Sucia - Part3 click "comment" to read or make an observation about this  article - click "email" to send this page to a friend
By Greg Stoll - Oregon - USA
Part 1 - Part 2

With the boat all loaded up, it was time to say goodbye to the blissful peace of Sucia Island and head back to the mainland. Our boat was loaded up, and our dinghy was securely fastened to the towline behind the boat. I decided to listen to my voicemail, as I had been ignoring the outside world for the last couple days. I had a message from Andrew Linn dated around 1:00 in the morning. He said that he had made it safely back to the ramp after a 9 hour sail. I thought “Wow. That must have really sucked.” Little did I know how right I was…

After exiting Fox Cove, we caught the wind and started moving under sail. We were tacking slowly eastward and found that Randy Wheating was headed home on his Chebacco Bluster. I chatted with Randy on the VHF radio and realized we were both headed to the same marina.

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Randy Wheating and family in their Chebacco Bluster

(click images for larger views)

Randy sailed smartly away while we lolly-gagged in the doldrums around our boat. I started the outboard to motorsail when we were suddenly hit by a large gust of wind. The gust didn’t really stop; it just kept blowing. After a few minutes the wind was in the 15-20 knot range. More gusts came that must have topped 25 knots. A couple times the boat heeled over far enough to ship water. Needless to say, I got scared and lowered the sails.

Now, most people in this situation would have thrown a reef in. It bears mentioning, however, that my boat is cursed with some weird roller-reefing system for the main. The boom somehow rotates in order to take up the reef. In theory it makes for an infinitely-variable mainsail; in practice it doesn’t work very well, especially without a topping lift.

By now we were well out into the channel, taking steep 3-4’ chop on the beam. The spray was everywhere, and my wife Shelly hid in the cabin. It was really nasty, and in all honesty a little scary. I took some cool video though, and I’ll happily e-mail it to anyone who asks.

Shelly hiding in the cabin

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The Windisfree rolled wildly but was holding up. My Puddle Duck Racer Red Racer, however, wasn’t faring so well. Every time it took a wave on the bow it would ship a little water on board. Slowly it sank lower and lower until finally I had to stop to bail it out. Because of a lack of design experience, I installed the floorboards in such a way that I could not bail out the bottom 6 inches of the boat. I did the best I could by leaning the Red Racer over to get the most water, but no matter how much I bailed more still came in.

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The Red Racer in happier days

I stopped 3 or 4 times to bail the Puddle Duck, and considered abandoning it. However, with a website painted on the front, a hull number on the side and a homeport on the back I knew that at the very least I would be found and fined for abandoning it. Worse, I could set off some sort of large-scale search that I would then be liable for. I decided to stick it out until it sank.

By now the weather was taking its toll on me, and I was getting really tired of that damn Puddle Duck. In a last-ditch effort to save it, I turned it around and towed it backwards. This may sound odd, but the boat sat bow-down naturally anyway, and it’s basically a box, so it shouldn’t matter which way it’s towed. All the water immediately sloshed to the bow of the boat, which was now the stern, lifting the stern-come-bow high in the air. The Red Racer was on plane, with a full 2’ of the bottom out of the water. As luck would have it the leak was somewhere on that 2’ of bottom; the Red Racer was done sinking!

It took us a couple hours to slowly motor through the rough seas across the Strait. We finally made it to the relative calm in the lee of Clark Island. The wind had subsided, and our course had changed such that we were now able to hoist the main only and sail on a broad reach with the wind coming over our starboard quarter. We sailed like this for an hour or so until we reached the north end of Lummi Island.

Upon reaching this blessed windbreak the sail was lowered and lunch was served. Shelly made some excellent turkey sandwiches, and we drank Gatorade in the sun. Life was good, but we were still a long way from Bellingham. I was worried about motoring straight into the wind and current coming up Hale Passage, and wondering if we would make it before dark.

We were blessed with calm in Hale Passage; maybe 5 knots of wind and a knot or two of head current. We were able to make 3 knots under power. It was a far cry from the 7 knots we made only a few days earlier going the opposite direction, but it was great to be out of the rough weather.

We saw this house on the east side of Lummi Island. It has a private marine railway that leads to a garage. Must be nice…

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After many hours of motoring we reached the south end of Portage Island, signaling the turn northeast into Bellingham Bay. Bellingham Bay was nice and calm, with overcast skies and a 5-7 knot tailwind. We raised the sails and slipped silently across the bay towards Squalicum Harbor and the boat ramp.

On our way in we noticed a couple boats sailing by us. We marveled at how nice it was inside the bay and enjoyed the relaxing ride. Before we knew it we had lowered the sails, started the engine and cleared the breakwater of the harbor. I tied up to the dock and went to get the pickup. The boat was loaded onto the trailer without incident, and we set about unrigging for the trip home.

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This boat of unknown design sailed past us in Bellingham Bay. Notice the tri-radial cut gennaker.

This San Juan 24 sailed by us in Bellingham Bay. Note Bellingham in the background.

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I had almost everything put away; all that was left was to lower the mast and secure it for the road. While I was contemplating the mast lowering, I looked over at a 30-some foot trimaran a few parking spots over. The crew of the trimaran had a rig set up whereby the trailer winch cable was routed over the anchor roller and used to raise and lower the mast. “Hmmm,” I thought to myself, “I’ll have to set something like that up when I get home”.

In order to understand what happened next, one has to first understand the situation. The mast in question is an aluminum extrusion roughly 24’ in length. It’s mighty heavy, and fairly unwieldy. I had just spent 8 ½ hours retracing a trip that had only taken 4 ½ hours just a few days before. I hadn’t had a shower in days, and my wife was already complaining about having to lift the Puddle Duck into the cockpit of the big sailboat.

So I started my mast lowering process. First, I set up the mast support in the rudder gudgeons on the transom. Next, I unhooked the aft forestay. Then I unhooked the forward forestay and held tension on it until I got ahold of the mast. Then I slowly walked backwards across the cabin and carefully stepped down into the cockpit. At this point my foot slipped. I lost hold of the mast; it fell; I tried to catch it and failed. All of a sudden, my right hand hurt.

The long and short of it is that my “accident” cost me 48 hours of sick leave (you can’t be a firefighter with only one good hand) and pushed back the remodeling project at home by a couple months. I had sprained my wrist. More specifically, I had sprained the tendon that runs to my thumb. This is the tendon that takes most of the strain when lifting things like cordless drills and hammers. As you can probably guess, I had a non-productive summer.

However, after all that, we found solace at the home of Bill and Sandy Childs of Bartender Boats. They took us in, gave us showers and fed us lasagna. Bill and Sandy have a beautiful home in Bellingham. I had been to their house previously on a trip to deliver a Bartender with “Dirtsailor”. Life was good.

The drive home was uneventful, although it was painful to drive a stickshift with an injured right hand. All in all, the trip was a success. I greatly expanded my horizons, both in travel and boating. I had successfully planned and executed a boating trip involving long distance trailering, long distance sailing and boat camping. We plan to go back next year for the whole week.

If you’ve never been to a Messabout, I can tell you that it is one of the most affirming things a boat person can do. If you have been to a daytime Messabout but have not camped with other Messabouters, I can tell you that it is one of the most entertaining things a boat person can do. If you have done both of those things (or even if you haven’t), then it’s time you went to a Messabout that requires an over-the-water trip to get there.

So, here’s your chance. The 2006 Sucia Messabout is scheduled for the weekend of July 7th, 8th and 9th. Mark it on your calendars now. Its 7 months away, that gives you plenty of time to put in for vacation and schedule your life. It’s also plenty of time to convince your spouse that you need to go, with or without her. You don’t have to go the long way like I did; you can sail from the Lummi Island Ferry dock for the 11 mile trip. Or, you can go to Orcas Island via Ferry and launch from there; it’s only 2 miles. Whatever you do, go! It will be the best experience of your life.

For more information, go to the official website of the Sucia Island Small Boat Rendezvous. You can also join the Sucia Rendezvous Group on Yahoo. Don’t have a boat? Network with others going; there’s usually room somewhere. In fact, I just might have room for a couple more folks.