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.
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
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.
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.
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."