Engine Trouble!

March 20, 2013

Been a while since I updated the blog, so here’s a story from the 2012 Race To The Straits.  Naaman had done the Seattle to Port Townsend leg with me, but I was singlehanding the PT to Seattle leg.  I’d turned around to head home after finishing at Shilshole late in the afternoon, and anticipated getting back to PT at about midnight.  The wind had come in pretty good from the North, though, and with the flood tide it took me a while just to get to Edmonds.  I was tired, so as dusk fell I pulled in to rest.  That seemed like a better idea than beating into the tide all night and getting in to PT god-knows-when.

I left Edmonds Monday morning.  About five minutes into the trip the motor started acting up.  I could tell that the impeller was shot, so I shut it down.  For a minute I considered sailing back into Edmonds and calling Naaman, who is a marine technician, but the wind was up and the tide was going my way so I decided to sail back to Port Townsend.  That breeze lasted about an hour before dying.

One of my brothers spends lots of time fishing in the sound.  He told me once that he doesn’t get why most of the sailboats he sees seem to spend more time motoring than they do sailing.  The answer is that traveling from one place to another in a sailboat, on a time schedule, is different from chasing the wind around the bay on a lazy afternoon.  When you have to get somewhere you need to plan for wind, current, traffic and tides.  These forces rarely line up perfectly with your plan, so if you need to get somewhere you’re sometimes better off motoring than sitting around in a traffic lane waiting for wind, or beating into a headwind with opposing current.

When the wind finally picked up again it was straight out of the North and the tide had changed.  I was trying to get North, so this sucked.  Hours later I had worked my way up Admiralty Inlet to a point near Oak Bay.  The video above is of the approach to Oak Bay, which  at the moment was hosting a nasty tide rip.  I guess you can’t really see it on the video, but those rips are worth avoiding.  The problem with avoiding this rip was that I’d have to go up the East side of Marrowstone Island and around the top to get back into Townsend Bay and my comfy slip at the Boat Haven.  If I could just work my way through the nasty water, there’s a channel at the top of Oak Bay that’s the regular short cut between Port Townsend and parts South.

After I shot the video above, I kept sailing into the bay despite the tide rip.  The wind died soon after and I spent the next few hours coaxing out a couple of knots of boatspeed as I worked my way toward the channel.  As I neared it the tide began to change and the current eventually flushed me through.  It was a wild ride.  The currents were stronger than the wind, so the boat was spinning and wandering while the sails were flapping.  I had no steerage, and at one point was running around the deck with a pole to keep the boat away from bridge pilings.

The current spit me out the North end of the channel and the wind died completely.  I just sat there for a moment to collect my wits.  By now it was dusky and I was beat, so I decided to anchor at Port Hadlock and finish the last few miles to PT in the morning.  The anchorage is about half a mile away, though, and there was not even a molecule of breeze.  So I started sculling.  Yep, that’s what it came down to.  After 45 minutes of sculling I picked up a mooring in front of the Wooden Boat School and called it a very long day.

The next day–by now it was Tuesday morning–I cast off in light air and worked the current up to the Boat Haven.  It took a few hours, but by noon I was back in my slip buttoning things up.

In the end, what is normally about a thirty mile trip took me about 42 hours with no motor.  When I account for the time at the Edmonds marina and on the hook at Port Hadlock, that’s only about 18 hours spent actually sailing.  Singlehanding in the dark in that busy part of the sound isn’t really safe, though.  I used about every sailing skill I have, and a few that I didn’t know I had.

I’m writing this in March, 2013.  The Race To The Straits happens again on May 4th and 5th, and I’ll be there.

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