The Strait of Juan de Fuk Ya

August 26th – 31st

We awoke early to a gray, drizzly NW morning. There was a sense of urgency as we prepared coffee and got ourselves dressed. We were anchored in Blind Bay, off of Shaw island and we needed to make Port Angeles, by the end of day. We quickly donned our foul weather gear, readied the boat, and hoisted anchor. As we left the bay, we did a drive by and shout out to Dick and Beverly on Mistral. We had spent two days with them in this little bay and we were going to miss them.  We saw Beverly emerge from their cabin, she came out and waved and took some photos of our departure; but we missed saying goodbye to Dick. We learned later, that he came right out and was waving his goodbyes……..but we never looked back. We were intent on the job at hand. 

Getting to Port Angeles, more than 60 miles away, would entail leaving the bay and heading east, before traveling down the narrows between Shaw and Lopez, past Fisherman’s Bay, and into the San Juan Channel, which runs south between Lopez and San Juan islands. Emerging finally into the eastern mouth of the notoriously ill tempered Strait of Juan de Fuca.  Where we would have another 30 miles to go; crossing completely to the other side and west to arrive at Port Angeles before dark.

As it turned out, we had a fairly easy trip of it. The winds came up and brought some waves with it. We pitched up and crashed down for a couple of hours in the mid afternoon. But for the most part it was pretty non eventful. We only saw two tankers in the shipping channels and they were miles away at their closest. And so we arrived triumphant, optimistic, and on our own at last, into Port Angeles: on the eastern edge of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and our launching pad for the adventure to come.

Port Angeles is the largest city on the northern Olympic Peninsula. It is located due south of Victoria, Canada on Vancouver Island and a private ferry company shuttles travelers back and forth the between the cities. It sits on the edge of the Olympic National forest, the only temperate rain forest in North America, and the National Park Service have their office there.

It has both fishing and shipping industry as well as some residual logging……it is definitely a blue collar town. And even with the tourist traffic traveling to Victoria or out to explore the magnificent wilderness of Olympic National Park, the city clings stubbornly to its rough and tumble history and personality.

Port Angeles and the spectacular Olympic Mountains.

The harbor master fit the town perfectly. He was crude, colorful and friendly enough on his own terms. He smelled of diesel fuel, he possessed a wry sense of humor and he was chatty. When I asked if we could purchase ice he slowly replied, “ice? Now thats a long story…..”  before relaying the day that the ice machine met its demise some months prior. Later, when a power boater had the gall to call him on their cell phone from the fuel dock, just 20 yards away and right outside of his window…..”does he think that I cant see him? He’s gonna call me? He cant walk up here? That sum bitch will get fuel when I am damn good and ready!” And again, when another transient asked about laundry…”laundry? Thats a long story……”

Monday was a work day. With all of that pitching the day before, we discovered that we had a leak. Worse yet, the leak was in our cabin……my clothing  and our bed had gotten soaking wet! So we hauled everything out into the sunshine to dry and began mopping up. 

Leaks on a boat can be very hard to trace. Where the drip appears may be several feet from where it actually came in. Based on the location on the fore deck, we had our immediate suspect locations:; the windlass is bolted on up there, as are both our fore stays, there are four cleats, and of course, the life line stanchions. We removed our ceiling to expose all of the hardware and take a look. It turned out to be the sealant between the cap rails and the deck….which was by far the easiest fix out of what we had considered. So I spent the afternoon caulking, and we did laundry and continued to dry everything out. We had determined that Wednesday AM, on the outgoing tide was our best time to depart and the caulk would have to cure.  We just managed to get everything done in time.

Tuesday morning brought with it a distinct desire for breakfast…….we were hungry and needed supplies. Plus we wanted to explore the town. So we hiked into town to eat and explore the shops and waterfront. It is a great salve to the body to get out and walk after being on a boat for days! We bought fresh produce, pork chops and salmon at the local market. Window shopped at the cheesy tourist shops and treated ourselves to a slice at Strait Slice Pizza Co. 

Strait Slice is a funky little place with GREAT pizza. There is a turntable playing music from a library of vinyl albums. There are  just a couple of tables for seating inside and a patio on the sidewalk. The walls are lined with surfing photos and what appeared to be a random head shot of Sid Vicious. Scott, the owner, is a passionate surfer, and not only does he make great pizza, but he is a really nice guy. He took an interest in us and shared some weather and current apps that he likes to use when surfing. If, by chance you find yourself in Port Angeles, go get a slice, you won’t regret it!

Scott at Strait Slice

Wednesday, came quickly. We got up made some hot coffee and readied the boat. We motored over to the fuel dock to top off and headed out at about 9am to catch the ebb tide. Our goal was to reach Cape Flattery, at the western end of the strait, before dark. We raised the main in the harbor and motored out,  past the coast guard station and into the vast channel.  We intended to motor sail the whole way in order to get there as fast as possible. 

The Strait of Juan de Fuca is nearly 100 miles long. It runs east and west and is the gateway to the pacific for the Salish Sea (the Salish Sea is defined as, the strait of Juan de Fuca, the Strait of Georgia, Puget Sound and all the waters in between; from Desolation sound in the north, to Olympia Washington in the south). At the entrance, in the west, the channel is about 12 miles wide. It continues to widen as it moves east and is approximately 16 miles wide at its eastern edge. It is bordered on both sides by magnificent wilderness; Vancouver Island makes up its northern edge, while the Olympic peninsula borders it to the south. The international boundary between the US and Canada runs right down the middle of the passage. It is a large, fast moving, notorious body of water.  It is not to be taken lightly and it won’t suffer fools. As we were about to discover. 

The Salish Sea

The wind was a steady 12 knots on our nose as we began passing west of PA. The current was moving at a steady pace and there was some chop……similar to stuff that we had seen before. Not comfortable, but not scary. Two hours in, we were climbing 5 foot waves. They were steep and they were in close succession. So that as we came down one wave, we immediately started up the next one. This makes the rise from the trough to the crest very steep. The result being that the bow goes strait up and then “crashes”/falls down on the other side, shooting waves of curling water out to the sides of the boat and immediately starting up the next wave to repeat the process.

Two and a half hours in and the wind had never abated. It had increased to gust over 20 knots, steady out of the west. It had been blowing fast and steady from the same direction for several hours now. The amount of time that the wind stays on the water, from the same direction, is called fetch. Fetch, along with currents and water depth, is one of the biggest contributors to wave height. 

So we had the wind and the swell on our nose from the west and the current of the ebb tide on our stern; and both the wind and the waves were increasing. Climb up, crash down, climb up crash down……..We had salt water up to the rails inside the boat, the scuppers could not drain fast enough to empty out before we took more water on. Over and over again for the next twenty minutes in steep seven foot waves now……wind whistling……bow shoots straight up…..crash…..waves curl out from the crashing bow…… water rushing down the side rails……. ocean spray across the dodger and up again we climb. 

We were three hours into what was supposed to be an 9 hour day and we were not happy! We came down off of a couple of pretty big waves in a row and crashed into the trough. And then it just appeared, we were in the trough and would need to climb to the top of the next wave. But no wave appeared. In front of us was a vertical wall of water. It did not even have the courtesy to pretend to be a wave, for it had no roundness, no curvature at all. It was a 10 foot tall vertical wall of water…… Epiphany did not even begin to climb it. She collided with it, and the whole boat shuddered as she defiantly stabbed her bow right through the Wall’s mid section. And then in slow motion, we watched the wall begin to fold inward on both sides, until it curled and crashed onto Epihany’s bow. The bow submerged, the water came shooting down the boat and smashed into the face of the dodger, before breaking over the top and filling our cockpit. I was at the helm and Julie was hard against the dodger. When the wash came into the cockpit she instinctively leaned in and away from the water. In doing so, the cabin hatch cover was pushed open; twenty gallons of ocean water and sea weed went down into the cabin! 

Enough was enough. We had come nearly half way but, it was only going to get worse and we have said that we would always err on the side of caution. We had suffered from hubris, we had not double checked the weather or asked local sailors for their input. We had not offered Neptune a dram of our wine or asked his permission to use his strait; and we had not considered that we might not be able to go, just because we had declared our intention to do so! We turned Epiphany around and began the three hour trek back to safe harbor in PA. We rode big following seas, which tossed us around a bit, for two solid hours, before the wind and waves began to calm down in the wider, eastern section of the channel. 

As we re entered the harbor in Port Angeles; the wry Harbor Master, with more than a little gleam in his eye remarked…… “back so soon?” Later, when Julie asked him if we were the first ones to go out into the strait and have to turn back, he paused before replying in his practiced slow drawl  “well….…..your’e the first today.” 

And so we began the process that we had just completed a few days before. Taking our cushions, and half of our belongings out into the sunshine, mopping up the water and doing laundry. In the end, it was a good lesson at a cheap price. We had a cold, wet uncomfortable day. But we had learned some things too. Epiphany was none the worse for wear. In fact, I think that she was secretly disappointed that we turned back. She is up for more than we are!

Forty eight hours later, we left Port Angeles at 4AM. We were studied in the current forecast for each sub section of the strait for that day; we had talked with multiple local captains to hear their strategies; and we had made the proper gestures of respect to Neptune the night before, toasting his benevolence and sharing a dram of our wine. The day was fair and mild. It was an entirely different body of water in all respects, kind and gentle. Even playful, as it would send an occasional reminder of our previous discomfort…..a gust of wind, the splash of a wave, ocean spray on our face, only to settle  immediately down again…… “naw, I was just kidding, you learned your lesson, you may pass.

At 2;30 PM on the last day of August, we finally emerged out of the Salish Sea and into the vast wonder of the Pacific Ocean. We were delirious with adrenalin and a sense of accomplishment. Relief washed over us as the sun shone down and we felt warmth for the first time in days. We made lunch and toasted our success. And as we rounded the outlying rocks , off Cape Flattery and the north western tip of the continental US……., we hoisted our sails and turned south west. We were about to spend our first night at sea!

4 thoughts on “The Strait of Juan de Fuk Ya

  1. “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, dream, discover.” Quote by Mark Twain seems appropriate!

    Well done on doing it!

    Beverly and Dick


  2. Oh my gosh, “page turner” if I had a page to turn! You guys are great and tell a good story. I could picture each scene although I blew it on Scotts stache, didn’t expect it! Love you both


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