Sunday marked the first time Satori has been in near gale winds in perhaps 20 years. Most of the sailing she’s done has been around the sound in good weather. I have a friend staying with me who is not only a competent river guide but also a very trustworthy individual. A friendship bond that goes beyond your typical bro. He’s the kind of guy who would rather take on the daunting task of being out on the front deck when shit hits the fan. He’s also been in some very hairy situations few can ever experience. Been charged by a griz? Yes. Been stuck in the middle of Patagonia with no one for miles? Yep. Deck handed for marlin off the coast of Austrailia? Uh huh. We used to call him WorldAngler but recently he’s known as PrimalAngler. Meet Ryan Davey.
Anyhow, there we were in the morning looking up the wind for the day. The day before we were looking at a high of 22 knots. Today, a gale warning and 25-35 knots in the Puget Sound. I thought of the times when predictions all fell short of actual and decided to press on. We rounded up another competent crew member right before casting off. Another capable fellow. He was by far the best ski partner of last season. We slayed the deep at Stevens Pass many times. Steep lines, big drops and high speed carving. Not in the groomed but on Cowboy Mountain. This guy made all other skiers look like they’re skiing bunny runs. He’s never sailed before but I had no doubt he could handle it. That’s all that mattered.
As we motored out of the marina it was apparent with the tilt of the other masts on the water that we were dealing with some blow. I thought maybe 20-25 at first but as soon as we headed into the wind and pulled up the mainsail and put a single reef into the sail things seemed a little more serious. We were gaining speed with just the main and once we cleared West Point’s protection the gusts were blowing much higher. Out in the shipping lanes I tried to turn into the wind and was heeled over so far that I was concerned that the tiller couldn’t handle it or we might get a gust that would blow us over too far. Either way things felt out of control. My crew did the best they could to help out and I was doing what I could to get the bow into the wind so we could reef again.
Since there were too many 30 knot gusts on my starboard tack, I decided to try heading downwind and coming back up on a port tack while letting out the mainsail to keep the wind from catching the sail. This worked well except when it came to jibe the boom came around in a split second and shock loaded the mainsheet. The mainsheet held, Ryan was at the mast with no harm done and we continued to come about until eventually we were in irons. At that moment Ryan was on deck and I was yelling for him to lower the mainsail but in the panic I was also yelling a confusing command. “Sail Down!” with arm movements eventually prompted him to start pulling the sail down and we were in the clear. “Okay time to motor out of this storm!” and we were on our way back to Shilshole. We measured on the wind vane 30 knot winds and I’m pretty sure there were higher winds in some of the gusts while our sail was up. Not sure how much but regardless we knew things were too much out of our control to continue. Once at the marina we were faced with 15 knot winds inside of the break-wall and I was concerned about getting back to my slip. I found a place at the end of M dock to park and chill out while we calmed our nerves and then Ryan and I started planning our approach to our slip.
“Stay really close to the windward side and we will fend off the leeward boats if we’re pushed into them”. Sounded like a great plan. I wanted to finish the day so we motored into the lane and came about into the slip with no problems. Lots of lessons learned that day. It’s only a matter of time before another day with near gale winds and another try for sailing with more control over Satori.
Something I didn’t really think about until after the accidental jibe was what could have been the worse case scenario. If the boom had lost the mainsheet from shock-load and went flying around to where someone was standing. That person could have been knocked unconscious and into the water without a life jacket. Had I not had Ryan and Peter as my mates I doubt Satori would have gone sailing that day. It was a very enjoyable experience even with a bit of adventure and risk. I have a lot to learn and a better arsenal of techniques to tighten up my skills.
Matt has a nice set of photographs from our San Juan Island tour and has allowed me to post some of them here: