Saturday, March 24, 2012

Heading north

Yesterday morning we got an early start out of Seattle and had a glorious run up the coast into Skagit Bay.  We’d been advised not to go through the Swinomish Channel because it has been silting in at the south end and some boats have run aground there.  I wasn’t sure whether the risk of grounding in the Swinomish Channel or getting dashed to bits in Deception Pass was worse.  Our only other alternative would have been to go outside Whidbey Island which would have meant running in the open for a day and a half so I didn’t much like that option either.

Given that we weren’t going outside, we had to come up into Skagit Bay either way and then when we got to the mouth of the Swinomish we had to make a decision to either turn hard right or go on to Deception Pass.  We turned right and it came out OK.  The problem with Deception is that even with the small “neap” tides we are having now, the currents run 8 or 9 knots and on spring tides they can be much higher.  And they turn from ebb to flood on a dime so you have to be sitting there waiting for the current to get almost stopped, duck out into the pass and hope you’re through before it gets running the other direction again.

I had checked online the night before & it sounded like the Swinomish groundings have been at low or minus tides.  On the US side you can actually have a negative tide because of the way they set their chart datum.  Based on our experience yesterday I wouldn’t want to take our boat through that channel with any less than a 4 foot tide.  We were between 4 and 5 feet when we went through and we saw close to 6 feet of water at some points.  I had the alarm set at 6 feet and it never actually rang but it was damn close at times, particularly at the south end for about the first mile in. 

Swinomish range

In the picture the red arrows are pointing at the two range markers.  The one to the east is low to the water and the westerly one is higher up.  If you make 2 fists and hold them up, one farther away and higher than the other and then move your head from side to side you will simulate what we used to align ourselves with the ditch.  When the lower mark moves to one side that means you have drifted off course to the other side so effectively what you do is steer toward the lower mark.  Which is fine if you are heading toward them but about as handy as hip pockets in long underwear if you are travelling away from the markers.  Marilyn sat in the doorway yesterday and called out the range marks and I drove really slow watching the depth sounder.  Like I said, we made it.

This morning we tried the poop pumper at La Conner but it was defective.  So we pulled up to the fuel dock and discovered nobody was home.  We were still trying to get sorted out to dock when the operator arrived to open up but the current was running too hard to dock in the direction we were headed so we had to pull away, turn around and return.  La Conner is famous for currents and they are so unpredictable that the guide books just say “consult local knowledge”.  The fuel dock always has a sign out indicating the current direction.  It was deceptive this morning – the water was so calm that it didn’t look like there was any strength to the current but when I started maneuvering in it I quickly discovered that both engines running at idle would barely hold us in position.  That means the current was 3 to 4 knots. 

After we took on fuel we had a leisurely run the rest of the way up the channel to Anacortes where we arrived in the middle of their boat show.  This isn’t the big Trawlerfest event but rather their local effort.  We attended it last year and for a free boat show its OK.  I wouldn’t pay anything to attend it but paying one night’s moorage doesn’t seem excessive for what’s on offer.

We really like Anacortes – the Safeway is just across the road, West Marine is an easy walk away on Commercial and down at the end of Commercial there’s a great marine hardware and surplus store. 

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