Part One of The First Cruise on Sea Lab

Tekla and Dennis (right) putting their mugs to use. But is it coffee or wine in there?

After only four trailer launches and one overnight trip with our new C-Dory, Sea Lab, it came time for our summer cruise. My wife, Tekla, and I normally take at least two weeks in late summer for our boat trips. We always loved these trips on our sailboats, but our enthusiasm was often tempered because winds are usually light by late August and we end up motoring much more than sailing; but that’s when our work schedules allow, so that’s when we go. Well, now that we’re powerboaters I’m thinking maybe that’s a benefit. Smooth water and no wind are great on Sea Lab!

Another benefit of being small and trailerable, we pulled the boat up to Port Townsend to stage the trailer to maximize time in the islands. Coincidentally, we first had to cruise south to our home waters to attend a memorial service.

After launching in Port Townsend, we headed through the Port Townsend cut to stop for our first night in Port Ludlow, a spot we always enjoyed sailing into on our Cal 27, Moon Dance. We were not in a big hurry and had a few days to get back to Tacoma, so we took our time and lollygagged our way south intending to try out our anchoring system in Eagle Harbor. When we got there it was a beehive of activity with boats buzzing about everywhere, so we reconsidered and continued south to Blakely Harbor where it was nice and quiet.

Tim Tim the sailor dog.

Sea Lab came to us equipped with an anchor windlass, a piece of equipment I had longed for on our sailboats. Both Tekla and I had thrown our backs out a time or two hand-hauling the anchor during our sailing adventures. As we came to the head of the harbor, I rounded up into the breeze and Tekla stationed herself on the bow and I pushed the button. Low and behold, the chain clattered out reverberating through the fiberglass and the rode followed smoothly as we backed down onto a 4:1 scope for the predicted calm night. Now that was easy. Two things I regret not spending money to buy for our Cal 27 are roller furling and a windlass. If I were starting over, I would have both.

I always love swinging on the anchor. Sitting on deck with the view constantly changing without ever having to use your neck muscles. On Moon Dance, the movement was slow and measured. On Sea Lab the movement is more like a leaf tethered by a spider web spinning around with each small puff of a breeze. Much more active than a keelboat.

Feeling secure on our set, it was time for a mug of box Syrah. Traveling light on a small boat calls for some compromises, and foregoing wine glasses is one of them. The coffee mugs serve as drinking vessels night and day. As we were filling the mugs, I noticed an unusual gathering of women on the beach wearing swimsuits and bathing caps and pointed them out to Tekla wondering what was going on. Moments later they were all in the water and making the hundred-yard swim directly for our boat. I wasn’t sure if I should be alarmed or amused. As they reached shouting distance, one of them announced, “We’re here for happy hour, what’s on the drink list?” I laughed and welcomed them aboard hoping the swimmers were joking, and they were. That would have been a crowd of wet people aboard a boat that comfortably holds three!

After a peaceful night at anchor, we perked some coffee on the alcohol stove and refilled our mugs from the night before to greet another beautiful day on the water. There’s something about the smell of the alcohol stove, coffee, and stale wine that evokes a feeling of life well lived. At the push of a button, our rode came home and the chain clattered after, revealing the anchor covered in mud and in need of only a small twist to enable it to come the last few inches back to its rest on the bow. Just like that, we were off again.

As we made our way past Blakley rocks and Blake Island, we made the slight turn to starboard and headed down Colvos passage on our way to Point Defiance Park. There is a nice little moorage dock right behind the ferry landing at Point Defiance where we could stay overnight. The memorial we were to attend was in the park — just a short hike through the woods to Fort Nisqually — so it was a perfect spot for us. Plus, the ferry dock and 8-lane boat launch adjacent to the little marina provided entertainment and boat watching all evening. The prop wash from the ferry landing and leaving is amazingly powerful!

With sadness in our hearts after the memorial, we resumed our vacation on the water and headed back north. It was late afternoon so we crossed Dalco Passage and made our way over to anchor in Quartermaster Harbor for the night, planning an early start for the trip to the islands the next morning. We awoke to drizzling rain and I felt lucky that we had a pilothouse to keep us dry for the trip north. I can’t remember how many times I sat at the tiller in the rain motoring at 4-5 knots for hours on end, sometimes loving the hiss of rain hitting the water and sometimes hating it for making my hands too cold to grip. On Sea Lab, I sat at the helm with coffee in hand while making our way north in comfort.

In my opinion, one of the cutest things aboard Sea Lab are the windshield wipers. Our model was built in 1995, apparently before they invented windshield wiper motors. The wipers are moved back and forth individually by a little handle that comes through the bulkhead and is powered by your hand. Isn’t that quaint? I love it for two reasons: first because it is so unexpected in these days of automated everything; and second, because there will never be an electrical motor and attendant mechanical connections to fix when they stop working. This is the difference between simple and easy and, in this case, I really like simple. In the case of the anchor windlass, I like easy.

Looking at our chart book, we figured we could easily make Edmonds marina to re-fuel and then get up to the marina in Langley — another favorite spot to overnight. The following day, we hoped to escape into the islands through Deception Pass to be free for the next week and a half. What’s that saying about the best laid plans? We were about to find out, and we’ll share that story in our next column, as our summer cruise unveiled some challenging surprises!

Dennis and his mate, Tekla, reside in Auburn, WA and now keep Sea Lab in the water at Tyee Marina.