Friday, January 6, 2017

Cruising and the Kindness of Strangers

As 2016 fades into the past and the new year looms ahead, my thoughts can't help but return to the boating highlights of the last year.  The big event, of course, was re-powering Compadre with new diesels, at once closing the era of gasoline propulsion and bringing the promise of more enjoyable and trouble-free cruising.  After we finished, we immediately left on a 3-week cruise to British Columbia. That was followed later by several shorter cruises around Puget Sound and a visit to the Wooden Boat Festival at Port Townsend in September.  A fitting start to the new era.  Cindy and I had a wonderful time cruising, and Compadre performed even better than we had hoped.  But as often happens on the water, all did not go smoothly.  Had it not been for some very good luck and the kind help of fellow boaters, our B.C. cruise might have been far less pleasant.

A busy day on Jervis Inlet
Our first cruise revolved around a visit to Princess Louisa Inlet, arguably the most beautiful cruising destination in the Northwest.  This was our second trip to Princess Louisa, and this time we were joined by our friends Ken and Martha from California.  After picking them up in Naniamo, we made a quick dash across the Strait of Georgia for an overnight stay in Pender Harbour.  From there it is a half-day run up Jervis Inlet to Malabu Rapids, the entrance to Princess Louisa.  We left at dawn. Steep granite cliffs on both shores and waterfalls everywhere -- what a morning!

Malabu Rapids is passable only every six hours at slack tide, and even then only for a period of 15 minutes or so.  Boats planning to transit the rapids usually arrive early, rather than risk missing the tide window and having to wait six hours for another chance.  And so we did.  The slack was predicted at 1125, and we arrived comfortably early at around 1100.  What to do for 25 minutes?  Let's just shut down the engines and drift for a bit.  No wind, no current, not another boat in sight.  We'll just drift and enjoy the view.  Wonderful.  Until we started the engines again.

Princess Louisa.  We felt as gloomy as the weather when we arrived.  Lousy luck!
We were about a quarter mile from the rapids, and with 5 minutes to go, we could just cruise over slowly and arrive right on time.  But what was that THUMP! THUMP! THUMP! ??  Better take the engines out of gear and find out.  It didn't take long.  A glance astern confirmed that the tow-line for our inflatable dinghy was nowhere in sight, and the dinghy was right at the stern.  Those of you with boating experience already know what happened. Yep, wrapped the tow line around the prop.  What bad luck, we thought.  We had only a couple minutes to get through the rapids, and here we were stuck.  And with no other boaters around to help.

But our luck was not all bad:  Only one prop was fouled; the other one seemed to be clear.  This was our first lucky break.  If both props had fouled, we would have been adrift, and there was no possibility of anchoring.  The water is very deep right up to the shoreline.  No other boats around.  No radio communication with the Coast Guard.  Not a pleasant thought.  But one prop was free! We could make it through the rapids on one engine; I just had to make sure that our guests didn't notice my white knuckles on the wheel!

The channel is very narrow, not much more than 50 feet wide at low tide, and there is a sharp right turn part way through. Not the sort of thing you'd like to do with one engine out, but there were no easy choices.  We could either go through the channel and into Princess Louisa, where we could tie to the dock and hope to get the prop untangled, or make the 6-hour trip back down to Pender Harbor on one engine, hope to find a local diver, and try for Princess Louisa another day.  The decision was made -- we'll try the channel.

Safely at the dock.  Princess Louisa Inlet.
With no opposing boat traffic and slack water, we came through the narrow channel in fine style.  We were soon into the inlet, among the towering peaks, and motoring toward the dock at Chatterbox Falls.  Maneuvering a twin-engine boat in tight quarters on one engine is a challenge, but we managed to get to the dock without embarrassing ourselves.  So far, so good.  But now what?  We still have this tow line wrapped around the prop shaft.  My friend Ken graciously volunteered to go in the water to untangle things.  "Do you have a mask?", he asks.  Of course.  You never know when you might have to do a little diving, so we keep one on board.  Ken has done a lot of scuba diving, and read in the cruising guide that the water in Princess Louisa is pleasantly warm in the summer.  No problem.  Well, ... it wasn't summer.  It was mid-May, and the water temperature was in the low 50s.  Ken jumped in, made a quick attempt to untangle things, and that was all he could do.  Way too cold!  We got him out of the water and into the shower to warm up.  Fortunately he was none the worse for it; we learned long ago that this cold water is dangerous and must be respected.  We were still stuck.

And now our second bit of good luck:  Our failed diving venture had attracted the attention of other boaters on the dock.
"Hi, I'm Nina off the trimaran Rikki-tikki-tavi.  What's up?"
"Hi I'm Rick.  Got a line wrapped around the prop.  Thought we could untangle it, but the water's just too cold."
"Oh, bad luck.  But maybe we can help.  My husband has a dry suit on board.  I'm sure he'd be willing to lend it to you."
"Fantastic!  That should do the trick."

Nina helping Clark get suited up. More help from another cruiser.
A few minutes later, down the dock came Clark and his dry suit.  Now our third bit of good luck:  Not only did he have his dry suit, but he insisted on suiting up himself and diving in.  Once in the water it took him no more than 30 seconds to cut away the line.  Clearly he had done this before.  Then back out of the water -- job done.

In he goes.
The offending line.
Mission accomplished!
Clark returned to his boat to get cleaned up, and Ken, Martha, Cindy, and I counted our blessings.  We could not have been more thankful.  Granted, we (actually I) fouled the prop in a decidedly awkward spot, far from civilization and far beyond radio range.  No way to call for help from up there.  We were on your own.  But not entirely -- when you are in the company of other boaters, amazing things can happen.  We owed Grant and Nina a debt of gratitude that was only partly paid by the two nice bottles of wine I dropped off at Rikki-tikki a short while later.  We visited with them for a while the next day and got better acquainted, and then both boats headed off on other adventures.

Underway again.  Cindy and Martha enjoy the sights.
Happily we ran into Clark and Nina again in September, this time at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival.  Rikki-tikki was entered in the show, tied at the end of our dock -- a beautiful example of modern wooden-boat construction.  We were happy to share our other cruising experiences from the summer and reflect on our chance meeting at Princess Louisa.

Again, thanks Clark and Nina, and "fair winds" Rikki-tikki-tavi.

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