The century was almost old enough to discard and our Sovereign Nation was in ship shape and Bristol fashion.
The event was the celebration of our first anniversary and the destination was our place of the declaration of our joining, Doe Bay on Orcas Island (Lat: 48 35′ 56. 84″ N. Lon: 122 52′ 09. 57″ W.)
We’d worked for over a year to see this dream come into fruition and as I stood on the bow of our mighty ship I knew that our adventure had just begun.
So. we tossed off the moorings at 0700h and shortly there after we set sail leaving Port Washington in Bremerton, Wa. for the last time.
The weather was perfect for sailing our 50ft William Garden Sea Wolf ketch rigged wooden sailboat with 15 knots of wind on our Port-side beams as we rounded the southern most point of Bainbridge Island. All day long we tacked from shore to shore making our way North. At the end of the first day we called the Kingston Marina home. We jumped aboard the Kingston/Edmonds ferry and discovered the best Indian food restaurant in Washington just on the other side of the ferry terminus.
Rested and ready for the continuation of our adventure the S/V Sovereign Nation with her crew of two (and one pissed off cat) set sail once again on the beautiful Puget Sound.
As we rounded Point No Point the winds kicked up to 18 knots and the first reef went in the main. It was a spectacular sail.
Because of the favorable winds we made the decision to head into the Saratoga Passage between Whidbey Island and Camano Island to drop the hook for the night at the Langley Anchorage… A beautiful night on the hook followed by a meal of white-trash-hash (Mac-n-Cheese with a can of tuna added for flavor) and baked beans, living the dream!!!
The next morning we set sail again at 0700h and ten minutes into the sail my friend Ray called us up to tell us that the weather forecast was pretty bad and that we should baton down the hatches for the night as soon as we could. Well, the sailing was beautiful with winds fair so we decided to head into Oak Harbor Marina to wait out the storm. At 1200h we were hit by the first of the big gusts a 30 knot blow that inspired me to reef down on both reefs in the main and strike the mizzen for the rest of that day. By 1300h we were in 10 foot following seas with the winds at a steady 25 knots tacking from lee shore to lee shore between the two islands. It was incredible!!!
By that time our cat Fritz, was freaking out and hiding under my feet while I was at the helm and driving me crazy so I had to man-handle him to get the poor little guy down below.
Dena was on the charts down below as well with the binoculars in hand peeking out of the companion way giving me constant directions when I heard a very strange sound. Off our starboard aft quarter, literally out of nowhere, came a Sea Ray ’27 cabin cruiser with a very scared young man at the helm getting his ass brutalized by the heavy seas. He pulled up dangerously close to our stern on the starboard side and yelled, “How do you get out of the Saratoga Passage!!!?”
Now, you have to imagine that this was a very surreal moment. Us in a 25 ton wooden sailing vessel fighting for our lives and this kid in a plastic destroyer asking us for directions! Dena plotted him out a course and over the screaming wind we managed to convince the poor guy to take his boat into Oak Harbor with us. He pretended to understand our directions and took off at about 15 knots ahead of us… we never saw him again.
After four hours of some of the hardest work of my life we spotted the entrance to the Oak Harbor marina resort. By that time the winds had kicked up to 65 knots and the following seas were a non-stop 12-13 feet breaking over our transom drenching me with ice water every 5 seconds or so. Dena took the helm just long enough for me to go forward and strike the jib and main sails a truly amazing adventure in itself! I got the sails secure and came back to the cock-pit just in time to make our approach to the entrance bar. Because you have to round up into the wind when you start the engine and strike the sails the boat had fallen off course during the maneuver so we were in a kind of cross wind by that point with the seas breaking over our beam at midships with the boat being pounded on all sides by the washing machine seas…It started to rain…
Describing the sound of a wooden boat being hammered by a terrible storm is impossible in itself but when you ad a howling terrified cat to the mix you get something right out of a nightmare, poor little guy, he was so scared and all he wanted to do was get under my feet for protection… OUT OF THE QUESTION!!!
Much to my surprise, we made the turn at the entrance bar and headed into the marina when suddenly the main sail blew out of my dressing and went in the water. Dena took the helm again and I ran foreword to re-secure the mainsail, another terrifying event that is impossible to relate.
The Oak Harbor Marina is a pretty nice place and normally very protected but on this particular occasion the seas inside the marina were an angry mess of white-caps and million dollar boats. We called the marina on channel 16 and told them our situation and they gave us a slip number along with directions on how to get in then wished us luck. The slip was well inside the marina so we powered through the storm and finally made our moorings with a slam at 1723h on the 24th of October 1999.
The two of us sat there in the cabin of S/V Sovereign Nation for an inordinate amount of time just holding each other and cuddling our poor terrified kitty.
We made the decision to do something that seemed somewhat normal to calm us down so we gathered up all of our wet cloths and went up to the top of the dock to do laundry.
When we got to the marina laundry mat there was a local T.V. News crew waiting for us. They told us that we had just lived through the worst storm in 65 years and wanted to know if we would give them an interview. We agreed so the four of us, Dena, myself, the interviewer and the camera man all went back down to the boat They took some pictures of our shredded flag blowing off the mizzen topping lift and they asked us a few questions about sailing in a storm then at the end of the interview the woman asked me if we’d do anything like that ever again…
“Are you kidding me,” I said, “We live for this shit!”