Camas Moon: Two-Festival Shakedown Cruise
Fourth in the series, “Building Camas Moon—a Mini Motorsailer” by Alex Zimmerman
Inaugural launch day was set for four days before the start of my planned two-festival shakedown cruise—first to the Victoria Classic Boat Festival on Labour Day weekend and then the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival the following weekend. I invited those who had helped and those who had expressed an interest, including the designer of Camas Moon, Tad Roberts.
The day itself was ideal. The tide was right, the wind light and the sun shone. To my surprise and delight, Tad drove down from up Vancouver Island to see the launch. Setting up the rig for the first time took longer than anticipated of course, but eventually it was ready to go. With a mixture of excitement and trepidation, we floated Camas Moon easily off the trailer and a quick check showed no leaks from the centerboard pin caps. The outboard fired right away and Tad and I took the boat out for a brief turn around the bay. That trip, short as it was, revealed some immediate problems, the two biggest being the head of the mainsail that was cut too long for the gaff, and finding that the hold-down bungee for the kick-up rudder blade wouldn’t hold it down against thrust from the outboard motor.
The next few days were a flurry of activity. The sailmaker modified the sail within three days—unexpectedly great service—and I sorted out most of the other problems. With even more trepidation and excitement, my friend helped me to put the boat back into the water at the same ramp, this time for an eight-mile trip in the Strait of Juan de Fuca along the Victoria waterfront to the Inner Harbour, site of the festival. Once out of the bay, I encountered a nasty, short chop generated by wind farther out in the Strait, but with not enough wind to sail where I was. It was a trial by water as I slammed, pitched, bounced and rolled into the oncoming waves. Many other boats were also heading for the festival at the same time, and, in a misery-loves-company way, I was glad to see them getting thrown about as well. The water smoothed as I turned the corner into the harbour and joined the parade of boats in the prescribed inbound channel. At the narrowest point, the brand-new outboard motor suddenly quit. A quick glance ruled out a fouled prop. Moving to the next likeliest cause, fuel, I found that the vent on the fuel tank had vibrated itself closed. It opened with a hiss of indrawn air so I knew that was the culprit. A squeeze of the fuel bulb, a couple of pulls, and the motor was running again, and ran without incident for the rest of the cruise.
The festival weekend was a blur of sun, wind, boats, people, and more socializing in three days than the previous two years combined. Departing early the next day to catch a favorable tide up Haro Strait, toward the San Juan Islands, it was windless again, meaning more motoring, but the water was mercifully flat this time. Clearing U.S. Customs, once I figured out the nuances of their mobile phone app, was surprisingly painless, not even requiring a stop at the Customs dock at Roche Harbor. Rounding the corner into Spieden Channel, I began to lose my following tide, and was glad of the outboard’s extra power to counter the channel’s lumpiness. The water smoothed again as I turned south into San Juan Channel and, just off Friday Harbor, enough of a breeze came up to tempt me into raising the sails for a pleasant interlude. It didn’t last, as the wind died and showed no signs of coming back. I motored into the public marina at Friday Harbor, looking forward to my first visit to the town in nearly 30 years.
On approaching the dock, I decided to get fancy and turn the boat around before tying up, so that it would be facing out when I was ready to leave. At this point, my experience with maneuvering the boat, and my knowledge of the boat’s handling characteristics, at low speed under power in close quarters, were pretty much non-existent. Let me just confess it right here—I screwed up and pranged the dock square on with the bobstay. I figured for certain that I had broken the stay and put a dent in the stem. I was very surprised to find no damage at all. Looking closer, I realized that the bobstay, which is made of Dyneema and tensioned with traditional wood deadeyes, had simply absorbed the impact by slipping the line through the deadeyes. Dyneema is strong stuff but very slippery and a little difficult to tension properly with deadeyes. Apparently there was enough tension for normal sailing, but the slipperiness of the Dyneema seems to actually be a safety feature. I re-tensioned the stay and carried on.
While I was finishing this operation, I was approached by three young guys who wanted to know if they could hire me and my boat to take them north to Sucia Island. They were on vacation from Vermont, and were trying to cram in as many West Coast experiences as possible. As I was on a deadline to reach Port Townsend, I had to turn them down. It might have been a hoot, insufficient lifejackets and other liability issues aside.
I looked forward to an afternoon of sightseeing, but after turning on my phone, I discovered I couldn’t connect to any of the local networks. I had forgotten to set up out-of-country roaming before I left. This had never been a problem with my previous provider, who would connect you and ask what kind of roaming package you wanted to buy. Not so with these guys. It was absurd. I found a somewhat spotty wi-fi signal and spent the next two hours trying to get through to a real person and then another hour and a half starting and then dropping calls before I finally got it all set up. First world problems, I know, but frustrating nonetheless. My sightseeing was confined to a stroll around town, where I found that hardly anything looked like I remembered it.
Next morning dawned clear and calm, like so many in this endless summer we seemed to be having. I was in no hurry as my day’s destination was Watmough Bay on the southeast corner of Lopez Island. It is a favorite jumping-off point when traveling south to Admiralty Inlet, alongside the western shore of Whidbey Island, which is exposed to the East Entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Leaving Friday Harbor I found wind, but only for about 20 minutes. Just enough to cause me to raise sail, but not enough to actually get anywhere against the current in the channel during that time. It did, however, give me one more practice session on raising and lowering the sails, which I needed with the new boat. In my previous sail-and-oar boat, Fire-Drake, my 8-step routine had almost become muscle memory after 1200 miles, which I could do in almost the time it takes to write the words—usually less than two minutes. Camas Moon’s rig is more complicated and of course I was not used to it yet. The transition from motoring to sailing looks like this:
steer into the wind and throttle back to idle
snug up the makeshift keeper to keep the tiller centered
drop the mizzen boom and sheet it in
loosen the main sheet a little
cast off the mainsail ties as I go forward to the mast
hoist the throat and peak halyards at about the same time until the luff is taut
hoist the peak halyard the rest of the way
slack off the lazyjacks
check and possibly fine-tune the halyard tension
move aft to the cockpit
uncleat the jib furling line
haul on the leeward jib sheet to run out the sail
uncleat the tiller keeper
trim the main and jib
shut off the motor
I didn’t look at my watch the first few times I did this so I don’t know how long it actually took me, but I suspect it was a lot more than five minutes, but I’ll get faster with practice. (At least I trust that practice-related speed will increase faster than age-related slowdown.)
The rest of the day remained sunny and windless as I motored south. There was noticeable current in Upright Channel north of Lopez Island but surprisingly little as I passed by the popular anchorages either side of Spencer Spit. The tide was flooding strongly against me in Lopez Pass as I transited through it to Rosario Strait. I had to crank the motor up at the narrowest point, and was doing an estimated five-plus knots through the water but less than two knots over the ground. The current finally released its grip and let me out into Rosario. I motored the rest of the way on a glassy sea to Watmough Bay, coming to anchor in the early afternoon.
The air felt cool all day despite the sun, but as soon as the anchor was down, it immediately felt warmer and I peeled the layers off to just shorts and T shirt. The bay is a popular place in good weather, with boats coming in to anchor, and sending parties ashore to walk the beach or hike the trails that are part of Watmough Bay Preserve. This was the first time I had anchored Camas Moon. I had to put into practice my plan to deploy the anchor from its stern locker and then lead it forward to the bow with a tag line. It worked just as planned, but not being entirely confident yet with the new anchor and line, and therefore not totally trusting it to hold the boat should I go ashore, I spent the afternoon doing boat chores. A moderate breeze came up in mid-afternoon from over the land, originating in the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the other side of the island, and it set Camas Moon to veering on her anchor line. Although the anchor held, I set the mizzen to act as a riding sail, and it kept the boat head-to-wind, as I hoped. One more design feature confirmed. The wind also dissipated the fleet of irritatingly clingy, crawly flies that had shown up.
Early in the evening, as the sun dropped behind the hills of the island, the beautiful 100-foot schooner, Martha, motored into the bay. Built in 1907 of wood, she now does sail training out of Port Townsend. I knew she was heading back to take part in the festival on the weekend. It took her three tries in three different locations to get her hook settled to the skipper’s satisfaction. I felt smug that I’d managed it in one go.
The wind calmed as night fell, but waves from the boat traffic out in Rosario Strait did not. The wave action was not severe, and bigger boats likely would not notice it all, but I certainly felt it in Camas Moon. Every group of waves would set the boat to rocking. Rocking and rolling I could live with, but then I discovered an annoying problem that I have not yet fixed. With every roll, the boat made a jarring, clunking sound. I thought at first it was the mast moving against its partners, but soon ruled that out. I finally concluded that it was the weighted centerboard moving in its case. I had deliberately made the pivot-pin hole in the board a loose fit, not wanting the side force of the board to be borne by the pin but by the board case sides. It now appeared that it was loose enough to allow the board to move with every roll, fetching up against the case sides with a clunk. I couldn’t easily get at it, as the top of the case was fastened down with many screws against a gasket to make the whole thing watertight. I did not, in any case, have any materials on board to make any kind of snubber. It would have to wait. In the meantime, I didn’t get much sleep with the board intermittently going “clunk, clunk” all night long. In my half-awake condition in the middle of the night, I imagined the pin wearing through the board and the board dropping out of the boat.
I woke fully in the dark at 0500, intending to get away early to take advantage of the morning’s ebb current along Whidbey Island. I also wanted to avoid any strong winds that might show up along that potential lee shore. The usual pattern in these high pressure systems is light wind overnight, building to strong winds later in the day. The morning VHF marine forecast and the Windy app on my phone both agreed that the winds would be 5-15 knots in the morning, increasing to 15-25 later in the day. It was calm at the moment and it looked like I wouldn’t get a better forecast. I got ready and raised the anchor at 0600. With my navigation lights on, I motored quietly out of the bay past the other anchored boats as dawn began to lighten and color the eastern sky. Sunrise was 40 minutes away but it was light enough to see. Once out of the bay, the ebb current immediately grabbed the boat and began pushing us south, at about 2-3 knots. Since that was the direction I wanted to go, I wasn’t worried. There was still no wind, but I soon saw a line of breakers ahead. I figured that it could only be the point where the ebb current in Rosario Strait met the relatively static water of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In the uncertain light, I thought that the breakers were lower farther east, so I turned the boat due east, hoping to get around them. It soon was obvious that the breaker line extended the whole width of Rosario and that the current was pushing me into them faster than I could motor east. With no choice, I turned the bow and charged the line of breakers. They were 2-3 feet high and curling over when I hit them. Camas Moon plunged, bucked and rolled but no water came aboard, only some spray. I was through the worst in a few boat lengths but the water surface remained very confused for at least half a mile.
A light west wind rose and I set the mizzen and then the jib to steady the boat and add a little push. The wind came and went for the rest of the morning and I rolled and unrolled the jib accordingly, leaving the mizzen set. The sea state varied enormously, from nearly flat to up to three feet of chop, in no relation to the wind, it seemed. The tide generally helped, as I covered the 14 miles to Point Partridge in about three hours. Rounding the point, I lost my favorable tide and the boat speed dropped. I had to dodge both a pusher tug/barge combination and another tug with a gravel barge on the end of a long tow. The current ebbing out of Admiralty Inlet at this point caused all sorts of tidal weirdness that pushed the boat this way and that. Approaching Point Wilson, the wind suddenly rose to 13 knots on the beam, as measured by my anemometer. I rolled out the jib again, and with just jib and mizzen, I reached hull speed, about 5-1/2 knots. This was the first real wind I had encountered and the lesson I took from it was that I would probably be obliged to reef this boat earlier than I’d thought. The wind dropped as I got past Point Wilson, as it often does.
I was a day early for arrival at the Wooden Boat Festival and had intended to seek a berth in the nearby Boat Haven marina, but I called the Point Hudson marina, site of the festival, as I cruised by to see if they would let me have a berth for the night. They said yes, as long as I was out by mid-morning next day, as they had to clear space for arriving festival boats. I was fine with that and pulled in to a nearly-deserted marina. I managed to connect with the festival audio-visual guys to check that their equipment could read the USB stick I brought with the presentation I would be making, and I dropped into the Northwest Maritime Center’s chandlery bookstore and we agreed on a deal for them to carry my book. I took a stroll through town, had supper at an outside eatery and then went back to the boat, where I began to compile a list of fixes, tweaks and improvements that I wanted to make. The initial list was thirteen items long.
With no early deadline next morning I lingered over breakfast and coffee, finally getting ready and leaving the marina by 1030. There was enough wind to sail, so I spent the rest of the morning sailing back and forth along the Port Townsend waterfront, to gain some more experience with the boat. I found that the boat wants the first reef at 10 knots true. I could no doubt leave the full sail up a little longer, but at that speed the boat feels pressed and is not really moving any faster. The rig was far from optimized, so I didn’t pay much attention to pointing ability, but I’m not expecting dazzling upwind performance in any case. I practiced a few combinations for heaving to, and found that with the jib rolled up, the main backed, the mizzen sheeted amidships and the helm down, she sits about 70 degrees off the wind, drifting downwind at less than a knot. With a double reef in the main, no doubt the drift rate would be less.
Around lunchtime, my call came to enter the marina for the festival. I took my place in line and was escorted to a spot on the small boat dock. The entertainment for rest of the day was talking to other boat owners and watching the other boats being shepherded in, while the breeze strengthened. The highlight was the sight of the Lady Washington brigantine, with her huge windage, being nudged into place by a herd of tiny zodiacs.
The three days of the festival zipped by in a dizzying round of reunions, presentations, chance meetings, and attempts to get ‘round to see all the boats. As usual, there wasn’t enough time to do it all. I did manage to work in one minor fix. When I had wired the boat, I took a cursory look at the pair of wires on the outboard that output DC voltage from the motor’s charging coil, and saw they were terminated with bullet connectors. Accordingly, I terminated the corresponding wire on the boat with matching connectors. Or so I thought. The bullet connectors on the OB were slightly different than the standard connectors I had used for the boat, to the point where they wouldn’t actually connect electrically, so I had been running my lights and electronics on a combination of the initial charge and what the solar panels supplied. That worked until the Saturday of the festival, which was very hazy with wildfire smoke, when the battery voltage dropped noticeably. Sunday morning, on looking thorough the spares I had brought along, I found a pigtail that had come with the OB, and which had matching connectors. With a cable stripper borrowed from one boat, a heat gun from another and an extension cord from a third to power the heat gun, I soon had the OB wired up and working. (Wooden boat owners all seem to be generous with their help. I hope I can return these favors to someone else in future.)
A southwest wind rose by early Sunday afternoon, enough to clear away much of the smoke—just in time for the afternoon sailpast. I motored out and joined in, making a couple of passes around the prescribed route. It was great fun seeing the wide variety of craft but I couldn’t do too much gawking, being busy sailing and dodging all the other boats. I planned to spend the night in Port Townsend as I didn’t want to head back north that late in the day while both tide and wind were against me. I sailed down to a berth in Boat Haven marina, as the Point Hudson marina was vacated again, for the winter this time, as the project to replace the marina breakwaters commenced the next day.
Next morning, three different weather sources predicted doom, wind-wise, for the east entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, so I chickened out and decided to spend another day being a tourist in Port Townsend. I pulled out my folding bicycle, which I had brought along just for eventualities such as this, and rode around town and out to a couple of parks. Back in town by mid-afternoon, I browsed the used book store then sat and skimmed a few of the books over coffee on a patio. A folding bike is a very handy and pleasant way to extend your range in port from a small cruising boat.
Next morning the winds were light and predicted to be only moderate later in the day. The tidal height differences were less than the previous week so currents alongside Whidbey Island were not as much of an impediment. I left Boat Haven mid-morning and motored in the calm past the giant crane and barge anchored in front of the Point Hudson breakwater, as they were starting their deconstruction work. The wind remained calm the whole day. I stayed fairly close to the Whidbey shore, to reduce the effect of what current there was. There was more animal life evident that morning than on the way south. I saw sea lions, harbor porpoises, and lots of seabirds in their winter plumages: Common Murres, Guillemots, and various Gulls. It was a pleasure to see them.
I had forgotten about Naval Air Station Whidbey, located about halfway along and close to shore. It is a training station for EA-18G Growlers, the electronic warfare versions of the FA-18 fighters. They were training in pairs that day and were taking off, right over the water. One took off just as I was passing the end of the runway. It was only a couple of hundred feet up as it passed overhead. It was ear-splittingly, hold-your-hands-over-your-ears loud! Much quieter after that, I carried on across Rosario Strait, detouring around a couple of tugs with tows again. It’s uncanny how often you find yourself on a collision course with really big vessels. I motored through Lopez Pass again and on up to Spencer Spit. It was late by then so I anchored there. The wind was still calm but the boat traffic made for a restless and clunky evening, again. Fortunately the boat traffic, and consequent wakes, decreased a lot after dark, so I got a decent amount of sleep.
Next day, the second to last of my cruise, dawned cloudy, cool and calm, with mist hanging about the hills of the various islands. It definitely felt like a fall day compared to the many previous weeks of warm weather. I motored away from the anchorage and headed north and west, with Reid Harbor on Stuart Island as my destination. There was no wind the whole day and the sun started to clear off the clouds by late morning. The harbor wasn’t busy when I arrived at noon and I picked up a state-park mooring buoy. After lunch I got out my pack raft, which I had bought to serve as a dinghy. I had inflated it once at home but had never put it in the water, being too busy finishing the build. It inflated easily with the little electric pump that came with it and I dropped it down over the side. Show time! It was as skittish and directionally unstable as I thought it would be, but the skills developed from years of kayaking kicked in and I was soon ashore. As I walked the trails around the park on Stuart Island I was rewarded with some nicely framed views of both harbors and out to the straits beyond. The forest and understory were dry, dry, dry, reflecting two and half months without rain. It was no wonder we had been plagued by wildfire smoke. The real wonder was why the fire season on the coast hadn’t been worse.
Back on the boat, I dried out and deflated the raft, and over a pot of coffee I added to my list of improvement projects. It was a quiet night, mercifully, with no rolling and no boat wakes. A light rain began in the middle of the night. It woke me briefly and I felt glad to be under an actual roof that kept the water out. When I finally got up, however, I discovered that water had made its way past the main hatch runners. I found that my supposed clever design for them had a flaw. I had deviated from common practice of hatch design in order to incorporate grab rails into the runner, so as to leave room for the solar panels alongside. The hatch bears down on strips of UHMW plastic and has similar side-bearing strips mounted on the grab rail base, with a drain gutter outboard between them. That part works well but what I didn’t anticipate was that the rainwater also seeped through by capillary action between the hatch and the plastic bearing strip. From there it ran down the hatch support beam, followed the curved pilothouse roof, then down the pilothouse wall and its support beams, where it dripped down onto clothes I had laid out to put on in the morning. I clearly would have to work out some better arrangement, perhaps an inside gutter. One more item to add to my list of winter projects, which now numbered about two dozen.
The weather was cloudy and rather cool and gloomy as I motored across Haro Strait toward Sidney to clear Customs. I didn’t have to contend with any ship traffic on the crossing, getting most of the way across before two large container ships, one heading south and the other north, hove into view. There was not much other boat traffic until I got near Sidney. After an interminable wait on hold, I finally cleared Customs and motored down the waterfront to the public launch ramp. Fortuitously, a young man with a West Wight Potter arrived at the same time I did and we helped each other line up our boats on the trailers. It took me an hour to get the rig down and everything secured for the road. I had been concerned about the getting the unwieldy mast down solo but despite a few tense moments I managed it without damage. I will definitely build some sort of mast raising and lowering rig for future launches and retrievals. As my good friend pointed out, I am unlikely to get any stronger as I get older.
So ended the shakedown cruise of Camas Moon. It was gratifying to get out and begin to use the boat whose build had dominated my life for the previous two years. I was pleased with how the boat performed, required fixes and planned improvements notwithstanding. I can hardly wait to complete the projects and get out for a more ambitious cruise next summer! •SCA•