Finally Beginning to Cruise

9/10/21 – 10/16/21  – F-i-n-a-l-l-y, 9 days short of 1 year after purchase, we pushed off the repair facility dock and cruised out of Seattle.

Day 1 began by moving the boat from Thomas Boat Repair to Fishermen’s Terminal (10 min away) to pump out and clean the fuel-coated bilge (see previous blog), about a 3-hour project. Then we crossed the lake (another 10 minutes) to Covich-Williams and bought 464 gals of diesel at $2.75/gallon. You do the math. From there, we made a big move (15 minutes) to the Ballard Lock, where we had to wait an hour to lock down out of Union Lake to sea level on the Puget Sound. In long-sleeved shirts and fleece-lined raincoats, (plus an insulated vest and cowl for Paula), we were able to drive from the open flybridge across Puget Sound to an anchorage about 10 miles away. We anchored for 3 nights off Port Madison, where Paula finished varnishing the handrails (while trying to avoid the rain). We also enjoyed watching a kids’ multi-day sailboat regatta with about 100 boats.

It was there we discovered we had some electrical “issues” when off shore power, resulting in no 110V power and the 12V charge not lasting long after we shut down our engines. During our 3 days at anchor, we endured dreary overcast days. Tom installed an indicator light on our newly purchased freezer, worked on the ice machine (didn’t help), re-treated the bilge again to remove diesel smell (didn’t help), and reinstalled our navigation computer (also didn’t help). Instead, we navigated using our iPad, as we had done on Life’s TraVails.

Pulling the anchor in Port Madison, Tom discovered the clutch disc slipped and determined it was not the original. He called Ideal Windlass, sent a picture, and ordered a new one. He also found the oil sump was about half water, so drained it, fixed the leak, and replenished the oil.

When we started the engines to move to the Port of Everett, there was a loud squeal from the starboard engine. (We were not having fun yet!) Tom troubleshot and determined the starboard alternator might have a bad bearing and we would need to cruise to Everett single-engine. Cruising single-engine is not a difficult thing – docking a 25-ton boat with which we were unfamiliar at a marina with a current and wind could be a very different thing. We left the anchorage to arrive at the Port of Everett at slack tide (minimal current) and praise God, He provided just the right wind to gently ease us to the dock. Enroute, we had our first sighting of ferries that constantly crisscross the waters between islands in the PNW (Pacific Northwest). It would become very common to us over the new couple of weeks.

Also, over the course of the next few weeks, we immediately began seeing differences between East Coast cruising and cruising the PNW. Marinas didn’t seem as transient-friendly, usually not offering dockhands to catch lines and help tie up, and when we offered a hand to other cruisers, it wasn’t uncommon to be told they didn’t need our help. Perhaps boaters here were simply, as a generalization, more experienced or just more independent. We always considered anyone offering to catch lines for us our “dock angels” and never turned anyone down. Also, we loved how close everything was on the East coast, often seeing details of the land easily to one or both sides of us. In the SJI (San Juan Islands), we were often in large bodies of water with small islands to each side. It seemed to be much more isolated cruising grounds than what we had experienced previously.

Another difference was the extreme tides in the PNW. The largest tidal change we saw on the Great Loop occurred in SC with a difference between low and high tide of about 7’. In the PNW, tide changes of 10’ were common. Besides requiring consideration for when a passage could be made between locations where shallow water existed, these tide changes also made tidal currents a consideration. In some places, when the current was running at its peak, the current could equal or surpass the speed of our boat; sometimes even rapids were formed!!!  So, planning for departures, arrivals, and transiting narrow areas was a prime consideration.

Another big difference was the water depth. Along the Great Loop, “deep” water along the route was maybe 40-50’. Can you read the depth on this transit between Whidbey Island and Everett?  If you said “785,” you are right!  That made finding anchorages a challenge at times. Often the water depth would go from “too deep” to “too shallow” quickly and when you factored in a 10’ tide, if you weren’t careful, your boat might become high and dry at low tide. A depth of 20-30’ was a great depth for our boat with a 5’ draft, but on The Secret, we had 400’ of chain in our locker (compared with 200’ on Life’s TraVails) to allow for deeper anchorages.

At Everett, we got a quote for a new bimini for the flybridge. The Secret had previously been covered by a single sheet of canvas over the top. But the 7” snow in Seattle the previous winter stretched it out of shape and bent the supports. Our choices were to remove the frame and leave it uncovered, replace it with a similar cover, or enclose it on 3 sides like we did on Life TraVails. Our plan initially was to keep The Secret 2-3 years exploring the PNW. We had already basically lost one summer but were trying to keep unnecessary expenses down, knowing we would not recover 100%. In fact, a boat broker told us we could expect a 40% return on a new bimini. We really liked the gal who came to give us an estimate, but by the time we had cruised for 2 weeks, we decided we could do without. Unlike Life’s TraVails, there is a mid-level indoor driving station, called the pilothouse. There we could stay snug and dry with good visibility. After all, as Tom said, he drove a boat for 30+ years in the Grand Canyon without any type of cover, and conditions were much harsher there.

The Port of Everett was the largest public marina on the West Coast, with over 2,300 permanent slips plus an additional 5,000’ of guest moorage. Waterfront Place was a new 1.5 million square foot mixed-use development located on 65-acres at the waterfront. It was under development with a strategy of unifying the marina and surrounding property as one economic unit to create a sustainable and unique commercial, recreation, and residential community around the marina. There was a lovely path surrounding the marina, a great place to walk Whisper. A marine supply/hardware store about a 15-minute walk away had most stuff a boater could need.

One beautiful structure on the property was a Gothic-style structure donated for a museum by the Weyerhaeuser family and moved on a barge to the property. Weyerhaeuser was the largest employer in Everett for decades with several locations. The 6,000 square foot, 1.5 story building was designed to showcase the local wood species of fir, cedar, and hemlock. We would have loved to have seen inside, but it was not open yet.

While texting John and Midge (from Thomas Boat Repair) about our cruising progress, John suggested checking the fan belt on the starboard engine. Turned out…that’s what had caused the loud squeal. That was a relief compared to the other possibility of a bad bearing. Voila, Tom replaced the fan belt, and we were back in business with 2 engines for the following day.

While Paula was showering in the master shower that evening, Tom heard her yell, “Tom, please come down here – NOW!”  When he went down, Paula showed him the separated shower hose as she stood in the shower, soaped up, and shivering. Only by rinsing off with a cup could she finish her shower for the evening. Unfortunately, Tom was unable to find replacement parts and we were without a shower after that.

So, what did we do with Whisper when we are cruising?  First, she was always in her crate while we were anchoring or maneuvering in a marina, either on the flybridge or daybed behind the settee in the pilothouse. That way, there was no way she could be a distraction. For the first 2 days of cruising, she stayed in her crate with breaks for the potty, drinking water, stretching, or playing. On day 3 of moving, we decided to see if we could teach her to stay in her bed on the daybed. Prior to that, we had taught her the words “crate,” “bed,” and “lap.”  Paula worked with her for about 2 hours, correcting her whenever she pushed the limits. She did really well!  She was allowed to hang her front paws over the edge, but her body had to stay in the bed or behind the bed. (She could lie there and hang her head onto her bed.) 

And what about pottying?  Whisper spent her first 4 days with us on our boat. We started right from the beginning teaching her to potty on an astroturf pad. We had one inside and one outside on the aft deck. We also had an electronic bell she could push with her paw to let us know she wanted to go out. This was supposed to tell us she needed to go, but more often seemed to indicate she wanted to go outside and play, or look through the hawse (holes in the side of the boat to run lines through) to see what she could see. 

The next day was off to Anacortes Cap Sante Marina to attend the DeFever Rendezvous over the weekend. But, as soon as we started the starboard engine, we got that loud squeal again. Really?!?  So, once again, we single-engine cruised the 23 miles.

We had 3 choices of routes.  We chose the Swinomish Channel, an 11-mile man-made cut between Skagit Bay and Padilla Bay.  It was the most protected, avoiding Deception Pass and Admiralty Inlet, routes more open to weather and tides. We loved it!  It quickly reminded both of us of some of the cuts we did on the Great Loop with land close by on both sides. There was one town, La Conner, which looked like a 1950s western town. We saw a tug “herding” logs as we entered.

Since we were single-engine, we called ahead and Jim and Betty, the organizers of the DeFever Rendezvous, had lots of people standing by to help catch lines…or was that to be entertained with a single-engine docking? (Tom’s note: one of the gals who also drives a similar boat said Paula brought it in just like she had 2 engines.)

It was great that all the DeFevers coming to the rendezvous (23 boats) got there on Thursday because Friday’s forecast was for an inch of rain and big winds. Tidings of Joy (owned by Jeff and Joy who we met in 2016 in Canada when we were all doing the Great Loop) was in the slip next to us and registered wind gusts to 46 mph!

Over the next 3 days, we attended lectures, discussions, heard PNW and Mexico cruising presentations, toured several boats, enjoyed social events, and met lots of new-to-us West Coast DeFever owners, as well as renewing friendships with some East Coast DeFever members who came across the country for the event. We got to walk aboard everything from a 43’ DeFever to one 56’. Paula helped Betty in any way she could (breakfast set-up, etc.). Tom ran the silent auction of items donated to raise money for the group. We had a great time and look forward to seeing many of the boaters again in the next few summers as we cruise. One of the couples, Rich and Deniece, even loaned us their San Juans and Gulf Islands book to use while we cruised after the rendezvous. In addition, Rich gave us a jump-drive with over 1,500 waypoints he personally entered to be used with one of the navigation apps. That was hours and hours and hours…of work. (But what can we say?  He is a pilot like Paula and really likes precision and planning.)  What a real blessing to us!

Okay, back to that darn starboard engine. It turned out it wasn’t really just the fan belt. There was an alignment problem with the alternator belt, off by just 1/8th of an inch that caused the belt to squeal. Jim Roberts, longtime DeFever live-aboard in AK helped Tom while Paula got to visit with wife Robin, an avid knitter as passionate about knitting (and boating) as Paula is. In addition, we were told our Webasto heater should not have been putting out as much white smoke as it was. Tom changed the injector nozzle (again) and we left the day after the rendezvous for the anchorage just off the marina to decompress after the intensity of the rendezvous and being around so many people (90+) for 3 days.

Based on the tide, we had determined 9:00 AM would be a good departure time the next morning, but fog rolled in and we could not depart until about 11:30. When Tom went to pull up the anchor, the washdown hose had no pressure. He replaced the pump with a spare onboard, the second of 3 water pumps he had replaced in the last week.

We ran the engines on Life’s TraVails at 1500 rpm, but at the rendezvous, we heard most DeFever 49 owners ran at 1750 rpm. So, we bumped ours up to 1700 for the day as we cruised to our first stop in the SJI – Hunter Bay. There were only 2 other boats in the anchorage, and the sun came out long enough to toast our first SJI cruise on the dinghy deck. Finally.

Sunrise at Hunter bay

It was only later that day Tom discovered 4 quarts of oil in the engine room bilge. Long story short, a previous owner had modified the injector pumps to avoid having to change the injector oil every 50 hours. At higher RPMs, the pressure built up and pumped oil out of the pump’s breather into the pan below. It wasn’t as bad as 35 gallons of fuel in the bilge. but still, a mess to clean up.

Also, that night, we had no heat. After changing the Webasto injector, not only did it put out white smoke but also diesel. The Webasto man thought it was a fuel clog. And without power, we could not run any electric heat. We had no hot water in spite of running the generator and we had power problems – no lights in the engine room and no microwave or toaster oven. Nor a shower. It was a discouraging day for Tom, with only 1 of 4 repairs successful. As Paula commiserated with other boaters via email, we were told many of the ones who had bought boats that were unused for a number of years had multiple problems when they began as well, just like us. Boats like to be used!  We were assured we would work out our problems and things would get better. We sure hoped so!

Tom ran a new fuel line to the Webasto and after 2 nights without heat (with a low of 50 and highs in the mid-60s) and power problems, Tom decided it was time to go to a marina. Friday Harbor (so named because of how the island saw many vacationers inundate the area on weekends) was only 15 miles away and had services, like a hardware store and auto parts supply.

We got a great alongside tie on the inner side of the outer dock with floatplanes landing and docking beside us and the ferry passing by almost every hour. It was a happening place. We walked the 2-block no-stoplight main street town. Whisper met many dogs and got to play with a fellow Havanese in the realty office. We had 2 beautiful days with a high in the low 70s, which enabled Paula to finish sanding the walk-around decks in preparation for new deck paint. Tom made multiple trips to the hardware store. He un-modified the engines, rebuilt a step Paula discovered had dry-rotted, determined we were going to have no heat until we got back to Seattle, and talked with friends about our electrical problems.  He finally figured out what he would have to do to make it right – probably a long process, but something our friends believed he could do himself. He took over cleaning the grill after Paula had given up and got it looking great!  The rain moved in and we ended up spending 5 nights in Friday Harbor. But it was OK as we got much work done and the marina had a buy-4-nights-get-a-fifth-free deal.

The day before we left, we visited The Whale Museum. There were many displays of whale bones and several movies about whales. Paula couldn’t watch one of them all the way through as it was quite depressing to learn just how much harm was being caused through sound in the ocean. Ship engines and propellers, underwater blasts, seismic surveys, sonar, and oil drilling are filling the seas with sound. Some of these can be heard 3,000 miles away! The cacophony of sound prevented the whales from echolocating to communicate with their family and or to fish. Imagine so much noise that you just could not concentrate enough to think. Beachings leading to death were occurring that could be traced to the overwhelming noise in an area. Yet, a more efficient propellor and ships traveling at a slower speed could reduce the noise output by 80%.

Then it was time to begin cruising our way back to Seattle. Unfortunately, without heat, we had to spend each night in a marina to be on shore power. We returned to Anacortes for what was to be 2 nights, but wind (again over 20 mph) and rain turned it into 3. We were learning September 2021 was a very rainy month. Paula used the time to sew a cover for the flybridge engine instruments out of the discarded flybridge bimini Sunbrella material, and Tom worked on many other jobs.

We celebrated our 26th anniversary at Oak Harbor Marina on Whidbey Island, eating at an Italian restaurant on their patio with Whisper at our feet. The next day we returned to Everett, followed by our last leg back to Seattle, which included locking back up to Lake Union. After a few days in our “home marina,” Fishermen’s Terminal, we were ready to put The Secret to bed for the winter.

While cruising for our short 24-day 2021 season, our boat continued to reveal more secrets on an almost daily basis. Hopefully, the problems will diminish as we continue cruising next summer and we will not find any more BIG secrets.



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