Locking Through Alone

Transiting The Hiram M. Chittenden (Ballard) Locks can be a challenging exercise for recreational boaters. It requires patience, good boating skills, a sense of community and willingness to help others (especially in the busy summer months), and a constant awareness of safety.

With the winter months being less busy than during the Spring and Summer, they’re an excellent opportunity to practice your locking skills by moving between the Ship Canal and Puget Sound.

Recently my wife and I planned to spend a few days in Port Townsend and La Conner. Due to some scheduling challenges I would have to take our boat through the locks myself, and meet her at Shilshole.

While my wife and I have probably gone through the locks several dozen times, I’ve only had to go through alone a few times before. The first time was two summers ago and I was apprehensive. I was worried about handling the lines. Could I do it alone? What if I were in the large lock and had to maintain control of two 50′ lines?

Prior to going it solo the first time I visited the locks, on foot, to speak to some of the people working there. The advice and guidance I received was simple. They convinced me that I could it do and that their job was to make sure I did it well, and safely. They even suggested I call ahead to the lock master and ask any specific questions I might have and, if I felt it necessary, call the day I was planning to go through.

Recreational boaters should be aware, though, that communicating with the locks via VHF radio is not permitted. Only commercial vessels can do that. In fact, signs suggest that recreational boaters should turn off their radios. However, that doesn’t prevent you from stopping by in person and chatting, or calling on the phone.

With regard to radios, I tend to leave two of my radios on. One is set to channel 16 and, when preparing to head through the locks, I like to have a portable set to channel 13. I turn them completely off or silence them when I begin going through, but while waiting it’s useful to hear which commercial vessels are planning an approach.

My most recent solo locking experience happened February 12, 2016 (see video above) and I was treated to a spectacularly beautiful day.  It was so gorgeous that I decided to mount a GoPRO and capture the experience.

I was pleased with the results, though the video did reveal some poor line handling toward the end when I was trying to release the bow line. In retrospect I should have had a utility pole up on the bow with me. Still, the locking was a success. I managed to get through safely – without damaging the boat (or anyone else’s).

Key steps I think any recreational boater can benefit from knowing when going through the locks, whether alone or with a crew, include:

  • Prepare by having all your fenders and lines ready.
  • Don’t assume a port or starboard tie – be prepared for both!
  • Remember slow is smooth and smooth is fast! Don’t rush.
  • Wear your PFD! The water is cold and people slip and fall often.
  • Don’t assume the small or large locks – be prepared for both (and have the proper lines ready).
  • Be willing to help other boaters making their way in with you, but don’t interfere with the lock personnel. They’re very skilled at helping boaters get through the locks. Listen to their instructions and follow them precisely.
  • Beside turning off your radio(s), be sure to turn off your radar! The lock personnel don’t enjoy the extra radiation.
  • Don’t get hyper excited by position. Most boaters know and respect the order they arrive in and also know that for the large locks it’s expected that larger vessels enter first, even if they have just arrived. So, while it may look like some boats are cutting in front of everyone, bigger boats are expected into the large locks first and will likely assume positions along the wall.

Another tip we can share after having done it for about five years – bring Girl Scout cookies. It’s a nice gesture and the crews working during the busy summer months will be grateful – and cut you a little extra slack as you’re working to refine your locking skills!

Shackle Pins Voyage

First Trip to Desolation Sound

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton was the great Antartic explorer who famously battled severe weather conditions and ice (that destroyed his ship The Endurance) in 1917. David’s Shackle Pin Voyage took place in August, 2015 in Desolation Sound. No ships or sailors were lost. Only pride.

Our story begins the first day of August as the crew of the MV KAYLA set out for waters and lands North of Seattle. The journey took the crew from populated areas in the San Juan and Gulf Islands that included Friday Harbor, Nainamo, Ganges, Vancouver and, the prize, Desolation Sound.

It was in Desolation Sound, Laura Cove to be precise, that the crew first encountered the inviting waters of the protected inlets East of The Straight of Georgia. There were dozens of beautiful sail and power boats with families and pets thoroughly enjoying the natural surroundings and the superb August weather.

Our first night on anchor was uneventful and the crew slept well. We stern tied near a few power boats. We had arrived close to midday and enjoyed lunch before setting out in our tender to explore the cove as well as to cross over and into Prideaux Haven and Malanie Cove.

Laura Cove

Fearing Desolation Sound wasn’t so desolated (you could almost walk between the boats – and cell service was superb!), the crew decided to seek a second anchorage location for the next evening. After reviewing lots of information and weighing the positives and minuses of numerous locations it was decided to travel about 13nm to Teakerne Arm and the famously warm freshwater Cassel Lake.

This location proved far more desolate (though our junior crew member’s iPhone 5S was still able to get a cell signal!). There were only a few boats when we arrived, including a beautiful and very large yacht belonging to a famous Seattle tech entrepreneur.


Soundings indicated a steep / rapid change in the under water terrain. Ideal for anchoring with a stern line.

Anchoring in Teakerne Arm proved fairly easy. While the water is very deep there are steep walls toward the shore. Within feet your depth can change from hundreds of feet to 60 feet – which is where we dropped anchor. A recent chain painting exercise proved very useful and we dropped a total of around 200 feet of chain as we slowly backed the KAYLA toward its temporary resting spot close to shore. A landing party was assembled in the tender and took our stern line to shore where it was attached around a willing tree and returned to the boat where it was made fast.

With anchor and stern line set, the vessel was positioned securely, where it would remain, as planned, for the next 20 or so hours. During that time we enjoyed a short hike to Cassel Lake where we swam in what were probably close to 80 degree waters. The short hike to the lake was fun and, at times, challenging. In two locations along the way ropes were in-place to help climb and swing around obstacles and steep rock faces. We all did fine but imagined it would have been difficult for Kayla, had she made the trip with us.




Dinner onboard after our hike and swim

Dinner onboard after our hike and swim

Pulling Up Anchor

We planned to leave the following day, and woke up early specifically to meet our schedule and get a jump on our anticipated 95nm journey to Vancouver. Well-placed stern lines are great because they’re so easy to detach. We were able to pull ours from the tree line easily, and started stacking a big bundle of bright yellow polypropelyne line on the aft deck.

Cathia took up the job of retrieving our anchor. I could hear the chain making its way up and into the boat. Everything seemed to be going perfectly until, during a quick washing dunk (to clean off some of the debris that had collected), the windlass decided to, essentially, “raise it’s hands” and allow the chain to fall freely back into the water. By this time we had pulled ourselves into deeper water and I was afraid the chain would all but completely run out into the deep. While we didn’t make the rookie mistake of having a chain whose end isn’t attached to the boat, I wasn’t looking forward to having 200+ feet of chain yank violently on a fixture inside the chain locker attached to the boat’s hull at the very end. I was able to run up to the bow and, with my foot, flip over the mechanical brake, halting the chains travel.

It took a moment to discover that the catch that prevents the windlass from freely releasing its load had been pulled out, or came out. How or why that happened is still a mystery. But we realized that our first order of business was to retrieve the chain and anchor.

We had one before. Now we have two!

This time, though, things moved more slowly. Had we damaged the windlass? Was there an electrical problem? It wasn’t until about 170 feet of chain had been retrieved that we discovered the problem. We had captured another anchor (and chain)! No wonder our little windlass was working so hard. In fact, at one point we tripped the breaker for the windlass. On our boat it’s located in the 240V cabinet in the engine room. Not sure why since it runs off the 12v service. Personally, I prefer not to be playing around in the high voltage cabinet.

We were tired and were now faced with having to separate a fairly heavy object and its supporting chain from our own ground tackle. At about this point in time we could have used Superman. He wasn’t available so we made a series of movements, up and down, to see if the visiting anchor and chain would separate. They didn’t.

After what seemed like a really long time (but, in reality, was only about 5 minutes) we decided the best course of action would be to separate our anchor from our chain and allow the captured equipment to drop freely. The only problem – our anchor is close to 70 pounds and was also carrying someone else’s anchor and its chain.

We grabbed two dock lines and fastened them to our anchor. One of them went into the anchor’s emergency release and pull hole, giving us a secure, positive way of securing it from loss (provided we tied our line properly). The second line was wrapped around the anchor using a simple half-hitch.

The next task was to remove one of the shackle pins that connects our chain to our Jaw / Jaw swivel that’s also connected to the anchor. It was under heavy load. With the anchor I always use work gloves, and I was glad I had them on this time as well. I used wire snips to cut the safety line that secures the pin. Then I began turning the pin, slowly. It took a while and was awkward with the angle I was forced to work. Finally I was able to pull it from the swivel and our anchor fell away, only to be secured by our lines. There was still a “clump” of foreign chain stuck to our chain but a careful whack released that as well. We were free!


We moved the boat a couple of hundreds yards off shore to continue work. The first task was to pull up the anchor onto the bow. That was much harder than we imagined. Since we were both mentally and physically exhausted the anchor’s 70lbs seemed much heavier. Still, we managed to lift it up and over the bow rail. I thought it would make sense to leave it on the bow for our voyage South to Vancouver but Cathia, smartly, suggested it would be more secure aft. She was right. We hit some rough water that morning and I can only imagine the anchor doing some major fiberglass damage had it been allowed to remain on the bow. Heck, it might have even threatened the front windshield.


Our anchor secured aft


Jaw / Jaw swivel with shackle pin and securing line

Who’s anchor and chain did we pull up? We weren’t sure. There was another power boat anchored next to us, and it might have been theirs. During our struggle to free the anchor and line their boat didn’t appear to move at all, despite a strong wind. We suspect we discovered an abandoned anchor and chain. Even if it did belong to the other boat we managed to free it and there appeared to be sufficient mass in the chain alone to secure the boat’s position.

Heading back to civilization

We made it to Vancouver after a few hours of traveling through heavy fog with, at times, only 1-2nm visibility. Our radar allowed us to travel safely at a fast cruising speed, but keeping a lookout for crafts and debris left us exhausted.

After two days in Vancouver we spent two days on Salt Spring Island at Ganges and then traveled home. It took a few days to find a new Jaw / Jaw swivel for our anchor. We needed a 1/2″ size, which is pretty beefy – and not as common as the smaller sizes.

Our first trip to Desolation Sound was fantastic. Some of the things we’ll remember include:

  • Beautiful scenery in both of the locations we visited
  • Exploring Laura Cove and Prideaux Haven
  • Traveling to Teakerne Arm
  • Hiking to and swimming in Cassel Lake, which was delightfully warm
  • Becoming really good at stern ties
  • Getting to check off one of the big “oh-ohs” in boating – fouling your anchor

Winter Crusing: Destination Vancouver

This year we decided to try something new for our winter break – cruise to Vancouver, spend a few days downtown and then bus to Whistler for skiing.

Planning started in early November when we began thinking about how we would spend winter break. Mixing cruising with winter sports seemed like a fun thing to try, but before committing to the plan we knew we’d have to do some research. Weather related boating conditions were something we knew we would have to take seriously.

I reached out to a few friends and posted a few notes online asking for opinions about winter cruising. While we’re year-round boaters, our winter water activities have usually been confined to Lake Washingtion, Lake Union and, occasionally, Bainbridge Island.

One thing that definitely influenced our plans, this time, was the fact that the KAYLA is almost four times heavier than the LAIKA. Were we to encounter rough seas we knew, with our newer vessel, we’d have a better chance of handling whatever we encountered.  Though, we weren’t foolish enough to think we’d be invincible, and safety and crew comfort were of paramount importance. In fact, our plans were designed to forgo the cruising component if weather dictated we travel solely by land.

Weather Guides

Since our journey would cover two countries, we’d have to rely upon two government-run weather and marine forecasting services: NOAA in the United States and the Canadian Government for waters North of San Juan Island and near Vancouver.

Weather conditions near San Juan Island

Wind forecasts around Vancouver, BC

One app I was referred to and became quite attached to was WindAlert. I used both their iPhone and iPad versions and it definitely helped with regard to understanding what we were likely to face the day we traveled North.

Sliding Between Storms

We planned to leave on Sunday, December 21, 2014. A week before that date the Puget Sound survived a minor windpocolpyse, with wind gusts reaching as high as 70mph on the coast. Another strong series of winds had been forecast for the 19th and 20th. Would they subside by the time we left Sunday morning? The forecasts said they would. So, we decided to commit to our trip and spend the evening on the boat in our marina so we could head out before sunrise.

That evening, though, the winds were definitely strong on Lake Washington. As we were moving some of our gear to the boat we witnessed several large powerboats returning from that evening’s Christmas Lights boat parade, and they had a heck of a time docking. The wind was so strong it pushed a 45 foot Bayliner into the dock, significantly damaging its stern fiberglass and chrome rub rail. That convinced me to add two more lines to our boat that evening, as well as another fender.

My alarm sounded at 6:30am and I began preparing to leave. The plan was to allow my wife and daughter to continue sleeping, at least until we made it to the locks.

I made it outside to happily discover a glassy calm on the lake. So far, so good. The first job was to get the generator going and disconnect from shore power. I did that without delay. Next, I got our lines untied and slowly left the marina. A hundred yards out I stopped, donned my life vest and brought up the fenders. Though, this time I decided to do something differently. Since it was still dark outside I knew no one would see our fenders. So, I put them in position for the lock, and kept them dangling from both sides of the boat. Ease of planning and safety would trump boating style, this time.

Safely back at the helm I started off across Lake Washington. At 7 knots it would be a relaxing, almost serene start to our journey. If we met with similar conditions in Puget Sound it would surely be a fantastic vacation.


As we approached Union Bay (and Husky Stadium) Cathia came up and joined me. She took command of the vessel while I fixed a cup of coffee. I also got a chance to take some pictures. As the sun had yet to rise we enjoyed some beautiful scenes on the water. Best we could tell there were no other boats near us. This was the first time we had left so early and it was really quite beautiful starting off in the dark and then watching the sun rise.


Union Bay early in the morning


University Bridge before sunrise

Locking through there have only been a few times in our boating experiences that we’ve approached the locks and were flagged right through. More often than not we encounter a decent wait, whether it’s because there’s a bunch of enthusiasts waiting to transit through or an Argosy boat “reserving” their spot a good twenty minutes before reaching the area.

The sun had been up just shy of an hour by the time we exited the lock into Puget Sound. It was high tide as we began heading North. Within moments we were planing at 24 knots and would pretty much maintain that speed through the journey.

The biggest obstacle we faced wasn’t weather so much as a massive amount of floating debris – mostly large logs. We encountered them throughout the journey but they seemed to appear mostly where opposing currents met one another near large land masses. We couldn’t avoid hitting some small pieces but, luckily, didn’t make contact with any large ones, or anything that could cause damage.

As we neared the body of water between Lummi Island and Orcas Island we encountered a bit more chop, but it was nothing too severe. While it did require us to hold on while moving about the boat, it didn’t prevent me from making my way to one of the big windows and capturing some video. Though, video always seems to make the conditions look calmer than they really are.

Lummi Island

Once we entered the Strait of Georgia and found similar and increasingly improving conditions we knew our trip would, ultimately, be successful. Once we entered the bay West of Vancouver we stopped to capture some of the sights, including some massive ships that were anchored. I noticed on the back of them the same kind of emergency evacuation capsule that was depicted in the movie “Captain Phillips.”

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Escape capsule on the back of the cargo ship

As we approached Lion’s Gate Bridge we were greeted by a massive hovercraft. Within minutes we were circling the North part of Stanley Park and would, shortly thereafter, arrive at Coal Harbour Marina.

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BC Hovercraft outside Vancouver near Lions Gate Bridge

The only problem we encountered was the floating gas station just outside the marina had lost power. So, we’d have to wait another day to top off our tanks in preparation for our return journey. Which, incidentally, may prove more exciting. There’s another storm coming, so we’re figuring out which day, exactly, to plan our return. Stay tuned!

Destination Princess Louisa Inlet

This July I finally made it to one of the Pacific Northwest’s premier boating destinations – Princess Louisa Inlet. Sheltered by Fjord-like mountains, the idyllic location is beautiful and tranquil.

Leaving Malibu Rapids heading toward Princess Louisa Inlet

Leaving Malibu Rapids heading toward Princess Louisa Inlet

Facing Chatterbox Falls from the dock

Facing Chatterbox Falls from the dock

The facilities, while remote, are well maintained. There’s a ranger’s station and home, though we didn’t see that person during our short stay. We were lucky to have found space on the dock, which only provides about 300′ of useful space. Were we forced to anchor a long stern line would have been needed to secure the KAYLA and keep is aligned in one direction.

Chatterbox Falls

Chatterbox Falls

The Falls, themselves, are nice, but not remarkable. They’re not at all very large. If you look up into the mountains that surround the small inlet you’ll see numerous smaller falls appearing hundreds and thousands of feet up. These, to me, were more impressive, and beautiful.

Water flowing from the falls

Water flowing from the falls

Glassy morning water

Glassy morning water

Small boat moored in the inlet with a stern line to shore

Small boat moored in the inlet with a stern line to shore

Majestic view of Princess Louisa Inlet

Majestic view of Princess Louisa Inlet


Walkway to Chatterbox Falls

Walkway to Chatterbox Falls

Malibu Rapids

My father and I visited Princess Louisa Inlet for the first time last week. Our transit through Malibu Rapids went extremely well and was stress-free, thanks to some planning.

Since it was our first time there we approached it with an abundance of caution. Slack time, for the day we planned to enter the Inlet, was going to be at 16:30, based upon tide readings from Point Atkinson.

We arrived early and was waiting when some other boats that we had passed earlier in the day showed up and decided to head in to the “rapids” 90 minutes before slack.

They reported calm water and mild current, so we followed them in and found the conditions similarly non-eventful.

There’s a First Time for Every Boater

Every boater is likely to one day run aground, foul a prop and hit a dock a little too hard. This week I got to check-off one of those by getting a line wrapped around my port prop / pod after what was, otherwise, an awesome day of swimming in Andrew’s Bay on Lake Washington.

Photo Jun 09, 6 09 07 PMFor those unfamiliar with the type of line we use on our boat, the white part is supposed to remain inside the black part!

So, what happened? Well – long story short – we were out for an extended period of time and, well, nature called for Kayla. For some reason, dogs don’t seem to want to pee in the lake, perhaps worried that it will compromise the quality of swimming for everyone else.

Kayla ended up relieving herself on the bench seat in the aft area of the boat. No biggee. Everything is water and puppy pee proof. However, there happened to be a line on the bench, wrapped in a nice coil, that I felt needed to be rinsed off. So, I threw it overboard to clean in the lake. Guess what I forgot to pull up before enabling the engine and pulling up anchor? Yep – that line!

Luckily, the engine did not stall. Cathia and I were able to swim under the boat and cut the line, though not completely. Neither of us would make very good pearl divers. So, some of the line remained on the prop – stuck between, and on, the two props on the port drive (yes, there are two counter-rotating props on each drive).

It wasn’t possible for us to detangle it better. But, the engines started. And, we were able to head out toward our marina. At higher RPMs I felt a vibration I didn’t much like. No one else could feel it, but I did. And, I wasn’t willing to risk further damage, no matter how unlikely.

We limped back from Seward Park to Kirkland at 7 knots. It was actually quite delightful. The next day I hired a diver to jump down and detangle the line. At $150 for two hours of work I thought it would easily be worth it. Took Chris, the diver, about four minutes! Still, worth it. I couldn’t have done it myself.

Photo Jun 09, 6 05 04 PM

So, all is good and, hopefully, that’s the last time something like that happens. At least, it’s likely to be the last time it happens because of something stupid I did.