Saturday, September 6, 2014

Countdown to Seattle

Welcome back to the Salish Sea:  The closer we got to home, the more boat traffic and congestion we experienced. We decided to skip our original plan of checking in with U.S. Customs at busy Roche Harbor and check in at Friday Harbor instead. Both Customs docks are located on San Juan Island but Roche Harbor is the first one you come to when leaving Canada. Neither one is far from Ganges.

Friday Harbor doesn't have a huge entrance, and we had to take the ferry---as well as many other small craft---into account when entering and departing; however, the Customs dock was clear. There was no queue as we entered the United States for the third time since leaving Fanning Island last fall. Customs checks were required in Hilo and Friday Harbor but not in Sitka since we had come from Hawai'i. As you can imagine, returning to the U.S. was somewhat anticlimactic at this stage, after only leaving Southeast Alaska a few weeks ago. 

We had let our groceries run low to avoid any issues at Customs, so we followed up our check-in with a shopping trip to Friday Harbor's well stocked market and had a quiet dinner on the boat. 

The next morning, we departed for the trip across the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the company of a dozen other boats, all trying to get through Cattle Pass on a favorable current. We made it as far as the pass before deciding not to go on. Although Friday Harbor itself had been clear, the pass (and a large portion of the Strait) was still choked with fog. There was too much small vessel traffic in the area that we couldn't see, and our route included crossing the shipping lanes. Patrick decided to pull over and anchor in a nearby bay at the foot of San Juan Island. It didn't take long for the fog to clear, and we were on our way an hour and a half later.  

There wasn't much traffic in the shipping lanes:  just enough to remind us of how big it is. 

This freighter was going northbound in the southbound lane; We had to adjust to get out of its way
As we entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca for the first time in almost three years, approaching it from the north instead of from the south, I finally began to feel that we had traveled a long way from home. 

By that next evening, we were in Port Townsend. Since our route had included crossing the Strait, we had taken the sail cover off the main in the morning in hopes of a sailing wind. The wind eventually came up, but not until we reached Point Wilson, where we would turn the corner into Port Townsend. At times, our route across the Strait was glassy calm; at other times, there was a light breeze on the nose.

Port Townsend was its usual glorious self, although the transient dock at Boathaven Marina had changed. It is now being used to stage boats for the Travel Lift. We learned that Port Townsend is also a U.S. port of entry. We tied up at the former transient dock overnight anyway, as it was past working hours, and decided we would sort it out with the marina in the morning. I scanned the boatyard adjacent to the marina for our friends' boat, but they had apparently made it back into the water. We had met Janet and Willi when we were last in the Port Townsend boat yard three years ago, preparing for our voyage, and they had recently hauled out there again. Janet and I had gotten to know each other between rushed conversations in the women's bathroom---each of us with clownlike green or red hair colored by sanding bottom paint---and she had followed our journey on our blog. 

We also called our friends Karen and Jim from Sockdolager, who live in Port Townsend, and we met up with them for pizza and beers at Waterfront Pizza. It was good catching up with this funny and interesting couple whom we had seen sporadically during our voyage in Mexico, Tonga, and New Zealand. They are good role models for our re-entry into non-cruising life, as a year after their own return from cruising, both of them are fully immersed in new, exciting projects. Karen and Jim invited us to what sounded like a wonderful seafood fest at their house the next night, but with only two working days standing between us and the Labor Day weekend---one, after we got to Seattle---we decided to move on and begin our own "re-entry" process.

Leaving Port Townsend

The next day we left Port Townsend early under partly cloudy skies and went through the Port Townsend ship canal. There was still some strong current and opposing traffic, so I turned the helm over to Patrick as I felt a little nervous in the narrow channel. By the time we got through the cut, the skies were overcast. We began mentally ticking off the local landmarks that we hadn't seen in three years and that marked our way home. First up:  Foul Weather Bluff.

Next, we passed Point-No-Point. 

The beach at Point No Point was lined with salmon fishers
After rounding Point-No-Point, you can see your first distant view of Seattle's skyline. Patrick and I were both feeling restless and searched (mostly in vain) for little jobs to do around the boat to help the time pass quickly.

As we traveled south down Puget Sound, whose hillsides are still mostly wooded, I felt grateful. I remembered that we are lucky to live in a beautiful place. 

After Point-No-Point, you pass Apple Point and the Edmonds-Kingston ferry, which docks around the corner in Appletree Cove. 

The Edmonds-Kingston ferry leaving Appletree Cove
Then Shilshole is abeam, one of the largest marinas in Seattle at the foot of the Ballard neighborhood. About the time we got to Shilshole, the sun began to burn through again. 

The masts of Shilshole Marina are in the foreground
Finally, I begin to scan for the red can buoy outside Eagle Harbor itself. The full Seattle skyline comes dramatically into view, while Mount Rainier reigns over the southern end of Puget Sound. 

We returned to Seattle on a beautiful late afternoon
I thought about a visitor coming to Seattle for the first time, and how impressed they would be seeing these sights that now seem familiar to us. Returning to them after a three year absence, I experienced some of the excitement I had when I first visited the city over thirty years ago. 

Today, the mountain had remained elusive and we saw not a hint of it until we were almost home. However, as we drew between Elliott Bay on the Seattle side, and Eagle Harbor on the Bainbridge Island side of the Sound, blue skies surrounded Seattle and the mountain peeked (or should I say peaked?) into view.

The summit of Mt. Rainier shows itself at last
Patrick and I also noticed a few of the most obvious changes in Seattle. Many of the orange cranes at the Port of Seattle had been replaced with new white ones. A giant ferris wheel had been added to Seattle's waterfront! (The ferris wheel is at the far right in the photo of the city, above.)

We had been seeing dolphins off-and-on all day ever since entering Port Townsend Bay. As we arrived in our home port, this last reminder of our cruising lifestyle surfaced against the Seattle skyline. Dolphins welcomed us home.

Dolphins surfacing in front of the Seahawks Stadium and Safeco Field
We rounded the red can buoy, kept three green channel markers to port, went past the ferry dock, through the mooring field, and past two other marinas before entering our impossibly tight new slip in Eagle Harbour Marina. We had been assigned a slip next to a very wide, very new looking power boat. Dockmates, both old and new, met us at the dock to take our lines and help ease Silhouette into her new slip without damaging the other vessel. We breathed a sigh of relief. The slip assignment could be sorted later:  We were home. 

We had returned to the same marina, a few slips down from where we started our voyage, just six weeks shy of three years ago. Although we did not circumnavigate this time, we did cross our outbound track near Point Wilson, and I draw inspiration from the fact that the shape of our overall track is an infinity sign.  

Blogger's post script:  We arrived home on Thursday, August 28. Two days later, as I was working on these final blog posts, the hard drive on my computer gave up the ghost and died. It had served me well for 22,500 Nm.       

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