Cruise to Dabob Bay
It all started simply enough. A suggestion from Robert to do a
weekend cruise to Dabob Bay. He had mentioned wanting to explore
Hood Canal before, this was the first step to actually doing
something about it. Being eager myself to do any kind of cruising
I jumped on the bandwagon.
So as we frequently did, we sat in an "artsy" bar
not far from the University of Washington and informally planned
our adventure. It was planning that was usually a more
seat-of-the-pants variety; a combination of sheer serendipity and
desire to just be out on the water. The plan, such as it was, was
to leave Saturday morning from Union Bay, go through the ship
channel out to Shilshole Bay, sail as far as we could, then motor
to Dabob Bay. We would return the next day. Since neither of us
really needed to be back on Monday, we figured we would have some
slack in our schedule in case we were delayed.
Hood Canal. A deceptive name if there ever was one. And also
deceptive to look at. This sleepy strip of water on the east side
of Puget Sound is rarely more than 1 mile wide, but cuts a long
straight groove at the foot of the Olympic mountains before
taking a fish hook turn near Bremerton. Although you couldn't
tell by the shores, the glacier cut canal is so deep that the
Navy submarines based at Bangor, WA conduct diving and
maneuvering sea drills with great frequency. Hood Canal is also
synonymous with high winds. A floating bridge near the head of
the Canal was destroyed at one time by winds topping 100 knots.
Dabob Bay is a rather large bay adjacent to Hood Canal about
halfway down the channel. Since the mouth of the Canal is a good
distance from Seattle, Dabob was a good goal to get a taste of
cruising in this sparsely populated area.
Early morning Saturday found us wandering down to the
waterfront home of the university's yacht club. Amongst the
hodge-podge of different boats available to rent to club members
was a 26 ft. Excalibur, the club's largest keelboat. Built in the
late 1960's by Islander, Excalibur was designed to rate favorably
in the CCA rule, having a fin keel, spade rudder, and a masthead
rig. It was a pretty solid boat that withstood the various abuses
of the club members with grace. The sail inventory was well worn
but functional with a genoa, lapper, and working jib along with a
mainsail. Auxiliary power was wrapped up in a 9 horse outboard
hung on a bracket off the stern. Both Robert and I had sailed the
boat so we were familiar with its simple layout. With sails and
gear stored aboard we set off, motoring to the Ballard Locks,
then out into Puget Sound.
The wind was fairly light and fickle, but with the powerful
150% genoa set we were able to get almost to Point No Point
before the wind failed and an adverse current threatened to sweep
us backward. Knowing that we still had a long way to go at 2:00
pm., we fired up the motor. Motoring with an outboard has never
been my favorite thing to do. Especially when having to deal with
a motor that has had hundreds of university students fiddle with
it. Today, though, it proved to work flawlessly.
Entering Hood Canal was anti-climactic. The lack of breeze
turned the whole body of water into a glass mirror. The sun
disappearing behind the Olympics meant that we would still be
motoring a long way in the dark. No matter, navigation was
simple. In fact we had yet to look at the chart. So over the din
of the motor we talked and ate.
Robert was a long-time doctorial student, so long in fact that
over 10 years had passed since receiving his bachelor's degree.
He was frequently distracted by boat-building projects, an
occasional woman, and an odd trip home in his Triumph Spitfire to
visit his parents. Sailing was a family passion, exposing him at
an early age to Californian ocean racing. His long student
membership at UW allowed him to become qualified on all of the
different boats at the yacht club, including teaching sailing at
regular intervals. But the most defining characteristic of Robert
was that he was a loner. And since I've always been a bit of one
myself we became good friends. I'll never forget our late-night
sojourns to a local bar in 1987 to watch the America's Cup live
from Australia, emerging bleary eyed and smelling of cigarette
smoke after the bar closed. Ah, but to watch the action, tack for
tack, to chatter about tactics, to disagree with the
commentators, to watch the sails blow up, it was all good fun.
The other bar patrons looked at us with disdain because they
figured they were forced to view something akin to watching grass
So after an interminably long motoring spell, we turned into
Dabob Bay and immediately anchored near the Toandos shore. Cloud cover made
the night pitch black so after figuring that we were set for the
night, we turned in to sleep the slumber of the dead.
Waking up was slow and peaceful, but once alert in my sleeping
bag I could tell that things were different. Not only was the
cabin brightly lit with sunshine, but a certain sustained
whistling noise belied a significant breeze. From my bunk in the
quarterberth I could feel the boat rock, followed by a lull, then
rock some more. Being groggy from sleep, it took me a bit to get
used to the rocking motion once I decided to become vertical. I
stepped out the hatch to be greeted by a breathtaking sight. The
air was so clear and bright, that I felt like I could reach out
and touch the Olympics. I could see every pine needle, every
patch of snow high up on the peaks. The sky was deep blue and
cloudless. Tears welled up in my eyes. Unfortunately not from
emotion, but trying to look into the increasing wind. White caps
were visible all across the bay and our boat was swinging wide
arcs around our anchor. Time for a short conference.
Since the wind was blowing from the north down the bay, we
decided to uproot and swing around the corner toward Hood Canal
because we would be protected along the shore. Not bothering with
the motor, we pulled up the anchor and raised the working jib and
flew the around Tskutsko Pt. Once under the bluffs the wind
slacked off and we anchored only a boat length from shore. The
water was so clear we could see whether the anchor set or not.
Great! Time for breakfast.
Now our lackadaisical planning started to show its
shortcomings. I had brought some lunch material for both days,
but we had eaten almost all of it the evening before. What we
were left with was a few candy bars. Robert had planned to snag a
few oysters, so he promptly donned his wet suit and snorkling
gear and went over the side. Within 15 minutes he had 2 buckets
full of good-sized oysters.
Not knowing anything about oysters, I asked, "How do we
"We'll just steam them or boil them in water. They'll
open up enough so you can pry open the shells." Sounded easy
enough. The question now was, "What do we use for
The water tank on the Excalibur was made of rigid plastic. The
boat was used infrequently so the supply could sit for months in
the same old tank. Our disdain for such a water source was so
much that we didn't even check the level before we left. Didn't
matter how much was in there, it would take a herd of stampeding
polar bears before we would let one drop pass our lips. We
brought some water in canteens, but it was not enough to boil the
Robert looked at his catch after struggling back on deck.
"Well, we'll just use sea water!"
Okay! So sea water it is, and we commence cooking about half
of the oysters. After fumbling with opening them and cutting
myself a few times on the sharp shells, I was quite impressed.
Despite the slight salty taste from our impromptu cooking
technique, they were big and tasted good. I have yet to have
oysters since that day that could compare. So with our bellies
full, we now turned our attention to...
Getting back. The wind was now 25 knots outside of our
protective wind shadow. And its northerly direction was exactly
where we would have to go to get out of Hood Canal. Once we
turned the corner at the end of the Kitsap Peninsula then it
would be downwind all the way to Seattle, but the 15 mile
stretch up the Canal was the most daunting. So we decided that we
would start with the working jib and full main. The working jib
was slightly smaller than 100% of the foretriangle, but it was
old and stretched out. It would have to do. So we pulled anchor,
raised the sails, and sailed placidly along our protective shore
until we nosed out beyond Hazel Point. We braced ourselves as we
immediately heeled over to 30 degrees and started plowing into
the 2 - 3 ft. chop. Excalibur just shouldered her way through the
constant spray, slamming occasionally as she dropped off an
unusually steep wave. I looked to windward at the sea of white
horses and spotted the Hood Canal Bridge 10 nm off in the distance, the
most obvious landmark that we had to pass. It was going to be a
I guess the nice thing about nasty weather is that you rarely
see anybody else out in it. A scan from north to south revealed
that we were the only boat on the Canal. Our tacks took us from
one side of the Canal to the other. Once we got abeam of the
Bangor Navy Base, a lone patrol boat decided to venture out to
talk to us. Although ostensibly out to warn us to keep clear of
the waters around the base, I think he was bored and wanted to
see what hapless people choose to sail in such conditions. He
stayed a comfortable distance to leeward of us to yell over the
racket. He could hear Robert just fine, but we had difficulty
hearing him. As they tried to understand each other, the noise
level was increased by the slashing sound of tearing sails.
Within seconds a 2 foot gash opened up in the leach of the
working jib, not along the seam like it normally would, but right
in the middle of the fabric. The newly deformed sail started to
shake and rattle the rig, so I immediately released the halyard
and handed in the sail before it ripped any more. Our disaster
apparently startled the patrol boat, since he stopped and drifted
away. Now sailing bareheaded, Excalibur slugged along at just
over a knot. Clearly designed to always sail with a jib, the
diminutive main alone didn't have enough power to really push
through the chop.
"Well, what now?" I yelled back to Robert.
"Put up the lapper."
A larger jib, the lapper is 135% of the foretriangle. Since we
were overpowered with the working jib, more sail area seemed to
be slightly odd, but we had to do something. I immediately
started to put it up. Once we had it up and adjusted, Excalibur
leapt to attention and started driving at a much faster speed.
The lapper was bigger, and it required all my strength on the
winch to pull it in to close hauled, but it was cut much flatter
than the worn working jib so it increased our power without
increasing the heel.
Now we were cooking! The occasional firehose of water over the
deck now became a constant one. But with each tack, the bridge
got closer and closer. We were winning in our quest to go to
windward, but we were losing time. As we crossed under the east
rise of the bridge, the sun had disappeared behind the Olympics.
We were less than halfway to Seattle. But the north headland of
Kitsap Peninsula was in our sights, after rounding that, well, we
could look forward to a long, fast downwind slide to home.
Less than a mile from passing the bridge, a small bang
followed by the unmistakable sound of an unfettered sail
thundering in the wind brought our attention away from our next
destination. The clew grommet had pulled clean out of the jib and
deposited itself neatly on the deck. We now had no way to pull in
the sail. After lowering the lapper with heavy heart, we were now
bareheaded again making around a knot.
"Let's try the engine." Robert is plainly grasping
at straws like I am. But the headland is only..."that"
I struggled with the motor which we hadn't used since the
night before, and it finally coughed to life. But being hung off
a stern plunging up and down in the waves, the propellor didn't
spend much time in the water. To prevent damage to the engine I
shut it off. Time for other alternatives. We could bear off for
Port Gamble, now off our starboard beam, but anchoring there would not be
protected from the wind and waves. Time to check the chart.
The only chart I brought was a small craft chart with
microscopic detail. In the waning twilight I scanned the
Hansville coastline looking for any protected area as the Port
Ludlow side was totally exposed. I spotted a very small bay, but
because of the scale did not show any depth markings. There were
several piers shown in the bay, but who knows what's there? I
bring up the idea to Robert. He agrees, mostly I think because
it's an idea. Any idea. In the now faded light, it's impossible
to tell where the bay is, so between the description of land on
the chart and counting headlands, we aim for what we think is the
Slowly, slowly, we inched toward the dark land mass. Soon the
waves dropped in size as we entered the protected lee of the
peninsula. I dropped the motor in and fired it up, soon making
our progress faster. Sure enough, a water entrance into the trees
appeared as planned. I slowed and Robert went up to the bow.
"I'll look for shoals and we'll just motor in really
slow," said Robert. Excalibur had no depth sounder, so I
slowed to a crawl. I don't know if Robert could see anything
anyway because of the darkness. I had this sudden thought of
running hard aground and the sudden stop pitching Robert over the
bow into the inky water. But slowly we motored as more of the
little bay opened up to us. Suddenly around the corner I spotted
a small marina with sailboats much larger than ours sitting
quietly at their docks.
"Well, hell," I said with relief, "if they can
get in here then we won't have any problem."
We spotted an empty berth and tied up. I have no doubt that
our remaining supply of oysters will make for a tasty meal. It
will have to do until we get back to Seattle. I looked over at
the marina office, and it appeared to be one where a family lives
above it. I sauntered over to see if we needed to pay for moorage
there. A lady answered my knocks.
"I'm sorry to disturb you," I began and then told
her an abbreviated version of our trials for the day and if they
didn't mind tying up to their docks until morning. She was
suitably impressed with our resolve (or stupidity) to get as far
as we did considering the conditions.
"Is there anything that you need?" she asked.
"If you don't mind, I would like some tea bags,
please." A few minutes later I was back on the boat with tea
bags in hand and a message that we could stay until morning free
of charge. Having downed the rest of the oysters and tea, sleep
was most welcome.
The next day was as calm as the first, and we were forced to
motor the entire way back to UW. Our day was not done, however.
Being somewhat embarrased by our sail damage, Robert and I
whisked the jibs unseen into the sail loft above the waterfront
center and repaired them while simultaneously learning how to
work the heavy duty sewing machines.
Thus ending our cruise to Dabob Bay. I never got a chance to
return to Hood Canal.