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Old 11-12-2016, 04:28 PM   #1
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Big waves

I have been boating on Puget Sound my entire life. Most of it in the Tacoma area. I have gone through the Tacoma Narrows hundreds of times over the years. I have never seen seas in the Sound like we hit today.

We were going to head South for the weekend from Gig Harbor. I was thinking about getting fuel at Narrows Marina in Day Island on the way so we started crossing the Narrows going SE crossing from the West side of the channel over the the East side with the intention of going under the Narrows Bridge near the East pylon.

It has been pretty windy today. Forecast was for 15 with gusts to 25 out of the South. Turns out it was more like a solid 20+ with higher gusts. Thus was blowing counter to a flood tide with current in the Narrows of better than 3 knots. This combination created the largest seas that I have ever experienced. The only thing that has come close was years ago when I timed going South out of Cattle Pass wrong and hit those waves, but those are in a very small spot. Today these seas started a nm North of the bridge and continued all the way South past Fox Island.

I admit that I was a bit caught off guard. We were in the midst of it before I realized how bad it was going to be so I cut East trying to get into calmer water along the shore. I found it in about 45' of water a few boat lengths from shore. This was fine until we were right under the bridge where the seas ran all the way to the rocks on shore. South of the bridge it was a little better again near shore but now we were hugging the East side of the Narrows and would need to cross over to the West side North of Fox Island. I ended up staying on the East side and then was able to make my way West since the current isn't quite as strong on the East side. Eventually we had to cross the channel but it wasn't as bad as it had been further North. We made it far enough across the channel and was able to time the waves to spin the boat from SW to NE and start taking the waves on the stern quarter instead of the bow. At that point we quickly got into relatively calm water.

The waves were very high and short. It is very hard for me to judge, but the biggest were likely around 6' judging from where I was looking at the tops of them when I was in the trough. The were short enough that the bow head down and get buried in the face of the n DT wave. The Narrows has lots of eddies and rips, this meant that the waves very disjointed in places with some very impressive peaks where two wave forms would meet constructively and some odd flat spot about a boat length large where the wave forms met destructively. These same rips also collected a lot of logs that were very tough to spot. Fortunately, we were able to miss them all.

So I learned some things; I learned what things in the boat stay in place and which items become airborne when the bottom drops out. I learned that I need to secure my dinghy on the boat deck better as I discovered it had moved around a lot. I also need to see what I can do to secure the anchor a bit better since it moved a around more than I like when bow gets buried. I discovered that my forward cabin hatch and portholes are water tight. I also now yearn for a jog control on my autopilot as it takes too long to spin the wheel when a log suddenly appears right in front you.

I am pleased with how the boat handled my error of judgment. As I said though, I have never experienced these types of seas here in the South Sound.
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Old 11-12-2016, 04:45 PM   #2
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This kind of issue happened to me as well mostly in places I'm familiar with. Habit is the nursery of errors.

On the other hand, good test for your new boat, all is well that ends well !
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Old 11-12-2016, 05:32 PM   #3
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Sounds like a trip we did in mid September on the Chesapeake. We were in Solomons Island and decided to run to St. Michael's for the day in a 21' Parker. the weather forecast was good and at 20 kts it took a little over 2 hours to arrive. Spent the day walking around, shopping and had a great lunch. We left about 2 pm for the return trip to Solomons and did not check the weather since 8 hours earlier the forecast was great.
For those of you familiar with the bay, we headed down the Miles River into Eastern Bay and everything was smooth, just a little lumpier than the morning trip. by the time we were in the main Chesapeake all hell had broken loose and we were in 4-5' seas very confused and extremely short duration that we could not even measure. Our 20 kts turned into 6 kts and we were now looking at an 8 hour return trip.
now a 21' Parker is a good heavy small boat with a cabin and could easily have handled waves that high in the ocean at a longer duration. but we were in the Bay in relatively shallow water. We were bouncing so much and so hard the our chart plotter crapped out and since it was only a day boat we did not have paper charts. I down loaded charts onto my phone and started looking for bouys when we were on top of the waves. When we were in the trough we had to look up to see the sky and there was no horizon. Found green "83A" and saw we were about 2.5 miles from Herring Bay and the marina an hotel at Herrington Harbor south. Waves were now steeper and shorter and the tops of the waves were blowing off on every wave. In order to get to safety we had to take the waves on the port beam. If we missed the entrance the next safe harbor on the western shore was 40 miles away. There was no way we could turn north and take those waves on our stern.
This is a trip I have made dozens of times over the years.
Lessons learned: Always check the weather before leaving even on the return trip; never go out without paper charts. Once your out in it and the sh!t hits the fan, turn around while you shill have time.
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Old 11-12-2016, 05:37 PM   #4
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Sounds like exiting the Cape Cod Canal into Buzzards Bay in a stiff Sou'wester.
You only have to experience it once to learn to avoid it at all costs!
Glad everything was ok.
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Old 11-12-2016, 07:40 PM   #5
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Sounds like exiting the Cape Cod Canal into Buzzards Bay in a stiff Sou'wester.
You only have to experience it once to learn to avoid it at all costs!
Glad everything was ok.
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Did that early this past summer. Exited the Canal heading for Cuttyhunk I. Forecast was for 10-15 W but it was 20-25 with higher gusts. Damn, that Buzzard's Bay chop got my pucker factor going for a couple of hours. Should've tucked into Onset, but didn't. The Pool at Cutthunk was a welcome relief.
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Old 11-14-2016, 06:21 PM   #6
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dhays, we experienced the same weather that day in Lake Washington. We had a club cruise to the Kirkland city docks scheduled. Several of us arrived on Friday with sunshine and flat water. By 10 AM Saturday we were fighting 4 foot rollers and wind gusts approaching 50 knots while tied to the docks. One of our boats sustained minor damage and two boats not with us were also damaged. One cleat was pulled almost out of the dock. On the positive side, I think I got some of the sludge in my holding tank cleaned out.
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Old 11-14-2016, 11:53 PM   #7
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Sounds like exiting the Cape Cod Canal into Buzzards Bay in a stiff Sou'wester.
You only have to experience it once to learn to avoid it at all costs!
Glad everything was ok.
Bruce
When I was 13 years old, we got caught in a storm in Buzzards Bay in a 27' Silverton. As a young teenager who thought they were immortal, seeing the bow disappear beneath the sea again and again was the first time I thought I was going to meet my maker.

I don't remember the details, but I think they were 9 foot waves. I do remember hearing the sound of the prop coming out of the water as we reached the crest of the waves.

My Dad was never the same after that experience. He was pretty shaken up as we had primarily boated within the confines of Boston Harbor, and never in weather anything close to what we ran into in Buzzards Bay that day.

I was clutching onto a railing on the flybridge with my Dad. Not sure why we were up there now that I am thinking back, as I assume it had a lower helm station. Maybe you just couldn't see well from the lower station. My Mom and Sister were in the cabin, and glasses and dishes were strewn about the cabin floor in pieces, mixed in with my Sister's vomit.

Good times...
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Old 11-15-2016, 12:19 AM   #8
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Wind against tide makes for interesting times. Hey that rhymes don't it? If you really want to get your eyes opened head north near Port Townsend when its blowing about 30 westerly on a big ebb.
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Old 11-15-2016, 07:26 AM   #9
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Wind against tide makes for interesting times. Hey that rhymes don't it? If you really want to get your eyes opened head north near Port Townsend when its blowing about 30 westerly on a big ebb.
Yup, that particular JdeF run with a 4 knot ebb and gale force westerly winds is one to avoid. Had that opportunity in mid September and my smart wife said No Way!
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Old 11-15-2016, 07:36 AM   #10
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Did that early this past summer. Exited the Canal heading for Cuttyhunk I. Forecast was for 10-15 W but it was 20-25 with higher gusts. Damn, that Buzzard's Bay chop got my pucker factor going for a couple of hours. Should've tucked into Onset, but didn't. The Pool at Cutthunk was a welcome relief.

Are there deer tics at Cuttyhunk?
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Old 11-15-2016, 09:09 AM   #11
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I have been boating on Puget Sound my entire life. As I said though, I have never experienced these types of seas here in the South Sound.
Super Moon.....
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Old 11-15-2016, 09:20 AM   #12
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There are lots of places similar to the Tacoma Narrows. And definitely worse. Slingsby Channel comes to mind. Strong westerlies in the summer and lots of current.
The worst seas I found w one very significant exception was in a small area just SW of Gaurd Is just north of Ketchikan. Confused seas w waves comming fron at least three different directions. All other bad weather events for us have been slowly getting worse and finially making the decision to abort. Not this one near Gaurd Is. Things got bad fast. However I realized it was just a small area of bad water. Then it happened. Several waves got together and lifted us up high. Followed by the lifting wave/waves being slightly to port. The result was being jacked way up and then being thrown sideways into a hole in the water (between waves) ... fell into the hole and Willy (for the first time) slamed hard against the water. Like pounding .. but on the side of the hull. There was a sharp sound like a timber cracking .... That did it. I spun the helm around as fast as I could and we rock and rolled outa there. Never experienced anything like it since. Never found any damage either.

Seen worse though in Dixion Entrance. In this case it was just huge seas in a bad gale.
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Old 11-15-2016, 09:25 AM   #13
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The worst place for this wind/current interaction is the Columbia River bar. It is so notorious that it is used to train the USCG surf boat drivers. It is a fun place to pick up a river pilot on a fully loaded poor handling tanker as well.
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Old 11-15-2016, 11:50 AM   #14
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Habit is the nursery of errors.
I would say habit is the nursery of complacency which could lead to errors. Habits can be a good thing. In fact, an excellent thing....as long as they are good habits!!!!
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Old 11-15-2016, 11:56 AM   #15
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Glad you are OK. Sounds like you almost hit a Columbia River Bar situation with an out going tide with incoming swells and wind.......
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Old 11-15-2016, 12:01 PM   #16
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Wow, my hats off to you guys that can navigate through high seas and winds. My pucker factor goes up went the wind hits 15kts..... and I won't venture of the inter coastal. I avoid high waves and wind aggressively with my small boat.
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Old 11-15-2016, 04:10 PM   #17
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Are there deer tics at Cuttyhunk?
Dunno. Didn't have the dog with us. He's a yellow Lab and ticks are easy to spot on him. I tried to check my wife over very closely for them, but she wasn't having any of it. My request for her to do the same to me was ignored.
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Old 11-15-2016, 04:43 PM   #18
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What was odd about this experience for me is that there are a lot of places where I consciously avoid the wind/tide conflict. The area outside of PT that was mentioned is one, as is Rosario Strait. However, in all my years in the South Sound I have never seen this much see in the Narrows. My Dad was pretty much crazy and we would go out sailing in all kinds of weather, the bigger the better. It was the intensity of the seas in that location that surprised me.

As other have indicated, maybe familiarity breeds contempt after all. These are my "home waters" and I guess I have just taken them for granted and become complacent. No more however.
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Old 11-15-2016, 07:35 PM   #19
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This brings back memories of exiting the Cape Cod Canal into Cape Cod bay into a 45 knot easterly gale. Flat calm to 12+ footers in less than 100 yards, plus it was at 3 AM so you couldn't see a thing (and our radar was dead). That sure woke up everyone who was sleeping below. I was driving a 50 foot sailboat so we just kept going and actually raised sail once we were clear of the canal. It was a rough passage across the Gulf of Maine but we made good time. The solid water coming over the dodger was annoying though.
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Old 11-15-2016, 08:42 PM   #20
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There are lots of places similar to the Tacoma Narrows. And definitely worse. Slingsby Channel comes to mind. Strong westerlies in the summer and lots of current.
The worst seas I found w one very significant exception was in a small area just SW of Gaurd Is just north of Ketchikan. Confused seas w waves comming fron at least three different directions. All other bad weather events for us have been slowly getting worse and finially making the decision to abort. Not this one near Gaurd Is. Things got bad fast. However I realized it was just a small area of bad water. Then it happened. Several waves got together and lifted us up high. Followed by the lifting wave/waves being slightly to port. The result was being jacked way up and then being thrown sideways into a hole in the water (between waves) ... fell into the hole and Willy (for the first time) slamed hard against the water. Like pounding .. but on the side of the hull. There was a sharp sound like a timber cracking .... That did it. I spun the helm around as fast as I could and we rock and rolled outa there. Never experienced anything like it since. Never found any damage either.

Seen worse though in Dixion Entrance. In this case it was just huge seas in a bad gale.

And that folks, is why a 4AM departure from Kuntson Cove to Meyers Chuck is recommended!! Trust me, I make this trip to Wrangell past Camano Pt. at least 6 times coming and going, each year.

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