Oro Bay Weekend Trip

February 19, 2024

It had been too long. Too long since Shadow got out to stretch her sails. July of 2023 was the last real trip she had, and I had been itching to get back out on the open waters and adventure.

Many hours were spent getting Shadow ship shape, in the week leading up to the trip. From multiple electrical projects, the cabin was in shambles. The topsides had turned a pernicious greens, that seemed to spring up nearly overnight. With the green mostly gone, and the cabin good enough for a bachelor weekend, it was finally time to load in the provisions and untie the dock lines.

With the weather forecast to be chilly and wet, the family opted to stay home. I would be doing this trip solo. My first solo trip in years. I enlisted Preston, of S/V Meili, in the adventure as well. He and his 3 kids would be heading down in their boat.

Our destination, Oro Bay.

Oro Bay is situated a couple hours (by sailboat) south of Gig Harbor. To get there, we had to pass under the Tacoma Narrows bridge. The land on either side comes closely together there and the currents rip through. If not carefully timed, a boat will be pushed backward! We had to be off the dock no later than 0830 to make our tide window, with a bit of a safety margin.

After an evening with the family, and an excited, unrestful night, it was finally time for some action! I was at the boat about 0645 to prep. Preston and kids arrived at 0700. There were things to do, and I had not even had coffee yet! We shoved off around 0845 and had a leisurely motor down to the bridge. Preston does not go anywhere fast on his boat. I had to throttle WAY back to stick with him. All the way down to 1,700 RPM. Shadow typically cruises anywhere from 2,300 – 2,600 RPM.

Seeing as we would arrive in only 2.5 hours under motor, the plan was to pass the bridge and then toss up some sails and mosey slowly south. Our Catalina 36s like a fair bit of wind to scoot them downwind, but only 5 knots was forecast. I was seeing about 4 knots after the bridge. Oh well, we were out here to sail!

Up went the 135 Dacron headsail. Slowly it filled and started tugging the boat along with it. The wind steadily climbed to 9 knots, then 11, at one point it even hit 14 knots! Woohoo!

Shadow came with a 100 headsail, which is pretty small for the Puget Sound area, where winds are typically lower. Downwind she was a pig. This 135 has been a game changer! I was scooting along consistently between 3.8 and 4.3 knots, downwind.

Preston took a direct line. It was a good choice, but Shadow was excited to stretch her wings and quickly pulled far ahead of Meili- and then the rain stopped.

Without the rain to get it wet, my mind started spinning on the possibilities of getting some drone footage. I recently acquired a drone from my photographer friend, William. He thought I was nuts to want to fly it from a moving boat, over the water. Especially with only a couple weeks and a few short flights of experience. He is probably right, and since it has rarely been successfully claimed that I am not dumb, up went the drone!

I captured some great video while zooming around our boats. Got a few good photos of Shadow as well. Then, with a healthy margin of battery life left still, I brought the drone back to the boat. To retrieve the drone, it had to be hand caught. This was pretty tricky to do while the boat was moving, and I was the only one to steer and catch the drone. After several unsuccessful attempts, I dropped the sail to “park” the boat. Much easier.

As the drone came in close to the boat it suddenly went into obstacle avoidance mode and refused to come close enough to catch! Grr! I had explicitly turned that setting off to enable retrieval. Necessary in my scenario. The battery was draining quick while fighting to get that setting back off. It was stubbornly refusing me. Then I heard the dreaded warning, “battery low. Landing will initiate in 20 seconds.” AAAAHHHHH. NNNOOOOOOO. In a last ditch, very desperate, attempt, I slammed the drone into a high speed run at the middle of the boat. I knew it would not stop immediately when the sensor detected the boat, and I hoped that half second interval would allow it to drift over the side where I could reach it. Heart pounding, caution thrown to the wind, I stood on the very edge of the boat as it sped toward me. SUCESS! Caught it! Just in time too, as it immediately shut off.

With legs trembling, I collapsed onto the cockpit bench. That was close! After a few minutes of recovery time, the headsail went back up and I turned Shadow back onto her course, but it took a while before the heart pounding and adrenaline was out of my system.

Ketron Island is situated across Puget Sound, to the East, and slightly North of Oro Bay. An intriguing little island, there is no access by bridge, only a ferry that runs a handful of times per day. Miss your window and you might be spending the night somewhere else. The chart showed that there was about a half mile channel, with plenty of depth, behind the island. I decided to do a little exploring. Sailing behind Ketron was a magical experience. Other than a beached ferry on the North end of the island, there were no signs of humanity. It was like sailing back through time. This must be similar to the thrill the Europeans had while exploring Puget Sound before all the buildings marred the landscape.

Wind was light behind Ketron Island, but all too soon it was over and we popped out beneath the island. The wind was steady as about 11 knots, and it was a nice beam reach over to Oro Bay, but where was Preston? I searched for S/V Meili’s sails all along the shore of Oro Bay. She was nowhere to be found. Had it taken so long to get past Ketron that Preson was already anchored in the harbor?

There she was! Meili was still far North. on the West side of the sound, but still near the top of Ketron! We were putting down Meili’s anchor, so I did not want to arrive too early. Scratching my head, I turned Shadow’s bow North, to rendesvous with Meili. Shadow loved it. We charged across the sound at 5.6 knots. Not to bad for only having a headsail up, in 11 knots of wind!

As Shadow approached Meili, we nearly kissed her bow before turning back South. Reaching again, our speed dropped to 4.3 knots, but we still surged ahead of Preston. It made my sailboat racing heart feel good that Shadow had a bit of spirit in her old cruising bones.

A short while later, Preston had Meili’s anchor down and we were rafted snugly in Oro Bay. This was my first time in the bay, and I have to say that it was stunning! I will be bringing the family back here. Though not a large bay, there is plenty of room for anchoring, and there is even a large dock space available, if you are part of Tacoma or Bremerton yacht clubs. Up on shore is a ferry boat with an interesting history. She came over from the East coast to augment the private ferry runs to the island. During her journey, the county decided the government was going to take over the ferry service and (from my understanding) broke their contract with the private ferry company. And that is where the ferry has sat all these years. It is a beautifully designed boat. I wish it was in service today so I could tour the living decks.

There is a saying that cruising is just doing boat projects in exotic locations, and this was true for me today. Despite all the hustle of the last few weeks, there were still a handful of projects that needed tackled before I could relax and enjoy the weekend. Out came the toolbox, spools of wire, and sticky velcro. Bits and pieces quickly spread their way across the cabin, as all boat projects seem to do.

With the projects wrapped up a few hours later, it was finally time to toss a thick juicy steak on the grill, pour a scotch, and relax for the evening.

Sleeping alone that night was strange. I woke several times wondering where the kids were. In a typical night, they take turns waking me every hour. An uninterrupted night of sleep has been foreign to me for years. Soon enough, it was morning. Though not as refreshed as I anticipated, I happily crawled out of the vberth to enjoy the day. Pour over is my preferred way to make coffee on the boat. I love watching the steam billow and swirl as it works its way through the grounds, resulting in a delicious cup every time.

Sunday morning weather was gray and drizzly. Not a problem. I settled into the starboard settee with my coffee, a couple breakfast burritos, and the latest issue of 48 North. After the rain stopped, Preston and his kids set out in the dinghy to explore the bay and do some hiking in the park. I took the opportunity to pull the drone out and capture some photos of the bay.

One of the recent projects was re-powering the boat with Lifepo4 batteries. The setup was not fully complete, but there was enough that this trip was giving it a good shakedown. I have to say that I am very impressed. Four lead acid batteries had been replaced by a single lithium battery. Theoretically, that one battery held more power than all the others combined. I noticed that there was never a power blip. For instance, with the lead acid batteries, when a pump kicked on the lights would blink. Not anymore!

Even with his solar pumping some power back into the batteries, Preston had to run the generator and charge the batteries to keep them in a healthy level. On Shadow, the battery held strong!

Monday morning dawned gray and rainy. The propane powering the heater had run out around 4am and it was chilly!!! The steam off the pour over coffee and my breath were competing to see which would make the most steam!

Noon came quickly and we pulled anchor. With no wind and constant rain, it was a motor slog back to Gig Harbor. We were in no rush to get home, and kept the motors running at a low 1,900 RPMs. I found some good current and pulled a few minutes ahead of Preston.

What a great weekend!

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