8-15-2011 Returning to Portland

It turns out that quite a few people have noticed that our postings have trailed off.  It’s good to know that we’re not just speaking into the void; thanks for the feedback!  Here’s a catch-up post, and we’ll try to do better from here on out.

We returned along the Inside Passage following almost the same route that we took on the way up.  We tried to make pretty good time, because we started to feel some urgency to get back to Portland and wrap things up there, so there isn’t as much to tell.  When we passed Klemtu, we made a long day of it, just to avoid having to stop in the same place wse had gone aground.  🙂  We saw lots of whales and waterfalls, just like on the way up.  Ho hum, another beautiful sunset.

When we turned the corner of Johnstone Passage, around the northeastern corner of Vancouver Island, we passed a tug that was pulling a pair of barges with a huge load of gravel and scrap metal.  He announced on the radio that he was going to be going extremely slowly for a while (while he waited for the tide to turn so he could go through the Seymour Narrows).  We pushed on, hoping to make the slack tide before his.

The Seymour Narrows is one of a number of stretches where huge currents are generated with each change of the tide.  First the tide comes in and the current races in one direction, and then the tide goes out and the current races in the other direction.  Depending on the height of the tide, the current can get up to 7, 10, or even 15 knots!  This particular day it was predicted to get to 10 (but remember our boat likes to travel around 7 or sometimes 8).  We were about half an hour later than we should have been, but it looked like it was still slack so we decided to give it a try.  The whole stretch was less than 2 miles long, with the worst section being only about half a mile.  By the time we got halfway, we were thinking “it’s gonna be tight, but I think we’ll be fine”.  The current picked up some more, and by the time we were 2/3 of the way, we were thinking “hmmm, it’s really not clear whether we’ll get through in time”.  The current continued to rise, and by the time we were 4/5 of the way, we were thinking “uh oh, we just might not make it after all”.  We pushed up the throttle a bit, gunning the engine to move just a bit faster.  The current was really racing, creating giant swirls of turbulence all around us.  The force of our propeller was combining with these rapids to produce huge “holes” in the water just behind us and to either side.  Eventually the speed of the current matched the speed of our motor, and we were essentially stationary and our navigation software showed that the only movement we were making was to the side – so it showed us pointed directly towards the rocks on one side of the channel and then the other.  We were about 9/10 of the way, but it was time to admit defeat.  Our engine was overheating and we were starting to move backwards!  We nervously turned the boat around (and didn’t hit any rocks 🙂 ), and zoomed back through the narrows in record time.  There was a nice little bay just on the other side which we tucked into and waited out the tide.  The second time through was a piece of cake.  The tug who we had slowed down 6 hours earlier passed through just behind us, probably with no idea of the drama that we had just experienced.

A couple of days later, we passed through another narrows, this time pretty uneventfully (although it was even narrower and made Kathy nervous after our recent “adventure”).  We took Dodd Narrows on the way to Ladysmith Harbor, where our friends John & Lucy live on their boat Stone Age.  We happened to catch them on their regular Music Night, so we went along with them to this wonderful event, held in members’ homes.  Everyone brought their own guitars and they all played and sang together from a songbook that they had built together over the years.  It was a very pleasant evening.  John & Lucy are also heading down the coast this fall, but they are continuing down to Panama, traversing the Canal, and heading up to Belize, where they will be the managers of a new marina.  They are very excited about this opportunity, and we hope that they will still be there when we come around from the other direction!

Leaving Ladysmith, we had a spectacular sunset on the Georgia Strait, viewed from our lawn chairs on top of the pilothouse.  The Strait can be rough when the wind picks up, because it’s a very large body of water, but this night it was as glassy as you’ve ever seen.  We motored down to the San Juan Islands, where we hooked up with our friends Wanda & John.  They took the ferry from Seattle over to Friday Harbor to spend the day with us.  What a treat!  We spent some time visiting on the boat, we spent some time listening to music in the park, and we had a nice dinner together before it was time to say goodbye.

The next day we stopped in Port Townsend, to get some advice from the well-known rigger, Brion Toss.  He wandered all over the boat, asking questions about how she performs and what we expect of her.  Then he went to work tightening some cables and loosening others.  When he was done, we knew more about our boat than we had before and we had the confidence that the rigging was back in tune (there was some question, as we’d replaced each of the stays one by one this last year and didn’t really know how to tighten them properly).

As we got to the end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and were fueling up in Neah Bay just before heading back onto the ocean, we had one last hiccup.  Our engine wouldn’t start up.  It just stared back at us with those innocent eyes that heavy machinery can make.  We’d actually had this happen once before, but it started again when it cooled down.  So we asked if we could stay an hour and see what happened.  We did, but nothing changed.  The folks at the fuel dock suggested (after we rejected their first idea of just setting us adrift and calling the Coast Guard for help – and they were serious!!!) that we call a guy named Roy who was a whiz with engines.  He turned out to be just the ticket!  He was covered with grease from head to toe, and asked if he should shower before coming over.  We declined. <grin>  He opened up the starter and poked around a bit; ultimately he reseated the brushes and sprayed them with some lubricating fluid, and everything has worked fine since.  Hooray!  Thank you Roy!!!

The trip back was gruelling but otherwise uneventful.  Our friends Gabrielle & Michael had arranged for us to have a slip in the same marina where they live, so it was very easy to come back for a while.  The marina is a small one, about 70 boats, and geared towards liveaboards, especially those who are planning to go cruising.  It was a wonderful place to stay for a few weeks while we fixed some of the things that had broken on our “shakedown cruise”/summer vacation, installed the solar panels that we had run out of time for in April, emptied out our storage unit (Kathy’s “20-pounds-a-week” diet has finally come to an end), and took some classes (we both got HAM licenses and both completed the classroom requirements for getting a Coast Guard certified Captain’s license, but still have to collect some sea-time and do a lot of paperwork).  Everyone at Pirate’s Cove was curious about the new folks on the block, and we got swept into more of a social scene than we’d expected.  It was unexpectedly difficult to leave this new set of friends when we were done!

When we left Pirate’s Cove Marina, we moved to a public dock near Portland in order to have a convenient location for a Bon Voyage party.  When we got there, there was already a boat at the dock – a WWII PT boat, the last one still in operation!  There was a WWII convention going on nearby, and this was one of the exhibits, so there were *lots* of people on the dock that weekend!  There was room for two, though, and we coexisted peacefully, although it was a bit disconcerting to have those big guns pointing at our back deck all day!  The party was a big success.  We had roughly 50 people come over the course of the day to see us off, and it was wonderful to see these friends again after having been gone for several months.  It was also a little sad to be saying goodbye, although many of them expressed an interest in coming to visit us in Fiji or Mexico or somewhere else sunny and/or exotic.  We’re gonna hold you all to those intentions!

Now on to the next chapter of our journey…

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