Fall Row 2012: Nearly Skunked in Skunk Bay

A terrible grinding sound woke me. I’d been asleep on the soft sand for a few hours;  startled, I assumed that I had misjudged the high tide line and that my boat was being pounded on the rocks.  I’d left B2 on guard outside the tent, and he failed to alert me of this danger!  I had to forgive him though. I was wrong: the tide had dropped and small waves were crashing on sand and cobble.  The rocks rolling back and forth in the water made the fearsome sound.

I woke again a few hours later to fierce shrieks and hisses.  This time I sprang up even faster, unintentionally yelling out.  But the noises were no dream: I know the sound of fighting raccoons and my mind immediately darted to my food bag.  Poking my head of my tent, I surveyed the scene; but the raccoons were not to be found and my food was still safely stowed.

Though it seemed I never would, I must have fallen asleep again; the next thing I remember, the first light of dawn was shining on my tent.  I scanned the horizon for wind and weather, and finding the conditions to be more tranquil than the night before, I hurriedly broke camp, loaded the boat and shoved off towards Foulweather Bluff.  My goal was to row eight miles to the northwest, pass through the Port Townsend canal on the ebb tide, and on to Port Townsend itself.  If I missed the ebb, I’d have counter currents and headwinds to deal with.

I had made it about 1,000 feet when the wind seemed to pick up, and the waves I had battled yesterday had grown even larger.  The wind and swell coming at me from the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and from Admiralty Bay in particular, had a fifteen-to-twenty mile uninterrupted stretch of open water in which to build up. I hadn’t considered this before, but now, as all that wind and water slammed into me and Skunk Bay, I found myself with a new understanding of the power of open water. I could only make slow northward progress and Terrapin was starting to take spray over the bow, which she normally doesn’t do.  Rowing to the west caused water to jump the gunwale if I didn’t do a twisting dance with each passing crest.  The dance was tiring and often required me to row with just one oar in the water. I had to stop and consider what to do next.

I dreaded the thought of being landlocked for another day or two, but I wasn’t so sure that under my captaincy, the Terrapin would make it through these conditions.  The breeze was up to ten knots and the weather prediction was for more wind later in the day and tomorrow.  I really wanted to get to Port Townsend, but it didn’t seem to be in the cards.

Reluctantly, I turned the boat toward the shore and rowed carefully.  I’d never had the Terrapin in such a large following sea, and she was sliding side to side more than I felt comfortable with.  On a surfboard, waves like this would push me to the shore quite nicely; but with no skegs and a higher center of gravity, my position seemed precarious.  For the first time on the trip I started to think I was doing something dangerous.  I wished I was wearing the dry suit that I had tucked away in the bottom of a completely inaccessible dry bag. And hoo boy, was I glad my wife wasn’t there to tell me what a fool I was.

Eventually, I came closer to the shore and the waves moderated somewhat.  I was too proud to go right back to my campsite, so I crept along the shore, not progressing much, but making some headway.  I felt dumb for being out in these conditions, but I certainly was having the adventure that I’d hoped for.  Slowly I found that I could make some westing by following the curvature of the bay towards the bluff.

As I rowed along, I noticed people in their houses reading newspapers, vacuuming, and doing all the mundane activities of daily life.  Didn’t they see me out there, struggling in the waves?  Wouldn’t someone send out a motor skiff to pick me up, or offer to have me inside for a cup of tea?  Not a soul looked up from their windows, as if the sight of a rowboat floundering in the waves was normal here.

I finally came upon a couple who were scrambling over logs and rocks, creeping towards the tip of Foulweather.  I found that I could stay just ahead of them, which gave me some hope that I could be speedy enough to row away from this boat trap.  My plan was to head to the point, determine if I could go west from there, and either go for it, or slink back into Skunk Bay.

I rounded the tip and was surprised to find the conditions no worse than inside the bay, so I took my trip’s slogan to heart and rowed like hell.  Water continued to slop in over the beam and the wind tried, in vain, to blow my hat off.  It was glorious, but tiring, rowing.  I sensed that my window of time make the ebb tide was closing. On my chart the distance seemed small, but I felt farther from shore and in larger water than I did during the four-mile crossing at the start of my trip.  I rowed on, never able to take a break without losing ground.

I regretted missing several places to stop and do some wildlife watching or port visiting, but I felt driven to make the canal before slack tide.  What should have taken me ninety minutes had now taken at least twice that.  I came upon a huge, seabird-covered rock which marked the entrance to Mats Mats Bay, but I couldn’t see it.  I definitely needed a break and wanted to bail out the boat, so I moved closer to the shore.

Like the gate to a hidden pirate’s lair, two rock headlands obscured the sinuous, narrow entrance to the bay.  As I pulled in between the rocks, the air felt calmer, a glassy stretch of water lay before me, and the boat seemed to move effortlessly towards a public dock at the end of the bay.

Note the sailboat and water condition in the photo above- this was taken without a zoom lense.  Now look at the photo below.  The same boat is on the horizon, just to the right of the center.  Like the change in water conditions inside the mouth of the bay?

Happy to be on shore again and alive, I wasn’t sure I would make it through the canal before the tide turned, so I contemplated my options while I ate some much needed lunch.  Somewhat revived, but still tired, I called Andy Boat for a hand.

“Hey Andy,” I said when he answered his phone.  “Are you out sailing by any chance?”

He was supposed to be moored at the Wooden Boat Festival, where his Tumlaren was going to be on display, but he was actually on the water.

“Do you think you could come pick up my sorry ass down here at Mats Mats Bay?”

“I would,” he said.  “But I have to be back at the dock in 30 minutes.”

I was an hour away.

“No worries,” I replied with false cheerfulness. “I’ll either see you later today or later, depending on what the weather gives me.”

“Be safe out there,” Andy admonished.

I was tired, but anxious to reach my destination,  and I still had an hour to go before slack tide ended. So I left the shelter of the bay and raced against time…

[Join us next week as our heroes attempt to run the gauntlet of Port Townsend Canal.  Will they make it?]


5 thoughts on “Fall Row 2012: Nearly Skunked in Skunk Bay

  1. Good tales here! Thanks for stopping by at Goat Island Skiff Amateur and keep the stories coming.

    Next time, tell Andy he needs to get his priorities straight or he loses out on a frothy beverages.

  2. Hi Bruce , People like you make it unnecessary for me to blog , I live in SF and row out of Bellingham in a 19′ pulling boat with a Piantadosi sliding seat … have covered 5′ covered fore deck and after deck w ‘ cockpit . I go through the San Juans and up to the Gulf Islands … takes a month or 6 weeks . Just bought a Drascombe Coaster that I’ll be sailing/ motoring out of PT with my Honey . My pulling boat is still my first love , don’t tell the Honey , and I will be rowing also . Great blog . I’d love to meet you . Dale

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