Southbound in Storm

So it was decided. I even had a car waiting in Seattle for me — all I had to do was get there. This is where the storm comes into play. Since I had to leave Sunday morning, of course there was a storm. It wasn’t really bad, but bucking into a 25-knot blow is never fun. On the other hand, I have been in much worse weather, and this will be just another transit from point A to point B with shitty weather. No big deal.

I threw the lines off at 6:40 a.m. on Sunday, October 7. It was blustery in the harbor, and the flag at the marina was blowing stiffly with winds from the south. I taunted the wind as I ran through the protected waters of Griffin Bay, and even with seas at Cattle Pass it wasn’t all that bad.

Instead of heading through the pass and into the open waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, I thought I’d hide behind the shelter of Iceberg Point before I entered the strait. I headed for a gap that passed through a small group of islands, which I figured would provide more cover as well. When I passed by Secar Rock, there was a humongous tiderip waiting for me. Before I could change my mind about going through that tiny pass, the current sucked me into the rip and dumped everything off my table, counter, and dashboard. What a mess, and what a way to start the trip.

I proceeded to get my ass whipped in a variety of unfriendly tiderips until I cleared Iceberg Point, where it mellowed out a touch. I was still bucking into a 25-knot blow and all the swells that go along with it. I had the ebbing current in my favor (that’s why I got sucked into that tide rip so enthusiastically) so I could run the boat at an easy 1,500-rmp and still make 6 knots, even with all that bucking. That meant crossing the strait would take over three hours.

The going was quite tolerable, and improved as I approached the leeward side of Minor Island. After I passed behind the island and entered the tiderips off its eastern tip, the going was not so nice. I still had the current in my favor, but the waves stacked up and forced me to pull the throttle back to 1,200 rpm. With the stiff current behind me I was still making better than 5 knots, even at such a slow running speed.

This beating continued as I headed south toward Partridge Bank. I was a bit concerned that the waves would stack up even more as I approached the shallower water; but what greeted me was just the opposite. First off, the current stalled, and my speed slowed to about 2.5 knots. At this point the wind picked up to a fierce bellow and blew so hard that the wind blew off the top of the swells, making it somewhat calmer, but nonetheless still quite treacherous.

It was howling. I’ve heard that the tops blow off the waves at a sustained 60 knots, but I can never tell what the wind speed is just by observation. I could tell I was making only 2 knots and wanted to get out of this blowhole. I nudged my way out to deeper water hoping to catch the current, which by now should be flooding into Puget Sound.

I approached a break in the water where the waves stood up tall with furious breakers atop. I checked my plotter to make sure there wasn’t some freaky shallow spot, and when I saw none I knew it was the turbulent rip of the faster current. Cautiously, I slipped the Satisfaction into the melee and pulled the throttle back to idle. My boat pitched and heeled and rocked and spewed. Waves broke over the top of the flying bridge and water poured down the messenger tube through which wires are fed up to the bridge.

Now I was really getting my ass kicked. I was running at a dead idle, and could hardly keep the boat pointed in the right direction. I looked at the speed on the plotter, and I was making a full 6 knots! At idle! Bucking into the wind and swell! The tide was smoking in full speed, and lucky for me it was heading my direction.

I stayed in this radical tide swirl all the way past Point Wilson. And boy, was it blowing! It had to be sustained 40 knots all the way past the point. There was a steady stream of water running down that messenger tube. Everything that remained on the table or counters after my initial tiderip topple was now on the floor. My boat was beat, and so was I.

Once I got inside of Point Wilson the wind let up to 20 to 25 knots, which I bucked all the way to Foulweather Bluff where, ironically, the weather improved. I pulled into Shilshole Bay Marina well after 3 p.m., which means a full four hours was added to that trip because of the weather.

When I tied my boat to the dock I noticed my old blue plexiglass flying bridge windbreak had broken apart from the force of the storm, and lay all around the top of the cabin in about six large pieces. Just as well; if the equipment can’t take the strain then let it fall apart! I’ll replace it with new, and it will only be stronger next time.

On that note, I say it’s good to beat your brains out every now and then.


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