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Ripped off at Point Wilson?

Nov 21, 2007
456
Beneteau Oceanis 34 Kingston, WA
I have been having a conversation with @jssailem about a recent experience that my wife and I had while crossing the Strait of Juan De Fuca. The short version is that sailing south on a light wind day, but on an ebb current, I managed to wrap my topping lift around my top spreader. But my question is to ask experienced Northwest sailors about insights and incidents when crossing the Strait. What is your preferred route? How do you avoid (or handle) the worst of the weather and current effects when crossing? What counter intuitive information can you share about strategies that we might think would be helpful but actually might be the exact opposite? For example, I tend to favor Whidbey Island and head for the Point Partridge buoy, but I also think that the incoming swells (if any) or large wind waves tend to pile up on the shallow shelf east of that buoy, so I'm not really sure if my practice is a good one or a dangerous one... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I have a friend in my wintertime location who is a retired cargo ship captain, who once told me that some of the worst weather that he has ever been in was in the Strait Of Juan De Fuca...
 
Nov 23, 2020
20
Hunter 45DS Seattle
Hello Dave,

I'll start the thread by saying that my partner and I crossed the Strait for the first time in August. We had a nail-biter going North with 3-4 foot swells abeam and nasty winds (we tried hitting a narrow weather window) but it only lasted 45 min just as we entered the straight (we heard that the area is referred to as the potato patch). We were advised to follow your route (towards the Point Partridge buoy), but we hugged the Whidbey shoreline and then "jumped" across to the islands once we'd made it North. Our return trip, the Strait was like a lake. Our lessons learned were: 1) pay attention to Windy, NOAA obviously, and the buoy data, 2) try to hit the tides as they can make/break your timing, 3) pay attention to the currents as they can really swirl in counter intuitive ways, 4) use the channel past La Conner (I can't remember the name) but WATCH the tides/currents there as they make a huge difference in depth and speed, 5) avoid Deception Pass unless all-else fails, and 6) expect things to change.

We had avoided the crossing out of fear based on tidings similar to what your friend shared. The only bit of advice I can offer is that we noticed patterns in the straight for days leading up to our passages both North and South. Of course, things can change, but we saw a consistent wind pattern (late afternoon it picked up for example) for ~2 weeks and it held true when we crossed. Nailing the optimal tide, current, wind pattern took work but IMO was worth it. We also learned that when the weather gets nasty that we had to REALLY work our speed through the waves to avoid dropping/slamming. It was exhausting but easier on the boat and on its crew. Finally, I'll pass along what an experienced blue water skipper whose sailed these waters for 30+ years told us: the most significant factor to watch is the currents. We are just learning to predict/monitor them but have found his advice to be spot-on.

Looking forward to other replies!

Sean & Lori
s/v Halayah Rhea
 
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Nov 21, 2012
267
Yamaha 33 Port Ludlow, WA
I will second the importance of currents. We sailed from Deception Pass to Point Wilson last year. Nailed the passage at Deception perfectly but forgot about Pt Wilson. We arrived with a following wind on an ebb tide. Wow. As we approached, we could see huge waves being kicked up. Thought it was an approaching squall and reefed everything down. What a ride. I don't think it matters which side you come in on, just come in at slack.

We came down from Griffin Bay through Cattle Pass to Pt Wilson yesterday morning. Got an early start but picked up some kelp in the rudder and water intake leaving the bay. By the time that was sorted we were late for the pass. Very swirly, and with limited power due to the ingested kelp.

We worked our way out through the islands to the east. There's probably a better way.

To summarize: timing is everything.
 
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Apr 5, 2009
1,548
Catalina '88 C30 tr/bs Oak Harbor, WA
... What a ride. I don't think it matters which side you come in on, just come in at slack...
My only experience with Point Wilson is in May every year when I do the Round Whidbey Race and it is always timed to get to Partridge Point just about at slack going to flood. This isn't so much to be at slack but rather to pick up the sleigh-ride down Admiralty on the incoming flood tide. The race is always held on the weekend in May with the highest high / lowest low so that we have a big flood to make it all the way down to Possession Point before dark so that we clear the shipping lanes. Given that the winds are most often blowing down Admiralty, you get current with wind so the waves are not a problem. With a decent breeze, you will see speed over ground in the 8-10 knot range under spinnaker. Simply glorious!
 
Dec 28, 2015
1,327
Laser, Hunter H30 Cherubini Tacoma
Only six crossings.......the worse sea state every time has been at Admiralty Inslet at Marrowstone Point. Each time going with the wind and tide so it was a advantage. I’ve had to motor across the strait going north every time and been able to sail south 2 out of 3. Everytime going south I’ve been able to raise sails and beat feet from Morrow to at least Point No Point. I’m not convinced the OPs input on Deception Pass is correct. I think proper planning and timing is key. When done correctly it’s actually kind of boring. Done wrong then I can assume it isn’t (only done it once and didn’t do it wrong)
 
Dec 28, 2015
1,327
Laser, Hunter H30 Cherubini Tacoma
My only experience with Point Wilson is in May every year when I do the Round Whidbey Race and it is always timed to get to Partridge Point just about at slack going to flood. This isn't so much to be at slack but rather to pick up the sleigh-ride down Admiralty on the incoming flood tide. The race is always held on the weekend in May with the highest high / lowest low so that we have a big flood to make it all the way down to Possession Point before dark so that we clear the shipping lanes. Given that the winds are most often blowing down Admiralty, you get current with wind so the waves are not a problem. With a decent breeze, you will see speed over ground in the 8-10 knot range under spinnaker. Simply glorious!
How unsuccessful would a person be doing the race without a spinnaker?
 
Apr 5, 2009
1,548
Catalina '88 C30 tr/bs Oak Harbor, WA
As far as Deception Pass goes, given that wee berth in Oak Harbor, I go through there every cruise. It is not nearly as scary as many people think. I will happily go west bound in any ebb current up to 7.0-knots including one night at 1:00am in a 6.1. east bound, I shoot for less than 5.0 due to the swirly on the east end of Pass Is. The key is to divide the water into 3-lanes and put your boat on the northern 1/3 line. Stay close to Pass Island because it is your friend. NEVER GO SOUTH OF THE CENTERLINE TO THE WHIDBEY SIDE!!! (emphatic, not yelling) Pass Island is a smooth vertical cliff and the water on the north side of the channel is laminar flow. There are a series of spires and outcroppings on the Whidbey side which created very turbulent flow with a series of CW and CCW whirlpools that I saw almost roll a 60-70 foot motor yacht.
There will be whirlpools and upflows after you exit both east and west but they will not cause harm. Just hold the wheel straight and let the boats nose rotate back and forth which as little adjustment as necessary to keep you moving in the desired direction. The water is leaving the pass so you will not hit anything.
 
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Likes: jssailem
Apr 5, 2009
1,548
Catalina '88 C30 tr/bs Oak Harbor, WA
How unsuccessful would a person be doing the race without a spinnaker?
Boats do it without spinnaker most every year, it just isn't as much fun. If you are not familiar with the race, it starts at the northern-most tip of Whidbey just outside Deception Pass and circles the Island back to Oak Harbor, leaving all buoys on the island to port. It begins at 8:00am on Saturday and must be completed by 3:00pm Sunday.
That race in one where if you finish, you have won. :biggrin: It is a technical race of playing the currents and wind shifts. Loads of fun but some years it can be soooo frustrating. 2021 was particular bad with only 7 out of 22 finishing and no boat with a PHRH over 120 making in back in time. That said, with my C30 tr/bs, I have finishes 2nd in class twice (PHRF over 150) and one of those times I was 3rd over all out of 31 boats.
 
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Dec 28, 2015
1,327
Laser, Hunter H30 Cherubini Tacoma
Boats do it without spinnaker most every year, it just isn't as much fun. If you are not familiar with the race, it starts at the northern-most tip of Whidbey just outside Deception Pass and circles the Island back to Oak Harbor, leaving all buoys on the island to port. It begins at 8:00am on Saturday and must be completed by 3:00pm Sunday.
That race in one where if you finish, you have won. :biggrin: It is a technical race of playing the currents and wind shifts. Loads of fun but some years it can be soooo frustrating. 2021 was particular bad with only 7 out of 22 finishing and no boat with a PHRH over 120 making in back in time. That said, with my C30 tr/bs, I have finishes 2nd in class twice (PHRF over 150) and one of those times I was 3rd over all out of 31 boats.
Appreciate the info. My brother and I have considered it.
 
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Oct 22, 2014
15,722
CAL 35 Cruiser moored EVERETT WA
The waters of the Puget Sound and Salish Sea are complex. They deserve a skippers attention and a sense of caution. You should not just put on the auto pilot, layback and start sipping beer.

I feel they can be safely navigated if you learn the risks and your boats capabilities.

Deception Passage is one of those areas that focuses multiple challenges for the skipper. The stories are of whirlpools that will grab your boat, suck it down, spit you out and dash you against the rocks abound and are frightening.:yikes:

On the other hand the passage can be a fun ride doing 14 knots over the ground in a boat that’s max hull speed is 6. You need to know the tidal currents. Don’t fight the wind and waters.

My limits.
  1. I will not transit this passage in bad visibility.
  2. I will be aware of what lies on the other side of the passage
  3. I will limit my transit to times when the current against is less than half of my hull speed. (I tried going against the current one time with a friend in his 30 foot boat. We got to the bridge and no further. It such a situation you need room to maneuver. And make a good decision. We had the room and turned to the center of the channel, heading away from the passage to wait until the tides were in our favor.)
  4. I will only transit when adequate maneuvering space is available under the bridge. If crowded I’ll wait my turn. If that means holding up till the time is right so be it. There is good holding on both sides of the passage. Either Bowman Bay on the west or Cornet Bay on the east can offer shelter to wait for better conditions
  5. I will announce my passage when conditions warrant. Sécurité (said 3 times) is the radio tool we have to announce Navigational warnings. It is issued regularly to give information about people or vessels. A vessel can use this tool to identify how they are navigating. Since you will be passaging through the center or north side (favored for deeper water) of the pass, you may notify other vessels you see on the opposite side of the pass that you are using the center part of the passage under the bridge. Once through the danger area then announce that you are clear. Not an issue most times of the year, but Deception sees a lot of traffic during the summer (Thursday thru Sunday rushing home or rushing to the Islands).
Number 2 above should be part of your Sail Plan. If your using the Saratoga Passage along the north side of Whidbey Island (our inside passage), then it would be advised to know the conditions you will face when you stick the bow of your boat out into the Juan D'Fuca. The VHF weather channel is a good place to listen to CG reported conditions. Your listening for the "East Entrance US Waters Strait ofJuan DFuca"

Here are links to the NOAA site providing the Marine weather forecast.
When exiting the west end of Deception Passage, I want to know about the winds out of the West or the NE. The West winds indicates the conditions I may face from wind waves that have had 80 nm of open water to develop. The NE winds give me a glimpse into possible conditions in Rosario Strait where there is 20 nm of open water. Winds that are against tide currents will form steep disorganized wave patterns This condition are to be avoided. When the wind and wave formation are aligned then conditions are generally safe to travel. You can use the islands to provide shelter on the lee side. I sailed out of Deception Passage in 30knot Northerly winds (reefed) crossed Rosario Strait and sailed through the lee of the San Juan Islands in nearly flat seas.

Safely sailing the Juan DFuca - Puget Sound - Salish Sea is all a matter of understanding the weather, tides and currents then applying the knowledge to your route selection and timing of transit.
 
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Oct 22, 2014
15,722
CAL 35 Cruiser moored EVERETT WA
The Round Whidbey, is a fun race. My first adventure was on a Cal 31 in 2014. Like the 24 hours of LeMans it is a race of tactics, water and tide conditions, boat and equipment. As Hayden suggests a good part is endurance and luck. Be prepared. You can go from sailing in tee shirt and shorts to being bundled in all your gear and sleeping bag wondering, praying the sun will return. The year Hayden invited me to join his crew, we ate delicious meals, enjoyed some fabulous sailing, and experienced being becalmed fighting the tide wondering if we needed to toss out an anchor and await for the incoming tide.
 
Nov 21, 2007
456
Beneteau Oceanis 34 Kingston, WA
... wondering if we needed to toss out an anchor and await for the incoming tide.
I've never raced other than as crew at our Beneteau Rendezvous, is that legal?

I’m not convinced the OPs input on Deception Pass is correct.
The reference to Deception Pass was in a reply, I don't have any problem with it at all, other than it adds time and distance from Kingston to the islands, and the timing of slack current is different than with Point Wilson. We have done both Deception Pass and the Strait in both our 34 and our original First 285 (had to motor on mirror flat seas with the 285).
 
Oct 22, 2014
15,722
CAL 35 Cruiser moored EVERETT WA
Legal. You can anchor to hold your position. You can not advance using your anchor ( ie. Rowing ahead drop anchor pull boat forward, repeat. You also cannot scull with oar or rudder. )
 
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Jan 1, 2006
5,956
Slickcraft 26 Greenport, NY
We've anchored in adverse current in a race in light wind. It is legal but I've called it an ignominious tactic.
 
Apr 5, 2009
1,548
Catalina '88 C30 tr/bs Oak Harbor, WA
Anchoring in a race is perfectly legal and you are required to carry an anchor in many classes. On the Round Whidbey, it is no shame to anchor and I have done it on numerous occasions. When you are at Possession point with a 2 knot ebb current and 1 knot of wind out of the north, you anchor or drift back to Port Townsend. When I am at that location, i make sure that I play the edges so that I stay in less than 150' - 200' of water so that I can drop the hook with a hope of getting it to hook. While on Anchor, we leave the sails up and trimmed to sail up-current with one person always on deck. As soon as the boat sails up on the anchor, they call for help and we pull it up as we head up course.
 
Apr 5, 2009
1,548
Catalina '88 C30 tr/bs Oak Harbor, WA
Well said John.

Comments below from jssailem with my additional comments in red

The waters of the Puget Sound and Salish Sea are complex. They deserve a skippers attention and a sense of caution. You should not just put on the auto pilot, layback and start sipping beer.

I feel they can be safely navigated if you learn the risks and your boats capabilities.

Deception Passage is one of those areas that focuses multiple challenges for the skipper. The stories are of whirlpools that will grab your boat, suck it down, spit you out and dash you against the rocks abound and are frightening.:yikes: This is what everyone is afraid of but is not a reality after many trips in all conditions. The whirlpools will turn your boat but cannot suck it down and are predictable and can be avoided for the most part. The upwells are probably more of a problems because they bounce around and you have no idea which way the boat will turn The key to them is not to fight them to steer a straight course. This action will cause undue stress on the steering and will cause the boat to counter heel (lean opposite to the direction of turn) which is very unnerving. Just let the boat wander around on the way out and gently herd it in the desired direction.

On the other hand the passage can be a fun ride doing 14 knots over the ground in a boat that’s max hull speed is 6. You need to know the tidal currents. Don’t fight the wind and waters.

My limits.
  1. I will not transit this passage in bad visibility. This one can be be tricky. There can be a heavy fog on the outgoing tide that would seem to prevent any movement but it will often disappear with the turn of the tide.
  2. I will be aware of what lies on the other side of the passage. It is certainly a good idea to know the weather on the other side because once through there is no going back until the next turn of the current.
  3. I will limit my transit to times when the current against is less than half of my hull speed. (I tried going against the current one time with a friend in his 30 foot boat. We got to the bridge and no further. It such a situation you need room to maneuver. And make a good decision. We had the room and turned to the center of the channel, heading away from the passage to wait until the tides were in our favor.) I will not attempt to go against any current unless it the the very last of the adverse current turning to favorable. Within 10-15 minutes of the change, it will be too strong to make it through. For this very reason, I never try to time a passage for slack water going to adverse because the change can be up to ±45 minutes from predicted and if you are late, you must wait for 6-hours for the next change. I go through WITH the current only. On those rare occasions when the flood is over 5.5 or the ebb over 7.0. I will avoid the hour or so at mid current when it hits the max. I have done those higher currents and it is still save but just a bit more pucker factor than my crew needs.
  4. I will only transit when adequate maneuvering space is available under the bridge. If crowded I’ll wait my turn. If that means holding up till the time is right so be it. There is good holding on both sides of the passage. Either Bowman Bay on the west or Cornet Bay on the east can offer shelter to wait for better conditions. The only times that I have seen a traffic jamb is right at slack which is another reason I do not go through at slack.
  5. I will announce my passage when conditions warrant. Sécurité (said 3 times) is the radio tool we have to announce Navigational warnings. It is issued regularly to give information about people or vessels. A vessel can use this tool to identify how they are navigating. Since you will be passaging through the center or north side (favored for deeper water) of the pass, you may notify other vessels you see on the opposite side of the pass that you are using the center part of the passage under the bridge. Once through the danger area then announce that you are clear. Not an issue most times of the year, but Deception sees a lot of traffic during the summer (Thursday thru Sunday rushing home or rushing to the Islands). The only times that I have heard a Sécurité in Deception Pass is when there was heavy fog. It is a straight line shot and you can see all of the entering and exiting boats. Pick your lane (north side coming and going) and hold too it. The go-fast power boats will go around you. If I have someone coming at me, I make an obvious turn to the north to let them know I will not leave the Pass island side. It is almost impossible to run into Pass island and you will need to be pointed about 10º to 15º toward the island to keep from being pushed south of centerline. This affect becomes stronger as you get closer to the island.
Number 2 above should be part of your Sail Plan. If your using the Saratoga Passage along the north side of Whidbey Island (our inside passage), then it would be advised to know the conditions you will face when you stick the bow of your boat out into the Juan D'Fuca. The VHF weather channel is a good place to listen to CG reported conditions. Your listening for the "East Entrance US Waters Strait of Juan D'Fuca". Very true. I do not hesitate to go out into 20 - 30 knots of wind but not if it is wind against current. I do let the wind and current dictate my course. North wind and ebb I head to Cattle pass. flood and pretty much any other wind direction that does not include "N" and I head for Lopez or Thatcher.

...

Safely sailing the Juan DFuca - Puget Sound - Salish Sea is all a matter of understanding the weather, tides and currents then applying the knowledge to your route selection and timing of transit.
 
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Nov 21, 2007
456
Beneteau Oceanis 34 Kingston, WA
I do let the wind and current dictate my course. North wind and ebb I head to Cattle pass. flood and pretty much any other wind direction that does not include "N" and I head for Lopez or Thatcher.
Here we go, this is the kind of information that I am looking for! North wind and ebb, where? In Rosario? You're departing from Oak Harbor and using Deception Pass for every cruise, so with a north wind and a current ebbing south, you head for Cattle Pass from Deception... that makes plenty of sense. It's the kind of information that I can try to work with. If there's a north wind (especially for a couple of days at the time we want to leave from Kingston) then it would make sense to take the longer route through Deception Pass and time the trip through the pass. We enjoy the park at Deception Pass anyway. Any north wind is probably reason enough to stay away from Point Wilson on a northerly course.

What about my practice of heading for the shallow water near Point Partridge? I feel like I'm less likely to end up in the "washing machine" in shallow water, but I also think that the huge piles of deep water crashing into the shelf could also be a hazard. I've seen breaking waves along that edge, but once they break, would it be a smoother ride in the shallow water? If that is true, then it could be OK to move even closer to Whidbey around Pt. Wilson.
 
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Apr 5, 2009
1,548
Catalina '88 C30 tr/bs Oak Harbor, WA
...What about my practice of heading for the shallow water near Point Partridge? I feel like I'm less likely to end up in the "washing machine" in shallow water, but I also think that the huge piles of deep water crashing into the shelf could also be a hazard. I've seen breaking waves along that edge, but once they break, would it be a smoother ride in the shallow water? If that is true, then it could be OK to move even closer to Whidbey around Pt. Wilson.
Personally, I have never gone between the green buoy off Partridge Point and the Whidbey shore because my experience in the past 16 years at that point has always been in the Round Whidbey and that course of action would result in a DSQ! :facepalm:
That said, I would not look to that shallow water for relief unless you had an offshore breeze. If the wind was onshore, the waves would stack up on the shelf and get very short and steep. If it is calm, you could cut inside but would need to watch out for kelp beds. There are a few areas to avoid going down Admiralty one of which is Marrowstone point. When racing south, i try to go right through the Marrowstone point rip which is a blast and quite fast but do not make the mistake that I did a couple of years ago and get too close to Marrowstone Island just south of the point, There is a huge gyre that will trap you in light winds and not let you out.