Maiden Voyage

I shook the owner’s hand. "Text me when you get to Seattle !" She said. "I’m excited for you guys!" She pushed us off from the dock and threw me the bow line. The engine was warmed up, so with Andy on the tiller we backed up and started out on our journey.

Andy, John and I were headed from the marina of Port Angeles, Washington, to the Fremont Tug Boat Co on North Lake Union in Seattle. It was an 80 mile trip, and we had a chart of Puget Sound, several gallons of water, a cooler with turkey, crackers, chocolate and beer, and some other gear, including a propane tank and some ropes.

There were three of us. John was the most experienced sailor among us. He has a Laser and a 19-foot sailboat but he hasn’t done much distance sailing on larger boats. He had never dropped anchor or been through the locks. Nevertheless, I trusted him with my life. Andy is another useful person. He has experience fixing his jeep and he knows about motors and other mechanical things. He also is a lifeguard and has first aid and CPR certifications. He hasn’t really sailed since his sailing class sophomore year at Bainbridge High though.

And me? I’ve sailed my grandparents sunfish at their cottage a couple of times. I’ve ridden on my uncle’s sailboat on a tiny lake in Pennsylvania. In other words, I’m pretty much an expert. The first time I went to see my sailboat, the owner told me to take it out for a spin. I somehow managed to clear the slip. Then I ended up overstearing and doing a full 360 right in front of the fuel dock. A power boat drifting by joked to me, "Are you sure you have your boating license?" While attempting to dock the boat on the way back, I accidentally knocked the boat into neutral and almost drifted into another boat. Somehow (i.e. – with the help of a guy in a power boat who pulled me to the dock, and another sailor who grabbed my bow line and tied me up) I got the boat safely docked before the owner arrived. Naturally, I was confident that I could sail the boat 80 miles across open water.

The forecast told us that Saturday’s winds would be blowing at only 3 miles per hour, but thankfully they kept up at around 6. We were headed downwind, so John showed us how to jerry rig the jib open with a pole on port while the mainsail went out to starboard and keep the boat balanced directly in the center, thus catching more wind. We were flying across the sparkling sound, the dinghy tied to the back bouncing along the waves behind us. I turned the battery on and looked for a station on the radio. The only stations available were either arabic music or talk radio, so we settled for Arabic music and John and I bellydanced around the boat. The weather was sunny and perfect for sailing. Andy thought he saw an orca’s fin. He pointed it out and we kept watch until it surfaced again. There was definitely something there, whether orca or not I don’t know.

At 6pm we were still making good time. We’d passed Port Townsend and decided to cross over to Whidbey Island. Andy was asleep in the hold. The waves were getting choppier, and I asked John if I could take the tiller again. By now, the air was colder and I was dressed in long underwear, an underarmor shirt, and a complete set of rain gear, as well as a hat and sunglasses. The boat rolled in and out of the waves and I played with the tiller. There’s nothing like sailing a boat with the wind in the sails and the motion of the waves under the boat. And not just any boat. This was my boat and I was the captain. I was smiling ear to ear.

The sun was starting to set and the wind and waves were getting wilder. I had decided to anchor by the Keystone Ferry at Admirality Bay, since that looked like the most sheltered area on the map. The waves were pulling us toward Whidby Island, but the winds were pushing us in the opposite direction. Suddenly, the waves stopped and the ocean went almost surreally calm. The setting sun behind us cast a golden glow. We drifted along for a bit before I realized that this wind, or lack of wind, wasn’t going to get us to Admirality Bay by nightfall. "Maybe we should just anchor there," I said to John, pointing at the cliffs. "That looks somewhat sheltered."

I told John to get the anchor ready as we sailed in. There was a large anchor, two small ones, and a laundry basket full of rope – 200 feet of it. John sorted it out, took the jib down, and dropped the anchor. Just then, the waves picked up and the boat started to rock wildly again. Andy woke up and came out of the cabin rubbing his eyes. He exclaimed at the beauty of the setting sun, by now a ruby red sliver falling into a silver cloud. I didn't give him a chance to admire the spectacular sunset though, because I was nervous about being blown into the cliffs.

"Could you take down the mainsails? We just to dropped anchor."

Andy complied, sleepily fumbling with the ropes. I looked up to see the piece that goes in the top of the mainsail swinging in the wind. "Grab that!" I shouted.

"Grab what?"


Andy looked up but it was too late. We’d lost the main halyard (the rope that pulls the mainsail up the mast). The boat was rocking back and forth in the waves and there was no way we could reach it. The boat also seemed to be being pulled by the tide toward the cliffs.

"This really isn’t a sheltered area," said Andy. We all agreed. I hadn’t wanted to use the motor at all, but it was almost dark and Admirality Bay was still a couple of miles away. Besides, the next morning we were somehow going to have to retrieve that piece.

We reached Admirality Bay after an hour or so of motoring in the dark and the cold. We passed the ferry dock and I found a spot behind what must have been an abandoned pier. I dropped the anchor from the bow, letting the chain and then the rope slip through my fingers. Finally, we were anchored and safe. We went below deck and started to prepare for bed.

I had taken my rain gear off and was shivering under a blanket, trying to get warm. John was peeing off the back of the boat when we heard him shout down to us : "Uh, guys...why are we not where we were? We’re really really far from where we were."

We ran up the stairs to to take a look. The boat had been pulled by the current, anchor and all, about 100 yards from where we had been. We were directly in the path of the ferry. The ferry was just appearing, a white dot on the horizon.

"What do you want to do?" John asked. "I suggest that we sail into the harbor."

I nodded in assent and Andy took the tiller. We started to head in. On the map, there looked like there might be a harbor entrance behind the ferry dock. Unfortunately, as we got closer we didn’t see any harbor entrance and realized that what looked like a harbor on the map was actually an enclosed lake with no entrance.

"Doesn’t look like there’s anything here." I said. "You should turn around."

"Too late!" Shouted Andy. The ferry was right behind us, a white monster with a blaring horn.

"Pull in here," John said, gesturing toward the boat ramp on the side of the ferry area.

We pulled out of the ferry’s way and spun the boat around. There was a boat ramp with a sort-of dock. John and I jumped off the boat and tied it to the dock. It wasn’t hard for us to make the decision to stay docked there for the night. There was a sign that said "30 minute docking only", but I figured that the coast guard would let us be for the night, especially since we were having some technical difficulties. Finally, finally we were able to go down to the cabin and get under the warm blanket. Out of harm’s way, it was actually quite funny. I started to doze off. Then I heard John’s voice again.

"Uh guys? I think the tide is going out and I can hear the keel scraping on the gravel."

Once again, we jumped up. This time I valiantly let the two men drag us a bit further down the dock into deeper water as I stayed below deck with the blanket wrapped around me. I checked my phone. It was midnight. I turned my phone off. The gentle creaks of the boat, the fenders hitting the dock, and the swoosh of the tide were the only sounds. Oh, and Andy and John snoring.

I was in the main v-berth, and I’d taken the canvas off of the skylight above me. Since we were out of the way of other boat traffic, I’d turned the anchor light off to save batteries, and the only light came from the moon. And the blue and red flashing of police lights. Police lights ? Oh no, the coast guard had come for us. I heard loud voices and footsteps on the dock and jumped up. "Don’t give me a parking ticket," I was thinking in my head. "Please don’t give me a parking ticket!" We pulled back the hatch and poked our heads up. There were two coast guard boats and a small motor boat. The motor boat was tying up on the other side of the dock, and two men in their fishing jackets were stomping around looking frustrated. From their conversation, we caught on that they had just been rescued. The coast guard motored away, and once again and for the last time I closed the cabin door and went back to bed.

The next morning, John woke us up with an annoying morning person smile. I couldn’t be too angry at him though, because I was also somewhat of a happy annoying morning person this morning. I was a new boat owner, and thrilled to be alive on a foggy, chilly morning in the Pacific Northwest.

I pulled Andy out of bed and we rummaged through the boat’s extra gear until we found the mast-climbing harness. John climbed the mast first and brought the main halyard down. Holding it, I saw what was wrong. The cleat didn’t close all the way, so when I’d rigged the mainsail I probably hadn’t gotten it all the way closed, and a couple of jerks from Andy taking the sail down had been enough to set it free. Thankfully, a quick squeeze from John’s leatherman fixed it. Unfortunately, John had brought the line down on the wrong side of the spreaders. We tried to tie it to another rope and pull it back up, but that didn’t work, so Andy climbed the mast and threw it down the correct side. It was fixed. There was a little cafe above the dock, and they turned the "open" sign on just then, so we went in and had some coffee and breakfast sandwiches. The power boaters from the night before were there too, and they told us their story. The motor had died and they’d been adrift, floating toward Port Townsend in the dark, so they’d had to call the Coast Guard to come rescue them. This morning they’d realized that the only problem with their engine was the ground to the battery, which had come loose. They’d fixed it themselves, after paying the coast guard $640 for a rescue.

The fog gradually rolled away as we sailed south toward Seattle. We arrived at the locks around 7pm. I was terribly nervous for this part, as I’d heard horror stories of ships coming untied and damaging other boats as the water rushed into the lock. Before the locks, there was a drawbridge. The sailboat ahead of us sailed in just fine, and the drawbridge opened up for it. It went down again before we arrived though, so we sailed in circles, confused as to why it wouldn’t open for us. A couple of power boats passed us. I was getting more and more nervous about us either running the mast into the bridge or hitting the wharves on either side. We couldn’t just spin in circles for forever. John suggested that maybe we needed to blow a horn. I thought maybe we needed to radio somebody. "No, I think we need an audible signal," John assured me, pointing to the sign that said we needed an audible signal. The sailboat and motor boats that had gone ahead had already entered the lock and were lining up. We were still on the wrong side of the drawbridge.

I tried making horn sounds with my mouth, but nothing happened. I went below deck and looked around for a bit. In a stroke of genius, I thought to look under the flares in the cupboard above the ice box. Sure enough, there was a funny looking kazoo-like metal instrument, a bit rusty but usable. John blew on it a couple times to blow the dust out. Then he took a deep breath and blew a loud "toot!" and just like that, the drawbridge opened. We went through and into the locks. It wasn’t difficult at all. We tied ropes around cleats on our port side, the gates closed behind us, and we and the three other boats in the lock gradually rose higher as the water slowly trickled in. Tourists all around us stared and pointed. We waved. It felt a bit like being in the zoo. The woman on the sailboat ahead of us gave the lock attendant a bag of chocolate coins. Then the gates on the other side opened and one by one we motored out into the brackish water of Lake Union. There were two more drawbridges before Fremont, so I got a chance to toot the horn a couple more times. Finally, we were home. Except that I’d never left home. Like a turtle, I’d carried my home with me for 80 miles. The sunset was red over the Seattle skyline, promising a beautiful morning.