GSSR#6 – Running from Seattle to Roche Harbor

Greetings all!

The Great Siberian Sushi Run (GSSR) is now underway! On Friday April 17, 2009, at 7am, Sans Souci, the first of the three GSSR boats departed Seattle enroute to Japan. The other two boats will follow over the next ten days. The boats are expected to cruise near each other, but not meet up until Ketchikan.

Sans Souci has been at Salmon Bay Marine Center, in Ballard Washington, the last few months. The marina is located just inside the locks, so within minutes of departure we were lining up to go through the locks. The locks are like an elevator for boats. In this case, the water on one side of the locks is fresh water, and on the other side salt water. The boat would be lowered approximately ten feet as it passed through the locks.

Here you see the stop light which is at the entrance to the locks, and the narrow passage Sans Souci had to navigate to enter the locks. Sans Souci has perhaps three feet of clearance on each side, although it seems much tighter when you are moving.

Happily, we were into the locks in minutes. In Seattle, the commercial traffic gets priority. This means that even if Sans Souci is the first boat at the locks, if a commercial fishing boat appears, the locks staff will ask us to wait. The process of moving a boat through the locks takes about 15 minutes. I’ve been near the front of the line, on a Sunday afternoon, and had to wait many hours to get through the locks, as commercial boat, after commercial boat, would appear.

With our prior boat, a Nordhavn 62, Roberta and I have passed through the locks with just her and I onboard. However, on Sans Souci, a Nordhavn 68, I really feel that three people are required. One person is needed to drive the boat, one person to work the bowline, and one to work the line at the back of the boat. I asked Chris Luckerat, from Pacific Yacht Management, to tag along, just to help us get through the locks.

Once through the locks, I deposited Chris on the dock at the nearby Shilshole marina, and Roberta and I were finally alone with Sans Souci, for the first time since dropping her off in Costa Rica a year ago.

We were in water as calm as a lake. The sky was cloudy, with a gentle rain, but overall, it was delightful weather for our first run.

Our destination for the day was Roche Harbor, 80 miles north in the San Juan Islands. Once to Roche Harbor, the boat will rest for a few days while we fly back to Seattle. On Thursday we’ll return to the boat, clear Canadian customs almost immediately, and start working our way up the east coast of Vancouver Island

The closest thing to excitement on the run north occured about an hour into our run… (and, it wasn’t particularly exciting)

Puget Sound is a busy waterway. In adddition to all the recreational boats, there is a busy port, with heavy freighter traffic and a military base. Marine traffic in Puget Sound is regulated by a “Vessel Tracking System (VTS) “, which provides for seperate traffic lanes for ships moving north and south, and for controllers who monitor the ships.VTS functions much like the control tower at an airport. Larger boats transiting the area “check in” with the controller, and move within the designated lanes. Smaller boats are supposed to stay out of the lanes, and cross them only at 90 degree angles, so as to traverse the lanes as quickly as possible..

I wanted to travel on the west side of Puget Sound, requiring me to cross the shipping lanes. I called VTS, to let them know I’d be crossing the lane, and was given approval.

About five miles ahead of me was an aircraft carrier, with several smaller escort vessels. They were on a track to cross well in front of Sans Souci. By the time they were a factor, I would be across the shipping lanes to the west side, and out of their way. We would never be within a mile of each other. However, before I could start turning to cross the shipping lane, I received a call from one of the military vessels asking me to turn to starboard, to line up for a port-to-port passing.

I had just told traffic control that I would be crossing the lanes, but instead turned away from the lane, figuring that the armed escort to an aircraft carrier probably trumped the local traffic controller. Until the escort boats had passed, and the aircraft carrier, I could not resume course. Sans Souci usually feels large, but not alongside the aircraft carrier. We felt quite tiny.

I did call traffic control again, but this time I simply asked if it was OK if I ran within the northbound traffic lane. They granted permission and I dropped into the northbound lane, taking it all the way north.

*** Note: the following video does not appear when this blog posting is viewed in email. You can see it on youtube, by clicking here: ***

Ignore the content in the video above. I’m experimenting with adding video to my blog. This was thrown together, just to see if I could do it. The content is boring, but the video worked (at least if you are viewing this on the website)! Expect better things in the future….

And, on a different topic…

Our goal for the day was Roche Harbor, in the San Juan Islands. Prior to departure I had checked the currents. Our navigation software, Nobeltec, has a tool that lets you view the charts showing visually the currents at different times of day. At the beginning of our run, I could see that we would get a mild push, speeding up the boat, and for the last four hours of the run, we’d be fighting a two knot current against us. Overall, I knew it would be a slow run, and that I’d lose at least a knot of speed. Thus, I made the decision to run a little faster than usual.

Faster speed equals faster fuel burn.Usually, I like to run at around 8.5 knots, which for my boat is very fuel efficient (about 12 gallons an hour). For this run, I wanted to run at a speed of around 10 knots. This would eat some extra fuel, but get us in with plenty of daylight, and while the marina staff was still around..


In this photo you can see the “current arrows” showing the direction and strength of the current. As the current gets stronger, the arrows get larger.

And… on another topic….

I was experimenting for the trip with a new format book for the “Captain’s Log”. My original plan when I first took delivery of the boat was that I would do my logbook in the Nobeltec software, however, I didn’t like their computer format. It seemed clunky, and confining. So … I jstarted maintaining my log on yellow pads of paper, and then transferring the log to an Excel spreadsheet. I’ve been lazy on transferring the data to Excel, but overall the notepad system has worked, and we have 10,000 miles worth of marked up notepads piled around the pilot house.

A few friends have raised an eyebrow when seeing my notepads, so I’ve been shamed into seeking out some nice log books to start using. Once again, I couldn’t find anything I liked, so as you can see above, I’m still trying to decide what I’ll do, and what I’ll write down. You’ll notice I mostly ignored the headings on this logbook.

Different people have different theories on Captain’s logs, or, at least I assume they do. And, to be honest, this is a topic I’ve given a lot of thought, but not a lot of discussion. I really have no idea what the rules are, what others do, or even if a log is required.

So… with that caveat, here’s my thinking on logbooks:

– Entries should be made at regular intervals. I make log entries every 30 minutes, with engine room checks once an hour. I write down location, fuel levels, fuel flow, shaft temperatures. I should standardize what I log, and will, but this was the first leg of the trip, and I haven’t written fallen into a rhythm. That will change.

– The primary benefit, for me, of regular logging is that it causes me to take a quick look at all the key systems on the boat, every thirty minutes. If something is wrong, early detection can make a huge difference. Whenever I do a log entry, I look at much more than I write down. My boat has a monitoring system, called Simon, which makes it easy to look at about 200 different sensors, without leaving the helm. I can see what electricity is flowing around the boat, whether or not hatches are open, doors are open, the temperature in the engine room, the gallons per minute for cooling water flowing to the hydraulic system, pressure in the hydraulic system, and much more. Every 30 minutes, I look through the Simon screens for anything that looks suspicious. It could be argued that this is unnecessary, in that my monitoring system will sound an alarm if anything is outside normal range — but, I believe it is healthy that I look at all these things personally, and write the values down. And, as I said, I supplement this with hourly trips to the engine rooms. All of the sensors don’t tell as much as just looking around the engine room.

– On a major ocean passage, I note my latitude and longitude whenever I make a log entry. I also plot it on a chart. You’ll note that I randomly did that on this trip. It was a trip I’ve done many times before, so I didn’t feel the need to log my location. Should I ever completely lose power on an ocean crossing, the log book would help me know where I was when the lights went out.

– I like to log my operating statistics, so that I can compare back to them. I log anything I think I’ll wantt to refer back to in the future.

– During passages I log all mechanical issues. When I get to port, I look at the book to see what maintenance needs done. This also gives me a way to look back over time and see when various repairs were made.

Over the next few weeks I’ll decide on a format for the captain’s log, and it will get much neater.

Back to the trip….

The days leading to the trip were very stressful. Neither Roberta nor I slept the night before departure. Despite the weather report, I was predicting blue skies and calm seas for the run. Somehow, I knew the weather gods would give us this one run in calm seas. 99% of our run was as calm as it gets. Roberta and Shelby took naps.

I uploaded a bunch of pictures from Roche Harbor. To see them, CLICK HERE.

I mentioned yesterday that Roche Harbor is a lively place. This was our first trip here to Roche in the off season. As expected, it is much quieter. That said, we’re having a great time. Normally, all of the activity on the docks makes Shelby (our dog) crazy, especially the cannon fire at dusk each evening. Now, she can wander the docks without a leash.

As I type this, we’ve just returned from Friday Harbor, a nearby city, where we bought another huge load of groceries. All freezers are absolutely packed, and now the pantry is packed. We still haven’t bought any fruits or vegetables. We’ll be crossing into Canada in the next few days and don’t want to complicate our customs stop.

And, lastly…

I received an email that I thought I’d answer as part of my blog, as I assume others have this same question:


[…] The Gulf of Alaska is a pretty nasty place. Watched the building of an Ice-Breaker on Nat-Geo the other night and they showed it making 500′ turns in the ice as a test. It also had to withstand some pretty heavy seas during its initial roadtest. Another shot showed a tanker that had grounded and broke in two after being caught in seas wipped up in the Gulf of Alaska by the winds called “Williwaws” I think your route will be passing through this area. They showed seas that I dont even think a Nordhavn would brave. I am sure you will be using your weather router but as you related in your blog there arent many hiding places up there. Good luck. I look forward to hearing from you.

Mike K

When most people think of the Gulf of Alaska, and the Bering Sea, they are thinking of what it is like in the winter. Shows like “The Deadliest Catch” are filmed in December and January, when the seas are the roughest. I do think we’ll see some bad weather, and I’m sure there’ll be a day or two when I’ll wish I was anywhere else but on the boat, but overall, I’m expecting reasonable seas. Because we’ll be going into the current, we’ll be slowed down, and the ride will be uncomfortable. We’re also likely to see far more foggy days that we’d like. But, none of us would be making the trip if this were a winter passage. It will be June when we’re in the Gulf of Alaska, and July when we’re in the Bering Sea. Actually… there’s a good chance that the worst weather we’ll see will be typhoons in Japan, in August.

That’s it for today… we’re leaving Roche Harbor in a few hours to travel to Seattle for three days. Then we return to the boat on Thursday, clear into Canada, and point the bow north.

Thank you, Ken Williams
Nordhavn 68, Sans Souci

PS I just spoke with Braun Jones on Grey Pearl. They have now left the dock and are underway!

25 Responses

  1. Hi Ken,

    I presume you have seen the NW Yachting Magazine Article 3 part On-line series titled “Up The Inside Passage” by Mark Bunzel. There is an anchorage he describs with over 40 uniquely different waterfalls surrounding your boat.It is named Kynoch Inlet in the Fjordland Recreation Area, up Reid Passage, north of Shearwater( see NWYM;part.#3).
    There are so many interesting places…have fun, sitting in you spa tub, surrounded by waterfalls, watching the moon rise for hours.

  2. Ken,

    My guess is that Furuno will add better current predictions in future software releases. It really is very helpful running here in the PNW, especially in slower boats. My boat is fast enough that there are only a handful of places I won’t go because of current, but knowing the currents for an area is certainly helpful when planning a route so you can schedule your day for optimum speed and fuel burn.


  3. Sam:

    I just phoned Furuno. They said that Navnet 3d does not have the ability to show future currents, but “they are working on it.”

    For running in the Pacific NW and Alaska, I consider this a very important feature. Nobeltec implements it very slickly, but overall I prefer Navnet 3d. I’ve got my system set so that I can easily toggle between the two different charting systems. I just pop onto Nobeltec when I want to study future currents, then back to Navnet 3d.

    Overall, Navnet 3d is awesome, but it is on its first release. At this point, I’ve used it a fair amount, and only had it hang once, and this is the first major feature I’ve seen that it has missing.

    -Ken Williams

  4. I’m surprised that NN3D doesn’t have arrows that show tides at various intervals. I have Raymarine C series equipment on my boat and it is far from cutting edge, but I can still animate (as they call it) currents, which shows an arrow in the direction of the current, the speed of the current, and the arrows appear relatively large or small based on the speed of the current. It sure seems like Furuno’s latest-and-greatest should have this feature.


  5. Ken, that Nobeltec tidal-current “time-machine” feature sounds cool. I looked in the NN3D manual and don’t see any equivalent. (You can bring up a tide graph for the nearest tide measurement locations, but the tidal-current arrows appear to only show the present.) What confused me is that the screen shot you in your blog post is (unless I’m mistaken) a NN3D screen shot (with the present tidal arrows displayed), but you were talking about the Nobeltec feature. Would be cool to see a screen shot of that as well some time!


  6. Scott: If you think where the hot springs are, let me know. I’m not much of a fisherman, or hunter, but am very good at hot springs!

    Thanks for the tips. This is my first trip to Alaska, and it feels a bit intimidating. I wish the group were traveling together, but we all have friends/family to focus attention on. I am getting lots of advice though. I have been boater-friends who love Alaska, who are working hard (loading me up with all their favorite places to go) to ensure that I have a great experience.

    -Ken W

  7. David:

    I hadn’t realized that the log book for documented vessels needs to go with the vessel. That’s interesting! I’ll have to save all those old yellow notepads.

    When we sold our N62, I did give the new owner all of the logs. This made it interesting when I applied for my 100 ton license. The coast guard needed me to document my sea-time. I forget the requirement, but I think it is something like 360 days at sea during the prior five years. I didn’t have my logbooks, so I didn’t know how to document the time. I called the coast guard and asked what to do, and they said to just do my best, that they understood the problem.

    They accepted what I wrote, on the first try, which was surprising. My time was approximately accurate, but clearly recreated.

    -Ken W

  8. Adam:

    Good question!

    Nobeltec has a very cool feature which allows you to easily step through time in order to see the current arrows.

    Let’s say I want to know what the current through a particular pass is tomorrow at around 3pm. I simply position the chart where I want, then set the time to about noon tomorrow, and then start clicking the up arrow on the hour, and I can see the current arrows animate. I look for where slack is, and that gives me the time.

    Navnet probably has a similar feature, but I can’t find it. So … I run Navnet for most things, but swap the video input, for the center monitor, to Nobletec when I am studying currents and tides.

    So …

    I use Navnet as my primary chart plotter, with Nobeltec as my backup, and for current projections.

    -Ken W

  9. Ken, one part of your post confused me. You mentioned that Nobeltec can overlay current data on the charts, but in the upper left corner of the accompanying screen shot I think I see the NavNet logo. Is that some kind of Nobeltec/NN integration, or does NavNet3D also have the current overlay feature?


  10. Ken,

    My mother was very “particular” about her log keeping, but couldn’t find a book that suited her format and style, so she had several made. They were leather bound with the ships name and opened horizonally to reveal two legal size pages spanning the binding with all the columns arranged with labeled headings to suit her requirements. The sad part is that the log record of a Documented Vessel has to go with the ship when you sell her, so all of those hand written memories ended-up tranferring with the vessel. I think she had them made through Captain’s Nautical Supply in Ballard. Good Luck and Fair Seas,

  11. I have always enjoyed the content of your site and it’s presentation. One of the features I like is when you click on a picture you get a bigger picture. I’m looking forward to some more video.

  12. Ken,

    Glad to see you are finally on your way. There is no better feeling than leaving the dock…except sometimes arriving at the next one. Roche Harbor is a favorite for my teenage boys as they seem to hire lots of attractive young girls to help out on the docks! As you head North, I would look out for two very interesting places. The most interesting, and I forgot the specific name but it will be marked on the charts is the hot springs. There a a couple and we went to the southern one as I remember. A Natural hottub with a view across a cove of a natural waterfall. There is a dock there for access, though you may need to anchor with the size of your boat. Had I had the time…I would have been content to stay there until the beer was gone! The second place was Dawsons Landing. Nothing much to do, but interesting to see a small outpost entirely built on floating logs (really really BIG floating logs.

    Continued best wishes


  13. Hi Ken & Roberta,

    Congratulations on finally making it to the beginning of your big journey up north. I enjoyed seeing the great photos of Roche Harbor. Many years ago (1978) I spent some time there on a boat with my brother and his girlfriend’s family. As I recall they had a very nice hand crafted wood boat that was pretty deluxe. I remember going out into the nearby waters and throwing out crab pots and then after we collected the crabs we made fresh crab omelets. Yum! From your pictures the Hotel de Haro looks exactly the same. The marina, on the other has changed drastically since 1978 when “times were simpler”. But even back then the treatment the marina gave us was most excellent. Glad to hear some things never change.
    Safe travels,
    Phil Strable

  14. Hi Ken,

    So, so happy for you, Roberta and Shelby. We will Be “with you” every step of the way.

    I, too, keep a written log. I always note mechanical issues in the notes, but in addition I keep a seperate page (actually the last page of my notebook) where I keep those mechanical issues on a list. This way I never forget those issues that I noted among all the other log notes.

    Enjoy every day and every experience!

    Kindest regards,


  15. It will be interesting to see some video of Sans Souci in some nasty conditions that you will inevitably run into on this trip. Here’s to hoping the conditions won’t be toooo bad, however.


  16. RF8G: I just checked. You are right … the AIS data isn’t appearing. It was transmitting on the way north, so I’m guessing that the hills on Roche Harbor are somehow blocking the signal. Actually … that’s a good thing. I don’t remember flipping the AIS back from “Running” to “Moored”.

    Thank you!
    -Ken W

  17. I don’t think non-commercial vessels of your size are required to keep logs. Not sure though. I assume the standard is for a paper copy…? I wouldn’t trust any software with that info.

  18. I did enjoy the video and look forward to more, It was rather nice to hear your voices, after following your reports for so many years it added a bonus element to this post.

    Safe Travels,


  19. As usual, a fantastic report…………bet you become a professional writer in the near future–suspect you are keeping notes and book will be forthcoming.

    Being somewhat challenged in most things–muddling along is my middle name–would you let the group know why your AIS doesn’t show up? No coverage on the Island?


  20. Harry:

    I’ll like it when we get moving and the updates get a lot more interesting! Although … I don’t want them too interesting.

    I was running around Friday Harbor today in a short sleeve shirt. I am hoping for a warm Alaskan summer!

    Thank you,

    -Ken W

  21. I’m disappointed – every time I log on to see the latest update and there isn’t one.
    I truly look forward to each and every update and thanks, Ken, for letting us all come along for the ride.

    God Speed and following seas.

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Credits     |     Video produced by: Rock Steady Media     |     Teletype photo: Arnold Reinhold     |     PDP-11 photo: Trammell Hudson