Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Trip in the White Bird to Canada

Let me think of my trip to the San Juans in the White Bird Sailboat.

Sometime in the mid 1970's, I bought a 19 foot Adkins design, gaff rigged sailboat with a good friend of mine named Brian Bylenok. The boat was a wood planked boat with a small cabin. cabin had 2 berths for sleeping, and had comfortable sitting headroom.

We originally purchased the boat from a woman in Port Townsend Washington. I was working at Speakerlab as a Stereo Store Salesman, and Manager.

I sailed the boat across the Puget Sound to Seattle where we had arranged to dock it in the ship canal between Lake Union, and Lake Washington at a houseboat that belonged to another Speakerlab friend. (Brian also worked there)

The boat was a very nice little sailor, after we added a bit to the full length keel. We just shaped a large piece of wood about 6" thick at the stern, and tapering to nothing at the bow, and bolted it to the lead keel. This increased the draft to about 2 to 2.5 feet. We also pulled the boat, and re caulked all the joints between the strip planks.

After repainting, and re varnishing all the exposed mahogany wood work, I decided to take a 2 week solo vacation in it to the San Juan Islands.

If you look at a map, you will see that to get from Lake Union to the Puget Sound, you must go through the locks in Fremont between the Puget Sound, and the 2 freshwater lakes. This trip takes at least an hour or 2 depending on the traffic through the locks.

The boat has a little 5 hp British seagull outboard on it so I was able to motor from our moorage at the houseboat to the locks. Starting the Seagull motor is something in of itself. It has a place on the top to wind a starting rope, so you can pull it, just like an old fashioned lawnmower. There is no recoil mechanism like a lawn mower, so you wind it each time. Once it starts, it is pretty reliable, although it broke down at the beginning of the sailing portion of the trip. The prop is attached to the drive shaft with a big coil spring to act as a shock absorber, and it broke. The motor would start, but the prop just spun freely.

Once I passed through the locks into the Sound, I stopped the motor, and raised the sail and started my journey by sailing back to Port Townsend.

The boat was a very primitive all wood boat with no modern accommodations, or electronics. It has a little wood burning stove in the cabin for warmth, and for cooking, but I really only used if to keep warm, and to heat water for coffee. Since there was no electricity, I hung a small kerosene lantern from one of the stays near the sail, instead of using electric running lights,. The light from the lantern would light up the sail at night to let other boats see me. I was also careful to hang a good radar reflector from the mast as high as possible so the very fast freighters would see me on their radar,and avoid running me down.

I never had any close calls, so it seemed to work just fine.

The little boat pointed pretty high into the wind after the addition to the full length keel, and was a pleasure to sail. The only navigation I had was dead reckoning with a compass, a watch, and some charts.

When I got to Port Townsend in the late evening, I decided to dock at the local marina for the remainder of the evening, to get some sleep. The next leg of the journey would be to the San Jauns across the Straight of Juan de Fuca.

Of course, being the Northwest, the weather decided to get a little rough the next day. Since the winds and seas were from the south, and I was heading north, I decided to press on with my little trip. Sailing solo with no radio or other survival gear other than a life vest may not have been the wisest thing to do, bit I was young and unafraid. In retrospect, If I was to do the same today, I would have a GPS receiver, and a good hand held radio along with a cell phone, but in those days, one did with less.

I woke up in the morning, and made a little fire in the stove. Although the stove was a miniature version of a large wood burning stove, I just burned charcoal in it. This was much easier to get, carry, and it made a lot less smoke. It also produced a fire that was a bit hotter so my morning coffee didn't take as long to make

I also carried a small white gas stove for cooking, but I usually refrained from using it in the morning, since I had a fire going anyway for warmth.

Once I was warm, and awake, I put on my Shetland Island Sweater that my mother gave me, and my rain suit. The winds were 25 to 35 knots from the south, and the swells were about 10 feet, which I didn't think was to bad for the trip. I know now, after working offshore s a navigator for seismic exploration vessels, that 25 knots and 10 foot seas is a pretty rough ride. But, with following seas, the little boat rode pretty well.

Once I was back in the sound, I found that the little boat would surf in the swells, and with my back to the wind, I made pretty good time.

My target was San Juan Island, but with the drift from the swells, and no real navigation, I really didn't know where I was when I saw the Islands after several hours of sailing. I don't really know how long the crossing took, but since the White Bird could not do much more than 6 knots, It was quite a while. The distance to Lopez Island from the Port Townsend Marina is a bit more than 20 miles, so the trip was probably about 4 hours, but it seemed a lot longer in the rough weather.

When I saw land for the first time that day, I found that I was near a little bay with three small fishing boats in it. I believe that they were fishing for salmon, but I am not really sure, However, from the shape of the inlet, I could see that it matched a bay on Lopez Island. While I had missed my target by several miles, it was really not a concern since I was not in a hurry to get anywhere.

As I sailed to the west, I could hear the fisherman shouting at me, but they were too far away to hear what they were saying. I was very near the shore, and suddenly I went aground. What the fisherman had been shouting was a warning to stay away from the shallows I now found myself stuck in. I was really fortunate that the White bird Was a shallow draft vessel, since all I needed to do was to lower the sail, and use my boat hook as a pole to push myself off the rocks. Once I was a little farther away from the shore I hoisted the sail, and continued sailing.

I had not recognized the shallows, since I had misidentified the little inlet that I was in on the chart. I was a little farther off course than I had thought, but it still was not important. Since there was no difficulty getting off the rocks, I was not too concerned. If the boat had been a fin keel type, I would have been in a bit more trouble.

To be continued
(met a girl in Friday Harbor, Lost a mast stay sailing back to Port Townsend, and had to hide (anchor) in the lee of Little D'Arcy island until the storm blew over, and I could repair the boat)

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