Monday, June 22, 2009

James Island near disaster

Here are the amphibian photos from Moran State Park.

Sure looks like a Columbia spotted frog to me.
The newt!

Blain gets reeaalllllly excited about slimy critters.


We pulled ourselves reluctantly from the resort and amphibs, and decided to see a couple of state parks. Spencer Spit was nothing special and really stunk from the lagoon, but James Island is really a jewel. The dock, however, was placed by a civil engineer from Hades.

The current eddies around in the bay and Mo tried unsuccessfully to dock a couple of times before Blain tried unsuccessfully to dock a couple of times. Each time we'd near the dock and slowed so as not to ram it, we'd swing perpendicular to the dock. Aside from jumping off the bow, there wasn't much we could do.

On a final attempt, Blain swung into the beach with the rocks looming above and lurking way too close below. Just as he was making the final surge for the dock, he hit the throttle and the transmission rattled uglily to a stop and the engine died. Mo diagnosed the problem instantly as the dingy towline wrapped around the propeller.

Motorless and now caught in the current pushing us towards angular boulders just 30 feet away, we made several decisions much more quickly than we would have thought possible. Blain lowered the anchor and it seemed to have caught. Mo grabbed lines and bumpers. Blain jumped into the dingy with a knife to cut the prop free.

After one freezing grab with a bare arm, he decided against the icy plunge into 46 degF water and rowed towards the dock, desparately tying knots in the three ropes we had on hand at the same time. Of course one of the speedily tied knots slipped and he had to lurch back on the oars to grab the line before it sank. Wisely, Mo armed herself with the boathook, ready to fend off the rocks. Blain finally neared the dock and was able to pull the stern close. Mo passed a line from the bow, and we were able to pull up anchor and ease the boat to the dock.

Here's the GPS tracklog of the adventure. Note the rocks on the right.

We unwrapped the prop shaft with the help of the other docked boat captain, and checked the engine and transmission.
This truly a herculean effort netted us a spot at a secluded dock in a gorgeous nook nestled in a quiet little passage. This is what we had hoped for when we dreamt up this trip. We decide to stay two days and might try three.

Sucia Island storm and Rosario

One little haiku.

American nerd
can't fix japanese camera.
All tossed into trash.


After reluctantly leaving the luxury and fun of Bellingham, we entered the San Juan Islands proper at Sucia Island.

Purchased and given to Washington State Parks by a couple of wealthy yachtsmen, the island is a deeply indented thing of intricately eroded sandstone and fossiliferous formations. We enjoyed the arid climate and new plant species on the trails that crisscross the island. Our anchorage in Fox Cove was a bit tidal and open to westerlies, but a great spot for sunsets.

On the second night at anchor, a gale blew in the evening and stayed all night. The waves beyond the cove entrance built to 4-5 feet and we began to rock and roll. Prudence (our guiding fairy) told Mo to put out a little more chain and we locked up anything not tied down.

We watched in wonder as several boats tried unsuccessfully to leave the cove and head out straight into it to the south-blasted white-caps. I'm not sure what was going on in their minds, but whatever it was, I don't want any of it. Three tried, and three came right back in. One, a large Bayliner that looked familiar, motored around at high speed looking for a spot to anchor. As it wildly veered towards us and headed right at us, we realized it was our old nemesis "The Big Fart" from Inati Bay. Missing our bow by a few feet, we got a chance to curse him again. Somebody take the wheel from this guy check for a brain...

We had a rolly restless night of anchor watch checking for drag with a fitful nap here and there for the crew. The mighty CQR anchor held fast through the night in the bucking seas and we saw in the morning we had moved not an inch.

Grateful for sunup, we pulled anchor and motored to the bigger islands of the San Juans.


It took a bit with frazzled nerves to find a place in Massacre Bay, and decided against Skull Island, but we finally succeeded and tucked behind Victim Island. What a great place to do one of those "mystery cruises", huh?

Mo had a bit of a meltdown because Blain was being mean, but we retired to separate corners, thankful for doors. A restorative visit to a 1920s mansion converted to a resort might just do the trick...

The Moran Mansion was built by Seattle ship-building millionaire Robert Moran in the 1920s as a final retirement spot. In poor health, he was given 6 months to a year to live, and decided to create an estate on Orcas Island called Rosario.

Employing shipwrights from his docks, he created a masterpiece of nautical engineering on shore, complete with DC hydroelectric from dammed lakes above, indoor pool, bowling alley, and, of course, a pipe organ. But really, what house is complete without one?

We marvelled at the ship hardware used gracefully as door hinges, light fixtures, and built in furniture. Said to be anchored 16 feet into the bedrock, Mr. Moran built a lighthouse disguised as a mansion. The inch-thick porthole glass in the bedrooms was one of the more delicate touches.

One of the final tributes to Robert Moran's legacy (he lived another 25 or so years, by the way) was his admiration of Theodore Roosevelt. Inspired by his vision, Moran donated his upper 4000 acres to Washington as a state park. Moran State Park is a wonderful place. We hiked Mr. Moran's trails, swam in his reservoir, and admired his waterfalls.

Blain spotted his first ever rough-skinned newt (Taricha granulosa) at a stream and freaked. Herpephiles take notice, Moran State park has snakes, frogs and newts. He was in heaven here holding one of the most poisonous creatures on earth for a photo. Nice.

In the resort marina, we are next to three guys on a sailboat with pink painted roses called "First Kiss". A bit different in the Northwest than Whittier.

For our Omaha family, Moran shipyards built the USS Nebraska.

I want a slide drawer labeled "The President".