Tag Archives: San Juans

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


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.


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

Trip Report: San Juans for Memorial Day Weekend

We completed our first major cruise on Violet Hour over Memorial Day weekend – a 4 ½ day cruise to the San Juans from Seattle. Highlights included seeing three Orcas, bashing through some nasty tide rips off Port Townsend, seeing several eagles, a family of otters, dinghying ashore at Spencer Spit, and exploring Port Townsend from the Point Hudson marina.

Stats Usage Remarks
Water usage 20 gallons (67% of capacity) This was much higher than I expected, considering none was used for showering, little was used for cooking, and only 1 person (me) was using tank water for drinking (there’s a slight chlorine taste still lingering since we cleaned the tanks and don’t have a water filter yet – I don’t mind it but others preferred bottled water). So most of this usage was from dish washing, brushing teeth, and washing hands. We’ll have to get more efficient with washing dishes.
Fuel usage ⅛ tank / ~2.5 gallons I’m not yet sure if the fuel gauge is accurate. I opened the fuel tank port twice to check how much we had left, because we haven’t had to fuel up since February.
Engine Hours ~10 At least 2 hrs were at near idle speed for transiting the Ballard locks. We only had 1-2 hours motoring per day, which I’m pretty happy with – that’s a lot lower than many other sailboats we saw out.
Electricity Usage Low. About 13-15 Amp hours per day  Most of this was regenerated by 1 to 2 hours of motoring each day.
Top Speed 10.2 knots (GPS) Motor sailing with 2-3 knots of current push in Admiralty Inlet.

Day 1 – Thursday Evening – Fisherman’s Terminal to Kingston

We started out from Fisherman’s Terminal about 4:30pm with our friends Jared and Micol. We had a smooth transit of the Ballard Locks via the small locks, getting out to the Sound by 6pm. We sailed to Kingston upwind in about 8 kts from the north and anchored there for the night. It ended up not being the greatest anchorage because swells come in from the sound and the boat lay sideways to them often, which set up a sideways rocking that tended to amplify itself and last a few minutes. We probably could have prevented some of this by setting up a stern anchor, but didn’t want to go to that trouble late at night and without the dinghy setup yet.

At anchor in Kingston

At anchor in Kingston

Day 2 (Friday) – Kingston to San Juans

Friday was the big day to ride the spring tides all the way to the San Juans. The spring tides are the name for a big tidal swing which happens twice a month around the new moon and full moon phases. They happen year-round, so I’m not sure why they’re called spring tides except that the spring ones may be slightly bigger (but from what I can tell it’s a pretty inconsequential difference).

Current at Port Townsend at noon on Friday.

Current at Port Townsend at noon on Friday.

I had planned the timing to hit Port Townsend close to peak ebb, which would give us a 2-3 knot push. We started out from Kingston with a nice light south wind and got in what ended up being the only downwind sailing of our trip (only 2 or 3 hours of it!). The wind switched north approaching Port Townsend in some mild fog (USCG was broadcasting visibility notices for Admiralty Inlet).

The north wind lightened to barely 4 kts so we started motor sailing, hitting a peak of 10.2 knots at only 60% throttle due to the strong north current!

Our route in blue, up the east side of the turning circle

Our route in blue, up the east side of the turning circle

Approaching the turning circle north-east of Point Wilson, I spotted dark, slightly white-capped cresting waves – we were headed for some nasty looking tide rips. I made an “all crew life jackets on” call. As we motor sailed into the tide rip, which appeared to span the entire channel, the waves grew to 3-4 feet, coming from all directions. This was my first time experiencing what people call “square waves.”  There was no wind to generate the waves, so our raised mainsail was flopping a bit but I still preferred it up for some stabilizing effect.

The boat pitched and rolled into the ugly dark waves for only about 20-30 minutes, but we all exited that area feeling queasy and slightly seasick. The direction of the waves was constantly changing, like we were in a cauldron of angry seas. I tried different directions to hit the closely spaced waves bow on, water splashing onto the deck as the bow rode down each sharp wave crest. Eventually I aimed towards the shore on the eastern edge of the turning circle, which seemed a little less tumultuous.

I asked Natalie to go below to grab my GoPro so I could get some video, but she refused to go below with the boat being tossed around like it was. Probably a good call, but I still would’ve liked some decent video. : )

In retrospect I suspect planning to go past Port Townsend at peak ebb was a mistake. It gave us the speed to get to the San Juans quickly, but slack would’ve been better for the tide rips.

The rest of the passage to the San Juans went smoothly although we were tired out from the briefly rough seas. For Friday night we anchored at Davis Bay off Decatur Head (west of James Island).

Strawberry rhubarb crumble dessert Natalie made

Strawberry rhubarb crumble dessert Natalie made

At anchor at Decatur Island

At anchor at Decatur Island

Read more in Part 2.

Passage from Canada to Seattle

After our mishaps in Customs, we took off from Point Roberts as soon as possible (about 11:15am, right after the Customs officer released us) so we’d have time to make Friday Harbor comfortably before dark. There was a fairly strong 15-20 knot north wind, so that would make for some fun sailing.

As soon as we got out of the marina, the waters were pretty rough – there were 2-3 foot waves, with kind of two wave trains converging – mostly NW but some NE. This made motoring pretty uncomfortable – the boat was rolling whenever the stern quarter got hit by a larger wave. So we worked on getting the sails up asap – but this was our first time sailing the boat together, and we had forgotten to prep the deck before leaving dock.

Lone Star has an inner forestay, two aft checkstays, and several halyards that need to be moved out of the way of the sails. Natalie and Jeremy had to do this while the boat rolled as I steered, trying to keep us from being knocked about too much. Compared to the J/35c’s I’m used to, the LF38 seemed to roll more, but pitch less. Once we had the sails up, things were much calmer.

Passing south into the San Juans, the waters looked like a dream.

Passing south into the San Juans, the waters looked like a vision out of a dream.

We literally couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. It was sunny every day, and we had north winds following us for parts of every day. Temperatures were in the 50’s during the day, and the sun meant we weren’t cold even though it’s February.


The boat was super fun to sail. Easy to get moving in light wind, and easily handled in a variety of wind conditions. We were really happy that this trip confirmed we had made the right choice.

In Friday Harbor on Saturday (Valentine’s Day), we had dinner and drinks at Haley’s Bait Shop, which was slammed due to the holiday weekend and nice weather, but had Bale Breaker IPA on tap.


Sunset at Port Ludlow marina.


Happy hour on the boat at Port Ludlow.

The first (and only) problem of the trip came in Port Ludlow, in the morning of the last day when we were about to depart the marina. Upon starting the engine, the exhaust wasn’t spitting out any water – which could cause the engine to overheat and us to be stuck in Port Ludlow if we couldn’t fix it.

So we checked the raw water filter. Sure enough, it had a fair amount of grass and gunk in it, along with what looked like a green paint ball the size of a grape! I don’t know what a clump of green paint was doing in the marina, but it probably blocked the intake enough (from within the strainer basket) that water couldn’t get through.

Going through the Ballard Locks.

Going through the Ballard Locks.

The last day (Monday) we managed to sail all the way back to Seattle with almost no engine use (just to leave the marina, and for a few minutes when we got stuck in the calm south of Whidbey Island).

We made it through the Ballard Locks without issue, and excitedly motored into Seattle, docking the boat at her new home in Fisherman’s Terminal.

Sunset at Fisherman's Terminal.

Sunset at Fisherman’s Terminal.