Alaska

The Difference a Day Makes

Wednesday, July 01, 2015S.V. CAMBRIA

Ketchikan was a mad rush of chores – fuel, laundry, groceries, checking the internet for a complete weather picture – and we had one goal in mind: to get out of there as fast as possible.

The forecast for Wednesday called for variable winds, 10 knots or less, becoming southeastly 20 knots late in the day with four-foot seas, increasing to 30 knots and six feet on Thursday before subsiding to 20 knots on Friday.  Our plan was to take advantage of the southerlies and sail up Clarence Strait on Wednesday, ride out the worst of the weather at anchor on Thursday and move again on Friday.  It wasn’t a great forecast but didn’t raise any alarms either since the wind would be from behind, the same direction as the flood current.

The only problem was that it wasn’t Wednesday.  It was Thursday.

Somehow, we’d lost a day.  We have a page-a-day calendar (the ones that you tear a page off every day) to help keep track, but I must have forgotten to tear it off Tuesday morning so we were behind without realizing it.  It should have been an easy enough mistake to discover.  All we had to do was turn on the VHF radio and listen to the recorded forecast before we left.  At the very least, we would have thought they bumped it up a day.  But we didn’t.  We were distracted and complacent and, worst of all, in a hurry.  No excuses.  We messed up.

We were taken to school and are lucky that only our egos got bruised in the process.  David always says, “You can’t make good decisions based on bad information.”  It’s been his mantra for decades – both personally and professionally.  But we did.  And we paid the price for it.

At first we hadn’t a clue because the conditions were good in Tongass Narrows.  The sea state started to pick up once we were in Clarence Strait, but we’d expected that because it’s open to the Pacific Ocean at the mouth.  We thought it would settle down once we were well inside the channel.  But it didn’t.  It got worse, and before long we were seeing 2 metre seas (6+ feet), effectively 2 to 3 seconds apart, with a steady 20 to 25 knots and gusts in the 30s. 

Here’s how David described the day in Cambria’s log:

Clarence Strait took me to school today, showing exactly how the sea state in these straits and channels can get ugly, very quickly.  Running with the flood current and with winds well aft of beam typically in the 25 – 35 kt range but later in the run exceeding 45 – 50 kts during extended rain squalls, the strait was running short steep seas of 1 – 2 + metres, breaking occasionally and with very little time in between to settle the boat, which was itself very lively and with a very definite mind of its own when working with the quartering sea state.  During the run we were consistently making 8 – 9 kts over ground, and over 10 + kts for lengthy periods. 
Attempted to turn towards Thorne Bay as a revised destination during the heaviest period.  Aborted the attempt within minutes when facing confused and breaking seas while making no more than 1 – 2 kts under full power and with little or no rudder/steering response due to the heavy and confused currents close to the coastline.  Effectively, the boat was “in irons” while under power – a situation I’ve never previously encountered and one which caused me to question, momentarily, whether we had lost the rudder or steering.

All-in-all quite a tiring run.  And closing the coast to Ratz Harbour was a bit interesting to say the least . . . poor visibility during the last 20 mins and 45 + kts dead on the beam on the turn leg to make harbour.  Anchor down in Ratz Harbour at 14:15 hrs.  Whew! What a day.  One I hope never to be repeated.  Not exactly life-threatening. At least for us.  Not today.  However, having said that I can easily see how a vessel could get into real difficulties in similar conditions.

It is now quite clear after reconsideration of all the facts and circumstances surrounding today’s go/no-go decision, which erroneously was based on the forecast for the prior day!!  An absurd and potentially dangerous error driven by the single fact that I/we had somehow managed to “lose a day”.  The conditions we encountered were almost exactly as forecast, save and except perhaps for the squall gusts exceeding 45 + kts.  An  unacceptable blunder; one which has never occurred before, and one which must never happen again.

Note: This blog entry was written on Friday, June 05.

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3 comments

  1. Well, I would laugh and commiserate with you, but I know you must have been mighty uncomfortable. Very glad you figured it out and of course, that will never happen again. I wish I could say the same. I can lose days at a time if I don't pay attention.

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  2. It actually wasn't too bad, Melissa. Cambria's a pretty comfortable boat even under those conditions. But it wasn't one of our best days, that's for sure! We still can't believe how stupid we were!

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  3. Just a humorous follow up: on the way home from our vacation on the west coast we actually gained a day. Fortunately it didn't make any difference in the wind/weather, but by the time we got to Port Madison, I thought it was already Friday, when it was actually Thursday. This gave us a day to stay at the marina, clean the boat, and have one last night before returning to the house and all the work we have coming to us this year as we prepare to move onto Galapagos.

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