September 22, 2016   Joe Cline
Glen Islet

Glen Islet

A father-son team makes lasting memories on an adventure from Commencement Bay to a wilderness  accessible only to the intrepid boater.
by Raymond A. Baetke

For three weekends my son took me sailing on Puget Sound to prepare us for a two-week vacation trip.  Our destination would be the Broken Group in Barkley Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.  Rob (my son) is a proficient sailor.  I, on the other hand, had spent enough time with him on his Catalina 34, Virginia, to be comfortable in most recreational situations.  Considering our destination I wanted some extra instruction and practice to be able to cope in an environment that could become more challenging and hostile than previously experienced.

We practiced man overboard drills with a life ring, gaining confidence that it really is all right to continue sailing away from the person in the water before turning around to pick him up; familiarized ourselves with the use and location of emergency flares, the emergency radio beacon, the VHF radio, the first aid kit and where the through hull fittings were; practiced setting a stern anchor along with the bow anchor; and most fun of all, practiced moving around the deck reefing the sails while wearing full foul weather gear, a life jacket and safety harness.  The purpose of this exercise was to become comfortable “suited up” in case we encountered bad weather and found ourselves in a situation where someone had to go forward on a pitching, slippery deck.  What made this exercise fun was the weekend we practiced it there was no wind and the temperature was a very warm 85 degrees.  Other boaters must have thought us a bit strange.

Before the trip we also spent many hours studying the appropriate route and destination charts.  We also relied heavily on Don Watmough’s book Cruising Guide to the West Coast of Vancouver Island for descriptions of places to go and ideas on what to see.  For the first-time cruiser to Barkley Sound, this book was as valuable as our charts.

On July 3rd, we set out from Commencement Bay in Tacoma, Washington on a thirteen-day trip.  After cruising the San Juan Islands last summer, our initial idea for this year was to sail out the Strait of Juan de Fuca and into the Pacific Ocean far enough that we could no longer see land.  However, after considering the time it would take to get far enough from land and not be able to see it and the missed opportunity to cruise another day in the Broken Group we decided that no one would argue that just by getting to Barkley Sound we would have honestly sailed on the Pacific Ocean.

Having gotten a late start, we decided to stay the first night off the south end of Blake Island across the Sound from Seattle.  After snooping up and down the shore for suitable anchorage, we elected to take the last mooring buoy.  That’s the lazy man’s way out but at least it assured us a secure moorage for the night.  With the diesel shut down and Virginia securely tied off we broke out the wine.  If you haven’t tried it, buy your wine in a box, throw the box away and put the plastic wine bag in the bilge.  The bilge water keeps the wine nicely chilled.  Just remember to arrange the bag so the spigot remains up and out of the bilge water.

The sun was barely up Friday morning as we released the mooring buoy and headed for Port Townsend.  It was another sunny day and with the winds out of the north, we motored all the way to Port Townsend.  In fact, as would come to pass, this year’s “sailing” trip was to be under more diesel power than wind power.

We arrived in Port Townsend shortly after noon.  Most of the anchorages in front of the municipal pier had already been taken by a half dozen sailboats but there was still room for a few more.  Being the Fourth of July, we considered ourselves fortunate to still find space to anchor.  We guessed that throughout the day additional boaters would arrive to view the evening’s Independence Day fireworks display.

After checking the tide tables we dropped the anchor in twenty feet of water and let out 150 feet of rode.  Once caught on the muddy bottom we backed down on the anchor to assure it was securely stuck in the muck.  Feeling comfortable with the “set” we shut the diesel off and poured the wine.  For the next hour (which was our habit) we sat in the cockpit watching our relative movement among the other boats as we swung around just to be sure we were securely anchored.

The dinghy ride to the municipal pier and walk around Port Townsend was very enjoyable. Being Independence Day weekend the town was alive with tourists and townspeople walking around in the warm sunshine and enjoying the many interesting shops and restaurants.  Near the entrance to a small waterfront park, someone set up a “free speech box” on which one could stand and in the spirit of celebrating our independence, and speak his mind.  As we approached, a man had just finished speaking to the apparent approval of a small crowd.  Not seeing anyone else eager to speak, we continued into the park.  There we found a log about five feet in diameter and twenty feet long.  The log was actually a piece of sculpture with the figures of three seals carved at one end making the seals appear to be sunning themselves on the log.  Very nice.

Having made the circuit of downtown we took the dinghy back to Virginia.  The winds had shifted 180 degrees and had increased to about 15 knots.  The wind was actually quite refreshing as the day turned out to be uncharacteristically warm.  The wind, however, provided unintended consequences.  Within five minutes of waking up from a short nap I realized that something was seriously wrong.  We were dragging the anchor and drifting towards another sailboat.  In our scramble to get underway, we lost precious seconds before we realized that the ignition key was still downstairs in the “nav” station where we had secured it while going into town.  We finally got the engine started and within ten feet of the other boat started increasing the distance between us.  The crew of the other sailboat must have been napping because they never appeared on deck.  We were fortunate to have averted a collision and were mildly embarrassed for a poorly set anchor.  We re-anchored near our original spot and let out addition rode.  With the wind still picking up we decided to alternate hourly anchor watches throughout the night.  Ugh, but under the circumstances was the prudent thing to do.

It was a long, restless night and as the sun came up we were both eager to go.  We were going to cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca shipping channels and spend the night in Victoria, British Columbia.  With our charts at the ready and the radar and GPS running we set off.

Half way across the Strait we ran into our first fog bank.  With confidence in our GPS and compass to know where we were going and confidence in the radar to know where everyone else was, we pressed on under full sail.  They are right; the wind doesn’t stop blowing just because it’s foggy.  We were making a good five knots in a nice steady breeze.

I found my first experience in the fog very interesting.  The visibility around us remained a couple hundred feet in all directions.  What was fascinating was that while the visibility inside the fog was limited, the sky above was sunny and blue.  It was like being in the middle of a big donut.  Within thirty minutes we emerged from the fog and Vancouver Island was clearly visible.

Victoria Harbour surprised us because it was not as large as we had imagined it from the chart.  Navigating in an unfamiliar harbor amongst cruise ships, seaplanes, water taxis, kayaks, canoes, powerboats and other sailboats was a challenge.  We not only had to navigate into the harbor and around the myriad of other floating craft but after locating the customs dock at the end of the harbor we had to put ourselves into a holding pattern of sorts with other boats waiting to tie up and clear customs.  One certainly has to keep his wits about him and anticipate each other’s movements in this crowded harbor.

The Canadians have made it very easy to clear customs in Victoria.  We spent more time tying Virginia to the dock than declaring our intentions on the dockside customs telephone.  After answering a few obligatory questions, we were given a customs reference number to post on the boat, advised to have a nice visit while in Canada and we were on our way.

After clearing customs we cruised the waterfront looking for a marina with overnight moorage.  We found one not far from the customs dock and called them.  The marina advised that guest moorage was still available and directed us to our berth.  As we approached the dock it became evident that we were going to be parallel parking a 34-foot sailboat in what appeared to be a 38-foot space between another sailboat and a big-as-a-house Chris Craft.  With the help of the dock staff and the owners of the other two boats (who had a vested interest in our successful docking) we made an uneventful tie-up to the dock.  After a glass of wine and a handful of nuts, we set off to explore the Victoria waterfront.

In a word, Victoria is “alive.”  Maybe it was because it was a sunny, warm, summer Saturday.  Maybe it was because there was a Folk Festival going on.  Then again, maybe things just look differently when you are in your first foreign port after being on the boat for three days.  Anyway, for the rest of the afternoon and well into the evening we walked around the waterfront and downtown, watched various street entertainers doing their acts and playing music, sampled several local brews, and had dinner.  Victoria is definitely a
“do-again” destination.

On Sunday morning after topping off Virginia’s fuel tank and filling three jerry cans with diesel we headed out of Victoria Harbour under power for Race Rocks eight miles away.  Depending on the weather we planned on either going through Race Passage or taking the long way and going around the Great Race Rock lighthouse.  A half-hour out of Victoria we noticed fog on the horizon and decided to go around the lighthouse.  Fifteen minutes after making that decision, we found ourselves in the fog, depending once again on the electronics for our position and the location of other boats.  It was an eerie feeling this time cruising in the cold, damp fog listening to a foghorn off the starboard bow.  By this, our fourth day of practicing with and using the GPS, we had confidence in our ability to know where we were; even in the fog.  In fact, as the lighthouse’s foghorn sounded ninety degrees to our starboard, the lighthouse itself appeared momentarily out of the mist confirming our position.  We continued our southerly direction in the fog then turned west at our predetermined way point to head west out the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  Forty-five minutes after entering the fog, we broke out the other side into warm sunshine.  It was time to hoist the sails.

The three-quarter mile length of Whiffin Spit protects Sooke Harbour. With an average width of one hundred feet the spit provides an interesting contrast with the open sea and waves crashing ashore on one side to the calm waters of the harbor on the other side.

The three-quarter mile length of Whiffin Spit protects Sooke Harbour. With an average width of one hundred feet the spit provides an interesting contrast with the open sea and waves crashing ashore on one side to the calm waters of the harbor on the other side.

Our destination was Sooke Harbour.  Heading towards Barkley Sound, Sooke Harbour is one of only two places along the western Vancouver Island coastline suitable for overnight anchorage.  As recommended, we had a detailed nautical chart of Sooke Harbour.  Unless one knows the area, you certainly would not want to enter this harbor without a chart.  The entrance is narrow and shallow and special navigation “boards” (range) on the shore assured us we were lined up to begin our entrance to the harbor.  Near the end of Whiffin Spit that protects the harbor we sighted the second set of “boards” and made a dog-leg turn to port to complete our entrance into Sooke Harbour.  Take the entrance slowly, keep an eye on your depth, and concentrate on keeping the “boards” lined up and the entrance is a piece of cake; almost like landing an airplane.

Inside the harbor a lone sailboat had already taken the best anchorage; right in the middle over the mud bottom.  We snooped around looking for the second best place getting into some shallow water and running through a kelp bed.  We finally settled in an area with a bottom that seemed to be a happy medium between kelp and mud.  We set both a bow and stern anchor not wanting to take any chances of running aground.

After the obligatory glass of wine and an hour wait to assure ourselves that the anchors were securely set, we took the dinghy ashore and walked the three-quarter mile length of Whiffin Spit.  As we observed throughout the evening and the next morning, the spit was the town’s walking and jogging path; and a very nice one at that.  With an average width of one hundred feet the spit provides an interesting contrast with the open sea and waves crashing ashore on one side to the calm waters of the harbor on the other side.

Leaving Sooke Harbour the next morning we followed the navigation boards in reverse order.  Clearing the harbor we set a course for Port San Juan 38 miles away.  It was a long day of motoring directly into a 15-25 knot wind.  The only consolation was that we expected to have the same winds at our back coming home; or so we thought.

chartwebBy this our fifth day, we had pretty much settled down into an underway routine.  To relieve the boredom we switched being at the helm every hour.  During the hour the helmsman kept Virginia on course, watched for hazards like logs and other boats, and every fifteen minutes noted our GPS coordinates in the trip log.  For the most part the helmsman just sat at the back of the boat many times bundled up trying to stay warm and dry.  The crewman, on the other hand, took the GPS coordinates, plotted our course on the chart, and advised the helmsman of our position and the need for any course change.  For the most part we remained right on course.  Being new at nautical navigation, I found it quite fun and sometimes challenging working with charts, parallel rulers, dividers, binoculars, and calculators to locate our position and estimate our arrival time at the next destination.

An hour before arriving in Port San Juan we went through another patch of fog.  This time it was low-lying and obscured our view of Vancouver Island.  On the port side, however, we could still see the snow-covered peaks of the Olympic Mountains.

We had pre-selected the foghorn buoy outside Port San Juan as our way point for turning into the harbor.  It was an odd sounding horn resembling the low moaning of a sick cow.  During the wee hours of the next morning it sounded like the quiet snoring of a sleeping person.

Port Renfrew in Port San Juan harbor is considered a conditional anchorage.  Since the mouth of the harbor faces almost directly towards the open ocean it is subject to sea swells and wind waves that can jeopardize a secure anchorage.  However, in light conditions (like we experienced) you can anchor just behind the “head” at Port Renfrew and get out of the prevailing winds and minimize the sea swells.  Again, to be conservative we dropped both a bow and stern anchor.

Tuesday was a milestone day.  We rounded Cape Beale and entered Barkley Sound.  It had been a long 45-mile day again heading directly into 15 to 25 knot headwinds.  The journey of the past few days had revealed a coastline virtually absent of civilization, heavily forested mountains, and a rugged shoreline with waves continuously breaking on the rocky coastline.  Our transits during the next four days would likewise reveal a wilderness area accessible only to the intrepid boater who dared challenge the navigation hazards of the Broken Group.  But tonight we would anchor in the sparsely inhabited fishing village of Port Desire’ just over the hill from the commercial and sport fishing town of Bamfield.

The entrance to Port Desire’ was through a narrow channel no more than a hundred feet wide and a quarter-mile long in a “lake” a quarter-mile across.

The entrance to Port Desire’ was through a narrow channel no more than a hundred feet wide and a quarter-mile long in a “lake” a quarter-mile across.

The entrance to Port Desire’ was through a narrow channel no more than a hundred feet wide and a quarter-mile long.  The channel in places was surprisingly more than sixty feet deep.  Once inside Port Desire’ one feels more like he is on a small lake a quarter-mile across. Numerous sport and commercial fishing boats were tied to floating docks on the southern side of the “lake.”  Not far from our anchorage someone had built his house on a small islet several yards from shore.  The owner’s house and yard occupied an area about half the size of a football field.  A life-sized statue of Captain Jack greeted guests at the front door.  Decks on one side as well as the back of the house extended over the water.  The deck railings held baskets that overflowed with a variety of colorful flowers.  The small lawn and flower gardens around the house were neatly maintained and extended to the water’s edge.  And to top everything off, on a small rock surrounded by water a few feet from the islet sat a likeness of the mermaid that greets sailors as they enter the harbor in Copenhagen, Denmark.  It was a nice touch.

On Wednesday morning after spending an hour unhooking a fouled anchor, we set out for a cove on the southeast end of Nettle Island in the Inner Broken Group.  The Broken Group of islands are similar to the San Juan Islands in that there are a couple hundred islands, islets and rocks depending on whether the tide is in or out.  The navigation challenges are similar in that rocks that are visible at low tide can disappear to just under the surface at high tide.  Again, the most detailed charts you can get are indispensable.    What makes the Broken Group different from the San Juan’s is their remoteness, the challenge of getting to them, the sense of wilderness, and the absence of civilization.

The passage from Port Desire’ to the anchorage at Nettle Island was 18 miles and took almost four hours.  The most challenging part of this passage was negotiating one’s way through the numerous commercial and sport salmon fishing boats that plied the waters in Trevor Channel just outside the entrance to Port Desire’ and Bamfield.  But, we were officially in “vacation mode” and as such we took our time winding our way around the fishing boats and their nets, then enjoyed the rugged scenery as we skirted the shoreline of dozens of small islands.

As we entered the cove at Nettle Island we were surprised to see a floating dock with two commercial fishing boats tied to it.  We later learned that these boats belonged to a group of natives who lived on the Indian reservation adjacent to the cove.  We anchored at the far end of the cove and broke out the wine.

Anchoring in this cove was a new experience.  Because many of the bays and coves are very small, there is no room for a boat to “swing” on its anchor line.  As such, the routine is to tie the stern to a tree on shore to prevent swinging.  In theory this sounds easy.  In practice, it can be a challenge finding a place on shore to tie up the dinghy, then climb the slippery sea-weed covered rocks to reach a tree to which you can throw a line around, and finally take the end of the line back to the boat.  But it works.

Rocks off Reeks Island Exploring the many islands and islets is one of the great appeals of the Broken Group. But, as you enjoy the rugged scenery, you need to keep a watchful eye to your navigation.

Rocks off Reeks Island
Exploring the many islands and islets is one of the great appeals of the Broken Group. But, as you enjoy the rugged scenery, you need to keep a watchful eye to your navigation.

After dinner we took the dinghy across a channel to explore Reeks Island.  Exploring the many islands is one of the great appeals to the Broken Group.  You can anchor at an island and then go explore any number of other nearby islands by dinghy.  Then, let your imagination go and feel like you’re the first explorer to reach these shores.  After exploring the shoreline we got back into the dinghy and explored more of the shoreline from the water.  Our best find was a sea cave that went about a hundred feet into the island.  As we entered the cave we discovered it was really a tunnel that ended on its own gravel beach on the other side of the island.  It was a challenge entering the “cave” as the surging water pushed us into the tunnel then pulled us back out as each swell subsided.  By careful rowing and pushing off the sides of the tunnel we were able to navigate just short of the gravel beach.  This is not a “stunt” that one would want to try at anything other than a near high tide.  The depth of the water during the surges ranged from a couple to several feet.  Without sufficient water beneath you the rocks on the floor of the “cave” would do substantial damage to your dinghy.

Rob ponder’s “Virginia’s ” anchorage in Turtle Bay, where we dove to inspect the damage done from grazing a submerged reef.

Rob ponder’s “Virginia’s ” anchorage in Turtle Bay, where we dove to inspect the damage done from grazing a submerged reef.

Rob had selected Nettle Island as the destination for the first night.  I chose Turtle Bay (four miles away) as our next day’s destination.  Turtle Bay is one of the more sheltered anchorages and is located between Dodd, Walsh, and Turtle Islands.  Again, our transit was under power at a leisurely two knots.  After successfully navigating the Tiny Group we rounded the north end of Chalk Island and prepared to make our way into Turtle Bay.  Just off the eastern tip of Dodd Island we had our first (and only) incident.  We grazed a submerged reef head-on with the keel.  The bow dipped slightly but the boat continued moving forward hardly slowing down.  We watched with great surprise and concern as the edge of a reef not more than two feet below the surface slipped passed our starboard side.  The crunching sound of fiberglass on rock didn’t last a second.  The bottom of the keel just momentarily “bumped” the reef.  We quickly determined that we still had a propeller, still had a rudder, and were not taking on water.  We seemed a fair distance from the shore and were truly puzzled that we had struck anything.

Once anchored inside Turtle Bay with a stern line to shore we took the obligatory dive to check the keel.  The wine would have to wait.  While it was a perfectly sunny day, almost hot, the thought of hypothermia from being in the cold water was considered.  As a precaution we prepared hot water for drinks and gathered warm clothes together.  Rob dove down first and checked the port side of the keel.  He said it was pretty rough and there were some good sized chucks of fiberglass missing.  On his second dive he went down on the starboard side and brought up a piece of keel.  It was from the edge where the side turns to the bottom of the keel.  The piece was about an inch long and a half-inch wide.  While small, it was sickening to look at.  The good news was that there appeared to be no damage that would jeopardize the integrity of boat or the rest of the trip.  The bad news was that this accident was going to require a haul-out and repair once we got home.

While the water was cool, Rob actually enjoyed being in it.  In fact, he asked for his bottle of body soap and took a quick in-the-bay bath.  Shortly afterwards I dove to feel the damage.  It didn’t feel good.  I also enjoyed being in the cool water and also took a bath.  Skinny dipping in Turtle Bay was an exhilarating experience.

After dinner we took the dinghy back to the scene of the incident.  We were sure we had hit an uncharted rock.  But after closer observation we concluded we were indeed closer to shore than we should have been.  Observing the reef from the dinghy made us realize that the incident could have been much worse.  We were lucky to have gotten by with as little damage as we did.

Returning from “the reef” we rowed past Virginia and went ashore to explore Dodd Island.  We also wanted to observe from the shoreline the channel by which we would leave Turtle Bay in the morning.  From the shoreline at low tide we could see the narrower parts of the channel and see where some of the shallower rocks were located.  We decided that by staying in the middle of the fifty-foot wide channel and taking advantage of the high tide a safe passage was well within reason.

Back at Virginia, Rob cooked dinner, I made some notes in my journal, and we made plans for tomorrow’s destination.  After leaving the Broken Group to sail on the Pacific Ocean, we would navigate back into the Outer Group and anchor at Effingham Bay.  Not counting the sail on the ocean, Effingham Bay was only nine miles from Turtle Bay.

Friday morning was a time to relax and air out the sleeping bags.  The high tide wasn’t until noon so we had time to enjoy the warm sunshine and to watch a couple bald eagles flying near the treetops.  At eleven-thirty we started the engine, released the stern line at eleven-forty, pulled in the anchor ten minutes later and arrived at the mouth of the channel at exactly twelve o’clock; high tide.  Our passage was uneventful as planned and we headed for the Pacific Ocean.

Once clear of the small islands and reefs that guarded the entrance to Barkley Sound we set Virginia’s sails and shut down the diesel.  Considering this was to be a sailing vacation we were both getting pretty tired of the constant droning of the engine.  But what can you do?  When there is no wind or you have to navigate in narrow channels between the visible islands and the invisible rocks, you are glad to have it.  For the moment, however, the sun was out, the sky was blue, the white caps indicated a 15-25 knot breeze, and we were heeled over a modest 15 degrees.  We trimmed Virginia and were sailing on the Pacific Ocean.  We set a course that if followed might have taken us to Hawaii.  What a thought!

After a couple hours sailing we came back to reality and noticed that some clouds (perhaps fog) were approaching from the north.  It was time to head back to port.  While we were sure of our ability to navigate we didn’t want to take any chances at being outside the line of Outer Group islands where the breaking waves made a spectacular show on the rocks.  As it turned out, the clouds became fog and it followed us all the way into Effingham Bay.  An hour longer on the ocean and we might have had to consider an alternative course of action than safely anchoring in Effingham Bay for the night.

After dinner we headed for shore in the dinghy.  We had read about an ancient Indian village and a sea cave on the eastern shore of Effingham Island.  The book noted a trail that we easily found and followed it for fifteen minutes to the other side of the island.  There we found a grassy clearing that was probably the location of the village.  It was in a wooded area on a cove that was littered with driftwood and logs.  Even in the fog and mist the area was picturesque and had a certain charm and romance.  It felt peaceful and comfortable being there. It also occurred to me that if I was on a similar beach with similar weather back home, this would just be another sucky, gray day in Seattle.  One’s attitude can certainly be influenced by the location.

The half-mile walk to the sea cave was over rock and log strewn beaches.  On one short section of beach we found granite rocks rounded like large eggs; some were four to six feet around.  As we reached the cave we realized that the tide was coming in and were going to have to limit our visit.  As we climbed over slippery rocks to reach the cave opening we decided to limit our visit to ten minutes to assure ourselves a safe exit.  The cave goes back into the island one hundred feet and is one of the largest and most easily accessible caves (at low tide) in the Broken Group.  The maidenhair fern growing from the roof of the cave added to its uniqueness.

The weather continued to deteriorate throughout the night and by morning it was clear we were going to be hunkered down in Effingham Bay for another day. The bay had already filled up with several fishing boats and pleasure boats and we took this as a sign that people were seeking sheltered waters from the bad weather.

The weather continued to deteriorate throughout the night and by morning it was clear we were going to be hunkered down in Effingham Bay for another day. The bay had already filled up with several fishing boats and pleasure boats and we took this as a sign that people were seeking sheltered waters from the bad weather.

Back at Virginia the weather was slowly deteriorating.  The fog had thickened and the wind picked up blowing rain past the dodger and into the cabin.  It was time to button up the boat.  This would be the only night (except for Victoria) that I would sleep inside the boat.  All other nights I spread my sleeping bag on the cockpit bench and enjoyed the fresh sea air wherever we anchored.

It was my turn to determine our next port of call.  I selected Marble Cove on Tzartus Island in the Deer Group.  Marble Cove was eight miles away and with its marble cliffs sounded like a picturesque place to visit.  However, the weather continued to deteriorate throughout the night and by morning it was clear (no pun intended) we were going to be hunkered down in Effingham Bay for another day.  The bay had already filled up with several fishing boats and pleasure boats and we took this as a sign that people were seeking sheltered waters from the bad weather.  Throughout the day mostly moderate winds came, went, and continuously changed direction; the rain generally fell straight down but once was wind-blown straight across the bay; and all day the fog hung low and gray.

Our time hunkered down, however, was far from wasted.  We put the finishing touches on the trip back home.  We had already decided to make the run from Barkley Sound back to Port Townsend non-stop; that meant an overnight passage on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  Our original plan had us crossing the Strait to Neah Bay then continuing to Port Townsend the next day.  At first I was leery about a night passage (especially in the Strait) but after reviewing Rob’s plan and considering that if one doesn’t push his limits one doesn’t grow, felt comfortable with the plan.  We would be returning along the Vancouver Island side of the Strait out of the commercial shipping channels.  Also, there would be a full moon during our passage and we planned on being one more mile off shore (two miles) than we were on the trip getting to Barkley Sound.  We decided the most challenging part of the passage would be staying awake.

When we awoke Sunday morning we were glad to see that the fog had lifted enough to be able to see past the islands and out to the open ocean.  Our concern the night before was that we would not be able to navigate through the remaining islands to get to the open water of the ocean.  Once outside the Broken Group we could navigate on our instruments but getting there still required good old visual reckoning to assure a safe departure from Barkley Sound.

Clear of  the islands and generally heading in an eastern direction towards the Strait of Juan de Fuca we realized our worst disappointment.  The 15-25 knot westerlies that we fought head-on more than a week ago getting to Barkley Sound had completely disappeared.  The ocean was almost flat calm and we were under power with the prospect of remaining so all the way to Port Townsend.  It was going to be a long trip home.  It was 8:45 Sunday morning and we estimated being in Port Townsend between 5:00 and 8:00 Monday morning.

As expected, the trip was long and uneventful.  We traded each other at the helm every hour at which time we noted our position on the charts.  The way points we programmed into the GPS were generally ten miles apart so we had our position confirmed roughly every hour.  At about three hours into the trip we thought there might be enough wind to sail.  We were wrong but left the main sail up anyway just in case it did get windy and to be a bigger visual target for other mariners.

Throughout the day we slowly passed the landmarks we had gone by almost two weeks ago; Seabird Rocks, Pachena Point Lighthouse, the waterfall near Clo-oose, the light at Bonilla Point, the sick-cow foghorn buoy at Port San Juan, the lighthouse at Sheringham Point, and finally the lighthouse at the Race Rock.  For a few moments we were even accompanied by two Dahl porpoise; the largest sea life we saw on the entire trip.

Towards early evening we encountered the first fog bank of the day.  The approaching darkness and fog did not concern us because all day we had been visually spotting ships and observing them on the radar.  Our concern was that while we could see them, we did not know for sure that they could see us.  We trusted that the radar reflector mounted on the backstay was doing its job making us a target others could see.

Around 11 o’clock the sky had cleared and the moon began rising.  Seeing the full moon come over the horizon while at sea was a highlight of the night passage.  Prior to the moon rising the darkness of the water merged with the darkness of the sky creating a realm where I felt alone and vulnerable.  However, as the moon rose, my spirit also lifted and I felt like a distant friend was watching and encouraging us onward.  Throughout the night the clouds would alternately hide and then reveal the brightness of the moon.  At the darkest times the line defining the horizon was lost.  Without a horizon one can temporarily get disoriented.  That’s when “electronics” are invaluable.  Navigating with radar and GPS was like playing a video game.  Only this was not a game, it was real life and parts of our trip depended on them.

By 4:30 the first hint of sunlight appeared in the eastern sky.  It had been a long passage and an even longer night.  With the coming daybreak, the horizon became more defined and within an hour we would be back in Port Townsend.

It’s amazing how easy it is to get back into the United States.  At least it seemed that way to us.  Maybe there is nothing suspicious about a small sailboat coming across the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the wee hours of the morning and anchoring a hundred yards off shore at a small seaport town.  But considering the possible threats in today’s environment I hoped that we were at least observed, profiled, and for whatever reason determined to be of no threat to the country and left alone.  From 5:30 until 8:00 Monday morning we patiently waited on Virginia until we could call the customs agent for further instructions on returning to the United States.

Shortly after 8:00 we called the local customs office on Rob’s cell phone.  Getting no answer he called the 800 number listed in the local tide table book.  The lady who answered the telephone was not very enthusiastic about having to deal with us but after numerous questions and taking a credit card number for payment of the customs processing fee we were cleared to go.  Our reception back into the States was certainly not as enthusiastic and welcoming as our entrance into Canada twelve days ago.  Such is life back in the big city.

Having touched American shores our sailing adventure was effectively over.  All that remained was the passage back down Puget Sound to Tacoma with an overnight stop in Poulsbo.  It was an adventure each of us will remember for our own reasons.  On the surface we traveled many miles, explored many islands, and added many new skills to our book of sailing knowledge.  For me the lasting memory will be the time spent crewing with my son and being a part of a two-man team that made the adventure a success.  The sea is a place where the appreciation one has for another grows and the bonds that tie one to another are strengthened.



“Journey To The Broken Group” First appeared in the January 2004 issue of 48° North