So… Les, Kai and I are back in the U.S. Our tenure at the Port Sidney Marina in Sidney B.C. was to come to an end on 3/31/20. The best weather window to cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca looked to be on 3/27, so Les got a Coho ferry ticket for her and the car to get back to the mainland. Early Friday morning weather reports still looked good, but 20-25 knot winds were to begin in the evening. So it was now or never to start the 55 mile passage to Port Ludlow. Alone.
Les put on her headset, got off the boat and helped me off the dock at 0700. We said goodby via headset. She may have waved, but I didn’t see it. She and Kai made their way out of the marina and drove the car to the Coho ferry dock in Victoria. I’m sure Kai helped with navigation along the way.
I made my way out of the marina and into the bay. Winds were light from the SE, the direction I was headed. A light rain was falling. I hovered outside the harbor and tucked all the fenders inside handrails so I could deploy them quickly if needed, tidied up a few docking lines, powered up to 8 knots, got on the route that I’d plotted, and started towards my destination. I drove through the gap between James and Sidney Islands, outside the D’Arcy Shoals, slid past the east shore of D’Arcy Island, and headed out onto Haro Strait that separates Vancouver Island, Canada, from San Juan Island and the United States.
I’d planned on getting an early start so I would have the currents behind me. They were. I was making 8 knots through the water, but 9.2 knots over the bottom due to the current going in my direction. It’s good to save fuel. The light rain became intermittent and after an hour or so decided to stop. I kept motoring, making engine room checks, checking the instruments and feeling pretty good so far. I was a little anxious, this being the first time I was running the boat alone, but that is what we had to do to get us back to the States, and take the car as well. At Port Ludlow, our destination, we would need a car, and if we left it in Canada we did not know when we might be able to get it back. That’s why Les had to take the ferry.
I called Les a few times along the way make sure her part of the “passage” was going OK. It was, and she arrived at the Coho terminal to find only 2 other cars and no walk on passengers.
I crossed from Canada into the U.S. just about the same time Les crossed the “border” on the ferry. This view through the pilothouse windows shows the light wind and puts some perspective to the distance I had to go over open water to get to Port Townsend then Port Ludlow:
The gray smudge through the left window is the SE corner of San Juan Island… the view forward is a bit hazy, but you wouldn’t be able to see the land that way as it is still 20 miles away.
The wind did start to build to 15 knots, and the wind waves started to pick up, but never got to be more than 1-2 feet with occasional whitecaps, and you can now see Whidbey Island in the distance. Woo Hoo!
The next two hours were uneventful, filled with snacks, engine checks, instrument checks and wary vigilance. Would the wind build? Would the wind waves get bigger? Since I was passing through multiple large shipping lanes, would I need to divert around anything? Would it go smoothly when I tried to check in with U.S. Customs with my automated CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) ROAM app? The app allows you to enter all your ship documentation, passport numbers, trusted travel number and crew list and then call in to CBP who then initiates a video chat to confirm who you are without having to stop at a customs dock.
So I called customs when I was 5 miles out of Port Townsend and had good cell signal. No go Bobo! The gull dern thing wouldn’t work and locked up every time I tried it. So… sweaty palms and all, I called customs in Port Townsend. They informed me that they would meet me at the dock in Point Hudson Marina (Port Townsend) in 45 minutes. So I called the Marina. No answer. Palms were now adding a bit more moisture into my developing kerfuffle. I called Port Townsend Boat Haven and did get a live person on the line, who let me know I could pull into dock 1 or 2 at the Port Hudson Marina for an hour or so to meet the CBP Officer. I called Les to let her know what was going on. She altered her course to meet me at the marina instead of Port Ludlow. ETA… after I needed to dock. Oh well…
As I rounded Point Wilson, about 2 miles from the entrance to Point Hudson Marina I could see whitecaps up ahead. Wind. Lots of wind. Hmmm… as there was no “exit stage right” available at the time I shouldered forward, stopped outside the marina entrance, put out all the fenders I had on board and got out extra dock lines. I powered through the entrance a bit faster than usual so I would have enough steerage to get through the dogleg and into the marina proper.
Thankfully it wasn’t as windy inside. I turned into the wind and tried to get into slip 2, but the wind wouldn’t have any part of it. I pulled back and drifted with the wind down to slip #5, slowly pulled in and let the wind carry me to the dock. Voila! Perfect landing! No scraped gel coat or popped fenders. I put on my complacent “I know what I’m doing” countenance, calmly got off the boat and secured bow and stern lines just like I knew what I was doing. Of course below the surface of my masked emotions I was a roiling snake pit of jangled nerves, pronounced ventilator drive, coupled with a bit of tachycardia. My first solo docking under less than desirable conditions. I and Great Northern survived nicely. Difficult times… difficult times.
The CBP officer arrived a few minutes later, inspected the boat, checked my papers, told me he’d have to take my oranges as contraband… which had grown in Mexico and been shipped through California, Oregon, Washington and then imported into Canada where I bought them, only to be confiscated back in Washington to be INCINERATED of all things. Go figure. He went back to his office to enter all information needed for me and Great Northern to enter back into the U.S. into the CBP computer. Les arrived a few minutes after that and we chatted. Her on the dock and me on the boat. She couldn’t come aboard and I couldn’t leave the boat until CBP said so. I put the offending oranges into a bag and handed them to Les who placed them on the dock for CBP Officer to deal with. He came back to the boat about 10 minutes later with the message that we were good to go. He stayed and chatted with us for a while and it was obvious that it had been a slow day for him. This was excitement, a break from the monotony of sitting around waiting for something to happen. What better thing to have a weird guy come in on his onesies driving a boat that was way too big for someone to solo. Well, he did ask a couple of times if I was really alone… and if solo was how I usually drove the boat. Nope… and I really don’t want to do much more of that! Les is a fabulously capable first mate and crew. So… she put on her headset, I put mine back on, she untied the dock lines and I pulled out of the slip, out of the marina and continued on to Port Ludlow just 12 miles further to go…
I transited past Port Hadlock, through the Port Townsend Canal into Oak Bay and from there skirted the edge of Admiralty Inlet and made my way through a series of rocky shoals into Port Ludlow. Les was there at the dock to “catch” Great Northern. Talk about happy to see Les! I put out fenders, got dock lines ready and sashayed over to the dock. Perfect landing and Les had the boat secured to the dock in moments. Welcome back to the U.S. and Port Ludlow, home in the U.S. for now…