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Bottoms Up! - Courtney Kirchoff Bottoms Up! - Courtney Kirchoff

Bottoms Up!

boat agroundOn Saturday June 16th I hit a milestone as a sailor; the seas welcomed me into a long line of mariners as I crossed a blessed rite of passage. What was this blessing, you ask? I ran aground.

Did I run aground whilst racing? No. Did I run aground while trying to reach my destination before an incoming storm? Nu-uh. Did I run aground in an attempt to try to rescue another ship at sea? Nope. How did I find my beautiful boat tipping, then? Ineptitude!

Allow me to set the scene: weeks ago I’d been invited by the great folks at sailinganarchy.com to join them for a sail-by at Bob Perry’s house, to honor Spike Perry, Bob’s son who, last year, died tragically of pneumonia. The people of sailinganarchy.com found my post about how I admired Bob’s work, and found me worthy enough to attend the sail-by. I was offered a ride up there, but wanted to make the journey in my little sailboat, even though Libby is not a Perry design. Since the destination was quite aways north, I wanted to split the trip into two days rather than one long day. One of the anarchists suggested we buddy boat up there–I relished that idea.

Prior to the Great Journey Up, I prepped and loved on my boat with care and the bringing of gifts:

  1. I changed her oil and oil filter.
  2. Installed a longer bolt and nut to prevent the alternator belt from slipping (a common problem, as it turns out, for my Yanmar).
  3. Removed the varnish on the tiller, cut the rope work, and installed a new tiller extension.
  4. Finally finished splicing, crimping and heat shrinking the wires for my new running lights.
  5. I ran a smaller line for the main sheet.

On Friday the 15th I checked the tides, currents, and weather then made my way to Kingston, my halfway point of the Great Journey Up. There was no wind. None, not a flicker, a breeze, a wisp, nada. I expected that, which is why I gave my engine the once-over prior to travel. And so I motored. And motored. And motored. Under Agate Pass, through Port Madison, into the Sound.

A little video of the Puget Sound with no wind. I narrate.

There’s a reason I have a sailboat and not a powerboat. I hate running the engine. I know I’ve said this before, but I must say it again. I HATE running the engine. It’s loud, it’s slow, it’s boring. There’s little to nothing for me to do when the engine is running. I cannot read because I have to pay attention and be aware of my surroundings, watch out for ships (the Sound is a traffic heavy area), and monitor the environment. To save my brain from withering, I took photos and video.

port madison

Mt. Rainier off the starboard side, over a glassy Puget Sound.

big boat

I have no idea what kind of boat this is or what its purpose is, only that it was enormous. Any ideas?

In the distance I saw sailboats sailing–there was wind somewhere, just not around me.

Eventually the wind whispered in, and so sick was I of running the engine, I took the opportunity and raised sails.

sailing islander 30

Woohoo! Genoa raised, catching some breezes.

Ahhhhh.

The wind was fluttering from the north and I was heading north, but I didn’t care. I didn’t mind tacking, I wanted to do something other than bob around. How nice to have a tiller extension, allowing me to sit, see, and sail all at once. Sweet.

In the distance I saw small pods of porpoises at play, but none came to dance at the bow of my boat. That was fine, I was happy to see them at all (they were in and out of the water too quickly and I couldn’t nab a photo).

I arrived in Kingston around 8 pm. For those of you who do not live up north, it’s still daylight at 8 and well into nine. The further north you get, the longer the summer days, it’s lovely.

Since I’m a cheapskate, I decided to anchor out in Appletree Cove. For those of you keeping score, this is mistake numero uno.

Appletree Cove Kingston

My anchor-out buddies. None of them ran aground, it was just little me.

The Waggoner Cruiser’s Guide I’d consulted beforehand said Kingston was a good anchorage if you dropped anchor south of the breakwater, which I did. My GPS system, which I thought was giving me soundings in fathoms (FM), said I’d have room to anchor here without running around. Mistake number two.

I dropped anchor and set it. Most of our crappy weather comes from the south, but Appletree Cove is protected from the southerly elements. I didn’t even bother dropping my sentinel, for I knew the Danforth would be fine. No, this was not a mistake, my anchor didn’t budge.

The Great Journey Up was my first trip away from home this season, and I was doing it alone, just me and the Riley boy. The change of scenery was inspirational, and Kingston is a lovely town and port. I was high on my feeling of independence and freedom as I watched the Kingston/Edmonds Ferry come into port–it was aglow as nine o’clock turned into ten, when I decided to head to bed.

kingston edmonds ferry

Ferry coming into Kingston.

Ferries are large vessels, dwarfed only by cruise liners and container ships–which travel up and down Puget Sound. All night long. As you well know, boats that large are powered by massive engines and propellers that, you guessed it, create monstrous wakes.

I anchored south of the breakwater, not behind the breakwater, meaning my little 30 footer pitched and rolled all night long. Not gentle rolls, tsunami-like rocking across the beam of my boat. Riley and I were not pleased.

The ferries stop running at 3 am, I know this because that’s when the boat stopped its rendition of the cha-cha. I slept, but not for long, for I had to head out at 8 am. In between the non-sleeping and the rude awakening, you will find mistake number three.

My buddy-boat sailor, Thorvald (not his real name, but his sailing anarchy alias), was right on time, heading towards me in his sailboat a few minutes past eight. I jumped into the cockpit, nursing my needed coffee, and waved, then (since I’d checked the weather with NOAA and read that heavy winds would come through in the afternoon), took my smallest jib to the foredeck to get it ready to go.

The moment you’ve all been waiting for

“Uh,” called Thorvald, “I think you’re stuck in the mud,” he said from a safe distance.

I looked aft. My boat wasn’t moving. Ferry traffic had recommenced, and Libby wasn’t doing the hokey pokey and turning herself around.

Oh crap.

“Really?” I called to Thorvald.

“Yeah, I can see a lot of waterline. Start the engine and see if you can push yourself out.”

Sounded good to me. I hopped back into the cockpit and turned the engine over, then gave her some juice.

Bupkis.

“Yeah, I can see your propeller,” said Thorvald.

“Now what?” I asked.

“Wait for the tide to come in,” he yelled, not daring to come any closer. “Stay with the boat.”

The tide was going out fast. Looking forward at Libby’s bow, I watched the horizon tilt, that is to say, the boat was tipping as I was standing there.

“This is embarrassing,” I said to Thorvald.

“We’ve all been there. Everyone runs aground.”

“Really?” I asked, thinking he was just saying it to make me feel less like a moron. How kind of him.

“Yep. All of us.”

There was nothing for him to do, and he and his wife had a long journey ahead of them, so they left. I stayed with my boat and watched her inch over, slowly but swiftly, the port side raising as the starboard side sunk. Interesting to watch, if I’m being honest. There she goes.

If you thought I would take pictures of this special moment, you’d be right. Notice the companionway weatherboards on top of the cabin. These teak babies come into play later.

sailboat aground

Looking forward…

sailboat aground

Looking aft…

There we went, heeling in a windless but popular port. I’m sure my girl and I were pointed to and laughed at that morning by ferry travelers. Hey, look at that boat, you can see its butt!

Over we went, and there I was, “sitting” in the cockpit, my feet braced on the sinking starboard side. While tipping, I thought of some things to do, and since I’m such a selfless individual, I’m going to share.

Courtney’s List of Things to Do when You’ve Run Aground

  1. Look and feel stupid. Because you are. Ha ha.
  2. Get over it, stupid, there’s nothing you can do about it. Accept that this is a teachable moment and stop hitting yourself in the head for it. Just don’t do it again, you dummy.
  3. Play the “It Could’ve Been Worse” game. Because it can always get worse. At least I ran aground in a good spot, muddy and grassy, not against treacherous rocks and beating waves.
  4. Observe the wildlife. Watch as that eagle flies just over the water. See how he tilts his head to look and laugh at you.
  5. Document different species. Notice the osprey. Wonder if he’s going to take aim and poo all over your cockpit cushions, as some nasty bird has already done during the night.
  6. Wonder how and when you’ll clean the crap off the cushion.
  7. Figure out how to stand and walk, then go into the cabin and close your seacocks.

There is also a companion list to the one above. I call it:

Courtney’s List of Things You Cannot Do when You’ve Run Aground:

  1. Put in your contact lenses.
  2. Cook food or prepare more coffee.
  3. Use the onboard toilet.
  4. Change your clothes. This could have poor results. For me, I looked like a ninja with a bad tan, since I couldn’t change out of my existing outfit for new.
  5. Look good. Nope, it’s impossible. Sorry.

Okay, so, moving on, but not, I heard the teak weatherboards fall from the top of the cabin and splash into Appletree Cove. Of course they would, that whole gravity thing made them do it. What a bullying force. Fortunately that whole water is denser than wood thing came in handy, and the boards floated. To save them, I went to dash into my dinghy. When one has run aground, as I expertly had, one cannot simply “dash” into the dinghy. My transom ladder does not swing to accommodate the boat’s new angle on life, so I had to pull the dinghy to the starboard side of the boat. Had we been sailing, we would’ve called this the “lee” side.

After slithering on my tushy into the dinghy, I paddled to save the weatherboards. The tide was going out fast, so I splashed around to catch up with the boards. I’m sure I looked incredible in the process, and I’m sorry there isn’t video of all of this. Truly sorry.

I managed to get to the boards in time before me and the dink got stuck in the mud. Running aground twice in one morning would’ve been mortifying! As soon as I got the boards, I swung around and paddled for home, but decided to take advantage of my poor girl’s humiliating predicament.

The reason my boat had traveled at a toddler crawl under power: the propeller and its shaft was fouled up. There was growth everywhere, barnacles, weeds, nastiness. If you think I tried scraping some of that sh!t off with my oar, well you’d be right again. The problem with oar-scraping is that whole physics thing again. As soon as I’d scrape the shaft, the dinghy would drift away. Yes, I’m aware that I could’ve tied my dingy to the sailboat, but that would’ve been a project. Remember, my port side cleats were out of sight, such was my angle of aground-ness. I wasn’t going to climb over the high side of the boat to tie off, or to get back into the dink after tying off. Not worth it. Also, the wake from the ferry traffic (we’ve discussed this) made me and my little tender roll all over everywhere, which meant I could easily knock myself out if I hit the hull as I was cleaning my prop.

I couldn’t pretend I’d run aground on purpose to clean the prop, that’s why I wrote the above paragraph. There’s no saving face in this tale-it’s simple humiliation.

I took Riley, good sport of a dog, out of the boat and we walked on shore for a while, looking at the farmer’s market, getting hungrier.

When the flood tide began, I returned to the boat and watched as Libby rose to dignity. By eleven o’clock, I made the call not to sail the Great Journey Up. Could I have made it to the sail-by, albeit a bit late? Possibly, but at what cost? Already the forces were lined against me: poor sleep, boat’s run aground and would’t be unstuck until noon, a small craft advisory out for the afternoon. I’m a God-believing person, and I decided to heed the signs.

To the rescue came two great people in their Glacier Bay Catamaran. They’d offered to give me a ride to the sail-by weeks before, but I’d insisted on going in my own boat, so the wind could take me up, so the sun could make my flowing blonde hair sparkle (cue the string instruments, playing dramatically), so people could look out their windows and point, saying, “Look at that girl sailing that beautiful boat.” It would’ve been poetry. Alas, twas not to be the case. It turned out for the better, as I had a fabulous time with my rescuers.

Because NOAA had predicted horrendous conditions for the afternoon, the sail-by became a drive-by, but it was a great occasion. Thorvald gets all the gold stars for sailing his boat there, he arrived just after we did in the powerboat. I had the pleasure of meeting Bob Perry and his kind and gracious wife, Jill. I had a blast meeting and talking with some of the folks of Sailing Anarchy, and hope to have the chance to meet up with many of them again. Riley, who was of course there (he goes everywhere with me) played himself to exhaustion with a couple of other dogs.

A note here: for the sake of anonymity, I’m omitting the sailing anarchists real names and the location of the sail-by. If you’d like to opine and declare your true identity, please feel free, I’m not omitting you to be rude, rather to protect your secret identities so you may continue fighting mediocrity in private.

While at the party, my tale of running aground was naturally discussed. As my would-be-buddy-boater had said that morning, all sailors run aground. It reminded me of something a motorcyclist told me years ago: there are two types of bikers, those who have fallen, and those who will. The same can be said of equestrians and probably any sport involving risk. When I mentioned the anecdote, applied to sailing, Bob supplemented it with a better/funnier one: “There are those who have run aground, and liars.”

Kimb, SWMBO (my daring rescuers) and I departed earlier than most to beat the weather. We arrived by boat–we had to contend with that small craft advisory weather that was all the rage on our way south. NOAA did not exaggerate their predictions. The weather was nasty, windy, wavy, and wet. I’m glad I heeded the signs.

The catamaran flew over the waves, hit some square, but handled well. Riley, exhausted, lay in my arms as a puddle of goo, and only when we’d experience negative G forces or hit a wake, did he open his eyes to see what was going on. I was nervous, as most of my boating experiences have been under more control, but kimb wasn’t worried about his demise–I wasn’t too worried either. Though I did say a few Hail Marys, just to be safe.

When we got to Kingston, I saw Libby floating happily, rocking in the waves, protected from the south wind. The sight of her afloat made me smile. She’s such a cute little boat! As soon as I departed from kimb and SWMBO (fabulous people, for sure), I got into my dink, headed to the boat, pulled up anchor, and docked! Kingston is great for docking. DO NOT ANCHOR THERE, IT SUCKS!

If my sleep or safety is in danger, I take the attitude of “It’s just money.” I was glad to pay the port to dock, I’m cheap but not stupid. I also got to meet some more nifty people in the slip adjacent to me, Doug and Amy (I’m proud of myself for remembering their names) who were staying in their red San Juan 24. We talked sailing, living aboard, and dogs.

Unsurprisingly and delightfully, I slept like someone whose taken enough Benadryl to cure them of all allergies for the rest of time (but I didn’t take anything). The next morning I checked the weather, which called for high winds in the afternoon. I checked the tides and planned on reaching Agate Pass at the max flood. Since the weather was expected to be windy, I put out my 90% jib. There was no wind in the Port of Kingston; I raised my mainsail there, saving me the agony of raising it in competition with ferry wakes and higher winds. For those of you keeping score, the sentences above account for gold star number one.

Main already raised, I motored out of Appletree Cove, waited for the ferry to pass, took its wake at 45 degrees, then hauled up the jib and killed the engine. The wind was from the south, and based on the white caps and tallish waves, somewhere it had been faster, but where I was I’m guessing it got to no more than 15 knots. Because I was smart and put out the smallest jib I had, we close-hauled at 4-5 knots and had a pleasant heeling angle, even when the gusts reached higher speeds.

close haul

Close hauled into the wind.

I tacked until I got to Port Madison and then the wind died completely. It had died a couple of times before then as well, but this time the wind was doing something deliberate: changing directions. I looked aft and saw ripples on the water, a coming puff of great wind that ensured I would go all the way through Port Madison on a beam reach. NOAA had called for shifting wind directions in the North Sound. The second gold star is shared between my timing and the weather’s cooperation in my journey.

Video of beam reach into Port Madison.

Gold star number three goes to the incredible flood tide through Agate Pass, where the wind was zilch, but my speed under the bridge averaged at 4 knots, 5 at the highest. I didn’t bother turning on the motor, I just pointed my boat and went under the bridge with plenty of room to spare.

To sum up: the sail home was amazing, the best I’ve had in my life. Everything went right and if I used the engine for ten minutes I’d be shocked. Coming home with such tremendous conditions made me fall deeper in love with my wee boat, and I questioned myself: Why do I want a different one? I’ve sailed on just two other boats, and neither measures up to Libby’s performance in speed, maneuverability, handling, and fun. At this moment, June of 2012 (coming up on our one year anniversary of being together) I’m keeping this fantastic little boat and will be working on her to make her as nifty as possible.

Lesson Learned

I’ll be checking charts, electronic and paper charts, of every destination and journey I make, to avoid as best I can, the mistake I made in Kingston. Kimb and SWMBO lavished me with extra charts they had on hand (THANK YOU!!!!!), and I will put them to great use. They also gave me charts for the currents of North Sound, and Juan de Fuca. I love meeting fantastic people.

Okay, now it’s your turn. Have you run aground before? Fess up, now, and don’t be a liar. If you haven’t run aground yet it’s coming. Even if you do everything right, it’s bound to happen.

Like what you read? Please share!


Copyright 2018. Courtney Kirchoff.