2005 Seattle Reports

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Course Advanced Coastal Cruising; Canadian Gulf Islands
Date July 30 - August 6, 2005
Students: Mehrdad, Muriel, Daston and Kamron Sarmadi
Captain: Bill McClure

 Sailing in the San Juan Islands of the Pacific Northwest is unmistakably a sailors dream vacation.The nature is fantastic with special sailing challenges. Steep sided islands with deep deep water, (much of it over 400 ft deep) . Tidal rapids and strong currents through sweeping island passages. Remote anchorage's that test your ground tackle and your skill.

Preplanning each day's passage is a necessity. You must plan your schedule around the tides and currents in order to arrive where you want when you want. You must use your radio to keep abreast of the ship traffic in the passages where you cannot see more than a quarter mile ahead to the next bend. Safety is always an issue but here, where the water is 38 degrees F, the MOB drills become critically important. This class was a family affair. The father and oldest son were taking the class and the mother and younger son were along for a vacation. 

Day 1- We began our first day with safety and MOB lectures and discussion followed by a full checkout of the boat. Although Muriel was not taking the course I knew she was listening to everything, so I put her on the duty roster and she proved to be a very good sailor. After motoring to Anacortes with a trip to West Marine to replace our out of date flares, we had a great fish and chips lunch at the Cap Santo Marina Restaurant, and then to Safeway to stock up on food. By late afternoon we were underway to the islands. A five hour sail got us to Shoal Bay where we dropped anchor and sat down to a meal of barbecue chicken with pasta and salad, while bald eagles circled overhead and glided to a stop in the branches of a tree on a high cliff edging the bay.

Day 2- We had our morning lessons and then a full day of light air sailing to Friday Harbor. Sometime during the afternoon the USCG came along side with their blue light flashing. I was ready for a boarding, but they were just alerting us to new rules that required us to stay away from the island ferry boats. In Friday Harbor we had a great meal ashore (and showers). The kids made new friends and were netting shrimp by flashlight and would have continued all night if "Mom" had not called them in. We all slept soundly until the dawn and the sound of the first ferry leaving the dock.

There were otters playing on the dock when we awoke early on the third day. They had the carcass of a fish and were not eating it but playing tag with it up and down the pier. When I dropped down from the boat they both dove into the water and then watched me as I walked past.

We had lessons while Muriel (our almost student) went ashore for more provisions. A twelve mile downwind sail after a pizza lunch brought us to Stuart Island and a tie up alongside of a deep water mooring. A trip ashore with a hike to the island gave everyone an appetite for a great charcoal grilled steak dinner.

Day 3- The day started early with a clear sky and a light wind. We decided to take a run down the west side of San Juan Island and see if we could spot some Orcas. Two hours of motoring and the wind filled in from the north at 12 to 15 knots; no whales, but what a wonderful sail back. Four hours later we arrived at Roche Harbor, had an afternoon tea and a walk around the sculpture park. An hour motor and we anchored in Garrison Bay, site of the English camp during the "Pig War". Salmon and burgers on the barbecue. It was in the 90s on the east coast but here the sweaters came out as the meal was served and we all watched the sun sink behind the mountains.

Day 4- A good morning for lessons interrupted by the catching of five Dungeness crabs to be boiled for lunch. While some studied, others went ashore to check out "English Camp". After our crab lunch we left for Victoria Canada. Halfway across a wind contrary to our course and the shadow of fog on the horizon dictated that we motor the rest of the way. Victoria harbour was as welcoming as ever, and after a thorough search by the Canadian Customs people, we tied up the boat and went to watch the entertainment on the Causeway until the clock rolled over a new day.

Day 5- Started with breakfast at a sidewalk cafe overlooking the harbour, followed by a discussion about piloting. Back at the boat we planned the days crossing and reentry into the USA. The day was uneventful but the line at customs at Roche Harbor was quite long and we had a two hour wait. The delay provided a good opportunity to practice boat control under power. Holding a place in line, backing out of the way of the float planes, constantly jockeying for position with very large power boats. Once we got a place at the customs dock the clearing in was easy. We had dinner at the Haro Hotel and then the crew wanted another tour of the sculpture garden.

Day 6- We spent the night at the guest dock (with permission), at Roche Harbor and set off in the morning against a strong 6 kt. tidal flow. For awhile as we worked across the main current we were actually going backward though our knot meter said we were moving through the water at 6.2 knots. As we got closer to the shore of Spiedan Island we began to move forward and as long as we stayed close we made 1.2 to 1.5 knots speed over ground. It took us two hours to get out of the current and into San Juan Channel. Two more hours of sailing and we made the turn into the wind between Lopez and Orcas islands. Motor sailing for the next hour brought us to the pass into the Rosario Straits and thick fog. Horn signals, Radar and the GPS got us past two ferries, a tug and barge, and numerous small boats to a safe arrival on the other side of the straits.

It was an exciting conclusion to a successful week of learning and sailing.

Captain Bill McClure
Skyline Marina, Anacortes, WA
August 7, 2005

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