Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Whidbey Island Circumnavigation

The Vancouver Expedition (1791–1795) was a four-and-a-half-year voyage of exploration and land acquisition (some may say piracy), commanded by Captain George Vancouver. The expedition circumnavigated the globe, touched five continents and changed the course of history for various indigenous nations and the burnishing British empire that subjugated them. The expedition at various times included between two and four vessels, and up to 153 men, all but six of whom returned home to aspiring careers.

In 1792, HMS Discovery's Ship's Master, Joseph Whidbey accompanied Lieutenant Peter Puget in small boats to explore what was later named Puget Sound. On June 2, the team discovered Deception Pass, establishing the insularity of the Sound's largest island which Vancouver named Whidbey Island.

Whidbey Island is approximately 55 miles (89 km) long (from the extreme north to extreme south, and varies between 1.5 to 12 miles (2.4 to 19.3 km) wide, comprising 168.67 square miles (436.9 km2).

My solo Whidbey Island circumnavigation came about because of the TSCA messabout at Hope Island near the northeast end of it's much larger neighbor, not far from Deception Pass.

This voyage began in Mystery Bay. The weather prediction was perfect for it, a convergence zone was due over the area, with southerlies on the Friday of departure, developing into northerlies for the rest of a week. I could ride the cool, rainy front north, expecting warmer, sunny weather to bring me back.

It sounds simple. Unfortunately for Doryman, the cool front moved through a full day early. Belle Starr was anxious to go, regardless. We headed south from Port Townsend with the developing high pressure behind us. All the way, through the "Cut" at the south end of Port Townsend Bay and across Admiralty Inlet, to the south end of Whidbey, it was downwind or a broad reach, with a push from a flood tide. Very pleasant. The wind shifted with us as we traveled west until the setting sun brought on a chill.

In a fit of complacency, I hoped the westerly would continue on the lee side of the island as we rounded north at Possession Point. To make this a comfortable three day trip, as planned, we still had at least ten miles to go. Twenty miles to a recognized anchorage. None of this was to be. The wind we found was directly on the nose of my worthy vessel, which was not up to the task of making much headway against a northeasterly growing in force. In the gloaming, two successive gusts struck Belle Starr to starboard, hard enough to bring waves over the cockpit coaming.

This had never happened to me before in my experience with the Stone Horse - Belle Starr being a very dry boat. She was floundering under the added weight, with scuppers underwater and no momentum or steerage. Flustered and tired, it took a few seconds to recognize the water was not draining and there was little else to do but try and bring the boat upright and disperse the intruding water. Most of the water escaped, but enough remained to dampen my enthusiasm. The last two paragraphs comprise four hours of man and boat against the sea, so exhausted and despite an exposed lee shore, we tacked in and set anchor for a restless night. The pile of wet gear in the cockpit would have to wait.

One lazarette had filled completely (something to put on the list...leaky lazarettes have sunk many boats.), thoroughly soaking sets of off-shore rain gear and boots. Although none of it absorbed water, anyone familiar with the Northwest climate will understand it took most of the next day, sailing with gear spread all over the cockpit, to dry everything enough to re-stow.

Well, sailing... figuratively. Saturday, with about fifty miles to reach Hope Island, the wind, still directly ahead, died to a whisper. I disdain the use of motors, as a principle and when I succumb to a rational argument with myself, it is with regret. Crank up the outboard and head for Oak Harbor to buy fuel, a great sin in the world of Doryman.
We reached the Hope Island messabout an hour before sundown. A quick transit around the island, looking for friends, revealed a lovely state park that is primarily a nature preserve. When I found the anchorage, I'd just missed a potluck supper on Night Bird, Claire and John's new Catalina 22, with Martin and his son Trevor, from Clover, Ed, his son and a friend who launched their Core Sound 17 at Coronet Bay, just east of Deception Pass. But I was just in time for an evening chat, watching a fresh new moon, attended by Venus and Jupiter, from the cockpit. Sublime.

Sunday dawned with that misty morning haze, the crown jewel of the summer maritime Pacific Northwest, when sea and sky blend together, like living inside an emerald. You know the day will be bright and warm. Inside the archipelago, the breezes will be light, but we were headed out into open water, with wind funneled directly off the ocean, through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Deception Pass is a narrow opening in the rock between Whidbey Island and Fidalgo Island and should be transited at slack tide. To meet an ebb in Rosario Strait, we needed to meet the high slack after daybreak coffee.

The entire day was blessed with a steady westerly on the starboard beam. A sailor's dream. The hours flowed by in simple contemplation of good fortune until the Point Wilson light and Port Townsend Bay came into view. Sailing about 150 challenging and beautiful nautical miles in 50 hours. It doesn't get better than that.

Hitch hikers to nowhere.

Bald eagles.

Aboard Night Bird.

Raft-up at twilight.

Clover's dingy.

Clover in early morning repose.

Looking west through Deception Pass. You can see how it got it's name.

A lot of water funnels through that little opening.

Running free. The old girl could use a new mainsail...

Point Wilson, Port Townsend Bay at the end of the day.

Whidbey Island, by Ron Kerrigan.


Alden Smith said...

Any successful circumnavigation is a good one in my book - well done - looks like a lot of fun and good sailing experience was had by all !

robert.ditterich said...

Makes a very fine story, but I guess there were some moments....the ones you havent quite come to terms with yet...it must have been exhausting as much as stimulating.

doryman said...

I've never been interested in taking turns around a buoy. Though I did spend a decade on a racing crew, destination sailing has always been my true love. With any trip, you will encounter all kinds of variables and most of them will be of the uphill variety.
For many years I indulged in long distance endurance bicycling, which has a lot in common with sailing. On a bicycle, you will spend the lion's share of your ride climbing uphill. The downhill stretches go by so quickly and you will sometimes regret that easy motion because it means another hill in the immediate future.

Single-handing a sailboat requires stamina and a will to endure. Why I find this enriching, even fun, is still a mystery. It just is.