Here you will find tales of voyages past and present on our trusty Pacific Seacraft Dana 24, "Sockdolager," and our Bigfoot29 powerboat, "Raven," from Port Townsend, Washington, USA. In 2009 we sailed north from Puget Sound up the west coast of Vancouver Island to the Queen Charlotte Islands (now called Haida Gwaii.) In 2010 we went back to the west coast of Vancouver Island. In July 2011 we left the Northwest, sailed to Mexico, and in March 2012 we crossed the Pacific to French Polynesia, then on to the Cooks, Niue and Tonga. We spent several months in New Zealand, and in May 2013 loaded Sockdolager (and ourselves) on a container ship for San Francisco. In June and July 2013 we sailed north along the California, Oregon and Washington coasts, and in August we arrived home. In October 2016, Sockdolager found new owners, and we began cruising on Raven, a unique wooden 29' powerboat. In 2018 we cruised up to Glacier Bay, Alaska, and back. But in 2024 we had the chance to buy Sockdolager back (we missed her), so we sold Raven. We hope you enjoy reading about our adventures as much as we enjoy having them. (And there will be more.)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Right after July there's Fogust.

Tonic crosses the Strait of Juan de Fuca with Sockdolager, in fog.
“Contemplation is nothing more than 
Pondering whether or not the sun is a nihilist.” 
 ~ Lo Fu, Beyond the Fog, translated by John Balcom

We’ve been out buddy-boating in the San Juan Islands, with our friends Carl and Patti Kirby. Two Dana 24s in home waters! Sockdolager and Tonic cut a wide swath of fun. It felt good to be back aboard our little floating home for a cruise.

Sockdolager's homey interior.
And - big news! Good Old Boat magazine is publishing my six-part series on setting your boat up for singlehanded (or shorthanded) sailing.  The first installment of two articles is in the September issue, and you can read one of them, about mental preparation, for free by clicking here and then clicking on "Sneak Peek" just above the cover logo. The series will run through the May-June issue.

San Juan Islands.
Up here in the Pacific Northwest, people are more tolerant about inclement weather than people in most places I’ve lived, except for Alaska, where, once on a frigid day when 26 inches of snow fell sideways in 100 mph winds, the only concession made was to move the school district’s gym classes indoors. No, I’m talking about that murky maritime miasma, those industrial strength walls of airborne mashed potatoes that give this month its nickname in these parts. Fog from San Francisco to British Columbia is neither gauzy nor gossamer, it’s thick enough to shovel. But when it weaves its fingers through water channels among mountains, it’s beautiful. In fog you can sometimes see the wind blowing.

Watching fog caress mountains.
Oddly enough, mists or vapors were once thought to be poisonous and to carry contagions such as plague and cholera. From ancient times to the 19th century, the “miasma theory” held sway over beliefs in Europe, China and India. It wasn’t until the discovery of germs and germ theory that the terrors of “night air” receded.

Yeh Ming Tzu, my teak folkboat, in Nantucket Harbor in the 1970s.
But fog can still hold terror for the mariner. I remember being lost in fog on my wooden folkboat back in the 1970s. Swift Long Island Sound currents carried us toward a small island with a big rocky shoal. I couldn’t tell which side of the island we were on, and, not wishing to be shipwrecked, found myself all ears, alert for the sounds of surf or ships, and ready with the fog horn. Also wishing for someone to please hurry up and invent a magic black box where you could press a button, and bingo! Your precise position, madam.

My radio direction finder gave me only one “null” when its swivel top pointed at the lone beacon ten miles away, and I needed a second null to cross with it to update my position. Grabbing one of those small transistor radios the size of a pack of cigarettes that teenagers used to hold to their ears, I tuned it to WABC AM radio in New York, and when that station’s strong signal grew weak as I rotated the radio, it gave me the second null. Thank you, Cousin Brucie, I whispered, and plotted our position.

Eastern entrance to Deception Pass, fog pouring through.
Now there’s miniaturized GPS and radar and other delights, but the way fog always made me feel back then is etched in my memory. The photo above is of the eastern entrance to Deception Pass, four days ago. Currents can get to 6 ½ knots, so we timed it for slack water. At the other end was a 50-foot powerboat barreling along at flank speed. Yeeks! Our new broadband radar picked it out like an approaching cannonball, and we were ready with fog horn, lights blazing and a right proper stinkeye when it swerved into view.

Tonic emerges from a fog bank.
Every boat needs a fog horn, though big ships and powerboats like the one in Deception Pass might not hear it. One of the best protective devices you can have on your boat is a good radar reflector, hoisted in the rigging. Cheap metal ones like ours seem to work as well as expensive ones. If you have a wooden mast and stuff it full of aluminum foil like the Pardeys describe, it can augment your boat’s radar signature, but it doesn’t work with metal masts.

Part of Sockdolager's fog inventory. The rest includes bright navigation lights, a fog horn, and alert eyes and ears. 
Modern fog horns have devolved into earsplitting compressed-gas squealers that require frequent replacement if you run into a lot of fog, or plastic tubes with the blowhole so near the sound hole that it deafens you. The gas ones are loud and effective until the gas runs out, at which point they sound like dying banana slugs. Not that banana slugs make noise, but I needed a picturesque northwest animal metaphor here.

So, let’s examine a revolutionary fog horn technology that’s easy, endlessly available and probably so effective that neither the Coast Guard nor your local chandlery want you to know about it:

An old bugle makes a good fog horn.
Get yourself a used bugle, trumpet, heck, get a tuba if there’s room aboard. It doesn’t have to be in good condition, just playable on a couple of notes. I guarantee that once you Google your bugle and learn how to pucker your embouchure, you’ll be getting exactly the type of attention you seek, namely, people will say, what the hell is that, and then do their best to avoid the awful racket. The best part? In fog, nobody can see who’s making the noise! Of course if you’re an erstwhile Dizzy Gillespie who happens to sail in these waters, please accept my apology now. Jim is still recovering from the two-note “concert” I played for him all the way across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. But we were heard and obeyed, weedhoppahs.

Did I mention it was foggy? We left Port Townsend on the outgoing tide, at 6:00 am with Tonic following close behind because they have no radar, and we didn’t see land until we reached our destination. At the mouth of Admiralty Inlet we paused to wait on the sidelines of the shipping channel as a big ship plus a tug and barge passed unseen, their basso profundo horns going BOOOOOOOOOOOOOP, vibrating our sternums. I noticed how much white sails blend in with fog, and how well tanbark sails stand out. Of course at night, all bets are off. And then, after all those hours of staring into the murk and at the radar screen (and did I mention how rough it was? Six foot seas in tide rips, vertical as the ones off Oregon,) and like a voyage through a tunnel, we emerged from the fog into full-blown tourist season at Friday Harbor.

Sockdolager at Friday Harbor. It's good to have our rowing dinghy back!
The sky got so clear that at first, having been conditioned by staring alternately at the radar and into featureless gray, that we mistook it for the blue screen of death. But Friday Harbor cheerfully welcomed us with open arms and bottles of wine.

Yes, bottles of wine. Alan Oberlander, an experienced sailor who lives aboard a well-kept Falmouth cutter named Sookie and writes a lively blog called Art of Hookie, has been one of those people we’ve corresponded with but hadn’t yet met. Here’s a photo of Alan and his friend Emily, who were delightful and excellent conversationalists. Alan supplied us with wine from his brother’s winery, and I’m here to testify that was some fabulous plonk.  

Alan and Emily
Our friends from San Diego, George and Annette Easton, who make the best pasta in the universe, happened to be vacationing in Friday Harbor. They stopped by with wine and cheese and an invitation to a freshly-caught crab dinner, which turned into a hilarious evening of more good conversation and music at the Roche Harbor home of some people we’d never met and who weren’t even there. No, we didn’t break into their house or anything, it was being used by the parents of friends of friends. But if we had all been fifteen years old, we might have been in beeeg trouble.

What took Jim and me by surprise on this cruise was the number of people who recognized us: A boat swerved over and hollered, “Are you the ones who went to the South Pacific?” Several dock-strollers said, “Hey! Sockdolager!” (and they pronounced the name correctly, impressive!) An affable Aussie blinked at me in surprise, then blurted,  “I know more about you than YOU do!” Which made me laugh. My favorite was a woman on the dock exclaiming, “Aren’t you those writers?” Yeah, I wanted to say, all sangfroid-y, we’re those writers. Instead, I laughed and danced a tiny jig.

It caused me to recall a little debate I’ve had several times with various friends:

Friend: You’re famous!
Me: No we’re not.
Yes you are.
No we’re not.

So, to have people stop by like we were some kind of celebrities was, if you want to know the truth, a real blast. And a reminder that we are lucky to have some of the coolest blog readers, followers and friends on the planet. Meeting you is a lot of fun.

Another thing August in the San Juans is known for is not much wind. We left Friday Harbor and motor-sailed toward Stuart Island, at the far northwest corner of the zigzag line on the chart separating US from Canadian waters.

We spy Speiden Island, on the way to Reid Harbor at Stuart Island.
Check out the rapids! The channel north of Speiden Island was having a maelstrom moment.

Rapids in the channel, Speiden Island.
Sockdolager was moving through the water at 5+ knots, but our speed over the bottom was a crawl.

Carl and Patti, being the cagey sailors they are, sneaked Tonic up the side of the channel and passed us with nonchalant ease. The rascals.

Stuart Island’s commodious Reid Harbor was active with boats, but there was plenty of room for two Dana 24s to anchor.

Tonic and Sockdolager at anchor, Reid Harbor
And nighttime brought a Supermoon, which explained the extreme tides.

A visit to Stuart Island isn’t complete without the 6-mile hike through dense forest to see the lighthouse at Turn Point.

Jim, Patti & Carl on a hike to Turn Point. (Photo taken by Karen)
And besides the terrific view at the end, there were other rewards, such as the best outhouse we’ve ever seen, bar none, anywhere. It was workmanlike and neat on the outside and a real palace on the inside. Being an outhouse, though, its art collection went largely unappreciated by patrons with intact olfactory receptors.

Best li'l outhouse in Washington.
And Sasquatch hunters, your search is over. Lurking near the outhouse. Who knew?

Sasquatch, standing very still.
As long as we’re dancing around the subject, the owners of an “interesting” Roche Harbor business went a little overboard naming their boat, but it fits. The MV Phecal Phreak buzzes around Roche Harbor doing free holding tank pumpouts. Their motto is “We take crap from anyone.” The two young men operating the boat told us they can earn a hundred fifty a day in tips. It’s a brilliant business model. Do the icky job nobody else wants for free on big, squeaky-clean yachts, and watch the pity money pour in. At Friday Harbor, the honey wagon is named MV Pumpty Dumpty. Cute, huh.

The MV Phecal Phreak.
Alright, let’s cleanse the image palate, shall we? How about these Roche Harbor dahlias.

Jim went for a saunter to watch the chaos at the Roche Harbor Customs dock, which was jam-packed with many boats coming in from Canada. At least 5 more boats were lined up in the harbor waiting for space at the Customs dock, while others buzzed around between them. The air was full of fumes and a few tempers were fuming, too. Jim came back to Sockdolager, which was tucked away in a nice quiet spot, with a good story: "You wouldn't believe it. This 35 foot powerboat went to pull away from the dock without pushing off the dock. Its stern swept too close and the dinghy caught on a big dock cleat and was ripped right off the stern."

"Good grief!"

"And then a big trawler, probably 45 feet, came straight at the dock, I thought it was going to crash. But about ten feet off the dock it stopped, gracefully pivoted, and made an eggshell landing. No drama."


"But the best part was when this little girl looked up from her position on the bow. There was a man on the stern with a dockline. He and the little girl were nonchalant. I hadn't noticed who was driving. The little girl called, 'Good job, Grandma!' Now that was cool."

Jim knew about a sweet little stop at a small village on Westsound, Orcas Island, called Olga. Not many people know about it. We two Danas squeezed in for a quiet night. Shhh.

One of the local sea captains is immortalized on a wall, inviting creative selfies.

Anacortes is a delightful town with great restaurants, shops and a thriving marine industry. Its marine hardware store is unique and reminiscent of chandleries you used to see several decades ago. Lots of sailors say it’s their favorite place, and we agree except for one thing. Living a stone’s throw from a refinery that produces 120,000 barrels of oil a day, experienced a major explosion in 2010 with fatalities, and was cited with 44 safety violations by the state, Anacortes residents know that some paychecks come with great risk.

Part of the immense refinery at Anacortes.
We can all wish things were different, but most of us use products from refineries like this, so perhaps examining our own consumption patterns a little closer while holding industry and its regulators accountable, for the sake of future generations, would be a good start.

We motored past several anchored tankers, including this one, one of the first double-hulled tankers in the Alaska fleet. I remembered calling it on the VHF radio back in 2006 when I was crossing the Gulf of Alaska in Minstrel, my former Dana 24. The officer of the watch very kindly gave me a weather report, and when I asked how good Minstrel’s radar signature was, he said they first noticed us as a tiny blip on their radar at 16 miles, which surprised me since I only carried an inexpensive aluminum radar reflector. It was confirmation of the effectiveness of such a simple device.

Tanker Polar Adventure at anchor, Anacortes
I had never been down the Swinomish Channel to LaConner before, though Jim, Carl and Patti had. It reminded me a little of the Intracoastal Waterway on the US east coast, except with fiercer currents. There’s a reason people arrive early at the guest dock: to get an inside spot, which we did. The current’s so strong you have to tie off your wheel or tiller, or the rudder will slam around. And the entertainment is spectacular as long as you’ve got a ten-foot dock between you and the rampaging boats in the channel. Boat-watching for clever names netted us “Incrabnito,” “Aquaholic,” and “License to Chill.” A 50-foot powerboat pulled in, revved its engines, and completely engulfed the dock in thick black smoke. Its name? “Sea Mist.” I was appreciating that special irony when a loud voice hollered at someone over the radio, “Hey idiot! Why doncha be more polite?” Jim and I looked at each other and laughed.

Next morning as I sipped coffee in the cockpit, a woman on the boat opposite us stepped gingerly onto the dock. She had endured a wild couple of missed approaches and a crash landing the previous evening, which featured heroic line throws by her boyfriend and his son and a posse of yelling men on the dock. The morning was calm, early, and quiet. “Nice morning,” I said.

“Yes,” she ventured, and looked back. “It’s my boyfriend’s boat. Well, not really, he’s thinking of buying it and the owner let us take it out for a week.”

“Wow, generous owner. Is your boyfriend going to buy it?”

“I think so. It’s so homey inside. Just like an RV.”

“Yeah,” I said. “An RV without brakes.”

“Yeah,” she said nervously.

After a lovely quiet evening on a free mooring on the north side of Hope Island, it was time to transit Deception Pass and cross the Strait again. Having fog lurking about, it was another good chance to practice bugle solos, and I wore out my lips.

When we returned home, I was delighted to get a call from Lin Pardey. She and Larry drove Brownie Lite up from California and are enjoying catching up with friends in Port Townsend. Lin is a presenter at the Wooden Boat Festival, and so are we! Check out the schedule, it's worth a trip to Port Townsend. Lin and I had a wonderful visit. Here she is in my studio as we discussed various writing projects.

We're going to present a slide show at the Festival, on Sunday September 7 at 9:30 am in the Cascade Room, about our voyage to New Zealand. It's called "Lessons Learned Sailing a 24-foot Boat from Port Townsend to New Zealand." Following us will be Lin and Larry, then Colin Angus (went around the world on self-powered vessels and vehicles) then Steve Callahan, who spent 76 days in a life raft and was a consultant for the movie "Life of Pi," which will be shown at the Festival. We hope to see you there!

It’s good to be back home in our beautiful northwest waters.