Monthly Archives: March 2015

Our First Cruise: Difficulties in the Ballard Locks

Natalie and I went for our first cruise on Violet Hour this weekend. It turned out to be a really challenging one! Saturday there were high winds (24 knots) on the Sound with a small craft advisory till 3pm.

But before that the real difficulties were in the Ballard Locks. The small boat locks are closed for renovation in March, so we had to use the big locks. The big locks are exactly that – really big. They’re designed for barges and big tugboats and such. We’ve been through the small locks a few times but this was our first time going through the big locks.

Sailing on the Sound in 24 knots.

Sailing on the Sound in 24 knots.

The locks had a strong 1-2 knot current flowing west out of Lake Union, and we had 10-15 knots of wind pushing us from SE as well. I think it was low tide in the Sound, and recent rains must have raised lake levels – because there were some really strong currents in and around the locks.

Waiting for the Locks to Open

We waited 20-30 minutes for the locks to open, with 2 other sailboats and 6 or 7 powerboats. When the lock operators made their announcement over the loud speaker, we couldn’t hear it over the wind. I think I heard “larger boats go first” though. We were the second to arrive, and I thought locks convention was to wait your turn and go in the order you got there (excepting commercial traffic, which there was none of). But as soon as the locks opened everyone started rushing for the entrance. The two sailboats that were after us went in before we could get there and then a motor boat cut us off but it turned out they were bailing out in order to let us go in first.

Entering the Locks

The current pushing from behind meant it was difficult to stop. We had tried to raft up to the waiting pier but even though the engine was in neutral the boat kept moving at 2 knots for 100-200 feet. I’ve dealt with current in open water before, and know what the books have to say on it – correcting for current affecting your course, speed / time to destination, etc. But never in a docking situation – most marinas don’t have any current, let alone 2 knots, unless you’re on a river.

I didn’t want to try reverse because we have pretty significant prop walk to port, and were doing starboard side docking (which is what the locks was requiring everyone do). Reversing might have thrown our stern out (but in retrospect this is what I should’ve done).

The two sailboats in front of us stopped at the end of the concrete locks pier for some reason and were being walked forward by locks operators, which meant we were running out of runway and had no operators available to help.

I decided to try stopping at the first rope bollard they have, but brought the bow in a bit too much and then when turning back out the beam rubbed into the wall. Normally that wouldn’t be a big deal, but moving at 2 knots it is – bumpers don’t work so well then, and get pushed up. We got a small scratch to the gelcoat on the hull. 🙁  Could’ve been worse though. Finally a lock operator came back and helped, as Natalie was trying her best to push the bow out from the wall as the wind and current worked on pushing the bow back in.

Exiting the Locks

After we got through the locks the railroad bridge was down, so we had to wait another 15-20 minutes for that. There were still strong currents outside the locks trying to push us towards the bridge, and a converging cross current from the outflow next to the small locks. There were two sailboats already rafted to the waiting area to enter the locks, and two sailboats waiting for the bridge with us, so it was a pretty small space to be crowded into with strong currents and wind.

It took me a while to figure out that we needed to motor in reverse to remain relatively stationary, and definitely should not get in the converging current which started to spin us. Since there wasn’t much space, this meant motoring back up into the locks a bit, which another sailboat was also doing.

I also learned you really don’t want to try to do a standing turn while 2 knots of current is pushing you towards the bridge. Light forward throttle just accelerated our slide towards the bridge, and I had visions of a YouTube video I’d seen where a sailboat crashed into a bridge and got their mast and rigging swept under. I quickly went back to motoring only in reverse.

In Conclusion

The big locks passages took us 1 to 1 1/2 hours each, and a lot of stress. I can see why sailboats prefer to be moored outside the locks on the Sound. Oh well, now I have one more thing to add to my list for the sale that starts this Thursday (Evercoat Gelcoat Repair Kit).

Anchored in Port Madison

Anchored in Port Madison

Other than the locks the trip was great. Sailing in 24 knots was great fun – although tiring and we’re still getting to know the boat, so some tweaking is definitely needed for these higher wind conditions. Going upwind, one bow wave crashed past the dodger and soaked me with cold Puget Sound water, which got me laughing. Going downwind we were surfing down waves (2-4 foot waves) at 7.3 knots peak speed, with one reef in the main and genoa furled to about 120%.

And our anchoring setup worked splendidly even though I haven’t done any work on it yet.

Yummy dinner of baked salmon and asparagus risotto.

Yummy dinner of baked salmon and asparagus risotto.

You can see the stars from Port Madison!

You can see the stars from Port Madison!


Renaming Ceremony

“Man, this is a lot of work for a little fun.”

Natalie remarked as we drifted in the middle of Lake Union in almost no wind. I thought yep, that’s a pretty good description of sailing! Sometimes it’s a lot of work and only a little fun.

But it was a good reminder that it’s about the journey, not the destination. The “work” of getting there has fun parts too. And sometimes there’s more fun than other times.

We had left dock at 5:55pm to catch the 6pm Ballard bridge opening, and then opened the Fremont bridge to get to Lake Union, raised sails, and did a little 1-2 knot drifting in 0-3 knots wind. After about 20 minutes it was time to turn around and go back through the two bridges to make it back to our marina by 7:20 sunset.


We had decided to go for a short sail because we needed to turn the boat around in its slip in order to remove the name decals on the stern. I felt it a shame to turn on the engine just to turn around, so I suggested why not go for a sail? Plus it was our first time taking the boat out since getting it back to Seattle 3 1/2 weeks ago (we were busy doing projects, and had a week in Hawaii).

Renaming Ceremony


Removing decals after heating with a hair dryer for 5-10 seconds per letter

After removing the old name and port, we did a denaming and renaming ceremony with a bunch of friends invited over. The script I followed was John Vigor’s denaming / renaming ceremony.

Natalie found the idea for the name from an old 1950’s cocktail book. The violet hour is the time of day when your work is done and it’s time to relax and have a drink. That’s often our favorite time of day, especially when boating and arriving to an anchorage with the sun just about to set.


We bought the new decals from (about $80 for the name+port and $20 for the registration decals) and they were a piece of cake to put on.