Neah Bay

Everything in the last year has come down to the big question: Can Satori sail long distances? Can she motor until she runs out of fuel? Can she keep me and anyone else on board safe under most circumstances? Is she still a capable vessel?

You won’t hear very many people telling you that they have been to Neah Bay and back in a sailboat during a period of variable weather. We planned for a twenty-two hour motor all the way to Neah, with my dog Sasha and my buddy Ryan. My goal was to average five knots under motor, which included both an incoming and outgoing tide and west winds up to twenty-five knots. We left Seattle on Thursday around 3pm, fully loaded with food, beer, fuel and fishing gear. Fishing looked to be really good out there, with people targeting halibut and lingcod but also king salmon and flounder available. I decided to purchase an EPIRB to add to the arsenal of safety equipment kept on board. I really wanted radar but there just wasn’t enough time and budget to install it before we left.

Planning our passage through the Strait of Juan de Fuca - Photo by Ryan Davey
Planning our passage through the Strait of Juan de Fuca – Photo by Ryan Davey

We made great time getting to the eastern entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. There were winds up to twenty-five knots at one point. Somewhere around 3am we also encountered large cargo ships coming from our stern and had to be sure to keep the waves quartered on our bow so we didn’t get rocked too hard. At about 4am Ryan finally decided to try to get some sleep in the settee under some rough waves but about an hour later I encountered some pretty big seas and they were breaking on occasion. I’ve never been in any situation where the waves were so steep and powerful. I would hit a wave, drop off the other side, hit another one right away, drop off and the third one would come at a different angle and hit the boat hard enough to stall it out and stop any forward momentum. The prop would also come out of the water from rocking back and fourth so much. We were at a point where running downstream was a safer option but then we also decided to reach in closer to shore to try to get out of the gut of the strait. Although we didn’t turn back, hugging shore a little closer helped out quite a bit so we kept on going. Halfway up the strait we hit the great Pacific swell and started to navigate incoming rollers. They were steep because of the outgoing tide against an opposing wind but not big enough to stall the boat or cause us to consider turning around. At one point I found the sweet spot and was riding the waves comfortably with a nice rhythm.

Breaking seas, Strait of Juan de Fuca
Breaking seas, Strait of Juan de Fuca

We kept on motoring until we hit the final mark just outside of Neah Bay. Exhausted, I inflated the dinghy and motored poor Sasha to the rock jetty that protects the bay so she could do her long needed business. Too tired to cook or eat, I let out more rode on the chain anchor and backed it up with the second anchor and finally set the anchor alarm and crashed at hour twenty-six after leaving Seattle.

Docked at Neah Bay fuel dock
Docked at Neah Bay fuel dock

The next morning we woke up groggy and realized that there was a massive halibut tournament going on. We fueled up at the dock and were hurried off just in case a tournament fisherman came back. No room in the marina either. So much for checking out Neah Bay town. We motored out and started fishing just outside of the bay. There were several boats in every spot that seemed fishy. We hooked a couple of flounder and were glad that we had some fresh fish to catch, regardless that they were sole. After many hours of trying to drift and jig on the bottom, we gave up and headed back to the bay. Just as we were within a hundred yards from our anchorage, some jackass fisherman decided to cut us off and drop anchor, knowing that we were headed there. We picked the wrong time to visit Neah. Next time, just keep on going…then head left. After setting anchor I filleted both fish which produced plenty of fish to eat for the both of us. We called it a night and did another night of sleep before pushing out of the strait the next day.

Fillet the flounder. Photo by Ryan Davey
Fillet the flounder. Photo by Ryan Davey
Fresh caught flounder on the grill. Photo by Ryan Davey
Fresh caught flounder on the grill. Photo by Ryan Davey
Sasha happy to be on shore. Neah Bay
Sasha happy to be on shore. Neah Bay

The way out of the strait was pretty uneventful. Somewhere at the border of the two fishing regulated zones we encountered a huge amount of boaters fishing right on the border. I called into the Coast Guard to see what was going on, wondering if it might have been due to the sailboat races that were happening that day but didn’t get much information. I picked my line and headed into the crowd, hoping no one would change their position. After successfully passing the crowd we had more uneventful motoring in almost no winds and calm seas. Ryan crashed for a few hours and I made the call to head all the way to Port Townsend and anchor in the dark. Around 10pm we finally pulled up to the town front to scope out the anchorage. Too many boats there so we headed past the ferry terminal and found a spot close by away from any other boat. It would have been nice to have radar.

Fishing Trawler
Fishing Trawler
Anchored in Port Townsend
Anchored in Port Townsend

The next morning we decided to skip going into town after reading a good forecast for winds in the North Sound. We sailed off the anchorage in good style and then headed out of the bay and around the point, into the Sound. The winds died and so we motored for a short time, until the winds were ten knots on our hind quarter. I put up all sail and let Satori run downwind. We made great time heading south and it was apparent that we would be able to sail all the way to Shilshole so we kept on, a day early from our expected arrival. About two miles north of Shilshole the winds picked up and the seas became big, confused and rolling. At one point I asked Ryan to go forward and drop the jib. He did well considering we were on a broad reach and the jib was in the water and flogging. After that episode we were running downwind a mile from Shilshole on just the mainsail, with the staysail up but only in case we needed to turn up and have a foresail to keep pointing up. It’s the first time I have experienced such strong following seas and at times the stern would get washed out. It took some deliberate care to keep from getting caught broadside to the waves, which could have rocked the boat dangerously. Within a half a mile from the entrance we needed to make the final maneuver to drop the mainsail so we could get into the marina. The seas were breaking in parts, the swell was bigger than I wanted and I had to head up and get the main down. My plan was to first release the halyard on the downwind part, then head up and have Ryan pull the mainsail down with the correct timing. Once I headed up, he was able to drop the mainsail, and then head back down to get into the safety of the marina. Finally we pulled into the slip and it was all over. One hell of a ride.

Listening to WX
Listening to WX. Photo by Ryan Davey
Heading home under sail
Heading home under sail

Some retrospective:

What does it take to be a competent sailor? I’m heading to the ocean next year. Do I have what it takes? Well, proper seamanship has much to do with experience. I can’t say that I’m the best sailor but I feel competent after this trip. Satori’s engine ran strong without issue the whole time and I discovered exactly how dependable it is. The entire system is in great working order. All of her most recent upgrades work without any issue and I have a pretty good idea on what to do to get her even more comfortable and prepared for the great Pacific Ocean. I doubt I will be able to do another big trip like this one until next year. Until then I will keep the upgrades coming. I will keep making her even more seaworthy and keep taking her out to challenge my capabilities. As far as taking on crew, it’s best to find someone who is clean, organized, motivated, respectful and seaworthy. Perhaps this was the most important learning experience this time around.

Single-handing Shakedown Street

The last time I motored for longer than a couple of hours was back in September of last year. I didn’t trust Satori’s motor much because I knew it had not been kept up aside from the occasional oil change and radiator fluid. The muffler was leaking, fuel hoses were leaking and the freshwater intake hose was also connected to a joint I was able to break off just by grabbing it and breaking it. Since then I have completed the needed tasks to make the engine much more dependable. If I’m in a storm or becalmed and need to motor for twenty-four hours, I want it to keep on going. I spent the last two days testing some of the long distance motoring and so far all is well.

 

I left Seattle on Saturday morning around 8am. This time instead of backing Satori in idle reverse, I just pushed her out without any motor assist while the motor was in idle neutral. I think this is the best method so far for single-handing her off the dock. I motored up to Port Townsend in hopes to be able to sail around the strait and then into town. Winds were not favorable on Saturday so I took the time to raise the asymmetrical spinnaker and try to sail downwind back into town. With barely a knot of wind, it was great for raising it for the first time with the new snuffer tube. After hours of moving barely half a knot I decided to motor into the bay and lay anchor.

 

My usual navigation. Brought the bike along this time.
My usual navigation. Brought the bike along this time.
Deflated Spinnaker
Deflated Spinnaker

There were two boat anchored north of the ferry terminal. One large catamaran and another classic keelboat. I wasn’t sure that I would be staying in the harbor, mainly because I didn’t like the choices of anchoring so I dropped both anchors with a low scope and took Sasha to shore. I was greeted by a friend who happened to be in town for the Rhododendron Run; an annual 10k he and his family enjoy while camping at Fort Warded. After a long overdue reunion and a quick stroll to the wooden boat marina I headed back to figure out what to do about the anchor situation. After tying off the dinghy and working down below for about thirty minutes, I decided to check my depth and was confused by the reading. I read eighty-eight feet on the gauge and then upon looking out above I realized that I unhooked and was drifting from a fresh change of wind speed. I was fortunate that not only did I avoid a collision but also interfering with the ferries. Since I was drifting without any immediate emergency I simply pulled up both anchors and laid them on deck while I sort out the situation. At first I had some problems with my halyards being entangled while I’m hastily trying to get some sail up. Later I realized that the winds had picked up to almost twenty knots. I didn’t want to be racing around the point at five knots and heeling but I was also excited to finally have some wind! After sorting out the anchors and heading back into the harbor I dropped sails and motored into anchoring position. This time I paid out plenty of chain and hooked up equal distance from both other boats.

 

Preparing the dinghy - Photo by Porter Hammer
Preparing the dinghy – Photo by Porter Hammer

Looking out a couple of times in the night, I could see the catamaran a thousand feet away. My swing was only a hundred, maybe hundred fifty max. In the morning the catamaran was within two-hundered feet and I was a bit worried because there was no one on deck. When I took Sasha to shore he finally came out and called me over so I had a quick conversation. He expressed his concern that if the winds picked up and he drug anchor that we would collide. I was confused how he got so close in the first place, told him to keep an eye on things and that I would be departing within the hour.

Too close to the catamaran
Too close to the catamaran

After another stroll through town and a stop at the local café, I motored back to Satori and prepared her for departure. After pulling anchor, I raised the stays’l to get her moving with the wind and then raised both the main and jib which placed me right where I wanted her. No need for a motor when you have a wind coming off the shore pushing you right where you want to go. After passing the terminal in time to avoid a docking ferry, I headed out of the bay and around the point to head home. Winds were not blowing very strong and at one point I realized that I was heading downwind and the current was working against me. I raised the spinnaker which helped with keeping my speed above two knots but the ideal winds were also closer to the eastern shore and in the northbound shipping lanes. I monitored the traffic just in case I needed to jibe and get out of the way. The other benefit of being on the eastern side was that passing boat would be on the west side, which made it easy to head up to hit the waved at the proper angle. Heading downwind puts the mainsail and spinnaker in a place where you don’t want to be hit from a wave broadside as it will cause some serious thrashing and interrupts the momentum you have. It’s better to head up to hit a wave as you can sheet in and keep the thrashing to a minimum.

Spinnaker flying
Spinnaker flying

The only two vessels that passed while I was in the northbound lane were ferries. The first one was the Victoria Clipper, moving about thirty knots and stayed clear of me. The other was a vehicle ferry, which called me on channel sixteen to plan his passing and also to remind me how the traffic separation scheme worked. I agreed and repeated out plan without explaining my situation. “Thank you for making contact… We will pass starboard to starboard and I will maintain my corse and speed”. About the time of passing I decided that it was time to start motoring home. I wanted to be docked around dusk so I stopped pleasure cruising and started down the southbound lane. An hour later I hit twenty-five knot winds and white caps with wind to the bow. I did not expect the sudden change from high pressure and a little wind to full on wave diving. At one point the cruse ships were coming out of Seattle and one of them decided to cut corners. You know that reminder that I’m in the wrong lane? Well, I’m also reminded that no matter what, I’m in the wrong lane. You can’t play chicken with a cruise ship. I kept my course and passed the ship coming up the southbound lane within a half-mile and also surfed their waves from their wake. It was reminder that commercial vessels do not want recreational boaters inside of the traffic separation lanes and even cruise ships doing twenty five knots can go where they want without any repercussion, unless they collide with another vessel.

Northbound in the southbound lane
Northbound in the southbound lane

I did check with the Coast Guard about the situation and received a response from Mark Ashley, Director, Puget Sound Vessel Traffic Service;

“The Traffic Separation Scheme and Rule 10 of the COLREGS are established to provide order and predictability of traffic flow.  The scenario you describe broke down order and predictability and I am looking into it. Sometimes cruise ships desire to leave buoy SE to starboard when northbound to overtake other slower moving vessels.  I see that Grand Princess was overtaking Andrew Foss and that could have been a factor.   However, proceeding northbound in the southbound traffic lane with opposing southbound traffic is not prudent.  ”

Another couple of hours of pushing the motor at three-thousand RPM and hitting the twenty knot winds head-on and I was heading towards the green flashing buoy just outside of Shilshole Marina. I cut my speed down to three knots coming into the outside lane and then dropped to two when I made my turn to L-dock. I docked Satori flawlessly once more and put her back into marina mode. Another weekend adventure gone awesome.

Twenty-five knot winds and white caps
Twenty-five knot winds and white caps

Casa de Barco

I’m writing this entry from work today. Normally I would wait until I get home but I’m currently without wifi. You see, I finally moved to Satori and moved out of the house. Last Monday was the last day I had wifi access and it’s been a busy week since. Thursday and Friday I worked from home and was tethering internet from my iPhone because I had paid for seven gigabytes of hotspot data but I ran it out within two days. I guess you can consider me a high-bandwidth user, mainly due to the amount of internet is used for work. I even went through the effort of picking up a ubiquity bullet and antennae so I could boost signals coming from the businesses and other boats but surprisingly here in Seattle, there is nothing I can use sufficiently to surf the web. I guess the booster will get some use somewhere that actually provides free wifi. Ah Seattle, you amaze me with your tight-wad and paranoid ways. Fortunately Comcast provides internet to the marina. I absolutely despise Comcast with a vengeance but there is nothing else I can do. Pay the bastards and get back my badly needed internet or never work from boat again. Not an option.

Another great thing that has happened over the last week is some progress has been made on getting a new mainsheet installed. Satori can finally get back to sailing! I picked up a 4:1/8:1 block and cleat system for the traveler and XLS 3/8″ polyester double braid for the sheet. To measure the length needed for the mainsheet, you push the boom all the way out until it hits the spreaders and then multiply by eight (for the 8:1 system) and add twenty percent for extra line to work with. I may shorten it a bit when I do the end-to-end splice after taking it out for a test drive. It seems much longer than I need and can’t figure out why I needed to add twenty percent. Anyways, I’m happy with the setup and also the placement of the boom in the gallows cradle. Since I’m not going to use the center cradle anymore I can make my bimini arch higher which will shed water properly. So far I like the way it is installed with the exception of the snaps I installed. They keep coming unsnapped because of the amount of pressure on them so I think I will replace them with common sense fasteners so it’s drum tight and secured. I can’t wait to make up the next part this week.

Bimini with solar panel attached.
Bimini with solar panel attached.
New mainsheet set out of the way while parked.
New mainsheet set out of the way while parked.

On the list of projects is also some lee cloths for places where I can keep gear safe while underway. I made the first one which contains books, my violin and camera gear in the settee. I bought some really nice netting and 1″ polyester webbing and some nice stainless eye straps and clips. This will not prevent small items from escaping through the sides but will keep most things from falling out when the pitch is steep enough. Mainly just peace of mind for when the boat is underway and so I can keep things there without having to stow them.

Settee lee cloth
Settee lee cloth

Last Thursday I took the day off from moving as I’ve been going hard every day for the last month. A little rest and relaxation on an eighty degree day and I also climbed the mast to check out the masthead and spreaders. Everything checked out just fine. I also noticed that my slip neighbor has her boat turned away a little bit and Satori was sticking out quite a bit on her stern so I made some adjustments to pull her in a little more with a similar angle as the other vessel.

Satori parked at Shilshole Bay Marina
Satori parked at Shilshole Bay Marina
Shilshole Bay Marina panorama
Shilshole Bay Marina panorama

So far the live aboard life has been great. I took a shower for the first time since I installed the new shower drain and it worked great. The shower curtain is a quick drying hydrophobic fabric used on tents and sleeping bags and when I shook the water off it dried within an hour. The bathroom is all varnish and it also dried quickly so I am glad that it all worked out as planned. I don’t planning on showering on board very often but it’s nice to know I can and that the whole system works much better. There are some kinks to work out, like refinishing the shower pan board. It still smells like the old septic that was leaching into the wood back before I remodeled the bathroom but in time that one will also be ticked off.

I’m also back to commuting to work by bike. I did my first ride since last summer and it took only forty-five minutes. Another co-worker is commuting from Ballard and we’re planning on coming up with the best route to avoid the gridlock that occurs downtown around Union. Going from Shilshole to Denny is simple; take Dexter from Fremont. Getting through downtown is a different story. With proper planning I’d bet I can cut the commute down to thirty minutes. It’s not a matter of how fast I ride as there are still a number of stop lights to sit through.

Anyways, that’s all I have for now. Thanks for stopping by. Ask me anything that’s on your mind.