Mystic's Adventures

04 September 2014 | Bahia de Los Angeles
08 July 2014 | Santa Rosalia, BCS
24 May 2014 | Puerto Ballandra, Isla Carmen, BCS
22 September 2013
22 September 2013
30 August 2013
03 August 2013 | Port Townsend, Washington

Time To Cruise

30 August 2013
Joan Marie
My first reaction to my own writing is often, “Seriously, did I really write this?”

I read my first draft of this blog and thought I was going to fall asleep with the monotone drone that reminded me of the economics teacher (Ben Stein) in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off reading roll call. “Bueller, Bueller, Bueller.” You get the picture. Rewrite time.

There is a certain amount of cruising that involves getting from point A to Point B, long distances, i.e. ocean crossings, short passages —a couple of or a few days – and little day jaunts that take you to a new destination each day or every few days. These little jaunts take you to places that you sometimes don’t want to leave or places where one night is enough. It all depends on your mind set at the time; do you want constant activity or a quiet place to hang with few boats and/or people around.

After twelve days at the dock in Port Townsend, it was time to make ourselves scarce and head out. We needed to see how things were working with the recent repairs and more importantly it was time to do a bit of adventuring. The fog had lifted relatively early at the dock on Monday, August 5th, however as we reached the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, and, I use a capital “S” there; it is to be respected, it was still very foggy. There is a vast amount of ship traffic with four channels converging just outside of Port Townsend, which I refer to as the vortex. Our initial desired destination was Garrison Bay, which is adjacent to Westcott Bay near the top San Juan Island. (See the picture above, courtesy of Navionics.)

I mention this because last February, we had elected to upgrade our electronics while attending the Seattle Boat Show. This included our radar and chart plotter. In addition, we decided to add AIS or Automatic Identification System to the mix. This piece of equipment transmits and receives live data regarding vessel traffic so that other vessels can see you and you can see them. There is a registration/licensing process. It is a requirement for commercial vessels and not so much for pleasure, but anyone you talk to these days that owns a pleasure vessel, has installed the equipment. It integrates into our chart plotter as well as our VHF radio.

We had used the AIS leaving Astoria and as we eventfully worked our way into Port Townsend. It is one piece of electronic equipment that I would not live without these days on the water. On this particular day, we had visibility down to one quarter of a mile. In addition to keeping a watchful eye on the radar, the AIS alarm will go off when a vessel comes into a specific programmed range. I was blowing the manual fog horn every two minutes for 4-5 seconds. We could hear the ferries in the distance and around us even though we couldn’t physically see them. It made for an interesting couple of hours as I would be calling out “Thirty seconds until the next blast.” and a response of, “Roger, that”, and then it would be “Blasting” while trying to plug the ears at the same time.

Somewhere across the other side of the Strait, the fog got lighter and we could start to see a half mile, then a mile, until we had unlimited visibility. We did have one call from an outbound freighter who saw us on his AIS, checked in, and confirmed our course. We were working our way across a shipping channel at this point. At first, he was going to have us change our course, then changed his mind and had us stay on our course. We heard the freighter past our stern about 15 minutes later. It was eerie considering we couldn’t see the ship at all.

Our progress was slow that afternoon as were bucking a current as we made our way along side of Whidbey Island and further north. The wind wasn’t much help either. We realized that Garrison was a bit too far to make before sundown and decided to find our way into Griffin Bay, which is on the southern inside tip of San Juan Island.

We dropped the hook as the sun set and settled in for the night. There were a couple of other boats in the same anchorage, but it was a quiet place. Part of the beach is private from what I understand and expensive homes dot the shore with their own docks as well as a community dock that is filled with both power and sailboats. Further down there is a national park, which marks the location of the American Camp—more on that history later.

It was decision time the next morning. Where to next? Garrison Bay? Friday Harbor? We did know that we wanted to find a place to hang out for the upcoming weekend –it was only Tuesday at this point, but as it goes, anchorages tend to fill up early in the day around these parts. We decided to tuck into the south end of Shaw Island in Parks Bay for the night across from Friday Harbor. We were feeling lazy and it was about a little over an hour away and since it was getting near noon time, we figured we needed to get going if we were going to get anywhere that day.

As it turned out, it was a nice choice. It was sunny and warm and for the first time we had arrived somewhere rather early in the afternoon and had no agenda or anything in particular that needed our attention. Ron decided that it was 2:30 beer-o- time so we flopped on the deck reading for the next couple of hours.

Our next jaunt in the morning would take us to Friday Harbor. Again, we were feeling lazy and we weren’t going very far; all of about three miles this time across the channel. There had been the usual summer fog in the morning, so no hurry to get across.

Our plan was to stay just a night in Friday Harbor and then head around the corner to Garrison Bay via Mosquito Pass and Roche Harbor. Since we had been spending so much time thus far in marinas, it was a nice change of pace to be anchoring out every night. The dingy and outboard were getting us where we needed to go ashore.

Friday Harbor is one of those busier places in the San Juan Islands. But, let me back up. . .it is busy in general cruising in the Pacific Northwest nowadays, especially the last few times that I, Ron, we have done any cruising up here. It is not usual for it to look like a mini freeway of sailboats, powerboats, ferries, freighters, tugs, float planes, tour boats, – I know I am leaving something out—running around the islands in the various straits and coming to and fro from Canada.

Coming into Friday Harbor is one constantly moving target – you and everybody else, as listed above. The float planes are especially fun. I’m convinced that they like to have a little fun with the boats as they take off and land on the water.

We found a place to anchor in the very busy anchorage as someone was leaving and then ended up re-anchoring as we checked our distances between the boats anchored around us. As is customary – or at least for some – we stay on the boat usually for a couple of hours to make sure that the anchor is not going to drag and we are properly “set” before going ashore. We have a big Rocna anchor on the bow and it gets the job done. Eventually, we headed ashore to check out the town and picked up a few additional items at the grocery and hardware stores, as well as West Marine. It was a bit rolly well into the evening. It made for interesting entertainment as traffic was moving in and out of the marina and the ferries were going about their business. It seemed to settle down around ten o’clock.

So, finally we decided that Garrison Bay would be our place of choice for the weekend. It is a nice anchorage, although very crowded on any given day with good holding for the anchor, plenty of hiking, dingy trips, and Westcott Bay oysters.

But a quick side bar on anchoring-- we like to check out the neighborhood, so to speak before we pick a spot. This means you cruise the anchorage very slowly and find a spot in between boats while checking that you have plenty of room and depth and you won’t be swinging into anyone. It used to be that you could take your time with this process.

Nope, nada, not anymore. We are fast learners these days. It goes something like this:

JM: Just before entering the anchorage and coming up the companion way from below, “The Windlass (power) is on and here’s the control (hand held).
Ron: “Okay, you take the helm”—slowing the boat down and looking around.
JM: Already looking around, “That looks a good spot over there between the trawler and the sailboat. If we drop in between the two, parallel to their sterns, and then we should drop back enough. There should also be plenty of room and we won’t fall too far back on the boat behind us.”
Ron: “Yeah, that looks good. Try to steer towards the sailboat more and try to head more into the wind. I’m going up front to get everything ready. What’s our depth?”
JM: “Thirty-feet,” as Ron is moving to the bow.
JM: Oh, shit (to myself). Then yelling, “Hurry up, someone’s coming in and heading towards the same spot.”
Ron: “I’m going as fast as I can.”
Ron: Pointing toward the port side and motioning to me to head the boat that direction, “Neutral!”
JM: “Already in neutral!, Twenty-five feet!
Ron: “How much?” Looking around to make sure we are stopped.
JM: “Twenty-five feet, drop the damn anchor!”

And, so it goes. We were trying to anchor in Garrison and had two other boats come in around us and dropped their anchors while we still in the process. He who drops the anchor first has griping rights when the next person comes in, drops too close, and swings into them later to say ‘hello’. We realized that it was going to be close quarters for the weekend—mind you this was only Thursday – more people would be coming and going.

But, it was nice to be back in Garrsion as our mouths were watering for Westcott Bay Oysters. It was too late to go over that evening, but we did actually have an agenda for the next morning— at 11 am to dingy over to get oysters.

Obviously, we like oysters and when they are fresh and from right around the corner, there are wonderful. Crack them open, a little Tabasco, and, okay you get the picture. This is a you-pick-them-out- place, in that you walk up the dock, look in the fresh salt water sorting bins, pick what you want, weigh ‘em, take them over to the little office and pay. We also grabbed fresh clams for later that evening. Some of the best calms that we eaten in a very long time.

Since we were on a roll, we decided to take a dingy ride through Mosquito Pass up to Roche Harbor. It’s about two and a half miles.

Okay, so take Friday Harbor minus the ferries, but add really huge, and I mean really huge, expensive, yachts (that could qualify as ferries), one very crowded anchorage and plus one very busy US Customs dock. Totally chaos, and that’s just on the water! We wound our way through the anchorage, noted the long queue of boats checking in for the customs dock, and found the packed dingy dock.

Roche Harbor is a tourist attraction for both those folks on land and on the water. Rumor has it that you may find yachts owned by celebrities here on occasion. But, for the most part you will find both power and sail boats here, more the former than the latter. It has changed a lot during the years with the addition of shops and condos, but the hotel is there as is the marina. Haro Strait separates the island from the international waters into Canada.

The next day we elected to hike over from the dingy dock in Garrison Bay and as always, it is a nice hike. It’s about six miles round trip and it doesn’t make you feel guilty wolfing down a second ice cream cone in two days!

Garrison Bay also holds it own history with English Camp. Back in the 1859 there was an event called the Pig War over the boundary between the US and Canada. The result kept the international boundary in Haro Strait and the US retained the San Juan Islands. The British occupied this camp for twelve years and the National Park Service currently maintains it as a landmark. A few of the original buildings have been restored and remain and it is nice place to wander around and read the various markers that tells its history.

The American Camp is in Griffin Bay that I briefly mentioned before. Like the English Camp, it was occupied during the same time by the Americans.

We spent four days in Garrison relaxing and exploring, but it was time to move on.

Next destination-Canada.

Vessel Name: Mystic Island
Vessel Make/Model: Island Packet 38
Hailing Port: Astoria, Oregon
Crew: Ron & Joan-Marie (aka Cricket) Ash
We retired, but joked that we are just 'tired'. Mystic is a relatively new boat to us and we are still working out the kinks. We've started a shake down cruise in the Pacific Northwest before heading south to warmer weather in September 2013. [...]