Our Second Sailing Summer

2017 was a good summer. We spent a lot of time on the boat. Actually, 2017 started with us celebrating New Year's Eve on Bella with family. It was very rainy and, while fun, we haven't made this a tradition. It was very, very rainy.

But once the season started we got out most weekends. Or at least, we got down to the boat to hang out by the water. The real adventure was a second attempt at going north. 2016's attempt at a trip across the Strait of Juan de Fuca made for fun reading but it didn't include a trip across the strait. 2017 was an entirely different story. We did the crossing each way twice!

First trip north

For our first trip, Jen and I went alone. It was July. We left the kids with my parents. The boat was ready.

As had become our habit, we slept aboard the first night to get an early start and to catch the tide. And, in what has also become a ritual, when we went to leave, the diesel wouldn't start. I swear, it wasn't my fault!

A little troubleshooting pointed to the battery. Clearly there were still electrical issues as that battery was only a year old but I hopped in the car, bought a new battery, swapped them out, and she started on the first try. Problem solved?

We then headed north towards Port Townsend. We were only a couple of hours late and the trip north was pleasant and uneventful. We stayed at the same marina as last year and picking up our slip was fine. Mostly. A strong breeze was blowing right off the dock so we had a very hard time pulling Bella in tight. But, as I keep finding, boaters are awesome and a couple of guys hustled over and helped us with our lines.

We spent the night in PT and left early the next morning for Friday Harbor. We spent two nights there including a day spent roaming San Juan Island in one of these...

Scoot Coupe

We then went further north and west into Canada. We started on Pender Island where we also spent two nights. It was lovely but a little boring. It's a fine place for one night but it's not quite secluded enough for proper relaxation and not quite enough of a "place" for exploration.

Our next stop, however, was the best surprise. We sailed to Ganges, a town on Salt Spring Island. We'd been two summers before but never actually left our boat as we couldn't find moorage for a quick stay. This time we had a slip at the north tip of the harbor in a marina with a lot of character. And a few characters.

When we arrived at the marina we noticed another Hunter of a similar vintage to ours. But quite a bit bigger. The skipper of that boat said hello shortly after we arrived and we became friendly enough that Jen and I went over to have a look at his boat and meet his partner. They are quite old, he is nearly blind, and his partner isn't very mobile. They live on the boat full time and, if I'm honest, it was a bit of a sensory overload.

We encountered many smells both from cooking, assorted ointments (I'm guessing), and, as we learned later, a belief that poo should not be flushed down a marine head. It should be bagged and disposed of on land. There was also an enormous amount of stuff. I'm really not sure how they sailed without everything ending up in everything else. Actually, that's exactly what happened based on stories he told us that evening.

That same day we also ran into a couple we had met earlier on Pender Island. They were cruising on a sailboat with no mast. They turned out to be quite conservative for Canadians but we got along well enough as long as we didn't talk politics and somehow we ended up hosting both couples on Bella for wine and snacks that evening. This was very out of character for us. I'm not sure if it will ever happen again.

The next day, friends from Victoria took the ferry to visit with us. It was great seeing them although the trip was weirdly social considering we generally keep to ourselves when we're vacationing.

That night Jen and I went to dinner at a fantastic restaurant in Ganges called Hastings House. We had planned that as the culinary anchor of the trip and it didn't disappoint. I don't remember what we ate anymore but I remember it was excellent. And the place itself is very beautiful.

In the morning we headed back to the USA. We entered at Roche Harbor which is at the opposite end of San Juan Island from Friday Harbor. It's basically a big family resort and while we only spent one night there, I think we'd do it again and maybe for an extra night.

From Roche Harbor we went back to PT and then on to Seattle the next day. The only thing worth noting about this leg of the trip is that we saw a lot of wind. It was the first time I had to reef our mainsail and we were able to sail (mostly) all the way from Roche Harbor to PT. We might have been nervous occasionally but it was never dangerous.

Second trip north

We went north again at the beginning of August. This time with both of our children. As usual, we started from PT. But we planned the trip so that we could actually spend some time there.

We arrived in PT fairly early on day one and had enough time to visit Fort Worden. Jen drove up separately with Peter because they needed to be somewhere at the end of the trip, so we had a car.

The fort is very cool. The commandant's residence is kept as a museum showing how people lived at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. And the fortifications are open to the public to explore. This includes some pretty spooky underground passages. In fact, the fortifications seemed quite unsafe. It was very refreshing that we were allowed to be there even though it wasn't rubberized and sanitized.

The next morning we headed out towards the San Juan Islands. Our plan was to spend that night at anchor in a park on one of the islands. I don't remember which one because we never got there. It was extremely foggy and we don't have functional radar or any other system for seeing or being seen by other craft. So we headed back to the marina in PT for another night.

When we set out again the next day it was just as foggy. But I'm stubborn and I had installed an app on my phone that showed commercial shipping traffic. With that in hand we decided to crawl north through the fog. Another boat actually started following us because we do have a radar dome on the stern of our boat. I had to explain to the skipper of the other boat that it was purely decorative.

Moving through fog is very stressful. And the sound of other boats' fog horns doesn't really help. At one point, as the sound of a horn got louder, I looked down and noticed that a large navy ship was very near according to my app. When I looked up, I could just make out the super structure of an enormous grey ship emerging through the top of the fog bank.

We spent the next 30 minutes (it felt much longer) trying to stay out of that ship's path while avoiding the very strong rip tides on our starboard. Needless to say, when we emerged from the fog later that morning, it was a great relief.

The remainder of the trip went as intended. We sailed/motored all the way to Rosario on Orcas Island. We spent a couple of nights there enjoying the pool and generally good weather. And then we sailed home.

The journey home started well enough. There was enough wind to sail and soon I was alone on deck while everyone else slept or kept busy down below. As we approached Admiralty Inlet (which is the mouth of Puget Sound) the wind almost completely died. I went to start the diesel and, yet again, was rewarded with a sickening silence.

For whatever reason, the motor would not start. I tried many things including bypassing everything and hot wiring the ignition. Still, no joy. I can now add calling for help to my list of experiences.

BoatUS sent a tow boat out from PT to meet us. And they towed us in. At the point where they actually took us into the marina, things got a bit hairy. It was quite choppy and we needed to be lashed side-by-side to go into the marina. There was definite risk to both Bella and my fingers as we sorted that out.

We actually chose the other marina in PT this time as that was where we were booked. This turned out quite well as there is one mechanic right there and they sent someone over pretty quickly. He did the same things I had done while out at sea and determined that the starter motor was bad. I suspected as much since hot wiring hadn't worked.

He pulled the starter and took it back to his shop. There was some hope that it could be fixed if the town expert had time. Otherwise, we were stuck in PT with no propulsion.

Grimly, they couldn't find the starter motor guy and I had to start figuring out a plan. We only had a slip for one night and the marina was full after that. We had a car in PT so Jen and Peter could get where they needed to be, but I was stuck. However, as luck would have it, the mechanic who pulled the motor took a closer look and discovered that the power lead was simply loose. He soldered it in place and bolted it back to the motor. And she started on the first turn!

Ultimately it turned out that there was room at the marina and R and I stayed one more night in PT. Then, we had a blissfully uneventful trip home.


If you've read about our adventures you'll have noticed that we've had a lot of trouble getting our motor started. Often at very inopportune times. Over the winter I asked my new mechanic in Seattle to try and figure out the problem. Of course, we've had multiple problems but he found that the actual ignition switch was faulty. Now we have a new switch, a restored starter motor, and a new starter battery. I'm cautiously optimistic.

© Nick Simons