Day 1 – Bellingham to Fossil Cove on Sucia Island

May 27, 2015

Tentative Itinerery

Destination: Sucia, Echo Bay, soft docks/anchor/buoys; 18nm Note: first boat in should give a report [ch 80] on Fossil Bay, just south of Echo Bay. If buoys, docks and anchoring are available for 13 boats, this is a spectacular spot.

Radio net: 9:30am, ch 80.  Communication with the other boats that we were traveling with was on VHF channel 80.   We had a call every day about 30 minutes prior to departure to discuss the days destination and things to watch out for enroute.

Departure time: around 10am

Meals: breakfast option in restaurants, lunch and dinner on board.

  • Provision in Bellingham if not already done. Note we plan to enter Canada tomorrow. See hints in the Skippers Handbook. Note there are new prohibitions of chickens and eggs into Canada.
  • No rush to leave, but great trails ashore on Sucia to explore if you arrive a bit early.
  • VHF channel 16 and 80. Set your VHF to “dual watch”.
  • Check WX channel #4.
  • Check tide graph for anticipated time of arrival at Sucia
  • Check current atlas for current…nice surprise, or bad surprise, through Hale Pass?
  • Head toward tallest point on Lummi Island to clear rocks off Pt Francis
  • Keep red buoy to starboard as you round Pt Francis
  • Keep eye out for county ferry boat to Lummi
  • Georgia/Rosario Straits: watch for oil tankers and tugs/barges as you cross commercial shipping lanes
  • look back at northern tip of Lummi and at Sucia to see if current is sweeping you north or south; adjust to crab into the current so you stay on the straight line.
  • Pass north of Matia. (Pass by a favorite: Rolfe Cove on Matia, with dock and two mooring balls, wonderful hour long hike around island on trail through two eco-systems. Often strong current at Rolfe Cove dock and buoys.)
  • Watch for reef near northern entry to Echo Bay.

We decided to change the destination from Echo Bay to Fossil Cove.

The Morning Routine

The morning routine was that the first person up makes coffee.   We have a number of things to check prior to getting under way.  There are a number of through-the-hull fittings and are below water level.   Valves, called seacocks, must be closed prior to disembarking, to prevent water from sloshing back into the sinks and the heads.  These valves are located in various places under the removable floor panels (called the cabin sole) in the saloon.  It would be very bad if these leaked and could sink the boat.

Additionally under the cabin sole is the bilge.  It is the lowest point in the boat.  Water can collect or drain there (from the refrigerator and freezer).   There are 3 pumps on board to removed water from the bilge.  An automatic bilge pump like a sump pump will do this without attention.   There is an manual electric pump as well as a manual physical pump for backup.   The bilge must be checked morning and evening.   If water starts accumulating in the bilge, we’d have to find out where its coming from and why the automatic bilge pump didn’t work.

The coolant level, oil level and belt tension must also be checked daily before the engine is started.

While this is going on, the NOAA weather forecast is checked 0n channel 4 of the VHF radio.   We then also check the tidal currents and wind for the time that we estimate we’d arrive at various waypoints.  We try to arrange our travel so that we generally travel in the direction of the current, which can add several knots to our speed.  Otherwise, opposing currents reduce our speed.

Of particular note is that there are two speed indicators on board.  One gives speed over water (SOW) and speed over ground (SOG).  The latter is determined by GPS measurements.   The SOW is the SOG plus or minus the speed of the current.   If SOW is less than SOG then it means that we are traveling in the  direction of the current and it is giving us a free boost.

After starting the engine we make sure that cooling water is flowing as evidenced by water coming out of the exhaust port on the side of the boat.  We then check to see that the batteries are charging.   Since we were in port in a slip, we were connected to shore power via a long extension cord.  This has to be disconnected (carefully so that the live end doesn’t fall into the sea water).

Finally we make a plan for leaving the slip based primarily on currents and wind (but read further on about this).

During these checks we noted suspicious battery charging that proved to be nothing. This was important to resolve since at night or under sail with the motor off, all electronics, lights, pumps and sufficient battery power to start the engine.  There are two sets of batteries on the boat–one set for the engine for starting and one set for running the electrical items on the boat.  After disconnecting from shore power, batteries get charged from the engine (when its running of course).


The first thing is to make a plan for getting out of the slip.   This entails considerations of the wind, current, what side the boat is docked on and whether or not its pulled into the slip or backed in.  But in spite of my planning, I was so nervous the first time in this big a boat, that I completely neglected my planning.

Getting a 41 foot boat out of the slip into a 50ft channel and maneuver proved to be challenging, probably more so than necessary.  This was an auspicious start that taught me a strong lesson about paying attention to conditions, the capabilities of the boat and what I had learned from the docking class.  The boat was pulled into the slip with a port (left) side dock.  I my planning had me backing out with just a touch of the throttle to get us moving, turn the wheel to the left which would bring the stern to the left as we got enough movement through the water for the rudder to be effective.  Additionally, by ‘goosing’ the throttle in reverse, I could bring the stern to port through the action of the prop rotation (prop walk).  This would have backed me around the end of the dock out of the slip in into a much wider channel where the boat would be facing in the right direction.

Instead, for some unknown reason, other than I saw other boats pull out this way, was that I backed around to starboard (right) with too much throttle and nearly clipped the aft quarter of another moored boat.  This is shown here.

I had what turned out to be what could have been a nasty collision with another boat across from us that could have ruined our vacation. But a well placed and well timed fender saved the day (and the vacation and a lot of money).  We followed the suggestions for avoiding such things while docking and undocking by using a person or two with fenders that can be inserted at the right time and place which absorbed ALL of the shock. We got away with out further incident.

The very big lesson for me was patience and speed.   Basically, a touch of the throttle in reverse gear was all that was necessary to get the boat moving.   Most of docking and undocking is done with the boat drifting with the motor in neutral or idling in gear using the momentum.  A boat this size (19,000 pounds) will coast a long way.  All that is needed is sufficient power to overcome the effects of current and wind.  But, docking and undocking are perhaps the most dangerous maneuvers in sailing where most of the accidents happen.  The kicker for me was that I was thinking of a different procedure for undocking which would have been the correct one, but for some reason I didn’t do it.

The tentative route we laid out is shown below.bellingham to fossil cove

After getting out of the slip safely and out of the harbor, we found we had a lot of wind to sail across Bellingham Bay.  Since it was coming out of the west from Lummi Is,  we could not take the direct route across the bay toward Lummi Is.  The circles on the route are waypoints and we were heading toward the 1st waypoint, named “Danger Rock”.  Instead we had to take a zigzag course (called beating).   The boat can sail up to about 30-40º off the wind.  While the conditions  were good for exciting sailing, it does take longer.  But if you are in a hurry, don’t go sailing.  One cannot sail on a schedule!

Sailing out of Bellingham Bay

This image illustrates how we were apparently sailing in different directions since it looks like the other sailboat in the picture is going somewhere else.   This is indicative of the zig zag course we had to follow to get out of the bay and into Hale Channel because the wind direct was directly from that direction (ie., from the left in the image).tacking exampleAs we got into Hale Ch, the wind died and we had to motor the rest of the way through the channel. We adjusted our course to the next waypoint, named WP2-hale ch. While the channel itself is fairly wide, the navigable section is much narrower and attention to the navigation buoys and the chart plotter are essential for a safe passage.  Additionally, the chart denotes ferry routes that we must pay attention to.  In other words you must know your position at all times when traversing the islands.

This is where we rounded Pt Francis into the Hale Channel looking back on Eliza Is.

After we exited Hale Channel, we were heading toward the ‘hale ch #2″ waypoint finding ourselves in more open water.  We turned left around the buoy heading west to the “separation-east” waypoint.   This waypoint marked the beginning a a major shipping channel.  Because the large freighters and other commercial vessels have limited maneuverability and are constrained by their draft, these channels are dedicated to them. These vessel can travel up to 25 knots (a little over 25 mph).   While that doesn’t sound like much, our sailboat travels at up to 8 knots generally.   A vessel traveling 25 mph can cover a quarter mile in less than 40 seconds.   The shipping channel is divided into 3 sections like a divided highway with the middle section called a separation zone as shown on the image of the route


The freighter we observed from the other side of the shipping lane heading south. (zoom in to get a better view of the freighter)

Each lane is about one half mile wide.  In order for us to cross it safely, the recommended procedure is to cross at right angles, watching for traffic all the time.   As we were approaching the channel, we saw a large freighter in the south bound lane.   Consequently we had to parallel the channel until the freighter passed and it was safe for us to cross

After crossing the navigation channel it was pretty much of a straight shot into Fossil Cove. We arrived at fossil cove after about 5 hr, covering about 20 nm. We found an empty mooring ball, hooked up to it and then took the dingy to shore to stretch our legs and see some of the sights.   Fossil bay while shallow was navigable and was as beautiful a place as I’ve ever experienced. Peaceful and serene.


Approaching Fossil Cove




One view of Fossil Cove while moored


Fossil Cove



The crew on land at Fossil Cove

We sighted lots of sea critters but mostly small ones, seals, otters, birds. Nothing close up though.


Otter surfacing to check us out


Sunset in Fossil Cove

I slept very well that night.

Here are some pictures of the voyage and the cove.  Enjoy.


Cyndee relaxing for a moment


Me at the helm


John studying the chart to verify our position and track


LaVonne and John relaxing and enjoying the ride


Another of the incredible views we experienced



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