Thursday, April 21, 2011

Locks, Salt Water, Storms and Blakeley Harbour

"Stay on the damn boat, Donn," I say to myself as I struggle with the sail ties.

I'm crouched on top of the pilot house.  The four to five foot waves that Brigadoon is currently plowing into are at least seven feet below my boots.  My left arm is around the mast as I wrestle the mainsail onto the boom and get the sail ties on.  Behind me, my trusty First Mate, Kerry, is keeping Brigadoon into the wind. I don't know it at the time, but she is pretty scared that I'm going to go flying into the Sound and she won't be able to get me back on the boat.  As I get another sail tie around the main, I look forward, just in time to see the entire bowsprit of Brigadoon disappear beneath an oncoming wave.  Water crashes over the fore deck.

This is stupid.

"Stay on the damn boat," I remind myself. I finish up and get down to the relative safety of the main cabin house and finally the main deck.  As I return to the cockpit, Kerry looks a little shaken but seems to be standing firm.  Seeing that she needs a break I suggest, "Why don't we go into the pilot house and drive from there?  I bet it will be more comfortable."

She agrees.  Soon we are driving Brigadoon from the pilot house, plunging along, with four to five foot swells off our starboard beam, as we motor south of Blakeley Rock on course for Blakeley Harbor.  Have I mentioned before how important that pilot house was to us and how much I love it?  So, how did we get here?

The day had started off early and hectic, with us getting some final housekeeping done before leaving our dock.  Finishing laundry, we checked the weather (50% chance of rain, winds out of the north 10-15kts), and prepared Brigadoon to leave the dock.  The plan was to take our first trip through the Hiram M. Chittenden locks, enter Puget Sound at Shilshole, head south to Blakeley Harbor on Bainbridge Island, and spend the night on the hook in salt water. The route looks like this.

By the time we left the dock we had been working steadily for about three hours.  I was already somewhat tired and harried, not making the best decisions nor moving as I should.  I felt clumsy.  I noted this and reminded myself to slow down.  This is not a rush.  We are not in a hurry.  It's a nice day.  Enjoy the adventure with my trusty and beautiful First Mate.

It took us about an hour to transit the Fremont and Ballard bridges and get to the small locks.  It was our first time in.  Things were a little wonky (line handling wise) but nothing was too difficult.  We got through rather easily only to have to wait for the Burlington Northern bridge to raise too.   Soon, however, we were out the channel and into the sound, just off Shilshole.  Apparently, there was a sailboat race.

The winds were good and solid, at 10-15 from the north.  The waves were a good three feet and coming on brisk.  Kerry took the wheel and I busied myself getting the mainsail up.  

First lesson -- rig the whole boat ready for sail at the dock, Donn.  Don't wait until you are out in waves to do things you could have done at the dock.  After a bit of a struggle on the decks and at the mast, the main was up, we shut down the trusty Yanmar and headed across the shipping lane and towards Bainbridge.

We found ourselves headed south soon, running along the island and directly before the wind.  I'm still leaning how the boat handles running under main and jib but, Brigadoon did fine. She kept about 5 knots due south on the main and a sometimes pulling sometimes limp staysail.  I'm not comfortable running that deep in shifting breezes.  An accidental gybe can damage the rug, so I had to keep a close eye on the main and the wind.  Fortunately we sit well below the boom, so the danger from being struck and killed by a gybe is greatly reduced.

Note to self -- design and rig a gybe preventer for the next trip.

The run downwind was pretty smooth, aside from the following seas and the associated rolling of the boat.  Kerry sat below, watching our progress on our PC navigation software as I played at the helm, one hand on the wheel and one on the mainsheet.  I felt like someone should have taken a picture of that.

During that sail, I saw just over 7 knots on the GPS.  This is not really a slow boat.

Soon, we were east of Blakeley Rock and it was time to get the main down.  The plan was to drop sails in the Sound, then motor into the Blakeley Harbor.  In retrospect, it was not the best of decisions, considering that the waves had grown, along with the wind.  Hence, that's how we find our stupid hero, struggling with the main, on top of the pilot house, in close to five foot seas, with a concerned Kerry at the helm.  A better plan would have been to start the engine and motor/sail into the harbor, then drop sails in the wind shadow of the surrounding hills. Instead, after the battle with the sail on top of the pilot house and trying to gather it all up and get it stowed, we were in the pilot house, finally.  We were also exhausted.

Did I mention that, though I was wearing a good suit, and a nice PFD, that I was not tied in to the boat?  We had not rigged jack lines yet.  I didn't think them necessary right now.  They were.

Note to self -- install jack lines before out next trip out.  The 4000lb nylon climbing webbing arrived yesterday.  I expect the shackles today or tomorrow.  I get the mounting hardware for the mast and bow pulpit on Saturday.

Another note to self -- get the lazy jacks operating properly so dropping the main is much neater and safer.

After wallowing our way through beam seas under power and giving Kerry time to recover from driving the boat in such conditions, we finally made it into Blakeley Harbor.  It was pretty quiet there and, after motoring around a bit, we found a good spot in from of my friend's house.  

Kim lives on the shores of the bay.  He had recommended a good spot to drop the hook.  Finding it acceptable, I did.  That is his house and boat in the background.  He said he'd try to come out and visit if he could. Unfortunately his home was dark the whole time we were there.  Perhaps, next time.

So, how to make my First Mate happy after she had slogged through heaving seas on a cold and rainy day with me?  First off, start the Dickenson stove and get the boat warm.Then, cook her a nice, hot, vegetable curry noodle dinner, along with a nice hot cup of tea.  

We sat there, in our cozy cabin, floating in the middle of the bay, filling ourselves with a good hot meal.  After the trip here, it was heaven.  

All that was left was to enjoy the evening, settle down, get good and warm and enjoy our time together.  However, I could not settle down so...

With my Kerry happy and cozy, I decided to take a little rowboat tour around the bay.  This was also necessary because I had inadvertently tossed the beautiful turned teak wooden cover to our chain hawsepipe overboard.  It was floating slowly to the west, into the cove.  I got the dingy into the water, and did try to find it, but to no avail.  I did get a walk on the beach, a good row and some good pictures of Brigadoon at anchor though.

my kerry standing watch

Seattle, in the background, across the Sound

Brigadoon, looking sleek and fast at this angle

We had a quiet evening, only having to do some depth checking and some minor adjustments of our anchor position once before going to bed.

In the morning, you keep your crew happy by making a hot breakfast, so I played ships cook once again.  It was a cheese and spinach omelet and hot tea before we started our day.  The tide was pretty low and getting lower and, being in the shallower part of the bay, we decided to head out and get a good start on the day.

Now it's up to the business end of the boat to lift about 200' of chain and a 35lb anchor with a manual windlass.  It takes about 25 minutes of rowing on a large handle to get the chain up, and my back paid for it later for doing it wrong, but it's a simple system and it works.  

We have discussed installing an electric windlass and still may but, for now, this is doable and, besides, it's already on the boat.

With the engine running and Kerry at the helm, I finally got the anchor stowed and we left the glass smooth quiet of Blakeley Harbor.  We will be returning soon.

The Sound was great!  The wind was 10kts from the south.  I decided to experiment with the sails and try a different downwind tactic for our trip north to Shilshole.  I left the main alone.  I didn't even use it.  I just unfurled the foresail, which is the largest of the jibs on the boat.  Under just that jib alone we were soon cruising along at 3.5 kts, shifting between a starboard reach and a dead run from astern the whole way.  An interesting thing is that, even with a beam reach, and the only sail up being ahead of the mast, she had a very balanced helm.  I hardly had to touch her at all. This was an unexpected and delightful surprise. We had a wonderful, relaxing, sail north to Shilshole and the entrance to the ship canal.

The transit through the small lock again was great.  Kerry said that we felt like rock stars, with all the spectators. I saw them as witnesses to any screwups we did but, I'll accept her take on it.  

If you look closely, you will see Kerry is pointing behind me here.  It was for good reason.  It was at the trawler sharing the small lock with us.  They came in unprepared.

This guy had problems tying off to the wall, resulting in his pretty huge trawler drifting towards us.  Fortunately the lock staff was on top of it and got him sorted out pretty quick. The thought of Brigadoon smashed between that huge boat and the wall wasn't a good one.  

However, soon we were on our way back to our dock on Lake Union.  Raising the Ballard and Fremont bridges was a breeze this time.  The docking went OK (I came in a little fast -- keep tuning this, Donn) but, no harm, no scuff, no foul.

And we were home.  Actually, our home was in it's berth.  

Agenda for the following weeks?  No big adventures for a little while; well, maybe a daysail or two.

1) Get the jack lines built and installed so we can use them whenever we move ahead of the cockpit, especially if there is any weather and especially at night on single watch.
2) Get the lazy jacks working right so I don't have to struggle with a big bag o'sail when we drop the main.
3) Practice, practice, practice those overboard drills so Kerry and I are confident we can get each other back on the boat if the worst happens.

It was a great weekend, full of real challenges and some good lessons.  It was also ended with a great sail back to Lake Union.  I couldn't ask for a more trustworthy boat and a better First Mate and partner to have at the helm while I hang on to a boat in water like that.

And in closing, yes, I live on a boat with a woman.  This is a price of admission.  There are other benefits.

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