Monday - June 1 - Aground on Yellow Island Reef (23 NM)

Yesterday was our first real test of Bolero (and ourselves) as an engineless sailing weekenders. The idea was to sail around Shaw Island. So far we have only day sailed her so planning a trip caused us to plan and face far different challenges than day sailing which normally amounts to following the wind and whims of the skipper. Shaw can be challenging since to circumnavigate it, you need to navigate Wasp Passage, which has been hard on many, many boats. I felt confident, you could almost say cocky.

And if yesterday was a test, I failed miserably. The end result being that I piled Bolero onto the rocky foul reef off Yellow Island. I will diary this log as I have with others, but the overwhelming theme is going aground and the mistakes that I made in causing this painful and very, very expensive event. Any positive events that I mention are just part of the log and definitely not an attempt on my part to mitigate my responsibility for my own stupidity.

Fisherman's Bay on Lopez Around Flat Point

We set out a bit early and had the boat set up and ready to cast off at noon. We had all of our portable electronic and navigation tools (gps, depth, VHS radio, monocular, charts, current tables and hand bearing compass). In addition, a little food and drink for the trip.

The tides looked great for this trip. An +2.82 ft low at 8:05 am, a +4.55 ft high at 1:46 pm, a 3.98 ft low at 5:35 pm and finally a +8.42 ft high at 1:02 am the next morning.

The weather wasn't great. Or I should say the wind forecast wasn't. It was the very ambiguous 5 to 15 kts from the north. A quick check of the Washington State Ferries wind reading showed wind in the teens in San Juan channel so we decided to go and check the wind first hand.

The wind at the boat was great. Really great. As I prepped the boat for sail I day dreamed about a fast trip around Shaw. But off course that didn't happen. The winds were pretty much 0 to 15 kts from the north, west and south all day.

A pretty uneventful trip to Flat Point. We have had some large tidal changes recently so the logs were out in force. No real problems, but I always wonder how power boats don't hit them often. We arrived at Flat Point around 1 pm.

Upright Channel to Harney Channel

Upright channel is pretty shelter from the wind on all side. So we were just grateful to make any headway we could. Real light air sailing. I know that makes the sailor but I don't like it. We turned the corner at Shaw around 2:15 pm.

Harney Channel

Now we're talking. Wind on the nose close hauled sailing. Bolero's favorite point of sail. Since I had been tiller hogging all day, Laura took over.

And I got to play photo journalist. Never seen a Shields bow wake? Now you have.

This leg of our trip was also pretty uneventful. Although I guess they all seem uneventful when your know the ending is running aground. There was some ferry traffic and one neat, old powerboat that graced us with their presence.

We made great time and arrived at Broken Point on Shaw Island about 3:30 pm

Wasp Passage

This was the big deal in rounding Shaw. I also expect, and got, light, veriable and inconsistant winds. I couldn't exactly plan which path we were going to navigate since it was impossible to know what the winds would be.

We started out taking the widest and easiest path south of Bell Island. But there was almost no wind, and we had missed the slack so we were fighting a modest current. But the northwest wind looked quite good between Crane Island and Orcas so we decided to have a go at Pole pass.

Although the wind was great, the narrow channel had a much stronger current.

Even though we have not sailed here before something about this channel felt similar to our own Fisherman Bay entrance. I took two attempts to finally get through. The saving grace for Pole pass for us, was the deep lagoon to the south of the pass. This allowed us close reach into the mouth of the channel with very little current until we actually crossed. There was a few tense moments (as there always seems to be) between the tack in the mouth of the channel and the tack that took us clear.

If the day would have ended right hear, I would have wrote pages about this and would have needed bigger hats and a longer arm to pat myself on the back. But no worries there.

Getting though this part of Wasp Passage did takes it toll in time however, and it was just after 4:30 pm when we cleared the channel.

North Pass

Next up was North pass just north of Reef Island (you would think I would have learned something by the crappy names of these places). Having just come though Pole pass, North pass was giant. The problem, of course, became the wind.

We aimed for every wisp of wind we could find and even rowed-sailed at times to get to the pass. But we got a gift to pass the time with. A cool old International One Design coming out to play from Deer Harbor. Funny, I didn't even know there was one up here.

The wind finally came up enough for us to navigate the North Pass and then came up strong as we were expose to the northwest flow from San Juan channel. Bolero put her shoulder down and we were headed home. But it was late (about 5:30 pm) and we were both ready to be home.

McConnell and Yellow Islands

The shear stupidity of this leg is so grand it almost defies words. The evidence will clearly show that with good wind and speed I aimed for and hit one of the most discussed and well marked reefs in the San Juan Islands. Mother nature even gave me a warning that I noticed and failed to take. Argh.

Of course neither of these plots makes any sense at all. A three minute tack to the Northwest and Laura and I are home for cocktails. But nope. I take a quick look at my handheld GPS and proceed full steam ahead Titanic style. Comforted in my analysis that we will easily miss the rocks.

As I mentioned, I even got a warning. While sailing too close to McConnell Island as well, a couple of sets of waves became huge out of nowhere. I thought about waves breaking over reefs on South Pacific islands. Hell, I was worried enough that I quickly beared off and added some distance. My new course would have cleared the reef on Yellow Island, although it was still stupidly close.

But I guess this horse, or horses ass, was ready to get back to the barn. Apparently my quick check of the GPS convinced me that I could head up and reach San Juan channel 30 seconds faster if I cut the corner just a bit.

I won't try to describe the sound of our brand new boat running up onto the rocky reef of Yellow Island. You either know or you don't, hopefully the latter. We spent an hour on the reef while I tried all the ideas I could muster and waiting to pay dearly for the pull we had hired. The only good thing I can say about this is that the financial penance for my stupidity was dear and almost instance.

The Long Row and Sail Back Home

The rest of my penance for the day happen because of the time. That great wind we had that would have sent us quickly down San Juan channel on a mild current was all but gone when we were finally were pulled from the reef. We made is almost to Turn Island. Most of the remaining three to four mile were rowing miles. We crawled home to the mooring under cover of darkness and arrived home at midnight.

Normally when I row I think about sailing and how to do more in less wind. This time I was given ample time to reflect on my actions for the day. Rowing is even less fun than before.

Lessons Learned (So Far)

Certainly there will be many, many lesson learned from this mishap and my lapses in judgment. The biggest for me is that I let my GPS information override my common sense. One of my first rules of sailing has always been to watch the water. In hindsight the foul reef was clearly visible in the current with the rocks just a few feet below.

In addition my planning was insufficient. I have many cruising guides to the San Juan Islands and they all have sections on Wasp Passage. Just a 10 minute review over tea on the morning of our sail would have reminded me of this reef.

The really odd part is that we actually navigated the difficult parts of Wasp Passage. It is almost like I relaxed after a long tiring day. I knew that was a danger and should have been more vigilant as the day went on.

June 1 Tides - Friday Harbor

June 1 GPS Track

2009 Sailing Summary
Sailing Days-11 / 27
Total Miles Sailed - 140 NM