Super Low Tide = Strong Currents

Tuesday, 23 June 2009, was a pretty low tide day.

Specifically a -3.15 ft at 11:48. I wanted to go sailing but with 5 or 6 hours of the day at zero or below there wasn't really any chance of that happening.

So instead I decided to go down to the bay and take photos of the channel and shoreline during this significant low tide. I find that there is a great deal to learn from seeing the water in this condition.

The first, and most obvious, is that anywhere there is water at a -3 I can sail at a plus 2 since 5 ft is greater than my draft. This is actually pretty helpful info. In addition, I see the obstructions that I can't see at zero or plus one but that would be painful to encounter.

I thought I would pass along these photos, and video, in case anyone else had any interest.

I started south and worked my way north so here goes. My first stop was the Islander Resort. I would say that this is the destination for many of the folks that come to visit Lopez Island.

From my vantage, and I never use the Islander dock, the main low tide hazard is on the back side and the low lying rocks on the east shore. It seems you would almost have to go out of your way for them, but I know how that goes.

And here is a view looking south just because I thought it looked cool.

Working my way just a bit north, here is the view of the northeast side of the Island's Marine Center, IMC, dock.

And of course I had to take at least one photo of the least useful navigational aid in Fisherman Bay, the Fisherman Bay Channel Buoy 7.

I personally never sail near this buoy at any tide.

My ultimate goal was the channel entrance so I peddled my bike over to the Bay Cafe to have a look. And just as I rode up someone was making a tentative attempt at enter Fisherman Bay at a -3.15. By the time I managed to get my camera out of my backpack he had thought better of his idea and bugged out. Very wise choice.

One of my reason for going through this effort was to try and see the various hazards that lie at the entrance to Lopez Island and to try and discover the risks of different approaches. I tried to get photos that would help others get a better feel as well but alas I couldn't get my camera to see what I could see through my polarized sun glasses. But here are the pictures in any case.

This panoramic shows the path between the outer "Fisherman Bay Sector Light" and "Fisherman Bay Day Beacon 4" at the mouth of the channel entrance. Here is a link to the full size photo.

What I could see, but what is hard to see here, is the shoal between these two marks. From my vantage, and personal experience, the shoal is a bit to the west of the line between theses to marks. You can just make out the shoals and the eel grass in this area.

This corresponds well to the chart of the Fisherman Bay entrance.

I also took a photo of my favorite Fisherman Bay navigation aid at a really low tide. Good ole "Fisherman Bay Day Beacon 4". You can see that even at -3.15 we still can't quite see its termination into the sand.

You can also see the sloop of the shoreline as it meets the water and it is quite steep. This also combined with my personal experience is why I tend to hug this mark pretty tight. This technique limits your exposure to the strong channel currents and keeps in relatively deep water.

I came back to complete this cycle and take a few more pictures during the strong flood that was coming into to fill the void that this low, low tide left. The max flood at Pear Point, almost due west of the channel entrance, was 2.06 knots at 16:37. I don't know for sure, but it wouldn't surprise me if the corresponding current at the mouth of Fisherman Bay was 3 to 4 kts.

I was a little late for the max flood but the current was still hopping. But our hero from this morning had returned to navigate the channel with a bit more water. I didn't have my little point and shoot so I wasn't able to take a proper video, but I did manage to let the Nikon's motor drive loose. So here is accelerated time lapse video of his entrance.

He made an entry that was very similar to my own, and quite unusual in my experience from what I normally see.

Even so, the current had its way with him. This would have been a far, far more exciting entrance had he started out mid channel like so many others who enter Fisherman Bay. This entry was very well done, darn near perfect actually, in a very demanding current environment.

In the end Fisherman Bay channel can be challenging to transverse. But we routinely sail in, tacking against the wind, usually with the current with tides of zero and greater (we draw 4 3/4 ft). Although I have gone through the channel during minus tides, I don't recommend it unless you have the appropriate local knowledge.