of danger.

We swept by the boat, whose helmsmen gave us a friendly wave. "Go right! Go right!" Steve shouted at him, pointing at the opposite shore.

"Oh thanks," the helmsman said as we swept by -- as if we were just giving friendly advice. A few minutes later I looked back and saw the boat had moved slightly to the right but was still near the middle of the channel and making only slight progress against the flood. The helmsman seemed oblivious to the danger he had put both our boats in, oblivious to the navigation rule requiring boats to keep to their starboard in narrow channels, and oblivious to the rule requiring power-driven vessels to alter course to starboard to avoid collisions.

A few minutes later we exited the pass and I gave a sigh of relief as the current slowed to near nothing. Ahead we could see tree-covered Skagit and Hope Islands -- safe anchorages. I had been right to be nervous about going through Deception Pass, but not because of the current. A careless boater had almost done us in.

Although this is the closest call we had in our two week trip to the San Juan it wasn’t the only stressful interaction we had with other boats. We saw powerboats that didn’t yield to sailboats when they were sailing and boaters on collision courses turning to port rather than starboard, risking confusion. Washington State Boaters Education isn’t working.

From the Navigation Rules Inland and International. U.S. Department of Homeland Security. United States Coast Guard. COMDTINSTM16672.2D (free on line)

Rule 9. International Steering and Sailing Rules. Narrow Channels. A Vessel Proceeding along the course of a narrow channel or fairway shall keep as near to the outer limit of the channel or fairway which lies on her starboard side as is safe and practicable.

Rule 14. International Steering and Sailing Rules. When two power-driven vessels are meeting on reciprocal or near reciprocal courses so as to involve risk of collision, each shall alter her course to starboard so that each shall pass on the port side of the other.

Lessons in using mooring buoys. Spencer Spit and Obstruction Pass State Parks.

21 September 2017 | Posted in Seattle
Elsie Hulsizer
Photo: Twisted lines on a buoy.

Spencer Spit, Lopez Island September 7-8, 2017.

The engine was running, the navigation instruments were on; it was time to leave. It would be easy. We had no anchor to pull up; we were tied to a buoy.

I uncleated the line from the starboard bow cleat, then looked down to make sure it was free before pulling it through the buoy ring from the port side. But what I saw made me tie the line back again. The line had twisted back on itself so many times it looked like a Spanish turnbuckle.

We were at Spencer Spit State Park on Lopez Island, tied up at one of a long line of buoys running alongside the north side of the spit. We had arrived the afternoon before, and taken the last free buoy, an old style park buoy made of a white-painted tire with a metal bracket and a ring on top. To keep the metal from gouging the side of the boat (not an issue with new-style buoys), we had tied it as close to the bow as possible. Then, to give us more ammunition against chafe from the strong winds forecast that night, we had looped the end of the line back down through the buoy ring and back to the starboard cleat.

Now all four strands of the doubled line were twisted together. Untangling it wasn't going to be easy.

The strong winds had never materialized. Instead, the wind had died during the night and we had drifted with the tides around the buoy. I had woken during the night to hear occasional gentle taps from the buoy, but didn't think anything of it.

Fortunately, unraveling the line wasn't as difficult as we feared. We were able to pull the end of the line through the cleat, then untwist it by reaching over the side and unwinding it. But it took awhile. And it would have been easier if we'd had two lines with separate ends instead of one doubling back.

Spencer Spit
Photo: Boats riding on buoys at Spencer Spit, salt lagoon in foreground. Smoke from eastern Washington forest fires.

Spencer Spit is a long sand and gravel point extending from Lopez Island east toward Frost Island. The spit is formed and maintained by currents bringing sand from both the north and south and meeting in the middle. As the spit builds up and narrows the passage between it and Frost Island, the currents going by speed up, squeezed between spit and island, ensuring the passage stays open.

Boats can moor on either the north or south side of the spit depending on the weather.

When we went ashore, the salt lagoon at the base of the spit was filling with water as the tide came in. Blue herons hunted for fish, flocks of gulls flew back and forth and hundreds of beach crabs scurried in the sand.

We found one problem with the north side of the spit: ferry wakes. A steady stream of ferries went in and out Thatcher Pass, heading to and from Lopez, Orcas and Shaw Islands. One day at Spencer Spit was enough.

Obstruction Pass State Park. September 14, 2017

Obstruction Pass
Photo: Boats tied to mooring buoys at Obstruction Pass State Park

"Our first free night on a state parks mooring buoy," Steve announced as we prepared to take a mooring buoy at Obstruction Pass State Park.
Since purchasing a year's pass for Washington's Marine State Parks, Steve had been keeping track of how much we'd "used" of the cost of a pass, adding up the money we would have spent on park mooring buoys and docks if we hadn't bought a permit and comparing it to the cost of a state parks pass.

The night before at Sucia Island State Park had been the breakeven point.

Although we are used to anchoring in far off places like Alaska and Haida Gwaii, taking a mooring buoy is easier than anchoring plus boats on buoys occupy less space and can be located closer to shore. They are also better for the environment compared to an anchor that can tear up fragile eel grass beds.

We had reached Obstruction Pass after a brisk sail south from Sucia island, flying down the coast of Orcas Island under jib alone, then rolling up the jib in time to motor through the narrow winding Obstruction Pass. Obstruction State Park occupies a small rocky peninsula between Obstruction Pass and East Sound and provides three mooring buoys in a small nook. We had been skeptical when we saw it on a chart, thinking it wouldn't be protected enough or large enough, but were pleasantly surprised when we saw it.

Steve brought Osprey alongside a buoy and I easily threaded the line through the buoy ring and tied us up, this time not doubling it back through the buoy.

We sat back in the cockpit and relaxed, enjoying the warm sun and the views of Orcas Island's rocky shores. Beyond the park in East Sound, the wind still howled, but no wind ruffled the water in the nook. A group of kayakers had just landed on the shore and were busy carrying their boats up the beach. We watched a sailboat come in and take the buoy next to us.

As we sat, we heard repeated gentle thuds as the buoy bumped against Osprey's hull. Although the land blocked the wind, waves were coming around the corner from East Sound, causing Osprey to bounce up and down onto the buoy.

"We need to tighten the line," said Steve.

We pulled in the lines tight around the bow cleats. The boat continued bouncing up and down on the buoy. Steve looked at a powerboat two boats away. "Look how long their line is, maybe we need to let the line out. " We let it out, but with no wind to pull the boat off the buoy, it still bounced up and down.

A man on the boat that had just arrived saw us fiddling with our line and went up to his bow to point out his arrangement. Instead of two lines leading from each side of the bow, he had only one leading off the anchor roller down to the buoy which sat politely below the bow out of reach of the boat. Neat, but Osprey's anchor roller wasn't wide enough for both anchor and line. We had no choice but to lead the buoy lines through the bow chocks, which were farther back from the bow than on most boats, exacerbating the problem.

mooring buoy tie-up
Photo: A boat at Obstruction Pass tied to a mooring buoy by a line coming off the anchor roller.

We started the engine, untied the buoy and motored off to the side to anchor. There was plenty of room and although we had to anchor farther out toward the channel than the buoys, we were still in the protection of the small peninsula.

Our buoy problem dispatched, if not resolved, we took the dinghy ashore to explore the park. A map on shore showed a surprising complex of trails for such a small park and we chose one that hiked up a hill and along a steep cliff on the shore of East Sound. Looking down on the sound, we watched waves rolling south and heard their crash on the beach below. Above us wind roared through the tree tops. I was glad we were in a protected anchorage.

East Sound
Photo: East Sound from the trail at Obstruction Pass State Park

We woke the next morning to flat seas shimmering under a clear sky. As we motored to Friday Harbor, Steve said, "Maybe we could move those chocks forward next winter to get the buoy away from the boat."
Vessel Name: Osprey
Vessel Make/Model: Annapolis 44 sloop
Hailing Port: Seattle
Crew: Steve and Elsie Hulsizer (author of Glaciers, Bears and Totems and Voyages to Windward)
Elsie and Steve Hulsizer have sailed northwest waters since arriving in Seattle via sailboat from Boston in 1979. [...]
2017: local cruising including South Puget Sound and San Juan Islands 2016:north up West Coast VI, across QC Sound to central BC coast 2015: trip to SE Alaska 2014: Seymour and Belize Inlets through Nakwakto Rapids 2013: SE Alaska and back. 2012: from Seattle up the west coast of Vancouver [...]
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