Labor Day 2008 - Fisherman's Bay, Lopez Island

The low temperature last night was 45 degrees and the boat cabin temperature was 49 when I crawled out of the nice warm bed at 7 AM!  I went for a long Lopez Island bicycle ride yesterday and had to wear two jerseys to stay warm - in bright sunshine and long hill climbs.  Why are we having wintertime temperatures in late August?  I've been cruising north for the last week hoping the weather would warm up.  So far it has just been getting colder and wetter.

There has not been a day without at least some rain since I left Tacoma, Washington on Monday August 25 in mist, clouds and temperatures in the low 60s.  I had planned on leaving five days earlier but the weather was so bad that I kept postponing the start.  We had record rainfalls the weekend before I left with high temperatures in the 50s.  I have never seen the August weather stay cold and wet for more than a week so I figured that after the low pressure system moved east on Monday that I would get several weeks of good weather.  WRONG!

Monday afternoon I was motoring north at Alki Point which is the SW entrance to Elliot Bay (Seattle).  I was headed 13 miles northwest for Kingston Cove but could see a nasty looking black cloud at President Point, just south of Kingston.  I called the Kingston Cove harbormaster who told me the black cloud had just moved south over them with a little rain but no wind.  He said it was starting to clear again.  I told him I would be there in a couple hours and verified there was a slip available for Mirador.  I kept motoring north in dead calm seas and bright sunshine for another five minutes and then looked back to the WSW toward the south end of Bainbridge Island and the Olympic Mountains.  Darned if I didn't see what looked like a wall cloud and the beginning of a funnel cloud.  I was shocked to realize that ugly black cloud formation to the WSW was obviously and rapidly moving towards me.  The cloud north of me was also getting very dark and low with heavy bands of rain falling from it and white caps easily visible.

I was trapped at the south edge of the "Puget Sound Convergence Zone" - the bane of area boaters.  Strong, moist and cold northwest winds blow in off the Pacific Ocean where they hit the Washington Coast and the west side of the Olympic Mountains. The mountains split the NW winds into two airflows.  One flow goes south around the mountains and then flows NW toward Seattle.  The other flow moves eastward through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and then SE down Admiralty Inlet and Puget Sound toward Seattle.   When the two airflows collide they rise upward and usually just form an intense rain pattern over a fairly small area, typically less than 10 miles north to south,  extending from the west side of Puget Sound eastward up to 25 miles.  Occasionally moderate thunderstorms will form if the air is unstable and there is some heating of the land.  The location of the convergence zone depends on the relative strength of the NW and SE airflow.

My problem was that the hot August sun had really warmed up the moist ground and created a very unstable atmosphere which caused a serious thunderstorm to form to my west while the wet and windy convergence zone was still a little north of me.  Should I keep motoring north into what I knew was really wet and somewhat windy conditions or should I try to make the 3 miles WNW into Eagle Harbor, where there is a cheap city dock and a nice bar, before the storm caught me?  I decided to bolt for Eagle Harbor which opens to the east about 2.5NM from the south end of Bainbridge Island and is surrounded by 100 to 200 foot hills.  I pushed the Yanmar up to 2800 RPM for a 7.2 knot boat speed, set the autopilot, and began dropping the mainsail.

By the time I was half across Puget Sound the sky had gone black and the north wind had picked up to 18 knots.  A little while later intermittent moderate rain showers started falling in the gusty wind.  I was actually glad to see the rain and north wind because I thought it would keep the really nasty clouds to my WSW from quickly getting closer.  Boy was I wrong!  Shortly, I started seeing lightning strike the south part of Bainbridge Island - just a mile or so to my WSW. 

About the time I made the last turn west into Eagle Harbor at Dolphin #3 a lightning bolt hit the headlands above Rockaway Beach - close enough the boom arrived less than a second after the flash along with a heavy downpour and a 180 degree wind shift.  Lightning continued to hit the land on both sides of the channel which is less than 0.4 NM wide.  Shortly I was into the outer part of Eagle Harbor where the Washington State Ferries tie up for maintenance so I was surrounded by large metal boats that were at least as tall as Mirador's mast.  The downpour continued, the lightning continued and I got soaked as I rigged the fenders and lines for tying up at the Winslow City Dock.

Of course the dock was full of little tiny open fishing boats who had come in to escape the weather.  There are signs all along the dock saying "NO BOATS UNDER 16 FEET" but as near as I can tell no one pays any attention to that limit.  I was able to squeeze Mirador into the very end of the dock next to the holding tank pumpout equipment.

About that time I finished securing Mirador to the dock the NOAA weather radio broadcast a special marine advisory for "severe thunderstorms with a lot of lightning and the chance of funnel clouds  that is moving from Bremerton, over the south end of Bainbridge Island toward Alki Point" - good thing they let me know - otherwise I would have never noticed the buckets of rain, the constant lightning, the small hail, and the thunderous booms that threatened to knock me off the boat.  Later that evening it was confirmed that a waterspout did form over Lake Washington, about 7 miles east of Alki Point, and a small tornado touched down further east in the hills near Duvall.   

 I love the Winslow City Dock because it is only $10/night and a five minute walk to two coffee shops, a grocery store and many good restaurants and bars.  The town of Winslow is a pretty nice place to hang out and there is a lot of very good bicycle riding on the island.  I rode 22 miles on Tuesday and was rudely reminded that Bainbridge is a very hilly island.  None of the hills are long, ToeJam is the longest at 400' in a half mile climb, but many of the hills are steep enough I have to use the lower of 27 gears to climb them without tearing up my knees. 

Here are a couple pictures looking around Eagle Harbor. 

 

The picture shows downtown Seattle which is 7 miles distant - across Puget Sound and Elliot Bay. 

I've been into Eagle Harbor four times in my sailing life and three of those visits were during thunderstorms. 

<== Poulsbo (Liberty Bay) Washington

Earlier in August I left Poulsbo with the intention of sailing 33 miles to Gig Harbor.   I was showing off  when I sailed off the anchor in 10 knots of head wind.  However, within 5 minutes I was down to a 90% genoa and a deeply reefed main.  It took nine tacks to get out of Liberty Bay.  I had planned on sailing south in the Port Orchard channel between the west side of Bainbridge and the Kitsap Peninsula but the wind was 20+ knots directly on my bow and the channel is less than a half mile wide.  I would have had to make way too many tacks to sail the five miles to Rich Passage so I turned NE to sail with the wind, in bright sunshine, up Agate Pass and out into Puget Sound. When I got out into the Sound the wind really picked up but was coming from the SE. 

The wind was very gusty and Mirador took a couple of big knockdowns.  The minimum wind at 15 knots would shift 120 degrees in a couple of seconds - backwind the sails, and then return to it's normal direction at 30 knots.  The rail was in the water many times over and  at times 30 degrees showed on the inclinometer.  I was using a 90% genoa and a single reefed main that was luffing  most of the time.   Mirador handles the conditions very well and provides a very secure feeling.

As I sailed south toward the middle of the east side of Bainbridge Island the convergent zone was forming north of me but progressing southward.   I sailed most of the way across Puget Sound toward West Point (the north end of Elliot Bay) hoping that the wind would go more to the SW and leave me and easier sail south.  But no - it just stayed in the SSE quadrant thus convincing me to sail SSW toward Eagle Harbor and that nice bar.   About mile NE of Tyee Shoal, which marks the SE entrance to Eagle Harbor the convergence zone coming from the north caught up with me.

The sky quickly darkened and it started to rain lightly and intermittently.  As I approached Tyee Shoal the outbound Washington State ferry leaving Eagle Harbor started loudly and seriously blowing the five short blasts meaning 'danger - danger'. 

 I was over a mile distant and at least six minutes away so didn't think too much about it.  About thirty seconds later came two more sequences of five short air horn blasts and I did pay attention to that.  I called the ferry Puyallup on VHF Channel 13 and asked them if I was the problem - they laughed and said "no it is the pissant little fishing boats sitting in the channel that won't move for us" - we then agreed I'd turn west and we would pass port to port just west of Tyee Shoal. 

Just as I made the last turn into inner Eagle Harbor the heavens opened up.  The rain was just pouring out of the sky and obscuring visibility - not to mention the temperature was dropping to the mid-60s.  I used my binoculars to verify there was room for me at the Winslow City Dock.  I rigged fenders and lines on the starboard side of Mirador for an easy docking that would keep the cockpit pointed toward the harbor.

When I got within 50 yards of the City Dock I saw that it was completely filled with "pissant little fishing boats" - most well smaller than the 16 foot limit.   Oh well - I'll just use one of the Winslow City mooring balls - NOPE! every ball had a big sign saying "DO NOT USE - Mooring field under repair".  Now that is a problem since there is no room to anchor in Eagle Harbor because there is a large community of permanent boats that never leave and take up all possible anchorage.

I then noticed the linear mooring system in the middle of the harbor and saw that only one boat was tied up to it.  So off I went - the rain had stopped and the sky was getting bright again.  Five minutes later while tying up to the linear dock, AFTER taking my rain gear off, a lightning bolt hill the hill SW of the harbor and another soaking downpour commenced - while the sun was shining brightly from the west.  I was instantly soaked to the skin. 

Here are a couple pictures of the linear mooring for those who have not seen one before:

 

The horizontal lines just above the water have white fenders attached in such a way they cannot move.  Some of the fenders have yellow loops on them to which mooring lines are secured. 

It seems a little weird but looks OK.  The state of Washington is putting them in at many popular anchorages.

Directions for the use of the mooring are shown below.