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South Sound for new sailors

kenr74

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May 3, 2019
43
Magregor 26S Gemelas Oregon
Need some advice on a potential trip next spring. I'm 100% trailer sailor at this point and only been on lakes in Oregon.

I'd like to try an overnight trip somewhere with a little more room to explore. I know nothing about tides at this point.

Wondering if a long weekend in the South Sound area is asking for trouble or doable for somebody without a lot of experience sailing.
 
Dec 28, 2015
694
Laser, Hunter H30 Standard Tacoma
What are you considering the "south sound"? What is your overnight needs? Dock, buoy or anchor?
 
Jan 25, 2011
2,068
S2 11.0A Anacortes, WA
Wow..Talk about open ended...what your navigation skills? Both electronic and dead reckoning..what are your charting skills? Weather skills? Seamanship? Singlehanding? What timeframe? Able to pass a CG inspection? Having said all this, South Sound is probably a good place to start with some salt water sailing. However don’t expect much wind in S. Sound in the summer months. You might want to consider a power squadron or comparable coast guard course to start with. They might be online..
 

kenr74

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May 3, 2019
43
Magregor 26S Gemelas Oregon
I was looking at staying between Olympia and Tacoma. Just looking to explore a little more than we have so far. I've been on a couple lakes here but not the Columbia at this point. I was thinking the Olympia area would be easier/safer than the Columbia. Maybe not?

Experience is limited so I don't want to jump into something I'll regret. Skill level is almost 0 today. I've done the Oregon boater safety coarse but nothing sailing specific which is why I've stuck to lakes at this point. My boat is pretty simple and I can get from A to B but I wouldn't say I have sailing experience in anything other than mild wind conditions with no current.

I don't need a dock for overnight but wouldn't be against it for safety. Anchoring experience is very limited also.
 
Oct 22, 2014
11,739
CAL 35 Cruiser Portland OR, moored EVERETT WA
As you can imagine this type of open question with out context is a concern. Every one wants to shout. Sure the water is great come on in. But there is caution in our heads. Does he know how to swim?

You have lake experience. Which lakes? Detroit Lake is different than Echo Lake is different from Lake Billy Chinook.Have you sailed in the Columbia River? Is your boat outfitted with an outboard? How new and how reliable?

What would you do in an Oregon Lake if a fog set in? If a rain storm showed up?

How many sailing adventures have you enjoyed with your boat?
 

AaronD

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Aug 10, 2014
392
Catalina 22 9874 Breezy Newberg, OR / Olympia, WA
I was looking at staying between Olympia and Tacoma. Just looking to explore a little more than we have so far. I've been on a couple lakes here but not the Columbia at this point. I was thinking the Olympia area would be easier/safer than the Columbia. Maybe not?

Experience is limited so I don't want to jump into something I'll regret. Skill level is almost 0 today. I've done the Oregon boater safety coarse but nothing sailing specific which is why I've stuck to lakes at this point. My boat is pretty simple and I can get from A to B but I wouldn't say I have sailing experience in anything other than mild wind conditions with no current.

I don't need a dock for overnight but wouldn't be against it for safety. Anchoring experience is very limited also.
@kenr74: The others have asked lots of good questions. This helps give us a little context, but listen to @jssailem and think about his questions. We'll be able to give better advice with a little more detail on your current skill level.

I've been sailing the south sound with my family for ~5 years now. Prior to that, we'd spent a few days on the Columbia, but learned most of what little we know in the sound. I'll admit that it felt a little nerve-wracking the first time I noticed that the water under my keel was too deep for our depth sounder. Overall, it's a pretty forgiving place to sail, and a beautiful area to explore.

But - and this is a big but - the conditions can vary a lot. We've had lots of light-wind days; and one that hit 40 knots :yikes: Thankfully, we'd watched the weather and cut our cruise short by a day, so we were back in our slip for that one - a slip neighbor wasn't so fortunate, and they were still talking about it a couple years later. Another slip neighbor was out racing when a predicted gale moved in earlier than expected, catching the full racing fleet out. One sailor died, they pulled another few out of the water, and my neighbor was still patching up the damage to his boat a year later.

That's not to keep you out of the SS. Just pay attention to the weather forecast, and play it cautious.

:plus: to @jssailem's question about your outboard. You'll want a way to get around when the wind is light. And do pay attention to the currents (DeepZoom Nautical Charts Tides and Currents is your friend). South of the Tacoma narrows, you won't see 5+ knot currents, but even 2-3 will make a big difference in your planning. Not a big deal - just pay attention. Especially if the current and wind are opposed - that will kick up sharp, steep waves.

During the summer, we keep our boat at Swantown Marina in Olympia. They're all the way at the south end of Budd Inlet, so it adds some time when cruising out to most of the SS destinations, but I can't say enough about how much we like the marina. Helpful people, top-notch facilities, and great dock neighbors.

I can answer more questions and/or suggest a few cruising destinations later. Hope that helps a bit.
 
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kenr74

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May 3, 2019
43
Magregor 26S Gemelas Oregon
Thanks for the comments. Lots to consider. I knew there were many issues I wasn't thinking about. Luckily I have plenty of time to figure them out. By the time I bought the boat all of the intro sailing classes near me were full so that is on my list before venturing out further.

At this point we have only been on Hagg Lake and Fern Ridge. Hagg apparently only has wind when I'm trying to kayak fish so we have done more bobbing than sailing there. Fern Ridge has been fun other than docking has been a challenge. No real issues but they always have a cross wind so I wait for the easy dock to open up before heading in.

I do have a reliable outboard so my biggest concern there is how much fuel to bring. We barely put a dent in the 6 gallon tank over the course of the 6 trips since I bought it. We motor away from the dock then sail so I'm not sure how long my tank would actually last if we had to motor any distance.

I've been a lifeguard so swimming isn't an issue but I never step foot on the dock without a life jacket on. I'm a private pilot so navigation/dead reckoning is good in the air. How that translates to water is unknown.

I wouldn't go out if weather was in question but what to do if weather shows up needs some work on my part.

Boating experience is mostly kayaking, a lot of fishing in power boats(as a passenger), and 6 trips with the MacGregor. All but 1 were in light wind conditions. There was one trip on Fern Ridge which got windy fast but I had a friend with sailing experience to keep us out of trouble. He said we handled it very well but that was a small lake with no currents.
 

AaronD

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Aug 10, 2014
392
Catalina 22 9874 Breezy Newberg, OR / Olympia, WA
From my vast experience in small planes (I logged about 5 hours of flight time as a teenager, 30+ years ago :)), I'd say that your aeronautical experience should translate pretty well. You've planned trips, evaluated weather, considered alternate destinations and fallback options just in case; you've dealt with compass declination; you've plotted GPS coordinates on a chart and thought about waypoints on your way to a final destination. All that will help you on the water. And in a sailboat at 5 knots, you'll usually have more time to think than in a plane at 75+.

I once heard it aptly said that "The south sound is a series of lakes, connected by rivers that reverse direction every 6 hours." So yes, you do have to deal with current when planning routes, but you've had to deal with head-, tail-, and crosswinds when flying, so that's nothing all that new to you.

The currents are concentrated in the narrower passages. The wider inlets will have less current - you'll feel a 1kt current in Budd or Case Inlet if you're trying to sail against it on a light-wind day, but it usually won't cause you too much heartburn.

I've found the currents in the sound to be easier to deal with than in the Columbia. In the river, you're often trying to dock with a substantial current. In the sound, most anchorages and marinas are in bays that have little current flowing through them (huge tidal swings, but not a lot of current). In that respect, docking is a lot easier in the sound (I still make it look hard, but that's me...)

Recommendations: Pick up a copy of the Waggoner Guide (that's 2019 - you might wait for 2020). We've also found Migael Scherer's A Cruising Guide to Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands" useful.

Over the winter, read some of the threads here on navigation tools. Buy some paper charts, maybe pick up a plotter app for your tablet of choice and play with it a little. We use Navionics on our iPads, and have been pretty happy with it; I haven't had any real complaints about the quality of their charts in the SS. YMMV.

I think you said 'we' somewhere, but unless I missed it, I don't think you mentioned your crew - will you normally have one or more crew members? Will you sometimes (or always) be singlehanding?

Good job focusing on your skills and what you need to learn. That's the first priority. And since you have a winter to prepare, you can also start thinking about your boat and her equipment.
 
Dec 28, 2015
694
Laser, Hunter H30 Standard Tacoma
I think it can be easy for some of us to get a little excessive on the "what ifs". Be smart, be prepared, know your boat and have a plan. Be willing to "call it" and dont let timelines dictate your decisions in the wrong way. Having good ground tackle allows for changes in plans when the day runs out. Reefing is a solid tactic when you get caught and recommend the ability, especially when you are by yourself.
Go have fun. My experiences with south of the narrows is light wind comparably to north of it. Less places to go ashore but more exploring like. I like and use Wagoner but prefer Gunkholing.
 
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Nov 21, 2007
267
Beneteau Oceanis 34 Tacoma, WA
Sure, the water's great! Come on in! ...wait, am I supposed to NOT say that?

So far, I agree with just about everything that's been posted. We use both of the cruising guides that @AaronD listed, the Gunkholing book that @MikeHoncho mentioned is, Gunkholing in South Puget Sound, and specific to the area that you are interested in. It's loaded with details on the South Sound that the bigger books don't have space for. It's a bit dated at this point, mostly with regard to specific marina facilities, stores, restaurants, etc.. They provide great information about the South Sound, in general.

Spring can be a great time in the South Sound, and Olympia would be a perfect place for you to start from. Swantown Marina is operated by the Port Of Olympia, has a boat ramp, parking facilities for your tow vehicle, and a fuel dock. You could also check into the possibility of getting a slip at Swantown, so that you could launch and explore locally (Budd Inlet and Olympia itself) one weekend, then come back the following weekend after you've seen the area for a couple of days. This might also be a good idea if you don't have that much experience launching and setting up your boat, launch it and explore a little one weekend, come back for "The Cruise" the next.

I think paper charts, or digitally, raster charts (look the same as the paper charts) are a great way to get to know an area. You can download PDF versions for free from NOAA, you'll want chart #18456 Olympia Harbor and Budd Inlet, and #18448 Puget Sound Southern Part for your trip. The individual charts are not that expensive to buy, and they can be great souvenirs of your trip, or have one framed as a reminder of your first 'expedition' (I can't think of a better use for #18456 ;)). If you prefer to work digitally, I use a product called iNavX on my iPad for planning (if you're not a Mac user, hopefully someone else has a similar product to recommend). You can use the free NOAA raster charts with iNavX. I think you get better context, when you're first starting out, by seeing the entire chart at scale rather than the pinch-zoom and infinite variability of a tablet. But you could still get and use iNavX for planning purposes.

The really good news is that, from Olympia, it's not that far and doesn't take very long, to get to several Washington State Marine Parks! The easiest for a first timer is Joemma Beach State Park. It's about 12 NM from Olympia, and has a dock (so that you can walk ashore and register) and mooring buoys. Next farthest (with a dock) is Jarrell Cove State Park. As well as McMicken Island State Park and Tolmie State Park, both of these with mooring buoys but no dock (you still have to get to shore to register).

My wife and I started our boating life in Olympia, with ZERO experience, about 12 years ago. We took sailing lessons and day sails on a Catalina Capri 22, when just getting to the end of Budd Inlet was an accomplishment. We bought our first sailboat, and anxiously took our first overnight 'cruise' to a marina about 15 NM from Olympia about ten years ago. We're now on our second boat, and working on the planning of next summers cruise to Princess Louisa Inlet. We think we'll leave in early to mid June, and we don't really have a return date...

Good luck, and ENJOY!
 
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kenr74

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May 3, 2019
43
Magregor 26S Gemelas Oregon
Thank you. All very helpful. Sounds like I have a lot of reading to do. Poor boat is buried in my shop right now but hopefully I can drag it back out if we get some good weather. I'm definitely a fair weather sailor at this point.
 
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Nov 8, 2019
9
Benetau 19 La Spezia
I suggest the use of Navionics app (sonarChart) and Aqua Map because it integrates both ActiveCaptain and waterwayGuide POIs (Marina, hazards, anchorage...)
These're very powerful tools for navigation and planning.