I have a strategy for maximizing the probability of a smooth crossing of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It basically boils down to getting the crossing done before noon. Winds pick up in the afternoon. I also take all NOAA weather forecasts calling for Small Craft Advisories (SCA) with several grains of salt. I’ve been in the middle of the strait in a SCA plenty of times when the wind never got over 10 knots. They just seem to be tremendously conservative when throwing the SCA forecast out there. I take Gale warnings seriously, but unless there is some real world data from the Smith Island or Halibut Bank weather stations to corroborate the SCA, I take it as input but certainly not gospel. When cruising with the family I like the straits to have 15 knots or less. With anyone else who is up for some thrilling sailing, we are good to 25 knots. More than that we try to avoid, but if it pipes up the boat can handle it. Through good luck and employing the above strategy and guidelines, I can't remember the last "bad" strait crossing we've had as a family.
We set off from Point Hudson around 6:30 AM, just in time for max ebb and a renewal of my respect for the famous Point Wilson Rip. There was no wind really, less than 5 knots, otherwise I would have gone way to the east or hugged the shore way to the west before heading north. That rip is pretty healthy even with no wind. The bow was getting buried in green water every other minute or so. Cathy emerged from the vberth for some comfort, asserting that “THE VBERTH IS GOING *CRAZY*.” I can only imagine how much air the girls were getting in their bunks. We bulled our way through and were done with the rip in about half an hour thanks to the 3 knots of favorable current it provided, and it was all smooth motoring from there on.
After transiting Cattle Pass I was whipping up a batch of flapjacks in the galley when we were interrupted by the good folks from the Department of Homeland Security who just wanted to spend 10 minutes or so interrogating us in the rain. I’ve had the pleasure of this on-the-water interrogation once before, but it was near Turn Point on Stuart Island, and area that actually is pretty near the border. I’m not sure why they were patrolling between San Juan and Lopez Island. It felt not unlike I imagine it would feel to be pulled over in your car by the Border Patrol while driving around Kirkland. It is a little impressive how they effectively hold station about 5 feet off your stern, both boats in motion, and manage to be heard. I just try to answer their rapid-fire questions as quickly and succinctly as possible. My favorite was Q:Where do you reside? A:Seattle Q:Seattle Proper?
We make the uneventful journey to Deer Harbor, get our assigned slip and pull in. This is the kind of joint where there are nice fit young marina employees waiting to catch your mooring lines. Hmm….I need to go in there? Next to that massive wide-beam American Tug? This is gonna be tight. Tight as in room for my outboard fender and room for yours, but not room for both! Squeaky tight. We made it and sure enough there is no air gap between any of our fenders. I put this as the second-tightest slip partner we’ve ever encountered.
I have to say that the docking proficiency on this whole trip was has gone up a notch. Kim and Elizabeth both understand their roles, proper use of cleats for leverage, and have a good situational awareness of when things go wrong what they can do to fix things. This could be a biased perception due to the nature of this specific trip. We rarely had much wind during docking on this trip, and we spent a lot of time anchoring. Plus also, the prevalence of side tie linear rather than slips at BC marinas makes things a bit easier. As long as you don’t have to parallel park in a tight spot.
Turns out this nice shiny American Tug we are hip-to-hip with is only 3 weeks old and on its inaugural cruise. The owners don’t like the tight fit. Out of concern over their wide beam, they had previously been assured by marina staff that no other boat would be moored next to them. We are asked to move over one slip. Upon acceding, we are told we have some beers coming. Cool.
Weather-wise it is a bit dreary at Deer Harbor on this visit. Not the first time we’ve been here in the rain. It is a good refuge from the weather destination. I remember one year with my brother-in-law Troy, Nieces, and Elizabeth when we all went swimming in the pool on a cold rainy day. I went ahead to the boat and fired up the diesel furnace to get the boat toasty warm for them. A rare occasion of actually using the furnace in the summer. This trip we don’t swim. I took a nice walk with Elizabeth. She told me more about her summer camp experience at Camp Orkila. It was supposed to be sailing session, but it turns out it was a longboat session. They did a lot of rowing. Rowing to Sucia, Patos, Matia on a 5 day boat trip. It sounded different from what we expected, but a grand adventure nonetheless.
Kim is wroth with me over the fact that she asked to have Talking Rain provisioned as a full case from Costco, whereas I had only stocked a measly 6 bottles. What is she supposed to drink…plain water!? This complaint is about to become a meme of this cruise. Deer Harbor lacks any kind of carbonated unsweetened beverage. They do still stock ground beef from MacDonald Meats, a butcher on a residential street less than a mile from our house in Seattle. I’ve never seen it for sale anywhere else.
I really like the Deer Harbor showers. They can sometimes feel a little un-loved: there is often maintenance equipment being stored in the shower room, and the light bulbs sometimes go without replacement for too long. But they are totally functional, good hot water, and plenty of time… 6 minutes I think? Maybe 7. They are a little unusual in that they run on tokens, purchased at the marina office or store for $2. Conceptually, this raises a concern that the incremental cost of getting just a little more water is another whole $2, but in reality I think we've all been just fine with the time provided by one token. While I’ve never tried it, I am pretty sure Deer Harbor belongs on the special list of places where you can anchor and still utilize the pay showers. I really like the sink, mirror, and counter space in the shower room, and they get extra class points for putting the showers in a completely separate room from the toilets.
Didn’t feel like cooking, so we ate from the store. Their menu is a bit limited and the food is purely adequate. I got a chicken wrap with some kind of chipotle mayo spread. It was OK, and about what I expected based on prior visits. I’ve never tried the restaurant that is down the road. We checked it out on a walk once. I recall it was on the spendy side of things, entrees in the $20 - $30 range. Needs more research. Do they have good reviews? Do they have a kids menu or will they do a kids portion?
After dinner I collect on the beer. I am asked if I would like a lime. I decline. I am told it is Corona and therefore must be served with lime. I accept. They are from San Francisco. They will keep the boat up here. There are tax issues associated with these decisions. Tomorrow they are planning to pick up a parks buoy at Stuart Island. They have studied how to complete this task and plan to pick it up from the stern. They are having a great time and envy us for having ready access to these beautiful cruising waters. They bemoan the lack of interesting destinations in the Bay area. Nice folks. We wish them well!
The weather is supposed to clear up. We make a further departure from the pro forma itinerary and plan to make the short hop to Poet’s Cove Resort at Bedwell Harbor. Kim has never been there before. It has a spa, and a pool. We can clear customs. I call and am a little surprised that they do indeed have space for us on a weekend night. This is a place where I am accustomed to being shut out of on short notice. I guess the rumors that marinas are having a tough time may be true. I’m OK with extending the journey up because we have the time for it, and the weather forecast for the Strait of Georgia is all a big null for the next 4 days or so. Our plan now is Poet’s Cove, then Nanaimo, and then across the Strait of Georgia. Bing-bam-boom, program a route into OpenCPN, upload to chartplotter, call it a night.
Point Hudson Marina in Port Townsend is without a doubt the marina I have visited most in my life. I stay a minimum of 4 nights a year here: two nights for the annual Wauquiez Rendezvous, and a night on either end of our summer cruise.
As the realtors say: "location, location, location." Hudson Point is a natural transit point for boats going to or from the San Juan Islands and points north. It is an easy 5 - 6 hour cruise from Shilshole and perfect setup for my tried and true strategy for crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca: go early!
In my misspent youth I frequently visited Point Hudson on the family Thunderbird, either for a local Tbird regatta or en route to the islands. One memorable year I was stupid enough to ignite illegal fireworks on the dock, resulting in a hole being burnt in one boat's canvas cover. I was still paying that repair expense months later. I still cringe to think how close those sparks were landing to portable fuel tanks. I also have many memories of the horrible state of the bathrooms, often featuring overflowing toilets.
As anyone who has visited in recent years can attest, the overflowing toilet issue is just a distant memory. The bathrooms sparkle and shine now. I've frequently run into the hard working maintenance dude in there mid-day keeping them spotless. The docks also went through an overhaul not too long ago and are all top-notch. The shorter slips are a bit challenging in the wind (look out for slips numbered 25 and higher) due to the minimal turning radius between the commercial dock and the transient slips, but other than that the facilities are all pretty much just what you would hope for.
The showers are very nice and are unique in that you can get the water flowing for a measly US quarter. Nowhere else can you do this! It enables a "navy-style" shower for a mere $0.50. I actually prefer navy-style showers when paying for them. Sometimes in the cramped pay showers it is difficult to avoid having all of your lathery suds rinsing away before you've scrubbed the sweat and sunscreen off.
The location is also very convenient to the historic retail zone, the skate park, and a short stroll on the beach to Chetzamoka Park.
Port Townsend is one of those rare stops on the boat where you can actually find a decent restaurant serving more than fish and chips, burgers, and pulled pork. Some of our favorites are Alchemy, Sweet Laurette, and Lanza's.
There is really only one nightlife spot worth mentioning: Sirens. Up several staircases with a great deck facing the bay, Sirens is pretty much the only place to go after 10:00 PM. They have an..."eclectic" live music lineup. You may see some blues-infused klezmer or a jugband attired in period dress, or see the locals grooving to Kid Rock on rockaroke.
We miss the absence of the now closed Salal Cafe for breakfast. The Point Hudson Cafe is OK, but the breakfasts at the Salal were wonderful.
I disrecommend the Chinese restaurant at Point Hudson, and the Sarape Mexican restaurant. Both represent the most mediocre of their respective cuisines.
While there is a lot to like about the Point Hudson Marina, almost all of its positive attributes basically boil down to its location and the quality of the infrastructure. Marina operations and policies leave a lot of room for improvement in being boater-friendly.
Two points on the infrastructure: (1) the wifi is an embarrassment. In the marina office they will tell you the password for the wifi and warn you "it is pretty spotty." On my most recent visit I challenged them a bit on this, letting them know they have been giving this same lame warning literally for years. The response was a less than heartening explanation that that was something the people in the administration building handled, aka "not my department." When the only direct contact your customer has is with someone with a "not my department" philosophy, there is a missed opportunity.
Good wifi is a solved problem (just not in Port Townsend). There is certainly more to it than turning on the wifi on a dlink router and calling it good, but plenty of larger marinas provide free wifi over a much larger footprint than Point Hudson. Gorge Harbor provides world-class wifi coverage over their entire extensive grounds. The only reason to continue to provide such poor service for years on end is simply that they don't care.
Second point on the infrastructure: bathroom sink areas. This is a really minor and nitpicky point, but the sink areas could be improved. As of now they are pretty much only functional as hand-washing stations. There is no shelf or counter space to put shaving cream, toothpaste, or any other personal care items. A couple of hooks are all you get. This is all mitigated by my gradual realization that in most cases, anything other than toilet and shower use is better when done on the boat. Toothbrushing, face washing, shaving are all easier on the boat.
Point Hudson charges a $7 reservation fee. This is pretty steep, and it is not a generally accepted fee or practice across marinas. I think Friday Harbor also charges a reservation fee...but they also only reserve a fraction of their total slips. Without a reservation for a weekend night in the summer at Point Hudson you absolutely will be shut out most of the time. I can't think of any justification for this policy other than to maximize the extraction of dollars from boaters' wallets. Take my credit card info and charge in full for no-shows, but don't drown me in "convenience fees."
They have a similar "have my cake and eat it" approach to how they charge for slips. If your boat is shorter than the slip length, you get charged for the full slip length. 35 foot boat in a 40 foot slip? Get charged for 40 feet. I am actually OK with this part of the policy. The part that gets my goat is that if you overhang, you get charged for your boat length. 43 foot boat in a 40 foot slip? Get charged for 43 feet. In other words, we will charge you the maximum our rate card allows even if it means being inconsistent in how we determine the length to charge.
These anti-consumer policies and the "not my department" syndrome are found in some municipal dock operations. Many do a wonderful job welcoming boaters (Lund, Friday Harbor, Cowichan, Chemainus) but others fall short. I would put Point Hudson in the same ranks as Victoria and Bremerton for not being very customer-focused.
Well that was a lot of general info and bitching and moaning, but what about our visit on August 1, the first day of our 4 week journey? It was fine. A little cool and cloudy, but that was kind of a relief after all of the hot weather we had in July. We sailed a little on the way up. I had a reservation for slip 25, a port tie which is good for the prop walk from my left-hand rotation propeller. Docking was drama-free, owing to the negligible wind and my recent practicing of the "back and fill" method of spinning the point in place. After reviewing the french bistro menu at Alchemy (a favorite for the rendezvous mancation weekends) and rejecting it as not being kid-friendly, we climbed the stair to uptown for dinner at Lanza's, a good italian restaurant I discovered last year when coming back with Anders and his brother. Everyone enjoyed their meal and leftovers were taken back for the next day's lunch.
We ran into fellow Wauquiez owner Guy on Airfare. He and his wife were heading back south (aka "the wrong direction") after a short cruise. We talked about our plans for making our first trip to Desolation Sound, and Guy commended Pender Harbor as a great place to stop on the way or to wait out the wicked southeasterlies that frequently plague the Strait of Georgia in the summer. He also recommended a pub with deck that served wonderful fried oysters "if you're into that"...YES SIR I AM! We'll get back to all of this in the Garden Bay post to come in a few days.
Elizabeth once again made her voice heard with the observation that the trip was going to be too long, and she had just got back from two weeks of not seeing her friends and having no internet or phone at Camp Orkila. Our original "pro forma" itinerary called for us to blaze straight up to Sidney on day 2, clearing Canada customs and stocking up on provisions there. As a peace offering I allowed that we could afford to make a stop somewhere in the San Juan Islands before crossing to Canada. Kim just required that it be anywhere but Roche Harbor. Elizabeth proposed Deer Harbor, an old favorite. I called (they also book up quite a bit in the summer) and they had space, so I nabbed it. I plotted our course in OpenCPN and uploaded it to the chartplotter. Cattle Pass currents wouldn't be a problem, but we would be transiting the area around Point Wilson at max ebb. This would give us a big push north, but the Point Wilson Rip is a notorious hazard when the wind is up from the west during the ebb. All of the water flowing out of Puget Sound gets up to 3 knots of current as it takes the big left turn for the strait. When this flow is counter to a big westerly you get truly dangerous conditions. Fortunately the forecast didn't call for the wind, and the good thing about tide rips is that they are very localized: keep plugging through them and you do get through them in 30 minutes or so.
The ladies took preventative doses of Meclizine (generic version of the non-drowsy Dramamine II) in preparation for crossing the strait in the morning. The forecast was pretty innocuous except for some threat of rain. We got to bed at a reasonable time in preparation for a medium length journey in the morning.
This is a highlights and summary post. I intend to publish some additional posts on specific locations. All of these posts are made after the fact. I took some notes on the cruise but didn't want to spend that precious time pecking away on the keyboard for hours every day.
Summer Cruise 2013, destination Desolation Sound, was a big success overall and achieved all primary objectives. Northbound strait crossings were all uneventful, we had plenty of ideal weather, crowds were manageable, no major equipment failures, no docking mishaps, and Desolation Sound lived up to its reputation as a cruising mecca. There were some low points. The weather was mostly perfect, but did leave us cooped up in rain for several days. We had one rough crossing of the Strait of Georgia on the return delivery. We all learned things about how long we can spend happily eating, pooping, and sleeping all together within a 10 foot radius. But overall we experienced some unique and beautiful places together as a family. Everyone appreciated the natural beauty of the setting, the wildlife, and most of all the warm water and swimming.
Aug 1: Point Hudson
Aug 2: Deer Harbor
Aug 3: Poet's Cove
Aug 4 and 5: Nanaimo
Aug 6: Pender Harbor, Garden Bay Hotel Pub and Restaurant
Aug 7: Lund
Aug 8 and 9: Tenedos Bay
Aug 10: Refuge Cove
Aug 11: Melanie Cove
Aug 12: Toba Wildernest Resort
Aug 13: Teakerne Arm
Aug 14 and 15: Lund (visiting Okell family and waiting out rain)
Aug 16: Grace Harbor
Aug 17: Squirrel Cove
Aug 18, 19, 20: Gorge Harbor. Crew Change: Kim and the girls fly home, Greg and Katherine fly in for the return delivery
Aug 21: Tenedos Bay
Aug 22: Pender Harbor, Fisherman's Resort
Aug 23: Pirate Cove
Aug 24: Roche Harbor
Aug 25: Mackaye Harbor
Aug 26: Point Hudson
Aug 27: Shilshole!
I harbored some concerns over planning a trip during the peak month for visitors. Family and school schedules and other summer time commitments pretty much boxed us into August. With that said, the crowds were really not so bad. I had a "plan B" for every stop, but never had to implement any of them. Prideaux Haven was by far the most crowded, but even then we really didn't have any trouble finding a nice stern tie spot to anchor in Melanie Cove. Docks rarely filled at night. Part of our success has to be attributed to my "depart early and arrive just as others are leaving" strategy.
Tenedos Bay for the combo of 70 degree salt water swimming and even warmer lake swimming, and low crowd factor/good privacy.
Best Desserts: Nanaimo bars, Beartooth Pie (ice cream pie) at the Shingle Mill in Powell River, Chocolate Lava Cake at Lund Hotel
Best Chowder: Clam chowder at the fancy restaurant at Gorge Harbor
Biggest Pleasant Surprise: The mexican restaurant on the dock at Nanaimo. First ever Canadian mexican food sans cheddar.
Port of Nanaimo gets honorable mention for having the most non-obvious but mind-blowing and unique design approach: no spigots or water control of any kind, just a pure blast of hot high pressure water. Downside is that 3 minutes is a bit short.
Refuge Cove's $5 no time limit shower was the best shower of all. So much water pressure I couldn't run it on full. No time limit. No line. Just pure awesome. The price is at the high end but it is not like these guys are just plugged into some municipal plumbing system.
Point Hudson should always get a shout-out for the always clean showers that start for a single quarter, enabling a perfectly adequate "navy-style" shower for a total of $0.50
The "living the dream" award goes to Kyle and family who run the Toba Wildernest Resort at the entrance to Toba Inlet. Completely off the grid, self sufficient on power with custom hydroelectric and water from a beautiful waterfall. Deep waters mean there is no place to anchor anywhere nearby, and these guys can only accomodate 6 - 7 boats on their docks. It is a beautiful setting with nobody else around for miles and miles. It is easy to romanticize this lifestyle, but I'm sure there are dark days during October - April!
Cathy's favorite was Lund (because that's where the lava cake is, duh!)
Elizabeth's favorite was Refuge Cove for the unusual setting, shower, and great wifi.
Pat and Kim's favorite was Toba Wildernest Resort for its truly unique and rugged setting, and the entertaining opinions on marine guidebooks from Kyle the proprietor.
No question, Lund wins this one hands down.
Great showers, wide well-maintained docks, helpful staff focused on the needs of the summer cruising crowd, and the price couldn't be beat. $33 including power! The one area where they seriously fall short is wifi. Fortunately there are enough business on shore filling this gap, plus I got a solid signal on the Koodo Mobile prepaid SIM I bought for the trip so we could have data in situations like this.
Not much. The main cabin Caframo ventilation fan failed, but the failure was just in the speed controller. A soldering iron, some spare wire, and a switch allowed me to bypass the controller and get it running again.
The Jabsco freshwater plumbing pump failed, but...I had a spare! I enjoyed that special feeling you get when a mint in box spare you tucked away 3 years ago pays off.
I regretted not changing the head's joker valve before we left. We saw about 8 ounces of "backwash" throughout the trip. Not a huge deal as long as everyone remembered to finish the flush with a few cups of water, but apparently that is too much to ask! I wanted to get a replacement in Nanaimo, but the chandlery was closed for the BC Day Holiday during our visit.
Pretty much everything else worked flawlessly, including the most critical components such as ground tackle and windlass and most of all, the mighty Volvo D1-30 Diesel Auxiliary Engine.
The new wifi system with a Bullet M2 antenna/access point coupled with an onboard router worked very well to share wifi across all of our devices.
Navigation planning with the open source OpenCPN software was a huge time saver. I uploaded routes directly to my Garmin chartplotter using a USB to serial adapter.
New sunshade. I've come to accept that the sunshade that came with the boat is not all that well designed. We saw some nice sinple designs for mounting from the boom to the backstay.
Shorter holding tank discharge to a new deck pumpout location. Eliminating some low points in the current discharge hose routing should eliminate the last vestiges of "head smell."
New fridge and fridge box insulation: the fridge remains our biggest amp hour sucker, and it seemed to be feebing out on us a bit during some of our hot days, necesitating ice block supplemental cooling. And it makes annoying noises. I will be checking out keel coolers vs. holding plate technologies.
Stay tuned for more detailed location-specific posts!
I've long been a big fan of the Nanaimo bars sold at our neighborhood Ken's Market. What a delightful confection. Kim and I contemplated making them once, but as Boromir might say:
It involves a double boiler and takes more than a day what with the need for stuff to chill and all.
Fortunately we are taking a layday in Nanaimo for provisioning, which affords us the opportunity to take a journey on the Nanaimo Bar Trail (no I did not just make that up, check the link to the Nanaimo Tourism office site for all of the details and a map) in search of the platonic ideal, the ur-bar.
The first bar comes from Javawocky and seems to be a great example of the traditional preparation. Much thicker than the bars from Ken's, but I was expecting that. The coconut us discernible, the custard layer creamy and thick, and it looks like it has walnuts. The official recipe calls for almonds, but I think I might prefer the walnuts. Overall, a great bar and no complaints! On another note, I found the drip coffee from Javawocky insipid and weak.
This was supposed to be a long post wherein I described in detail the virtues and shortcomings of a dozen or so different Nanaimo bars....but it was too darn hot! The thought of pounding the hot pavement and scarfing down sugary confections became more and more nauseating as the temperature climbed.
I will say that the Nanaimo bar gelato at the gelato shop on the esplanade is delightful though. Elizabeth and I both enjoyed it very much.
This will be a quick note on our customs experience this year. We cleared at Bedwell Harbor, the scene of my serious tongue lashing two years ago for having wayyyy more alcohol on board than I declared, and more than I even knew I had thanks to my crew of 4 other 40-somethings each of whom had brought wine, liquor, and beer on board. That experience was my "scared straight" turning point. Now I meticulously inventory and declare everything.
This year was different. it had to be the most streamlined checkin ever. Maybe they figure they have us on file now, or maybe crossing with your family sets off fewer warning flags than five 40-somethings.
I was asked for my vessel registration number, after which they indicated they had the whole family already on record and didn't even ask for passport numbers, dates of birth, or anything.
On the subject of alcohol, they did not ask about the quantity, which was a first. The question was simply "is it staying on board the boat?"
Apples and potatoes are still verboten, which was expected.
On a tangential note, after transiting Cattle Pass we had the pleasure of a little on the water interrogation courtesy of the young men at US Homeland Security. As I was preparing flapjacks in the galley and Elizabeth was keep a less-than-sharp lookout, a DHS patrol boat snuck up on us and alerted us to their presence with a quick "bloop" of their siren. there are many things on the boat that can set off alarms and we don't get to hear them often, so sounds like this usually freak us out. After determining the source of the alarm was our tax dollars at work, we went through a rapid fire Q&A session before being released to go about our business. Thanks for keeping us safe. Right.