A Lovely Cruise
by Chris McKesson

With reflections on: Morning land breezes…people that don't use current tables…radar reflectors…Convergence Zones…underwater attack seals

Went for a sail, finally! It seems like a long time. Work has been frenzied, but the project finally ended so I took an extended weekend and, at my wife's suggestion, went for a singlehanded cruise.


On Friday sailed from Brownsville Marina out Rich Passage and around Bainbridge to Blakely Harbor. Saturday went from Blakely the rest of the way around the island and through Agate Pass, ended up in Pouslbo for the night. Sunday closed the loop by returning to Brownsville.


There was an unexpected morning breeze blowing right out of the marina on Friday morning, so I hastened to get underway and finally left the slip at 0900. That was when the breeze died.

Chris McKesson

The tide was ebbing, with maximum ebb expected around noon. I was originally planning to ride that ebb out of Agate Pass. This narrow pass would be running at about 5 knots at max ebb. But with no wind I wasn't making much time toward the pass. I also worried that, with mid-day ebbs for the next couple of days, I would have a hard time finding a favorable time for my return on Sunday. So I finally decided to head the other direction and wander down toward Bremerton and Port Orchard.

About 1100 the breeze came up and settled into a pleasant 10-knot northerly. Well, by the time I reached Bremerton it was early afternoon and I decided to take the last couple of hours of the ebb out of Rich Passage. Rich Passage is much wider than Agate Pass, but it does have ferry traffic so it can be a handful, but I was lucky to enter the pass just behind a ferry so this meant that I would have at least an hour before the next one.

There were a couple of people coming in as I was going out. Don't the other sailors read the current tables?

Had a few run ins with tide rips in the channel: At one point the boat was going more sideways than forward, what with the light winds inside the channel, but it was all heading me in (mostly) the right direction so I wasn't fussed.

Once out of the current and out of the lee of the land we slipped along very nicely out into Puget Sound and around the corner for Blakely Harbor, at the south end of Bainbridge Island.

First lesson: There is more wind in the "big sound" than in the protected waters off Brownsville. Next time I want to go daysailing I should remember this, because the daysailing will be better if I go ahead and go out. Of course, it'll take a couple of hours to get there, and a couple more to get back, so it had better be a long day sail!

The wind had gone around northeasterly by evening, so Blakely was also almost a lee shore. I dropped the mainsail out by the rocks and sailed the last mile or so under genoa alone.

Blakely Harbor is quite deep. It was clear from the charts that I was going to have to anchor in 30+ feet of water, even up at the head of the harbor. Since I was alone I decided to use the stern hook. I belayed the anchor line to the bow cleat, and dropped the hook off the stern as I sailed over my desired spot. When the hook dug in it whipped the bow around vigorously, so that the boat now lay head to wind and I could douse the jib in tranquility, secure also in the knowledge that the hook was well set.

The harbor filled in later in the evening, including one powerboat that gave serious thought to anchoring on top of me, but finally made a wiser decision.

Saturday morning I intended to sail for Agate Pass. The flood would start at Agate at about 3 p.m., and there was no point in getting there any earlier. But if I waited too long to leave Blakely, i.e. if I waited until the northerly filled in, then I would find myself having to short tack out of the harbor. I choose instead to catch that 8 a.m. offshore breeze (the one I narrowly missed in Brownsville) and then just take my time underway.

I rigged the anchor cable over the stern roller and shortened up the scope. When it was pretty much straight up and down I went forward and set the jib. I set the windvane to hold me dead downwind, although of course since the boat wasn't moving this had no effect at the time. Then, when I heaved in the hook (we were now – at high tide – in 50 feet of water) the boat gently accelerated out of the harbor.

I had something like 6 hours to go 7 miles, so I never put up the main. I let the genny pull us upwind in a just simply delightful beat up the shipping lanes.

I took opportunity to speak to the ferry Hyak and ask them if they could see me on radar. I have our radar reflector mounted at the spreaders in the hope of giving a good return, and they told me that in fact I was highly visible with a good strong target. Nice to know.

I had another conversation with a ship in the north bound lanes to make overtaking arrangements. I was tacking and he was going straight, and for a few minutes it wasn't clear how we would meet, so I spoke to him on 13 and he graciously altered course a few degrees to clear my bow easily. Singlehanding on the wind vane, it's just kind of a nuisance to tack….or maybe I'm just lazy. Besides – I was making brunch at the time!

A long tack back across the sound took me to Port Madison, the waterway just outside Agate Pass, and I was three hours early for my tide. But that was no problem, because I sailed out of the wind at the same moment. It took those full three hours to make the next mile and a half up to the Pass. By then a new breeze had arrived, as I thought it might. It often seems that those mid day lulls are encountered at the transition between two different types of wind, you know? We tend to call this (improperly I realize) "convergence zones." We've been known to roar down on a reach, sail into a hole, drift a quarter of a mile further, and then batten down on a rail-down beat, all without changing course. Ah, Puget Sound!

The wind went astern of me and I sailed a broad reach to dead run through Agate Pass. I was actually still about a half hour early so I had the last of the ebb to deal with. But this was okay, as it made the passage a very leisurely pace with plenty of time to correct my position in the channel. I've had times with three or four knots of current behind me when everything is happening just WAAAY too fast.

So finally I am beating up into Poulsbo in that narrow dog-legged channel. I have gone all day now without putting up the main. (Hey, who's in a hurry?) But finally in the Poulsbo channel the wind just goes too light. So I hoist the mainsail at last.

And of course it pipes up to 20.

So I went roaring past Endangered Species and up into the anchorage. I got the main back down once I cleared the channel, and set about finding an anchorage. Unlike Blakely, Poulsbo is shallow. I again used the stern hook, but this time I sailed past my intended spot, rounded above it, and dropped the hook as I ran past it. Again when the hook bit it snapped the boat around head to wind, and I lowered the genny in comfort.

Was awakened in a fright Saturday night! The boat gave a lurch and started rocking as if somebody had hit us. But there was something funny, like they'd hit us softly or something. I sprang on deck and there was nothing to be seen, except some commotion in the water a few yards to port. I think, honestly, that some seal or whale or something hit the anchor cable. I mean it was a big lurch to the boat, and there was nothing out there.

I looked for teeth marks or damage in the morning when pulling it back up, but found nothing.

Sunday morning was less eventful, only because the wind really never filled all the way in. It took me eight hours to go the six miles from Poulsbo to Brownsville. I did remember to catch the morning breeze out of the anchorage, but it was a dead beat all the way out. Short tacking in the Poulsbo channel is a handful. Thank God for the windvane! I'd have been really bushed if I'd had to steer, too!

The wind in channels is funny, the way it bends and follows the land and all. During the last leg of the Poulsbo channel the wind gently lifted and lifted and lifted, and eliminated at least two tacks that I expect to have to make.

Well, that's really it. No great adventures, no krakens from the deep, just three pleasant days getting sunburned and rocking to sleep!

Chris McKesson