Cruise to Spencer Spit


After what seemed like an endless refit, but was really only about the half way point, based on Captain Ron’s list for Duet, we decided we should actually take her somewhere to try out all this new gear. So we returned to Seattle in early April and set off for the San Juan Islands. The trip north was uneventful, we left on a weekday so there was little traffic and the weather was calm. While we will probably never say locks aren’t a big deal, we are comfortable enough with the Ballard Lock now that we approach it with caution, as opposed to trepidation, which makes for a much easier journey. During the trip Ron spent some time communing with Duet’s main engine, although Nancy thinks it looks more like he’s reading it a bedtime story.

Ron and the main engine


We anchored at Spencer’s Spit, which, funnily enough, is the first place we anchored with a chartered Krogen 42 back in 1997. We had just bought our first boat, a Monk 36, after years of chartering sailboats. We had chartered a Monk on the Chesapeake Bay, our home cruising grounds at the time, and decided that trawlers were for us. The Krogen charter, as is often the case with boats, immediately convinced us that we needed a larger boat, even though we had only had the Monk for about 6 months.

Part of this power versus sail decision was based on Tristan and Maggie, our two Labrador retrievers, who didn’t do well with life on a sailboat slant. Also, frankly, we like our creature comforts, and after figuring out that we would need at least a 50 foot sailboat to manage A/C, a generator, etc., we decided that trawlers were a better answer. Nordhavn was part of our lives, even then, as we had seen a 46 in Dana Point the previous year. Our salesman, Dennis Lawrence (now with Kady Krogen in Seattle) advised us to purchase a small trawler and learn more about boating, before embarking on the purchase of a 46. So we did. 

Anyway, anchoring at Spencer’s Spit brought back memories, and we spent a pleasant evening reminiscing. We deployed the new flopper stopper, which worked like a charm, fending off ferry wakes and other motion with ease. The new hook also worked beautifully, setting like a rock on the first try and holding despite our increasing efforts to pull it out.

Duet at Spencer Spit


Our anchoring process hasn’t changed since we started boating, we set the hook slowly (creeping up on it, as Captain Ron likes to say) and, once all the chain has been laid out, we pull harder and harder in reverse. Ron monitors our position using binoculars and anything he can use as a range ashore, while Nancy stands ready to shove the shifter into forward if things don’t work out as planned.

On the 46, we would back down on the anchor at engine RPMs that replicated the forces of particular wind speeds. Ron had constructed a useful table of wind speeds versus engine RPM. In this way, we could reassure ourselves that the hook would hold in the highest wind that was expected. We have not yet constructed such a table for the 50. The engine on the 50 is so much larger, and it seems to develop awesome thrust at relatively low RPM. So far the big Rocna has been up to anything we have thrown at it, but we have never backed down at more than 1150 RPM. Cruising RPM on this boat is about 1650.

Ron still wasn’t happy with the way the chain and the windlass were interacting. Nancy, who watches from the pilothouse while Ron deals with the anchor, has seen literally miles of chain pass across windlass gypsies over the years, and she was sure something wasn’t right. One for the punch list on our return. Ron still hadn’t installed the new aft chain roller, but since we were putting chain out, rather than pulling it in, we had no issues with the anchor coming up over the nose, just with the way the chain ran off the gypsy.

 The next morning we considered going ashore. Unfortunately, it appeared that our dinghy, while it had nearly everything else, did not have an anchor. Or, if it did, we couldn’t find it. This sounds funny, but in the year we have had Duet, we had found several compartments we didn’t know existed, full of exciting gear. Most of it has been parts, but we also found several nice salon cushions in a storage area, which was under a storage area, which was under the pilothouse bench seat. They appeared to have never been used, so it is possible that Duet’s previous owner never found that compartment either.

Taking the dinghy ashore without an anchor was a nonstarter. The PNW has considerable tidal range. The dinghy is heavy. Once we got it ashore, we weren’t sure we could launch it again, if it ended up too far up the beach during a falling tide. Conversely, during a rising tide, it stood a good chance of floating away, and Nancy wasn’t in the mood to swim after it. So we stayed on the boat, doing various tasks and getting used to being out on the hook again.

After several nice days at Spencer Spit, we decided to return to Seattle, albeit a few days before our original plan, to avoid a weather front working it’s way down from the Gulf of Alaska. We departed early in the morning, having used Nobeltec’s new (to us anyway) route planning tool to calculate our departure and arrival times, incorporating the current.

We have found this tool, after some testing, to be relatively accurate. Unlike some cruisers, we enter waypoints along the way, rather than prior to departure, although we do put together a rough idea of how the trip will look in the route planner. This rough analysis gives us approximate distances and an estimate of the overall trip time, which is useful for planning.

In our experience, things tend to intrude on carefully planned routes. These things include, but are not limited to, other boats, dredges, buoys which have moved or are temporary, etc. In one memorable instance, we arrived at the Cape Fear outer buoy at around 3AM, to find that the entire channel had been moved while we were in the Bahamas. In this case, the intrusion was to be the US Coast Guard, who decided to board us.

We have never, in all our years of cruising, been boarded by the Coast Guard. We have no idea why, as we have traveled in areas known for boarding and many of our friends have been boarded on the same routes we took. Finally, however, it was our turn.

Duet was southbound, just outside the channel in Admiralty Inlet. For those not familiar with the geography of the PNW, the San Juans are north of the Straight of Juan de Fuca, while Seattle is south. The inbound Straight ends at the northern end of the Puget Sound, on which Seattle is located. So, to return to Seattle from the San Juans, one must cross the busy shipping lanes of Juan de Fuca. There are traffic schemes which define which vessels go where in this crowded area. Admiralty Inlet, where the channels all come together, is similar to a traffic circle used by automobiles. In the chart below the center of each traffic scheme is shown in purple. All traffic keeps to the right, respectively.

Admiralty Inlet

While traveling in crowded areas with a lot of commercial shipping, we make a point of staying out of the traffic lanes whenever we can. Ships, tugs and other large vessels remain in the traffic lanes and are limited by their draft. Duet, while considered a relatively deep draft boat by some, nevertheless is able to operate in water depths of about 10 feet without undue concern. We are big believers in the rule of gross tonnage, namely the bigger guy is always right, so we always get out of the way.

So there we were, chugging along southbound just outside the southbound traffic lane, rather like a bicycle on the side of the road. Ahead was a Coast Guard vessel, moving slowly, even further off the lane than we were. In the water just ahead of it, was a small fast moving inflatable, chasing a large motor yacht. Nancy, who watches these interactions with great interest, said to Ron “look it’s the Coast Guard and they are going to board that motor yacht”. Ron, having listened to Nancy’s theories about what’s going on out there, which sometimes are right, but can also be wrong, made a noncommittal noise and kept Duet trucking on her course to Seattle.


Coast Guard mothership

After watching the inflatable catch the motor yacht, and the Coast Guard personnel board the yacht, and getting Ron to watch said boarding, Nancy proposed another idea “they are going to board us next”. Ron, again relying on years of experience with Nancy’s theories, and what he regards as almost a paranoia about authority, replied “no way”. The Coast Guard personnel then departed the yacht and returned to the mother ship, which had been keeping pace with us and the motor yacht. Ron, having been married a long time, carefully said nothing. Nancy said “ they are going to have lunch and then will board us”. Ron again said nothing. Since it was lunch time, we had lunch.

In the meantime, we continued south, at about 8 knots. The Coast Guard vessel, now with it’s inflatable back aboard, kept station with us at a similar speed about ½ mile off our starboard side. Once we (and presumably they) finished lunch the inflatable went back in the water. Nancy refrained from commenting on this. Ron, comfortable in the knowledge that the Coast Guard would definitely call us on the radio before boarding, sat in the helm seat watching our course.

Within about 5 minutes, without a radio call, the inflatable came alongside the pilothouse door. Nancy stepped outside, without making any comments to Ron (although she was sorely tempted) to see what they wanted. The personnel on the inflatable had two questions, first, how many people aboard, and, second, did we have any weapons? The answers, two, whom you can see in the pilothouse and no, made them comfortable enough to say we are going to board you.

Coast Guard inflatable


Since this was a new experience, Ron and Nancy weren’t sure how to proceed. We asked if we should slow down, they said no, maintain speed and course. So Ron stayed in the pilothouse and Nancy went aft to greet them, while keeping her hands in plain sight. Two members of the three member team came aboard, a female officer and a male crewman, while the inflatable driver remained with his vessel. 

Boarding was somewhat precarious, as Duet throws a wake at the transom, we were moving at 8 knots, there was a slight sea running and our swim step is about 6 inches wide where they chose to board. Also, it was raining, so everything was slippery. Nevertheless, the two made it on board safely. They were wearing foul weather gear, lifejackets and boots, and carrying radios, hand guns, cell phones, handcuffs and a clip board. Rather like the Nevada Highway Patrol, but without the Taser, and with the lifejackets, foul weather gear, boots and clip board.

Nancy fetched Duet’s documents binder, which was given to the junior crew member to review and complete the paperwork. The female officer wanted to see our bilges, our heads and our engine room. That being Captain Ron’s domain, Nancy took the wheel and Ron set off for the tour. In addition, Nancy also explained that all our fire extinguishers had recently been inspected (thank you Jeff for insisting on that) and that we had two automatic systems (one in the engine room and one in the lazarette), as well as at least 5 extinguishers in the various compartments of the vessel. This seemed to satisfy the fire extinguisher review.

Ron took the officer below, showed her our holding tank overboard valve with it’s cable tie, which was satisfactory. We did not, however, have Waste Management placards affixed near each head. This was a new requirement for Nancy, she didn’t recall seeing it anywhere, but, whatever, we didn’t have the placards. We did have a Waste Management Plan (namely how we manage our trash) as well as a Waste Management placard affixed to the side of the trash compactor. We also have a ‘No Oil Discharge’ placard in the engine room.

Fortunately, the officer was nice about it, and wrote us a warning about the placards. She did inform us if we were boarded again without them we would get a ticket, so they went on Nancy’s immediate buy list. It turns out, for those interested, that West Marine has free Waste Management placards, which we taped to the inside of the locker doors where the head valves are located in both heads.

The officer then asked to see the engine room. Since the engine was running, Ron brought up the subject of ear protection, as he doesn’t like folks going into the engine room without it and we have only one set of ear muffs. She had no ear protection, so we satisfied the engine room inspection by showing it on our engine room camera, which fortunately can zoom and pan.

Meanwhile the junior crew member copied down all our information, and checked us with the mother ship via radio. Duet is a Coast Guard documented vessel, so she has a Coast Guard number, as well as a MMSI (Marine Mobile Service Identity) for emergencies. She also has licenses for her SSB radio and for Captain Ron to operate it. These are not required in the US, but since we plan to visit foreign countries, we figured we would get them now. Our documentation was in good order.

Funnily enough, they didn’t inspect our flares or life raft, just our life jackets. Nancy, who had carefully sorted out all the flares, as we keep them all, even if they are expired, was disappointed, but apparently we were “inshore” and so did not need flares. They did count life jackets, but since there were only the two of us aboard and we had our Mustang Survival auto inflating jackets hanging in the pilothouse locker, we were OK there.

The Coast Guard departed on good terms, after about 20 minutes. The boarding of the inflatable was even more hair raising than the boarding of Duet, Nancy was only hoping their mother ship was able to assist, as she really didn’t want to go in the water if one of them fell in. Nancy did consult a retired Coast Guardsman, whom she swims with back home, about this practice. He said that boarding vessels underway is a macho thing, and he wasn’t at all surprised that they did it this way.

Fortunately, this experience didn’t slow us down much, although it did give Nancy a great opportunity to say “I told you so”. Having been married for many years, she didn’t and got Captain Ron tea and a cookie instead. Duet rumbled on, and we arrived in Poulsboro without further incident. There we offloaded the dinghy, with no fanfare thanks to the new davit, and went ashore for ice cream, which we felt we deserved after all this excitement.

During our stay at Poulsboro, Ron installed the new aft anchor roller. We held our breaths during testing, but it worked like a charm. The hook came up, the aft end of it tried to lift, the aft roller kept the chain down, and the hook, with a loud thump, came up onto the roller without further ado. We tested it multiple times, same result. So Ron judged it fixed, but kept it on the watch list.

New anchor system

The chain, in the meantime, still wasn’t playing well with the gypsy. A close examination of the chain noted that it was stamped G43, which according to the research materials we had access to, is the same as G40, which is what we thought we had. So we decided to discuss this with Jeff on our return.

We returned to Seattle several days later. Again, our time on Duet was far too short, but we were pleased with the results of our new gear installations, and were much looking forward to returning Memorial Day week.

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