Tag Archives: puget sound

He Owes It All to a Garbage Bag

Outstanding Instructor Spotlight

Outstanding Instructor Steve Klump

Few men can credit a garbage bag for leading them towards the career of their dreams, but Steve Klump does just that.

“I became instantly hooked on sailing through an ‘ah-ha’ moment while canoeing downwind in Everglades National Park using a garbage bag as a sail,” Steve says of the inspiration. “From that day forward I progressed through all sorts of sailing craft.”

Always an outdoorsman, Klump is a former Ranger with the National Park Service where he spent many an afternoon hiking in the serenity of the deep woods and mountains. Continue reading

Voyaging with Velella: Rite of Passage (Part 1)

sailing puget soundContinuing the Voyaging with Velella series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Harvey. Meghan and her husband Prescott have been cruising aboard their boat Velella for the past 8 months, first in Mexico and now in the Pacific Northwest.

Almost two years ago, we left Seattle tentatively on a boat we barely knew. We had spent weeks and months preparing for our big voyage–-going over everything with a fine toothed comb, packing and repacking, whittling away at our big Excel sheet of to-dos. For 8 weeks, I studied navigation and trained to get my Captain’s license. We serviced all the fire extinguishers and the life raft, we installed lazy jacks and solar panels, hired a weather route to help us interpret our best window, and had all sorts of support as we left town on a foggy morning in August, having no idea (but some very vivid dreams) about what we were getting ourselves into.

Last week, we arrived again at departure day, from the same marina in Seattle, on the same boat. This time, we simply bought a copy of this year’s current and tide tables, picked up a few bags of fresh food, and slipped our lines. No losing sleep several nights in advance, no libations and pleas to Neptune, and no wondering what was around the corner.

What was around the corner was the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and I knew it well. The first time we’d fought our way out to the Pacific Ocean had almost convinced me that I’d made a grave mistake in choosing to buy a boat and live on it. As we pulled anchor on a lovely morning in Port Townsend this time, my stomach tightened in anticipation of what I knew to be a very challenging 90-mile entry-way to the Pacific Ocean. I was mentally prepared for disorganized wave chop, relentless seasickness, pathetic speed against the strong currents, and longer night watches because this time we didn’t have a third crew member with us to share the load. I was nervous about the exhaustion that I knew the Strait would induce, but I was expecting it this time around. Sailors ruefully call it the Strait of Juan de Puke-ah.

The current was with us as we nosed into the East entrance to the Strait this time, and the early morning wind was light and variable. We motored on glass-flat water at 7.5 knots, and I couldn’t believe our luck. I actually didn’t trust it at all, because I knew that when afternoon rolled around and the sea breeze started funneling towards us over the opposing ebb current, we’d be sailing in a washing machine. So, while the morning weather was still mild, we knocked off about 30 miles and pulled into Port Angeles at noon. No sooner had we tied up than the wind started whipping through the marina, and I enjoyed a thick cup of coffee with relish and self-congratulations at making the right call to pull in early.

The next morning, we did it again–-arose with the ebb that would carry us West, hoping to make as much way as possible before the westerly wind set in against us. This time, though, the wind rose earlier than we’d hoped, and dark clouds congregated in our path. Par for the course, I thought. I could see sheets of rain ahead, and I knew that our ebb tide was about to turn to flood in a couple of hours, making everything more of a slog. The clouds were moving fast, and I had heard radio reports that foretold a cold front. Cold fronts are more furious than warm ones, but they’re also quicker passing. As I zipped my foulies to the chin, stuffed handwarmers into my gloves, and put on a yellow sou’wester hat, I decided that I would like to handle this weather snarl like the salt I am now, rather than the trembling newbie I was two years ago.
sunset over neah bay
On the leading edge of the front, the winds picked up suddenly, and rain fell in pinprick waves across our uncovered cockpit. Visibility dropped rapidly and the tanker that had been abeam of us only 2 miles off disappeared in the mist. Prescott flipped on the radar and I braced myself against the cockpit sole as we pressed on through it. Something about the look of the clouds and behavior of the winds around them told me this wasn’t going to last long. Sure enough, after the first onslaught, the dark clouds rose slightly and became a little lighter. The wind eased ever so little, and the rain stopped. We emerged about 2 hours later into sun-pierced afternoon mist, and I could see the line of clouds storming east into the Puget Sound. Ahead, out over the Pacific Ocean, the sky winked with patches of baby blue sky.
sunset over water and sailboat
We reached Neah Bay, the farthest West you can go before turning South, and dropped our anchor in a bay drenched in sunset. We still had the Washington coast to transit before reaching Oregon, but Juan de Fuca was behind us, and we’d walked through the squalls gracefully. We enjoyed a dignified bottle of wine on the hook, as all good sailors should be able to do after a passage, and fell asleep soundly, trusting our anchor completely, and trusting our ability to handle the next leg of our journey. My dreams that night were laced with visions of rounding Cape Flattery proudly for a second time, savoring our last offshore night watch, and crossing the notorious Columbia River Bar–the final high hurdle in our seamanship exam.

[to be continued!]

Voyaging with Velella: Sailing Backwards. No Joke.

spit of land puget soundContinuing the Voyaging with Velella series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Cleary. Meghan, her fiance Prescott, and their kitten Nessie have just finished a 6-month cruise in Mexico and are now sailing the Pacific Northwest.

When we picked up Velella in Victoria after 6 months of cruising in Mexico, we quickly remembered how to deal with cooler-weather sailing. We pulled out our heavy wool blankets, a tray to catch water from our wet rainboots, full-fingered sailing gloves and high-collared foulies, tea and oatmeal. We also just as quickly were re-introduced to the challenges of sailing in waters with strong currents—and in the Puget Sound, San Juan Islands, and Strait of Juan de Fuca, they can be STRONG.

So strong in fact, that if you don’t time your passage right, the current might be faster than your boat speed, and push you backwards. I’ve seen this happen to a little sailboat struggling to get under the Golden Gate Bridge. Luckily, we had a favorable current with us as we crossed the Strait of Juan de Fuca headed towards Port Townsend. We were making a whopping 7+ knots most of the day, meaning we had at least 2-3 knots of current working for us, and we arrived in Port Townsend much earlier than we’d expected.

Our plan was to spend the night at anchor off Port Townsend, then ride the next day’s current down into Seattle. We didn’t have the 2011 current tables onboard, but we did have the tide tables. Though tides and currents do not always correlate as closely as you might think, we figured we’d bet on the fact that when the big tide started rolling into the Puget Sound at 9am, we’d be able to coast it down to Seattle starting shortly thereafter. So, we decided to get underway at 10am.
velella headed toward seattle
In order to head to Seattle from Port Townsend, you first have to round Morrowstone Point and then turn south. As we poked our bow out around the point, we could see the turbulence in the water and figured perhaps we were still a bit early and that the end of the tide might still be flowing out. We pulled out into the channel anyway, and our speed immediately dropped from 5 knots to 2 knots. Then 1.8 knots…. Then we realized that according to the chart plotter we were moving 1.8 knots—in the opposite direction of where we were headed! We were pointed “upriver,” but the current was so strong it was pushing us backwards, farther and farther from the point we were trying to get around. Good thing there was no one around the witness this embarrassing situation : )

Rather than fighting the opposing current and wasting gas, we pulled back into the calm eddy behind the point and cut the engine. We decided to wait another hour to see if the tide would start working in our favor. To kill time, we sailed south toward the point, turned into the current, sailed backwards (northwards), then pointed out of the current, and sailed south in the eddy again. The boat was facing south the whole time and we were sailing in circles!
velella backwards
Finally, the current released its grip and we were able to make way in a southerly direction, slowly at first, and then picking up speed as the tide filled in behind us. No harm done, and we got to sail backwards at 2 knots an hour, so…I’ll check that off the list.

If you’re a sailor looking for a new challenge, come sharpen your skills and learn to sail in Puget Sound—in addition to wind, we have currents, fog banks, and lots of diverse aids to navigation to pay attention to. (We also have Orcas and harbor seals and bald eagles and rainbows!) It’s a challenging and gorgeous place to sail. Our expert flotilla leaders know the local waters (including the tides and currents, of course!) and visit all of the best spots.

Tips to remember for sailing with currents:
• Always leave ample room from land, especially points that stick out into the path of a strong current.
• Wear your PFD at all times! This should be your habit anyway, but you do not want to fall overboard without a lifejacket in areas of strong currents, upwellings, and whirlpools.
• Most importantly, don’t assume the tide tables are an adequate way of predicting currents. Carry a copy of NOAA’s current predictions with you when sailing in the Puget Sound or other coastal waters with strong currents, because (counterintuitively) tides and currents do not always coincide.

Here’s where Meghan and Velella are going with the flow right now:

View Voyaging with Velella in a larger map