We breakfasted quickly on muffins purchased in the Moorings Cafe at Poets Cove, and left our slip around 9am. Our destination was Roche Harbor, a short 7 miles away, so we were in no particular hurry. I messed around with the sails, grabbing what little the wind offered, and motor sailing most of the time. We crossed the international boundary around 11am, and Cameron raised our yellow “Q” flag once again. We continued motor sailing around the Turn Point Lighthouse, at the western tip of Stuart Island, and set our course across Haro Strait for Roche Harbor. About half a mile past the south western shore of Stuart Island, Sandy suddenly exclaimed “I see a fin!” She clarified that she’d seen an Orca’s dorsal fin, between us and Stuart Island. I dropped the throttle into idle and we all stared toward the area where she’d sighted the orca. A few moments later, we all spotted a pair of orcas as they rose to breathe. We couldn’t believe our luck. Soon we were seeing orcas all around us, mostly 300 to 400 yards out. I shut the engine off and unfurled a partial jib for control (we already had the main raised). We couldn’t believe our luck. Only a few days left on the cruise, and we’d finally sighted orcas. And we were all by ourselves in their midst. No other boats around. We saw a couple large males, with their remarkable dorsal fins, easily 4 or 5 feet tall. Further out, toward the middle of Haro Strait, we saw tail slapping behaviour. I turned the camera on and tried for some pictures. I zoomed out to 12 power and watched for a chance. Then I saw a pair of females, not more than 200 yards away and headed right toward us. They next surfaced within 15 yards of our stern. I had just enough time to snap a picture. All I could see in the view finder were fins. About this time we started seeing whale watching boats, zooming into the area from several directions. The whales worked their way away from us, with whale watchers in pursuit. We were thrilled with our experience, and didn’t attempt to follow. We once again reset our course for Roche Harbor. Sandy dug out our orca flag, and Cameron attached it to our flag halyard. We only fly it after sighting orcas.
Shortly after 1pm we tied up at the US Customs Dock, which is situated on the outer float of Roche Harbor Marina. I grabbed our documents and walked into the little office. The Customs agent there was friendly and business like. Everything was in order, and he issued us a clearance number. Before leaving, however, an agricultural inspector boarded the boat for a look around. She emerged with our little tub of cherry tomatoes, which were on the prohibited list. We surrendered our contraband. Before leaving the dock a Customs agent politely obliged us by posing for a picture with Cameron, who was holding the US Customs patch which the agent had given him.
Disaster at Roche Harbor Marina
The sun shone brightly, and the air was nearly still. I got my slip assignment from the dockmaster after registering. The marina was very full, it being a Saturday and, as it turned out, a big wedding was being hosted that day. All the slips in the guest dock where we’ve stayed before, just below the restaurant, were filled. We were given a slip on “I” dock, in amongst the mega yachts. I idled my way down to “I” dock and swung into the fairway. Our assigned slip turned out to be very near the end, and I swung in too wide to make the slip. I figured to make a “u” turn by alternately reversing forward/reverse while at the same time reversing steering. My rudders and centerboard were all down, and it should have worked fine. I failed to take adequate account, however, of the slight current in the marina, which just happened to coincide with with the slight breeze. When I tried to make my turn, I continued to drift sideways toward the boats moored across the fairway when I tried to reverse. I noticed that my floating dinghy tow line had drifted close to the engine, so i didn’t dare give it stronger reverse throttle. I’d shortened the line, but hadn’t firmly snubbed the dinghy amidships, and there was just enough tow line to cause a potential problem. I was quickly running out of options. The slips I was drifting toward were mostly occuppied by very large motor yachts. I thought I could complete the turn in forward. The prow of a 40 foot motor yacht, whose pulpit was too high up to fend off, was my immediate threat. Our bow cleared, then our shrouds cleared and i briefly figured I was ok. At the last moment, however, the stock of the motor yacht’s crome plated danforth anchor snagged our backstay. I heard a twang and a loud crack, glanced up, and to my horror saw the top half of the mast twist and break about half way up, right where the lower shrouds pin to the mast. It seemed to be in slow motion as the broken mast swung down. It dangled there, upper end in the water, still connected by a thin piece of aluminum. Shrouds, backstay, furled jib all lay about the cabin roof, cockpit and in the water. What a mess, and it felt like everyone in the marina was watching. Once I saw that Sandy and Cameron were ok and the prop was clear, I motored the rest of the way into the slip. The young marina attendant who was there to take our line had a shocked look on his face. He asked me “Do you think it can be fixed?” Another guy from the marina soon came over to find out what had happened. He asked me if I needed any help. I told him I thought I could clean up the mess, but did ask if I could borrow a hacksaw to finish dismembering my mast. He called for one, and then checked out the other boat, verifying that no damage had been done to the other boat.
I sent Cameron and Sandy off for a swim at the marina pool while I got to work straightening out the mess. First task was to stabilize the lower half of the mast which was still upright. Then I secured the broken top half, so that it wouldn’t drop further into the water if it broke completely free. Once I got control of the mast pieces I began disconnecting and removing spreaders, stays, shrouds, radio antenna, and the wires and cable which run up the interior of the mast. I figure that restoring the mast will be a major project. After all the miles we’ve cruised, and all the dockings I’ve made, it seemed almost unreal that this thing had really happened. I should have been able to make that turn. That slight breeze and unseen current had been my undoing. Aside from the frustration and embarassment, however, I was able to consider the bright side of the whole incident. No one had been hurt. No other boatr had been damaged. No additional damage besides the broken mast had been sustained by our boat. The accident had occured near the end of our trip, rather than at the start. I have insurance, and the damage can readily be repaired. Lastly, I’ll have much less work to do at the Oak Harbor boat ramp when I pull the boat out, since the mast is already down.
I was exhausted when I finished straightening things out. Sandy and Cameron returned from their swim and suggested we all go for ice cream. That sounded great to me. I also wanted to go for a swim, since I’d worked up quite a sweat taking thjings apart. I got into my swim suit and we walked over to the ice cream stand, which was doing great business. After finishing the ice cream, Cameron and I walked over to the pool. I was surprised by the few number of people in the water. As I took my watch and glasses off, in preparation for my swim, I heard the lifeguard say that they were having a pool break. That explained why no one was in the water. I walked over to ask how long it would be before people would be allowed back in. I was told the pool would likely be closed for the remainder of the day. A problem of contamination. Apparently, some mom had failed to appreciate the importance of swim diapers for her little one. That’s how my day was going.
I did manage to rinse off in the pool showers, and we all went on a walk before dinner. We took the opportunity to go on board a mega yacht, which was in the marina and for sale. The list price was $5,999,995. She was 100 feet in length, and truly a floating palace. I calculated that it would cost close to $15,000 to fill her fuel tank. Cameron was duly impressed. We then walked out past the airstrip to the mausoleum, which was built by Mr. McMillan, the fellow who founded the Roche Harbor Cement and Lime Company.
We had dinner reservations at the McMillan House Restaurant. We got a table by the windows, and were able to take in the retiring of the colors ceremony, which has taken place at Roche Harbor since 1950. After all the day’s doings, with both high points and low points, we were tired following dinner, and returned to the boat. She looked only half there, without her mast.