I run the Satisfaction easy on the throttle, so she takes her time in getting places. I ran steady, stopping only in Edmonds to top off the fuel tanks, and wound up approaching the entrance to the jetty heading into the LaConner slough at around 7 p.m. It was a dark, dark night with no moon, a gentle but consistent breeze from the south, and low water slack on a minus tide. It looked to be a challenging leg of this journey.
I had been steering all day from inside the cabin, where the only operable depth sounder was located. I had my GPS/plotter hooked up downstairs, and although I could plug my other GPS/plotter in upstairs on the flying bridge, I had neglected to do that on the run up. My spotlight was somewhere in the cabin; I wasn’t exactly sure where. I had been on a holiday cruise, and when it came time to be on point for the tricky transit through the entrance of the slough, I was no where near prepared.
The prudent mariner would have taken a moment to prepare the flying bridge, which commands the best outlook of the surrounding conditions. But I suppose I’m not the most prudent mariner, or it could be I had the confidence of traveling through this slough many times in the past. I knew, for example, that on a minus tide a row or rocks would show themselves on the northern edge of the channel, creating a sharp contrast, even in the pitch darkness, where the edge of the channel meets the mudflats. I knew the jetty on the southern side would be totally exposed, which would be an easy guide to follow. And I knew the log rafts and pilings up ahead on the southern shore mark the boundary of the southern side further up the channel. Above all, my most effective tool was my excellent night vision; I feel I can see so well at night I think I may possibly be gifted with echolocation.
I climbed up onto the flying bridge, me and my echolocation. I lined up the range, kept the jetty on my starboard and headed into the channel. It was dark, to say the least, but the faint glow of distant cities reflected off the overcast night sky gave enough light for me to see. I could see the rocks on the edge of the mudflats to the north, and the brutal rock pile of the jetty could not be missed. I could see the lines of the tiderips in the water as the slack current shifted on the minus low tide. My senses were keen to everything around me: seagulls on the shoreline, sticks in the water, trees on the shore. It’s just as well I didn’t have a sounder or a plotter — they would have been too distracting for me at the time.
The channel seemed to darken as I approached the corner by the cliff with the big fancy house atop, but I was aided by a green navigation light on the shore. I swung the corner and saw the red and green nav lights marking points ahead, and I saw directly the lights and the glow of the houses lining the slough. It was easy sailing from here, all the way up to Maritime Ed’s yard. I had to search out his yard, as I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I finally found it and tied up to the staging float aligned with the travel-lift dock.
My journey complete, I tended to the post season wrap-up of the engine with an oil change and adding antifreeze to the coolant. It had been a hair-raising final leg through the entrance channel, so I unwound with a shot of whiskey as I worked on the engine. The Satisfaction had made its final voyage of the 2005 season.
TO BE CONTINUED…