I crewed on “Team Noddy’s Noggins” for the first leg of the Race to Alaska 2017 (R2AK.com), Port Townsend to Victoria, a 40 nautical-mile diagonal crossing of the Strait of Juan de Fuca in a boat with no motor. NODDY is a 12’ SCAMP, a sister-ship to my LUNA, built and captained by Simeon Baldwin, with Denny and I as crew on this years challenge. The weather was forecast to become nasty, and it truly did.
We’re very grateful for the assistance of the Coast Guard in getting our sick crew member, Denny, to medical attention! And, I’m very pleased that the boat could handle the conditions, as much as it was compromised with a flooded buoyancy chamber and about 50 gallons of water on board. At no time did I lack confidence of our making it, but we were worried about Denny’s health.
A deep learning experience.
What follows is a brief recounting of the voyage, captured in a series of text messages I sent to my SCAMP-building colleagues, Keith and Derek, the next day.
June 9, 8:07am- (the morning after):
–Tough day, once the westerlies filled in. Rowed halfway, then beat into 35kts+ and washing machine seas for way too many hours. Denny got really sick, Noddy sprung a leak (Whaler pump diaphragm or plumbing failure?). Called for assistance when we realized how bad Denny was getting, he’s fine now, I’m going to sleep for a few more hours….
—Gulp. Sounds like an adventure. Glad you are safe!
You’re a rock solid salt.
I was watching the tracker last night at 10pm. You were doing 4.4 knots.
June 10, 6:28am- (after spending the afternoon cleaning up Noddy, and then another 12 hours of sleep)
–It was amazing how many waves came in over the windward combing. I’d get us on a good angle to quarter them and take a few very smoothly, then the next one would slew us around to beam-on, and… many times I was lucky and got her head back up, but many times the next wave slopped a gallon or 5 over the (windward) side. A lot of them were breaking, but we managed to squirt through them to tackle the next.
Learned a lot, that day!
Is that why the whale gusher leaked? Because you two were using it a lot ?
–Not sure, but we couldn’t really bail with all that wind and 1 guy incapacitated. 3 fresh fit guys with a clean sole and cockpit could have handled the dewatering with a good bailer, I bet, but Noddy had a lot of shit in the bilge, and us old guys aren’t as nimble as needed to move any water between the gusts and the short lulls in the troughs.
So, a pump handled from high-side forward is the only way we could’ve been kept light enough to negotiate through that shit in order to claw to weather any more than we managed.
–As it was, we parked once to go to 3rd reef, and pumped out (I think we only dipped the leeward rail twice, not a lot of water on board at that time), and lost at least two miles against the current and wind. The next time we looked in the starboard bench locker we found it full to the top. Simeon says he could see air bubbles coming out around the diaphragm when he was pumping, so maybe the water was going through a split in the diaphragm? That starboard locker/buoyancy tank was under water pressure from both above and below for a long time, and something failed us. The pump exit is in the centreboard case (inside the starboard locker), maybe it was backing up though there, but why into the locker? It had to be a plumbing leak, a split hose, inside that locker. Or, did it all come in through the “watertight” hatch in the seat?
We were on that first port tack for about 2 hours, with only the 2nd reef in, but kept getting headed by the current up Haro strait, so tacked to starboard and fought for half an hour with no movement over the ground. Tired of getting beat up for nothing we decided to park and go to third reef.
That put us a lot closer to San Juan Island, a lee shore, so back onto port for another two hours, we managed to claw to the western third of Haro, near Darcy Island. We had no charts on board for this far north! Our i-devices didn’t work with wet hands, and the GPS is mounted down on the forward bulkhead under the cuddy. We’re all on the windward rail, Simeon holding Denny up, and I’m on helm. I thought Sidney might be a good backup bolt hole, but there’s a marker in the middle of that gap ahead, off our starboard bow about 15 degrees, and I don’t know if it’s a reef or what!
So, up near Darcy, no charts, and the wind eases, a lot! Yay! We bail and pump, lay Denny down under the cuddy, and decide to head to Victoria (!). Onto starboard tack, with the sheet eased a bit.
That lasted about ten minutes… the breeze hits back on, full force! And the boat is a dog, I fight to get her head up, beam seas wash over, it gets harder to envision making it through the pass north of Discovery/Chatham Islands, and Denny is not looking good. We fight our way through every wave, there’s some shoals in there that made them even more crazy, now they’re all breaking, about the same height as Noddy’s length, very close together.
—11 foot waves.
Shit. You might as well be cruising with Howard in Tierra del Fuego
— I learn to steer with the sheet, ease to point up, harden to fall off, but no way will it go above a close reach, we just fall off the back of the next wave and I get her back to a close reach…
Another shoaling set, and fucking prawn traps!! A whole line of them, right on our course, talk about ramping up the challenge!! Dodging driftwood, big logs, and now prawn traps, wallowing like a drunk, we make it through that shoal, too. Maybe two thirds the way to that point above Discovery (10 Mile Point) we get out of the shoals into more regular 4 to 6’ seas, but I can’t get to weather enough to make it above the island, so we’re talking about where we can anchor or beach her inside all those rocks…. as we get closer the wind eases, still can’t point, obvious now that I was fighting current, but at the time I was just frustrated and a bit confused!
Just got to Derek’s. Holy crap Dale, what an ordeal!!!
–Wind now really dropping, can’t make it to the island, getting pushed south, six or eight inches of water above the floorboards, Denny shaking real bad. Simeon makes the call. No way we can warm him up at this time, and his time is now. We’re hours away from landing anywhere… now it’s about dead calm, very rough water, and we get called back, they have visual, and then the 47′ foot CG boat roars into position to take Denny aboard. A SARS rib rolls up too, the big boat aborts (too rough) and we get Denny onto the rib, they take him over to the cutter, and the big boat heads for Oak Bay harbour at full speed.
The rib has a gas engined pump, we get most of the big water out of Noddy, and rig a tow line. We’re now a mile or two south of Discovery, at 4.5 kts it takes about an hour to get to Oak Bay, we tie up, get our passports, get a ride downtown to Simeon’s hotel where his car was parked (by Melissa earlier that day). Denny was taken to the hospital, we go there, he gets checked out, we leave with him at 2am, they drop me at my sisters, I hit the sack at 2:20, just over 24 hours since the alarm woke us at Simeon’s house in Port Ludlow.
–Sorry, I’ve screwed up some of the sequence in the story. I happened to be on helm when the Westerly hit us about 1:30 or 2pm, we were on port tack in the middle of the straight, Victoria in sight about 10 miles ahead, easily made on that tack. We thought. We were still on port tack several hours later, but had been headed by the current, and now in the middle of Haro Strait. Tried a starboard tack, made no progress at all, parked for setting 3rd reef, back on port tack at 4pm to claw our way off San Juan shore. All the way to Darcy, wind died at 5:40pm, starboard and bear away to try for the pass between 10 Mile Point and Discovery/Chatham. We get Denny down into the cuddy. Wind back on. Tried a port tack for a few minutes, but that flooded tank wanted to put the leeward rail under, so back onto starboard. Beam seas, breaking over our windward combing. Couldn’t get back up to weather, too much water on board. Can’t make the pass, wind starts easing, we shake out the 3rd reef, can’t even make the closest of the Chatham Islands. Called race command about 7:45. Landed Oak Bay Marina 10:30pm. What a day!
—How did the rest of the fleet do? Were you all alone in this trajectory?
–A lot of others got sucked up Haro, too. Hodges capsized and was towed to Friday Harbour, Ryan on Nomadica had about the same course as us and landed in Victoria at 2am, but he’s got a sliding seat in his Windrider 17, so he could row a lot faster than us once the wind died. We saw others in Haro, too, a couple of multihulls were with us at the VD cardinal buoy for a few hours, making no better progress, but they disappeared when we parked to reef.
June 10, 3:44pm-
—Recovered Noddy at the ramp at Cattle point a few hours ago. I’m now on the bus out to the ferry to Vancouver. Denny is feeling pretty good, they’re staying one more night at their hotel… I’m homeward bound.
Now that a bit of time has passed, I’m getting clearer on some of the issues that have been rattling me. It was predicted to be a decent SE for the morning, with an ebb tide, but that breeze never showed. So, we rowed with the current, making fairly good progress. We all had drysuits on, but Simeon and I had our tops open, Denny’s didn’t have that option. It’s likely he was pretty sweaty inside that rubber bag. Before I zipped mine up, I stripped to the waist and put a clean marino layer next my skin, then added three more layers on top. Denny didn’t change, got cold very quickly, and once the Westerly hit he went downhill pretty bad. Look after your crew-mates, make sure they’re wearing the right stuff and keeping warm!
Simeon has emailed me, the pump diaphragm was split, he’s installed a new one.
Start Time: 06/08/2017 05:18 AM
End Time: 06/08/2017 10:39 PM
Total Time: 17H 11M
Distance: 59.73 NM
Average Speed: 3.50 kts
Max Speed: 8.69 kts