Sunday, February 22, 2009

Westsound trip and witness to boat fire!

Just back from a wonderful overnight to Westsound, Orcas Island with the boys and we had a bit of drama soon after arriving. I'll get to that in a minute. We left our slip in Friday Harbor at 11am and enjoyed a blue sky north wind trip tacking right up San Juan Channel. Maybe 10-15 knots of wind, which is just enough to get Aeolus to lean over and enjoy herself. I was able to get that "Oh my gosh I'm so damn happy" feeling and all was absolutely deeply right in our world for those three tacks up to the Wasp Islands.

We dropped sails for the serpentine motoring through Wasp Passage and turned north into lovely Westsound. Dropping anchor in about 40 feet of water just south of the county dock, I had no sooner prepared lunch and sat down in the cockpit than my son Elliott says "Dad, look at that smoke!". We were maybe 75 yards from the Westsound marina and sure enough there was ominous black billowing smoke coming up from a moored boat.

Well, suffice to say she was soon, like in seconds, fully engulfed in flames and became raging inferno. Wow, boat fires are scary things. So many combustibles aboard. As it spewed flames out every window and sent columns of smoke polluting the air, I watched as a small handful of people on the dock looked distraught about their seemingly ineffectual efforts. Much time elapsed before I heard sirens, maybe 20-30 minutes it seemed, though I know time gets distorted.

Next thing I know the boat is drifting back out of its slip ( I was later told by one of the dock employees that he had cut her free to keep her from burning her neighboring boat anymore and to avoid a wholesale marina fire) with the faint north wind doing the pushing. This whole time I had my boys staying low in the cockpit as I feared our close proximity and the potential of this big old powerboat having a large gasoline tank. I was waiting for the big explosion. As the boat, the Coho, drifted back, it was headed straight for the nearby island. I was guessing it was going to drift right up on that beach and catch that whole island on fire, and it seems only luck prevented that from happening. Any shift of wind could have had that burning thing drift right back north into me!

It didn't, but keep going south and out into the sound. Eventually the Friday Harbor fire boat arrived and the Coast Guard sent a small boat. Together they sprayed the fire out, but I must say the Friday Harbor fire boat had a very, very, unimpressive amount of water power. They seemed to be having trouble with their pumps or hoses as they pulled alongside the burning boat and then drifted there for many pregnant minutes trying to get things ready. After a long time, maybe 15 minutes, their small bow hose began working and shot what looked like a robust garden hose amount of water. They also had a hand hose or two, but really, nothing impressive compared to the size and ferocity of the fire needing quenched. Those guys were brave to be so close to a burning boat that could have exploded any second for all I knew. The Coasties applied some more impressive water power. The photo here is of the adjacent house boat badly burned by the Coho fire.

Eventually, burned down to her gunwales and looking more like a canoe than a proud wooden power boat of a bygone era, she sank. Immediately, my mind went to her fuel tanks and her engine and I thought of oil slicks and such. Fortunately, an oil boom was brought in and most of the fuel, diesel it turns out, had burned in the fire.

Anyway, quite dramatic. We dinghied over to the county dock and walked around Westsound and played on the beach to our hearts content.

Saturday, Amy ferried over with the car and we went over to hike up the south side of Turtleback Mountain. It's about 1.3 miles up to the Ships Peak lookout and worth every steep step. Views out over Crow Valley, north to BC, and just over to everywhere in the world. This photo is actually out over the Wasp Island and Westsound toward the Olympic Mountains. Turtleback Mountain is paradise and I'm so proud to work for the organization that helped preserve it forever.

After our hike, Amy caught the ferry back and we decided to head home too.

I have to say a few words about my son Elliott and what a competent sailor he is becoming:
To raise our anchor, the windlass controls are inside the boat at the inside steering station. We had out 120 feet of 3/8" BBB chain for our 3:1 and so I had no interest in bringing it all in by hand. Amy normally does the job, but with her gone, I trained Elliott in our hand signals and he did a 100% perfect job. Quick on and quick off and no trouble. I was so proud of him being 8 years old and my being able to trust him so much with an important thing. On the motor back (no wind), he continues to take the wheel for long stretches and knows how to steer by compass and hold a bearing. I even had him practice MOB procedures and he can handle all the engine controls himself too. When we got back to our slip, I had secured the stern and midship lines and Elliott was ready on the bow to throw the bow line. Knowing he is a dead and accurate aim, I had no worries. The bow began to drift off and was now maybe 7 or 8 feet away from the dock. Some people standing nearby started saying "Oh, look out" and such things. I said nothing, but calmly walked up to the spot and readied for his throw. When he skillfully heaved it, having already coiled it and made sure it was free of anything, it came straight to my shoulder. Perfectly. He then did the same thing with the port bow line. The people were stunned to see this little boy be so skilled. I was just all the more proud of my beautiful and capable boy.

Home safe and sound and better than ever for yet another adventure aboard the good ship Aeolus.

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