Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Voyage #4: A Frightening Night at Anchor

Last week, we left Eolian at anchor in Friday Harbor for the night. Read on and join us for a scary sleepless night anchored off Hope Island...

The next day, we rose and dawdled, since the next planned destination was back to Blind Bay. This is a short trip, and so we had plenty of time to wait for favorable tide. We had chosen to return here because strong southerly winds were forecast, and we wanted to take advantage of the good holding ground and protection from southerly winds that this bay affords. Once again we went all the way to the back to reduce wave fetch. We didn't do any more crabbing... We had actually reached the point where we we getting tired of crab.

The wind never materialized. But the forecast continued to call for it, but now as gale force westerlies in the Straight of Juan de Fuca. We planned to return to our Hope Island anchorage for the night, since it would provide us with shelter from what would be northerlies (the wind comes in the Straight, and then splits when it reaches the mainland, going north thru the San Juans, making a southerly there, and going south thru Admiralty Inlet and Skagit Bay, appearing as a northerly there).

Having learned our lesson on the way north, we timed our exit from the Islands so that we would have a favorable tide in Guemes Channel and Swinomish Passage. This meant that we left Blind Bay at 10:00, expecting to find southerlies in Rosario Straight. Didn't happen - once again it was dead calm. In fact it looked calm all the way across the Straight of Juan de Fuca and as far south as we could see. We indeed did enjoy the tidal effects going thru Swinomish Passage, making 8 kt over the ground with the engine idling. Note to self: ALWAYS TRAVEL WITH THE TIDE.

We anchored in nearly the same spot on the south shore of Hope Island. I didn't describe this earlier, but there is a narrow finger of water 2-3 fathoms deep which runs part way along this shore, surrounded by depths of 2 feet or less. We were anchored near the east end of the "deep" channel. One other detail I didn't mention earlier was that the tidal current in the area had us facing west. We were tired and went to bed a little after dark.

At 22:30, we were awakened with the howl of wind in the rigging. It had finally arrived, and indeed we were protected from the worst of it. We were seeing 10-15 kt, with the occasional gust to 25, all out of the west. So far the plan was working, but neither of us could sleep so we sat in the saloon or the cockpit, keeping watch and talking quietly. By 23:30, we were both quite tired, and things had not changed - the wind continued at about the same strength from about the same direction, and the anchor continued to *not* move. I think we may have both dozed off.

Suddenly, Jane said, "We're loose!" I bolted to the cockpit and sure enough, we were sideways to the wind and facing the island. I started going over in my mind what we would have to do - when a boat is sideways to the wind, it is drifting, and there wasn't much deep water to the east of us. But as I watched, I realized that despite our unusual attitude, Eolian was not moving. My next thought was that we had *already* run aground... but the depth sounder showed 12 feet of water (we draw 6). I was stumped. As I sat there, groggy from the sudden awakening, Eolian shifted some more, and soon the wind was coming over the *stern* at 25 kt. Now this was truly weird! I went forward and checked: yes, we still had the anchor, and the rode was streaming aft from the now east-facing bow. Strangely, it was nearly slack most of the time.

It must have taken me an hour in my muddled state to figure it out: the tide had changed, and Eolian was ignoring the wind and trying to position herself pointing into the now westward-flowing tidal current. In effect, the wind and tide were nearly canceling each other out. Finally, I started steering her in the tidal current, and was able to reliably get her pointing either north or south, but she wouldn't stay there. It dawned on me, at last, that once she was sideways, I would need to steer *backwards* if I wanted her to go farther around. So I got her pointed at the island (the way to turn so that the anchor chain wouldn't get wrapped around the keel), and held her there until a gust pulled/pushed her a little farther around. I spun the wheel around the other way, and voila! Eolian was pointed into the wind again. Things quieted down (she's much more streamlined with the wind coming over the bow) and there was no more radical heeling and slewing around. I found that if I kept the rudder hard over to port, she was in a meta-stable situation. Eventually I became satisfied that we weren't going to go aground, and that Eolian would continue to point more or less westward, into the wind. I went back down into the saloon, where Jane and I talked quietly, and then more quietly. I think we fell asleep at about 04:30, and we awoke from our uncomfortable sleeping positions at 06:30, as light was returning to the sky.

We made preparations to get underway after a cup of coffee. The anchor was *really* hooked good - it came up with a ball of mud 2 feet in diameter which took quite a while to hose off. Nevertheless we were under way the earliest of the trip: 07:30.

Using the staysail and the mizzen, we sailed the length of Skagit Bay, but had to go to motor sailing as we made the S turn into Saratoga Passage. Finally, the wind died and we dropped the sails.

After a long day, we arrived at Everett at 16:30. Tired as we were, our timing was such that a tug with a log boom slloowwllyy moved across the entrance channel to Everett, just as we arrived. So we turned slow circles until he cleared the channel. We treated ourselves to a dinner at the 'other' Anthony's - an upscale southwestern grill. It was great food too. Interesting that we both favored this over seafood...

We slept well that night.

We left Everett at 08:15 the next morning. Sailing south from Everett was bitter-sweet. It was one of the best sails of the trip (downwind tacking in 15 kt), but it was the last. We were still tired (kind of jet-lagged), and the cool sunny day and ideal sailing conditions served to put us in a strange state of mind - sad, contemplative, content, satisfied.

We tied up in our slip at Shilshole at 15:30. I forgot to hook up the shore power cable until 17:30 - I guess that means the trip was a sucess.

I know it sure felt that way.

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