Friday, March 18, 2011

Sailing from Blaine to Bellingham during a Gale and Tsunami

A couple of friends, Brennan and Philippe, came up last week to help me bring Kalliope from Blaine to Bellingham. The weather report called for strong winds from the south and a partly sunny day. As we drove up early Friday morning, the sun was nowhere to be seen. In fact, it was even kind of raining. After a quick breakfast and provision run we sauntered down the dock to Kalliope. She had been pretty well cleaned up, so it didn't take me long to get her ready to get under way. The only big issue we had to tackle was hoisting the genoa. The wind was on our nose and with three people tackling the sail we quickly had her hoisted. By about 10:30 am we were ready to go. The wind kept piping up and there were numerous reports on the radio about gales and tsunamis. Should be a good day.
One nice thing about my slip in Blaine is that the nasty prevailing wind is usually right on the nose from the south, that makes getting out of the slip easy. We pulled out of the harbor and the wind started to immediately kick up. We hoisted the sail and dropped a single reef in the main. The wind was blowing about 20 kts and building. After about 15 minutes a big trawler passed us. We put in another reef and and pulled the genoa to the 3rd reef spot. About then the trawler turned around and headed into port.
Now it was just getting good.
Just after you round Birch point the water drops from about 60 feet to a couple of hundred feet. When the wind blows from the south the waves really like to build up. Today was no exception with waves cresting around eight feet with some big bonus waves thrown in. By now the lee rail was under water more often then not and the wind was right around 30 kts. Time to bring in the genoe and let out the stay sail. The new sail combination steadied things considerably. In another couple of minutes the waves mellowed out to a respectable 4-5 feet. We were now doing about 6+ kts headed towards Sucia.

Kalliope - Just off of Sucia

Now wind is a funny thing. Especially when it is coming right at you. The wind started to build, the waves started to build and we started to go slower. We would get these crashing waves that would break and send a shower raining over the cockpit. The helmsman would get completely drenched during the process. Now don't get me wrong about this while thing, it was a hell of a lot of fun. Kalliope is made for this kind of weather. Even though we had water coming into the cockpit, there was never a second of worry (well maybe when we buried the top of the coach roof we woke up a bit).
After we sailed to Sucia, the waves started building because of the shallow ridges and strong current in the area. Time to tack ... or at least try to tack. With the heavy waves and our lumbering speed (only about 4 kts now), we could not get the bow around the wind. At this point you have a couple of choices. First, you can spin the boat all of the way around and jibe. A jibe in a gale is not a good idea. Or you cheat and use the motor to help you get around. I decided to cheat. This worked extremely well and in no time we were headed towards Hale passages. Except now, the waves were at a different angle and we just got pounded. They where right on the beam and would sometime break over the windward side of the boat. We had a constant river of water flowing through the cockpit.
After an hour or so of this we made it to Hale passage. It was getting a bit late and I decided not to short tack up the channel and fired up the motor once more. Luckily the wind was out of the SE and Hale pass did not have any significant waves.
At the South end of Hale pass the wind seemed to calm and I thought about pulling out a reef for our reach home. Luckily, Brennon talked me out of it and we rounded Portage island for the final leg home. It was just getting dark and the wind decided to give us one more punch in the teeth. We started off doing a nice 6-7 kts with the boat nicely healed. Since I didn't pull a reef out of the main, I ended up letting the entire genoa out. Yowser, as the wind built we just got going faster and faster. 6.5kts. 7.2kts. 7.4kts (Hull speed).  7.8kts.  8kts! 8.44kts!  Yikes, I didn't know a Tayana could go that fast. As the wind built even further we started healing more until finally our speed started dropping and the entire coach roof of the boat was under water. That was probably healing a bit much ... but we were so close to home. Finally, I pulled the genoa into the 3rd reef and things stabilized nicely.
Another ten minutes and we were pulling all of the sails down and clearing the breakwater. Ten minutes after that we were tied up at the docks. Ten minutes after that we were up at the Yacht club drinking Margaritas. I really can't remember much after that.
I think there might have been a Tsunami that day too.

Blaine to Bellingham

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