Get to Know Bella

In 2016 we sold our 25-foot powerboat and purchased a much larger and older sailboat. I blogged about it that year and have collected those posts into one long story.


On Saturday I spent my first day on Bella. The previous owner had asked whether he should take everything or leave the bedding, dishes, and other gear. I opted for "leave everything." Now I had a boat full of crap.

I poked my face into every locker, cupboard, and drawer to see what was there. Sometimes what I found was useful and in need of a clean. Often what I found was ancient and worthless. For instance, I found a portable DVD player with integrated screen at the bottom of a locker.

I settled at the chart table to fiddle with the electronics. I started by turning on the fridge to chill some bubbly. I was imagining a successful clean up followed by a celebratory visit from my wife, Jen. Also, it was a cold, damp day so I wanted to run the heater. After a bit of fiddling with assorted thermostats, both the fridge and heater were making promising noises.

Next, I played with the battery meter for a while. It made no sense, so I left it alone and attempted to play music. I discovered that the previous owner had left a spiritually uplifting CD in the stereo. I dealt with that promptly and then, using the FM radio, I also discovered that the speakers crackle.

After a bit of experimentation, I determined that the speakers in the cockpit crackle, not the ones in the cabin. Fine, something to fix later. Maybe.

I tried to pair my phone with the stereo to listen to Spotify but was defeated. So, I settled for the radio and, with the cabin warming, started to scope my work. I was already sitting at the chart table, so I began there. I found it stuffed with papers and other debris. Luckily, one of the first things I found was the manual for the stereo. Armed with that I was able to pair my phone. Heat and music!

Now began the digging. A random receipt might be a clue to when a system was last serviced. Or it might just be a random receipt. I found the manual for the original stereo which was no longer on board. I also found a letter full of tips from one previous owner to another. There must have been at least 3 owners before me.

I found manuals for a reefing system that was no longer present and spare parts for that system. I found the first owner’s VHF license which was non-transferable, expired, and no longer required by law. I also found loose pages from manuals that I most definitely needed.

Once I’d sorted through the desk, I moved on to the piles on the dining table. This was four times as much as in the desk. I found manuals for every system I knew about and some I didn't. Just reading over the recommended service items for all the systems was a lot of work. Forget about doing all that service.

I found the previous owner’s original financing paperwork. And the survey he had done on the boat. It appears he was quite diligent in recording what he fixed. And what he didn't. He also paid a lot more for Bella than I did. Now I understand why he was reluctant to accept my offer.

By the time I'd done a first pass I had a large bag of garbage, many spare parts, and stacks of manuals for an assortment of equipment. These included the prop, the head, the engine, the rigging, the steering, the throttle, the GPS, the radar, the stove, the freshwater pumps, the drive train, the electrical wiring, and the carbon monoxide detector.

I also had every scrap of paper each previous owner imagined valuable. Things like a pamphlet on how to tie knots and some scrawled notes on how to dock. I had several laminated cards describing the garbage removal protocol which boiled down to "Don't throw garbage overboard" but somehow filled a whole page.

So, after a full day on the boat, I've thrown out one bag of garbage. Hopefully day two is more productive.


When I impulsively bought a sailboat, my friends all asked, "Do you know how to sail?" And I happily answered, "Yes!" But with caveats.

I learned to sail as a child. I don't mean I picked up a few things at summer camp. I mean I went to sailing school every summer. But the boats I sailed were small, one and two person dinghies. My new boat was significantly bigger.

So, I was nervous. But when it comes to sailing, that's not new. Every time I went sailing, I had butterflies. It wasn't the physical risk. I knew what I was doing. Yet every morning as we'd get ready, my anticipation of spending a day on the water was tempered by nerves. I was afraid of making a mistake.

The opportunities to look foolish were many. The school operated out of a marina with a narrow harbor leading into the bay. The wind often blew directly into the harbor which meant we had to tack out. Capsizing in the harbor or hitting the harbor wall were both likely.

We also raced. This is fun in principle but always hairy as we'd all round the first marker at the same time. Crashes ensued and I once watched the centerboard of a boat break off under a neighbor as it capsized.

The instructors seemed old to me, of course, but they were just kids. They could be harsh if you messed up. I don't recall making a significant mistake yet the mere idea of their scorn and disappointment was appalling. This was not an environment where I felt encouraged to take risks.

Nonetheless, what I remember most is the anticipation of sailing. The sound of halyards clanging against masts excites me. White caps forming on the water still send me back to those moments when things were perfectly balanced, humming along, wind whistling in the shrouds.

When I was young, I didn't appreciate how valuable that was. I always found a reason to not sail. I never separated the fear of failure from the thrill. Also, I hate rigging boats and folding sails.

And now, more than 30 years later, I’d bought my first sailboat. She’s 40 feet long, 63 feet tall, and weighs 10 tons. She has two heads, two cabins for sleeping, and a full galley.

Someone suggested that she wasn’t the ideal starter boat. Her name is Bella.


Last night Jen and I took Bella out of her slip for the first time. We weren't planning to, which is never a good start. We went down to tidy, but, after howling all day, the wind had dropped and the conditions seemed good. And I was getting impatient.

The sun was only 30 minutes from setting but the idea was to take her out of the slip, motor around the seawall, and come back. How hard could it be?

Prepping the boat was easy. Her motor started without issue, covers came off the dodger and helm. We unhooked shore power, cast off lines, and I throttled up. The motor growled.

And nothing happened.

I tried again but it was clear that nothing was happening. So, I examined the throttle and found a button for engaging the transmission. I pushed it.

Now the boat moved. But, after moving about a foot, the stern kicked violently to starboard. I'd read about prop walk but this seemed extreme. And it didn't seem to matter what I did with the wheel. I had started with confidence but was quickly feeling out of my depth.

After failing several times, there was obviously something I didn't understand. I decided to quit and seek some hands-on instruction. I hopped off to secure the boat in her slip and discovered that we'd left a line tied to a stanchion. That explained a lot. It's hard to move a boat still tied to the dock.

We agreed to try again and, with all lines clear, I started to pull out of the slip. As soon as it felt safe, I started my turn down the fairway. From here things went swimmingly. We motored slowly out of the marina and into Elliott Bay. Success!

Except at this point a few things occurred to me. First, I had no idea how much fuel I had or how to tell. Second, the oil pressure looked low which made me regret not checking the oil. Third, I knew that some of the navigation lights were out and the sun had almost completely set. So, we motored right back into the marina.

Getting out of the slip turned out to be easy. But getting in was another thing entirely. My plan was to reverse in. So, before entering the fairway, I put the boat in reverse to see how she handled.

I'm sure, with a bit of practice, I'm going to be comfortable in reverse, but that evening I couldn't make her do anything. I'd turn the wheel, and nothing would happen. And then, a few moments later, everything would happen. I had no feel for how much throttle to apply or how to set the helm.

Faced with this reality we moved onto plan B. Go in forwards.

I felt good about this. I've docked smaller power boats hundreds of times in all kinds of conditions. However, this was not my finest moment. I got the bow into the slip. And I did a good job of gauging speed. But my angle of attack was all wrong and we ended up needing to fend off from our neighbor. And we may have nuzzled the dock.

Ultimately, I hopped off and we muscled the boat into position - inadvisable with a 10-ton boat. But we did it. There was no apparent damage to our neighbor or to Bella. Maybe next time we’ll have time to sail.


We went out at a reasonable hour the next day. There was enough breeze to sail but not too much for a first time.

Once we cleared the marina, we motored into the wind to raise the main. Bella has an electric winch for this task which should make life very pleasant. I wrapped the halyard around the winch and pushed the button. The winch wouldn’t turn. I went forward to see what was fouling the halyard and found that it was attached to a fixed ring rather than the sail.

Once I attached the halyard to the sail, it went up without incident.

Next, we went to unfurl the jib. I couldn't get it more than a quarter of the way unfurled. The jib halyard wasn't spinning freely and was twisting around the furling mechanism. At least we were able to put the jib away.

We sailed on just the main for a while which was progress but also slow. Eventually, with no food or drink on board, we decided to head in. We lowered the main easily enough and let it spread itself across the deck. We then set about folding it onto the boom.

Trying to fold a sail this big on a moving boat with no experience is comically stressful. We managed but I think it took at least half an hour. My wife assumed I knew what I was doing. I assumed we’d figure it out together. We needed to work on communication.

Shortly after we got to shore, I ordered some alarmingly expensive equipment that will make putting away the mainsail much simpler. Entirely worth it if it prevents the scene that just unfolded.

Docking was worse this time. I started by aiming for the wrong slip which left me sideways in the fairway and several boats past my slip. Luckily, my experience with power boats plus my obsessive reading about boat handling finally helped and I was able to turn Bella around.

The whole time I was doing this there was a stranger standing by our slip, watching. I motored out of the fairway to try again and when we got back to the slip he was there to help. Turns out he's Gary, our boat neighbor, and the unofficial mayor of the dock. He organizes events and parties and such. We chatted for a while about boats and docking. He was largely supportive.

The next few times I went down to the boat I've been entirely focused on work that needed doing. I met with someone about repairs to the forward water tank. I also spent the better part of a day removing vinyl from the lifelines to see how corroded they are. The good news is that they seemed okay. The bad news was I still had half of them left to do. I kept finding more crap to throw out as well.

It's all been educational and an opportunity to bond with the boat, but I longed for a proper day of sailing.


On Friday I went to the marina planning to tackle our troubles with the jib, but the weather was windy and wet. These are not ideal conditions for screwing with sails. So, I decided to tackle the aft head.

The pump on the toilet was leaking. I had the replacement part and felt that the job was relatively straightforward. And, honestly, it was. The only challenge was getting hoses on to fittings. In this instance, brute force won out. But with the job done, the head was properly wet and grimy.

Motivated by the prospect of a "finished" area on the boat, I set to cleaning. I started by trying to sponge up the watery mess. This worked somewhat but it mostly felt like I was moving the mess around. My solution? Use the shower!

The way that many marine heads work is that the toilet, sink, and shower all share a single "wet" space. This is generally sub-optimal but at this moment struck me as a great shortcut for getting the whole thing clean. I got the shower going and started to wet down the head with hot water.

Marine showers require a pump to move used water up and out of a drain above the water line. It must be up, or the ocean comes into the boat. On Bella, the shower drains through a hole in the floor into a bowl. Inside that bowl is a pump connected to a hose that ultimately feeds overboard. When the pump is running, the bowl is supposed to drain. When I started the pump, it made a lovely whining noise, but the water was unperturbed.

My assumption was that the hose was clogged. But unclogging the hose, while necessary, wasn't sufficient. These pumps are notoriously unreliable, and I wanted to replace it. Also, in investigating the issue I found that the pump mounting bracket was also broken. At this point it was late, I was wet, and I was dirty. And the marine supply was closed.

I took a break from Bella to get some food and wash up but returned that night to sleep aboard to get a jump on the next day’s work. I had a sleeping bag, a pillow, and other essentials but no frills. The boat was in complete chaos. Both old and new parts, random hardware, tools, assorted cleaning implements, and packing materials were strewn about the main cabin.

The next morning, I headed to my favorite marine supply and found a salty dude who lived to brainstorm boat problems. Turns out he'd spent some time on Bella’s sister ship a few years back and was enthusiastic about marine plumbing. I learned a lot and ended up with a plan that involved mounting and wiring a new pump and running new plumbing.

I spent the rest of the day reigning in the chaos and cleaning. I also got the jib sorted (mostly). By the time I went home on Saturday night, Bella was a sane, comfortable place. I relegated the forward head to being a storage space and workshop. All tools, parts, and other supplies now lived there.

Also, we had our first guests on Sunday. A dock party organized by Gary, our neighbor, somehow became a draw for our friends who lived near the marina. It was windy and we wanted to sail but I struggled to get out without being blown into the boat next to ours. Gary’s advice was to stay in the marina and have a drink. So, we did, and finally toasted Bella and drank our bubbly.


We planned to leave on our first overnight cruise on Saturday. We agreed to sleep aboard on Friday night to catch the early tide north. It's about 35 miles to the mouth of Puget Sound which will take between 5 and 6 hours. Once there, we hoped to spend the night on a mooring buoy in a small, secluded bay near Port Townsend called Mystery Bay. From there we would sail across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria, BC.

In preparation for our trip, my daughter, Rebecca and I spent the day buying provisions and preparing the boat. Bella was now clean and largely clear of junk. I had already bought bedding and cookware for the journey. I’d made sure we had gas for the stove, new rode for the anchor, lazy jacks for the mainsail, and an assortment of other small things.

It turned into a long day but by supper the boat was largely ready. The fridge and cupboards were stocked, and the beds were made. All I needed was for Jen and my son, Peter to appear.

Jen had been busy cleaning Bella that week and had taken the dishes off the boat to wash at home. She’d spent Friday getting the kids packed and preparing to bring back the clean dishes. However, there was a lot to do at home and she didn't arrive until quite late. We grabbed a bite in the marina restaurant as it closed before spending our first night together on the boat.

Unfortunately, we weren't quite as ready as we’d hoped. I’d imagined using an unzipped sleeping bag as a comforter as the nights get cold, but it wasn't nearly big enough which was already a source of conflict. Peter hadn't thought to bring any shorts and the forecast called for hot weather all week. And Jen had left all the forks at home.

So, even though it was midnight I drove back home to fetch the missing items. I took the opportunity to shower there and returned to Bella past 1 in the morning. My alarm would go off in 5 hours.

We wanted to start with a clean holding tank and planned to pump out first thing. This made things more complicated since we had to leave the dock and then immediately dock again to pump out. That all went well but the pump out was closed until 8. I wandered around and found someone willing to turn on the pump for us. We were out of the marina by 7.

One benefit of sailing is that it’s quiet when you sail. But there was, as expected, no wind that early. We resigned ourselves to a morning of motoring. This was the first time we’d run the motor for longer than it took to leave the marina and raise our sails. And, if I'm honest, it was annoyingly loud. But the trip was uneventful, and I had a chance to grab a bit of sleep. We made excellent time as the tide helped us along and we were in Port Townsend Bay by noon.

We made directly for Mystery Bay. The initial approach is quite tricky and gets very shallow. And as we’d been riding the tide all the way north, the tide was very low. We followed the navigation buoys into the channel but messed up and nearly ran aground. We decided to abort and do something else until the tide came in.

Also, on the way north, there was the unmistakable smell of marine head in the cabin after passing over some very steep container ship wake. So even though we pumped out that morning we clearly needed to rinse out the holding tank. I also had some more plumbing work to do since the head shouldn’t smell.

So, we headed to the larger of the two marinas in Port Townsend to rinse, pump out, and take stock.

The approach to the marina is simple and though I was still getting the hang of maneuvering in close quarters, we had no trouble finding the pump out. Unfortunately, there were boats tied up there, but we tied up behind them on the fuel dock without incident. I found the harbor master who explained that the boats would be leaving soon so we just waited for a bit.

While we waited, I re-read the description of the approach to Mystery Bay and realized what I’d done wrong. When it seemed like we'd be waiting a long time, we decided to head back out and take another crack at the approach.

We motored back to the start of the channel armed with the correct information and navigated through like champs. As we approached Fort Flagler, the next attraction on the way to Mystery Bay, we saw several open mooring buoys near what looked like a lovely beach. Why not stay here for the night?

There is a correct way to pick up a mooring buoy. You approach from down current and pick up the buoy from the bow of your boat. However, I had the bright idea that we could use our swim step to attach the line to the buoy and then walk it up to the bow. It seemed reasonable and removed the need to pick up the buoy from high up on Bella's bow.

So, this is what we did. And we got as far as tying a line to the buoy. Then things went sideways.

First, I fell off the swim step. And that water is cold! Luckily, I managed to pull the swim ladder in with me. I immediately scrambled back onto the boat with the mooring line still in my hand.

However, while I messed around with the buoy and went for a swim, Bella had spun around completely. The upshot of this was that the line ended up wrapped around the rudder. And, frankly, I was worried that it would get fouled in the prop. So, I cut the motor.

Another important fact we hadn't fully considered: these buoys all sat in a very strong tidal current. It was becoming very difficult to hold onto the mooring line that was wrapped around our rudder anyway. So, I let go.

Happily, the line came free as the current pulled us away from the buoy. I went to start the engine so we could motor back to the buoy and do things properly. I turned the key and was rewarded with a faint clicking sound. Turn, click. Turn, click, Turn, click.

I checked the engine cutoff. No joy. Was I in neutral? Yes. Turn, click, fuck.

Now this wasn't the first time Bella failed to start. But she had always come around eventually. Apparently not this time. The current had us, and we were headed for shallow water and a rocky shore. Someone from one of the boats already on a mooring buoy called out to offer help. At least he could rescue us after we ran aground.

Then I realized I had another option. I scrambled to the bow and dropped anchor. I ended up letting out a good 150 feet of rode in 15 feet of water, but the anchor bit and Bella stopped. After some of the poorest seamanship I have ever demonstrated, this was a tiny redemption. But the engine still wouldn't start.

The friendly boater was named Andy. He gave me a ride back to the buoy in his tender where I retrieved the line and our boat hook. He also offered to lend me some goggles so I could inspect the underside of Bella for issues. Finally, he offered his experience with boats to help get her running.

With the anchor set and Andy in my corner my spirits rose. We grabbed the goggles from his boat where I met his wife. She seemed nice. Also, it turned out that Andy had run aground coming into the harbor earlier that day so we could both feel stupid together.

When we got back to Bella, I grabbed an inflatable life jacket to wear while I dove back in the water. It seemed like a good idea and they only inflate if you pull the tab. With goggles and life jacket on and a line in my hand for good measure, I jumped back into the water. At this point I learned two things: the life jacket was the sort that inflated automatically, and my family finds the sight of me confused and wet very funny.

I scrambled out again, removed the life jacket, and had another swim. But the water was too cold and too murky for me to see anything, so I left it to fate and hoped for the best. Andy and I would focus on the engine and if there were any more problems, I'd find out soon enough.

After toweling off and running through the symptoms of the engine issue, Andy and I were sure it was electrical. We went below and pulled the cover off the engine. Andy found the battery switch and suggested we change it from "1" to "All". Much to everyone's relief, the motor started. I gave Andy a beer and a handshake and he departed on his tender.

At this point all we had to do was get the anchor up and motor back to Port Townsend. I called the marina there and made sure we had a slip and then set about getting the anchor.

I knew it would be hard to retrieve the anchor in the heavy current. But we needed to get going. I had Jen steer the boat forward and use the throttle to take the tension off the anchor rode. I wrapped the line around the windlass (the winch used to raise the anchor), pressed the button and was rewarded with another impotent click. I had tested the Windlass two days ago and it had worked.

I went aft to think and told Jen and Peter the problem. Peter suggested that the issue might be something related to the battery shenanigans. Honestly, I was skeptical but since that is the only thing that had changed, I put the battery switch back to “1”. The windlass started working. What a smart lad!

The windlass had no trouble bringing in the rope portion of the anchor rode but that last 60 feet is chain and for some reason the windlass didn't have enough grunt to pull it up. I tried to get it working for a few minutes and then gave up. Instead, I just pulled the roughly 40 pounds of anchor and 75 pounds of chain onto the boat myself.

With that sorted, we motored back to the marina. We pulled into our slip which presented no challenge at all after the day we'd had. I made dinner in our galley where everything worked correctly. Finally, I did the dishes, put on my pajamas, and slept like the dead.


On Sunday morning, day two, we awoke in Port Townsend where I immediately ran a quick test. I made sure the battery switch was on ‘All’ and tried to start her. What I got was the classic dead battery moan. I wasn't surprised. I’d deliberately not connected to shore power that night and powering lights and a fridge is much easier than cranking a starter motor.

With no confidence in our ability to start, we attached the shore power, and resigned ourselves to a Port Townsend vacation. I arranged moorage through Monday night. We were in the marina farther from Port Townsend attractions but much closer to the boat yards where I would find a mechanic on Monday.

We spent most of the day just lazing on the boat. We inflated our dinghy and the kids rowed around our little corner of the marina. We bought food from the local co-op and supplies from West Marine. We had a perfectly pleasant day which ended with another boat-cooked meal and board games.

The next morning, I journeyed through the boat yards looking for help. I had a recommendation from the harbor master as a starting point. I found the place. It didn't really have a front door but there was a door with a sign over it that said "Office". I went in and found myself in a very large, very busy space. There was a large boat in the middle of what’s best described as a barn. People were doing assorted things to it, or at least around it. I made my way across the floor to a flight of wooden stairs. At the top of the stairs, I found the office.

I poked my head in, hoping to find someone assigned the job of being helpful. It didn't look promising. However, there were several people busy at desks and one of them got up to find out why I'd wandered into their place of work. I said I needed help with a boat. He explained that the owners were all busy in a meeting but would be free in about an hour. As I turned to leave, one of the owners came out of his meeting to ask how he might help me. I explained the situation and he explained that his business wasn't really what I needed. But he recommended another place next door.

I made my way out through the hustle to search for the better bet. I found it easily enough. Again, it wasn't obvious who to talk to, but a couple of guys were working on an engine out front, so I started with them. One of them was named Doug and it appeared Doug would be able to help. But he needed me to talk to the Service Manager. We wandered through the workshop, but the Service Manager was nowhere to be found. Doug said he'd have him call me. I wandered off to find breakfast.

I finished breakfast before getting a call so I went back to see what I could see. As it turned out, the Service Manager had just returned. I interrupted him as he was about to call me. We spoke briefly and he promised to send Doug over after finishing another job nearby.

On my way back to the boat, I stopped at a hardware store to buy some plastic steps to make getting aboard a bit easier. When I got back to Bella, I was able to just relax and putter. Except there was a very strong marine head smell in the boat. I followed my nose and found that the forward head had backed up and was full of foul sea water and human waste.

I was able to flush the toilet back into the tank. When I did, the excess waste came out of the external tank vent and into the sea. Sorry, sea. We'd managed to fill our holding tank in a little over 2 days. It holds 35 gallons. That's a lot of waste. However, even with a full tank, the head still shouldn't have backed up. I knew that the pump and valve needed to be serviced or replaced. Now it was a priority.

Sometime around 11, Doug arrived. I explained the problem in more detail and apologized about the smell. He did a bit of exploring around the helm and determined that the neutral cut off for the starter wasn't connected. So clearly that wasn't the issue. And really, it was clear that the issue was electrical, so we went searching for the starter battery.

I knew that the house batteries were directly under the aft birth. In preparation for Doug's arrival, I had unmade the bed to expose the batteries. But the starter battery was not there. I had pulled my bed apart for nothing. Ultimately the battery turned out to be just forward of the engine below a panel in the deck. This is something I should already have known.

Doug tested the battery and his meter just kept complaining of noise in the signal. That would normally mean that another power source was in the circuit, but the issue persisted after the battery was disconnected. He found out later that this indicated a probable short in the battery and presented a hazardous situation - it could explode. But even without that knowledge we both agreed that a new battery seemed like a solid plan and he left to fetch one.

Within 20 minutes he was back. He pulled the old battery and we discovered it was leaking acid. He carefully disposed of it, replaced the connectors as they were also in rough shape, and the engine started without any problems. I tested it a few times and it worked.

I thanked Doug as he packed up his tools and left.

Next, Peter and I took the now mobile Bella to the pump out to empty our holding tank. We arrived with only minor drama and pumped out. Just as we were about to leave the dock, I got a call from the Service Manager asking about payment. I agreed to swing by that afternoon to pay and hung up. Then, we set our lines to leave the dock, I turned the key, and click, no start. The engine did start on the second try but after the day we'd had earlier I wanted perfection.

I called the Service Manager back and he agreed to send Doug over again. Peter and I motored back to the slip. This time there was quite a lot of drama while we docked. I may have gotten frustrated. And as I managed the lines and my anger, I inadvertently stood up directly beneath the anchor. Luckily, I have a hard head and other than a slight abrasion and a good-sized goose egg, I seemed fine.

Doug arrived shortly after we settled in. He went over the wiring and found one possible culprit: a loose connection between the battery and the starter solenoid. Fixing it was simple and it fit with the symptoms. We tried the starter 6 times and it always worked. I thanked Doug for coming back and asked him for a lift back to the workshop so I could pay.

The bill for the battery and Doug's time was very reasonable. Not much more than if I'd had similar issues with a car. From there I grabbed an Uber into town to meet Jen and Rebecca for lunch. The Uber driver turned out to be the only one in town. I was her second ride. She was very nice and I hope she kept driving.

We had a pleasant afternoon in Port Townsend - it was very hot, and my favorite lunch place closed early but it was still vacation. Jen and I bought more groceries before heading back to the boat.

That evening we ate Quiche warmed in Bella's oven and played more board games. Things were starting to feel good again and I was excited to get out on the water the next morning.


We'd had three goals on this cruise: get some real sailing in, spend the night in Mystery Bay away from shore, and visit Victoria. We clearly weren't going to Victoria, but we had one last day to achieve the other two.

There wasn't much wind that morning. We took our time getting going. We bought more provisions, took on fresh water, and sorted things out down below. We'd been in a marina for two days so things were a bit cluttered. We ended up leaving after lunch.

Out in Port Townsend Bay there was a solid breeze. We raised our sails and made our way out to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Port Townsend is not a busy port but there is a ferry dock and we found ourselves directly in the path of the incoming ferry. As it turns out, it is much harder to avoid a ferry while under sail. Of course, we managed but we just wanted to relax and sail a bit.

The wind was blowing out of the north, so we had to beat upwind to get out into the strait. Being a bit rusty, I kept misjudging my tacks which meant I ended up tacking more than necessary. But the wind picked up and soon we were in open water going 7 knots.

The seas were about 3 feet and Bella handled them without complaint. For everyone on board, this was the first time we'd had all our sails up in any kind of wind. We were close hauled, and everything was in tight. The boat was heeling over quite a bit, and this unnerved the crew initially. I assured everyone that this was a normal amount of heeling (the gunnels were still inches out of the water) and we just kept tacking up wind.

Rebecca was having a great time. She thought the tilted boat, especially inside the cabin, was hilarious. Everyone else was a little less certain. And my first mate, Jen, had gone quiet. We'd planned to sail for an hour or two and then head into Mystery Bay. But Jen was starting to go quite green. We decided to head in since it was getting late anyway.

Sailing downwind turned out to be tricky. As soon as we cleared the strait the wind dropped. And keeping the sails filled was proving challenging. Eventually, with a seasick wife, I doused the sails, and we motored the rest of the way.

In calmer water Jen started to feel better. I'd had a lot of fun sailing but her discomfort took the edge off a bit. Nonetheless, I felt good as we motored through the shallow channel. This was the scene of the exciting events of only two days ago and we made it through without incident but not without some anxiety.

Once through we motored south to Mystery Bay. Much to our delight it wasn't busy. There were several open buoys and even space on the dock if we wanted it. We opted for a buoy near shore.

We picked up the mooring buoy perfectly.

We launched our inflatable dinghy and I rowed to shore with the kids to pay for our moorage. We chatted with the park ranger and some other boaters, played some catch, and then headed back to Bella. Then let the kids took the dinghy back to shore by themselves to play on the beach. It looked like they had a ball.

While they played on shore, I cooked dinner. Jen enjoyed the peace of the bay as the sun went down. It was perfect.

The kids rowed back when dinner was ready. The food was great. Everyone was in a good mood. All was right with the world.

We played more board games and went to bed. For the first time we were sleeping on a boat surrounded by water.


On the last day of our trip, the only plan was to go home. We left Mystery Bay as early as we could manage but were fogged in and had to wait it out. Fog on the Bay is very beautiful but not ideal for navigation.

We motored out beyond Port Townsend Bay and into the Sound. The wind was too light to sail so we set to motoring south. The journey is about 5 or 6 hours.

For about 4 hours the trip was largely uneventful. However, with Seattle growing ahead of us, Peter rushed up from below crying, "Smoke!"

I immediately cut the engine and went below to investigate. The engine temperature and oil pressure were all normal and the engine was running fine. But down below there was clearly blue smoke in the air and when I removed the engine cover, more smoke drifted out.

I saw no sign of fire and the smoke was already clearing but something had been very hot in there. I looked at the wiring and saw no issues. I checked all over and below the engine and saw no sign of ignition. No soot or burned material. I put the cover back on the engine and decided that maybe there was enough wind to sail.

The wind was on our stern and quite light, but we made 4-5 knots for the better part of an hour before the wind just died completely. With no option other than rescue, we started the engine and motored the rest of the way. The smoke didn't return.

Once home, I found a mechanic and had him try to figure out what happened. He inspected the whole engine, found no faults and declared us ready to cruise again. I was a bit dubious but also happy to be done.

We've sailed a few times since then. Used the engine to get in and out of the marina. Motored some with no incident. But on a recent overnight trip, the smoke returned on our journey home. This time I didn't cut the engine. I removed the engine cover and found that the smoke was clearly streaming from the isolator that connects the alternator to the batteries. (I didn't know what it was when I found the smoke pouring from it.)

We let things cool off and motored the rest of the way home and, the next day, I called a different mechanic. I explained the situation and he came to do some diagnostics. Ultimately, we agreed that he would replace that isolator.

That's done now and he says everything is good to go. I'll find out tomorrow, I guess, when I go sailing.


Last weekend we spent our last night on Bella for a few months. The clouds are settling in over Seattle and, more significantly, the school year is in full swing. We'll still get out sailing this winter. And there are plenty of winter projects to keep me on the boat. But, sadly, summer is over.

For our last trip we sailed across the sound to Blake Island. It's a small island and the whole place is a state park. It's only accessible by private boat although a tour company runs a boat there for a sort of dinner and a show experience. We've been there for day trips before, but we've never stayed overnight.

The sheltered harbor on Blake Island is small. And Bella is big. I had hoped that it was late enough in the season that we'd still get a spot but no such luck. However, the weather was calm, and the island is surrounded by mooring buoys. The west side is sheltered from ferry and container ship wake. We picked up one of the last buoys there around lunch time.

Picking up the buoy was a challenge, again. This time the issue was purely height. The last time we picked up a buoy we just pulled it out of the water to run a line through it. But the buoy and chain were too short here. So, I tossed our dinghy into the water and rowed to the bow to thread the line through the ring. That worked but it wasn't terribly efficient, and I soaked my jeans.

Once secured, we ate a late lunch. Then three of us rowed ashore to pay the moorage fee and go for a walk to the "village". It was a hilly walk with great views of Seattle through the trees. We saw deer. We saw many, many boy scouts. There were several large groups of them camping on the island. Then we rowed back to Bella. I like walking in the woods, but I like being on a boat more.

I spent the rest of the afternoon on deck. As the sun set, the air quickly cooled. My wife and I stayed above to watch the sunset, drink wine, and eat cheese. When it got cold, I grabbed a sleeping bag to keep warm - I was wearing shorts since my jeans were still damp. I wanted to stay above but it was getting late and dinner needed cooking, so I reluctantly went below.

The next morning, we slept in. When we finally got moving it was past 10. We planned to head straight back to the marina, but the wind picked up and we sailed until it died again. Then we motored into the marina, arriving at about 1. My family headed home to do chores and homework and I stayed to tidy up the boat. I watched football on my phone. Seattle won. It was a good weekend.

© Nick Simons