Sunday, June 30, 2013

Oh my god its been a long time

Where to start ……….

Mike and Diane arrived safely.  We postponed our departure from SNSYC for one night on account of weather and in return got a glorious day for the crossing.  When we got down to Trial Island where Haro Strait turns into Juan de Fuca Strait there was no decision – we just pointed the nose south and 5 hours later we were pulling around Ediz Hook into Port Angeles.  Customs was a breeze – again – but by the time he got done with us the harbor master had gone home so we spent the night on the customs dock.

When I phoned Mike from the dock it turned out that they were a day ahead of schedule as well so they were already in Port Angeles.  We didn’t get together that night but the next day – Saturday – they moved onboard.  Sunday morning we got a moderately late start and headed generally northeast towards San Juan Island.  San Juan Island is where the whale watching boats from Victoria and Vancouver generally take you but evidently not on the days we transit its shoreline.  We did however get boarded by the US Coast Guard so the day wasn’t a complete flop.

We saw the RIB shortly after we left Port Angeles and when it buzzed in a big loop around us and then stood off about a mile ahead of us facing our course at right angles we were pretty certain what would come next.  That advance warning did give us time to get the body retrieval devices (PFDs) in place.  Sure enough, as we crossed their bow the RIB started up and zoomed an arc up to our port quarter.  Marilyn went on deck and helped 2 young girls and a boy get onboard.  When they came in the cabin the leader (who looked like she was about 19) marched up to me and said “I need to see the lowest point of your bilge”.  “OK” sez I “ …………………… why?” “I need to ensure that you aren’t flooding so that our lives aren’t in danger.”

Now you have to remember that we’ve been through all this once before so I already knew that I needed to leave the boat in gear and maintain steerageway.  So there I am heading down the steps to the engine room thinking “this is pure bullcrap --- I’m leaving the helm unattended to show this nitwit that we aren’t sinking – what’s the balance of risk in that equation???”  That’s why when I got down the first flight of stairs I turned to her and said “I’m not comfortable leaving the helm unattended so there’s the bilge –help yourself”.  And I went back upstairs.  I have no idea whether she opened the floorboards or not.  I am however 110% certain we weren’t sinking.

It took about an hour but eventually they got done filling in all the blanks on their form and we continued on our way to not seeing any whales.  That night we tied up at the dock in Prevost Harbor where we spent time with Kim & Steve on our trip from Seattle to Sidney after buying Gray Hawk.  On Monday we got an early start and bucked the current up through Haro Strait, eventually arriving in English Bay in mid afternoon.  The courtesy dock at Granville Island was open so we tied up there for a while to restock perishables and then went the rest of the way up False Creek to the anchorage in front of  BC Place. 

We spent a couple of days in False Creek and then got an early start to catch the ebb tide out the Strait across to Montague Harbor.  We popped our mooring ball cherry and then took the dinghy ashore where Tommy Transit drove the Hippy Bus to get us up to Hummingbird Pub.   The bus ride was better than the pub experience but you have to go to the pub to get the bus ride.

Our original plan was to sit on the dock in front of the Empress Hotel in Victoria for a couple of nights before putting Mike and Diane on a ferry back to Port Angeles but we hadn’t factored in the Canada Day weekend and Victoria was booked solid.  So the revised plan called for a night at anchor behind Trial Island and then taking them into the inner harbour in the morning in time to catch their ferry.  It was the best we could do without being able to book space on the dock but it got complicated when I did a stupid thing.

In the morning when we were having breakfast in Montague Harbour at one point I was waiting for a pan to warm up so I went down on the swim grid and got the dinghy hoisted.  I never went back to finish tying up the loose ends of the dinghy falls so we travelled all day with two lengths of about 40 feet of line lying loose on the swim grid.  When I backed down on the anchor one of those lines went into the port prop.  I didn’t realize what had happened of course until the port engine shuddered to a stop.  I thought “that’s weird” and started it up again.  It started right up and then stopped again as soon as I put it in gear. 


After many hours of putzing around with wetsuits and swimmers and boat hooks Marilyn tried phoning the Victoria Harbour again and by that late hour the 16 year old kid running the dock had figured out that they still had dock space so we limped into town on one engine.  Meanwhile I had lined up some very expensive divers to come and clear the line in the morning.  Our local diver Terry would have been happy to do it in Cow Bay and would probably have charged at most half what I paid the guys in Victoria but I was glad to have the evidence of my stupidity expunged. 

Despite our diver induced late start from Victoria we still got back to Cow Bay by 5:00, in time for drinks with Bill and Donna.  We waited until the parking lot settled down before a late evening trip to Walmart and then got an early departure this morning.  85 miles and 13 hours later found us tied to the dock in Powell River where Marilyn was able to catch up on laundry & I got the impellers on both engines changed before replacing the dinghy fall that I consumed a couple of nights ago. 

Tomorrow we’ll time our arrival at Roscoe Bay so we can get into the bay.  We’ve been to Roscoe before and both really liked it but its not dead simple to get into the bay because the entrance dries at low tide.  That means that when the tide goes out the rocks stick up above the water enough to dry out.  So we’ll time our arrival to get there just before the end of the flood tide.  That way if we run aground the tide will still lift us a little bit more to allow us to either back out or get the rest of the way in.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Staying at the dock

We’re closing in on a visit with friends from Florida.  Mike & Diane left Skip & Maria’s place in Helena yesterday morning heading west and we expect them to arrive in Port Angeles sometime over the weekend.  We have been on the dock at SNSYC for two nights now and intended to leave early this morning for Port Angeles.  That plan however was subject to confirmation at 5:00 AM today.

The number one cause of vessel sinkings is stupid skippers.  I’m not claiming to be a particularly wise skipper but sometimes the smartest move a captain can make is to stay put.  Agendas and boats don’t go well together.  Which is why when I woke at 5:00 AM I immediately checked a variety of weather reports.  Gotta love a smartphone that lets you do all that without getting out from under the covers. 


Red is bad and when I clicked the section for Haro Strait I got even more red:


So I rolled over and went back to sleep.  When I got up a couple of hours later it didn’t seem that bad out but I checked the Trial Island lighthouse report and it was still showing 4 foot waves in Juan de Fuca (they were 5 feet at 5:00).  Over the course of the morning the wind here has got steadily stronger.  I expect that the wind was stronger in the Strait early this morning and that whatever system is driving it has now moved up to where we are.  The forecast for tomorrow is excellent but as always our departure will be weather dependant. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

An American interlude

I was gone briefly.  Did you miss me?

I left for Kansas on Saturday and returned last night.  It was a largely uneventful trip.  Uneventful is good when you are flying into tornado territory.  Alaskan Air had a slight hiccup leaving Seattle but to their credit they handled it better than I have ever seen an airline handle that type of situation.

As we were taxiing away from the gate everyone on the plane heard a loud squealing noise.  It probably happened half a dozen times in the time it took us to travel from the gate to the end of the active runway.  But instead of turning right onto the runway we turned left back toward the terminal.  This can’t be good.

In fairness to Alaskan’s decision, I’m a big fan of fixing airplanes on the ground.  Pretty well any idiot can get an airplane into the air and they will always eventually come back down again.  The only reason pilots make the big bucks is because they can generally land the planes in re-useable condition.  That process is aided by having all the systems in top notch working order.  The errant noise on Saturday sounded to me like a hydraulic squeal.  Considering that pretty well all the important things onboard need hydraulics to control them, losing the hydraulic system in flight could have been hazardous to my health.

So I wasn’t happy about the flight being delayed but I was a lot happier about a delay than I would have been about a failure to land successfully in Kansas City.  As it turned out Alaskan Air management leaped into the fray and resolved the problem expeditiously including providing frequent, honest updates along the way.  We were ultimately back in the air on a completely different airplane less than one and a half hours after our scheduled departure time.  Then we caught some favourable tailwinds and arrived in Kansas City slightly over an hour late.  That kind of on-time performance would be enviable for Air Canada on any given day and they certainly wouldn’t need a major hydraulic failure to put them that far behind schedule.


Before I left Kansas City I bought a Wilson Cellphone booster.  We have one of those in the bus and it works a charm.  Two years ago on the advice of someone whose opinion I used to trust I bought something called a Maximum Signal booster for the boat.  It was touted as being vastly superior to the Wilson system.  Initially it appeared to work slightly but I never thought much of it and it certainly never even came close to the Wilson performance.  Lately I have concluded that it is perhaps slightly better than nothing at all but not much better.  The vendor – Gord May – has more or less told me to go pound sand.  Today I installed the Wilson booster and tonight I listed the Maximum Signal product here.  If you’re interested give me a call and I’ll try to talk you out of it.

In addition to installing the Wilson booster I set the crab traps.  We’ve got friends on their way from Florida to Port Angeles to meet us.  We plan to cross Juan de Fuca sometime in the next week but I want to make sure we are stocked up on seafood before we leave Canada.  I’ll get some crabmeat and some crabcakes in the freezer and then we’ll catch a mess of prawns before we head south. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Very civilized anchorage

Yesterday concurrent with listening to the idiot trespassing into WG we crossed Georgia Strait back to Nanaimo in time to make the slack at Dodd Narrows.  Once through Dodd we ducked around the corner of De Courcy island and tied up in Pirates Cove. 

We’ve been here before and aside from a slightly tricky entrance and doubtful holding its a pretty good anchorage.  The last time we were here we buggered around for a long time trying to get a good set but eventually ended up just dropping the hook and praying.  The sides of the inlet are steep and rocky.  I expect there just isn’t enough mud on the bottom for the anchor to hook into anything really solid.  It is however so thoroughly protected that I don’t think it really matters and in addition someone has installed stern tie rings all around the shoreline.  So once we are stern tied with even a little help from the anchor we are pretty secure against the very light winds we may experience. 

We had stern tie rings in the rocks at Smuggler Cove as well but they were hard to spot.  They were painted kind of a rusty red that sort of blended into the rock.  Here the rings are painted bright yellow and then they have painted a yellow arrow on the rocks pointing at each ring.  Its really very civilized. 


The entrance here is a little tricky.  There’s a long reef that extends out from the peninsula with a port hand marker on the end of the reef.  At high tide it looks like the marker is just out in the middle of the ocean but this morning at low tide the reef extends all the way out to the marker.  In the photo below the marker is a little above and to the left of centre.  You can clearly see the reef but it was completely invisible when we arrived yesterday afternoon. 


There’s a crude set of range markers on the shore to guide you into the inlet because the reef extends past the marker but to my way of thinking the range isn’t far enough out so I kind of ignored it yesterday.  Range marks aren’t real common but when they are well done they can be very useful.  The concept is that they put two marks on shore – a “close” mark and a “far” mark.  So typically the close mark will be right on the shoreline or even in shallow water and the far mark will be maybe a hundred yards or more onshore and higher up in the air.  When you are on the water you just line up the close mark under the far mark and when they are directly aligned you know you are in a straight line offshore from the marks.  There’s a really good set of range markers to guide you into the Swinomish Channel, between Seattle and Anacortes.


In the image above you can see our route coming up from the bottom centre and then turning east into the channel.  You have to make the turn out in the middle of nowhere and the channel is very narrow.  Its a dredged channel so you haven’t got much room for error.  What you do is wait until the two markers indicated by the yellow arrows line up and then keep them in line as you head generally east into the channel.  In this case both markers are on towers in the water but the principle is the same – you keep the lower, closer marker directly under the higher, farther away marker. 

The entrance here drops to as little as 2 feet at low tide so its important for us to enter with 5 feet or more of tide in our favour.  We had about 12 feet yesterday so no worries but its still a tight entrance.  This morning I watched a pair of fools in a boat slightly smaller than Gray Hawk leave close to extreme low tide.  I always wonder in a case like that if they just don’t know better or if they are really well informed.  Based on episodes like the one we listened to yesterday I tend to assume that most fellow mariners are just stupidly lucky.  My father used to say “God looks out for fools and small children.”

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Whiskey Golf

There’s a naval exercise area northwest of Nanaimo called Area WG, referred to locally simply as “Whiskey Golf”.  Its not always active but when it is everybody needs to steer clear and it can be kind of a pain to get around it. 


Whiskey Golf is not identified on all charts but its on some of them and I have taken the time to plot the coordinates of the corners as waypoints on our nav computer.  That way they are always visible even if the underlying chart doesn’t show the boundaries clearly.  Its up to mariners to determine whether or not WG is active and I typically just assume it is active unless I hear otherwise.  You can call Winchelsea Control on Channel 10 and they will tell you whether the range is active and the Coast Guard automated reports usually include a sentence indicating whether the range is active and if so for what period of time.  This year Winchelsea Control has started making regular announcements on 16 whenever the range is active and I happened to comment to Marilyn this morning that I thought that was a particularly good idea.  Our trip today could have been slightly shorter if the range had not been active – as it was I had a course plotted that took us just outside the eastern boundary of the range and then across the southern boundary into Nanaimo

Evidently there was another mariner out today who had not bothered to even listen to Channel 16 (which every mariner is legally obligated to do at all times unless he is obligated to monitor a commercial traffic control channel).  As we were approaching the NE corner of the range I heard Winchelsea Control hailing some vessel – I didn’t pay particular attention to the name and I probably wouldn’t post it here anyway – let’s call him Vessel X. 

“Vessel X this is Winchelsea Control on Channel 16.  You are trespassing in an active naval range.  Turn your vessel immediately to a heading of 180 true and leave the range at once.  Winchelsea Control OUT.”  (he’s very adamant about that OUT when he signs off)  Now anybody with half a brain that got such a message would have immediately complied but evidently the captain of Vessel X was not your ordinary fool.  He started out by apologising profusely for being in the wrong place but evidently he did not alter course.  The next transmission from Winchelsea Control was an order to switch and answer on Channel 10 which is their working channel.  This was shaping up to be excellent entertainment so I tuned our second radio to Channel 10 so as not to miss anything.

Evidently there was a patrol boat following or more likely trying to head off Vessel X because his first transmissions were a whining series of complaints about how he was doing what they told him to do and why were they continuing to harass him.  Control kept requesting/ordering him to assume a 180 true course and did so for about 20 minutes.  It didn’t take long for us to figure out that he wasn’t following the course they wanted him to but of course we couldn’t see him so we could only infer what he was doing from the conversation. 

At one point Control told him that the reason the patrol boat was so close was to protect him because that “big airplane above you” is dropping torpedoes and if one of them lands on your deck it will go right through you.  At another point he advised the hapless Captain that because he was trespassing on an active range he had no insurance and if anything happened it would be entirely his problem.  Finally about 15 or 20 minutes into the adventure it was obvious that Winchelsea Control was running out of patience when he asked “What exactly are you using for navigation this morning?”  Long pause …….. no response, followed by,  “Is it safe for me to assume that you have no charts onboard?”   Again no response.  At that point though the moron did finally start to ask about the 180 course request and Control informed him that he was actually on a 150 True course. 

He must have finally turned to 180 but at one point we could hear the skipper on the patrol boat telling him that the colregs required him to give way and that he must alter to starboard immediately.  I assume at that point that the patrol boat had parked himself directly in front of Vessel X with his red light facing the errant boat.  That would make Vessel X the give way vessel and could explain the conversation about altering to starboard.  I suppose it would also help explain the whining about how the patrol boat was harassing him.  Somewhere in the middle of all that Control also gave him a lecture about monitoring Channel 16.  That came when the fool started complaining that there was no way for him to know that the range was active.   Obviously if he had been monitoring 16 – as he claimed to be – he would have heard several announcements about the range being active and that was the nature of the lecture that he received.  I’m just guessing but I expect he didn’t actually even turn his radio on until the patrol vessel with its flashing lights and sirens pulled up beside him and made hand signals about talking on the radio.

It was really good entertainment that could only have been improved if we could have seen it all live.  I scanned the water with my binoculars but couldn’t figure out where it was happening.  We could hear the siren when the patrol vessel captain was on the radio so I think it was safe to assume that there would have been flashing red and blue lights as well.