Tag Archives: locks

Trip Report: The San Juans for Memorial Day Weekend – Part 2

Continued from Part 1 of the trip report.

Day 3 (Saturday) – Decatur Island to Spencer Spit

In the morning we set up our new PortaBote dinghy on deck, lowered it into the water with a very improvised and sketchy 3-point sling attached to the spinnaker halyard, and rowed ashore for a bit of exploring. We saw an eagle sitting in a tree only about 50 ft away above us, watching us closely.

PortaBote successfully setup and in water

PortaBote successfully setup and in water

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At some point, we noticed the toilet seemed clogged. The pump had a lot of resistance and wouldn’t pump anything out anymore. Unable to fix it, we had to switch over to peeing in a bucket.

The day was overcast with no wind, so we motored an hour over to Spencer Spit and snagged a mooring ball along the beach. This was also the closest place with restrooms, which we could use for #2’s. Since we had to dinghy in, we had to all get on the same schedule.

Peekaboo view of our boat while hiking above Spencer Spit

Peekaboo view of our boat while hiking above Spencer Spit

Both our sailboat and PortaBote dinghy visible in one shot! Low tide at Spencer Spit.

Both our sailboat and PortaBote dinghy visible in one shot! Low tide at Spencer Spit.

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Day 4 (Sunday) – Lopez Island to Port Townsend

Spencer Spit is pretty exposed to the south since only a low beach protects the anchorage, and we had a nice south breeze picking up in the morning. So we were able to sail off our mooring ball (first time doing that!) without turning on the motor – just raised the main, slipped the mooring line, unfurled the genoa, and sailed around the other two sailboats that were moored around us. As a true fan of sailing over motoring, the joy of taking off in the morning without the noise of the motor was pure fun!

We had a south current in Rosario Strait and a south wind (about 10 knots) so we headed out close hauled the whole way. Fortunately there were no tide rips or bad waves in the strait from the current opposing wind.

It was surprising how many sailboats out were choosing not to sail. With the good wind we were doing 6 knots and having a lot of fun. I can understand not wanting to sail upwind if you have to go a long way on a schedule, but we even saw some sailboats motoring downwind. If you’re not going to sail downwind, what did you get a sailboat for??

Delicious black cod and regular cod tacos for dinner

Delicious black cod and regular cod tacos for dinner

Day 5 (Monday) – Port Townsend to Seattle, with Orcas!

“I just saw a whale!” Micol shouted. I quickly looked to port and saw an unusual looking wave. “Are you sure it wasn’t just a wave?” we all said. “No it was definitely a whale” she replied. And then a minute later we all saw a big orca surface only a couple hundred feet from our boat (possibly within the 200 yard “no-go” zone for distance to orcas in Washington regulations – but we can’t help it if the orca approaches *us* first). We saw the solo orca surface a few more times heading south (near Edmonds). Later we saw 3 more orcas also heading south, around Kingston.

We had an informal race (the saying is that if two sailboats are going in the same direction, it’s automatically a race) with a Catalina 37 (being singlehanded) who happened to be going upwind on the same tacks only a bit ahead of us. We almost caught up, but he was able to point better. As much as I played with the trim, we had more speed but he could point higher. I blame it on our 10-year old cruiser sails.

Going back through the Ballard Locks was stressful as usual. With the holiday weekend there were dozens of boats going through the locks. We were third or fourth to the line, but most of the motor boats arriving after us pushed their way to the front. The small locks opened but only 4 or 5 of the 15 boats waiting could fit. The large locks was closed and already processing a large group of boats, so we had close to an hour wait.

In the end it worked out fine though. I’m gradually learning the intricacies of the locks – like how most boats use the railroad bridge as a current shield, sitting behind the bridge trestle where the current is less strong. And once past the railroad bridge, sitting in the lower current zone closer to the small locks.

In the large locks rafted to a very big motor boat

In the large locks rafted to a very big motor boat

Sailing to Vashon Island

This past weekend we sailed to Vashon Island and anchored in Quartermaster Harbor. It was the perfect weekend – sunny, warm and a steady 15 knots of wind both days. We flew the spinnaker for the first time on Saturday and the ATN sock was fantastic – made hoisting and dousing so much easier.

spinnaker

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We also had lots of other “firsts” – first time using a whisker pole (ever! None of the club boats we’ve sailed had them), first time going south of West Seattle, and first time sailing upwind for over 8 hours. A whisker pole by the way for non-sailor readers, is a pole that holds out the foresail (genoa) when sailing downwind – to help catch more wind and make the sail easier to manage.

The Ballard Locks continues to be the most challenging part of our trips, but we’re getting better each time. The Locks seem like they’d be about as easy as docking, but I think that’s a deception – I’d take docking over the locks any day. The Locks are like docking would be if 5 other boats were trying to simultaneously dock next to you, the entire marina was watching, your target slip could be randomly changed at the last minute, and there was a 1-2 knot current or forward/aft breeze in the marina.

Going to windward like a champ

Going to windward like a champ

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Cleaning Nearing Completion

In other news, we’re almost finished up with all the cleaning projects! Cleaning an old boat is a lot of work (there are lots of nooks and crannies!) and we’re perfectionists so want to do it right once and not have to worry about a deep clean for a while.

A toothbrush really is your best friend for a lot of boat cleaning jobs. I always thought scrubbing floors with a toothbrush was a joke or something only prison convicts do. But actually it’s the best way to get into small nooks, and the hundreds of bristles on it scrub off dirt quite quickly – I guess that’s why they work so well on our teeth.

Before cleaning

Before cleaning

During cleaning with a toothbrush + water

During cleaning with a toothbrush + water

After cleaning!

After cleaning!

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 Defender.com 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!