A couple weeks ago the flood tide that would lift Saga north from Anacortes, Washington to Sucia Island near the Canadian border, started mid-afternoon. The boat was rigged, provisioned and ready to go that morning. The only thing unaccounted for was the compass. Couldn't be found anywhere.
No big deal, these are protected waters where land is always visible and the route well known. Anxious to get underway, we set off. The tide would be against the little boat for the next four to five hours, but after a gentle push west out of Guemes Channel on the ebb, the idea was to sail leisurely at the south end of Bellingham Channel until the flood, then ride the afternoon tide all the way to Sucia Island.
All was well. The day was bright and beautiful. The wind was a bit light and the current steady, so very little forward progress was made all morning. Just to the west a pretty band of fog drifted in off the Strait of Juan de Fuca and along the coast of Cypress Island. Saga was behaving well and making probably two or three knots over the water, yet none over the ground. In fact the set was a bit to the west, which caused no particular concern, it was good to just be sailing.
The fog on the western shore had dissipated as the sun reached it's zenith, so imagine my surprise when Saga was suddenly engulfed in mist. Habitually, I looked for the compass which, as we already know, was no where to be found. Cursing my ill fortune, I watched the peaks on Cypress Island disappear as the sun turned to a diffuse milky haze. The regular rhythm of a light fetch was all the directional indication left.
Saga held her course.
Directly behind me, I heard the toll of a navigational horn on a big ship. I must be drifting south, back into Guemes Channel!
Panic is deadly and must be avoided at all costs. File through all the options. Strike the sails and get the motor going. But then what? No worries, there is a compass function on the GPS. Now some of you may laugh because you know Doryman doesn't use a GPS very often, he depends on his charts and his COMPASS.
The compass function was not hard to find but it took me a few minutes to discover the gadget had to be oriented along the centerline of the boat to give an accurate reading. It didn't help that this little hand held toy has a turtle shell shaped back and will not lay flat on a seat or thwart.
It does no good to have plenty of fuel and a dependable engine if you have no idea where you are or where you're going. The horn on my stern was much louder by now and it was time to get the hell out of here. I flipped to the map function and panned out to get a bearing and imagine my surprise to see "Strait of Juan de Fuca" on the western margin of the tiny screen. The magnitude of my dilemma just set in. I was possibly in the shipping lane for Guemes Channel, and even more disconcerting, might be very near the much more heavily trafficked Rosario Strait. The horn from that freighter was very loud, very close.
This story might have a different ending if the fog had not lifted at that moment. The stark reality was apparent in the mid-afternoon sun. I had indeed drifted southwest into Rosario Strait and was close to three miles from where I'd last taken a visual bearing.
I never saw the freighter. (and I'm sure they never saw me.)
Soon Sucia Island was in sight. The first task, after setting anchor and before dinner, is to find that compass!
To be continued...