Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June Winds

Sailing in the northwest during the month of June is a crap shoot. Odds are good that you'll end up with a weekend that consists of great winds, rain, more rain and a little bit of sunshine.... you just never when or in what order.

Last weekend, we had all of the above--in about three hours!

Sitting off of Patos island and drifting with the current while our 20 or so passengers were ashore exploring the lighthouse, Cpt. Tim says to me, "I'm not sure its even worth raising the sails just to bob and bake. It's like glass out here."

True enough, the surface of the water was still and smooth. Only the occasional porpoises surfacing as they chased their lunches caused any disturbance in the deep blue water. I sat on top of the wheel box and gazed out across the strait towards Canada. The sky was sunny and the clouds were light and innocuous.

The passengers returned onboard and Tim fired up the engine. "Lets raise 'em and see if we can go find a little wind some where."

We went to sailing stations and got all 7,000 square feet of canvas in the air. As we passed by the north shore of Patos the mains'l filled with a freshening southerly breeze. We were sailing! Passengers lazed about the deck and basked in the sun while we coursed around the north side of Patos.

I called everyone to their stations to come about and we turned through the eye of the wind slowly. On this new tack, the wind picked up and we gained another knot of speed. The prop began it's harmonic humming as it started to free-spin--a sign that we were doing over seven and a half knots. Smiles were etched on everyone's faces.

Before long the wind drove the sunbathers down below for jackets and caps. I could see that the skies from the East had darkened to a slate grey. Tim grabbed his Cowichan sweater and walked back to the wheel. "We'll do some short tacks as we come into Sucia." He commented. I could tell he was in seventh heaven. I could also guess that he intended to sail onto the hook. We're going to come screamin' into Echo Bay. I said to myself as I walked forward to call sail.

"All hands! Sailing stations! Prepare to Come About!"

The ship whipped about on a dime and we sprung off on our new tack... but the winds gusted strongly and Tim nodded my way. "Once more" he said.

I shouted the command again and the deck crew stood by as only the jib was allowed to ease sails--the wind was so strong that we didn't try to let the fore and stay sail out. The jib crew, in their exuberance has sheeted in their sail too soon. We were in irons; meaning there was no momentum to get us through the turn. Sucia's fingers loomed very close on our port bow.

By this point the winds had gathered to 30-35 knots and the strong gusts were coming faster and harder. I walked forward to my foredeck crew leader and watched the inflatable tender laying into the crashing waves. The leeward rail was awash with water and crew were urging passengers onto the higher, windward deck.

This was fun! My jubilant expression met with less enthusiasm from many of our passengers as I passed by. They apparently did not share in the thrill that breakneck wind speeds and creaking lines and canvas aroused among my fellow Zodiac crew members.

I could hear Tim bellowing from behind me on the quarterdeck. "Drop your jib!"

Locating my jib crew leader, we shouted for passengers to move back. Once the sheet and halyard were released, the jib sail flogged about violently. The sail was still so bloated with wind that it would not come all the way down. Several other deckhands ran forward to clap onto the downhaul. I looked back at Tim; he was clearly yelling something at me, but I couldn't hear anything with the rush of the wind all around me. I ran back to the helm and he hollered the command to douse all sails.

At this point, passengers gratefully moved aside so that the Zodiac's crew could fight to control the sails. Orders were screamed at maximum volume, just to be heard over the roar of the wind. With difficulty and lots of teamwork, we muscled the stays'l and the fores'l to the booms. Everyone ran back to the main and stood by to furl the gigantic sail as it fell to the decks.

Then came the rain.

Pelting, stinging drops of rain made vision all but impossible. I gave up trying to look forward as I braced the boom, preferring instead to look down at the water. Waves beat against each other angrily in an effort to escape the force of the winds.

We motored into Echo Bay and Tim searched for our usual anchorage. Luck was not on our side this afternoon as another large ship had anchored in our place. He turned the bow toward middle bay and set about dropping the anchor. I walked forward to tell Calen to lay out three and a half shots. I could hear the engine switch into it's familiar, gravelly low-reverse throttle and Tim gave the "loose anchor" signal. The chain rumbled out and the boat came to rest.

Once the engine was shut down and covers were placed over all our instruments, we went below to join the passengers. Soggy sailors grasped onto cups of hot chocolate and coffee and the galley was abuzz with conversations about the exciting events of the last hour or so. I peeled off my coat and kicked my boots into my cabin, eager to find my own cup of hot beverage. It had been an excellent, intense sail.

Ian blithely ignored the victorious sailing yarns as he prepared to brave the elements and barbecue a large skillet of paella on deck. Pans and dishware clattered a midst the chatter. I walked up on deck to lay out the table for Ian's ingredients. The rain had disappeared and in its place was a double rainbow. The colors contrasted against the cobalt blue sky and bounced off the water. Amazing.

Passengers gathered on the port side with cameras and smart phones, capturing the image in amazement.

Soon enough, coffee cups were exchanged for wine glasses and the spicy, smoky aroma of paella wafted across the deck. Everyone was in a jubilant mood.

I poured a cup of cider and sat back in my chair. The afternoon had worn me out, but I was happy and grateful. I had a great crew and we'd pulled it off. Looking over at the captain, I could tell he pretty much felt the same way.

That old saying 'Don't like the weather in the pacific northwest?...Wait ten minutes' couldn't have been any truer on this day. What a wonderful place to live.

The Z @ anchor in Echo Bay post-sail.

~ Chris W.