SHTP Qualifier

May 10, 2014

It was about 1:00 pm on Tuesday, April 28th.  I was ready, the boat was ready, the sun was out, and the wind in the Strait of Juan de Fuca was supposed to be from the East.  I headed over to McDonalds for my last french fry fix, then went back to the boat, sent some emails, and cast off the lines.  From my marina you head a little more than a mile East in Port Townsend Bay, then a couple of miles North, before you round Point Wilson and enter the Strait.

The wind may have been East in the Strait, but in the bay it was definitely North.  That made for a nice short reach to Point Hudson, but as soon as I entered Admiralty Inlet the full force of the fifteen-knot wind and flood tide pinned me down for hours.  Really, it took me seven hours to work my way out to the Strait, and then I only made it because the tide turned.  The Coupeville/Port Townsend ferry captain  passed me every forty minutes or so.  He must have thought I was nuts, just sailing back and forth across the inlet.  I saw other boats under sail turn around and head back in rather than fight the current.  The ones that got out motored.


It wasn’t that far.

So why didn’t I turn around and try later, when the ebb current would have given me a boost?  Good question.  The short answer is that I was out there already, and it kind of felt like turning back for a later start would jinx the trip.  So, I stuck it out.  When I finally turned on my GPS track recorder it was 8:00 pm and I was just passing the Point Wilson buoy.  Next time, Kev, look a little closer at the current tables.  ALL of Puget Sound fills and drains through Admiralty Inlet.

This is me trying to get around Point Wilson.  Ugh.

Trying to get around Point Wilson. Ugh.










Once I got well into the Strait the wind really was shifting from ESE to ENE.   I basically had a nice reach/run in variable winds all the way out to Cape Flattery.  Not much drama.  There were some patches of light wind after sunset.  At one calm point I could hear a whale blowing near me, so I got my spotlight out and tried to find it.  No luck.  I could hear it but not see it.  Those things are stealthy.  I wonder if it was checking me out?  It seemed to hang around for a while before it left.  Maybe it thought I was another whale, but upside down.  Hmm.

Finally in the Strait of Juan de Fuca!

Finally in the Strait!










On the way West I stayed close to the Canadian side because there is usually less ship traffic there, and because the wind was cooperating nicely.  The first night I poled out the genoa and rested with the autopilot driving.  That was simple and worked well.  When the sun came up the wind did too, so I set the spinnaker and hand steered.  As I approached Cape Flattery the wind decreased, and what was left was just enough to overcome the flood current.  The last ten miles or so against the tide were slow going, but I finally passed Cape Flattery and its weird currents from hell with a few hours of light left before sunset.

In the Pacific I had consistent twelve to twenty knot Easterly winds.  It was a nice deep spinnaker reach through the commercial fishing fleet, which was pretty thick the first forty miles or so offshore.  When all daylight was gone I could see them on my AIS display, but you could also see their lights for miles.  That part of the coast looked like an empty mall parking lot at night.  The yellowish work lights illuminating little pools around each boat looked like lonely lamp posts.  They faded off my horizon as I worked my way West.

Easy run out to my turn point.

Easy run out to my turn point.

I’d had fun surfing the wind waves in the Strait, but surfing the larger swells out in the ocean was a freaking blast.  I was seeing consistent boat speeds in the high sixes, and when we took off on a swell I’d easily get into the mid-eights.  My highest boat speed was a little over eleven knots.  Woohoo!  And then BANG!  My guy parted.

This is how I learned about chafe.   It was pretty spectacular, except that I thought the spinnaker was going to shake itself apart.  It did shake off four of the six sail numbers before I got it under control.  I’m going to look for ways to beef up that sail a bit, and go over every inch of my rigging chasing away chafe.  The guy had broken at the tip of the pole where it runs through the jaw.  Make a note:  when experienced sailors talk about chafe, listen up.

Qualifying Track

My GPS track.

The rest of the ride West was uneventful.  As I got close to my turn point–roughly 47.50 lat 128 lon–the wind shifted to the SW.  I adjusted my course to roughly WNW, as you will see on the picture of my track.  I made it out to about 128 degrees, and turned back.  I’d done more than 200 miles by this time, and was about 135 miles offshore.  Except for four or five hours of calms the wind remained steady, and I had a nice reach back to Cape Flattery.

Here are a few videos from the calmer period.  I was bored, clearly.  It’s a nice reference, though.  The swell was reported as four feet.  That seemed about right.  I wanted to show people what that looks like.  I don’t know that video really captures it, but I will tell you that a four-foot swell is nothing compared to the tightly packed four-foot wind waves anywhere East of Cape Flattery.  Even the eleven-foot swell was nice, I thought.  Imagine riding your bike up and down steep but rolling hills.  In the wind.  That’s what I thought it was like.  Even the three or four-foot wind waves on top of the swell seemed manageable going downwind.  Upwind may be another story, but after years of getting beat up in the Strait of Juan de Fuca’s wave/current train wrecks, I think the swell will probably be manageable upwind.  Oops, maybe I shouldn’t have said that.  Jinx.

I ran the spinny lines to the cabin top and steered from inside with the autopilot remote.  Okay, that's pretty lazy.  Well, when all's going well you kind of get bored.

I ran the spinny lines to the cabin top and steered from inside with the autopilot remote. Okay, that’s pretty lazy. When all’s going well you kind of get bored.

During the calmer period on the way back in I saw three whales, a black-footed albatross, and a lot of commercial fishing debris.  The whales rolled and spouted pretty close to me.  By the time I got my phone and started recording, of course, they had headed off and never showed their tail flukes again.  The bird hung around with me for most of a day.  I learned after I got back that it was an albatross, and that this member of albatross family seems to like hanging out near boats.  That doesn’t surprise me.  The fishing fleet, which I was near again, probably has something to do with that.  As far as debris, there were chunks of floating net material, net floats, and something that looked like a huge rubber beer keg.

The wind finally picked up and the ride back to the Strait was mostly uneventful.

It was a different story once I made Tatoosh Island.  Cape Flattery is surrounded by powerful currents, and the wind had shifted back to the SE, so the first few miles inside the Strait were pretty painful.  Light shifty winds, a strong ebb, lots of commercial traffic, rain, fog.  Ugh.  The wind finally died altogether and I just drifted along for a while.

When the wind finally piped up I was down below.  A gust hit pretty hard, so I bolted out of the cabin to take the tiller.  The autopilot was dead.  I went back to the cabin to check the switch, and saw that the whole panel was dead.  When I jumped into the cockpit I must have kicked the panel master switch, because I had no power.  I’d left the key in, and this happens once in a while.  When I took a closer look, though, I saw that I had broken off the key.  With no autopilot, and the boat way over-powered, I hove-to to figure out what to do.  Once I got the boat balanced the motion was really nice, so I opened up the 12V panel and bypassed the master switch.  Everything came back on. Whew.

The source of my electrical emergency.  I'm replacing that switch with an on/off switch like the battery selector.  Nothing sticking out to break off.

The source of my electrical emergency. I’m replacing that switch with an on/off switch like the battery selector. Nothing sticking out to break off.











Once I got everything under control I reduced sail and kept going.  Check out this crazy track.  The wind was blowing about eighteen knots from the SE, and the current had me pinned down again.  It was raining hard, and I was generally miserable.  I seriously thought about pulling into Neah Bay for a break, but I would have been short about sixty miles of the four hundred required.


This looks like drunk driving. Nope. Strong, shifty winds and a brutal ebb current pinned me down for a while. Also, it rained. Real rain. Like Noah and the Ark rain. And I sat in it for HOURS. Why do I do this?

The wind and tide finally changed, and the rest of the trip was in light, shifty winds.  By the time I was near Ediz Hook I was bobbing around in the busy shipping lanes, in thick fog, in the dark.  My AIS alarm was going nuts.  I estimated that I had already done more than 400 miles, and had gone roughly 130 miles offshore, so I fired up the outboard and headed in to Port Angeles for the night.  The next day I motorsailed back to Port Townsend.

I parked across from this boat.  It's a 160' Westport.  They build them in Port Angeles.  They must have spent some serious coin on tooling, because there is not one single flaw in all those acres of fiberglass.  Not even a ripple or a wave.  The guy at the fuel dock said they start at about forty million, and then you have the interior to do.  He asked me if I thought those owners were as happy as us.  Hell yeah they are.

I parked across from this boat. It’s a 160′ Westport. They build them in Port Angeles. They must have spent some serious coin on tooling, because there is not one single flaw in all those acres of fiberglass. Not even a ripple or a wave. The guy at the fuel dock said they start at about forty million, and then you have the interior to do. He asked me if I thought those owners were as happy as us. Hell yeah they are.

I learned a few important things. First, my autopilot doesn’t steer very well downwind under spinnaker in waves. I ended up hand-steering during the day, and using a poled-out genoa at night. I’ll have to work on that problem. I think it’s just a matter of playing with the rudder gain and damping. That was hard to do on the water with the spinnaker up because every time I tried to read the manual and play with the autopilot menus, I’d lose track of my heading and get in trouble. I want to be competitive, but I’m not going to hand-steer for twenty hours a day.

 Second, my boat broaches easily, but it also recovers easily. Maybe it’s because I’m a big guy, but between releasing the sheet and shifting my weight to trim the boat I was able to get the rudder to bite. Broaching is alarming, and I don’t want to do it on purpose, but I’m no longer afraid of it.
Lastly, I’m competitive, but I’m not nuts about it. For me there’s a difference between sailing and racing. I don’t think I can keep up the racing focus 24/7. I tried, but there were times when I couldn’t be bothered to work every wind shift. Sometimes I just set a course, balanced the boat, and went below to read. There were times I didn’t see the sails for hours. Hats off to people who can go balls to the wall all the time. I’m thinking now that if I’m racing about half of the time and just sailing or sleeping the rest, then that’s about what I can do. I have no idea how the single handing pros do it.
Altogether, it was a really fun trip. I was well-rested the whole time, but then I sailed conservatively and didn’t push anything. The only things that broke were the spinnaker guy and that master switch. NOAA said the ocean swells were 11 feet, which seemed about right. I had no trouble with seasickness.  Doing this qualifier was great preparation.  I know now that those long winter hours making checklists were well-spent, and I have more confidence in myself and in my boat.  



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