Why explore Puget Sound in a kayak when you could sail in a small open boat? You can take advantage of the wind and row when there isn’t any. Like a kayak, a 13 ft centerboard boat is small enough to land on a beach and tie up to shore. You have a lot more room for camping gear than in a kayak. That’s the idea anyway. I built Annabel Lee with camping in mind but didn’t try it until this week and it worked out beautifully. Here are few things I learned so far:
AVOID ROWING AGAINST TIDAL CURRENTS
A 13 ft boat is going to be slower and the wetted surface area much greater than a 17 ft sea kayak. It’s much harder to row against a 4.0 knot current. Early on my first day after I launched from the Point Defiance boathouse I rowed against a current for some distance in order to get to Colvos Passage, where the ebb current would take me north. I hugged the shore to take advantage of small eddies but eventually had to actually get out of the boat and tow her behind me, walking in knee deep water. Even in July the water is very cold. I recommend waders.
SPEND TIME ROWING INSTEAD OF WAITING FOR THE WIND
Anyone who has spent time sailing in Puget Sound knows that you can waste a lot of time waiting for the wind to pick up. It takes some effort to put the sails up so that one is reluctant to take them down right away. This is why it will take longer to get anywhere in a little sailboat than in a sea kayak. That, along with having to beat upwind.
THE CENTERBOARD IMPROVES TRACKING WHILE ROWING
I usually keep the centerboard up to reduce the drag when rowing but dropping it down really improved tracking in a strong wind. I usually keep the rudder down too. It was fixed in the central position with rope but I would tap it one direction or the other to fine tune my tracking.
THE ELECTRIC PADDLE IS COOL
I bought my Electric Paddle motor last year and find it very useful. The Electric Paddle is a lightweight, portable motor optimized for small boats. “Portable motors for portable boats” is their slogan. The entire unit including the battery only weighs 16 pounds. I keep the motor locked onto my boat and take the battery pack home to recharge it. At full speed (about 3.5 knots, depending on the size of your boat) a fully−charged battery will last 2 hours. At half speed or about 2 knots it will last 4 hours. If you want to go faster you can row at the same time.
The Electric Paddle is manufactured locally. The founder of Electric Paddle, Joe Grez, is a physicist by training, the inventor of many US patents, and is passionate about well-designed marine products. When I ordered an Electric Paddle Joe even delivered it to me personally! There is something very satisfying about buying a well−made product from a local manufacturer, and also to have met the inventor face to face.
The situations in which it really helped me were when I was rowing against a tidal current, rowing against a strong headwind, maneuvering among other boats in the Ballard Locks, maneuvering among other boats trying to dock at the Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival, and avoiding being run over by a large container ship while crossing traffic lanes in Commencement Bay.
YOU DON'T NEED AN ANCHOR
My friend Ricardo likes to use a Bruce anchor with a 15 ft of chain rode for his small sailboat. Because his boat is skin−on−frame, he prefers to keep her in the water, and to drop anchor and walk on and off at low tide. So far I haven’t bothered with an anchor. I have been simply running my boat on the beach at high tide and tying her up to large driftwood logs. In order to launch I need to wait until high tide again, or gradually pull her out into the water as the water level decreases so she isn’t left high and dry. It would be nearly impossible to pull her across a rocky beach into the water by myself. At the very least that would really scratch up the bottom.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF GOOD SAILING CONDITIONS
If you are lucky enough to have a strong breeze that will take you where you want to go, take advantage of it as long as possible. On my return trip from Seattle, I enjoyed a sustained 15 knot wind from the north and was able to run south for hours. I originally thought I would stay the night at Blake Island 7 nm away but instead pulled into the shelter of Point Robinson 18 nm away around sunset. Although I was eating dinner and setting up my tent in the dark, it turned out to be a good decision because the next day the wind died down to almost nothing.
IMMERSION WEAR, MANAGING CAPSIZE AND SELF−RESCUE
I don’t always dress for immersion on a sailboat. Usually I just wear shorts and a t-shirt. Realistically though, the risk of capsize and prolonged immersion is probably greater for me when sailing than it is when kayaking. I sometimes wear my Kokatat Whirlpool bibs to keep the lower half of my body dry. In a boat you could easily slip on a drytop if you think things will get rough.
I also haven’t practiced a capsize recovery in my boat. I should do that sometime. There were times on this trip when capsize was definitely a risk, and under those conditions would have been a disaster, with unsecured bags of gear sinking or blowing away and prolonged cold−water immersion a possibility. Just as when kayaking, self-rescue should be reliable enough so that capsize will not be an event where you need to call 911.