Sailing through a winter storm

This weekend was Halloween, and my friend Elyess had invited me over to Orcas to a couple of parties, and in addition, I had shipped a bunch of stuff from Amazon to her so I went to pick it up and save on shipping.


Midday Friday though when it was time to leave, the wind was 25 and gusting to 36 in the harbour, which was obviously not a fun sexy time. However it was supposed to calm down a bit later so I waited a few hours. Eventually it calmed down to what seemed like around 15kts with gusts to 25, so Billy and Joyce grabbed the bow and stern lines each while matt sat on the Nancy Blackett to make sure I wouldn’t get blown into them.

The first attempt was unfortunately stymied by a big gust, which blew the boat sideways, needing Bill and Joyce to hang on for dear life. Luckily the wind died a bit then, enough for me to ram it in medium reverse and pull out fast backwards – once in the harbour though, the wind gusted again enough for me not to be able to turn, even in full forward, however one I got some way on, the rudder started doing its thing and I managed to head out.

I realised it was going to be an interesting trip when the wind snapped my wireless antenna in half and ripped it off the boat, before I even left the breakwater! That’s what I get for cheaping out on it I guess.

Once outside the breakwater, I tried to raise the main reefed. This was tricky as I had to go to the mast to feed the cringle through the reef hook but the halyard had to be just the right length – too short and it wouldn’t reach, and too long and it’d fall off. After around 15 minutes moving from the mast to the cockpit and back again in some pretty choppy waves, I finally got it sorted and raised the reefed mainsail, followed by the genoa. And the boat took OFF. Down the juan de fuca I was at least 7.5 knots the whole way, and I probably was 8 and over a huge amount of the time as I started getting some largish waves from the stern and was surfing down them, which was my first time doing that. The highest speed I saw was 9.4 knots, which is ridiculous.

Luckily for me the wind was mostly a broad reach the entire way, which means the wind is from behind you. This means that the boat lies flatter, the waves (mostly) are from behind you, the apparent wind is less and it’s all round less stressful.

I’d decided to go up the Haro strait once round the outside of Trial Island, and go inside the Discovery Islands, hoping to find some more shelter. In fact it was just as rough there as on the Juan de Fuca, and in fact at one point I took in my foresail as wind started gusting above 30 again and the boat tipped VERY far over. As I struggled to keep her on course, she rounded up into the wind. This turned out to be a good thing, as of course the sails lost power and the boat righted herself. I then furled the foresail and went under a reefed main only for the next hour or so.

It shook me a bit though as up to then I’d felt pretty in control all the time, and I sent a text to my friend dictating what my epitaph should be: ‘He died doing what he loved – trying to mac on weird American chicks’

Fortunately, not needed.

Once I got to the entrance to the San Jauns, by Rouche Harbour, I called the US Customs and Border office. Again, I just want to say how NICE and helpful these guys are, especially the ones on the Small Vessel Reporting System hotline. The guy thought my Hull ID Number wasn’t valid, but recognised how rough the conditions were and just asked me to check the number whenever I got in safe. And then he called me back a bit later to let me know he was mistaken, and wished me a nice sail. Compared to the guys on the land border crossings, it’s always a pleasure talking to these people, on both sides of the border.

After clearing customs I dropped sails and motored most of the rest of the way. In the shelter of the islands the wind was a lot less, and it was also getting dark! The sun set at 6, and I was still 90 minutes away. This meant the last few miles were done in complete darkness, which was stressful, esp when there was a large THUNK noise. A quick check of the cabin to make sure I wasn’t sinking and on I went.

Once arriving at the harbour, I got quite stressed – as I knew there were a ton of anchored boats usually there but I couldn’t see any! I then remembered something I should have remembered an hour ago – I have RADAR! I’ve lavished praise on the Simrad 3G radar before so I won’t again, but I could even see mooring buoys on there. Lovely.

I found my way to the day dock, and tied up there for the night, where I currently am. Breakin’ the law! I have to turn myself around at some point as Gudgeon’s arse is facing the bay and she’s getting waves right up the butt, which is noisy and uncomfortable for me, and I’m sure isn’t good for the exhaust system or the rudder. Probably have to wait for the wind to die down first.

Also the party got shut down after a couple of hours. RIP! On the plus side the whole trip was a massive learning experience for me, and continues to build my confidence in the boat and myself. It was by FAR the roughest conditions I’ve been out in (Emma and I were out in conditions similar a while back) and I handled it ok, I think. Again, I’m amazed at how much harder everything is when you are singlehanding, and man I NEED some kind of autopilot or self steering, even it’s just to keep the boat into the wind when I’m pissing about with sails.


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