Wake-Up Cruise, Dead Reckoning & Other Back-up Plans

by Lori Longo & Fred Dahlem, Guest Writers

Asparagus “Sweetie” under tow

The Port Ludlow Yacht Club promotes a “Wake-Up Cruise” every spring providing boaters a chance to shake out the sails and test their boat systems while comfort- ably close to home. Our first year to fully participate was 2021. Not only were we excited to once again be out on the water, but it was a special treat getting to know new members who jumped right in to join the cruise!

After two easy days motoring to Pleasant Harbor and Alderbrook with 20+ knot winds on our nose, we were looking forward to sailing back home from Alderbrook and enjoying the Hood Canal from the sailor’s perspective. We decided to wait until noon to leave Alderbrook avoiding a low, low tide back in Pleasant Harbor. About 1230, shortly after pulling out of Alderbrook, the engine overheated, rendering it useless. We hailed One Love, Allison and Erik Leonard’s boat, who were just ahead of us. They kindly came back and stood by as we got under sail near the shal- lows. Meanwhile we let out the jib and played in light, finicky air to get back underway.

We sailed the next twenty-five miles on a course that would take us parallel to Pleasant Harbor. The journey started with light air and fairly quickly transitioned to a 20-knot following southerly wind for about 10 nautical miles (nm). That was a super fun ride! About 5 nm south of Pleasant Harbor, we hit a lull, the sun was shining and the air warmed. As we took a look around, we knew we were in for an experience. Looking back to the south, huge cumulus clouds glistened in the sunshine, and to the north was a dark, ominous cumulus nimbus front. Twenty minutes later—wham—34 knot winds on the nose from the NW. My spirit animal, the eagle, flew low right along the boat. I was sure all would be just fine. We beat a path, zig- zagging across the canal with little forward progress, but pretty fun sailing.

Then, as if a dead engine wasn’t enough excitement, we now were without cell phone signal and our new chart plotter overheated. We were now Dead Reckoning—using our navigation skills and visual bearings to verify our posi- tion. We hailed the coast guard on the VHF radio. They got us through to BoatUS (think AAA for boats) where we arranged for a tow back to Port Ludlow hoping to intercept somewhere between Pleasant Harbor and the Hood Canal bridge. I felt like Dick Tracy, talking to my wrist with the Coast Guard on my Apple Watch while manning the helm, and Fred was handling the sheets, tacking quickly across the canal.

The PLYC fleet kept tabs on us all day using AIS, VHF, and text messages. Although they offered a tow, we chose to use BoatUS to get back to Port Ludlow. Even though we knew we were safe and in control, it sure was nice to have the PLYC fleet’s support along the way. The squall blew through and we were in the calm once more not far from Pleasant Harbor. While waiting for the tow, Bruce Johnston swung out in his Boston Whaler. We assumed he was delivering us oysters, but not so—just a friendly face and another offer to tow us to port. We enjoyed a chat cut short by the need to tack. Bruce headed back to the fleet with a story to tell and we meandered about awaiting our tow. BoatUS rocks! At 1930 they established a tow harness to our bow and shepherded us through the bridge opening in the dark, yet another squall, and finally to the calm waters of Ludlow Bay. They guided us smoothly to the linear dock at 2309.

Asparagus Weather over the Olympics

Fred and I toasted a day full of adventure and hit the pillows—hard.

Lessons learned and back-up plans: The Power Squadron classes really paid off. Over the last few years, we have taken Engine Maintenance, Electrical System, Weather, Piloting, and Advanced Piloting. Employing skills from our Safety at Sea training and Power Squadron classes made a potentially difficult situation a rewarding day. If you think towing insurance is too costly, the bill arrived at $1,285, we paid $0 and a tip to our boat operators. The Gold BoatUS towing insurance runs $154/year before the PLYC discount. The math is pretty simple. Next step: engine repairs!

Epilogue: We made several upgrades in preparation for the 2022 Sailing Season. Several new instruments that all talk to one another: chart plotter, radar, autopilot, a second VHF radio in the cabin, and new wind, depth, and speed instruments. We feel all the more fortunate to have retired in Port Ludlow where we have made fabulous friends who enjoy sharing in the adventures of our beautiful Pacific Northwest. Can’t wait to sail again – hopefully up to Desolation Sound this summer.