A tale of two cats


A Tale of Two Cats
(there has to be a bad pun in there somewhere,
if I can just figure it out!)

by Jamie Orr

In June, Chuck Gottfried sent me an email saying he and Rollan, his bro-in-law, were cruising the San Juan Islands in early July, and wondering if Wayward Lass might find her way over there. We’d met at the Depoe Bay boat show, so we’d seen each other’s boats before, but we hadn’t seen them in action. Chuck has a 15.5 foot (it seems bigger!) Thomkat that he built – a real classic type catboat, barn door rudder and all. Wayward Lass is a Chebacco cat yawl – I don’t know if that qualifies as a “real” catboat, but she’s close enough for me.

After trading some emails, we agreed to meet at Sucia Island – it’s a small State Park with lots of bays and anchorages, right at the north end of the San Juan group. It’s also within easy reach (about 25 miles) of Sidney, where we often launch. This was important as I only had two days for the trip. I’ve added a map, courtesy of Mapquest, at the end of this epistle for those who don’t know the area (most of us!)

My almost fifteen year old son Alan came with me. We started on the Monday evening, leaving the dock in Sidney about ten to seven. We had to use the motor as there was no wind at all, despite earlier predictions of 15 knots in Haro Strait. We headed northeast around Sidney Spit, then just south of east across the strait for Roche Harbor. It was a straightforward run, and we arrived just after nine – we lost a few minutes when a breeze sprang up and we raised the sails, but the breeze didn’t last. We cleared customs in Roche Harbor, then had a look around. Nice, but Roche Harbor Marina is a pretty upscale sort of place – lots of big three-story power cruisers with acres of white fibreglass and big tinted windows. Wayward Lass felt a bit out of place there!

Since it was getting late, we stayed at the dock for the night. We were up about seven the next morning for our on-board pancake breakfast. We wanted to ride the flood tide to Sucia, so we cast off just before nine, with barely enough wind to let us steer around the boats anchored in the bay. The current helped to move us north out of Roche Harbor though, then east along Spieden Passage. The wind was very weak and fluky, letting the eddies occasionally spin us around, but no matter which way we were pointed, the current kept us moving eastward. About halfway through the passage the wind woke up and we started to sail properly. Travelling east with a southeast wind, we were close hauled in the pass, and couldn’t quite clear Spieden Island in one tack. However, when the Washington State ferry came by on its way to Sidney, it seemed to really want the north side of the channel, so we put in a short tack to the south, and after that we could scrape past Green Point at the east end of the island.

As we cleared the point, the wind rose to maybe 15 knots – if we’d still been beating I would have thought about reefing. However, our new course was slightly east of north, to pass north of Waldron Island, so that put us on a reach – and with the north-going tide helping, we flew right along! A McGregor 26 came up from San Juan Channel, planing under power. While we watched, her motor slowed, came back, then slowed and stopped for good. We didn’t know if they were having problems or not, but no one signaled for help, so we kept on. After a few minutes, they put their sails up and they got under way again, a little more slowly than before. I can’t say I was impressed by the sailing performance though – despite their longer waterline we kept drawing further ahead for as long as we watched. I don’t know whether the McGregor is that slow, or maybe the owner doesn’t sail much. Of course. I prefer to think we have the better boat – and you know I’m not prejudiced!

Here’s a shot of Alan sailing Wayward Lass to Waldron

The wind seemed to be linked to some rain clouds passing just south of us – as we rounded Waldron and passed Skipjack Island, we moved out from under their shadow, and exchanged our sailing breeze for bright sunshine and much lighter air. Through the binoculars, I could see a single gaff sail to the east, against the dark background of Sucia – we thought that might be Chuck and Rollan. We’d arranged to start monitoring the cell phone and VHF at noon, and it was just about that now, but I received no answer on either when I called. However, just a minute later the phone rang, and it was Rollan calling us. They could see us, and had the advantage of some wind, so they ran down to meet us. Alan and I were almost becalmed by now, but Tabby had the wind behind her – at least for a while.

Tabby’s getting nearer…

And nearer…

And here she is!

We came together about 1:00, and sailed along in company – by then Tabby had used up the best of the wind, leaving us barely enough to steer by! We swapped news as we went, then Chuck decided to head into Fox Cove for a late lunch, so off they motored. Alan and I thought we’d try a bit longer to finish our journey under sail, since we’d had such a good day so far. It took another hour, but we managed it, dropping the anchor a few yards upwind from Tabby about 2:30. We paid out rode until we drifted down far enough to raft up, then settled down to swap beer and bull. Alan pumped up our little inflatable for a trip around the bay – hard work since it doesn’t row all that well. Chuck and Rollan have an inflatable kayak/canoe that goes a lot faster, but they said it can be tippy until everyone is properly seated. Besides, the dinghy folds into one of Wayward Lass’ stern locker with room to spare, so we’ll stick with it for now. (BTW, both inflatables are by Sevylor, and both appear to be good value for the price.)

After a while, an older gent rowed up to chat about sailing and catboats. His sloop was anchored in False Bay, one anchorage over. He was still visiting when the wind came back again and we decided to go for a sail, so we offered him a ride back to his boat, which he accepted. We all went in Wayward Lass, since Chuck is also building a Chebacco but hadn’t sailed in one yet. We had a nice sail for a while, but it didn’t last, and we finally had to call on Honda to finish the job. After we dropped our guest at his boat, we headed back to our cove for dinner. Alan and I had spaghetti with some great homemade sauce, then we went ashore to toast marshmallows and fool around on the beach. After that, it was time to hit the sack – a lengthy process when the cabin has to be cleared of all gear to make space for our beds! A couple of mosquitoes showed up, so we hung our nets to guarantee an undisturbed night.

Wednesday started disgustingly early, because we wanted to take the ebb tide west and south to Stuart Island, north of Roche Harbor. The current atlas showed a strong ebb from 3 to 9 am, a flood from about 10 am to 4 pm, then short and weak ebb from 5 to 7 pm. We’d all agreed to get up at three, to give ourselves time for a decent breakfast and to use the facilities ashore, but at 3 o’clock there wasn’t a breath of wind, and I was wondering if this was a really dumb idea. Bit we went ahead anyway, getting the anchors up shortly before 5:00, and by 6:00 the sun was warming our backs and my cowardly second thoughts were forgotten!

Sunrise over Sucia

Tabby has a 2 hp motor, so she set the pace. I guessed the motors were giving us about 3 knots, but we had that strong ebb working for us once we got near Waldron. In the pass between Waldron and Skipjack the current was very strong. Both of us noted the speed over the ground was over 8 knots by GPS, (I saw 8.2, and Chuck, who was watching more closely, recorded a high of 8.8) which meant about 5 knots of current helping us along. The speed dropped once we were clear of the passage, but remained up in the 6 and 7 knot range for much of the way to Stuart. Just as well we didn’t sleep in and have that kind of current against us later!

Tabby on the way to Stuart Island

Coming in to Prevost Harbor

We arrived in Prevost Harbor at Stuart just before eight, and tied up at the Park dock.

We took a stroll across the narrow neck of the island to see Reid Harbor on the other side, then sat around drinking Tabby’s tea and chatting some more – except for Alan, who had crawled back into his sleeping bag not long after we left Sucia. He managed to log an extra four hours before he woke the second time! Once he was fed (teenagers burn a lot of fuel!) and more or less functional, he and I thought we would start back to Sidney. We said our good-byes to Chuck and Rollan and pushed away from the dock about 11:30, hoping to recapture our luck of the day before – but it wasn’t to be. We eventually ghosted out far enough to catch what little breeze we could see ruffling the harbour waters, but it didn’t extend beyond the headlands, and an hour or so after leaving, we gave up and took in the sails. Honda came to the fore again, and took us back to Sidney in another two hours.

The overlapping stone breakwaters at the Port of Sidney conceal the entrance very effectively. I was steering for the entrance marker, looking for the opening through binoculars, (without much success) when a power boat suddenly materialized as if from the stone! Once inside, at the customs dock we found a just-barely-big-enough space between two monster power cruisers, and achieved a very creditable landing through some nice teamwork. As we swung in, the starboard quarter was tucked well under the overhang of the bows behind, the mizzen sliding past the pulpit/anchor-roller/bowsprit with about six inches to spare. Clearing customs only took seconds, and we were off again, this time for the boat ramp. The recovery went just as smoothly, and soon we were unrigged, unpacked, and on the road home – a good finish to the journey. Alan and I agreed that it had been a good trip all around, even worth getting up before dawn!

Thanks to Chuck and Rollan for suggesting it!

Jamie Orr

Where we were….

Sidney to Sucia = Red line
Sucia to Sidney = Yellow line

Sidney to Roche Harbor is about 10 miles, and Roche to Sucia, about 15. The homeward leg was shorter as we didn’t detour to Roche Harbor. You’ll notice I’ve edited a couple of place names – Sidney is actually about where North Saanich (crossed out) is shown. And what the map calls Gooch Island is Sidney Island – it has a long spit to the north that is written over, but you can roughly see where it ends by the bend in our outward bound track (the red line).