Wayward Lass at Sucia
It was that time of year again – July, time to pack up Wayward Lass and head for Sucia State Park in the San Juan Islands. Due to some trailer problems, we made our departure this year from Oak Bay Marina in Victoria, as close as you can get to the very bottom of Vancouver Island. Surprisingly, this only added 3 nautical miles to our usual 25, as measured on the chart.
My dad, who usually joins me on these trips, was off on one of his periodic trips to Scotland, so Chris Bennett filled his berth. Chris is an experienced Chebacco sailor, having initially partnered Fraser Howell in building and sailing Itchy and Scratchy in Halifax. Alan Woodbury came up from Port Townsend to be a third hand – he’s temporarily boatless but had a yen to see Sucia again.
We cast off at 8:00 am with a light following wind. This summer I’ve been learning to use the asymmetrical spinnaker I made last year. I set this on a ten-foot pole -- it can point over the bows like a very long bowsprit or off to the side to catch a following wind. It’s a pain to rig, and the “shroud” angle when used as a bowsprit is too small for more than light winds, but pays off in the right conditions. As soon as the sail was up we could feel it pull us along.
Even flying the spinnaker it was a leisurely trip up Haro Strait. We stayed away from the American side as the big ships use that side and we were happy to keep our distance until we had to cross their path to enter Roche Harbor. Coming from the south, we took Mosquito Passage, a reasonably well marked but twisty entrance – Chris had traversed it before and confirmed that yes, the marks were in the right places and the channel really does do that.
Once through Customs, the wind and current took us out of the harbour, but once out in Spieden Channel the wind left us to spin slowly along on the flooding tide where Kirk Coleman, also bound for Sucia, motored up from behind in his Davidson 17 to say hello. A breath of air tempted both crews to try sailing again, but the wind was only fooling around so we woke up Honda and motored the rest of the way. Once at Fossil Bay we stopped on the beach to unload – there was already a good crowd of small boats there.
Afterwards we anchored out and rowed ashore in my new and tiny tender, Tartlet, to cook our dinner. We had to cook up the spaghetti with canned ham for meat as I appeared to have forgotten the sausage, but it tasted fine anyway. We opened a bottle of wine, which further improved it.
In the evening a sizable group gathered around the campfire, sampling Chuck Gottfried’s homebrewed ale. But we still managed to take Tartlet out to Wayward Lass without tipping – no small feat for two grown men in a less-than-six foot dinghy! Alan had brought his tent in order to sleep ashore so we were spared the problems of ferrying three.
Next morning we were supposed to hold the Sucia Challenge, supposed to be a round the island race – but you can’t sail without wind. By 11:00, however, there was enough wind to tempt some of us out of the bay. Full Gallop and Wayward Lass (with Frank Mabrey and Alan Woodbury for crew) headed out, along with Bryan in his Benford catboat. Full Gallop immediately took the lead thanks to her big jib, but once Wayward Lass started flying her spinnaker the tables turned – although it was still a close contest. FG had the advantage to windward, but WL could put up more sail area on a reach or a run. We really need to hold that race we keep talking about!
About then James McMullen came out in Rowan, so we sailed over to say hello. We discovered that Rowan, a stretched Oughtred JII, is one fast boat – for the most part she had no trouble keeping up with the Chebaccos, both of which spread more sail than she does.
The wind was light and only present in patches – it was easy to sail out of it, then it took a lot of effort to get back to it, so we didn’t try to go far. However, three other crews were more determined. Aurors, Windisfree and Barquita came out and let the current waft them off to the east. Hours later they returned from the west, having successfully circumnavigated the island with only a little help from the infernal combustion motor.
Coming back in, we passed the Calkin Wherry and the Nimble out sailing too.
James let me beg my way onto Rowan to see how she went. Once I learned to use the push-pull tiller stick, I found her very easy to sail. James says he has used that type of steering on three double-enders now and wouldn’t have anything else. It allows him to steer from almost anywhere on board, making for better weight distribution. I took a try with the oars too, and found that for a twenty-footer she rows very easily, one man could row her all day without straining. A great boat, and fast – if I didn’t already have a Chebacco, I would be seriously tempted!
Saturday night was our first-ever organized happening, a wine and cheese event. We spent the whole evening around the table and campfire enjoying good food, good drink and good company. We even had a couple of speeches, including the presentation of a six pack of Chuck’s home brew to the round-the-island sailors. Lynn Watson picked up his guitar and gave us an eclectic mix of tunes and songs. Unfortunately, (or maybe fortunately!) no one could remember all the words to Barrett’s Privateers – there’s your homework for next year, ladies and gents.
Sunday was another day of light wind. A few crews had to leave in order to be at work on Monday morning. Bluster and Java went north, Josh and Anika Colvin’s Montgomery 15 and the Nicolaisen family’s Nimble went south, for Anacortes. Rowan, the Benford catboat and the Calkins wherry also turned southwards for Bellingham, although Bill and Sandy in the wherry planned to stop overnight at Matia Island, just a couple of miles to the southeast. Kirk Coleman also left on Sunday, heading back to Vancouver Island.
A few folk took advantage of the trails to go hiking. Three of us went out to the clifftop on the southernmost point on the southwest side of Fossil Bay. As we took in the view, we engaged in much deep philosophical discussion but were unable to come up with a good reason why so many power cruisers appear to be modeled on hi-tech running shoes.
Looking for a simpler view of life, we returned to the beach and went sailing. Terry and Patricia Lesh joined Alan and I in Wayward Lass, and sailed out in company with Joe Nelson’s Core Sound sharpie, Blew-By-You. At some point, I don’t remember just when, the expedition developed into a race around Matia Island, with Blew-By-You and Wayward Lass setting off first, with Full Gallop, who had come out earlier, chasing us from windward.
At first, Wayward Lass’ chances looked good. With the spinnaker, we had the edge on the Core Sound in the light wind, and Chuck was still well behind although closing fast. However, Wayward Lass’ skipper made a major tactical error, sailing into the lee of Matia, losing the wind and any hope of finishing, never mind winning.
A potentially awkward situation, but we were saved from any embarrassment by the competition losing interest. Chuck, in Full Gallop, went off to the east and appeared to be caught by the north-flowing tide. Joe, in Blew-By-You, landed at the nearer (the northwest) end of Matia instead of going around. In Wayward Lass we fired up the engine and motored slowly down the southeast shore. At the other end we found a long narrow bay with a shingle beach, where we beached ourselves to go ashore and stretch our legs. This would make a good anchorage for two or three small boats as long as the wind didn’t blow from the southeast.
After our run ashore, we continued around the island, turning into the bay at the northwest end for a closer look at a small power cruiser that Terry lusted after. We saw Bill and Sandy’s wherry anchored in this bay, but didn’t see them. Then it was back to Sucia for dinner and another evening around the campsite, although with a now much-reduced company.
Next morning was going-home time. We packed up and loaded Wayward Lass, then motored out of Fossil Bay until next year. We waved goodbye to the guys going south then pointed our own bows west, shutting down the motor shortly after. We had 5 to 8 knots of wind, going against the tide at about 45 degrees. The 2 miles or so to the tip of Orcas Island, where the south-bound tide split south-east and south-west, was slow going, but once past that we had the southwest-going current with us. The wind was also improving, so we were soon moving well. Chuck and Dean in Full Gallop and Darrell Pepper in Barquita were in sight to the north, heading for Pender Island and a few days’ cruising in Canadian waters. They were close-hauled and having a tougher time of it than we were. We hailed Full Gallop on the VHF to say good-bye, but it was a short call as they had to sign off and concentrate on some big waves just about then.
Once past the tip of Orcas, we were following the same path as the tide which was ebbing strongly. As we passed through Spieden Channel, the wind was blocked entirely by the land and our speed through the water dropped to zero, but over the ground we were still making 5 knots! This highlighted the importance of using the tides in these waters, and not trying to fight them. As soon as we were through Spieden, the wind came back, now from the south. This put us close hauled on the starboard tack, pointing about southwest, but a new current was coming down a different route, from the north west, combining with our course through the water to make our GPS track due south, right down the middle of Haro Strait.
This lasted until the tide changed, but by then we were close to the Vancouver Island shore, where a stray current continued south (this was according to the current atlas, a very detailed, hour by hour tidal prediction). This eddy helped us along the shore as we short-tacked to stay out of the main current of what was now a north-bound flood tide. The last obstacle was getting through Baynes Channel, the north entrance to Oak Bay and one where the tide flows very strongly. Wayward Lass punched through the eddy line off the point like a whitewater kayak, immediately turning away from the wind to let out the sheets. We crept along close to the rocks until we were out of the current, then sailed on home. When we docked, we had sailed 28 miles in 7 hours.
And that was the end of our part in another great Sucia rendezvous.