The trip through the Salish Sea from Seattle and northward in the Inside Passage to Juneau and the cruising grounds around Alaska’s Capital was always a whim. We did the trip on the Alaska State Ferry in 1983 for two weeks with two bicycles, panniers for each, a backpacking tent and pitched it on the ferry’s steel aft deck – a floating party of kindred souls who did not want or could not pay the cost of a cabin. We knew after that adventure that the trip would be completely different by a private boat.
Doing the Great Loop in 2014 made the whim actually do-able. The British Columbia – Southeast Alaska is a 1,100 one-way trip and became attainable when our friends Norm and Clarice went from Vancouver to Skagway in their McGregor 26 sailboat and when Rick and Cheryl did the round trip in their Ranger 25 Tug. There is a difference between attainable and do-able. Attainable means it is possible. Do-able meant that we have the skills and confidence necessary for this trip.
Laurie moved this adventure from whimsical thinking to active planning in January 2016 when she announced that she could do this trip. Tribute was acquired the year before not only to nearly live aboard but also to do more cruising. In July of 2015 we moved aboard and the only house that we had ever owned was easily sold. Preparing for this adventure would be one of the reasons to do it in the first place. Handling the largest boat we ever owned, learning the systems of this Kadey-Krogen 39, how to maintain and repair the systems, adding the conveniences we wanted, upgrading our skills and most importantly, stretching our comfort zone and building confidence, would all be required.
Between January and the pre-Alaska shakedown trip in April, AIS was added, backup electronic charts were obtained, additional chart chips for the 2004 vintage Furuno Chartplotter was purchased, the engine and transmission was serviced, the exhaust riser on the John Deere engine was repaired, filters were changed on the engine and generator, and an entertainment suite was fabricated that included Sirius XM radio, TV, iPod, Bose audio and FM radio and a digital TV antennae were added. The galley operations had been honed through experimentation. Spare parts were inventoried and the prior owners had done most of the heavy lifting there.. The spare parts included an alternator, belts, impellers, bilge pumps, filters, bulbs, and all the different fluids, The robust set of hand tools was supplemented with a Milwaukee brand battery powered multi-tool that cuts, scrapes and sands a full range of materials.
The Kadey-Krogen 39 Pilothouse Trawler was designed, engineered and constructed for two people or for being singlehanded who wanted to go cruising and passage making. Frequently, the feelings of appreciation were felt for the design, the craftsmanship, the materials chosen and what the previous owners had done. After purchasing the trawler in March of 2015, the cockpit was enclosed with the best materials possible and the dinghy was repaired.
April 13, The shake down trip – Hat Island Mid-April brought the warming spring season and the time for a shake down cruise. Though this trawler left the dock about twice a month, there was some anxiety as Tribute eased out of her slip at the Port of Everett marina. For Laurie, her head and being was full of the world of work and family, of transitioning to the details and knowledge of a complex living and transportation system would cause some stops and starts.
The first night was at Hat Island where we have a 1,200 square foot, two-bedroom house with a commanding view to the north. The kayaks are stored there but as we sipped beer from the beer keg in front of the heat from the wood stove, someone uttered the words, “We could just stay here this summer and who would know?” The laziness of staying in our comfort zone was a temptation.
April 14, Deception Pass State Park The next morning was cloudy and cool but the water was flat as a weak high-pressure system exerted its influence over the Pacific Northwest. Temperatures were in the mid-50’s but Tribute’s hydronic heating system kept the pilothouse warm and comfortable. Millie our 10-year old rescue cat hid under the bed in the cabin and needed to be hauled out. She ran for the master suite and hid under the covers when the trawler’s diesel came to life. She would remain there for the 3 1/2-hour trip to Cornet Bay at Deception Pass State Park.
This part of the shakedown was talk and action about safety. Where were the fire extinguishers, where were the flares and how did they work, how does the chartplotter and the companion iPad platform that was running iNavx which located the AIS vessels on a chart work, where is the weather channel on the VHF radio? All of these were explored as the trawler headed up Saratoga Passage with Whidbey Island on the port side and Camano Island on the starboard side.
The John Deere 4-cylinder engine really smoothed out at about two hours into the trip; settling into a smooth hum. With no agenda or schedule, the talk was about going through LaConner and staying at Anacortes, perhaps going on to anchor at Spencer Spit State Park at Lopez Island, or anchoring at Cornet Bay and catching the slack at Deception Pass the following morning. Mild anxiety of not being sure and confident filled the pilothouse. So many questions and the search for answers and wondering why the information was not at our fingertips made the shorter destination of stopping at Deception Pass State Park more appealing.
Tribute was anchored in 30 feet of water, off the Cornet Bay boat launch at 2:15 PM. We idled around a sundeck trawler and an apparent live aboard sailboard before finding our spot. The Ultra Anchor set fast and secure and adapted to the changes in wind and current. This would be our first night on anchor in Tribute. The Ultra Anchor had earned our confidence on Andiamo, our beloved Ranger Tug 29 and the 10-month long and 6,000 mile Great Loop trip in 2014.
The shower sump pump came on intermittently during the cruise so an hour was spent cleaning it out of the residue of 6 months of showers. Then, the whole bilge area under the main floor was wiped down with vinegar and water solution. When there is moisture and no ventilation, mildew does flourish. The evening was closed with a few magazines to the music of Jimmy Buffet on the satellite radio.
April 15, Jones Island State Park During the night, the falling of the moon and loss of its light in the overhead hatch caused Laurie to wake up thinking that the anchor light had failed. The hydronic heating system was turned off at 11PM and the cabin temperature was 69 degrees. 8 hours later, the cabin had cooled to 58 degrees and Millie was looking for a warmer place. The early morning had it’s own sounds. The all-chain rode would roll as the boat turned in the current and the light breeze causing a low, rolling metallic sound that could be mistaken for running aground on rocks. The engines and wakes of several fishermen leaving the boat launch were the only sounds of humanity.
The 12-volt system and the storage life of the house battery system were being assessed on this trip. Living aboard, Tribute was always connected to shore power and this kept the batteries always topped off. Now, the voltage was being monitored. The voltage in the batteries was 12.4 volts when the lights were turned off and it only dropped to 12.35 volts, eight hours later.
Nature has it is own schedule that trumps mankind’s. The slack current at Deception Pass was at 1100 hours and it would be a strong 2.5-knot flooding current that would oppose us right to the slack time so leaving early was not an option. If Tribute could go 15 knots, rather than 8 knots, and would skim across the water rather than running just over 4 feet deep with its 2,000 pound ballasted keel, missing the slack time would not be a huge factor.
The anchor came up easy and clean leaving us extra time to motor around and wait for the current to ease up. At the appointed time the trawler glided under the Deception Pass bridge that was high above the narrow channel kept Whidbey Island separated from Fidalgo Island. There were swirls that required active steering and the current slowed the trawler by nearly knots. After Deception Island, the autopilot took over and kept the trawler pointed to the southern end of Lopez Island.
Boating in the Pacific Northwest is safe and relatively easy if the charts are watched for reefs and rocks, the currents are attended to, and being ready to change plans when the winds make the water conditions just too uncomfortable. On this leg, Lawson’s Reef was avoided and logs were dodged. The sea conditions were not a lake but it also was not rough, more like heavy ripples that caused some bow to stern to pitching and some minor rolling. Changing the heading by 15 degrees would make the ride more comfortable or accept that this was a time of more sitting and no walking around.
All of that changed when Tribute turned north into Cattle Pass and Upright Channel that separates San Juan Island from Lopez Island. The water was smooth and we were riding the ebbing current. The direction of the current was counter-intuitive. A logical mind would deduce that the current should be flowing north to south through Cattle Pass and empty in the Strait of Juan Defuca. No, because the wider channel at Spieden and Stuart Islands just sucked more water than Cattle Pass could allow through.
Past Turn Island, where the trawler turned to the west, past Friday Harbor and on to Jones Island, the water was flat and the boat traffic was nearly non-existent. Jones Island is well known to us and we had taken every boat that we had owned to this cove on the north side of this State Park. In the three years since our last visit, the docks and the mooring buoys were new. Though there was plenty of room on the dock, we took a mooring buoy. Continuing with the theme of “first time on Tribute,” affixing the mooring buoy was done with lessons learned.
Then, the dinghy was lifted off the trawler’s roof and lowered into the water with the crane. It took a bit longer as we were out of practice. The Honda 8 horsepower outboard came to life with the electric starter and it was taken out for a full speed spin to test it out. Idling in the cove, we met Bruce who was on his Catalina 30 foot sailboat with his one year gray cat named Pearl. From Portland, he keeps his boat at Deer Harbor on nearby Orcas Island.
The dinghy took us to the dock where we walked for an over hour to the other side of the island and then the loop trail on the northwest side of the island. Spring brought the new growth of grass, seeds on the Madrona trees and the tiniest of flowers. This trail has a difficult rating because of the quick elevation change; the unevenness of the trail and sometimes the trail was close to the bluff and the water’s edge. Several times, we thought we had missed the junction trail back to the boat but all was well.
Back on Tribute, there was another first, having dock-tails on the flybridge on calm and clear water in the cool spring weather. Chicken was gilled on the BBQ and a towing bridle was fashioned for the dinghy for the short island hops. Using the small inverter that is on the salon lighting circuit and provides clean power to the TV, DVD, and sound system, we watched the Million Dollar Baby on the big screen with the big sound. An amazing treat, while at anchor and nearly off the grid.
April 16, Stuart Island & Reid Harbor The morning was calm with a high cloud cover, temperature in the mid-50’s and without dew. Bruce and Pearl glided out of the cove while the coffee was brewing, leaving us the only boat. Laurie took the helm for the first time in over a year. The coaching and guiding was easy because we did it on the headsets and she was alone in the pilothouse. She eased Tribute off of the mooring buoy and out of the cove like an experienced skipper while I refined the towing arrangement on the dinghy. Laurie headed for Stuart Island, taking the route north of Spieden Island with the dinghy behaving itself as it followed behind on its tether of floating rope.
Tribute eased through the entrance of Reid Harbor and the only boats were the three on the dock. Laurie agreed to try her first attempt at docking on one of the floats as the conditions were perfect for learning: no wind, current and no one close by. This was piloting by instruction where she was instructed on shifting and speed, turning and when and how to use the bow thruster. This was a great confidence builder as the docking was flawless. After a short break, she wanted to do it again, so the trawler was eased away from the dock and after experimenting with some turning maneuvers, she docked the 40 foot long, 23,000 pound boat perfectly.
After a rest, learning the dinghy was next. Laurie easily started it and began learning the feel of the throttle. Soon, the Avon rigid hull inflatable was skimming across the calm waters of Reid Harbor and was idling along the shoreline as we looked over the vacant and shuttered vacation houses. The dinghy trip continued out of Reid Harbor, going between islets that a larger boat would never go, toward the north tip of John’s Island. What was a log at a distance was a seal sleeping on the mud in 4 inches of water. A rock pile had seals basking in the daylight with birds perched around. We continued to the navigable pass between Stuart and John’s Island and went into the shallow water of empty mooring buoys the served these beach houses during the summer season.
Feeling slightly chilled, the dinghy took us back, retracing our wake and we stopped at the state park dock where there were three boats, a Cutwater 28 whose owners dreamed of doing the Great Loop, an Erickson 38 sailboat whose owners had done Alaska and frequented the northern BC area and gave Laurie some tips, and an Artic Tern, a Nordhavn 35 that we seen several times through the decades with various owners. The walk across the isthmus to Prevost Harbor and we found a Helmsman 38, Magic, whose owners, Carol and Gary had done the Alaska trip several times and remembered when their first trip was full of wide eyed moments. We had great time picking their brain on their wisdom and taking note of their highlights.
Lunch was in the mid-afternoon and afterwards the inflatable kayaks were inflated, the first time since November 2014 and at Caledesi State Park near Tampa, Florida. Experiments were done on where to store them on Tribute and the best spot was not on top of the forward hatch, or on the roof of the pilothouse, but rather the flybridge and tied to the side railings – just like most boats of the same design. In the late afternoon, the kayaks were launch and boarded from the swimstep, an exercise in commitment and confidence as any hesitation of putting the butt in the seat would likely result in rolling into the water.
Kayaking is wonderful and you wonder why you do not do it more often. It is quiet, relaxing, and the closeness to the water with its sounds and slickness as the kayak glides just above rocks, oysters, barnacles, and the living communities just inches under the water. Back at Tribute, finding the way to get out of the kayak was a mild problem. The swim step is higher than the kayak by nearly a foot and lifting the body out of the kayak with the paddle across the swimstep and kayak was not an option. How come the body was not as strong or fit as is in 2014? The fix was easy but look undignified: roll onto the swimstep face down. It does not look good but it was easy and effective.
Laurie threw together a number of ingredients to make a great dinner. The night was still and cool as the sun went down in the lengthening days. We watched another movie and enjoyed a nice dessert.
April 17, Friday Harbor The voltage of the house batteries was 12.4 with 18 hours of use and this is quite acceptable as 11 volts is the lowest point where the batteries come back to full charge. Laundry needed to be done and though today’s destination was Friday Harbor were laundry facilities are available, we opted to try another first: exercise the generator and use the washer/dryer combo on Tribute. A bit of troubleshooting had to occur with the washer/dryer as there was a fault code in programming. The issue was finally worked out by reading the operating instructions and going through several reset sequences. Boat life is like RV life or any adventure or lifestyle that require self-reliance to succeed – often you have to just figure it out.
After breakfast and a shower, the dinghy was lifted back on top of the trawler as we were going into a marina. Laurie took the trawler away from the dock and down Reid Harbor. The generator was running so water was being heated, various battery-powered devices were charging, and the laundry as being done, all while underway on a cool, flat, and partly cloudy day. We agreed that having a bread machine on board and having fresh bread at the same time the laundry was done would be very special.
By the time Tribute reached the nearly empty guest docks at Friday Harbor, the laundry was washed and dried. We had another reason to appreciate our boat, it was the largest that the marina could handle. Norm and Clarice’s 46’ would have to anchor out or stay somewhere else. The water tank was topped off; we probably used 50 gallons in three days and could easily go 12 days and have some reserve. The holding tank was about a half full after nearly a week. The need for water and a pump-out would likely happen at the about the same time.
After a light lunch, the Town of Friday Harbor with its King Street Market and Ace Hardware beckoned us for some shopping. We needed the annual sticker from Customs and Border Patrol that is just a revenue generator for them. Their historical office at the head of he ramp had a paper sign that they had moved to Spring and First Street. No directions, no map and no idea how to get there.
Now, we knew Friday Harbor and could easily find the new location, but not so for the newcomer. Think about the 75-year old boater from California who charters the yacht, goes to Canada and wants to check in with Customs at Friday Harbor. Good Luck! It gets better: at the corner of Spring and First was a new office, no sign, no hours of operation, just a locked door with a door bell that no one answered. How did we know that we were in the right place? The CBP poster with two smiling faces that said, we will treat everyone with dignity, courtesy and respect.
Our years of experience with this agency was exactly the opposite: employees were nearly uniformly indifferent, skeptical, and suspicious. This agency has an impossible mission to accomplish and they have tried to do with the worst kind of culture. With no hours of operation, there is no commitment and no expectations for service and therefore no one can be disappointed and no one can be held accountable.
Back at the boat, Laurie cleaned while I adjusted the lifting cables and chain on the dinghy, to make it nearly level on the crane. Then, fender lines were washed and repaired and fenders were cleaned while Laurie took vinegar and water solution to the flybridge which is where we enjoyed a Deschutes Porter and a Guinness Stout with San Juan salsa on the corn chips.
Dinner was at the corner pub on Spring and Front Streets. We watched the visitors and the locals who ignored them and thought of the job we did here with the Sheriff’s Office and got a peek into life on the island that centers around the ferry, the multi-generations of locals, the service employees who work but cannot live here so they couch surf from one place to another and the rich who are tolerated and the everyday visitor who is nearly ignored and invisible to the locals.
The evening was closed with reading and problem solving the AIS and chart displays on the iPad that brought that system back to full operation,
April 18, Crossing the Strait of Juan De Fuca and Oak Bay During breakfast, the talk was about the day’s destination and the information about the weather and currents would make the decision for us. “Going with God” would make it another a day of firsts. Rather than heading north to Sucia Island and fight the current, the current would take Tribute south, through Cattle Pass and cross the Strait of Juan De Fuca to Port Townsend. In 30 years of boating, we had always taken the route of the protected waters between Whidbey and Camano Islands. Today, the dreaded strait was a flat lake with no wind and a mild current.
Smith Island and its small forest of towers and antennas was nearly the halfway point, its shoals and rocks extending well past the exposed shore. The AIS tracked the large commercial vessels as they stayed in the marked shipping lanes. At Port Townsend, the flooding eastbound current picked us up and soon we accelerated from 8 knots to 11.5 knots until we rounded Point Wilson and headed down the large bay with Port Townsend on the starboard and Indian Island on the portside.
Mystery Bay on Maristone Island was considered but the tide was not rising enough for our tastes to squeeze into its shallow channel. Port Hadlock was considered but we opted to continue through Port Townsend Canal and anchor in Oak Bay were the canal ends. Tribute’s Ultra anchor easily set in 25 feet of mud in the mid-afternoon after traveling 32 miles. I racked up 4.5 of billable hours while Laurie took on an assortment of cleaning projects. In the late afternoon, we enjoyed a Deschutes Porter on the flybridge and then watched the network news on the TV.
April 19, Shilshow Marina & Ballard Our daughter Karen communicated that she was available to share our gift certificate at Ray’s Boathouse in Ballard. So, the day’s destination was Shilshow Marina in Ballard where the ship canal from Lake Union empties into Puget Sound. The departure was timed to ride the flooding current into Admiralty Inlet and the southern part of Puget Sound. The anchor came up with a block of mud on it and we aimed to Foulweather Bluff to get back into Admiralty Inlet.
Tribute was kept out of the shipping lane that is used for by cargo ships that frequent Puget Sound and typically dock in either Seattle or Tacoma. This part of Puget Sound from Port Townsend, past the entrance to the Hood Canal, Port Ludlow and to Point No Point was new to us as we had only been this way once before in a 27-foot Catalina sailboat over 25 years ago.
Tribute continued to stay off shore of Kitsap County as we turned south and past Kingston where the Washington State Ferry was staying in port that was contrary to the schedule that was being monitored. The chart showed the ferry’s lane of use and we prepared to take evasive action to stay out of its way when it left port is critical. They leave on time and will quickly get up to 16 knots.
After Apple Tree Cove, we crossed Puget Sound and headed to Shilshow and its forest of masts. Outside the breakwater, they did not answer the phone or two calls on the VHF radio and when they answered on the third call it was with an apology. Yes, they had room in their open 50-foot slips for guests that are near the fuel dock.
After docking and paying the $37 for a night’s moorage and power, the folding bikes were taken off of the flybridge and set up for the first time since completing the Great Loop in November 2014. Aside from having flat tires that were easily pumped up and donning helmets, the bikes were great; taking us the length of this massive marina and into Golden Garden Park where the crowds and all the exposed skin said it was summer.
After a shower and a change of clothes, Karen and her yellow lab, Toby, arrived for a visit, chat and then dinner at Ray’s Boathouse. Afterwards, she took us into Ballard for special dessert treats where we met her friend Lisa. We got back to the boat at 10:30PM where Millie was waiting.
April 20, Blake Island State Park The next morning was another great day in this string of out-of-character spring days where the temperature was 15 degrees above normal, dry, windless and clear blue skies. The destination was Blake Island State Park and another place that was new to Tribute. We ran down the outside of the shipping channel on the eastern shore of Puget Sound and listened to VHF channel 14, the Vessel Traffic System, as the commercial captains announced their movements.
Even a professional captain can get it wrong. A 75-foot yacht on AIS caught our attention as it was running fast toward Gig Harbor and going done the middle of he sound and in the separation zone that keeps the northbound and southbound ships away from each other, like a median on a freeway. The VTS operator called the captain and pointed out their error.
We arrived at Blake Island about 90 minutes after leaving Shilshow Marina. The tide was falling and the rock breakwater blocked the view of the marina. Tribute would have to go all the way in to determine if there was room. Going dead slow, the vacant dock on the east end revealed itself. Today’s new lesson was backing up into a long dock. There was another Kadey Krogen, a 42’ and we later had a tour of their boat and their adventure in Alaska.
The state park was quiet with no tour boats and no park staff or volunteers. Nearly tame deer, raccoons and geese were the residents. After paying the moorage, we walked the southern portion of the island, climbing the grade and took notice of the spring growth and blossoms.
By the end of the day, the docks were nearly full but the park was still quiet, even with the arrival of school group from nearby Bainbridge Island. Tribute’s digital TV antennae pickup 32 stations because the transmitters were all visible on Queen Anne Hill. During the night, Laurie awoke at 2AM to the sound of scratching on Tribute’s exterior. The raccoons had come aboard looking for food, had opened a stiff snap on the canvas and rummaged through a bag but no damage was done.
April 21, Edmonds After breakfast, Tribute was eased out of its moorage and headed north toward Edmonds with a light breeze and flat water. The AIS was ablaze with many commercial ships in motion. The ferries are the ones to watch as they travel at 16 knots and will stay within the ferry lanes that are marked on the chart. The WSF Tacoma had left Coleman Docks in downtown Seattle and though it was 3 miles away, from the chart plotter and AIS, it was apparent Tribute was on a collision or near-miss course. We initiated the solution by calling Tacoma’s captain on VHF channel 13 and said that we had slowed down and would fall in behind them after they passed us. The captain made the seldom-heard remark of thanking a pleasure boat for the courtesy.
Edmonds was about a 2-hour trip and we followed a pair of Grand Banks yachts as they moved north and disappeared in Saratoga Passage as they were probably riding the ebb tide to LaConner or Anacortes. The Edmonds harbormaster answered the phone and said there was ample room at the guest dock. Edmonds is very tight for a 40-foot boat but the arrival was easy as the breeze was light and we planned for a port side tie that would allow the breeze to blow Tribute to the dock.
Tribal fishermen were coming into the marina to sell their catch of shrimp. Men and some women in rubber boots and waterproof, orange-colored bib overalls were handling lines, icing the catch, fueling generators and taking the temperature of the catch. During the afternoon, we caught a glimpse of this life where boats in various states of neglect, quick fixes, and even adapting a cruising boat to carry 20 shrimp pots would dock and wait in line. The conductor of this show was a fit and pretty woman, blonde hair and with a tight fitting top. Her looks were not lost on the fisherman but she was clearly in command as the buyer of the shrimp and was in charge of the two refrigerated trucks and the crew that weighed the catch. She measured the temperature of the water holding the shrimp, decided to buy or not, and made the deal. She rejected the catch of the last boat, words were not heard but the non-verbal language was easy to read and the catch was returned to the boat and it left.
We walked the 10 minutes to Margaret’s place at Edmonds Landing and I stayed only briefly as Laurie took Margaret shopping. I did billable work hours until it was time for a shower because Jon and Pat Walters were coming to see the boat and to take us out to dinner at Anthony’s. After returning from a great dinner and even better company, the CBS show, Blue Bloods, was streamed using the free Wi-Fi and enhancing the sound by a wireless speaker.
April 22, Hat Island We slept later than normal and Laurie was slow to move. A light rain had fell, a foretelling of the return to the normal Spring weather. The tide was falling and getting Tribute into the Hat Island marina before the tide went to zero meant we needed to leave. The Hat Island marina is the most challenging to dock with tight spaces and unpredictable wind and current. A low tide compounds the issues.
Edmonds is where Admiralty Inlet ends and effectively separates the northern and southern portions of Puget Sound. The ebbing current meant that Tribute would have to fight it all the way to Hat Island. The light breeze from the south had no effect on the trawler’s speed. Our normal 8.1 knots was slowed to 6.5 knots for much of the trip even though Tribute hugged the far western shore, against Whidbey Island, to stay out of the mainstream.
The whale watching boats told us where the gray whales were and we watched a pair or whales between Mukilteo and Clinton and then another gray whale just north of Hat Island. The captains of whale watching boats must listen to a unique frequency on the VHF radio as we called two boats on different frequencies in an attempt to stay clear of them and never got a response.
Tribute took a slip at Hat Island just before the weak front came through. We got the bikes and kayaks put away and under canvas and covered the dinghy just as the wind picked up. The electric oil-filled space heater that was used in the master suite, a guitar and the cushion that creates the pilothouse seat into a berth were removed for the summer.
Millie was happy to be back at the island with real carpet, a couch to sleep on and an outside to explore. Our island chores were delayed as the rain front came through and dominated the afternoon. At the cabin, we took stock of the lessons learned, made lists of things to accomplish and supplies needed. The shakedown cruise was a success.