Our plan is to rise early and cruise southward, through the Gulf Islands, cross back into the US, clear Customs at Roche Harbor, and then stop for the night somewhere close to Deception Pass, so we can time tomorrow’s 7:30am slack. I check the house battery before getting underway, and it’s still sitting strong at 12.5 volts, even after we watched a couple of movies on the laptop the night before. I haul the anchor in and we idle our way out of the anchorage around 4:45am. The sky is once again clear, the waters calm as we commence our cruise down Trincomali Channel in the emerging daylight. We encounter several ferries as we near Navy Channel. They can easily surprise the unsuspecting boater at this crossroads of channels, popping suddenly out from behind Prevost or North Pender Island. We also encounter a group of 7 or so canoes, each with 8 or more paddlers. They’re flying various flags, apparently First Nations paddlers out on some sore of excursion. They move surprisingly quickly across our bow. It’s good to see them out on these waters.
I make an unsettling discovery while going below for breakfast, when I happen to glance at the digital voltmeter. It should be reading over 13 volts while we’re under power, however, the readings for both the ignition and house batteries are down in the 12.3 volt range. Here we are, on almost the final day, and something has gone wrong with the charging system. It’s amazing how a discovery such as this can instantly destroy one’s feeling of wellbeing. I now have something to worry about. I reassure myself by thinking that we’re nearly home, and that the solar panels should help keep the batteries up, but it’s still unsettling.
As we enter Swanson Channel I give the downrigger and salmon fishing gear one last try. It sure would be nice to hook into a nice coho before we cross the international boundary (I’m only licensed to fish in Canada). However, this is not to be, and when the GPS shows us crossing the line, I reel in for the final time, and stow the fishing gear. I also lower the Canadian courtesy flag and raise my golden yellow “Q” or quarantine flag. I’ll fly it until we clear Customs at Roche Harbor.
We keep a sharp eye out for orcas as we near Stuart Island and the Turn Point Light. On my last trip through these waters we were rewarded with a nice sighting of orcas just south of Turn Point. Not this time, however. Apparantly both orcas and salmon are hanging out elsewhere this time.
We quickly eat our final apple as we near the Customs dock at Roche Harbor. As we make our approach we find the Customs dock completely filled with boats, except for one small space right behind a US Customs patrol boat. This ominous craft is dark gray in color, and it sports 4, if you can believe it, yes 4 300 hp outboards on her stern. I’ve seen triple 300’s before, even triple 350’s, but never a quad. I wonder how often they need all that horsepower. As we idle in, the patrol boat fires up and backs away from the dock, leaving us a nice spot to tie up. I grab our passports and boat registration papers, and walk up to the Customs office, where I wait my turn. Before long, I’m face to face with a very stern looking Cusoms Official. After providing the correct answers to the standard questions, he directs me to follow another officer back to the boat. They need to check for limes, green onions and a few other items on their black list. The officer goes on board, does a rather cursory check, and then clears us in.
Before starting the engine I give the voltmeter a check. Both battery readings have come up, presumably due to the solar panels charging. Sure enough, when I start the engine, the readings drop back down. It’s a mystery I’ll have to solve later. We dodge boats on our way out into Spieden Channel, which is strongly ebbing. As we pass between Spieden Island and San Juan Island we enter an extensive area of tidal rip current, with 2 to 3 foot standing waves. Our speed slows until we clear the northeast corner of San Juan Island. The adverse current is unwelcome for more than the obvious reason. I’ve opted to not take on fuel at the Roche Harbor fuel dock. I’ve carefully calculated our distance traveled, and rate of fuel consumption. Although my second 12 gallon tank is nearly empty, I still have 9 gallons in plastic jerry cans, and I figure that will be enough to get us home, with a few gallons to spare. I realize, however, that adverse currents will cut that small margin even thinner.
Boat traffic here in the heart of the San Juans can be simply crazy. After all the lonely cruising we’ve enjoyed in waters up north, it’s hard adjusting to Bayliners and the like, plowing huge wakes in every direction. It’s hard to make headway when I have to slow and turn into wakes every 5 minutes or so. Things finally seem to settle down as we cruise eastward, through the channel between Shaw and Orcas Islands. I’ve got the autopilot set, and we’re motoring comfortably at 5.5 knots when, suddenly, I hear an abrupt, increasingly loud roar astern. I am shocked as I quickly glance over my right shoulder and see a large Bayliner, plowing an enormous wake and rapidly overtaking us, not more than 15 feet to starboard. The “captain” of this vessel gives us a silly grin and a wave of the hand as he roars on by. I use one of the precious seconds I have to shake my fist at him, before disengaging the autopilot as fast as possible, cutting the throttle, and cutting a sharp turn into his turbulent 4 foot wake. We barely make the turn, but still get severly jolted. We’re outraged, but utterly helpless as he races away. This intentional, irresponsible behaviour could have seriously damaged the boat if I’d been just slightly slower in reacting, and beyond that, if I’d had passengers below, our up on deck, major injury or worse could have occurred. I’ve encountered rude boat operators many times in the past, however, this guy was simply outrageous.
As we enter Thatcher Pass, we begin reevaluating our cruising plan. It’s only around 2:30pm. We decide to press on, across Rosario Strait and toward Deception Pass. We expect to reach the vicinity of Deception Pass around 4:30pm, which just happens to coincide with the peak of flood, which is projected to run at 6 knots. I figure we can duck into Bowman Bay, perhaps fix some dinner, and then run Deception an hour or two after peak flood. As we get close, we see several boats heading into the approach to the narrow pass. I make a snap decision: let’s go ahead and run it. I raise the rudders and centerboard and in we go, under the steel arch of the Deception Pass highway bridge, which spans the shear walled gorge of Deception Pass, more than 100 feet above my masthead. I set the throttle at 3000 rpm and try to steer to the center of the current. Off to either side, nasty whirlpools spin off toward the rocky channel sides. Our speed increases to a peak of 9 knots, and I increase throttle to maintain control as we enter strong rip currents on the inside, where the channel begins to widen. We get jerked one way, then the other, heeling 20 degrees or more, but the power and quick steering response of my outboard enables me to retain control. Our run through the pass is exhilerating, and soon we back on smooth water.
We pick up a stiff westerly breeze in the inside, and this causes me to make a change in plans. I’d intended on anchoring out at nearby Hope Island, however, the wind is blowing right into the anchorage and I don’t favor the idea of our final night in a bounchy anchorage, so we keep on going. I see a promising nook on the chart, which could give protection from the wind. However, as we near the place, our wind shifts direction, and leaving us no other option than to motor onward. Given the lack of suitable anchorages on Skagit Bay, we resolve ourselves to going all the way in to Oak Harbor Marina. At least, we can look forward to going out for dinner, instead of making do with the last of our fresh provisions. As we get within 5 miles of the marina, I run the water ballast out and speed up. I calculate that I should have just enough gas to make it, and we do. Around 6pm we idle into a guest slip, finally ending our boat retrieval cruise. On our final day we cruise more than 15 hours, covering 77 nm, much further and longer than I intended, however we are back and glad for it.
Postscript: Next day we pull the boat out, lower the mast, and prepare the boat for towing. The drive home goes without incident, with the final few miles taking us through Tumwater Canyon on US Highway 2, which has just reopened to traffic. The highway has been closed for several weeks due to wildfire, and we see the dramatic evidence as we drive through the canyon. The fire burned down to the river for 5 miles or so, however, fire crews contained the fire to the south side of the river. Around 7pm on August 1, I finally back the boat up our driveway to its accustomed parking spot, thus ending our most dramatic cruise ever.