I answer the phone and it’s Sam Devlin, builder of the two boats I’ve owned and who I webmaster for. “If it’s okay with you, we’d like to borrow your boat this weekend. Lee (the Devlin Shop Manager) just bought a 30 year old Devlin and he’s not sure he’ll get her to Olympia from Vashon Island so he might need a tow. In fact, you might consider coming along and bringing your camera.” Is the Pope Catholic? Does a bear poop in the woods? Of course I’m going! This is adventure in the making and fodder for my blog. Mackenzie Devlin, one of Sam’s sons, will be skippering my Chinook 21 and being the superb boatsman he is, I’m thrilled to get a chance to observe him in action. In fact, it was Mackenzie who convinced me to buy Chinook from his dad due to his love of this particular boat. This is going to be very cool.
Mackenzie calls later that day to arrange to meet me at my boat at 6 am in Olympia in order to have the tide in our favor and thinking it best to stay overnight on the boat instead of getting up at some ungodly hour, I pack up and head South. An hour later I’m in Olympia and settling in right around dusk. It’s a glorious evening and I sit in the cockpit with a cigar and a glass of Kentucky Bourbon while observing stars and planets with the Google Sky Map app on my tablet. Saturn is visible in the Southwest sky which always amazes me considering how far away it is — a mere 821,190,000 miles. This new boat of mine is very spartan compared to my prior boat and I like it. There’s no pretense of a yacht here — it’s merely camping with a porta potty and a roof over my head. I snuggle into my sleeping bag and fall asleep while being gently rocked. I awake at 5 am feeling rested and ready for adventure. Mackenzie arrives at 6 am on the button and in a matter of minutes, the little two cylinder Japanese diesel is fired up and we’re pulling out of the dock.
Olympia, despite being the Southernmost town on Puget Sound, is an international port and there are two massive container ships at the dock. They tower over my little 21 foot boat and they never cease to amaze me. But then I think of crossing the Pacific Ocean in one of them and I wonder if they are big enough when a storm hits way out there beyond the sight of land. At this hour of the morning, we have Budd Inlet to ourselves. When we cross the no wake boundary, Mackenzie opens her up and we settle into a 7 knot per hour pace. Even full out, the diesel is quiet enough that we can converse normally and to top it off, she’s very fuel efficient. We talk about wooden boats, his growing up on the Sound, crabbing and fishing, skin diving, working in his dad’s shop, and life in general. There’s no doubt about him being a Devlin. His passion for boat building is deeply rooted in his DNA and he’s bursting with ideas. I’m not the least bit surprised and it’s wonderful to listen to him expound on the subject.
I quiz him on his local knowledge as we emerge from Budd Inlet past Boston Harbor and alongside Briscoe Point where a particularly nasty tide rip can form when the conditions are just right — the tide coming in while a storm front is blowing out of the SW against it over the gravel bar. I speak from experience and he confirms, first hand, how bad it can be. For some reason, you don’t see a tide rip until your boat is already falling into it. A few years ago, I was working my way through 3 foot waves at 5 knots in the rain and all of a sudden, a deep hole opened up before me and the boat plunged in. The wave height was now higher than the pilothouse of my 22 foot Devlin Surf Scoter — I could see nothing but dark, green walls of water on either side of he boat. Twice we went over the top of a wave and came down the other side with the bow going completely underwater and the prop coming out of the water. If that front v-berth hatch popped open, the boat would be flooded in seconds. Time slowed way down as the adrenaline kicked in and I knew in my heart that one more wrong move on my part and Inga, our dog and I would be desperately trying to swim to shore as the boat sank. By this point, it was too late to put on PFDs — oh shit. Miraculously, I managed to motor out of the tide rip to safety through one of the wave troughs as if it were a canyon. I chalk up our safe emergence from this little hell hole to the incredible sturdiness of my Devlin boat and my guardian angels. My German Shepherd never quite forgave me when all the silverware in the galley flew out of the holder on the cabin wall and landed on her head. When we docked at Swantown in Olympia 30 minutes later, she leapt out of the boat and raced to the shore where she planted herself on the lawn and refused to move. Sorry, Freya! I learned that day that Puget Sound and Mother Nature are not to be trifled with and to only take Inga out on nice, calm days.
Today the Sound is mirror smooth and as Mackenzie and I emerge from Dana Passage, we notice a school of dolphins off the port bow as we head toward Anderson Island. I rummage out a cigar and Mackenzie perks up immediately, “Can I get one of those?” I have my travel humidor with and pleased that he is a Brother of the Leaf. I pick him out a Perdomo Lot 23 Maduro from Nicaragua and he’s all smiles. We puff away contently as the water slides by. We consult the Navionics Marine Charts app I have installed on my Android tablet since I don’t have a GPS installed on the boat yet and Mackenzie loaned his handheld unit to Lee. Just about then, we spot another Devlin boat, Scout, which was launched in 2009. They recognize a fellow Devlinista as well and we meet up mid-channel at idle to complement each other on what marvelous boats we have. It’s a Devlin thing.
We continue on and as we pass between McNeil and Eagle Islands, Lee calls us on the cell phone. We report our position and he informs us he is South of Vashon Island, doing just fine and heading South toward us. Excellent! We won’t have to go much further North to meet up with him. We pass the Federal Penitentiary on McNeil Island and agree how much it would suck big time to be locked up in there, how wonderful it is to be out here boating instead and what a great State Park it would make if they ever shut the prison down.
We emerge into the main channel that leads up to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and start looking for Lee with the binoculars. This narrow passage that the bridge spans is the gateway between the Central and South Sound and due to its well earned, fearsome reputation, many boaters refuse to pass through it. But taken at slack tide, it’s a non-event and yet we still observe lazy whirlpools in action. I wonder how many million gallons get funneled through here twice a day with the tide. The bridge gets nearer and nearer and yet there is still no sign of Lee. We’re a bit baffled and call Lee but he doesn’t answer. Has his engine stalled? Did he duck into Gig Harbor for espresso and donuts? Hmmm…Sam calls to check on us and he assures us that Lee must be just around the bend. We pass beneath the dual suspension bridges and finally we spot a red hulled sailboat in the distance. Yup, it’s Lee and as we get closer, we can see he’s grinning like a Cheshire Cat. We circle around him and come up alongside him heading South back toward the bridge. Even at our lowest speed, we’re still outpacing him so Mackenzie calls him on the cell to suggest he use a bit more throttle. It turns out that Lee has the outboard in gear but has not applied any throttle as he’s very leery of the 30 year old motor. This explains why he’s covered so little ground since he last called us. He’s motoring along at 1.5 knots and thank God the tide was not against him — he would have been going backwards! Mackenzie coaxes him into pinning the throttle as we’d like to get back to Olympia today vs. next week. Lee accepts the suggestion and is clearly startled when the 22 foot sailboat leaps forward. We match his new speed of 7 knots and decide Lee’s new nickname is “One Knot”.
The weather switches from nice to spectacular as the Sun comes back out and every photo I take is an absolute keeper. Behind Anderson Island, we pull up alongside with our fenders out while Lee refuels using one of the gas cans he has on board and hands us lunch prepared by his wife — peanut butter and jelly on homemade bread, lemonade and other goodies as well. Righteous! The outboard fires right up and we get back underway. Feeling a need to celebrate, Mackenzie and I share the rest of my Kentucky Bourbon, Maker’s Mark 46, while smoking another cigar. This time I turn him onto a Drew Estate Natural Root and he immediately starts asking what a box of these would set him back. We bask in the gentle glow of the Bourbon, a great cigar and the fine conditions — life really doesn’t get better than this. Sam is out doing errands with his wife, Soitza, so I send him photos and let him know we’re smoking cigars and drinking Bourbon as a mild form of torture.
We head back into Dana Passage and typically, the Sound is virtually empty. We spot a dozen boats all day. Winter took it’s time leaving us this year, Spring was cold and wet and the nice days have been far and few between so I figure fellow boaters are still in shock and not prepared. I’ve learned that when a nice day appears, regardless of the time of year, one must spring into action and get out there on the water. As such, some of our best outings have been in the middle of Winter and I have the photos to prove it — yes, chilly but sunny, delightful and breathtaking. We spot a pack of harbor seals — nineteen heads are bobbing all around us and we figure there must be good fishing to be had. I always marvel at how in a matter of minutes, one can escape Pugetroplis and find such solitude on the water.
We turn South into Budd Inlet and soon the Capital Dome is in view — it won’t be long before we are docked. The Olympia Harbor Patrol is out and about looking for expired boat tabs, excessive speed in the extensive no-wake zone around the Port and other signs of buffoonery. The sight of a Devlin boat always seems to please them and they wave enthusiastically as two Devlins pass by.
Mackenzie docks the boat like the pro he is and we emerge feeling relaxed and very satisfied. My Chinook is a very pleasant boat to spend time in and being under power for 9 hours for a total of 52 nautical miles was a piece of cake. Ralph, a dear friend of ours, is there to greet us and he snaps a picture of Lee, Mackenzie and me in front of Lee’s new boat — we can’t help but grin. Lee thanks us profusely for escorting him and we scoff at the notion — what a great excuse to get out and go boating. I inform him of his new nickname, One Knot, and he bursts out laughing.
We unpack, haul gear back up to the street, hose the salt off the boat, put the cover back over the cockpit and then shakes hands as we part. Thanks, guys — anytime, anywhere, just say the word and I’m there in Chinook with cigars and single malt Scotch! — Scott Bruce Duncan */:-)