Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Flukey Day

The wildlife show started just outside the boat launch.
Solitude III sprang forward as I sheeted in her main and jib, under sail for the first time in months.  I had just spent the last fifteen minutes heading west under power towards Hat Island,  while wrestling with the centerboard, which for unknown reasons had decided to jam itself in the full upright and locked position.  It sure was nice to finally kill the motor and feel the boat be whisked along, accompanied only the sound of the wind in the rigging and the water rushing under the hull.

I passed a favorite hang out of the local sea
lions while motoring out of the harbor. 

Sea lion nap time.

The dark gray clouds all around were illuminated by brilliant sun breaks.  The breeze was fresh, maybe 12kts SSE, and I was nearly on a run.  Solitude ploughed ahead almost gleefully under reefed main.  It turned out to be short lived, however.  I was planning to circumnavigate Hat Island and needed to jibe to get on course.  With the wind the way it was, I decided to do a chicken jibe (I always forget how docilely the boat jibes...).  I put the helm up, brought her around.  I came through and on to the other tack, but instead of tacking off, I stopped.  I jerked the sheets and wiggled the tiller...nothing.  I couldn't believe it.  The wind was gone.  12kts to calm in just a few seconds.  The winds would remain fluky throughout the day.

Under sail!

Not to be deterred, I rolled up the jib, fired up the noisemaker again, and resumed my journey to Hat Island.  I putted along, finally coming under the steep cliffs of the south end of the island.  I skirted up the west side, ans was just nearing the northwest corner when the motor sputtered and died, out of gas after only five miles.  I quickly replenished the 1/4 gallon tank, but before I could start her again, the wind kicked up and I was once again under sail. 

Completing the circumnavigation at that point would have required coming under the lee of Hat Island, something I wasn't about to do now that I had wind in my sails again.  So I held my course, heading towards the south end of Camano Island.  Ahead, I saw a kayak and what appeared to be a large passenger vessel coming more or less straight at me.  

All of a sudden, I heard a loud noise from over my left shoulder.  It was like a spray of water and a rush of air combined.  I spun around but didn't see anything.  And then there was another.  A plume of water rose skyward, maybe 100 yards off my port beam.  Whales!  

Whale ho!

Every year, gray whales migrate between their winter calving grounds in the Gulf of California to their summer feeding grounds in Alaska.  Of the migrating population of around 20,000,  a small group of these whales, about a dozen, break off from the usual migration route and head to a secret hole-in-the-wall feeding location...Possession Sound.  Here, roughly from March to May, they feast on ghost shrimp and other delicacies that appeal to a baleen whale's palette...up to a ton of food a day!

Gray whale spout can reach up to 30' high.

The whale I spotted was headed straight toward Hat Island, so I spun the boat around and headed the same direction.  The whale I saw also wasn't alone.  There were more spouts off, to port and starboard this time.  Three or four whales had me surrounded.   

The whales pulled ahead, and the boat (which turned out to be a whale watching boat) and the kayak joined up with me.  Despite trying to keep a respectful (and legal) distance, the whales (scofflaws if ever there were) would sometimes emerge so close to Solitude that I could smell their atrociously bad breath.  The whales swam down to the southwest corner of the island and then switched into feeding mode, working their way up the west side on the island and then north along the bar between Hat and Camano Islands.

Gray whale flukes

A couple of hours later, it was time to go home.  The tour boat, always on a schedule had left some time before and I had lost sight of the kayak.  The wind had abated some, and I contemplated shaking out the reef.  But, as I came around the west side of Hat Island, the wind started to pick up again.  The wind continued to build and some chop began to develop as I beat southward between Hat and Whidbey Islands.  Solitude III heeled over, settled into her sweet spot, and burst forward into the chop.  The sailing was downright exhilarating.

More spouts

I finally got far enough south to be able to clear Hat Island and settled in close hauled on the port tack, headed for home.  The about halfway across, the wind dropped off again and the seas turned glassy calm.  I had been doing about 4.5 kts close hauled, but now found myself barely managing a knot and a half if I dropped off onto a beam reach.  I decided to call it a day.  I fired up the outboard again, and motored back in.

Gray skies and gray whales, flukes and fluky winds.  What a day!  This was one of the dreams I had when building this explore places near and far, and have the kind of adventures that are best enjoyed in a small boat. 


  1. Jon this is awesome! Thank you very much for sharing these adventures with us. I love your boat. It is great. Thank you for this website.


  2. So cool to be sailing alongside whales! Great photos and video - I know it's not easy to catch them in action!

    1. Hey Sean, good to hear from you. Hope you're getting a chance to enjoy Garage Sail often.

      The grays migrate past you too, right? We could form the PocketShip Whale Watchers Association!