This post is a continuation of Astoria to Port Angeles Part I. If you have not read Part I, you can do so here.
The rain started to come down in sheets and the wind started to shriek in the rigging. I really have no idea how hard it was blowing, I just knew that the intensity seemed to be ever increasing. I would ask Susanna to steer for a moment so I could stand over the warm air coming from the engine. We did this in shifts. Then I would watch her struggle with the tiller and her injured shoulder and I would hop back into the cockpit and take over. Our progress toward Cape Flattery was steady. Using the radar to double check our position, I was able to keep the rocks south of Cape Flattery off our starboard beam (right-hand side).
Rounding the cape is an interesting proposition, and in good weather I am told it can be beautiful. But in bad weather the Coast Pilot (a government publication that describes harbors and approaches and the conditions that affect them) warns that it is not uncommon for the intensity of a storm to increase in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and therefore it is advised that ships hold station outside and wait for conditions to improve. The Coast Pilot also advises to be aware of the strong north-setting current that leads into the strait on a flood tide. Add to all that at our current position, some eight miles offshore and 12 miles south of the cape, it was important to cut the corner close, but not too close. If we rounded the cape too close we ran the risk of getting tangled up in the rocks and reefs that stud the area around Cape Flattery. If we turned to late, we would run the risk of the flood tide and southerly winds pushing us on to the southern shore of Vancouver Island.
With each gust, the boat’s speed over the ground (SOG) as measured by the GPS would surge. Every time we surfed down the front of a wave the SOG would surge again. I could only think that each little bit of extra speed was one that would help us to not be overtaken by the storm.
We often play a little game with Nisa, mostly to tire her out after we have been away from the boat for the better part of the day, it goes a little something like this: I or Susanna will tell the Wonderdog to sit, then lay down, then wait. We both start walking away, leaving her highness behind. After a good 80 to 100 feet, one of us will take off running, this really gets Nisa excited, then when the runner has a good lead, by now more than 200 feet ahead of Nisa, the non-runner will release Nisa with a “Nisa get ’em” command. It is like launching a rocket. She runs, then zooms, then she really gets going, chasing the runner. She will blast past the non-runner, ears back and tail uncurled, a blur of white dog, in an almost instant she will have caught the runner and be very excited. Then we start over, the other person running. She thinks this is a wonderful game if it is not too hot out.
It seemed that the storm we were trying to outrun was like trying to outrun Nisa, not possible. And the storm would not just be a happy dog when it passed over us and ran out ahead into the strait.
Using the GPS as a marker, we had created a point for when to turn east into the strait. As we reached this arbitrary waypoint, set north and west of Cape Flattery, I expected the intensity of the storm to increase as it was compressed by the Olympic Mountains to the south and Vancouver Island to the north. We scanned the southern and eastern horizon for the blink-blink of the Cape Flattery light. Nothing. Just darkness. It was not until we had turned east and entered the strait in earnest that we saw the light, by that point off the starboard side and a little behind the beam! (sailor talk for: by that time it was off the right side and a bit behind us!). Clouds and fog obscured the lighthouse at Cape Flattery. It was very reassuring to see the blink-blink telling us that the cape was indeed behind us.
Upon entering the strait we did indeed experience an increase in wave height and wind, but one thing was in our distinct favor: the waves had become more and more regular. Instead of a wave coming from the aft port quarter at 14 feet tall followed by the next from the opposite aft quarter at eight feet tall, the waves inside were consistently 10 to 12 feet tall, all from the same direction and nicely spaced. It was like being at the beach rather than in a washing machine.
As quickly as the waves became regular and equal, the wind started to ease. By 0130, on June 16th, we were safely in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. By 0200 we had Tilly the autopilot hooked up and she was doing a wonderful job of steering us down the middle of the strait. The waves seemed to ease a bit and on the far eastern horizon we could see the moon trying to poke out from under the clouds as it started to rise. The fear and anxiety I felt just hours before dissipated like the fire of wasabi.
As we got the boat settled down and Tilly to steer we let Nisa out of her exile on the v-berth. We had created a nest of pillows and blankets for her and barricaded her there to keep her from trying to come outside into the cockpit. As we rounded the cape, we often looked past the chart plotter to see two little glowing eyes in the darkness, watching us intently. I was happy that earlier we had given her half a Benadryl, to kind of knock her out so she would not be terrified of the motion. Also, I know that she is very attuned to my state of mind and I wanted to shield her from how scared and worried I was. The drugs and the barrier seemed to keep her safely locked up in the forepeak.
Nisa was very glad to join us topside, but she had neither peed nor pooed since Astoria. We had been trying, since before leaving Portland, to get her to use a green, grass-like welcome mat as a poo-spot on deck. Nisa has a command that I have used with her since she was a puppy to do her business, and on land this command works like a charm. On the boat I would show her the mat and give her the command, and she would promptly sit on the mat and look up at me, her eyes clearly communicating: “Not a chance buddy-get a clue!” By now it had been over 40 hours, still she simply refused.
Now by the light of the moon, with the boat’s motion settled down and more regular, I got the mat and put it on deck right behind the mast, a spot on the boat that has almost no motion. I returned to the cockpit, put Nisa in her red PFD and brought her forward. As we made our way toward the mast her nose started the super-sniff, where you can see that she is scanning left then right then up then down all the while inhaling at what seems to be 100 times a minute. We arrived at the mat and she applied the supper-sniffer technique to the mat, just like she would to the ground before doing her business. I told her what a good dog she was and then I gave the command “Nisa, do your business.” This dog, who is one of the smartest, most cunning problem solvers I know looked at me with the eyes of someone who has not had the chance to pee in almost two days (of her own choice, mind you) sat down on the mat and said “Are you smoking crack? I can smell the land, I’ll just wait.” I gave the command again, “NISA, DO YOUR BUSINESS!.” Nothing. “Nisa, it’s ok, just pee, just let it out. Nisa, do your business.” Nothing. I looked around, thinking, well, things are not so bad, I will take off her PFD and then she will do it. I quickly unclipped her PFD and removed it. Nisa stood up and gave a big shake, a shake like a dog who hasn’t shaken in almost two days. At the end of the shake the supper-sniffer was pressed to the mat, back and forth, back and forth. I told her “Do your business, do your business!”
Maybe she had some wires crossed, maybe she thought the plastic grass was a poor imitation. Maybe she didn’t believe me that it was OK to poo and pee on deck. In any case, her canine brain interpreted the do your business command as sit, and that is exactly what she did. She sat on the mat and stared at me as if to say, “No way.”
Time to get a bit devious for her sake. I squatted down next to her, pet her head and again told her she was a good dog and that it was ok, then I reached down to her belly, lightly pressed where her bladder is and told her “Do your business, do your business.” All I got was a low groan, like the sound of bagpipes deflating, a noise she only makes when frustrated. Obviously we were not communicating and obviously she was not going to do her business on the mat no matter what happened.
So I released her, I let her go about doing what she wanted and we both returned to the cockpit. A few moments later she started to tremble and a low tremor seemed to pass through her whole body at regular intervals. To imagine the scene you must feel the rise and fall of the boat under your feet and see the moon trying to poke out from the clearing cloud cover and once in a while catch the glimmer of light on the water. With each rise and fall of the boat Nisa trembled. All I could think of was that she was afraid. I pet her head and scratched behind her ears, trying to comfort her.
At one point I saw a blink of green light out of the corner of my eye. I passed the care of the trembling dog to Susanna and grabbed the binoculars. I scanned the spot in the distance where I had seen the flash and there it was again. Regular and perfect. The entry light to our destination, Neah Bay. I could almost taste the sleep that would cover us all in a few hours. As I turned around to show Susanna, there they were, Nisa trying to squat on the stern deck with Susanna providing a welcome steadying hand to make the rise and fall of the boat more comfortable.
Nisa was doing her business! Finally after 42 hours she was discovering that it was ok to do her business on the deck of the boat. With the risk of providing too much information, let’s just say that she was very, very busy. The trembling had been her outer limit of holding it all in. She let it all out…and my goodness was she busy. Who knew that such a small critter could make so much volume? We seized upon this opportunity to praise her and give her treats and tell her what a good girl she had been, hoping that she would make the connection between doing her business and the praise. The cruel irony of the situation is that in the next hour she would be running through the grass ON LAND, where she wanted to be in the first place.
We turned the corner to enter Neah Bay some 30 minutes later and in no time we were on the dock. It was 0330 and dawn was just starting to crack the darkness on the eastern horizon. As we arrived the mist seemed to be turning to rain and when I jumped off the boat with the stern line I realized why the dock was white. It was covered with slippery-slimy bird poop. After a quick conversation with Susanna that consisted mostly of “This is gross,”we moved the boat to another slip.
Bluewater is a new boat for us, and I had not driven it around very much at all. To make things more interesting the prop comes out the boat at an angle as opposed to straight back, so backing up is a bit of a challenge. I had been thinking that I needed a quiet and mostly empty marina to practice driving around in to get a feel for the boat and the way she handled under power. So there I was, 0400, I had had less than six hours of sleep in the past two days and I needed to move the boat to a less bird-crap-covered dock. I nosed the boat down a different set of docks – more bird crap, I had to back out, motor down another set of docks past still more bird crap. By this time we discovered that the bird crap was concentrated on the docks where boats seem to be unused. At last when we found a slip that was seemingly not surrounded by bird crap, Susanna jumped off with the bow line and almost landed on her butt – it was covered in OLD bird crap that had turned gray!
We had to come up with a new plan. Susanna stayed on the dock and scouted a slip with less bird crap and finally I parked the boat for the third time in 10 minutes. I had gotten the practice that I wanted and Susanna found a spot that was only half covered in bird poop. We had arrived.
The scene before us was almost unreal. Giant trees filled with swirling mist. Mist that changed to rain and back again as I watched. Subtle hues of gray and yellow, a thousand shades of green, and of course the bird poop.
It was now light enough to see without straining. After securing the boat we took Nisa the Wonderdog to shore. She pulled like a champion Iditarod dog for the grass where, much to our amazement, she proceeded to do even more business!
We found a payphone and called my father who was very happy to hear from us. He had been monitoring the weather from his home in Colorado and could not help but be a bit worried that we were out in the blow. It was the end of a long two-day stretch that included some very scary moments. I am sure that in the large scheme of things what we experienced was but a trifle of the power of the North Pacific. May we never feel her full wrath from the deck of our little sailboat.
After the quick call to Colorado, with a promise to call again after a nap, a long nap, we headed back to the boat. On the dock we asked a local fisherman if there was a place to get a bite to eat so early in the morning, now just before 0500. He told us that there was indeed such a place, just a short walk away.
We returned Nisa to the boat, where the interior looked as if a team of FBI, DEA and ATF guys had been looking for contraband. There were onions and potatoes in the bilge, books on the floor, boxes of boat parts blasted open and spread to and fro. Shoes in our bed and the box of Nisa’s kibbles was wedged in between the mast and the settee. The boat was trashed from the washing machine we had endured. We carved a space out for Nisa, closed the hatch and trotted down the road to the only place in town that was open for breakfast.
I have never been too tired to finish a meal until that day. About halfway though my breakfast it hit me like cricket bat smashing me in the chest. I was exhausted. Too tired to even chew my food. We asked for the bill, packed the remaining breakfast in to-go containers and all but staggered back to our boat. We carved out a space for ourselves alongside Nisa, who barely looked up at us, and fell into an exhausted, dreamless sleep.
When we awoke it was 1430 (2:30 p.m.), the sun was shining and the experience of rounding the cape some 12 hours earlier seemed like a passage in some book, something that had happened to someone else. It was hard to believe that we had rounded Cape Flattery under radar and GPS while running from the throat of brewing storm, but there we were, NEAH BAY!
You might be wondering where the storm was, and why no crappy weather in Neah Bay? Like most southerlies, it continued to track north and had moved on by midday leaving behind the swell and blue skies. We wondered if we should have hove off (sailed away from the dangers of the coast) and waited for the very conditions we were seeing now, we came to the conclusion that given the level of fatigue between us we would have been in a much more precarious position to round the cape with exhaustion crushing us like a million gallons of seawater. I have to give a tremendous amount of credit to Susanna, it was she who had the level head to say trust the instruments (the GPS-chart plotter and radar). She told me stories about being a pilot and how sometimes your senses are deceived, but the compass always points north.
We spent two more days in Neah Bay, the first putting the boat back together and touring the Makah Heritage Museum and the second waiting out the 40-knot winds in the strait that had kicked up in the wake of the passing low-pressure systems. While putting the potatoes back in their bag and the books back on the shelf, we found half a little pink pill, half the Benadryl, that we had given, rather tried to give, to Nisa when things got crazy. That poor pooch was fully awake and aware. No wonder I would always see her gleaming eyes staring at me in the darkness that night.
The night before our departure we left the marina and anchored out. The next morning we were able to raise the anchor under sail and leave without the use of our engine, our goal being to sail as much as possible. Soon we found ourselves in the Strait of Juan de Fuca under genoa alone, running (a point of sail where the wind blows from directly behind the boat) in 20 to 25 knots of wind and six-foot seas with the windvane steering a perfect course and keeping our speed at about six knots. We were so amazed that the vane did such an beautiful job we quickly needed a name for her. We decided that Wanda the Wonder Windvane was a great name. Then a few hours later we remembered that Wanda is the name of the previous owner’s wife! Perfect!
The strait was beautiful, delimited to the north by the mountains at the southern end of Vancouver Island and to the south by the Olympic Mountains. All the guides and the Pilot books talk about the heavy traffic from tankers, freighters and cruise ships, but we had the whole place to ourselves. Not another boat in sight.
Our destination was Port Angeles, some 80 miles to the east. We covered the distance in two days, spending the night anchored behind Pillar Point and again started our day under sail. We sailed all the way to the inside of Ediz Hook, which creates the naturally protected harbor of Port Angeles.
The small boat harbor sits at the far end and, with our 180-degree turn, the wind that had pushed us down the strait was now on our nose. Being late afternoon it blew a strong 30 to 35 knots, so after turning around the point we began to douse the sails. I was amazed to look up from dropping the mainsail to see the m/v Coho, a large ferry that goes between Port Angeles and Victoria, B.C., coming towards us at full steam. At that moment the ferry made her 90-degree turn to starboard (right) and passed like a moving wall just abeam of us (right next to us). It all seemed perfectly normal to the ferry driver, but it was a bit close for my comfort. As I watched the ferry move into the harbor, she passed even closer to the tanker Polar Discovery (read more about the future of oil tankers here) and just in front of a salmon troller. The driver of the Coho seemed very comfortable weaving in and out of the harbor traffic.
We motored to the entrance of the small boat harbor and poked our nose into one of the tightest fingers of water I had ever seen. There was one spot left at the guest dock, but it looked woefully short, combined with the wind that was blowing a solid 30 knots. We tied up at the nearby fuel dock intending to walk around and pace off the space to make sure that we actually fit. The space was 6.5 paces, just over 38 feet. We are almost 37 feet long. WOW. I was glad that I had so much practice parking the boat in Neah Bay. Walking back to the fuel dock we met the crew of the fishing vessel, Windwalker. The captain had seen me pacing off the distance and told us that he and his flotilla, four boats total , were leaving shortly. The 38-foot space would become more than 100 feet after their departure. I was up to the challenge of parking in such a tight spot, but even more excited about not having to stress about parking in such a small spot.
The fuel dock was closed for the day, so all we had to do was wait for Windwalker and the other boats to leave and we would have no problems, even with the wind screaming through the marina. We wandered back to Bluewater to wait.
As we waited and the fishing crews prepared to depart for their four-day nonstop run to Ketchikan, we watched a large power boat come in to the marina really, really fast. Much too fast for conditions, seemingly almost out of control. I looked at Susanna and said, “Wow, he must be local to be going that fast; he must really know what he is doing and where he is going!” Just then a nearly frantic voice called to us, “Are you going to park there?!?!”
I replied, “No, we are just waiting for Windwalker and friends to leave,” pointing to the fishing boats.
As the power boat was being pushed sideways toward pilings and other parked boats at an alarming speed by the leftover momentum and the strong winds, nearly out of control, the voice said:
“We need to park there, we only have one engine!”
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