Leaving Kutz Inlet Waterfall Earlier than Anticipated only to Tackle the Scary Watts Narrows by Day’s End
As previously written, Dauntless got underway earlier than I. I woke up a little after 6 a.m. only to discover that we were about a ¼ mile from our anchoring spot We were a ¼ mile from where we were the previous night. I can determine from the Coastal Explorer track that we started drifting about 02:00, so in 4 hours we drifted a quarter of a mile down the inlet about ¼ mile from shore with depth now more than 200’.
I started the engine and we got underway.
It was a typical summer day in the Inside Passage, cloudy with rain showers on and off all day. Once we got into the main channel, we had a quiet day moving north. About midafternoon, we were passed by a humpback whale heading south.
Three hours later, we were approaching Watts Narrows, which we needed to pass thru to enter Baker Inlet, where we would anchor for the night near yet another waterfall.
There are hundreds of passages called “narrow” in S.E. Alaska and British Columbia. Watts Narrows was the narrowest and scariest that I have encountered since Northern Europe!
I’ll let the two videos speak for themselves. I made videos from inside the pilot house showing the Coastal Explorer chart and the Raymarine radar, while also taking GO Pro video from outside.
While the anchor was holding, I no longer liked the spot we were in. There were now two other boats in the anchorage, and they were more than a ¼ mile away. Maybe I better join them?
So, we moved. At 18:46 we were anchored in a new spot, much further from shore, but still on a slope. Bow anchor bearing was now 72’ @ 248°, I had 90’ of chain out in 40’ of water. I decided to put the stern anchor out. It’s a plow anchor with 10’ of chain and 300’ of nylon rode. This was just in case the bow anchor was not well set on the slope it was on.
For the next two hours I watched it. With two anchors out, I used the waterfall itself as a reference. The distance did not vary by more than 15 feet, I felt this was OK. Though our depth under the keel continued to lower as the tide went out. And because I had two anchors out, I did not have much scope on either line, with only about a 100’ out for each in 30’ of water.
But I wasn’t worried and with 12’ under the keel, I went to sleep, planning on an early departure the next day, so we could get to Prince Rupert, BC in two days.
I slept so very well. In my first years anchoring, I would awake every couple of hours, lay in bed feeling the motion and within a minute, convince myself that we were float free and clear. I’d then check the anchor alarm (Drag Queen), notice that it had turned itself off, so would get up to check that all was good. It always was good. In other words, my imagination was worse than the reality. I then go back to sleep, only to repeat the process a couple of hours later.
By years 3 & 4, waking up became less routine on the hook, as my 55# Delta anchor never dragged. Though I would still check occasionally in the worst weather.
In the last couple of years, I’ve become even more relaxed about anchoring. Having used the anchor alarm in years, mostly because I found it only went off, after I took the dingy to shore and was walking downtown. Additionally, my first-year anchoring miscues were not so much about the anchor dragging, but me anchoring in the wrong place with not enough water under the keel at low tide.
I wouldn’t call it complacent, I was finally just comfortable anchoring, knowing my boat and anchor. To a point where even last month, on our trip to Juneau, we had to shelter from a first storm in Farragut Bay. We anchored in a little cove that I had anchored in two times previously. While it was a lee shore, in that the wind was pushing us towards the shore just behind the boat.
All thru the night, Ti would wake me up every 20 minutes to tell me the wind was blowing as the boat rocked back and forth. The first time I did get up to check, but with 40 knot winds and rain, I couldn’t see anything, but could tell from the chart we were 172’ from the anchor, just where it was when I went to bed. I didn’t get up again.
Writing about this now, I will make my next video of this day, so you can see the charts.
Back to our story.
I woke up at 6 the next morning and almost always immediately upon waking up, I would get up and do a quick check even before I put any clothes on.
This morning, I knew we wanted to get underway, so I figured I’d take the 10 minutes to do my morning toilet, get dressed, then haul anchor, get underway and make coffee.
That plan worked so well.
So well in fact, that I even went into the engine room to check the oil level before I came up to the pilot house. Larry was still sleeping in his cabin, when I looked out the pilot house windows and noticed we were already underway!
We were a ¼ mile from where we were the previous night. I can determine from the Coastal Explorer track that we started drifting about 02:00, so in 4 hours we drifted a quarter of a mile down the inlet about ¼ mile from shore with depth now more than 200’
I figured Dauntless was in a hurry to get underway, so I obliged her.
As the winds finally let up after 10 days to let us get out of the tourist hell that is Cabo San Lucas, I was optimistic that having a functional dingy would give us increased stopping opportunities.
One of the key factors in deciding to burn money staying at the marina in Cabo for $100 per day was the lack of a serviceable dingy. Though, the reviews for anchoring outside the harbor, were mixed at best.
Leaving Cabo, the plan was to get a few days up the coast to wait out the next forecast period of strong northwesterly winds that preclude any movement north. Our goal was Magdalena Bay, a very large bay, similar to San Francisco Bay.
We had decided to bypass the anchorage off the Magdalena Bay entrance, as it did not look as protected as San Carlos, point another 12 miles north through a meandering, narrow channel. We were also looking forward to getting the taste of Cabo out of our systems be visiting a real Mexican town again.
Thus, the die was cast for Puerto San Lucas.
As we were passing the anchorage, heading up channel, we heard a call on the VHF, weak, but readable, in Spanish, telling us something. Again, my Spanish stinks, so I wasn’t sure what was being said, but I guessed it was about Puerto San Lucas and we’d figure it out when we got there. I’d already made the decision that the anchorage at Magdalena Bay was too open for my likes.
12 miles and two hours later, as we approached Puerto San Lucas, we got the call again. This time, it was loud and clear that the port was closed due to the anticipated high winds. I suspected that, so we told them we were going to head a couple miles further north to anchor in the lee of the mangroves. That was met with happy approval, since it was clear in the tone of the conversation, that the port captain didn’t like telling us the port was closed to us.
We proceeded north another few miles which put us right on the edge of the charted area of both the C-Map and Navionics charts. Going very slowly as the water shallowed, at one point, I did let us get out of the channel and had to rapidly reverse to avert the 17th grounding of my career (but who’s counting?)
Video of us approaching out anchorage
Anchored in about 10 feet of water, with 100 feet of chain and snubber for the anticipated winds, we were quite content. The winds were already 15 to 20, gusting to the high 20’s, but with no fetch, the seas were very small, less than half a foot, and Dauntless was rock steady.
We did swing around overnight due to the current, but my 55-pound Delta anchor has never dragged since I got it 4 years ago. I don’t even bother with an anchor alarm anymore, but I admit that’s because I have given up on Drag Queen probably because it turns itself off due to poor reception in my cabin and more importantly, I don’t anchor off lee shores.
Having sleep like a baby, the previous two nights having been spent underway, we woke up full of piss and vinegar. Time to take the dingy to Puerto San Lucas and check out the action, well more like, check out the food.
Now, not being totally stupid, I decided to go upwind for a bit to see how well the dingy and its puny 5 hp outboard could handle the conditions. As you can see from the video, all looked great, though the winds were blowing 20 to 25 knots.
Did I do the math? No. Puerto San Lucas was about 2.5 to 3 miles away; downwind.
But we set off with the winds to our back, the only concern was where we could land the dingy. Not knowing that location was mistake number #1.
Mistake #2 was I have two handheld VHF radios. The primary one, the ICOM, battery could no longer charge, so that was on the list of things to replace. The secondary one, the Chinese whatever, would take real rocket scientist to figure out how to use, thus it was relegated to some storage container someplace where I put things I don’t feel like dealing with.
Video of our test lap
Besides, why would we possibly need a radio.
Twenty minutes later, zipping right along, maybe a half mile upwind of town, wondering where we could land the dingy. We see a man cast fishing, standing in about 1 to 2 feet of water maybe a few hundred feet from shore. Let’s head there.
As we get closer, we finally realize we are running of water. Umm, those rocks look so close. I reach to unlatch the outboard, so it can tilt upwards and as I fiddle with the lever, ge-clunk, the prop hits a rock or two and we are in half a foot of water.
We get out the oars, yes, I remembered to take them, only to realize we are hard aground, as the wind continues to push us towards shore.
I jump out, to get us turned around, Larry starts to row. Some minutes later, we are in deeper water, enough to start the outboard.
Rule #1, when running aground, follow the same route out as you followed in. Mistake #3, not following Rule #1. We were further to the west than our track in.
Getting the outboard started we decided to head back to Dauntless. The outboard had a bad vibration; I’d bent the prop. That, the 25 knot headwinds with the now 1 to 2-foot seas it produced, along with a heavier dingy and two people, meant that our downwind speed of probably 5 to 6 knots, was now about 2 knots.
Every minute we would be splashed by a breaking wave. We couldn’t see Dauntless at all. I knew where she was, but clearly, we were more than 2 miles away. That meant, we had an hour of this.
That’s when we went aground again. This time coupled with a belching of very black motor oil, like the Exxon Valdez had passed through. I thought I had totaled the outboard, as in the prop hitting a solid object was enough to break a connecting rod inside the motor.
But the motor started up and we seemed to crawl northwards. I didn’t know where the oil (about a cup worth) had come from, but I expected the motor to quit at any moment. The winds and seas were too strong to row again. Even with the outboard still running, we were doing at best 2 knots.
We discussed contingency plans.
We decided to head north until the boat came into sight and hope the motor lasted long enough. I kept on asking Larry if he thought we were making any progress. That guy fishing was still quite visible, while Dauntless was no where to be seen. This went on for the next 30 minutes, until it was obvious that we were making progress. Though I wondered for how long. The outboard was clearly on its last legs, shaking itself to death with no oil.
We decided that if the outboard quit, we would have to head west to the shore, about 1 mile away. We could not go upwind, but if we angled across the wind, we should be able to make shore. At that point, we would get out and walk along the shore in deep enough water to drag the dingy north. Once NW of Dauntless, we would row to her.
We were cold and wet, but having a plan that was at least feasible, made me feel slightly better. Though I was feeling miserable that I was subjecting Larry to this fiasco. That was making me feel worse. When I’m alone and fuck up, I deal with it. But I hate for others to suffer because of my actions. This is why I like being alone many times. I don’t feel stressed nor responsible for anyone else. If I torture myself, so be it, I deserved it.
The Kadey Krogen came into sight after about 40 minutes since we stared heading back. She blended well into the background. The outboard sounded worse than ever. I pictured it quitting within feel of Dauntless. With these winds and waves, no way could we have rowed to her. Even if we were 100 feet away, we would probably have to row to shore, a half mile away, and do our drag up the coast to get upwind of her.
I crossed my fingers and toes.
About this time, we saw a panga heading south. But it was about a half mile to our east and by the time we saw it, it was well south of us. Had I seen it earlier, I would have waved it down. He could have towed us to Dauntless in 10 minutes. But it wasn’t to be. I was reminded how stupid it was, especially under such conditions, to venture forth without a radio.
For 30 minutes we watched Dauntless get bigger and bigger. I prayed to Poseidon, Circe and whoever would listen to just get there. Finally, as I bumped into the swim platform and Larry grabbed ahold, I breathed a sigh of relief. We’d made it.
Getting the dingy rigged to the winch line, I decided to see if the outboard would start. No, it was done. I was grateful it kept on going that last hour.
I’ve written before about the “having two keys”. There have been countless times when I have lost a key but had duplicates someplace. Whereas I can never remember having lost a key when it was my only one. I wondered if I was more careless than usual because I knew I had another outboard in the future? My friend Mike had promised to give me his spare 15 hp outboard when I got to Southern California.
One never knows, but everything is connected, even when you think it isn’t.
The following day, leaving for Magdalena Bay anchorage, to give us a better head start the next day.
As soon as my eyes opened due to the light thru my porthole. I got up; it was time to get out of here. My night was not as restful as it should have been. I was eager to get to the next stop which as I had read about on Active Captain, virtually guaranteed me an easy, peaceful, steady night.
I use Active Captain to search the best places for the current weather and sea conditions. In North America, I find it indispensable.
I was so happy to get underway. If you are going to be rolling around, you may as well do it while making miles. I had a long day ahead of me, so I got going, before I made my Vietnamese coffee.
Which will be another crisis looming in the distant horizon, the day I run out of Vietnamese coffee. I really like it. I can make it very, very strong, almost like espresso, but it is not bitter. At some point, I may think about importing it into the US.
But I digress.
It’s 06:30, I’m heading WNW to get around the cape’s further north and it’s a grey day. With broken clouds, only a few patches of sky and rain showers from the previous evening’s thunderstorms lingering to the north and west.
I don’t mind the storms. It all depends on the winds. As
long as the winds are favorable I’m happy. On those days that I have choice as to leave or not depending on the weather, I pretty much only look at the winds. On a boat, the winds, speed and direction, are what makes a difference. The boat is made to get wet, I don’t worry about rain.
Today the winds are light and while it’s a long day, it wasn’t bad at all. As I arrive at my planned anchoring location, I am a bit perplexed because it doesn’t look like what I’d pictured from the charts.
Or I should say chart. In one of the more bizarre aspects of my mind, I’ll make a plan and then when it comes time to execute, forget the main reason I made the plan in the first place. I can only chuckle.
In this case, for the last 4 years, I make it a rule to always have two electronic charts available. The primary is on the boat’s computer and runs with Coastal Explorer, my navigation program. I’m running C-Map (ex-Jeppesen) charts mainly because they are the most cost effective for world-wide coverage.
My secondary is Navionics running on my tablet. Also, extremely cost effective for tablets.
Except I left my tablet, who was dying from battery failure in Viet man, planning on getting a cheap tablet while in NYC. But then I decided while in NYC to save a few pennies, since I’m only spending thousands of dollars a month on Dauntless.
I forgot about my Navionics charts.
Until now. At some point, I will do a review of the two charts, C-Map versus Navionics, but now, I just missed the other’s perspective.
Just then with the sun setting, a small open boat comes by and I decide to overcome my shyness and ask in my crappy Spanish for his recommendation for a good anchoring spot.
I do and he does. I follow him about a quarter of a mile and he puts me on the spot.
In 26 feet of water I put out the anchor and snubber (I always use a snubber bridle, that takes the chain load off the bow pulpit and puts it to the bow hawse pipes and cleats).
This spot was ideal. Even with the slight current, the boat felt like it was on land. It would slide around 90° every 6 hours, but the movement was not even noticeable.
I stayed here two nights. In the 12 overnight hours, the boat moved 0.01 nm; the previous night, the boat moved (while on anchor) 1.7 nm!
I slept 10 hours straight and spent the next day doing more cleaning, organizing and minor stuff.
Day 3 Summary: Engine Start 06:20, stop 18:07; uw 11:39, 78.1 nm, avg speed 6.7 kt. Average Roll while underway, +7° to -9°, delta of 16°; extreme rolls delta 20° (not bad, half of what it was crossing the Atlantic)
Anchored off Isla Cedros & Jesusita in 26 feet water with 120’ of chain out.
That’s what we’ve been doing all night. Winds have been 20 gusting to 35 since yesterday afternoon. Waterford is in a relatively sheltered spot in Ireland, so I’m guessing the winds are really howling in the north and west.
During the night, it was like I was sleeping in one of those rocking cribs. Really nice; made even nicer knowing I am tied to a dock that isn’t going anywhere. It even made me think about why I don’t miss our beautiful Manhattan apartment with the roof top garden oasis, we built a few years ago. I did the design and found a carpenter to do all the hard work. The apartment is now rented; we may sell it this summer. But lying in bed last night, feeling the rocking motion of the water, brought home to me how close I am to nature here and how comforting that is. So while I miss my NY friends; the apartment Julie and I loved so much for 7 years, less so.
Fundamentally, maybe that’s why in the middle of the Atlantic, thousands of miles from anywhere, we were at peace. In fact, the lure of the blue ocean, to just jump in, was unbelievably strong. Never something to fear, we embraced it. The ocean was also noticeably saltier than near the coast.
Back to now, these winds would have been much more stressful if we were on anchor. I would have gotten only a few hours’ sleep, at most.
The main reason for lack of sleep on anchor is that in spite of the various anchor alarms I use (alarms that use GPS and sound an alarm if we move a specified distance). On numerous occasions, I have convinced myself that we are moving laterally. I don’t think I have ever been right either, but the feeling is so strong, I must get out of bed, and run to the pilot house, prepared to fire up the engine at the first sign of danger. Being in a dark forward cabin is one of the factors that cause this. It has certainly made me even more aware of the dangers of vertigo that pilots face in dark, FIR conditions. And the only cure trusts your instruments and not your brain.
So for the last few hours I have been finishing the pilot house reorganization. 90% of the stuff is put away and I’ve just been doing the odds and ends today. I’m writing this post now, sitting in the salon, because while in the pilot house not long ago, I realized I was getting sea sick!
Yes, tied to a dock, going no place, I was getting sea sick. Maybe I just needed a little water, but that is usually the first sign. 20 minutes later, I’m fine now. I think having my head under the helm station for an inordinate amount of time was the culprit. But we are also bouncing in a non-rhythmic way. Since Dauntless is tied to a floating dock, under such conditions, the lines pull on the dock, resulting in a jarring motion.
I’ll adjust the lines again. I let you know the results.