Sneaking the Pass

Deception Pass is a twisty 2 mile passage only 150 yards wide and 100 feet deep, yet moves the acres of water to flood the Skagit Bay and release it again into the ocean twice a day. This much water through a small channel means treacherous turbulent currents up to 8 knots that have dashed many a boat on the granite rocks lining the sides of this canyon. Perhaps this is why the venerable British Captain George Vancouver chose to examine it from afar with his telescope and send his trusty navigator in a small boat to investigate. The young master Whidbey survived the pass and discovered it connected all the way south to Puget Sound providing an alternate passage in protected waters, if only one could transit the pass. As the pass connected again with the sound, and was not simply a bay, it had deceived Captain Vancouver and his telescope, so was therefore named Deception Pass.
Why does this matter to Laysan? Because, we too would like to run north from Puget Sound in protected waters to the San Juan Islands. And so it was that after our long day cruising up inside Whidbey Island (the young navigator’s naming reward), we slept somewhat fitfully at anchor thinking about the next morning’s run through the pass. This would be like running a river rapid in a bus. The only time to make the pass is at slack tide when the current slows to zero for about seven minutes before it reverses again and the boiling currents threaten to turn the nice pointy bow of Laysan in many directions other than my intended heading.
Printed tide charts, electronic chart plotters, iPads and iPhones all agreed the slack time was 9:07, so we weighed anchor at 8:30 and made for the pass, under the Deception Pass bridge towering 150 feet overhead. A 1935 WPA masterpiece of civil engineering we had many times before stood on its railings watching the boats negotiate the pass, wondering what madness drove them here. And now it was us.
On the downstream side of the pass the currents swell up in huge pools with frothy edges indicating an impending push of the bow, and each time we responded with the wheel to keep her straight. As the clock ticked closer to 9:00 a few other boats began to assemble for the pass with the same goal in mind. Together in single file, we few boats rumbled toward the narrowest part when I noticed the myriad little fishing boats feverishly trying to catch the salmon coursing underneath. With their immense outboard motors they seemingly cared not for currents, and parted the way for us just before my hand approached the extremely loud horn button.
As the canyon walls rose vertically to that great iron bridge, the waters suddenly flattened to glass and the time was right on 9:00am. Out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and toward the San Juans, we had passed the test, and it was high fives all around for the happy crew of myself, Kathleen, and Grandaddy Jim Harvey. Whew! But maybe we will go the other way outside next time.

On the approach.

Jim and I in the pilot house.

Nearly there.

And we are through!

All good on Laysan.


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6 Responses to Sneaking the Pass

  1. Phillip B. Olsen says:

    Grand passages about a daunting passage I’ve seen several times-both from the bridge and from my cockpit as I flew safely above the turbulent waters.
    Nicely done.
    Phil Olsen, PHNL

  2. sandie says:

    Thanks for first explaining what the experience would be. Had no idea. Glad you are on the other side. What a great summer in front of you. We are experiencing another kind of excitement, NYC. Saw the Alvin Ailey dance company. WOW. Glad we had our binoculars to see the details of their bodies in motion. Life is great. Thanks for posting. Love you, Sandie

  3. Sybil says:

    We were at the Ballard locks last Friday. As we watched the boats wait their turn I thought “Now how cool would it be if we saw the Douglas family sail past us!” Tell me you weren’t there at ~10:30am on Friday, June 17!

    • Laysan says:

      Hey Sybil!
      We passed by the Ballard Locks this year; we are now up at Wescott Bay outside Roche Harbor, San Juan Island. Where are you folks now?

  4. Laura Thielen says:

    Very adventurous. And a good explanation for us landlubbers.

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