1992 Cruise - San Juan Islands

Rescued from the archives

Alastor has had a recurrence of the dreaded osmosis, this time blisters in the epoxy paint applied in 1983. In 1991 I dried her out most of the summer, with a dehumidifier inside and the usual sunny Vancouver weather outside (we get most of our 60 or so inches of rain later in the year). I used a sandblaster to remove all the old antifouling and clean out the blisters, then smoothed the hull with epoxy putty and applied Interprotect. I was a bit nervous about the sandblaster at first, with some people saying it would eat right through the GRP in no time, but was pleasantly surprised by the ease of use and extremely rapid progress that was made compared to other methods I had experimented with, such as a disc sander, wire brush and hand scraper. It is a bit like using a paint sprayer in reverse - the longer it points at one spot, the more paint you take off, so you have to keep it moving. I found I could reduce costs a bit by collecting the used sand on a tarpaulin, sieving it in a kitchen sieve, and re-using it. The sieve paid for itself in about 20 minutes. In a fit of enthusiasm I also removed the engine (the original Watermota), cleaned it up with a smaller model sandblaster, and re-painted it after replacing the drain cocks and a few gaskets.

Another project was to fit a holding tank beneath the port quarter berth. The tank is required in US waters and may soon be required in some sensitive Canadian tidal waters. In order to get the maximum capacity for the least stowage space lost I decided to make it in situ from GRP-covered plywood. This was perhaps a mistake, as it took rather longer to complete than I had estimated, and left me to complete three seams working through a 6" hatch. So far I have no deck fitting, but two Y-valves allow me to pump out the tank in open water using the existing manual pump. The capacity is about 12 gallons, which I suspect the one- pump Lavac head of filling rather more quickly than a 2-pump system. The forward bulkhead of the bathroom forms the aft side of the tank, with the hull and the side of the locker under the bunk another two. The valves and pipework are in the locker behind the head, and the vent is taken to the anchor well. The tank allows us to stay at a marina or small cove without having to go ashore at night, which is a decided advantage with small children.

This year we decided to sail into foreign waters, something we had not attempted before, which would offer us some new cruising grounds within a couple of days travel.

27 July.

The original plan was for me to set off in the afternoon, meeting Suzannah and the two girls (Melisendra, now aged 2.5 and Ekaterina, now 4.5) the next morning on Pender Island. Stowing luggage and re-assembling the exhaust system took so long that I decided to wait until morning.

28 July.

We agreed to meet at Steveston at 1230. With everyone aboard, we motored off towards Sand Heads at the edge of the Fraser river delta, where we could turn south into the Georgia Strait. After a little while, we came across a pod of orcas (killer whales).
There are a few hundred of these in the strait, and we have seen them quite often over the years. We were quite lucky with photographs this time; video is easier but it is tricky to take a still photo at just the right moment to catch more than a splash of water.

We then continued across the strait, meeting another group of orcas, traversed Georgeson Passage and anchored for the night in Winter Cove, a marine park in a shallow bay.

29 July.

We felt a slight bump in the morning, and moved to a slightly deeper patch. A trimaran anchored nearby was even less careful and later on had dried out completely. We all went ashore for a walk and a swim. Winter Cove connects to the strait by a narrow passage, and we plunged through in the Avon dinghy propelled by a 6 knot current. Later I had to portage it back.

30 July.

We set off for Roche Harbor in the US, on San Juan island. Customs were less trouble than anticipated, but we had to agree to boil and eat that night all 3 potatoes we had brought with us. The harbour was quite busy and we anchored for the night. We had brought along a portable TV in the hope of seeing some Olympic coverage, and had a certain amount of success with a homemade loop antenna hoisted up to the spreaders. After lunch we headed for Jones Island marine park. Due to the drain from the TV, and also an electric (Peltier effect) icebox, we couldn't start the engine from the main battery, but were able to using one borrowed from our car that we had brought along. The engine missed a few times on the way, but we arrived safely and anchored in about 15 feet at the side of a bay. We all went ashore for a walk, and saw 2 deer. Our 4 year old was able to pet one that came close.

The wind came up in the night and we were woken by shouting from the shore. I went on deck to see what was going on and to try to quieten the halyards. Alastor seemed to be in our original position; but shortly thereafter we were roused by a bump and knocking on the hull. Initially we thought someone had drifted into us, but were dismayed to find that it was us who had dragged anchor and drifted into them. At this point I found the battery was flat again. I changed the battery over but was unable to start the engine. We were now in about 70 feet of water - deeper than our 120 feet of chain would allow at 3:1. The crew of the other boats kindly allowed us to raft with them for the remainder of the night, and towed us to a now-vacant mooring buoy in the morning. Ekaterina was woken up by all the noise and was terrified; Melisendra slept through it all oblivious. Suzannah was worried that we might not have hit anyone and drifted right out to sea, but I imagine we could have simply have hoist sail and made for another anchorage. Thinking about it later, I realized that I had originally anchored on a fairly steep slope, and should have had a stern line ashore.

1 August.

While the crew took some exercise in the dinghy and went ashore, I tackled the engine. I found a lot of water in the oil, but was finally able to start the engine after changing the oil and plugs. We stayed another night on the mooring, for a $5 self-administered fee.

2 August.

We sailed across to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. This marina was so large that one had to get a map of the floats. The first night there was no space on the floats, so we anchored in the bay (rather nervously on Suzannah's part, and on Ekaterina's, who asked if we'd be woken up again in the night).

3 August.

We moved to one of the floats with shore power, and plugged in the battery charger and icebox. We had brought a mountain bike with us on deck, and we hired a 5-speed bicycle and a Burley trailer for the children. Putting the trailer on the 18- speed mountain bike, we set off to visit American Camp at the south end of the island. In the late 1800s the San Juans were claimed by both Britain and America, and the shooting of a settler's pig led to an escalation of hostilities, with armed garrisons at either end of the island and British warships standing off in the bay. This state of affairs lasted for about ten years until the matter was settled by arbitration - the Kaiser decided in favour of the United States. The Pig War is much celebrated locally, and both camps have been preserved as state parks.

4 August.

Today we visited British Camp on the bicycles. The island is not exactly flat, and we took turns towing the trailer up the hills in low gear.

5 August.

We cycled to Limekiln Park, once the site of extensive limestone workings and now a good shore site to view orcas. We didn't see any, but had a pleasant picnic. Friday Harbor has a large shrimp population under the marina floats, and we bought Ekaterina a small net to try her hand with. There were a lot of older children on the floats with buckets of shrimps they had caught, but we didn't have much success.

6 August.

I tried emptying Alastor's holding tank using the marina honeywagon. As I hadn't fitted a deck coupling I used a piece of hose through the inspection hatch, which worked fairly well. By this time the trickle charger had finally fully charged both batteries.

7 August.

We set off for Spencer Spit on Lopez Island. This is a sandspit extending from Lopez almost to a small island close by. The spit moves north with the flood tide and south with the ebb, so that in the long term it stays in one place.

8 August.

We went ashore for a walk, and I sailed our windsurfer (which had been stowed on deck) for a while. In the afternoon we set off for Olga on Orcas Island. Olga is a quiet, one shop, kind of village compared to Friday Harbor's bustle and crowds.

9 August.

We did some shopping in Olga store, then set off into Rosario Strait, stopping at Clark Island after lunch to let the kids play on the beach. We then sailed to Sucia Island marine park where we spent the night. Sucia is a kind of boaters Mecca - there are about 300 mooring buoys provided, plus room for many more to anchor in about 8 different bays. I counted about 50 boats in the bay where we were anchored.

10 August.

Suzannah and the children went ashore while I tinkered with the engine again. There was more water in the oil, so I changed it. After lunch we set off to Bedwell Harbour on Pender Island, the nearest Canadian port of entry. The wind died later on, and we came across two daysailers drifting near Saturna island without a motor. We took them in tow to Bedwell, which happened to be where they wanted to go, with our engine sounding more and more unhealthy. We finally made harbour without any further incident, and cleared customs. This time the Canadian customs wanted our potatoes.

11 August.

We stayed at Bedwell Harbour and did laundry and shopping. In the afternoon we took the dinghy and windsurfer to the nearby marine park Ekaterina (aged 4) stood on the bow of the windsurfer while I sailed it around in a light breeze.

12 August.

We sailed to Long Harbour on Saltspring Island; the Gulf Islands are usually too sheltered to sail effectively in Alastor (we usually motor unless we can make more than 3 knots in the desired direction), but today was an exception. Long Harbour was alive with jellyfish of all sizes. We caught some in a bucket for the children to look at before putting them back.

13 August.

Suzannah and the children caught the ferry to Tsawwassen on the mainland. After attempting to fix the spreader light, I set off across the strait. At 6pm the engine quit, so I changed the oil again and cleaned out the plugs. I decided to spend the night at Steveston harbour, and bought some more oil.

14 August.

A good northwesterly was driving rollers up the Fraser river, so I was able to make way upstream under sail at about 6 knots. Unfortunately the tide was out, corresponding to maximum flow in the river, so the speed over ground was rather less. I arrived back at the marina having logged about 170 miles.


The engine problem that prevented it starting easily was due to the water-injected silencer having rotted away inside and allowing water to flow back into the exhaust manifold. The cause of water in the oil was almost certainly caused by worn seals on the water pump drive shaft compounded by an incompletely removed old seal defeating proper operation of the vents.