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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cruise to Sucia Island's Fossil Bay

Sucia Island from the air with Fossil Bay the inlet furthest to the upper right.
August 9-12 found us out in Fossil Bay in one of Washington State's Marine Parks. This one on Sucia Island in the north end of the San Juan Islands.

On our way out we stopped to take measurements on the Pt. Migley buoy to see if it was actually located in the position our charts indicated. This is a part of the U.S. Power Squadron's Coop Charting service in which we report any discrepancies on official NOAA charts used by all mariners to navigate our waters. Any errors are translated into changes on the charts when updates are released.

We were co-captaining a cruise event for the Bellingham Sail and Power Squadron, of which I am a member. Leslie soon will be.  Our squadron friends and mentors for the cruise were Andy and Chris Backus. They have done this many times and asked us to help with this one so we'd learn the ropes.

This cruise blew away the record for the number of boats and participants attending one of these sponsored by the Bellingham Sail and Power Squadron (BSPS). Formerly the squadron had had no more than 5 boats participate. This time 16 boats made it out to the event including two boats from new members. We were not only pretty proud of this achievement but excited for what it could mean for future events.

Leslie and I headed off in the Key of Sea on Thursday morning 9 August in order to try and get there before the dock space was taken. We were pretty sure the bay would be full as it often is this time of year.

Me standing with our boat in the background rafted to a Grand Banks.
We were right! The mooring buoys and dock space were all filled. However, as we approached the docks to check out the possibility of space being available, we were waved over by a boat flying Canadian Power and Sail burgees. Bob Stone hollered at us to raft up with his boat. I immediately got nervous. We'd expected this was going to happen and we'd come prepared with extra lines and fenders. We smartly had read up on what rafting entailed and so we had some idea of what we were getting into. I would have been more comfortable just anchoring out in the bay somewhere but I needed this experience so in we went.

Bob was great at directing us after informing him we were newbies at this maneuver. Our first attempt quickly felt wrong and so, as I do as a general rule in these situations, I backed off and tried again. I figured I'd go at it like I was approaching a dock only even slower. No need to damage someone's $150,000 boat.

I backed down the engines backing us toward the shallower water near shore. As I back up I noted the depth sounder which indicated the depth of the water under our keel. When I saw the depth go to 9 feet I brought here to a dead stop. Drawing 3 and 1/2 feet, I figured 5 and 1/2 feet was as close to grounding as I was comfortable with. Besides, any quick move in water this depth could kick up a rock into a prop and our trip would be ruined. With the engines at idle I pushed the gear shifts into forward and inched my way forward at about a 20 degree angle to Bob's boat. Gently, like I was docking with the International Space Station, we moved in closer and at the last moment I turned the helm to port and our two hulls came gently together, the 4 fenders on each boat doing their jobs perfectly. Bob grabbed our line and tied us off at the bow while Leslie tied off the stern. Bob then tied spring lines at the midships to halt any movement of the boats fore or aft. Done!

We'd made our first raft. Not only that but on the way out from Bellingham, we'd been contacted by our co-captains by VHF radio. My first time having an actual ship to ship conversation. For those who are unfamiliar with this activity, all boats, for a variety of reasons, are supposed to monitor channel 16 while underway. But using channel 16 for more than initial conversation is illegal. Once contact has been made with the party you want, you must quickly agree to meet them on another channel and then clear 16 for other boaters use. So I called to them to switch to channel 78 alpha. Rolling the dial up to 68 A and calling out again for our friends, we quickly reestablished contact and had our conversation. Cool! There is a protocol for using the VHF radio which is taught in basic boating classes but I'd never used it outside the classroom. Another moment of pride.

Bob Stone and a buddy of his, another Canadian, had already scoped out the dock and set up a network with other boaters who would be leaving either that day or the next. So we knew we'd have plenty of dock space to raft up other boats as they arrived. Being on the dock had its advantages. Chief among them was easy access to the shelter on shore that we'd reserved. Hauling all the food and other materials needed to occupy the shelter would be so much more difficult having to ferry it all ashore in our dinghies.

The rest of the weekend was spent getting to know other members of our squadron, taking hikes, eating, playing games and talking about boats. Lots of talking about boats! We learned so much during our stay having these informal conversations.

Note the squadron burgee and the red flag of rank flying on the Key of Sea.
Oh, I purchased a squadron burgee for the bow of the boat and, for the first time, flew my rank flag above the starboard antenna mast. The rank flags are only flown at Power Squadron events but it was pretty cool to see my flags flying. Many other members had several flags flying in recognition of their current and former ranks. The Canadians also flew a U.S. courtesy  flag on their boats, a tradition that I will reciprocate  when I cross into Canadian waters for the first time. The tradition is that when  you enter a foreign nation's waters you are to hoist a flag of that nation. Your own nation's colors still fly off the stern (the place of honor for those colors) of your boat. Flag etiquette is another part of boating education. It's fun!

Several other participants had the same idea we did about getting to Sucia the day before the event began. So by the Thursday evening there were already 4-5 boats either rafted on the dock or anchored in the bay. Nothing much really happened that evening. Just relaxing or taking a walk ashore. 

Friday afternoon the majority of the boats were arriving and it was a busy time finding space for everyone and getting the word out about the dock party to be held that evening. At 1900 hours everyone descended on the dock taking up 4 of the picnic tables and setting out whatever they brought with them to share, appetizers, wine, pop, whatever.  We also discovered that a folding chair is pretty important at these events and lots of those came out of boats along the dock and were set along the dockside for folks to roost.

We'd also put the word out that we'd be having a campfire that evening and lots of folks gathered around that and took advantage of the S'more making materials we'd brought. More opportunity to chat and get to know each other. By a little before dark, around 2130 hours at this latitude and time of year, everyone had wandered off towards their own boats and a good night's sleep.

Bright and early Saturday morning, we were up and heading up the dock towards the shelter to help set up for breakfast. We'd promised attendees 3 meals while they were in port. The breakfasts on both Saturday and Sunday and sinner Saturday night, so this would be another big day.

Our youngest participants helped find the geocache and then picked out something to keep.
Breakfast each morning--muffins, croissants and fruit. 
Breakfast included muffins, croissants and fresh fruit bot days. Folks brought their own coffee or tea.  Following breakfast everyone had a chance to regroup and relax before the days activities began. The plan included some choices--hiking, geochaching, learning to use a sextant, fossil rubbing, a tide pool walk or just relax and do what you want. As it turned out we sort of combined several of the activities in one long hike. It was a difficult hike in places but all of us managed to get back alive. We even found the only geocache currently on the island and allowed our youngest participants to place something in the cache and take something out. They were thrilled and we adults all got a kick out of helping them decide what they should pick out of the box. 

Saturday afternoon was mostly a time to relax or to meet with friends on the dock, take a nap or do more hiking on your own or in groups. Very informal.
Burger BBQ and baked beans
Dinner was kicked off at 1800 hours up in the shelter. We were cooking hamburgers and they were accompanied by baked beans, cole slaw, and more side dishes and dessert brought by the other participants. Another campfire gathered at the fire pit along with more visiting. Despite the offer of making more s'mores, folks weren't interested after the big dinner that included some pretty fine dessert options. 

Again, by about 2130 hours most folks had wandered off to their berths and a good night's sleep. It had been a big, busy day.  

Sunday morning breakfast was served dockside instead of at the shelter. It was closer to the boats where the food was stored anyway and lots of the folks were planning to depart that morning. So following breakfast we all set about getting rafted boats untied and sent on their way. I was also in charge of making sure I got photos of all the boats as they departed. A squadron brochure project was in need of a good cover photo and I'd promised to take a few photos of each boat as it left the harbor. 

Group photo taken the last night of the cruise gathering.
By about noon most boats had left leaving only three boats of the 16 that had been there. We decided to share whatever we had for dinner and to play some '99', a card game we all learned to play at one of the dockside picnic tables. Again, as had been the custom every night, all of us were headed to bed by around 2130. 


Next morning I was up early as the last two boats were planning to leave on a favorable tide. I needed to snap their pictures and so we were up helping untie their boats and saying our farewells. I ran to the end of the dock to get the best angle for my photos and in no time their bows headed of into the morning sun leaving Leslie and I as the only remaining boat. It was kind of a sad finish after several days of so much fun activity and getting to know all those folks so well and then to have to stand there alone on the dock waving goodbye. 
Leslie hiked to China Caves.


We had planned to stay another night but decided to head out ourselves. We'd been invited to guest berth in Blaine in the slip of one of our new friends who were continuing on with their cruise. We arrived their after a 2 1/2 hour cruise across the Strait of Georgia. 


We spent the night there mostly to check things out. We'd been given the chance to move out boat to Blaine, about 20 mils from Bellingham. It is supposed to get us into a permanent berth in Bellingham faster. We walked into Blaine for dinner that afternoon and then back to the boat for an early bedtime. 

A pretty typical sunset on Sucia Island. Stunning!
The final day of our cruise adventure tune out to be quite an adventure! We headed out into the Strait of Georgia with a favorable tide only to find the wind blowing against us. For the next 3 hours we bucked 2-3 foot wind waves and swells until we finally tucked into the lee of Lummi Island and headed down Hale Passage to the turn into Bellingham Bay.  It was actually fun for me but Leslie was none to happy about this rough leg of the cruise. She kept a stiff upper lip about it though. I was proud of her. 

We tucked into our home slip around noon, washed off the boats, gathered those items needing to be taken home and headed for the car. We'd lived to tell another tale.