Mooring Balls, Bridges, and Bobstays, oh my!…or The Shakedown Cruise

IMG_7665We had a little shakedown cruise this week. Gene was hoping to see how the systems he’s recently engineered (desiccating head, LED lights, ground tackle, dingy launch and recovery, anchoring plan, etc, etc) would work for us out on the hook. I was hoping to see how our family would do with swinging on the hook all night, dealing with cooking, diapers, trash, weather, keeping two young and precocious little people entertained and busy, etc, etc.

We both learned a lot this week! How to not hit railroad bridges…how to dock in a crosswind…how to catch a mooring ball…rowing half a mile with a toddler aboard…
First hurdles for us in getting to the salt are two bridges and the Ballard Locks. We set out on a morning with a crosswind, which turned out to be a bit of a problem once in the channel. Gene had a tough time keeping Brio sitting still while waiting for the bridges (if we’re not moving, our full keeled, hefty boat wants to go wherever the water and wind want her to go). Some steering and swearing practice ensued.
Safely under two bridges and alone thru locks large enough for a cruise ship (makes you feel really tiny), we were almost out to Shilshole. Just one more obstacle, the railroad bridge. Which usually is open — it stays open, unless a train is about to pass across — but unbeknownst to Gene, is closed. An optical illusion — that we are now acutely aware of! — fooled Gene into thinking it was still open. I heard the profuse (not very creative, I must say: “F#<k! F#<k! F#<k! F#<k!”) swearing and the quick reversal of gears from below. It was close, but we did not hit the closed railroad bridge or the abutments on either side. And we are wiser for it.
We set sail south, with a couple of wonderful sailor friends aboard for support, on a partially cloudy spring day with 10-15 knots of wind. Enough to get us there at a nice 5-7kts. Not screaming fast, but comfortable and enough to feel like we were making good progress.
We sailed south for many hours and,
with about eight miles left, to go the wind died to a flat calm.  We drifted for about 10 minutes or so, hmming and harrumphing about the idea of starting that great noisy beast lurking under the cockpit. Just before that decision was made, a breath of air came up and Gene changed our headsail for the drifter (which is a big light-wind sail). Just as the sail was hoisted the wind came back, only at 5-8 knots or so, but with the drifter up that was enough to keep us moving at 3-4 knots.
The kids and I played below. We played and read and got out the play doh and cleaned up the play doh and had a tickle fight and a tiny tea party and giggled a lot and cooked lunch and donned vest and harnesses and went out into the cockpit for a bit and came below and doffed all that gear and read some more and got out the stamps and markers and cleaned up the stamps and markers and…you get the picture. Life with toddlers is like that anyway, whether you’re on a boat or not. Overall, they did an amazing job.
We arrived in Quartermaster Harbor, and motored in the last mile (with what wind there was coming directly down a narrow channel against us), just about sundown. We dropped anchor and Gene rowed our intrepid friends ashore to board their ferry back to Seattle. All in all a good day.
Then, our first night “on the hook”. Scared I wasn’t. Not really nervous can describe it either. I was more apprehensive than anything. What would it be like? Would we be comfortable enough to sleep? Would we feel the constant shifting of position and direction and be concerned?
Gene was trying out a fantastically-named app called “DragQueen” which uses GPS to warn you if your anchor has shifted beyond set perimeters. So, I wasn’t really worried we would drag anchor and end up crashing onto shore. But, it was the first time we’d spent the night anchored…our chain and anchor seemed strong and in good repair, but we really didn’t know. In the end, it was a lovely feeling of isolation and space which, even in a campsite, I haven’t experienced before.
It was not as quiet or serene as one would hope, however. Our anchor chain rubs against the bobstay (a cable connecting the bowsprit to under the bow of the boat). A perennial problem with boats that have bobstays, we understand. When one is inside a boat, you are basically inside the sound box of a string instrument (imagine yourself inside the body of a guitar). Any noise outside is magnified with forceful vigor and sounds much worse than it is. The rigging vibrating in the wind, the waves slapping up against you, a fender bonking against the hull. It can all sound catastrophic under the right circumstances. So (even though we knew what it was) the rough, clanky, grumpy rubbing of metal on metal was unpleasant. Something to add to the project list — chafe protection and dampening for the bobstay.
We were staying for a few days in Quartermaster Harbor, with some family ashore in a rental cottage nearby. So, we learned what rowing the dingy (from 1/2 mile out in the harbor!) was like…
IMG_7577Hard. And soppy, when it’s raining. Wearing the wiggly 1 1/2 year old in the Ergo seemed to be the best solution. We had to select her best snuggle times, but it worked out well. Also, attempting the row when the 3 1/2 year old was tired out from the day worked well too. We sang a lot of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” along the way and no one ended up in the water. We were stalked by a curious harbor seal who popped up along side us (closer and closer each time – which kind of freaked me out) until we were far out into the harbor.
A few days later, we headed out from Quartermaster Harbor in very different conditions. We’ve been learning the Beaufort Scale (a visual scale for approximating wind speeds) and we saw what appeared to be Force 4, bordering on Force 5 conditions. That is: 15-25 knot winds, 2-4’ waves, white caps. Fun sailing for the more experienced, but a bit much for us right now. So, we decided to motor this leg of our trip to Des Moines — on the mainland, south of Seattle. It was a bumpy 12 mile ride, and Gene was able to practice steering with following seas (waves pushing the boat around from the stern — if you don’t catch them directly on the stern, they kick the boat around in a corkscrew yaw motion and it takes a strong yet gentle hand on the tiller to correct, but not over-correct). Byron (our 3 1/2yo) unperturbed by the choppy seas, curled up in the v-berth and went to sleep. Rowan (our 1 1/2 yo) kept yelling, “Weeeeeee!” So, I guess it wasn’t that bad.
Our entrance into Des Moines Marina with 15-20 knots of wind at our stern, was less than graceful, however. We had to make a tight turn into the slip, with boats in the narrow fairway. When the turn was made, that 15-20 knots was now on our beam (perpendicular to the boat) blowing us off the dock. Better to be blown off a dock than on, but still a challenging landing (or it would be if there wasn’t a nice shiny new boat downwind). We kissed the dock with our bobstay (that damn bobstay again!) and had a bit of scrambling to get Brio tied down securely against the wind. No real danger, but amateurish execution. (Gene here: I’d say rather clumsy execution, but it got the job done in a rather difficult situation. There was no real danger to crew, but we could easily have racked up a very nice bill for the insurance companies to fight over)
Gene then spent the next couple hours deconstructing the moments in his head and, I think, learned a lot. When we pulled out the next morning (under much calmer conditions, but still tight turns and lots of docked, expensive power boats all around), there was much relief that it all went smoothly. “Nice job, Skipper!” from a the owner aboard one of said nearby big, expensive powerboats and confidence was buoyed.
Now with a fresh crew aboard (some friends from Denver) we set out for Blake Island. We’ve been dreaming with Byron about sailing to islands and playing on remote beaches for months now…and it was finally going to happen!
We started with a promising breeze (5-10 knots) and by afternoon it was dying off. We changed the jib out for the drifter, which helped. We arrived about sundown, so rowing onto the island would have to wait for morning.
Our first time on a mooring ball this time. Large wakes, from the ferries which cross just to the north, gave us quite a rolly evening and night. Holding on or sitting down was pretty essential once each roll began. More remote from the light pollution of Seattle than we’ve thus far been, the moon rose huge and orange! Many stars until the clouds filled in.
The morning brought a gorgeous sunrise and our first exploration of a more remote island. Blake has the Tillicum Village, but also deer, blue herons sitting stalwartly atop nearby moored boats (we hoped we wouldn’t come back to their…um, generous-sized-birdy-plops), lots of raccoons, and beautiful bleached driftwood and colorful pebble beaches. Lots for little hands to explore!


Another day for the drifter. Beautiful, sunny, lovely day — but not much…well, movement forward. (Gene here: We spent the whole day with 0-5 knots of wind. Virtually everybody else we saw was motoring, but we had time so we decided to practice sailing. With someone else at the helm I got to spend hours monkeying around with sails and all the myriad little strings there are on a boat to play with. we started out getting 1.5 knots or so and as I played I was able to bring that up to 2, then even 2.5kts. It was great fun and really helped to solidify some of the theory I’ve been reading.)
We saw a dolphin playing at the edge of a tidal convergence of some sort. Sort of the way a hawk plays on a thermal. Swimming around and round where the water was swirly and fun.
SO…Now what?
Here we are on the suburb-like shores of Bainbridge Island. It’s not exotic or remote (with its yoga studios, Thai food, and Victorian boutiques), but it feels like we have adventured widely and bravely to get here. Baby steps, right?! We’ve talked to a few fascinated families on the dock today about our life. I’m fascinated too. It’s surreal.
We’ve gained in understanding life at anchor, dingy etiquette with toddlers, steering safely in following seas, docking with a significant crosswind, and cooking under sail (I invented something I’m calling “swirled” eggs — since fried eggs are kind of impossible with a moving stove).
More adventures to come! We’re headed back to Lake Union (with Grandma aboard) in a couple days for restocking, making some adjustments to dock line set-up and such, to sell our car, clean out our tiny storage unit, and make this life permanent for as long as we choose to travel, explore, and work along the way!

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