|Tonic crosses the Strait of Juan de Fuca with Sockdolager, in fog.|
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.|
|San Juan Islands.|
|Watching fog caress mountains.|
|Yeh Ming Tzu, my teak folkboat, in Nantucket Harbor in the 1970s.|
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.|
|Tonic emerges from a fog bank.|
|Part of Sockdolager's fog inventory. The rest includes bright navigation lights, a fog horn, and alert eyes and ears.|
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.|
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!|
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|
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.|
|Rapids in the channel, Speiden Island.|
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|
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)|
|Best li'l outhouse in Washington.|
|Sasquatch, standing very still.|
|The MV Phecal Phreak.|
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."
"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 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|
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.