Places We Go – Shoal Bay, Lopez Island

June 26, 2010

We were very busy in Anacortes, finishing up all the issues needing done before we head into British Columbia. It was only two days, but they were a fast and furious couple of days. We had dinner with our friends,Steve and Karen who voyage on SANCTUARY, and with another friend, Karen (Mike was on a yacht delivery to Hawaii), who came for dinner. It’s always fun catching up with our friends. Most of the talk is about boats, places to take boats, places we’ve been on boats!

Steve and Karen encouraged us to go to East Sound on Orcas Island. We had intended to go last fall as a last stop on our way out the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but the weather turned so nice, we headed west. Finally, my East Sound fix. We departed the Anacortes marina and went to the fuel dock where we refueled D/V, and gassed up our big dinghy. East Sound here we come! The trip was short and the water was green. With all the weather, the water has looked gray and the green was nice! East Sound is a good anchorage as long as there are no southerly winds. And, if you haven’t guessed by now, there were southerly winds! But they weren’t “that bad”, and we expected them to die down at sunset. They didn’t. Though the winds were only about 17 knots, it was all on the bow and we were on a lee shore. What is a lee shore? It means that if the anchoring system failed (not likely but it could happen) we would wash up on the rocks in East Sound. Many people expect/hope for the best and things turn out well, but we try not to tempt the winds.

We had a nice afternoon. We sat out in the garden and watched small planes approach and take off from the airport on Orcas Island. We chatted and actually got some nice warm sun – as long as we stayed in the lee of the boat, away from the winds. As the sun began to set we put on a movie. The winds seem to build instead of abate and at about 2230 the Captain says, “We’re leaving”.  And we did.

Though it was late,  there was still enough light to see to raise the anchor. By the time we finished  it was dark. And all of a sudden we found ourselves underway in the dark – something we haven’t done recently. Something we “never” do in the San Juan Islands, Gulf Islands or Inside Passage. The likelihood of hazards in the water is high, and it would ruin a perfect summer of cruising if we damaged our underwater body running gear. We were counting our very lucky stars. Just two days earlier there was a commercial crab opening. It must have lasted all of 36 to 48 hours. When we left Blind Bay on Thursday there were thousands of traps in the water! It was unbelievable. We watched, in amazement, as a Washington Ferry plowed right through the middle of a long line of traps. I guess they have underwater protection or are so big they aren’t affected by the traps. Wow!

48 hours later we are out on the dark water, watching as close as possible, hoping no traps have been left. (The picture is of the commercial crab boats rafted together at Blind Island, waiting while their traps “soaked”.) Our planned destination was Shoal Bay on Lopez Island. We have never been there. But it was only eight miles away and is protected from south winds. Perfect! Since it was a weekend night, we worried that it might be crowded, making anchoring challenging. To our amazement there was not a single boat anchored in Shoal Bay. It was perfectly empty, and anchoring was a simple matter.

When we are underway after dark all of our electronics have to be changed to dim modes, so that we can maintain our night vision. We are normally already underway on the ocean when doing overnight voyages. We know, in advance, that darkness is coming and we start early dimming the charts, autopilot, VHS, and GPS units. This time, it was already dark, so there were some flashlight ops going on as we remembered where all the dimmer settings were on the different units. It didn’t take much to get everything adjusted.

The voyage was a reminder, to me, of night voyaging. I was very aware of the sounds of the engines, the sounds of water whooshing against the hull, and seeing a few lights onshore and navigation beacons. You can hear the water “swish” when you are underway in daylight. Of course you are always aware of the engines, but during daylight voyaging you are more aware of what you are seeing. Your eyes are your strongest sense, telling you what the water is like, what is on the shores, where you are, what – if anything – is in the water, etc. So, when you can’t SEE what is out there, or at least not at the level of detail as full daylight, your other senses step up to deliver information.

There is one aspect of night cruising that I like – and that is voyaging under a full moon. Would you believe it was a full moon last night! There are conflicting opinions about voyaging under a full moon. Some mariners believe it ruins their night vision – and that can happen. (It was a problem when we started up the shipping channel in the Columbia River last fall.)  But I love it. It’s like having a “street light” on the ocean! There is, sometimes, enough light to see what is just up ahead. I like that! The moon, last night, danced in and out of a big cloud bank, so we didn’t get the full power, but at times we got a nice reflection on the water.

In 2006, on our cruise to Mexico, it happened that we were underway crossing the Sea of Cortez,  during the night of a full moon. I was not well, and I was standing watch. I can’t begin to tell you the comfort I got from having the moon shine a path before me. Well, that is a great story for another time!

Back in Shoal Bay, we secured the boat at 2345, toasted a bagel for a snack, and went lights out at 0030. It wasn’t all that bad – for a very busy day – Cruising in 2010.

1 thought on “Places We Go – Shoal Bay, Lopez Island

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